Thursday, December 28, 2006

Culture Shock 12.28.06: James Bond gets real, but Superman returns as a phony

Two icons returned this year, one with renewed relevance, the other creaking under his own pretensions.

Strangely, James Bond, the character who shouldn't work divorced from his Cold War origins, showed new energy. Meanwhile, the supposedly timeless Superman, remained as stiff and lifeless as ever, not so much the Man of Steel as the man of rigor mortis.

Daniel Craig's steely eyed Bond in "Casino Royale" is as close as the movies have come to capturing the ruthless, flawed character of Ian Fleming's novels. The new Bond is lean, mean and rough-hewn. He fits in comfortably with the threats of the 21st century.

The clear divide between East and West, communist and capitalist, is gone. The good guys won, and, apart from Cuba and North Korea, even the communists are capitalists now. The new map is a fractured landscape of terrorists, crime syndicates and rogue states. You have to be nimble to keep your footing, and Craig's Bond shows us that he is — both literally, during the movie's foot-chase sequence, and figuratively, by actually growing as a character.

Superman, however, never grows. Officially, he is the champion of truth, justice and the American way, however vaguely defined. But in practice, he is the heavy-handed enforcer of the status quo and the Establishment. He started as the poster boy for the New Deal and, later, 1950s conformity. In the 1980s, writer/artist Frank Miller realized this and cast Superman as a puppet of a corrupt government in his graphic novel "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns."

This year, as played by Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns," Superman is an uneasy combination of underwear model and savior. Director and co-writer Bryan Singer sees Superman as a divine figure. He especially goes overboard with a scene in which Lex Luthor's henchmen beat the Kryptonite-poisoned Superman nearly to death in the mud. It's all shamelessly reminiscent of Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ."

Singer leaves no doubt that he thinks Superman, the strange visitor from another planet, is way better than us mere humans. While Miller distrusts authority and gives us a Superman degraded by his close proximity to it, Singer gives us a morally superior overlord. Miller has faith in humanity, while Singer puts his faith with the gods on Mount Olympus.

After the failures of Iraq and Katrina, Singer's faith in the great leader seems quaint at best and dangerous at worst. Worse still, his Superman is a cipher. You can read into him whatever values you like, but that doesn't mean you'll be right. Superman is like a politician who gives pleasant speeches utterly free of content. He's Barack Obama.

Dressed up as an ennobling figure, the Superman of "Superman Returns" is really a cynical reflection of everything wrong with the world — a pretend savior who can't deliver.

Meanwhile, the James Bond of "Casino Royale" may be a cynical killer, but he is honest about who he is. He is a blunt instrument in a messed-up world — an everyman hero, but cooler. His way of fixing things isn't pretty, but it's better than waiting for Superman to save us.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Culture Shock 12.21.06: Non-Christian elements of Christmas there from start

'Twas the week before Christmas, Bill O'Reilly in view
Shouting on the TV as his face turns Yuletide hue.
While his Fox pal John Gibson wrote a book just to say,
"There's a 'War on Christmas'! Purchase your copies today!"

OK, I'll stop now. You get the point. But, really, enough with the "war on Christmas" stuff already. With the shopping and the crowds, folks have enough to worry about without opportunistic blowhards making up a controversy.

Putting the name aside for a minute, Christmas has never been just about Christ. Early church fathers set the date for Christmas to coincide with (and co-opt) pre-existing pagan festivals centered on the winter solstice. Pagan elements have been with the holiday ever since, including the venerable Christmas tree. In fact, it was exactly such non-Christian aspects of the holiday that led many Protestants to virtually ignore Christmas until the Victorian era.

If you think Christmas is "too commercial," blame those same Victorians. They started the commercialization of Christmas back in the late 1800s, along with its transformation into a semi-secular holiday of gift giving and family togetherness. It's that commercialization that made Christmas "safe" for Christians who had religious objections to the celebration.

If keeping the Christ in Christmas meant leaving out everything else, then the result wouldn't really be Christmas. Besides, if O'Reilly and Gibson are looking for a fight, someone should tell them they've already lost.

The secular side of Christmas is firmly part of American culture, and it goes deeper than Rudolph, Frosty, saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" and bland Christmastime love songs by The Carpenters played ad infinitum.

The secular Christmas won when "A Christmas Story," the 1983 comedy about a boy's quest to get the ultimate present — a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time — replaced "It's a Wonderful Life" as Christmas Day marathon viewing.

"A Christmas Story" is our new seasonal fairy tale. And it's all about presents and commercialism, with a dash of (dysfunctional) family togetherness tossed in for good measure. It doesn't have a manger scene, but it does have a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.

The movie appeals to Americans because it appeals to the child in us all. Sure, my childhood Christmas is several decades removed from the early 1940s Christmas of Ralphie and his Red Ryder. For me, it was an Atari 2600, but the spirit is the same. We associate particular Christmases with what we got, and that reminds us of where we got it.

Given its diverse origins — Christian, Roman, Germanic, etc. — it's only proper that Christmas has returned to being a near universal celebration. It's observed even in Japan, where it's become strangely associated with romance and dining on KFC.

Christmas is both secular and religious, commercial and spiritual, Christian and pagan. It has something to offer everyone, including a message of "peace on Earth and goodwill toward men." The wording may be Christian, but the sentiment has many sources.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Culture Shock 12.14.06: 'Star Trek's' 40th birthday flies past at warp speed

Somehow, the year is almost gone. And yet hardly a word has been said about 2006 marking the 40th anniversary of an American institution.

It was in 1966, by way of the 23rd century, that the starship Enterprise set forth on its storied five-year mission. But four decades later, “Star Trek” has entered turbulent seas, or their outer-space equivalent.

For the first time since 1985, “Star Trek” is absent from both TV and movie screens, unless you count reruns. The only “new” Trek to be had is the 1973 animated series, which made its long-awaited debut on DVD last month, and the original series, returned to syndication with new, high-tech special effects in place of the ’60s-vintage models and matte paintings.

While it’s sad to see Trek’s anniversary pass quietly in the night, the Franchise, as it’s become known, clearly needs a rest. Its decline in quality, starting with the final two seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reaching rock bottom with “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Enterprise,” made a breather inevitable. Simply put, the creative team in charge of the Franchise at the bitter end had nothing left.

“Star Trek” had gotten away from the original vision of creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Gene L. Coon. And the attempt to recapture some of that frontier spirit during the last season of “Enterprise” couldn’t overcome that show’s dull, backward-looking premise. Prequels, by definition, don’t boldly go where no man has gone before.

The next “Star Trek” film, reportedly planned for 2008, is also rumored to be a prequel. If so, Trek’s keepers haven’t learned their lesson yet.

The original “Star Trek” was inspirational. Literally. You don’t have to look far to find scientists, engineers and astronauts inspired to enter their chosen fields by “Star Trek.”

But who could be inspired by Trek’s recent incarnations? By the time “Enterprise” was canceled, Trek was looking inward, at its own increasingly convoluted past, not outward.

Oddly enough, while “Star Trek” is slowly becoming a parody of itself, many of the people who have long lived in the Franchise’s shadow are finally emerging.

After winning two Emmy Awards for his portrayal of “Boston Legal” attorney Denny Crane, it’s safe to say that William Shatner has found a role to finally rival, if not eclipse, Capt. James T. Kirk. Leonard Nimoy has left behind Mr. Spock and found a new calling as a photographer, mostly photographing nude women, which is nice work if you can get it. Even George Takei, better known as Lt. Sulu, has moved on, recently taking a supporting role on the hit NBC series “Heroes.”

Sure, lots of “Star Trek” fans, too many in fact, will fawn all over anything bearing the Trek logo.

