Friday, October 17, 2014

Death in comics - big Flash Friday edition

It has been exactly two weeks since my last post of which I spent most of the time working on old posts or preparing stuff for new ones but now we can finally start with the long promised topic of DEATH IN COMICS.


The origin of this post - as with most on this blog - was another post, namely the one where I explained my reasons why DISNEY NEEDS TO RESURRECT NAMORITA - NOW ! Or at least I thought I did. But judging from the comments I got on the post it seems to give the expression that I just wanted her back because I need one more hot babe in a scantily costume. Like there´s not enough of that going on at Marvel right now.


So to clarify a few things here is my take on DEATH IN COMICS.

D.R.E.A.M. or DEATH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME

I have written about death in comics a few times and when I started to look for pictures to best illustrate the post I quickly discovered 2 things. First, that there is almost no comic character where death is not part of the series in some way or another. Maybe the character has died and come back from the dead. Maybe that´s even his origin story. I know a lot of people have seen the WATCHMEN movie but while it is said in most interviews that Dr. Manhattan was based on Charlton character Captain Atom his origin story really dates all the way back to a Gold Key character.


That´s right : he has the same origin story as Doctor Solar who just wore regular clothes in his first issues and later had one of the best costumes of that time. Now I´m no expert but with all the bitching Alan Moore does about how DC comics treats " his creations " he should not forget that Valiant - or whoever has the license of that character now - could still sue him for copyright infringement. But back to death in origin stories.


Maybe the origin story ties in with the death of another person. Or maybe the costume has a death motif to strike fears into the hearts of criminals who are a superstitious cowardly lot. The comic could about the undead : vampires, werewolves or zombies. There are a lot of zombies in comics.


So rather than a single post this will probably become a series of posts.

As if I didn´t have enough uncontinued series I have to get back to. But that´s the reason why this will either be just the intro to a number of follow up post or an incredibly long one. The other thing I realized was that while there is an almost infinite number of death in comics there is really only a dozen or so deaths that really stick to the mind. And in most cases it´s not because it was an event or because it was a big news that the comic company decided to kill off this particular character. No, it was a reason that´s probably totally alien to Today´s young, hip and trendy comic reading ( on their iphone or ipad whatever electronical device they are using nowadays ) generation : because the subject was treated with respect and dignity and - most of all - because it was a really good story.


When I did the preparation for this post I tried to narrow it down to just a few prime examples for the best stories involving death but because there are just so many of those that are really noteworthy I ended up with ten and most of them are the iconic ones which you see listed in all the countdowns. Now I could try to be different and exclude them but why should I ? There is a reason why they are included in all these countdowns.

They have stood the test of time because they have imprinted themselves into the collective unconsciousness of pop culture by being the best of the best. And while I do not think that I am in any way more qualified or knowledgeable than all the people who have written about these before I still want to give the readers my take on them or at least mention them.


Another wrinkle on the whole dilemma is that I also want to mention the lesser known stories where a certain character dies or stories that are personal favorites. Where I may be the only person who liked the story.

Hey, it´s my blog and since nobody is sponsoring it in any way I can write what I like. There are also a few stories I´m going to mention where maybe the death of a certain person was not the big payoff but where it led to a really great story. There are some I´d like to mention in my countdowns and at least one of them will have to get a post all for itself.

Okay, before we go all into my whole " The history of death in comics is a history of misunderstandings. " stick ( german readers will know the joke I´m making here ) I have to clear up something. I´m not one of these guys who says that everything was better in them olden days. While I´m not really too thrilled with DC´s NEW 52 or most of Disney´s MARVEL NOW garbage there are some small nuggets in there. And there are a lot more comic companies out there. I am sometimes amazed by how many comic readers keep on bitching about the big two instead of just switching to the independents. It stopped being a money reason a long time ago and I´m still bewildered that there are not more readers who make the switch since it has been decades since indie books have left Marvel and DC in the dust - story wise, art wise and also where keeping the integrity of the intellectual property and the dedication to their readers is concerned.


