Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Tribute to David Bowie

After his untimely death earlier this month, David Bowie left behind more than a legacy of memorable songs, but bequeathed an indelible imprint on popular culture as well. Storm Entertainment captures this spirit in a new tribute comic book biography released this week.

Tribute: David Bowie, available in both print and digital, follows the enigmatic artist's innovative career from his through early days as David Jones through his ever-changing metamorphoses into a rock god, tortured artist, thin white duke and blinded prophet. 

Written by Mike Lynch and Michael L. Frizell with art by George Amaru and Vincenzo Sansone, the book pays homage to  one of the most influential artists any generation, constantly reinventing himself while defying convention. The one-shot features three collectable covers by Sansone, David Frizell, and Graham Hill.  

The book builds on the previously published Fame: David Bowie and completes his life story. Fans of Bowie will recognize his transformation from the iconic Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to pre-punk Berliner to the The Thin White Duke and even in his star turn as the Goblin King in the 1986 movie "Labyrinth."

"Bowie should not be remembered for his multiple personas, but rather for his desire to push musical and artistic boundaries," said writer Michael Frizell. "He was on the forefront of so many musical movements; psychedelic, glam, Krautrock, funk, grunge, and his latest post modern masterpiece and farewell gift Black-Star. 

Storm Entertainment president Darren G. Davis added, “I hope readers come away with not simply a sense of the richness of his life, but how he influenced practically every artist that came after; regardless of genre."

The “Tribute” series serves as a pop culture companion to Storm Entertainment’s successful “Female Force,” “Political Power,” “Orbit,” and “Fame” series. The biography comic form allows Storm’s talented writers to delve into the history of certain newsworthy figures and explore what shaped them. Storm Entertainment’s biographical comic books have been featured on CNN, Politico, Roll Call, The Today Show, FOX News, and in People Magazine among thousands of others.

Storm Entertainment’s biographical comic books have been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine The Today Show, FOX News, and in Vanity Fair among thousands of others.

Tribute: David Bowie is available on your e-reader from iTunes, Kindle, Nook, ComiXology, DriveThru Comics, Google Play, Madefire, Overdrive, Iverse, Biblioboard, Flipkart, ComicBin,Axis360,  Blio, Entitle, Comicblender, Kobo and wherever eBooks are sold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why, that is Inhuman!

They have existed under the sea, on a far away hidden island, in the Himalayan mountains, and on the Moon, as well as countless other unrecorded locations.  But always they lived in a land of a specific name.  First mentioned in 1941 by Jack Kirby, Attilan a country, city, and mystical place.  It is the ancient city, capital and home of the Inhumans. 

They are an evolutionary advanced offshoot and self mutated group of humans who are both super human, and also, persecuted for being different.  The royal family is generally what the comic book appearances feature, and their first appearances in comics were in Fantastic Four #45.

While the Inhumans are not warlike they are not so peace devoted as to become martyrs for a world that would rather see them destroyed for racial purity.  Many of the stories of the Inhumans feature forms of racial persecution and racial hate and segregation.

As I am a fan of the great Jack Kirby you might assume that I love the Inhumans due to his part in their creation.  But the best Inhumans story was written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated by Jae Lee, I can only recommend it, I cannot force you to read it, but you should.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What Winter Looks Like

Paintings were the digital cameras of their day.  While that sounds silly, since they often took months if not years to complete, when the masters of the art did them, we could see events, moments, and the people of a time past, when there were no cameras.  In some ways these artists created our memories of the time by how they presented it, but in others we are the ones who harvest the story... As the painters painted, we supplied the imagination.

This scene is by Hendrick Avercamp a Dutch painter who featured skating and winter in most of his works.

The next three paintings are by  Pieter Brueghel the elder.  He obviously had observed snow, winter, and human activity during the season.  Which is why I love his work.

And despite my attempts, my computer couldn't find the artist for these lovely works.  But they do show us snow, ice and winter in Japan.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Party Lines

“I often think it comical
That Nature often does contrive
To make each boy and ev'ry gal
Who's born into this world alive,
Either a little liberal
Or else a little conservative.”

– W.S. Gilbert

Some years back, I came across a piece whose author contended that comic book superheroes were by their very nature intrinsically conservative. I no longer remember where I read it, alas, nor do I recall the author's reasoning, but it made me think. I considered writing a piece of my own for a blog I contributed to at the time, and went so far as to ask a few comic book professionals a friend introduced me to for their opinion on the subject. Only a few responded, and about the most useful reply came from Mike Grell, who wrote and drew the excellent JON SABLE FREELANCE back in the '80s and the graphic novel GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS. He said: “Liberal hero = Green Arrow written by Denny O'Neil. Conservative hero = Green Arrow written by me.”

