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Issue #83

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Issue #83
  • There are few recent films I’ve been looking forward to as much as BULLETPROOF MONK. I generally like the comic it’s based on, the trailers looked amusing, and, while wire-fu is wearing out its welcome, Chow Yun Fat’s always a blast to watch. As popcorn movies go, BULLETPROOF MONK was looking unbeatable.

    Thanks for killing the buzz, Heidi.

    Whoops. I mean “Mrs. Beasley,” The Pulse‘s pseudonymous busybody scribe of The Beat, which does snippet items rather than the full reports found elsewhere on the newssite. In last Friday’s edition, it ran an item that should’ve been a full report, about BULLETPROOF MONK.

    The short version: the talent who worked on the BULLETPROOF MONK comic have been clipped out of any rewards or press from the movie.

    The original publisher, Flypaper Press, is prominently mentioned.

    So is this wrongdoing or not? Technically, no. It’s the same old sodden story of the comics business. Because BULLETPROOF MONK was created work-for-hire. Work-for-hire continues to be a term that defines the comics business, created specifically (though not specifically for comics) to circumvent the changes in copyright laws in 1977. It basically states that a company is the true creator of copyrightable material (which was the general assumption, if not the legal reality, for most material created before 1977) and the actual talent who create the material, who come up with the stories, write the words and draw the pictures, are mere functionaries, interchangeable pieces carrying out the will of the “true creator.” Companies like this because it staves off unpleasant negotiations down the road and ultimately puts more money in their pockets. Many comics creators quietly hate this because it severs them completely from their creations and takes money out of their pockets later on. Many don’t really care, until they suddenly can’t get anymore work and they realize they’ve done nothing but pay the bills for years and they watch the company rake in continuing profits from their ideas. Certainly most readers don’t care, and many actually feel comics creators should just shut up and be glad they can work in comics at all.

    The Pulse article had some interesting comments from the creators involved. (I apologize to Pulse and Heidi for cribbing this much, but it’s impossible to properly discuss it without the quotes, and I hope everyone pops over to Pulse to read the original piece. Fair’s fair.) Artist Michael Avon Oeming (POWERS) said,

    “I’m cool with it… That’s because we had a contract. I was ‘work for hire.’ There was nothing in the contract about film credits… I shrug and learn from experience and for me, it ends there. I’m excited about the film and hope it does well, both because it reflects on me a creator of the book and for the industry as a whole — we need more good comics based films.”

    But writer Brett Lewis had a different attitude:

    “Actually, amazing as it sounds, even though I was the primary creator of the comic — even though I created and designed the characters, the story and the concept — I haven’t seen 1 cent so far from this film, from what was a seven figure sale of the property. Nor have I received any credit in the film despite my underlying contribution… I was given the impression by employees at Flypaper that I would not be cheated, that I would be kept involved and taken care of… but, so far, it hasn’t happened… in fact, Michael Yanover has told my attorney that he doesn’t intend to give me anything… I have observed many articles and interviews crediting others who maybe had some other role in the production, publishing or publicizing of the book, crediting them as writing or creating the book. All I can say with complete certainty is that I created this, this story, these characters… this was my idea.”

    This surprises me. I’ve met Brett Lewis. He always struck me as a really smart guy. So how the hell did he get in this situation?

    It’s not uncommon. Particularly when writers and artists are starting out, they’re often extremely willing to sign away their rights just to get published. Happens every day. Particularly if publishers make all sorts of handshake promises. Which most of them do.

    In case you don’t get it yet, here’s the lesson, which Brett learned the hard way: any promise a publisher intends to keep is a promise he’ll be willing to put into writing. Unfortunately, lawyers have become an absolute necessity in this business, not in small part due to the expanding volume of comics movies. Which, more than anything else, is also responsible for the new push for work-for-hire among smaller publishers, whereas they used to wear their “creator-owned” status on their sleeves like a badge of honor. It may even be marginally easier for small publishers to make movie deals now.

    Oeming suggests in the article that because various hands, not Yanover, created BULLETPROOF MONK, Yanover didn’t have the power to get those names on screen. Sure he did. He owned the property. There’s no reason the producers shouldn’t put creators names on screen, as long as it wouldn’t divvy up the money any, and, on a work-for-hire project it wouldn’t. Just ask Steve Ditko. (Producer credits are harder to come by, because those have fees attached to them.) That Yanover didn’t have any incentive to get the actual creator names on the screen is evident.

    But the fact is: whatever he did or didn’t do, Yanover was completely within his rights. That doesn’t justify cutting the creators out of credit or profits, but that’s his legal status. And BULLETPROOF MONK just becomes another footnote in a business that has a long and now apparently proud tradition of shabby treatment for the people who actually write and draw the books.

    Which leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As Oeming says in the piece, we need more good comics based films, particularly good ideas from smaller companies, and every one that doesn’t do well at the box office makes it more difficult to convince Hollywood of the value of another one. But now I can’t justify spending money on BULLETPROOF MONK because I know it’ll just reward a system that should’ve been trashed years ago, and people who should be profiting from their own ideas will once again have to stand by and watch that money go into other pockets. Presumably Lewis and Oeming have learned something from all this, but will anyone else?

  • Jeez, I get a lot of e-mails. But I’ve been getting very bad at transferring them to the column, so it’s time to catch up. First, the self-serving stuff:

    “I am only too well aware that praise is no subsitute for sales, still I would like to say thanks for the BADLANDS II excerpt you published today. I enjoyed the first BADLANDS hugely. I am now very much looking forward to Badlands II. As an avid reader of crime fiction I have to say that this is one of the best story set-ups I have read in a long time.”

    And

    “Thank you for sharing the first eight pages, they were just enough to make the story very intriguing. Also, the art is fantastic!”

    And

    “I’d like to say I like the BADLANDS II previews, but I’m actually looking forward to the whole thing so much I’m refraining from reading them. I want to experience it all at once. In addition to the Moore books you used as examples of this new cottage industry, there are not one but three books about the guy coming out, one from the STRANGEHAVEN guy, Gary Spencer Millidge and two from Top Shelf, though only one of those has been announced as yet. Plus, TS is reprinting Moore’s novel, VOICE OF THE FIRE. Bad time for Moore’s new work to slow to a trickle, I guess, but I’m sure there’s plenty in the works.”

    And

    “I was looking through some old comics today. I came over a Swedish-translated issue of SPIDER-MAN #32. This was the first comic book I ever read, and the book that got me wanting to become a comic book creator. Oh, and Punisher looked so badass on the cover to my 11 year old self. So I opened the issue and see that you are credited as the writer. And to think I never realized this by reading your column. The story holds up extremely well still, especially when compared to the other Spider-Man comics at the time. Thanks for making me fall in love with comics!”

    What can I say? You’re welcome.

    On the matter of the free comics magazine brought up several columns back:

    “I can’t believe this hasn’t been tried somewhere else in the country. It seems like we get another free publication springing up every six months or so around here. So far all of these are news/pop culture oriented.

    A group of us (local artists and writers) in Seattle managed to pull off 4 issues of a giveaway tabloid of comics back at the end of the 20th century. We didn’t have the capital to make it last long enough to for us to build up an advertising base. We had more enthusiasm than planning skills. One frustration was the refusal of Marvel and DC to consider any of the advertising ideas we had. The closest to a straight answer we were able to get was that they didn’t advertise in publications that they considered to be “competition”. I’d love to do it again some day, knowing now what I didn’t know then.”

    And

    “Free comics are all over the place — on the web. And, yes, these comics are attracting new readers. who do, in some cases, end up buying comics. Scott Kurtz’s success is one example (his webcomics attract around 60,000 unique individual readers every day — his print comics not so many, but more than the average non-superhero non-Marvel, Non-DC, non-massive-marketing-budget, non-nostalgia-craze comic). Lots of the paying subscribers to Modern Tales and serializer.net and AdventureStrips.com report that they never buy direct market comics — they became fans of the artform because they had read other, free, webcomics. Most of the free comics on the web are crap. Some are excellent. Here are a few of that latter kind: Small Stories Online. Nowhere Girl. E-Sheep. Marvel’s dotcomics initiative would also seem to fit in with this concept. I wonder if it’s attracting new readers, though.”

    And

    “Checking out your PD this week, I was reminded of a column I wrote for my erstwhile column “Thwack” on the now-long-defunct “Gen Y” iFuse.com site. I actually got paid for this. Anyway, you’ll see that my radical “save the biz” proposal isn’t much different than the one floated in your column, almost three years later (my piece ran in July, 2000). Maybe there’s something to this idea…”

    About author George Pelecanos:

    “I was at a crime author talk/signing last night (put on by Rainy Day Books in Kansas) with authors George P. Pelecanos, Robert Ferrigno and John Connolly (Irish author – not to be confused with other crime author Michael Connelly). I was only familiar with Robert Ferrigno’s work but they were all good speakers and sounded like they wrote interesting novels. There was a drawing at the end for the current hardcover books they were promoting. I won a copy of Pelecanos’s Soul Circus so I now have a personalized first edition of his work. I plan to read it and will probably get familiar with his other work as well. Your recommendation was great timing and adds to my interest as well. Thanks!”

    Regarding how Michael Medved could think CAPTAIN AMERICA is aimed at kids:

    “Probably because Marvel seems content to package nearly everything except the most “mature” (read: laden with violence or “profanity”) books with a PG rating, which implies to the rest of the world, if not Marvel themselves, that it’s suitable for most ages. I would argue that Captain America’s subject matter in those issues, regardless of my own opinion of the content, probably isn’t appropriate for some children, yet it’s “rating” suggests otherwise (as I’m relatively sure that it shipped with a PG). In my own reviews, I complained that FF: UNSTABLE MOLECULES, itself a rather good series, probably should have had a higher rating, since it’s a pretty adult series that I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want to put in the hands of a grade schooler (aside from the fact that they probably wouldn’t be entertained by it, there are certainly issues there that they simply wouldn’t understand). Anyway, just thought it was worth mentioning, since I think Marvel’s ratings system is pretty damned amusing. And I think it’s important to note that the columnist from the National Review doesn’t say that the writing is for children, just the packaging; hence, my bitch with the rating.”

    And, finally, on the topic of changing comics:

    ” A few days ago, I picked up COMIC WARS by Dan Raviv. I remember you mentioning it in your column a while back. This passage got my interest:”Comic book sales suffered a sudden tumble too. The collecting bubble burst in 1995 and customers were no longer running around to every comic specialty store to hoard extras of every issue. Perelman was puzzled. “We couldn’t get a handle,’ he said, “on how much of the market was driven by speculators, the people buying twenty copies and keeping nineteen for their nest egg.”

    Here’s another; “Ronald, Howard, Donald listen. I see a very serious problem in Marvel. Nobody’s going to tell you, but I’m going to tell you. I see a bankruptcy here.” The Wizard shot back with, “How can you say that?” So the book is a good read. I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again, the disconnect between creators and the corporations that own them is so wide that if they were crossing the ocean nobody would be able to see the shore. When Perelman was apprised by Icahn, he had no idea what was going on, and there’s little question most creators didn’t know what was going on at the corporate end. But most creators were quick to push the panic button when the exclusive distribution panic ensued. Things will not change in this business unless we involve ourselves in the administrative side of the business. I’ve found that when the noise is loud enough even a giant will get out of bed to tell the intruder to knock it off. The book went on to say that none of them appreciated the unique cultural icon this company represented and none of the principles ever read comics. This issue is still at the very heart of the matter and is a much different scenario than when people like Goodman owned Marvel or other companies and actually looked at comics.”

    And

    “This past week, my partner and I did a presentation on comic books for “March is Reading Month” at my wife’s school. We went over the history of comics, how they’re made, and then made one comic page live with the kids. I wrote the script, based on their suggestions, on a monitor while my partner filled out the panels. For the art, he’d have a student come up and draw something within the panel that he’d then work around.

    My point is this: it was a smash. This whole week, the other teachers have been reporting to my wife that not only are their kids talking about comics all day, they are teaming up to make them. A group of three boys in the library the other day explained to my wife that they had already assigned writing, art, and lettering duties on the series they’ll be making. On top of this, the teachers thought it was fantastic. I received many comments about how great comics were because they combined art and writing.

    It really hit me then. We’re no longer the “trash” art form we’ve used to be. TV and video games seem to have snatched that away from us. I’ve been asked by several more schools to do a similar presentation for them. A friend of mine, Paul Sizer, does the series LITTLE WHITE MOUSE for Blueline Pro. His greatest successes have been library appearances. It seems the libraries are now interested in comics for the same reason.

    So there you have it. We’re legitimate. We’ve been accepted by those who used to look down their noses at us, and we didn’t even see that it was happening. The question then is; what are the comic companies doing to exploit this?

    Nothing.

    I think it’s on our shoulders as creators to use this to our advantage. There are schools and libraries filled with potential future audience members waiting for us. This may only address the audience for books like BONE, as opposed to TRANSMETROPOLITAN, but they’ll all get older eventually and comics now have the range to keep them reading into their adult years. We’ve got to shift to some long-term thinking.

    Anyway, I’m not sure if you’ve had similar experiences, but it strikes me that we can all do a lot to spread the word out to an audience who is probably more eager for what we have to offer than what we thought.”

    And

    “I was impressed by the knowledge and research of the reader who explained how free giveaways were crucial to the phenomenal success of comics from the 1940s to 1980s. He then lamented that no publishers are interested in using this proven marketing strategy to get comics out of their current financial slump. Well, the reader is in error since one comic publisher, CrossGen Comics, will soon implement such a sales campaign. Due to a deal struck Mania Entertainment, the magazine publisher will insert a digest-sized CrossGen comic into each issue of their entertainment magazine, CINESCAPE. The promotion will begin in the May 2003 issue, which will debut on newsstands next month. Additional information on this distribution deal can be read at the official press release.

    Through this unique form of distribution, CrossGen will be able get their comics on newsstands throughout the country. Since the inserts don’t cost anything, price won’t be a deterrent for non-fans to curious about comics outside the usual Marvel and DC icons.

    While we’re on the subject of free giveaways, CrossGen has been very popular with teen readers in libraries as well as literary critics. In fact, Comic Book Resources reported that its fairy tale adventure, Meridian, has been selected by New York as one the best graphic novels for 12 to 18-year old readers.

    In addition, such positive response from librarians is beginning to be echoed in teachers, which now realize comics help not hurt childhood literacy. As a result, CrossGen has begun a new education program, Bridges, that schools can use to capitalize on this aspect of comics.

    And

    “This is apropos of nothing in your last few columns, but you, and other online comics news outlets, reported on the rising profile of the Graphic Novel section in various chain bookstores. Now, in my situation, being a guy in his late 30s with the wife, the kids, the job, the night school, I rarely buy comics from a live human being, I get ’em all (or almost all) over the Internet. Simply a matter of time to spare etc. But I’ve hit a couple Barnes and Nobles and Borders lately to pick up a gift or something for the kid or what have you and taken the opportunity to drift by the GN section.

    And you know what I have found in every single case (ok, n is only equal to 3 in this experiment, but still, 3 for 3)? Twenty-something-ish white guys, geekish, unencumbered by females of any size, shape or species, parked on the floor, reading comics, effectively physically and psychologically blocking access to the books. I mean, I’m a geek myself and I don’t want to step over these guys or shove ’em over or anything. I just shrug and walk on by, my curiousity at simply seeing what the store’s stocking unsated because the comic store crowd has relocated to the three square feet of aisle devoted to their cult in the Mammoth Chain Book-o-rama.

    So, there’s probably no point to my passing this on to you, except as an observation that might be corroborated or debunked by others, except that it seems to me that if one of the hoped-for results of increasing the sales points of comics would be to increase the number and range of buyers, there would appear to be a very real (and literal) stumbling block in the path.”

    That’s not my experience, but it’s pretty damn annoying if it’s becoming the case. Comics shops are supposed to become more like bookstores, not the other way around.

    By the way, the character in SPIRITED AWAY who I thought sounded way too much like a Disney character wasn’t the heroine Senn but the bathhouse woman Senn gets apprenticed to. So everybody can stop asking now.

  • Sometimes you get these curious juxtapositions. Last Wednesday, the New York Times revealed that Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, one of the most notoriously right-wing members of Congress, was pushing hard to enshrine the 2002 Patriot Act as a permanent facet of American life, apparently with the backing of many Republican members of Congress (and, presumably, the Administration). You remember the Patriot Act, right? It was the “anti-terrorist” act that gives the government, particularly the Executive Branch, vast new powers to ignore Americans’ Constitutional rights in order to fight vague, shadowy enemies. (In fact, it gives the President pretty much unilateral power to declare any American citizen one of those vague, shadowy enemies and “disappear” them – to use a phrase once widespread in Latin America – without allowing them recourse to the standard defenses of American law, such as legal counsel.) Hatch has threatened to loudly portray any senator who challenges his bill as un-Patriotic and stated he intends to retaliate against any Democrat who tries to water it down with amendments. Why Hatch is singling out Democrats is anyone’s guess, since Democrats are collaborating in a new bill that further relaxes restrictions on the Justice Dept. and would make it unnecessary for federal agents to demonstrate a desired surveillance target has any connection to anything.

    On Thursday, it was announced that Ed Gurnon was just fired as executive producer of a forthcoming CBS bio-pic, HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL. Why? Because he made the following statement in an interview:

    “It basically boils down to an entire nation gripped by fear, who ultimately chose to give up their civil rights and plunged the whole nation into war. I can’t think of a better time to examine this history than now.”

    At about the same time, Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry pompously calls for “regime change” in America – hey, Kerry’s a dick, but as soon as it became a catchphrase you knew somebody was going to say it – and Republicans start frothing about how any verbal attack on The Hand Puppet constitutes Not Supporting Our Troops! (He’s the Commander-in-Chief, you know!) In other words, disagreeing with Our Leader is Betraying The Troops.

    You may recall (or not; it wasn’t widely publicized) when the Patriot Act was instituted, basically so Congress could prove it was doing something to Defend Against Terrorists, a safeguard was put on it: an expiration date. This was because pretty much everyone acknowledged it undermined American liberty. But, the reasoning went, there are times when you have to take drastic measures, and once those times pass the measures should pass too.

    A few weeks ago I linked to a site that paralleled our current situation with the rise of Nazi Germany, and, while I felt it put too fine a point on it, it was still an interesting comparison. But one bit from it’s haunting now: a reminder that much of the fascistic police activity allowed in Nazi Germany was instituted by the legislature as a temporary measure to deal with an extreme situation (the undermining of Germany by “terrorists,” ie. Jews and Communists). The special police powers were instituted with an expiration date.

    And were subsequently made permanent.

    Over at The Village Voice, longtime civil liberties watchdog Nat Hentoff ran an unnerving article about a little reported (AP ran a wire story on it) recent speech by Supreme Court justice (and likely candidate to replace Rehnquist as Chief Justice) Antonin Scalia, where he stated that “most of the rights you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires” and, when a war is on, “the protections will be ratcheted down to the constitutional minimum.” Considering the Patriot Act already ratchets some rights, such as habeus corpus, down to less than constitutional minimum, that’s a frightening statement from a man whose job is to inflict his interpretation of the Constitution on the rest of us. (All Supreme Court judges do this, which is why appointment hearings are often rancorous.)

    And there’s still Patriot Act II in the wings. You may recall John Ashcroft’s Department Of Justice vehemently denied such a measure was even being prepared, and told Congress the same thing even while it was approaching specific Congressmen to back it, and continued denying it until copies were leaked. Among other things, it would: pretty much give authorities unregulated power to spy on American citizens; institutionalize secret arrests and secret courts; prevent revelation of information about American industrial practices that might negatively affect the health of Americans; allow foreign governments to spy on Americans in America and give the President the right to hand over any American citizen to foreign governments without process of law; place immigration authorities above the courts for even legal immigrants; remove the power of Congress or the courts to address any “national security” decisions by the Executive branch; strip American citizens of citizenship if they “support” (even if by donating to an apparently unrelated cover group) any organization designated (by the Department of Justice) as “terrorist”; and severely restrict the ability of the press to investigate or comment on any activities covered by the measure. The Justice Dept. has said they don’t intend to pursue this, but they also claimed they weren’t preparing it in the first place; just before its existence was proved, a DoJ spokesman testified before Congress that no such thing was contemplated.

    At this point, no doubt, some people are rolling their eyes and thinking “there’s that Grant, doling out conspiracy theory again.” Sorry, no conspiracy necessary. We don’t need any cabal of secret masters in a back room plotting the Fourth Reich. History is an exact parallel, and people don’t have to have the same motivations or agenda to end up with the same results. I don’t think Orrin Hatch has a neo-Nazi bone in his body. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s trying to make the Patriot Act, for whatever reason, the permanent law of the land. We claim to be warring against “terrorists” to preserve our liberties, but we already live in a land considerably less free than it was two years ago, and there’s nothing on the horizon to indicate anything but a continued and expanded move against liberty in America, in the name of preserving liberty.

    Scalia specified the reduction of liberty is necessary during wartime. Just for argument’s sake, let’s accept that as true.

    The President himself has said that the war against terror is a “real” war (as opposed, I guess, to the war on crime or the war on drugs), and we will fight as long as it takes. He cited decades as a possibility. (We may be talking about more substantial war as well, as our government’s obviously already targeting Syria by accusing it of hiding the Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” that don’t otherwise seem to exist.) Think about that. Given the overall picture, we’re talking about decades of American liberty, as Scalia put it, “ratcheted down to the Constitutional minimum.” (This conjures up the specter of the Reagan era, when there was a right wing push toward “an Unamended Constition,” meaning the only thing the government should consider is what was originally written in the Constitution and ignore everything stated in the Bill Of Rights and on. There was also a push for a “New Constitutional Convention,” where, truth in advertising, right-wingers wanted to scrap the Constitution altogether and write a new one, thus getting rid of those nasty clauses like separation of Church And State. This may seem like ancient history, but many of the backers of those propositions are among the backers of the current President.)

    I once tried to sell Marvel a WHAT IF… story where Captain America thaws out 100 years from now instead of “today” (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). I think it’s the only Cap story I’ve got in me. What he finds is a fearful, quasi-fascistic America that, despite his best efforts, eventually overruns and breaks him, and he realizes, as he’s finally being defeated, that all his great speeches about how the lamp of liberty can never be extinguished were wrong, and, in fact, freedom is not the strongest force there is but is a fragile and precious thing that must always be protected and cherished. (This is what’s meant by the phrase, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”) They didn’t buy it. You don’t publish stories were Captain America gets defeated.

    The fact is this: two generations of America under anything but freedom, and anything but freedom becomes the norm. Minimal liberty in America is not an acceptable standard.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, the Patriot Act is a wartime necessity. Why make it permanent? Theoretically it can be renewed as often as possible. If it was created to deal with specific conditions in American life, why assume now conditions will always pertain? The pertinence of a measure as fundamentally un-American as The Patriot Act should be periodically questioned, its justifications challenged. That’s the minimum standard we should accept from our Congressmen. And everyone, on all sides of the political spectrum, if they have any taste for liberty at all, should write their Congressmen right now to demand the Patriot Act not be made permanent but be subjected to periodic review and reassessment.

    Because you don’t defend liberty by flushing it away.

  • The FX Network, which has run the bitter cop show THE SHIELD for a couple seasons is following up on that success by expanding their original programming, starting with John (NORTHERN EXPOSURE, SEX AND THE CITY) Corbett in LUCKY (10 PM Tuesdays). Seeing how LUCKY, about a gambling addict who falls off the wagon, is set in Las Vegas (my current hometown), I really wanted to like it. But it’s a dud. Despite his manly chin, Corbett’s voice is the weakest wheeze on TV, and it’s hard to work up much interest in the character, who starts off by winning a million dollar poker tournament and the girl of his dreams only to lose it all (the girl, now his wife, dies under unspecified circumstances that her parents apparently blame on him). Then there are the various whacky hustlers who trot through: the gambling addict/realtor destined to be Lucky’s new love interest; the burly con man who raises money by getting hit by cars then demanding cash from the owners in exchange for not notifying their insurance companies (and nobody calls him on it!); the skeevy junkie willing to rob and hustle his friends for a stake; the frail aged gambler who breathes through a hole in his trachea; the jittery, paranoid loan shark. Not that Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel aren’t always fun to watch, but they’re less fun here than usual, and while a superheated couple hours of watching a gambler bury himself deeper and deeper before, presumably, redeeming himself might make an interesting film, this slice-of-life dramedy’s got no life.

    A couple interesting anime quietly made the CARTOON NETWORK scene recently: the 19th century samurai drama RUROUNI KENSHIN (6:30PM, Monday-Friday) in the Toonami block, and the sci-fi western TRIGUN (Midnight, Tuesday-Friday) as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block. Not sure why the distinctions, since RUROUNI KENSHIN‘s at least as bloody as TRIGUN. Maybe it’s because Kenshin, the ex-samurai, doesn’t use a gun like TRIGUN‘s Vash the Stampede does. It’s hard to get a grip on Cartoon Network’s standards. (What the two have in common is an earnest determination not to kill anyone.) Anyway, they’re both pretty entertaining, if you can get past the familiar anime bits in RUROUNI KENSHIN and the hero’s too-precious speech patterns (he punctuates his remarks with repetition, that he does). This makes TRIGUN, the story of a semi-amnesiac outlaw roaming a burned-out future desert world and leaving piles of destruction and good deeds in his wake, the better of the two. Stylistically, it has a lot in common with Adult Swim comrade COWBOY BEBOP, and, after the goofy comedy of earlier episodes, is increasingly moving toward BEBOP-level solemnity and dark backstories.

