Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thunderworld at Comic-Con

Writer Grant Morrison and artist Cameron Stewart presented artwork from the upcoming Multiversity one-shot, Thunderworld featuring the Captain Marvel of Earth-5 (previously known as Earth-S).
Of Stewart's art, Morrison said, "it's the best Shazam ever".  Stewart commented, "I didn't want to do a flat out emulation of CC Beck...but I wanted it to have the same quality". Morrison added the Captain Marvel of this series really looks like Captain Marvel rather than just another version of Superman.  The book is said to have a Pixar-quality to it, and Dr Sivana will be a major villain for the entire mini-series as he tracks Captain Marvel's lightning back to its source and finds a way to build a technological Rock of Eternity by scientifically reverse-engineering that magic.

I have high hopes for this one-shot. I hope it will bring the character back to where it should be, and I hope the one-shot sells well enough to warrant an on-going series of the Earth-5 Marvel Family.





Friday, July 25, 2014

Ranking the Shazam Reboots

As we wait for an imminent announcement at Comic-Con regarding the Shazam! movie, let's take a look back at the multiple reboots of the Big Red Cheese since DC acquired the character from Fawcett.

Shazam! (the 1970s series).
DC revives the original Captain Marvel.
What it got right: The look and tone of the original Fawcett stories.  C.C. Beck was the artist on the first several issues, and after a few fill ins by Bob Oksner, Fawcett alumni Kurt Schaffenberger took over.  The stories by Denny O'Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, and E. Nelson Bridwell captured the more humorous Fawcett style.  Towards the end, E. Nelson Bridwell did a great job incorporating aspects of the live action Filmation TV series into the book.
What it got wrong: The scripts stayed in the humorous vein. Humor was just one facet of the Fawcett material, but DC chose not to go for more serious adventure.
Final analysis: Even though it concentrated too much on humor, it still seemed like a golden age comic produced in a bronze age era, and that was a good thing.  It's still my favorite DC Captain Marvel series.

World's Finest.
A "dynamic new look" and direction rather than a true reboot, had Bridwell writing more serious stories, and Don Newton bringing the art style up to date in the bronze age.
What it got right: Bridwell hit his stride with the scripts.  They still had some humor, but adventure was now front and center. Newton did a great job bringing the Marvel Family's art style up to date. Al Weiss and Gil Kane also contributed some excellent art in this era.  Kane, in particular, really was able to mix the classic Beck look with bronze age definition.
What it got wrong: DC cancelled Shazam! and moved the feature to the back of World's Finest, suffocating any chance the new direction had to gain a wider fan base.
Final Analysis: Even though it was set on Earth-S, this really was what a main continuity Earth-1 Captain Marvel could have and should have been.

Shazam The New Beginning.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Earth-S was no more, and Captain Marvel was reborn in the unified DC Universe.
What it got right: A streamlined approach.  I'm an Uncle Dudley guy, so I really liked how Dudley was a major part of the story. Roy Thomas' script can be overdone with dialogue and narration, but having Billy be the narrator implies he may have been telling the story to his listeners on station WHIZ.  Thomas brought the story up to date, while still avoiding making it too topical, and therefore quickly outdated.
What it got wrong: The art by Tom Mandrake. Completely wrong artist for this project.  Gil Kane should have been the artist. A little too streamlined in that Sivana and Ebenezer Batson were consolidated into one character.  Magnificus could have been omitted. Perhaps a little too dark and grim. For the first time, Captain Marvel retains Billy's personality.  While Thomas did it better than most, this would ultimately be Captain Marvel's biggest downfall.
Final Analysis: This version scores big points with me for its use of Uncle Dudley. This is the version of Captain Marvel adapted for the Young Justice animated series, which became one of the more popular versions of the character.  What killed this reboot was two things. Mandrake's art.  And Thomas' radical plans for Mary and Freddy.  Mary Marvel was to be unrelated to Billy, a girl named Spike Bromfield, a punk rocker who is hinted at doing some prostitution, and was to become Billy/Cap's love interest.  Freddy was to be portrayed as an African-American in a wheelchair.

