Friday, August 5, 2016

In Memorium: Gaspar Saladino

Legendary letterer Gaspar Saladino passed away yesterday following a long illness (his age is believed to be somewhere in the 88 or 90 range).  Although he worked for a variety of publishers during his lengthy career, for well over five decades he was a staple of DC Comics responsible for so many of their iconic font designs. Gaspar designed hundreds of logos for the company and as time permitted, also worked on interiors particularly on Swamp Thing with Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. The Catacombs extends its sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In Memorium: Jack Davis

Legendary illustrator Jack Davis passed away yesterday in Georgia at the age of 91. His staggering volume of work for advertising, magazines, films, posters and album covers throughout his long life made him a popular cartoonist. Davis began his career at EC Comics doing horror and sci-fi stuff, but quickly became known for MAD magazine and the caricature art style that led to his wider fame. I met him at a National Cartoonist Society meeting in Asheville, NC a few years ago alonside his former MAD peers Duck Edwing and Nick Meglin. That was a terrific and truly once in a lifetime opportunity. He will be missed! The Catacombs extends its sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans.

Friday, July 15, 2016

"Gal" Friday! Elsa Bloodstone

Elsa Bloodstone first appeared in Marvel's 2001 Bloodstone mini-series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. She is the daughter of the previously established Marvel Universe character Ulysses Bloodstone (first appearance in Marvel Presents #1; Oct.1975). She currently lives in Bloodstone Manor with her mother and her ally the Frankenstein Monster. She has also befriended Charles Barnabus, a pureblood vampire lawyer and the executor of the Bloodstone estate.

Elsa has been utilized in various Marvel publishing efforts such as Nextwave, the Initiative, The Fearless Defenders and Marvel Now; but she has seemingly returned to her monster-hunting adventures vowing solemnly to never have children on her own, since she feels the responsibility of being a Bloodstone too heavy to be forced upon another living being.
Elsa has exhibited superhuman strength, speed, durability and endurance and a regenerative ability. She appears to possess all of the abilities that her father previously had. In addition she has demonstrated immunity to vampire bites (her blood will actually kill a vampire if consumed and the original Bloodgem fragment itself is anathema to vampires).

In the Bloodstone mini-series, Elsa claimed that she had inherited at least some of this power genetically, but it has been shown that her powers of strength and invulnerability were bestowed upon her by the Bloodgem fragment she wears on a choker. She has also been portrayed as an expert marksman. Among a number of artifacts gathered by her father she has used a lamp which contains a genie whom Ulysses had enslaved years ago. This device serves as an early warning system, lighting up during times of supernatural crisis, and transporting her to said event.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

This here is a run-out-the-clock situation.

Dinosaurs are long gone and collectively we understand that their exit was prompted by the (K–T) extinction, a mass extinction of some three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth—including all non-avian dinosaurs—that occurred over a geologically short period of time approximately 66 million years ago.

I've come to the conclusion that a portion of fandom, my own demographic, has been naturally going the same route within the comic book industry since the early 1990's. I have had comics around throughout my entire life from before I could even read in fact. Now in my mid-50's I increasingly feel either antipathy or indifference towards the wares of DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Each of these "big two" publishing powerhouses has made every effort imaginable to maintain what we all know to be a shrinking readership, but you would never know it looking at what is sitting upon the shelves in most comics specialty shops. It is a mind-numbing experience pondering what to purchase out of the hundreds of issues comprising the last several months worth of every single series, plus the often dozen or so related titles within each "family" grouping and then to also have to determine how a half dozen active "versions" of each major character are indistinguishable in their own right? I can recall when the monthly letters page chatter used to jockey around the Earth 1 or 2 JLA/JSA crossovers; and that was only a handful of characters. Back in the mid 1980s DC decided that enough was enough, and we got Crisis on Infinite Earths. Twelve isues, a linewide crossover and then a major reboot that settled things once and for all. At least until the sales figures came in, and well you get the picture. Crisis has continued annually ever since. Oh sure, they call each seasons marketing "event" by a different name, but its really all the same conceit.

