Friday, June 29, 2007

The Longbox of Love

Three comics posts in a row. I know I know. I'll do some Fresno stuff over the weekend. This is the first part of my multi-part series I call "The Longbox of Love"

A little background before we begin. I have been collecting comics for the better part of 30 years now, But I don't really collect. I read. I usually read my new books and then toss them or give them to someone else to read. The reason is simple. I don't want my house getting overrun with longboxes full of comics. I'd much rather have the space for DVD's, Books, and Superman paraphernalia. Aside from what has come out the last couple of weeks, the only comics I have are in 3 and half longboxes. These are comics that I really really liked and I re-read, or stuff that I thought was really good but that has not been collected into a trade yet. These boxes are mostly in order by title but not totally. I don't bag and board my comics so they are a little aged looking. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what is in these boxes and talk a bit about why I still have these particular issues.

Right out of the gate is one of the classic titles from the Silver and Bronze age

My second favorite superhero, Aquaman is featured here. Over the years, many heroes have been featured in runs on Adventure. Whenever I find one in a quarter bin I snag it. None of these stories had any continuity so if you just needed a quick fix of Aquaman (and lets face it, who doesn't?) it totally lets you ride the dragon. It is amazing how many big names from the era worked on these books. I think this one was Jim Aparo. Neal Adams, Camine Infantino, Dick Dillon, all of them did time on Adventure.

Oh Animal Man how I love you so. My second favorite run of a comic book ever. Animal Man broke all the rules in terms of storytelling and subject matter. This storyline was about experimenting on animals. This was the first regular run on an American book for Grant Morrison and just wow! You could not read this book and not get invested in Buddy as a character. Looking through my issues here, I am reminded how Buddy hardly ever won any of his battles. I don't mean that he always got the crapolla knocked out of him, which happened a lot, but if he was trying to save some animals or stop some corporate evil, in the end, the bad guys seemed to always go on. This has been coming out in trades so I may unload my floppies.

I have a wide variety of Aquaman books. This one features his two main rivals, Black Manta and Ocean Master. I'm having a hard time thinking of another Aquaman villain. Hmm... Aquaman fought a lot of Aliens and rebel Atlantean's. He never had an A List rogues gallery like Batman or Flash. But he sure could ride the dolphins!

Arsenic Lullaby. Mmmm. This title still comes out every now and again. Definitely not for everyone. Even though this has been traded (I have the trade), I hang onto my floppies to show my friends. Without any sex or bad language, Arsenic Lullaby manages to be more offensive than anything written by Garth Ennis. Here is a tame sample:

Man. By the way, what you are seeing on that cover up there is a dumpster full of aborted fetuses. They were re-animated to do the bidding of a Voodoo Priest named Joe. He uses them to fetch his beer and ruin lives. Yes. Arsenic Lullaby.

Astro City! What a great book this used to be. This happens to be issue 1/2 which was the Astroverse version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Astro City was amazing because it managed to tell two stories in every arc. There was always the surface story which was usually about classic superhero action like fighting aliens or beating up bank robbers.

But underneath were these really powerful themes and allusions. For example; for me, the greatest arc in Astro City was the one that revolved around The Confessor. The Confessor was a superhero that was secretly a vampire. Through the arc, the reader is slowly let in on his secrets and you follow him as he evades hero and villain alike while training his young ward, Altar Boy (Best Sidekick name EVAR). But while all this is going on, there is a secret alien invasion going on, one which ultimately is foiled by The Confessor. The story of the aliens is moved along by background noise from TV news casts and newspaper headlines. The theme is trust. Who can you trust? A vampire who poses as a hero or an alien invader posing as your friend? I'm not doing it justice but it's complex. Read the original run of Astro City.

I knew there was some Marvel stuff in here somewhere. If you are an Avengers fanboy, this series was written for you. An epic tale of the Avengers moving though the ages to defeat Immortus. Along the way we see virtually every avenger ever. We are also introduced to the new Captain Marvel who was so cool they gave him his own series soon after this ended. Gorgeous Carlos Pacheco art. Has this been collected? I would love this in an absolute just for the art.

Superman is hands down my favorite character in comics (my number two is showing up in the next part(notice I differentiate between fav superhero and fav character (notice my third parenthetical reference))) but I am amazed by how much Batman crap I have. I guess I like a good story, no matter who is in it. No Mans Land was an interesting event. The main event was that an earthquake hits Gotham and the damage is so bad, the government puts up a barricade and closes the city off from the rest of the country. DUMB! Next thing you know superheroes will be fighting over registration.

From this dumb idea sprang a few months of amazing stories. All four Batman books had standalone stories of heroes and normal people surviving within the walls of Gotham. Heartbreaking stories. Rucka was definitely on top of his game for this one. I think these have now been collected in trades.