Power of Shazam.
After DC stalled until Thomas' contract expired, there were pitches by Michael Eury (who wanted to focus on the child celebrity aspect of Billy) and Alex Ross (who wanted to keep the entire Fawcett continuity intact, just transplanted to the modern day), and a false start by John Byrne (who wanted to mix Oliver Twist set in an Anton Furst inspired Fawcett City). Ultimately it fell to Jerry Ordway to reboot Captain Marvel for the post-Zero Hour continuity.
What it got right: The look and the tone. Fawcett City was a 1950s art deco utopia. The series had the right balance of humor and adventure.  Showed some inspiration from the classic 1941 Adventures of Captain Marvel movie serial. Ordway was able to keep things traditional and still up date it for the modern audience.
What it got wrong: Ordway portrayed Billy as a whiny brat.  Therefore Captain Marvel had a whiny brat personality.  This is the thing fans complained about the most on the old DC Message Boards, even years after the series was cancelled. Ordway also made Sivana something of a Luthor clone millionaire businessman, although by the end of the graphic novel, he is penniless.  Sometimes Ordway got a little too trendy for his own good, such as renaming Captain Marvel Jr "CM3".  Perhaps embellished Billy's back story too much with the Batson parents and relatives. I loathed how Dudley was portrayed, an alcoholic school janitor. Put too much emphasis on Black Adam, something that would come to do damage to any chance Captain Marvel would have of developing a new fanbase. Later in the run, the wizard Shazam started getting too many storylines. Bottom line, Ordway was a much better artist than a writer, while Peter Krause, who took over the art chores after the graphic novel, wasn't as good as Ordway.
Final Analysis: The first 12 issues are great, but the quality of the scripts drop off considerably after that. In hindsight, it would have been for the best if after issue 12, Ordway was moved to doing the artwork and contributing some plots, and a different writer, like Mark Waid, was brought in.  Sales would have had a better chance of increasing, and when Ordway left DC for Marvel Comics in 1999, instead of cancelling the series, DC could have brought in a new artist, like Mike Wieringo, who expressed interest in drawing the title.


Alex Ross.
After Ordway's series was cancelled, Ross, now a comics superstar, was able to show the World's Mightiest Mortal some respect, with Shazam: Power of Hope and Justice.
What it got right: Everything. Ross' Captain Marvel is perfect. Ross' Billy is youthful, but not a whiny brat.
What it got wrong: Nothing. Ross' Captain Marvel is perfect.
Final Analysis: This is the best DC portrayal of Captain Marvel ever.  With the exception of E. Nelson Bridwell, no one else has come close to equaling Ross' version.

First Thunder.
A miniseries written by Judd Winick and drawn by Josh Middleton that was a revisionist take on the early days of Captain Marvel, and his first encounter with Superman.
What it got right: Went into more detail about Billy living homeless on the streets. Billy wasn't a whiny brat, but was sympathetic and likable.  Captain Marvel was portrayed quite good. The art had a nice anime quality to it.
What it got wrong: Sivana is even more of a Luthor clone than he was in Power of Shazam. Captain Marvel seemed to be too much in awe of Superman.
Final Analysis: A great story, but it treads on the idea Captain Marvel is Superman's protege, a concept that would also be used in the Superman/Shazam: Return of Black Adam animated DVD.

Trials of Shazam.
In the Dan Didio era, a mandate was made to make changes to the Shazam feature. Alex Ross pitched an idea where an older, Michael Gray-esque Billy loses the ability to trigger his powers, and the ordeal he goes through to regain it.  Captain Marvel would be portrayed leaner and Jackson Bostwick-esque.  Didio rejected it, and assigned Judd Winick to write a miniseries with a similar yet different theme.
What it got right: Nothing at all. Most fans agree this is the worst example of the DC Captain Marvel ever put to paper.
What it got wrong: Everything. Captain Marvel was promoted to Wizard, taking the name "Marvel", and altering his costume to include long white hair and a ridiculous hoodie (which would reappear in Curse of Shazam). Freddy (often misspelled as "Freddie") gets promoted to the main hero, after going through a series of trials, now called "Shazam", although DC ended up referring to him as "Captain Marvel" a lot. Mary lost her powers, but was able to siphon off Black Adam's power, and she becomes an Emo/Goth naughty girl in a tiny black dress that offers lots of upskirt shots.
Final Analysis: Garbage.  A total waste.


