Category Archives: Other Media
Comic book movies, games, and more!
Lest my current paper comics-based review project make you think I’ve turned my back on digital funnybooks, I offer photographic proof of my Commitment To The Future:
That is a photo of my new iPad Pro, displaying my favorite issue of Kamandi, along with a copy of the issue itself and my old iPad Air 2 for reference.
My “old” iPad was perfectly adequate for reading comics, but the new job has been good to me and I had a few extra bucks at the end of the year, and I became obsessed with the idea of reading in 1:1 scale on a digital device, so …
The bugaboo of this photographic report is that it can’t really show the superior resolution of the iPad Pro, which is a significant step up from my previous device. It also loads pages and changes pages in a flash.
Since switching to the iPad Pro, I rarely use pinch/zoom functionality to zero in on individual panels — it is all easy to see in a single image, now, and having a display this size allows me to view the work as originally composed, in the form of a single page.
Provided you can adjust to the color of digital comics, and assuming you aren’t addicted to the smell of old comic pages, about the only place the iPad Pro reading experience lags behind print is in viewing two-pages spreads, like Jack Kirby loved to do:
And of course digital comics are usually absent the collateral charms of original books, like letters pages and house ads …
… but for speed, convenience, clarity, and ease of image capture for articles here at Longbox Graveyard, nothing beats digital comics. I’m a convert.
So, yeah … I’m the guy who dropped eleven-hundred bucks on a device to read comics with a twenty-cent cover price. Hmm.
I’m blessed to be able to afford such foolishness. Life is good!
In this week’s guest blog, Milo Miller of Hero Tomorrow Comics tells us of the secret origin of his comic book hero, The Apama … and his own secret origin, as well, which involves Steve Gerber, the Man-Thing, and a certain fool-killing vigilante. Take it way, Milo!
I’ve always considered myself a comic book reader. Collector? Not so much. I’ve got tons of comics — a lot of Bronze Age gold that by all rights should be getting ready to pay for college, finance my next feature film, or — at the very least — purchase a jet pack (or two.)
Hulk 181, Spidey 129, Giant Size X-Men. They’re all there & then some; bought ‘em right off the racks.
Then my twin brother and I read them to shreds of course. It’s not like I cut out the value stamps, right Paul? But I might as well have — creased covers, broken bindings, an inevitable grape jelly stain. Ughh.
In the film I co-wrote, Hero Tomorrow, a comic shop customer asks the proprietor — “Is that a comic book or a napkin?” and I regretfully have to admit here, “Yes, my writing does include many autobiographical elements.”
But mostly those books took such an incredible beating because I just loved the stories, the storytelling. And to be honest those landmark books we always picked up — fabulous first appearances, amazing origins, big premiere issues — aren’t all that indicative of the comics I was most attracted to.
My favorite books lived in the shadows; low-selling, anything-goes straight-up weirdness where creator’s often seemed to challenge an audience to follow on a trip that would inevitably end badly (at least from a commercial perspective.) Given the choice I would always take Mister Miracle over Superman, the Creeper over Gotham’s Dark Knight, Luke Cage over Peter Parker’s alter-ego.
It’s those pre-Star Wars books that led me to co-write my own retro/throwback/homage comic Apama The Undiscovered Animal: the story of a Cleveland-born Hungarian ice cream truck driver who unlocks the spiritual force of the most savage beast man has never known.
But it wasn’t only inspiration those Bronze Age beauties provided; they also presented the opportunity for me to meet & ultimately join forces with someone who would become one of my best friends, partner-in-crime, and greatest creative collaborators.
Because the day I met Ted Sikora at the University of Akron I told him all about one of the favorite books in my own longbox graveyard. And things were never the same.
Ted and I were taking a Video Production course together. I was a slumming English Major; he had just left Accounting to take some Advertising & Media classes. We both started talking comics almost immediately —- that uncanny geek-sense pinging as soon as we were in close proximity. I had drifted away from comics to a large degree; I still frequently visited my own accumulation but had lost the thread in the early eighties and hadn’t been actively buying new books in a long time.
Ted on the other hand was —- and still is — a life-long collector, a bag & board guy who hasn’t missed an issue of Amazing Spider-Man since 1975.
