Two weeks ago I talked about the city vs. country tension that’s often found in literature, and how it might have contributed to the rise of the barbarian hero in our own genre. Now I’m wondering whether we haven’t seen a fine-tuning of that same tension in a more familiar guise: the buddy movie, or, more to the point for us genre types, the buddy adventure.
Like some of the other stuff I’ve been talking about, I don’t think this concept is something that’s just shown up recently. In Don Quijote – widely considered to be the first novel, though you won’t get many who’ll agree on what genre it is – we have the titular Don himself, but we also have his travelling companion and side-kick, Sancho Panza.
But, you might argue, Sancho is a side-kick, and not an adventurer in and of himself – though again, you’ll find those who’ll dispute that, and maybe even convince you that, title aside, the book really belongs to Sancho. But let’s think about the implications here for genre heroes. When is a character a side-kick (pray note that I don’t qualify that by saying “just”) and when is the character a co-hero?
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I might be one of the few fans of the Marvel comic Blade to actually admit to liking the screen adaptations staring Wesley Snipes.
New Line Cinema released the trilogy of Blade movies between 1998 and 2004. They were based on the half-breed vampire slayer character created for Marvel Comics by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan debuting in 1973′s The Tomb of Dracula #10.
Granted, not all three movies were created equal, but I thought the first one was solid and though by the third installment, Blade Trinity, fans of the comic might not have recognized much, the snappy dialog written for Ryan Reynolds and the overall eye-candy made it at least entertaining, if not wildly successful.
In fact, at this year’s C2E2 I overheard an interesting bit of Blade Trinity trivia which maybe helps explain why.
Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt — who played weapons expert Hedges in the third Blade movie – was signing autographs. He told a fan that all those Ryan Reynolds’ sophomoric one-liners followed by Wesley Snipes’ dead pan stares were largely the result of Snipes not speaking to screenwriter / director David Goyer.
Apparently Snipes would only communicate to Goyer via post-it notes and generally refused to cooperate during the production, causing the rest of the cast to take up the uncomfortable slack in an attempt to save the film. Oswalt explained:
We would all just think of things for him (Reynolds) to say and then cut to Wesley’s face not doing anything because that’s all we could get from him (Snipes). That was an example of a very troubled shoot that we made fun. You have to find a way to make it fun.
Even more so when you consider that the entire franchise might be getting a chance at a Snipes-free redemption.
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I’ve been a fan of French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim since I first read the marvelous Dungeon (co-created with Joann Sfar) over a decade ago. His comics are bizarre, funny, and fabulously creative.
So I didn’t mind taking a chance on a new Trondheim comic collection: Kaput and Zösky, an 80-page graphic novel collecting over a dozen tales (especially since I found it remaindered on Amazon for $5.58).
Kaput and Zösky are two determined galactic conquerors, traveling from planet to planet in a tiny spaceship, constantly dreaming of ways to bring the next planet to its knees. Their abilities don’t quite match their dreams, however, and most strips end with them hightailing it off-planet, usually escaping death by inches.
The art in Kaput and Zösky is by Eric Cartier, and it was the high point of the comic for me. Cartier’s cartoony aliens are expressive and frequently very funny, and he captures Kaput and Zösky’s goofy schemes brilliantly. I suspect the strips may work better standalone than bundled together, as they got a little repetitive after a while.
Fortunately, the adventures of Kaput and Zösky aren’t limited to the page. Kaput and Zösky: The Ultimate Obliterators, a Nicktoons cartoon broadcast in 2003, captures the charm of Cartier’s artwork, and the Canadian voice cast does an excellent job of bringing the two bloodthirsty aliens to life. A total of 26 half-hour episodes (78 shorts) were produced, many of which have found their way to YouTube. Check out Kaput & Zosky in “The Planet Pax,” a complete 8-minute episode:
Kaput & Zosky – The Planet Pax
Kaput and Zösky was published in April 2008 by First Second. It is 80 pages in color, with text translated from the French by Edward Gauvin.
The other day, an issue of Entertainment Weekly arrived in my mailbox. Doctor Who was on the cover. Let me repeat that, because it’s significant. Entertainment Weekly had Doctor Who on the cover. What’s next? Good Housekeeping? Vogue? The New York Times Literary Supplement?
And there’s more. Out of the last fifteen covers, six featured genre work: the new Superman movie, Game of Thrones, World War Z, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Catching Fire. Counting the Doctor, that’s seven genre covers out of sixteen. And each with a feature article, of course.
Where am I going with this? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when it would have been UNHEARD OF for any genre work to appear on the cover or front page of any widely or popularly-read entertainment information vehicle. No newspapers, no magazines, no book or movie review sections. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
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Last week the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2 for you cool kids) rolled into town with its usual juggernaut of the innovative, the unusual and the spandex’d.
