Monday, June 25, 2007

Got you under my skin

Sometimes things can work in your favour. Even the fact that you have a ton of comics to write about and not enough time do get to it.

Because you need a little perspective from time to time. Let´s face it : if I had done my review of the new Blue Beetle series ten months ago it would not have sounded different than my first impressions of the series. But over the course of the series the book starts to get under your skin - like the scarab did in the comic with the main character.

After issue 3 I was still pissed that they killed of Blue Beetle. And no......I don´t think that after the death of Ted Kord there were tons of Blue Beetle fans crawling out of the woodwork who only liked him because all of a sudden they had killed him off. Yes, DC is arguing that way, that while there may have been " some " fans of Blue Beetle it " never would have been enough " to support his own series. Those are only some random but very vocal fanboys. Well, I think Blue Beetle had more fans than DC knew or ever cared to admit.

And it´s not the first time either. Remember when they had to resurrect Dick Grayson who was supposed to die during INFINITE CRISIS ? But because of the tremendous outcry of fans they had to bring him back. Well, it looks to me that DC is not really aware how popular their characters can be. Not only popular with fans of the legendary Giffen - League ( in my opinion the best league. Ever. )it seems that Blue Beetle was also loved by legion of other comicfans. As to the question of the own series I just want to say : has DC ever really tried to make a Blue Beetle series that sells ? I mean not only put some c - list writer and some unknown artist on it but really go out and recruit some premium deluxe art team. Like Keith Giffen or Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns for the writing and on art Ed McGuiness or Frank Cho or Paul Pelletier. It´s easy to say that a comic would not sell - if you are only prepared to put some half - assed effort into it. It´s a whole new ball game if you have to put your money were your mouth is. Or in this case your creative force.

Yes, I know.....they put some really great artists on Blue Beetle - but only after the death of Ted Kord. That´s another reason I was so angry at DC. We finally get the series we all wanted but with someone else in the driver´s seat. And that´s one of my pet peeves with comics : why do they have to change everything as soon as a hero or character get´s his own book. ? The original idea behind giving someone his own series is that the concept of the character is so strong that you want to capitalize on that. Pretty easy concept. Right ?


Every time a character gets his own series they have to change it. Firestorm gets his own book ? Yes, but it´s someone else than the one everyone loves and who´s so popular. And then DC is surprised that sales are so slow. Supergirl gets her own series ? Okay, but let´s change her powers, change her personality so much her own mother would not recognizer her and turn her into some kind of earth angel ( and let´s not even talk about the new version ). Harley Quinn gets her own book ? Okay, but lets give her a general power boost ( a.k.a. the old more powerful more agile schtick ) and turn her from a lunatic into a hero.

I think you get the idea. Maybe DC should try a new concept once in a while. If a superhero is so popular that he gets his own series - DON´T change him. Just let him be like he is. Maybe they will be surprised.

Anyway, the reason why I´m writing about Blue Beetle at all is that it started out like all those other books that tanked royally. No, really, I was prepared to hate the series. I remember my first impressions about the book. The idea of another super hero who has no idea what he has gotten into didn´t really appeal to me since the whole " reluctant hero " thing is not really a novel concept. I mean I had already experienced both ends of the spectrum you could get. With INVINCIBLE and SPIDER - GIRL I was already reading the best examples, the " How to " on this theme. And of course I had also suffered the low point of the inexperienced youth growin into his role with Kyle Rayner.

So I didn´t really expect comic book greatness even if Keith Giffen was writing the first ten issues. Because that was also a part of the problem. While the series started out strong with the creative team Cully Hamner only did three full issues and Keith Giffen left after issue ten. That´s not a good thing for a series that has only just begun. I think the only reason the series was not immediately canceled was the fact that the fill - in artists ( and later the new artist ) draw in a style that´s similar to Cully Hamner without imitating it.

