Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Star Trek Franchise: 1966 to 1979

We appreciate your interest in “Star Trek” and are sorry we have to continue to disappoint you. NBC, however, has no plans for the return of the series.

As reported in recent press stories, our Program Department does have under consideration a two-hour-science fiction film. Several concepts have been proposed for this project – one of which is “Star Trek”. While no decision has been made — nor can we tell you when one will – we are aware of your own high regard for “Star Trek” 

 NBC Audience Services

Title of Star Trek: The Original Series which aired from 1967 to 1969.
This short statement is what those who wrote letters to NBC received in reply to their correspondence. It was written on a post card and was most certainly read by thousands of disappointed fans in the immediate years after the cancellation of the first Star Trek television show. Of course, what came before this is one of sci-fi fandoms best known results a letter writing campaign that saw NBC receive almost 116,000 letters between December 1967 and March 1968 which kept Star Trek from being cancelled after its second season. However, what you might not know is that while Star Trek was on life-support almost as soon as NBC first aired the show on television, there were also licenced and Paramount-owned products that further enriched the fan's overall experience with the franchise, almost from its very beginning. This short piece will look at early Star Trek licenced and spin-off products and hopefully give you a sense of how fans were able to consume Star Trek in the earliest days of this now venerable franchise. 

The crew of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Animated Series.This show featured the voice talents of the Original Series actors but only lasted two seasons.
In 1972 NBC went to Filmation and Norway Productions which working with Desilu Studios who produced the live-action show in the early seasons, and using the same actors who portrayed the original crew produced two seasons, one of 16 episodes and the other of six of Star Trek: The Animated Series which expanded the in-canon universe and filled the void felt by an increasingly vocal fanbase. Since the last airing of an episode in June 1969, the 79 episode show almost immediately went into syndication. Indeed, as its popularity started to grow, fans started to organize and the very first Star Trek convention was organized in 1971 by Elyse Pins, Devra Landsam and Al Schuster and took place on the weekend of January 21-23, 1972 at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in New York City. This event was covered by Variety, the trade publication, and featured sci-fi legend Issac Asimov, along with the king and queen of Star Trek themselves, Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett. 

The cover of the Gold Key Comics' Star Trek #4 (June 1969) with a reprint as Star Trek #35 (November 1975). Written by Dick Wood with art by Alberto Giolitti. Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent images are from Star Trek #4.
Comic book fans will appreciate that Star Trek comics started to appear on the shelves of stores in July 1967, shortly after the first season had completed. They were published by Gold Key Comics, an imprint of Wisconsin-based Western Publishing and interestingly, these books didn't come out with the frequency of other, more established comic publishers. The first was available in July 1967 and called the The Planet of No Return; the second called The Devil's Isle in Space and not available until March 1968. From there The Invasion of the City Builders appeared in December 1968; The Peril of Planet Quick Change in June 1969; The Ghost Planet in September 1969; When Planets Collide in December 1969; The Voodoo Planet in March 1970 and The Youth Trap in September 1970, the latter five issues having been produced after the television show ceased filming in January of 1969. The early comics universally featured a still photo of the television crew (usually Kirk and Spock) on the cover, but the similarities ended there. Have a look: from June 1969's Star Trek #4 The Peril of Planet Quick Change

Sulu beams down the crew to "Metamorpha", a quickly changing planet. Where's the Redshirt?

When you special effects budget is limited to what the mind can imagine, Star Trek can get kinda crazy... 

... and even use heavy machinery which was rarely seen on the television show. In the comics they were common place. How did they beam this tank down?

Splash from Part II of Star Trek #4.The comics were divided into chapters.
Not beholden to budgets or technology, the comics were much more detailed in their depiction of alien life and worlds. And the Enterprise crew always seemed better equipped with tools and rucksacks too. In a similar vein, the comics also make it clear that the artists had very little contact with the television show, with the backgrounds and crew tools being very different from the set designs of the television show.   
Splash from Gold Key's Star Trek #31 (July 1975). The writer of unknown but the art is by Alberto Giolitti.

