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Happy Yuri Gargarin Day!

April 12, 2011

If you’ve been to today, you might have noticed the space-themed header. In case you’re not already aware, today marks the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gargarin of the former U.S.S.R. becoming the first human in space.

For a while when I was a kid, I loved space and almost everything about it. Like a lot of unrealistic kids, I had a phase where I wanted to be an astronaut. But Yuri fucking did it, becoming a national hero in the Soviet Union. Dude had a stamp and everything. The U.S. was less of a fan of him at the time, because the Space Race had become another way of showing our dicks were bigger than our Cold War adversary’s. But we got to the moon first, so we still kinda won. And the late Gargarin deserves a ton of respect, especially when you read about how dangerous the Soviet space program really was. That’s a link to a recent article on, one of the best comedy sites on the Internet, but behind the comedy is a boatload of info that shows how scary as shit it must have been for Yuri to risk his life to be such a pioneer.

So what does any of this have to do with comic books? Maybe a little more than you think. Yuri’s trip came a short six months before the release of Fantastic Four #1, a comic issue that helped revolutionize the industry. The FF’s origin, of course, features a trip to space that gives the quartet unexpected powers. Unfortunately, I can’t find specifics about just when the book started developing (not surprising, considering the legal battle about who’s idea it even was — see the Kirby lawsuit battles). But it seems probable to me that, at least among laymen if not even experts, there were still considerable questions about what kind of effects (short- and long-term) space travel would have. The FF’s origin story probably didn’t seem as ridiculous at the time, whereas today, various creative teams have tried to re-tool it slightly to make sense with what we now know about space travel; for instance, the Ultimate line changed the FF’s trip to the Negative Zone.

Furthermore, I feel like the widespread public interest in the Space Race had to have had something to do with FF becoming an unexpected hit. And the book’s success made it the cornerstone of Marvel’s early lineup of books, and encouraged Marvel to try other teams books, such as The Avengers and X-Men. But biggest of all, according to the book Comic Book Century, the comic’s success revitalized Jack Kirby’s waning creative energy and persuaded Stan Lee, who had been thinking about leaving the industry, to stay in comics. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A lot changed 50 years ago, but think about this comic book angle: If not for Yuri Gargarin, the Space Race might not have kicked to another level. If not for the Space Race interest, Fantastic Four could have been a flop. If not for FF‘s success, we might have lost Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and thus, maybe Marvel itself.

So from the kid in me who dreamed of space, and from the adult who still loves the creative escape of a good comic, Happy Yuri Gargarin Day.


And the Eisner nominations go to …

April 7, 2011

people you’ve mostly never heard of.

The 2011 Eisner Awards, which celebrate the best in comics, were released today. The winners will be announced July 22 at Comic-Con International.

A common theme of the nominees? Not much in the way of big names. If you’re looking for the works of Bendis or Johns or almost any other top creators from Marvel or DC, you won’t find them listed in the above link. Not that this is terribly uncommon for the Eisners — they’re often filled with more independents than they are best-sellers. But still, just three nominations for Marvel. DC did better with 14 total, but just five of those from DCU.

Image and IDW each got 12 noms, as IDW continues to rise in both sales and critical acclaim. Dark Horse came in not far behind with nine. So Marvel and DC might lead in sales, but a lot of companies are sharing recognition this year.

So readers, any thoughts on the nominees?

Superman movie news

March 27, 2011

The LA Times is reporting today that the part of Lois Lane has been cast in the new Superman movie project … and it’s Amy Adams.

Adams becomes the fourth member of the cast, joining Henry Cavill, who dons the red and blue as Superman, and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, the somewhat surprising choices to to play Ma and Pa Kent. Zack Snyder, of 300 and Watchmen fame, will direct, with David S. Goyer (co-writer of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and former comic book co-writer of JSA) handling the script. Christopher Nolan is a producer.

Adams has become a favorite of mine, from her delightful role in Enchanted to her grittier performances in Sunshine Cleaning and especially her Oscar-nominated role in The Fighter. She’s shown excellent range, and her beauty certainly doesn’t hurt. I love the casting choice here.

What do you think, readers?

Good books’ bad flaws

March 27, 2011

Comic book writing isn’t an exact science. You can be one of the best in the business and still suffer from annoying tendencies every now and then. Even among my favorite books, I’ve noticed some recurring weaknesses. How big of a deal those weaknesses are tend to be relative to each reader. For instance, I grew to absolutely hate Brian Michael Bendis’ writing because of his incredibly slow pacing, redundancies, simplistic characterizations, and over-reliance on certain characters and on deus ex machinas. But judging from Bendis’ enduring popularity, others view those as mere speedbumps in otherwise good storytelling. Meanwhile, Peter David’s tendency to sometimes needlessly inject sex into stories can probably disrupt his writing for some, but with the exception of his old Captain Marvel title (where the random sex really did go overboard sometimes), it hasn’t interfered with his stories for me.

So here is a look at some flaws I’ve noticed popping up. Finding a weakness in a weak book is easy, but these are all ones in titles that are nevertheless mostly enjoyable. Most of these are more on the minor side, but some threaten to become bigger and more disruptive if not reined in.


Animated movie reviews

January 22, 2011

I watched a few animated comic book movies over break (Netflix instant watch, what up), and it’s time for a quick rundown of reviews. Although I might have felt there were some flaws here or there, I mostly came away impressed, particularly as three of my four reviews are from pretty recent films, and there’s certainly been a recent trend to make edgier animated comic movies. As I said when I reviewed Planet Hulk a while back, I think that trend could be a great thing for fans who want to see some of these more adult-aimed stories told, but without having punches pulled for the kiddies.

