mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Friday, April 09, 2004

In the early 80s, DC Comics released one of my all time favorite Superman stories: The Phantom Zone. Writer Steve Gerber and artists Gene Colan and Tony DeZuniga brought us what may very well be the only effective Superman horror story ever published. You finally get the feeling that the Phantom Zone villains are evil, frightening monsters who deserve to be trapped in this disembodied state, instead of just no-goodniks who would occasionally give Supes a little bit of grief. You get a history of the Zone in the first issue, along with a look at the stories behind the criminals imprisoned there...and over the course of the series you get an exploration of what exactly comprises the Zone itself. I don't want to go into too much detail, as I would prefer that you read the story yourself...I will say that it follows up on a former Phantom Zone prisoner that first appeared in a story from Superman #157 (pictured above, on the left). You also get, in this mini, a Superman pushed over the edge by anger and frustration...which was quite a shock to this 13-year-old reader at the time, accustomed as I was to the more staid Silver/Bronze Age Superman.

A sequel to the The Phantom Zone mini-series, written by Gerber and illustrated by Rick Veitch, appeared in the last issue of DC Comics Presents...the last of the "original" Superman stories (along with Alan Moore's two-part "Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow" story) prior to John Byrne's revamping of the character. It's on par with the horrific level of the mini-series...you'll not soon forget the rain of
Argo City's ruins (along with dead Kryptonian bodies) crashing down upon Metropolis.

Anyway, what with Gerber currently producing the new Hard Time series for the DC Focus line, I thought this particular mini-series and issue of DCCP (along with the 10-page story from the 60s) would make a nice little trade paperback collection for DC to release. Not likely, I know...we're probably more likely to see a more general-purpose Phantom Zone collection focusing on Silver Age stories, but it would be nice. This really was one of the best Superman stories, and I hate to see it languish forgotten in the back-issue bins.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

This week's comics. 

A few words about this week's comics:

New X-Men/Uncanny X-Men: oh, Marvel's still publishing X-Men books? Wonder why they're bothering.

Plastic Man #5: this comic gets better and better with each succeeding issue. PM's hapless sidekick Woozy is still dead, apparently...though I'm sure we'll see him get better sooner or later. And if that isn't one of the more disturbing covers you've seen lately...sheesh.

Alter Ego #35: Number 35!!?! Hokey smokes! ...Anyway, this issue has a nice long interview with Al Jaffee, known by most people for his Mad Magazine Fold-Ins (and his Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, and his great inventions, and "Hawks & Doves"). However, he was also a prolific Timely Comics artist and discusses that work in this interview. And I also share my birthday with him, just for your information.

Supreme Power #9: I haven't been picking this series up, though I have been flipping through the issues as they've been coming in the store...the fact that I've continued flipping through the issues probably means I should have just been out-and-out reading it from the beginning. Ah, well, that's what trades are for, I guess. I did want to point out what must certainly be an unintentional similarity between this issue and issue...#4?...of Miracleman, with the superpowered being (Hyperion/Miracleman) calmly walking through the ineffective defenses around a government compound to discover the secrets about his origin waiting within. Again, I'm sure this was just a coincidence, and just the result of my having read too many darn comics and thus able to notice these kind of similarities.

Sandman Presents: Thessaly Witch for Hire: I hope these Thessaly comics continue as a semi-regular thing...a mini-series every couple years would be enough, so long as Bill Willingham and Shawn McManus stay on as the storytellers.

Swamp Thing #2: discussed last week, though I hope some of you long-time Swampy readers now see what I mean when I said the beginning of the book felt like it was from the Rick Veitch run.

Punisher: The End: I can't improve on the perfection of Pop Culture Gadabout's description of this comic being like one of the Tom Veitch/Greg Irons EC Comics-esque undergrounds. That's exactly what it feels like. Granted, that's a tough way for me to describe it to some of our customers ("It's just like Two-Fisted Zombies!" "Uh, what?") but that's really an on-the-nose take on this book. And yes, it's really good.

Yet another back room item for your amusement...a shipping envelope for
Marvel's in-house fanzine Foom, from 1975. The Hulk's mouth is where the mailing address would be written. (I edited out the address in this image.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

1. Let us give a hearty fare-thee-well to
The Comics Burrito!

2. An informal survey of friends, acquaintances, and other people whom I felt I could annoy has shown a slight favoring of Superman II over the first Superman film. As for why this would be (aside from all of them being high), all I can figure is that, as an action film, the second is more satisfying than the first. It's hard to top that all-out battle between Supes and the Phantom Zone villains.

Though I wonder how many people who think that II is the better film have actually seen the films recently. I know that I had always thought the two were on par with each other, until I watched the DVDs that were released a year or so ago. I hadn't seen either film in quite a long time...and I was surprised by how poorly II compared to the first film, both on a technical level and a writing level.

2a. A couple friends had expressed preference for III...I have not seen that film in a long time, and was the only Superman film I didn't see in the theatre. I sorta get the feeling that I'd enjoy it more now than I would have as a youngster...if only for the odd juxtaposition of Richard Pryor and the Man of Steel.

