Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Flip-flopping Legionnaires?

How and why so many of my peers remained "so" invested in reading comics books as we aged is a mystery that defies explanation? Don't get me wrong, I stuck by them a good long time, but after the 1980's their luster began to rapidly wear off ....  at least for moi. There is the usual surface veneer argument among my crowd that comics are still fun or exiting, but frankly there must be some deeper rooted reason why the fanbase continues to age out .... or perhaps I'm wrong and that bubble has burst and things are evening back out among the general fanbase?

Who the heck knows?
Not the Lightning Lad that will appear?
All that I can say from my perspective is that comics itself pretty much showed me the door and asked me to leave, further offering encouragement for me to not let the door hit me on the way out. I eventually obliged! It's sort of the same effect that scuttled my lifelong habit of voracious reading, as I used to read real books daily too. I just couldn't get my hands on enough books. I do still read some, on occasion but it is like pulling teeth, it takes an act of volition and even then does not occur terribly often.

Like most of us, I flock to the blockbuster Marvel flicks (and the occasional DC or other) and bask in the cinematic glory of old favorites lighting up the screen to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for having thrilled us all over again. Nostalgia, sure! But by and large I've been quite happy with the translation of comics from page to screen. I expect that indulgence will continue for me too.

I've also become quite the video game proficianado over the last decade, logging hours upon hours of otherwise valuable weekly time lost in fantasy rpg worlds online. I suppose that in a way, I simply transformed one habit for another, but even as fun as gaming is, there is more to my eventual retirement from comics than chasing thrills elsewhere and in other forms of entertainment.

While as a child I loved the Gold Key books, or Andy Panda or Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, a small handful of superheroes also really grabbed me in my youth. Batman and Superman initially at DC, and then the whole wonder of that unfolding world of Marvels; particularly the early Fantastic Four and Spider-Man books. Those titles got and held my attention, but soon personal favorites emerged. At Marvel it was the Avengers which proved to be a great one stop shop for an eclectic handful of quirky characters all working together to defeat the villian of the month. Excellent stuff that proved highly addicting long past the titles one hundredth issue. At DC it was a spinoff from the Superman Family of titles that was my "go to" for a great many years, among other DC favorites the classic Legion of Super-Heroes hit me the same way that The Avengers did.

Here was an even larger group of diversely powered "teenage" superheroes but with the added thrill of being set in a science fiction setting of a thousand years in the future. I still remember the impact of the death of Triplicate Girl (and her subsequent reinvention as Duo Damsel once a third of her split person was destroyed). I fondly recall the all too brief majesty of Dave Cockrums' 1970s visual reinvention of the Legionnaires swiftly followed by Mike Grells' terrific continuation. In fact that Legion lingered for years right up to and beyond perhaps their greatest period under Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen (and others) for the Great Darkness Saga of the 1980s which went beyond epic in so many wonderful ways.

Fans of these beloved characters were then unfortunately treated to an endless cycle of reboots, reinventions and relaunches all the way through 2013; none of which proved successful despite some stellar talents working on these efforts?  Now DC is reintroducing the Legion once again spinning from the mind of Brian Michael Bendis and clearly something went on behind the scenes as solicitations for this delayed series reveals that further changes have been made. Rather than prominently feature diverse prior members such as Kid Quantum, Invisible Kid (Jacques Foccart) or his little sister Computo, XS, Tyroc, Ferro Lad, etc. Bendis ignores those characters introduced by an earlier batch of white guys (and or gals) and gets to present himself as "woke" by spinning a founding member in similar fashion. Garth was also romantically involved with Saturn Girl, so black guy-white girl romance is still alive and well in the future. The fact that this is both common and acceptable alone makes this specific change all the more suspect. I mean what is new about this?

And it's not actually the changes made that bugs me either, it is the corporate discussion that must have gone on that proves to me that this reboot has less of a story to tell and now has more of a message to sell. Lightning Lad was initially shown to be about the same basic character as always, but now Garth Ranzz has been given the "Magic Negro" effect and will be portrayed as a black youth. Of course other team members have had their ethnicity swapped to better reflect an ideal future world representative of all races, something that definitely should have been expected by myself and or anyone these days really.

