Thursday, November 2, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served” (Part Two)

CAPTAIN AMERICA Annual #8 - The comic every blogger was obligated to pull out of storage in 2005.

Marvel was pulling out all the stops to revive interest in CAP - the return of Zeck and a Wolverine guest shot! Surprisingly, their team-up against the Overrider & Tess-One runs pretty smoothly, until the end. Wolverine disobeys Cap’s orders, allowing a fall to nearly kill Overrider. Cap’s infuriated, telling Wolverine he’s lucky the X-Men tolerate him because “The Avengers would never have you.”

The fight we’re promised on the cover only lasts three panels, and Cap’s road trip with Wolverine in the middle is left off-panel. That would be its own full-issue chapter of the multi-part story today.

Much of the story has Wolverine solo, and Gru seems to be making an intentional choice to write Claremont-style captions in those scenes. It’s not parody, but it’s a nod to the older fans who get the reference. No first-person captions, though. Wolverine wasn’t defined by those yet, and Gru tended to dislike them anyway.

I Love the ‘80s Moment: Wolverine is allowed to smoke in the hospital room of an injured mutant.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #321 - September 1986. (Captain) America! &%#$ Yeah!

This is one of the defining stories of Gru’s run - the issue that has Cap gunning down a terrorist in order to save ULTIMATUM’s hostages. Gru’s adamant stance that Cap’s never killed before is central to his view of the character; and viewed as laughable by many readers…and comics pros. To Gru’s credit, the issue was addressed head-on in the letter column, just like his later stand against Cap using the Super Soldier serum.

The concept is a great moral quandary for the hero, and typical of the “I can’t, yet I must!” conflicts that Shooter advocated. Also, Flag-Smasher, a man who rejects all forms of patriotism is a nice foil for Cap (who can’t even conceive of how anyone could feel this way.)

Unfortunately, this specific issue is fairly disappointing. One of Gru’s quirks is to over-explain every tiny detail, so instead of a tense, multi-page action sequence of Cap sneaking around ULTIMATUM’s base, it’s a slog of giant word balloons, as Cap mentally fixates over every detail of his plan.

By the time you reach the climax, you’re just ready for the issue to end. Credit to Neary/Beatty for a nice-looking issue, though. And that cover…! You can see why Hasbro feared Zeck was too “intense” for G. I. JOE covers.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #322 - October 1986. Cap’s so upset after last issue he’s gone full first-person caption.

Part Two of the definitive Gruenwald CAP story, an entire issue devoted to Cap’s views on killing, one that ends with him risking frostbite or possible death in order to save the Flag-Smasher’s life.

This could come across as incredibly corny, but Gruenwald writes Cap’s stance as such a moral absolute, it does read as a fundamental aspect of his character. Not that everyone agreed, of course. And Marvel’s official stance now is certainly NOT that Cap has never killed. Gru might’ve gone too far with his stance that Cap didn’t even kill in WWII, but it’s essential to Gru’s view of the character.  Gru, coming of age during the 1960s peace movement, views killing in any circumstance as the ultimate violation of someone’s freedom. If Cap truly values freedom, he can’t justify killing.

Gru also has Cap reassert that he represents the ideals of America, not the government. This was an important distinction for Boomers who lived through Vietnam; it’s revived here perhaps to fight against fan perception that Cap takes order from the government. (Although, G. I. JOE was insanely popular then, so I don’t think most kids cared.) The distinction does play a major role in the next arc, so this could be intentional foreshadowing.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #323 - November 1986. Imagine the internet of 1986 reacting to those cover borders.

The Super-Patriot, later the US Agent, debuts this issue. Initially conceived as a strawman argument against perceived ‘80s excesses, we see Super-Patriot as desperate for fame as America’s new hero, but unwilling to stop a mugging, because it isn’t “glitzy” enough.

Gru’s plan all along was to replace Cap with this “’80s Captain America,” who initially reads as a hippie’s cartoon parody of Reagan youth. Later, Gru develops him into a more credible character; the US Agent we know today would NEVER allow an old lady to be mugged. If anything, that scene would be an excuse to show how intolerant he is of crime. If anyone did try to revive the fame whore element, it’d read as totally out of character.

Meanwhile, Cap is offered an official job with SHIELD, to avoid possibly facing trial in Switzerland for killing that terrorist. The threat of legal jeopardy, and outraged public opinion, is overplayed, and some fans were furious Gru took this story so far. I personally enjoy the pure moralistic view of Cap, who refuses to join SHIELD just to avoid legal jeopardy.

