Category Archives: superheroes
All it took for me was one drawing by Chris Samnee.
Not too long ago, Chris Arrant at Robot 6 wrote a piece entitled “DC Digital: Best Kept Secret or Worst Covered Gem?” While all the press has been on the New 52′s same-day-digital initiative, the DC Digital brand has silently be cultivating some interesting titles. It started when they launched Smallville Season 11, the follow up to the popular TV show. (Some fans attest it’s better than the mainline Superman titles. I’ve only read one Smallville issue, but from what I’ve seen of the New 52 Superman, I don’t find it hard to believe.) While New 52 remain controversial, dropping and adding titles on a regular basis, the DC Digital titles have been steadily building up. Batman Beyond Unlimited. Legends of the Dark Knight. Arrow. And, um … Ame-Comi Girls. (Which is… written by Jonah Hex‘s Jimmy Palmiotti. Oh, Jimmy.)
But let’s get back to that Chris Samnee image! That’s all I needed to download the first three issues of Adventures of Superman. Look at that glorious thing. Is there any current artist out there who’s perfect for illustrating Superman than Chris Samnee? Before the New 52, I mean? I mean, he can just draw him and I’m all, “Yes. YES. That is Superman… not some impostor running around wearing red and blue tights.” Here is a man that makes you want to go “Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” every time you lay your eyes on him.
Well, it turns out only the first issue is illustrated by Mr. Samnee. (And it’s written by Jeff Parker.) Adventures of Superman is an anthology series… a bunch of short, low impact stories. Superman tries to talk a guy down from causing mayhem, two kids play around in the yard, and Superman deals with Bizarro.
Very few punches are thrown.
If you want to read about Darkseid’s ongoing plan to rule the world, this is probably not the comic for you. But you see… I love those stories. One of the best things about Superman from the Silver Age was how it was more focused on character relationships and wonder at the world than, say, Superman punching out the latest supervillain. It’s something that the previous incarnation of Superman really got wrong. Throughout the 80′s and the 90′s, it was about Superman beating up on villain after another. (Culminating in the best selling issue where he dies after being punched to death by Doomsday.)
For some reason, comic book superheroes don’t seem to fight supervillains anymore. Rather, they seem content fighting each other. Last year, DC’s New 52 kicked off with Flashpoint, where heroes became murderous villains living in an alternate timeline. This year’s big event is Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men, where the merry mutants square off with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. (And before that: Civil War, where Captain America and Iron Man took opposite sides on superhero registration.)
Is it because the average age of the comic reader is a decade or two older than the original intended audience. Do we now find standard black-and-white morality to be childish, to the point where comic book villains look no worse than the morally stodgy heroes? Perhaps it’s our general distrust of authority? Or, in a genre rooted in rebellion, are we compelled to take sides against fatherly ultrahuman types? Maybe there are just more storytelling opportunitiies when Batman and Superman aren’t friends? These thoughts and more flit through my mind when I read Blue Yonder, a webcomic written by Luke Perks and Richard Pulfer and illustrated by Diego Diaz. Here, the villains are, for the most part, laughable… and the greatest threat to the heroes are themselves.
Not too long ago, the internet erupted in a frothy rage when it was revealed that there was going to be a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and that it would be produced by … Michael Bay. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Michael Bay? The man who directed Meat Loaf’s video for ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’? Does this mean we’ll have a sewer festooned in silk curtains and romantic candlelight? Because that would be awesome!”
Alas, it seems that was not to be. The news kept getting more dispiriting the more we heard of it. That whole thing about them being mutants? Ridiculous. Instead, they’re going to be aliens. In fact, the title was going to be shortened to just “Ninja Turtles,” which means that the “teenage” part might be up for grabs, too. And fans turned on it in droves. Despite having a script that was written, in part, by Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, Michael Bay found his kryptonite. Paramount shut down production and delayed the release date by a year for retooling.
While he convinced the world that Optimus Prime had a mouth and that Bumblebee was some sort of mute, Bay could not convince the world that the turtles were anything but those four lovable weirdos who live in the sewer. That’s because, by and large, we love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
So, not to long ago, I spent pretty much the entire review of Insufferable praising the amazingness of the incomparable Mark Waid. At that time, though, I hadn’t yet read Waid’s acclaimed Irredeemable, a work which has garnered 3 Eisner and 3 Harvey nominations. The story is about a heroic, powerful character who experiences a pyschotic break, and he becomes absolutely frightening. He kidnaps people and forces them to reenact his sexual fantasies. He kills former friends and their children in his furious anger. The remaining heroes have to resort to selling out their own morals in order to put a stop to the maniac.