But those of us who really care about Roddenberry’s creation deserve better. And we’re willing to wait for it. No “Star Trek” at all is better than Trek in name only.

Still, the lack of recognition on Trek’s 40th anniversary is almost shameful. You can be sure that George Lucas won’t let 2007 pass without everyone on the planet knowing that it’s the 30th anniversary of “Star Wars.” And, if anything, the “Star Wars” franchise is even more tarnished than the Trek franchise.

What was I just saying about prequels being a bad idea?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Culture Shock 12.07.06: Science fiction's outsiders find new respectability

There are snooty critics who see it symptomatic of civilization's decline. But the American literary canon is finally expanding to encompass some of our most influential, yet neglected, writers.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Library of America will release in 2007 a volume devoted to science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Although there is no shortage of Dick's stories in print, this is significant news because the Library of America is the closest thing the U.S. has to an official literary gatekeeper. If the L of A publishes your work, you are a Significant Author. To be part of the Library of America is to be one with Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne and Melville.

"Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s" is scheduled for publication in June. It will include the novels "The Man in the High Castle," "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch," "Ubik" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" The last of those was made into the 1982 Harrison Ford movie "Blade Runner."

Jonathan Lethem is editing the volume. Lethem, author of "Motherless Brooklyn" and "The Fortress of Solitude," is considered a "literary" author, although he actually has written quite a bit of genre fiction, including the futuristic "Gun, with Occasional Music." But although Lethem sometimes writes science fiction, his books aren't marketed as science fiction. He isn't confined to the ghetto as was Dick, who died in 1982.

And he's happy to do his part to assist Dick's escape. In an interview with the blog The Elegant Variation, Lethem said, "I'm helping preside over the utter and irreversible canonization of one of my (formerly outsider) heroes ..."

But Dick's ascendance to the literati firmament wouldn't mean much if it were merely an isolated incident. It isn't.

Last year, the Library of America elevated an even more unfairly maligned and neglected figure of genre fiction: H.P. Lovecraft. And it was the positive response to "Lovecraft: Tales" that helped spawn the Dick collection, according Max Rudin, Library of America publisher, in an interview with the AP.

Lovecraft is America's most important horror writer since Edgar Allan Poe, although, like Poe, he seems to have earned greater respect in France, for whatever reason.

The works of science fiction/fantasy writers Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. Le Guin could be the subject of future L of A volumes, Rudin said.

Genre writers are at last getting their due, just three years after the National Book Foundation controversially gave Stephen King its Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and sent the snobs into apoplectic fits.

"But giving an award like this to a guy like me suggests that in the future things don't have to be the way they've always been. Bridges can be built between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction," King said in his acceptance speech.

It's a two-way street. When Philip Roth, an undeniable member of the Literary Establishment, delves into science fiction with an alternate history novel like "The Plot Against America," it becomes far harder for critics to ignore those who've plowed the fields of SF for decades. Then the critics might learn that Roth's plot is such a cliche in SF circles that even most hacks wouldn't touch it without giving it some new twist.

If mainstream critics are forced to read unapologetic science fiction, horror and fantasy, there's no telling who will be admitted to the canon of respectable literature next. I suggest Harlan Ellison.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Culture Shock 11.30.06: O.J. book, interview could become karmic payback

Last week, the New York tabloids and cable news pundits were buzzing about O.J. Simpson's canceled book, "If I Did It," which was going for thousands of dollars on eBay.

I have no problem with people making a buck off the few copies of O.J.'s book that slipped through the cracks after the publisher, HarperCollins, recalled copies that already had been shipped to stores. The only person I don't want making money from "If I Did It" is O.J. Simpson.

A quick search of eBay on Sunday afternoon, however, turned up no copies of "If I Did It" for sale. According to an eBay spokesman, the online auction site is removing the book at HarperCollins' request. This is no surprise, as eBay routinely removes items at the request of big media companies.

But my search for "If I Did It" did turn up someone selling a poster of Simpson.

The poster depicted an intense — one might even say "mean" — Simpson from his football days. And beneath the photo of O.J. was the caption, "If I Did It?" Emphasis on the "if."

Next, I searched YouTube to see if O.J.'s canceled two-part Fox interview had been leaked to the Internet. I've got to hand it to Fox, they've managed to keep a lid on the interview so far. All I found was a nine-second video called "Bootleg OJ Simpson Interview." It's simply a still photo of O.J. followed by the caption, "Why would you sick (expletive deleted) support OJ by watching his interview???"

Now, as I see it, watching a bootleg of O.J.'s interview isn't supporting him. If anything, it's ripping him off, which makes it a good thing.

Unless Beelzebub has a devil put aside for him, O.J. has escaped justice. Incompetent prosecutors and delusional jurors saved Simpson from prison. And even though Simpson lost a civil lawsuit, he has yet to pay a penny to the families of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

The only weapon we have left against O.J. is ridicule. Which is why I want his disgusting and absurd book and interview to leak out to the public. Only then can skilled comedians and amateur filmmakers pick apart every sentence and every frame and turn them back on Simpson.

Face it, the jokes about how O.J. won't rest until he finds the "real killers," who are hiding on some golf course or in some strip bar somewhere in America, are getting old. We need new material.

You may be thinking that it's a worse punishment for O.J. simply to ignore him rather than to pay him the attention necessary for ridiculing him. And you may be right. But there is more to this than O.J.

I'm thinking of all of the people who cheered when O.J. got off. I'm thinking of all the people who think O.J. is actually innocent.

There are people in this country who believe lots of downright stupid things. They believe extraterrestrial beings from planets hundreds of light years away come to the Earth just to dissect cattle and anally probe farmers.

But it's a rare occasion when people actually get punished for believing stupid things. A rare example occurred on Jan. 1, 2000, when a lot of people woke up to find that the world's computers had not failed, civilization had not collapsed, and the thousands of dollars of survival gear in the basement was not a good investment.

O.J.'s book and interview could have been a long-overdue case of karmic comeuppance for everyone who actually thought he was innocent. If they leak to the Internet, they still could be.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Culture Shock 11.23.06: The War on Thanksgiving, the forgotten holiday

I gather today is some sort of holiday. Now what is it? Turkey Day? No. That's not right. Oh, yes. Thanksgiving. How could I forget?

Well, it's easy to lose track of a holiday that has been squeezed almost to a singularity by the juggernauts of Christmas and Halloween.

In terms of the amount of money Americans spend on them every year, Christmas and Halloween are easily the country's two most popular celebrations. And that's even without anyone getting a paid day off for tricks or treats.

Thanksgiving is under assault. You might as well call it "Official Start of the Christmas Season Eve." People used to get upset when stores and shopping malls put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Now, some stores put them up before Halloween. Some people complain about a "War on Christmas," in which Christmas is losing ground to other, more "politically correct" holidays. But Christmas has it easy compared to Thanksgiving.

Yes, dear readers, whether you've noticed it or not, we're in the midst of a War on Thanksgiving. And Thanksgiving is folding faster than the Polish cavalry in front of a Panzer division. It's time to take sides.

So, let me be clear about this — Down with Thanksgiving!

Now, nobody is going to quibble with a day off work, so assume that if we abolish Thanksgiving, we'll get something else in return.

Let's face it. What's Thanksgiving for? Giving thanks? Well, if that's all, I don't need a holiday to do that, and if I do, how thankful am I, really?

Mostly, Thanksgiving is for watching football and family gatherings. The last time I checked, there was no shortage of pro football on TV, even on days not devoted to the ritual consumption of poultry.

But what about all that family togetherness? That's all well and good, I suppose, if watching Aunt Margaret and Aunt Jill down a dozen glasses of sherry between them and then argue about which one of them Grandma really wanted to have the good china is your idea of a spectator sport.