Star Trek #31 was titled The Final Truth and had a Gamesters of Triskelion feel to it  but with robots! 
First piece of licenced original Star Trek prose fiction was titled Mission to Horatius and was written by author Mack Renolds and published by Whitman Books (which was also owned by Western Publishing). It was the first original piece, as there had been previous Star Trek "novels" but they were actually adaptations of the television series from Bantam Books starting in early 1967. Following Mission to Horatius, Spock Must Die! by James Blish which as the title suggests, was targeted more at adult readers was released in 1970. Interestingly, despite the growing popularity of Star Trek and hints from Gene Roddenberry himself that the show might come back (which were most pronounced in the lead up to the failed launch of Star Trek: Phase II in 1978), the next Star Trek novel was Spock, Messiah! which was released in 1976 and written by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr.  After the second novel, the Star Trek universe took off and novels based on the franchise proliferated. 

Cover of Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell and Charles A. Spano Jr. Published by Bantam Books.
Both Star Trek novels and comic books would bounce from publisher to publisher, in the latter case with Marvel Comics picking up the licence for a short period beginning in 1979 with the comics adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. However, that will be discussed later in the next installment of this ongoing mission based on the Star Trek Franchise where we will look at the 1980s and 1990s, covering the bulk of the Star Trek feature films as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Thanks for reading and have a great day!   

Saturday, November 22, 2014

SuperSoundtracks #8: Robotech: Macross & Daft Punk

For a little over a year in the early 2000s, I lived and worked in Tokyo, Japan. At a train transfer on my commute home there was a department store that had on its sixth floor a store called Hobby Base: Yellow Submarine. This store (and others like it in Japan) was awesome but while visiting I was always drawn back to the mecha models, especially those I identified as belonging to Robotech. So for WGTB's SuperSoundtrack #8 I'm going to focus on Robotech: Macross and what I think is the best track of the 2013 hit album by French electronic duo Daft Punk

The Cover of the Robotech Role Playing Game by Palladium Books.
Robotech was one of the earliest mecha-based Japanese programs to be consumed in large numbers by Western audiences. The whole thing started when Jim Rocknowsky, a product director for the US company Harmony Gold, discovered three Japanese programs: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada and decided to licence and merge them into one 85 episode saga, combining remarkable science-fiction visuals with mature and often very personal stories. Upon getting the licence Harmony Gold's president, Frank Agrama, set about  assembling a team that would make this Japanese story enjoyable for Western audiences. This wasn't easy and included not just dubbing the dialogue, but also finding skilled actors to bring the characters to life, writing an appropriate musical score and tying these three desperate stories together into one plausible back story. The first of the three parts or Robotech would become known as the The Macross Saga and is the one I'm most familiar with.
Image from Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #13 (August 1986).
The story went as follows: In the year 1999, humanity was not doing well. Global war was ravaging the planet and it was against this backdrop that astronomers discovered an alien spacecraft heading towards Earth. When the alien ship eventually collides with Earth, it ends up on the fictional Macross Island located in the south Pacific. Miraculously, the ship survives and remains intact, which spurs forth a human effort to reform our ways and soon afterwards a United Earth Government is formed. Simultaneously, a team of researchers and scientists arrive at the island to investigate and learn from the alien ship. 

Image from Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985).
Over time, Macross Island grows from a sparsely populated island to a bustling hive of humanity. Macross City becomes its metropolis, which grows up around what becomes known as the Super Dimension Fortress One (SDF-1). By 2009, it's decided that humanity will launch the ship and command is given to a Frenchman named Captain Henry J. Gloval. His First Officer is a woman named Lisa Hayes and a leader of the robot-fighter aircraft that defends it is Commander Roy Fokker. During the launch ceremonies, a young hotshot pilot named Rick Hunter crashes the party, but his actions are also interrupted when the Zentradi, the previous owners of the SDF-1 arrive to reclaim their property. The Zentradi are a warrior race of green giants who are genetically bred for fighting and when they arrive the First Robotech War begins!
Roy Fokker and Rick Hunter. While not brothers in a biological sense, Rick would call Roy his "Older Brother" and much of the early Macross story centred around Rick going from talented young hotshot to mature military commander -- much of which was the result of Roy's death. Image from Comico's Robotech:The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985).
The humans make a valiant effort to defend themselves and Rick Hunter soon finds himself in a Veritech fighter, the mainstay of the SDF-1's fighter wing, itself a piece of "Robotechnology" which was inspired by the SDF-1. In the heat of the battle, it becomes clear that while the Zentradi have both greater technology and numbers, they also want their ship back and this means using restraint when fighting the humans. In the course of the battle, the humans hyperspace jump to Pluto, and then begin the voyage home, harangued by the alien invaders and isolated from their home planet. 

