Thursday, February 19, 2009

Screening Room: "Hulk Vs."

Switching gears, I’ll get into a bit of animation. For those who don’t know, I’ve taken on a new gig as the online editor at Animation Magazine, and have been plunging into my DVD collection to revisit various animated features and bits such as the original "X-Men" series and the 2-D edition of "Star Wars: Clone Wars." And then arrives "Hulk Vs.," the most recent Marvel Animation feature DVD. This 2-disc set includes two features, each about 40 minutes long: "Hulk vs. Wolverine" and "Hulk vs. Thor."

I had seen "Hulk vs. Wolverine" in its entirety at Comic-Con last summer (and wrote about it for Newsarama.) Watching it again, I still like it for its alternately violent and slightly goofy revisiting of Wolverine’s origin and first battle with the Hulk. There’s lots of Weapon X in here and some good slicing and dicing with Wolverine facing off against Sabretooth, Deathstrike, Omega Red and Deadpool.

But I liked "Hulk vs. Thor" a lot more. For one, the story was better – you could almost believe that Hulk deserved top billing in this feature. Plus, it did a nice job of bringing in a whole bunch of Asgardian characters who I don’t think have been seen before in animation: The Warriors 3, Enchantress, Sif, Hela, Odin, Baldar and, of course, Loki. The plot and the action are a nice updating of the kind of classic Marvel storytelling you’d get from an issue by Kirby or, more recently, Walt Simonson.

The animation also is quite nice — elegant in its look and feel, but still fast and forceful in its motion. There’s a sneak peek on the disc of the upcoming Thor feature, which promises to explore the origins of Thor’s relationship with Loki and looks pretty good.

I really find myself enjoying these direct to DVD features. On the Marvel side, "Doctor Strange" in particular was a really cool way to spend 75 minutes, while "Justice League: The New Frontier" is my favorite of the DC ones. (I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m looking forward to Wonder Woman.)

It's came up in the Comic-Con panel (and again in reports from Marvel Animation's New York Comic-Con panel) that fans need to buy these if they want them to continue — suggesting that the entire program is on the bubble. These are interesting and fun, so I hope they sell well enough for these to continue for a good, long while.

Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 1

This is the first in a series of hardcover books reprinting Alan Moore’s seminal run on the title. Amazingly, Moore also wrote Watchmen, which is coming to movie screens in just a couple weeks now! Coincidence, surely.

I have to confess to never having read any of Moore’s Swamp Thing until now. And in some ways I’m glad I waited, because it’s always great to find a great comic that you’ve never read before even when it’s 25 years old.

The book reprints Saga #20-27, and features a bunch of very cool bits. The coolest is the way Moore completely transforms the hero by revealing Swamp Thing to not be the transformed body of Alec Holland, but the transferred consciousness — meaning there is no chance Swamp Thing can ever become human again. This throws the series’ very premise into doubt and runs counter to the conventions that ruled comic book storytelling and character motivation for the previous, say, two decades. That opens the door for this book to go somewhere completely different, and made for a tremendously interesting read.

That not much is immediately done with it is OK — we know there’s more volumes to come. But there’s also a lot of craft in this book, from Moore and artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. For one, everything is deliberate and with purpose — every caption and every panel seems to have been thought through rather well and there’s little if any fat in the story telling.

The things that for me didn’t work quite as well were the introduction of various DC Universe characters. The Justice League cameo was strange and thankfully short. The appearance of The Demon, however, was more annoying and seemed more gratuitous. Maybe some of that is every horror/mature reader series DC launched in these pre-Vertigo days seemed to have The Demon show up. (Even Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had both the Justice League and The Demon show up in its early issues.) Plus, the only Demon comics I’ve ever read that I liked were the first few by Jack Kirby. Pretty much everything since has seemed contrived or just plain silly, so that part fell short.

These are minor complaints, however, since the overall experience of reading the book is a very pleasurable and intimate one. It’s also a good reminder of what you can do with a comic book when you’ve got a writer with a vision and they’re left largely to their own devices — no crossovers, no mega events, no storytelling by committee. As a latecomer to these stories, I think I like them more than I would have had I read them 10 or 20 years ago. Grade: A-

Monday, February 9, 2009

Another Mutant Cinema interview leads full week of X-Men news

I wish I had been at New York Comic-Con for all the cool stuff I'm reading about, even as I don't miss the New York weather at all. There's lots of X-Men-related news that makes me unexpectedly happy, so here it goes:
  • First, on the Mutant Cinema front, an interview I did with the blog Four Color Commentary is now posted for your reading pleasure. Check it out here.

  • As you may have noticed from the image at left, the 1990s X-Men animated series is finally getting an official and complete DVD release! The details on the first two volumes have just been released, and they include 32 episodes in all. Read more here.

