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Wonder Woman Trade Post: The Hiketeia, Down To Earth & Bitter Rivals

August 6, 2014

wonder woman the hiketeia Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by J.G. Jones

Back in my Wizard days one of the editors was a huge Greg Rucka fan. I was familiar with his Batman work at the time, but not the variety of other comic and novel projects he’d worked on. Over the years I’ve become a big fan myself, both of his comics and the man himself. A few weeks back I was thinking about Wonder Woman comics and remembered that he did a pretty substantial run and headed to my library website to see if the books were available. As it turns out they all are, so get ready for a few Greg Rucka Wondy posts in the next few weeks. The Hiketeia, a 2002 graphic novel drawn by J.G. Jones is a pretty simple story that bridges Rucka’s Batman and Wonder Woman work by having a murderer from Gotham asking for sanctuary and offering her servitude (a ritual known as The Hiketeia) to Wonder Woman which she accepts. Having given her word, Wonder Woman is compelled to protect this woman even against her trusted ally and friend Batman as the Furies keep watch. I really enjoyed Jones’ artwork in this book. I didn’t enjoy him as much on something like Final Crisis, but in this case, he really nails Wonder Woman’s power, even when she’s wearing jeans and a tank top. He’s got a lot of dynamism too that works as easily when drafting the dark Batman and the light-loving Diana. I also like that we’re dealing with an established version of Wonder Woman. I don’t want to rag on the New 52 too much — especially because I like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character — but there’s just not as much history there. This book comes from the era of DC Comics I’m most familiar with and was most interested in, so it’s cool to see how well Batman and Wonder Woman respect each other, even if they don’t get along particularly well in this story. The Hiketeia acts as a great sampler for what I’ve read of Rucka’s Wonder Woman run so far. It’s appropriately steeped in Greek mythology and custom, which is exactly how a person built of clay from an island filled with mythological Greek women should be. You also get a sense of the majesty that surrounds Diana, which is a huge part of the upcoming run.

Wonder Woman Down to Earth Wonder Woman: Down To Earth (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson
Collects Wonder Woman #195-200

Not long after The Hiketeia, Rucka took over as the regular writer on Wonder Woman. If you’re picking this book out of the blue, here’s a few things you need to know. 1) Wonder Woman was a goddess for a little while, but isn’t any longer. 2) Her home island of Themyscira is known to the world and has declared itself a country. 3) Wonder Woman is not only a solo hero and part of the JLA, but also the ambassador for Themyscrira to the United States.

Down To Earth is basically the first third of a movie that you don’t get the end of until later in the run. Rucka’s playing a long game here and gets a lot of balls rolling that pay off in various ways. Our entry character here is Jonah, a new embassy worker joining the team as Diana’s book, a collection of essays and speeches, hits the world. What they don’t know, though, is that a woman named Veronica Cale is gunning for Wonder Woman, going so far as to bankroll a slander campaign against her that involved right wing-esque complains of her Amazonian heritage, killers and Dr. Psycho.

This volume also sets up Ares machinations amongst the gods, Diana’s more nature-based sense of heroism, the return of the Silver Swan and the near-destruction of Paradise Island. If you’re looking for a one-off Wonder Woman book to read, this is not the one for you, but if you want to invest yourself in a classically plotted run of comics, this is for you.

wonder woman bitter rivals Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson, Shane Davis, Steve Sadowski & Linda Medley
Collects Wonder Woman #200-205

Bitter Rivals basically carries over all of the elements from the previous book, adding a few more pieces of information — like Cale’s origin story and why she has a mad-on for Wonder Woman — to the mix while also keeping the larger mysterious interesting enough to keep me along for the ride.

With Wonder Woman’s deck shuffled pretty heavily in the previous volume with the uproar against her, the murder of one of her opposers, Circe teaming up with the Gorgons, Silver Swan’s potential recovery and Paradise Island being nearly destroyed.

In this one, Wonder Woman goes to Cale’s partner for help in figuring out what’s wrong with Silver Swan. Batman also shows up to let her know that Dr. Psycho had something to do with the death of the aforementioned opposer. The book ends with a fight between everyone and Dr. Psycho and the return of Medusa which basically makes it the mid season finale of the run.

Another chapter of Rucka’s overall story, Bitter Rivals is, again, not a good entry point book. It’s part of a larger whole. You could probably jump in here and figure out what’s going on, but that’s silly. We’re used to doing that as comic readers, but when it comes to Rucka’s Wonder Woman run, you’re dealing with five books and 30-some comics. It’s not such a big deal to track them all down and read the whole thing. That’s my plan, assuming I can ever get my hands on the third book from my library (I’ve got the other two sitting right here).