The SDF-1 transformed. The choice of word is intentional. From Comico's Robotech:The Macross Saga #5 (August 1985)
The faux-technology of Macross was the centre-piece of this part of Robotech and was quite cool. On humanity's side, there was the Veritechs. There was a number of different models of these fighters but the key element to them was they were spacecraft that could transform into a "Battloid" robot, which stood 42 feet high. If the technology sounds familiar to the Transformers line of toys, this is because both were designed by Shōji Kawamori. Indeed, both the Veritechs and Optimus Prime (and many of the early Autobot) molds came from this prolific designer. Indeed, the Autobot "Jetfire" was a VF-1 Valkyrie Veritech fighter. 

Vertiechs and battlepods in Comico's Robotech: The Macross Saga #13 (August 1986)
Eventually the two sides fight to a standstill and when the Zentradi leader, an alien named Exedore, seeks peace with Gloval, it is made known that a new Zentradi fleet is en route to Earth. When it arrives, the SDF-1 is destroyed after it rams the enemy flagship. Earth, however is left in ruins and the remains of the SDF-1 land in the middle of North America, where they once again form the basis for a new city. With this, the Macross Saga ends. 

While Robotech was at its most visible as a cartoon show, it would go on to spawn a multi-media empire with a role playing game, novels, toys and comic books: all of which provided young audiences with multiple means to devour this fictional universe. The comic book licence has its own interesting story. Starting with a short two-issue DC Comics mini-series, which used the model sets made by Revell and not the Japanese anime, it was the Pennsylvania-based Comico that published an initial graphic novel and then the ongoing series based on the Marcoss, Masters and New Generation series. In 1989 the licence went over to a Malibu Comics imprint named Eternity Comics, who published black and white stories until the licence moved over to the obscure Antarctic Press for only two years in the late 1990s. The licence would bounce back to DC Comics in the early 2000s, this time to the Wildstorm imprint in a effort to reboot the entire line. Then, in late 2013 (and partially reviewed on this blog) DC and Harmony Gold licenced it to Dynamite Entertainment where it was featured in a Robotech/Voltron crossover. 

Cover of Random Access Memories by Daft Punk.
For SuperSoundtrack #8 I've decided to pair Robotech: Macross with a song off the 2013 Grammy Awards Album of the Year Random Access Memories by the French electronic band Daft Punk. Now you may remember the massively popular single Get Lucky with its electronically fused funk beats and Pharrell Williams' catchy lyrics, but that isn't the chosen song.   

Daft Punk is a musical duo consisting of Frenchmen Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. Their first album Homework (1997) was a club staple in the late 90s, but I started to love them when I purchased their 2001 release Discovery, which was featured in the Franco-Japanese anime film Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. Human After All (2004) wasn't a favourite but Random Access Memories has more than made up for it. They also wrote the soundtrack for the 2010 film Tron: Legacy. The robot personae has been a feature of the group from their earliest days.    
No, the honour of SuperSoundtrack #8 goes to the track named Touch. Like its sibling, Get Lucky, Touch has funk-infused beats and melodies, but it's also orchestral and space-like/electronic in places as well. Because of this, it really plays to the operatic aspect of Macross and at times, the lyrical refrain "If love is the answer you're home" along with the electronically-fused, cosmically reaching melodies, which themselves are followed by a beautiful arrangement of strings, makes this track the best on an already outstanding album. The lyrics are provided by the versatile Paul Williams, and it's so good, that although it's over eight minutes long, it seems to finish quite quickly. Have a listen and see for yourself if you can picture Roy Fokker, Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes doing what they can to save humanity. 

Robotech wasn't the first Japanese cultural export to find its way to North American shores, nor will it be the last. Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, Mobile Suit Gundam, along with live-action exports like the Power Rangers have also been very popular here. (And this isn't even including original Japanese concepts like the Diaclone that were, um, transformed upon reaching North American markets.) But Robotech was special and remains, for me at least, a first contact point with Japanese sci-fi culture; something I would enjoy very much when living and working in Tokyo. Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions for a SuperSoundtrack please leave it in the comment section below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day.

