Saturday, June 28, 2008

HeroesCon Report: Pictures

I know it's a week late, but here are some more of my HeroesCon pictures. I wanted to post a few more, but Blogger is being difficult right now, so I may save them for a later post:

Here's Dr. K with Matt Sturges, who had me convinced I should keep reading Blue Beetle with a single phrase: "Superhero-themed Putt Putt Course."

Tom Scioli of Godland. I'm not sure what sketch he's working on here, but I know it isn't the greatest image of all time: OMAC riding Devil Dinosaur. He started that after I took the picture.
Tony Harris, who scares me, with Steve Niles around the corner.
Phil Noto working on an awesome Supergirl painting for the HeroesCon art auction.

One of the things I haven't mentioned in previous posts on HeroesCon is the great sketchbook I got from Matt Kindt, creator of Super Spy. The sketchbook is made up of color commission pieces he did, including cover re-imaginings of All-Star Squadron 1, Fantastic Four 1, X-Men 1, Justice League of America 21, and others. He also has nice Zatanna and Mary Marvel pieces. You can see some of them on his blog. I normally don't buy sketchbooks, but this one really blew me away. Also, I was glad to hear from Matt that Super Spy is the first part of a trilogy, to include Super Natural and Super Science. Super Spy is a book that I really want to work in to my graphic novel class, because it seems to be really "teachable."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The 90s-est Comic Cover Ever!

Both Phil Looney and Chris Sims have contributed their entries in the contest to pick the 90s-est comic cover ever. Both Phil and Chris have made excellent selections that are hard to beat, hitting multiple points of 90s excess, including enhanced covers, gritted mouths full of teeth, unnecessary jackets added to costumes, and an arrangement of figures designed to hide those hard-to-draw feet.

But for me, nothing says "90s" better than foil-enhanced covers, and this one from Avengers 363 is the most egregious:

If Cap and the Black Knight aren't careful, they're going to swallow some bugs!

My problem with this cover also has to do a bit with context, in that it followed so closely on the heels of this pointless cover from Avengers 360.

Each of these issues cost more than twice the normal cover price, which in 1993 was $1.25. But other than serving a year-long "30th Anniverary Celebration," the enhanced covers and additional cost don't have a real excuse for existing. The foil, though, sure makes all those teeth shiny. So, my idea of the 90s-est cover is the ridiculous and unnecessary enhanced cover.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

HeroesCon Report, Part 4

Over on The ISB, Chris Sims did a good job covering the DC Nation panel we attended at HeroesCon, including the repeat of our request to Jann Jones for Showcase Presents Sugar & Spice. I think we could start a real grassroots effort if, at every con, Jann Jones and Dan DiDio received requests for this book. So, if you're going to WizardWorld Chicago, you have a project to work on.

Chris says a lot of the things I would say about the first panel, so go ahead over there and read his report before reading this one. One thing Chris didn't cover is that Dan DiDio was a jerk to Rachelle from Living Between Wednesdays when she asked a questions about Catwoman. Rachelle started by saying something about how she was sad to see Catwoman get cancelled, and DiDio cut her off with, "I just want to make sure fans know that when a book doesn't sell, it gets cancelled." Then Rachelle went on to ask her real question, which was about the continued presence of Catwoman in the DC Universe. DiDio responded to that by stating that Catwoman would be fighting Hush in Detective Comics, written by Paul Dini.

Now, I love Will Pfeifer's run on Catwoman: it's my favorite DC comic right now and I'm sad to see it go away. I also don't have that much interest in seeing someone other than Pfeifer writing Catwoman right now. But DiDio's semi-hostile response was curious. Obviously, he gets a lot of stupid questions, as Chris and I both observed, and he probably gets angry comments from fans of books that get cancelled. He seemed to be pre-empting or anticipating such a response when the subject of Catwoman came up. But I would be more curious to find out what the threshold for cancelling a Catwoman book is vs. that for other DC titles with weaker sales, like Jonah Hex, Blue Beetle, and Simon Dark.

One piece of news that was exciting came out when an audience member asked about the possibility of a Hawkman series done by Joe Kubert and his sons, Adam and Andy. DiDio responded with a quick "Yeah!" which drew cheers from the crowd.