This was the followup series to The Long Halloween. Loeb and Sale create magic when they are on their game. This was such a rich story. So much of this tale is focused on Gotham's crime families. There are long parts where Batman is not even in it. I won't get too into the story but if you like The Long Halloween, you must read this and Catwoman: When in Rome. Both focus on the aftermath of Long Halloween.

Loeb/Lee Batman was a let down story wise. But it sure was pretty! I think the nest part was that Batman and Catwoman finally hook up. This marks the first appearance of Wayne-Tech footwear. That alone indicates I should have it graded.

Brubaker on Catwoman was one of my all time favorite runs of a regular book. What is great about Brubaker is that he can step into a character with an established history, and write great stories within the framework of what is there. He is not like Judd Winnick who has to re-invent some major aspect of a character to write a story (usually involving someone dying of AIDS or coming back from the dead or both). Great dialogue and early in the run he, had Darwin Cooke on the art. I know most of these are traded now and I urge you to check them out.

I know in one of the my other boxes the original Birds of Prey mini's are in there. I loved Birds of Prey when it first came out. It was quite different from the book that is out these days. When BoP started, it was a series of three mini's written by Chuck Dixon and they had a much more James Bond feel to them. There was a lot less of the characterizations found in Simones current run. Basically it was a bunch of girls kicking ass, drawn by Gary Frank who never met a bikini he didn't like. Simone has taken the concept so much further but these early runs are just fun. Check em out.

Well this is half way through box one so I will take a break for now. What's in your longbox?

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Super Dictionary

Today's entry is an expose on this fantastic book my wife got me at a flea market last year:

Yes it's the Super Dictionary! This book was written to help children develop vocabulary. It was published in 1978 and most of the art was by Joe Kubert, with some selections from everyone from Neal Adams to Joe Shuster. I loved this book right from the inside cover. Check:

I don't know what happened to Leon Stamps, but two things I can say for sure:

1) He got a real boost to his vocabulary from this book

2) His perceptions of DC superheroes was changed forever!

Here are a few samples to show the kind of craziness within this book.

First of all they present the cast of characters:

Some of the usual suspects are here but then, on page two, we get reminded of the 70's need to diversify everything:

I remember that for some reason, besides a Black or Asian superhero, there were always the American Indian hero tacked on. Not sure if that was appropriate but hey, Apache Chief rocked the house! Onto the definitions and their wacky illustrations.

There are lots of pages of superhero self-affirmation like Wonder Woman here:

Or Batman and the Boy Wonder here:

But there are a lot of superheros in weird situations. Insert your own Green Arrow joke here:

Also Wonder Woman answers all your questions about Amazonian PMS:

There is a lot of general goofiness images such as team Aquaman trying to convince some fish that despite their fishing utensils, they are in fact here to help the fish.

You had to know Donna Troy was gonna be trouble just from this image. Some Supergirl rage issues here obviously.

The book manages to foreshadow some important events in DC continuity. For example, The Killing Joke:

And Identity Crisis:

Also there is a nod to Shenmue:

Perhaps most disturbing are the many homoerotic images. That ain't no popin corn kemosabe!

Some Native American man love:

Also what the heck does Catwoman really intend to do to Robin? Holy Date Rape!

Finally we have Batman doing a Spider Man impersonation. Nothing like making remarks as you are about to get pounded with a ginormous yellow mallet:

I could go on because there are hundred of pages of images in this little gem. Maybe later on I will re-visit the Super Dictionary. But next up on the blog is a look at my Long box of LOVE!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kirby 's Fantastic Four

Ok onto some comics. I went and saw Fantastic Four 2 and I have to say I enjoyed it. I know fellow fanboys, I may lose my greek-cred card but I thought it was pretty fun. I don’t understand why I can separate my love and devotion to the original Fantastic Four material and those movies, yet I can’t watch Smallville because I just cannot separate the mythos from the show. I guess Superman is closer to my heart. Anyhow the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four were my very first comic book that I remember. My father bought me a lot of comics when I was a kid. I had a ton of Richy Rich comics, Star Trek Comics, and just a few Marvel’s, among them, Fantastic Four including Fantastic Four annual number 3. Actually, this was a reprint. A funny thing about the 70’s was that Marvel did a LOT of reprints during the decade. Heck for years the X-Men were nothing but reprints. So this was definitely a reprint. Man I loved that comic.

To tie all this to the movie, I thought I would expound on the greatness that was Jack Kirby while taking a look at the original appearances of Galactus and the Silver Surfer.