This is the day Canadians stop our busy lives to commemorate -- each in our own way -- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918: the moment the guns of the Great War fell silent. Equally, we also use this moment to remember all who have served and died in the service of our country, including Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, two servicemen who were murdered last month because they were members of the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Image from 2 Name Books' The Eternal Glimpses of War (2014) Written by Jarrett Mazza with art by Dave Franciosa and letters by Chistopher Barrett.
To mark this solemn day I have assembled some images from a comic I purchased in the Small Press Section of this year's FanExpo in Toronto. Written by Jarrett Mazza, drawn by Dave Franciosa and lettered by Christopher Barrett, it is a self-published eight page book detailing a poem called The Eternal Glimpses of War.  

A close up of the above image.
This book is both a touching tribute to those who have fought and died for our country, but also a well-crafted example of the power of graphic storytelling. It does not glorify war, rather it protrays equally, both the horror that Canadian soldiers experienced in those distant lands, as well as the important role each of us has in remembering them. It's also an example of some of the gems one can find in the Small Press Section of a convention and I wish the creators of Eternal Glimpses a very successful future in the industry.  

The horrors of war in The Etnernal Glimpse of War.
Thank you for reading, and above all, thank you to the women and men who have served Canada and its allies through the course of our history. We are forever in your debt. 

Lest We Forget

Monday, October 20, 2014

Get Well Soon, Foggy Nelson!

Having waited for the trade paperback of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Daredevil, I was late in learning that Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, Matt Murdock's longtime friend, legal partner and confidant was recently (that is to say in March 2013) diagnosed with cancer. Specifically, Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare sarcoma, which is a form of cancer that affects bone or soft connective tissue. Being a sarcoma survivor myself, this obviously struck me as something I might use to raise awareness of sarcoma cancers and ask that you keep reading and perhaps consider helping in our fight against this nasty disease.  Below are the panels of the doctor with Foggy and Matt Murdock. 

Foggy Nelson's Matt Murdock's best friend, legal partner and confidant receives the news: it's Ewing's Sarcoma. From Marvel's Daredevil Vol. 3 #24 (May 2013) Written by Mark Waid with art by Chris Samnee, colouring art by Javier Rodriguez and letters by VC's Joe Caramagna.  
There are over fifty forms of sarcoma cancer, which originate in connective tissue such as bone, cartilage, muscle and fat. Osteosarcoma, the form of sarcoma that I survived over nineteen years ago, has increasingly become more treatable, but sadly people still pass away because of it. Indeed, you might recall that the the comic book world has not been immune from pains caused by sarcoma, with Sam Loeb, the son of Marvel creative executive and writer, Jeph Loeb, passing in 2005 from the disease at only 17 years old. Our sympathies remain with the Loeb family.
The five-year survival for Ewing's sarcoma 70% to 80% when treated with chemotherapy. However, if metastasized (moved from it's original location to another), the survival rates fall to less than 10% to 25-30% depending on the source. Like all cancers, its important to get it early. 
If you would like to support a sarcoma related charity, please consider a donation to one of the following links. Because most of the readership of this blog comes from either the USA, UK or Canada, I have named the respective sarcoma charities from these countries. Recently, when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was diagnosed with a sarcoma cancer, in my capacity as a board member of the Sarcoma Cancer Foundation of Canada, I took to the airwaves to speak on Canadian television about my own experience with the disease. Please feel free to watch what I had to say here and here. Thank you for reading and have a great week.

Monday, October 13, 2014

WGTB Reviews The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes & Paul Rivoche

By any account the Great Depression was a terrible event in the history of our world. Precipitated by a massive stock market crash on 29 October 1929, it carried on for a decade and turned the global economy on its head. It also precipitated the modern welfare state, leading for the first time to massive government involvement in the economic affairs of most Western states. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes, first released in 2008, is a book that examined the Great Depression from a free-market perspective and argued that it was unnecessarily prolonged by state involvement in economic affairs and it was largely this government interia that was to blame for it lasting up until the Second World War. The book reviewed today is the graphic retelling of Shlaes' book, released earlier this May and drawn by Toronto-based artist Paul Rivoche.  