Some of DiDio's defensiveness may have stemmed from the rampant rumors circulating throughout the con about the state of his employment with DC. Word was moving pretty fast on Friday about the possibility that Jimmy Palmiotti would be replacing him. That rumor was fueled even further when Jimmy responded with a "No Comment" after being asked--along with everyone on the panel--if he would want DiDio's job. Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and other comics news sites covered this topic throughout the weekend, with Palmiotti admitting that his response was a joke. However, there were a lot of "No Comments" being bandied about throughout the panel, all done with a little wink to the audience. For example, artist Ethan Van Sciver responded that way when asked if he would be working on a Barry Allen Flash book, thus virtually confirming that as a fact. Therefore, those who took Palmiotti's "No Comment" seriously were not out of line in relation to the context of that particular panel.

In contrast, the Sunday panel, titled "A Conversation with Dan DiDio," was, at least for the first half, a loose, enjoyable discussion of comics in general with DiDio, Jann Jones, Mark Waid, Newsarama's Matt Brady, and the whole audience. DiDio walked around the room, asking people to name the first comic they remember reading, the one that got them hooked, the people that bought them their first comics, and so on.

Waid talked about the comic that almost got him to quit comics: Superman Salutes the Bicentennial, Limited Collectors' Edition C-47. I had this comic as a kid, too, and I was equally disappointed. Those who are familiar with the book know that, while the cover features Superman, the inside features a short Superman framing sequence introducing his favorite Tomahawk stories.

This panel was both fun and nostalgic while DiDio was asking questions about how fans got into comics. DiDio and Waid also talked about how they both find themselves competing for the same eBay auctions, though Waid always wins. Waid told the story of how he bought through eBay a stack of hundreds of in-house comic ads from the 40s, which had been cut out of the original comics. As he went through the stack, he realized that these were pages cut out of books like Batman 1 and Superman 1.

Later in the panel, however, when the discussion turned to the current state of comics, the mood in the room shifted to something closer to the DC Nation panel. When DiDio asked what people wanted to see more of in comics, the stuff people came up with was pretty lame. One fan explained that he liked Countdown better than Civil War because Civil War required you to read at least 70 books in order to follow it. That's a ridiculous comparison, as Countdown alone was 51 issues, and that doesn't include all the crossovers and tie-ins. In fact, I read only the 7-issue Civil War miniseries, and I understood the story just fine (though I didn't care for it).

The discussion took a strange turn when one fan asked for more Elseworlds titles because they require less work to understand than in-continuity DC Universe books. Others quickly chimed in their approval. Now, I can sympathize somewhat with those who feel that DC continuity is impenetrable, but it's sheer laziness to think that a reader can't catch up with necessary continuity just by effectively using the internet.

When I started reading comics back in the early 1970s, the series that hooked me more than any other was Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which was probably the most continuity-heavy book that DC put out then. But I was fascinated with the possibility of learning the backstories to all these fun heroes, and I eagerly delved into a quest to find back issues that would help fill my knowledge gaps. In the end, that's the correct way to use continuity--to create a vibrant, exciting world that readers want to enter and enjoy the process building on their knowledge of it.

But back then, comics were delivered to our homes every week via pneumatic tubes, which is considerably different from the way things are today.

Late in the panel, another fan gave an impassioned speech about how DC had ruined the Charleton characters like Blue Beetle, The Question, and Captain Atom because they had removed the characters' "charm." Now, "charm" isn't the term I would use for Steve Ditko's Randian Objectivist fantasy in The Question, but maybe I'm missing something. To his credit, DiDio gave a straight-up answer that could be summed up as, "What you're calling 'charm' is really your own nostalgia for the time and place that you were in when those stories first came out." I think that's true for a lot of elements of fandom. I know I find a lot of 70s comics I loved as a kid to be painful today. In fact, the comic blogosphere has developed its own cottage industry out of this very phenomena. DiDio went on to tell about how, once he began working at DC, he read all the books published in the rare Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. Going into the reading, he hoped to find some lost treasures; instead, he found some not-very-good comics.