I am approaching 40 now. I’ve had to learn to be more tolerant of the younger generation’s likes and dislikes. For example, Star Wars. Most people will tell you that the original Star Wars is a classic and from a drama point of view, the new trilogy is not so much. But I realized that for a lot of my fellow fan boys, the young ones who are actually the target audience of the films, the new Star Wars films are THEIR Star Wars films. It’s their generation’s films and not mine. So I could go on a message board and get all fired up because someone thinks Darth Maul is a totally awesome character who would take Han Solo in a fight, or I could grin and nod. I usually choose the latter.

If you haven’t noticed, I can get off topic sometimes.

So Kirby. For a lot of younger comic fans, the mystique of Kirby is probably lost. After all, it is easy to say that a lot of his characters looked the same, everyone seemed to crouch on command, and man those lines are thick! All probably true. Check this out

However, the idea of a comic book cliché doesn’t apply to Kirby. Along with Steve Ditko and Joe Shuster, Kirby CREATED the clichés. So much of what we see in comic art today started here. There of course were MANY artists that were published before Kirby, but for my money, Kirby and Eisner were the innovators in storytelling. A Kirby story almost didn’t need words to be enjoyable. Check this out

As much as it is easy to say Kirby was a product of an older generation who has been surpassed by those who followed, I think Kirby has earned the title King. I think he'stimeless.

Two of Kirby’s greatest subjects were introduced in the pages of Fantastic Four #48. The Silver Surfer and his world-eating boss, Galactus.

(Btw there was not a cloud in sight) Kirby was never one to over use splash pages (I’m looking at you Ed Benes) but he still manages to create some scale with Galactus. Of course there was some weirdness in the art. For example, what the heck does Black Bolt have on his head here?

Also Elektra and Tony Stark, I mean the Skrulls look a little “ethnic” if you know what I mean.

The Thing sure was a badass.

I think The Watcher forgot his water pills. That or he just had a big sushi lunch.

Finally on page 20, the big guy arrives.

Gorgeous! What an awesome design Galactus has. Alien, sci-fi, huge, weird, just very cool. The next issue starts with another dose of Lee/Kirby goodness

“If This Be Doomsday” Such gravitas! You know Reed has been busy because he seriously needs a shave

Eventually, Galactus meets with Bendis, I mean The Watcher

The cover to the final part of the Galactus story has one cool image of the Silver Surfer. I don’t know why Johnny Storm going to school was so darn important that it warranted three exclamation points but oh well. The Surfer looks sweet!

How come the Surfer didn’t do THIS in the movie?

Thankfully the Kingpin shows up to save the day. I mean The Watcher (the Watcher jokes come fast and furious around here).

Using the ultimate thingy majiggy, Reed scares off Galactus. The amazing thing about this issue is that Galactus leaves Earth midway through the comic.

The rest of the issue is Johnny going to school, Ben getting emo over Alicia, and Black Bolt getting his shizzle on with his rocking headpiece.

Overall, a great story from one of the great teams in comic history. Galactus of course would return many times, most famously in the John Byrne run during the 80’s. But in these books, an era was captured. Crazy aliens, nutty plot devices, its all here. I encourage you to check out the Kirby collections that are out there.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eyeballs can be a b**ch

I need some love time with my scanner at so I can really kick this into high gear. I think I will start out with some Jack Kirby FF goodness. So for now, here is a slice of life update which is all about my eye.

I don’t know why but I have always had drama with my eyes. For years I was told I had to wear glasses because my astigmatism would not allow me to wear contacts. A few years back, geez must be like 6 or 7 now, my new eye doctor said I could. Not sure if the technology improved or if my eye doctor had improved. So that started the traumatic road to getting contacts. The first problem was that I have “Large Eyeballs”. When my eye doctor told me I thought, “You have got to be kidding”. Who the heck has large eyeballs? Seriously.

So I had to special order my lenses and of course, they cost extra. Once I stared wearing contacts, another problem arose. Actually it was one I should have thought of before. I was raised in New York/New Jersey where allergies are not that common. Since I moved to Fresno, where the air quality is about equal to a Chinese sweat shop chimney, I have had allergies that have been getting worse and worse as I get older. Before I started taking Claritin and Allegra, I would actually be totally incapacitated by allergies. I had non-stop running noses, stabbing sinus pain, and eye trouble. On a given day my eyes would either be pouring forth viscous tears all the time or be so dry you could polish a bowling ball if you held one up against it.

Contact lenses did not help. On teary days they sometimes floated right out of my eye, often clinging to my cheek. On dry days they just plain hurt and I had to insert a regular stream of drops. With the newer allergy medications, it kind of minimized he problems but I still had some teary days and some dry days. I learned to cope with this for the “convenience” of wearing contacts. All this bemused my wife who is constantly giving me guff about my eye problems.