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Graphic Edition), Amity Shlaes & Paul Rivoche, Harper Perennial, 2014, $19.99 (US)
Of course, the "dismal science" as Thomas Carlyle described it, is massively complex and rooted in a long and debated history. Indeed, it's almost impossible to debate economics without getting political and at times it's easy to predict a person's stance on a smaller issue if their other, economic view is known. So to provide a little background we'll firstly take a broad look at the history of economics with the hope that you leave this review with a better sense of what the debate is all about.  

Economics Emerges

Although humans have been trading since the dawn of time, for the sake of brevity, this account will start with an entity that emerged when the medieval period transitioned to the early modern: the Joint Stock Company. First introduced in the Netherlands with the Dutch East India Company, followed shortly thereafter by the English East India Company, the Joint Stock Company was a means by which individual investors pooled their wealth in the form of joint-ownership of a larger venture in order to mitigate the risks that came with sending ships to far-off lands in search of wealth. The investors of Joint Stock Companies reaped the rewards if their ships returned, but could also transfer (sell) their shares if they needed to as well.

Print of the Dutch East India Company shipyards 1726 by Joseph Mulder.
The rise of this new corporate structure coincided with the rise of what was later named "Mercantilism" and the two went hand-in-hand. Mercantilism was a form of state-sponsored economics that involved governments using their military and laws to prevent their colonies (mercantilist countries were almost universally European) from trading with anyone else. Naturally, this encouraged the proliferation of Joint Stock Companies, which were created by their respective Crowns, but also encouraged resentment in some of the more enterprising and prosperous colonies of the world: the Thirteen American colonies being a prime example of this. 

So in the same year that America started its revolution, Mercantilism was challenged outright by an intellectual from the most powerful mercantilist state in the world: Great Britain. Beginning in the late 17th-century, Europe and America underwent an Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a period when the prominent thinkers of these continents, turned towards an emphasis on reason and individualism rather than tradition. Scotland, having joined England to form the United Kingdom in 1707, had an especially robust period of enlightenment and it was one of its thinkers that emerged as the most coherent voice for Enlightenment-based free market economics. His name was Adam Smith.

Statue of Adam Smith on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.
Born in Fife, in 1726, Smith was educated at the universities of Glasgow and Oxford before returning to Edinburgh to continue his work at the university there. In 1776 he would publish An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, now most often known by the latter portion of its title. While this book cannot be called a manifesto or polemic of capitalism, it is still largely regarded as the seminal treatise* in what is now labeled Classical Economics. In Wealth of Nations Smith spoke of the enlightened self-interest of economic trade as well as the danger monopolies had to the economic betterment of a country. He wrote: 

A monopoly granted either to an individual or to a trading company has the same effect as a secret in trade or manufactures. The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked, by never fully supplying the effectual demand, sell their commodities much above the natural price, and raise their emoluments, whether they consist in wages or profit, greatly above their natural rate. The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken, not upon every occasion, indeed, but for any considerable time together. (Book 1, Chapter 7)

Industrial Revolution

In the late 1700s something also started in the UK that would change the face of the world: the Industrial Revolution. While not a revolution in the flag-waving sense, it transformed economic production into something almost unrecognisable only decades earlier. Gone were small rural cottage industries and large land-holders extracting wealth from tenant farmers, to be replaced by steam and coal powered factories in massively expanding cities which were populated by low-skilled workers. Of course, as the established economic order was turned on its head, critics started to emerge, most notably German radicals Karl Marx and Frederich Engels

Marx and Engels, writing in their critique Das Kapital (1867) saw capitalism as an inherently exploitative relationship between the capitalists and workers. Because the workers were paid for work at a fixed wage, they contributed more than they received from their wages and were kept in chains by this relationship. The naturally corollary envisioned by Marx and Engels was the workers of the world uniting to end this relationship in a worker-centred socialist utopia. This notion, argued for in an earlier polemic The Communist Manifesto (1848), saw a socialism of armies of workers; state control of credit and banking; and the near complete state dominance of all areas of economic production.     

The grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery in London, UK.
Decades later when the Great Depression came around, there was debate as to how to deal with it. The prevailing thought in the United States remained the classical liberalism of Adam Smith but this wasn't universal: only a decade earlier the Russians had turned to Marxian socialism in their revolution of 1917. So while the United States never came close to becoming the next socialist republic, it was British economist John Maynard Keynes, already famous for his critique of the Versailles treaty, in his work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), who rose to challenge the established economic order. Keynes argued that in order to save capitalism from itself, (and thereby turning any communists aside) government needed to step in and spend massively on infrastructure to get the economy moving again. Keynes based this on the idea of Aggregate Demand determining the overall health of an economy and when the private sector led to inefficient macroeconomic (large scale) outcomes, it was the public sector that needed to step in and pry the pump. This could include massive spending projects like bridges, buildings or public works, but could also include just paying people to dig holes and then paying others to fill them in again. Keynesians belived that if people started working, they would buy things and this would cause upward spiral towards economic prosperity. 

Neo-Keynesism found a home in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis with even conservatively-minded governments in the United States and Canada implementing massive spending programs. For example, George W. Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) saw the US government buy assets and equity from financial institutions in order to shore them up. Across the border, Canada's Economic Action Plan involved massive spending on roads and other public infrastructure. More recently, Quantitative Easing which sees central banks such as the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England buy specified amounts of financial assets from commercial banks (Citibank or RBS), thereby pushing the prices of these assets up and raising their prices, all the while increasing the amount of money in the economy.      

Lawyer and long-shot GOP 1940 Presidential candidate, Wendell Willkie narrates The Forgotten Man. The portions of the book where he tells the story are done in red. The rest of the book is black and white. All art by Paul Rivoche.   
All of which brings us to the The Forgotten Man and its examination of the push-pull of government control over the economics of the Great Depression and the "New Deal", a Keynesian effort by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his brain trust to exert more state control over the economy. The story is faux-narrated by Wendell Willkie, a long-shot Republican party candidate for the 1940 presidential election who saw state-encroachment of the economy, not as a good thing, but as an interfering menace that stood in the way of real recovery by stifling ingenuity and market correcting forces. Below are some images, and if you read carefully, you'll notice the debate between state and market forces and how they are manifested in political debates around other issues including income inequality or wage and price controls.

At the 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, the patrician New York State governor took his party, which was made of up liberal northerners and conservative southerners, to the left of the political spectrum.

A depiction of the ligitation of the case A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States
The Forgotten Man also walks the reader through not only the economic debate and the FDR advisers, but also the legal dimensions of the New Deal policies as well. A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935) was one of the cases before the Supreme Court of the United States that saw Americans challenge FDR's laws and in this particular instance saw that honourable court render the National Industrial Recovery Act unconstitutional. In this instance the debate centred around Schechter Poultry selling chickens, but also focused on wage and price controls, work hours and unionization. The Court found in favour of Schechter but this did not stand in the way of more centralizing laws and soon even SCOTUS would relent, ending soon after what is called the Lochner era of American jurisprudence.  

The view from the SCOTUS bench in The Forgotten Man.
The Lochner Era, from the decision of Lochner v. New York, 198 US 45 (1905), a period of laissez-faire judicial decisions based on liberty of contract and the 5th and 14th Amendments, ended in the mid 1930s.  
The inauguration of the second term of President Roosevelt. Until that time no President had so much power concentrated into his hands. Roosevelt would serve an unprecedented four terms in office, dying in office on April 12, 1945. Because of Washington's refusal to accept a third term nomination, no president until then had gone past two terms. Since the passing of the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution (1951) no president is legally permitted to sit more than two terms.
After the policy and the ligitation, The Forgotten Man takes the reader to the place where poverty and economic downturn hit the hardest: the life of the everyday American. Indeed, the book's core thesis is that it was the centralizing decisions made by a powerful political and legal elite (as well as their benefactors who ran the programs) that were the real sources of the pains of the Great Depression, with the victims being the namesakes of this book. Rivoche's art works very well at portraying these men, women and children and the starkness of black and white works brilliantly with the overall message.  

