Friday, September 30, 2011

A Post on the Poster

By the poster, I can mean only this:

Sigh. Fantastic, right? But since Adirondack ComicFest was cancelled, one might wonder where and if it might be possible to obtain Matt Busch's remarkable artifact of movie memorabilia. Rest assured, the poster is available. Don't try to buy it on Ebay, Craigslist, or anywhere, however, but here!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest pt. 1 - Review and Spoilers

I'll give this review more of a preamble than this story gets. If you are familiar with Abe Sapien, BPRD, or anything else Hellboy- related, you should enjoy this issue. And the more immersed in it you are, the more you'll like it. However, if you go into this not even knowing why Abe's got gills, you might be a little at sea. There is no recap, no introduction. Thankfully, all the details the story requires are- courtesy of John Arcudi and, as expected, Mike Mignola- woven skillfully enough throughout that even new readers can extrapolate what they need to know without the benefit of a recap page.

Rather, upon opening the book, we see the end- and what we might well believe is the end of our favorite semiaquatic supernatural sleuth if it didn't say "1 of 2" conveniently on the cover. The remainder tells in flashback how our hero got into this perilous predicament and introduces us to the Van Laers, a family with a very- shall we say- fishy history. My only quibble (and it isn't really a complaint) is that- at twenty two pages, most of which have no more than two sentences of dialogue or narration- the book is pretty light reading by my standards. Then again, I tend to prefer comic book writing that's more substantial and literary (you could say wordier) than just the plot and layout. I like it best when the comics I read invite me to linger over the words on the paper as well as the pencils, inks, and colors.

That being said, though I finished this book in probably a third of the time it takes me to read other favorite comics with similar page counts, the pencils, inks, and colors kept me engaged for two  reareadings- at the very least. The pencils and inks by James Harren run the gamut from pretty loose to excruciatingly detailed, but always when appropriate. The fight scenes which made up most of the book rose to the occasion. The colors by Dave Stewart  convey the mood of each panel perfectly, sometimes taking on an almost painterly look that I found distinctive and refreshing. I absolutely love how the cover by Dave Johnson evokes the best of old movie posters. But the main reason I will be reading the next issue is the first page, both the book's beginning and its cliffhanger ending. I have to see how Abe gets out of this!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit

I've got no witty subtitle for this entry. No bad puns. Nothing to soften the blow.

Ryan Halligan, Kristina Calco, Tyler Clementi, April Himes, Jared High, Phoebe Prince, Brandon Swartwood, Desire Dryer, Austin Murphy, Corinne Wilson, Jeffrey Johnston, Cassie Gielecki, Eric Mohat, Megan Meier, Carl Walker-Hoover, Alexis Pilkington... and now Jamey Rodemeyer... make up only a portion of a tragically long list of people who have died- I must emphasize DIED- as a result of being bullied.

When examining the research, it's easy to see how bullying, far from "harmless fun" as some bullies would try to rationalize it, can kill. A study released by the US National Institute of Health cites a high risk for personality disorders as well as high risk behaviors like substance abuse and other criminal behavior among bullies. Those being bullied are more likely to suffer from social or generalized anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, a variety of physical ailments associated with stress, and depression. And it concludes that bullying is associated with "multiple health, safety, and educational hazards" for both bullies and victims, citing a high risk of death from "self-inflicted, accidental, or perpetuated injuries," and the affects of bullying, both physical and psychological, can linger for years.

Even people who witness bullying are at higher risk of suffering adverse mental health effects.

The message for bullies is clear, even without the increasing attempts to further criminalize bullying and give more legal recourse to victims or- as the case too often is- their surviving families. Stop it now! Even if you don't care about your victims or anyone else, stop it at least for your own good and get help.

As for those who have been bullied, as proven by Jamey Rodemeyer's death, we have a lot more work to do than sing upbeat songs and make feel-good videos. The sad truth, as I'm sure I've said before, is that bullying doesn't just go away. It doesn't get better on its own. We have to make it better.