Last New Years Eve, we got invited to a New Years Eve party at an old friend’s house which was nice because generally, we are the ones who always throw the parties. About halfway through the party, my left eye starts bugging me. It wasn’t too worried because in the prior weeks, I had suffered through a mild eye infection so I thought I would just need to get some more anti-biotic drops. The pain got worse and worse as the night wore on. We came home early and I slept for a bit. I woke in the middle of the night with severe eye pain.

How weird is that? I mean, if you are going to wake up with pain, you would think it would be like a leg cramp, or a stomach thing but no, this is my eye. I have to say, this was the worst pain I had experienced since I had broken my leg when I was 12. It was that bad. Of course it is 5 a.m. on New Years Day. So if I want to try and get some help, it means driving to the hospital emergency room. I tried to tough it out but I really could not see that well out of either eye and even blinking was killing me. So I hoped in my Saturn and drove the 8 miles to St. Agnes in the fog. It was foggy outside and my eyes were all fogged. Nice!

They basically told me I had a bad case of conjunctivitis which is an infection of the membranes around the eyeball. Pink Eye is actually conjunctivitis. So I got two prescriptions, an anti-biotic and Vicodin. They recommended I put the drops in every few hours and take enough pain killers to sleep. This was a holiday so even getting the medicine was a hassle as only one or two stores in Fresno had their pharmacies open that day.

I took my pain meds and basically slept for two days until I could get in to see a specialist at Eye-Q Vision. By now, the pain had dropped some but I could see NOTHING out of my right eye. My left eye, where the infection started, was doing ok. Well they gave me more antibiotic’s to use and I started seeing my eye doctor twice a week. I wish now I had taken a picture of my eye at its worst. It was a pink and white blob that looked all bumpy and distorted. Just gross.

It was during the second visit to the new doctor that things took a turn for the worse. He told my wife and me that once the infection is gone, the scarring might be so bad that I would not recover the sight in my right eye. I might have the 20/400 vision forever. He didn’t want to talk about it because he was focusing on curing the infection. The weeks went by and the eye started looking better. My vision came back some, but it was very much like looking at life in a steamed up mirror after a shower. I spent a lot of time with my right eye closed because it was so sensitive to light. That and having one eye send you blurry pictures gives you a headache as your brain tries to make it work with the clear images from your other eye.

By the end of January, I was declared infection free. However, as feared, the scarring on the cornea was quite bad still. It would be months before we would know if my vision would return or even if surgery would help matters. I saw my Eye doctor weekly, and then eventually, bi-weekly. My vision slowly came back but after February, it kind of plateaued. I could see ok but there was still a haze over everything I looked at through my right eye.

At the beginning of June, my doctor announced that as far as he could tell, the eye had gone as far as it was going to go. Surgery might improve it some but he doubted the haze would go away completely and I would still need corrective lenses when the surgery was done. Another option would be a cornea replacement, which he was not a fan of because of the need to constantly use drops. No, the best solution might be a hard contact lens.

My Dad wore hard lenses back in the seventies. These days no one wears them. I had zero understanding of why this might help me see better but I said goodbye to my doctor and was introduced to a new one, one who specialized in hard contacts. He explained to me why a hard contact lens might help.

Because my eye was so bumpy now with the scaring from the infection, the idea was to place a hard contact lens over all these bumps. Then hopefully, tears would come in behind the lens and fill in all the little valleys, essentially forming a new cornea out of glass and tears. That made sense. First order of business was something called a topography session. I sat in a chair while the assistant put this bowl like device with a million lights in it in front of me. This bowl would scan the eye and produce a topographic map of the cornea. You remember topographic maps right?

This is an example of “normal” eye topography.

The brighter the color, the more protruding the surface of the eye is. No one has a perfect sphere. Here is my troublemaker left eye.

It looked pretty normal considering I have had an astigmatism all my life so my left eye has never been close to a sphere. No problem there. Then they scanned my right eye.

Wow! Everyone in the place was amazed. The assistant passed my printout around the office. Doctors were amazed. No one had ever seen a scar in the shape of a perfect “S” before. Not on a cornea anyway. This was particularly ironic because my last name starts with S, and Superman is kind of a hobby of mine (you’ll see how bad in future posts). Everyone at work of course was like “WOW Superman!” It was all fun and games sure but we are looking at my friggin eye here folks. No not cool! That’s a bad scar. No one was sure if the hard contact lens would work or not because the shape was so weird.

Right now I am waiting for my custom made lens to come in so we can try it on to see if it helps my vision. As it is I can live with my vision as it is. According to my tests, my right eye is about 20/40. The problem is really the haze. Keep your fingers crossed for me.