I learned last week that Tony DeZuniga, co-creator of the DC Comics character, Jonah Hex, passed away last week.  Mr. DeZuniga penciled many books for DC and Marvel from the 1970s on, including Batman, Detective Comics, Phantom Stranger, Vigilante, Iron Man, X-Men, Thor and countless others.  His most famous work, however was on Jonah Hex.

I became familiar with DeXuniga’s work when DC release the Jonah Hex showcase back in the mid-2000s.  This black and white book collected issues of Weird Western Tales starring Jonah Hex.  I loved the stories and spent most of the next year picking up the original backissues.  The stories were excellent, and the artwork was a notch above much of the art of the period.

Most recently, DeZuniga drew a hardcover Jonah Hex story, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.  This was released in 2010 in anticipation of the unfortunate Jonah Hex feature film.  The graphic novel, however, was excellent.  I’m sorry to see another talented creator leave this world, but thankful for the body of work he left behind.  He created some of the best western images in the history of comics, and will be remembered by fans for years to come.

DeZuniga suffered a stroke, heart failure and brain damage last week and passed away on Friday at 1:25 am.  He was surrounded by his wife Tina and daughter, Sheryl.

 

 

I have a confession, I’m not a big fan of Garth Ennis.  His work, while well respected, has tended to represent the things that I don’t like about comics.  Even so, I was willing to give his new series, THE SHADOW, a chance because out of fondness for the character.  I read the DC series back in the eighties and I’ve always enjoyed the old time radio drama, but I was pretty skeptical about the author.  Thankfully, I was surprised by this book.

The story opens with a voice-over, narrating the Rape of Nanking, China by Imperial Japanese forces and leads into the classic Shadow monologue, “I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.”  From there, the book follows the Shadow as he butchers gangsters and sets up what I assume will be the first story arc.  The art by Aaron Campbell was high quality, consistent with other Dynamite titles, and the writing was surprisingly crisp and unpretentious.

Dynamite Entertainment is the king of modernizing old properties for comics.  They’ve had tremendous success with The Lone Ranger, Zorro and Voltron among others, and I have high hopes that this series will be of similar quality.  As I mentioned above, Ennis is one of those writers that I tend to avoid, but I am planning on staying on THE SHADOW for at least the first story arc and hopefully longer.

If you haven’t already, check it out next week.  There are multiple covers by John Cassaday, Alex Ross, Howard Chaykin and Jae Lee.  I opted for the Ross cover, but all of the above were spectacular.  Good reading.

It was announced this week that James Robinson will be writing a new He-Man and the Masters of the Universe revamp for DC Comics.  Generally speaking, I try to avoid revamps at the movies, but I’ve often enjoyed them as comics.  Revamped movies almost always stink because they lose the thing that made a particular property special.  Now, I didn’t care for He-Man when I was a kid, but it has gotten me thinking about other properties that I would like to see revamped as comics.  I’ve assembled a list, and here are my top 5 picks:

1. Have Gun Will Travel.  

The greatest western TV show of all time, at least in my opinion.  This show starred Richard Boone as Paladin, an eccentric bounty hunter who lived in a hotel in San Francisco.  There was talk a few years back about remaking this as a modern film starring Eminem, which is absolutely the stupidest idea I have ever heard.  But a comic telling new (Richard Boone) Paladin adventures would be at the top of my pull list.

2. Joan of Arcadia

This was a great show that only lasted for two seasons.  Highly regarded by both fans and critics, it starred Amber Tamblyn as a modern day Joan of Arc.  God would show up as a cute boy on the bus or the lunch lady and suggest that she take a job at the book store or throw a party.  By the end of the episode the side effects of whatever Joan did would have positive repercussions.  I believe that the show was cancelled because it was positive and network TV only likes to put out crap, but then, I haven’t had TV coming into my house in six years, so what do I know?  Also, commercials are beneath me.

3. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Arguably the best of all the Star Trek series, DS9 was relaunched as a series of novels back in the early 2000s.  This relaunch was led by an amazing editor, Marco Palmieri, but has stalled in recent years due to layoffs and a scaling back of releases by Pocket Books.  A new series could either pick up in the middle of the novel relaunch, tell stories set within the series, or come out with an entirely new relaunch that picks up from the final episode.  In any case, I would certainly be there for this.

4. Firefly

I know, I know, there are Firefly comics that come out occasionally.  What I want, though, I an ongoing series that fills in the gaps between the TV show and the movie.  How long has it been since the last Serenity comic?  Way too long! Firefly was brilliant, and deserves a second season (and more) as a comic book.

5. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

You are probably shaking your head at this choice, but I am serious.  This show was a modern classic, and all of the major characters were left alive at the end.  A new series could pick right back up where the show left off, and while the stories might be campy, they were always fun.  I would certainly be on board for this book that will never be made.

Pamela Mullin, editor at Vertigo, posted Paul Cornell’s pitch for SAUCER COUNTRY on the Vertigo blog the other day.  As a writer and a writing teacher, I have to admit that I love stuff like this.  It gives us insight into the mind of the creator, and also reveals a pitch that was actually accepted by a major publisher.  As anyone that has ever submitted one of these will tell you, writing a successful pitch isn’t easy.  Here is an excerpt from Cornell’s pitch:

ARCADIA ALVARADO is the Latina, female, Republican Governor of New Mexico. She’s on the Libertarian wing of her party, a secret athiest who attends church to appease the religious right, but still a basically honest and dedicated politician who knows that people want to believe in something.

