Astro City returns to Image Comics with That Was Then…

Super Blog Team-Up celebrates the 30th anniversary of Image Comics. In 1992 a group of red-hot artists decided to quit their extremely lucrative gigs drawing for Marvel Comics and found a brand-new company dedicated to publishing creator-owned series.

Image Comics may have gotten off to a rough start, but no major comic book company ever emerged fully formed, and within just a few years Image had already become an important force for creators’ rights in an industry that had a long history of exploiting talent.

Over the past three decades Image has published hundreds of great creator-owned projects. Among these is Astro City by the team of writer Kurt Busiek, interior artist Brent Anderson, and cover artist & character designer Alex Ross.

Astro City was first published by Image as a six issue miniseries in 1995. It was followed a year later by an ongoing series published under the Homage Comics imprint of Image co-founder Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Productions.  In 1998 Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, and with that sale Astro City moved over to the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

I have absolutely no idea what the specifics were of the arrangement between Busiek and Wildstorm. But apparently Busiek retained ownership of Astro City even after Wildstorm was bought by DC. After 20 years of Astro City being published by DC under various imprints, Busiek finally made the decision to bring the series back to its original home, Image Comics.

Astro City: That Was Then… by Busiek, Anderson, Ross, colorist Alex Sinclair, letterers Tyler Smith & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft, and editor Kel Symons is the first new Astro City book released since the series’ return to Image.

Form his afterword in this issue, it sounds like for the most part Busiek had a good working relationship with DC Comics. Nevertheless, I am genuinely glad that Astro City has returned to Image. DC and Marvel, the so-called “Big Two,” have ownership of more than enough characters. Certainly DC has bought up more than their share of properties over the decades, so it would have been a pity to see the denizens of Astro City permanently absorbed by them.

(To clarify matters, I hear back from Kurt Busiek himself: “DC never owned ASTRO CITY, nor did Wildstorm. It’s always been owned by Brent, Alex and me.” Thanks, Mr. Busiek.)

To date there have been over 100 issues of Astro City published. I’ve probably only read around 15 to 20 of those. Nevertheless Busiek makes the That Was Then… special very accessible to new & casual readers.

That Was Then… is set during the summer of 1969. The teen superhero group the Jayhawks have shockingly died, having lost their lives fighting the eldritch abomination The Master who was powered by the racism & hatred of the white supremacist group the White Knights. In the aftermath of this tragedy, several other teenage heroes have gone “on the road” to figure out what to do next. Adulthood is right around the corner for these five troubled youths, and they need to decide: should they keep fighting crime, or move on with their lives?

Bugleboy, Majorette, Sunshrike, Rivets the Robot Kid and Rally can feel that change is coming, an end to the initial bright optimism of the 1960s. Both the script by Busiek and the art & coloring by Anderson & Sinclair are suffused with a contemplative, tangible mood. There is a very tangible feeling of loss and uncertainty.

Honestly, it amazes me that Anderson is not a much more popular artist. Way back in 1982 he did a superb job on the critically acclaimed X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel for Marvel, and for a quarter century he’s been doing incredible work on Astro City. Anderson is, in my mind, a very underrated artist & storyteller.

Busiek has always been incredibly adept at writing character-driven stories. Astro City is a series that definitely plays to that strength, enabling him to tell very personal, intimate stories set against a tapestry of vast, epic events, at examining the human aspects of superhumans. That is yet again on display in the That Was Then… special.

The present-day epilogue to That Was Then… featuring Astro City’s flagship hero Samaritan effectively parallels the main story. Just like the five teens from 1969, the Samaritan feels worn down & purposeless, haunted by the ominous feeling that “something’s coming, something dark.”

This reminds me of something that Alan Moore wrote in Watchmen. “Nothing ends… nothing ever ends.” Just as the progressive idealism of the 1960s was wiped away by assassinations, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and finally Ronald Reagan, so to were the hopes & dreams of Barack Obama’s election eclipsed by the resurgence of American racism, the rise of Donald Trump, and the radicalization of the Republican Party. Unfortunately so long as there are human beings there will very likely always be these struggles between the light and the darkness… and the good men & women the Samaritan represents will understandably feel beaten down by the unending fight to preserve liberty & justice.

I am looking forward to seeing what Busiek, Anderson & Ross have planned for Astro City in the future at image Comics. And I’ll also be taking the opportunity to check out their earlier stories, which Image is re-issuing as oversized MetroBook collections.

By the way, I very rarely ever purchase more than one copy of any comic books to get different variant covers. But I made an exception with Astro City: That Was Then… picking up both the main beautiful painted cover by Alex Ross and the variant cover drawn by Image co-founder & Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen featuring Malcolm Dragon alongside the Samaritan.

Larsen is one of my all-time favorite comic book creators. He and Busiek had a good working relationship in the past, having collaborated on Defenders and Fantastic Four: The World’s Greatest Comics Magazine at Marvel in the early 2000s. I’d love to see them work together again, this time on something at Image.

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George Perez: 1954 to 2022

I was very sorry to hear about the passing of legendary comic book creator George Perez on May 6th. Perez had announced back in December that he was suffering from with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and that he had approximately six months to a year left to live. We all knew this day was coming soon, but it doesn’t make it any less sad.

Perez had an incredibly lengthy, diverse career. As I did a week ago to mark the passing of fellow legend Neal Adams, I am going to refrain from even trying to put together any sort of comprehensive retrospective of Perez’s career, and instead just focus on my own impressions of his work as a fan.

Batman #439 cover drawn by George Perez and collored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comics in Sept 1989

I first started following comic books regularly in 1989 when I was 13 years old, so I missed Perez’s early work on Fantastic Four and Avengers for Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, as well as his wildly popular collaboration with writer Marv Wolfman on The New Teen Titans at DC Comics beginning in the early 1980s.

While I can’t be 100% certain, I think the first work by Perez that I ever saw were his covers for the “Batman: Year Three” and “A Lonely Place of Dying” story arcs that ran through Batman #436-442 in the summer and fall of 1989. I was immediately struck by Perez’s intricately detailed work and his complex compositions. His cover to #439 featuring Nightwing hanging on for deal life from the bell tower of a church in the midst of a fierce rainstorm, highlighted by the Bat-signal, especially stood out in my mind. Perez and colorist Anthony Tollin did absolutely stunning work in rendering that atmospheric image.

Within a couple of years I was following quite a few DC titles. War of the Gods was a major crossover that DC published in the summer & fall of 1991, and it tied in with Perez’s run on Wonder Woman. So I picked up Wonder Woman #58 which was written & cover-illustrated by Perez and the four issue War of the Gods miniseries for which Perez was writing, doing interior pencil layouts and drawing full covers. As I’ve mentioned before, this was an absolutely insane time for me to try to dive into Wonder Woman, because this was the culmination of a number of plotlines & character arcs that Perez had been developing over the past five years.

War of the Gods #4 cover drawn by George Perez, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Three decades later I only remember three things about War of the Gods: 1) the evil sorceress Circe was the main villain, 2) I didn’t understand even half of what was going on, and 3) DC promoted the fact that for the cover of the final issue of the miniseries Perez set out to draw a cover featuring ONE HUNDRED different characters. That must have been my first exposure to Perez’s fondness for drawing literal armies.

At the exact same time Perez was also penciling another crossover, this time at Marvel. The Infinity Gauntlet was another “cast of thousands” cosmic extravaganza that ran for six double-sized issues. Truthfully, I wasn’t especially into writer Jim Starlin’s story for The Infinity Gauntlet, either, since it very predictably followed the arc of Thanos becoming a god and wiping the floor with everyone else in the Marvel Universe for half a dozen issues before finally losing the titular Infinity Gauntlet.

