Here’s a compilation of my articles from the last month or so.
NEW TOYS BLOGS:
April 24, 2013
Here’s a compilation of my articles from the last month or so.
NEW TOYS BLOGS:
March 31, 2013
NOTE: If youre favorites aren’t on here, it’s becuase I couldn’t find ‘em on YouTube. A lot have been deleted.
“It’s like, people are always putting this guy down and saying that he sucks, but the thing is, he really does suck, and this is one of those times where everybody’s right.”
“Is this Captain Kangaroo?”
“Well, at least he died before they started singing.”
“This butthole keeps saying he can dance, but he can’t dance.”
“These guys always wear the same clothes. That’s cool. Hey, we always wear the same clothes! I’ve had this shirt on for six months!”
“So it’s like the guy married his son’s daughter, and then his mom married his son, and his son was like…a dork.”
“STOP THAT! IMPRISONING ME!”
“ Dammit. This Nickelodeon crap has gone too far.”
“Hey, remember that time we partied with Anthrax?”
“Why’s that guy eating dinner with those old people?”
“I think even if they had some fire in this video, it would still suck.”
“Is this the Black Crows?”
“Now whip it! Into shape! Shape it up! Get straight!”
“These guys understand the importance of a good butt.”
“This guy could kick Iggy Pop’s ass.”
“Is that Snoop Doggy Dogg?”
“Whoah, it’s Crowbar!” ”Oh yeah. They’re always taking a dump.”
“Damn it, damn it, son of a bitch. Damn it, damn it, son of a bitch.”
“The streets will flow with the blood of the nonbelievers!”
“I bet he just scores with chicks, and then just, like, fights alot.”
“Preach on, Brother Cooper!”
“If she doesn’t get naked the first time, she’s never going to get naked.”
“Stop! Stop in the name of all that which does not suck!”
“It’s a super SUCK group!”
“I realized it was Michael Bolton, and my bowels let loose.”
“He’s smiling at you, Beavis.”
“SHUT UP, BUTT-HEAD! BON JOVI RULES!”
“What’s going on? Why don’t they just play that cool part the whole song?”
“This song is hard to dance to.”
“This is like, behind the scenes at a crappy band recording session.”
“I think the problem with this video is that it is highly derivative of many popular bands within the genre…”
“ I’m gonna put the smackdown on yo’ ass, beotch!”
“Yeah! YEAH! Sometimes *I* do stuff and it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to! And…”
“Boh, boh-boh, boh-boh, boh-boh-boh-boh…boh-buh-ba-boh-boh-boh-boh…”
“Butt-Head, I’m only gonna say this once — if you change the channel I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Get up! Get up, stand up straight, and quit acting like a wuss! Quit whining, go out and get a job and some good clothes!”
“Doin’ mah monkey boy…yeah-ahhhhh…rat-tat-tat-tat dat azz…”
“I guess that would make sense as nothing but diarrhea is coming out of his mouth”
“Check it out. Madonna’s always having sex with herself in these videos.”
“Hey Beavis, did you know that this guy is your dad?”
“Woah! A video! Haven’t seen one of these in a while!”
“At least if this video was a turd, it would like…be kind of cool.”
“Well, I guess that’s a good thing because like, nobody likes you. And like, you can like, care about yourself, while I’m off scoring with chicks.”
“Hey, it’s that guy from Damn Yankees!”
“Nothing beats a Butt!”
“YEAH, OKAY!! NOW IT’S HURTING MY EYES AND MY EARS!!”
“You treat your stepmother with respect, Pantera! Or you’ll be sleeping in the street!”
“This is so horrible, I can’t even begin to talk about how much this sucks.”
“This song has the best lyrics I’ve ever heard.”
“Ahhhhhhh, SHUT UP, Butt-Head!”
“I think it’s, like, some kind of country music, but it’s, like, country music after you’ve been, like, playing Centipede for, like, twenty four hours.”
“They should get this guy on the 16 Minutes show instead of that Mickey Rooney dude they got. He sucks.”
“The Seminefrious Tubloidial Buttnoids have left your pants.”
“This video is, um, it’s like it’s causing me to influence my behaviour. I’m gonna leave. I’m gonna go into the kitchen and break something.”
“Beavis, shut up. You’ve never been to Compton, you’re never gonna go to Compton, you’re gonna be here for the rest of your life, you’re stupid, you don’t have any money and you’re never gonna score.”
“That dude would probably break a bunch of bones and stuff, but at least he got some.”
“One chick from L7 alone could kick all of their asses combined.”
“But Beavis, Everything DOES suck.”
“Animation is cool.”
“ Whoa check it out, they got some of that Keeyotepcate up there, up above that guy’s hands.”
“The message here is: Vince Neil’s a wuss.”
“Sit your ass down Lars! Play the drums like you’re supposed to!”
“These guys got no future.”
“No way! He said ‘Devil’s Johnson!’”
“It’s like, him and the band all got together and stuff, and said “OK man, tomorrow, we’re gonna wear some really scary scary makeup tomorrow, and it’s gonna be really cool. We’re gonna kick some ass.” But then this dumbass was the only one stupid enough to do it!”
February 14, 2013
As I’ve had some articles published all over the place recently, figured it was time to start a new compilation post.
Very Sad: Beloved local used bookstore Nice Price Books is closing, and I talked to them and several other used bookstores to get the reasons why.
Here’s an interview I did with reporter Jonathan M. Katz about his new book on life in Haiti and the failed policies of relief efforts, THE BIG TRUCK THAT WENT BY.
Here’s a strangely detailed review I did of the touring production of Disney’s MARY POPPINS, and how it compares to both the original books and the film.