Diversity too seems to have unfortunately become little more than the kitschy glamor vibe of the moment, with one established character identity after another perpetually getting remade as an ethnic variation or a gender swap, or to a same-sex gay option supposedly because of audience demand? I don't think so. Each company already had plenty of non-caucasian characters and some homosexual heroes or supporting characters, and some were featured regularly. Moving those to the forefront and increasing their prominence in the wider fictional universe has occurred, but the replacments just keep right on coming unabated. Another ebb tide is the routinely manifested white, blonde female superhero who soon finds her love interest in this politically correct climate to be the nearest black male superhero. Time and again we've seen this and while this reflects reality, it has been done to death largely by caucasian creators who must believe that they alone are introducing this idea for the very first time? We seem to have entirely skipped past any healthy presentations of black male/black female relationships, much less actually doing the hard part and creating a brand spanking new intellectual property to stand upon its own merits. We've gone straight to the default polarizing choice over and again, and face it Tiger; that is exactly what sells headlines once the "haters" begin spouting off at the next introduction or romance along these lines. It would be foolish to believe that the publishers don't expect and/or prefer the vitriolic backlash of these gimmicks. Alas, even my head canon fanboy choice can no longer stand the bombardment. Cacaphony rules the day. I'm baling out while I can retain some degree of appreciation for nostalgia if nothing else.
I have tried my best to get on board, to accept and tolerate, but the endlessness of these things has worn me completely out. I do however want to end on a high note praising current books that I am VERY much still enjoying and which all take me to my inner happy place as a reader: Velvet (Image Comics) by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser; Black Panther (Marvel Comics) by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin; Future Quest (DC Comics) by Jeff Parker and Evan "Doc" Shaner and others. Creators whose work also thrills me include Fernando Pasarin, Jason Fabok, Jim Cheung, the Hernandez Brothers, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge and I'm looking forward to Adam Hughes on Betty & Veronica and the Josie and the Pussycats relaunch later this years. Other than my own shit ton of back issues, this is gonna be about it for me.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hot Mess: The Falcon

When it comes to the publishing endeavors of the current comic book industry, frequent reboots, relaunches and other spin the wheel antics are sadly now a very common thing, but they are actually little more than hot messes that can be appealing for a variety of reasons; most notably because they're generally unexpected, capricious, and/or agonizingly provocative in tone and content. Additionally, numerous contingent factors render these increasingly less rare and constantly repetitive cycles virtually inconsequential.

No one set of guidelines exists to determine what distinguishes each seasons "hot mess" from the previous effort that has now come to be considered the train wreck that it was. Fandom is mired in a case of “here we go again” as the same caustic social media frenzy kicks off another round of shout down the other side of the aisle. Regardless of the circumstances, you know it when you see it; because they are conspicuous and thus always heavily marketed slices of the moment.


The Falcon was one of my favorite bronze age heroes, although depending upon how you gauge when each comic book age began and ended, he probably counts as having squeeked in at the end of the silver age. Sam Wilson was an interesting character in his own right who quickly bonded with fans and moved to cover prominence headlining the series Captain America and The Falcon for many years. The two characters were partners and friends and remained that way until Steve Rogers succumbed to aberrant effects of his super-soldier formula aging out in short order. Sam was given the chance to succeed his pal in the patriotic role and name of CAPTAIN AMERICA. The thing is, this actually belittled the Falcon and weirdly, it is a half-assed attempt to seem diverse by pandering to a limited fan audience who just got familiar with The Falcon due to his inclusion in the blockbuster Captain America and Avengers film franchises. It makes fuck all sense, but it does give a couple of white creators a chance to seem with it. To which I say, "Sweet Christmas!"

Sam Wilson is The Falcon. He is not Captain America no matter how many issues that storyline ultimately runs. Strangely, having his costume altered as a tribute to his friend was a nice gesture, but robbing the character of his own unique identity that had beend established for decades stained the whole enterprise.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"They've wrestled with reality for 11 years and seem to have finally won out over it.”

As I've grown into a stodgier older fan, I've tried to tamp down on visceral ranting about things that just aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things. Still, with respect to those who will ultimately be honored as nominees for the 2016 Harvey Awards; I simply can not fathom the thought process of their executive committee members. This award is named in honor of the late Harvey Kurtzman, one of the industry's most innovative talents, so I get that "innovation" is likely paramount in the selection process, but as the Harvey Awards recognize outstanding work in comics and sequential art; I frequently find myself at a loss over some top talents who never seem to make the cut. This is largely where I'm gonna leave off in specifying who - in my self importance - deserves to be on the list and/or those whose inclusion is beyond weird - again in my own estimation.

The Harvey Awards may be voted on exclusively by comic book creators who write, draw, ink, color, letter, design, edit, or are otherwise professionally involved in the creative aspect of comics, online or in print; but for years I've regularly not cared much for the majority of those singled out by the nominees. It is said that the Harvey Awards are the only industry awards both nominated and selected by the full body of comic book professionals. Thus voting is open to anyone professionally involved in a creative capacity within the industry.

This year's Baltimore Comic-Con will be held September 2-4, 2016, with the awards banquet being held on Saturday night. This will be the eleventh year that the Baltimore Con has hosted the Harvey Awards in Maryland.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Fickle Fingers of Fate!