But who am I to point fingers since I´m one of the people who still cling to the big two ? Although I feel that I´m slowly going away from monthly books at least. When I did my usual online comic order last week ( after waiting for three months because of all the trouble with the jobcenter and my health insurance - which by the way is still unresolved ) there were only five series left, of which I got the final issues of one of them and another one will be canceled soon. There is one new series left - George Perez´ SIRENS has finally come out - but since that is a six issue limited series there are really only three. Add to the three other books where I´m still reading the monthlies ( provided Stan Sakai´s USAGI YOJIMBO ever returns ) and that´s six books. It´s not that I read less comics now than in other decades but there are less and less titles out there where I have the feeling that following it on a monthly basis is really worth it. In the end I prefer the hardcovers which look much nicer - not only on my shelf porn - and they are easier to read and re - read again.

A SHORT RESPITE FROM DEATH FOR SOME COMIC PIMPING

And speaking about shelf porn I want to pimp a few collections from amazon.de really quick. Because as always they tend to go up and down in prices really quick. THE NEW TEEN TITANS OMNIBUS 2 and 3 are always around 50 bucks and you should wait a few days until they are at their lowest before ordering. The same is true for THE INFINITY GAUNTLET OMNIBUS which is currently at 75 bucks but which can cost you more than 80 when you order at the wrong day. THE UNCANNY X - MEN OMNIBUS 2 is at 66 bucks right now but it has been at more than 75 the last weeks.


But what I really want to mention are the LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT hardcovers. I just got the Marshall Rogers edition and even if it was not on the bargain books list I paid ten bucks less. I have just started to read it before I have to give it away as a birthday present and it collects most of Rogers´ work. Of course the best stuff are the classic issues with Rupert Thorne, Hugo Strange and the clown fish so if you already have that you should probably not bother with the hardcover. But if you want to have it all in a nice hardcover check out amazon before paying 50 bucks.

There is also the Tales of the Batman - Don Newton hardcover about one of the most underrated Batman artists. This hardback is totally worth it and although DC never puts much effort into these hardcovers where extra material or even a foreword is concerned the art is breathtaking.


It´s currently at 26 bucks so when I could get this 40 dollar beauty for only 22 I jumped at the opportunity. And speaking of 40 dollar books, Tales of the Batman - Gene Colan is probably more interesting for Gene Colan fans as there are some gaps in - between because they left out those issues done by other artist so some threads are resolved outside of this book. But if you ever thought about getting it now´s a good time to order. It´s currently at 22 bucks at amazon but it won´t stay long at that low price.


Okay, enough comic pimping for now so let´s get back to death in comics, although the Marshall Rogers hardcover DOES contain one of the classic deaths of my earliest comic reading period : the death of Hugo Strange.

A BETTER LIFE AFTER DEATH or THE FINAL FATE OF THE FLASH

Which brings us back to what I was saying earlier. I don´t want to say that things were always better in the days when I was reading comics as a kid.


And least of all how death was handled in most cases. Because around the 70s death was used in much the same way as Disney and DC are using it now : just a cheap ploy to sell a few comics and easily redone after a few months. You see, during the Silver and much of the Bronze Age death didn´t last a whole issue and there are a lot of Batman covers - just to pick a quick example - where his death is announced or at least hinted at.


The same goes for the Flash. There are a lot of cases where he has died


or at least was pronounced dead on a cover of Justice League America.


So why is the death of Barry Allen in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS different ? Why is it one of the big comic deaths ? Why do people still talk about it ?


One of the reasons is because it was permanent. At least until DC decided for some reason to bring Barry Allen back. I´m not saying that this was a huge mistake but I said goodbye to the FLASH books after that. I know I´m probably going to be stoned by comic readers all over the world for that but I think dying was the best thing that ever happened to Barry.