Nevertheless, Perez, paired with inker Josef Rubinstein, did a fantastic job drawing the cosmic spectacle… at least until working on two mega-crossovers simultaneously became too much for even someone of Perez’s talent & speed, and he had to bow out partway through issue #4, with Ron Lim taking up penciling duties for the remainder of the miniseries. To show support for Lim stepping into this high-profile assignment, and having the unenviable job of following in his footsteps, Perez inked Lim’s pencils on the covers for the final two issues of The Infinity Gauntlet.

The Infinity Gauntlet #1 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by John Stracuzzi, published by Marvel Comics in July 1991

So, while I haven’t revisited The Infinity Gauntlet in the last 30 years, either, I definitely was impressed by the work Perez did on the first half of the miniseries. Certainly his intricate cover for the first issue, colored by John Stracuzzi, is one of the all-time greatest depictions of Thanos in the character’s half-century history. Heck, even Jim Starlin, the writer / artist who created Thanos, has used Perez’s cover artwork for The Infinity Gauntlet #1 for his own convention banner. Now that is respect.

Anyway, throughout the 1990s, when I was in high school & college, I went to a lot of comic book conventions, and bought a lot of back issues from the 1970s and 80s. Amongst these were several books that Perez worked on: Avengers, Justice League of America, The New Teen Titans, Marvel Fanfare, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Action Comics. I also had the opportunity to pick up a lot more issues of Perez’s epic, groundbreaking five year run on Wonder Woman, at last getting in on the earlier parts of his incredible, highly influential revamp of Princess Diana of Themyscira.

Straight from the back issue bin… Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, written by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Perez, inked by Jerry Ordway, lettered by John Costanze and colored by Anthony Tollin, published by DC Comcis in january 1986

In the mid 1990s Perez penciled the first six issues of Isaac Asimov’s I-BOTS, written by Steven Grant, published by Tekno Comics / Big Entertainment.  I took a look at Perez’s work on that series a few months ago as part of the most recent round of Super Blog Team-Up, in which the various contributors examined different parts of Perez’s amazing career.

In 1998 Perez had another opportunity to pencil Avengers, this time paired with writer Kurt Busiek. Perez remained on the series for three years. After the meandering, confusing events of “The Crossing” and the controversial Heroes Reborn that saw Rob Liefeld take over the book, Busiek & Perez’s run was warmly received by long-time Avengers readers.

Now here’s another one of those occasions when I am going to go against conventional fan wisdom. The truth is I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about Busiek’s writing on Avengers; I feel Busiek is an amazing writer on smaller, intimate, character-driven stories set against the epic backdrops of superhero universes, something he’s demonstrated again and again with his incredible work on Astro City. Same thing for Thunderbolts from Marvel, which was a very character-centric series. In contract, Avengers was the epic superhero event book, and I just didn’t feel that Busiek quite had the faculty to pull off those sorts of stories. (Just my personal opinion, so feel free to disagree.)

The Scarlet Witch tears up the dance floor! Avengers vol 3 #19 written by Kurt Busiek, penciled by George Perez, inked by Al Very, colored by Tom Smith and lettered by Richard Starkings, published by Marvel Comics in August 1999

That said, Busiek did really solid work on the character-driven subplots in Avengers involving the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Wonder Man, and Carol Danvers / Warbird, as well as his own creations Silverclaw and Triathalon. And of course Perez did an incredible job illustrating Busiek’s stories, both the action scenes and the quieter character moments. I certainly appreciated the stunning costume Perez designed for the Scarlet Witch. And that bellydance sequence featuring Wanda from Avengers vol 3 #19 (Aug 1999) seen above was absolutely gorgeous, a superb example of Perez’s storytelling abilities.

In the early 2000s Perez signed an exclusive contract with startup publisher CrossGen Comics. Perez penciled the quarterly double-sized CrossGen Chronicles, followed by the monthly series Solus. I only read a handful of the CrossGen titles, but I picked up a couple of issues of CrossGen Chronicles specifically for Perez’s artwork.

One of the things I appreciated about the CrossGen books was that it was not a superhero-centric universe. CrossGen enabled Perez to stretch his boundaries and work in the genres of fantasy and sci-fi / space opera. He did some incredible work for them. Regrettably CrossGen only lasted a few years, going bankrupt in 2003.

CrossGen Chronicles #4, written by Mark Waid, penciled by George Perez, inked by Mike Perkins & Rick Magyar, colored by Laura DePuy, Chris Garcia & Mike Garcia, and lettered by Dave Lanphear & Troy Peteri, published by CrossGen Comics in Sept 2001

Back in 1981 Perez had begun penciling a Justice League / Avengers crossover, but the project was left uncompleted due to editorial conflicts between DC and Marvel Comics. Two decades later, in 2002, the Big Two at last came to an agreement to work together and publish a crossover between their two superstar teams. Even though Perez was signed to CrossGen, he’d included a clause in his contract with them that if Justice League / Avengers ever happened he would be allowed to draw it. And so he was reunited with Kurt Busiek and colorist Tom Smith to produce the long-awaited meeting of the Justice League and Avengers in four double-sized bookshelf issues.

JLA / Avengers once again gave Perez the opportunity to draw his casts of thousands. The absolute highlight of the event was the wraparound cover to the third issue, on which Perez depicted every single member of both teams up to that point in time. Tom Smith recently recounted that it took him two whole weeks just to color that cover.

Where’s Waldo?!? JLA/Avengers #3 cover drawn by George Perez and colored by Tom Smith, published by DC and Marvel Comics in December 2003

It seems like everyone has a George Perez story, so here’s mine: I met writer Marv Wolfman at a comic con in White Plains NY in June 2000 and had him autograph my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the historic (and at the time absolutely permanent) death of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. A few months later, at a store signing in Connecticut, I met artist Jerry Ordway, who had inked that issue,and I had him autograph it, too. He smiled and said “I’d better leave room for George Perez to sign it.” I responded that he didn’t have to do that, since I didn’t expect to ever meet Perez (and, really, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity, because he was such an incredibly popular artist).  Ordway just smiled again and autographed the book, leaving several inches space between his and Wolfman’s signatures.

Fast forward a few years, and low & behold none other than George Perez was a guest at a comic con in Manhattan. Of course I brought along my copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, and Perez autographed it in between Wolfman & Ordway’s signatures. So, a big “thank you” to Jerry Ordway for his foresight.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 signed by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jerry Ordway!

I wish I could regale you with some fascinating anecdotes about my meeting George Perez. The simple fact is, in the couple of minutes I spoke with him he came across as a good person, and that’s it. From everything I’ve heard Perez was always like that; he always made an effort to be friendly to all of his fans, to greet them with a warm smile.

About a decade later Michele and I were at New York Comic Con. We ran into Perez when he was between panel discussions or something; I don’t recall the specifics. I just remember that Michele had had a copy of Wonder Woman vol 2 #19 with her, and she went up to Perez and asked him to sign it. I think he was talking with someone, or maybe he was on his way out of the room, but whatever it was he was doing he paused, turned to Michele, smiled, pulled out a sharpie, and autographed her comic. That’s the type of person Perez was, always making time for his fans.

George Perez was an incredible artist and a genuinely decent person. He will definitely be missed. I wish to offer my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues for their loss.

Neal Adams: 1941 to 2022

Legendary comic book artist and forceful advocate for creators’ rights Neal Adams passed away on April 28th at the age of 80 years old. During a career that spanned six decades, Adams had groundbreaking runs illustrating Batman, Deadman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Superman for DC, and Avengers and X-Men for Marvel, as well as working in the horror, sword & sorcery and humor genres.