So in my desire to make a keen impression on a new acquaintance I played my trump card early in the conversation. “You’ve probably never heard of him but my favorite character of all-time is a guy named The Foolkiller.”
Now Ted surprised me. Because, of course, he knew who the Foolkiller was. Unknown to me he’d made an appearance in Amazing to begin with and -— more shocking to me -— Ted told me there was a new Foolkiller mini-series that had just started hitting the racks.
After class that day Ted and I booked over to a local shop and attacked the longboxes with a vengeance. I picked up some of the other Fookliller appearances -— the afore-mentioned Spider-Man, two-issues of the wonderfully idiosyncratic Omega, a Defenders story. And I also purchased the first two issues of the current mini-series. Just like that, I was back in the game.
And I got Ted to purchase two of the greatest comic books of all-time: Man-Thing #3 & 4.
Ted and I have been friends ever since. After graduation we co-wrote the script for our award-winning indie film Hero Tomorrow which Ted would direct to much acclaim. The film is a comic-shop romance with a super-hero twist about a struggling comic book creator who is desperately trying to break into the industry by promoting his original creation Apama. Apama is the “undiscovered animal,” a creature shrouded in mystery, a crypto-zoological puzzle that puts Bigfoot to shame.
The humor in the film comes from the creator’s inability to see that while characters based on bats, spiders and wolverines have an instant connection with an audience, one based on an animal that doesn’t exist fails to resonate.
In the film his girlfriend makes him a costume based on his creation for a Halloween party and in no time he’s out on the streets of Cleveland “fighting crime.” (I use the quotations since there is very little fighting and even less crime in the actual film).
For a micro-budget indie the film was very successful. We played a lot of festivals across the globe and it was at the post-screening Q&A’s that we kept hearing the same thing, “What’s with this Apama character?”
We didn’t need further incentive -— we’d each been dreaming of taking a crack at doing a comic since we were kids. And so began the ongoing series Apama The Undiscovered Animal.
The book has been getting some great reviews and the Volume 1 Collection of Issues 1-5 just got picked up by Diamond Distribution. It’s something I’m really proud of and captures many of the fun Bronze Age elements I grew up loving.
But enough about Apama; I’m running out of time and I’ve still got to tell you about two of the greatest comic books of all-time: Man-Thing #3 and 4!
I originally traded for beat-up copies from my old neighborhood pal Tim Engleman. He’d colored in the eyes of most of the characters with ballpoint pen for some reason. Paging through it today it strikes me as slightly unsettling; as if the detective investigating a rash of local serial killings will extract this from my accumulation to a thrilling declaration of “we’ve found our man!” Thank God Tim also was kind enough to scrawl his name across the cover as well, giving me at least a shot to slip the hangman’s noose.
I suspect the trade involved sports cards of some kind or maybe an early Blue Oyster Cult album that I was still too young to get into.
Regardless I felt I had won big.
Steve Gerber is (for me) the quintessential Bronze Age talent and -— backed up with some fantastic art by Val Mayerik — nowhere does his quirky poetry and off-the-wall storytelling come into more thrilling focus than this frantic tale of the Foolkiller.
The cover is wonderfully apocalyptic -— attacking alligators, flaming wreckage, a swamp filled with screaming survivors that look like they just woke up in Hell. And it only gets better from there.
My favorite aspect of The Man-Thing in general is simply the jaw-dropping audacity that the character could carry a book. He -— it —- is everything a protagonist shouldn’t be: reactive, mostly passive, barely possessing a consciousness. In the best stories -— like these issues -— the ‘most startling swamp creature of all!’ sort of just shambles on stage as an after-thought, appearing to fulfill some sort of Comics Code mandate for minimum page appearance for a title character.
After the man-muck-monster ties up loose ends from last ish in some action-packed first pages the tale really starts cooking. A couple of bikers from the Skullcrushers —- also hold-overs from Man-Thing #2 -— hit the road after making peace with Richard Rory, the lifelong loser of the supporting cast. There at the bottom of page 11, in the distance we can just make out a figure standing boldly in the middle of the road.
Then, on the page turn after a couple of ads, we’re introduced to what is, frankly, an incredible example of visual storytelling and what can happen in the synergy between writer and artist.