So read on as I give mini-reviews for Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Under the Red Hood, and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman.


Marvel’s new EIC…

January 5, 2011

is Axel Alonso!

Joe Quesada has rapped up his tenure of just over 10 years as editor-in-chief and become the Chief Creative Officer; his new duties will revolve around TV, movies, and online stuff.

Alonso has been an editor for more than 10 years with Marvel, most notably on Spidey and X-Men titles — meaning he’s already had a hand in Marvel’s biggest cash cows.

Other than that, I really know shit about him, and it’s not like Marvel’s press release (linked at top) is too helpful. But I do wish him the best, and applaud the company’s progressive choice in naming someone named Axel to its top editorial job, given the up-and-down past of people named Axel in creative fields.

Fables, you’re still the one

December 12, 2010


Joao Ruas has maintained the high quality of cover art James Jean established for Fables.

Longtime readers may recall a short post I did a couple years back, called PROJECT: FABLES. That little ditty recounted my experience of catching up on Bill Willingham’s acclaimed series by reading the first 73 issues of Fables, all in rapid succession (during a surprisingly invigorating week without TV or Internet). Among the heaps of praise I threw upon the book, I called it the greatest run I’ve ever read in comics.

Two and a half years later, Fables #100 came out Wednesday. It was less of a comic book and more of an event: a 100-page, prestige-format issue befitting of the milestone and featuring, as its main story, the climactic duel between Bellflower/Frau Totenkinder and Mister Dark.

The story lived up to expectations, and the issue included a number of well-done backup features. There was an entry where “The ‘Hams” (as Spiffy once nicknamed them) switched roles, with regular artist Mark Buckingham writing a short story with series writer/creator Bill Willingham providing illustrations. Toward the back, there was a weird “create-your-own puppet theater” thing, followed by the introduction of a Fables board game (DC also issued a Fables poster of the game on a larger scale). My favorite feature, though, was a section where four celebrity readers wrote in questions, which Willingham answered with short stories drawn by various artists. There was one by Phil Lamarr (Mad TV, Pulp Fiction, various voice acting), Eddie Cahill (Miracle, CSI: New York and other things, but I still recognized him as Tag, the young assistant Rachel dated for a while on Friends), and Michael McMillian (whom I didn’t actually recognize at all, but apparently he’s been in True Blood, What I Like About You, and a brief role in Firefly). But the coolest/best one, both in the celeb’s question and the questioner’s identity, was Cobie Smulders, the super hottie who plays Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother. Being funny and attractive is great enough, but she’s into comics?! Between this revelation and her spread in Maxim this month, the already smoldering Smulders has never been hotter. (Plus she’s apparently studying to be a marine biologist, so she has a brain, too. Wow.)

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Fables. Since I declared the book my all-time favorite in PROJECT: FABLES, I have launched into a quest to read as many of the great classic runs in comic book history as I can. Progress has been slow overall, but rewarding nonetheless. But while I’ve read a couple runs that are surely the equal of Willingham’s run here, I don’t think I can definitively say that anything is better, yet. After 100 issues, the book is still going strong. The characters are still fresh, and you can tell Willingham still has a lot of stories left in him. 100 issues is already an epic run in today’s comic world, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doubled it before finishing.

So let me salute Fables on its milestone issue, say thank you from a grateful fan, and wish for many more of its entertaining stories in the future.

My Most Painful Sports Losses Ever

October 14, 2010

My Atlanta Braves offseason post helped me greatly in recovering from the Braves’ gut-wrenching NLDS defeat. As much of a cliche as the phrase is, every sports fan at some point takes comfort in the saying, “There’s always next year.” In sports, as in life, some small part of us always tries to maintain the hope that a brighter tomorrow is just ahead. Perhaps sometimes it’s delusional, but it’s also one of the best traits of the human spirit.

Yet there are some defeats that feel particularly agonizing, some losses that are nearly soul-crushing and leave us temporarily unable to take comfort in those old cliches. So now, before I allow myself to close the book on my latest chapter of sporting letdowns, I’m going to revisit some of those losses that hurt the most when they occurred, and linger the most now.

This will not be fun.


Atlanta Braves: Offseason Outlook

October 12, 2010

The Braves just went through one of the most painful playoff series losses I’ve seen in quite some time as an Atlanta fan, losing three games by a combined three runs, with all three losses coming with some umpire/player/managerial controversy.

But what’s done is done, and as frustrating as it was to lose such a winnable series, Atlanta still had an impressive season. The Braves led their division for about 2/3 of the season, despite it being fairly clear to everyone that they weren’t the best team. They also had truly horrid luck with injuries, having to replace two major everyday starters, 40% of their pitching rotation, and two of their top four bullpen options, with their closer also going down at the end. Added on to that were some attitude problems and woeful underperforming issues that led the Braves to replace three more starters, at shortstop, first base, and center field. The result was the Braves only had three Opening Day starters in their playoff lineup: Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and Matt Diaz — and Diaz was among the woefully underperformed group but was deemed less mediocre than Melky Cabrera. They also got very little from Jair Jurrjens, who had posted the third-best ERA among NL starters in 2009 but was never 100% this year, and it showed in his performance and lack of inclusion on the postseason roster.

Yet in spite of all this, Atlanta clawed its way into the playoffs. The Braves have a lot of positives to take away from 2010, despite the disappointing end. The task now becomes how to build for 2011 and beyond. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the options and choices facing Atlanta this offseason.


Baseball Playoff Predictions

October 5, 2010

It’s exactly what it sounds like.