Maybe Charles Schulz can help us? After all, the beloved creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy did write a cartoon to explain the true meaning of Christmas. Nope. The only life lesson I've taken away from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" is that jelly beans and popcorn do not go over well as Thanksgiving dinner.

Maybe Thanksgiving is simply the day when we remember the Pilgrims, who, according to all the history books, came to America in search of religious freedom.

I hate to burst your bubble — well, actually, this is the sort of thing I live for — but the Pilgrims didn't come to the New World for religious freedom.

When they first left England, the Pilgrims went to Holland, the most tolerant society the world had seen up to that time. The Pilgrims had all the religious freedom there they could stand. In fact, they had too much, and were aghast that their children were taking advantage of the freedoms Holland offered. So, they packed up and came to America, not to get religious freedom, but to get away from it.

Other people can celebrate that sort of thing if they want, but count me out.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Culture Shock 11.16.06: Pop culture's diversity is its strength

If there is one thing about which pundits both left and right agree, it's that American culture is rotten. So rotten, in fact, that it threatens the rest of the world.

On the left, author John Tirman includes TV and pop culture among his list of "100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World." On the right, Karen Hughes, a longtime advisor to President Bush, was quoted recently saying, "One of the things I hear a lot, particularly in deeply conservative societies, is that parents feel kind of assaulted by American culture."

Oddly enough, the disgust of high-culture elitists on the left and the alarm of cultural moralists on the right share the same source. American culture is, in fact, more robust, more vibrant and more populist than ever before. And that, to many on both sides of the political spectrum, is exactly the problem.

We live in a world of 100-plus channel TV, and with a TiVo, you can, for all practical purposes, program your own station. If that isn't enough, you can now download many TV shows via the Internet, often free of charge, as with Fox's offerings at And if you're still not satisfied, even the most obscure shows of years gone by are available on DVD.

The Golden Age of Television isn't the bygone era of "Mr. Ed." It's today. Sure, you probably think 90 percent of everything on TV is a waste of time, and I agree. But there is now unprecedented diversity in American television. Competition between broadcast and cable TV stations, combined with growing competition from the Internet, is driving up the quality of that 10 percent of programming that is worth watching.

But what constitutes that 10 percent depends upon whom you ask. If you ask me, the SciFi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" is not only the best show on TV, it's one of the best shows ever, and Fox's "House" runs a close second.

Other people swear by "Lost" or "Grey's Anatomy," which are perfectly respectable choices, too. And others still worship at the altar of "American Idol," proving there's no accounting for taste.

But even if I hate "American Idol," that's not the point. I'm sure there are lots of people who would never watch "Battlestar Galactica." The point is, TV is now big enough for all of us. We're not limited to three broadcast networks plus British imports on PBS.

In the "good old days," TV was aimed at a mass audience. It was OK. We liked it. But is there a single show of the so-called Golden Age (besides the original "Star Trek") that inspires the rabid devotion of today's cult hits?

Today's shows are aimed at a far more fragmented audience. Shows don't have to be everything to everyone. We can point our satellite dishes upward at a galaxy of possibilities.

TV isn't alone. Over-the-air radio may seem increasingly bland, but with iPods and the ability to download music and talk programming from the Internet, there is something for everyone. Literally.

If "The Simple Life" is the price I have to pay for "Boston Legal," so be it. I don't have to pay attention to Paris Hilton, and you don't have to watch William Shatner. But at least we both have a choice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The (super) power of words

The Los Angeles Times weighs in against Marvel and DC's joint trademark of the term "super hero" and its variations:
In trademark law, the more unusual a term, the more it qualifies for protection. We would have no quarrel with Marvel and DC had they called their superheroes "actosapiens," then trademarked that. But purely generic terms aren't entitled to protection, at least in theory. The reason is simple: Trademarks restrict speech, and to put widely used terms under private control is an assault on our language.

(Link via Neilalien.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

P is for PAD

Make a note of this moment because this will probably never happen again: I agree 100 percent with Peter David:
If I see one more article about Alan Moore being "swindled" by DC or how Hollywood has destroyed his graphic novel, I'm going to go on a vendetta of my own.

What he said. Now, go read the entire post and the comments.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Super thieves

SF writer Cory Doctorow is mad as hell about Marvel and DC's joint attempt to monopolize the term "super-hero":
"Super-hero" isn't Marvel's property. They didn't invent the term. They aren't the only users of the term. It's a public-domain word that belongs to all of us. Adding a to super-hero is a naked bid to steal "super-hero" from us and claim it for their own.

(Link via Neilalien.)

February by the numbers has posted its monthly breakdown of comics sales: the Top 100 graphic novels and the Top 300 floppies. The return of Astonishing X-Men gave Marvel the No. 1 slot on the Top 300, but DC held it's own, filling half of the top 10 spots, including two issues of Supergirl and two issues of Green Lantern. (How on Earth did Supergirl become a top 10 book?)

The circulation of 13 of the top 25 floppies was up over their previous issues.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

B is for box office

V for Vendetta did anything but bomb this weekend, taking in an estimated $26.1 million on 3,365 screens to debut at No. 1. Box Office Mojo crunches the numbers:
Dystopian visions of the future frequently have trouble finding an audience in theaters, from Blade Runner to The Island, Brazil to Equilibrium. Throw in a potentially off-putting protagonist in its always-masked freedom fighter, and V for Vendetta was a tough sell, rendering its opening a solid success despite industry speculation that it could bow to north of $30 million.

D&D to DVD

Mark Evanier has revealed that he is recording extras for the upcoming DVD release of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Face front, true believers! interviews (if you can consider public relations an "interview") Stan Lee about his life, art, and future business ventures: And now with POW! Entertainment, you have 40 original projects that are currently in development?

Stan Lee: Well I haven't counted them but I think that's a good guess. Yeah, we have any number of things that are in some process or some stage of development or production. And this has nothing to do with comics, they're being produced strictly for television and for film?

Stan Lee: That's right. Television, films, DVD's, telephone-mobisodes (mini episodic television for mobile phones). Some of them may end up also being comic books. Very often a movie producer will say, "Can we do a comic book to promote this prospective movie?" or something like that. And certainly there's no reason not to do comics, but basically we're a film and animation company.

Holy copyright!

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain, has produced a comic book to teach people about the ins and outs of copyright law:
The book follows the story of a documentary maker putting together a film about life in New York City. ("Trapped by a STRUGGLE she didn't understand.... By day a FILM MAKER... By night she fought for FAIR USE!") As she's gone around and captured scenes for her film, she's also picked up incidental uses of other people's work - a saxophonist playing a song, a sign in the background with a company logo, public TV screens showing images of Bart Simpson. These scenes are a reality of modern life, yet they're a nightmare for documentary producers. As the comic book notes, one producer was forced to remove footage that featured someone whose mobile phone ringtone happened to be the theme to the movie Rocky because they couldn't afford to pay the song's publisher $10,000 for including it.

The stars must be right!

As if it weren't already a sure thing that I'd shell out money for WizKids' new HorrorClix Collectible Miniatures Game, shipping this summer, now I've learned that Cthulhu will be included in the first set. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!

Of interest to comics and gaming retailers, WizKids is making the first set of all of its new products returnable. Maybe if comics publishers would make the first three or four issues of any new series returnable, shops would have more incentive to promote new series. And publishers would have less incentive to slap a new "No. 1" on every reboot.

Tiny 'toon adventures

WizKids, the maker of HeroClix, is producing ToonClix, a collectible miniatures game aimed at kids ages 6-12 (and geeks in their mid-30s) and featuring miniatures based on both classic Looney Tunes characters and characters from newer Cartoon Network programs.