And the story is really much better than you expect it going in. There are some really surprising twists and shocking developments. And there are some things I now understand better like the kid who was in a coma and thought he was a cop in the year 1973. LIFE ON MARS did not air in Germany when I read that particular issue. And I also wasn´t confused with all the back - and - forth in time thanks to the whole ONE YEAR LATER thing. So while my brother kept the title on his pull list I kept reading it and slowly began to be interested in the book. And than came Guy Gardner.

Yep, that´s right. The issue that REALLY won me over was issue 14 guest starring the best Green Lantern there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. Guy Gardner. Altough most comic readers think he is the most simple and one dimensional hero nothing could be father from the truth. You really won´t find a more complex, interesting, multi - layered character than old Guy. It´s not easy to write him and most writers have a hard time doing it. So any writer who writes a good Guy ( no pun intended ) is okay in my book. And in issue 14 Mike Rogers has his Gardner down to a tee. This is really one of the best character moments of Guy I have read in a long time.

The best scenes are when Guy acts like a mentor to Jaime Reyes ( the new Blue Beetle ) or just talks about the time when he was leading the Justice League. But my favorite part is on the last page when Guy Gardner is dishing out a piece of advice because it just shows that the writer has neither forgotten Ted Kord nor what made him special.

" Ted Kord had no powers, kid. He was always " overpowered ". But he always won. I saw him mop the floor with guys who ate stars.

Because he was smarter. He was smarter than Bats, although nobody ever noticed.

You can beat those punks. But you gotta stop thinkin´ like some scared kid with fancy power armor......

....and start thinkin´like THE BLUE BEETLE. "

That´s one FUCK YEAH ! moment right there. Did I mention that the issue has the Ultrahumanite ? You just can´t beat an evil genius inside a gorilla´s body. Worked with Brainiape in SAVAGE DRAGON, worked with Monsieur Mallah in DOOM PATROL and it sure works here.

Okay, right now you might be saying : I´m interested, so what is this new Blue Beetle series all about ? Let´s begin with the origin right here.

Up until issue six we are all led to believe that the scarab is nothing more than a magical object of power but at the end of that issue Peacemaker arrives and tells Jaime that it´s origin is extraterrestial. Which of course makes some kind of sense since the scarab can form this armor and work with tech as well as the weird things the armor has been doing and why only Jaime can hear it - since he´s bonded to it. Here the writer sucessfully combines elements of fantasy with science fiction. Only in a super hero book, man. The arriving of Peacemaker sets Jaime on a course to try to find out how the armor and the powers work and why every Blue Beetle so far has had different powers.

With him on this search are Brenda, whose aunt is the local crimelord of EL PASO and Paco who has become a member of the posse. I like the idea of a supervillain who prefers to be a big fish in a small pond than being a small fish in a big pond. And she´s also very concerned about Brenda´s well being. Which gets the new Blue Beetle in all kinds of trouble when she is transported off - world by a mother box she finds in her aunts study at the end of issue nine.

That´s one aspect that also is a big part of the series : family. No matter if it is Jaime´s immediate family and how they cope with his return after suddenly vanishing for a whole year or his second family with Brenda, Paco and his hacker friends. One of the strong points of the book is the realistic relationships between the main protagonists. Although you could get the feeling that it´s all to sugarcoated with Jaime being the almost perfect son and his father who is always so understanding and supportive. But then you find out that Brenda´s father was hitting her and it´s not so peaceful.

Anyway, issue seven we finally find out what happened to Jaime after the end of INFINITE CRISIS and how he lost a whole year. So after that the first stop on their tour is Dan Garret, the granddaughter of the original Blue Beetle, and Keith Giffens and John Rogers clear up the whole deal about who the first two Blue Beetles were and how they were connected. I won´t get too much into details ( yeah, too late for that ) but they wind up meeting the NEW GODS namely Metron.

I just can´t seem to escape the shadow of Jack Kirby. No matter if it´s a comic convention in Sapin or reading some series at home sooner or later he just pops up.