So, the two DC panels were a bit of a mixed bag, highlighting many of the problems DC faces in the nostalgia market of contemporary superhero comics. Though I think DC has made some missteps lately, especially with the endless run of event books and disappointing weekly series, I do find a lot to enjoy in their line. The average DC fan right now is probably a lifer--one who will buy Batman, Superman, and/or Justice League no matter who is writing and drawing it or how good it is. These fans cling to nostalgia like an island of refuge in an ocean of chaos, and they panic at the slightest hint of change. In this kind of environment, I don't know if DC can launch a successful new series that will last more than 12 issues if it isn't tied to Superman or Batman, except perhaps with a limited number of A-list creators. Brave and the Bold, for example, should be the average DC fan's perfect comic: a nostalgia-fest of relatively obscure characters mixed with pure, fun superhero stories and two of comics' top creators. However, the comic is failing to keep its audience. When Dan DiDio asked the audience what it wants to see more of in comics, Mark Waid interrupted by shouting, "And if you say 'fun, done-in-one stories,' you're a liar!"--pointing to the fact that his Brave and the Bold series offers just that yet can't find an audience.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

HeroesCon Report, Part 3

Pictures have surfaced of the mysterious events of Friday night at HeroesCon. Here's one of Chris Sims' reaction to seeing the most horrifying sight of his young existence:
Clearly, it drove him mad.

Seriously, what we saw there made Bob Sagat's version of "The Aristocrats" look like a Sesame Street bit. Whoever called HeroesCon "the family-friendliest comic convention" was not in that particular room of the Westin hotel on Friday night. Unless they meant "the Manson family-friendliest convention."

At the few cons I've been to, I have never gotten a sketch from an artist before. I usually find the interaction surrounding sketches uncomfortable, as I'm never sure about the protocols of such exchanges. However, this year, I did get one from Guy Davis, the artist on Sandman Mystery Theatre and B.P.R.D.

Sandman Mystery Theatre is one of my all-time favorite comics, so getting this sketch of the Golden Age Sandman was a real treat.

I also had a great time chatting, on a couple of occasions, with Josh Elder, author of Mail Order Ninja and current writer on Batman Strikes! In addition to describing some great comic stories that may or may not come to pass, he also told an awesome story of his own personal super-heroism where he stopped a violent attack on a train and then quelled the trauma of children on board by handing out copies of his Batman comics! Josh and I also talked at length about comics in education, and he gave me some useful ideas for the graphic novel class that I'm now teaching.

He also gave me a "Certificate of Awesometicity" from the "American Awesomeness Association," which I'm going to hang proudly in my office next to my Ph.D. diploma.

Since getting home, the first thing I've read of all the stuff I bought was Mail Order Ninja, which has had me laughing out loud. I'm looking forward to reading more of Josh's work.

Tomorrow: the promised post on the two DC Comics panels.

Monday, June 23, 2008

HeroesCon Report, Part 2

Saturday at HeroesCon was crazy. As several of the comic news sites have reported, rumors were flying heavily about shakeups at DC Comics that have yet to materialize, if they ever will.

One thing that made Saturday particularly crazy: The Dub Car Show going on in the other half of Charlotte Convention Center. For one, the bass coming from that show shook the entire convention center, and booths on one side of hall were having problems doing business. I don't know if any retailers complained formally, but I heard a lot of griping when I was on that side of the hall.

In addition, the Dub Car Show contrasted HeroesCon in a cultural clash that was incredibly revealing. The line for the car show was out the door and wrapped around the building Saturday afternoon. Not only did it have high attendance, but high security as well. Each attendee entering the hall had to go through both a wanding and a bag search. As one of the guards was overheard saying, "Found two guns and too many knives to count."

Meanwhile, these guys were walking around the convention center:

Along with assorted samurai, ninja, Borgs, Klingons, and Ghostbusters. And the only security they had to deal with was a couple of middle-aged women who made you throw out your beverages and got surly if they couldn't see your wristband. So, while one group was getting their various knives and guns confiscated, another was walking past with laser cannons, swords, giant hooks for hands, and plasma rifles all out in the open.

After waiting all day on Friday for Jeff Parker to show up, while I was also lugging around a shitload of his books to get signed, he finally graced the show with his presence on Saturday about an hour after the floor opened.

Seriously, who does this guy think he is?