I interviewed Brandon Sanderson on his besteselling conclusion to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, A MEMORY OF LIGHT!
Here’s my interview with SERENA author Ron Rash on his new short story collection NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY!
A look at the films of the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham this weekend, including JOHN DIES AT THE END and a 35-mm print of the original DAWN OF THE DEAD!
My new interview with Ryan Browne of the webcomic GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS on his Kickstarter Campaign!
Here’s my talk with Michel Fiffe on his acclaimed self-published comic COPRA!
Follow-up to earlier piece: Nice Price Books is having a closing sale that will help raise money for the Chapel Hill Library.
NEW TOY BLOGS:
ARCHER ACTION FIGURES ARE COMING!
February 14, 2013
(ZACK NOTE: The following is an essay I wrote for an anthology about Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe last year. The anthology has been indefinitely delayed, and those in charge say that they have no trouble with my posting this publicly.
(Duncan Fegredo, who generously did an email interview for the essay and provided me with some designs, has given me permission to publish this here, ”as long as I don’t have to waste any more of my life on that book.” [direct quote]
(This whole thing led to my doing a very good one-on-one panel with Duncan discussing his career at NC Comiccon last fall, so time well spent. But I hate to let writing go to waste.
(And so, here it is: More thoughts on one of Marvel Comics’ most reviled books than have ever been recorded in one place, along with some of Duncan Fegredo’s original designs, provided by him. All designs, characters, etc. are copyright/TM Marvel Comics, I assure you I don’t want them.)
In Defense of Ron Zimmerman: The Strange Story of Hawk-Owl, Woody, U-Decide and Ultimate Adventures
“…what an unbelievable waste of time that book was…”
–Duncan Fegredo, artist, Ultimate Adventures
On October 25, 2001, Marvel Comics issued a press release heralding the hiring of Ron Zimmerman, a TV writer best known as a regular contributor to Howard Stern’s radio program, as a writer on a variety of freelance projects. “Welcome to The House, Ron – we think you’ll find it even more strange than Hollywood!” it extolled.
Little did he know.
Two and a half years later, Zimmerman would be one of the most reviled names at Marvel, inciting a degree of Internet hatred so great that Joe Quesada himself would step in to publicly defend him. His legacy would be some of the strangest comics ever put out by the House of Ideas, including perhaps the most obscure Ultimate Universe book, Ultimate Adventures.
The true story of Ultimate Adventures is one that represents the nexus of Marvel’s output and attitude in the early 2000s, a combination of creativity and aggression that proved both admirable and regrettable.
It is a book that is the one attempt at launching an Ultimate Universe title with original characters with no counterparts in the “mainstream” Marvel Universe. It is the product of a creator whose hiring is widely perceived as one of Joe Quesada’s greatest follies. It was picked by the website Comics Alliance as one of the worst comic books of the past decade.
Ultimate Adventures was all of these things. But the truth, as they say, is even stranger.
Here is the tale of Ultimate Adventures, of the book itself and of its creation. Fasten your seatbelts.
Ultimate Adventures was a fairly simple concept: In a comical/Harry Potter-esque variation on the Batman and Robin story, a sassy orphan named Hank Kipple gets adopted by Jack Danner, a billionaire who’s secretly a vigilante called Hawk-Owl. Hank discovers he’s being groomed to be Hawk-Owl’s sidekick Woody.
Hank’s initially against this, but comes around and helps Hawk-Owl defeat a school principal who’s gone mad and become a super-villain. The story climaxes with the two turning into a crime-fighting team while learning how to function as a family and crime-fighting unit.
Not too bad so far. The concept has its gaps in logic, but it’s a nice wish-fulfillment story with an emotional core. Ignoring that kid-sidekick concepts have come under scrutiny for their child endangerment and potentially pedophilic subtexts over the last few decades, it’s an idea that could work with the proper execution.
Unfortunately, Ultimate Adventures had problems that had nothing to do with its execution.
Let’s back up a bit.
Joe Quesada’s arrival at Marvel in the late 1990s was a breath of creative oxygen. There’s no other way to put it. After peaking in the early 1990s with a variety of artist-driven books, the company saw a downturn when most of those artists left to form Image Comics.
The company then spent most of the next decade trying to revitalize their core heroes by making them seem more like the Image Comics characters, resulting in such attempted reboots as Spider-Man finding out he was really a clone of himself (long story) and utterly plummeting sales.
By the late 1990s, the company was literally bankrupt, and came to the belated realization that quality writers and artists paired together was the key to regaining their readership. Quesada’s sub-line of “Marvel Knights” was a ¾ success (the Punisher miniseries where he became an angelic assassin was quickly swept under the rug), and he quickly rose to prominence within the company.
In tandem with Marvel Executive Vice President Bill Jemas, Quesada helped restore Marvel to a creative force. Current storylines were quickly collected into trade paperbacks, while older storylines long out of print were finally collected as well.
Film versions of the Marvel characters were produced in close coordination with the comic creators, and accessible storylines and materials were made available with each new release. Distribution of trades and single issues regained a presence in bookstores and newsstands. And most importantly, new and eclectic names were put in charge of the established characters.
Quesada made a statement with his first Marvel Knights book, the run on Daredevil that he illustrated off a script by filmmaker Kevin Smith. Smith had included many comic references in his work and done some books with his characters for Oni Press, but he was hardly a name guaranteed to sell copies. It was a stab at bringing in a creator with an existing fan base outside of mainstream superheroes, and the gamble paid off.