This is going to be a rant!

Originally created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman, Doctor Fate first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 (May 1940). As in most cases of established superheroes of such long tenure, various incarnations have been published with several different individuals operating in different decades within the DC Universe as Dr. Fate. The characters mastery of magic grants him powers such spellcasting, flight, super-strength, invulnerability, telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, and lightning manipulation. However Fate is unable to counteract spells that have already been cast and are in effect. Given that the original versions origin was tied to ancient Egypt it may come as no surprise, that Fate's magic manifests in the shape of Egyptian symbology (such as an ankh). Doctor Fate was a founding member of the legendary Justice Society of America in 1940.
Beyond that basic information, the published history of disparate versions of the character are little more than a hot mess and no real sense can be made out of that whole in any fashion worthy of discussion. DC Comics has made numerous efforts in the last twenty years to bond the character with an ongoing audience without giving any single version sufficient time to truly take root with overlapping generations of fans, who still seemingly cling to or prefer something much closer to the classic version. The concept of Doctor Fate may have had its best chance to permanently pass the torch from Kent Nelson to a successor in the currently on hiatus New 52 series Earth 2, where an Egyptian man named Khalid Ben-Hassin assumed the mantle. Strangely, after their Convergence event, DC began heavy-handedly introducing more diversity into their titles and that being the case, it made fuck all sense that they literally dropped Egyptian Khalid Ben-Hassin like a hot potato and began another new Doctor Fate series by writer Paul Levitz and artist Sonny Liew, which was headlined by an Egyptian-American med student named Khalid Nassour (yeah, that sure makes better fucking sense, doesn’t it)?
As a golden age great, Doctor Fate has the longevity and name recognition necessary to continue making appearances in DC Comics, but their overtired efforts to move the character and concept away from the iconic representation seems futile at best. They wanted diversity and had it in the form of Earth 2’s Khalid Ben-Hassin (a decent updating in my opinion), but shifting the character’s name slightly and plastering the Fate concept onto a hoodie wearing youth was a shitty idea in my estimation.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Kickstarter: Buyer Beware??

Kickstarter is a public-benefit corporation based in New York which has built a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity. The company’s stated mission is to help bring unique projects to life. Kickstarter has reportedly received more than $1.9 billion in pledges from 9.4 million backers to fund 257,000 projects such as films, music, stage shows, comics, journalism, video games, technology and food-related projects.

People who back Kickstarter projects are offered tangible rewards and one of a kind experiences in exchange for their pledges. But Kickstarter is not a store and your donations actually don't guarantee you anything and often these projects struggle to come to fruition despite being fully funded and have on rare occasions have even failed to materialize.

As of this month I funded a comic book project a full year ago that received far more in donations than its originally stated financial goal to complete two issues of a six issue series. At that time I modestly backed the project in order to receive the remaining two issues, but as stretch goals began to be earned, I upped my committment substantially in order to receive an art commission of the character of my choice. I am still waiting, and this isn't a reason to panic as sometimes the projects simply take longer. I am only writing this after long months of occasional inquiries have netted me little more than token assurances that progress was being made, plus samples of pages to back their claim up. I have no doubt that this series will be finished soon and the rewards sent out - finally.
The real reason that I object to the established professionals that sought help to finish their series is that over the last year on various social media forums like Facebook, they have periodically posted photos and comments from convention appearances where they've been selling one of the primary stretch goal items that backers earned and yet have not actually been sent? One of those token assurances previously suggested that they might go ahead and send the items that were ready, but that was apparently nothing but gas meant to assuage and then dissipate as soon as it was spoken. I have also found it galling to see the artist regularly posting completed commission artwork done for paying customers, including some that he has teased to be bringing to the upcoming San Diego Comicon. It is bad form, it is very discourteous unprofessional and downright shitty on their part; if you ask me.

I understand that life happens and that these men need to make a living, but they have been cavalier in their responsibility towards those of us who funded their project. I have lost all respect for the pair of them and at this point all that I and their backers can do is wait, while they continue to languidly take their time accomplishing two measly issues?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Is DC Rebirth doomed from the start?

Well the initial first issues for DC Comics "Rebirth" publishing effort have begun dropping and already cracks appear to be evident. Does this signal inherent problems with such ongoing rebranding efforts in order to periodically prop up sales, or is is just a bump in the road that will soon right itself? We have to wait and see!