Paul Rivoche draws a collective farm.
All of which makes this story of economics, law and history a very enjoyable read. Indeed, if you enjoyed the prose edition of The Forgotten Man you will most certainly enjoy this book too. Amity Shlaes' lessons are masterfully told by Paul Rivoche and although the ideological slant might not be your cup of tea, it is never-the-less a thought provoking account of the Great Depression. Admittedly, I tack towards the author in terms of my own economic and political thinking, but please don't let that take from the valuable lesson and photo-realism that makes this book an excellent addition to anyone's library of history or sequential art. Economics is a topic that in all likelihood will be forever debated, but it is my hope today that you're leaving WGTB with a better sense of the topic. 4/5 STARS 
*A treatise is a formal, systematic and written examination of a singular subject. They are typically longer than an essay and go to the very essence or principles of the subject.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Addendum Review: Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

A few months ago I reviewed a graphic novel by legendary Japanese artist Shigeru Mizuki and released to English-speaking audiences by Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly. Quite simply, it was fantastic and towards the end of the review I mentioned there was a follow-up coming in June 2014. Well, I recently read that second volume and have to say it is even better than the previous edition. The most recent portion of Mizuki's epic account of Japan in the early 20th century, Showa: A History of Japan 1939-1944  took his story into the late 30s and early 40s which saw the Empire of Japan attack the United States of America and the bulk of the war in the Pacific. 

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan, Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn and Quarterly, 2013, pp. 548, C$24.95
I don't have much substantively to add to my previous review, but have captured some choice images for you to enjoy and hopefully this will give you an additional sense of just how masterfully drawn and insightfully told both of these books are. Simply put, Muzuki is an outstanding storyteller and I hope you read/buy/enjoy these remarkable books. Suffice it to say, Showa 1939-1944 gets a near perfect 4.7/5 STARS (the highest we've ever given) and so you really enjoy the images below, we've captioned them with some history to explain their historical significance. Thanks for stopping by!   

This panel is especially interesting. We all know of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which was signed by the Soviet and Nazi foreign ministers in August 1939 and promised non-aggression between those two totalitarian states. But the treaty had Pacific ramifications too. Because of their invasion of Manchuria (China), the Japanese also had an undeclared border war with the Soviet Union in the late 1930s which was of concern to both governments. Earlier, in November 1936, the Nazis and Japanese has also signed an Anti-Comintern Pact against the Russians and then in April 1941, the Japanese and Soviets, in an effort to limit exposure on their western and eastern flanks, signed a Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact. Apparently Hitler was not very pleased. 

An image from a Japanese warship on the eve of the Pearl Harbor Attack. While President Roosevelt had made efforts to involve the US in the Second World War, it was the Pearl Harbor attack that brought the Americans into the war in a very violent fashion. Shortly after the Japanese declared war, the Germans followed suit.    

Mizuki's scene from the Battle of Midway which took place in June 1942, seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Midway Atoll is north-west of the Hawaiian archipelago and was considered a key strategic location of the Pacific. The Battle of Midway itself is considered one of the most important battles of the Pacific war and Japanese war leader Admiral-Marshal Isoroku Yamamoto proved quite prophetic when he promised his government: "I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success". Yamamoto was very close to the mark because Midway was the turning point of the Pacific War and started the American push into the Japanese "Co-Prosperity Sphere".  The Harvard trained and English-speaking Yamamoto said in reference to Pearl Harbour: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." He was right there too. 

The USS Enterprise. The "Big E" was the most decorated US naval ship in the entire war.  

An image from the Battle of Sunda Straight. Mizuki's black and white images of air and sea battles are hauntingly serious and accurate.  

Here's more use of black and white to describe the naval war in the south Pacific Ocean. 

But despite Mizuki discussing a very serious topic, he also takes care to maintain levity, wit and humour throughout the story...

...and at one point even includes an instance where he had a very disgusting mishap with an army latrine. Uck!

But ultimately Mizuki comes back to the futility and waist of the Japanese war effort and the derangement of Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō. Here the prime minister talks about a Japanese parade down Whitehall (London) and imperial battleships in New York harbor.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11

Today we remember the dreadful events of that otherwise beautiful morning on September 11th, 2001. Like me, I'm sure you remember exactly where you were when you saw those civilian airliners crash into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was a terrible day and one we must always remember. 