Before signing off here, I want to say a few words about Drew Johnson’s art. He’s not an artist that I had an opinion on going into these books, but I’ve got to say, I found his pencils to be really solid and majestic. Sometimes, things feel a little slight, which is a misstep when you’re dealing with a character like Wonder Woman who is supposed to be surrounded by a sense of majesty, but overall, he really got the hang of things as these first two books got going. His Dr. Psycho is super creepy, but I think his Veronica Cale is the best of the bunch because she’s supposed to have her own majestic quantity, but housed in a human form that’s got a darker interior than Diana. He nailed her right off the bat and I’m really excited to see how things go from here.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Burger King Simpsons Toys

August 5, 2014

I was a big Simpsons fan as a kid. Even before I started really watching the show, I was sold on the concept, even though, at that time, the idea of being a Bart Simpson-style rule breaker was a little terrifying. Still, I had a Simpsons backpack, pencil case (which I still have) and a bunch of the original Mattel action figures, including the couch with built-in launch pad. I wish I still had those because they’re cool and also sell for pretty big bucks if I’m not mistaken. I got rid of mine for a few bucks at a garage sale which is interesting because it would be conservative to say I kept 99% of my action figures.

Anyway, we started watching Simpsons reruns again and my daughter got a pretty rad Lisa doll at the flea market a few weeks back, so they’ve been on my mind. I looked around on YouTube to see if there were any spots for the Mattel toys, but came up empty handed. Instead, here’s a clip for a Burger King toys that captures the spirit of those early, awesome episodes a lot more than I would have expected.

Bryan Lee O’Malley Trade Post: Lost At Sea & Seconds

July 30, 2014

lost at sea Lost at Sea (Oni Press)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Two weekends back I decided to re-read my copies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. Since I’ve already reviewed them back in 2010 after watching and loving the movie when it came out, I won’t be reviewing them again. I will say that, I really enjoyed myself this time around, probably more than I have any other time I’ve read those books. The “ums” and “whatevers” still drove me nuts, but since I was already familiar with the aspects that I didn’t quite like previously, I was already in. I also noticed more elements and details this time around making this a series that works more and more for me with each reading.

After having such a good time, I went to my library’s website and put O’Malley’s first and most recent graphic novels on hold. I knew the older of the two, Lost At Sea, had come in when we went to the library over the weekend, but was surprised to also find Seconds waiting for me because it just came out in the past few weeks. So, for the second weekend in a row, I spent a good chunk of my reading time with words and pictures by O’Malley.

Lost At Sea, finds an 18 year old named Raleigh on a trip from California to Canada with some classmates who thinks a cat might have swiped her soul. Why else would she feel soulless? While on the trip, Raleigh warms up to Dave, Ian and Steph and eventually comes to terms with a few of the things she’s processing.

She’s dealing with huge questions like why is she here, what is a soul, does she have one, what is her relationship with her mom, what is she going to do about this new love that lead her to Cali and that everlasting classic, what’s she going to do with her life? There are other questions that come up that I’d love to know the answer to like, did she really have sisters, was that picture really of her and why did she spend so much time talking about a best friend who doesn’t really have anything to do with the book?

Some of those questions might have actually been answered, but Raleigh is one of those characters who talks in a wildly noncommittal fashion. Whole statements will be followed by “or whatever.” Is that supposed to be the truth or is it whatever? I think this is just the way a certain portion of the population talk(ed) that I have difficulty tapping into because it’s like a snake eating its own tale. Also, if you barely care what you’re saying, why should I?

While I thought this book was generally really well done and a fine first outing for a cartoonist, it wasn’t really for me. I can remember those wildly complicated says when I was 18 wondering what I was going to do, but to a 31 year old guy with two kids, so much of that seems juvenile to me now. Reading Lost At Sea was like watching a really well done, emotional indie movie, but one I just wasn’t plugging into on that important emotional level. I see and understand how good it is and how intensely personal it must have been, but I just wasn’t as emotionally invested, partially because the characters don’t seem connected to much of anything, including each other.

secondsSeconds (Ballantine Books)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I was far more on-board when it came to Seconds, which I think is O’Malley’s best offering to date. This is a 323 page graphic novel (his first work after finishing up Scott Pilgrim in 2010) with additional art by Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin and brilliant colors by Nathan Fairbairn. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing, which was kind of a nice treat.

