Blackhawks Down(town) at Midtown Comics

Yesterday evening I went to the Midtown Comics located on Fulton Street (which would technically make it “Downtown Comics,” I guess) for the latest of their comic book creator signing events.  Midtown was having two artists from Madrid, Spain at the store to autograph copies of the latest issue of Blackhawks, one of the “New 52” titles from from DC Comics.  CAFU (short for Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano) and Bit became the art team on Blackhawks with issue #5.

To be honest, previously I had not been following Blackhawks, or really most any of the other New 52 series from DC.  The only two I’ve been reading month after month beginning with the first issue were Wonder Woman and Justice League International.  And even there, I’ve been seeing how each series has been from one issue to the next, sort of half-committed.  So Blackhawks definitely fell under the radar along with the rest of the New 52.  But when I heard that CAFU and Bit would be in town to sign issue #7, I picked up the previous two issues, which they also illustrated.

The event at Midtown was, in a certain respect, a bit of a disappointment.  The store had promoted it by announcing that each person who purchased a copy of Blackhawks #7 would be able to get a free sketch from both CAFU and Bit.  Unfortunately, the artists were only able to sign and sketch for one hour, from 6:00 to 7:00 PM, and they turned out to be drawing more slowly than the store probably thought they would be.  I think only the first six or seven people in line got a sketch.  I was not one of them.

Truth be told, I did not especially mind.  Yes, it was disappointing, but I shrugged it off because I was able to meet a couple of talented artists who only visit the States maybe once or twice a year.  I got several books autographed, including two issues of Marvel Adventures: Avengers that CAFU penciled in 2007.

Listening to some of the other people on line, though, I was amused at how big a deal it seemed to them.  Some people were of the attitude that they wasted their money (three whole dollars) and weren’t getting anything in return, that the book was no good, that Midtown was just doing this to drum up some sales on a title which is scheduled to be canceled in another month.  I think the lesson here is that if you are going to a comic book store signing, it should be for book that you are potentially interested in, or by a creator whose work you like.  That way, if you do not end up with a sketch, at least you will have still gotten an autographed book that will mean something to you.

I want to add that this is the first time I remember anything like this ever happening at Midtown Comics.  In the past, if they have promoted a signing to include sketches from artists, I don’t recall anyone walking away empty-handed.  So I just view this as a one-time occurrence.

Of course, maybe I am feeling charitable because at last year’s Spanish Inq signing event, when Bit was in NYC with Pere Perez, he drew a very nice sketch of Wonder Woman for me.  So I already had something by him in my sketchbook.

In any case, what do I actually think of the Blackhawks series?  CAFU and Bit’s artwork is stunning.  But, more to the point, I am impressed by Mike Costa’s writing.  It is not especially groundbreaking or revolutionary, but there is a fun and intelligence to it.  I like the idea of an international “black ops” type group of normal humans tasked with facing down technological menaces within the DC universe.  Judging solely by the three issues I have read, I feel the concept by Costa is sound and full of a great deal of potential, but perhaps the execution is lacking.  There is also an absence of details explaining who these characters are, and what exactly had taken place within the first story arc, which did not make them “new reader friendly.”  Having said that, I am intrigued enough that I am currently searching for copies of those initial four issues, to see what happened in them.

Blackhawks is being canceled with issue #8.  This is something of a pity.  As I said before, the concept holds much promise.  I like the characters, and if they survive the finale of the series it would be cool to see them resurface in some of DC’s other titles.  The art team of CAFU and Bit is really outstanding, and I look forward to seeing them receive another series to illustrate, hopefully soon.

Does Sci-Fi Get The Respect It Deserves?

I have been a science fiction fan since I was a kid.  There has always been something magical about the genre for me.  One of my favorites growing up was the original Star Trek television series, which was in reruns on Saturday nights in the late 1970s and early 80s.  I looked forward to catching a “new” episode of that each weekend.  I was too young to see the first Star Trek film in the theaters, probably a good thing, in retrospect, given that it’s a long, ponderous movie that really needed a lot of fine-tuning and editing.