But again, the fact that some of this was underway and then seemingly fell short in the eyes of some management person or creative persons at DC which mandated even more alterations .... after the series was already being pitched visually to the ravenous fanbase long missing their Legion fix is what prompts me to not even show up. This book, this time is not meant for the lifelong Legion fan, and frankly I don't play these politically correct games. I've not minded that this has gone on for a great many years now. It was due, overdue for readers to accept this reality. I point people back to one of the better comics inspired video games of 2017, Injustice 2 featured several of the newer ethnic iterations of heroes and villains including Atom, Black Manta, Blue Beetle, Cyborg, Firestorm, Green Lantern (John Stewart), Black Lightning, Grid and Vixen. That game was fantastic and some of these were among my favorites to use. Those who object to seeing equal representation always voice their dislike, but honestly these types of changes have been a regular occurrence in comics over the decades. It is just that we are seeing something other than another white face each time. This often rankles certain sectors of fandom?

That being the case like I said, as much as the return of the Legion might have been something that appealed to me or bring me back to the fold, given what has occurred, there is no doubt in my mind that this version will prove just as short lived as those that have occurred since the infamous Five Year Leap that pretty much heralded the last glory days of the venerable Legion of Super-Heroes. Alas!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Ranking the Star Trek Series ......

To each his own, I've tried to accept Star Trek: Discovery to the extent that "some" fans like the show, but to me it is a hot mess that needed to percolate far longer before launching. There has been a single aspect of this series that worked well for me and that was Anson Mount as Captain Pike and the TOS-inspired elements related to his portrayal. I knew that he would not be an ongoing part of the Discovery's voyage and apparently there was some abrasion with the actor himself on set, but still Pike made the show worthwhile. A condemnation of the mostly warped parts of a show that had a ton of money poured into it and then wasted it all in their genuinely out of left field style of lore mangling.

The various showrunners did not have to follow everything by rote that had come before, but a lead character as a mutineer who caused a war, getting her ship destroyed and her commanding officer killed in the process and who was another previously undisclosed sibling of a major franchise character was too, too much to absorb. Adding insult to injury at the close of the inaugural season the Federation magically chose to forgive all of that?? Seriously WTF???

However in all fairness I must credit Discovery for still causing me fits of raucous laughter over that! In fact CBS All Access is hardly alone in opting to spin something as a prequel that avoids actually using Captain Pike and his storied tenure aboard Enterprise as the basis of a series, given the earlier Enterprise show on Fox (or was it UPN)?

Well for shits and giggles, here is my ranking of the various Trek shows based upon my own preferences and nothing else. In first place The Original Series for setting such a high bar for those that followed, in second Deep Space Nine and third Voyager, each for daring to boldly chart their own courses often breaking with the in-house perfection mandated by Gene Roddenberry for often too bland The Next Generation (which is why I rank it only fourth place. Followed in fifth place by the unfairly maligned Enterprise which was not as terrible as it has been made out and yet still shares some tendencies with my last place choice. The Filmation animated Star Trek Series ranks a notch higher than my bottom dweller, Discovery for at least featuring original series actors reprising their classic roles.

In fact site unseen, I would rank the upcoming Picard better than Discovery too! For all the resources thrown into CBS All Access Discovery it remains to me a mystery why it even occurred in the first place and I look forward to its eventual passing.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Kraven's Last Hunt

"Kraven's Last Hunt" (also known as "Fearful Symmetry") was a comic book storyline by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck published in 1987, featuring the final battle between Marvel Comics characters Kraven the Hunter and Spider-Man. Considered one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all time, it was originally published across all three then current Spider-Man titles: Web of Spider-Man #31-32, The Amazing Spider-Man #293-294, and The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-132.
[L-R] DeMatteis, Moderator, McLeod, Parker, Zeck

The entire creative team reunited over the weekend to reminisce about their seminal work at this years Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC. Joining writer DeMatteis and artist Zeck for the chat fest were inker Bob McLeod and letterer Rick Parker. Given the 30+ years that have elapsed since the story was released it proved to be worth taking in the panel for their keen insights about what made this story work and how it's impact still resonates with fans today. The collected version has remained in print all these years too.

Of the creative team itself all but DeMatteis claimed to have known instantly that they were working on something special, J. Marc stated that he wasn't thinking in those terms at the time and was only focused upon telling the best story that he could. However he also credited editor Jim Salicrup for the novel idea of separating the parts across the various series rather than shoehorn it all into a single title; at the time a novel approach that has come to be the norm these days.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Star Trek: The "Undeveloped" Country ( .... "sorry")!!