One way to do that, in my opinion, is to do away with describing bullying by its targets. When we treat gay bullying, race bullying, et cetera as if they are separate and unrelated problems, we're divided and conquerable. Regardless of what the excuse, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or just being an oddball, bullying is bullying is bullying. We're in this together, and that's how we'll best overcome bullying.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smart Alex on the Road: More to Con-sider

Adirondack ComicFest, which was scheduled to take place Veterans' Day Weekend in Old Forge, New York, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, alternate Veterans' Day activities are in the process of being scheduled for some of the guests who had been originally slated to attend. More on that later...

Meanwhile, Detroit Fanfare is just around the corner, slated for September 24-25 at the Cobo Conference and Exhibition Center. Setting this convention apart from the rest is the presentation of The Shel Dorf Awards, previous winners of which include Carl Lundgren, Marvin Giles, Greg Theakston, and Stan Lee. The events include some of the usual costume contests, auctions, and raffles, but also an art contest and Shots for Sketches in which some of the pros attending will draw to raise money for charity. Most importantly, the Detroit Chapter of the American Red Cross will be on hand to accept donations- financial or, if you can handle a needle and spare a clean pint, hemolitic. Guests also include many illustrious sorts like Larry Hama, Tom Orzechowski, Billy Tucci, and perhaps literally hundreds more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero and Beyond

September 11, 2001 tested American mettle like nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor or even since the Civil War. Everyone with a television could see the gravity, the scope of need so suddenly thrust upon those directly affected, and the rush from all over the nation or even the world to help made me dare hope our society would emerge from the ashes permanently transformed, and for the better.

The comic book industry responded by churning out no less than six books to support a variety of charities, all but one of them anthologies that represented the cumulative efforts of hundreds of creators. Dark Horse, Image, and Chaos! brought us 9-11: Artists Respond, Volume 1. DC published the second volume, with proceeds from both to go to the World Trade Center Relief Fund, the Twin Towers Fund, the September 11 Fund, and Survivors Fund. Marvel gave us Heroes and A Moment of Silence to benefit the Twin Towers Fund. Alternative Comics put forth 9-11: Emergency Relief and Joe Linsner did I Love New York Benefit Book to support the American Red Cross.

Just after the tenth anniversary of 9-11, it seems that most Americans haven't suffered from 9-11 beyond holdups at airports. If they even talk about the ongoing war that's resulted, it's to complain about how long it's taking and how much money it's costing. A lot of charities established in memory of 9-11 victims or to support those still suffering as a result of 9-11 have even closed their doors, including most of the ones the aforementioned books have supported.

Yet the need continues. Men and women who've worked rescue and recovery missions at Ground Zero are coming down with cancer at alarming rates. Fire departments all over have to step up training on reporting or responding to terrorist incidents and how to avoid being attacked themselves. Most of our nation's fire departments, like that of Shanksville, Pennsylvania are staffed by volunteers and get by with help from their communities, from donations, and sometimes even from charging their members dues. Even bigger fire departments that can afford paid personel cannot afford to meet all the needs their personel and the communities they serve may have. Too many firefighters still have to make do with old equipment and radios that too often prove ineffective. And as recently happened, when first responders are injured or sickened in the line of duty and ask for help with their medical bills, even if they take the matter all the way up to the federal government, they're too often out of luck.

Still, those who can run often keep at it and keep putting their lives on the line for us. Some of them still fall in the line of duty. Mercifully, many organizations remain to help out our firefighters, EMT's, police officers, and their families in their times of need. The comic book industry has not forgotten them either.

Heroes Fallen Studios, which brought us Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan to support veterans and their families, is also directing their attention to our heroes on the home front. Work has already started on Untold Stories from Ground Zero and Beyond to benefit the law enforcement, fire, and emergency services of New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville. The stories come from all over and, rather than just rehash the attacks, focus also on how people have chosen to remember, how lives were changed, and how people have coped over the years. Those confirmed to be working on this book include some familiar folks from all over the industry who worked on Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan such as Peter Palmiotti, Richard O'Hara, Tom Orzechowski and Valerie Finnigan. Other notable volunteers include Paty Cockrum, who, besides having worked in the Marvel bullpen of old, also served as a volunteer firefighter in upstate New York. I will help provide updates as the work progresses. Until then, here's a reminder- just because ten years have gone by doesn't mean people aren't affected, aren't still hurting, and don't still need help. We still need to do all we can, especially to honor those who'd given all for us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Uncanny X-Force 15: Review and Spoilers