But by the time Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit the big screen in 1982, I was six years old, and my father took me to see it.  To be perfectly honest, I was not thrilled by it.  The movie was too dark & downbeat for me, and it ended with Spock dying.  Over the years, though, I often heard it referred to as the absolute best film of the entire series, and I just could not understand why.

Fast-forward to 2002, and the two disk DVD “director’s edition” of Star Trek II came out.  On an impulse, I purchased it, because despite my original impression of it, I never actively hated the film.  It had been years since I had last seen it, so I thought this would be a good time to look at it with a fresh perspective and see what all the fuss was about.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD

Well, what a difference twenty years can make!  I was completely blown away when I re-watched The Wrath of Khan.  There were so many themes in it that I had not picked up on when I was a kid.  Dealing with death and loss, growing old, morality and science, the all-consuming passion of vengeance, making the decision whether to dwell in the past or to move on to the future, and much more.  Since then, I’ve viewed it on several subsequent occasions.  Each time, I get a little bit something more out of it.

So much of the film is of the highest quality.  The script by Harve Bennett & Nicholas Meyer is crisp, intelligent, witty, and thought-provoking.  James Horner’s’ soundtrack is stunning.  And the directing by Meyer is riveting, dramatic, and absolutely top-notch.   I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that Meyer succeeds in obtaining one of the best performances out of William Shatner in his entire career, no easy feat.  And the acting by Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and Ricardo Montalban is likewise top-notch.

Last week, I watched The Wrath of Khan again.  And something occurred to me.  Yes, it is a great science fiction film.  But, I realized, it is also an excellent film, period, regardless of genre.  This got me thinking.  Science fiction really gets very little respect of acknowledgement among so-called legitimate film “critics.”

I was curious, so I looked up the Academy Award nominees for 1982.  The frontrunner of the year was, unsurprisingly, Ganhdi, a good if overly long film.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had received several nominations.  But not a single nod to Star Trek II, not even in the technical categories.

What do you mean we didn't win an Oscar?!?!?

What do you mean we didn’t win an Oscar?!?!?

Nowadays, the Academy Awards do make at least a passing effort at trying to acknowledge more “mainstream” films, having increased the potential number of best picture nominees to ten.  Even so, the way the Academy members actually vote, the probability of film such as Star Trek II being nominated, much less winning, a Best Picture Oscar is very low.  Witness the most recent awards, where The Artist was swept up six Oscars.  Brilliant film, yes, but the equally great, very funny comedy Bridesmaids didn’t even warrant a nomination.  (Of course, the manner in which voting is tabulated for the Oscar nominations and actual awards is apparently so convoluted that it makes filling out your taxes seem simple by comparison.  So for all we know Bridesmaids just narrowly missed the cut-off.)

What is the point of all this?  I am actually not sure.  Part of it is my lamenting that those aforementioned critics often believe it is impossible for a film to be both popular and of high artistic merit.  Especially when it comes to science fiction.

Then again, hindsight can be twenty twenty.  The history of film criticism, and the Academy Awards in particular, is rife with “What the hell were they thinking!?!” moments that totally stupefy you.  One of the most infamous was when How Green Was My Valley won Best Picture for 1941, beating out Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, a film now regarded as one of the absolute all time greatest movies ever made.  So who knows how history will judge?

In the meantime, regardless of how such-and-such critic opines concerning cinematic fare, or what movie wins what awards, I will be watching what I feel like watching.  And that includes science fiction, thank you very much.

Real Women Have Curves

Over the last year or so, walking around New York City, riding the subways and busses, I’ve noticed something.  A lot of younger women nowadays are thin.  And I do not just mean that they are skinny.  These teenagers and twenty something gals are so thin that they look unhealthy.  The most striking aspect is their arms and legs, which look like twigs.  The rest of their bodies are ultra-svelte, in certain cases even appearing pre-pubescent.  It is not much of an exaggeration to say that some of these ladies bear more than a passing resemblance to victims of starvation from some Third World country than they do grown women.

