Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Greg Rucka Leaves Batwoman, DC

In the relatively short lifespan of my blog, there has been one comic to which I’ve devoted the most entries. That comic has been Detective Comics featuring Batwoman. Upon discovering this book last year, I was truly inspired. This book reminded me of what comics are capable of accomplishing, particularly within the confines of a well-established super hero title. That a writer and artist could take an institution in its seventh decade and make it contemporary and engaging above other efforts is truly worth noting.

I’ll tell you two reasons why I’m a little heartbroken by the news that Greg Rucka will be leaving DC comics, and thus the Batwoman character. One, he knows how to write strong women, and so very few writers have this ability. And two, despite the heaps of praise given to this book by myself and other rabid fans, it has yet to gain the amount of accolades it deserves. Maybe another year with this creative team working on a Batwoman title could have gained it a wider audience and perhaps then the folks running the Eisner awards would see fit to recognize Mr. Rucka’s efforts with this character (how they could nominate Wolverine’s Old Man Logan and not Detective’s Elegy storyline is truly mind boggling). Maybe then DC and Marvel would recognize that well-written titular female character books better serve their audience in the long term than say a second or third Deadpool ongoing.

There is still hope that DC won’t abandon the Batwoman title altogether, and the editors have stated as much; but with the architect of this character leaving her in the hands of fate, her future is uncertain. I hope for the sake of Batwoman’s young legacy that she will be left in capable hands. But if history proves as any indicator, the odds are stacked against her. Female headlined comics don’t fail because the audience doesn’t demand them, and not even because editors don’t have faith in them (though books with male leads tend to die slower deaths). It’s not even that there aren’t enough comics with female lead characters in them. The problem is that there aren’t enough good comic books with female lead characters in them. There aren’t enough writers that know how to show the strength of a female character in the face of adversity without showing a character in need of rescuing or incapable of escaping clich├ęd fates. Why is it so hard to explore the complexities of a female character without some form of sexual abuse being her motivation?

In conclusion of my lamentations, I leave you with a prime example of why Greg Rucka will be sorely missed, and why he will be so hard to replace on this title. Below is a page from Batwoman’s origin story and includes her first interaction with Batman. After being kicked out of West Point Academy, Kate has become reckless, driven away her loved ones, and is left wondering directionless through life.  She is left deprived of one of her most defining aspects: that of being a soldier. In this short interaction, she realizes that she may not wear the uniform, but she could don another symbol of justice. This epiphany doesn’t come from being rescued by Batman, but in him witnessing her ability to swiftly put down her would-be attacker. “I’m a goddamn soldier” never sounded so cool.
So thank you, Mr. Rucka for giving this character a wonderful beginning, and giving us a female character to admire. Even if future writers don’t do this character justice, as is almost guaranteed for anyone following such a tremendous introduction, we will always have your vision to remind us that, yes, good storytelling and strong female leads indeed go hand in hand.

Monday, April 19, 2010

‘Kick-Ass’ Underperforms; Various Puns Ensue

Writers covering the movie industry just love coming up with clever headlines like:

“Kick-Ass? Not so much”
“Kick-Ass opens can of weak sauce”
“Box office fails to Kick-Ass”
“Someone’s getting an ass-kick for Kick-Ass”
“Kick-Ass fails to live up to hype, barely pummels”

Okay I may have thrown in a few of those myself, but several are straight out of the headlines. It’s still a little early to deem this movie a failure, but coming in second barely squeaking into first place on opening weekend doesn’t fare well for the comic book adaptation, or fans of comic book films. If this were Vegas we’d all be taking bets on which comic book film adaptation fails big, resulting in the bubble burst of our current any-comic-gets-greenlit environment. So who’s going to be the Heaven’s Gate* of comic book movies? Here are just a few of the contenders!

Iron-Man 2
Strengths: Sequel to hugely successful first film, original cast / creative team returns
Weaknesses: So many tie-ins it makes you nostalgic for Space Jam crossovers
Potential to fail: 5%
I doubt this will be the downfall of the comic book movie genre. If anything, the almost guaranteed success of this film pretty much offsets the lukewarm reception of other Marvel flicks like The Incredible Hulk and Punisher: War Zone.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe
Strengths: Sheer awesomeness radiates from the trailer, potentially great soundtrack
Weakness: Scott who, general animosity towards Canadian heroes
Potential to fail: 30%
Now this is one film that people won’t see coming. Which is exactly why it has the potential to be a runaway hit – or totally fly under the radar, leaving diehard fans content. Either way it will surely break even since it doesn’t have a hugely bloated budget, huge stars with equally bloated paychecks, or egomaniacal writers claiming it as the second coming of cinema to any news outlet that will listen (I’m looking at you, Millar!)

