Friday, August 26, 2011

Flash Gordon Makes Three!

Dynamite followed up the announcements of procuring The Shadow and The Spider with the announcement that Flash Gordon will soon be published by them as well. For those keeping track, the list of pulp or pulp-ish characters that Dynamite has the license to include the above plus Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, John Carter of Mars and Zorro. I had to check this morning to see if possibly there were any new announcements of Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Tarzan or Mandrake the Magician.

The press releases keep touting Dynamite's Project Superpowers as an example of the company's success, but when did the last issue of that come out? And, the few spin-offs it had have been cancelled. Likewise, the strong outing of Green Hornet titles has greatly diminished. Lone Ranger is ending. Buck Rogers has been gone for awhile. And, at least half of the titles feature strongly re-imagined versions of the characters. Green Hornet and the Bionic Man are based on film treatments. Their Zorro was largely an adaptation of Isabel Allende's novel. Couple that with their decompressed storytelling that takes several issues to deliver an origin and put the hero in costume. It's difficult to get too excited.

Of course Alex Ross is involved. He's obviously been a fan of Flash as he uses a Flash Gordon logo as part of his own logo (no trademark infringement there?). This announcement creates some bad blood between Dynamite and Arden who currently also publishes a Flash Gordon comic. Remember Dynamite pulling something similar with the Phantom? Appears that King Features is a little loose, they don't date exclusively. Of course, Arden didn't really impress me with their first issue as it set out to tell Flash's origin all over again, only with cartoony artwork and has a parachute pack just to seem to magically appear on his back when it's obvious he wasn't wearing one in preceding panels.

Hey, Dynamite. We know most of the origin and backstory already of Flash, Phantom, Bionic Man, etc. Don't just simply retread the same storyline or retcon the stories written by the creators only spread out over six issues. Give a little recap and jump in and give us the stories featuring the characters we love. Bring in new stuff, but not at the expense of the old. We want to believe that this comic featuring the hero is featuring the same hero that was in the pulps, serials, comic strips etc, not that it's just another version.

The art released has been interesting. The Doc Savage homage is definite with one. Once I saw that, I couldn't help but feel a John Carter vibe off another and a Star Wars vibe off a third. Of course, the pose in that one has been used in everything from Conan painting, movie posters for National Lampoon's Vacation, Army of Darkness, etc. Let you be the judge of that.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Spider Too?

Dynamite released the news that they are also doing a comic featuring the pulp hero the Spider! What this means for Moonstone who publishes various illustrated Spider stories, one can only guess. Dynamite made news when they announced they were doing the Phantom which was still being published by Moonstone at the time. It took about a year, but eventually the Phantom did end up at Moonstone. However, DC doing comics with the Street & Smith characters didn't impact Moonstone's prose projects with the characters and Moonstone did a Green Hornet prose book at the same time Dynamite was doing the comic. As most of their work with the Spider could hardly be considered actual comics, it's possible that we'll see one publisher reprinting the original pulps, one doing new prose short-stories and another doing a comic.

Dynamite released a bit more news concerning the Spider comic which might give an inkling as to their approach with the Shadow. Starting with, the Spider is being redesigned by Alex Ross! It's not much of a redesign as it's basically tweaking his serial costume and it's not bad. And, it appears the Spider will be in the present day.

Neither of these is necessarily bad, but it does show yesterday's optimism to be a little misplaced.

I had hoped that maybe the company and creators might have learned something with Kirby Genesis where interviews are given to re-assure readers and fans that Kirby's designs would be left intact and effort would be made to keep to the spirit and characterization that he set forth with the characters. It seems strange to me that in today's market, that creators need to actually stress that when talking about a project, but it's the reality of the world we live in today. Where DC and other companies are trying so hard to get characters wrong and crowing about it as if that's a good thing, it's actually needs to be said that a book might be coming out with the characters looking and acting like they were envisioned by their creator.

Out of that content, these changes are not necessarily a bad thing though. In the comicbook mini-series Mystery Men written by David Liss, something that comes home is how much of today's world is like the world that the pulp heroes acted out of. I think much of what made the pulp crime-fighters like the Shadow and the Spider appealing, we have the same conditions today: racism and class inequality, the wealthy getting wealthier while the poor are getting poorer, wars and instability overseas, wealthy criminals getting off with slaps on the wrist. Handled correctly, I can easily see the likes of the Spider and the Shadow operating in the world of today. Doc Savage is the one that's harder to handle as so much of his world centered on super-science and unexplored places. Translated to today, a Doc Savage ongoing should be something akin to the television show Fringe coupled with Eureka and Warehouse 13 with clones, parallel worlds, insane experiments. But, the night avengers I can see as being just as relevant today as then (one of the things I liked about Nolan's Batman movies is that they would also be great Spider movies with hardly an adjustment, maybe even better).

