Thursday, April 18, 2013

Happy 75th Birthday, Superman!

Seventy-five years ago today, Action Comics #1 was released by National Allied Publications, one part of the company that would eventually become DC Comics. This fine magazine, an effort by Toronto-born artist Joe Shuster and Clevelander Jerry Seigel, was the culmination of a collaboratory friendship that began while both lads attended Glenville High School in eastern Cleveland, Ohio, USA. 

Cover of National Allied Publication's Action Comics #1 (April 1938)
To say Action Comics #1 made an impact on pop culture in both the United States and the Western world is an understatement. This book started a wave of superhero comics that would eventually sell in the millions and become the Golden Age of comic books. From there, Superman and both his heroic associates and villainous competitors would go on to star in a plethora of stories, cross over into other mediums and bring us a deluge of exciting entertainment. Superman is still a big seller at the comic shops today, and if this film trailer is any indication, he will continue to thrill and inspire us for years to come.  

Superman talks to the people of planet Earth in DC Comics' Superman For Earth (1991)
Happy Birthday, Superman! Thanks for looking after us all these years!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

WGTB Reviews Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance

I first read Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance sometime back in the mid 1990s. It was dog-eared copy I had borrowed from a friend and to be honest, I didn’t get very far -- keeping it largely as a locker accessory to boost my bona fides when it came to musical knowledge. Since then however, Severed Alliance has become famous and is now considered among the best books on a musical group. And it was with this in mind that upon coming across the 20th anniversary edition, I decided to finally give it the reading I should have decades ago. Having remained a fan of the Smiths (and of both Morrissey and Marr) since, I also knew it would be fun reading about one of the most famous musical duos to come out of the 80s.  

Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance, 20th Anniversary Edition, Johnny Rogan, Omnibus Press, 2012, pp. 624,  £14.95

To say the book is a tour de force is an understatement. Coming in at 624 pages (including extensive footnoting), Severed Alliance begins with a detailed account of Morrissey and Marr’s familial roots in Ireland, complete with smatterings of both Irish and British political and sociological history to provide context for the eventual moves to England. From there it discusses the early careers of both: Morrissey as a prolific writer of letters to the musical press and eventual author of his own pamphlet-book on the New York Dolls, and Marr as an precocious and thorough student of popular music. Along the way we are also treated to a detailed description of the UK’s music scene of the 70s and 80s which provides important context as to backdrop of the Smiths’ development. This all culminates with the eventual first encounter of the eventual bandmates, instigated by Johnny’s friend Rob Allman at Morrissey’s house Stretford, Manchester.

From there it’s on to an account of the rise of the Smiths as a four person ensemble; the writing of their earliest songs and the methods in which Morrissey and Marr went about creating their art. Of course, by reading Severed Alliance in 2013, one is able to do so with the Smiths’ entire catalogue close and this is a real advantage. I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop reading and listen to them. Rogan does a great job analysing the Smiths’ canon and this has led to a new appreciation of music I have literally listened to for decades.  

Along with a command of the music, Severed Alliance is also good at explaining the business side of the group and how important this was to its overall being. In the past, Morrissey has expressed displeasure with this book, and this is probably because Rogan pulls no punches with regard to contractual aspects of the band and in places really airs the dirty linen. In these sections we also learn about the Smiths importance to the fledgling Rough Trade records and Morrissey and Marr’s dominance of the financial affairs of the band, all of which eventually led to the legal case Joyce v Morrissey and Others before the Royal Courts of Justice in the 1990s. The legal aspect of the Smiths' history was beyond the scope of the book, but subsequent research done during the trial shows that Rogan did not let his project end, and the litigation did contribute to the revised edition. 

Reading books on musical groups can seem like a somewhat pointless activity in an era of near instantaneous pop culture information. But even with the internet, Severed Alliance provides in one volume a thorough analysis of the Smiths and the two personalities that drove this band during its short existence. The opening chapters about Morrissey’s Irish background seemed a little excessive in places, but this minor failing aside, the writing is great (at times being as poetic as Morrissey's himself) and this book tells the facinating story of the Smiths in a comprehensive and engaging way. Because of this, Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance is a very enjoyable book and would make a great addition to any indie/alternative music aficionado’s library. 4.5/5 STARS      

Thursday, April 4, 2013

RIP Roger Ebert & Carmine Infantino

It was quite the day. In the movie world, we lost Roger Ebert at age 70 to cancer. Ebert was a long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and probably best known for being one half of one of the greatest movie review TV programs ever: At The Movies with partners Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper. RIP Mr. Ebert.

In comics we also lost legendary artist Carmine Infantino. Born in Brooklyn in 1925, Infantino's sizable opus included work on Detective Comics, Batman, Superman, The Avengers, Captain America, Star Wars and Spider-Woman. He was a member of the Comic Book Hall of Fame and considered by both fans and historians as one of the greatest pencillers of all time. 

The spash from DC's Showcase #4 (October 1956). Reprinted as a Silver Age Classic in 1992. All images from the Silver Age Classic reprint. Written by Robert Kanigher and John Broome with art by Joe Kubert & Carmine Infantino
Cop turned superhero Barry Allen
Modern comic book fans likely know Infantino best for his contribution to the resurgence of superheroes in the post-war period. This started in 1956 when DC's editor Julius Schwartz assigned Infantino and Joe Kubert to work with writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome to resuscitate that genre which had been reduced to a scattering of titles. They did so with the creation of Barry Allen as a new "Flash". In this story, Allen was a police officer of Central City who was turned into the "Fastest Man Alive" when a science experiment and bolt of lightening combined for some unexpected results. The Flash would go on to use his powers to fight crime and without the success of Showcase #4 we arguably wouldn't have the Flash becoming a founding member of the Justice League and that fateful golf game that led to Marvel's reposte, The Fantastic Four and an expanded Silver Age of comics. 

So in thanks to Carmine Infantino and his work in our medium, I thought I'd scatter this post with images from Showcase #4's including the splashes of both stories which featured Barry Allen as the Flash. RIP Mr. Infantino.