I’ve pointed this out to my girlfriend.  She typically just shrugs, and informs me that it’s the style nowadays with younger women, the fashionable way to look.   In all honestly, I find that a rather disturbing phenomenon.  Thinking it over, I wonder how some of these women achieve their lean appearances.  I would not be at all surprised if at least some of them suffered from eating disorders.  I realize that we lived in a country where obesity is a serious problem.  But going to the complete opposite extreme is no solution!

Obviously it is a matter of personal preference, and different people are attracted to different body types.  But I have always had a fondness for more voluptuous, Rubenesque females.  Immediately coming to mind are such mid-20th Century sex symbols as Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe.

Both of these women were stunning, sensual beauties who exuded their own unique manner of sexuality.  Each of them is regarded as a cultural icon.  But I very much believe that if Bettie Page or Marilyn Monroe were alive today, attempting to break into modeling or acting in the early 21st Century, they would meet with little success.  In fact, they’d probably be considered “overweight” by the powers-that-be in the fields of fashion and showbiz.

I think it’s a tragedy that so many young women feel compelled to pursue excessive weight loss, striving to reach some kind of nearly-impossible waif-like physical ideal that has been imposed upon us by mass media and the corporate world.  Especially when these ladies may be risking their health to achieve that look.

Obviously if a woman wants to become thin, she should be allowed to.  But I hope she would do it for herself, instead of striving to be skinny because she believes society expects of it of her.  If you are going to lose weight, do so because it’s healthy and it will make you happy.  Don’t do it to try to please others or impress strangers.

And just remember: some of us do not find that ultra-skinny look to be beautiful.  Instead, we would much rather see a woman with a natural curvy figure.

The moral ambiguity of abortion

In recent weeks, issues concerning reproductive rights and family planning have once again been thrust to the forefront of the so-called “culture wars” here in the United States.  One aspect of this has been a renewed  effort in several states to curb, if not eliminate altogether, a woman’s access to an abortion.  All of this has caused me to engage in my own personal reflections, re-examining how I feel about the volatile issues surrounding abortions.

I think perhaps many of those fighting in the Pro-Life Movement make a serious mistake, in that they often assume that women casually choose to undergo abortions, giving it as much consideration as, say, choosing to dye their hair a different color or buying a new dress.  Without making any sort of sweeping generalization, from what I have heard & read, and from women I have talked to, the majority of those who terminated a pregnancy did not do so casually.  There was a certain amount of emotional uncertainty and pain involved in choosing that course of action.  (Of course, there are exceptions, and I have also met a few women who apparently just shrugged it off.)

My point is that many of those who are Pro-Choice, who support a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy, do recognize that it is a serious choice with a potentially great deal of physical and mental fallout involved.

How do I personally feel about abortion?  That’s a tricky question.  To be completely honest, the idea makes me uncomfortable.  At times very uncomfortable.  Cutting right to the chase, a fetus is an organic, living object.  Does it qualify as a human being?  I honestly do not know.  But the thought of killing something that is definitively alive, that has the potential to grow into a human being, very much unsettles me.  And at times I do wonder if abortion really is a morally palatable decision.

I especially feel that way regarding late-term or partial-birth abortions.  My main reason for opposing a ban on them is that I fear it would lead to a legislative slippery slope that could see the outlawing of other forms of abortion.

So why am I Pro-Choice at all?  Because, simply put, I feel abortion can be the lesser of two evils.

I see it as terribly unjust to force a woman to endure an unwanted pregnancy, especially one caused by rape or incest, or one where prenatal tests reveal that the unborn child is afflicted with some sort of physical or mental disorder.  I also feel it is wrong to force a woman to have a child when she is financially and/or emotionally unable to provide for that child.  Our world already has millions of unwanted children living in poverty, barely surviving from one day to the next, leading terrible lives we cannot conceive of.  Should even more future children be forced into such dire circumstances?

Additionally, many foes of abortion are also simultaneously opposed to any other family planning services, such as teaching sex education in schools and enabling women easy access to contraception.  There is a solidly puritanical streak to this segment of the Pro-Life movement, believing that sex should only take place in a marriage, and solely for the purposes of procreation.  I respect these people’s rights to their religious beliefs; what I am offended by is their efforts to impose them upon the rest of American society.  Besides, their objections to sex education and birth control are simply unrealistic in the 21st Century.  They are actually more likely to lead to further unwanted pregnancies and, in turn, increased numbers of abortions.