I loved it. I pretty much downloaded and plowed through all 37 issues just because it was just so engrossing. At the same time, though, the characterization was always a priority over the more questionable elements. Waid made you care about the characters, even the ones that were transgressive beyond belief. It was a series filled with shock elements, but they all had a reason for being there beyond the gratuitous use of blood and gore. Irredeemable proved that you didn’t need to have name-brand heroes to make a superhero story compelling (though, to be fair, the Plutonian was more or less a mirror image of Superman).
The superhero comic, the staple of the print comic industry, is somewhat of a rarity in webcomics. There have, however, been several attempts… and some have been surprisingly long running. One has been around for over six years: Scott Story’s heartwarming tale about a man — or rather, two men — with planets emblazoned upon his chest, Johnny Saturn.
“Lifetime pass” is one of those terms that I have, over the years, grown to hate. It’s overused, and it’s usually attributed to people who hardly have done anything artistically to deserve it. (Seriously, I’ve heard it applied to Zack Snyder. Really, people? Really?)
However, if I were the sort of person to give anyone a lifetime pass, it would be Mark Waid.
The guy just loves superhero comics. He loves the history, the symbolism, and the potential. But he does more than just worship at the Altar of Superman. Mark Waid also writes great stories.
Take his most famous work, Kingdom Come. He’s paired with Alex Ross, a guy whose painterly style emphasizes the power and mythical grandeur of his superhero subjects. That alone made it a can’t-miss proposition. Waid, though, brought things down to a personal level. Our heroes weren’t approachable demigods but regular folks with fears and anxieties. Superman is haunted by a world that seems to find him obselete. Bruce Wayne has become a (strangely happy) creepy recluse. Oliver Queen is paranoid, but with strong connections to his family. (He is also responsible for one of my favorite comic book lines of all time after he shoots an arrow in a crowded bar filled with superheroes who’ve just been enlisted by Superman: “So you heard Big Blue’s pitch … now for the democratic response.”) These guys come across as real characters that aren’t at odds with the icons we already know them as.
Then there’s all the homages that Waid squeezes into the comic. He reaches into the forgotten histories of the DC Universe — one that they often like to bury as being too corny or too unhip — and brushes it off for a new audience… all before guys like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns would make it a regular thing. If you look in the rafters, you can spot all heroes named The Red Tornado, including a fun update to Ma Hunkel. Look in a crowded bar scene, and you may be able to see Marvin from the Superfriends show curiously dressed like Lobo.
Even more impressive — to me at least — was Waid’s run on Impulse. There was the respect for comics history with the inclusion of forgotten characters like Max Mercury. There was also a great sense of fun, something that was a precious commodity in the 90′s where grim and gritty was a corporate-mandated requirement for all superhero comics. The fun, though, radiated not from silly situations and silly villains but from the personalities and the interactions. (Seriously, I would recommend tracking down old issues of Impulse even if you’re not a superhero fan. Especially if you’re not a superhero fan.)
However, that doesn’t mean that Mark Waid only writes kids’ stuff. He’s gone to some disturbing places with his recent material at Boom Comics. There, he imagined a superhero universe where the Superman-archetype goes insane and becomes the world’s greatest villain (Irredeemable). They’re alternate takes of the superhero mythos that feel natural, not transgressive … like, say, much of Mark Millar’s works. Waid’s stuff may go to dark places, but storytelling and character — not shock value and the cool factor — comes first.
It should be no surprise that his recent foray into digital comics, the Thrillbent site, is mainly about guys in colorful tights who punch things. It’s also a logical extension of his recent trend in telling stories of truly morally compromised superheroes. Irredeemable was about a hero who becomes a villain. Incorruptible was about a villain who becomes good. And his latest entry into the genre with artist Peter Krause, the phonetically similar Insufferable, is about the kind of heroes who just cannot stand each other, framed in the context of fathers and sons.
Do you like seeing the DC Comics’ heroes as little kids? Sure, who doesn’t? There was even a whole episode of Justice League Unlimited devoted to that very concept. Well, cartoonist Yale Stewart goes head-on with the Justice League meets The Muppet Babies concept in his too-cute-for-words webcomic Little League. It’s the DC comic universe de-aged and seen mainly through the eyes of the World’s Finest Tykes: Li’l Bats and Li’l Supes. Together, they must engage in epic battles with villains like Lex Luthor (leader of the big kids), deal with mandated costume changes, and play the deadliest game of them all — dodgeball.