I set the idea aside because I had trouble organizing my thoughts on the subject. But every once and a while I pick it up again, and maybe this time I'll get somewhere with it.

The biggest problem, of course, is first defining our terms. Ambrose Bierce defined a Conservative as “A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” Which is pithy, but not particularly helpful. Trying to get more specific, I find myself careening into one type of strawman or another. For example, some have embraced THE INCREDIBLES, one of the best superhero movies ever, as a conservative film because it rails against the mindset that “everybody gets a medal” and that those who excel at anything ought to be punished for their success. Which is apparently supposed to be a fundamental tenant of liberalism. But you could just as easily point to Bob Parr's boss in the movie, who chews him out for putting his customers ahead of the company's bottom line, as a critique of conservative-style Free-Market Capitalism. But that's a simplistic caricature, you say? Yes, it is.

I suppose one argument on the conservative side of the superhero question is that heroes are all about Fighting Evil, while everybody knows that Liberals are Soft On Crime. There's a bit in Frank Miller's BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in which Batman is pressuring a henchman for information. “I got rights!” the crook bleats. “You've got rights. Lots of rights,” Batman replies in a Clint Eastwood rasp. “Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy.” But you could also say that heroes are all about helping people in need and that this runs counter to the Gospel of Selfishness preached by the disciples of Ayn Rand. Yes, more strawmen.

Perhaps a better argument would be that in the world of comic book superheroes, the Government, as represented by the police, is incapable of fighting evil by itself and needs the help of the Heroic Citizen-Super, the Rugged Individualist who asks for no Government Handouts. And there are heroes who fit this view; but are they intrinsic to the genre?

Superman would seem to be the perfect example of the Republican Super-Hero. Raised with small-town Midwestern values, he represents authority and fights for the American Way. He's been called a Big Blue Boy Scout, and he neither denies the charge, nor considers it an insult. In recent decades, it's been fashionable to contrast his politeness and willingness to work with the Authorities with Batman, who follows his own moral code and whose relationship with the police, outside of Jim Gordon, is decidedly touchy. ; and many writers have followed that characterization.

Some critics have seen in the early Superman a personification of FDR's New Deal, swooping down to defend the Little Guy being pushed around by the Big Shots. In one early story, Superman helps a group of striking miners by grabbing the mine owners and bringing them down to the mine, forcing them to negotiate.

Others have gone as far as to label Superman a fascist, mostly because of his name and it's association with Friedrich Nietzsche. “You always say yes – to anyone with a badge – or a flag...” Batman grumbles to Superman at one point in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS; and the movie trailers for BATMAN V SUPERMAN certainly play up the the idea of Superman as Creepy √úbermensch . But I think that's a glib and superficial reaction too. Apart from the name, Superman shares none of Nietzsche's philosophy. I suspect that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster chose the name mainly because it sounded cool.

During World War II, Superman and Batman, like pretty much all their contemporaries, set aside differences of Right and Left in order to help smash the Axis. After the War, some heroes went looking for other villains to fight. Captain America tried a brief second career as a Red Smasher. This didn't work out quite as well. Commies just didn't seem to make as good villains as the Nazis did. When Cap was revived in the '60s, this phase of his career was first ignored, then ret-conned as the adventures of another guy posing as Captain America. Superman briefly went after the KKK. A reporter had gone undercover to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, but could not find a news outlet willing to publish his story; so he approached the writers of the Superman radio serial. They did a lengthy story arc in which Superman battles the Klan, using information from the reporter's investigation.

Both Superman and Batman appeared in public service ads during the post-War era that seem pretty liberal these days. At the time, though, these sentiments were considered mainstream and uncontroversial. When Superman urged his readers to “Hop on the Welfare Wagon!”, as he did in one PSA about how public, private and charitable organizations all have a role to play in the health of American citizens; or when Batman reminds kids that treating others equally regardless of race or creed is the American Way, they were both promoting ideals of Good Citizenship, not partisan ideology.

