Mar 26, 2009

Leave Spidey Alone!

Poor Spider-man has had it pretty rough in this past few years. Aunt May got shot and then a ill-advised wish altered his universe so that he was never married to Mary-Jane. While this was going on, moviegoers everywhere had to suffer the atrocity that was Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3." Of course, fans of the comic books felt that watching the first two films of the trilogy was torture enough. No one wants to see their favorite webslinger reduced to the mopey, unlikeable geek of a character that Tobey MacGuire portrayed him as. I missed Spidey's witticisms and sarcasm, and I wanted to see the substance that the comic books have always contained .

Now, however, the world is doing Peter Parker his greatest wrong. You might ask me what could be worse than "Spider-Man 3?" Well, I regretfully inform you that "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" is set to be seen on Broadway in February 2010 as a musical. No, your eyes have not deceived you. A Spider-man musical.

I went through a range of emotions upon hearing this. First, I denied it. It just couldn't be possible. Why would anybody want to do this? I became furious. This is a disgrace to Spider-man and a disgrace to theater! I prayed that it wasn't true, that it might get scrapped (I'm still hoping for that one). And now, I just find the thought thoroughly depressing.

I'm grieving the death of my favorite superhero, the character that got me hooked on comics. I haven't quite moved on to acceptance, though. How can I with the knowledge that Bono (U2) will be destroying Spidey with corny lyrics and music? The movies failed to capture the essence of Spider-man, so how does anyone expect Bono to do that any better? It was painful enough watching Peter Parker dance for 2 minutes in "Spider-Man 3," and 2 hours of it will be excruciating.

Move over Venom, Carnage, and all the rest of you villains. Spider-man lovers trying to make a buck off of him are doing more to destroy him than any of his worst enemies.

A taste of what the musical could potentially be like:

Mar 19, 2009

Because this is a blog about comic books...

Here is an excerpt from a proposal I've written for a senior thesis about the literary value of comics and the role of the superhero/vigilante, including a very brief overview of the superhero and of comic book criticism:

With an absurdly caped superhero typically the first thing imagined when one hears the words “comic book,” it isn’t entirely shocking that many people misguidedly think of comics as frivolous. Comic books have hardly been considered a genre worth serious study. If a person goes to a large local or university library that may have entire sets of shelves dedicated to critical analyses of individual authors, that person will find it difficult to come by many analyses of comics.

Despite the lack of thorough academic attention to them, comics play an important role in society. The superheroes and glorified vigilantes of comic books are much more overt than the hero that exists in mythological and literary works. Yet, that explicitness of the hero in the medium, which also gave rise to the anti-hero, is thoughtfully used to comment on and allegorize society and culture by being placed in the forefront of historical events.

I plan to analyze superhero and masked vigilante comics as pieces of heroic literature, looking for their themes and literary devices, and to examine individual characters. I will do this in the form of a review of past and present comic book criticism, as well as in a series of individual critical analyses of more significant comic books and graphic novels. For this, I have chosen comic books that have been major benchmarks of the superhero genre or contain meaningful social commentary.

Therefore, the first part of my research will be in the study of epic and hero comic books. Familiar with many different forms of literary criticism, I would like to learn more about some methods, particularly deconstruction and cultural studies. Cultural critics have done the most to include comic books in literary criticism, so I think that I must fully understand the perspective and apply it in my own readings of different comics. I also would like to become more knowledgeable about deconstruction, because the critics that have discussed the significant comics books of the 1980s have talked about them from this viewpoint. I wish to analyze comics of the 1980s and onward by discussing the change of the standard superhero, because the characters I will mostly focus on are the anti-heroes and the flawed heroes, individuals alienated from the rest of society. Among the many critics and cultural theorists that I plan to study are Stephen Kershnar on Batman’s dark motives for vigilantism, Scott McCloud who has written many books about comics as a distinct literary form, Iain Thomson on the deconstruction of the superhero, and Bradford Wright on the cultural value of comic books.

I intend to explore the origins and importance of the hero in mythology and literature, especially the epic hero and the tragic hero (by both Aristotle’s and Arthur Miller’s standards). Many of the traits of comic book characters have been drawn from those in myths, folklore, and literature; for example, Newbery Award winner Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is filled with characters from myths. Also, just as the traditional hero in literature has changed throughout the history, the traditional superhero of comics has changed. Different ages such as the Gold and Silver Ages (each dominated by separate comic publishing giants with their own directions) have carried with them changes in styles and themes.

Comics and their heroes have changed tremendously since the 1930s, but the 1980s are generally seen as the major turning point, marked by the acclaimed graphic novels Watchmen by Alan Moore and Batman: the Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. I’ve chosen these two limited series comics published by DC Comics to start the bulk of my literary analysis because they are considered to have brought on the maturity of the genre with their further development of the anti-hero that had only been introduced to comic books in the previous decade. These comic book heroes exhibit nihilistic views of life and morality, presenting a world where the heroes cause nearly as much trouble as they resolve. Watchmen, in particular, has altered the notion of the hero by intertwining the lives of some of the most seriously and normally flawed characters with only one all-powerful superman. This has added a great amount of depth to the genre and its characters because the function and responsibility of the hero or vigilante in society seems to be in question within the genre that created him or her.