In truth, Jeff Parker is a super-nice guy and a talented writer at the top of my list of creators that I will follow on any project. And, according to Rick Remender, he has some bizarre personal quirks that should not be publicly revealed, though they are deserving of our sympathy.

I also had a good time talking to Cliff Chiang, who always does incredible sketches. Cliff usually posts on his blog images of the sketches he does, and I hope he does that this week as well.

I thought I took a picture with Cliff, but apparently I didn't. This is probably due to the fact that my head exploded when I saw the prints he had out of various female comic characters in the mode of World War II pin-ups and propaganda posters. The two he had out of She-Ra and Poison Ivy were amazing--beautiful and hilarious--and he said more were coming for San Diego, including Supergirl, Scarlett from G.I. Joe, and some other names I didn't hear because of the aforementioned head-explosion. I definitely plan on picking one of these up next year, and if you're going to San Diego, you should check them out. I hope these, too, get posted to his blog.

In my next report, I'll talk a bit about the panels I attended, including the two DC panels featuring Dan DiDio.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

HeroesCon Report, Part 1

At a DC Comics panel today at HeroesCon, Dan DiDio asked if anyone in the audience had a Silver Age comic on them. I then held up the following comic, and Mark Waid was able to identify correctly the issue number from 40 yards out:

In other news, on Friday night at the Westin Hotel bar, I rolled up three deep to DC Editor Jann Jones and asked her for a Sugar and Spike Showcase collection. Chris Sims added to my request the question, "Do you like money?"

When Chris repeated the request at a DC Nation panel the next day, Jann Jones responded, "Aren't you the guys that cornered me in the bar last night?"

Chris has more of our adventures on the ISB, including some experiences that I will never personally speak of in public.

More updates later, including pictures.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dr. K Live at HeroesCon 2008!

This weekend, I'm heading to HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. I've been going to this convention the last couple of years, and it's been a blast.

I'll be on the floor, getting stuff signed and looking for bargains that can provide later installments of the blog. I'm also planning to take pictures during the show and post updates every night on the blog, but we'll see how that goes.

At last year's show, Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and I attended a DC Comics panel run by Dan DiDio. During the Q&A, I stood up and asked if DC would publish more Jack Kirby Omnibuses for OMAC and The Demon. Clearly, my request was made with such authority that DC went ahead and published this:
with The Demon Omnibus on its way in a few months.

Now that I have this 100% success record, I'm considering very carefully what to ask for next. My first thought leaned toward Steve Ditko reprint collections for Beware...The Creeper, Hawk and Dove, and Shade: The Changing Man. I'd also like to see DC do a nice collection of Alex Toth material. However, I also wanted to open the floor to suggestions from readers: do you have a series that you would like to see DC reprint?

I promise to use this power responsibly.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Game called on account of Oscar!

Tonight at 11:00 Eastern, Turner Classic Movies is showing a film that stands at the very top of my favorite bad movies list: The Oscar (1966). The Oscar is a truly terrible movie, but its awfulness achieves a level of excess that makes it entertaining beyond belief. I'd highly recommend recording this one for posterity, because it doesn't show up very often, and it's a hoot!

Much of the film's appeal comes from the over-the-top screenplay, co-written by Harlan Ellison, which tries to appropriate hipster dialogue with hilarious results (as exemplified in the title of this post). The film is narrated by Hymie Kelly, an Irish-Jew (Rejected names for the character: "Hymie Mick" and "Jewie Potatoeater") played by Tony Bennett (!?!?). Hymie is the friend of the actor Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd), who has been nominated for the titular Oscar and decides to pull out every dirty trick in order to guarantee himself a win. Frankie Fane's rise up the ladder of success is highly improbable, but then he falls off and climbs back up again on his way to the Academy Award nomination.

Here's a sample of Bennett's narration: "Like a junkie shooting pure quicksilver into his veins, Frankie got turned on by the wildest narcotic known to man: success!" Holy crap, that's a simile and a half! Actually, it's a simile for a metaphor for success: quicksilver is like a narcotic that's like success. I think we can thank Ellison for that jewel.