Marvel writers during this period usually came from one of two backgrounds: Either they had proven their credibility through a few small-press books, or they came from some sort of non-comics background – TV writing, novels, feature films – that could potentially bring a new voice and/or style to preexisting concepts.
Both choices yielded some eclectic, often fascinating results. Most relevant to this book was the decision to get Brian Michael Bendis to script Ultimate Spider-Man. Not only was the idea of a modern-day reboot of Spider-Man widely seen as a fool’s errand in the wake of such unsuccessful efforts as John Byrne’s widely-derided Spider-Man: Year One and the aforementioned clone storyline but Bendis was at that point mainly known for doing dark, dialogue-heavy crime books through such smaller companies as Image.
Putting a small-press writer in charge of a major superhero launch was at that point a risky move, and it paid dividends, further paving the way for such writers as Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker to become major voices at Marvel.
The second choice of bringing in non-comics writers provided its own peaks and valleys. J. Michael Straczynski, who had a major following from his TV series Babylon 5, had already scripted several series at Image, and brought a large audience to his work on Amazing Spider-Man, albeit with mixed critical results. Joss Whedon, who’d also scripted some comics set in the universe of his series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, likewise brought his following to his work on Astonishing X-Men.
There is something worth noting here: Straczynski, Whedon and the aforementioned Kevin Smith all had some experience writing comic books and fan followings based on characters they had created before they started writing for Marvel.
For that matter, they’d also done works that reflected the storylines often found in super-hero comics – even Smith, who’d mostly done relationship-based films, had worked on screenplays for such concepts as The Six Million Dollar Man.
When Ron Zimmerman came to Marvel, the press release trumpeting his arrival evoked the names of Smith and Straczynski, but neglected to mention several other things, most notably:
1) He hadn’t written any comics before.
2) He had mostly written comedy.
3) His name wasn’t associated with anything he had created on his own, and was likely to be unfamiliar to anyone who didn’t listen to Howard Stern.
In other words, Zimmerman arrived with a fair amount of hype, but was also in a situation where he had to learn a new format of writing. In addition, his background in comedy meant that his skills were mostly in more dialogue-based stories, something difficult to pull off in the limited space of sequential storytelling.
And he didn’t have the goodwill that someone like Smith, Straczynski or Whedon could rely on in case his work put off fans used to a more traditional style of superhero storytelling.
It was perhaps because of these things that Zimmerman’s work gained a reputation among comic book fans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly good reputation.
Zimmerman’s initial stories with the Punisher and Spider-Man were illustrated by such Herculean talents as Darick Robertson, John McCrea, and Sean Phillips, and weren’t the worst thing Marvel had published. That’s not to say it was particularly good.
His stories mostly played like strange digressions, with such tales as the Punisher going back in time to assassinate Al Capone (and it all turning out to be a dream), Spider-Man dealing with the Scorpion on a charity outing (with an odd cameo by a family drawn to look like the Simpsons), and Spidey’s foes commiserating in a super-villain bar.
The last tale was sort of amusing, but overall these books came across as insubstantial. There was rarely any drama, the humor often fell flat, and by the time Zimmerman got to the heavily-promoted Get Kraven limited series, casting the son of an old Spider-Foe as a Hollywood player, the negative feedback was starting to come to a boil.
Sure, online fans went off many, many times about, say, Straczynki’s Spider-Man stories, but he had some preexisting goodwill to rely upon, along with a strong understanding of the fundamentals of comic book scripting. Zimmerman didn’t have that crutch. He had to learn how to adapt to comics writing as he was being published, and his shortcomings were both public and scrutinized by fandom.
By late summer 2002, it was reported by Rich Johnston in his “Lying in the Gutters” gossip column on the Comic Book Resources website that Zimmerman had been banned from a Spider-Man message board after publicly posting in protest of negative reviews of his work that painted him, in his words, as “the new reference for all that is bad in the spider-world.“
So ugly did things get that Joe Quesada himself then posted on that board on Zimmerman’s behalf, arguing that Zimmerman came from a similar background as Kevin Smith, but didn’t have the pre-existing “cult of personality” to defend him.
Quesada praised Zimmerman’s intense love and fandom for comics, pointed out that he was choosing to write comics over higher-paying TV gigs, and that those protesting his background as a “Hollywood writer” were practicing a “double standard:”
“If Ron would have been advertised as just a new guy we discovered as opposed to a Hollywood guy, he would have been treated so much nicer by the wannabes. I’m not saying that everyone would have enjoyed ever (sic) single thing he did, but I can assure you that people would not be calling him ‘The Devil.’”
Quesada wasn’t necessarily wrong, but the message board meltdown illustrated how things had gotten to an ugly point. From Newsarama to Comic Book Resources to Marvel.com, message boards were filled with endless complaints about Zimmerman’s books.
While Marvel had helped revitalize many of their books by bringing in creators with fan followings, here was an increasingly public backlash. Zimmerman’s name was close to becoming the comic book equivalent of box office poison.
As such, there was a bit of pressure to prove Quesada’s faith in Zimmerman was justified. The most-spotlighted effort was a Zimmerman-scripted mature readers mini-series called Rawhide Kid: Slap Leather!, which “revealed” a classic Marvel Western character was gay. It featured excellent art from veteran John Severin and received a great deal of mainstream media coverage, mostly involving anti-gay advocates protesting its content.
They needn’t have bothered – the book’s gay content was off-camera and implied, while the actual story was a straightforward parody of Shane and Little House on the Prairie. The humor mostly relied on the Kid engaging in over-the-top effeminate behavior, and other characters standing around awkwardly. It was more solid than Zimmerman’s previous work, but it was most notable for not being offensive. If anything, gay people were more likely to be offended than straights by the gay panic humor.