But, if you want some information, Seconds is about an almost-30 chef named Katie who helped open a restaurant that the story takes its title from. But, since she didn’t have any money to invest the first time around, she’s looking forward to the opening of the one she does own with her business partner, but the process is slow going. One night while hanging out in her apartment, which is above Seconds, she finds a book and a mushroom in her dresser drawer with basic instructions: write down a mistake, eat the mushroom, go to sleep and “wake anew.”

So those are the basics, I’ll label this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY because it’ll get into a few more details. Katie starts using the magic mushrooms and talking to one of her employees named Hazel who introduces her to the idea of house spirits which play a huge part in the book. The one living in Seconds is called Lis and she’s not a big fan of how Katie winds up abusing the mushroom power, mixing things up and tampering with reality.

Alright, no more spoilers. I got a Neil Gaiman vibe while reading Seconds because it does that thing he does so well where very modern characters and put them up against very old supernatural elements and seeing what happens. Fantasy’s pretty far from my realm of expertise outside of comics and Gaiman’s books, but Seconds seems like a solid modern fantasy project that didn’t feel like a rehash of previously existing fairy tales, but instead something new inspired by a classic idea (though a classic I’m not familiar with, which puts it into Hellboy territory). I also appreciate that this graphic novel felt more researched instead of plucked from the author’s life. I’ve got nothing against pouring your soul onto the page with a variety of your longitme influences, but the clear research into restaurant life and food is also impressive.

I also really enjoyed the look of this book along with the feel. O’Malley and Fischer work so well together that you can’t tell that the former’s using a drawing assistant. The drawings of food in this book are actually mouthwatering. I wanted to eat these pages, but didn’t think the library would appreciate that very much. I was also blown away by Fairbairn’s colors. Lately, people have been doing a lot of talking about the credit colorists deserve on covers and whatnot. I’ll be honest and say it’s not the kind of thing I’ve thought of throughout much of my comic-reading career, but Fairbairn really brought it. He also did the colored Scott Pilgrim books, which makes me want to go back and pick up those versions! Hell, this also made me wonder if I could try my hand at coloring. I think I’ll look into that.

Anyway, after reading O’Malley’s full body of graphic novels in two weeks, I found myself picking up a few interesting themes throughout. Most of the main characters feel clueless and empty in some way. They also have a really hard time letting go of a finished relationship (though I’m not sure where Raleigh’s relationship really was). Numbers are also pretty important. Though Lost At Sea didn’t have one I noticed, Scott Pilgrim is set around seven evil exes and Seconds features 12 magic mushrooms. Oh, cats also feature prominently, though less so in Seconds.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Iron Man & X-Men

July 29, 2014

This week’s TCT is a fun little double whammy thanks to YouTuber CraigLeeThomas. As you can see it starts off with an Iron Man spot followed by an X-Men one. I found this particular video because I couldn’t remember if there were actual X-Men toy commercials back in the 90s. I figured there must have been more than that first one I wrote about a while back, especially considering the cartoon was so popular and that Toy Biz line seemed like it was around forever, but couldn’t remember any specifics.

So, we kick off with that Iron Man commercial and, while I don’t remember seeing it, I definitely had all of those toys. Those were the glorious days you could get four figures for a $20, so I added a lot to my collection especially while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I loved the snap on armors with all the different accessories, but also how the bad guys in this line each had a cool action feature. Oh, plus, MODOK toy, right?

Then you’ve got the X-Men commercial which featured that huge, rad Sentinel toy. I didn’t have him, but I’m sure I wanted it if and when I saw it. Gotta love all those destruction points for a variety of play options. As far as the action figures go, that was definitely my first Wolverine toy and I might have gotten Rogue later on down the line, but I gravitated towards other versions of Gambit, Beast and Cyclops.

Finally, while I find the commercial’s conceit that Rogue would be so easily captured and need saving is problematic, it’s kind of adorable hearing that boy do a Southern accent.

Halloween Scene: Night Of The Creeps (1986)

July 28, 2014

night of the creeps tom atkins

The fist time I saw Night Of The Creeps was at a Manly Movie Mamajama with the Wizard gang several years back. As it happens, that’s also how I saw another Fred Dekker film, Monster Squad, for the first time. The other two films in that particular triple feature were Night Of the Comet and Nightbreed (still the only time I’ve ever seen that one). As it turns out, I remembered the least about Creeps because, as I watched this movie on Netflix in the past few weeks (it took me several viewings to finish because I take care of two very active children all day), most of the film was a surprise. Let’s blame that more on the length of time between viewings and not the presumed gallons of beer I probably drank that night.