Let´s face it, as a character Barry Allen was never that interesting and his best storyline was FLASH ON TRIAL which had to do with two deaths : his wife Iris Allen been killed by the Reverse Flash who in turn was killed by Barry Allen. But besides that most of the stories were focused on the weird situations The Flash found himself in and how he got out of them.


So when Barry Allen sacrificed himself in CRISIS it gave him a nobility that had been there all along but was overlooked just too easily. He became some kind of legendary figure - especially for his nephew Wally West who tried to follow in his footsteps. Which is where my story with The Flash really began. I´m just now in the middle of putting together a complete run of Williams Messner Loebs and Greg LaRoque´s FLASH issues because that´s something that has been missing too long from my collection. But Wally West is really the main reason why I stayed on the book for so long.

Unlike douchebag Kyle Rayner who got his role handed to him in a neat package Wally had to earn it. He started as a sidekick, then forged his own identity with the Teen Titans before taking up the mantle of Flash.


You could see him evolve as a hero and a person in the new FLASH series and I don´t know if the way how I came into the book was really the best.

As I have probably already mentioned in my FLASH FRIDAY posts I started really getting into the book during the BORN TO RUN and the RETURN OF BARRY ALLEN storylines ( You see how DC already did that story before and in a much better way than in the FLASH REBIRTH book ? And it tied much better into continuity and didn´t destroy the Flash franchise ).


I totally tried to get the book from my pull list but every time one story ended there was another much more engaging story coming up. And I just started to be more interested in Wally West because he became my Flash.


I know, people always say that you like the heroes best that you read as a kid and that they are the ones you stick with. Well, I don´t know if I am an exception in that way but my Flash is not the one who I read as a kid because instead of Barry Allen my favorite is Wally West and my favorite Green Lantern is neither Hal Jordan nor John Stewart but Guy Gardner.

       
I know a lot of people don´t like him or see him as a one dimensional character but while he can be a real heel he also has his heroic impulses like in the ECLIPSO storyline that went through the annuals in 1992.


But back to the Death of Flash - or better the death of Barry Allen - there were very few deaths that were really meaningful or shocking or lasting before that. One of the few exceptions was when Black Manta murdered Aquaman´s son but most of the other deaths in comics were either soon negated or just some clever trick by the writers to get readers attention.


Which is how it is Today in the comic industry so we have come full circle.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH A GOOD MURDER STORY

It seems death is not this absolute thing it had become in the Bronze Age when the deaths of Captain Jean DeWolfe, Gwen Stacy or Jean Grey were real game changers in how the subject was treated. Nowadays death is a revolving door where some characters walk in and out as they please while some - like Namorita or the first Thunderstrike Eric Masterson - are just dumped there because writers don´t know what to do with them.


This is one of the biggest sins in writing comics for me. You want to kill off a character ? Okay. You want to bring back a character ? Also okay. As long as there´s a good story to it. Because if you want to do one of those you better have a very good reason. And an even better story. Just look at the return of Bucky Barnes. When it was first announced that Ed Brubaker was bringing back Bucky all of comicdom was in an uproar. But when the excellent WINTER SOLDIER story was published comicfans and comic critics fell in love with it very quickly and now it´s hailed as one of the best stories in Ed Brubaker´s CAPTAIN AMERICA run. Which has become on of the quintessential runs of the titles like I already predicted in 2007 .


So if you tackle the topic of death you should have a very good reason and not have it be just a gimmick like in the current DEATH OF WOLVERINE event where comic readers are already betting on how long he is going to stay dead because he IS one of Disney´s cashcows and we all know he´s coming back. At DC I really don´t care anymore because the characters have become so unrecognizable that even the writers don´t know how to fit in the death and return of Batman after he went up against Darkseid


or how he could have had four different Robins in five years of which one grew up from teenage sidekick to the role of adult Nightwing in the short time and how the latest of them has already died and come back again.


And this is the end of Today´s post but don´t worry, there will be much more death in comics coming up with solo posts on the death of Barry Allen - and at least one more Deja Vue post about the cover for CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 12 - and other memorable deaths from my favorites like the strange death of Adam Warlock as well as storylines that took off when such longstanding characters like Reed Richards took the plunge.


I know this was a rather long post but after my last post about KAUBOI UND KAKTUS stayed on the top of the blog for two weeks ( Landrömer will be thrilled ) I think my faithful readers deserve something special.

BUT NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Now I know that Today´s topic was death in comics but since I couldn´t find a good one about it I want to post another one that ties in with something I mentioned in my last post on Bob Layton´s IRON MAN run . I mentioned that I don´t think it was a good idea to make the one member of the Fantastic Four black that gets set on fire and that is exactly what Melina Pendulum is talking about. I found the video oddly enough while looking for the TEEN TITANS episode with Nightwing and while I haven´t watched the entire video yet ( I got distracted by her impressive chest )


I like that she´s very opinionated about it. And I don´t mean to sound condescending. The whole topic of black / white casting in movies can be a post in itself so the only thing I want to say on the subject is that in most of the cases it doesn´t really make a difference if a character from a comic is the same colour in a movie if they keep the essence right. Of course somebody like the Black Panther can´t be just become the White Panther - even if there are some characters in the comic called the White Panthers. Who are also black under the costume. For me the thing you want to avoid is to forcibly introduce a black character into a franchise just to have a black character. Because in the end you have somebody like Falcon or Triathlon who plays the role of token black guy for pc reasons.


And while in my opinion Michael Clarke Duncan was brilliant as Kingpin in Daredevil I can´t help but thinking what it says about our society if we say that the biggest crimelord in America should be black. Okay, I have already said too much so enjoy the video and try not to get distracted.



I also want to include a comic interview video so since it will be probably a few months before I can get back to the Moebius posts here´s another episode of PRISONERS OF GRAVITY with the great late comics master.



And because I have used a lot of old german comic covers on the post and I want to get more readers in Germany here´s one of Germany´s most famous performers with his most famous songs, The Starter Yodel.



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No ! It can´t be you ! You´re ...... DEAD !

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Good, the Dead and the Spiky One

I know that I promised to cover DEATH IN COMICS next but since Today is the Day of German Unity I´m writing about a german comic instead. But don´t worry, there are still plenty of dead people in it like one of the main characters who is a dead cowboy ( not a zombie ). The other is a cactus.


Yes, from all the western comics that are - or have been so far - published in Germany this is one of the weirdest but also one of the most rewarding once you have discovered it. And there always was a big yearning for the days of " Yesterdays thundering hoof prints " were things were easier, or at least that´s what we think looking back from a romantic viewpoint.

And this fascination with cowboys and indians has been as strong - if not stronger - here in Germany as in its nation of birth. I already wrote about the western comics of my youth in WILD WILD WEST GERMANY but since it mostly covered western comics from BASTEI and in such publications as MV COMIX and ZACK I might do another one. For the moment let´s just say that western comics have always been a big part of german comics.


Originally the review of KAUBOI UND KAKTUS should have been part of my discontinued Erlangen 2014 Diary but I realized that I would do this under appreciated comic gem a great disservice by not giving it its own post.

And because the story of KAUBOI UND KAKTUS - at least my story with the comic - doesn´t start in 2014 but rather in 2010 so let´s borrow Doctor Doom´s time machine for a little joyride to the days of wild adventures.

CASH FIRST - KAUBOI UND KAKTUS COMIC LATER

In 2010 I attended the International Comic Salon in Erlangen, like I have done since I first discovered it´s existence. And like with most of my past Erlangen Diaries I only got around to cover the first day ( part 1 / part 2 ) so at least I´m not repeating myself. Because I didn´t discover the comic at the comic convention ( shame on me ) but rather at the release party in celebration of the release of the third issue entitled ZUM TEUFEL .


But like I said, I was oblivious to that. Back then I was still relatively young and relatively agile so activities after the comic convention had closed were still on the agenda. And when you´re in Erlangen - you know.

So my brother always had strange ideas about activities when we´re in Erlangen. Like for instance getting something to eat is not an activity for me. It should not be an activity. I mean, you have a car, you drive to the place where you want to eat and you drive back to the hotel afterwards. Right ? It´s not that easy for my brother. My brother´s idea of " going " to eat - and going is the operative word here - is to drive somewhere with the car and then walk for half an hour or one hour to where you are going to eat. And then walk all the way back to the car afterwards which makes you question why you used the car in the first place. Especially if it would have been quicker if you had walked from your hotel to where you ended up eating or if you chose a restaurant nearer to your hotel to begin with.

He´s all into climbing mountains just because they are there while for me there has to be a reason to climb a mountain. Okay, on our first night in Erlangen in 2010 we were looking for some nightly activities and as always money was a big factor. If you have been at a comic convention - any comic convention - you know that you never have enough money so you want to economize where you can. So going over the list of panels, discussions, exhibitions and parties that took place on the first night there was this country fest. For all country and western fans with country music and corresponding drinks like lemon grass beer and waldmeister wheat beer. Now that didn´t sound like your ordinary comic party and country and western is a music genre that is largely ignored in Germany.


I remember that the old house I grew up in in Neckarweihingen ( before we moved to Höpfigheim then Oberstenfeld and back to Neckarweihingen again ) had an old radio tuned into this station that only played Schlager, evergreens ( which in Germany is a word not used for the trees which are called Tannenbäume, but for songs which you would call oldies in the english language ) and country music. So I heard the Kufstein song as often as You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, Coward of the Country or Jackson. There were not a lot of german country bands so when Truck Stop entered the german Hitparade it was something special.



So there are not that many occasions to hear country music in Germany. I don´t think people know who Taylor Swift is here. Plus - and this was one of the main reasons - the entrance was free and at most parties you had to pay or be invited. I know, shockingly I´m still not part of the german comic vip scene even if I have connections to some comic veterans.

Anyway, we went to the party ( at least I know I did, my brother seems to have no recollection of it ) and I had a great time. Erlangen is kind of always the same in that you normally meet all the people at the parties you also bump into during the con so this was a welcome change of pace. Don´t get me wrong, part of Erlangen´s charme is that you can connect with the usual familiar suspects but it´s always nice to meet new people like when I stayed at the Vanishing Hotel with some MOSAIK fans.


The next day I went looking for the comic and as usual with german independent comics the booth was in the most remote and tiny area of the convention floor. I remember speaking with Landrömer ( the creator ) at length because I wanted to know in which issue the secret origin of Kauboi und Kaktus was. Like so often I planned to buy the comic at the last day but either I ran out of money or I forgot or both, in any case, although I liked what I had seen of the comic so far I never bought it.

So when I was wandering around the con in 2014 and came across his booth again I bought all 3 issues and even got some sketches. Normally I prefer to get sketches in my special sketch book but since he was already signing all issues he made a little sketch into each one. I got a chance to chat with him again as he was signing the comics and he was surprised that I remembered him from 4 years earlier but it was a really good party.

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING DEAD ( OR SPIKY )

After this rather long prologue let´s finally talk about KAUBOI UND KAKTUS the comic. The art is deceptively simple and some would say the stories are very childlike. However if you care to look a bit deeper there is a sophistication to it akin to the teachings of the great philosophers.

In this strip cactus ( he can walk and talk )  helps out a sand glass who´s unhappy because " his time is running out " by turning him upside down.


This doesn´t solve the problem because even though the sand glass has now " gained time " he still " can´t get the loss of time out of his head ".