While no country is perfect, as a Canadian I've always been happy to have the United States as a neighbour and, as any reader of this blog knows, love their comic books and popular culture very much. So to remind us all of America's spirit and its ability and willingness to tackle the villians of the world, I've attached two images of Nick Fury, Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. The art is from the great Jim Steranko. Lest We Forget.  

Captain America and Nick Fury in Marvel's Strange Tales #160 (September 1967) Written & illustrated by Jim Steranko

Image of S.H.I.E.L.D. team by Jim Steranko. Published in S.H.I.E.L.D by Steranko: The Complete Collection (2013)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

FanExpo Canada 2014

This past weekend, the third largest comic and fan convention in North America occurred. It started on Thursday, August 28th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Canada and continued until today (Sunday). Unfortunately, your humble blogger was only able to attend one day, but I was able to take a bunch of photographs for this photo-essay. Here it is: 

FanExpo Canada 2014. Normally this convention is the weekend before the Labour Day weekend,  but this year it happened to fall on that long weekend. And with Derek Jeter playing his last series against the Blue Jays, one felt there would be a lot of visitors from south of the border in town this time. Who doesn't love a double-header of Geek and Baseball, right?   

And this was the case: the crowds were massive! This is the pre-purchased ticket queue on Saturday morning. 

A few years ago the North Building of the convention centre was not used for FanExpo. Now it's packed at 10:00 am!

Horror masks.

North Building at about 10:10 am.

Into the South Building. Comics at a comic book convention??? Who would have guessed?!?

Darth Vader on holiday.

More sales in the South Building.

The DC Champions of Justice panel; Left to Right: David Finch, Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Greg Pax and Larry Ganem. The highlight of the listening to Azzarello talk about his (amazing) run on Wonder Woman. It ends later this autumn but has been a very soild three years. He also talked about how it, while being largely free of the larger DC continuity, was never-the-less true to the character. His advice to David Finch and his wife, Meredith, who take over the book in November, is to always keep in mind the passion fans have for that comic book icon. Jeff Lemire talked about Justice League United, his research into its heavily Canadian content and the personal inspiration for his new character Equinox, the aboriginal Canadian who features in the story. They also spoke about working together on Futures End. Pak spoke about his ongoing work on Batman/Superman.
Imperials of the 501th Legion.

The Marvel: All Access panel; Left to Right: Jeanine Schaefer, Charles Soule, C.B. Cebulski, Greg Pak, Ryan Stegman, Mahmud Asrar and Adam Kubert. This panel was more free-flowing than the DC with Kurbert talking about the upcoming Axis crossover, Soule, the upcoming She-Hulk courtroom drama with Matt Murdock and, of course, the impending death of Wolverine. Stegman spoke about Inhuman and Pak about his work on Storm. Jeanine was asked a "diversity in comics question" and she and C.B. spoke about how Ms. Marvel is the most popular downloaded book outside of North America, which has told Marvel that female lead characters are good for the bottom line. 

A Batmobile...of sorts.

The Batman: Arkham Knight Batmobile again. 

Vive la France!

A Nissan S130 painted up as the Autobot "Prowl".

Prowl Again.

This was interesting. This Deadpool-look-a-like is actually a police recruitment character named "United" who works for the York Regional Police, a force from a region north of Toronto. I certainly don't want to see local cops wearing that outfit, but it does show how pervasive geeky things are these days. 

Exterminate! I'm loving Peter Capaldi in the role, btw.

Boba Fett and Darth Vader

Commander Adama signing autographs along with...

...the incomparable Bruce Campbell. Hail to the King, baby!!!!

The Batmobile circa 1966.

The evening was capped off with a brief talk by William Shatner. The big event is An Evening of the Two Captains with Shatner joined by Sir Patrick Stewart on Sunday evening. In this short chat (30 minutes) Shatner spoke mostly of his early career, much of which was spent in Toronto after he first moved from Montreal. One notable story was about when he didn't have much, it was friendships (and that's not a euphemism) with "ladies of the evening" that helped him get through those tougher times. He was fantastic and even made a couple digs at George Takei, who doesn't seem to speak too highly of him these days. Shatner is always awesome to see, and brought the house down in only half an hour!  
So there you go: one day of FanExpo Canada. I hope you enjoyed it and we'll see you next year.