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Comics

Volume 83 (Fall 2011 - Spring 2012)

Matthew Fisher's Original Cartoons

4 25 Cartoon Color 1

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Comics Editor’s Top 10 Lists

As Comics Editor, I have written many columns these past two years that covered a variety of topics in the comic book industry from well-known publishers and characters like DC Comics and Superman to obscure aspects such as 3-D comics. (Additionally, I chose to draw my own cartoons (left) for my very last Outlook issue.)

Every week, I religiously stop bymy local comic book store, Comics Plus, to buy new comics and graphic novels as well as look for old issues to complete my collections.

So, I thought for my final issue, I would share with you my favorite heroes, series, writers, etc. (in no particular order) when it comes to comic books. Enjoy!

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Comic Books Get a Dose of Reality Television

When you turn on the television, you will find a whole host of reality TV to enjoy. Some have wide appeal (“American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent”), are educational (“Pawn Stars”), or are just plain odd (“My Strange Addiction”).

However, while reality TV seems geared to this medium, it has found a way to be explored through the comic book pages. These books aren’t copying reality TV, but are using the platform as an interesting background for superhero tales.

One of the more recent comics to utilize the popularity of reality TV is “America’s Got Powers” from Image Comics, written by Jonathan Ross and illustrated by Bryan Hitch. The series focuses on Tommy Watts as he enters a super competition where various young heroes compete with one another using their powers to become rich and famous. They battle against each other on the hit show called “America’s Got Powers.”

While talking to comicbookresources.com, Hitch mentioned how the idea for the series evolved to become more about the characters and the story rather than about the show itself. He said, “Jonathan’s original one line pitch was ‘X-Factor for Super Heroes’ and it was a great idea, but as we started putting a story to that idea, it became much less about the show. Once we put living breathing characters into the scenario of the show, it became their story, not the show’s story, and the show became an environment.”

It seems as if the idea of heroes fighting on a reality TV show struck a chord as a second printing has been announced via a press release on comicbookresources.com.

However, competitions haven’t been the only way for the comic book medium to include reality TV in its pages. Sometimes, it could be just a real show about heroes trying to fight the good battle, which is what Marvel did when they redeveloped their ‘90s superhero team, New Warriors.

Back in their heyday, the New Warriors consisted of teenage heroes: Night Thrasher, Speedball, Marvel Boy, Nova, Namorita and Firestar. However, it wouldn’t be until their third volume via a six-issue miniseries that these superheroes became recognized faces.

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Comic Books and Heroes Focus on Real World Issues

If you think comic books and superheroes are only about stopping alien invasions, giant monsters and evil villains, think again. Countless comic books and publishers have confronted real world issues.

To start, “Unknown Soldier,” from Vertigo Comics, dealt with the issue of child soldiers and the civil war that plagued Uganda in 2002. The character was updated from his WWII-roots by writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli. (This was the second time Vertigo published a comic featuring the Unknown Soldier following a 1997 four-issue miniseries by writer Garth Ennis and artist Kilian Plunkett.)

Running for 25 issues, the series dealt with Dr. Moses Lwanga, who returned to Uganda after being born there and raised in America, as he and his wife, Sera, helped refugees of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

One day, Moses is brutally attacked, but doesn’t die. Instead, he wraps up his wounds and hears voices that tell him to fight the evil and injustice of his homeland by dealing with it head on as the new Unknown Soldier.

The entire series was not only a good read but raised awareness of what happened in this country and those responsible. “Unknown Soldier” even confronted Joseph Kony in the series finale.

According to the New York Times, in addition to library and Internet research, “Mr. Dysart decided that ‘if I was going to deal with the absolute worst aspect of these people’s lives, I was going to have to go there.’ He visited Uganda in early 2007, months after a cease-fire was declared the previous summer. Mr. Dysart spent time with the Acholi and visited the cities of Kampala and Entebbe.”

The site also reported that Dysart brought over “1,000 photographs that Mr. Ponticelli could use as references for the illustrations.”

However, comic books don’t have to just feature superheroes or fictional beings to discuss problems in the world. Sometimes, if an issue needs to be addressed people will develop a way to talk about it, which is what the United Nations (U.N.) has done. They used the comic book medium to raise awareness on global issues such as poverty in the comic book titled, “Score the Goals.”

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Bringing Stephen King Tales to the Comic Book Page

Horror master Stephen King has taken readers to the furthest, darkest depth of his imagination with his novels that range from tales of killer canines (“Cujo”) to being trapped within an invisible dome (“Under the Dome”).

In addition to his novels and short stories, King’s works have been adapted into a number of movies and TV specials. However, his tales aren’t limited to these mediums as they have also found a way into the comic book industry.

