After the Republican National Convention, several frustrating days of computer woes, and the other tragedies - large and small - that make up our lives and the world, I thought we could all use a cute photo. Consider it my virtual hug to you.
I have so much to cover this week that I'll be going modular, creating columns out of the odds and ends found in my files, laying around my desk and my office, or newly arrived among the hundreds of e-mails, letters, and packages I receive. In other words, it's pretty much business as usual.
Let's see what I have for you today.
It has been over a decade since comicdom last saw a new issue of FLARE. The market circa 1993 was not kind to small publishers, even those who were producing full-color super-hero comics as good or as bad as those coming from the Big Two.
Flare was - and I'm going by memory here - a spin-off of CHAMPIONS, a comic-book series featuring heroes originally created for a role-playing game. The heroes weren't blindingly original in the way a Concrete or a Hellboy were original, but they were solid characters with often interesting backgrounds. Still going by my perhaps faulty memory, my only real problem with them was that they were sometimes, as I saw it, needlessly salacious. One artist had an obvious fondness for butts which made for some odd storytelling choices along the way. But, that, as I've said, was over a decade ago. There's a new Flare in town.
Technically, she's the same photokinetically-charged heroine she was. But, as seen in FLARE #1 [Heroic Publishing; $2.99], she's returned from an absence of several years. She's a little older, a little wiser, and proclaims herself ready "to get out there and kick some evil butt." A lofty sentiment, to be sure, but it's not what won me over to the new series.
On the second page of writer Wilson Hill's "Goddess of Light and Shadow," Flare uses her super-powers to warm the coffee cup of a homeless woman. When was the last time you saw a super-hero take a moment for a simple act of kindness?
As the story progresses, Flare battles a demonically-possessed dealer pushing a new drug called "darkdust." Two of her old foes are behind making and distributing the drug, but this doesn't seem to be the standard "revenge motif" we see in so many modern super-hero comics. They want Flare dead because she's interfering with their criminal enterprise. She's going after them because of their criminal enterprise. She's trying to help people. We need more of that in our super-hero comics.
Flare has a big universe around her and a long history behind her, but Hill's script includes enough information - without overdoing it - for a new reader to get into the game. Penciller Gordon Purcell and inker Terry Pallot are as straight-forward on the artistic end of the tale. Ditto colorist Mike Estlick. The comic book looks as good as it reads.
Digression. Previous incarnations of FLARE had the perhaps-undeserved - perhaps not - reputation of being "T&A" comics. I'm not seeing that in this new series.
Flare isn't in costume in "Goddess," though she does look sexy in her street clothes. Her costume is just a tad more skimpy than that of the Black Canary. Though Sparkplug, Flare's kid sister, is sexually provocative in her solo back-up story, I get no sense of that being a driving force behind that story or the comic book in general. Whether or not FLARE used to emphasis the "T&A," that is absolutely not the case with the relaunched title.
End of digression.
Other features in this issue include inside front cover mini-bios of the creators, a four-page "All About Flare" story by Hill and Purcell, the opening chapter of a Sparkplug serial by writers Steve Perrin and Wilson Hill and artist Henry Martinez, and a text page giving background on the villain featured in Sparkplug's solo adventure.
(By the way, the Sparkplug story does fall into that "revenge motif" I mentioned earlier. The villain goes after her to get to another super-hero. That doesn't bother me as much as I thought it might. After all, the motif is a standard of the super-hero genre. I just don't think it should be used as *the* plot behind as many stories as it is.)
Here's the bottom line.
I enjoyed FLARE #1. It was a solid comic. Not spectacular, just solid. It got me interested in its characters and delivered good value for its cover price. I look forward to reading the next issue. All of this earns it a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.
My son Eddie and I drove to the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque to see GODZILLA , the Rialto Pictures release of the original Japanese movie. This version doesn't have the scenes with Raymond Burr - filmed in the United States and added for the original American release - but it restores director Ishiro Honda's stronger lament/warning over the use of nuclear weapons in warfare and the more intense human stories that were cut or truncated for the American release.
The Cinematheque seats 600...and the Saturday night showing we attended was close to capacity. I was told the Friday night show was also packed. The tickets were eight bucks each, but there was free and plentiful parking.
Prior to the film, we saw previews of upcoming presentations, we heard about other upcoming films, we listened to a short lecture by a professor who got most of his information from the Internet Movie Database [www.imdb.com] and who appeared somewhat embarrassed to be there, and we didn't win a $5 gift certificate to some nearby coffee shop. I admit Eddie and I were getting a little restless after all of that.
GODZILLA - the Rialto subtitles don't call either the movie or the monster "Gojira" - still carries a punch fifty years after it was made, despite the awkwardness of the man in the suit and the special effects. The despair of those storming the offices of the shipping company for word of possible survivors of the ships sunk by Godzilla - before his presence is revealed - is starkly real, as is the suffering of the monster's other victims on Odo Island and in Tokyo. To bring that realism to their roles, actors had only to tap into their memories of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the more recent deaths of Japanese fisherman caught in the fallout from a U.S. H-Bomb test. Godzilla might be a fantasy, but he was a fantasy born of a terror that was very real to the film's creators.
Director Ishiro Honda created the visual language for all the Godzilla films to come: the creature's emergence from the sea, the brave-but-ineffective armed forces, the destruction of cities, and the fleeing populace. The scene that hit me hardest was that of a mother clutching her children as they sit at the base of a building in Godzilla's path, telling them that they shall soon be reunited with their father. Another surprisingly effective scene - somewhat marred by laughter from the audience - has doomed newsmen reporting the devastation as Godzilla draws ever closer to their perch on the Tokyo Tower.