2b. Yes, that means I saw IV in the theatre. (Was there really "repair-Great-Wall-of-China-vision" in that movie, or was I imagining it?) I recommend the comic book version, which includes the extra scenes that were trimmed out of the movie, and is overall just plain less painful an experience.

3. Okay, enough about comic book movies. Take a look at Flat Earth, who has found a downright groovy Batman comic that Legomancer had been looking for. Good show, old chap!

Monday, April 05, 2004

Just to avoid any misunderstandings from
yesterday's post...I do like Superman II...it's a lot of fun. I just think Superman: The Movie is a better film.

And I don't mean to come down so hard on the Hellboy film, especially since I haven't seen it yet. It's just...well, I enjoy mindless action films just as much as anyone else, but I'm a little tired of the too-usual ending of "good guys win by blowing up some big thing owned by the bad guy," of which this film appears to be yet another example. I realize that having the good guy stand over the bad guy and declare "ha! My ideology has been proven philosophically superior! I am victorious!" won't satisfy the usual summer blockbuster crowds, and that blowing up the bad guy's stuff is the most dynamic visual way of expressing the triumph of good versus evil. I just wish my mindless action entertainment wasn't so...mindless, I guess.

Although a staple of several Bond films, the most resonant example of this sort of ending for people my age (in their late 70s) would probably be the original Star Wars movie, where the good guy (Luke) blows up the big thing (the Death Star) owned by the bad guy (Darth Vader...okay, really Tarkin, don't nitpick). It was apparently such a successful ending that Lucas used it again for Return of the Jedi, only the stakes were higher...two big things had to be blown up at the end of this film for the good guys to win.

The worst example of this in recent memory was, as I linked to the other day, the Time Machine "remake" from a year or two ago. Among its many problems (including the fact that your time travel movie shouldn't become even more boring once the time travel starts) is that, again, the good guy (the Time Traveller, whatever his name was) blows up the big thing (the underground tunnels) owned by the bad guy (Jeremy Irons, I guess). However, unless every Morlock just happened to be in the immediate area of the exploding time machine, presumably there's still a sizable Morlock population elsewhere that can move in. Sure, the explosion has solved the local problem...but only temporarily.

And, yes, I know not every big blockbuster action film ends this way, but enough do that I'm just growing tired of it. (Of course, if Hellboy doesn't end this way, I'm gonna look a little silly using that film as the catalyst for this little rant, but I think most of my point, such as it is, still stands.) Again, that's just how this sort of film ends, it's the formula, I should just deal with it...but it can't hurt to want a little more from my B-movie level action films. Or maybe that's the problem...expecting too much from B-movie level action films.

Reading any connection between this topic and superhero comic books is purely coincidental.

Oh, and here's my spoiler for the ending of the forthcoming Punisher movie: The Punisher (Thomas Jane) kills the bad guy (John Travolta), probably after blowing up something big the bad guy owns.

The suspense? What he uses to do the deed. A pistol? A shotgun? A grenade launcher? All of the above, and more? I can't wait to find out.

1. Hey, are you a loser? Then hie thee hither to Ringwood and
enter the contest to win a full run of DC/Vertigo's The Losers! Just tell them why you're the Biggest Loser Ever...I can't enter because I'm a winner, a winner, baby!

1a. Actually, that's a good idea, and thus ripe for stealing. I'll have to come up with a contest of my own. Don't worry...it probably won't involve nudity.

2. Still haven't had a chance to see Hellboy yet...pal Dorian has seen it, and wasn't terribly impressed. Sigh...honestly, I want to think that I'll like it, but it just looks like yet another Hollywood movie with more budget than sense, where everyone's problems get solved at the end with a series of large explosions.

2a. Speaking of comic book movies, the Academy is gonna make Halle Berry give back her Oscar for this Catwoman film.

2b. Still speaking of C.B.M.s, can someone explain to me why some people think Superman II is as good, if not better, than the first Superman movie? Yes, Superman II has the definitive live-action super-battle* and your minimum daily allotment of Zod, but overall it's just a more...inept film than the 95% perfect first movie. Pal Dorian says it's that 5% of the first film, the completely botched ending, that sucks away all the memories of the good parts of the film, which makes the 2nd film look that much better. What say you, internet pals?

2c. The best Batman movie is still the original Adam West one: "Of what use is a dream if not a blueprint for courageous action?"** Those more recent live-action Batman films sure haven't aged well, have they?

3. Did you know that the official site for the publishers of Dead @17 has a weblog?

4. I'm still waiting for my first phone call at the store regarding these comics. "No, I know they're real, I saw them on the internet!"
*God forgive me for even typing that.

**This is the correct quote, double-checked against my copy of the DVD. A lot of online sources get it wrong.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

"An eye-opener!" 

It's been a while since I've read this issue, but the story inside most certainly does live up to the cover. Captain Marvel Jr. faces the menace of a giant monster with eyes all over its body...and once the fists start flying, big bloody eyeballs do indeed go shooting all over the place. I don't remember what the actual plot was, but does it really matter? This story was, from beginning to end, "injury to eye" panels. Beautiful.

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