Everyone involved chews the scenery to pieces, especially Stephen Boyd. Jill St. John also plays a love interest that Frankie screws over on his way to the top, and Milton Berle appears as an oddly philosophical studio exec. Other great actors appear in small roles, like Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Cotton, Ed Begley, Walter Brennan, and Broderick Crawford. The film culminates in an Oscar ceremony hosted by Bob Hope himself, with a twist ending that is just freaking brilliant.

The Oscar is such a bizarre creature: that strange product where Hollywood tries to show what a cesspool of lies and ambition Hollywood is. The film is a part of TCM's "Guest Programmer" block, tonight selected by Bill Maher, for whom I have renewed respect with this selection. Seriously, there are very few movies that are this awesomely bad, and I can't recommend it enough.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Parallax View

As I've stated before, I'm a big Warren Beatty fan, and I'm particularly fond of the films he made in the 1970s, where he used his star power to back some edgy, unconventional projects like Shampoo and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, along with the more conventional--but still very funny--comedy, Heaven Can Wait. The problem, of course, with discussing the career of Warren Beatty is that he's so damn picky about his projects, leading him to make only a few movies in a given decade. So, when he makes a clunker like The Fortune (1975)--a film that should be so much better than it is due to the teaming of Beatty with Jack Nicholson, and the presence of director Mike Nichols--or his last two movies, the sense of disappointment increases. But even with The Fortune, one can see what Beatty wanted out of the project, teaming with his good friend and one of the most successful directors of the period.

This, in fact, has often been a hallmark of Beatty's career: he picks the best people to work on a film. And with a paranoid thriller like The Parallax View, Beatty worked with director Alan J. Pakula, who would achieve even greater success with his next film, All the President's Men. The screenwriters, David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., were also on a roll at this time, Semple moreso than Giler. Both had come out of television, working together on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and Semple having written a huge chunk of the "Batman" TV series. (Giler also worked on the Dr. K-approved Southern Comfort and on one of my favorite bad movies, Myra Breckenridge.) Semple later contributed to the screenplay for the great revisionist spy movie, Three Days of the Condor, as well as the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. In fact, just looking at Semple's credits, he is responsible for a significant chunk of the pleasure I've experienced in my movie-going and television-watching career.

In The Parallax View, Beatty plays a newspaper reporter named Joe Frady who begins to investigate an elaborate conspiracy involving the assassination of a US Senator during a campaign event atop the Seattle Space Needle. Frady is at first skeptical about the conspiracy when it's first proposed to him by fellow journalist and former lover Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss). However, as more people who were present at the assassination begin to die in mysterious circumstances, Frady pursues the investigation, leading him to the mysterious Parallax Corporation, a company that seems to be in the business of political assassination.

After watching this movie recently, I'm kind of shocked by the way it relates to the political events of its time, and the way it seems to casually reference the fact that political assassinations had become common by the early 70s. The film is also pretty unrelenting in its cynicism, giving the absolutely clear sense that good simply cannot triumph over evil, especially when evil takes the form of a large, faceless, powerful, rich, and politically connected corporation. In fact, the movie makes the moral "good vs. evil" binary irrelevant, shifting it into one of "power vs. powerlessness," and the powerless have no chance of penetrating into the realm of the powerful. A film with such a cynical message wouldn't have a chance of making it out of test-screenings today, but then, this was a special time in Hollywood.

The cynicism is compounded by the fact that we discover, by the end of the film, that we, through Joe's eyes, have gotten only a small piece of the whole story, and the events that we've been watching were all manipulated by an unseen hand. Even though he doesn't realize it until it's too late, Joe plays the role in which he's been cast perfectly. In a sense, it is as if there were a bigger movie that we are not getting to see. Director Pakula and Cinematographer Gordon Willis provide a visual cue to this limited perspective by using long lenses that flatten the planes of action and focus in on a particular element of the scene while other, important action is also taking outside of the frame or on its periphery. In a broad sense, this movie undermines itself by calling attention to the dangers of its own manipulation: the audience is manipulated along with Joe, and in the end, even though we know the truth of the Parallax Corporation's plot, we are also complicit in perpetuating the lie as the camera slowly pulls back during the verdict from the hearings on the film's final assassination. We simply leave the room, more paranoid than when we came in.