So Archangel's evil plans are well under weigh. A town in Montana has been completely wiped out, the stage set there for he and his minions to restart evolution and for Jerome OpeƱa to really show off. Besides the impressive artwork, I found quite a bit more to enjoy. I found Deathlok interesting for the first time ever- even though I generally don't like it when characters happen to save the day by going all murderous psychopathic all over people. Of course this means I find the very existence of a kill squad among the X-Men disagreeable- even repugnant in less capable hands. Rick Remender continues to show the characters still have consciences that are somewhat functional. I look forward to seeing where this will go, and how it will lead to the big lineup changes in the upcoming months.

That also ended up being one of the drawbacks. Despite cramming thirty million years of surreal alternate evolutionary history in one book, the plot moved a bit more slowly than I would have liked. And one line had me wondering when Fantomex started listening to Danzig.

But enough about that. Onto the real reason I bought this book. I'm partial to extras, though I believe the tenth anniversary of 9-11 warrants more than a reprinted short story in the back of Uncanny X-Force, which perhaps isn't the most appropriate book to have a 9-11 tribute in the back. I'll go into that more in my next "Comics for Causes" entry but I digress.

Marvel Comics first released A Moment of Silence in the fall of 2001 to support the Twin Towers Fund. This collection of four short stories details a few different perspectives on 9-11 silently, as the title suggests, with no dialogue or caption boxes to get in the way of what we're supposed to see. "Moment of Truth," by Bill Jemas, Scott Hanna, and Mark Bagley, with Hi-Fi on colorist duty and lettering by Sharpefont's PT could be effective either way. But all we need to know about Tony Savas, a true hero of the Port Authority as well as of this story, is written in an introductory panel and a two sentence epilogue. The art tells the rest of the story clearly, and the pacing is perfect, building up to the point when he made a decision that sealed his fate- and probably helped save countless lives. This extra brought a lump to my throat, brought to mind how heroes are supposed to be written better than too much fiction these days, and proved to be a poignant highlight to my reading experience.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tales from the Long Box: X-Men Age of Apocalypse

I always had a pretty jaundiced view on grading comics, my opinion being that comics are meant to be read, good comics are meant to be re-read, and the best comics get better with age and with re-reading. A poster can accomplish the same thing as a graded comic- look pretty hanging on a wall- at a much lower cost. That being said, there are worse things that can happen to old comics, like wasting an increasingly pointless existence languishing unread in a long box. So every so often, I open up a long box and read what I pull out.

In light of the Age of Apocalypse's big anniverssary, Uncanny X-Force's recent adventures in that reality, and speculation that characters from AoA will appear in the mainstream X-books, perhaps permanently joining one of their rosters, I decided to take a trip down dystopian memory lane.

It was a trip well worth taking. I remember how the art, even at its worst, caught my eye. Even when the fight scenes looked cluttered and confusing, or the perspective was off, the art was still very sharp and vibrant. The biggest draw, however, were the characterizations. I figure the only misstep was with Juggernaut in X-Calibre 1-3, not because it would be so far-fetched for a completely different, alternate reality version of the character to become a monk. Rather, I felt it implausible that an ostensibly Catholic monk would feel conflicted to the point of giving himself a lethal aneurism over taking up arms to defend the innocent.

While I absolutely love Morph in the comic books, I felt that his over-the-top brand of comic relief wasn't always a good fit in the AoA universe. Even so, it proved again impossible for me not to like the guy. One character who I like upon rereading that I didn't like at all at first was Blink. I always did like the AoA take on Cyclops, but in light of the way he was written for the past couple of years in Uncanny X-Men, I enjoy reading the conflicted "lawful evil" he was in AoA even more now.

Overall, I think most of the Age of Apocalypse books stood the test of time well. My opinion on them has improved upon rereading and probably will even more with future rereadings.