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Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Suspended Animation "Classics"

Scatterbrain (Dec. 1998)

Is Scatterbrain "Funny Ha-ha" or "Funny Strange", as touted on the cover blurb of its first issue? No. Does it matter? No. Why? Because Scatterbrain is unfunny strange but very good.

Sure, some of the artwork is odd, and the subject matter in the wild variety of this anthology is certainly out of the ordinary. But, funny? The only "unfunny strange" in Scatterbrain is an editorial slant that seems to equate this new miniseries with Mad magazine.

It ain't so, Moe.

The best feature of the first issue is "Tales of Red Erchie the Bold" is which an old man exaggerates a heroic adventure as the art reveals the mundane truth. "The Cluck of Fear", however, is a poor mix of unfunny animals and jokes about flatulence.

"The Misadventures of Tommy T-Rex" ties for best feature with "Erchie" in the second Scatterbrain. The robot in a single page "Mud Monkeys" is a waste of space.

Although the third issue opens with an interesting "Bronco Teddy" funny animal and cowboy parody, its manic energy dissipates in unsatisfying short pieces.

"Kid Cyclops", a one-eyed boy, and the cat in "The Poet Who Loved Tea" feature oversimplified, uninteresting art popular in some children's publications. A gentle dinosaur, "Tom", suffers from cuteness. An untitled piece on germs is well-drawn but pointless as is a silent, one page study of the child's game, "Rock Scissors Paper."

"Pip and Norton", quirky and well-drawn, has an interesting premise as an inhuman and his squat companion struggle to possess worthless junk. Regrettably, it spins nowhere quickly.

Each feature lacks either the wit, interesting art or cohesive plot that make for memorable comics.

On the strength of its first two issues and the potential of its fourth, Scatterbrain is still recommended.

Michael Vance

Terminator (Dec. 1998)

(Special)/$2.95, 22 pgs., Dark Horse/sold in comics shops and by mail.

They're baaaaaack!!

In a future devastated by war and disease, humans have been overthrown by tungsten steel and titaniurn machines as the rulers of earth. The few men left are determined to stop the madness that destroyed earth. Two of their meat-covered machines called Terminators are sent into the past to kill the man who started the destruction. Again.

Again, writer Alan Grant and artist Guy Davis prove that comic books based on movies can be entertainment dynamite.

Grant uses fast-paced plot twists and precise writing to sidestep the common pitfall of splattering every page with graphic nudity, violence end profanity to titillate his readers.

Not to be outdone, Davis's powerful settings, angles and clear visual storytelling make Grant's androids, humans and words jump off every page.

When it's this good, you hate to see it, end.

Highly recommended.

-- Michael Vance

Summer 1998 Animated Movies

The summer of 1998 has not been blessed with films derived from comic books, but there are some of interest.

Since "animation" is the title of this column, some mention is due Quest for Camelot and Mulan.

Quest is disappointing to anyone familiar with the King Arthur myths, or Vera Chapman's novel The King's Damosel, on which it is supposedly based.

The animation is good and the two-headed dragon is interesting. Warner Brothers' attempts to imitate Disney's incorporation of juvenile and adult themes do not work well. Some will be offended by an incest joke; others by a sight gag based on the bodily functions of dragons.

I have not been impressed by the comic books, etc., spun off from Quest, but those who collect movie related comics will want them.

Disney's Mulan , a much better film, contains an incredible anachronism, a miniature dragon based upon comedian Eddie Murphy.

Murphy is amusing and the film works.

Some Chinese friends tell me they are pleased to see part of their folklore presented to American audiences even though Murphy's antics sometimes obscure the plot.

Give Disney's dragon an A and Warner's a C.

The other film with ties to comic books is Mask of Zorro. Many became acquainted with this character in the 1950's in Dell Comic's "Four Color" series and the Disney television series.

In this Zorro film, the masked hero has a hidden cave with a secret entrance to his stately mission. When I saw the film someone behind me whispered to a neighbor, "That's nothing but the Batcave".

She was right.

What she may not have known is that an early Zorro film is closely associated with the death of Bruce Wayne's parents and his decision to adopt a double identity.

Somebody deserves an A for mingling the two legends.

Renewed interest in Zorro may increase the value of older comics.

-- Dr. Jon Suter

The Flintstones (Dec. 1998)


The Flintstones are back in new adventures that ring true to the Hana-Barbera animated series. It is not without reason that the original animated stories were a hit with both children and adults in primetime television. Nor was it a fluke that until it was recently surpassed by The Simpsons animated series, Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty starred in the longest, first-run cartoon in television history.

Unless you've been living in the stone, wait. Especially if you've been living in the stone age, you know the premise of the show. Fred Flinstone and cast poke fun at the modern stupidities of society by exaggeration and slapstick.

All of the animated stories' trademarks are included: mountains of food, everything made of stone, prehistoric monsters as the motors driving everything mechanical, and Fred and Barney as dopes saved by the wit and patience of their wives.

In this issue, Fred inherits a chain of bronto-burger stands and eats it into bankruptcy, He also forgets his anniversary and pays until his ears ring. And Fred and Barney uncover a mechanic's scam that destroys those incredible stone cars so that he can repair them. The idea in each story is fun!

The art in this title perfectly matches the artistic style of the animated series. Internally consistent, visually appealing and literate, it is wonderful to find characters who have not changed beyond recognition due to a string of artists who care nothing about continuity.

That disease is far too common in most superhero titles.

