mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Tricks of leverage. Paralyzing nerve centers. Conquer bullies!" 

Full ad

ad from Terrifying Tales #13 (June 1953)

Friday, November 16, 2007

phrasing my topic of discussion the way I did yesterday colored people's perceptions a tad. Well, Kid Chris did phrase it (facetiously, I re-emphasize) "Was Jack Kirby the Rob Liefeld of the '70s?" which got me to thinking along the lines that I did. I didn't mean to imply a one-to-one match between Kirby's and Liefeld's output and careers. Mostly I was curious as to how Kirby's reputation was perceived in the '70s, when he was putting out a large amount of peculiar, non-traditional books in what might have been seen as outdated storytelling and art techniques by fans at the time. The line of thought, caused by the Kid's question, was that "people don't like Liefeld's work now, people didn't like Kirby's work then -- does KC's statement have a grain of truth, even if in the most general of interpretations?"

And I'd like to thank you all for your thoughtful comments, debating the topic, quite rightly pointing out where the Liefeld/Kirby analogy falls apart, etc., and not calling me a prick for even bringing it up.

There's one more thing I'd like to emphasize, however...I mentioned in my post (and other folks mentioned as well) that even Kirby's throwaway, lesser, "bad" creations are more worthy and memorable than many other people's funnybook efforts.

To wit: I now drop the "Paranex, the Fighting Fetus" bomb from Captain Victory #7 (Oct. '82):

Yes, I know there's no shortage of focus on the fightin'-est fetus of them all, but that's the point. Long after the Marvel Zombies have shuffled off this mortal coil, long after all the "permanent" changes wrought by the Civil Wars and Final Crises have been rolled back, long after Ultimate Hulk Vs. Wolverine #3 comes out, there will still be people talking about "Paranex, the Fighting Fetus."

To think that there are people in the comics industry who have never created anything that even comes close to the greatness of the Fighting Fetus -- perhaps, arguably, one of the least of Kirby's countless creations. That certainly puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

A little something that annoyed me:

So I'm checking the Google news, and I see a headline about Heroes' Hayden Panettiere having a warrant out for her arrest in Japan for "violently clash[ing] with Japanese fishermen in October as she tried to save hundreds of dolphins from slaughter."

And there's a photo of her with that article standing there on the beachside, with other protesters. And in the comments section for that article, someone says this:

"Does that wetsuit make her look fat or what?"

Go look at the photo. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Now would you agree that's a pretty loose definition of the word "fat" at work there? "Fat" as in "a fit, healthy-looking 18 year old woman, not anorexic like this commenter apparently believes is the physical ideal."

"Anonymous person says something really stupid and hateful on the internet." STOP THE PRESSES.


Yeah, I know, "the tree just needed some love, Charlie Brown."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Youngblood and Devil Dinosaur have in common. 

So I lied...instead of posting it in the comments section, I'll tell you right here that of the quotes I posted yesterday, the one Kid Chris dared utter in my presence was "Jack Kirby was the Rob Liefeld of the '70s."

That punk kid was just saying that to get a rise out of me, but let's think about it for a second.

Now I was too young to be involved in comics fandom through the early and mid-'70s. Most of my knowledge of fandom of the time comes from my extensive collection of comics fanzines from that period. But my general feeling was that, as Kirby's '70s work was actually coming out, that there was some portion of fandom that wasn't terribly impressed with his output. They looked at stuff like Devil Dinosaur and 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondered "what the hell is Kirby doing?" In particular, it seems to me that Devil Dinosaur was something of an industry joke for a while.

Okay, we look back on that stuff now and we can appreciate it for what it was. I don't know if it took us 30 years to catch up to what Kirby was doing, or if it's just nostalgic fondness for the comics of yore, or if it's "ironic" appreciation, or just admiration for Kirby's energy in producing just pure "comic-booky"-type comics with no pretense at being anything other than what they were: escapist entertainment for kids. And I'm sure part of it is an unwillingness to take any portion of Kirby's output for granted, since, obviously, there ain't no more comin'.

In the '70s, however, it seemed that criticism of Kirby came a little more freely and easily...mockery of his unnatural dialogue (with "extensive" use of "quotation marks"), his distorted anatomy, oddball plots, etc. You know, some of the criticisms leveled at Liefeld's work today.