Our first good look of the Foolkiller -— a perfect low-angle shot of a confident and dashing character -— part pirate, part cavalier, all WTF — is accompanied by a brilliant statement of purpose: “They come. All the days of their lives have led to this moment. It was ordained long ago in Heaven that this day they would meet -— the Foolkiller!”
In these next couple of pages every panel is a home run. This “Holy Warrior” stops the two cyclists with a purifying blast -— the “energy of the just and righteous” -— that is so over-the-top and devastating in effect that it can only be the weapon of a madman.
Gerber makes it clear —- even through the satire and absurdity -— that every great villain is a hero in his own mind; but Mayerik’s close-ups leave no doubt —- this guy is friggin’ nuts!
“Sometimes I fear,” FK muses, “that when my killing of fools is done -— only I shall be left alive.” Gerber is firing on all cylinders; the entire issue if full of these incredible, dead-pan hilarious observations. The voice of the character is so strong right from the rip I couldn’t help but be drawn to him. And then when he hands out his calling card demanding his future victims repent, ah brilliance!
Issue #4 has the Foolkiller’s origin which just ups the wacky ante even higher. Born ‘a cripple’ Ross Everbest’s father was killed on the day of his birth during the final days of WW2 while his mother perished as a military nurse in Korea on another of his birthdays -— ‘cut down by a commie bomb!’
Confined to a wheelchair Ross studies the art of war and worships all things military. Which one might think would result in a great tactical mind, an ability that would translate to a strategic advantage in combat but nothing could be farther from the truth. The Foolkiller’s escapades are marked by missteps, mistakes, and operative failure—- he is nothing if not an incredibly violent screw-up.
Everbest discovers his true calling when he’s miraculously healed at a revival meeting. Becoming a soldier in the service of the Almighty he realizes he must be an active agent against the fools -— ‘criminals … protesters, dope pushers … mocking the Lord and the military.”
Add in a betrayal, a corpse encased in a glass shrine, and a strong sense of environmental consciousness to the murderous mayhem and you’ve got classic Gerber. There are so many great little elements along the way -— Foolkiller’s mobile HQ in a the back of an ACME moving truck, a ‘red herring’ sports car, Rory being on the killer’s hit list for playing “blasphemous” music while a disc jockey in Ohio.
And then, within pages of his introduction, the Foolkiller is dead. (By his own hand, of course.) “What a lousy way to die … even for a killer …! But maybe it’s poetic justice … sort of … even if we never know what the rhyme was.”
You can take the Punisher, Wolverine, Deadpool —- any of those characters who have followed that twisted trajectory from hyper-violent take-no-prisoner psychopath to the side of your kid’s lunchbox; I knew I’d found the unstable, rage-fueled killer for me. To this day I think Foolkiller missed his shot at the big time by not more than a degree or two, missed the refrigerator magnet, beach towel, and action-figures and wound up in semi-obscurity instead, buried -— not too deeply —- in many a longbox graveyard.
Punish a PBJ today!
Thanks to Paul for letting me pinch-hit this month; it was a lot of fun. Originally I had contacted him in hopes of getting some promotional attention for the Apama Vol 1 release. But given the opportunity I found myself unable to resist the urge to waltz through some of my own tombstones if you will.
Maybe that says more about our book than any amount of shilling I could do otherwise.
It’s been three-and-a-half years since I reviewed Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. I’ve been meaning to post an update for some time, and as I’ve been on vacation these past few weeks — and using the service a lot in my downtime — now seems the ideal time!
(For the TL:DR-types in the audience — I still enthusiastically endorse this service! For those wanting a bit more detail, I offer brief and updated impressions below!)
First off, the service has a new name — it is now simply Marvel Unlimited, which is snappier, but no less deceptive, as the service is still limited, though considerably improved over my original review.
Technology & Interface
The single greatest improvement in the service was a rebuild that dispensed with Flash and went cross-platform. That’s right, now I can use Marvel Unlimited on my tablet, which dispenses with about a third of my original criticism. Marvel Unlimited’s “smart panel” system isn’t quite so sharp as Comixology’s, but I find single-page mode on an iPad serves me just fine, given that I can pinch/zoom in on anything I want to see in greater detail. The service has been of great value in capturing images for use here at Longbox Graveyard (and the absence of a similar service accounts for much of the relatively paucity of DC Comics features here at my blog … it takes a lot more effort and expense to read DC product in electronic form).