More Godzilla ... and Godzookie!

Classic Media will release the 1978 Hanna-Barbara Godzilla cartoon series in two DVD volumes on June 6. They will each retail for $12.98. This is the series that teamed Japan's favorite giant monster with a seafaring team of scientists and Godzilla's pesky flying nephew, Godzookie, who at least wasn't quite as annoying as Godzilla's son, Minya.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marvel in the Middle East

Teshkeel Comics has released the first Arabic version of a Marvel comic in the Middle East, Spectacular Spider-Man:
'We are thrilled at the chance to bring the excitement and universal appeal of Marvels' superheroes to the Middle East. This is our first step in establishing a new direction in children's media that will fill the void and provide quality entertainment for the Arab audience,' says Dr. Al-Mutawa, founder and CEO of Teshkeel Media Group.

Spider-Man was chosen as Teshkeel's first release because of the character's international following based on the success of the comic book series and the Hollywood blockbuster films.

Still to come: Arabic translations of Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, and Ghost Rider.

I can't wait to see how that last one goes over.

That wall-crawling weirdo!

French "Spider-Man" Alain Robert, known for scaling skyscrapers without permission, is at it again, this time climbing a 31-floor office building outside Paris on Wednesday using only his bare hands. It was his last climb before spending a week in prison in Texas, where he pulled the same stunt in November.


USA Today ramps up the hype machine for Superman Returns:
The new film will revisit the origins of the Man of Steel. [Director Bryan] Singer is well aware he's treading on hallowed ground.

"This isn't just any comic book character. Superman is America. He's as iconic as it gets. That's a pretty awesome responsibility."

I thought Captain America was America, but whatever.

Betty loves Spidey

Elizabeth Banks is reprising her role as Betty Brant in Spider-Man 3, and she has a message for director Sam Raimi: "You should maybe write Sam Raimi a letter. I'm very aware of [my character's history]. Make him aware."

Of course, she's speaking of the fact that Betty was Peter Parker's first girlfriend in the comics, but so far Betty and Peter haven't hooked up in the films.

FF to CN in fall

Cartoon Network will air the new Fantastic Four cartoon this fall. The co-production of Marvel Studios and the French animation company Moonscoop (Code Lyoko) is aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds, and 30-year-old fanboys.

I made that last part up.

Twenty-six episodes of the series have been commissioned.

Previewing previews

Comics Continuum has previews of company solicitations in next week's Diamond Previews catalog for comic books allegedly shipping in June. Click here for Marvel and Image previews. Click here for DC Comics previews.

Tokyo pops

Tokyopop has opened an online message board. I doubt it'll provide us with Millarworld-style shenanigans, but give the manga fans a few years.

Just kidding.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Consider the source

I hardly know which speaks better for the V for Vendetta movie, being slammed by the uptight elitists at The New Yorker or being evicerated by the brain-dead Debbie Schlussel at the slimy FrontPage magazine. Interestingly, both reviews are so obsessed with the similarities (real and imagined) between the fascist state portrayed in the movie and the policies of the Bush administration that they ignore the fact that most of the totalitarian imagery in the film has been around for decades. Memo to the neoconservatives: It's not all about you. But if you think it is, you might ask yourself why that is.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Oh, no! They say he's got to go!

Classic Media will release a DVD two-pack on Sept. 5 containing both the American cut and the original 98-minute Japanese version of Godzilla (1954). The set will retail for $21.98. Both films have been remastered in widescreen.


Here's a quick round-up of comics-to-TV-and-film news for today: Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov talks about adapting Mark Millar's Wanted. The Hellboy sequel has a name, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, and it may start production later this year. Joss Whedon expects to turn in his first draft of the Wonder Woman movie script this week. The Legion of Superheroes cartoon will debut on the new CW network this fall. Angelina Jolie is being eyed for a lead role in Sin City 2. And Lou Diamond Phillips has joined the cast of The CW's Aquaman pilot.

Superman up, up, and away on DVD

The Digital Bits compiles Warner Bros.'s plans for Superman DVD releases this year:
Finally, the BIG Warner news (or should I say... "super" news?). The studio has officially unveiled its complete Superman DVD release plans for the rest of 2006. In the 2nd Qtr, look for Look Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman documentary (street date TBA), along with the newly (and/or recently) announced Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - Season Three, Adventures of Superman: The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons, The Adventures of Superboy: The Complete First Season, Krypto: The Superdog, Volume One - Cosmic Canine, Superman: Brainiac Attacks (an original animated movie), Justice League of America: Season Two and Superman: The Animated Series - Volume 3, all currently expected for release on 6/20. In the 3rd Qtr, look for Smallville: The Complete Fifth Season (street date TBA). Then in the 4th Qtr, watch for the DVD release of Superman Returns, Superman: The Movie - Special Edition, Superman II: Special Edition, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman III: Deluxe Edition, Superman IV: Deluxe Edition, The Superman Collection, The Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition, Supergirl, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman - Season Four, Adventures of Superman: The Complete Fifth and Sixth Seasons, the Superman Serials (the 1948 and 1950 editions, starring Kirk Alyn), Krypto: The Superdog - Volume Two, Justice League Unlimited: Season One and Justice League of America: Season Three (street date for all is TBA, but likely November). Whew! That's a lot of super for one year.

Hulk smash puny TV set!

TV Shows on DVD reports that season one of the 1970s live-action TV version of The Incredible Hulk may be coming to DVD in July.

Will Disney wise up and try to release a box set of either of the two animated Hulk shows it owns at the same time?

Chef quits "South Park" over Scientology

Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef on South Park, has quit the Comedy Central animated series, saying show crossed a line with its episode critical of Scientology. Hayes is a Scientologist.
"Religious beliefs are sacred to people, and at all times should be respected and honored," [Hayes] continued. "As a civil rights activist of the past 40 years, I cannot support a show that disrespects those beliefs and practices."

"South Park" co-creator Matt Stone responded sharply in an interview with The Associated Press Monday, saying, "This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology ... He has no problem -- and he's cashed plenty of checks -- with our show making fun of Christians."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Anarchy in the U.K.

Newsweek reviewer Jeff Giles hated, hated, hated V for Vendetta, especially the film's climax, which reportedly is the part that most differs from the graphic novel.

Trapped in a world he never made

I am now the proud owner of a 1977 vintage Howard the Duck glass, originally released via 7-Eleven.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

With great power comes great responsibility

University of Charleston basketball player Rachel Pike explains why Spider-Man is her hero:
"In the second movie, he is struggling with taking on the responsibility of protecting the city from villains," Pike explained. "I felt the same way because a bunch of my friends were coming to me for help for a lot of their problems. It was stressful for me. I was questioning whether it was worth it.

"He did the same thing. Then, he talked to his uncle (who died in the first movie) during a dream. His uncle told him it was his gift and his curse, then told him he is lucky to have it and needs to use it.

"That kind of refreshed me. I felt like I was Spider-Man because I was taking on all of these other people's problems and I had my own problems and it was interfering with my life, but it was worth it because those people are important to me and I wouldn't be me if I weren't helping them."

Yaoi zowie picks up on the growing popularity in America of yaoi manga:
Original English-language manga might not be taking firm root just yet, but there's little doubt that another bold idea is: yaoi. That word, pronounced "yow-ee," is a Japanese acronym for a series of words that can be translated as "no peak, no climax, no meaning." What it refers to is a burgeoning subgenre of guy-guy romance comics, written by women for a female audience. The New York Comic-Con even held a yaoi panel called Brokeback Manga, hosted by Kai-Ming Cha of PW Comics Week, who wore an "I (Heart)Boys" T-shirt for the occasion.

MTV on "V" reports on the politics of V for Vendetta.

