"Man's greatest actions are performed in minor struggles. Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment and poverty are battlefields which have their heroes - obscure heroes who are at times greater than illustrious heroes."
I had a wonderful time at two May conventions--the Big Apple Convention in New York City and the Mighty Mini-Con in Herkimer--and, yes, I do wish you had been there. I'll be writing about the shows in the very near future, but I didn't want even one more week to pass without thanking the Big Apple's Mike Carbonaro and Allan Rosenberg, and the Mighty Mini-Con's Rick Olney, for inviting me to their terrific shows and treating me so well while I was at them. Of course, no comics convention is a one or even two-man show, so I also want to thank everyone else who worked at these events, and the fans, guests, and retailers who attended them. It truly would not have been as much fun without you.
A "Tips" reader I spoke with at the Big Apple show told me how much she enjoyed my "rambling" columns, the ones where I cover many subjects and she never knows what the next topic will be. I think she'll like this week's edition.
I never got to a comics shop on Free Comic Book Day, but, like everyone else in the industry, I'm waiting hopefully for reports of increased sales among the participating retailers. Those shops are comicdom's front line and, no matter what inroads we make into the mainstream, I suspect they'll remain so. The owners and operators may be obscure heroes, but they are heroes nonetheless.
Courtesy of Earthworld Comics in Albany, New York, and a shop in Michigan whose name I've stupidly and temporarily misplaced, I have a complete set of the FCBD giveaways. My contribution to our industry holiday will be to read these comics with an eye towards judging how good they are and how well they might succeed in their aim of bringing new customers to the shops.
I'll be taking my time with this piece, so there will be ample opportunities for retailers and readers alike to share their FCBD reactions with me. You can e-mail me, write me, or walk up to me at a convention to bend my ear with your comments, criticisms, and suggestions. Everything will go into the mix and--God willing--come out entertaining and informative.
Here's one suggestion right out of the gate, inspired by Jim Salicrup, also known as "one of the best comics editors ever," when we appeared on a panel at the Big Apple con. Jim wished me and the audience a "Happy Free Comic Book Day," to which I responded that we should have FCBD cards for the occasion. The more I think about this, the more I like the idea.
Comics folks could send the cards to one another to celebrate our special day. We could also send them to media outlets as a way of publicizing our day, our art form, and our industry. Why should American Greetings and Hallmark be the only ones who get to invent holidays? My people...take this idea and run with it.
Now all we need is a FCBD icon that can hold his, her, or its own with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
I saw X2 in between conventions. Others will doubtless review the film in detail, but I'll confine myself to a handle of remarks about favorite characters and moments.
Halle Berry seems to have had a great deal more fun portraying Storm this time around. She had a much better wig and what seemed to be a much better attitude as well. Wouldn't you love to see her in a Storm movie? My inner fanboy gets all giggly at the thought of Berry going one-on-one with Godzilla.
(On a barely more realistic level, I think a Storm battle with a powerful X-Men villain like Magneto, the Living Monolith, or even Krakoa, the Living Island, would make for some sensational special effects sequences.)
Nightcrawler, Nightcrawler, Nightcrawler! The combination of Alan Cumming's superb acting and amazing special effects made Kurt Wagner the film's most memorable character. I hope he gets another chance to shine in X3.
Shawn Ashmore's Iceman was the heart of the film. His budding relationship with Anna Paquin's Rogue and his understated rivalry with Aaron Stanford's Pyro were the real deal, but there was no more heartbreaking moment in X2 then when he realizes he has been "outed" by his own brother. Could there be a more poignant lesson about the dangers of allowing authority to use fear to promote its own agenda?
When X2 comes out on DVD, I'll have to watch it back-to-back with SPIDER-MAN. I'm not prepared to strip the latter of its title as best super-hero movie ever, but X2 is a lot closer second than I would have imagined.
It's not remotely a contender in the "best super-hero movie" race, but I confess to being entertained by RETURN TO THE BATCAVE: THE MISADVENTURES OF ADAM AND BURT, which aired on Fox earlier this year. Written by Duane Poole, and starring Adam West and Burt Ward as themselves, RETURN was a strange amalgam of a documentary about the Batman TV series and a reunion special. It made up a few facts as well, but it also had the...
...deliciously odd notion of Frank Gorshin and Julie Newmar seeking revenge on West and Ward because the villains didn't get credit for making the show as successful as it was.
West and Ward clearly had a great time from start to finish, with West brilliantly chewing the scenery like he hadn't had a good meal in months and Ward coming off as the best sport of all time. I got a kick out of the recreation of the injuries Ward suffered in various stunts gone bad, scenes taken from Ward's autobiography of a few years back. Kudos to Jason Marsden for a fine performance as the young Burt Ward, to Gorshin and Newmar for stealing scenes as effectively as they ever did, and to movie Catwoman Lee Meriwether for a funny cameo appearance.
There is no denying RETURN TO THE BATCAVE was a silly thing, but it got honest laughs and smiles from me. If you have a couple hours to spare, you could do far worse.