Batman #227 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by DC Comics in Dec 1970

I was born in 1976 and didn’t start reading comic books regularly until the late 1980, so I was not around when Adams made an absolutely seismic impact on comic books, both as an industry and as an art form.

For a very insightful look at Adams’ work from the perspective of someone who was reading comic books in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I highly recommend reading my friend Alan Stewart’s blog post on The Brave and the Bold #79, published by DC Comics with an Aug-Sept 1968 cover date, an issue Alan refers to as “one of the most historically significant comics of Neal Adams’ career.”

Even though I wasn’t there when Neal Adams shook American comic books to their core, I nevertheless want to pay tribute to the man and his work. So here is my own personal experience at discovering his incredible artwork.

Ms. Mystic #1 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by Pacific Comics in Oct 1982

By the 1980s Adams had mostly removed himself from mainstream comic books, having found the fields of storyboarding, advertising, and graphic design to be much better paying ones. He was releasing some creator-owned projects, first through Pacific Comics and then through his own Continuity Studios.  Unfortunately for me they got lost in the glut of the early 1990s comic book explosion, because I simply did not know to look for them.

With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I had picked up those comics, and that Adams had been able to do more with those characters, especially Ms. Mystic, who I’ve always felt has a wonderful design. (I did later pick up a few of these as back issues.)

So… three and a half decades ago there were no trade paperback collections reprinting older comic books or digital editions readily available to read. There was no Wikipedia or social media. All that I had as a 13 year old comic book fan in 1989 was letter columns and editorial pages in current comic books. From time to time Neal Adams’ name would be mentioned… and I really had no way of knowing who he was.

Batman #234, written by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by John Costanza and edited by Julius Schwartz, published by DC Comics in August 1971

The first occasion when I ever saw Adams’ work must have been in the collection The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told which DC Comics released in November 1988 ahead of Batman’s 50th anniversary. I bought that book in 1990, and I read it religiously.

Neal Adams penciled two of the stories in that collection, “Ghost of the Killer Skies” from Detective Comics #404 (Oct 1970) and “Half an Evil” from Batman #234 (Aug 1971), both of those in collaboration with writer Denny O’Neil and inker Dick Giordano. The book also had smaller reproductions of a few of Adams’ covers, among them his evocative artwork for Batman #227 (Dec 1970), a stunningly atmospheric piece that when I finally saw it full-sized years later took my breath away.

While I certainly liked Adams artwork in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told well enough, I had no way of putting it within its proper context. His penciling was nice, but it didn’t seem all that different from what I was used to seeing in comic books. I liken it to someone completely ignorant of cinematic history seeing Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane and having the reaction of “What’s the big deal?” Because just as the innovations Welles has pioneered in his filmmaking eventually became commonplace in filmmaking, the storytelling & stylistic choices pioneered by Adams had become thoroughly suffused in American comic books by the early 1990s.

Batman #244 written by Denny O’Neil, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano and lettered by jean Simek, published by DC Comics in Sept 1972

I think that I FINALLY began to understand just how important Neal Adams was when in the late 1990s and the early 2000s DC at long last began reissuing his work. I was finally able to read Green Lantern / Green Arrow and the Batman: Tales of the Demon featuring the Dark Knights first encounters with the diabolical Ra’s al Ghul, both of which Adams did with writer Denny O’Neil.

Likewise, the epic Avengers storyline “The Kree / Skrull War” and the late 1960s X-Men run that Adams penciled with writer Roy Thomas and inker Tom Palmer (with Adams serving as an uncredited co-plotter) were both collected together by Marvel Comics in the year 2000.

Adams’ artwork on all of these was absolutely breathtaking. I also discovered that he drew some astonishingly great covers for DC throughout the 1970s. The more I saw of Adams’ work, the more I grew to appreciate it.

X-Men #59, co-plotted & penciled by Roy Thomas, co-plotted, penciled & colored by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics in Aug 1969

On Facebook comic artist Scott Williams shared the below two images, along with the following commentary:

“Someone on Twitter posted these two images side by side. One, a page from X-Men #54 by Don Heck, and the other from X-Men #56 by Neal Adams, both from 1969. Same characters and storyline. My point is not to in any way disparage Don Heck, but to demonstrate what a tectonic impact Neal had in comics. Couldn’t be a more stark and clear example (garish reprint coloring aside here) of how Neal changed the game forever.”

For the record, the full credits for X-Men #54 are apparently breakdowns by Don Heck, finished pencils by Werner Roth, and inks by Vince Colletta. Heck and Roth are both good, solid, underrated artists who seldom receive their due. Pencilers such as Heck and Roth were the vital foundation of the American comic book industry, guys who could tell a clear story and hit deadlines month after month.

But, yeah, when you place Adams side-by-side with them, basically drawing the same scene as Heck & Roth , it totally enables you to see exactly what Adams brought to comic books in the late 1960s, and why it was so Earth-shaking.

Compare & contrast: X-Men #54 (March 1969) drawn by Don Heck, Werner Roth & Vince Colletta, and two issues later X-Men #56 (May 1969) drawn by Neal Adams & Tom Palmer

Just as important, perhaps even more important, as Adams’ artistic legacy was his continual fight for creators’ rights in the comic book industry, which has for all-too-long regarded talent as interchangeable, disposable cogs in the machine. Among the creators Adams helped out where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers and Russ Heath. Over on 13th Dimension former DC Comics writer /editor / publisher Paul Levitz discussed this aspect of Adams’ career…

“What I didn’t know is that as Neal began shaking up the look of comics, he began devoting much of his energy to shaking up the processes. Creative people were treated very poorly in the field in those years, and most of the leaders in the community were afraid to champion the cause because of the likely consequences. The disparity of power between the owners of the comics companies and the creators was an immeasurable gap, and at its base waited carnivores ready to devour agitators. But a modern Don Quixote had no fear…

“Of the many fights won or ignored, the one that was most visible was being part of the team (with Jerry Robinson and Ed Preiss) that labored to restore Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s credit to Superman, and economic dignity to their lives. Jerry was probably the more suave negotiator, Ed the wise lawyer… but Neal roared the loudest. And they won.”

Adams was also a teacher to young up-and-coming artists who hoped to enter the comic book biz. Among the many creators he mentored over the years were Frank Brunner, Howard Chaykin, Larry Hama, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, Buzz , Henry Martinez and his own son Josh Adams.

Superman #252 cover drawn by Neal Adams, published by DC Comics in June 1972

Living in the New York City area most of my life, I was very fortunate to have met Neal Adams on several occasions at comic cons and store signing. In spite of the fact that he was a hugely popular creator who was frequently mobbed by fans, Adams always came across as polite and patient to everyone who came up to his table. He always had a smile on his face.

There was one time he was at Big Apple Comic Con about a decade ago when his table wasn’t busy and I had the opportunity to chat with him for a few minutes, and I asked him about something I had been curious about for a while. In the pages of X-Men #62 (Nov 1969) Adams had been the first artist to draw Magneto without his helmet. The features & hair he gave Magneto were very close to those of Quicksilver… so much so that a decade later this became the basis for establishing that Magneto was the father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

I asked Adams if in giving Magneto that particular visual he had intended for the character to be Quicksilver’s father. Adams gave me one of his smiles and explained that he liked to plant “seeds” in his storylines that he or other creators could then use to develop future storylines if they so choose.

X-Men #62, co-plotted & scripted by Roy Thomas, co-plotted, penciled & colored by Neal Adams, inked by Tom Palmer and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics in Nov 1969

Adams then smiled again, leaned in conspiratorially, and told me he had something to tell me, but I had to promise not to tell anyone else about it, and I agreed. (Since he’s now passed away I feel comfortable recounting this.) Adams said he had an idea for another X-Men story that he hoped to do one day. Adams observed that the Beast in his furry blue form had the same distinctive hairstyle as Wolverine… so he wanted to reveal that Wolverine was Hank McCoy’s father.

