Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney Buys Marvel

Celebrity Watchdog George Anthony Watson traced me to my home. The phone call coming from official government lines. This was news. Big news. Disney bought Marvel to the tune of $4 billion and stocks.

Punisher vs. Donald Duck. Spider-Man teaming up with Mickey. Pluto and Lockjaw fight Magneto and that turncoat Pooh. Oh, the humanity.

What this means is that Disney will now be bringing all those wonderful Marvel characters you know and love like Squirrel Girl and Speedball to its theme parks, television networks and its new line of marital aids. What this means for the tone of Marvel's books is uncertain, but Marvel was never cutting edge like Vertigo or a host of other independent publishers anyway, so I doubt it will have much impact on storylines. It could mean more comic book exposure, or even the demise of a publishing empire -- with Disney instead focusing on established characters and licensing. (Seems doubtful, but you never know.)

Marvel has been an enigma to me for many years. I don't understand some of the moves it makes, and it often seemed very anti-retailer. There is huge potential there, however, for more stuff like the Iron Man movie. Disney, which has had the market on the young girl demographic almost completely now, saw its potential and has now put itself in position to grab the male audience before it turns to Maxim. Or so it thinks. Most Marvel readers, though, are men over the age of 20, so what good this will do Disney is yet unknown, but knowing the company it saw dollar signs and little else.

The coming months should prove to be interesting, though I don't know what this means for the comics world because any major blow to one of the big two could spell disaster for the entire art form.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Red Haired Sex Goddess With A Sword

As a young man who liked Conan, Marvel's Red Sonja was, well, mind blowing. She was basically Conan with long red hair, breasts and a vagina. It's easy to see why she appealed to male comic book readers. But why, in this era of bad ass female heroes and villains, does she still have appeal?

There are Red Sonja books still being published. I haven't read any of the new ones, and I haven't even read many of the Marvel ones. I don't think the Marvel series was a huge seller when it came out, but I could be wrong. I do know, however, that the character remains popular because of what she represents.

Red Sonja is sex holding a sword. Her armor, what little of it there is, protects those parts of her body that make her female and nothing else. The rest is bare skin. The fact that she isn't covered in scars says she's not only good offensively in a fight, but defensively as well. The parts of her body armored against attacks from blades tells readers that her femininity is firmly in place, but the rest says she's all male. Even her name evokes masculinity. Red is primarily a male's name, despite it being used to describe her hair here.

There is a theory out there that says much of genre fiction aimed at young males just experiencing their first sexual desires often features a female in the lead role that has a masculine role. She's still a woman, but is seen in a traditional male light. This, the theory goes, is to let young boys who are starting to get interested in the opposite sex get those desires while at the same time appealing to the latent homosexuality in many males and/or the "girls are yucky" remnants. A perfect example of this is Jamie Lee Curtis' character in Halloween.

Red Sonja's exaggerated sexuality is matched only by the exaggerated violence. It lets boys take interest in a female without seeming "gay" to their friends (though if you believe the theory, it is almost the exact opposite). She is "safe" reading for boys who just discovered masturbation.

Today's fans of Red have far more characters to choose from. They don't have to read her adventures. So what makes her special? Dominance, perhaps. Being unique in her genre may be another reason. She's been around for decades, and she's maintained her name in a genre not exactly none for strong female leads. It could be that, deep down, these readers subconsciously respect the power of the female.

Or they could just be waiting for her top to fall off. Either way, she's still around and probably will be thirty years from now. As long as the stories don't get old, she should be just fine.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Google Gets In On The Act

The more astute among you may have noticed that Google now offers comic themes for its website. You can choose from things like Vertigo, the Incredible Hulk and Daniel Clowes (which I use). It's nice to see something as big as Google (I know a few people who use the search engine) acknowledge the world of comic books. The themes themselves are fairly unobtrusive, too, which makes the idea all the more pleasant.

The themes listed are kind of across the board, too, which shows that someone somewhere knows what he or she is doing. There are the ones you would expect (mainstream heroes) and then there is stuff like Jim Woodring. Oddly enough, Spider-Woman is also one of them (no complaints here, either).