It has been more than seventeen years since the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager aired way back in May 23, 2001. Little did faithful Trekkies know at that time that the series finale of that third spinoff show would in effect be the last genuine Star Trek aired to date.
The J.J. Abrams produced and directed feature films that recast the original series roles for a new generation came to be known as the Kelvin Timeline, but more than anything else Chris Pine's version of Captain Kirk has led us down a primrose path where the Federation exists in a blockbuster film franchise that mostly blows things up, including the Enterprise in each outing to date. Thankfully the three films may be blessedly over and done with.
Adding insult to injury each subsequent Trek-related show has somehow managed to avoid being much like Star Trek at all, despite pitching their series as prequels to the classic show? Enterprise starring Scott Bakula originally premiered in September 2001, shortly after Voyager's swansong and it looked nothing like any Trek featuring William Shatner and company. Last year saw the debut of the highly divisive Discovery, which saw more core Trek fans abandoning this latest series (trapped behind a pay wall via CBS All Access) and instead found something much more palatable to them with the Fox Network series The Orville.

Discovery's currently airing second season features well known lore characters Christopher Pike, Spock, Number One and I was left wondering why has every studio tasked with creating a prequel series set prior to the original voyage of James T. Kirk's Enterprise preferred to avoid just telling the fanbase the adventures of Spock's years serving alongside Pike in the first place?

I think that the answer to that question lies hidden in the stars.  (ps: By the way, my favorite Trek spinoff was Deep Space Nine.)

Monday, February 4, 2019

In Memorium: 2018

I've been meaning to drop by the Catacombs and mention a few industry greats
who left us last year and sadly it is a large list when considering everyone all over the globe. Instead here are a notable few that passed away during 2018:

Mort Walker, writer/creator (Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, Sam's Strip, Mrs. Fits' Flats, The Evermores, Gamin and Patches) and artist (Beetle Bailey, Boner's Ark), died at age 94. Gary Friedrich, writer (Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, The Monster of Frankenstein, co-creator of Ghost Rider and Son of Satan), died at age 75. Marie Severin, comics artist and colorist (EC Comics, Not Brand Echh, co-creator of the visual look of Spider-Woman), died at age 89. Norm Breyfogle, comic book artist (Batman, Prime), complications from a stroke at age 58. Carlos Ezquerra, Spanish comics artist (Judge Dredd), died at age 70.

Each of these fine creators left us a wonderful legacy that will continue to inspire and entertain us for many years to come. The Catacombs extends its condolences to their families and fans.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee Has Died!

This news is spreading like wildfire across the globe as of a few minutes ago and you can rest assured that there will be many days of tributes ahead for "The Man" but needless to say no matter where you stand on this matter, the passing of STAN LEE [age 95] is literally the end of an era for the comics industry. May he rest in peace!

Friday, August 24, 2018

In Memorium: Russ Heath

Sadly another unparalleled industry veteran passed away yesterday as the great Russ Heath is gone at the age of 91. He was most recognized for his highly detailed war comics including All-American Men of War; Frontline Combat; Our Army at War; Star-Spangled War Stories; G.I. Combat and as the creator of The Haunted Tank and The Sea Devils.

Mark Evanier once recounted a great tale about Russ who had flown into Chicago to the Playboy Mansion and was given a room there, where he spent many days aiding Harvey Kurtzman and artist Will Elder in getting one installment done of their Little Annie Fanny strip. When it was completed, Kurtzman and Elder left...but Heath just stayed. And stayed. And stayed some more. He had a free room as well as free meals whenever he wanted them from Hef's 24-hour kitchen. He also had access to whatever young ladies were lounging about...so he thought, 'Why leave?' He decided to live there until someone told him to get out...and for months, no one did. Everyone just kind of assumed he belonged there. It took quite a while before someone realized he didn't and threw him and his drawing table out.
The Catacombs extends its sincerest condolences to his family, friends and fans worldwide.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

In Memorium: Steve Ditko

After hearing over the recent weekend that Hall of Fame legend Steve Ditko had passed away sometime in and around June 29, 2018 due to numerous health complications, I realized that over the past year or so a number of other comics industry luminaries had left us and I either never got around to featuring them in the Catacombs (or became too busy, and the opportunity passed).

So today in acknowledgement of the huge impact that Mr. Ditko made upon the comics art form, I want to back up and include a lengthy list of his contemporaries who have also left us since last year.

Steve Ditko
STEVE DITKO created numerous characters for several publishers including The Creeper; Hawk and Dove; Mr. A; The Question; Captain Atom; Shade the Changing Man and The "Silver Age" Blue Beetle (Ted Kord). It was of course his ground breaking work as co-creator of the Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange that cemented his status as one of the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe, and like his contemporary, Jack "The King" Kirby, the importance of Ditko's role in the early days of Marvel can be clearly seen by how many of his actual creations have prominently been featured in those blockbuster Marvel Studios films we all love. Think about it! In the various Spider-Man and Hulk movies alone we have seen classic Ditko creations such as Betty Brant; Electro; Mac Gargan; J. Jonah Jameson; The Leader; The Lizard; Aunt May; Mysterio; Doctor Octopus; Harry & Norman Osborn; Gwen Stacy; Glenn Talbot; Flash Thompson; Uncle Ben; The Vulture; and Mary Jane Watson. In the single Doctor Strange film (plus indications from that movies upcoming sequel that have been floated) there were or likely will be versions of The Ancient One; Dormammu; Baron Mordo; Nightmare; and Wong.