It's not easy being green

Former TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno is suing his brother over using the family name for a fitness equipment store in Stewartsville, N.J.:
It is in part the store's liberal use of green --— the color of the Incredible Hulk's skin -- that has the former world champion bodybuilder and television star seeing red.

The lawsuit, filed in January in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, points out the color of the store's awning, the color of much of the store's interior and the color of the store's business cards are green. Further, the lawsuit says the store -- named Ferrigno Fitness Equipment --— has a green wall of photos featuring Lou Ferrigno in various bodybuilding poses and appearing as the Incredible Hulk.

In addition to monetary compensation, Lou Ferrigno asks the court to bar his brother from using the name ''Ferrigno Fitness'' or from using the ''confusingly similar'' splashes of green inside and outside the store.

V on "dangerous ground"?

The Scotsman ponders how V for Vendetta could change the debate (there's a debate?) about terrorism:
At the heart of the film is the problem of V's status. Is he a freedom fighter or a terrorist? And to what extent do these definitions depend on context, and who is doing the defining? Like the planners of 9/11, V knows that history can turn on the destruction of a symbolically significant building; unlike them, he is not interested in taking innocent life. Just mentioning al-Qaeda and V in the same sentence makes (director James) McTeigue wince. "That's dangerous ground," he says.

Blinded by science

The Guardian reviews (very briefly) the new book The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios.

Alan Moore, Alan Moore, dum dum dum dum dum

The more news outlets like The New York Times report on Alan Moore and his various fights with DC Comics, Hollywood, and his barber, the harder it is for me to sympathize with Moore. The Times quotes Moore's V for Vendetta collaborator David Lloyd:
Mr. Lloyd, the illustrator of "V for Vendetta," also found it difficult to sympathize with Mr. Moore's protests. When he and Mr. Moore sold their film rights to the graphic novel, Mr. Lloyd said: "We didn't do it innocently. Neither myself nor Alan thought we were signing it over to a board of trustees who would look after it like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls."

And then there is Paul Levitz's response to Moore's recent demand that DC remove his name from all future editions of his DC Comics works:
DC ... said it would be inappropriate to take Mr. Moore's name off of any of his works. "This isn't an adaptation of the work, it's not a derivative work, it's not a work that's been changed in any fashion from how he was happy with it a minute ago," said Mr. Levitz.

The infamous and immortal Bettie Page

The Los Angeles Times interviews pin-up queen and inspiration for countless Dave Stevens comic-book covers Bettie Page, now 82 years old, living in seclusion in Southern California, and finally making a good living from all of those photos of her in various states of bondage and/or undress. Others, meanwhile, continue to ponder her seemingly timeless appeal:
During her brief career, she became the obsession of thousands of men -- a fact that mystifies her to this day: "I have no idea why I'm the only model who has had so much fame so long after quitting work."

Writer Harlan Ellison suggested an answer: "There are certain women, even certain men, in whose look there is a certain aesthetic that hits a golden mean. Bettie is that. Marilyn is that."

Richard Foster, one of her two biographers, called her "the trendsetter in American sexuality."

Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner put it another way.

"Exactly what captures the imagination of people in terms of pop culture is something hard to define," Hefner said.

"But in Bettie's case, I'd say it's a combination of wholesome innocence and fetish-oriented poses that is at once retro and very modern."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Aquaman surfaces in Florida

Miami Today reports that filming on The CW's Aquaman TV pilot has begun.

The final frontier

Jen Chaney reviews the new special-edition DVD of Free Enterprise for The Washington Post and doesn't like it quite as much as I do. The film stars William Shatner as himself (more or less) and Will & Grace's Eric McCormack.

My Freakazoid stream-of-consciousness moment

ICv2 checks in on Narwain Publishing's attempts to crack the tough U.S. comic-book market:
Narwain's line started by concentrating on science fiction and horror, but has also published all ages and crime books, and is increasingly focused on horror and noir titles. Most of the books are company owned; the soon-to-be released Zombie-Sama (created by Billy Tucci) is an exception.

Narwain, huh? Is anyone else reminded of the time Freakazoid tried to teach his audience "conversational Norwegian"? "Happy little Narwhal."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Go! Comi announces August titles

New manga publisher Go! Comi (no, that's not a typo) has announced two new titles set to debut in August:
LOS ANGELES, CA, March 8, 2006 -- Upstart manga publisher Go! Comi announced the acquisition of two new licenses this week: NIGHT OF THE BEASTS by Chika Shiomi and AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMARE by Setona Mizushiro -- the manga-ka of the hit manga X-DAY!

NIGHT OF THE BEASTS A tale of romance and supernatural action, NIGHT OF THE BEASTS is the story of high school tough girl Aria, notorious for taking on her school's worst bullies. But that's nothing compared to what happens when she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the demonically possessed Sakura, a guy who would as readily rip apart his own parents as seek her healing embrace. NIGHT OF THE BEASTS is the work of Chika Shiomi, whose series CANON and KEY JACK have been major hits in Japan. The series runs six volumes. (Rated Older Teen for scenes of intense violence; MSRP $10.99)

AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMARE Ichijo Mashiro must struggle to keep his life-long secret -- that he is not truly a "he" nor entirely a "she" -- when he's enlisted by a mysterious nurse at his elite prep school to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul are put at the mercy of his worst enemies: his classmates! AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMARE is the latest manga from Setona Mizushiro, creator of the controversial X-DAY. The series is currently running in Japan, and has four volumes thus far. (Rated Older Teen for violence, mature themes and disturbing images.)

Go! Comi Creative Director Audry Taylor comments: "We are thrilled to present these two manga to the American public. The artwork in NIGHT OF THE BEASTS is some of the most gorgeous I'’ve ever seen, and the action sequences are breathtaking. AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMARE is Mizushiro-sensei's most beautiful, profound, and disturbing series yet."”

Adds Go! Editorial Director Jake Forbes: "“When we launched our first series last October, Go! Comi immediately gained a reputation among fans for having some of the finest production values in the industry, and we're continuing that tradition with these two new series. Rest assured that NIGHT OF THE BEASTS and AFTER SCHOOL NIGHTMARE will have the same impeccable image-reproduction, literate and accurate translations, and exciting extras that we'’re known for."

Both titles will be released in late August. In the meantime, fans can expect further information on the series, as well as previews, to be posted soon on Go! Comi's web site.

Stan Lee still creating superheroes

Stan Lee shows no sign of retiring. His new company, Pow! Entertainment, is developing a slate of characters for film, television, DVD and video games. Notice anything missing from that list?
"Comic books would probably be the last thing on the list of what we'll do at this point," Lee said. "But wherever a comic book is warranted, we're more than capable of doing them."

Among Lee's projects is a direct-to-DVD animated feature starring ex-Beatle Ringo Starr. "Ringo becomes a superhero," Lee said. "The story will contain humor, music and wild adventure. Ringo will do the voiceover on it. He might even do a bit of singing now that we've auditioned him and found out he can actually sing."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

That stupid "Superman" curse

The death of Dana Reeve, widow of Christopher Reeve, has the New York Post speculating about the infamous "Curse of Superman."

Gaiman falls into "Black Hole"

Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and Roger Avery are writing the screenplay for Black Hole, the film adaptation of Charles Burns' graphic novel of the same name. Alexandre Aja (High Tension) will direct the Paramount Pictures/MTV Films project.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

... And he has a plan

Greg Pak discusses writing Dynamite Entertainment's new Battlestar Galactica comic-book series.

Reading is fundamental

MangaBlog responds to what I thought were Al Kahn's self-evidently uninformed comments about manga being "a problem." Here's a sample:
[G]rowth in children'’s books was close to 20 percent in 2005. Also notable is the fact that the best selling title of the year was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I suggest Mr. Kahn attend one of the midnight release parties for the Potter books; he'’d learn a thing or two about kids and reading.