As Joe Frady infiltrates the Parallax Corporation, he must undergo an "audition" to become one of their assassins. The audition takes the form of a montage of still images accompanied by music. And though it takes up about six minutes of the film, it's a fascinating piece of work that stands on its own as a filmmaking achievement.

Glenn Erickson, the DVD Savant, has an excellent and thorough review of the brilliant montage, and I can't really add more to what he wrote. Erickson explains how the "audition film" fits into the 70s zeitgeist, stemming from earlier works like The Ipcress File and A Clockwork Orange, among others. His conclusion, that "Perhaps the lesson of the 'Audition Film' of Parallax should be that EVERY SHOW and every image we see has the potential to affect us, and that none of us is immune," sums up well the power and significance of this short film within a film, and how it ties in to the film's overall theme of the manipulation of images. (Thanks to Will Pfeifer for pointing me to that essay.)

Another thing about the audition film I love is the use of Jack Kirby art, including the cover to Thor 131, which is a comic I've had since I was a little kid, though my copy is pretty beat up.

The Parallax View remains shockingly effective, and it ranks as one of the great political thrillers of all time. I'd rank it slightly below The Manchurian Candidate, which should stand at the very top of such a list.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Super-Cowboys Are Awesome

In the comments on a recent post, Harvey Jerkwater addressed just how awesome the Golden Age Vigilante is as a "super-cowboy," though Harvey pointed out that, as a kid, he might have found the character corny. However, as a kid, I was enthralled with The Vigilante from the very first time I saw him. This comment pulled me into a nostalgic flurry that sent me diving into my long boxes looking for a comic that had fascinated me when I was a kid because of the appearance of the gun-toting, motorcycle-riding, country-music singing cowboy superhero.

The comic I was looking for is World's Finest Comics 247 (1977), a Dollar Comic containing an 8-page Vigilante short story written by Bill Kunkel and drawn by the great Gray Morrow. My copy of this comic is beat to shit, mainly because it was one of the most frequently read comics in my collection, though I haven't looked at in years.

The story is continued from the previous issue, where the Vigilante is in Gotham City seeking revenge against his arch nemesis, The Dummy, for the murder of his long-time partner, Stuff. I've never read the surrounding chapters of this story, but I'm definitely going to be hunting them down when I'm at HeroesCon the weekend after next.

Vigilante--who in real life is country music sensation Greg Saunders--ends up killing a whole bunch of the Dummy's goons, attracting the attention of Gotham's finest along with Commissioner Gordon. Gordon, well-known for his pro-vigilante stance, allows the cowboy hero to continue his mission of vengeance, even giving him a permit to use his guns in the city.

Here's just a few moments from the story that clearly had a profound impact on the young 8-year-old Dr. K:
You took the words right out of my mouth, Lieutenant.

Vigilante gets prepared to go out, Travis Bickle-style.

Seriously, the guy carries 50 guns, wears an awesome costume, rides a cool motorcycle, and shoots giant rabbits in the face--why isn't the Vigilante the most popular character in history?

And that last sentence is the entire content of my Vigilante pitch to DC Comics.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Complete Works of Dr. K: Coda

The last letter I had published, which appeared in Flash 7, was written in the summer of 1987, just after I graduated from high school. That summer, I was laid up for about two months with mono, and I wrote that letter and one unpublished letter to Wonder Woman on the birthday present I had received that year: a newfangled thermal typewriter that looked something like this: (Image from Mr. Martin's Typewriter Museum)
This replaced a portable manual typewriter I had been using for writing in previous years. The thermal typewriter was, in all, a pretty crappy invention. It operated on a principle still used in some cash registers, where the typewriter actually burned the text onto specially coated paper. The paper was incredibly expensive, and it deterioriated rapidly--after a few months, the type would fade into illegibility and the paper would turn yellow. Leaving the paper exposed to light hastened the deterioration significantly. The other, more stable option was to buy these incredibly expensive ink cassettes that never lasted very long, nor did they print very clearly.

I'm sure I wrote those letters as a means of relieving the boredom of my mono-induced isolation. But, by the time the Flash letter saw print, I had moved away from home and was already starting my freshman year of college.