But my primary reason for supporting access to abortion is that I am revolted by the fact that many self-proclaimed Pro-Life figures and groups simply do not give a damn about a child once it is actually born.  I’m reminded of that old joke, namely “Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.”  So many of the politicians who decry abortion the loudest are the ones cutting social services, blocking access to health care, and eliminating funding to education.  The message appears to be, “Once you’re out of the womb, kiddo, you’re on your own for the rest of your life. Good luck, you’ll need it!”

As much as abortion unsettles me, I am even more uncomfortable with the idea of the government telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body, with forcing her to give birth to an unwanted child, something that will literally change her entire life.

And I am also Pro-Choice because, at the end of the day, I am a man, not a woman.  I will never be able to conceive a child or give birth.  I will never be able to truly understand how a pregnant woman feels.  And for that reason, despite my very strong misgivings concerning abortion, I feel I cannot tell a woman what to do in that situation.

A marvelous G.I. Joe reunion at IDW

I’ve been enjoying the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series that IDW has been publishing for the past couple of years.  The main drawing point has, of course, been the return of writer Larry Hama to the characters he made such a phenomenon in the 1980s.

(I previously did a review of the first two IDW trade paperback collections on Yahoo Contributor Network, but that’s no longer online.  One of these days I should re-post it on this blog.)

GI Joe Annual 2012 cover

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero has continued to be enjoyable.  The recently-released 2012 annual was definitely a highlight.  Hama took a break from the monthly storylines to present a stand-alone tale focusing on a rogue Cobra Crimson Guard unit attempting to carry out a terrorist plot, with both the Joe team and Zartan’s outlaw Dreadnoks racing to thwart them.  The writing may not have been nearly as strong as Hama’s work on the monthly book, but it contained an abundance of his trademark dry wit & deadpan humor.

(I don’t think Hama likes the term “deadpan humor” but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.  Well, whatever you want to call it, it works very well.)

The main selling point for me was the line-up of artists.  Ron Frenz, Ron Wagner, and Herb Trimpe shared penciling duties, with Sal Buscema inking the entire story.  In service of the multiple artists, Hama cleverly structured his storytelling to shift focus between the three groups.  The Guardsmen pages were penciled by Frenz, the Cobra and Dreadnoks pages by Wagner, and the G.I. Joe pages by Trimpe.  Buscema’s inking gave the overall book a certain uniform feel, so that the transitions back and forth between the trio of pencilers were not jarring.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 18

The annual was something of a mini-Marvel Comics reunion, both in terms of the G.I. Joe title and in a broader sense.  Each of the four artists produced a large body of work at Marvel in the past.  In regards to G.I. Joe, Trimpe was the book’s original artist in the early 1980s.  Even though he has drawn numerous covers for the IDW series, this annual features his first interior work for the revival.  Wagner also worked on G.I. Joe, penciling the book in the late 1980s.

Additionally, both Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema had momentous, nearly-uninterrupted runs penciling Marvel’s Incredible Hulk series.   Trimpe was the artist on the Hulk from 1968 to 1975, while Buscema drew the Hulk between 1976 and 1985.  So you have two men who are almost universally regarded as the definitive illustrators of one of Marvel’s most recognizable characters.  And, as far as I am aware, they have only worked together on a handful of occasions in the past (I believe Trimpe was inked by Buscema on a few issues of Incredible Hulk way back in 1971).  So, for a long-time Marvel fan such as myself, it was a thrill to see the two collaborating on this annual.

GI Joe Annual 2012 pg 19

Of course, I would be even happier to see Trimpe & Buscema together again on a Hulk story.  I don’t know if Marvel would even be interested in such a project.  But occasionally they do publish a “retro” special or flashback sequence, so it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility.   Until that happens, this G.I. Joe annual serves as a nice reunion between the two comic book legends.

