Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Superman: Secret Origin. An Origin too far?

Be warned, this post contains potential spoilers for the first issue of Superman: Secret Origin.

If you're a superhero comics fan and you're not reading Superman: Secret Origin, sort it out! Every time I see this series mentioned on the web I notice that there's always someone complaining "Oh no, not another Superman Origin revamp, Superman continuity is a mess blah, blah, moan, moan, bitch, bitch". I never got the "mess" accusation. DC could put out a new Superman origin every year for the next 100 years and everyone of them would involve Krypton exploding, raised by the Kents, going to Metropolis and meeting Lois Lane etc, etc. DC will never reveal that Superman is really a reincarnated Egyptian Prince or the son of an Ancient Wizard. You want messy origins, try being a Hawkman or an Aquaman fan. As for the accusation that there's too many origin stories, how many is too many? Because in fact, while Supes' origin is perhaps the most retold origin in comics, there have only been two other official origin revamps in the past quarter of a century, Man of Steel and Rebirth.

Man of Steel by John Byrne is one of the reasons that I'm such a big Superman fan. Before reading it I preferred Batman and always thought that Superman was a bit of a pompous douche-bag. Byrne trimmed down Superman's power level and emphasized the importance of the Clark Kent side of his personality. At that point in my life I don't think I had ever read a version of Superman that was so easy to identify with. However despite it's awesomeness it's worth remembering that Man of Steel came out in 1986, 23 years ago. There's as much time between Secret Origin and Man of Steel as there is between Man of Steel and this version of Superman....

My point is, as great as Man of Steel is, a lot of time has passed since then. What's wrong with updating the myth a little bit?

Which is what happened in 2003 with Superman: Birthright. There's a lot to admire about Mark Waid's version of the origin. Interesting Silver Age aspects such as Lex Luthor's childhood in Smallville are placed back in continuity while new additions to the myth are added as well. For example, Superman has a new power, a sort of soul vision. This ability to see the life literally leaving a dying body led to Superman's decision to become a vegetarian. Familiar characters are given intriguing twists. For example, Pa Kent is initially resentful of Clark's developing powers, feeling that they are driving a wedge between him and his son.

As entertaining as this origin is however it never seemed to take. Perhaps it was because of the lack of appropriate advertising. When the first issue came out it seemed to come out of nowhere. DC dropped Birthright on us without commenting on whether it was "official canon" or not. This was later confirmed by Waid nine months after the first issue came out. Personally, it was Lenil F. Yu's art that prevented me from warming to the series. While it is very pretty to look at I feel it is inappropriate for Superman. It's too dark in tone and lacks that iconic, timeless feel of Byrne's art. This is no more evident than on the cover of the first issue where Superman is drawn without pupils in his eyes. This happens a lot with Yu's Superman, it pops up once again on the cover of the trade paperback. While removing the pupils from Superman's eyes can be a most effective image when drawing angry Superman, generally speaking he has lovely big blues that radiate kindness. Batman has eerie white slits.

Which brings us then to the latest attempt, Geoff Johns' and Gary Frank's Secret Origin. Rather than dump this one on our lap DC have wisely spent the past four years weaving the changes wrought by this origin into continuity and teasing fans as to what this new origin might involve. The answer is, it involves everything great about the origin from the past 70 years. Only one issue has come out so far and it has timeless classic written all over it. It contains aspects of Man of Steel and Birthright, for example the way Byrne let Lana Lang in on the secret and the way Waid returned young Luthor to Smallville. It contains aspects of the Silver Age, for example Clark's indestructible glasses and Superman's indestructible costume. It brings it's own fantastic touches to the myth, Clark flies for the first time rescuing Lana from a tornado.

Frank's art is clean, clear, timeless and iconic, just as it should be. A lot of people have complained about his Superman looking like Christopher Reeve but I say, who the hell else are you gonna make him look like? Dean bloody Cain?! In short, Secret Origin is shaping up to be an origin story that will endure, hopefully even longer than 23 years.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

William Shatner, The Transformed Man

Like all intelligent people I am a big fan of William Shatner. Writer, director, singer, horse enthusiast, practical joker, extreme sportsman and of course actor. There are many strings to the bow of William "Tekwar" Shatner. He will be forever remembered for such roles as charismatic gigolo Matt Stone in Want a Ride Little Girl (1974) or effete Southern drifter William J. Baxter in Big Bad Mama (1974). He's also in some sci-fi thing, I forget the name of it.