That is an impressive amount of four-color content from a curmudgeon who famously spurned interviews by and large, and who had mostly been self-publishing small press material over the last couple of decades. Steve Ditko was an original, and again like Kirby certainly deserved far more remuneration from the company that has made so much money off of his famous properties. The Catacombs extends its sincerest condolences to his friends and fans worldwide.

In addendum: 2017 was a rough year that saw many industry veterans leave us including Dan Spiegle, artist (Dell Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics) at age 96. Dave Hunt, artist (DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Disney Comics, Hanna-Barbera) from cancer at age 74.  Underground comix artists Jay Lynch (Nard n' Pat, Bijou Funnies), and Skip Williamson (Snappy Sammy Smoot), both at the age of 72. Martin Greim, writer and artist (Thunderbunny) from heart failure at age 74. Rich Buckler, artist (Deathlok the Demolisher, All-Star Squadron) from cancer at the age of 68. Sam Glanzman, artist (Hercules, The Lonely War of Willy Schultz, U.S.S. Stevens) at the age of 92. Martin Landau, American film and TV actor and cartoonist (The Gumps) died at age 89. Flo Steinberg, American underground comics publisher (Big Apple Comix) and former secretary to Stan Lee at age 78 from a brain aneurysm and metastatic lung cancer. Len Wein, writer and co-creator of Wolverine and Swamp Thing at age 69 and syndicated strip artist Dick Locher (Dick Tracy).
2018 has also seen syndicated strip artist Mort Walker (Hi and Lois; Beetle Bailey) leave us along with Nick Meglin, writer and editor-in-chief (Mad Magazine, Superfan) from a heart attack at age 82.

Those few highlighted in boldface were great creators that I am terribly glad to have had an opportunity to meet and chat with over their incredible runs in comics or in the case of Mr. Landau, his television and film work. The Catacombs extends a big round of condolences to their families, friends and fans all over the world!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

I turned sadness into an Anthem!

Everything that we know so far about the open secret of Dragon Age 4, which Bioware is apparently still figuring out although it is reportedly “story and character focused” and contains some possibly controversial “live elements” which nobody who played the earlier entries in the series understands or no one affiliated with either Bioware or EA Games will clarify what that term means; but the sequel to the beloved gaming franchise is just around the corner (that is if you ignore the fact that Dragon Age: Inquisition was released in 2014, and the best case scenario for when Number 4 hits the shelves is likely to be 2021). That will be the longest dry spell in Dragon Age history: Dragon Age: Origins released in 2009 and Dragon Age 2 released in 2011. Yay for really big gaps in gaming franchises, whose last entry earned over 200 Game of the Year awards and subsequently ended on the most obvious cliffhanger for the next chapter? Seemingly increased tension among the remaining developers who stayed with Bioware after a mass exodus of so many others responsible for the creative heart of the previous entries (including the original men who founded the company) has prompted an existential crisis over what to do next with Dragon Age now that it has fallen into their laps??? Hmmm ….. weird …… but you just can’t make this type of shit up!

We are supposed to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that Casey Hudson has happily returned to the Bioware fold in the wake of their less than stellar release for Mass Effect Andromeda last year. Casey poured a lot into the earlier Mass Effect games, those were great by the way, and he even says that Mass Effect is his baby. Unfortunately, Hudson himself was one of the company reps who often extolled the many choices that gamers could potentially make in that popular franchise only to limit the final chapters selection to three bold color options for the confused hero, Commander Shepard? Maybe Hudson should have changed his baby’s diaper before sending the toddler out into the universe for its last hurrah? Let’s be nice and forget the fact that Bioware ran out of time while making ME3 and thus failed to provide proper closure over the fates of beloved franchise characters (or depending upon your perspective), showed a loyal crew acting in a manner that was significantly different than gamers expected based upon those decisions made over the course of three games and a dozen or so related dlcs?

Don’t agree?

Did you also forget about the huge customer backlash which leveraged the Extended Cut dlc by which Bioware managed a degree of damage control over such a hearty falling out with its customers too? No. I didn’t think that you had ignored that one.

