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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009
Wally Wood's refusal of celebration offers a magnificent statement on the potential of the comics medium.

Perhaps more so than any other artist, Wally Wood has come to symbolize the frustrated genius of comics, bowdlerized and ultimately defeated by mass medium publication. What could his lasting contribution have been if the comics industry of the ‘50s had been primed for creator-ownership like the industry of the ‘90s? Or more to the point, what innovations might the creator of Daredevil’s red suit have given audiences, had he found that acknowledgement he sought from Marvel and DC and gone on to work with classic superheroes?


While Wally Wood’s will always remain as visionary inventor of the ‘32 Panels That Always Work’, the lack of his fuller impact on established superhero characters is sorely lamented. Perhaps the happiest time of his productive life was to be had at the carefree studios of MAD Magazine. Despite his frustration by mass-media corporations Wood’s genius deserves to be recognized, even celebrated.


In an example of his work from that period, Wood pens the closing panels to ‘Flesh Garden’ a parody of Flash Gordon. In an unexpected twist readers discover that Flesh did not return to earth. Instead, he chose to remain on Planet Ming. Once Dale exits, the rocketship is empty.


Wood’s empty rocketship provides a strange and unwitting reply to compliment made by the visionary Will Eisner. Speaking to Frank Miller in their book-length conversation, Eisner/Miller, Eisner appraises Wood as, ‘Wally was a genius. In 1950, he did spaceship interiors that were valid in 1980! I mean thirty years ahead of his time!’.


With ‘Flesh Garden’ Wood presents his audience with an alternative recognition; the idea of potential. Just as the empty rocketship is an exhortation to venture beyond the planet, Wood’s refusal to draw a (no doubt genius) interior reminds readers that like science fiction, comics is ultimately germinal of the world we deserve.


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Tuesday, Jul 21, 2009
Ultimates writer Mark Millar, and artist Bryan Hitch present a compelling argument for the superhero genre being the thematic successor the western, and at the same time tap the elation and exhilaration of spaceflight.

In ‘Grand Theft America’, the final volume of the seminal Millar/Hitch run on Ultimates, the chips are down one last time. America has been overrun by super-powered terrorists and the Ultimates, the first line of defense seem down for the count. With Captain America and Thor incarcerated, Hawkeye tortured, and Black Widow revealed as a traitor, the odds seem stacked against the cadre of superheroes.


Unexpectedly, it is Tony Stark’s Iron Man, drunk and held at gunpoint by the Black Widow, who is first to turn the tide in America’s favor. Escaping capture he dons the earliest model of the Iron Man armor. In another twist, he does not engage the enemy directly; instead he flies towards Stark Space Station, there to activate the most advanced Iron Man to date.


With the theme of self-rescue, Millar provides a cogent argument for the superhero genre being a thematic successor to the western. In westerns the cavalry arriving was a sign of heroes being reintegrated into society, coming home from the frontier. But what happens when society is everywhere, and society itself is being threatened? In this way, superheroes always perform a self-rescue before rescuing others.


Millar’s genius however is to associate the theme of self-rescue with exhilaration of spaceflight. As the view of the Manhattan skyline recedes, eventually replaced with a view of the Eastern Seaboard from the troposphere, Millar and Hitch present their audience with a clear and concise logic. That performing a superhero-style self-rescue for our entire species, is as simple as entering into orbit.


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Monday, Jul 20, 2009
Things should never have gotten this bad

No longer catatonic after prolonged exposure to the rigors of deep space isolation, Venture Flight Commander John Cost surveys the impact of his disappearance on the Kennedy Space Center. It wasn’t supposed to be this bad. KSC is blasted, its amenities now support a growing refugee camp. Somewhere in the wake of having disappeared along with his shuttle and its entire crew, Cost returns to find not only the landscape, but the dream of spaceflight destroyed. Yet Cost returns with wondrous news, he and the crew of the Venture have made first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The Venture itself has been retrofitted with science-fictional technologies that allow for super-lightspeed exploration of the galaxy. And he has returned to Earth to ensure humanity takes a permanent step into space. Yet Cost now confronts a humanity that has forgotten how to look up.


In a moving Foreword, writer Warren Ellis sets out the project of Orbiter. ‘This is a book about returning to space in the face of fear and adversity. It’s a book about glory. About going back to space, because it’s waiting for us, and it’s where we’re meant to be. We can’t allow human space exploration to become our history.


