Category Archives: Four Color Forum

All things comics, from the Golden Age to the Hollywood Superhero Renaissance

Justice League #1

DC Comics unveiled the first issue in its “New” DC Universe (DCnU) yesterday, with the release of Justice League #1. Penned by fan-favorite Geoff Johns and featuring art by comics icon Jim Lee, this first installment in “The New 52,” the highly controversial and hotly anticipated reboot of DC Comics’ decades-long continuity, sets the stage for a new origin of one of the oldest superhero pantheons in pop culture. In an era where superheroes are big business, and the vast majority of comic book character introductions are being made via media other than comics, this fresh start has the opportunity to revitalize the DC canon. It has the potential to give a new audience the thrill of experiencing the magic of comics alongside generations of long-time fans who have been glowing in the burgeoning interest and exposure of their favorite stories. Instead of fresh, this first issue feels terribly stale. Comics, courtesy of inventive storytellers like Stan Lee, Frank Miller, and Geoff Johns himself, had been the inspiration for a decade of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. If this one issue is any indication, however, DC would prefer that their movies, cartoons, and video games influence the comics instead.

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Grant Morrison’s Supergods

It should be an easy question to answer, a simple topic to elaborate upon. I love comics, and I love talking about the medium. And despite the fact that some of the best, most literate expressions of this artform have nothing to do with superheroes, I can’t ever deny the deep-seated passion I’ve had for capes-and-tights adventures since my first Avengers so many decades ago. But – why superheroes? What is it about this mythic cross of science fiction and fantasy that had not only enthralled me from a young age, but has also turned into huge business, dominating popular culture in movies and video games in the twenty-first century? Should be simple to answer. Shouldn’t it?

Grant Morrison, one of the most renowned and respected comics writers of our day, is far more equipped to tackle this subject than I. Thankfully, at least, as his new book Supergods shows us, I wasn’t wrong in thinking that there is no simple answer to the question. I’m just as thankful that the exploration of superhero culture, in his capable hands and guided by a life similarly captivated by the genre (as well as being twisted through years of genuine chaos magic and intense psychedelia), is a tremendously fascinating and rewarding one.

The "demigod" begins his journey to "pop deity"

Supergods explores the history of superheroes, from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman in 1938 through the modern era and the infusion of superheroics into the “real world,” both in Hollywood’s forays into more realistic portrayals, and the advent of real world superheroes, like Portland’s Zetaman and Atlanta’s Crimson Fist. As each decade and each era is explored, Morrison beautifully connects current events with the responses of popular culture, demonstrating how the world of comics, and superheroes specifically, became both accurate reflections of the times as well as prescient oracles of developing fears, dreams, and ideals.

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The Passion of the Thunder God

At the EarthFair Festival in San Diego this past weekend, I was struck by the logo for the San Diego Pagan Pride organization.  All these pagan religions united against discrimination and prejudice, reminding us all the while that crosses and Stars of David are fine as religious symbols, but if you’re really looking for iconography to rally behind, consider the ankh or… the hammer of Thor!

Which then made me wonder whether or not the half-dozen or so people in San Diego who actually claim to be adherents to the Norse faith had any problem with Marvel Studios’ upcoming summer blockbuster. Was Thor being seen as a trivialization of their beliefs? An insulting depiction of their deity dealing with the modern world like, I don’t know… The Book of Mormon or something?  Or was this going to be their Passion of the Christ?  Would Teutonic neopaganists start losing their shit in theaters nationwide (starting at midnight on May 6, naturally) watching their God of Thunder suffer at the hands of the divinely crafted Destroyer armor? Continue reading The Passion of the Thunder God

Bravo, DC

From the DC Comics website:

Beginning January 2011, DC Comics will implement a line-wide pricing adjustment, lowering the prices of all standard length 32-page ongoing comic book titles currently priced at $3.99 to $2.99.

“This announcement reaffirms DC Comics’ commitment to both our core fans and to comic book store retailers,” said Jim Lee, DC Comics Co-Publisher. “For the long term health of the industry, we are willing to take a financial risk so that readers who love our medium do not abandon the art form.” Continue reading Bravo, DC

Loving the Funnybooks

Originally published in Justifications on December 10, 2007:

This past Saturday night I was huddled near an electric spaceheater in a makeshift room of a live/work loft in the Vulcan Studios community in Oakland, just off San Leandro. Charlie was clinging to a vanishing pang of nostalgia, something he remembered loving about being a boy… something about growing up and the way things were. Unable to properly recollect the memory, he resorted to a description of a typical day growing up with two brothers and a sister: wake up, fight, read comics, fight… “it was so great.”

He asked me if I read comics growing up. Sherice: “He still does.”

My love affair with comics is similarly rooted in those carefree days of youth. Both of my parents worked when I was growing up, so, during my elementary school years, my grandfather would often pick me up after school and take me to his house in Cow Hollow. At least once a week we would walk down to Chestnut Street – a place decades removed from today’s trendy nightspots and Apple stores – and wander into Jack’s, a magazine and tobacco store between Scott and Pierce. Nonno would set himself up in the back, elbows on the counter, and talk to whom I can only imagine was Jack himself, leaving me at the entryway of the store to peruse the comics racks. Continue reading Loving the Funnybooks

Best Comics of 2010

The Institute’s comics department may receive far less attention than its audio/visual brethren, but as department chair I will continue to extol the virtues of the medium to any and all mildly interested parties. When compared alongside music and film, comics does require the most human interaction, particularly in the sharing of discoveries. If Professor Flores was particularly excited about a movie, you might add it to your Netflix queue. If Dr. Howell was adding an LP to the fourth quarter syllabus, you might download it wirelessly to your iPhone. But if I want you to read the new Chris Ware book, you’re going to have to set foot in a bookstore, or, god forbid, a comics store. The twenty-first century has not devised an effective means of disseminating or reading comics digitally. Not to say it won’t happen… but chances are, for the foreseeable future, your best bet is to borrow my copy. And maybe we’ll get coffee too.

It seems rather fitting that the finest graphic offerings of 2010 are all achievements in comics storytelling and craft. It’s hard to argue that comics can accomplish things that other media cannot, especially when comics-in-adaptation are all the rage these days. Scott Pilgrim was one of the best movies of the year; The Walking Dead is a new AMC hit; and Disney’s new Marvel properties are toy shelf gold. These five books, however, need to be appreciated in the form the artists intended.

The Top 5 Comics of 2010
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