Category Archives: Four Color Forum

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

Prograaaam! Getyer Program!

The Institute’s comics department spent a lot of time on the latest DC event. Maybe a little too much time, to be honest. Luckily, Marvel’s big blockbuster event is just a few weeks away. Grab your Cap shield or Cyke visor and RSVP for a launch party, True Believer, because Avengers vs. X-Men promises to be the best superhero summer slugfest since Civil War. You already weighed in on the standalone bouts via Ghostmann’s post a few weeks back, but now that we’re ticking closer, and the pieces are starting to fall into place, Marvel has gifted us with this free AvX Program Guide, featuring scorecards, background details, and previews. The physical book is available at any retailer already signed up for a launch party, or you can download the guide for free on digital readers like comiXology.

The last time I got this excited about a Marvel crossover spectacle, we hosted our “Who’s a Skrull” pool to coincide with Secret Invasion. That event was mediocre at best, and the Skrull reveals started losing steam by the third issue. Greg Smith won a pile of wagered nerdloot and Google Groups unceremoniously deleted our Invasion page. But now we’re in a better place, with renewed vigor for superfluous internet content, and we’ve got a much better title bout with which to coordinate a proper contest. Check out the program guide, and then check back here soon for the official Idle Time ballot.

But before that happens, and especially if you’re still shrugging your shoulders over that Skrull nonsense… here are the Top 5 reasons to get excited about AvX. Continue reading Prograaaam! Getyer Program!

Top 5 Worst Superhero Movies

Of all my incredulous “they’re making that into a movie” moments, one of the most confusing occurred in the lobby of 1000 Van Ness a few months ago when I stared, dumbstruck, at a poster for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Was Marvel trying to give the character a second chance on the big screen, a reboot or reinvention? Was this a Punisher-style replacement of a Dolph Lundgren with a (slightly less awful) Thomas Jane? No, Nic Cage is in this movie. It’s a goddam sequel to one of the worst comic book movies ever made.

This isn’t a terrible problem to have, really. There always have been and there always will be lousy movies. Sturgeon’s Law undergoes constant verification at every cineplex: ninety per cent of everything is crap. So it’s actually somewhat satisfying to know that comic book movies have become so popular over the last decade-plus, that the requisite 90% of bad cinema rolling out of Hollywood on an annual basis contains an ever-increasing amount of capes-n-tights crud. The law of averages simply guarantees more Scott Pilgrims and Dark Knights.

This list focuses exclusively on superhero films. Comic books get unfairly equated with the one genre most prevalent on spinner racks and in specialty stores, but let’s not forget all the other crap flicks that have been inspired by other types of funnybooks. The Spirit was more crime than costume, Dylan Dog more spooky than spandex. Jonah Hex is filed under weird western, Judge Dredd with the silly sci-fi. Cowboys and Aliens is… well, whatever the hell it is, it started out shitty, so any film based on it was bound to be shitty. [Reminds me of a Nick Swardson veterinarian joke: “My cat has diarrhea. What have you been feeding him? Diarrhea.”]

Continue reading Top 5 Worst Superhero Movies

The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

1. Action Comics – Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Rick Bryant

Grant Morrison is the Radiohead of comics creators. He reinvents without losing sight of the power of the medium, shaking lose from the expected while celebrating the sanctity of the established. Every time he dons his fiction suit and dives into the mythstream, he creates something worth experiencing. Sometimes challenging, oftentimes multilayered, but always engaging, these are constructs that grant repeat readers/listeners/devotees new rewards with every visit. He loves comics; and the passion for the story, character, and fabric of four-color futures comes through with every project and plotline. I’ll read everything he writes, and I’ll expect everything to be worth my time. The track record speaks for itself: beyond the pre-Vertigo fantasy that first brought Morrison to our attention, he has gone on to craft some of the greatest X-Men, Justice League, and Batman stories ever conceived. Handing over the reins for DC’s most important book, the comic that started it all, makes perfect sense. And the funny thing is, Grant Morrison has already written the great Superman story.