Honestly, it sounded completely bonkers to me! But I am sure that if Adams had ever gotten around to actually doing it then it would certainly have been a memorable story.

Another time I saw Adams at a convention he was penciling a page for the Batman: Odyssey project at his table while talking to fans. Observing him up close laying down this detailed pencil work and these intricate, dramatic layouts while simultaneously carrying on conversations just left me in awe.

Neal Adams always looked a decade or so younger to me than he actually was. For example, when he was in early 70s he didn’t look much older than 60. I guess that’s why I expected him to live, well, not forever, but certainly much, much longer. Still, 80 years is a good, long run, especially as he was still creating quality work right up until almost the end, capping it off with the Fantastic Four: Antithesis miniseries written by Mark Waid that was published in 2020.

Fantastic Four: Antithesis written by Mark Waid, penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Mark Farmer, lettered by Joe Caramagna and colored by Laura Martin, published by Marvel Comics in Nov 2020

So much more could be said about Adams; you could literally write books about him. I’ve blogged about him a few times in the past; the links are below.

My sincere condolences to Neal Adams’ family, friends, and colleagues for their loss.

Comic book reviews: Elektra #100

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned on this blog before, in the last decade or so I really haven’t read much from either Marvel or DC Comics. When I do pick up something from the Big Two, it’s almost always because of who is writing or drawing it. I am much more interested in creators than characters, and have been for some time.

That’s how I came to purchase Elektra #100. Truthfully, I’ve never been all that interested in Elektra. I think the character worked well enough in her original appearances in Daredevil by her creator Frank Miller, and then he killed her off because he was finished telling her story… although he did later return to her to fill in the details of her history to good effect in the Elektra: Assassin miniseries. Of course, no one stays dead at Marvel Comics, and eventually she was resurrected and utilized in various different ways, some better than others, the majority of which I just didn’t even bother to read.

So why pick up Elektra #100? It’s written by Ann Nocenti, that’s why. I’ve blogged about Nocenti’s work on several occasions. I always find her writing to be thought-provoking and unconventional. So when I saw the previews of Elektra #100 and found out that Nocenti would be pitting Elektra against her own creation Typhoid Mary, the telekinetic pyrokinetic femme fatale who suffers from multiple personality disorder, I was definitely in. And it is an intriguing hook, having Daredevil’s two toxic ex-girlfriends facing off against one another.

There are definitely parallels between Elektra and Typhoid Mary. They are both seriously damaged women who were previously involved with Matt Murdock and who have worked as assassins for his arch-adversary Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. Nocenti compares and contrasts the two, putting Elektra, who has worked hard to distance herself from her violent past and turn over a new leaf, opposite Typhoid Mary, who time and again inevitably ends up getting drawn back into the Kingpin’s corrupt orbit.

“Twisters” is set “Weeks ago…” i.e. shortly before the recently-concluded Devil’s Reign crossover. Fisk is still the Major of New York City, ostensibly reformed while continuing to expand his criminal empire behind the scenes.  He dispatches Typhoid to look after Lady Midas, from whom he wants to acquire property in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Elektra, having assumed Daredevil’s role of the protector of Hell’s Kitchen, wants to “persuade” Midas not to sell out to the Kingpin. And so these two women inevitably come to blows.

Reading “Twisters” it occurred to me that there is, ultimately, only so much Nocenti is allowed to do with these two characters. Elektra will always be the woman with a tragic, violent past struggling to achieve redemption. Typhoid Mary will always be the mentally ill woman struggling to find balance between her violently different personalities, ever unable to lead a “normal” life.  That said, Nocenti still manages to produce an interesting, entertaining story featuring this pair while working in a fictional universe where Status Quo is God.

I’m not completely sold on Sid Kotian’s artwork. He seems to be working in the vein of Humberto Ramos, utilizing a style that is half cartoonish exaggeration and half Manga-inspired. It’s a bit chaotic and wonky, but I suppose that it fits a story focusing on Typhoid Mary’s continuing efforts to juggle her various personalities.

There’s definitely some interesting layouts & storytelling being utilized by Kotian in this story. Also, he does capture the athleticism of the two characters especially well.

I did like the coloring by Edgar Delgado, which suits Kotian’s work, creating some effectively atmospheric scenes. VC’s Clayton Cowles utilizes some interesting lettering for the captions featuring Typhoid Mary’s chaotic stream of consciousness.

There’s a short back-up by writer Declan Shalvey, artist Stefano Raffaele and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg that is more an exercise in establishing a mood, in visualizing the dysfunctional relationship between Elektra and Daredevil and in telling a coherent story. It does provide Raffaele with the opportunity to show off his storytelling skill and illustrate some dynamic, fluid pages.

Unfortunately, Marvel made a big booboo and printed the two halves of a great double page spread by Raffaele on opposite sides of the same page. Oops! But from the digital edition here’s the full image, in all its dynamic glory. Click on it to embiggen…

Additionally, there are a couple of short, humorous pieces by Chris Giarusso and Ty Templeton at the back of the issue.

The cover to Elektra #100 is by Dan Panosian. I am constantly amazed at just how much Panosian has grown & developed as an artist since he first entered the comic book biz over 30 years ago. His recent artwork looks nothing like what he was doing in the early 1990s. His cover for this issue is a basic pin-up type image, but it is still executed well. It’s a reminder to me that I really need to check out Panosian’s recent independent and creator-owned projects.

By the way, if you’re like me, and you’re wondering just how the heck Marvel arrived at there being 100 issues of Elektra, there’s a four page cover gallery inside. In addition to her various ongoing series, they’re counting Elektra: Assassin, and the Elektra Lives Again graphic novel, and the Root of Evil miniseries, and various other odds & ends. So now you know.

It was nice to see Nocenti playing in the Marvel sandbox again. I wish they would give her more work. Oh, well… as with Panosian, I really need to seek out her recent creator-owned projects. I just need more money and a much bigger apartment in which to keep all of these comic books!

Swamp Thing: 40 years later

Swamp Thing, the movie adaptation of the DC Comics character created by writer Len Wein & artist Bernie Wrightson, was released 40 years ago, on February 19, 1982. The movie was written & directed by Wes Craven.

Back in the early 1980s Swamp Thing seemed to be shown endlessly on HBO, and six year old me saw it multiple times during its run on cable TV. Truthfully, though, I hadn’t thought about the Swamp Thing movie in years… at least not until this week.

I started following the blog Superheroes Every Day which is taking an multi-part examination of every modern superhero movie ever made, beginning with Superman in 1978. Superheroes Every Day is extremely detailed, insightful, and more than a bit tongue-in-check. So, having spent a couple of months worth of daily posts looking at the first two Superman movies, Danny Horn is now up to Swamp Thing.

Reading Danny’s initial entries on Swamp Thing, I was surprised to learn that it is generally regarded as a not-very-good movie, that the production was extremely troubled, and that Wes Craven had an unhappy experience making it. As I said, I loved Swamp Thing when I was a kid, but the last time I had seen it was nearly four decades ago, and could I really trust my childhood memories? I mean, there’s plenty of stuff that I liked as a kid that I have no interest in as a middle aged adult.

I searched about a bit online late last night and found Swamp Thing on YouTube. Yes, it had commercials, and the closed-captioning was laugh-out-loud awful, but it was the complete movie, the picture was crystal clear, and the sound was perfect. Three out of five ain’t bad. So I watched it… and, y’know, all these years later I still enjoyed it. It’s not necessarily a great movie, but it’s a good, fun, entertaining one.