In any case, considering the very unfortunate tendency of Marvel (as well as DC) to offer less and less work to older artists such as Trimpe and Buscema, or even to such talents as Frenz or Wagner, who both had regular monthly gigs as recently as the 1990s, I certainly appreciate them being given the opportunity to produce new work.  For that reason alone, the 2012 G.I. Joe annual is well worth picking up.

Liberty versus Security

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide, you shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance, now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind, I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned you’re a threat
You’re not integral to the project

Pet Shop Boys, “Integral”

In the last decade, as the “War on Terror” has been raged, first by the Bush and then the Obama administrations, the question of the balance between liberty and security has been a fierce one.  This is not a new debate, though.  The questions and controversies surrounding increased governmental powers and limitations on civil rights date back to the early years of our nation.

In 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed into law as a reaction to the French Revolution’s bloody Reign of Terror.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus.  Although Lincoln is regarded as one of the greatest of the U.S. Presidents, this is an action that a century and a half later is still hotly debated among historians.  And during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast within internment camps.

So the continuing reactionary policies of certain politicians in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, although disheartening, are anything but unprecedented.  On December 31, 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act.  One provision of the law is that it affirmed the ability of the federal government to indefinitely imprison without trial any individuals, including American citizens.  Many have regarded this as just the latest trampling of the Bill of Rights by an increasingly unchecked government.  Myself, I was very disappointed that Obama signed this into law.  Disappointed, but not surprised.  It is an election year, after all, and he obviously did not want to appear weak on national security.  Whatever else he is, Obama is a shrewd individual who wants to gain a second term as President.  He is certainly not the first politician to forsake his stated principles in order to court votes.

More recently, here in New York City, it has been revealed that the NY Police Department has been conducting extensive surveillance of Muslim-American businesses and students, even going so far as to follow them out-of-state.  There are concerns that the NYPD is not acting on any legitimate leads or suspicions, but rather engaging in racial profiling.  The Associated Press’s revelation of these actions has resulted in criticism not just from the Muslim community, but from officials in New Jersey and Washington DC.  The FBI seems to be regarding the NYPD’s lone wolf tactics as having both damaged several of their own investigations, as well as harming relations between the government and the Muslim community.  Unsurprisingly, despite all of the criticism, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have imperiously refused to back down, retorting that their actions were both legal and necessary to save lives from possible terrorist threats.

It appears that it is within our nature to all-to-quickly give in to fear, to be ready to forsake our liberty for a comforting feeling of security.  We should do well to remember the words often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, namely that those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.

Please keep in mind that I am not claiming that legitimate threats to our security do not exist.  They do, and we need to safeguard against them.  But in the process, it is crucial that we do not destroy the very freedoms we are fighting to safeguard.  There must ever be a balance between liberty and security.  Too much of one extreme or the other can lead to devastating consequences.

Philip Madoc: 1934 – 2012

I just learned that Welsh actor Philip Madoc passed away today, March 5, at the age of 77.  Madoc was a prolific actor who appeared on numerous British television series.  Here in the States, he is probably best known for his long association with the sci-fi series Doctor Who.  Madoc had roles in four different Doctor Who television serials. Two of those, The War Games and The Brain of Morbius, saw Madoc in very memorable turns as villains, respectively as the sinister fascist War Lord and the fanatical mad scientist Mehendri Solon. Madoc’s first Who-related role was actually in the 1966 movie adaptation Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.  In recent years, he lent his vocal talents to two of the Doctor Who audio plays produced by Big Finish, Master and Return of the Krotons, as well as a couple of the Faction Paradox audio dramas that spun out of the 1990s Doctor Who novels.

Image

I was always impressed by Madoc’s acting.  He had the most wonderfully rich voice, low and deep, almost whispering, which brought such dramatic gravitas to the roles he played.  This made him much in demand to play villains, as well as for work in radio and voiceovers.  I really had hoped that he might be asked by the producers of the revived Doctor Who series to make an appearance.  It would have been marvelous to see him opposite David Tennant or Matt Smith.  But, alas, that was not to be.

Madoc leaves behind an extensive body of work in television, film, theater, and radio, a rich legacy indeed.