night of the creeps poster 1The movie kicks off with some strange looking aliens fighting over a canister that gets knocked out the ship and heads towards Earth back in 1959. The canister lands in front of an escaped mental patient, infects him with its worminess and leads to him hacking up some kids with an axe. Flashforward to the 80s and we’re introduced to college students Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall), the young stars of the film. Chris wants to get with a girl named Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) who’s dating the head of the D-bag fraternity, so they rush. They’re then tasked with finding a dead body, so they sneak into a nearby morgue (overseen by David Paymer!) where they find the body from the beginning of the movie in suspended animation. They get him out of there and wind up unleashing the worm-like aliens on their college campus. Enter wise cracking, jaded detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) who was the cop who found the maniac in the first place back in the 50s.

night of the creeps poster 2

I mentioned above how this film took me several watches to get through. Most of that is because of the kids, but there was also a bit of a barrier for me as I tried to get into this film. I think that boils down to the film’s tone, specifically in regards to Atkins’ character. I’ve become a huge fan of that guy’s work, thanks mostly to Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, but I just couldn’t get into his catch-phrase spouting wannabe hardboiled detective in this movie. He says “Thrill me,” so many times and it never once sounds like the kind of thing this guy would actually say.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed Lively and Marshall as the two geeky college students. They have a very realistic relationship that reminded me of the kind of thing seen more in the raunchy 80s comedies that you all know I’m a fan of. These young actors are very believable and I like the ways they got to express their characters as the story progressed. And, how can you not love a film that ends on the night of a fraternity formal with a boy in a tux and a girl in a fancy dress wielding shotguns and flamethrowers?

At the end of the day, I really want to like this movie because it mixes that great 80s comedy set-up with some pretty high quality horror special effects. It’s really too bad that Dekker — who also wrote the screenplay — decided to turn Atkins, who can handle a ton of levels even in fairly odd movies like this, into such a corny, one-note character. Just imagine if he was able to play this a little closer to Daniel Challis from Season.

It’s kind of interesting timing that I watched this Dekker film not only after he was announced as the helmer of the new Predator movie writte by Shane Black. These guys wrote Monster Squad together which is a real classic, so I’m excited to see what they can do all these years later.

The Music Box: Nada Surf’s Let Go (2002) & The Drams’ Jubilee Drive (2006)

July 25, 2014

nada surf let go Picking discs out of a box and giving them an uninformed listen!

After a long pause between Music Box posts (the last one was in February), I’m back with not one, but two random listens to records I actually really enjoyed. This morning, I wasn’t feeling podcasts and wanted something to match the cool, cloudy day we’ve got going on here in New York. So, I plunged my hand into the box of CDs my buddy Jesse has sent me and pulled out Nada Surf’s 2002 album Let Go. Like many people in their 30s, I was familiar with the band from their 90s hit “Popular,” but that’s as far as my experience went, so listening to Let Go was basically like listening to a new band.

As it turned out, it was basically the perfect record for this mellow morning. While never getting morose or melodramatic, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws took me through a variety of songs that matched this morning’s mood perfectly. Check out the “Inside Of Love” video to see what I mean. Most songs feature his melodic voice over nicely strummed guitars, but things do get a little more rocking on tracks like “Hi-Speed Soul” and “The Way You Wear Your Head” which I appreciate. Those tracks kind of wake you up a little bit and make you pay attention to the record, which can very easily slip into background noise.

That might not sound like a big compliment, but it’s a huge one from me. Some days you just need a cool record to feel while you’re doing other things. I’ve listened to Let Go twice now while doing my morning writing and taking care of the kids. It never become obtrusive, but was always there keeping things calm. Sometimes when it comes to records like this, they can be easily forgotten because they don’t necessarily smack you in the face, but I think I’ll be utilizing Nada Surf’s Let Go plenty and will probably get even more listens out of it when I move it to my car. Yup, I still rock the CD wallet-visor thingy.

the drams jubilee dive Listening to and enjoying Let Go reminded me that I actually pulled out a record a week or so ago by a band called The Drams called Jubilee Drive that I also liked. Unlike Nada Surf, though, I’d never heard of these guys in my life. So, as I do, I just popped the disc in my computer and gave it a listen. According to Wikipedia, The Drams actually started out as another band I’d heard of but am not very familiar with called Slobberbone. As of now, Jubilee Drive is their one and only record.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who lead singer Brent Best sounded like and decided to give up the quest because he’s got a little Stephen Kellogg in him along with a variety of other elements. At the end of the day, though, he has his own unique thing going on and I like the sound of it. In other words, the record feels like a mix of post-Replacement, non-grunge 90s music with a few hints of 70s southern rock. Some of the more modern southern rock bands I’ve listened to get a little too droney and boring for me, but The Drams keep the tempos going at just the right speed for my taste.