‘Human spaceflight remains experimental. It is very dangerous. It demands great ingenuity. But we are old enough, now, to do these things. Growing up is hard. But we cannot remain children, standing on the shore or in front of the TV set’.


The eloquence of hope contrasted starkly with death of the dream of spaceflight, Orbiter speaks to our dreams for a better world, and our responsibility to keeping those dreams alive. Forty years ago, to the day, our species landed human beings on an alien soil using simpler technology than iPhone. It is time to reclaim our heritage, and recall the words of President John F Kennedy: ‘We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard’.


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Friday, Jul 17, 2009
Long live Wizard World Philly?

It’s been a month since Wizard World Philly 2009, but I have to write about it.  Someone has to mark its death knell.


I started going to conventions in 2006, when I was lucky enough to be hired as a volunteer at the Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.  I’ve been to New York Comic Con twice, and plan on going yearly, because it’s a great con, and I live in NYC, so it doesn’t require airfare or hotel expenses.  Over the years, as I’ve listened to fellow geeks make me jealous with tales of all the conventions they somehow find the time and money to go to, Wizard World Philly was always mentioned as a natural, desired stop in their convention circuit.  So I was excited when I saw a chance to go to WWP as a volunteer.  Finally, I’d get to see what all the fuss was about!


Turns out it’s not about very much, not anymore, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  Being a volunteer, one hears the gossip amongst the vendors.  This is the worst Wizard World Philly in years they said.  No one is here! they panicked.  The “exhibition floor” looked more like a PTA swap meet in a school gym.  Nothing caught the eye, and the floor was only about half full.  The cast of Battlestar Galactica was signing autographs, which was amazing…but Lou Ferrigno and Peter Mayhew?  Really?  No disrespect intended, but are they the best that WWP has to offer?  The programming schedule also left a lot to be desired.  There were one or two interesting panels, which I’ll write about another time, but for the most part…well, they’ll have to invent a new word for boring to capture how boring this convention was.  I mean, I didn’t even take any pictures, it was so boring.


Wizard World seems to have been the victim of convention over-saturation.  HeroesCon was going on the same weekend, and lots of people chose that instead.  I would have, too, if I could have afforded to fly to Charlotte!  Brian Michael Bendis was there!  As was Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Tony Harris, and other powerhouses in the comics industry from both mainstream comics as well as indie comics.  It’s only natural that with the increase in conventions some will fall by the wayside.  Sadly, though Wizard World Philly is happening in 2010, it seems to be on the way out.  Which is a shame for East Coasters like me who can’t afford to fly across the country to get our geek on.  Ah, well.  There’s always New York Comic Con!


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Friday, Jul 17, 2009
As web-marketing guru Seth Godin reminds us, 'Without art, there is no commerce'.

‘The whole thing about the first Sin City is that I was rediscovering the love of drawing on that job. I had absolutely no boss, and it was the first thing I completely did from head to toe by myself’, Frank Miller says to Will Eisner in their book-length conversation Eisner/Miller. ‘the rain scene was one of two scenes where I go the idea of simply not thinking about the number of pages. For me it was like I’d just stepped out of the cave into the morning’.


There’s been too much of the wrong kind of talking thus far in Frank Miller’s ‘The Hard Goodbye’ his first graphic novel in the Sin City series. It’s a welcome break to find a piece of honest detective story in this blacker-than-sin neo noir story. It’s a welcome break to find Good Ol’ Marv taking the time to put the pieces together. There’s been a lot of talking, but the action has been so slick and the comics so fluid, it’s easy to forget that there’s been monologue at all.


With Sin City Miller makes a genuine statement about comics. Comics in black & white because black & white comics are read rather than absorbed (as Eisner suggested in Eisner/Miller). Short, episodic tales, because this kind of punchy dialogue works well with the neo noir genre. And a comics of sharp contrasts, and hard-edged negative spaces to depict the ‘town without pity’.


But as elegant as the comics themselves remain, Miller makes an equally significant statement about the comics industry and the responsibilities and freedoms of creator-owned projects. As glimpsed in his comments to Eisner, Sin City was very much the journal of a comics artist breaking free from the decades-old format of the superhero comicbook. It was and remains a profound statement about the risk of art. In the early 90s, Sin City must have been a gamble. Noone yet had conceived of postmodern neo noir comics, no market had been established. Instead of simply replicating the modes of mainstream (superhero) comics, Miller uses this as an opportunity. In doing so, he recalls a favorite saying of web-marketer Seth Godin, that without art, there is no commerce.


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