Monster Society of Evil.
After the disaster of Trials, focus was shifted to an out-of continuity version by Jeff Smith, originally planned as part of the "All Star" imprint, but published after the imprint folded.
What it got right: Billy and Captain Marvel are given separate personalities.  Despite the child like quality to the material, Smith still gives us a serious and grim look at Billy's homeless life on the streets.  Despite the liberties and updating Smith made, it still has more of a Fawcett quality to it than most other DC efforts. After suffering through Captain Marvel making juvenile remarks (New Beginning) and throwing a bratty temper tantrum (Power of Shazam), it was great to see an origin sequence where Billy is in awe and wonder about what is happening to him.
What it got wrong: It establishes Billy and Captain Marvel are two completely separate beings. Billy and Mary are a little too young.  Mr Tawny is given a human form, essentially becoming what Uncle Dudley should be. Tawny is a character that works better in smaller doses, and here he is overused. Sivana is again mirroring Luthor, who was president at this time, by being the US attorney general.  Smith's writing has some great moments, but is also uneven and clunky in spots and his super hero style of drawing isn't as fluid and slick as it should be for a project like this.
Final Analysis:  A good step in the right direction, but it still stumbles.

 
Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam.
A semi-sequel semi-reboot to the Jeff Smith miniseries.  Published as an all-ages title under the "Johnny DC" imprint.
What it got right: Billy and Captain Marvel are once again the same being. Once Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani took over the writing with issue #5, the series started gaining traction, and became a rare occurrence where it kept getting better with each passing issue. Mike Norton, who took over the art chores with issue #13, was excellent, and Stephen DeStefano's sole issue, # 6, is arguably the best issue of the series.
What it got wrong: Captain Marvel has Billy's personality.  Mary is given a tiring chatterbox personality. The first four issues were by Mike Kunkle and were on a pre-school level. After Kunkle, Bryan Vaughns took over as artist, and was still a very childish art style.
Final Analysis: Despite a slow start, at a time when there was no other Captain Marvel comics being published, this became the de facto series, even though it was on the "Johnny DC" imprint. It filled that role nicely, and was cancelled too prematurely.
Sidenote: It could be said this version of the continuity has, in fact, continued, albeit in the far future, in Justice League Beyond, a digital first series, that is collected in the pages of the monthly title Batman Beyond Universe as well as its own Justice League Beyond trade paperbacks.


Curse of Shazam.
The "New 52" reboot, which replaces the original Captain Marvel with a similar character called Shazam.
What it got right: Having reviewed this series in depth , it got very little right.  It added some cinematic touches, like how the wizard abducted many prospects for the power before finding Billy, and gave Capt... er, Shazam some unique lightning based powers.
What it got wrong: A lot. Geoff Johns tinkered needlessly with so many aspects, like radically changing Sivana, trying to ground the story in reality, building Billy's character to have an edge, but at the end of the day, it has the same inherent problem:  as soon as Billy turns into Capt... er, Shazam, everything goes out the window, and we are back to the same old, tired concept of adult Capt... er, Shazam acting like a goofy, semi-retarded 12 year old.
Final Analysis:  As long as DC remains stubbornly committed to the idea of the adult hero acting like a goofy kid, it will always fail... and if they go that direction with the movie, it, too, will be an epic fail, guaranteed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #13

Issue 13 opens up with a new writer, Gabriel Soria, giving us a very clever story where a Batman TV series, "The Dark Knight Detective" premiers, and puts Gotham into a state of Batmania.  However, this TV series, is dark, grim, and black and white.  This TV Batman, looking a lot like The Spirit, in a suit and tie plus a Batman cowl, is violent, causing the real Batman to seek out the producer of the show.  The producer, Fred Fillips (who looks like a cross between Christopher Nolan and Frank Miller) turns out to really be False Face, and captures the Dynamic Duo, planning to kill them on live TV. Of course, our heroes thwart False-Face's plans, and in fact end up winning an Emmy for the live telecast.  Soria has the right balance of parody regarding the current post-Nolan Batman, and gets in some good shots at both the morose direction of the character, and it's fan following. This story was a welcome change from Jeff Parker's rather stale efforts.  The art by Dean Haspiel, however, was rather weak, although he did do a good job aping the look of the classic Batman The Animated Series for "The Dark Knight Detective".  This story earns an A-.