More crime and comics

The Boston Herald reports that "The Big Apple bouncer who has surfaced as a suspect in the despicable killing of Imette St. Guillen answers to several aliases, at least three of which have ties to the fantasy world of comic books." The story continues:
The comic book link is bizarre to say the least, and, in the words of one comic-book industry insider, 'truly disturbing."

Littlejohn, 41, a 5-foot-7-inch, 210-pound career convict from Queens, provided muscle for the Soho saloon The Falls, where St. Guillen, 24, a 1999 Boston Latin School honors graduate, was last seen alive on Feb. 25. According to New York City police sources, he was asked to escort her from the bar around the 4 a.m. closing time.

His alter ego "Jonathan Blaze" -- the name Littlejohn was imprisoned under until two years ago for helping knock over a Long Island bank at gunpoint -- is the true name of the Marvel Comics character "Ghost Rider," soon to be a film starring Nicholas Cage.

Dr. Wertham, please call your office....

Comic book villains, part 2

Here is today's follow-up story on the Athens, Ala., comic-book shop that was burglarized over the weekend. Among the books stolen were a copy of Amazing Fantasy No. 15 and a copy of Spider-Man No. 1.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Manga is a "problem"?

ICv2 has posted a report on its Graphic Novel Conference, which was held in New York just prior to New York Comic-Con. And according to Al Kahn, chief executive officer of 4Kids Entertainment, "manga is a problem":
I think manga is a problem because we're in a culture that is not a reading culture. Kid's today don't read, they read less today. In every survey, we find that they're watching more television, they're on the Internet more, and that content, although being king, is very disposable. Because the way content gets put out now, it gets put out free. We're streaming most of our shows. The reason why we're streaming them is we want kids to watch them as much as they can, and get vested in the concept and go out and buy products. The products ain't free. The content is going to be free. And manga in my mind is trying to put a square peg in a round hole in the U.S. It will never be a big deal here, for the kids that are in the computer or the Internet generation, because they're not going to read. They haven't read, and they're not going to start now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Manga, manga, manga

The Birmingham (Ala.) News runs its obligatory manga story, about three years late.

T for Time

V for Vendetta gets the glossy treatment from corporate sister Time magazine, which asks if a popcorn movie can be political and then looks at the "heroic terrorist" behind the mask.

Comic book villains

The comic-book store I frequent in Athens, Ala., was burglarized late Friday or early Saturday, with the thief (or thieves) taking several Golden and Silver Age comic books, including two early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, as well as both boxes and single cards of Magic: The Gathering:
ATHENS --— A sweater that helped someone break into a comic-book store could help Athens police catch criminals.

Sgt. Trevor Harris said someone broke into All Star Comics on Jefferson Street in downtown Athens between 11 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday.

Harris said the thief wrapped the sweater around his hand to break a window and unlock the back door.

Investigators believe more than one person was involved, he said.

The thieves took thousands of dollars worth of merchandise but left the sweater at the back door.

The medium-size black sweater has a white stripe, and the brand name is Sonoma.

"Because of the size, we think it's someone younger," Harris said. "It's someone that's been in the store before. They went for something specific and knew the interior of the store."

Harris said they took comic books and collectors' magazines that cost hundreds of dollars each.

They stole about 100 Magic trading cards worth $4 to $12 each. Harris said Magic is a card game, "similar to Pokemon but for older kids."

The owner still was compiling a list of missing items Saturday evening, so Harris said he did not have an estimated value of the stolen merchandise.

"We figure they want to sell the items since they went to this much trouble," Harris said.

Anyone who recognizes the sweater, saw anyone around the store after hours, or has other information can call (256) 233-8700 and ask for an investigator.

Obviously, comics dealers in Alabama and surrounding states should be on the lookout for anyone trying to unload Golden and Silver Age comics on the cheap. I'll post a list of the missing books when and if I get one.

I for Irony

Matt Drudge, who, let's face it, is nothing but the world's most glorified (and vilified) link-blogger, can't stay away from the pre-release hype for V for Vendetta, linking to a Variety story on how Warner Bros., the studio behind the DC/Vertigo Comics flick, is "playing it cool" during the countdown to the film's release March 17:
In these edgy, post-9/11 times, how does a studio handle a movie featuring a terrorist-like hero who blows up the British Parliament building?

They call him a freedom fighter.

As an aside, the Variety story goes on to mention a proposed law in the U.K. that maybe, possibly could have been a spot of bother for Warner Bros.:
In the U.K., "Vendetta" has come into the spotlight in recent days thanks to a new measure passed by the House of Commons that would outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism.

There's no indication so far that the law could impact the release of "Vendetta," but studio execs must have been relieved when the House of Lords rejected the proposal late last week.

Alan Moore may have disowned the film based on the graphic novel he authored, but even he probably appreciates, however darkly, the fact that his native country's knee-jerk reaction to V for Vendetta is to become more like the government the book and film criticize. He may even appreciate the irony that it was the stodgy old House of Lords that stayed New Labour's hand.

I'm making a list and checking it twice

Because I am the world's most obsessive compulsive comic book/superhero/cartoon geek, I'm compiling a list of every cartoon ever produced involving Marvel characters. Let me know if I missed one:

The Marvel Superheroes (1966)
Spider-Man (1967)
The Fantastic Four (1967)
The New Fantastic Four (1978)
Spider-Woman (1979, ABC)
Fred and Barney Meet the Thing (1979)
Spider-Man (1981)
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-86, NBC)
The Incredible Hulk (1982, NBC)
Pryde of the X-Men (1989, 30 min. special)
X-Men (1992-97, Fox)
Spider-Man (1994, Fox)
The Fantastic Four (1994-96, Marvel Action Hour)
Iron Man (1994-96, Marvel Action Hour)
The Incredible Hulk (1996-97, UPN)
The Silver Surfer (1998, Fox)
Spider-Man Unlimited (1999, Fox)
Avengers (1999, Fox)
X-Men: Evolution (2000-03, The WB)
Spider-Man (2003, MTV)
Ultimate Avengers (2006, DVD)
Ultimate Avengers 2 (2006, DVD)
Iron Man (2006, DVD)
Fantastic Four (2006, Cartoon Network)
Doctor Strange (2007, DVD)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Zombie Zombies

Rob Zombie talks about his animated horror film, The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, based on his comic-book characters:
"It's a beautiful-looking movie," he told the DJs [Kevin & Bean]. "All these animators from studios like Disney came to work on it, and [they're thrilled because] they get to work on something filthy. It's probably rated XXX now, but we'll have to cut it back to an R."

Getting your "Freak" on

Comedy Central has ordered seven episodes of the animated series Freak Show, executive produced by H. Jon Benjamin (Dr. Katz) and David Cross (Arrested Development). The series centers on a group of freak-show performers who moonlight as second-rate superheroes and will debut in late 2006 or early 2007.

My future pull list

As far as DC goes, given their promotional secretiveness, I'm only really looking forward to Grant Morrison's upcoming Batman run. But as for Marvel, I see much of interest on the horizon, and none of it has anything to do with that annoying "Civil War" crossover. The Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.? Check. A new Ghost Rider series? Hey, it's worth a look. Doctor Strange by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin, set in the normal Marvel continuity and ignoring J. Michael Straczynski's hackneyed revamp? That's the best comics news I've heard in a long time. Frank Cho on an ongoing series? You have my attention. Peter David writing a retro Hulk vs. The Champions story? I'm there, dude.

And now, the bad.