All-Star Superman, created with fellow Scotsman Frank Quitely, debuted in 2005. Over the course of its twelve issues, Superman transcends popular culture iconography and is situated properly in the pantheon of literary deities. The story opens with news that Superman, now more powerful than ever, has one year to live. The very source of his abilities, our solar system’s yellow sun, has over-saturated his cells. His final acts, delineated as twelve Herculean labors, give epic context to everything from his relationship with Lois, to the existence of Bizarro World, to the villainy of Lex Luthor. Free of the constraints of continuity and irrespective of whatever Crisis reset button had been recently pushed, All-Star Superman is the Superman story for all time, complete with loving tribute to the real, prophetic power of Joe Shuster. As Morrison himself explains in 2011’s Supergods, “Stories can break hearts or foment revolutions. Words can put electricity into our hearts or make our blood run cold. And the idea of Superman is every bit as real as the idea of God” (p. 415). Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #1, Action Comics

The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman

#2 Batman – Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion

For a long time,  Saturday morning cartoons were my only inlet into the world of capes, cowls, and spandex.  Growing up, my comic-related knowledge relied on two volumes of colorized Eastman/Laird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stories, and the entire set of ’95 Fleer Ultra Spider-Man trading cards.* Instead of reading the books, I watched every single super-hero cartoon that made its way to the Saturday morning block. Actual comic books were neglected, their covers providing a simple sense of the kinds of dramas that were supposed to unfold between my action figures. I was a superficial comic fan, liking the content for what it looked like, never really thinking about it as literature.

When I inevitably made the cross-over from television to graphic novels, I was eighteen, a legal adult, and I made mine Marvel. After all, it was Marvel’s cartoon cast of costume-clad characters that first piqued my pubescent fan-boy interest. Every opinion I’ve developed about comics, every urge to spend $3.99 on 24-pages of glossy, illustrated wonder is rooted in those Saturday mornings inside Marvel’s animated universe. And to this day, I see Marvel heroes as old friends–drinking buddies from the juice-box era, here to help me escape from boredom into a world of imagination.

There is, of course, one exception–the one exception I think every Marvel fan concedes to: The Batman. When I think about DC comics, only three (maybe four) characters jump to mind, all of whom grace the top three spots on this list, and Batman is hands down the coolest. Before Marvel got their shit together to produce accurate cartoon versions of their popular book titles, Warner Bros. had Batman: The Animated Series, an extension of the successful launch of Tim Burton’s cinematic Bat-franchise. Batman: TAS was DC’s sole cartoon offering for a long while, but it’s dark tone and excellent animation put it levels above anything Marvel had at the time, including the awesome Jim Lee/Chris Claremont inspired X-Men cartoon. Even after a well-received Justice League show and several (pretty good) Batman incarnations, The Animated Series is still the best super hero cartoon show ever.** So, shortly after pledging to devote myself strictly to the goings-on of the Marvel U, I allowed myself one concession – Batman books – and I opened my world to Gotham City legends by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Jeph Loeb. As one of DC’s signature characters, and arguably the most visible super hero in the game thanks to those fine Chris Nolan flicks, Batman carries the burden of many fans’ expectations. Die-hard readers critique lame Batman arcs with the same animosity as those against Julie Taymor Beatles musicals and inconsistencies in Star Wars prequels. So when DC relaunched all of their titles, believe when I say that Batman was one of the few that really mattered. Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #2, Batman

The Best of DC’s New 52: #3, Wonder Woman

3. Wonder Woman – Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

I cannot believe the Idle Time brass has dragged me into this new 52 mess.  I read about one comic book a year, and that is usually one of the collected story lines in one big book.  I haven’t read any of the other books in the new 52 series, so I have no perspective why this one is #3 or how it stacks up to the other 51.   My only history with Wonder Woman is through the Lynda Carter television series.

Other than thinking Wonder Woman was the most beautiful woman in the world, I can only remember some shit about an invisible jet that she could fly with her mind, her taking her lasso and roping the bad guys into telling the truth, deflecting bullets and insults with her giant bangles, and that damn tiara that she would throw like a boomerang.

This new reboot of Wonder Woman tackles all kinds of issues the modern everywoman deals with.  First, Wonder Woman always thought she had a normal childhood, forged from clay like Saruman’s Uruk Hai, and that her mother loved her little claybaby so much that the gods chose to animate her.  She leaves Paradise Island because she was so different from the other Amazons, and begins living a fabulous life in the big city.  All this is turned upside down when some little white-trash girl, Zola, appears in her bedroom because some chicken-footed dude gave her a portkey so that she may escape a cruel death by two crazed centaurs.  Wonder Woman isn’t afraid; she takes the key and returns to Zola’s house and lays waste to those hoofed bitches. Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #3, Wonder Woman

The Best of DC’s New 52: #5, Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E

5. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. – Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli

I’m not a comics fan.