So after that Jamie finally meets the aliens that built the armor and that´s when evrything goes into Hyperdrive. Whatever you think that is going to´re not going to guess what really happens. One last thing I want to mention is that issue 15 featuring Superman has two different covers. I would say the isssue where Blue Beetle meets Superman but they are only together in like two pages. So here are the two different covers.

I wonder why they changed it. I mean on the cover that was released Superman is frowning while in the actual issue he´s all smiling and chill out, dude. Nevertheless Blue Beetle is a series you should definitely check out if you are not already reading it. Maybe you will grow to like it - like me.

Normally this is the part where I post some links where you can see preview pages of Blue Beetle. But since DC has stopped participating with MileHighComics and the preview on pocultureshock disappear faster than a Big Mac on a convention of Marlon Brando imitators I´m going to post the pictures directly. So here are some links to some reviews of Blue Beetle and if you want to see some art you can scroll down.

If you don´t want any spoilers just skip this part and go directly to the end of the posting with the clip.

issues 1 to 4 / issue 4 / issue 8 / issue 9 / issue 11 / issue 15

And that´s all for today. Next time we will hopefully get back to the comic convention in Spain. I hope.......

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    Monday, June 18, 2007

    My spanish vacation - Part 5

    Once in a while the computergods seem to smile on you.

    Today Firefox suddenly worked again and even shows the clips on my blog ( thank god I didn´t do any double posts in my last entry - what I found out today ). I just finished to rebuild my picture archive for the blog and even downloaded a pletora of new episodes of ComicGeekSpeak to listen to while writing. In fact I´m listening to the Book of the Month Club Episode 3 which is about THE WALKING DEAD.

    In addition today is Monday which means that they air BLADE and two new episodes of ALIAS nonstop. So I just tape it with my VCR so when I watch it later I can skip all the commercials. And I save 45 minutes because of that too. The only other thing on tv today is Mike Hammer which I will tape on the other vcr. So no tv for today, everything´s locked and loaded and I even have access to all the you tube bookmarks I made last time.

    So let´s get back to my first day at the comic convention in Barcelona. There are still a few fanzines I have to write about that I didn´t cover in the first four parts Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

    Whew ! Almost lost my whole post. Thankfully blogger now automatically saves your draft or I would be royally screwed now !

    Anyway, the first one is SUPERHEROES AL DESNUDO ( superheroes in the nude ) from FLAsCinDER. Priced at 1,50 EUROS this 40 page, glossy paper manual for the superhero of today is a cool tongue - in - cheek how to guideline to become a superheroes. From how to acquire superpowers to how to get a superhero costume up to fighting etiquette this one has it all.

    And while it makes fun of a lot of superhero cliches it´s all in good taste. You can tell that deep down the artists behind are superhero fans.

    For every superhero fan this should be a must read. And there´s a villain´s manual to boot. Speak about working both side of the equation. Anyway, here´s the link to the FLAsCinDER blog

    The next one is COMPLEJO DE CACATUA which also includes some superhero spoofs but a little more risky. Still funny but more like MAD magazine. As you can tell from the cover.

    I wanted to list the link for but the website doesn´t seem to work anymore.

    Now not only did I get the 52 magazine size COMPLEJO DE CACATUA for 2,50 EUROS but a goodybag with 3 other fanzines for free. ME PARTO......CON UN HACHA - especial olvidados- is like the name says a 20 page special with forgotten characters from radiofreakie. And if you read it you also know why these characters are forgotten. There are some nice ideas and solid art but you get the feeling that it doesn´t " click ". It´s interesting for fans of radiofreakie and comic historians. For all others.......

    EL ESTORNINO 2 : FREDDY´S NIGHTMARE ( of which I didn´t find any picture ) is like a elseworlds spoof of THE CROW that includes the crow ( of course ), Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Dracula and Blade. And SUBZERO ! The art is rather simple but the story is interesting although it sometimes goes to much off topic and almost loses sight of the main story at times. Not the best parody I have read but also not the worst.