My hat is off to Google on this one. It's important to note when the mainstream does comic books right, and this is one time where the respect for the medium is obvious and done so well that you can't help but want to see all the themes. (I think I'll be changing to that Spider-Woman one soon.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cover Review: Domination Factor -- Fantastic Four #2.3

Wow. Just the awkward title of this issue makes me want to stay away from it. (And what the hell is up with the numbering system? Decimal points do not make for a fun comic book experience.) Why would I want to read it? Maybe because I'm a fan of the Fantastic Four? Maybe because I was collecting this series? Well, if I wasn't collecting it, I wouldn't want to buy it. If I was, however, a fan of the FF, the fact that the Human Torch was turning tail would not do wonders to my excitement factor. It just seems unlikely, so that's not fooling anyone.

The cover itself looks to be one of those that was inspired by Jack Kirby. Mr. Fantastic is wrapped around the monster so much that it actually looks like he is its outfit. That's just creepy, and the art just isn't dynamic. What is the Thing actually doing? Is he going to pummel someone? It looks as if he isn't even trying.

I will say that I like the word balloon, though. I miss those on covers. I just wish this said something better, something more believable. Perhaps, "Take off, Johnny, and bring back reinforcements! We can't take this beast down alone!" That would at least seem plausible.

Truly a crappy title and cover. What was Marvel thinking?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Modern Gods

You can kind of guess that anyone who would devote a blog to comic books has some kind of love of the medium. I'm not a late comer to the art form. In fact, I've been reading comic books since I was old enough to remember. I used to store them in a huge box that I would pull out from under my bed and spend rainy summer days laying out on the floor and reading. Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Justice League of America, Batman, Uncanny X-Men, Star Wars, Amazing Spider-Man, Beyond the Grave, Scary Tales, and many more. Some of the ones still in my collection still have the spine rolls to prove it.

As a kid, my favorite titles were in the superhero and horror genres. I still enjoy those. To me, superheroes are our modern mythology. The Greeks had their gods. We have Superman, Wolverine and Nova. But even more than being mythology, they teach us lessons.

Morals, values and mores are learned through various sources. You've got family, church, school and popular culture (which probably makes quite a few people uncomfortable). Comic books -- especially superhero comics -- teach those things. Superman teaches us about truth. Batman teaches determination. Wolverine teaches rugged individualism (an American quality). Spider-Man teaches responsibility. Or at least they used to. Some of the core lessons are now absent from these books, and that's okay. As their readership changed (and it has), the stories had to keep up with it (and they have). Frank Miller's take on Batman couldn't have happened in the Sixties. The Watchmen may have been based on older characters, but the story was quite modern for the time. The medium has evolved with the times and readership, and I wouldn't have it any other way ... despite its potential isolation of younger readers.

Books like the late great 100 Bullets or Preacher had their own value systems. Readers could easily see the sometimes time end road of revenge or revisit with the importance of truth and the value of friendship, or they could just read some really cool stories and never touch upon their deeper meanings. That's the beauty of how this medium, which is a bridge between books and movies, has evolved. No longer just the realm of children and teens, this art now appeals to adults and the stories prove it.

There are, however, readers who wish the medium would return to the past with simpler stories that were much more black and white. I think there is a place for both nostalgic type tales and more modern ones, but the former's audience is bound to be smaller. It's also highly doubtful that those stories would bring in any new readers, and that is a problem.

For years, people have been questioning the viability of the comic book medium. Some say it is here to stay. Others say trade paperbacks will be all you can get. Still others say both will be gone. I tend to think the future will be much like it is now, with both the traditional comic book and trade paperbacks co-existing. It's obvious that the comic book format is a feeder to trade paperbacks (and that is also somewhat annoying), but I don't think that's worth worrying about.

I'd like to think that twenty years from now some kid will be pulling a big box out from under his bed and start paging through a 22 page “booklet” featuring his favorite hero teaming up with the Hulk. The rain will be falling outside, some old sitcom playing on the television in the background. He won't hear it, though, because he'll be absorbed in the adventure he's reading. That's how I was, and that memory, along with a love of comic books, has stayed with me to this day.