Before I go any further, I need to mention who produced Swamp Thing: Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan. If you are a fan of superhero movies that second name should be a very familiar one. Michael Uslan has produced every single Batman-related movie since the 1989 one directed by Tim Burton. Uslan had actually purchased the movie rights to Batman in 1979, but it took him a decade to finally get a movie made. It’s probably difficult to understand if you were born within the last quarter century, but in the early 1980s NO ONE wanted to make a Batman movie. The campy mid 1960s television series was the general public’s predominant view of the character, and movie studios, including DC Comics’ very own owners Warner Brothers, were convinced a Batman movie, especially an attempt at a dark, serious adaptation of the character that Uslan envisioned, would be a huge, expensive flop.

Now this is the reason I love Uslan. He is a lifelong comic book fan, he taught the first accredited college course on comic book folklore, he wrote several stories for DC Comics during the 1970s, and he spent a decade in an uphill battle to get an authentic, true-to-the-comic-books Batman movie made because he loved the character that much. And while he was busy with that Sisyphean task, Uslan also acquired the movie rights to Swamp Thing, a comic book series that had debuted in 1971 to great critical acclaim & popularity, but which a decade later had fallen into obscurity, basically only remembered by fans such as Uslan himself.

Looking at the Swamp Thing movie in 2022, I consider it to be a relatively faithful adaptation of the series as it existed in the early 1980s prior to Alan Moore’s radical revamp of the character in 1984. In Wes Craven’s screenplay the Swamp Thing is still Alec Holland (Ray Wise), a brilliant scientist working on a bio-restorative formula who is transformed into a super-strong humanoid vegetable creature (Dick Durock) after his laboratory in the swamp is attacked by saboteurs led by a thug named Ferret (Don Knight). In the movie Linda Holland (Nannette Brown) is Alec’s sister rather than his wife, government security agent Matthew Cable becomes Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), and rather than being an elderly sorcerer / mad scientist Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) is the corrupt industrialist behind the saboteurs. But all of the basic, essential pieces are there.

Just as importantly, Craven plays it completely straight. As I said, at this time the Batman television show still loomed large in the public consciousness, and the average moviegoer saw superheroes as silly, with the accompanying “Biff! Bam! Pow!” nonsense. Craven, however, wrote & directed a serious, gritty, intense, intelligent sci-fi / horror movie, and he got solid, quality performances out of all the actors.

There is also a certain poignant, contemplative quality to Craven’s script, seen through Alec Holland / Swamp Thing’s love of the natural world and his relationship with Alice Cable. It’s actually quite surprising. Before this, Craven had helmed the brutal horror exploitation movies The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, and subsequently he created the supernatural slasher movie A Nightmare on Elm Street and the horror movie satire Scream. So it’s really interesting to look at Swamp Thing and see Craven really stretching himself creatively, producing a genre film that manages to be both philosophical and soulful.

And, hey, all that aside, there’s tons of action in Swamp Thing. I doubt six year old me really picked up on the subtler aspects of Craven’s script, but I definitely enjoyed watching the transformed Alec wade through Arcane’s seemingly never-ending army of mercenary thugs. Even better, at the end of the movie Arcane ingests the formula that created the Swamp Thing, transforming into a ferocious monster who engages Alec in a brutal battle-to-the-death in the swamp.

The suit for the Swamp Thing incarnation of Alec Holland looks great. It must have been absolute torture for Dick Durock to be wearing that heavy rubber costume in the middle of a hot, muggy swamp. But the end result is that the character looks almost exactly like he was envisioned by Bernie Wrightson, as seen by the side-by-side images above.

I appreciate that Craven wrote Alice Cable as an intelligent, competent, assertive woman who repeatedly attempts to hold her own in the face of overwhelming odds. The only reason why Swamp Thing needs to keep rescuing her is because she unarmed, exhausted, and outmatched 20 to 1 by the sadistic Ferret and his mercenary thugs. Adrienne Barbeau did a great job playing the character.

Another aspect of Swamp Thing that I feel has aged well is the reimagining of Arcane as a handsome, sophisticated, cultured man of wealth, a dangerously charismatic sociopath with delusions of grandeur.

It occurs to me that the movie version of Arcane actually presages the post-Crisis version of Lex Luthor by several years, foreseeing Superman’s own arch enemy being reimagined into a respected captain of industry who secretly controls the criminal underworld. And much like the revamp of Luthor into a corporate raider by John Byrne & Marv Wolfman, the movie version of Arcane has a staff of stunningly beautiful women slavishly devoted to him, following him with literally a cult-like fervor.

I certainly appreciated how the script establishes that Holland’s formula doesn’t actually create anything, in merely enhances the qualities that already exist in a subject. So, yes, it turned Holland into a walking plant, but it enhanced his strength, his intelligence, his nobility, all the positive attributes he already possessed. The egomaniacal Arcane with his aspirations to divinity is convinced that the formula will transform him into a literal god; instead in an extended, graphic sequence Arcane’s appearance is reshaped to match his true inner self, and he becomes a hideous monster.

Quite a few viewers, as well as Craven himself, were disappointed by how the transformed Arcane ended up looking. Honestly, though, when I was a kid I thought it looked awesome, and forty years later I still think it holds up. The best description I can come up with for Arcane’s monster form is an amphibious werewolf.

I know some people have suggested that the movie should have tried to have Arcane transform into something like the grotesque, twisted, elongated form that Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson gave the mad scientist when he returned in Swamp Thing #10 (May-June 1974) as seen below on the cover for that issue.

Yes, that worked brilliantly in a comic book, especially with Wrightson’s macabre, hyper-detailed art style. But there’s absolutely no way I can see Wes Craven and his crew pulling that off in live action, not in a movie made in the days before CGI was a thing and whose entire budget was a mere $2.5 million… that’s only about $8 million in 2022 dollars! We’re talking super-low budget here! Sorry, but what the costume & special effects folks came up with for Arcane while filming in 1981 was probably the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.

And, really, that’s how I would sum up the entire movie. Given the circumstances — a miniscule budget, an extremely difficult location shoot, behind-the-scenes creative struggles, all within an era in which movie adaptations of comic books were barely taken seriously — it’s practically a miracle that Swamp Thing turned out as good as it did. Wes Craven, the actors, and the crew all did a fantastic job of taking what could very easily have become a huge disaster and creating an enjoyable, quality movie.

So, yeah, after all these years later I still like Swamp Thing.

Nehemiah Persoff: 1919 to 2022

On April 5th prolific character actor Nehemiah Persoff passed away at the age of 102. Given his lengthy career and his long life, I wanted to share a few highlights about the man and his work.

Persoff, who was Jewish, was born on August 2, 1919 in Jerusalem, in what was then known as the British Mandate of Palestine. When he was 10 years old Persoff immigrated to the United States with the rest of his family.

Persoff initially trained as an electrician at the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York City, from which he graduated in 1937. However he was possessed of a love of acting, and when drafted into the United States Army during World War II he was part of an acting company that entertained soldiers overseas.  In 1947 Persoff was accepted into the Actors Studio in Manhattan, and a year later he began his professional career.

Nehemiah Persoff in The Twilight Zone episode “Judgment Night” (1959)

As with many foreign-born actors in the American movie and television industry in the mid 20th Century, Persoff was cast as a wide variety of ethnicities & nationalities, and frequently portrayed villainous roles.  Most notably, between 1959 and 1962 Persoff guest starred in six episodes of the Prohibition era crime drama The Untouchables, three of those featuring him as Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, financial advisor and bagman to Chicago mob boss Al Capone.

Another of Persoff’s memorable television appearances was The Twilight Zone episode “Judgment Night” written by Rod Serling and broadcast in December 1959. He played Carl Lanser, a ruthless Nazi U-boat captain who is now doomed to spend all of eternity trapped on the British cargo liner he ordered destroyed in 1942.

