A recap of current cool stuff, posted 13 March 2019
When people find out that I’m a cartoonist and especially that I write about comics and pop culture, the first question that is asked is, What do you recommend? Here are some answers. Over the weekend, as I escaped the heat, I decided to make a dent in my already unwieldy stack of review material. In the video below, we take a look at The Otaku Box, a new crate box service focusing on anime and manga plus a recap on some current hot comics titles: Invisible Kingdom, Little Bird, Captain America, Man and Superman, and The Wrong Earth.
I hope you enjoy this video and I invite you to like, comment, and subscribe to my evolving YouTube channel. I feel pretty good about it and any additional motivation from you folks is always appreciated. I will continue to add videos as time permits.
A lot of you out there are familiar with Batman: The Dark Prince Charming, the collaboration between DC Comics and the French comics publisher Dargaud. It was the first time that many Americans got to see the masterful artwork of Enrico Marini. And now comes along another amazing Marini work, with writer Thierry Smoldered. Gypsy Omnibus is published by Insight Comics, an imprint of Insight Editions. It is available as of December 4, 2018. Gypsy is an excellent example of the adrenaline-fueled mega-adventure European comic book. Gypsy was originally published in 1992 by Dargaud Comics and reprinted in English in the pages of Heavy Metal. Its futuristic Mad Max edge hasn’t aged a bit.
Set in the not-too-distant future, the world of Gypsy has it all: planetary highways, the coronation of a young Russian Tsar, the resurrection of a Mongol army on the trail of Gengis Khan, an all-powerful multinational corporation that controls all earthly transport—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! In the middle of all this, we have a Gypsy truck driver who, fortunately, knows how to look after himself.
Enrico Marini (Desert Star, Raptors, Scorpion, Negative Exposure) is an artist steeped in all the old school ways. All the artwork, including the coloring, is done by hand. Drawing, and painting, on paper sturdy enough to handle ink and watercolor, Marini provides a robust feast for the eyes. Colors get to play and expand beyond their the usual perimeters, spreading even into the word balloons. This hands-on approach compliments the gritty narrative. It’s not overdone. It’s purposeful.
Thierry Smolderen launched a career writing comic books in the mid-1980s. He has since won multiple awards for his graphic novels and is recognized as one of the leading specialists in the history of comics, having published several essays and articles in journals like Comic Art or the International Journal of Comic Art. His passion for comics is in full evidence in his script for Gypsy.
Gypsy Omnibus is a 368-page full color deluxe edition with slipcase. It is available as of December 4, 2018. For more details, go to Insight Comics right here.
When it comes to fighting for the share of a film audience, the battleground is extremely tough. However, amidst the blockbusters, period pieces, and Oscar fodder, one genre has risen above all others and against all odds reigned supreme both in terms of commercial success and cultural reception. That’s right, superhero movies provide us with some of the most lucrative and successful films in recent years, and their star is only going to continue to rise. But what does the future hold for superhero films? And will the current trajectory ever slow down?
2017 was a good year for superhero flicks. According to Box Office Mojo Wonder Woman grossed $412,563,408, and was the 3rd highest grossing film of the year, while Thor: Ragnarok achieved $312,641,320 and 7th place, and Justice League closed out the Top 10. The success shows that superhero movies are still drawing in the public and achieving box office targets. As long as the targets are being met, the studios will still continue to produce films about superheroes. The first female-led superhero movie bolstered the position for DC, with Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman being highly praised – and with that success comes a possible new subgenre for countless other female superheroes who may have been overlooked over the years.
Hope for the Future
2018 looks to continue the rise of the superhero movie genre, with Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man and the Wasp providing sequels of previously successful films. Based on the eponymous villain, Venom will offer an alternate view of the Spider-Man series – which itself received a revamp in 2017, replacing Andrew Garfield with Tom Holland for the Spider-Man Homecoming origin story. Revamps are common in the genre and actually in fitting with the comic books they are based on, which regularly kill off characters, such as when Spider-Man was killed in 2012 only to be revived again. The trick the studios have to pull is to stick to the genre’s roots while finding new and exciting ways to explore superhero backstories and mythos.
But with the regurgitation of heroes in sequel after sequel (Iron Man and Captain America both have 3 films each, with appearances in crossovers and the everyone-involved Avengers films), and the retelling of the same story (Spider-Man has had 3 different actors; Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland in only 15 fifteen years), there leaves little space for new superheroes to change the genre up. However, one hero, whose exploits were documented in the 1986 movie Highlander, is in the pipeline for a remake. The remake will introduce newer fans to the character, who already has a fan base and in niche areas even appeared as a popular game on the homepage of Betway Casino, featured as an online slot game. The game features content from the classic franchise and can give you a sense of how popular the movie (directed by Chad Stahleski of John Wick fame) will be.