The comparison to Liefeld is obviously not exact, since Kirby was doing good work through the '70s, work that stands up even without the help of nostalgic fog or ironic distance. Material that, even with Kirby's particular quirks, still holds together, like his Fourth World material or The Demon. And folks today can find value even in the comics that fandom mostly rejected at the time, for the reasons I stated above. Basically, Kirby's work still maintained a level of creativity, talent, and professionalism, as opposed to Liefeld's material: I can't think of anything Liefeld wrote or drew that, 30 years from now, anyone's going to look back on and think anything aside from "well, if they hadn't printed 500,000 copies of Youngblood #1, maybe we'd still have trees today."

If any of you folks with a few more annular rings than I have happen to have first hand memories of that period, maybe you can set me straight on just how Kirby was perceived at the time. Did '70s fans think Kirby was past his prime, cranking out uninteresting, subpar work? Did they think he still had his moments, but some serious clunkers, too? Or was he still "The King," presenting brilliance on the printed page?

I'm sure the answer is "all three, and more besides" but still, please share your own perspective in the comments section.

We received on Wednesday boxes of the newest Star Trek card set ("The Complete Star Trek Movie Cards") along with a Trek Movies card album (which was a customer's special order). I don't know how familiar you all are with the modern series-specific non-sport card albums, but a lot of times the binders come with bonus cards. Sometimes just promo cards, sometimes exclusive autograph cards. This particular album came with both, and featured on the autograph card?


I totally did not realize that Ferrer was even in Star Trek III (as a member of the Excelsior's bridge crew). I didn't get a chance to scan the card, but that still I just grabbed from my DVD approximates the card's image.

So anyway, it was indeed a Miguel Ferrer autograph card. How cool is that? Wait, I'll tell you...very, very cool indeed. Don't deny it.

On a related note, we were discussing the casting of Simon Pegg as "Scotty" in this forthcoming Star Trek movie, and I mentioned that it seemed like a waste to use Pegg for the whole 10 minutes of screentime Scotty is probably going to get. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, but not a whole lot.

But then I figured...look, you got a Simon Pegg in your film, you might as well take full advantage of him. So I think the film should be retooled so that it's all about Scotty, and how he has to put up with the new, untested captain and the other shipboard newbies. "My poor bairns, they canna take much more...what is that damn fool captain up to?" Just let Pegg go crazy for an hour and a half.

...Okay, maybe not. But you'd watch it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mike's New Comics Day Lunchtime Update 3005. 

OVERHEARD AT THE SHOP: Which of these three statements, actually overheard at our store, was said by former employee and man-about-town, the world famous Kid Chris?
  • "If Lost Girls was done by someone who could draw, they'd be arrested."

  • "Jack Kirby was the Rob Liefeld of the '70s."

  • "Smallville? That show's for girls!"

Answer in the comments section for this post later today. Or tomorrow. Whenever.

As I Twitted this morning (and as Carla from our retail neighbors up north also Twitted), we were shorted on our orders for the long-awaited League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier hardcover. We received some copies, but not nearly enough to cover the customer pulls. We were shorted many, many things this week, but we can live with most of those shortages. But this book...feh. Very annoying.

Well, I pulled a copy aside for pal Dorian. Maybe I can crack open his copy and read it. I'm sure he'll never notice.

Ladies and gentlemen...a tribute to nearly forgotten Superman cast member Steve Lombard.

And yes, my statement from a couple days ago, that Lombard has been missing from the Superman books for twenty years wasn't entirely correct. I keep forgetting that he's in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman. And, speaking of which, Lombard fans, he's in the newest issue of that book, out today.

This is not the porn I requested. 

Something I've been kinda thinking about over the last couple of days is comics sales charts...no, no, come back, I'm not gonna be doing any analysis on current direct market numbers and their validity or lack thereof. I was just sorta pondering them in more general terms.

A couple days ago I was looking at a Top 50 chart for, I think, this past August, and it seemed like the entire list was this: "Hulk Event Book, X-Men, X-Men, Licensed Book, Avengers, Avengers, Countdown, Countdown, Countdown, X-Men, Avengers, X-Men, Hulk Event Book" and so on. Basically, a lot of sameness...primarily from publishers releasing multiple books that are all event tie-ins or featuring characters from the same franchise pools.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not too much of one. But it got me to think back to the "Top 100" lists Amazing Heroes used to run in their back pages in the mid-'80s. So, I whipped out my copy of Amazing Heroes #53 (the August 15th, 1984 issue) and thought I'd take a look. AH's lists, by the way, were based on actual sales from reporting stores, and not just initial orders by retailers.