While I was gone, a package was delivered to my home address with the following letter enclosed:

I had been specially selected to receive a xeroxed preview of Flash Gordon 1, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens. This was, indeed, a great honor, but, unfortunately, I never got to write a response letter.

(Cover image from the Grand Comics Database)

You see, DC sent the package to my home address, and my mom, for some reason, did not deem a package from DC Comics as being sufficiently important for her to forward to me. Therefore, I never received the preview of Flash Gordon until spring break, well after the March 3 deadline stated in the letter. I've always felt a strong sense of regret about missing this opportunity.

I did, however, buy the 9-issue miniseries when it came out, and though it's no longer a part of my comic collection, I do remember it fondly. Looking over the photocopied preview, which I still have, I'm struck by how Dan Jurgens played with a lot of the ideas and themes of the vastly underrated 1980 film. In the comic, Jurgens makes him a washed-up former NBA star for the Boston Celtics rather than a pro football quarterback, as he is in the film. The sexuality is also surprisingly overt: when we first see Ming, he's informing a poor farmer that he will be having his way with the farmer's new bride, and Ming smoothly shifts his amorous attention to Dale Arden. I love the design of Ming with the badass skull tattoo over his left eye. I also find myself using that exact same dialogue in almost every faculty meeting I attend.

Flash and Dale also exhibit a sexual tension reminiscent of David and Maddie on Moonlighting, which was in the process of jumping the shark when this comic came out.

The first issue ends in a scene similar to one early in the movie, where Ming puts Flash to the test by sending him up against some men in an elaborate fighting arena.
I love Ming's response to Flash's face-kick.

So, my apologies, twenty years late, to Mike Gold and Dan Jurgens for not responding to this request for a letter. But it was totally my mom's fault.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Dr. K's 200th Page Super Spectacular

For my very special 200th post, I decided to return to the wonderful world of 100-Page Super Spectaculars from which the blog takes its name.

Justice League of America 112 is of contemporary relevance, too. It is the second part of a two-parter, and the first part, which introduces the villain Libra, who is currently featured in Final Crisis, was reprinted in this:
However, that story ends with this cliffhanger, where the Justice League has defeated Libra, but they failed to regain the powers that he stole from them:

(Actually, the Justice League doesn't really defeat Libra. They just stand by and watch as Libra absorbs too much power and has his molecules scattered throughout the universe. But a forfeit is still a win.)

Unfortunately, DC didn't see fit to show readers how the heroes got their powers back. However, Dr. K, who is always looking out for you, can help remedy that situation.

The story opens with the dejected heroes resigned to the fact that they may never get back the half of their powers that Libra stole, and Black Canary tries to console them by serving them coffee and sandwiches I guess because, at this time, Wonder Woman was no longer a member of the JLA that all the kitchen duties ended up falling to Black Canary.

Batman is among those affected by Libra's power-theft, which really doesn't make sense. However, it's explained in this story that Batman has lost half of his courage and intellect, whatever that means.

The Justice Leaguers, led by The Atom, who wasn't affected by Libra's attack, come up with a plan to get their powers back that seems pretty half-baked. Apparently, their lost powers are contained in molecules that are scattering throughout the universe, and Atom proposes to redesign the villainous robot Amazo to absorb those power molecules the way he normally absorbs the JLAs powers. The idea that Batman would have lost some courage and intellect molecules doesn't make much sense to me, but then I don't really know shit about science, so I'll give writer Len Wein the benefit of the doubt here.

Come to think of it, though, I probably lost some intellect molecules the other night when I drank half a bottle of Maker's Mark, so I guess this does make sense. But I think I actually gained courage molecules at the same time.

So, the League gets to work on redesigning Amazo:

Superman and Flash replace Amazo's reel-to-reel, while Atom welds up his brain, and Black Canary gives him a new costume.

Just to recap for a moment--Black Canary's contributions so far: serving food and sewing. When was Black Canary replaced by fucking Martha Stewart?

The Justice League has now programmed Amazo to believe that he is dying, and that the JLA is refusing to give him a cure, so he must chase them around the world. While he's chasing them, he will also be absorbing the missing power molecules.

This is a pretty dickish plan. In the previous issue, Libra had duped the villains in the Injustice Gang to fight losing battles with JLAers in order to give him an opportunity to collect their powers. Now, the JLA is treating Amazo the same way, manipulating him into inadvertantly helping them get their powers back.