Though this is my fourth year covering the show for Black Gate, I must say it is by far the worst place to send someone like me who has a problem with staring; especially when doing so is likely to seriously annoy a very big person in a very small costume.
But never let it be said that I shirked my obligation to a long-suffering readership. Therefore I bribed Black Gate photographer Chris Z to once again wade into a precarious situation with me, this time with the promise he could meet all the crew of the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean who were listed as special guests.
Plus, Chris would be a good deterrent if I did indeed seriously annoy someone; like Batman or Chewbacca.
Almost immediately I realized Chris Z was probably in as much trouble as I was.
The first indication was a sign instructing us to text a number if we saw anything “suspicious.” At which point Chris and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Define suspicious.”
When everywhere you look are adults dressed as super heroes, Star Wars characters and video game icons, determining exactly what constitutes “suspicious” is darn near impossible. Which makes you wonder what would cause someone to text the number as instructed.
Still, Chris and I did our very best to put on the mental blinders and run through a full-day lineup of interviews, meet-and-greets and 100 aisles of merchandise.
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I started this series of posts with the intention of only writing one. “In Defense of Red Sonja” was meant to be a stand-alone post about how the character was more than just a female version of Conan the Barbarian, more than just a fan-service redhead in a chain mail bikini, more than a misogynist rape-challenge. I’ve been collecting comics from the “Bronze Age” (approximately 1970 through 1985) for years and Red Sonja wasn’t the only female character to pop up. There was Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel … all clearly starting as female versions of established male heroes and all eventually transcending those limits to become their own concepts.
That first post quickly grew in size, reaching over three-thousand words before even going into her appearances in Marvel Feature or her self-titled book. As it covered three distinct themes (how she differed from Conan, where the bikini came from, what the vow meant), I thought it would be better to break it into three separate articles. By the time the third post came out, I’d gotten enough positive reaction that I thought it might be nice to keep exploring how the character grew over the course of her own title. It was at this point that I realized just how much humor got slipped in to various panels of the title, which got me in the habit of highlighting a couple images each week. The novels and film were good ways to show how the character translated into other media, as well as how she was still evolving. And it was all a lot of fun.
So why is this the end? There were two more Marvel Comics series in the early eighties, as well as two Dynamite Entertainment series (Red Sonja and Queen Sonja) currently running. Not to mention a slew of one-shots and mini-series. I’ve got enough material to easily keep this column running at least another three years. And it is tempting to try.
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IDW’s Dungeons and Dragons comics have been my favorite D&D comics since… well, ever, really. Which is saying something, since some pretty respected publishing houses — including Marvel, DC, and Kenzer & Co – have tried their hand over the decades.
IDW’s comics have been successful, as well. Enough that they’ve spun off a number of titles in the game’s most popular settings, including Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Dark Sun. Now IDW has announced another entry in their impressive line of D&D titles: Cutter, a five-issue miniseries written by R.A. and Geno Salvatore, with art by David Baldeon and covers by Steve Ellis.
Cutter follows the saga of a fiercely divided drow family… and a legendary sword. When the battle-hardened Drow renegade Tos’un must choose an heir to his legacy, his half-Drow son Tierflin and daughter Doum’weille become locked in vicious competition. But what will the prize, the bloodthirsty sword Khazid’hea — known as the Cutter — have to say? Author R.A. Salvatore tells us:
These comic series have become a wonderful tool for me to fill in the blanks and to crystallize my thoughts on the Legend of Drizzt novels going forward. The fallout from the twisting events in Neverwinter Tales not only came into play in the last couple of Drizzt books, but allowed me a strong plot line for an upcoming novel I’ve yet to pen. The same is true for Cutter — I see it already. So while these comic stories are self-contained, they open up to the wider stories.
We’re very pleased to be able to offer a preview, in high resolution full-color PDF format. Click on the link below to enjoy the first seven pages of Cutter, compliments of IDW.
Dungeons & Dragons Cutter #1 – Preview
Dungeons & Dragons: Cutter #1 will be published by IDW Publishing on April 17. It is 32 pages in full color, priced at $3.99.
In late 1981, Red Sonja finished her orbit from Robert E. Howard character to Conan supporting cast member to comic book heroine and back to text. Writers David C. Smith and Richard L. Tierney were commissioned to write six Red Sonja novels. Their take on the character was uniquely their own, yet there’s enough of the character’s trademarks to leave no doubt these are Red Sonja novels and not just generic adventure tales with a recognizable name pasted over them.
