Team Up Trade Post: Superman, Batman, Galactus & Darkseid

superman dark knight over metropolisSuperman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis (DC)
Written by John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern & Jerry Ordway, drawn by Art Adams, Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Bob McLeod & Ordway
Collects Action Comics Annual #1, Action Comics #653-654, Adventures of Superman #466-467 & Superman #44

While Hal Jordan might not have been my early bread and butter as a comic reader, Superman and Batman definitely were. I love both heroes, so seeing them team-up in this interesting period (1990) where they didn’t really trust each other and definitely weren’t friends was a trip, especially because I came around later and saw them team up in JLA.

The first comic in this series is a classic that brings both heroes together. It’s written by John Byrne with art by the crazy-awesome Art Adams, but I’ve read it a handful of times and the surprise is a bit gone so I skipped it (well, I flipped through it cause, daaaaaag, it’s pretty). The rest of the book builds off of the title three part story, but kicks off two issues before that to add context. Part of that context involves seeing the origin of Hank Hall, the man who would become Cyborg Superman, one of the most important characters of my childhood!

The actual “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” story had been built up to for a while in the Superman comics because a woman who worked for Lex Luthor stole his Kryponite ring and also figured out who Superman truly was (but Lex didn’t believe her and ruined her life). She gets murdered, the ring gets stolen and winds up in Gotham where Batman gets clued into it. The work the case in and out of costume and eventually, Superman entrusts Batman with the Kryptonite ring (another iconic moment that I always heard about when I started reading a few years later, but didn’t actually read until this point).

This book is steeped pretty heavily in the world of Superman books of this era, much of which is covered in the Man Of Steel trades (which I, of course, adore). I don’t know how easy it would be for a new reader to just jump right in and read these issues, BUT I’m guessing that the dynamic between Batman and Superman in this comic is a lot closer to what’s going on in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice than the Super Friends we later came to know and love.

darkseid vs galactus the hunger Darkseid Vs. Galactus: The Hunger (DC & Marvel)
Written & drawn by John Byrne

Of the three books in this post, Darkseid vs Galactus: The Hunger is actually the one I read as a kid. The mid 90s were actually a really great time to see characters from Marvel and DC crossover, first with the DC Vs Marvel series and then the All Access books and one-offs like this one. At the time, I knew the basics of Galactus and the Fantastic Four and probably knew a bit about Darkseid, Apokolips and the New Gods, but zero clue that these were all Jack Kirby creations coming together.

Though over-written in the grand tradition of both Kirby and Byrne, this super-fun book finds the World Devourer trying to turn Apokolips into his latest snack thanks to Silver Surfer discovering the world of awfulness and sorrow.

There’s a twist at the end of this book that blew me away as a kid and stuck with me ever since. In fact, it was the ONLY thing I remembered about this book that I first read 21 years ago. Again, it’s both reflective of Kirby’s work as well as Byrne’s writing of the mid 90s, so I’m not sure how accessible it is, but if you have even the remotest interest in Kirby’s worlds and always wondered what would happen if they collided, track this book down!

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Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Shadow

Why did I choose The Shadow for this week’s TCT? It just popped into my head when I went to YouTube today to look for candidates. These Kenner figures were released in conjunction with the 1994 film of the same name starring Alec Baldwin. I miss the days when action films were based on pulp heroes no one remembers, while also inspiring full-on action figure pushes with vehicles!

Geek Doc: The Death Of Superman Lives (2015)

the-death-of-superman-lives-posterDirector and documentarian Jon Schnepp asked the question many of us have been wondering since the 90s: What happened to Tim Burton’s Superman Lives? Back then, word got out that the Batman Returns helmer would put his stamp on the Man of Steel with star Nicolas Cage. Most of us didn’t hear much else aside from the film’s eventual demise, Kevin Smith’s recollection of writing the film’s first draft and later design images that would find their way online. Enter The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

As the film got rolling producer Jon Peters hired a slew of people to work on the project. Smith and two other screenwriters worked on the script, Burton invested himself in the story and a variety of costume designers and artists started working on the ever-changing visual elements.

But, even with so many people working hard on the film, it ultimately fell apart. The doc doesn’t necessarily place the blame on any one individual person involved, though its hard not to put Peters’ name up there with some of the chicanery he pulled. Ultimately, though, the answer to the question posed in the title comes down to some simple facts: Burton’s weird vision made the studio nervous. That same vision also would have cost a bunch of money to bring to life and the studio eventually decided to go another direction that lead to Superman Returns.

Even so, this doc isn’t really about why Superman Lives didn’t get made, it’s about all the work that went into it while the creative people involved thought they were making it. Everyone from Peters and Smith to Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood. It’s fascinating to see how they all attempted to bring each others’ visions to life and maybe a little tragic that it was all for nothing. Except, it’s not really for nothing because this public record of their work now exists. I think that might be the great thing about this era of “why didn’t it get made” documentaries. They take something that a lot of people put a lot of effort into and bring it to your attention, even if it’s not in the originally intended way. With that in mind, I’m even more excited about eventually seeing Doomed and the one about George Miller’s Justice League movie.