Superhero movie franchises abound.
Franchise and Fans
The superhero movie continues to see a positive return at the box office due to the franchise nature of the genre. The films are based on premises, not plots, which are conducive to expanded arcs, backstories, and fleshed out worlds of characters long forgotten in comic books. As many are based on comic books, which have established audiences, and come from a genre, which also has dedicated fans, studios are more likely to produce superhero movies due to the likelihood of a higher turnout. The established fan base could explain why so many superhero films are given the green light, but easy fans wouldn’t account for the genuine financial success the films achieve.
Marvel vs DC
The Marvel vs DC battle, which dominates the comic world, and has begun to dominate the world of cinema, is another factor that keeps superhero films alive. If only one franchise existed, filmmakers could grow complacent and produce subpar stories knowing people will watch them. The healthy competition and so-called battle the companies are involved in helps keep each franchise fresh in order to stay ahead of the competition. With DC’s release of the Wonder Woman film, Marvel are already considering further exploring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in her own feature. The character starred in many of her own comics, which explored the backstory revealed in Age of Ultron. The opening of major action movies to female leads provides a wealth of avenues that the superhero films can go down – just don’t mention Halle Berry’s 2004 flop as Catwoman!
The Comic Book Industry
The superhero genre of films also helps keep the comic book industry alive. By introducing fans to a character, they can then delve into the entire back catalogue of that character, and everything they have done before. Given that many started in the 1950s, fans potentially have a large amount of material to sift through, helping to build the franchise effect that keeps audiences interested film after film.
The superhero genre, after years of hard work and failed attempts, has finally solidified itself as the head of the box office and a creator of sure-fire hits. The future of the genre looks bright, and filmmakers have to just decide which aspect to focus on. While flops can still occur, the unwavering success of the last spate of films shows just how successful the genre actually can be.
Marvel Legacy #1 ranks at the very top as the best-selling comic book of 2017.
Diamond, the primary distributor of comics and graphic novels, has announced the top-selling books for 2017. It is no surprise to find Marvel and DC Comics in the lead. For regular followers of comics, it is also no surprise to find Image Comics commanding a sizable share with Saga.
DC Entertainment’s top comic book was Dark Nights: Metal #1.
Marvel Legacy #1 ranks at the very top as the best-selling comic book of 2017. Marvel ranked number one with DC Entertainment as number two, in overall comic book sales. DC Entertainment’s top comic book was Dark Nights: Metal #1.
Image Comics took eight of the top ten graphic novel spots, with Saga Volume 7 as the best-selling graphic novel for 2017.
Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ award-winning science fiction epic, Saga from Image Comics, once again dominated the top ten graphic novels chart and solidified Image Comics as the year’s third largest comic book publisher. Image Comics took eight of the top ten graphic novel spots, with Saga Volume 7 as the best-selling graphic novel for 2017.
I have some treasures to give away. Here is the plan: I will mail out any of these treats to you in return for a little good cheer back. My prime objective is to get more folks to become aware of my book of collected works in comics, “A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories.” What I ask of you is to read the book and give it a review on Amazon. Of course, say whatever you like. I will truly appreciate the feedback. And it can be as short and sweet as you like too. You can easily purchase my book (or read for free) at Amazon. Just go right here. I think this will be a natural fit for my thoughtful readers.
MISTER MIRACLE, script by Tom King; art by Mitch Gerads
I have not been following a Batman title, or any mainstream superhero tile, for quite a while. But all that has changed with just one name: Tom King. As many of you already know, King is the man on Batman. He’s a writer who knows when and how to expand on a moment as he recently did with a whole issue devoted to a certain gathering for dinner (see Batman #29). And then there’s his work on Mister Miracle. King has brought back the character first created by Jack Kirby in 1971. For this latest 12-issue run, Tom King’s script is decidedly existential. Our hero, Scott Free, happens to be one of the fabulous New Gods. His backstory is a little complicated. Think Wonder Woman. To add to the complexity, Scott hides his secret identity as a world-renown escape artist. And, lately, he’s been struggling with his greatest challenge of all: Scott wants to escape death.
So far so good. Any story with a guy dancing with the Grim Reaper gets my attention. What wins me over is the everyday moments between Scott and Barda. They’re, in many respects, just a typical young married couple. Maybe they take each other for granted sometimes. Maybe they push each other’s buttons at other times. That sort of thing. But they’re also awesome superheroes, right? King and artist Mitch Gerads (The Punisher) keep that balance working very nicely. Frankly, any talk, at least at first, of New Genesis and Darkseid and my eyes will fully glaze over. Maybe I’d get into it after a while. I just need a hook. Honestly, all of us readers need something to hook into and the truth is that few of us are going to care as much about the superhero stuff without first investing in the characters. That said, this creative team understands that very well.