If you follow the link above, you'll see lots of preview art, and one thing is really bugging me. The preview pages for the New Avengers: Illuminati one-shot show a fight between Iron Man and Namor. Now, Iron Man is one of the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe. So, why would he fly out over water and then go underwater where Namor is at his most powerful? Can you say, "bad writing," boys and girls? 'Cause when you write smart characters as stupid, that's what it is. (And don't tell me that Iron Man was flying away from populated areas. Iron Man can outrun Namor by a considerable margin.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

"Teen Titans" TV's most violent kids show?

The busybodies are at it again. This time, it's the conservative Parents Television Council, led by the smarmy L. Brent Bozell, going after violence in children's television:
The PTC study reviewed programming shown during three weeks from the summer of 2005. It examined shows on four broadcast and four cable networks: ABC, Fox, NBC, WB, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.

The group's 2002 study of prime-time TV reviewed six broadcast networks.

The study found the Cartoon Network had the most violence overall, while the Disney Channel had the least.

It singled out the "Teen Titans" superhero cartoon, shown on the Cartoon Network and the WB, as the most violent show for children.

Naturally, not everyone is buying this.

"This group has a history of making sensational claims in order to push government control of content," said Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dr. Wertham, call your office

George Clooney says that when he played Batman in Batman and Robin he played the character gay:
"I was in a rubber suit. I had rubber nipples. I could have played him straight but I didn't I made him gay."

"Justice League" DVD update

TV Shows on DVD reports that the season 2 DVD set of Justice League will be presented in widescreen, not in full-screen format as was announced Wednesday.

Also, the site says to expect two more single-disc releases of Justice League Unlimited before Warner Bros. releases full-season box sets.

Marvel animation and movie speculation

  • In addition to Ultimate Avengers, Cartoon Network will air two other Marvel direct-to-DVD animated releases, Ultimate Avengers 2 and Iron Man. A statement from Cartoon Network made no mention of Marvel and Lionsgate's fourth confirmed animated feature, Doctor Strange, which probably will not see it's DVD release until early 2007. Cartoon Network also will air the original movie Teen Titans Tokyo, based on the recently canceled DC Comics TV series Teen Titans.

  • Dimension Films has purchased the rights to the superhero-parody spec script Comic Book: The Movie, which is funny given that (1) Dimension's parent company has already released a Mark Hamill-helmed mockumentary also called Comic Book: The Movie, and (2) Dimension is already producing a superhero-movie parody film, titled Superhero!, from the makers of Scary Movie 3. There is speculation that Dimension will combine the two parody projects, although I think it may be that Dimension wanted simply to buy out the competition.

  • Assuming V for Vendetta is a hit, the film's (nominal?) director, James McTeigue, wants a shot at adapting another Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen.
  • Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    I've been saying this for years

    The Beat links to a blog that dares blog the unthinkable: Chris Ware is overrated. Writes David Apatoff at Illustration Art:
    Ware's work combines three disciplines: artist, graphic designer and writer. Taking them in order, it is hard to argue that his "art" -- the actual drawings inside the panels -- is anything better than competent. He draws in a monotone, with little of the variety, the sensitivity or wisdom of line, the composition, design, or the other qualities that have traditionally been the hallmark of great drawing. Ware would have made an excellent key liner, and that was an honorable profession, but anybody knowledgeable about sequential art or illustration should have no trouble identifying 500 superior artists. As an aside, Ware also hasn't discovered that an artist who wants to depict a repetitive and bleak life cannot simply resort to repetitive and bleak drawings. Important lesson.

    Get ready for the biggest shockwave to hit the comics world since Ted Rall stomped on Art Spiegelman.

    Marvel stock upgraded

    JPMorgan upgraded Marvel Entertainment's stock Tuesday from "neutral" to "overweight," which doesn't sound like an improvement to me, but I'm sure these are technical terms. Marvel closed the day up 99 cents to $18.52.

    Marvel has recently been buying back stock, and "[s]ince launching its buyback program in July 2004, Marvel has purchased 25.5 million shares, or 26 percent of its float."

    Analysis are also bullish regarding Marvel's 2007 film prospects:
    [JPMorgan analyst Barton] Crockett said Marvel's 2007 movie slate is shaping up to be "unusually strong," with "Spider-Man 3" slated for May, "Fantastic Four 2" for July and "Ghost Rider" for February.

    (Google is your friend: "'Overweight' means a stock is projected to outperform on a 12-month risk-adjusted basis.")

    Smith swears off superhero movies

    Kevin Smith reveals that he doesn't want to direct a comic-book movie:
    [T]he reason Smith doesn't want to direct a comic book movie, as he was once in line to do with "Green Hornet"? He thinks shooting action is boring, and it's better suited to those who love it. "Sam Raimi does more cool sh-- in two minutes in 'Spider-Man' than I've done in seven movies," he conceded.

    "Justice League" on DVD, take 2

    The second season of Justice League is due out on DVD on June 20, according to TV Shows on DVD. The four-disc set consisting of 26 episodes will retail for $44.98. But contrary to previous reports, the set is listed as being full-screen instead of widescreen. TV Shows on DVD notes this may just be an error on Warner Bros.'s press release and is seeking to confirm the screen format of this set's episodes.

    (Image via Toon Zone.)

    Tuesday, February 28, 2006

    Anita Blake: comic-book heroine

    Dabel Brothers Productions has obtained the rights to produce a series of comics based on novelist Laurell K. Hamilton's best-selling series of Anita Blake novels, according to a press release posted at Newsarama. According to the release:
    The first book in the series, ANITA BLAKE: VAMPIRE HUNTER in GUILTY PLEASURES, will hit shelves in June, 2006, featuring amazing art by a soon-to-be-announced illustrator and a faithful script adaptation by Stacie M. Ritchie that will have fans of the novels savoring the first chapter in Anita Blake's adventures once again. The adaptation will also be published in two graphic novel volumes, available respectively by January and July, 2007.

    The news was greeted with speculation online, with Hamilton's fans wondering how much of the sometimes explicit sex of the novels, especially in later volumes of the series, will find it's way into the comics. As one Newsarama reader suggested, "The first six or so books are among my very favorite books but the latter titles made [me] quit reading the series. If they 'faithfully' adapt the later books they will have to be sold from behind the counter."

    Dark Horse doubles manga efforts

    Dark Horse Comics plans to double its output of manga titles in 2006, editor Carl Horn announced at New York Comic-Con this past weekend. ICv2 reports:
    Among the new manga licenses that Dark Horse announced at the NYCC were: Shin Lone Wolf & Cub by Kazuo Koike and Hideki Mori (a 6-volume sequel to the classic series); Translucent by Kazuhiro Okamoto (the story of an eighth grade girl with a disease that turns her translucent); Who Fighter by Seihou Takizawa (about a WWII fighter pilot who shoots down a UFO), and two series drawn by Housui Yamazaki, Mail and Kurosagi Delivery Service of Corpse.

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    The new "Action" team

    Rich Johnston reports that the new writing team on Action Comics will be Geoff Johns and Johns' former boss, Superman movie director Richard Donner.

    He also reports the old, but still cool, news that Joe R. Lansdale is writing a five-part Conan miniseries for Dark Horse.

    "Ultimate" delay

    Cartoon Network's broadcast of Ultimate Avengers, has been pushed back from March until April 15, reports Toon Zone. The move makes way for a Hayao Miyazaki film festival running on the cable channel throughout March.

    Ang Lee meets Shang-Chi

    Oscar-nominated director Ang Lee reportedly is still producing a movie version of Marvel's Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu with famed Hong Kong fight choreographer and director Woo-ping Yuen slated to direct.

    Speakeasy, R.I.P.