When it came to bringing King’s vision to comic books, one of the first stories to get the paneled-paged treatment was his “Dark Tower” series. “The Dark Tower” followed gunslinger Roland Deschain as he braves a world of monsters and evil men while on his quest to reach the mythical Dark Tower and the Man in Black. Rather than adapt all the books, Marvel presented a miniseries detailing Roland’s youth as he faces tragedy and betrayal while learning to become the best gunslinger ever.

The first miniseries, “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born,” came out in 2007 and was written by Peter David with plot from Robin Furth and art by Jae Lee.

Other miniseries continued to explore Roland’s youth with “The Long Road Home,” “Treachery,” “The Fall of Gilead,” and “The Battle of Jericho Hill” plus the one-shot, “Sorcery.”

The past two miniseries, however, feature an adult Roland already settled into his quest for the Dark Tower in “The Journey Begins,” “The Little Sister of Eluria,” “The Battle of Tull,” and “The Way Station.”

In an interview with graphincnovelreporter.com prior to the release of “Treachery,” David and Furth discussed their intentions for the series from the start. “If by reaction you mean critical reaction, I was confident that we were putting out a quality book. The work that Robin, Jae and Richard have done is superb. So I was reasonably sure that we’d get positive notices. In terms of actual audience numbers, I honestly had no idea what to expect. It was, after all, not a superhero title. I knew if we could pull in the Stephen King fans, we’d have a ball game,” he said.

Furth also said, “I wanted so much to do a good job and to please Stephen King and all the longtime ‘Dark Tower’ fans. Bringing Mid-World to a new readership felt like a big responsibility, but I’m so glad that readers have enjoyed the story. That is a reward in itself.”

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Shakespearean Tales Give Comics a Literary Touch

From Hamlet to The Tempest, the plays of William Shakespeare are still performed centuries after his death and have been adapted into many films. However, beyond the silver screen and the stage, comic books have also continued staging the Bard’s tales for readers and fans alike.

As with any classic novel or play, sooner or later they get adapted as a comic. Some of the first Shakespeare comic adaptations were in “Classics Illustrated” such as Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here, writers and artists brought these stories to the paneled pages without losing the meaning and original dialogue.

Although “Classics Illustrated” ended, people still look to bring these timeless stories to life as comic books. The Shakespeare Comic Book Series has been one way that these tales have been turned into comics. According to shakespearecomics.com, “The Shakespeare Comic Book Series was created in response to a simple question: How can we present serious literature to a generation of school students that is intensely visually aware but often reluctant to read? The answer was to offer the work of the world’s greatest writer in a popular format with a highly pictorial content. The Shakespeare Comic Book Series thus began life in 1999, created by Simon Greaves.”

The site also noted these comics have been featured in exhibits and used as teaching tools.

Comic book writers and artists have also adapted these plays as mangas with “Manga Shakespeare.” For those unfamiliar with manga, they are novella-sized comics from Japan that feature such series as “Bleach” and “Naruto.” Within these series, artists present rich, detailed characters and settings as writers offer work to keep the play’s stories and messages intact. According to mangashakespeare.com, “‘The Manga Shakespeare’ editorial team is led by a leading Shakespeare scholar and an educational editor… the team is expert in making serious works of literature more accessible.”

Now, the books’ creative teams take liberties with their interpretations. Some might have a futuristic setting like “Manga Shakespeare: Julius Caesar” while “Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth” has an action-driven atmosphere (the cover has Macbeth wielding swords).

“Manga Shakespeare” also condensed these adaptations a bit for readers. The site also stated, “Plays in the ‘Manga Shakespeare’ series are abridged to allow teachers to focus on key scenes while following Shakespeare’s text.”

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The Warlord of Mars Continues to Rule Comics

Although John Carter (3-D) didn’t really hit it big at the box office, his adventures on Mars or Barsoom are thriving in comics. Dynamite Entertainment has published titles such as “Warlord of Mars,” “Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris,” “Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom,” “Warriors of Mars,” and the upcoming, “Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars.”

Created by writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of “Tarzan”), “Warlord of Mars” follows former Confederate soldier, John Carter, as he searches the Arizona desert for gold. One night, he enters a cave with strange markings and is transported to Barsoom where he has super strength and can jump incredibly far because of the low gravity.

There, John meets the green, four-limbed Tharks and befriends Tars while finding himself in the middle of a civil war. This leads him to find a new purpose in life as well as fall in love with Martian princess Dejah Thoris.

Although Barsoom and its inhabitants might be thriving at Dynamite, it’s not the first time this pulp sci-fi hero was adapted to the comics. First, there were comic strips featuring John Carter, which evolved to comic books in the 1950’s from Dell Comics. In the 1970’s, John Carter’s adventures were presented as back-up stories in DC titles “Tarzan” and “Weird Worlds” before Marvel started to publish its adaptation of “Warlord of Mars.” John Carter even united with Burroughs’s fellow literary creation in “Tarzan/Warlord of Mars” by Dark Horse Comics in 1996.