I hold the unpopular opinion that Brubaker got Cap’s character wrong from the first page of his first issue. Cap would not coldly kill a regiment of terrorists, regardless of the provocation. The lush colors and pretty Epting art can’t cover just how fundamentally flawed this interpretation is. It was, ironically, a very ‘90s reinvention of Cap, even as the ‘90s were being rejected across comics.

Cap killing people in the movies also feels wrong, aside from maybe the WWII montages. A much better alternative to the retcon of AVENGERS 2’s ending (which was all about the heroes SAVING innocents) would be for the indignant mom at the opening of CIVIL WAR to be the mother of one of the Loki-enchanted soldiers that Cap killed in AVENGERS. It would’ve played against his “brainwashing doesn’t count!” defense of Bucky, and not undermined the entire point of another film.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Did "Death of Superman" Survive Its Animated Adaptation?

This week at CBR, I look back on the 2007 attempt to adapt Death of Superman.  I get to gripe about a specific design choice that's bugged me for ten years now.  (And you can click the label below to relive my reviews of the original storyline, of course.)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An Unofficial Guide to NYPD Blue - On Sale Now

Pleased to announce that my next project on Amazon is complete.  An Unofficial Guide to NYPD Blue: A Comprehensive Exploration of the Legendary Drama is now on sale, for a measly ninety-nine cents! 

Now, why plunk down a near-full buck for this tome if you've already followed my reviews over on the Gentlemen of Leisure site?  Well, first of all, why are you so cheap?  C'mon, it's not as if I'm asking for much of an investment, buddy.  Seriously, if you're a fan of the show and you've already followed my retrospective, and you're not interested in having the entire archive easily located on your favorite tablet...there's still more to offer.

I've tweaked all of the reviews, adding some bits of information, but that's only the beginning.  This collection also includes my reviews of the NYPD Blue novel series by Max Allan Collins, a new afterword reflecting on the run of the series, an episode guide, links to numerous video interviews featuring the cast and crew, and an examination of the strangest piece of NYPD Blue merchandising ever -- the children's book published in the U.K.  (I'm absolutely not kidding.)

And, on top of that, I've included the ultimate bit of NYPD Blue trivia, one amazing tidbit that I'd somehow managed to exclude during the initial retrospective series.  If you're willing to throw some support my way, or maybe write a review, I'd appreciate it.  As always, thanks, folks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served”

As a testament to how thorough these Epic Collections are, the reprint opens with numerous pages from different books. It’s a collection of subplot pages introducing the Scourge, killing random “lame” villains. Interesting that Kraven was viewed as one of the losers at this time; although he escapes the Scourge, so perhaps Marvel realized that he shouldn’t go out like a chump.

The book would work just as well without these clips, but it’s a testament to the tight continuity of the Shooter-Gruenwald days, when everyone seemed to be singing from the same hymnal. There’s likely never been a point when continuity was 100% perfect, but Marvel did put a real effort in -- and often Gru would be the one to clean up someone else’s mistakes.

MARVEL FANFARE #29 - November 1986. Even the Editori-Al is reprinted!

Of course this CAPTAIN AMERICA Epic collection opens with…a Byrne inventory story from INCREDIBLE HULK.  (Okay, the Scourge subplot pages are inserted before it, but this is the full opening issue.)

This turns out to be another subtle Scourge appearance, as he uses the Hulk in an absurdly complicated plot to kill D-listers Hammer & Anvil.  Don’t know why this was reprinted in full, when other Scourge cameos just had the relevant pages excised.

By the way, there’s no credible reason for every page of this to be a splash. Didn’t Shooter refuse to run this story initially?

CAPTAIN AMERICA #318 - June 1986. No clue who Bluestreak is, but his costume is cool.

No villain with a rollerskate gimmick is going to go far, but this is a strong design. They could’ve dropped the skates and been left with just a nice armored villain.

This begins Gru’s first reinvention of Cap, who now travels America in a van, looking for people to help. Much of the story is a justification for why Cap would do this, when he could just fly around in a jet. Gru, a Midwesterner, wanted Cap to literally represent America and see all of the country, not only New York. I personally think it’s taking the concept too literally, but CAPTAIN AMERICA was a poor seller at the time, and Gru was looking for some hook to draw people in. Gru also seemed wary to give Cap a firm supporting cast, so treating him as a nomad fit his sensibilities better.

