Showing posts with label superheroes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label superheroes. Show all posts

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts on Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle part 1

Thanks to WETA, I've gotten an advance look at the new 3-part documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle directed by Michael Kantor who co-wrote it with Laurence Maslon.

Part one, Truth, Justice and The American Way covers 1938 through 1958. The film opens with comic book dealer Vincent Zurzolo locking a copy of Action Comics #1 in a vault. Action #1 famously was the first appearance of Superman, and now is generally thought to be worth millions of dollars (I believe issues tend to be traded, and not paid for in cash).

Kantor does a good job showing how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster started a new genre and jumpstarted an industry with Superman. As with many documentaries, commentators are talking heads in studio settings, but Kantor got a great bunch of cartoonists - Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, former DC publisher Jeanette Kahn, Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Jim Steranko, Ramon Fradon (a rare woman in the early superhero industry, she now appears regularly at the annual Baltimore Comic-Con), Denny O'Neil and others. Poignantly, several of these have passed on within the past few years including Kubert, Robinson, Infantino and Simon. Deceased creators such as Jack Kirby and Bill Gaines are shown in film clips, although Kirby is given short shrift in this episode, presumably because he will feature so largely in the second episode on Marvel Comics.

Most of the commentary is edited down to reflect a standard history of superhero comic books, but highlights emerge such as Fradon's talking about hiding behind her drawing board as ethnic jokes flared, or when Simon talks about drawing a big explosion in a Captain America comic book just to fill up the page faster. Irwin Hasen, who began in comic books, but made it big in the strips with Dondi, says the work "... was like a shirt factory."

The film moves onto Batman, whom Jerry Robinson clearly says Bill Finger co-created with Bob Kane, lingers on Robin and the problem of sidekicks, and then moves on to the largely-forgotten Captain Marvel (aka Shazam). Grant Morrison interestingly points out Marvel's appeal as a non-realistic based character who fought dragons and tossed comets into the sun.

A brief look at merchandising, still so very central to the success of comic books, focuses on Superman's radio and tv show. Kantor then moves onto World War II, Captain America and the wild success of patriotic heroes. Wonder Woman is lumped in this group, due to her star-spangled outfit and December 1941 publication date. She's also discussed as "the superheroine American had been waiting for" which may be also be on a foundation that's a bit shaky.

The film wraps up with the post-war bust in superheroes, the emergence of crime and horror comics (and briefly-mentioned westerns and romance), and the campaign against comic books spurred by Fredric Wertham and his book The Seduction of the Innocent.

All 3-parts of the documentary air locally on WETA at 8 pm on October 15th. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Superhero contest answers, Escape from Planet Earth, and the Walking Dead in today's Post

Style Invitational Week 1009: What's in a name, plus the winning super- (and not-so-super-) heroes.
By Pat Myers, Washington Post February 17 2013 - and don't forget that Bob Staake has done the illustrations for this contest for around a decade. The honorable mentions seem to only be in the print edition, and include my neighbor Larry Yungk's Bleeperman.

'Escape From Planet Earth' movie review
By Michael O'Sullivan, February 15 2013

and for the record:

McIntyre, Gina / Los Angeles Times.  2013.
Steven Yeun 'the heart' of 'The Walking Dead'.
Washington Post (February 17)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Exhibiting the gold in the Golden Age at the Jewish Museum of MD

101_5094 posterThis past weekend I was able to attend the members' preview for the exhibit "ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950." The exhibit has arrived at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in downtown Baltimore and it's well-worth visiting.Curated by the late Jerry Robinson, this exhibit was put together in 2004 by the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, which published a catalogue of the same name.

 Robinson had multiple careers in cartooning including writing a history of comics, being an editorial cartoonist, and starting a syndicate, but he began as a young man in comic books. As a seventeen-year old he began working on Batman as a letterer and inker in 1939. Eventually he became a penciller for the character, and as an employee of what became DC Comics, he met a lot of artists. And thankfully he saved examples of their work, at a time when that behavior wasn't very common.

101_5085 Simon and Kirby
Simon & Kirby cover to Adventure Comics #78
The exhibit is full of original golden age artwork. It contains art by Mort Meskin, Lou Fine, Robinson, Will Eisner, Marc Swayze, Simon & Kirby, Charles Biro, Fred Ray, CC Beck, Fred Ray, Will Eisner, HG Peter, Sheldon Modoff, Bob Fujitani, Lee Elias, Irwin Hasen, Arthur Peddy and Bernard Sachs, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris, Joe Kubert, Reed Crandall, Al Alvison, Carmine Infantino and Frank Frazetta. Many of these are prime pieces.