Today John Carter and a line of “Warlord of Mars” titles reside at Dynamite Entertainment where this 100-year-old tale is being reenivsioned once more by some incredible comic book talent.

Writer Arvid Nelson has been scripting “Warlord of Mars” since the series began and wrote the spin-off title “Dejha Thoris” until issue 10. While talking to tfaw.com, Nelson explained how writers continue to tell this one story despite having been presented already by others. “The stories are so visual! I sort of reject the idea anyone can do a ‘definitive’ take on a story. I love seeing how different writers and artists handle the same material,” Nelson said.

Although Nelson is working on the two main series, other writers have also visited Barsoom. First, there’s the miniseries, “Fall of Barsoom,” by writer Robert Place Napton and artist Roberto Castro, which features Barsoom crumbling as two Martian races are fighting and a third is preparing to die. The story follows two individuals of the Ororvarian race trying to save Mars. This miniseries is a strong addition to the John Carter mythology by further developing the adopted world John Carter will later rule and protect.

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RoboCop Has Always Kept Comic Book Streets Safe

While most superheroes were born in comic books, some iconic characters originated elsewhere. This has happened with Marvel characters such as X-23 (a female clone of Wolverine) in “X-Men: Evolution” and Harley Quinn (the Joker’s love and right-hand girl) in “Batman: The Animated Series.”

RoboCop, one of the coolest heroes, didn’t start in comics but rather a live-action movie. Soon, the adventures of RoboCop couldn’t be contained solely on the silver screen and over the years has found homes at different publishers.

For those unfamiliar with the cyborg policeman, RoboCop was Alex Murphy (played by Peter Weller in the first two movies), a Detroit cop who was killed while on duty and then resurrected as RoboCop by the Omni Consumer Products (OCP) Corporation. Most of the films tend to deal with Murphy/RoboCop as he comes to grasp with his robotic self while keeping citizens safe.

The first RoboCop comic began at Marvel in 1990 (ending in 1992 after 23 issues) and was written by Alan Grant and illustrated by Lee Sullivan. In addition to new, original stories, Marvel also offered an adaption of RoboCop 2 for comic book readers (the comic book series was meant to take place between RoboCop 2 and 3).

In an interview with robocoparchive.com, Sullivan talked about his experience as artist for the RoboCop comics. Sullivan said one of the best things about working on the series was “working for Marvel US for the first time; I felt that I was a real artist at last!” However, he mentioned some of the less thrilling aspects including “the direction of the book; unfortunately Greg Wright was also working on a title called Deathlok at the time, and as this was also a part man/part machine character, I think the gritty cyborg story direction was firmly kept for the Marvel version, and poor Alan Grant…was left with very compromised property to work on.”

Following Marvel, this cyborg went to Dark Horse Comics where he would remain from 1992-94. His first story here was a crossover with another sci-fi icon, the Terminator in “RoboCop vs. the Terminator” by Frank Miller (writer) and Walter Simonson (artist). Most of his stories were presented as parts in “Dark Horse Presents” in addition to an adaptation of RoboCop 3. RoboCop would remain offline until 2003 when he would confront grittier storytelling from the mind of Miller by moving to Avatar Press.

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Comics and Characters That Don’t Need to Speak

Usually when readers open up a comic book, they will notice word bubbles or captions that contain character dialogue or thoughts. Yet, there are points when writers and artists decided to take risks and tell stories that rely on visual storytelling more than words.

Known as silent issues, these particular tales are somewhat uncommon, but nevertheless, interesting to read when they are published. So, with the silent movie The Artist being a big winner at the Academy Awards, why not take a look back at comics whose pictures spoke louder than words?

To begin, one of the more memorable silent issues was “G.I. Joe” #21 from Marvel Comics, written by Larry Hama, who also did the breakdown art, and finishings art by Steve Leialoha.

The story titled, “Silent Interlude,” was about the silent ninja and soldier, Snake Eyes, going on a mission to rescue fellow G.I. Joe member, Scarlett. Telling the story silently with Snake Eyes as the lead seemed appropiate since the character never spoke to anyone and let his actions talk for him.

The issue was also notable for introducing Snake Eyes’ rival, Storm Shadow, into the G.I. Joe cast.

According to joeguide.com (via Comics Interview #37-38), Hama explained what his real intention behind writing and illustrating “Silent Interlude” was. He said, “I wanted to see if I could do a story that was a real, complete story - beginning, middle, end, conflict, characterization, action, solid resolution - without balloons or captions or sound effects. I tried to do it again, as a matter of fact, with the Joe Yearbook #3 story.”