Then came “U-Decide” and Ultimate Adventures.
In short: Peter David, a fan-favorite writer with a long history at Marvel, publicly protested when the company announced they were raising the price on his book Captain Marvel from $2.25 to $2.99, a move he decried would help kill it.
Quesada countered this protest by pointing out that David’s old-school continuity-heavy take on the Marvel Universe was too insular to bring in new readers, Bill Jemas joined in the argument seemingly for the hell of it, and the whole thing came down to a relaunched version of Captain Marvel being pitted against two other books, and the creator of the lowest-selling book getting a carnival-style humiliation at a comics convention.
Jemas’s contribution was Marville, a brazen series of swipes at DC Comics that ended in a pitch for Marvel’s unsuccessful revival of its Epic Comics line.
Quesada’s contribution was Ultimate Adventures, a book by Zimmerman that he would personally edit. There was a sense that he was putting something on the line personally with this: Not only was he the behind-the-scenes force on this, he was giving Zimmerman a spotlight with original characters in the Ultimate Universe, his brainchild.
And he provided a quality creative team, with art by veteran Duncan Fegredo – who, like Quesada, had worked off Kevin Smith’s dialogue-heavy scripts – and covers by the excellent artist Kaare Andrews.
In yet another press release, Quesada said, “My gut really tells me that, when all is said and done … I think Ultimate Adventures #1 … it’s going to be one of those incredibly collectible issues. … When you take away all the cover gimmicks, I think Ultimate Adventures will be the ultimate winner, pardon the pun.”
The U-Decide competition was designed to run six months. The six issues of Ultimate Adventures came out from November 2002 to September 2003. During that nearly-two-year period, the covers were reduced from firm cardstock to a flimsy, slightly-higher-than-regular paper, while the cover price rose from $2.25 to $2.99.
The entirety of the Rawhide Kid miniseries came out during this time, the “U-Decide” contest was won by Captain Marvel, and Marville proved to be a lead-in to a relaunch of Marvel’s Epic line, which had also mostly vanished by the time Ultimate Adventures concluded.
And afterward, Ron Zimmerman was gone.
I can’t find any record as to whether anyone in the competition wound up being dunk-tanked or hit with a pie.
It’s funny how things turned out with Ultimate Adventures. As successful as the Ultimate line had been at creating updated, accessible versions of existing superheroes, this was the one time it took that extra step of launching a book with entirely new characters and stepping away from that safety net of pre-branded Marvel Comics characters and the built-in audience they provided.
Unfortunately, the resulting book was an ill fit in the current marketplace on several levels. It was part of a publicity stunt, a showcase for a writer whose work had left a bad taste in most readers’ mouths, and was quite obviously a satire on the Batman and Robin legend. Enthusiasm for it was not high, and the delayed schedule only helped seal its fate.
But was it really one of the worst comics of the past decade?
A reread of Ultimate Adventures’ six issues reveals that, well, it wasn’t. There were many books that were far worse, among them the aforementioned Marville. It’s not to say that it’s some sort of buried masterpiece, though.
The first issue introduces us to Hank Kipple, a smart-mouthed orphan in a run-down Chicago orphanage who’s smart enough to rig a clapper-type dorm lighting system, athletic enough to climb to the top of a nearby church and back, and resourceful enough to stop an attempted robbery at the orphanage, but he is too much of a back-talker to avoid getting in trouble with the nuns.
Hank is the sort of character who could work if he was being portrayed as a life-action actor capable of bringing some nuance to the role of an abandoned kid who’s developed a tough exterior to cope with the idea that he’ll never have a family.
However, even Fegredo’s fine facial expressions have difficulty making him seem like anything other than a smart-ass. In the first three pages alone, he lets off something like 15 insults, none of which arise above the creativity of “Sister Mary Stick-Up-Her-Butt.”
Actually, Hank pretty much insults everyone; from the priest trying to help him to the fellow orphans he’s trying to help. It’s one thing to make a character seem tough and self-sufficient, but when he’s still spewing insults at a robber holding a gun to his head, the reader isleft wishing the robber would just pull the trigger.
After helping Hawk-Owl thwart the robbery and subsequently back-talking to Jack Danner when he comes to look into adopting a son, Hank finds himself unwillingly adopted into Danner’s world and shuttled out of the orphanage that very night.
With Hank, Danner and most of the supporting characters presented as typical comic stereotypes (strict nuns, kindly Irish priest, etc.), the biggest problems apparent in the first issue is that it seems designed to play out in live-action. Again, real-life actors could perhaps bring some nuance to Hank and company, but on the page, their bland jokes play out in long, dialogue-filled word balloons on pages already crowded with tiny panels used to indicate reaction shots or quick camera cuts. Most pages have eight or nine panels – which works when you have a carefully structured script like Watchmen, but not so much when you’re doing a fast-paced comedy story.
Still, there’s enough to the basic concept of the premise – super-competent orphan, super-hero wanting to pay it forward – that it’s easy to see why those involved with the book found it so compelling. Duncan Fegredo, who recalled signing onto the book because of Zimmerman’s “engaging, lively and fun” synopsis of the story – turning down a series featuring DC’s Zatanna character written by acclaimed creator Paul Dini to do it – remembers getting the first script:
“On receiving the first script, Joe Quesada commented that it was a ‘little’ word heavy, made reference to us both having worked with Kevin Smith and what working with movie or TV writers was like. It was a good call, Zimmerman’s script suffered from the similar problems… overly dense, quick fire dialogue, cause and effect within the same panels. Page breaks could be problematic as well… It all read great and you could see things solved fine on film with sound but it’s another matter on a comics page…”
Indeed, the story reads fairly well when Fegredo’s art has some room to breathe. The second issue, which sees Hank moving in with Danner and eventually discovering his secret headquarters, offers some strong moments of visual comedy, and ends with an excellent two-page spread of “The Nest” (to its demerit, it also features such lame sequences as Hawk-Owl stopping a robber named “Zed,” designed to look like the character from Pulp Fiction, and is offered a CD with a thousand hours of AOL by the grateful clerk, one of many cheap shots the Quesada-Jemas era of Marvel took at DC’s parent company AOL Time Warner).