The first thing I noticed is Marvel's domination of the top slots. I don't intend to reprint the entire list, but here's at least the top ten:

1. Secret Wars #4
2. X-Men #184
3. New Teen Titans #1
4. New Mutants #18
5. Alpha Flight #13
6. Tales of the New Teen Titans #45
7. Amazing Spider-Man #255
8. Fantastic Four #269
9. Thor #346
10. Power Pack #1

Only two DCs in the top ten, which were essentially the same title. And the only other DC in the top twenty is Camelot 3000 #11 at slot #12.

Which brings up the second thing I noticed. Here are the DCs on the list past the top twenty:

25. Vigilante #9
27. Batman and the Outsiders #13
30. Star Trek #7
31. Sun Devils #1
35. Blue Devil #2
37. Fury of Firestorm #26
38. Atari Force #8
43. Warlord #84
44. Justice League of America #229
48. Batman #374
49. Saga of the Swamp Thing #27
53. Green Lantern #179
56. DC Comics Presents #72
58. Flash #336
60. Arak #36
62. Superman #398
64. New Talent Showcase #8
68. Supergirl #22
71. Wonder Woman #318
79. Sgt. Rock Annual #9
81. Sgt. Rock #391
82. Blue Ribbon Special #10

(No Action or Detective on this list, but judging from other AH Top 100 lists, they don't fare better than their sister titles.)

What strikes me about DC's entries is that the traditional titles, the ones that have been around since the Golden and Silver ages, are far lower on the list. You don't get to any of DC's mainstays 'til JLA at #44. I mean, Warlord, even as late in the series as it was, long past the Mike Grell heyday, was DC's 11th highest selling book for the month. Go figure.

I imagine newsstand sales on the "name" books, like Superman or Batman, were much higher than these charts would indicate. But, if I recall the state of things at the time properly, the older books were seen as stodgy and uninspired (fairly or unfairly), while there was more interest in titles that were slightly edgier and slightly more experimental. And by "slightly," I mean "very slightly" -- Vigilante was a superhero book that was just a hair more racy than its Comics Code-approved cousins, and Batman and the Outsiders...wha...? Batman...the dark avenger of the night...leading a super team? (But that may have been riding the success of New Teen Titans, as fans wanted to get in on the ground floor of DC's Next Big Team Book That's Sorta Like X-Men. The nice Jim Aparo art didn't hurt, either.)

What does surprise me is the good showing of Atari Force, which was a critically-acclaimed comic, and rightfully so (just plain good ol' fashioned space opera, with wonderful Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez art), but my memory was that the very title of the book was a hinderance to its acceptance. Kinda like trying to convince people now that Steve Gerber's Howard the Duck is actually good, when all they can remember is the movie. Trying to convince people that, yes, this comic book inspired by a video game company is actually very, very good was an uphill battle. Still is, frankly.

Where DC's older titles suffered in the direct market, Marvel's tended to flourish, with the lowest of their mainline titles being Incredible Hulk #298 at 34. Well, unless you wanted to count Conan the Barbarian#161 at 40, or the Spider-Man reprint book Marvel Tales #166 at 61 (where it outsold Superman, Supergirl, Sgt. Rock, and Wonder Woman).

The high-ranking Marvel titles that surprise me are Alien Legion #2 at slot 16 (I forgot how popular this title once was), and Rom...Rom...freakin' Rom #57 at position 18. Rom outsold Captain America (at 29) and Dr. Strange (at 22), and all but 3 DC titles. Such is the power of Rom.

Highest ranking indie title on the list is Grimjack #1 at position 21, followed by American Flagg! #11 at 28.

Bottom 10 entries of the list are the Whitman Disney/Warner Brothers titles. And, because you're gonna ask, Dazzler issue #33 ties at position #41 with Indiana Jones #20.

Overall, though, comparing this top 100 list to the modern top 50 list, there's just more variety...okay, the old list is mostly dominated by superheroes, too, but at least it was a lot of different superhero books, and not just fourteen variations on the X-Men. A small comfort, I realize, but it amuses me to see that, at one point, Dazzler could outsell half of DC's output, and something as goofy-ass as Rom could securely occupy the Top Twenty.

It was a different world, wasn't it?

In other news:

  • There've been some shenanigans and goings-on in regards to the forthcoming Star Trek movie.

    First, Harlan Ellison ain't happy that the leaked plot features elements created by him for his one script for the original series.

    Second, some pics got out of Heroes' Zachary Quinto in costume as Spock. Take a look before the cease 'n' desists start flying.