Hama went on to create one more silent issue for Marvel with “G.I. Joe” #85 (it featured Storm Shadow) and one for IDW after they took over the G.I. Joe property with “G.I. Joe Origins” #19 (another tale that focused on the elusive Snake Eyes). While talking to ifanboy.com at the 2010 San Diego Comic-con, IDW Senior Editor Andy Schmidt described the excitement of telling another silent Joe story. “One of the first things I wanted to do as a G.I. Joe editor was revisit the silent issue. It’s just too fun not to do again…This time we brought on the incredibly talented and dynamic artist Joe Benitez to punch it up and hit it out of the park!” Schmidt said.

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The Comic Book Adventures of Professor Claude Taylor

Communication professor Claude Taylor’s secret identity as a comic book fan has been revealed! Hearing Taylor talk about superheroes and comic books, it was easy to see he is not just a fan of the medium but a super fan.

In an interview with The Outlook about all things comic book related from his introduction to superheroes to the current status of comics.

Taylor’s affinity for superhero adventures began upon finding his brothers comics at an early age. “My first contact with comic books was the ‘Giant Size’ large format books that were popular in the 1970’s,” Taylor said. “My older brother had some Marvel titles, and I used to look at the pictures when I was five-years-old.”

He also said that early on, he saw some comic book media on TV like “Wonder Woman” and “Batman,” but the one that stood out the most was “Super Friends.” “I was an avid viewer of Saturday morning cartoons and the best one was the ‘Super Friends,’” Taylor said. “That was the best…with the team you had multiple characters all the time.”

As his comics fascination grew, Taylor talked about how he would eagerly await the arrival of new comics. “I’d wait for the delivery truck at my local convenience store. I used to get it first out of the truck.” While an avid reader, Taylor said he was becoming a collector, too. “…I used to buy a ‘read-copy’ and a ‘collect-copy’ of my favorite titles,” saving them in plastic casings with back boards to keep them mint.

As time passed, Taylor gravitated more to Marvel comics than DC, saying he’s 80 percent Marvel and 20 percent DC. He mentioned how he was “fascinated with the Fantastic Four origin story. I remember going back and reading about them.” He also listed Spider-Man and the Hulk as other stand out characters. “As a kid, they are the kind of big superheroes that caught your eye,” he added.

Taylor said, “Marvel captured your attention in different ways. At the time in the late 70’s, Marvel heroes were easier to identify with and easier to just like the story while DC was dodgy and old…”

However, to this day, Taylor’s favorite hero is still Daredevil, attorney Matt Murdock who, despite being blind by an accident, had his other senses reach super levels. One of Taylor’s prized possessions is the entire Frank Miller run from the series, where Daredevil experienced both extreme physical and emotional challenges with the sharp-shooter Bullseye and his ex-girlfriend, Elektra.

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Abraham Lincoln Has a History With Comics

Abraham Lincoln was many things during his life: a lawyer, a politician, and President of the United States. However, one thing people might not be aware of is that Honest Abe has also been featured as a comic book character. So, to honor the President Lincoln’s 203rd birthday, let’s take a look at how comic book creators have brought a bit of the past to the present.

Seeing presidents in comic books isn’t something new as I discussed last year with my column on President Obama’s appearance in “Spider-Man” and as Barack the Barbarian. Other U.S. presidents that have graced the comic pages include John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George W. Bush. Yet, what is interesting here is to see a U.S. president entering strange adventures and fighting with heroes at a point when superhero comics had yet to emerge.

According to comicvine.com, there are “132 appearances” of Lincoln in comics with his first appearance being, “Real Life Comics” #2.

Now, when comic book readers look to his more recent appearances, one unique title that stands out is “Time Lincoln” from Antarctic Press and written and drawn by Fred Perry. A synopsis on comicvine.com reads as such: “What happens when the Great Emancipator is suddenly freed from the bonds of time to right wrongs throughout history? Taken out of time on the night of his assassination with the help of H.G. Wells’s time machine, Abraham Lincoln finds himself waging war upon the forces of evil in the past, present and future! In his last hour, he lived a lifetime!”

While a time-traveling Lincoln might appear strange, looking at the cover for “Time Lincoln,” with the 16th President wearing time goggles and staring into the distance, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the title’s premise. Additionally, a review on geek-life.com, it explains that Lincoln isn’t alone on this journey. They report “Lincoln assembles a back-up team that includes Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, George Washington Carver, and Benjamin Franklin, all equipped with a bunch of fun steampunky devices.”

Although this might seem like the first time Lincoln is time traveling, the truth is he’s done so before in Marvel’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book.” [Insert air guitar riffs].

As for superhero comic books, Lincoln has been featured in titles like “The Flash” Vol. 1 #270 and “Weird Western Tales” #33. However, iconic heroes Lincoln has stood next to include Superman and Spider-Man.

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