    The third one is TIB 3 : Tubie in Black Investigators ( also no pic ) which I haven´t read yet because of the apalling artwork. The comic seems to be about a investigation team like MEN IN BLACK only with antropomorphic animal investigators.

    So that wraps up my visit to the fanzine area on the first day. I also went to the area with the normal comic dealers were they had everything - and I mean everything.

    There were many comics I have in my collection from the dark times. Which means the lost years between when Williams stopped publishing Marvel comics and Condor began. During that period most american comics I read were the spanish translations which often had some pages missing.

    While searching for material for this post I found this website were you can find tons of cover scans and a huge database that details how the comics were published in Sapin and which pages are missing.

    And since we´re talking about those old comics I thought it might be interesting for my readers to see which spanish comics ended up in my collection. Especially since they have different covers than the original comics.

    This comic has another issue of the story of Cap trying to find out more about his past. I remember that it´s drawn by Sal Buscema and it was a continuation of the french issue I read. I´m not sure if this is really in my own collection, I think my brother bought it. But since we have been swapping and exchanging comics back and forth for years ( depending on who followed which series at that point ) I can´t really tell.

    This cover is from a collection that includes five normal issues of MOON KNIGHT. Which for Spain means taking five normal comics, slapping a new cardboard cover on it and just gluing it all together. But they are all in consecutive order. This one had five issues of the fabulous run by Bill Scienkiewicz which to this day are the only ones I read. I still haven´t gotten the money for the ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT.

    This is the only other one.

    Now since you couldn´t get Marvel comics in Germany you couldn´t afford to be choosy. Hence the Defenders. This issue has the infamous story in which the Hulk goes shopping ( I don´t remember under which circumstances exactly ) and buys a whole shopping cart full of canned beans. And the Defenders are eating beans for the next weeks. For some people this may be the worst comic story ever but for me it is just pat of the special charm of this particular team. I mean the< were not the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. They were more like the working man´s super hero team. Like the Giffen - League but a few decades earlier.

    Part two of the story. As you can see the Valkyrie is a part of the team. I always wondered how they could get away with her costume during the comics code. Especially the big metal thingies. I wonder if they were padded.....

    Anyway, I always liked the concept of the Valkyrie though they changed some things like the original Valkyries rode on wolves not on winged horses. I think that was added to attrackt more female readers. And she was once married to Thor though both of them don´t remember anymore. Yeah, I bet Thor remembers some the honeymoon. He just SAYS he forgot so he doesn´t have to pay alimony.....that pig !!!

    Where were we ? Yesterday I didn´t get to finish my post so today I´m continuing although I´m having the flu and have to go to the bathroom every five minutes. But let´s go on with the spanish comics.

    This were the first issues of DEMON IN THE BOTTLE I read. The art team of John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton is still one of my all - time favorite Iron Man art teams. I wonder what Bob Layton´s doing right now......Marvel could use a few good inkers right now. Like on Moon Knight.....

    PEDAZOS DE ODIO ! Now doesn´t that sound better than any original title could ? Sometimes the spanish translations have a better ring to it than english. I mean Irom Man sounds cool but the spanish name " Hombre the Hierro " is just oozing with machismo. If I was a wrestler that would be the kind of name I would go for. Or even better " El mucho grande Hombre de Hierro ". Yeah, that´s perfect.

    I don´t know if DEMON IN THE BOTTLE has been published in Germany. Which should not be too surprising since history shows us that not always the best stories get translated to german. Maybe one of the reasons why comics are not so popular in Germany is that we don´t always get the best. Most times quality is sacrificed for the hip, flashy and hot......that is not remembered after two months. That and the crappy translations.

    Okay, what is it with Cap and Iron Man ? Speak about history repeating itself. They always seem to fight as if some guy at Marvel is always pitting them against each other.