In classic JLA fashion, the heroes split into three teams, each located in a different part of the world--Africa, the Arctic, and Brazil--all the while playing keep-away with Amazo. Amazo, however, has absorbed half of Batman's intellect, and apparently he got the good half, and not the half that remembers where Alfred keeps the plunger for the bat-toilet and what the lyrics to the themes to "Good Times" and "Diff'rent Strokes" are. So, Amazo figures out right away that the JLA is trying to manipulate him, and he only feigns defeat in order to lull the League into a false sense of security.

Interestingly, Libra didn't steal half of Batman's ability to kick ass, and the Dark Knight ends up making quick work of Amazo:
That's right--Batman just needed one chop to decapitate a robot with half the powers of the Justice League.

Bonus Content:
JLA 112 also features a reprint of an awesome Seven Soldiers of Victory story from the Golden Age. Among the highlights:
The Crimson Avenger x-ray punches a dude decades before Sonny Chiba made it cool.

Vigilante makes nursery rhymes kick ass!

Vigilante shoots a giant rabbit in the face!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Complete Works of Dr. K, Part 4

The summer after I graduated from high school, I wrote a couple more letters to comics before heading off to college. Both letters attempted to impart some of my high school knowledge on comics readers. The first letter was written to Wonder Woman, which at the time was being written and drawn by George Perez, and I tried to explain how Perez was using the Greek gods in a way consistent with their representation in mythology. That letter never got printed, perhaps because I misused the term "voyeurism" in it.

I wrote another letter to the newly revamped Flash series, written by Mike Baron and drawn by Jackson "Butch" Guice. In the series, Wally West had taken the place of his deceased mentor, Barry Allen, but Wally had been significantly depowered. At this point in the series, he couldn't break the sound barrier, and he had to take in considerable calories in order to keep going. Mike Baron also had Wally win the lottery early in the series, thus solving his frequent financial and occupational problems.

Though Baron wasn't on the series for two full years, I really liked what he did with it, especially the introduction of other speedsters like Red Trinity and the use of Vandal Savage as a substantial adversary for the Flash. At that time, though, I was pretty much buying anything Mike Baron wrote based on his work on Nexus and The Badger, which remain two of my favorite series of all time.

The letter attempts to explain Wally's difficulty with breaking the sound barrier using some loose fact I remembered from high school Physics. I don't even know if the point I made is accurate, and I have no memory of ever having this knowledge. If it is accurate, however, I have Mr. Wallevand, my high school science teacher, to thank for it. He was fired a few years after I graduated for not doing his job after some complaints were raised about his unorthodox teaching methods, but I guess he could have used this letter as evidence that his students left with some knowledge.

But if someone out there knows more about this stuff than I, please let me know if I was right about this speed of sound thing.

I'm also proud of my 18-year-old self for dropping the reference to The Right Stuff, one of my favorite movies and the film that still makes me bawl more than any other, with the exception of It's a Wonderful Life. Seriously, I just lose it when Chuck Yeager walks out of the burning wreckage in the desert.

Here's the scene from the beginning of the movie that I reference in the letter:

"There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die." That gives me goosebumps. Is there a better opening line in movie history?

The answer is, no. Certainly not the one you're thinking of.

While I was never actually a physics student as I claim in the letter, other than taking the basic required classes in high school and college, I was a runner in high school, doing fairly well in track--well enough to letter four years in a row and take home some hardware. I even had the school record in the 300-meter hurdles for a short time, but that was only because I discovered, by looking at the record books, that no one in the history of my school had ever competed in that event. So, though I finished last in that particular race, I set the record. It only lasted, however, until someone else decided to enter that event a few weeks later.

And, in the end of the letter, I ask what was a burning question for a lot of readers of the Flash at the time: how do you pronounce the name of the new villain, Kilg%re? I always just read it as "Kilgore," but Editor Mike Gold's response doesn't help much.

And I did include my address on this letter, but by the time the letter was printed, I had moved out of the house and into the dorms at school, so I wasn't around to receive my mail regularly. I did, however, get one important piece of mail as a result of this letter, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.