    Newsarama reports that Speakeasy Comics closed its doors this afternoon. I'll be shocked if this is the last such announcement we see this year. The way I see it, IDW, Dynamite and Devil's Due are the only full-color publishers in the back of the Previews catalog that seem safe.

    Behr to be the Man Without Fear?

    The rumor mill claims that Jason Behr (Roswell) is up for the role of Daredevil in a possible sequel. I give this rumor a credibility rating of Baron Munchausen.

    "Pants of Delight"

    OK. I have nothing to add to this story from the Mainichi Daily News:
    It's gross, filthy and disgusting, but Japanese erotic manga fans can't get enough of a comic that comes with a pair of pre-school girl's panties as a promotional item, according to Cyzo (March).

    Pretty much anything goes in the world of Japanese erotic manga, but "Sekai Hatsu Shiawase Pantsu Shokai Gentei" (World's First Limited Edition Pants of Delight), one of the most wildly popular manga on the market, goes beyond being sickening.

    Even Cyzo, a glossy monthly that could kindly be termed as "broad minded" is disgusted, saying "Has the world of Rorikon stooped this low?"

    Rorikon, the Japanese word for pedophilia, is a contraction of the borrowed English words "Lolita," after the girl in Vladimir Nabokov's book of the same name, and "complex."

    Comic-book movies that time forgot

    This is the first of what may become an irregular feature about comic-book movies you've never heard of or might wish to forget.

    1973 gave us Baba Yaga, based on Italian cartoonist Guido Crepax's Valentina comics. Also known Kiss Me Kill Me, Baby Yaga was released on DVD by Blue Underground in 2003, a release which includes a Crepax documentary, Freud in Color, and a comics-to-film comparison. Here's Blue Underground's description of the film:

    Legendary sex symbol Carroll Baker (BABY DOLL, THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH) stars as a mysterious sorceress with an undying hunger for sensual ecstasy and unspeakable torture. But when she casts a spell over a beautiful young fashion photographer (the gorgeous Isabelle De Funes), Milan'’s most luscious models are sucked into a nightmare world of lesbian seduction and shocking sadism. Are these carnal crimes the result of one woman's forbidden fantasies or is this the depraved curse of the devil witch known as BABA YAGA?

    I have Baba Yaga in my DVD collection because I have almost every Italian horror/thriller/supernatural film ever made in my DVD collection. But when I last watched Baba Yaga, it was really late at night, and I don't remember much. I do remember that Crepax, or an actor portraying Crepax, appears early in the film and talks about cartooning, discussing in particular the subversive nature of Snoopy and Peanuts. Unfortunately, Movie-Crepax doesn't elaborate on this.

    According to the Internet Movie Database, Baba Yaga's director, Corrado Farina, has made only one other film, which may also help explain why I remember so little of the movie. Oh, wait, I remember there being lots of nudity. But then I always remember that.

    (See the Baba Yaga movie trailer here. Not work safe. See also DVD Drive-In's review.)

    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Missing the manga movement

    The Patriot-News (Penn.) reports on the popularity of manga. A sidebar story then delves into how comic-book stores have not shared in the manga boom, largely because of their inability to compete with chain bookstores and online retailers. The sidebar quotes The Comics Journal's Dirk Deppey:
    Deppy [sic], who derided the U.S. comic industry for failing to capitalize on the success of manga in a recent issue of the Journal, said American comics publishers like Marvel cater to such a niche market that they might have alienated folks who would otherwise frequent their local store.

    "American comics went into retirement," he said, "catering more and more to hardcore fans. It's a one-genre medium, and the books have become more arcane."

    A (graphic) novel idea

    The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the trend of novelists and screenwriters turning to writing comic books:
    "We get compelling storytelling and a fresh outlook on over 40 years of character continuity," says Ruwan Jayatilleke, director of development at Marvel, in New York. "And obviously we're going for a crossover audience. Increasingly we're seeing these [comic] books collected into graphic novels.

    "When you have stories from well-known creative types like Joss Whedon or [sci-fi author] Orson Scott Card, or Reggie Hudlin," he continues, "there's more of a mainstream audience going to Barnes & Noble or Amazon or even discovering their local comic book shop."

    Baltimore Sun: Mad about manga

    The Baltimore Sun is the latest mainstream newspaper to discover that strange manga stuff all the hip kids are into nowadays:
    [Y]oung fans can always get their fix at the library. The Baltimore County Public Library has been adding to its collection and now has more than 2,800 volumes in its branches, 330 different manga titles in all.

    "It's definitely one of our highest circulating collections," says Jeff Doane, a librarian in the Towson branch young adult section. "The whole system is suddenly realizing [that manga isn't] a one-hit wonder. These books are read to pieces. That's pretty cool."

    The story also cites manga circulation figures from
    [S]ales in the U.S. have more than doubled from $55 million in 2002, according to ICv2. USA Today reported that its 2005 best-selling book list included a number of graphic novel titles, more than triple the number as compared to the year before, and the most popular form was manga. Harlequin Books has started publishing some of its romances in manga form.

    Mainstream press on NY Comic-Con

    Both USA Today and Publishers Weekly have round-ups of New York Comic-Con. (Second link via The Beat.)

    Octavia Butler, R.I.P.

    Science Fiction writer Octavia Butler has died. She was 58. According to the Associated Press, Butler, "the first black woman to gain national prominence as a science fiction writer, died after falling and striking her head on the cobbled walkway outside her home, a close friend said Sunday."
    Butler began writing at age 10, and told Howle she embraced science fiction after seeing a schlocky B-movie called "Devil Girl from Mars" and thinking, "I can write a better story than that." In 1970, she took a bus from her hometown of Pasadena, Calif., to East Lansing, Mich., to attend a fantasy writers workshop.

    Flash, ahh ahhhhhhh!

    Defenders of the Earth, the 1980s animated TV series produced by Marvel Productions and featuring King Features Syndicate comic-strip heroes Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Lothar (promoted from being Mandrake's sidekick), is reportedly coming to DVD in the near future. BCI Eclipse has the rights.

    Saturday, February 25, 2006

    Oh, She's a Lady

    DC Comics' latest iteration of Phantom Lady seems to have all of the, um, essential attributes of her predecessors. The new Phantom Lady is either the third or fourth incarnation of the character, depending on whether you regard Fox's take on the original Sandra Knight version of the Golden Age as a distinct character.

    (Artwork via Newsarama.)

    Darren McGavin, R.I.P.

    Darren McGavin, star of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and A Christmas Story, has died, according to Ain't it Cool News and McGavin's authorized web site. He was 83.

    He also starred in two films with Don Knotts, who died late Friday at 81. The films are Hot Lead and Cold Feet and Disney's No Deposit, No Return.

    While an ABC television revival of The Night Stalker (starring Stuart Townsend) flopped, McGavin's original Carl Kolchak has found new life in a comics series published by Moonstone Books.

    Gaiman is "Eternal"

    Neil Gaiman's Eternals miniseries is set to debut in June, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada announced at New York Comic-Con. John Romita Jr. will pencil the miniseries.

    Dripping with Venom

    Yes, I've seen the Spider-Man 3 publicity photo of the black Spider-Man suit. Yes, it has the fanboys buzzing about a possible Venom appearance. No, I'm not happy about this. But I still have confidence in Sam Raimi not to screw things up.

    Taking the Big Apple

    The New York Times visits New York Comic-Con. I love how the Times tries to sum up Marvel and DC's latest high-profile projects:
    In "Civil War," the heroes are engaging in a debate over whether to register as government operatives; "Infinite Crisis" involves galactic warfare.

    Of course, this is the same newspaper that gave us Jayson Blair, so what do you expect?

    On the other hand, this is what Marvel and DC get for returning to continuity-heavy crossover "events."