Speaking of Godzilla, which we don't do often enough in these pages, I have now seen an English-subtitled version of the Big G's latest adventure. The original Japanese title of this 2001 movie is GOJIRA, MOSURA, KINGU GIDORA: DAIKAIJU SOUKOUGEKI. The literal English title would be GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: THE GIANT MONSTERS' GENERAL OFFENSIVE. However, for this mini-review, I'll go with the international English title...NATIONAL LAMPOON'S KAIJU VACATION!
The real international English title is GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK.
Toho Studios has done something interesting with this current series of Godzilla movies. Each film is a sequel to the original 1954 "Gojira" movie, existing as if all those other Godzilla movies had never been. In this one, for example, Godzilla is the enemy, pure and simple, while traditional villain Ghidorah is one of three ancient "guardian monsters" who awaken to protect Japan from this new invader. Apparently, the three monsters--Ghidorah, Mothra, and the thoroughly disrespected Baragon--forgot to set their alarms for 1954 and therefore missed Godzilla's first attacks.
I have a sentimental love for the first Godzilla movie and a goofy attachment to GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, but this GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK may be the best Godzilla movie ever. It's slow to get started, almost half an hour before we get significant monster scenes, but it maintains a keen sense of menace from start to finish. As Godzilla topples scores of miniature buildings, that sense is heightened by key scenes of civilians injured and killed by the avalanches of debris.
GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK also has the best "human" story since the tragic love triangle of the 1954 original. Reporter Yuri Tachibana butts heads with her father, Admiral Taizo Tachibana, on several occasions. However, their conflicts notwithstanding, their obvious love and respect for one another, and their pride in each other's courage and dedication, makes them arguably the strongest and most fully realized human opponents ever to go up against the terrible force that is Godzilla. Great story, great acting, great man-in-suit special effects, this movie is sure to please Godzilla fans around the world.
I don't know when GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK will become available in the United States, but I'll buy it as soon as it does. It's a definite keeper.
In CBG #1540, I reviewed METROPOLIS (Dark Horse; $13.95), one of Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka's earliest efforts. The graphic novel, like so many of Tezuka's works, dealt with the reactions of human beings to the arrival of new technology, in this instance, an artificially created being of amazing power. Though Tezuka had not seen the original METROPOLIS, director Fritz Lang's science-fiction classic from the time of silent movies, and, indeed, had seen only a single photo of that film's robotic Maria, he paid homage to Lang in the form of Michi, the artificial child thrown into the world of humans with no clue as to his/her origins. Tezuka's graphic novel inspired an animated feature, released in 2001, which brought the story full circle to its own cinematic inspiration.
I watched the animated Metropolis between conventions and had these reactions:
The backgrounds are breathtaking, so breathtaking the future city becomes as much of a character as any other in this animated feature. On the down side, the movie often slows down to a crawl to allow the audience to gaze lovingly on those backgrounds. This made for a slow start to the story.
Katsuhiro Otomo's screenplay uses very little of the graphic novel. Michi becomes Tima with absolutely no confusion as to her gender. Tima is both more innocent than Michi and far less aware of her power, but her psychological devastation on learning of her true origins are as chilling as that in the comics. The treatment of robots plays more of a role in the movie, though it remains key in both. The human reaction to technology is more important in the movie than in the comics.
The villainous Duke Red is a terrorist in the graphic novel, an economic and political powerhouse in the movie. He has a human "son" in the movie and that character brings the conflict between man and robot down to a personal level.
Ultimately, I liked the graphic novel better than I liked the animated feature. The graphic novel has more heart while the film, powerful as it is, suffers from both blaring musical sequences and indulgent panoramic shots of the city.
METROPOLIS is worth watching, maybe even more than once, but it could have used its 108 minutes more wisely. I would recommend renting instead of buying unless, like me, you can get a previously viewed copy for under five bucks, as I did when I bought my copy at a Blockbuster Video sale.
Movies like SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN increase public awareness of, if not comic books themselves, the characters who appear in them. I was delighted to see the heroes mentioned twice recently in that most assured of entertainment barometers, David Letterman's "Top Ten" lists.
From the "Top Ten Bush Excuses For Not Finding Weapons of Mass Destruction":
"They must have been stolen by some of them evil X-Men mutants."
And from the "Top Ten Reasons, I, Joe Lieberman, Would Make a Great President":
"It just so happens Spider-Man is a close personal friend of mine."
Clearly, both major parties will be going after the comic-book vote in the 2004 elections. Use yours wisely.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1542 [June 8, 2003], which shipped May 18. The cover story was on the annual Comic Heaven auction, which is:
a) legitimate news on account of the vast volume of great old comic books up for bid; and,
b) mildly troubling to me in that Comic Heaven is the major advertiser in this issue via its 40-pages of catalogue.
I am not suggesting and would not suggest that the cover story is part of the advertising deal. But, unfortunately, because CBG does cover the secondary with far more thoroughness than any other online or print source, the newspaper is always going to be walking a thin line with such coverage.