No matter which options proves accurate, several things must be pointed out. Namely that titles initially shipped twice monthly is not the best way to treat your loyal customers. It is gouging the admittedly small fanbase, but price gouging nonetheless. This needs to stop! Of course in order to pull off this increased frequency multiple artists for some series is the method DC Comics has chosen to achieve this end. To me this makes it much more difficult to get a feel for the relaunched titles as the cohesion necessary to make a better monthly comic will be harder to discern given disparate art styles. This needs to stop!
DC comics chose to kill off the New 52 version of the Man of Steel who has been carrying the torch over the last five years, and now the pre-Flashpoint Superman exists alongside Clark Kent apparently, having survived the Flashpoint event living in hiding under an assumed named with his wife Lois Lane and their son Johnathan. “Pre-Flashpoint” or “Post-Crisis” Kal-el take your pick, but he doesn’t wear the classic suit and other than a color tweak, his costume mirrors his recently deceased namesake, but with blue boots instead of red. Because that makes so much better sense?

 Adding insult to injury, there is also an entirely different New Super-Man over in another book and he is Chinese. Lex Luthor is also Superman over in Action Comics and Lois Lane (or some alternate version of Lois) is now Superwoman. You can’t make shit like this up; unless (I suppose) you can?
Strangely some promoted series like Super Sons and Justice League have also just disappeared from upcoming solicitations. Further evidence of trouble or simply one of those things, who knows? Whether DC Rebirth will ultimately be perceived as the afterbirth that lived is a discussion for one year hence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Penny Dreadful .... gone, but never forgotten!!

The Showtime series Penny Dreadful pulled off a fast one in their third season finale, by bringing things to a conclusion. That is right! They stealth inserted a series finale to the surprise and disappointment of their hardcore fanbase. I count myself among them and have to admit that given series creator John Logan's asseration that this was planned all along, some things in hindsight seem a little suspect to me.
Why, if this was the grand finale envisioned all along, did Logan basically send his stable of story-wise tightly integrated characters so far afield individually this year only to bring them all together in the last episode? Also much was teased and/or intimated about what might have been season four content (do I hear "Imhotep" anyone)? Oh well, if this was where the tale of Vanessa Ives simply had to end, as a fan we were treated to a course of sugar to make the medicine go down.

I do feel as if viewers who have yet to give Penny Dreadful a chance will subsequently come to regret not having supported the show while it was airing, as this excellent television production has struggled to find a sizable enough audience to have perhaps changed the mind of its own creator. Needless to say the cast of Penny Dreadful (Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Rory Kinear, etc.) was superb and rarely has a shortrun series managed to be of this high quality only to fade quietly away in the most unsuspecting fashion.

To those who may still be on the fence for what this series had to offer, if you have any familiarity with a terrible film called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starring Sean Connery from some years past, based upon the Alan Moore comic book; then this show was literally like that concept but done absolutely correctly. I am going to miss Penny Dreadful in the worst possible way!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ominous Press .... Reborn!!

This past weekend I enjoyed attending the 34th annual Heroes Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s always great catching up with the “tribe”, that vast coalition of comics and genre fans plus many talented industry professionals who’ve long made Heroes part of their yearly tradition. The ambience of Shelton Drum’s show is always palpable and guaranteed to be chockfull of fun. This year was no exception either!

Also these days you just don’t see the same degree of publisher presence as was typically common fifteen or twenty years ago, but one highlight of Heroes Con for me was seeing the rebirth of artist Bart Sears mid-1990s imprint Ominous Press. Sears alongside his partners, writer/editor Ron Marz, fellow artists Andy Smith & Tom Raney and publisher Sean HusVar debuted a new preview issue this very weekend in Charlotte featuring chapters introducing their upcoming titles and creative teams that will comprise the reborn Ominous; namely Prometheus (Sears-Mars-Raney), Giantkillers (Sears) and Demi-God (Sears-Marz-Smith).  The overarching plot that will entwine each diverse book is teased, and I do have to say that if the ongoing quality matches this premiere issue, then you should all plan to pick up these books once they hit the shops; although some details over how that happens have yet to be determined.
Sears and company seemingly steeped these new series in classic high adventure concepts and old school mythology, but with modern twists that may break out of normal fan expectations, but time will tell? I do know that I am looking forward to seeing where Ominous Press takes us!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Star Wars: Battlefront (Bespin DLC)!!

On June 21st the second major dlc for Star Wars: Battlefront drops two weeks early for season pass holders, like yours truly. Bespin will take the battle to Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back and also adds the rogue Lando Calrissian and the bounty hunter Dengar as new playable characters; plus another assortment of new weapons, vehicles, star cards, etc.

I've enjoyed playing this game and am curious to see how far this update will raise the current level cap, sitting at 60 for the moment. It will also be fun seeing stormtroopers get blasted off into the abyss, if I'm truly being honest. And it is about time to get back into the game, so don't look for me early next week. My non-work hours will be spent in a galaxy far, far away!!