Not a comic book movie

That mail-order company with the little red envelopes sent me the Comic Book Villains DVD recently, and I watched it tonight; the experience was surprising, if not totally satisfying.

I must have ordered the film, which was written and directed by the same fellow who went on to write the execrable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, during my comics-related-stuff search when I first established my queue. I didn't read any reviews of it until after I saw it, and the ones I have checked out have been almost unanimously negative.

The film starts out looking like it will be an examination of fandom: the plot revolves around the efforts of rival comic shop owners, a fanboy and husband-and-wife team of speculators, to secure the dream of all obsessed collectors: a previously unknown, totally complete, Golden Age-to-present collection held by someone who doesn't know its true worth. As the rivalry heats up, we are led to believe the movie will become a caper flick, with increasing complicated methods being employed to curry favor and obtain the collection. The film then takes a dark turn; the caper is not lighthearted, but mean-spirited, and Bad Things Happen.

This is the aspect that seemed to turn most reviewers off: that the film was unnecessarily dark and violent for a movie about comic book geeks. This is also where I think that most reviewers got it wrong.

You see, this is not a comic book movie. It is rather a wannabe thriller or noir moderne in the mold of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple; the comic book stuff is just extra. The director wrote comics in the nineties and clearly called upon a world that he knew, but the fought-over collection could have just as easily been stamps or coins or baseball cards; comics qua comics don't have as much significance in this story as vinyl albums did in High Fidelity, for example. Notwithstanding some lessons learned about living a real life rather than obsessing over imaginary characters, this isn't really a movie about collectors and collecting: it is about greed, desperation, and morality.

Considered in this light, the film still falls short -- the director just doesn't have a deft enough touch to carry off the descent into madness without stumbling -- but it is less of a complete misfire. The cast of well-known (if not A-list) actors acquit themselves well, although Cary Elwes seems to be channeling Bruce Campbell for some reason, and the soundtrack is pretty cool, if not always appropriately scored. Maybe I was just feeling generous, but I would recommend checking this movie out, with graded expectations, and not just for comics fans.

Comic Book Villains (2002) Written and Directed by James Robinson; Capital Arts Entertainment.

In my LCS

I was in the LCS the other day, and I noticed a woman come in who just appeared too normal to be a regular comics buyer. I chastised myself for unsupported generalization, and then had my guess confirmed when she asked the clerk if the store carried Little Lulu comics. The clerk (who also happened to be a woman) took her over to the all-ages rack and started to show her the stock. I overheard her explaining to the customer clearly and without condescension which books were reprints and how reprint collections worked. She mentioned a Dennis the Menace collection, which the customer thought was very cool, and then started to turn her on to some newer stuff. The transaction seemed to be going successfully from all sides.

I offer this vignette as a bit of a counterpoint to the comic shop horror stories I have read, those anecdotes about rude, obnoxious, or sexist clerks who can't see the forest for the spandex. Comics is a lot of things, and the more the merrier, I say.

At the same time this heartwarming exchange was taking place, I was scanning the shelves, looking for my weekly supply of , um, spandex, and you know what? I came up with nothin'. Wonder Woman, the only remaining monthly (heh) that I am really interested in (since Ant-Man's rough charm is fading fast ) has apparently taken a detour into the Twilight Zone. The recently ballyhooed Countdown holds no interest for me; I dropped off the 52 bandwagon around thirty or so because the quality just wasn't there, and I have no reason to expect this "event" to be any different.

So, I think is is finally the end of my buying pamphlets: the kick just isn't worth the effort anymore. I hadn't bought anything new for years when I started this blog; all the interactions with blogger colleagues and my feeling more connected to current events tempted me back to buying new funnybooks, but the dalliance has left me unsatisfied. So, it's back to the trades for me; I have a list as long as my arm, and I'm going to start working my way through it seriously for a while.

And maybe I'll pick up some Little Lulu along the way.

Through the cracks

Somehow, Dance of the Puppets fell off my RSS feed and I have missed Marionette's blog for a longish while. Since I consider her my oldest blog-buddy, and since she was involved in a bit of a kerfuffle during that time, I feel a bit bad for having not been there. I don't want to go over all the gory details here, I just want to shout out to Mari with some old school Mike Sekowsky - Bernie Sachs goodness:


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am using graphic books as the reading texts in the composition class I am teaching this quarter. After plowing through The Language of Comics, which gave the students a grounding in academic analysis of the form, we have read Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1; Watchmen; Why I Hate Saturn; and True Story, Swear to God: Chances Are*. We are currently reading Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District*, and have Contract with God up next.

This group of students are actually pretty good writers for this level, and, surprisingly to me, many seem to be drawn to formalist analyses as opposed to more traditional literary analyses of the books. There seems to be a good number of them who want to try to work out and evaluate the artistic and storytelling choices such as page layout, balloon use and placement, art styles, and so on; I even had one student ask me why we weren't reading McCloud (who is referenced in just about every article in LoC.) Now that we are working on a synthesis paper, more students are proposing examinations of themes and elements like setting (one student is doing an interesting look at point of view in Watchmen), but that formalist bent is still here.

Other than that, here are a few observations, for what they're worth:

1. Readers aged 16 - 25 who are unfamiliar with comics (most of the class) don't think that silver age stories are whimsical or charming; they think the stories are stupid and childish. (One student did a good paper on the "lying narrator" in the Superman stories.)

2. Watchmen is not a crossover title, but Rorschach is fascinating to readers.

3. A student pointed out that the book that Anne has completed at the end of Why I Hate Saturn is Why I Hate Saturn. I had never thought of that; another reason I love teaching.

4. Chances Are was by far the most accessible of the works we have read. (Perhaps it's just the least dated?) The consensus of the class was that if they hadn't known it to be a true story, it would have been trite and predictable, but knowing that it was true made them enjoy it a lot. One student called it "girly," but in a positive way.

All in all, it's turning out even better than I expected.

*What is it with these really long names for graphic books?

July 16, 1969

I am a little ashamed that the Fortress Keeper posts more when he is down with the flu than I do when I am healthy (and just busy), so I thought I would share this little feature I found in Captain Action #3, (Feb-Mar 1969). In the midst of stunning Gil Kane artwork (although I swear I see some Wally Wood in there), came this:

If you can wade you way through the faux-Stan-Lee patter (complete with Don Adams shtick), you'll see it's the self-illustrated story of a young would-be artist (Sam Viviano, who now illustrates for Mad magazine, among other things) who paid a visit to the DC offices in September of 1968. He got to meet Carmine Infantino and others in what was apparently a real "gee whiz" experience for him.

The sequence spans two pages, and I can't imagine that it was very interesting even then, but this closing panel caught my attention:

What the heck happened on July 16, 1969?

Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, launched that day. Rain Pryor was born on that day.

I thought it might have been the first official Comic Art Convention in New York, but Wikipedia says that was held on Independence day.

This was a little before I was involved in fandom, so although at that time (this would have been the summer after 7th grade, I guess) I still lived in Brooklyn, I have no idea what this is referring to.