The plot has Bluestreak learning of the Scourge’s threat, ignoring it, then dying at the end (after a random encounter with Cap.) I’ve never read the Scourge story in full; I’d be curious to know if Scourge’s ability to magically appear and kill these Morts is ever explained. That’s taxing my suspension of disbelief at the moment.

Best moment: Bluestreak calls Cap a “Son of a bimbo.” I maintain Gru had the best replacement swears.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #319 - July 1986. Spoiler Alert: He fails.

The real significance of this issue is Cap truly meeting Diamondback for the first time, while both are chasing Scourge. It ends with Cap literally running away from a woman who wants to sleep with him. Now, before that, she did threaten to crash her jet and kill them both if he didn’t put out, so he’s understandably upset.

Diamondback also heavily implies that she prostituted herself to pay for her diamond weapons. Funny to think of her as a future Cap love interest.

Scourge claims his highest score yet, killing 18 supervillains Gru dismissed as crap. I wouldn’t throw Ringer or Cyclone in there, but likely Turner D. Century wasn’t missed.

How many of these dead villains stayed dead? I know Titania was a victim, yet she was already appearing regularly by the late ‘80s.

Another great replacement swear: the Scourge is a real “sonuvafish.”

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #278 - July 1986. Another full-issue Scourge tie-in. This should’ve been placed before the previous CAP issue, actually.

A later lettercol acknowledges the continuity issues with this crossover. They not so subtly pin them on the ASM team.

This issue, Scourge plots to kill Flash Thompson, recently arrested as the Hobgoblin, in prison. He ultimately settles for icing Brian DeWolff, the Wraith, a.k.a. Jean DeWolff’s forgotten brother.

For someone who hates criminals, it’s odd to see Scourge trigger a prison break in order to cover his own escape.

Is there a compelling reason to reprint this in a CAP collection? I wonder why some Scourge tie-ins only have a few panels reprinted, and others are presented as full issues.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #320 - August 1986. This ain’t no X-book! The Scourge mystery revealed!

Cap disguises himself as a Scourge target, drawing the vigilante out into the open. Reading this issue, I just realized that a Scourge regular series, in the style of DEXTER, could be interesting.

We learn Scourge’s origin, that he grew up on the backlots of Hollywood westerns, and was inspired to dole out frontier justice after his brother became a supervillain. It’s “meta” in a subtle way, like much of Gru’s writing.

What we don’t learn is how Scourge could often disguise himself as females…females with comic book anatomy.  Also, a mystery man kills Scourge at the end, using his catchphrase and disappearing into the night. Cap’s not certain the mystery truly is resolved, making this reminiscent of an X-book in the end after all.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - Driving Batman Mad as a Hatter...

Newest piece on CBR, looking back on the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode "Perchance to Dream" and an issue of the tie-in comic that explored the same concept in a very different way...

Monday, October 16, 2017

Superman: The Animated Series & Its Tie-in's Totally Tiny Adventure

My latest Adventure(s) Time article, looking back on the two Krypton refugees who were most certainly not General Zod.  Plus, one of the hoary kids' TV cliches the producers never wanted to touch...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

When Batman Beyond Took A ’90s Trend Too Far

My latest Adventure(s) Time post, featuring the beginning of the second era of Batman Beyond -- less corporate espionage, more high school drama that somehow involves supervillains.  Evan Dorkin, who co-wrote the episode, was nice enough to stop by the comment section, in case you're interested in his thoughts.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Batman: The Animated Series – When Two-Face Became a Crimefighter (Twice)

I examine one of the darker episodes of the New Batman Adventures era, an impressive comics follow-up by Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett, and discover a link to Mask of the Phantasm that I've never noticed before...all in the latest Adventure(s) Time.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Adventure(s) Time - When Harley Quinn Couldn’t Shake Batgirl

The latest CBR piece is up, featuring another Harley Quinn/Batgirl story from the tie-in comics, and a look at the "Girls Night Out" episode of The New Batman Adventures.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Don't Do Anniversary Posts

Working under the assumption that I would be the only one to care, I've never written an anniversary post for this site.  Yet, somehow, today marks the tenth anniversary of Not Blog X and I feel compelled to at least say something.  I announced around two years ago that updates would be sporadic on this site, given that the mission statement was increasingly irrelevant, and the days of blogging seemed to be on the wane anyway.

Since then, I've been able to contribute to CBR, first chronicling the early years of Wizard (kind of an obvious aspect of fandom from this era to examine, even though I'd previously given it only minimal attention), and continuing now with a look at the DC Animated Universe and the Adventures titles of the day, along with the occasional article on some varied topics.  Clearly, that's where the bulk of my attention is spent, and the link posts here reflect that.  I'm also in the final months of reviewing the television work of David Milch over at Gentlemen of Leisure, in case anyone hasn't checked that site in a while (which is also in the midst of looking back on 1990s X-Men at the moment...crazy, huh?)