Among the other genre roles Persoff was cast in were brilliant South American scientist Professor Moreno in the Wonder Woman episode “Formula 407” (1977), the supreme leader of the totalitarian Eastern Alliance in the Battlestar Galactica episode “Experiment in Terra” (1979) and Palor Toff, a very odd-looking alien merchant & collector of rare items in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Most Toys” (1990).

Nehemiah Persoff in the Wonder Woman episode “Formula 407” (1977)

As he grew older, Persoff was afforded more opportunities to portray sympathetic roles, and was often cast as characters who shared his own real-life Jewish heritage, something that was of great personal importance to him. He played a Jewish refugee fleeing from Nazi oppression in the 1976 historical drama Voyage of the Damned and portrayed Rebbe Mendel, the father to Barbara Streisand’s character in the 1983 musical Yentl. Persoff later gave voice to another Jewish patriarch, Papa Mousekewitz, in the 1986 animated movie An American Tail and its three sequels.

Persoff’s acting career lasted thru 1999. After suffering from a stroke he retired, but he then took up watercolor painting, on which he spent the next two decades. He also wrote an autobiography, The Many Faces of Nehemiah, which was published in 2021.

Persoff met his future wife Thia during a visit to Israel in 1951. They married later that year and remained together until her own passing in 2021.

Interviewed in 2008 by James Rosin for Films of the Golden Age, Persoff reflected on his lengthy acting career and his continued creative endeavors as a painter:

“It was a wonderful sixty years, but at this time in my life, I love solving problems on the canvas; trying to find the beauty and essence of a subject. It’s a fascinating, challenging, yet calming and most fulfilling process, finding colors that like each other, not only the basic colors, but the infiinite variations, starting with a fresh canvas and suddenly seeing it come alive. That gives one a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. I feel very fortunate in being able to continue my creative life; but this time without the tension, frustration and conflicts of an acting career.”

In memory of my grandmother

My grandmother Ann Zeidberg passed away on Sunday morning. The funeral was this afternoon. Ann was 101 years old, so she led a full, long life. The last several years she was in poor health, so I feel it’s actually a relief that she is no longer suffering.

Ann could be very gruff (no doubt the result of both her being the daughter of working class immigrants from Eastern Europe and her growing up during the very difficult days of the Great Depression) but she was also caring in her own way, and I know she loved me. She always referred to me as “a handsome young man” which inevitably made me blush.

Due to the pandemic and her poor health, I didn’t have any opportunities to visit my grandmother over the past couple years. In a way that was a blessing, because I really hated to see her slowly fading away like she was.

Below is a photo of me with Ann from happier times, eight years ago. Michele and I had gone to a comic book convention at the Westchester County Center in June 2014, and afterwards we walked over to my grandparents’ house in White Plains to say “Hello.” Thank you to Michele for taking this photo of me with my grandmother.

For more about Ann Zeidberg here is a link to her obituary.

Peter Bowles: 1936 to 2022

British actor Peter Bowles passed away today at the age of 85. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Bowles had a career that spanned from 1956 to 2019, during which he appeared in a diverse selection of television shows, movies, and theatrical productions.

Danger Man “Fish on the Hook” (1964)

Depending upon your own particular interests, you may recall Bowles from one thing or another. To the general public in Britain he is probably best-known for his starring roles in the sitcoms To The Manor Born on BBC1 from 1979 to 1981 and Only When I Laugh on ITV from 1979 to 1982. Offhand I don’t recall having ever watched either of those shows. However I was very familiar with Bowles from his numerous appearances in British genre television over the years.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Bowles guest starred on such shows as Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, Department S, The Avengers, The Protectors and Special Branch, often playing villains. In 1975 Bowles appeared in “The Fourth Horseman,” the first episode of the post-apocalyptic drama Survivors created by Terry Nation. Bowles played David Grant, the husband of lead character Abby Grant, portrayed by Carolyn Seymour; by episode’s end David, along with 99% of the human race, had been wiped out by a virulent pandemic, setting the stage for the rest of series.

Space 1999 “End of Eternity” (1975)

Another of Bowles notable genre roles was in the Space 1999 episode “End of Eternity,” written by Johnny Byrne and directed by Ray Austin, broadcast in November 1975. Space 1999 was an ambitious sci-fi / space opera which often transcended its low budget and primitive special effects via an effective combination of quality writing & acting, resulting in a number of memorably disturbing episodes. “End of Eternity” is definitely among those. Bowles played Baylor, an immortal alien who the actor subsequently described as “the most evil man in the universe.” The combination of an absolutely chilling performance by Bowles and effective direction & staging from Austin succeeds in making Baylor a genuinely terrifying presence.

It absolutely speaks to Bowles’ skills as an actor and to his versatility that throughout his career he was able to so very successfully transition back & forth between drama and comedy, between playing the sinister villain and the normal, likable everyman.

Tom Veitch: 1941 to 2022

I was sorry to hear that writer Tom Veitch had passed away on February 18th at the age of 80 from COVID-19. Tom Veitch had a career that spanned over four decades. He was a contributor to the underground comix movement of the early 1970s, as well as a novelist & a poet. Veitch was the older brother of acclaimed comic book creator Rick Veitch.

I am most familiar with the work Tom Veitch did in mainstream comic books from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. During this time he did work published by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse.

Animal Man #41 cover art by Brian Bolland, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch became the writer on Animal Man from DC Comics with issue #33, cover-dated March 1991. He had the unenviable task of following after the acclaimed work of Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan on that series. Veitch’s run lasted through issue #50, August 1992.

I was in high school when Veitch was writing Animal Man and, truth be told, my tastes were, well, less than refined, so to speak.  To be brutally honest, I was a Marvel Zombie, a superhero junkie. I bought several issues of Animal Man for the stunning covers by Brian Bolland. I was definitely caught off-guard by the decidedly unconventional work inside by Veitch, who for most of his run was paired up with interior artist Steve Dillon. David Klein & Mark Badger, Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy and Steve Pugh also contributed artwork during Veitch’s year and a half run.

Looking back on those issues of Animal Man, and my reactions to them, at the time I was probably lacking in the maturity & knowledge of political & social topics such as environmentalism, animal rights and faith & spirituality, to truly appreciate the work of Veitch and his artistic collaborators.  Nevertheless, I did have a certain appreciation for the stories they were telling. Veitch did a superb job of writing Animal Man / Buddy Baker’s relationship with his wife Ellen and daughter Maxine. I have no doubt that if I were to revisit those comics in the present day that I would enjoy them a great deal, as well as have a much greater appreciation for the themes & subjects which Veitch was addressing in his stories.

Animal Man #41 written by Tom Veitch, drawn by Steve Dillon, lettered by John Costanza and colored by Tatjana Wood, published by DC Comics in Dec 1991

In 1988 Veitch and artist Cam Kennedy had collaborated on the six issue creator-owned war / fantasy series The Light and Darkness War published by the Epic imprint of Marvel Comics. As he later recounted in Back Issue #55 from TwoMorrows Publishing, Veitch subsequently sent copies of The Light and Darkness War to George Lucas with a proposal for a new Star Wars comic book series. It’s perhaps difficult to understand now, but in 1989 Star Wars was considered a moribund property, and Veitch & Kennedy were among the few people genuinely interested in taking it forward. Lucas was impressed by their work and gave them the green light.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #1 cover art by Dave Dorman, published by Dark Horse Comics in Dec 1991

Veitch & Kennedy initially pitched this new Star Wars project to Marvel, who had published the ongoing SW comic book from 1977 to 1986. Marvel, however, got cold feet, believing SW was no longer commercially viable.  Veitch convinced Lucasfilm to speak with independent publisher Dark Horse Comics, who had recently done a successful comic book continuation of the Aliens franchise. The project was moved over to Dark Horse, and the six issue Star Wars: Dark Empire by Veitch & Kennedy, with painted covers by Dave Dorman, was published bimonthly from December 1991 to October 1992. The epic, ambitious, galaxy-spanning Dark Empire was a huge success, and Dark Horse retained the Star Wars license until 2014, when Disney bought the entire property up and returned it to Marvel.

