Love it or hate it, the new John Carter movie has spawned a lot of contemporary conversation about the books, comics, illustrations, fanzines–everyone has an opinion!

My first exposure to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian tales was in the third or fourth grade. My parents got me one of the editions with the wicked cool Michael Whelan covers. I was hooked from the first page. Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan of the Apes–another fantastic work–but I’ve always been partial to John Carter of Mars.

My first comics exposure to the property was Marvel’s adaptation. Written by Marv Wolfman in 1977, it sported artwork from Gil Kane, Dave Cockrum, Frank Miller, Rudy Nebres, and a bunch of others that I misremember. I didn’t discover it until years later, and I obsessively tracked down all 28 issues and the annuals. So obsessive was my hunt that I think I’ve purchased the entire series a couple of times over (thank the gods of Mars for dollar bins at most conventions). I’ve been tempted to pick up Marvel’s trade paperback collection, but I love the old comics so much that I don’t think I need yet another copy just ‘cuz it’s in a new format. Now you, gentle readers, you need this book. If you haven’t read this, you’re in for a treat. It’s soooo friggin’ much fun!

Years later, I would discover that DC Comics had done it’s won John Carter adaptations. Yes, I had to chase down all the Weird Worlds issues as well as the Tarzan Family issues (if memory serves, that’s where most, if not all, of DC’s John Carter comics were presented). Other comic publishers took a hand at the hero before DC, but I’ve only seen a smattering of them, and they don’t immediately appeal to me, so I haven’t been motivated to pick them up.

What’s this have to do with today? Well, Dynamite Entertainment is doing new John Carter adaptations, as is Marvel. I’m not sure how they’re able to do this–it’s rare for 2 competing companies to have the rights to the trademark at the same time. As I understand it, the books are now in the public domain (therefore copyright free), but the characters and the universe are trademarked and controlled by the Burroughs estate. So I really enjoyed Dynamite’s adaptation of the first book, even though it felt a bit fetishistic. I’m all about hot nekkid wimmens, but the art just seemed too, ummmm, nude for what could be considered juvenile fiction. I keep buying the books, as they really are well-presented and well-written. The art isn’t consistent across the books, but it’s serviceable. I’m not sure I like the updated contemporary jargon being written into recent issues, but I can occasionally be accused of being “that crotchety old guy” when it comes to my comics. I won’t go overmuch into the Dejah Thoris series from Dynamite. The artwork was actually a bit too reminiscent of Frank Cho’s work, but without the painstaking attention to anatomy–so it felt a bit derivative, but still pretty to look at. My biggest problem was actually that Dejah Thoris was running around the friggin’ arctic circle of Mars in teeny-tiny breastplates and a loincloth. Occasionally she had a fur around her shoulders, but it was pretty ridic.

The breakout for me has been Marvel’s latest incarnation of the comics. The movie prequel was a little lame, but the two series are fantastic! The artwork on A Princess Of Mars was downright cool! I just finished book one of the more recent series, and I loved it! I hope they’re selling well enough to continue.

And, for the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s technically a “good” film–it’s not going to win any awards for the script or dialog–but it’s awesome big fun. I think it suffered from the Disney label. It was neither light enough to be an all-ages film, nor dark enough to be a grown-up film. I hope it does well enough in DVD sales/rentals to spawn a sequel–or at least some more Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptations…

There is an interesting article over at Newsarama that asks fans why new characters and concepts struggle.  Obviously, this is a problem not only for comics, but pretty much every corner of the entertainment world.  I am absolutely sick of remakes at the movies and on TV.  Reading the article got me to thinking about my own buying habits, and I’ve decided to compile a list of reasons that will make me try or reject a new book.  Here goes:

  1. I’ll grab any book off the racks with an intriguing cover.  I may not go past the first few pages, but a startling cover is an absolute necessity.
  2. I’ll buy the first issue of almost any Vertigo title.  That said, I never come back for seconds on at least 50% of these.
  3. I’ll pick up almost any book that is a western or an urban fantasy.  I’ll avoid almost any book from the crime or sci-fi genres.
  4. I have no interest whatsoever in political comics.  The biographies of Barack Obama, Michelle Bachman or anyone running for any office anywhere are completely out of my radar.
  5. I’ll pick up the first issue of anything by Mike Carey, Geoff Johns, Bill Willingham, Brian K. Vaughn or Scott Snyder unless the book is negated by some other category.
  6. New superheroes are harder.  I tend to stay away from Marvel superheroes, but have occasionally given one a try.  However, right now the only Marvel book on my pull list is The Dark Tower.  I tried a lot of the New 52 from DC, but many of those books never made it past the first issue.  Since everyone is always talking about the Blue Beetle, I’ll say that I tried his first series after Infinite Crisis, didn’t really care for it, and didn’t even consider it when his new series was launched in September.  It would take a compelling cover and an even more compelling character/story for me to pick up a non-DC superhero.  But it has happened.
  7. Above all else, for me to buy a second issue, the writing has to be superb.  Books that are edgy for the sake of being edgy do not make it onto my pull list.  If I can’t identify with at least one character, the book is done.  The best titles hooked me on the first issue for an entire series.  Severed is the perfect example of this.  I read the first issue and added it to my list.  I’ve been reading Superman since 2004 and I can’t say if I’m going to keep up with the New 52 title after the first story arc, but I’m sticking with Severed for the long haul.  Why?  Excellent artwork, brilliant storytelling and compelling characters.  It’s the same story with The Unwritten, Fables and many other titles.  Of course, what anyone considers to be excellent is subjective, and it’s the job of the publisher and creators to figure that out.  I will not suffer through a book because I’m “supposed” to like it.  I’m sure Brian Azzarello is brilliant, but his work is just not for me.  I picked up Loveless, for example, because it was a western with cool art, but I quickly detached from the story because, well, I hated all of the characters.
That’s my list.  There are probably other factors as well, but these are the main ones.  I’m sorry to say that my pull list is the smallest right now that it’s been in years, but there are titles that I’m very excited about, and I’m hopeful that the comic industry will be able to hook me on many more new books in the coming year.  If not, I might have to start watching TV again, and wouldn’t that be a sad day?

 

Amidst all the cooking, cleaning and errand-running of Thanksgiving week (not to mention butchering 19 turkeys!) I managed to sneak away to the Ogre for a few minutes last Wednesday.  There were several good titles in my stack this week, The Unwritten and All-Star Western were both excellent, but it’s a book that I didn’t even know was being released that I want to write about this time: Billy Tucci’s A Child Is Born.

This is the Christmas Story, plain and simple.  The text is lifted nearly word for word from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and it really comes to life in every beautifully rendered panel.  The art is breathtaking, full of details that kept my eyes studying every page.  Tucci’s love of the subject was increasingly evident as the story progressed, and when I read his author’s note at the end of the book, I became aware of the level of research that he put into this project.

This is only my second exposure to Tucci’s work.  He illustrated an issue of Jonah Hex, bringing a sense of beauty to that title which is so often full of the ugliest side of life.  He is most famous for his creator-owned book Shi, though I must admit I’ve never read this title.  After A Child Is Born, however, I think I might seek out the first trade.

As for the content of A Child Is Born, I think this is one of those books that is going to have a certain readership, but will be passed over by others.  That’s true of every title, of course, but Tucci has strayed way out of the mainstream with this book. I was pleasantly surprised to see it on the shelves at Laughing Ogre, and I hope it does well both for the store and for Billy Tucci.  I’d love to see his take on some of the other Bible stories.  In the case of A Child Is Born, I believe that the story is as beautiful as the art, and I appreciate how lovingly Tucci has rendered his subject.  Excellent job!