The series began with The Ring of Ikribu, first published in December 1981. After a brief introduction by Roy Thomas (wherein the origins of the character are explained), the story opens with Asroth (an evil wizard) chewing out one of his lieutenants for failing to locate the titular ring. As punishment, he magically rearranges the lieutenant’s face into some sort of Lovecraftian unspeakable horror. Shifting locations, we learn that Asroth has seized the kingdom of Suthad with an army of ghosts. The ousted king, Olin, is gathering a mercenary army to take back Suthad and Red Sonja is one of those mercenaries. Also amongst the mercenaries is Duke Pelides, the aforementioned lieutenant who is now forced to wear a mask at all times. Olin wants the return of his kingdom, Pelides wants revenge, and Sonja just wants to get paid. Of course, as is the way with Sonja, she slowly becomes emotionally invested in those around her and eventually the money ceases to be her driving motivation. In less than two-hundred and fifty pages, the novel does a good job of conveying the sense of a long, grueling campaign without actually become monotonous.
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In 1990, the Walt Disney Company launched a new comics imprint, Disney Comics, to publish titles starring their cartoon characters; they’d previously licensed their characters to other comics companies, but the new imprint represented their own entry into the field. The venture met with some initial success and Disney began to plan further imprints, including one under former DC Comics assistant editor Art Young, which would be called Touchmark and feature creator-owned books for ‘mature readers.’ In this context, that meant something like ‘literary fantasy.’ At the time, DC had a number of books labeled for ‘mature readers’ which had gathered critical attention and good sales — among them, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Animal Man, Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer, and Peter Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man. Young brought some of these writers over to the projected Touchmark line. Announced titles included a book written by Morrison with art by Steve Yeowell, Sebastian O, one by Milligan and artist Duncan Fegredo, The Enigma, and J.M. Dematteis and Paul Johnson’s Mercy.
Touchmark never published a book. Sales for the Disney titles had begun to drop, and all the projected imprints were cancelled. But the work wasn’t wasted. Young returned to DC, bringing some of the Touchmark books with him. There, editor Karen Berger was developing a publishing plan for DC’s ‘mature readers’ books, which would be grouped together along with some new titles as an imprint of their own, to be called Vertigo. The Touchmark titles fit in seamlessly, and helped increase the diversity of the new imprint: these weren’t just re-imagined DC characters, but something completely new. I want to write here a bit about one of those books: Milligan and Fegredo’s Enigma.
The Enigma is a difficult book to describe. It opens with a seemingly random sequence of events. A narrator — abrasive, confrontational, but unseen — fills captions with sarcasm and rhetorical questions. Improbable, bizarre things happen; characters react to them in weird, apparently inexplicable ways. But then as the story goes on things begin to link up. What seems deranged becomes coherent. Explanations slowly emerge. Even the identity of the narrator and the reason for that narrator’s tone become clear during the unwinding of the tale. It’s an incredible technical accomplishment that works as more than technique: the surreality breaks open your mind, and the slow-emerging explanations build around peculiar links, feeling like dreams or obsessions, all of it gaining inexplicable depth as it resolves itself into a kind of postmodern Freudian parable. With super-heroes.
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Let’s start with the cover. In the foreground is our reverse-silhouette antagonist, looking very much as if some meta-fictional demon took a pair of cosmic sheers and simply snipped him out of that four-color reality. In the background is Red Sonja, looking very much in her element as she chops the head off a giant snake. Standing beside her is Spider-Man, punching out a demon. If none of this convinces you to pick up the issue, a small blurb in the corner reminds you that it’s “Still Only 35¢.”
The first page reveals that this story will be set not in the Hyborian Age, but rather in the equally mythical 1978 New York. December 22, to be specific. And the team who will be working on this story? Chris Claremont (who wrote all those X-Men comics you loved as a kid), John Byrne (who wrote all those Fantastic Four comics you loved as a kid), and Terry Austin (who probably inked a few issues of every title you loved as a kid). This is what would commonly be referred to as a dream team. And seeing the casual beauty of something like Spider-Man swinging past a museum on a snowy evening gives only a hint of what’s to come.
Page two is the story of security guard Gus Hovannes going on his nightly patrol of the museum. And let me add once again that, yes, it is nice when someone as incidental as a random security guard gets a name and a little background. It makes the world feel lived in, the characters richer. So when Gus breaks through a glass display case and grabs the onyx necklace, his cut hands spilling blood on the ancient jewelry, he’s a little more than just a plot device.
The scene then cuts to an office Christmas party at the Daily Bugle. I’ve ranted before about the trend towards decompressed storytelling, but it’s truly amazing to see how quickly a great writer can present a string of characters and their major personality traits. If you don’t know who J. Jonah Jameson is, one panel tells you everything you need to know about him. Mary Jane Watson gets her one character-defining panel as well (Kirsten Dunst never did THAT). And then the editor gets a call about some sort of disturbance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He sends Peter Parker and Charlie Snow out to investigate by virtue of the fact that they’re the only two people at the party who aren’t falling down drunk.
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