All of which is a clumsy way of saying I probably haven’t heard a record quite like this before and I’m really glad I gave it a shot. While not nearly as mellow as Nada Surf’s record, this one will make for a great tooling around CD to keep in my car which will give me even more opportunities to absorb it. The driving beats and noodling on songs like “Unhinged” will always be the kind of thing I want to listen to over and over again.

Adventures In Freelancing: Building A Story

July 24, 2014

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years since I wrote an Adventures In Freelancing post! I don’t have a particularly good or bad reason for that, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I write these days and figured my strategy might work for some of you too.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts, I’ll preface by saying that most of my professional writing is for Comic Book Resources, Spinoff Online and Marvel.com. With CBR, I have a specific beat covering BOOM! Studios and Image Comics before that, plus I do a variety of collectible-related stories. My Spinoff work mostly involves rewriting news stories with our audience in mind and for Marvel.com, I do the occasional creator interview written up in a prose format. Much of my work involves communicating with a creator about their upcoming comic and turning that interview into either a prose piece or a question and answer (Q&A) style piece. I do a lot more of the latter, so let’s start there.

With a Q&A, much of the heavy lifting gets done by the interview itself. Whether you’ve done it by way of email or phone, once you have the answers written down, that’s most of your work right there. Of course, you have to edit these sections, make sure they fit your site’s style guide and also check to see if they make sense. Sometimes that involves moving quotes around and rewording your questions to better reflect the answer.

But, there’s still the matter of the introduction. For CBR, that’s usually three to four paragraphs that hit all the important facts like what the project is, who’s working on it, where it’s coming from, when it’s coming out, background information and a bit of a tease about what’s in the interview itself. Basically, I think of this section as a really good movie trailer. It needs to get the reader excited about what’s coming without giving too much away.

This week, a story I wrote about Mondo’s upcoming toy offerings went up on CBR. I did my best to get right into the story — something my Spinoff editor encourages on the regular — and explain the news right away. I usually try to start with a clever opener, something that will grab the reader’s attention, but this time the news itself was the big attention grabber, so that made sense to start with. From there it was a matter of explaining the products, talking a bit about the company and setting up the conversation. Sometimes, you’ve got to explain things in greater detail, but in the case of Mondo, I figured the poster sellers were well known enough to the CBR audience. It’s easy to get bogged down in over-explaining things you think the audience might not be familiar with, so it can be difficult striking the right balance.

When it comes to Spinoff posts, the process is somewhat similar, but I go about it a different way. Since there’s no interview to build off of, I tend to start with the background and basic information first. The other day, I wrote this story about the Daredevil showrunner talking about the feel of the series. I read through the original piece, copied and pasted that money quote about the grittiness, laid down some of the show’s basics and then went back and wrote the opener, which was edited to the much better one seen in the final post. I’ve found that knowing what’s involved in the body of the story makes writing that opener much, much easier. In other words, sometimes it’s better not to start at the beginning.

For Spinoff posts, I’m actually writing them in the system and saving them for the editor to read, so I’m not just writing, but also making sure the links are there, coming up with tags and finding a photo that works for the piece. Sometimes that last part can take longer to get than the actual writing. Then again, my roots are in image-finding, so I try to find the best pic for the post.

The Marvel.com stories tend to be a hybrid of the previous experiences. Most of the time, I’m interviewing a creator and using that in the body of the article, but they prefer to go with more of a prose style. This means you’re laying out the quotes, but connecting them with your own text.

Last week, this story I wrote about the new Winter Soldier comic went up. For this one, I got the quotes in via email, gave them a read through and then copied and pasted them into a new document in an order that made the most sense to me. I think of this like sedimentary rocks, which are basically larger rocks made up of pieces of smaller rocks and something keeping them all together. In this case, the quotes are the rocks and what I write acts as the connecting material. In this format, there’s still the matter of the opener which I also tackle last.

So that’s how I write these kinds of things. There are plenty of days where I look at an assignment — even a seemingly simple thing like a Spinoff post — and just can not figure out a way into it. I’ve written a lot of pieces over the years and I do my best not to fall into too many ticks or ruts, but I still find the best way to get the wheels spinning is to move past the intro — the hardest part for me — and get into the details. I might not know how I’m going to get you to read the story right off the bat, but I do know that I can lay out who’s involved, when it comes out and a few story details. I also know I can work with my quotes and figure out the best placement. Once I’m further down the road, it’s easier for me to look back and figure out a good way for everyone else to start down the same path.

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