An earlier scene which drew appropriate audience laughter had a feisty woman arguing with a politician who wants to cover up news of Godzilla's existence after the Odo Island attack. In 2004, who could fail to react to the irony of a government official trying to keep secrets from the public? I heard one audience member whisper "It's the Japanese Dick Cheney" to his companion.
The movie's human story is the romantic triangle of beautiful Emiko (Momoko Kuchi), handsome Ogata (Akira Takarada), and tragic Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata). Emiko is kind of engaged to Serizawa, a family friend who she thinks of as a brother. She cares for him, respects him, but she doesn't love him. Ogata respects the great scientist as well. Their romance gets further complicated after an argument between Ogata and Emiko's father, a scientist who does not want Godzilla destroyed.
Serizawa is a man of mystery whose mysteries are revealed in often subtle ways. Reading between the lines, it appears he played some role in Nazi experiments during World War II and is determined to never allow his work to hurt people again. When his research on oxygen leads to the creation of a terrible weapon, he doesn't want it revealed to the world for fear of what the politicians might do with it. He makes difficult and heroic decisions.
If I have any complaint with GODZILLA, it's that Honda beats the audience over the head with the H-Bomb comparisons/references. They are an important element of the film, one sorely lacking from the American version, but there are too many of them. I got it the first half-dozen times.
Driving home from GODZILLA, I tried to remember at what point later Godzilla films got away from the human stories and wondered if the original Japanese versions of those later movies might be as rewarding as the original GOJIRA had been. I'd certainly buy DVDs of the originals - subtitled in English - if they became available on the legitimate market.
If GODZILLA comes to your area, it's definitely worth seeing. On our scale of zero to five disembodied columnist heads, I give it the full five Tonys.
Speaking of GOJIRA trivia, here are some of the choicest bits from the Internet Movie Database:
GOJIRA producer Tomoyuki Tanaka originally wanted the creature to be a giant fire-breathing ape. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya envisioned Gojira as a giant octopus before settling for the more dinosaur-like beast.
Gojira's name combines the Japanese words for gorilla (gorira) and whale (kujira). It was also a nickname given to an immense man who worked as a press agent for Toho.
The first Gojira suit weighed approximately 200 pounds, making it rather difficult for performer (Haruo Nakajima) to move around in it. It was common for a cup of Haruo's sweat to be drained from the Gojira suit after scenes.
A GOJIRA legend has Ishiro and Eiji on the observation deck of what was then one of Tokyo's skyscrapers, planning the monster's path of destruction. Overhearing them, other deck visitors became concerned. The pair was supposedly stopped by the Tokyo police and questioned.
NEW YORK MOMENT
I lived in New York City for a few years in the 1970s. It's not often that I get nostalgic for the place, but I did get a warm feeling when members of ACT UP - an anti-AIDS organization - stood on a city street naked during the Republican National Convention to protest the growing national debt and the lack of support shown by the Bush administration for AIDS research. It wasn't so much the nudity or the protest that made me feel proud of the town. It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's response:
"This is New York. Of course we'd have seven naked people on Eighth Avenue."
Part of me will always love New York.
Monday is usually the day when I post new TONY POLLS questions for your amusement/edification. However, because of my unexpected hiatus, I'm going to keep the current questions active for another week. We'll talk about them in a bit.
The TONY POLLS for the week of August 16 concerned your comics buying habits. Here are the results.
In an average week, how many 32-page comics - mainstream or independent - do you buy?
More than 12.....24.09%
I didn't vote on any of this week's questions because I'm just about as unconventional a comics buyer as you'll find. I receive hundreds of review comics every month. Some are books I might have bought if I hadn't gotten them free; some are books I wouldn't have looked at if they hadn't been sent to me. I can't predict what my buying habits would be if I had to buy all of my comics, though I suspect my limited funds would more likely go to those titles most reflective of a creator's - not a corporation's - vision of what a comic book should be.
More than 12.....0.73%
I was stunned by how many of you simply don't/won't buy manga. Even with the occasional review copies that come my way - and I do wish more of them would - I buy between four and six volumes every month. For ten bucks per book, I get 200 pages of comics and I've a wide range of genres from which to choose.
In a year, how many comics trade paperbacks or hardcovers do you buy?
More than 12.....28.68%
Several voters commented that I should've had more choices in this category. One reader says he buys more trade paperbacks than he does 32-page comic books because the typical comic book doesn't give him enough entertainment for its price.
More than 12.....5.19%
They cost fifty bucks a pop, but I would buy as many of these books as I could afford. Though the production/proofreading has suffered since DC failed to retain the services of production chief Bob Rozakis, the handsome hardcovers remain among the most fun and most important books being published today.
1 or 2.....23.21%
3 or 4.....12.78%
5 or 6.....12.03%
More than 6.....11.28%
I was surprised that 40% of you don't buy any of these black-and-white collections. They offer a lot of pages for as relatively low price. Is the color that important those readers...or are they old enough that they have these stories in their original 32-page comics format. Any one care to enlighten me?
1 or 2.....16.67%
3 or 4.....6.82%
5 or 6.....1.52%
More than 6.....1.52%
These hardcover collections were less popular among the voters than the DC Archives. I figure it's a combination of their price, and the multiple reprintings of the tales contained in the volumes. As with the Essentials, it's likely many of the voters already have these stories in one form or another.
I'll have the results of the August 23 poll questions for you in a few days. In the meantime, as noted above, you can still cast your votes on the current questions.
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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