  • Marvel has just started a subscription service for an online library of digitized comics, which, while I'm tempted by the access to the Golden Age books, I'm just still not used to reading traditional funnybooks on a computer screen. I'm too old, too set in my ways, too used to thumbing through dead trees. GO TO BED, OLD MAN.

    I'd be more tempted by an online DC library, but I'd bet Paul Levitz still wouldn't kick down any Sugar and Spike, the big meanie.

  • Sweet Mother McCrea, we're getting a lot in from Diamond this week. Do us a favor (or maybe your local store a favor)...BUY LOTS OF STUFF. SPEND EVERY PENNY.

    Of note:

    Mike Baron's Badger finally returns in Badger: Bull, a one-shot story reintroducing the character to everyone, since this is the character's first appearance since that Image series nobody but me read. Not sure that I need a regular diet of Badger, but it'll be nice to see the character again.

    Batman and the Outsiders #1 - a comic that had been building some buzz, until the creative team changed and now, suddenly, no one's interested. Was it just us?

    Gene Simmons' Zipper #1 - Well, you can't fault 'em on the titles, at least. Hopefully it'll sell better than Gene Simmons' Dominatrix (i.e. "at all").

    Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan 25th Anniversary Kirk and Khan Action Figure Assortment - Don't look at me like that. Dude...Khan action figure. KHAAAAAAN!!!

    Scott Pilgrim volume 4 - Some of you people are really, really excited about this.

    All Star Superman #9 - The newest installment of the second best All Star book.

    World War Hulk #5 - YES, IT'S FINALLY OUT, STOP ASKING ME. Hey, a Marvel event book that was actually readable...it's been a while. Here's hoping they don't botch the ending, but since we already know it's "spin-off ahoy!" I think we know the answer to that.

    Captain Carrot and the Final Ark #2 - I thought the first issue was okay, but it didn't sell worth beans. Ah, well.

    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier hardcover - Crunching some numbers at the shop on Tuesday...I think the employees are going to have to forego their copies 'til the reorder comes in, since we're gonna need them for subscribers and the shelves. Sorry, Aaron and Jeff! And me. Sigh. Thought I had enough coming in, but I guess not.

    Plus, here are some annotations for the Black Dossier for all those things you weren't smart enough to get.

    Amory Wars #4 - So that guy that's been calling us every week for this comic? Bet he doesn't call now that it's in.

  • The Geek Phrasebook - For your translating Fandom-to-English needs. Add your own!

  • THIS IS NOT THE PORN I REQUESTED. (NSFW, maybe, if your boss is uptight.)

  • And because only one person demanded it...Deadman possessing Swamp Thing's body:

    from Challengers of the Unknown #85 (Feb/Mar 1978)
    by Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, and John Celardo

    You see, Deadman had to enter Swamp Thing's body so he could accompany the Challs on their trip in Rip Hunter's Time Sphere to the year 12,000,000 AD. So surely you can see the logic in that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you ever needed to read a comic where Swamp Thing breaks up a fight between the Challengers of the Unknown's Rocky and a Deadman-possessed Ryan... 

...then the only comic you need is Challengers of the Unknown #85 (Feb/Mar 1978) by Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, and John Celardo:

This has been a Progressive Ruin public service announcement.

This doesn't strike me as being terribly dignified. 

ad from 1977 DC Comics

Monday, November 12, 2007

It's "Nathan Warbow," of course. 

Another book we received in that sci-fi book collection was this one, the Official Superman Quiz Book from 1978. You can indeed "test your Superman savvy" with the enormous amount of questions therein, though it primarily tests your pre-Crisis Superman knowledge. Some questions refer to aspects of Superman's history that have pretty much remained unchanged over the years; for example: "How does Jimmy Olsen summon Superman's help?"

But then again, how do you answer this today, given current Superman continuity? "True or False: Superboy and Lex Luthor were once best friends as youths growing up in Smallville." Well, even if you read "Superboy" as "Clark Kent" (since the original concept of Superboy no longer exists in current continuity), I don't know that DC is even clear on how that stands now. Post-Crisis Luthor went from being Perry White's childhood friend during the depression to being within three or four years of being a contemporary of Clark's in Smallville.

Some questions are very specific to '70s Superman continuity, such as the variety of neighbors Clark had in his apartment building (at 344 Clinton, in case you were wondering):

"Which one of Clark's neighbors is a pure-bred Apache Indian who works as an industrial engineer?"

And then there are the questions specific to that brief period of time when Clark Kent was a television reporter/newscaster:

"What is Clark's familiar sign-off on his news broadcast?"

The answer to that one (according to this book...don't remember it myself) at the end of this post.