And many of the writers and artists were Jewish. As comics historian Arnold Blumberg noted in his remarks at the preview, "'s a joy to see the exhibit come to a facility like this and to take a look at it from our unique perspective of what our culture, what our heritage, has given not just to itself, but to the world. The world owns Superman and Batman and all these characters now. Many of them may not have a clue where they came from, who were the kind of people who sat down and created them, but they are now owned by the entire world. They're heroes for everybody and they came from us."

101_5092 Siegel and Shuster autograph
Siegel & Shuster drawing dedicated to Robinson
The exhibit gives a basic history of comic books and characters and biographies of the creators, interspersed with now-priceless art and comic books. Particular attention is paid to World War II of course. Pages of an original Batman script by Bill Finger can be seen - Robinson's estate donated other examples of these to Columbia University this month. Historic highlights include Robinson's artwork for early Batman covers, his original Joker playing card sketch, and a Siegel & Shuster drawing of Superman dedicated to Robinson. A few cases examine the merchandising of Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) and Superman.

This version of the exhibit does have a tricky dichotomy to it. The uncolored, unfinished single pages of comic book artwork will appeal to a mature (elderly, if they bought the titles originally) viewer, while the idea of a superhero largely is aimed at male teens and younger children. This version of the exhibit caters to the very youngest viewers, with a set of tables, chairs and supplies for making cartoons, a replica of Superman's telephone booth with costumes set alongside it, a Batmobile kiddy ride, a newsstand with comics to read on it, and a piece of "Kryptonite"with a recording that warns one not to get to close.

101_5058 newsstand

 I was fortunate to be able to visit the exhibit with local cartoonists. Barbara Dale (of Baltimore), known for her humorous cartoons, fixated on the original Spirit page by Will Eisner and the Frank Frazetta that was next to it, and thought those two pieces made the entire exhibit worthwhile.

101_5070 Eisner
The Eisner Spirit page that impressed Barbara Dale...

101_5071 Frazetta
...and the Frazetta cover that Dale also admired.
101_5090 Lou Fine
Note Wrightson's debt to Lou Fine.
Rafer Roberts (of Fredericksburg) pointed out several things to me - Moldoff's use of gouache to give white highlights on the legs of a monster on Moon Girl #4's cover for EC Comics, Bernie Wrightson's debt to Lou Fine (look at the skeletonized figure on the Hit Comics cover, and Bob Fujitane's use of the traditional iconography of Japanese monsters.

101_5066 Bob Fujitane
Bob Fujitane uses Japanese iconography.

I had seen a previous version of this exhibit in New York at the Jewish Museum there, but it was reworked as an addition to the massive "Masters of American Comics" show. Any fan of comic book history should take the opportunity to see this version of the show at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. The catalogue can be bought in the gift shop, along with Superman toothbrushes, Batman lunchboxes and hand-painted superhero yarmelkes. The Museum has produced two curriculum guides for schools and plans lectures throughout the exhibit which runs from January 27 - August 28, 2013, and costs $8 or less. More of my pictures can be seen here.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Snyder, King and Hatke at Capicons

The bi-monthly Capicons con at Tyson's Corner saw a few new faces today. I picked up a couple of pieces of original art as a result (and blew my budget, but if you go to the show with friends, you can borrow money from them).

101_4763 JK Snyder III Shadow sketch

Baltimore County's John K Snyder III did this Shadow sketch with the money going to Hero Initiative charity. Keep an eye out on IDW's variant covers for the Shadow as John is doing one in 2013.

 101_4766 Hatke - Zita the Spacegirl original art p98

Front Royal's Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl original art for page 98. Zita's aimed at kids, but I like it a lot.

 101_4767 Hatke - Zita the Spacegirl original art chapter breaks

Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl original art for chapter breaks. He tossed this one in after I bought the previous.

Washington's Tom King was signing his book A Once Crowded Sky, a novel about what happens when all the superheroes vanish, but the supervillains don't. I reviewed it for the City Paper and had the strange experience of seeing my words as a pull quote on his banner.  I liked the book enough to buy another copy for a comics-collecting buddy's Christmas present. King told me that some additional comic book news from him should come out this week - remind me to follow up if I don't post something here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shattered Asian American Comics Anthology photos

101_4620 Shattered - Michael Kang, Jamie Noguchi, Keith Chow, Jeff Yang

Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology - A Secret Identities Book - had a booksigning at Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC, with editors Jeff Yang and Keith Chow, filmmaker Michael Kang and cartoonist Jamie Noguchi. The talk went for about an hour and a half and culminated in a 'design a supervillain' crowdsourcing event. The Stain is the audience-designed character drawn by Noguchi. The talk was enjoyable. I read a few stories in the book while waiting and enjoyed the ones by Kang and Noguchi; Bernard Chang's was disappointing because it concludes online somewhere. More pictures are online here.