The look as noted comes from the Spider's movie serials which is hardly how he looked in the pulps. The thing is, his look wasn't always consistent in the pulps either, sometimes he was just Wentworth for most of the story, with a few attempts at disguise as a crook or a simple mask. Sometimes he had a fright wig, fake fanged teeth and a hump! Sometimes he had the wig and teeth but no mention of a hump. The pulp covers were more consistent though a little more generic, but that's the way I often envisioned him, regardless of how he was described inside: black suit, cape, hat and mask and a gun in hand. However, this is a striking look that at least has precedent with the character and could serve the character well as a comicbook hero.

David Liss of Mystery Men (the Marvel comic, not the movie) has been slated as the writer. He is a good writer and captures the pulp era well in his few comic credits at Marvel. The Spider is even trickier to capture correctly by modern writers than the Shadow though. Both seem to have the problem that modern writers cannot get past the violence and the Spider is even moreso than the Shadow. But, Norvell Page wrote the character of Wentworth and the Spider as one of intense passion in everything he did. It was his passion of empathy for his fellow man, for the endangered innocents and the hatred of the crooks that cops could not touch through their cleverness, audacity or just ability at working the system that drove him to meet steel with steel at great personal risk. He operates in a world where the common gangsters are along the lines of Hitler and Stalin and can be opposed by one man if he's daring enough. There seems to be an inability of many to really grasp that, only seeing the extreme violence and portray the character as being one of questionable sanity. Once you start questioning his sanity, you really lose what the character is supposed to be about. The Spider takes great gambles with life on the line, but he's always a sane man in an insane situation. He's no more nuts than John McClane in the movie Die Hard.

I have to admit, I'm not enamored of the interior artwork presented. The computerized coloring is very evident and makes everything look a bit too pristine and artificial looking without communicating any sense of mood or atmosphere. I had forgotten to list that yesterday of among the things I tend to not like of Dynamite's books. The coloring often obliterates the line work. Which is fine if your colorist is actually a painter and painting the books, but the coloring is often obviously done on a computer by a colorist that doesn't seem to understand using coloring to communicate mood, story or even how to facilitate "reading" the illustrations and stories that are being printed over reading the comic via computer monitor. Colors are often too dark or too saturated, everything is lit as if it is being lit in a studio with harsh lights producing bright highlights and shadows on every object. Every surface has an obvious gradient to it. Backgrounds and moving objects all are blurred, every light produces lens flares. The end result is not making the art look more realistic than the old coloring methods but just unrealistic in different ways. If anything, the use of filters and gradients in efforts to make the artwork look more photo-realistic often has the opposite effect by highlighting the unrealistic nature of the artwork. It's like watching David Boreanaz acting opposite cartoon Stewie Griffin.

Meanwhile, there's no sense of movement in the panels presented. The characters all look like they are posing for photo stills from a movie set traced over in photoshop judging by the cold unvarying line widths. A comic doesn't have actual movement, a single panel often needs to communicate three bits of time simultaneously: suggest the movement a second before, the present, as well as the result of a second after. There's zero movement, mood or passion in the pages presented. It looks "realistic" but in a very staid, antiseptic way. The exact opposite of the effect you want to go for with characters like these. Again, look to Marvel's Mystery Men to see it being done right.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Shadow at Dynamite

Dynamite (the publisher of Zorro, Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, Black Terror) has announced that it has acquired the rights to Street & Smith's pulp hero the Shadow. Dynamite as a company has a history of announcing things before they are finalized (The Fighting American, the Phantom), so here's hoping this one doesn't come back and bite them in the next few days.

No announcement of a set creative team but here's hoping it doesn't include Alex Ross (Other than covers of course) or Kevin Smith. The good news is the announcement talks about the history of the character but nothing about re-designs or working to make the character more palatable to today's audiences that generally pop up in their announcements and talks about classic characters. Maybe they learned something from DC's crash and burn with the pulp and Red Circle heroes. It's telling that when they talked about the Kirby heroes of Kirby's Genesis they talked about how they were keeping faithful to the designs and looks of the characters. So there's hope that they have learned something.

The biggest fear should probably be decompressed storytelling, first issues that don't have the hero in action at all. This has been part of Dynamite's general storytelling, long drawn out origin stories, writing for the trade market and not the monthly comicbook market. There should be action and mystery in the first issue.

Dynamite does have a good pool of writers and artists to draw from, but are any up to writing the character. Wagner from Green Hornet: Year One seems to have a grasp of the time period, and Francovilla has a good feel of mood and style that the title should call for. Maybe they could lure Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto back to comics and a character they did so well years ago.

Some wonderful preview images though.