Dark Empire was followed in 1994 by a six issue sequel, Dark Empire II, also by Veitch & Kennedy. Veitch’s storyline concluded in the two issue Empire’s End in 1995, this time with artwork by Jim Baike. I’ve always gotten the impression that Empire’s End was originally planned as another six issue miniseries and was chopped town to a third that length. Nevertheless, despite its seemingly rushed nature, it did provide a decent ending to the Dark Empire trilogy.

Veitch also wrote several Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi miniseries . Set thousands of years before the movie trilogy, Tales of the Jedi chronicled the early years of the Jedi and their battles with the ancient Sith.

Veitch is generally considered to be one of the key figures in revitalizing interest in the Star Wars franchise during the 1990s, helping to lay the groundwork for Lucas himself to eventually return to the a galaxy far, far away with the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series.

Star Wars: Dark Empire #4 written by Tom Veitch, drawn & colored by Cam Kennedy and lettered by Todd Klein, published by Dark Horse Comics in June 1992

Some of the ideas & concepts in Veitch’s Star Wars stories have inspired more recent material. Most notably, it was Veitch & Kennedy who first resurrected Emperor Palpatine in a cloned body in their Dark Empire trilogy, a development that was made canonical in the 2019 movie The Rise of Skywalker. Dark Empire also saw Boba Fett return from his seeming demise in the maw of the Saarlac to become a prominent figure, again something that has been adopted by the live action SW universe in The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.

Animal Man and Star Wars were but two facets of Veitch’s rich, lengthy writing career. He was an unconventional, imaginative creator who will definitely be missed.

Star Wars reviews: The Book of Boba Fett

The Book of Boba Fett has come to its conclusion, so I’m going to take a general overview of the seven episode Star Wars series that streamed on Disney+.

As I’ve previously blogged, I’ve been a Star Wars fan since my father took me to see The Empire Strikes Back for my fourth birthday.  Truthfully, I never really understood the appeal of Boba Fett, who made his debut in that movie. Yeah, he looks cool, but he doesn’t actually do much.  He gives Vader some attitude, he then figures out where the Millennium Falcon is hiding and tracks it to Bespin, he takes a few shots at Luke in Cloud City, and he gets away with Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Then in Return of the Jedi he manages to hold his own against Luke Skywalker for a bit before Han accidentally knocks him into the Sarlaac. And that’s it.

If I had been born just a few years earlier I would have understood that Boba Fett had actually made his debut two years prior to The Empire Strikes Back, appearing in a lot of pre-publicity material, featuring as the antagonist in the animated segment from the Star Wars Holiday Special, and being available as a mail-order action figure.  For fans who were older than me it must have felt like Boba Fett was a big deal, and I expect a lot of them built him up to be this incredible figure in their heads long before they ever saw The Empire Strikes Back.

But for myself, having only his two movie appearances to go by, I just didn’t think Boba Fett was anything special.  I must have been one of the few fans who was happy when he was dropped into the Sarlac Pit. And it constantly mystified me how over the next two decades the novels and the comic books kept bringing him back, and offering him up as a hugely important, badass character, and how much other fans absolutely ate it up.

Fast forward to 2020 when Boba Fett was brought back from the dead in The Mandalorian; he shows up in the episode “The Tragedy” and single-handedly defeated a platoon of Stormtroopers, and I was thinking to myself “Well, that’s certainly cool, but he was never anywhere near as competent or dangerous as this in the movies.” It felt like director Robert Rodriguez was literally playing with his Star Wars action figures and giving us the Boba Fett that he’d always wanted to see, rather than the one who already existed.

So when it was then revealed in the mid-credits scene in The Mandalorian season two finale that Fett would be getting his own Disney + series, my immediate reaction was “Why?”  Honestly, I just didn’t think the character was strong enough or interesting enough to carry his own series.

Having watched The Book of Boba Fett, I actually still sort of feel that way. I don’t think it’s accidental that Jon Favreau & Dave Filoni made the series an ensemble piece. Fett works a lot better with the characters of Fennec Shand and Din Djarin / Mando to bounce off of.  Certainly it helps that Fett is played by Temura Morrison, who has an awesome voice, and who gives the character a brooding intensity while nevertheless exuding a certain type of vulnerability. Additionally Ming-Na Wen and Pedro Pascal are both very good actors who help to carry the story.

So, yeah, I do have to say that The Book of Boba Fett is nevertheless the first time I’ve ever been genuinely interested in the character.  A major part of this is that the series takes Boba Fett out of the “badass bounty hunter” niche and broadens him.

After barely escaping from the Saarlac, in a scene that reminded me of Star Wars #81 from Marvel Comics, Fett is mugged by a gang of Jawas who strip him of his armor and who leave him for dead out in the brutal Tatooine desert. Fett is eventually “rescued” by a tribe of Tuskens, who make him their slave, but after he defeats a four-armed monstrosity in the desert, the Sand People recognize his strength & bravery and adopt him into their tribe.

This guy has no luck with Jawas! Star Wars #81 written by Jo Duffy, layouts by Ron Frenz, finishes by Tom Palmer & Tom Mandrake, lettered by Joe Rosen and colored by Glynis Wein, published by Marvel Comics in December 1983.

A few thoughts on this:

Chronologically Fett is supposed to be in his early 40s at this point. Temura Morrison is 61 years old. Having Fett living out in the harsh deserts of Tatooine for half a decade is a good way to explain why the guy now looks much older than he actually is. Tatooine seems to prematurely age a lot of people. Just ask Obi Wan Kenobi, Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen.

Following on from The Mandalorian, this series does a good job at developing the Tuskens, the original inhabitants of Tatooine, beyond just brutal savages. It’s explained that in the distant past Tatooine was actually a world covered in water, and that after a catastrophic climate change the Tuskens were forced to adapt to their new, harsh environment, with many of them becoming brutal killers, but others, such as the tribe that takes in Fett, striving to maintain some semblance of honor & civilization.

We see Fett extensively training with the Tuskens, learning to fight with their weapon of choice, the gaffi stick, eventually becoming very proficient. This provides a good in-story explanation for how the guy who didn’t do much of anything in the original movie trilogy is now able to wipe the floor with a squad of Stormtroopers.

Finally, Fett’s adoption by the Tuskens explains why the character has changed so much. He hasn’t had a family since his father Jango was killed decades earlier. (I’m sure that Jango loved his son, but let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest father, and he eventually got himself killed, leaving his young son to fend for himself.) Fett comes to realize just how empty, how lonely, his existence as a bounty hunter has been. And when the tribe is wiped out, it’s a huge loss for him.  It explains why he wants to become “daimyo” of Mos Espa, because it’s a way, however flawed or misguided, for him to try to restore order to his life and establish a new family.

Among the allies Fett and Shand gather in these early episodes are the Mods, a gang of disaffected cyborg teenagers riding around on colorful speeders. Some viewers really didn’t like the Mods, saying they were completely out of place on Tatooine. I thought the Mods were fine, though. The way I figure it, they’re bored teenagers. They are hugely into self-expression and rebelling against the status quo. Getting cybernetic implants is one way they go about that. Having really colorful speeder bikes that totally clash with the whole “beige Tatooine” aesthetic is another way they’re looking to make their own identities.