But Fegredo does some quality work even within the script’s limitations. His Chicago is a cold, snowy place that feels like a realistic urban environment, and his skill with facial expressions nearly saves a scene where Hank is chewed out by Hawk-Owl’s right-hand-man Col. Toliver.
And Hawk-Owl’s costume, depicted as a slick Batman-type armor on the book’s covers, has a nicely bulky, eerie quality on the page, with its light-up lenses and shaggy feathered cloak. It almost what a real super-suit built by a rich guy might look like.
Fegredo recalled the origins of Hawk-Owl and Woody’s designs, which were credited in the inside front covers to Ralph Cirella:
“There were some designs done before hand, on receiving them I was told by Joe (Quesada ) to ‘Do what you can with these… ‘ I did just that. There may have been odd elements that survived but I redesigned everything I could. To say I was pissed off that the guy had a credit up front in the book, every issue, is an understatement.”
By the third issue, the book was already running late, coming out three months after issue #2. Fegredo recalls:
“The book started late pretty much and on top of that I knew nothing about the dumb U-Decide contest. I should’ve known better… Ron’s scripts were not edited. Issues of overcrowding and fundamental problems like cause and effect within a panel should have been pointed out to him, edited in fact. It was all left to me. That’s fine but it adds time to the process. The first script wasn’t so bad but later scripts were more problematic when they came in pages over-written, too dense at 22 pages I was having to squeeze four more overly-dense pages amongst the rest.”
Midway through issue #3, Fegredo says, his mother passed away, further delaying the book. Marvel’s solution, according to Fegredo, was to bring in Walden Wong to ink the pages for issue #4, something Fegredo usually did himself. Though Wong’s a proven talented inker on many other books, the drop-off in quality was evident, and even Fegredo admits the results were “bland.”
It’s a shame, as the issue could have been a visual highlight with Hawk-Owl being forcibly recruited by the Ultimates,. Instead, the flat look drags down an already-lame script that shows Hawk-Owl talking back to a fascistic Captain America, battling him to a standstill while the other Ultimates offer color-commentary.
It’s supposed to show that Hawk-Owl marches to his own drum and is competent on his own, but what mostly comes off is that Cap makes sense when he points out how stupid Hawk-Owl’s sidekick plan is.
The book’s main plot finally kicks in during the final two issues, as Hank’s school principal suffers a psychotic break after some personal setbacks and Hank accidentally punching him in the head (again, this kid is supposed to be our hero), leading to him becoming a bizarre Joker-like super-villain who wields a paddle as a weapon. It’s actually one of the more clever bits of the series, though the principal still comes off a bit more sympathetic than Hank, even when he’s torturing people.
By the end, evil is defeated, Hank has learned a few life lessons, and he and Jack swear they’re never going to put on the costumes again, only to stop a mugging in front of a screening of The Mask of Zorro. The parody of Batman’s origin is, like many of the other parodies in the book, ham-fisted, though it does end in a nice double-page spread by Fegredo of the characters swooping to the rescue.
At some point during all this is Hawk-Owl’s origin as told by his stereotypical martial-arts-proficient Asian chauffer, which somehow involves a martial arts mentor literally drawn in the image of Pat Morita in The Karate Kid (Fegredo can’t remember whether this was deliberate), and some bit about how Danner “is the hawk and the owl now.” The explanation doesn’t make much sense, nor does it add anything to Danner’s character.
Ultimate Adventures was eventually collected in a trade paperback entitled “One Tin Soldier,” though the classic anti-war folk song/Billy Jack theme doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with Hank Kipple’s tale. As for the erstwhile sidekick and his mentor, they vanished into the ether, save for a throwaway reference in The Ultimates’ second storyline where Hawk-Owl was discussed as a possible recruit.
It was, in retrospect, a failed experiment more than anything else. It tried to create original characters for the Ultimate Universe, do a comedic super-hero comic, and signal Ron Zimmerman’s transition into the realm of fan-favorite writers who are only slightly pilloried on the Internet. Even Duncan Fegredo himself has few fond memories of it.
And yet, I can’t condemn it as one of the worst Marvel comics ever. There are spectacular failures, and there are mediocrities, and then there are the failed experiments. The reason I elevate the failed experiments above their ilk is that, in their undertaking, they attempt to do something different, to create something new.
Granted, the “something new” in this case was a Batman-based family comedy. But it’s the one book in more than a decade of the Ultimate universe that wasn’t some slightly-rejiggered version of a pre-branded name. Okay, it was with a character most audiences would immediately identify as a Batman type, but it was still a character that had never existed in Marvel Comics before.
The great strength of the Ultimate Universe has long been its ability to modernize, simplify and subvert the histories of existing Marvel characters. Its weakest points have been when, like the “regular” Marvel comics, it’s been put into a position where it’s forced to spin the wheels on the characters’ stories, impeding any sense of growth and change.