A recent example of this theme is Marvel Comics’ crossover event Civil War. This a culmination of previous crossover events (the most important of them was House of M) also led to its own significant changes in the Marvel Universe, not least of all the death of the ideal American hero, Captain America. Both Watchmen and Civil War involve legal Acts made to outlaw the anonymity of the masked vigilante and forces characters to face their own senses of morality and values and to decide whether or not to compromise those values. The characters also have to face their own identities: Are they masks or men?

, Civil War, and Superman: Red Son, among many others, also place their heroes in the midst of major historical events. The heroes of Watchmen and Red Son live under the two opposing world powers during the Cold War, and history has been rewritten to accommodate them and to show the negative impact that people can have in power. Civil War focused on that same theme by writing a new history in which the fear of terror has turned against the heroes on the home front. Certain comic book writers have an uncanny ability for commentary of different political and social situations.

Finally, after my analyses of these selections, I would like to discuss the role of comic books as source material for films. It seems as if these films may not always be based on long-existing materials. Marvel Comics published the first issue of a new comic titled Kick-Ass under its Icon imprint in April of 2008, and the film adaptation is currently in post-production. This could lead one to wonder whether this comic was tailor-made for the big screen rather than as its own form of art. Some of the movies based on comic books, such as Spider-man, have severely missed the mark when it comes to the morals and values behind the stories they draw from. Their heroes are reduced to having to simply beat the bad guy and win the girl. If writers begin to create comics to be adapted for the spectacle of the movie screen, there could be a complete lack of depth in the original writing.

Mar 17, 2009

"The Wizard of Oz" is visually wonderful, but it's a swift journey down that yellow-brick road

Eric Shanower, writer of five graphic novels about the land of Oz, is back with yet another, but this time the story isn't entirely his own. Published by Marvel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is a comic book version of the Frank L. Baum children's classic, but its writing has a much different feel.

There is a long tradition of non-canonical works about Baum's fictional land, and people in all different areas of arts and media seem to love the idea of recreating the classic any way they can. It only seems natural that Marvel would give it a shot, and Shanower must have seemed like their best candidate in choosing a writer. His history with Oz not only includes the five Dark Horse graphic novels but his illustrations for another set of Oz comics as well. Unfortunately, a history with Oz doesn't necessarily produce an adeptness at retelling a great story.

Shanower's writing is rushed, to say the least. Of course, he is trying to fit a novel into an 8-issue comic series, but that's no reason for the speed through which he blows through the story, much the way his tornado already begins to blow through by the third of 32 pages in the first issue. Maybe the assumption is that readers won't mind, as they know the story so well, but when Dorothy expresses her desire to return home from Oz I have no clue what she is yearning to return to. The story really lacks a sense of who Dorothy is and where she comes from, despite the images we are shown of her Kansas home. Henry and Em are merely a "farmer" and a "farmer's wife," and we have no idea what their relationship to their niece is. It proves that you can't rely on the classic status of a story to carry the weight of it adaptation.

The saving grace in all this is the artwork drawn by Skottie Young. Much different from the style typically adopted by Young in his artwork for other Marvel comics, the images seem like a combination of artwork in a typical children's book and standard comic book art style. The outlines are bold but also rough and sketch-like. The characters each have their own visual quirks, bringing life to them in a way that Shanower has not. From the artwork alone you can see Dorothy's innocence and naivete, and even the artwork depicting the hideous evil witches shows a lightheartedness suitable for the children's story.

Dorothy's three famous companions have been refashioned rather uniquely and have gained softer appearances, even Tin Man, and the appearances, for the most part, suit the chara cters. Scarecrow has a much goofier style with his big belly, lanky limbs, drawn eyes, and stitched smile. Lion looks more cowardly than ever thanks to a frizzy-looking mane that surrounds his massive head. Only Tin Man's design seems to be lacking a bit, as his mustache gives him a harsher look than expected.

Aside from individual characters, the backgrounds and scenery created by Young and the colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu are impressive. Images of Oz and Munchkin towns are vivid and exciting. Even the drab colors of the simple Kansas landscape were beautiful.

Overall, it isn't a bad choice for some of the younger comic readers and even some older art-oriented readers. Just don't expect to be wowed by an imaginative retelling of the well-known story.

Hello Out There!

I'm not quite sure just who will be reading this, but for those of you who don't know me, my name is Lacey. This blog is going to serve as my space for reviewing comic books and graphic novels for at least the next month or so for my reviewing class, but I think I will probably continue with it well after the mandatory five weeks. 

As you may have already guessed, I have a passion, probably stemming from my love of writing and of creating art, for comic books. In fact, if I had to tell you what my greatest career aspiration is, I'd say that I want to be the person in the publishing company who decides what incoming scripts get to be made into new comics. I want to be the person who sees something when it's new and fresh and have the opportunity to be one of the first people to see promise and talent in the writing. I love being involved on the executive boards of two of my university's literary magazines for just this reason.

I just recently discovered a second passion of mine: reviewing. My friends and family have always told me that I would enjoy being a critic, not that they actually specified what kind. My best friend says that I am "a critic of life," because she claims that she can't go to anything arts-related (galleries, theatre, concerts, movies, etc.) with me without the expectation of an in-depth conversation analyzing it.  It wasn't until this past semester that I tried my hand in  actually organizing and writing those thoughts, but ever since I started to do it, I fear I can't be stopped. I've always loved to write, and now I'm using it as an outlet for my critical nature!