I also liked Garsa Fwip, the Twi’lek proprietor of the Sanctuary cantina in Mos Espa. Jennifer Beals played Garsa as an intriguing, intelligent character, and costume designer Shawna Trpcic created some amazing, beautiful outfits for her. I was genuinely upset when Garsa and her cantina were blown up by the Pyke Syndicate, but I recognize that it’s important for the drama of a story like this one to occasionally kill characters you like to demonstrate just how dangerous circumstances actually are.

A side note: I felt sooooo bad for the guys who were stuck carrying the Hutt Twins around the streets of Mos Espa. They must have one of the worst jobs in the Star Wars universe!

The structure of The Book of Boba Fett is damn odd. The first four episodes alternate between Fett and Fennec Shand in the present day attempting to establish control of the deceased Jabba the Hutt’s crime empire, and flashbacks showing Fett’s time with the Tuskens and how he saved Shand’s life after her seeming death in The Mandalorian season one.

And then we get to episode five, in which Fett is completely absent from his own series. Din Djarin takes the spotlight in what feels like The Mandalorian season two and a half. Mando still has the Darksaber, but he doesn’t really know how to use it, and in a fight even ends up injuring himself with it. Which, let’s be honest, is actually a realistic thing to happen. Lightsabers are incredibly dangerous weapons, and Mando has had zero training in using one. After fulfilling a bounty on the stunning ringed-shaped space station Glavis, Mando locates the remaining members of his sect, now down to just the Armorer and Paz Vizsla, although he’s soon on the outs when they learn he removed his helmet. With nowhere else to go, he heads off to Tatooine where Pelli Motto (the ever-irreverent Amy Sedaris) has procured him a replacement spaceship. They finish rebuilding it just in time for Fennec Shand to recruit Mando in Fett’s war against the spice-running Pyke Syndicate.

This episode features a brief flashback to the Purge that saw the Empire completely devastate Mandalore. It also helpfully clarifies something that confused a lot of people, myself included. Why couldn’t Bo-Katan just accept the Darksaber from Mando, since she’d already done so years before when Sabine Wren gave it to her in Rebels?  As the Armorer explains, Sabine giving Bo-Katan the Darksaber, rather than Bo-Katan winning it in combat the way tradition demanded, led to Mandalore becoming cursed, enabling the Empire to destroy it.

Then we get to episode six, “From the Desert Comes a Stranger,” which I jokingly referred to as “Star Wars Team-Up.” Fett shows up again, but just for one scene, and the action is divided between Marshall Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) fighting the Pykes in Mos Pelgo, Mando trying to bring a chain mail shirt of beskar to Grogu, and Grogu training with Luke Skywalker (a CGI de-aged Mark Hamill).

“From the Desert Comes a Stranger” was occasionally frustrating, because as cool as it was to see Grogu again, it definitely felt like a diversion from the main plotlines, although it eventually does lead to Grogu deciding to return to his surrogate father Mando rather than train as a Jedi.

The sequel trilogy told us that Luke turned out to be a pretty crappy teacher, so I’m not too surprised to see him doing a subpar job with Grogu here. The guy who literally saved the galaxy because he refused to give up his emotional attachment to his father who everyone else said was beyond redemption and needed to be destroyed is now going “Attachments are forbidden for a Jedi.” Seriously?!?

All of that aside, it was really cool to see Luke and Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) together. I’m sure most of us have been hoping to see that meeting for a while now.

Episode six also brings Cad Bane (voiced by Corey Burton) into live action Star Wars. He’s the “Stranger” who comes out of the desert to seemingly kill Cobb Vanth at the behest of the Pykes.  That scene where the character was on the distant horizon slowly striding towards town, I was wondering who the heck it could be. Then as he got closer, and his silhouette with the wide-brimmed hat became clearer, I literally went “Oh shit!” The thing about Cad Bane is that not only is he incredibly dangerous, but he’s also a stone cold killer.  Whenever he shows up you know shit’s going to go down.

Bane’s definitely got a distinctive design.  He was based off of Lee Van Cleef’s villain Angel Eyes from the movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.  I was thrilled that not only did Bane look pretty much as he did in The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch, but that he also had that same creepy voice.  At least one person complain that the wide-brimmed hat is too “on the nose” in signposting Bane’s inspirations. But I like the hat. It makes the character instantly recognizable. There was even one episode of The Clone Wars where he murdered someone for their hat. That shows how much he likes wide-brimmed hats… as well as how ruthless he actually is.

Anyway, that takes us to the seventh and final episode. “In the Name of Honor” is a big, loud, action-packed spectacle directed by Rodriguez that has Fett, Shand, Djarn and their small group of allies fighting a desperate battle against the overwhelming forces of the Pykes in the streets of Mos Espa.

The climax of sees Fett and Bane facing off, and it’s no accident that it comes down to these two.  Bane is exactly who Fett used to be, a remorseless killer who works for the highest bidder, and indeed Bane insists that they are still the same.  It’s also deliberate that Bane outdraws Fett, but in the end Fett wins by using his gaffi stick, his legacy from the Tuskens, against Bane, seemingly killing him. So, yes, in a way Bane was correct, Fett is still a killer… however he’s killing not for money, but rather to avenge his fallen family and to protect his new one.

From a critical point of view the final episode (and indeed the whole series) is a bit of a mess, but damned if it wasn’t a huge heap of fun. I mean, Boba Fett riding around on a Rancor would have absolutely blown my seven year old mind, and even at 45 years old I thought it was really cool. Yes, sometimes Star Wars successfully transcends its pulpy roots to tell deep, insightful, nuanced stories. But a lot of the time it’s just an enjoyable mash-up of space opera, Westerns, Saturday morning serials, comic books, Japanese cinema, war movies and mythology.

C’mon, you know that if you still had your Star Wars action figures you’d be doing this with them right now.

It occurred to me that this season is structured along the lines of a comic book crossover. The first four episodes are issues of the Boba Fett series. Episode five is a Mandalorian annual, and episode six is a Luke & Grogu special, with episode seven being the big wrap-up as all characters and plotlines converse. And, yeah, there’s even an epilogue in setting up a future storyline.

A number of Star Wars fans were very unhappy with The Book of Boba Fett, claiming that Fett was acting completely out of character.  And all I can say is, what character?  The guy had four lines of dialogue and about six minutes of screen time in the original trilogy. The most we ever saw of him before now was when he was a teenager in the movie Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars animated series. There are legitimate criticisms to be made about the show, but “It isn’t being true to Boba Fett’s character” is a load of bullshit because he was practically a blank slate before he was brought back in The Mandalorian.

Some people have argued that there were plenty of novels and comic books over the past several decades featuring Boba Fett.  But how much of those is still considered to be canonical? And putting aside the issue of canon, having read some of those books and comics, I never found Boba Fett the unstoppable, faceless, badass killer to be a compelling protagonist.  The Book of Boba Fett actually made him into an interesting character that I actually care about.

If you actually watch the entire series, you see the picture of a middle aged man who decides to change his ways, because he looks back on his life and realizes that he’s unhappy with how it has turned out.  That’s why the guy who was once warned “No disintegrations” by Darth Vader is now going out of his way to avoid killing people unless he absolutely has to, who now values family & honor far above profit.

Sorry, folks, but like Darth Vader said, you know it to be true.

There’s a saying on social media: No one hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans. Two different live action Star Wars television series (with more on the way) and all some people can do is complain because it isn’t exactly what they were expecting or hoping for.  I swear, some people are never satisfied. Ten year old me would have killed to get all of this great Star Wars content back in the mid 1980s.

So, yeah, I enjoyed The Book of Boba Fett, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Favreau & Filoni have in store for us next.