For all the effort he put into the film, I give Schnepp huge buckets of kudos. Cage is the only major player who did get interviewed for this thing, but he still shows up thanks to some filmed segments of him trying on the costumes with Atwood and Burton. Those clips really bring the whole thing together because the represent the in-the-moment as opposed to the looking-back. I’m not personally a fan of the animated sequences in the film and think it’s super awkward for the interviewer to be on camera nodding when the subject is answering questions, but altogether I can’t recommend this movie enough for anyone who’s ever been even remotely interested in Superman Lives or the process that goes into making these big, blockbuster superhero films.

Book Review: The Death Freak by Clifford Irving & Herbert Burkholz (1976)

the-death-freak-by-clifford-irving-and-herbert-burkholzI seem to be inadvertently drawn to action books from the 1970s with a fair amount of kink these days.First there were Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction in physical form, and now The Death Freak by Clifford Irving and Herbert Burkholz. While those were about an art historian-turned-secret agent, this one’s about U.S. and Russian murder masters who pull a Strangers On A Train and start taking out each others’ targets.

Both Eddie Mancuso and Vasily Borgneff work for their respective governments as architects of death, not actual assassins, but the people who figure out how to kill the targets when a simple sniper rifle won’t work. They both want out, but know that the very small group of agents they work for will never have it. Luckily, since the number of people who officially know about them is relatively small, it’s a number that can be easily terminated. Of course, none of it’s actually easy as both sides use computers to figure out the probability of each man’s next move.

So, once they make contact with one another thanks to the help of a woman who’s sleeping with them both, the two men come to an agreement and get to work figuring out how to take out their targets. The first few go quite well, but eventually the agents catch on and bring in a contingent of soldiers to put their scheme to an end.

As an action and intrigue story, Death Freak is on point. The authors bounce back and forth between each target making sure you never quite lose interest in their dirty deeds. Speaking of which, boy do some of these assassinations get kinky. The book actually starts off with a woman and her husband — one of Eddie’s superiors — getting violent before making love so there’s precedence right off the bat, but I was not expecting the graphic BDSM scenes. I don’t consider myself overly squeamish, but I definitely grimaced through those chapters.

Much like with Eiger and Loo, I feel like Death Freak would make a fantastic action thriller on the big screen. You’d only have to take out a few scenes and update a few others (actually, that whole Soviet Russia thing might be tricky, let’s do it as a period piece!). Still, there’s plenty of solid material here to bring to the big screen. Maybe if I keep reading these largely forgotten thrillers, I’ll hit on one that I can adapt into the next big blockbuster!

Classic Comic Double Feature: The Rocketeer (1991) & Dick Tracy (1990)

rocketeer posterA few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.

I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.

Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).

Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.

As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.

Dick-Tracy-PosterWhile scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.

Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.

The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.

As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).

My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.

That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.

So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.

Charles Burns Trade Post: X’ed Out, The Hive & Sugar Skull

x'ed outBack when Charles Burns’ X’ed Out was first announced, I’m pretty sure I was still at Wizard. The idea was that he’d publish this story in three parts over the course of years. At the time, I don’t think I’d read Black Hole yet, but was still curious about the book. Even so, I figured I’d wait until the entire thing was out in the world before I read it.

Cut to a few weeks back when I was looking at my library’s art section and found several shelves dedicated to books on the history of comics and even a few seemingly misplaced graphic novels like X’ed. I grabbed it and put in a request for The Hive and Sugar Skull immediately after getting home and read them all within a few days of each other, which is definitely the way to go unless you can sit down and knock them out one right after the other.

the hiveThese three books chronicle large chunks of Doug’s life. Doug’s a dude who liked to dress up in a Tintin mask (called Nitnit in the book) and spout half-written poetry off to the sound of noise collages at rock shows while in college. He had a girlfriend, but left her for a girl he found far more interesting named Sarah. In a lot of ways, Sarah changes his life. He finds a fellow artist in her, someone who actually does more with her talent than take awkward self portraits with a Polaroid. But, like Doug, Sarah has a lot of other things going on, including a crazy ex boyfriend.

None of this is expressed as linearly in the book as in the above paragraph. We cut from periods of Doug’s life — usually designated by haircuts, chubbiness and scars that you just have to pick up on — to a Nitnit-inspired world filled with overly mean lizards, red and white eggs and bed-ridden versions of the women he loved who birth those eggs. I’m far from the best person in the world to analyze anything, but upon my first reading, I saw this world as the place Doug retreated to to punish himself for not being the person he thought he could be.

sugar skullWhen I finished Sugar Skull I felt very much like I did after watching David Lynch’s Lost Highway for the first time. In both cases I felt moved by the ingestion of art I just partook in, but knew that I wouldn’t actually understand it without repeated attempts (or possibly ever). Some people love having every beat and moment explained to them — and I honestly wouldn’t mind an in depth conversation about these books in the next few weeks before the memories begin to fade — but man, I love this kind of thing. It’s not the sort of entertainment I put into my brain often, because of general parent-related tiredness, but when I do, this is exactly the kind of deep, dark, layered story I want.

 

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Dick Tracy Figures & Walkie Talkie

As you will see in a post going up on Thursday, I was a huge fan of the whole Dick Tracy experience in 1990. I loved the movie, I picked up some of the toys, I collected the trading cards and I desperately wanted a watch that doubled as a phone.

In this spot, you can see some of those toys and a replica of the famous watch that basically just told time. If memory serves, there was a set of massive wristwatch walkie talkies you could buy as well.