Undeniably, this is light entertainment. It is also recommended for young readers, or readers young at heart.

The Flintstones #21/$1.50, 22 pgs., Archie Comics/Art and story: Kirschenbaum, Diaz studios, White, Leon, Lockmen/available where ever comics are sold.

-- Michael Vance

The Superman Madman Hullabaloo (Nov. 1998)

Remember those cheesy television commercials where someone with chocolate bumps into someone with peanut butter and they're amazed to find they have created Reese's peanut butter round thingies? Prepare to be amazed again. Superman bumped into Madman.

If you don't know who Superman is, you are as naive as the chocolate and peanut butter geeks, and we just won't go there. Madman, however, being a relatively new guy on the comics block, needs explanation. He's this dead man who's, well, mad.

His Madman Comics is one wacky piece of entertainment, full of popular culture icons from several decades, an off-center, subtle and delightful sense of self-caricature, incredible minimalistic art and the sexiest dressed babes in comics.

So, when Supes and Madman knock heads, strange things come out like Madman's philosophical discussion with Superman about God.

Like The Bible, you'll have to read it to believe it. Plot-wise, this is what you'll also have to read: people from two alternate realities get Superman's powers (including Superman and Madman) when the Big Blue Boyscout bumps into the Little White Cheesy. How will The Man of Steel and The Man from Mad return everything to normal (for Supes) and abnormal (or Madman)? It's the oddest thing that's ever happened in Metropolis or Madman's Snap City!

Oddly enough, art-wise you'll get a design-centered style that will remind you of the better animation in films and television.

The other oddest thing is that the coloring on this title and on Madman's own regular title is as minimalistic as is the art, and its also some of the best in comics. Reminiscent of those simpler comic book times before subtle colors could be generated by computers, it is unerringly effective, distinctive and fun.

Recommended for way cool wacked out readers looking for colorful and entertaining instead of dark and gritty.

The Superman Madman Hullabaloo 1 & 2 (of 3)26 pgs. & $2.95 ea, DC and Dark Horse Comics/Story & art: Mike Allred/sold wherever comic books are available.

Michael Vance

Hawk and Dove (Nov. 1998)

I prefer to wait for a mini-series to finish its run before I write anything, but the new version of DC Comic's Hawk and Dove compel me to call it to your attention. The first two issues of the intended five are worth your time.

The first Hawk and Dove team, Hank and Don Hall, appeared in the late 1960's when those words carried heavy political baggage. Creator Steve Ditko's version never achieved wide popularity, even in that politicized era, but the warring brothers surfaced several times in DC titles. The age of the characters seemed to fluctuate. Finally, Dove died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths series.

The title was revived in 1988, and a new Dove appeared, a female whom Hawk finally murdered in his Monarch persona.

Now a third team has appeared with a radical reversal of roles; a female Hawk.

The first team versions received their powers from other dimensions, but the new heroes are the results of genetic tampering, and the "Godwave" that swept the DC universe in the recent "Genesis" plotline.

There is enough paranoia in this series to satisfy most "X-Files" enthusiasts.

The primary villain is Avian, which may foreshadow a heavy emphasis on bird motifs.

The characters are well defined and interesting, for which writer Mike Baron deserves full credit. The new Dove is an abrasive grunge rocker, but his powers are more destructive than those of his predecessors. His sonic scream is similar to that of another superhero Black Canary.

Dean Zachary's art is appropriate. Dick Giordono's inking is good and reminds me how much he has contributed to comics in his long career.

Give this series serious consideration. A full series can not be far behind.

Those interested in the second Hawk and Dove team can acquire a 1993 reprint from DC of the five issues that reintroduced them. Barbara and Karl Kesel's scripts hold up as does Rob Liefield's art.

The eventual grim fate of the characters gives their origin a new piquancy.

Dr. Jon Suter

DC's Tangent Universe (Nov. 1998)

The DC line of comics has had its ups and downs over the decades, but has had the resiliency to reinvigorate itself with new versions of established characters like Flash, Green Lantern or Superman.

To say that DC's new Tangent line is the most radical version yet of its "universe", or story continuity, is an understatement. I consider it more radical than Marvel's ill-fated New Universe imprint.

The Tangent universe is far different from the current DC cosmos; it is no "Earth One versus Earth Two", or even an "Elseworld" variant of established characters. Only the character's names are the same.

Dan Jurgens is the driving force behind the line. Of the nine titles, I have seen three: Sea Devils, Metal Men and Flash. I look forward to the other six since all titles appear to be closely related.

The Tangent universe is based on a revised history of the 1960s, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnamese Conflict and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Jurgens has developed his alternate history as carefully as many sf novelists.

The new Metal Men are humans, not sentient robots. The Sea Devils are humans devolved into crustaceans, not scuba divers. The Flash is neither Jay Garrick, Barry Alien nor Wally West; she has to be seen to be believed.

The tone of Metal Men and Sea Devils is dark, but Flash is a frothy melange of Roadrunner slapstick and super heroics.

Resemblances to the film Clueless are not accidental.

Whether this incarnation can fit successfully into a team remains to be seen, but such a team is promised: The Secret Six.

Each of the comics works well. Whether they or any of the other titles will survive remains to be seen. The price is hefty, $2.95 each, but these first issues could be a good financial investment and good reading.

Can anyone doubt that the Tangent characters will eventually meet their counterparts from the mainstream DC universe? Fans have a depressing habit of wanting immediate crossovers.

Dr. Jon Suter