    Now, all kidding aside in this issue Iron Man get´s a lesson in self defense techniques from Cap while Tony totally blows his secret identity. Like anyone is going to believe that Tony´s in such a surprisingly good shape because he plays a lot of Tennis. And least of all Captain America.

    This is the last issue from DEMON IN THE BOTTLE storyline that I could get in spanish which ends just before the big showdown between a pissed off Iron Man and dozens of Hammer´s hired super villains. Daaamn !!!! That really sucked. It took me many years to find out how the story ended.

    Now that´s not the last issue of Iron Man I read. Judging from this comic Tony must have survived the battle somehow.

    Another issue of John Romita Jr / Bob Layton goodness of Iron Man fighting some strong guy underwater.

    I know, the cover is just painfull to look at. Don´t worry, the art inside is much better. But you see how desperate I was to get Marvel comics that not even this cover could scare me away. Any decent comic fan would never have opened this comic to check out the art inside - because that would mean having to touch the cover.

    This is without doubt one of the gems of my comic collection. Altough many years old this collection of five issues of the magnificient THE DEADLY HANDS OF SHANG CHI MASTER OF KUNG FU ( called EDITION DEDICATED TO THE MARTIAL ARTS KUNG FU KARATE in spanish ) is really one of my prized posessions. And not only because of the wonderful art by Mike Zeck on the top of his career.

    The comics in this collection are the final issues of Shang Chi´s fight to stop his father Fu Man Chu from taking over the world. The big showdown between Shang Chi and Fu Man Chu takes place in a freaking flying saucer. How cool is that ?

    Another Shang Chi comic that includes the story VIENTOS DE MEDIANOCHE ( winds of midnight ) one of the best...if not THE best story of the whole series. I think this comic got me more interested in mangas than any manga I read becuase it introduced me to the asian way of thinking and their sense of poetry. And there´s a gorilla in it. I already said it but you can´t argue about the quality of a comic with a monkey on the cover.

    I don´t know how many times I have bought this comic. In one of his columns at image Erik Larsen said how he always buy the same comics over and over again. Well, he´s not the only one. I have this comic in french. I also have this one which is the spanish version in color from BRUGUERA. Then I bought the black and white spanish version that was included in the latest BIBLIOTEKA MARVEL edition. And I bought the german version which I think was a back up story in Spider - Man when CONDOR began printing Spider - Man comics again. Maybe I also bought the german poket book version when CONDOR published their poket book line which in part was responsible for the crash of superhero comics before the resurrection by DINO.

    The art team of Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan was just fabulous. One of the many reasons why I don´t think it´s always a good idea to let artists ink themselves. Not that Sal Buscema is not a great artist in his own right. But the inks of Ernie Chan brings it to a whole new level.

    No idea what happens in this comic. I only remember the striking cover art with Ka - Zar baptising old green genes while Zabu tries to pick a fight with LA MASA.

    Now like in many german comics there often were back up stories in spanish comics that not always had something to do with the first series. Since the Hulk was pretty popular because of the tv series they thought it was a good idea to publish the She - Hulk in the same magazine. And because there is no female form of " LA MASA " she was named HULKA.

    More comic book gold from Marvel that was never published in german. Wonderful art by Michael Golden. This series appealed to my love of superhero comics and science fiction.

    Another collection of five issues. The funny thing is that I perfectly remember this comic being in my collection. But when Psychoman turned up years later during John Byrne´s Fantastic Four run I totally forgot it. It was like I was seeing this villain for the first time.

    Sweet Christmas ! Another highlight from my collection. I became a big Kerry Gamill fan from reading his issues of POWERMAN. Many years later I was delighted when he took over the art in SUPERMAN, contributing to such classic storylines like EXILE or SAGA OF THE RED KRYPTONITE.