The second story is written by Tom Peyer, but might as well have been by Jeff Parker, as like his stories, is drowned in the weaknesses of a typical season 2 episode.  The Archer is back, to steal a computer, that he uses to form his own rival police force.  The story is quite weak, featuring a weak villain, and weak artwork by Dave Bullock.  This story earns a C-, averaging out to a C+ for the issue.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mini-Review: Justice League #30-31; Do Not Let Geoff Johns Be Involved With The Shazam Movie

For Captain Marvel fans, this is sad. Sad, but expected.  In Curse of Shazam, Geoff Johns really went out of his way to rebrand Billy Batson as some kind of 21st Century Dead End Kid (or Sweathog).  But as soon as he became Captain Mar... er, Shazam, it was back to the stupid "adult acting like a retarded kid with lots of fart jokes" shtick.  Captain Shazam's appearances in Justice League #30 and 31 has Johns taking it to the next level.  There is no sign of the complex, brooding Billy.  Rather we get dufus Shazam acting like Ashton Kutcher doing a parody of Big on a Saturday Night Live skit.  Awe at Johns' amazing dialogue like (in a totally 80s Valley accent), "We should totally train together, Superman, see who's stronger". Or "That's badass."  Or "This stuff is kinda nasty."  Yes, it is very nasty, Johns... very nasty.  Thrill to Shazam's mighty magical powers when he speaks the inspiring incantation while wearing a hoodie, "Uh, powers of Shazam... show me what I want for the League. ALA-KA-ZAMM!" ...and a ping pong table materializes.  This is beyond sad, this is beyond nasty, this is embarrassing.  Please DC and Warner Brothers... do not let Geoff Johns have any creative involvement in the Shazam movie! Keep him away from it at all costs!  You must bring in Alex Ross to be the creative consultant and an associate producer!  Unlike Johns, Alex Ross will insure Captain Marvel is portrayed on the silver screen correctly, and he will fight hard to see that the movie is good.  I cannot wait for the ThunderWorld one-shot to be published later this year. I'm hoping the Grant Morrison-Cameron Stewart interpretation of the Earth-5 Marvel Family will get us back to where we should be with the characters, and it sells well enough to spin-off an ongoing series, something Curse of Shazam couldn't do for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #2

Issue 2 opens with our heroes escaping from the speeding train.  The Hornet and Kato in an action-dramatic way, Batman and Robin in a more silly way.  The Hornet then knocks the Dynamic Duo out with sleeping gas, and escapes.  Then it is revealed The Joker is General Gumm's partner, and there is a reference to the 1966 movie.  Batman and Robin regain consciousness, and get on the trail of Gumm and the Hornet.  There's a cool scene at Britt Reid's home that seems like it was taken right from the TV show.  Both the Dynamic Duo and the Hornet and Kato soon uncover Gumm and the Joker.  There's the customary fight scene with Batman and the Hornet about to square off, when they realize the Joker and Gumm have Robin and Kato, and are about to suffocate them.

Writers Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith continue the excellent job, really capturing the style of dialogue from the TV show. However, one critique I have is that they seemed to portray the Dynamic Duo a bit more buffoonish in contrast to the more stoic Hornet and Kato.  One of the big problems with seasons 2 and 3 that many fans dislike is that Batman and Robin became buffoons, where as they were more heroic in season 1.  I hope Garman and Smith don't end up going down that slippery slope like regular series writer Jeff Parker has.  Ty Templeton's artwork is superb, and gets all the likeness right, although he could make Batman's gut a little smaller.  Need I say Alex Ross' covers are masterpieces.  This issue earns a B+.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First look at Tartakovsky's Popeye

The first image of director Genndy Tartakovsky's CGI Popeye movie has been released.  Allegedly this is a concept painting by Richard Daskas, and although Sony has begun using it to promote the project, it officially does not have a production green light yet, as Tartakovsky is still only making animation tests.
Regarding the movie, Tartakovsky has been quoted as saying,
"For me, it’s the original early ’36 to ’40 range of the Fleischer Popeye cartoons. I think since they were based out of New York, it was very different. I don’t want to say underground, but it was more racy, more edgy. And I think while everyone was warming up to Disney, Fleischer made huge marks in animation, with Popeye, Betty Boop and Superman. They were doing amazing stuff and for me it’s the exaggeration and the silliness, the laughter, the movement, the physical comedy. And that’s one thing I’m after for Popeye. It’s the whole reason I agreed to do the feature; I said 'If I’m going to do this, I want it ten times more physical and crazy than we did in Hotel Transylvania and ten times more character.' And [Sony] were like, 'Alright.' The funny thing is that CGI was designed to mimic reality, but I’m going to use this realistic tool in a completely different way."