Green Hornet
Strengths: Avant-garde director Michel Gondry at its helm
Weaknesses: Avant-garde director Michel Gondry at its helm
Potential to fail: 50%
I love Michel Gondry as much as the next Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fan. But I’m not sure his do-it-yourself style is a good fit for the cult character’s return to film. I’d love to be proven wrong and see him pull off a quirky film with a heart like he usually delivers, but no one is immune to missing the mark. Another bad sign for anxious fans, the studio is not happy with Gondry’s final cut. Expect delays and possible re-shoots.

Green Lantern
Strengths: A charismatic lead in Ryan Reynolds, recent rise in popularity of the character
Weakness: CGI. And a lot of it.
Potential to fail: 20%
It’s a little early to forecast this one, as the rumors of a fully CGI suit are still just that: rumors. Until promo images are released we won’t know if it’s a weakness or a technological feat. Only time will tell! One thing to give fans hope? DC and Warner Bros don’t half-ass their comic book film ventures. Even their critically panned movies (Superman Returns, Watchmen) still tend to fare well financially, which means they won’t leave the film biz anytime soon. But at this rate, don’t expect a Justice League film anytime in the next decade.

Spider-man Redux
Strengths: A fan favorite, director Mark Webb has proven to be hip with the young ones
Weaknesses: A re-boot? Already? Really. Really? GUH.
Potential for failure: 57%
Too soon, guys. Too soon. Even a good Spider-man re-boot has some biiig shoes to fill with the recent Sam Raimi blockbusters that crushed box office records in the last decade. Anything less than a $200 million opener will be the kiss of death for this franchise, and possibly for other big budget superhero flicks!

There’s no clear frontrunner for the straw-that-breaks-the-box-office’s-back, but there are plenty more big budget comic films in the works with the potential to fail; Captain America: The First Avenger, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, any Batman with Christian Bale. The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Some may be convinced this beast is “too big to fail” but trust me. There’s always room for another Superman IV: Quest for Peace.

*Heaven’s Gate, perhaps the most famous critical and financial failure put to celluloid, is credited with ending the once hugely popular Western genre. Though the 90’s and 00’s recently saw a return of western films, they are still nowhere near as prevalent as they were previous to the 70’s.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gem City Comic Con 2010

Yesterday I attended Dayton, Ohio's very own comic book convention, the Gem City Comic Con. A relatively new venture (this was its fifth year), I was happily surprised by the bustling crowds,  selection of retailers, and modest size of the artist alley. It was reassuring to see that the comic book community of Dayton is thriving. With more than a handful of stores within a 20 mile radius, Dayton is a place where comic book fans are not left without ample choice. Though not as large as the Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, it was easy to appreciate, especially after spending time in Tasmania, Australia where there are exactly two stores - in the entire state. The events hosted at this one day convention made the event memorable, including a digital art in comics presentation by local artist Matt Zolman. It was amazing to see in action the technology made available to artists and how this fast-tracked approach to comic book creation will certainly be a "game changer". It made me want to get a digital tablet and Sketch Book Pro, despite my lack of natural talent for illustration - it just looks that fun.
 Here is Matt showing a completed page on his iPad.
Another memorable highlight from the event was an auction to benefit the Hero Initiative, a charity organization that helps comic book creators in times of need. Aritst Josh Medors was in attendance and gave a first hand account of how the organization has helped him immensely during his battle with a rare form of cancer.  In addition to financial support, they have also helped to provide Medors with work opportunities within the industry, resulting in Josh recently landing his first Marvel gig as a cover artist for Moon Knight. You can see his recent work on the creator owned title Willow Creek, as well as the Frank Frazetta's Swamp Demon series.
The little lady on the right won no less than five auctions. Here she is shown to be distressed by the "Hard Rock Cafe" gentleman who was engaging in a bidding war for the Star Trek communicator badge.
Three TV Guide magazine's with Star Trek articles. Decided against this purchase as 95% of the content would be of little to no interest. It would have been only slightly entertaining to see the timetables for television circa 1992.
Another considered item, my shopping partner for the day, Rosemary, decided having a photo of this complete set of Serenity trading cards was sufficient enough for her collection.
This poster for the Gem City Comic Con, designed by Tim Fischer, was signed by all of the creators in attendance including Jim Valentino and Tom Nguyen. It was the second highest selling item at the charity auction, after an Image United variant with an original Valentino sketch on the front.
Even a one day event can be exhausting for vendors. I saw this lady knitting later in the day.
A snapshot of the various swag, 50 cent, and $1 finds from the day.
The crowning jewel of the day, my winning item from the Hero Initiative charity auction. I lost bids on a lot of items (including an awesome set of Buffy mini-mates) but I walked away with Bruce. And we are very happy.
.........And Lt. Commander Dax came with the winning bid as well.