Never have been. Most likely never will be, but that doesn’t stop my peer group from continually trying to push them on me. Because, you see, I am a socially-maladjusted nerd, so it should be something I’m rather keen on. But I’m just not interested, so here’s my Final Statement after spending twenty years surrounded by people who are:

  • I don’t care about Watchmen, and no matter how many times I “borrow” your copy (i.e., accept it as it is shoved into my hands to get you to quit bugging me about it), I am never going to read it.
  • I don’t care about Frank Miller, or the other one.*
  • I don’t care about cross-overs or multiple universes. Or the “death” of any superhero, which always seems to be a minor media event even though everyone knows damn well he won’t be gone for long.

I do care about Idle Time ranking projects, though, so here I am. Always willing to lean into the pitch and take one for the team, even if it means reading over fifty fucking funnybooks in way too short a time. Sometimes through gritted teeth, more often simply nodding off, but occasionally experiencing a flash of genuine tolerance, I paged my way through each issue of DC Comics’ “New 52.” (About 36 of which seemed to be Green Lantern-related. Those DC chumps really bet the farm on that turd of a movie last summer, didn’t they?) Continue reading The Best of DC’s New 52: #5, Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E

The Worst of DC’s New 52

Comic book events have been convenient ways of tricking my otherwise four-color-phobic Idle Time brethren into reading comics. Remember in 2008 when we hosted the Secret Invasion pool? Or late last year when Erik tried to organize a comics-themed podcast? (I haven’t given up on you, ghostmann) Nothing really worked. Comics is still a distant third place in the Idle Time media hierarchy.

definitely smells like something...

Then DC announced its “New 52” initiative: fifty-two brand-new number-one issues, including re-boots on iconic books like Batman and Green Lantern. Incredible creative teams were assembled. Everything was going to be fresh, and opportunity for reaching new readers had never been greater. The plan met with huge opposition from DC faithful, of course; there was even a protest organized for last year’s SDCC. But for people like me, eager to see comics attack a broader audience (just don’t mess with my Marvel books), this seemed promising. Even Uncle Isey, the Holy Bee himself, long the staunchest hold-out to the funnybooks, enthusiastically declared, “I’m in.”

So the two of us, along with Rex, who never needs an excuse to be asked to read a huge pile of comics, tasked ourselves with reading all fifty-two of the DCnU’s premiere issues. We employed our patent-pending Idle Time roulette system to rank the lot and we now know, unequivocally, which of these new series are worth picking up… and which should be used for kindling and birdcage liners. Erik “ghostmann” Hanson, a longtime DC stalwart, will be chiming in on our Top list, as will the mysterious Lazy Bear, who we’ve forced out of his eleven-month slumber with comic book homework.   We’re already five months in on many of the titles, and the first collected editions of these books hit shelves beginning in May. Now, then, is the perfect time to tell you what to read, and what to avoid. Continue reading The Worst of DC’s New 52

Comics of the Year — 2011

One of the more interesting ironies of the new century is that while comics have become more popular in this country than ever before, it is that very popularity that seems to be threatening the existence of comic shops and specialty stores. Most major comics publishers, including the big two, have begun aggressively marketing digital versions of their monthly titles, complete with “smart” readers that zoom in and out on panel transitions like DVD-extra storyboards. Somewhat overlooked amidst DC’s New 52 initiative is the fact that the publisher is now releasing its digital editions simultaneously with print copies. Batman fanatics don’t need to hit their saver bin for a first peek into the mysterious Court of Owls. In fact, digital subscribers can download, read, and post spoilers on an issue before the local comic shop even opens for business.

Meanwhile, publishers of book-length graphic novels, as well as the cartoonists and creators responsible, are finding that their works are being embraced by mainstream bookstores and online vendors. The New York Times has a “Graphic Books” best seller list that includes volumes from pioneering indie comics publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. A backup story in Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 addresses the painful realization that we’re likely never to see a staple-bound comic from the likes of Chester Brown, Peter Bagge, or Jessica Abel again. He includes a soundbite from a Daniel Clowes interview on NPR: “Nobody wants to sell some floppy thing that, you know, gets all bent on the shelf… No bookstore wants to carry it because the profit margin is so low…”

Continue reading Comics of the Year — 2011

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.

Continue reading Justice League #1

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.

Continue reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods