Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
No, not frequently-asked questions HERE, frequently-asked questions in my real life. Each time one comes up, I think, Hey, there’s a column, and then I sit down to do it and it’s really more of a column-ette. So here they all are together.
Here’s the one I’ve been getting a lot since That Big Movie came out…
And I bet you have too. Come on, say it with me:
“…So, was it like the comics?”
And I still have no real good answer for that question. My gut-feeling answer is, No, it’s BETTER.
Honestly, what it felt like in the theater was that we were watching a movie of the idea of the Avengers, the one we have all wished for, but don’t actually get all that often in the comics. Really it was a movie filled with a lot of FUCK YEAH! Avengers moments, a greatest-hits collection.
But that’s not really fair, because a lot of the good stuff in the movie did in fact come straight from the comics. I may not have cared for a lot of what was done to the Avengers idea in the comic book The Ultimates, but that didn’t mean Whedon and company weren’t cherry-picking the good stuff from that series for the movie. And other bits from the old Lee-Kirby days, the Thomas-Buscema years, and so on and so on.
Without spoiling anything for the four or five of you that haven’t seen it yet I will say that there’s something in the movie that I don’t ever recall being done in any comics series ever, and I absolutely adored it– the idea that it’s a better idea to recruit Bruce Banner than to capture and imprison him. That by itself was interesting, especially since it didn’t instantly go horribly wrong like it has every time the comics (or even the novels) flirted with the idea of having Banner come in from the cold.
But that wasn’t the cool part. No, what I loved in the big-screen Avengers version of Bruce Banner was that this was a man that had come to terms with himself. With all the other characters in the movie, I could easily point to a comics version analogue. But this weary-but-not-defeated Banner, a guy who knows he has a ‘condition’ and is dealing with it like a grownup as best he can, was new to me and instantly became my favorite version of the character ever. As far as I can tell movie audiences love him too. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, for me, stole as many scenes as the Hulk did later on (I especially loved Banner’s wryly-raised-eyebrow references to “the other guy,” as though even saying the Hulk’s name was a bad idea.)
A Banner that’s resigned to his condition and trying to make the best of it, that can be persuaded to contribute something but still trying to warn everyone what they might be letting themselves in for… a Banner that’s not a whiner. I really want to see that guy in my Avengers comics. Hell, I’d be happy to see that guy in my Marvel comics, period. Screw this Red Hulk noise. Let’s get cool Bruce Banner and grumpy childlike Hulk into the Avengers books, stat.
Another question I’m asked every other day lately is, “Are you reading The Shadow?” or “…The Spider?” or “…The Bionic Woman?” Or whatever other new comic is coming out based on an old character I’ve mentioned liking a lot.
Short answer? Yes.
Longer answer? (Oh, come on, you knew there’d be one.) Dynamite Comics, in particular, lately seems to be run by a bunch of people who all agreed that this year, they’re going to cater exclusively to my particular demographic. I’m looking at the roster of books they’ve launched in the last couple of years and it’s amazing how many of them have an early-to-mid-70s analogue.
Understand, I’m not complaining. But it does seem odd.
I’m not going to go through the whole line– for one thing, I’m not reading all of the revival titles (The various Vampirella and Red Sonja books aren’t really my thing; I did try one of the Red Sonja trade paperbacks but it was only on the low side of okay.) Anyway I talked about Dark Shadows here just a few weeks back. Yes, I am reading and enjoying The Shadow, but I can’t think of anything to add to what Greg Burgas says here except that it looks to me an awful lot like the old The Shadow Strikes! from DC, except with more cursing. That’s not a bad thing– I liked The Shadow Strikes! quite a bit when it was around and I don’t mind the occasional bad word as long as it’s not detracting from the period flavor.
The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman both look promising, but since it’s only just now that they’re getting away from adapting the Kevin Smith screenplay and doing genuinely original stories, it’s early days really to be talking about where the books are headed. But I appreciate that they’re playing it relatively straight. These bionic books from Dynamite have about the same flavor and relationship to the original television shows that The Ultimates has to The Avengers, if you are wondering what the editorial approach is like. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of personal taste, but I’m usually a pretty old-school guy and I’m liking these so far.
If I started on The Lone Ranger and how much I love what Dynamite is doing with the book, this column would balloon up to three times the size it is now. Suffice it to say that the relaunch, or “Volume Two” if you prefer, is every bit as good as what Matthews and Cariello were doing in the first volume. Ande Parks and Esteve Polls are consistently hitting it out of the park, the covers by Francesco Francavilla are a delight… AND it’s coming out on time. Plus there’s a Chuck Dixon miniseries on deck, and there’s no one better-suited for writing a tough-guy western. Overall, Dynamite Comics continues to give us the best version of the Lone Ranger anyone has ever done in any medium.
But the real surprise for me was The Spider.
Now, this is a book I expected not to like at all –the only reason I even sampled it was because I knew people would ask me, particularly my student Troy in Young Authors. (I’d told him at one point that his detective stories read like something Norvell Page had done for the pulps, and so he went looking for Spider books. Now he’s a fan.)
I expected to dislike Dynamite’s new Spider book a lot because first, I hated the character design. I know they want to differentiate him visually from the Shadow. I get it. But to my mind the Moonstone look, combining the description Page himself gave of the Spider having the fangs and fright wig with the old pulp cover look of the domino mask and hat, was the best way to go. No one was going to mistake THAT guy for the Shadow.
Secondly, they were going to further distance him from the Shadow by setting their version of the Spider in the present day. Comics have tried this with a number of pulp characters ranging from the Shadow to Doc Savage to the Green Lama, and it never works well.
But here is where this old-school pulp fan must bow to David Liss and company, because they absolutely got it right. The updated and redesigned Spider that premiered a couple of weeks ago from Dynamite is terrific. It instantly jumped to my personal #1 slot of comics I’m liking right now (well, okay, it’s tied with Daredevil and The Lone Ranger. But it’s really, really good.)
What I love about what David Liss and Colton Worley are doing with the Spider is the same thing I love about the BBC’s Sherlock– they found a way to bring everything forward into a contemporary setting by translating the original tropes into a modern-day equivalent.
The old Spider from the pulps was unique among the vigilante heroes because he was incredibly emotionally invested. Doc Savage and the Shadow fought crime because they were forces for good and that was what the good guys did. Richard Wentworth fought crime as the Spider because he couldn’t stand not to. For him it’s always personal.
Liss and Worley absolutely nail this. And all the other great old stuff is there as well, but almost always with the dust blown off it and given a great new angle.
And the whole book is like that. I love how much thought Liss has clearly put into every single facet of the original pulp character, and how much he has retained from the originals.
I don’t mean to slight the art of Colton Worley through all this. He turns in an extraordinary job here, dark but without ever looking muddy, and his faces are all wonderfully, subtly, expressive– his Nita clearly loves Richard but also is very aware of how wrong that is, and it’s every bit as much in her face as in the dialogue. Worley even makes that new Spider outfit mostly work, though I still don’t like it.
This may be the best Dynamite revival book yet. If purists are offended, well, they need to unclench, because I assure you that I’m pretty touchy about my pulp adaptations and I’m telling you, this is the best the character has looked in decades. Unlike, say, the clunky First Wave stuff DC tried a couple of years ago, this is an old pulp character updated for modern comics that still retains the feel of the original. The First Wave books often felt like they were about completely different characters with similar names to the 1940s versions. But that’s not what’s happening here. Just like the BBC Sherlock, Dynamite’s new Spider comic is really more of a pure expression of the idea of Richard Wentworth’s pulp adventures than it is an adaptation of what has come before.
Same thing I was saying about the Avengers movie, come to think of it. I guess this is where we came in.
A question that’s often showing up in my email of late is, “Did you get the book we sent?”
The somewhat embarrassing answer to that one is that yes, I did, I just haven’t had the chance to read and review it yet. So next week is the review roundup of all the stuff I’ve been getting from everyone. Promise. (I actually was going to put it here and then I saw that I’m already at 2200-plus words, so I decided to break it in half.)
So I’ll be back with those reviews… next week. See you then.
THIS JUST IN! Forgot to mention earlier that the Cartooning Class, the Young Authors, and myself will have a table at the Olympia Comics Festival next weekend, Saturday June 2nd. Here is the swell poster I just got in my email in-box.
The kids will have new books they are wrapping up this very week so we can exhibit them at the Expo, and there’ll be signing and sketching and all sorts of cool stuff. Come see us if you get a chance.
And everyone else, well, I’ll still be here next week… with the review pile. Promise.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.