Some questions are just kinda weird:

"True or False: Superman never cries."

Some are fantastic:

"Recite the Bizarro Code."

And this question just depressed me:

"What is the name of the overbearing sportscaster who delights in poking fun at Clark?"

...if only because it reminded me that, aside from a namedrop once or twice, Clark's personal nemesis Steve Lombard has been missing from the Superman books for well over twenty years. I kinda miss him.

Speaking of depressing, from the TV show section:

"What ironic fate befell the actor who portrayed Superman?"

Gee, thanks a lot for throwing George Reeves' suicide into my innocent Superman trivia book, Captain Bring-Down.

And what was it with DC putting all their black people on islands?

"What island was inhabited by [Krypton's] highly-developed black race?"

Tyroc in the Legion of Super-Heroes was from future Earth's Island of the Black People, too, you know.

And if you know this:

"At what precise time of day did the planet Krypton explode?"

...really, you need to get out more.

And sometimes, just sometimes, a question will remind you of the greatness of the Silver Age:
"What is the name of the weird jewel that transported Jimmy back in time and into the roles of his reincarnated selves of Marco Polo and Spartacus?"

I believe that would be the Totally Awesome Jewel, sir.

And now, Dan Rather with the answer to Clark's TV newscast sign-off:

"A rocketing, sensational exposé of sin in space." 

Just in case you were wondering where this week's corner box icon came from...well, we acquired an enormous collection of science fiction novels, spanning several decades, and this was one of them:

Isn't that fantastic? Dig the back cover synopsis:

This novel, written by Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril under the pseudonym of "Cyril Judd," originally came out with the title Outpost Mars. The publisher of Sin in Space, Beacon Press, was known for occasionally "sexing" up the generally non-salacious books to improve sales. Sex sells...who knew?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

You realize that Gabe Kaplan can buy and sell all of us many times over. 

Employee Aaron: "So, Mike, did you hear the rumor that Sam Raimi was offered The Hobbit movie? Imagine having to choose between that and the next Spider-Man film."

Me: "Why choose? He can do both."

Employee Aaron: "Both?"

Me: "Sure...Spidey can finally fight Mysterio in the next film (played by Bruce Campbell, natch) and in order to get ol' webhead off his back, Mysterio uses his illusion casting powers to put Spider-Man in The Hobbit's story!"

Employee Aaron: "Um..."

Me: "Spider-Man would be in the part of Bilbo Baggins, and he'd have to act his way through the entire journey...you know, shooting goblins with his webbing, using his Spider-sense to evade Smaug's fire-breath, and so on. It might get a bit tricky with the whole Gollum riddle thing...does Spidey's costume have pockets? I don't remember."

Employee Aaron: "You were dropped on your head a lot as a kid, weren't you?"

Yes, I know the Raimi/Hobbit thing is old news. And no, at no time did I actually say "ol' webhead."

I did, however, say at one point "I'll give you a dollar if you'll eat that." Pal Dorian kicked in another two dollars. Three whole bucks for eating it, and still Employee Aaron wouldn't do it. Hey, his loss.

"Eat what?" you ask? Well, why don't you take your best guess and I'll see if anyone comes close.

So I don't know if you checked out the relaunched Mystery Science Theatre 3000 website, but its first animated cartoon starring the 'bots is...well, I like the designs of the characters, anyway. Crow's new voice is fine, Servo's is kinda all over the map. It's a shame the cartoon isn't funny in the slightest. And, alas, I don't have access to a computer that can play the mst3k.com-hosted Flash file for the cartoon without stuttering, so I had to resort to finding this soon-to-be-removed Youtube version.

Perhaps things will improve. The overall design is nice, now that they've fixed their initial resolution problems (some text was getting cropped off for some folks), and maybe after they work the kinks out, the cartoons may improve to "slightly amusing." It's just a shame that the mst3k.com site doesn't appear to be doing what MST3K is essentially best-known for...riffing on bad movies. Ah, well.

And, in the Ouroboros department, we have a DIY-Rifftrax riffing of the first MST3K.com cartoon.

We never got a Jack Kirby Swamp Thing, as I mentioned the other day, but the Fractal Hall Journal does his best to fill the void (and throws in a tribute to Chris Sims' recent tribulations). Well done, sir.

And now, for no good reason, my favorite Mad Magazine panel of all time...why Mr. Kotter must not graduate the Sweathogs (AKA the "Sweatslobs") at all costs...in order to prevent this reign of terror:

from Mad #189 (March 1977) - art by Angelo Torres

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