  • Awhile back I gave big raves to Osamu Tezuka’s PHOENIX: A TALE OF THE FUTURE (Viz Communications, Box 77010, San Francisco CA 94107; $22.95), about a mystical bird that returns to save the world following a nuclear war. For those who came in late, Ozuma, who also created Astro Boy and the source material for the recent anime METROPOLIS, is widely considered the father of Japanese comics, and he produced a huge PHOENIX saga. Viz just released Vol. 1 of PHOENIX: DAWN ($15.95), a “prequel” to A TALE OF THE FUTURE (DAWN is actually the first of the series) set in Japan of the 3rd century AD. A girl is dying and her tribe seeks out the legendary Phoenix, because its blood will revive her, but it takes a doctor from an unknown tribe instead. The doctor turns out to be something else, and soon a wider hunt for the Phoenix, and the secret of immortality, is on. There are some irritating qualities to it – either Tezuka or the translator keeps making reference to 20th C. icons – but, at 340 pages, it’s one hell of an expansive story, full of desire, violence, revenge and dreams, which only makes it more irritating when it abruptly stops. We need Vol. 2 right now.

    Future Comics (220 Brandon Blvd #104, Brandon FL 33511) seems to be bettering their product: FREEMIND #4 ($3.50) and METALLIX #3 ($3.50) are marked improvements over their predecessors. While still solidly in that early ’90s Valiant Comics mode, both have shifted away from the mechanical feeling that tainted earlier issues. Ignored, at least for the moment, are the inbred political situations in both books that found the stories based around attempts by evil outside forces to gain the heroes’ technology, fortunately losing the redundancy that afflicted the series. In fact, both books focus on the limits of the heroes’ technology, in fairly interesting ways. In FREEMIND #4, paraplegic hero McKinsey Flint keeps getting thrown out of his android body by an unknown force, making the story more amusing than most Future comics, and the new combo of Mike Leeke and Bob McLeod is good, if a bit sparse, on the art. (They also being playing up an Iron Man-like scenario where it’s publicly assumed the android, named Edison Wilde, is an employee of the boss man, rather than the boss man’s alter ego. I suspect hilarity will ensue.) In METALLIX #3, the team, which shares a sentient supersuit (it flows off one and other another when necessary), goes on a supposed cakewalk mission to Antarctica and discover they’re not quite as equipped as they thought they were. It’s an interesting situation, at least, and one most superhero comics don’t really address. I have to applaud Future Comics for making their comics a little different. But they’re still not standout different, and they need to be if they’re going to stick around. More focus on characterization’s needed, particularly on the multi-cast METALLIX, but both books still suffer from shorthand characterization, using a single characteristic as an identity focus for characters. There was a time when you could get away with that, but these days it’s not enough. The competition’s just too tough.

  • Much going on. In addition to X-MEN UNLIMITED #43 finally coming out last week, Mike Zeck and I are busy putting the finishing touches on the full color DAMNED trade paperback coming out from Cyberosia sometime in August, and we’re adding six additional story pages as well as a bunch of “DVD extras” talking about the development of the series, showing how covers proceed from concept to finished product, plot samples, etc. (For those who came in late, DAMNED is the crime mini-series Mike and I did for Wildstorm/Homage back in 1997.) When the solicitation info’s finalized, I’ll bring up to speed.

    Plus the second Free Comics Day’s coming up on May 3rd, and I’ll be at Ralph Mathieu’s Alternate Reality Comics, 4800 Maryland Pkwy #D, Las Vegas NV 89119, across from the University Of Nevada-Las Vegas campus and just north of Tropicana Blvd, just down the road from the fabulous Strip. Among other things, we’ll be giving away a sampler from Avatar Press featuring the first look at FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP II, which I adapted from Frank’s original screenplay (the one that didn’t get turned into the movie). The book’s a gas, the event’ll be a gas, and if you’ve been looking for an excuse to spend a weekend in Las Vegas, this is it. I hope to see you there.

    And lest we forget, Adi Tantimedh and Galen Showman’s Elseworlds steampunk version of the Justice League, AGE OF WONDER Pt. 1, is out from DC Comics today! Check it out.

  • Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

    My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it’s about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn’t up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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