Truly time will tell, but Bioware (owned by EA Games) has literally put all of its eggs in a single basket and currently suffers knuckle-popping damage given how tightly their fingers must be crossed over their upcoming new IP known as Anthem (due in February 2019). That game may or may not prove to be good and stand on its own; if it just didn’t look so similar to an already released game. That is probably Destiny to you.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Inkwell Awards .... Live ..... today in Charlotte, NC!!!

The annual Heroes Convention kicks off today in Charlotte, North Carolina with the usual slate of topnotch industry favorites, Indie standouts, cosplayers and more dealers than you will know what to do with. Grey panther that I am, it may come as no surprise that the guests who most draw my own interest include veterans such as newly announced Chris Claremont, plus Steve Epting; Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez; Keith Giffen; Klaus Janson; Al Milgrom; Rudy Nebres; Kevin Nowlan; Jerry Ordway; Tom Palmer; Mike Royer; Evan “Doc” Shaner; Jim Steranko; Larry Stroman and Roy Thomas.

Once you've dumped a ton of cash on a stack of back issues this afternoon be sure and head over to the Inkwell Awards ceremony at 5:00 pm in the Charlotte Convention Center. Bob Almond always brings the fun, top talents, and I have to say that his organization has been a great fit for the Heroes Convention over the years. 2018 denotes the tenth year of the Inkwell Awards too!
Kathy Denise Taylor

Hailey Skaza-Gagne
 The Inkwells have five categories: Favorite Inker, Most-Adaptable Inker, the “Props” award for under-recognized professionals, the S.P.A.M.I. for Small Press And Mainstream-Independent work, and the “All-in-One” for the artist who inks his/her own pencil art. Voters-–fans and professionals alike–all cast their ballots at the group’s website in April to show their support and choose their favorites.

Announced with the publicly-chosen award-winners will be the internally-voted two recipients of the yearly Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award and one winner of the annual Stacey Aragon Special Recognition Award. To celebrate their decade anniversary, the Inkwells have created the “Above & Beyond” Award for members, volunteers and others who have served beyond the call of duty to promote the artform of comic book inking and it’s ink artists.

Mike Royer will be their Guest of Honor this year with longtime Inkwell contributor Dan Panosian returning as presenter with industry veteran Pat Broderick presenting the life achievement awards. If those names don't sway you, maybe the fact that they are deploying a pair of Ms. Inkwell spokesmodels will earn your attention?

Like the convention hosting the awards, both Heroes and the Inkwells celebrate the comic book art form and without those great finishing artists adding depth, breadth and emotion to classic pencilling skills of many comic book legends those funny books would just not be the same. I'm not going to make it to the show until Saturday, but I always want to wish Bob Almond and the Inkwell Awards another big year in Charlotte. See you there!

Friday, September 15, 2017

In Memorium: Len Wein and Basil Gogos

Art of Basil Gogos
Len Wein
Well it has been a while .... but unfortunately it has been a tough week for genre fans with back to back losses of a pair of genre icons. Artist Basil Gogos was best known for his incredible portraits of movie monsters which had appeared on the covers of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine during the 1960s and 1970s.  His death was announced on September 14, although I’m not sure if that was his actually death or not. And  several days prior to his passing well known writer and editor Len Wein who was best known for having co-created DC Comics' Swamp Thing and Marvel Comics' Wolverine, for helping revive the Marvel superhero team the X-Men (including co-creation of Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus) and additionally, he was the editor on writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons' influential DC miniseries Watchmen. Wein passed away on September 10, 2017. The Catacombs extends its sincerest condolences to the families, friends and fans of each of these fine men. I am very glad to have had an opportunity to meet each of them previously.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Star Trek Online

I had never played Star Trek Online on a computer before it became available for Xbox One or PS4 consoles back in September of 2016; however now I can't seem to stop playing it. There is simply a lot to do and with seven years of content, updates, etc. to catch up on ..... well, there is a lot to do! And that does not even include the ongoing addition of new story content and content alterations being regularly introduced by Cryptic Studios the game maker ("sheesh").

I think that my favorite aspect of this game was the Agents of Yesterday expansion which allowed you to create a new character set within the original series timeline of Captain Kirk and Mister Spock (although you won't permanently remain there). Also when starting an original era character, you are limited to males and females of the four founding Federation races (Human/Vulcan/Andorian/Tellarite). That is fine by me!

Be prepared for ample choices available to that entice you to spend real world currency to acquire ships, boosts, and all manner of elective costume options. Within the game there are other currencies that allow you to "buy" stuff too! Many fan favorite actors reprise their roles from various Star Trek television and film properties although a tiny portion of those are repurposed from their originals sources. Tim Russ in particular really shines as Tuvok (from Star Trek: Voyager). If you want to enjoy the thrill of playing the galaxy of Star Trek, give this
game a try!