Habibi by Craig Thompson is a story that feels both epic and personal at the same time. Taking place in a sprawling, third world desert, it is a modern tale that feels timeless. The story centers around Dodola, a child slave who rescues a baby boy she calls Zam, whom she tries to mother after they escape into the desert. Circumstances pull them apart and they follow wildly different paths until they ultimate reconcile as adults, where their sibling-like love  transforms into something else. Habibi not only tells the story of Dodola and Zam, it also retells stories from Quran and compares the parables to tales from the bible. It’s an interesting new direction from an author who’s previous autobiographic work ‘Blankets’ revealed his strict Christian upbringing.

Habibi is a very ambitious and beautifully illustrated book with pages that beg to be lingered over. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking, with moments that are honestly shocking. There are times about halfway through the book where the storytelling seems to meander, but by the last third of the story, you’ll be hooked all over again. All in all, for a book who’s page count can seem intimidating, I found it to be a fast read.

I will warn that Habibi possesses a vast variety of uncomfortable scenarios, so if the ‘two pantless little boys peeing on each other’ scene in Blankets put you off, you’re definitely not going to enjoy Habibi’s multiple scenes of underage prostitution and drawings of the female reproductive system. The main character loses her virginity to a much older man around the age of seven or eight and her liaisons with older men (which sometimes culminate into rape) compromise much of the plot of the book. The book also features and a scene of castration, eunuchs, and other possibly offensive material. I don’t blame you if that subject matter turns you off of the book. Sometimes it’s one thing to read something, but quite another to see it illustrated.

But if you can handle the subject matter, it’s a great read with stunning art that shouldn’t be missed.

Yes, dear readers, I bought a ton of new #1s from the continual fire hose of D.C.’s, The New 52! IN GENERAL, the reads were OK. There is a propensity across most of these renewed titles to be more visceral and “edgy,” with more graphic violence, more (attempted) sharp language, and more attitude. Definitely, it seems that the books are catering to a young audience, and why not? All of us old geezers won’t be around forever, and one day, these kids may have paychecks of their own and enough disposable income to drop the big bucks on their books every month like us old folk do.

Here’s how last week’s new number one’s (the ones that I read at least) came across. Batman was good but with only a so-so attempt at a shocker cliff-hanger. Green Lantern Corps was pretty good, but trying way too hard to be daring and gritty, while coming across more like a bad slasher movie than anything else.

Wonder Woman was…interesting. There is a different feel to the book. A little more noir, and I’m interested to see where it goes. Batman and Robin. Trying too hard again, but an OK read. Supergirl was pretty cool (and hot at the same time), and her book ties in with pretty well with the Superman story. I’m gonna keep watching this for now.

Red Lanterns was OK, but a bit overdone, and despite the writers trying to add depth to Atrocitus, I can’t see this book having enough depth of its own to be a continuing title. Then again, they have set up a premise that may work. We’ll have to wait and see.

Legion of Super-Heroes had nice art, but honestly, I thought the story was a bit confusing and disjointed. And the Blue Beetle. In all fairness, I haven’t read the Blue Beetle since he was a part of the Charlton Comics lineup. So, this new take on the Beetle may or may not be a fresh departure from the recent Beetle storylines. I will say, however, that I was mildly annoyed by the interspersing of un-translated Spanish throughout the book. And, yeah, I get the fact that we should have more cultural diversity everywhere and that English isn’t REALLY the official language of our country, but…it was still annoying. AND, I even speak enough Spanish to understand most of what was said.

So, there’s the run-down on the latest first issues. More importantly though is the one book that I couldn’t wait to read. This comic wasn’t from DC OR Marvel. It was The Bionic Man #2, by Kevin Smith and published by Dynamite. The art is good. The story and dialogue is good. And…well, it’s The Bionic Man! I think just his eye alone costs more than $6 million dollars today, so he’s probably more like the $6 billion dollar man now, but I think this book is going to be bad-a$$, and I imagine that no matter how many first issues I have in my pile, I’m still going to start with The Bionic Man just for the pure enjoyment of the read.

Until next week…