Cactus solution to the whole neverending viscious circle : to lay the sand glass down since " time stands still when you´re lying down ". Both the sand glass and time are at rest at the same time which is symbolized in graphic form by the sand glass´ shape that looks like the sign for infinity.


So what about the dead cowboy ? The story of the comic begins when this dead cowboy skeleton saves a walking and talking cactus with his lasso.

When the skeleton tries to shake the cactus´ hands he is warned that he will be stung but he replies : " Nobody stings the Kauboi. His hand has no flesh. Only bones. No pain. " which is the start of a long friendship. The eternal dessert is the setting where all their adventures take place as they start their long trek together. There are a lot of low puns and corny jokes but that´s all part of this world that works a lot with play of words and where the devil or Johnny Cash are character in the stories and cactus comes with his own water supply which is helpful in the dessert.


Judging from the title of the first issue VERRECKTE HUND you might think they are tough guys but besides their scary exterior that doesn´t seem to be made for making many friends deep down they don´t want to be alone.

All three issues are done in a different colour, but sadly I could only find some strips from the first issue on the old blog of KAUBOI UND KAKTUS .


You can see that Landrömer is just starting with the strip because he´s still sticking to the old three panels per strip formula. In the second issue, where the main color is black or at least a really dark blue, he starts doing panels across the entire length of the strip, full page splashes and vertical panels. In SCHNORCHELN OHNE BADEHOSE ( snorkeling without bathing trunks ) the desert takes a backseat as our fearless duo of heroes goes underwater to reclaim the Kauboi´s magic hat which he got from the devil. They encounter such strange creatures as Eelfredo, Calamarie and beeranhas and the cactus has to fight an underwater duel with the devil which he wins because he was clever enough to store some holy water.


I don´t want to get too deep into detail about issue 3 because this is where the secret origin of Kauboi is really told ( parts of it have been revealed in the first two issues ) and the heavy stuff happens. Fittingly the color of that issue is read even if the cover is yellow and black.


Now I didn´t find a lot of pictures of these 2 comics because most of the images I found were from the upcoming FLUSSFAHRT ( river trip ) album.


According to Landrömer the birth of the comic began at the river Lech on a hot summer day in 2001 when he doodled some skeletons on a piece of paper. He gave one of the skeletons a hat that looked like a lying down eight - the sign for infinity - and because he reminded him of a cowboy and since cowboys live on the prairie he drew a desert cactus next to him.

Even a man made of bones needs a friend.

The comic is not out yet but it looks like our two protagonists are taking a page out of Mark Twain´s TOM SAWYER AND HUCKLEBERRY FINN down the river. This is clearly a much more ambitious project since Landrömer uses more colors here and even includes a few examples of art history.


But I´m sure that like its predecessors it is going to be a mixed bag of fun, adventure, philosophy and life lessons. If you don´t have them in your comic library already you can find them at all the finer comic shops.

For more about the comic you can check out the KAUBOI UND KAKTUS homepage or visit KAUBOI UND KAKTUS on facebook . There is also this review of the comic on TEXTEM ( sorry, only in german ) and I have to mention the homepage of the PULP COUNTRY DEEJAY TEAM which was the band at the release party and where I found the poster from said party.

Todays first video is from Truck Stop but I´ll keep Der Wilde, Wilde Westen, Take it easy altes Haus, Hello Josephine or Durch Sachsen ohne Anhalt for the right occasion. So here is a song about road safety : Die Frau mit dem Gurt ( The woman who wears nothing except for a belt ).


It´s a song I heard a few times on the radio but I never knew from which band it was so making this post did at least answer that question.



Another big country hit was Ruf Teddybär Eins - Vier by Johnny Hill.



I mentioned it in the post so here is Heino´s Kufstein song.



And since I just can´t the post with a Heino video here´s Frank Zander with Hier kommt Kurt which was probably the first german rap song ever.



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