101_4625 Jeff Yang, Jamie Noguchi, Keith Chow

101_4631 Jamie Noguchi, Jeff Yang

Julian Lytle who does the Ants webcomic shared my table, and multitasked by working on his strip:
101_4624 Julian Lytle

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Meet a Local Cartoonist: Michael Webster

 Michael Webster makes old-school comic books under the banner of 'New Future Comics.' While they'd be categorized as minicomics due to his distribution method, he does full-size comics and then self-distributes them to local newstands. Which is how Robert Crumb got started after all. I don't think he'd mind if I quoted from the e-mail he sent introducing himself after I bought a comic and tried to track him down - "I am the artist whose comic book, Hero Patrol,  you purchased at the One Stop News stand at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.  You can check out more of my work at News World located on K Street by the Farragut North subway entrance.  The books you will find there are Kasper the Prince of Power, The Undercover Unit and of course Hero Patrol.  I also have two novels out, Lime Life and The Story of a Man Called Adam which are also located at News World." Webster answered my usual questions a month ago.

Mike Rhode: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

Michael Webster: I basically do action comics that are based around the DC area. 

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I do traditional pen and ink but sometimes I use the computer to tweek my work  or add color.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

Born in the 60's and I am a proud Washingtonian

Why are you in Washington now?  What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I live in Maryland and work in the District of Columbia.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

I am a self-taught artist but influenced by many of the comic book illustrators.

Who are your influences?

One of my biggest influences was John Byrne.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I would have been more aggressive and focused in pursuing my goal.

What work are you best-known for?

My artwork and my novel Lime Life.

What work are you most proud of?


What would you like to do  or work on in the future?

One of my biggest dreams is to write a screenplay or see one of my comics come to life on the big screen.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I just stop for a moment, get something to eat or exercise until an idea comes.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

It is an expanding field and will always be around.

What's your favorite thing about DC?

The opportunities you can gain as a struggling artist or writer and it's my hometown.

Least favorite?

Nothing.  There are problems everywhere.

What monument or museum do you take most out-of-town guests to?


Favorite restaurant for same?

Georgia Brown's.

Do you have a website or blog?

Not as of yet, I am working on it.  But I do have a Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Why I don't read superhero comics anymore

I was looking at this article tonight:

Remender Prepares "Venom" for "Circle of Four", by Dave Richards, December 6th, 2011

and took a closer look at the image promoting it:

Every one of these characters is derivative of a pre-existing and still existing character, and to top it off, these are less pleasant versions. Marvel is now like 1955 DC which had a Superman, Supergirl, Batman, Batdog, Batwoman, Batgirl, Superhorse (Comet), Supercat (Streaky), etc, etc, except they might be murderers or psychopaths.

In this picture is Red Hulk - one of five current Hulks, I think (if you count Hulk's son Skaar) - two male and two female. Given that I thought it was the GREEN gamma radiation that gave the Hulk, She-Hulk, Leader, Abomination etc their powers, I have no idea what Red means.

Venom, was derived from Spider-Man, albeit around two looong decades ago. Spider-Man got a symbiotic black suit that had the same powers he had, and could look like any type of clothes he wanted. It turned evil of course. Venom's the one with the guns, because you know, a suit that can mimic Spider-Man's powers isn't enough. Recently every other person on Manhattan supposedly had Spider-Man's powers. Uh-huh -- they're that special. And another Spider-Man clone is about to be running around as the second Scarlet Spider.

X-23 is the third Wolverine derivative, although her own comic just got cancelled.

And Ghost Rider is a woman now? Who knows, but there's two predecessors there as well, and Johnny Blaze the first one of them is still floating around the Marvel universe. Perhaps like the new female Red Skull (the first one's daughter), someone finds something sexy about a faceless skull-headed woman? If so, I don't want to think about that any more.

DC's not any better either. Harking back to the 1950s, in Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. each country has a Batman, there's no longer just a Green Lantern Corps, but also a Red, Black, Indigo, Orange and Pink set, a multitude of Firestorms, and who knows how many relatives that Superman "the last son of Krypton" has floating around now... Unmentioned so far are Marvel's multiple versions of the Avengers (four teams I think) and the X-Men (also four maybe?).

I'm hearing The Who's New Song as a comic book soundtrack much too often these days.

This post from yesterday touches on another aspect of derivative superhero stories. I track these articles for my Comics Research Bibliography.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Best of Simon & Kirby (Titan Books) received for review

Today's mail brought The Best of Simon & Kirby (Titan Books) for review and I hope to have something up here soon.