The updated app came with some under-the-hood improvements, too, resulting in faster search and (generally) better stability. The physical search process also seems improved, though some of this might be down to my familiarity with the system, or just lowered expectations. My sense is that Marvel has been cleaning up their search metadata behind-the-scenes, but I haven’t run any benchmark tests, so you are on your own if a routine search turns up twelve separate entries for Don Heck (horrors!).
A very welcome addition is the option to search by date, which lets me set the Wayback Machine for (say) 1978 and see all the comics on offer for that year. I LOVE this feature, as it lets me dive directly into eras of interest, and even kinda-sorta read books in the order they came out, should I wish to experience a past year on a month-to-month basis. This is an indispensable feature — the kind that makes me wonder how I ever went without it. Well done!
The “Must Reads” search workaround I mentioned in my previous review is no longer available (at least on tablet, which is the only place I use this service now) — in its place is a “Library” option, which is supposed to let you download up to twelve comics at a time to read offline, a theoretically useful feature for plane or car trips.
I say, “theoretically,” because I can’t get the bloody thing to work.
Kind of damning to read instructions about how I can read comics offline on the same screen that chastises me for not having an internet connection, no? This may well be down to user error. Or maybe it just flat out doesn’t work.
Otherwise, the experience has improved in every way. Upon completing an issue, the option is available to jump directly to the next issue in line, a very welcome feature for long series re-reads. The ability to rate books or try to share them with friends is gone, and un-missed.
The front-end has nice new features like spotlight sections, with the most recently-released content displayed front-and-center (and alerts about new content rolling onto the system can also be pushed to you via email updates).
Which brings me to …
Content is still king on this app — everything I lauded in my original review of the service is still here, plus seemingly every new book Marvel has published since, with the significant caveat that the system lags approximately six months behind print. You can think of Marvel Unlimited as the home video release of theatrical movies … and just as with the movies, if you can wean yourself of seeing everything when it comes out day-and-date, you can enjoy a lot of content for a fraction of the price.
For your humble narrator — stuck as I am in the year of 1978 — being “only” six month behind the times is so far into the future that it gives me a nosebleed! In other words, I’m fine with it, even for new books. Like many readers, I am looking forward to Marvel’s Even-Newer-And-This-Time-We-Mean-It relaunch … but I will be enjoying it in the Spring, instead of the Fall!
very much looking forward to this … eventually
Archival gaps have been slower to close. Marvel’s Star Wars books recently appeared on the service, but frustrating omissions from decades past remain (I am still flummoxed that Marvel’s monster books from the 70s are so few and far between). Very occasionally I will get notice that new issues of an old book have been filled in, but mostly I’ve adjusted my expectations and use the service for reading newer issues.
new-old Daredevil, recently added to Marvel Unlimited
Marvel Unlimited helped me come to terms with my conflicted feelings about Brian Michael Bendis by reading his work in long digital binges (where he shines) — I even bit the bullet and detoured into Battle of the Atom when it interrupted my long 40-issue read of Uncanny X-Men. It would have been nice if those Battle of the Atom issues were threaded one to the next, so I didn’t have to search up each title in order and by hand … but you can’t have everything!
my kingdom for an interactive checklist!
In a lot of ways, my Marvel Unlimited service has been like a gym membership. There have been times when I’ve used it religiously, and then long gaps when I forgotten I’ve paid for the damn thing. If my credit card had aged out and the service had failed to renew, I might not have missed it … until the time came that I wanted to look as some specific issue of such-and-so, when Marvel Unlimited proves itself very much indispensable. I suppose I could cancel out my sub and pop in-and-out with trail memberships from disposable email addresses, but that is a churlish way to treat this service. There is good content here, and I’m happy to pay for it (and I will keep a candle burring in the window in hopes of DC offering a similar platform someday). I might even double-down and get a retina-display iPad specifically for Marvel Unlimited … or better yet, wait on the super-sized tablets Apple supposedly has in the pipeline, which strike me as possibly the best way yet to read digital comics.
But even with my “old” iPad, I am still a fan of Marvel Unlimited; I think it is worth a subscription, and it is certainly worth a tryout for whatever app is native to your device.
And now, if you will excuse me, I need to return to my Bendis-era Uncanny X-Men re-read. It might be 2013 in that particular series, but it’s all new to me!