I also published a novel through Amazon over a year ago, recently finished a second novel that may or may not be self-published, and I'm around 25,000 words into my third novel.  This is in addition to a non-fiction project I'll likely be publishing on Amazon before the end of the year.  I'm writing as much now as I was back in the era of two posts per day, but in different formats.

Do I have any deep reflections on my decade of doing this?  Not particularly.  I could ramble on about my obsessiveness with fonts (only recently did I let go of adamantly insisting every post be Times New Roman), the formatting quirks of those original posts (writing in Word, copying the text, emailing it from a Yahoo account to a Gmail account, then copy and pasting in Blogger's template...which, bizarrely, was the only way to get the spacing between paragraphs the way I liked), the confusion over why my posts sometimes appeared in a gray typeface and sometimes in a black typeface, or the sheer surprise of having the occasional creator stop by to comment on something they worked on years and years earlier.  I should thank all of the commenters who let me know I wasn't speaking into a void for all of these years, truthfully, because doing this without comments can get lonely.

I've mentioned earlier that I was inspired by writers like Paul O'Brien and Dave Campbell when starting this blog, but one major influence on this site was totally subconscious and only recently revived.  This thing...the 1997 The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family paperback, is actually the template for my style of comics writing.  Starting with a summary of the story, listing the creators and release date, and chopping up much of the commentary into separate segments with allegedly clever headings...this was all inspired by A Complete Guide, and to be honest, I'd totally forgotten this until I stumbled across the book when going through some things at my parents' house. As it turns out, many TV bloggers (if that term even existed then) were doing similar bits on Usenet groups going back over twenty-five years ago, but I was totally ignorant of this.  My inspiration really is that paperback book, one forgotten at the bottom of a plastic storage bin years ago.

In 2007, the most popular website in the world was Myspace.  Comics blogging had exploded around three years prior, and I was one of the last guys to receive a tiny amount of attention in the crowded field, via Mike Sterling linking to me in the first week, and the late, lamented Newsarama blog linking a few days after that.  Even when I started this site, Blogger was falling out of favor as more writers embraced Wordpress, a move I didn't make simply because I found Wordpress' main page too confusing on a cursory glance.  I wasn't expecting this project to last that long -- maybe one year -- and as Wordpress gave way to Tumblr, which gave way to Twitter, I assumed everything in this platform would be going the way of Tom's over-the-shoulder profile shot soon enough.

I used to include dozens of links to comics blogs in my sidebar, partially because it was considered just a basic courtesy in those days, but also out of respect for the amount of work it takes to keep something like this going.  When I stopped updating regularly with new content, I decided to drop the links to various graveyards and have Blogger update the sites that are still going.  The eagerness to begin these ventures died years ago, and while fans of a certain era thought nothing of dedicating hours out of their week to spread their love for the medium, you're not likely today to see someone start a new blog with an enthusiastic nod towards Wednesdays in the title.

The love for these characters still exists, but we all know what's happened.  These franchises aren't "ours" anymore, and the generation that entered the hobby during the booms of the '80s and '90s probably doesn't speak the same language as a fan who wasn't even born the first time Ain't It Cool ran grainy photos of the X-Men in those black motorcycle outfits.  Fans introduced to these characters through the DeFalco Marvel years or Levitz DC years are likely too old/jaded to care that much about the latest shocking event storyline, let alone willing to write lengthy essays about this kind of material.

Blogging isn't totally dead, and so far the content on Blogger hasn't been scrubbed from the internet, but as of now, commentary has morphed into microblogging on Twitter, or vlogging on YouTube.  I reluctantly participate in one and eschew the other.  I'm not judging anyone who works in these formats, but don't expect too much from me in this area.  And I do respect the handful trying to keep traditional comics blogging alive; I rode this thing about as far as it can go, but for everyone still having fun out there, (not that anyone's seeking my permission) go for it.

So, ten years.  Thanks to everyone who's stopped by over the years.  Perhaps I'll never find out if Dick hated my blog, but for those of you who got something out of this, you have my sincere gratitude for your support.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Milch Studies: Deadwood

In case anyone's interested, my look back at the first season of Deadwood is now up at Gentlemen of Leisure.  It's a fascinating show, not only for the themes it explores, but also for the chaotic process behind its production.  
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