    One of my favorite comics featuring EL AGUILA which is half Zorro, half Swordsman. Supposed to be a latino character this was especially interesting to read. Being spanish myself it´s always entertaining to experience how other countries sees or portrays us. I wonder if there is a spanish version of Dave´s Longbox " The Pain " banner. Something like " Que Dolor ".

    This comic was part of a package from e - bay that found it´s way to me - aside from being already in my collection. So I´m not the only one who had it. The art is not so good in this comic because they got the wrong inker.

    Eventually I had to throw away all the comics from the package because the issues were just too shreddered and battered. And they were covered in some kind of dust that I reacted allergic to. But it was cool rereading all those old spanish comics of Iron Man and Spider - Man. There was also an issue were Superboy gets transformed into a fishman and an issue of Green Lantern from the time when nobody knew who the Guardians were. I wonder why they got rid of that. It added a " MISSION IMPOSSIBLE " element to the stories. " Green Lantern of Sector 929652. Your mission....if you choose to accept it...."

    I think this is the first issue of the storyline in which Iron Fist and Powerman return to Kun Lun. And it has that freaky nunchaku three part thingie. Martial arts just offer the coolest weapons.

    This is definitely a part of the Kun Lun storyline. I remember that it began with the theft of the amulets of the Sons of the Dragon that later turned out to be part of a magic Jade Tiger sculpture. I especially remember a page that was a full fight scene between Iron Fist and a ninja that detailed the fight in a dozen little vignettes. Superb storytelling.

    And somehow they used that sculpture to get to Kun Lun. I never found out how the Sons of the Dragon got their amulets back. Or did they ? Anyway, in recent Daredevil issues the White Tiger was wearing this amulet again so they must have gotten them back somehow - or some kind of replacement.

    Now that I think of it the White Tiger was always one of my favorite characters. Not that his costume was very elaborate - it´s just a white body with a mask - but it seems the perfect design appealed to me even then. Too bad they got rid of him.

    The last part of the storyline. I think the best part of the story was Luke Cage´s reaction to Kun Lun and the whole eastern mindset. The whole concept of Luke Cage, Marvel´s " most street " guy colliding with Lei Kung the Thunderer was brilliant. And are they fighting big salad monsters on the cover ?

    Powerman & Iron Fist vs. Dracula. Grito de muerte. Nuff said.

    The last issue I have. Featuring once again EL AGUILA this time fighting on the same side as the heroes for hire. Do I have to say more ?

    Yeah, baby, now we´re talking ! Rom Spaceknight......Number One ! One of my all - time favorite series. When I found american issues they were already into the 30 numbers. So of the first issues I read the spanish version. I´m not sure if I got number 1 and number 2 in spanish or only number 1.

    For some this series may sound cheesy but you can´t find a bigger space opera or a soul more noble than Rom in the whole 616 universe of Marvel - aside from Silver Surfer. I don´t know if the whole concept of an alien coming to save us from an invasion was a product of 80s science fiction inspired by Alien. But the whole idea of hundreds of sleeper agents was relative new then. Which in turn made the whole Manhunter thing in DCs Millenium unoriginal in comparison later on.

    Another collection of five issues. The cover is from a story about a human / dire wraith - hybrid. If you need any more proof that this is a 80s series the fact that the evil shapechanging aliens are called " dire wraiths " should be a dead giveaway.

    Yeah, I know, it´s Dazzler. I admit it. I read Dazzler, too. What can I say ? It was the 80s. Disco was big in Germany. Dazzler was new. And she wore a glittering skin tight outfit. That´s my story and I will stick to it.

    You see ? She even fought Doctor Doom. Now I guess that´s one fact that old Doomy likes to keep to himself. I can just picture Spider - Man taunting him : " Didn´t you fight Dazzler once ? " Some things you can never live down.

    Well, that´s enough embarrassing stuff for today. In the next part we will get back to the Salon del Comic in Barcelona and what I did on the other three days. I promise.

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