Barda and Scott
Okay, so now for the finer points. The comic pretty much sticks to a grid of nine panels per page. It’s a great look and King and Gerads can get really creative with this more arty approach. Well, I say “arty” as I think of that nine panel grid as definitely calling attention to itself. It has a great deal of potential as seen in other titles such as Hawkeye from Marvel Comics. King and Gerads have made good use of this structure for both dramatic and comedic affect. There’s a moment where Scott and Barda must go through the ritual of kneeling before their leader, the Highfather. It’s an extended moment that allows for all the necessary timing. But you’d expect that sort of thing from King, king of the pregnant pauses. It’s totally funny. Now, I’m just wondering if we’re simply going to see more and more of the nine panel grid as it works so well on mobile devices. Hopefully, we’ll always have the Kings of comics overseeing quality control with excellent content.
MISTER MIRACLE #2 is available as of September 13, 2017. For more details, visit DC Comics right here.
French publisher Dargaud caused plenty of buzz when it announced last month a two-volume Batman graphic novel by legendary European comics creator Enrico Marini (Le Scorpion, Eagles of Rome, Gipsy). By itself, that is exciting news. But there was no news about a simultaneously published English version. Perhaps that was a secret that can only now be revealed. DC has just announced that it will be publishing this work, entitled, “Batman: The Dark Prince Charming.” Now, that’s some Batman news!
With this work, Enrico Marini will make his American comics and mainstream superhero debut. If you’ve seen his work for “Le Scorpion,” for instance, you can expect some cool swagger. And Batman will need all his confidence for this new story as he confronts his arch-nemesis The Joker. According to the DC press release, what distinguishes this story from other Batman tales is that this time, “it’s personal!” When has it not been personal when it comes to these two characters? Whatever the case, this time, Batman is…European! And let’s not lose sight of another character in this tale: Catwoman! I will have more to say about Catwoman in an upcoming post.
Here is the official description of the story according to DC:
What secret connection do both Batman and The Joker share with a strange and mysterious young girl? After she’s kidnapped by The Joker, Batman must plunge deep into the underworld of Gotham City and race against time to find out where she’s being held. The stakes are high, and for Batman, it’s personal!
MARINI’s GOTHAM CITY!
Pretty cool news however you spin it! Book one of Batman: The Dark Prince Charming will be in stores on November 1, 2017. Look for book two coming in spring 2018!
“Wonder Woman” is simply the movie to see rounding out its third weekend with U.S. sales at $275 million and $570 million worldwide. You may have noticed there are a lot of showings, including 3D and 4DX versions, and they sell out quickly. All of this is for very good reason. This Wonder Woman movie is very sharp and Gal Gadot in the main role commands the screen at all times, even more so, I dare say, than a Ben Affleck or a Henry Cavill. That had to be part of the thinking behind this first ever Wonder Woman major motion picture. The stumbling block all these decades was supposed to have something to do with whether or not a Wonder Woman movie could ever deliver the box office of a Superman or Batman movie. The answer is YES!
Yes, Wonder Woman can Kick Ass!
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is certainly one of those exceptional movie events. It comes out of that urgent need to get it right. The most brilliant step in getting it right was to set the story during World War I. When was the last time you saw a major motion picture set during WWI? Any young person walking in to see this movie would shrug. There have been a select few, including 2004’s “A Very Long Engagement,” starring Audrey Tautou. The original Wonder Woman comic book was inextricably linked to World War II since it came out during that era. But to rework that same terrain would have been dreadfully tiresome for many a fan. Setting things back to an entirely different epoch opens up different and more compelling options, bringing it all back to basics in a very intriguing way. What could be better than to have a young and idealistic goddess confront “the war to end all wars”? I can imagine that being the pitch to the story by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) that was fleshed out in the screenplay by Allan Heinberg (Grey’s Anatomy).
HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 25: Actors Gal Gadot (L) and Lynda Carter attend the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Wonder Woman” at the Pantages Theatre on May 25, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
The beauty of “Wonder Woman” is how purposeful it is. Yes, we are dealing with the inevitable origin story. But that becomes a big plus as this is used to full advantage. The opening scenes set in Themyscira, the idyllic world that Wonder Woman comes from, have a refreshing vibe to them. There is a certain amount of dutiful explaining going on but, right from the start, we see quick and steady progress from our main character. We see Diana, the little girl, get the early training she demands. In no time, she has grown into a young woman more powerful than even she could imagine. And, all the while, this phase of Diana’s life, comes across not as merely backstory but as essential. Most importantly, there is a sense of urgency and suspense. In a different era, not too long ago (not exactly over with), this depiction of a female paradise could have easily fallen prey to titillation. More harmful than any supervillain, that would have been the worst sucker punch Wonder Woman could have endured.