It's been said that Stan Lee was politically in the center; too conservative for Jack Kirby, a working-class Democrat and child of the Depression who co-created Captain America, and too liberal for Steve Ditko, the principled Objectivist. But as he tried to incorporate real-world elements into the comics he wrote for Marvel, political themes came in as well. Tony Stark became Iron Man when he was captured by Communist forces in South East Asia and had to invent his way to escape. Many heroes of the early Marvel Age fought Communist villains such as the Red Ghost (and his Super-Apes!) in FANTASTIC FOUR, and the Abomination in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. But other heroes had WWII backgrounds; most obviously Captain America, but also Nick Fury and even Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. In one early issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, the team fought a character calling himself the Hate-Monger whose incendiary oratory (and mood-altering H-ray device) inspired people to commit violence against immigrants. Unlike present-day nativists, the Hate-Monger wore a purple Klansman hood and when unmasked was revealed to be none other than Adolf Hitler. (Later this was ret-conned to be a clone of Hitler).

During the late '60s and early '70s a generational shift occurred at DC as well. I have a copy of AMAZING WORLD OF DC, the company's in-house fanzine which has an article about the history of the Justice League of America. The piece contains little caricatures of some of the creators who worked on the JLA, and you can see the shift. The old guard, men like Gardner Fox and E. Nelson Birdwell are white collar men in ties with neat crewcuts who would have looked perfectly at home in an episode of “Mad Men”. Then there were the new breed, like Cary Bates and Denny O'Neil, long-haired hippie radicals.

O'Neil in particular became an influential part of DC's “Relevance Era” during the early '70s. He re-cast Green Arrow, who had previously been a fairly lame Batman knock-off with an archery gimmick, into a latter-day Robin Hood, driven to pursue Social Justice. In a famous issue of GREEN LANTERN, he challenged the by-the-book space cop Hal Jordan to re-examine his priorities and for a while the comic, re-titled GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW, became a buddy book as the two heroes traveled the country in a pick-up truck searching for America and discussing politics. Similarly, during his run writing JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, O'Neil had Green Arrow argue politics with another Establishment figure, Hawkman.

This idea of using comics to express a dialogue on political views comes up every once in a while, but it's difficult to do well. During the Vietnam War Era, Steve Ditko created Hawk and Dove, personifying the Pro and Anti-War factions in the country as a pair of super-powered brothers with differing philosophies about violence. I think Ditko's intention was to show these characters complementing each other and finding a balance between the two views. Later writers pretty much turned them into Goofus and Gallant: Dove, the peaceful one, was intelligent and always right; Hawk, the violent one, was stupid and always wrong.

More recently, the Marvel cross-over series CIVIL WAR set out to dramatize the debate between Individual Freedom and Homeland Security through a proposed law requiring super-heroes to register with the Government, dividing the super-hero community between those resisting the law and those enforcing it. Marvel's intent was to have reasonable arguments on both sides, but as the story actually played out the pro-registration side wound up looking like the bad guys.

A 2008 DC miniseries, DECISIONS, tried to approach super-politics on a smaller scale. An unknown villain is trying to assassinate presidential candidates by mind-controlling members of their campaign staffs. After thwarting one of these attacks, Green Arrow makes a public comment endorsing a liberal candidate, sparking a debate among his fellow Justice Leaguers about super heroes and politics. In the end, Superman is the one to deliver the stern moral that super-heroes need to keep their opinions to themselves and just do their jobs.

I guess I keep coming back to Mike Grell's comment, that a super-hero's politics depends on whomever is writing him. But clearly the spirit of the times in which the story is written has a lot to do with it as well. I keep thinking of more examples of politically-themed comics and am no closer to organizing my thoughts. And I still haven't really addressed the question I started with.

Maybe one of these day's I'll write this thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA

Behold Akira, the amazing journey into post apocalypse mutant madness.  Click the images for the larger image.

The year is 2019 and speed tribes, cyberpunk, mutant gangs all collide in the streets of old Tokyo.  It was destroyed in 1982 with nuclear weapons when the world entered WWIII.  Now Neo Tokyo tries to forget the past and become a beacon of hope and new beginnings.  But the struggles to forget the disasters, and mutations, lead only to new and more catastrophic events.

The comic was beautifully done and captured the Japanese sense of fear and pain over the past use of nuclear weapons, and its fascination with the motorcycle gangs (Speed Tribes) and cyberpunk worlds.

The manga was turned into an animated color film, and is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece.  I prefer the comics, and am not a snob, the comics are just more detailed and more clear about the events.

I thoroughly recommend this to any human.  Not to anyone who is mutant however.