Ultimate Adventures, for better or for worse, represents a different, potentially fascinating direction that the Ultimate Universe could have gone. It could have been a world that had numerous books with different tones and styles that represented comedy, horror and other story-telling possibilities. Much like Brian Michael Bendis’ collaborations with multiple artists with multiple styles on the sadly short-lived Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, it could have declared a new Ground Zero for titles that were, if not groundbreaking, at least a little more offbeat.
It’s that sense of experimentation that brought creators like Bendis or Matt Fraction or Ed Brubaker to Marvel Comics – strong, unique voices whose backgrounds were far from the typical cape-and-spandex tales. Hell, it’s what resulted in Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and their kin creating the Marvel Universe in the 1960s, revitalizing and redefining the concept of the superhero comic while fusing it with the storytelling techniques they’d honed in a decade-plus of romance and monster books.
Joe Quesada’s belief in Ron Zimmerman might seem ill-founded, and his strengths as a comedy writer might have translated poorly to the paneled page nut I’ve no doubt the thinking behind his hiring was solid, as was the belief in his potential. And as I look at Fegredo’s double-page spread that ends Ultimate Adventures, a gorgeous shot of Hawk-Owl and Woody joyfully leaping into battle, I can’t help but feel that there was a great comic in here, just one that wasn’t fully realized.
As for Ron Zimmerman, he went back to writing for other media. His most recent credits include a consulting producer position on the Disney Channel series Shake It Up! and writing/guest-starring in an episode of the brazen Fox sitcom ‘Til Death where he got into a gunfight with a little person. In 2010, Marvel published his sequel to his Rawhide Kid miniseries, illustrated by the great Howard Chaykin. No one complained much, or said much about it at all.
For Zimmerman, it might have come as a relief.
 The name came from a woodpecker-based costume, though it was originally announced as “Zippy.” I don’t get it either.
 Helpfully archived in the August 5 edition of Rich Johnston’s “Lying in the Gutters” rumor column, http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=14176
 These increasingly public attacks annoyed DC to the extent that they refused to do any more crossovers between their characters’ and Marvel’s while Quesada and Jemas were working at the company. Quesada’s biggest swipe, that DC was failing to follow Marvel’s lead in licensing their lesser-known characters for major film and television projects, actually turned out to be a piece of advice the company followed.
 There actually is a bird called a hawk-owl, but the origin involves young Danner fighting a hawk that’s attacking an owl. Why he named himself after both isn’t exactly clarified in the script, though there were at least three preexisting comic characters called “The Owl” anyway.
January 24, 2013
UPDATED: This is going to be a repository for links to my published stuff for a bit.
I haven’t been posting about toys because I got a paying gig blogging about them for MTV Geek! Here’s my first few posts:
I also did a two-part talk with James Kochalka on the end of his web journal AMERICAN ELF and on his web cartoon SUPERF*CKERS.
For ADVENTURE TIME fans – here’s Danielle Corsetto talking the new GN focusing on Flame Princess!
Did an interview with Craig Zobel, director of the ultra-creepy indy film COMPLIANCE!
I also did some reviews of the short films nominated for Oscars, including Disney’s PAPERMAN.
Here’s a new interview I did with Kim Harrison on her novel series THE HOLLOWS!
And I’ve gotten a lot of response for this interview with the creator of Golden Age Bakery, which puts edible comic book panels on cookies!
I have a few more pieces should hopefully come out by the end of the month, and I’ve been working on some odd projects — including a couple of new comic book one-shots that should come out from MonkeyBrain by year’s end. My artists are working on spec, so good stuff takes time!
Might try to get some more original posts done in the future. I’ve had some good feedback on the children’s book pieces and want to do some more.
January 2, 2013
Happy New Year! Thought I would get a few recommendations down as I got back to work.
These are some picture books that are so weird and wonderful and crazy that adults can enjoy them as well. There’s tons of books like these out there, but these are a few of my favorites.
First, a recent one:
This is a really cool book by Matt Furie, whose artwork is colorful, surreal and kind of creepy…but overall, very gentle.
It’s a simple tale about a frog and a rat who go for a nighttime bike ride, meet up with some weird creatures who turn out to be friends, and then they all head to the beach together.
Furie does some crazy-detailed pages with creatures lurking in every corner, but despite the seeming threat of danger, the book is more about revealing all sorts of wonders around every corner, and will make you smile more than once.
The book is part of a new line from McSweeneys called “McMullins,” which combines reprints of lesser-known picture books with new ones by alternative cartoonists. You can buy THE NIGHT RIDERS, which is on sale half-off, here.
And (self-promotion) you can check out an interview I did with Furie on the book here.
I also recommend BENNY’S BRIGADE, an adorable tale of a tiny walrus illustrated by the great cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt.
Another recent picture book I liked was Precious Little, an Australian story about a little circus girl who attempts a dangerous stunt that is a metaphor for following your dreams. The book is filled with crazy-detailed colorful images, and even some glitter on the cover.
Here’s a little trailer for it.
A lot of the better-known picture books go on by me — I love Mo Willems, obviously, but a lot of the more popular books are just off my radar. I do love Jon Klassen’s “Hat” books, though – I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat.
Both are hilariously deadpan stories about stolen hats, and what happens to those who steal them.
There’s a slightly mixed message in both books, but I love the expressive, minimalist images and prose, and both made me laugh out loud. Both are also fun reads for kids because they involve the reader being one step ahead of the characters telling the story.
Here’s a trailer for the first book.
A book I just randomly found on the discount rack at a children’s bookshop was McFig and McFly: A Tale of Jealousy, Revenge and Death (With a Happy Ending) by Henrik Drescher.
This is your typical “two rival neighbors try to outdo each other’s houses” story, with the bonus that the increasingly-tall houses get more and more colorful, detailed and surreal, leading to a fold-out page with a hilariously dark punchline. But as I said, there’s a happy ending — and a nice point about not obsessing over material possessions. If you click the Amazon link above, the book is available at a good discount.
I want to save my thoughts on some older children’s books for another post, but a few quick ones here!
Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are hugely popular all over the world, but they’ve just gotten a major push in the U.S. in the last few years, with reprints of both the original chapter books and her comic strips with the characters.
Two particularly cool reprints are some picture books Jansson did in the 1950s, which have just recently been reprinted in the U.S.
The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My takes Moomin, the hippo-like hero, on a quest to find Little My, with every double-page spread leading into the next through cleverly-hidden die-cut holes in each right-hand page. It’s spooky but ultimately comforting, with a joyous combination of black-and-white figures with colorful backgrounds.
Jansson takes these themes even further with her other Moomin picture book, Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moominvalley, where a painfully shy, anxious character must ultimately pull himself out of his isolation to save another who could be his friend. It’s a sweet metaphor and the art gets amazingly detailed, climaxing in a gorgeous water parade with the characters in boats.
They’re a great entry point for young readers into the Moomin series, and I also recommend the recent color collections of storylines from the Moomin comics by Drawn & Quarterly.
Some books from the 1980s I want to recommend are by the team of Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski. They are WEEEEEIIIIIIIRRRRRDDDDD, but good.
Louis the Fish is an oddball tale about a young man who is expected to take over his family’s butcher shop, but prefers to hang around fish. This leads to a very surreal dream where everyone around him turns into angry fish, and an equally surreal (but happy) ending).
It is one of the most New York picture books I’ve ever experienced — very based in the concept of the old neighborhood and family businesses, but in a way that kids from anywhere can find relateable.
I remember watching this on READING RAINBOW (where it was narrated by Vincent Gardenia from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and thinking this was the most utterly weirdo book I had ever seen on the show. Here’s the episode (with updated contemporary credits) below.
Another Yorinks/Egielski collaboration won the Caldecott — Hey, Al, an equally-surreal tale of an exhausted janitor and his dog friend who are lured to a luxurious island in the sky by a colorful bird, only to find it has its price. Again, there’s a happy and sweet ending, but not before the story’s drawn from everything from Pinocchio’s Paradise Island to the myth of Icarus to John Milton with its last line, “Paradise lost is sometimes heaven found.”
Here’s a short adaptation of the book below.
I’ll have some more books to talk about in the future — I could devote a whole post to Mark Stamaty’s stuff!
Let me know if you enjoyed these.
December 29, 2012
Combining a couple of my obsessions for an explanatory post…
Was at a bookstore tonight and saw they had a new edition of the book THE IRON GIANT by Ted Hughes.
Doesn’t look a whole lot like Brad Bird’s amazing animated movie from 1999, does it?
Gather round children, I’ll explain this to the best of my ability.
THE IRON GIANT was originally published in England as THE IRON MAN in 1968.
It was a very simple story Hughes, the British Poet Laureate, created for his children after the death of their mother, THE BELL JAR author Sylvia Plath.
When the book was published in the US, Marvel Comics already had Iron Man coming out as a comic, so the book was re-titled THE IRON GIANT. Here’s the cover to the first US edition.
The book tells the story of a giant iron being that appears from nowhere, feeds on scrap metal, befriends a boy named Hogarth…and helps save the world from a giant “Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon” that is actually there to help bring about world peace.
You probably don’t remember that from the film.
The history actually gets a little stranger here!
In the 1980s, Pete Townshend of The Who turned the story into a rock opera, which featured vocals from the likes of John Lee Hooker and Nina Simone, which followed the original novel’s story.
A few years after that, in 1995, Ted Hughes wrote a SEQUEL called THE IRON WOMAN, which had chilling wood-cut illustrations by Barry Moser.
This features the same characters from before, but is more of an environmentally-themed story about an Iron Woman that rises up out of a swamp and takes a horrifying revenge on some polluting bureaucratic fat-cats.
Meanwhile, Warner Brothers decided to make a film of Pete Townshend’s album, which again, was based off the original novel.
They gave the project to Brad Bird, who was coming off a run on THE SIMPSONS and a number of other acclaimed animated projects for TV.
Bird was given heavy creative control, and after Warner Brothers cut their feature animation department following the failure of the musical QUEST FOR CAMELOT, he found himself with a fair amount of creative freedom on a reduced budget…
…actually convinced Warner Brothers to let him cut Townshend’s songs and turn the story into a period Cold War piece.
Townshend still received a producer credit on the final film, and was reportedly cool with the cuts.
The film’s release prompted a reprint of the original novel in time for its anniversary…
This was the version I read, though I remember thinking, “Hmm, I didn’t see any Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon in the trailer…”
The book was reprinted in the US under its original name in 2005, with no mention of the film on the cover:
Hughes himself died in late 1998. I have no idea if he saw the film, but according to Warner Brothers’ web site for the feature, he read and enjoyed the script very much.
THE IRON GIANT film fared very poorly at the box office, with bad promotion and a crowded marketplace blamed. But it got great reviews, and has since earned a loyal following on TV and DVD, even running in marathon on Cartoon Network at one point.
It also inspired some fun toys from Trendmasters, including my favorite, this “Utlimate Iron Giant” that can eat junk pieces.
(It also had the voice of Vin Diesel, who voiced the giant after PITCH BLACK and before THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS)
I’ll have to give this latest version of the book a look — it apparently has fold-outs and die-cuts in its illustrations, and I’m all about that!