Yes, a Wonder Woman can be VERY SUCCESSFUL and POPULAR!
So, let me jump to my big point. I went to see this movie with my 21-year-old daughter. She was not really all that aware of the Wonder Woman TV show, starring Lynda Carter. I tried to explain that it was part of its era, the ’70s, and less enlightened. It was too easy to make Wonder Woman a sex symbol for that show. And my daughter quickly picked up on that and said she appreciated how this new Wonder Woman was not sexualized in that way. I also mentioned that I have read more than one account, over the years, of women claiming to have been inspired as little girls by the spinning Lynda Carter did on the show to magically transform into a superhero. Girls would spin and spin and spin. Again, my daughter picked up on that. She said she was more interested in Gal Gadot’s impressive Taekwondo kicks. I am sure that Lynda Carter would understand.
“Wonder Woman” offers a whole new way for girls to be inspired. They no longer have to just spin and spin and spin. What a remarkable job this movie does in playing catch-up. Had a movie just like this come out in Lynda Carter’s heyday, it would have been hailed as nothing short of revolutionary. Superman and Batman movies have dominated the pop culture landscape for decades having left a Wonder Woman movie at a considerable disadvantage. How this movie overcomes that, with a genuinely inspiring main character, clearly demonstrates that there is a demand of strong and powerful female characters. In fact, the revolution continues and this movie manages to depict Wonder Woman as leading the way.
“Wonder Woman” is distributed by Warner Bros. Visit the official Wonder Woman movie site right here.
I still remember the sting and utter humiliation during an improv class when I was asked to tell a joke and I froze. I thought I knew what to expect from acting and improv but I wasn’t ready that night to tell a simple joke! Now, I have discovered a fine book that I wish I had with me all long: THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK! This book will save your comedic bacon no matter what your age and is published by Downtown Bookworks.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
There are more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters! Use it at parties. Use it on dates, depending on the date, of course. And definitely use it to bring a smile to anyone’s face. How about a way to get a rambunctious kid’s attention? Everyone loves a good joke. This book is chock full of them in an eye-popping colorful presentation.
Page from THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK
As you can see from the samples, these are smart and funny jokes. A little here about the authors: Noah Smith is a comedy writer who has worked for Saturday Night Live; Sarah Parvis is a children’s book author; and Michael Robin is an author and librarian.
THE OFFICIAL DC SUPER HERO JOKE BOOK is a full color 176-page trade paperback for ages 6 and up, published by Downtown Bookworks. You can also find it at Amazon right here.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins
I want to share with you a book that really speaks to me as an artist and storyteller. I’d been meaning to write a review of it for quite some time and then it struck me last night as to what to say here. This is one of those books with the goal of art instruction that really gets it! And it is considerably helped along by its niche focus! Are you into science fiction? Would you like to draw work that perfectly fits into that genre? Well, then, here’s the book for you: “How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” by Prentis Rollins, published by Monacelli Press.
This is the ultimate guide for illustrators at all levels on how to fine tune their sci-fi imagery. You get the very best advice from Prentis Rollins, a DC Comics veteran (Rebirth, Supergirl, and Batman: The Ultimate Evil). Given the opportunity, I would love to pick his brain. But, let me tell you, this book is the next best thing as Rollins takes a very accessible and conversational tone throughout his instruction filled to the brim with examples. There are 32 step-by-step case studies in all created and imagined especially for this book.
Whether you are attempting to create a compelling utopia or dystopia, it all comes back to basics. Here is a book that goes through the building blocks all the way to sophisticated techniques to really rock your world. Rollins is certainly not alone in stressing a need to master the fundamentals before veering off to pursue your own thing. In fact, he implores you to not rely too heavily upon emulating the work of others. However, he also emphasizes the very real need to be inspired by others.
For Rollins, he has two main influences: American artist Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture); and the Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger (Alien). As Rollins is quick to point out, these two artists could not be further apart from each other. Mead is logical, clean, and rational. Giger is morbid and nightmarish. You could place one in the utopian camp and the other in the dystopian camp. And that falls well into the theme that Rollins pursues: a close look at science fiction imagery, both utopian and dystopian.
A utopian scene
Consider these examples, among the many you’ll find in this book. One shows you a scene more in the vein of Syd Mead.
A dystopian scene
While the other shows you a scene more in the vein of H.R. Giger. And, yet, both resonate a certain way of doing things that is all Prentis Rollins. And that, my friend, is the whole point of the book. I hope you’ll get a chance to pick up a copy for yourself or for someone you know who would get a kick out of such an impressive art instruction book.
“How to Draw Sci-Fi Utopias and Dystopias” is a 208-page trade paperback in full color. For more details and how to purchase, visit Monacelli Press right here.