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’m on a personal quest to discover which comics are still relevant to me today. I’ve loved the form my entire life–particularly the super-hero genre. Over the years, I’ve fallen away from the super-heroes; barbarian phase, independent phase, Vertigo phase, adult phase, and back around to super-heroes again. DC’s New 52 pulled me strongly back into the colorful tights, but every month, I tend to drop a couple more–replacing them with something a bit different.

So, gentle readers, today I’m going to chat with you about a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A little bit of this was The New Deadwardians, a book I really hoped to like–Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have provided me with some fine entertainment with Marvel’s cosmic books, and this one was written by the former. As an alternate universe period piece (along the lines of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies), this is a successful read. However, it’s not for me. As much as I enjoy a good undead yarn, this one reads a little dry for my tastes. For a book that borrows from multiple sources, it’s an original take–I just prefer my monsters a little less cultured.

Now for a little bit of that. I’ve always had a fondness for the Teen Titans–some of the earliest comics I ever read were Nick Cardy reprints in Brave And The Bold. The Marv Wolfman/George Perez ’80s update was one of my favorite books for years (mullets and disco Nightwing notwithstanding). I’ve even enjoyed some of the darker takes on the sidekick genre. For example, Rick Veitch’s Bratpack was an incredible bit of deconstructionist writing. Well, Image comics just published a great new take on the sidekick super-team called Danger Club. It feels kind of like a dark DC universe, where all the adult supers are gone, and Robin and Superboy are duking it out in the mother of all slugfests. You thought Batman laid the royal beat-down on Superman in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Man, this Kid Vigilante (Robin) tops him in sheer brutality… Big fun, but I wouldn’t hand this teen sidekick book to your kids!

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…

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?