In addition to the cover story, CBG also runs a brief "topper" item on its front covers. This issue, it's the news that G.I. JOE: FRONTLINE #11-14 will ship weekly in August.
The paper's question of the week:
"What event should 2004's Free Comic Book Day connect to? Why?"
I haven't given this one much thought. If there isn't a big comics-related movie coming out in 2004, I would suggest the event connect to the anniversary of ACTION COMICS #1. I have always felt it was Superman who turned a novelty item into an actual industry. Of course, there is the *slim" possibility that all but one comics publisher would object to Superman's birthday being the connecting event for the day. You can't please everyone.
I have been lax in directing you to other entertainment on the web, a failing I hope to rectify in this and future online columns. Why shouldn't you waste as much time as I do?
AMERICAN KAIJU showcases the artwork of Todd Tennant, a fan of Godzilla, King Kong, and giant monsters in general. Shown here is a detail from the KING KOMODO print he is selling on his website. His artistic range also extends to an amazing homage to the various beasts and behemoths drawn by Jack Kirby in the days when Marvel's JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, STRANGE TALES, TALES OF SUSPENSE, and TALES TO ASTONISH specialized in such fantastic creatures.
You probably won't be able to enjoy everything at the website in a single visit--Tennant has packed it full of art and stories--but it's a pleasant way to spend a few minutes here and there. I especially recommend checking out the galleries, which include the first chapter of a never-to-be-completed "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" serial and also a complete Kirby-style comics story. After that, as time permits, you can read the kaiju-oriented fiction of Tennant collaborator Mike Bogue.
Sidebar. I haven't yet found the time to read it, but Bogue's five-part "The Godzilla People" series has a fascinating premise: "What if the medical community secretly utilized Godzilla's amazing recuperative abilities for G-cell therapy? What if that therapy proved successful--indeed, too successful? What if it produced the world's first were-Godzilla, the scientific answer to the ancient werewolf of old, as well as things far, far worse?"
If I were running Toho Studios, I'd buy Bogue's premise in a heartbeat. What a movie it would make!
Having placed my order for CHASE'S 2004 CALENDAR OF EVENTS, I come before you to again justify my deducting the 2003 volume on my taxes. Today, Saturday, June 14, is the 165th day of the year and there are 200 more days to go.
Today is the birth anniversary of JOHN BARTLETT (1820-1905), the American editor/compiler whose BARTLETT'S FAMILIAR QUOTATIONS remains a favorite of mine. There are no John Bartlett quotations in his famous book; his object was to show "the obligation our language owes to various authors for numerous phrases and familiar quotations which have become 'household words.'"
Today is also FLAG DAY, a day meant to honor America. I can think of no better way to do so than by calling, e-mailing, or even writing your senators to beseech them to vote against the insidious Flag Protection Amendment...or whatever the heck it's being called this time around...which would make it a crime to desecrate the US flag. Though there are but a handful of cases per year of people in this country burning the flag in protest, this stupid amendment oozes to the surfaces every year. For me, it always comes down to what's more important: a piece of cloth or what that piece of cloth represents. This proposed amendment becoming law would be the most heinous act of flag desecration I could imagine.
One more anniversary of note:
THE GONG SHOW made its television debut on June 14, 1976. The once-popular show was created by producer Chuck Barris with Chris Bearde. A trio of celebrities would judge amateur and professional acts from the ordinary to the insane and, when an act was just too much to bear, any of the judges could bang a gong to end the misery that much sooner. It was both brilliant and stupid and boy, howdy, did I love it. Kudos to you, Barris and Bearde.
This past week was the last week of school for my kids Eddie and Kelly. Eddie graduated from Claggett Middle School, winning a science plaque and a fistful of certificates. In September, he'll be a freshman at the mega-sized Medina High School with its 2000 or so students. More on that later.
Kelly graduated from Sidney Fenn Elementary School with just as many certificates of achievement. She moves up to Claggett in the fall and is very excited about that.
Leaving Sidney Fenn is a big and hard step for us. Barb and I have been involved with the school for eight years and feel very close to the staff and teachers there.
Watching Eddie go to the high school is even harder. I don't have a good feeling about it. The construction of the new school took a lot of money and more time than we expected...and there are questions about how wisely the money was spent. It never hit the local newspapers but, apparently, several building contractors sued the school system to get paid...and I heard rumors a lawsuit or two was fired in the other direction.
Several top high school and school board administrators have announced their resignations...too many for me to write off as just coincidences. At first, I thought to myself, "Hey, you're nervous because Eddie has never gone to a school this big before and you're afraid he'll get lost in the crowd," but now I'm think my Spider-sense is telling me something isn't right.
I hope the Cleveland Plain Dealer starts taking an interest in Medina school politics. It's for sure the Medina County Gazette, that hotbed of deference to the powerful, won't look too closely at anything until it blows up in all our faces.
Still, the fears of the future aside, Sainted Wife Barb and I are proud of our kids, delighted with their successes, and looking forward to spending lots of time with them this summer.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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