  • On the comics front, The New Mutants is back with a new series starring the original lineup of characters. If they'd get Bill Sienkiewicz and Chris Claremont back on the book, I'd be completely sold. Since there have been a few other revivals along the way that haven't worked out, I may reserve final judgment until I've read a few issues. Zeb Wells, who I just saw win an Annie Award as part of the Robot Chicken team a few weeks back, will write with Diogenes Neves (an artist whose work I'm not familiar with) will be on art.

  • Lastly, and perhaps most potentially cool of all, is news of a new comic series titled X-Men Forever, in which Claremont will continue the series from where he left off in 1991 as though all the intervening years never happened. While it sounds like he won't do all the cool stuff he had planned at the time, I think it'll be really fun to play What If? in this way. Tom Grummet is on the art, which I think is a solid choice and should be able to evoke the feel of the book back then and take it somewhere new. Now, if only they could talk Jim Lee into drawing an issue or two, my 1990s comics flashback would be complete. IGN talks to the mutant master about the series here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comic du jour: Ltd. Collector's Edition C-27 - Shazam!

In honor of today being my dad's 70th birthday, I'm going to review the first comic he and my mom ever procured for me: Limited Collector's Edition C-27, a treasury size Shazam! comic from 1974. I would have been about five when I got this comic, which I seem to recall arrived by mail order and would have been requested by me because of the Saturday morning TV show airing at the time.

Looking back at this, it's a pretty amazing first comic. Not only is it in the huge treasury format (80 pages for $1 must have seemed like a lot back then), but it reprints eight stories from the Golden Age run of Captain Marvel and the entire Marvel family.

The story that made the greatest impression on me was the Captain Marvel Jr. story, "The Man with 100 Heads!" There's a sequence where Dr. Slicer, the villain of the piece, captures Freddy Freeman and sets him, gagged, in a guillotine. Of course, Dr. Slicer leaves before the blade drops, and Freddy manages to get the gag free in just enough time to say Captain Marvel and save his neck — literally! Something about that scene captured my imagination and never let go.

I bought my current copy of the book a few years back — my original long since discarded and gone. Looking at this book again, I was impressed by the quality of the art and the liveliness of these stories. It also looks great. The reproduction on those treasury size pages is crisp, sharp and lovely to behold. This also was a great package for kids — there were puzzles, clip activities, a fairly sultry pinup of Mary Marvel, photos from the 1940s Captain Marvel serial and, best of all, the table-top diorama on the back cover. I'm pretty sure I cut up the back cover of my original copy to make this. Thankfully, now I can just make a copy with my scanner. Here's what the finished bit looks like:

Having tried to cut out all the bits around Billy Batson, I wonder if anyone at DC tried to see if a kid could do this well — or even safely — and get a good result. I'm not sure this looks a whole lot better than the one I did at age five, even with my now-obsolete paste-up skills. The final product looks a bit like the boxes those old Mego action figures came in.

Either way, it's still a brilliant comic and one of my favorites.

Thanks, Dad.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mutant Cinema interview at CBR

Check out Timothy Callahan's interview with me about "Mutant Cinema," now up over at Comic Book Resources! (Be sure to check out Tim's book, "Grant Morrison: The Early Years." It's a terrific read ... ) Looks like an interesting discussion is forming on the CBR message boards about the merits of "X-Men: The Last Stand" ...

Also, the Facebook page has 24 fans and counting ... If you're not one of them yet, head on over and join up for all the latest updates.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reed goes to Chicago, sets N.Y. show for fall

Reed Exhibitions, the company that puts on the New York Comic-Con, today announced the debut of its new show, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2 for short), April 16-18, 2010.

They also are moving the New York show to the fall, with the next edition (after the one going on this weekend) set for Oct. 8-10, 2010. That's a long wait for the next New York show, but the fall dates are ones they will be able to consistently ensure going forward after having had to move around from February to April last year and back again to February this year.

This rather nicely settles down the convention calender, leaving WonderCon free and clear to do its thing in the early part of the year without having to compete with a New York show. (This year's show is set for Feb. 27-March 1 in San Francisco.)

But the biggest impact will obviously be on Wizard and its Wizard World shows. Wizard recently postponed its March show here in Los Angeles and canceled its Texas show. That left only the two summer shows on its tour, Philadelphia (June 19-21) and Chicago (Aug. 6-9).

What kind of impact the Reed show will have on WWChicago in particular will be interesting to watch. Wizard got into the convention business by buying in 1997 the Chicago Comic-Con, at the time the second-largest show after San Diego, and rebranding it as Wizard World.

Wizard's Chicago show is still the largest one they put on and a big show by any standard, but Reed's success in growing its New York show from 33,000 attendees in 2006 to 67,000 last year will make them tough to compete with. Reed also has more experience and greater resources to draw upon in marketing the show to the wider audiences that have made the New York show and San Diego more mainstream events.

Reed's also trying not to step on anyone's toes by finding clear spots on the schedule for its shows that don't force exhibitors to choose between shows or rush from one crazy con experience to the next with no break in between.