But when, one night, she and MICHAEL (who has a well-rumored drinking problem) are taken from their car by what she believes to be ALIENS…her life changes forever. She was told by the little Grey beings that they’d nearly completed their centuries-long plan for Earth, and will be back, not just for her, but for the whole human race… in one year’s time.

Based on what I see so far, this has the makings of an interesting series.  As the pitch continues, Cornell reveals the theme of his new book:

UFO mythology is wonderful, strange, and varied. It stretches back centuries, from Biblical descriptions of flying machines to medieval crop-circle-making demons to the ‘foo fighters’ of WW2 to the flying saucers of the 1950s and flying triangles of the 1980s. Only recently has it started to become a concrete narrative about ‘Greys’ and ‘abductions’. Our aim with this title will be to journey through this powerful modern mythology, weird and resonant, full of wonder, a map of what America (because these are American dreams) is right now. To know a country, know its mythology. And this is the only modern American mythology.

I stumbled across Warren Ellis’ pitch for PLANETARY a few years back, and I’ve gone back to it numerous times over the years as a shining example of how to write these damn things.  This is his opening:

The Wildstorm Universe is just the obvious shiny surface of an Earth with superheroes. Go a little deeper, and you find strangeness and wonder on a planetary scale. There are people weirder and more marvellous than the WildC.A.T.S. or StormWatch, who simply prefer to operate outside the glare of world publicity. There are mad and beautiful things beneath the skin of the world we know, that you only see when you look at things on a planetary scale…

…and I’m not talking about X-Files stuff. Fun as it is, it’s done to death. I’m talking about a world in the superhero genre whose only known heroes, for the most part, are sourced in conspiracy theory and hallucinated alien histories. What if, underneath all that, there was an entire classic old superhero world? What if there were huge Jack Kirby temples underground built by old gods or new, and ghostly cowboys riding the highways of the West for justice, and superspies in natty suits and 360-degree-vision shades fighting cold wars in the dark, and strange laughing killers kept in old Lovecraftian asylums… what if you had a hundred years of superhero history just slowly leaking out into this young and modern superhero world of the Wildstorm Universe? What if you could take everything old and make it new again?

Here we see Ellis revealing the theme of his story right up front.  Considering the execution of Planetary, one of the best series of all time in my opinion, this was an excellent choice.  Every issue was filled with a sense of wonder, and you can see that wonder right there in the pitch.

I talk about query letters a bit in my writing class, and we cover some of this material then.  A query letter is something like a pitch, one where you have to convey the most intriguing part of your short story or novel in one or two paragraphs!  Many of my students have told me that they find writing queries more difficult than actually writing their novel.

Most would concur, however, that it is easier than writing author bios.  I’ve never met a writer on any level who enjoy writing those cursed things.

Last month, DC Comics announced a series of controversial prequels to, possibly, the most influential comic mini-series of all time: The Watchmen.  The prequels are:

  • RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
  • MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
  • COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
  • DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
  • NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
  • OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
  • SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

This is probably going to sound controversial, but I didn’t particularly enjoy the original Watchmen series.  I never read it when it was released (though I’ll never forget the brilliant advertising campaign) and never managed to get to it until the early 2000s.  It was actually DC’s 52 that caused me to finally read Alan Moore’s masterpiece.  I loved the Question in 52, and I wanted to see if Rorschach compared.

Reading Watchmen nearly 20 years after it was released was interesting.  There was no sense of shock for me as there likely was for readers in 1986.  I’ve been through the 90s (I’m going through them again, thanks to the DCnU) and I’ve read The Boys.  Nothing can shock me.  Without that aspect, I was left only with the story, the characters and the writing style to judge the book.  2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

I love the concept of the Watchmen, and the characters (based on old Charltan characters) are wonderful.  But the execution just bored me.  The pacing was an agony, to the point that it distracted me from the story.  It was great, in the same way that Brave New World is great, but I never want to read that novel again.  I can appreciate its importance, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed the experience of reading it.  I felt the same way about Watchmen.

I saw the movie and thought it was brilliant.  It had the best opening sequence of any movie I’ve ever seen, and the British slowness of the book was nowhere to be found.  I have the impression that this is not a popular opinion, but I really don’t care.  I also own the DVD of Breakfast of Champions.

I was content with my Watchmen experience after the movie, but with this announcement about the prequels, I have to admit that I am intrigued.  I mean, Darwyn Cooke on Minutemen?  On the other hand, I haven’t been too thrilled about the new direction for DC (or their terrible new logo), so I have my doubts that this will be any good.  I’m cautiously optimistic.

As for Alan Moore and the creator’s right issue, all I can say is that Watchmen was work for hire.  When I wrote for Star Trek, I signed away the rights to my stories, including my original characters.  That was part of the deal if I wanted to play in that sandbox.  Furthermore, the Watchmen characters are all based on Charltan characters, so they are not exactly original concepts.  It doesn’t bother me that DC is publishing these stories, but it will be a major letdown if they suck.  The sequel to the Dark Knight Returns, for instance, was among the worst books I have ever read, and if this turns into The Watchmen Strikes Again, I will not be happy.

How do we feel about this?