So now you know the strange history of THE IRON GIANT. THE IRON WOMAN, though, remains more or less stuck in her swamp.
December 21, 2012
A couple of pieces I’m very proud of — a look at some of the great Christmas stories on TV over the years.
December 19, 2012
Here are some things I wrote and things I did in 2012 that I thought were kind of cool and possibly of interest to people
In January, I wrote some more offbeat pieces, such as an interview with literary novelist Michael Malone about his time writing the daytime soap ONE LIFE TO LIVE as that show ended. I also did a look at the insanity that was the locally-filmed ONE TREE HILL.
I also got to do a pretty funny interview with author Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket.
In February, I did an interview with ADVENTURE TIME creator Pendleton Ward for Newsarama around this time, where I had guest-questions from people like Paul Pope, Scott Kurtz, Mike Allred and some others. Here’s a link to Part Two, which links to Part One. I also got Tony Millionaire to do an original piece of Lumpy Space Princess for the interview.
In March, I did an interview with Trace Beaulieu from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 and with Jason Mewes of Kevin Smith’s various films. Later, I went to see Beaulieu and the rest of the MST3K/Cinematic Titanic crew when they performed live at the Carolina Theatre, and got my picture taken with Joel Hodgson.
Also in March, I went to the Mad Monster Party show in Charlotte. They had a number of horror and B-movie legends there, and I certainly got my money’s worth. I got to meet Angus Scrimm from PHANTASM, who was even nice enough to record a voice-mail message for me…that unfortunately he couldn’t quite figure out how to speak into my phone, so I just recorded it with my digital recorder, and can’t really figure out how to get the MP3 onto my voice mail.
(He’s sitting down, and extending his arm while I’m leaning against him. I did not sit on the Tall Man’s lap.)
I also met the lovely P.J. Soles from ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and many other films. She signed a print based on HIGH SCHOOl that was done on a vinyl record for a recent screening. I also got the print/record signed by Mary Woronov and Marky Ramone at the show. It possesses supernatural powers now.
I also met Rutger Hauer at the show, but he was charging a lot for pictures. I did get an autographed picture for my man Jesse Moynihan, to whom I traded it for a drawing of his ADVENTURE TIME creation the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant.
Toward the end of March, I got to boost my nerd-cred with an interview with Ira Glass of THIS AMERICAN LIFE.
I also talked with Karl Kerschl about one of my favorite webcomics, THE ABOMINABLE CHARLES CHRISTOPHER.
March was quite productive. No wonder I blocked subsequent chunks of the year out.
I recall April was a bit slower, as this might have been around the time I taught a class on “Great Films and Their Scripts” at an extended learning center. I do remember I did this fun little piece on Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s HITMAN, with some quotes from older interviews I did with them.
May was also a mite slow, though I did enjoy doing this interview with Mark Waid about the end of his book IRREDEEMABLE.
I also quite liked this piece about the oddball characters from the old DC chestnut DIAL H FOR HERO.
And I did a piece about trying out some anime series.
In June, I got to host a panel with my man Jeffrey Brown at Heroes Con! I did a whole slideshow and we showed some behind-the-scenes art for his book DARTH VADER AND SON and some footage from SAVE THE DATE, the movie he co-wrote that stars Alison Brie and Lizzy Caplan.
As is usual at cons, I got a bunch of artwork, including this watercolor of the 1960s characters the Atomic Knights by Matt Kindt.
Throughout the year, I got to see a lot of great older movies on the big screen with 35-mm prints at the Carolina Theatre and other local houses. Some films I saw included: THE JERK; PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES; THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON; the 1979 DRACULA; STUNT ROCK; THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER; E.T. (not-special edition); WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?; GHOSTBUSTERS; MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE; THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER; the 1980 FLASH GORDON; ROSEMARY’S BABY; DRAGONSLAYER; a half-dozen Miyazaki films; I’m sure there were others.
I had several very good articles in July, including this look back at Spider-Man’s many strange media adaptations…
And a talk with the creators of the Batman villain Bane just in time for his appearance in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.
September was quite busy; I went to the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Maryland, where I met a bunch of artists and got a bunch of drawings. I got some wonderful pieces at a charity auction, including some Larry Marder BEANWORLD art and this “Space Kid” piece by Farel Dalyrmple.
October was pretty much the busiest month of my professional life! I did a week of guest-posts for USA TODAY’s Pop Candy blog, and a number of big interviews.
I talked with Chris Ware on his acclaimed new collection BUILDING STORIES…
…with ERAGON author Christopher Paolini about life after his blockbuster series…
…and I had way too much fun with this piece about comic book gimmick covers.
I did a whole bunch of 1980s toy-themed posts after this, and talked to the guy who wrote BLACKHAWK DOWN about his new Osama Bin Laden book.
In November, I did still more Pop Candy posts, and “endorsed” a classic comic book character for president with quotes from Neil Gaiman and Ed Brubaker.
I also co-hosted three panels at the NC Comicon, including a one-on-one session with HELLBOY artist Duncan Fegredo about his life and career. He did this nice piece of the Lich from ADVENTURE TIME for my sketchbook.
This also led to a strange adventure where I helped reunite Mark Waid with the first-ever drawing of a character he co-created, Impulse.
Anyway, December is still going on and I think I have a few good pieces left in me before the year’s out. But that certainly was a lot of stuff, wasn’t it?
On to 2013! I’ll try to have fewer slack months next year.
December 18, 2012
This is just a link to some links I’ve had run on Boing Boing, as a reminder that my obscure knowledge runs HIGH.