This is a somewhat controversial statement but I happen to think that Shatner is a very underrated actor. A friend of mine often recalls the time he saw a clip of Shatner playing Julius Caesar in 1960 on one those dreadful 'Before They Were Famous' Shows. My friend was confused as to what exactly it was that he was supposed to find funny, since Shatner appeared to be doing a damn good job of taking on Shakespeare! But whatever you may think of his acting ability you can't deny the man's charisma. He's just a pleasure to watch in everything he's in, all because of that indefinable Shatner-ness that is easy to imitate but impossible to truly capture. It's also worth remembering that Shatner is funny. Whether he's telling an anecdote about a monkey grabbing his balls or playing the legendary Denny Crane in Boston Legal, the Shat's timing and delivery are always spot on.

There is also, of course, his music. I'm not gonna tell you that The Transformed Man is the greatest album ever, 'cos it ain't. There's also his notorious 1978 version of Rocket Man. It's so unintentionally hilarious I can't watch it without taping my sides securely to prevent splitting. His 2004 album Has Been on the other hand is a different story. Some of the tracks on this album are genuinely moving and the funny ones are actually meant to be funny. It's really worth a listen.

Shatner's unique acting style and ventures into popular music have made him the butt of countless jokes over the years. However these many examples of Shatner-mocking, from his 'appearances' on Family Guy and The Simpsons to Kevin Pollak's spot on impersonation, all seem to be tempered with affection and admiration. And, of course, no one mocks Shatner better than Shatner himself. Shatner is often compared to David Hasselhoff. This, I feel is unfair. When Shatner sends himself up, no matter the ridiculous costume or situation he's in, he always carries himself with the dignity of a man doing things absolutely his own way. The Hoff, quite frankly, is a clown who will dance for spare change.

So let's mock away, 'cos y'know what? Bill can take it. He's William Goddamn Shatner and he's bigger than all of us.

With that in mind, here's Shatner waxing lyrical about the eroticism of mountains, all mashed up into a kick ass electro tune courtesy of Fall On Your Sword.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Not Another Comics Blog?!!!?

I know, I know. The internet needs another comic fan blogging like your Twitter account needs another pornbot follower. But, balls to it! Superhero comics are the only thing outside of Morrissey and cereal that I have enough passion about to bother writing about. And while there's certainly a gap in the market for blogs about a certain truculent Mancunian's breakfast habits, I'm afraid that material may be scarce. Besides, I see him as more of a porridge eater.

Anyhoo, lately reading about comics on the internet has become a depressing ordeal akin to being forced to sit on a beloved childhood pet's grave, listening to Joy Division while a weeping goth explains the plot of 'Our Friends in the North'. It's depressing I tell ya. Let's look at a few examples. Today we learn that the family of Jack Kirby are following the example of the Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel's family and are suing Marvel for a share of copyright in Kirby's characters and their use in comics and other media. Bearded super-genius Alan Moore has a very dim view of today's comic industry, particularly their use of his ideas and concepts. And, y'know, when a bearded super-genius bitches about comics, ya gotta listen. I've recently checked out Valerie D'Orazio's 'Occasional Superheroine' blog entries in which she documents her rather unpleasant time spent working for an unnamed (but not hard to figure out) comics company. All in all it seems that behind the scenes in the comics industry is a pretty ugly place to be. Imagine Dorothy peeked behind the Wizard's curtain and found a registered sex offender covered in wee. That's pretty much how I'm starting to feel whenever I read about comics.

So I suppose I'd like to write about why I like superhero comics, if only to remind myself that there is still joy in this hobby. I guess everything I like about comics, particularly DC Comics can be summed up by one character.....

This guy! Matter Eater Lad! He's by no means my favourite superhero (although he is awesome), that honour is reserved for ol' Kal-El. But there's something about a teenager from the planet Bismoll who lives in the 30th Century and uses his ability to eat anything (and I mean ANYTHING, from guns to elephants)to fight crime that sums up the undefinable, goofy, childlike, anything-can-happen, wonderful charm of superhero comics. No other medium of entertainment holds that charm for me. Sure, in this sophisticated modern age we live in let's have gritty, post-modern relevance. But if we can have gritty, post-modern relevance involving a talking gorilla robbing a bank, all the better!

Here's another example of the wonderful unique charm of superhero comics. Megan Fox recently quashed rumours that she would be starring in a Wonder Woman movie with the following quote.

“Wonder Woman is a lame superhero… She flies around in her invisible jet and her weaponry is a lasso that makes you tell the truth. I just don’t get it. Somebody has a big challenge on their hands whoever takes that role but I don’t want to do it.”

Let's think about what she said here. "She flies around in her invisible jet and her weaponry is a lasso that makes you tell the truth." If that isn't pure unfiltered awesomeness right there then I don't want to know what awesomeness is! This is why superhero comics are awesome! So much unbridled imagination and pure, honest fun and we have 70 plus years of it to dip into! Hurray!!!!!!

So if you're ever feeling disillusioned with comics, or indeed life, just picture Matter Eater Lad chewing his way stoically through a talking gorilla's laser gun while Wonder Woman lassos that gorilla's ass from her invisible plane. All will be well.