They also sent me some Terminator movie books, and we may have a guest reviewer since these aren't comic-book based. Purist, I know, but one must draw the line at some point especially since I've got a lot of comics material that I've told people that I'd be reviewing (apologies if you're still waiting - I haven't forgotten).

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Zadzooks, superheroes and Watchmen at Washington Times

On superheroes is "EDGE: Saving the world ain't what it used to be," Peter Suderman, Washington Times Friday, March 6, 2009.

Zadzooks is still on toys - "Zadzooks: More from toy fair; Legions of action figures on parade," Joseph Szadkowski, Washington Times Thursday, March 5, 2009.

But his blog has a piece by someone who doesn't know anything about Watchmen or comics - "Remembering Watchmen," By Heidi Haynes, Washington Times Zadzooks Blog March 04 2009.

And finally, here's the paper's review - "MOVIES: 'Watchmen' leap into action," Sonny Bunch, Washington Times Thursday, March 5, 2009.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Post on the Unbearable Whiteness of Superbeings

See "What Color Is Your Superhero?" By Adam Serwer, Washington Post Sunday, March 8, 2009; B05. I'm afraid I'm not convinced, although if the demographics are changing I'm sure it's from movies about superheroes and not comic books.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

OT: Hembeck. Fred Hembeck

I was out tonight with some other comics-loving people and Fred Hembeck came up. Fred is one of the funniest people to ever 'do' superheroes (along with Don Rosa), but the other guys didn't know he was doing a column now at the LA Times Hero Complex blog. So here's links to the first three:

Fred Hembeck's Hero Complex: Captain America (Part 1)
Feb 1 2009

Fred Hembeck's Hero Complex: Captain America (Part 2)
Feb 8 2009

Fred Hembeck's Hero Complex: The Hulk (Part 1)
Feb 18 2009

Seek out his new collection now for more Silver Age greatness.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Final Crisis - a quick review

My buddy Robert Montgomery and I have been buying comics in DC since 1989 when we started working together and fell back into the hobby hard. Here's his thoughts on Final Crisis (which I have not read):

OK. I bought all 7 issues of Final Crisis and all I get at the end is a big HUH? Typical Morrison surrealism. Judy's right when he says DC should have gotten Geoff Johns to write it. What I think happened is: the Multiverse was re-established thanks to Superman; also, the New Gods are back. Is Darkseid? Dunno. Is the Martian Manhunter? I'd bet he is. Looks like we now will get a series of stories explaining how things have changed. Eh. It looks as if Morrison brought in a bit of stuff from the cross-overs. I know he brought in characters from the Superman cross-over (which must have been terribly confusing to those readers who didn't pick up that story and who were wondering where the vampire came from). All-in-all -- what a mess.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

OT: Superheroes Around the World Survey

To help further humanities research, I note that on the comix-scholars list there was... (the following is quoting Dr. Reinhard) discussion a couple weeks ago about the influence of American superheroes in different countries -- and to investigate how much anime/manga characters are seen as superheroes -- I created this survey in my spare time:

The goal of the survey is for people from around the world to tell us what they think a superhero is and what superheroes mean to them.

I would love your help in both filling out the questionnaire as well as distributing it far and wide to get as many different people from a range of different countries to take it. Please feel free to post the link anywhere you like, and refer any questions to me at my professional email address of

CarrieLynn D. Reinhard, PhD
Virtual Worlds Research
Roskilde University
Department of Communication, Business, and Information Technologies
Building 43.3
Kommunikationsvej 1
DK-4000 Roskilde

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New study on superheroine breast-size issued by DC thinktank

See "Study: Comic Book Superheroines 'Improbably Busty'," CAP News January 28 2009.* The same site is reporting on a new, grittier Dark Archie movie.

*this is satire, but Sequential Tart used to run a great column entitled 'Bizarre Breasts' by colorist Laura Dupuy.

Friday, August 01, 2008

September 10: The Physics of Superheroes at National Academy of Sciences

The Physics of Superheroes

Fall 2008 Season
Wednesday, September 10, 7:00 pm

Ever wondered how strong you would have to be to “leap a tall building in a single bound?” Was it the fall or the webbing that killed Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend in the classic Amazing Spider-Man #121? How does Kitty Pryde from the X-Men comics and movies use quantum mechanics to walk through walls? And who is really faster, Superman or the Flash? Join in the fun as we explore physics through comic book examples where the superheroes got their physics right!

James Kakalios, Ph.D., is a professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Physics and Astronomy. His research interests include amorphous semiconductors, pattern formation in sandpiles and fluctuation phenomena in neuroscience. He has been reading comic books longer than he has been studying physics. He is the author of The Physics of Superheroes and he knows the chemical composition of Captain America’s shield.

Thanks to Jeff Reznick for the tip!