Looking at the image, the figures appear to be much more fluid than the CGI Popeye's Voyage: The Quest For Pappy DVD from a few years ago.  Olive appears to be from her Famous Studios era.  Popeye looks to be in a white shirt and blue pants... perhaps a nod to the Robin Williams movie?  I can't seem to see his pipe.  I hope it's not eliminated for political correctness.  I think its very good that Tartakovsky is inspired by the Fleischer cartoons, and although it will be CGI, it will mimic traditional hand drawn cel animation in a way we have never seen yet with CGI.

Rumors have already begun circulating as to who will voice Popeye. Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have been mentioned.  Sandler would be a total disaster, and I hope he is not cast as Popeye.  Carrey might be a good choice, as he was able to nail the beloved Jack Mercer voice many years ago on an In Loving Color sketch, although who knows if he can still deliver. If the studio feels they must get an established star, they might as well consider Robin Williams. Although not a star the caliber of Williams, Carrey, and Sandler, I would like to see Dave Coulier be considered for Popeye.  Back on Full House, he showed a great love for the character, and has perhaps come the closest to duplicating the Jack Mercer voice.  Maurice LaMarche, who voiced Popeye after Mercer's death in the short lived and awful Popeye and Son cartoon series, couldn't come as close as Coulier or Carrey to getting Popeye's voice right.  Billy West, who did the voice for the Popeye's Voyage DVD, sounded like LaMarche, but higher pitched, giving Popeye a chipmunk-like quality to his voice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #12

The first story in issue #12 features one of the dumbest villains of the TV series, Marsha Queen of Diamonds.  The first episode this character appeared in was neck and neck with the Archer episode as second worst episode of season two (the Black Widow episode being the worst), with one of the dumbest cliffhangers - Batman being forced to marry her.  Unbelievably, this character was not negated to a one shot villain, and was brought back in a second episode... a three-parter, no less, but was basically reduced to being The Penguin's moll.  With this issue, writer Jeff Parker has officially "jumped the shark".  While his work on this series has been mixed, this story cements his legacy as a Charles Hoffman-Stanford Sherman disciple. The plot deals with Marsha tunneling into the Batcave, stealing the Bat-diamond, and the Dynamic Duo recovering it. Batman does some good observational detective work early in the story, but otherwise its a big disappointment, from D-list villain Marsha successfully breaking into the Batcave and stealing the Bat-diamond, to Alfred using a Bat-pole to go up into Wayne Manor instead of using the service elevator, to Marsha's Aunt Hilda's dopey magic and potions.  Dario Brizuela contributes perhaps the worst artwork this book has seen.  He really goes overboard drawing Batman as a pot bellied, out of shape slob.

The second story is a breath of fresh air. Written by the team of Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, who also wrote the prematurely canceled Johnny DC  Billy Batson & The Magic of Shazam title, they use the second season one-shot villain The Minstrel.  He breaks into Wayne Manor and steals the Shakespeare Bust as bait to lure the Dynamic Duo to him so he can use a sonic vibration emitter tuned to the exact frequency of the Batmobile to destroy them.  Unbeknownst to Minstrel, the bust is the key to the bookcase Bat-pole access, and he has unwittingly locked Batman and Robin out of the Batcave. While this could have been another disaster like the lead story, Art and Franco have two things on their side.  First, they make the villain a minor player in the story, focusing more on Batman and Robin (and like the lead story, early in they show Bruce using his detective skills).  Second, since they are locked out of the Batcave, Art and Franco have Bruce and Dick wear "prototype costumes".  Batman's is the one used in the screen tests for the TV show, while Robin's looks like the costumes worn in the two serials from the 1940s.  Such a nod to the characters' histories like that really elevates the story and makes it clever and special.  Ultimately they also use a prototype Batmobile (looking like a cross between a 1959 Eldorado and the classic 1940s-50s Batmobile of the comics... with Alfred driving no less, another nod to the serials) rendering Minstrel's machine useless.  The art by Ted Naifeh is better than Brizuela's, but a better artist, like Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joelle Jones, Chris Sprouse, Christopher Jones, or Joe Quinones (all of whom drew previous stories) would have really made this story into a masterpiece.  I hope to see Art and Franco script more stories.  They would also be the perfect writers to bring the TV version of Captain Marvel into the 66 continuity, using the Legends of The Super Heroes TV specials as a common denominator linking the two series  (hint, hint DC).  The first story earns a D while the second story earns a B, averaging this issue's grade to a C.