Chicago Geek Guy

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Category: The Pull List (page 1 of 2)

Fruitman and the Senior Moment

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As a small child in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, my grandpa owned a market store in a small town in Northern Minnesota.  To me, the best part about his occupation was free ice cream treats and leftover comic books (the out-of-date ones no one had purchased).   These unwanted issues were wide-ranging.  My brothers and I shared our collection; we had everything from Marvel and DC superheroes, Classics Illustrated, to the run of the mill Disney and Harvey comics.  We each had our favorites. For my older brother it was the super heroes and for my younger brother it was Disney (especially Duck Tales).

My favorite childhood comic, however, was called “Fruitman”.  I loved it!  I only had one issue, so I read it over-and-over. In fact, I read it so much, I destroyed it.  The premise of the series centered on a guy who owned a fruit stand, the kind you see in New York City, with fruit proudly displayed on the sidewalk. As an average looking man, the main character, Mr. Pineapple wasn’t handsome, smart or strong. His  special power enabled him to change into fruit and fight crime.  Looking back, I think I loved the idea of this average Joe superhero because he resembled my grandfather. It allowed me to imagine this man who I loved with his humped back, thin frame and coke bottle glasses fighting crime in small town Minnesota (I imagined there must be loads of crime up there near the Canadian border – perhaps smuggling across the oh-so-very dangerous northern frontier).

During my teenage years I lost track of Fruitman, and lost interest in him until my 30’s.  By that point, I didn’t know what had happened to the comic book itself.  I tried to research it, but I couldn’t find anything about Fruitman on Google (keep in mind this was back in the 2000’s and although Google was the best search engine, AOL still actually competed for market share by mailing out CDs to potential customers).

Over the years, I’ve asked most of the comic book collectors I’ve crossed paths with (including our very own Chicago Geek Guy) if they could tell me anything about Fruitman.  They gave me a blank stare for a response, every time.  I started to wonder if Fruitman was a figment of my imagination.  It plagued me. Perhaps I had dreamed him up?  Was I having a senior moment, pre-50?  And if so, what were the implications for me in the future? Would I begin to remember old TV shows that didn’t exist either?

By last summer at the age of 48, during a visit to my parent’s home in Minneapolis, I decided to dig out the old comic box and find out exactly how worried I should be about my future capabilities.  I carefully sorted through every issue and every old piece of paper in the box. Lo and behold, I found two tattered pages of Fruitman!  I was thrilled to know I wasn’t losing my mind.

On that day, I decided to learn more about Fruitman. He had been on my list of things to do for about a year. This week, I decided to finally research Fruitman.  I Googled the comic again.  This time Fruitman showed up right away!  In fact, for $55.86 (plus $5 shipping) another copy of Fruitman could be mine!

I’ve since learned that Fruitman’s run lasted only one issue (and perhaps the reason no one purchased it from my grandpa’s store). Harvey comics originally published the stories in the back of an Archie-like comic called “Bunny, Queen of the In-crowd.” In 1969, Fruitman appeared as the star of his one-and-only issue. With some additional research, I learned that the issue was drawn by Ernie Colon, but otherwise the folks who created my favorite comic remain unknown.

I actually located jpegs of the entire comic online.  Reading the issue as an adult, I can understand why I loved it. The issue is a silly spoof on superhero comics, perfect reading for a seven year-old girl.  As I remembered, he really wasn’t anything special, and certainly closer in physique to my grandpa than to Superman. It’s not terribly well written. As an adult, I would describe the short vignettes as mostly disjointed and incomplete.  However, on the whole I still find parts of it perfectly silly in the best possible way. Rather than describing the issue any further, I will let you judge for yourself.  So, without further ado, I bring you Fruitman:

 

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The Pull List for June 8, 2016

I’m just about to board a flight for Baltimore to meet CGG’s beloved editor for some rare face to face time. I know it’s been a while since I posted a Pull List, so I wanted to get a little something out there, even if I’m pressed for time. Here’s what I’ve been enjoying over the last few weeks.

GAREB_1_hires-4 DC Rebirth

I believe Geoff Johns “gets” the DC Universe as well as anyone alive and his efforts here as a writer demonstrate his love and appreciation of the characters. Rebirth marks a return to the time before the “New 52,” a time of unquestionable heroics and hope. The comic reveals some intriguing twists and turns, but I enjoyed it more for the breath of new life it gives to old characters.

I’ve had a chance to read the one shot “Rebirths” of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow. I enjoyed Green Arrow, in particular. That comic returns the character to an unabashed, if clueless, Social Justice Warrior. The Van Dyke beard is back, as well as the sparks between Green Arrow and Black Canary. I easily recommend reading these three books (although I found Batman disjointed) and plan on picking all the individual “Rebirths” as they hit the stands.

portrait_incredibleVision

Written by Tom King with pencils from Michael Wash, Marvel Comics

I can’t say I’ve ever quite read a comic like Vision. Without hesitation, I will say it’s the best comic Marvel publishes right now. Issue #7 provided a touching and heart wrenching behind the scenes look at the relationship between Vision and ex-wife Scarlet Witch that left me a little breathless. The book pulled back the edge of the comic boarder to reveal more personal interactions between characters that a reader rarely gets to view. King and Wash take readers into the characters’ bedrooms, nurseries, kitchens; all the mundane places that occupy a superhero’s regular life.

Empress-cov-24bd9Empress

Written by Mark Millar with art from Stuart Immonen, Icon imprint for Marvel Comics

It doesn’t take long to realize a marriage with galactic dictator might not be the best environment in which to raise kids. Millar and Immonen take a very human story of a family on the run and set it against a gorgeous sci-fi tableau. Comic Book Resources quoted Millar as saying, ““I think all the best science fiction has a very human element at the heart of it and a mother wanting to leave a dangerous relationship is very easy for readers to relate to.”

Empress will run for three six issue story arcs. They’re already up to issue three of the first tale. It’s time to jump in!

The (UN) Pull List for May 18, 2016

The wallet is only so deep. Every once and a while, I need to look at the pull list and decide what doesn’t feel worth the money anymore. Here are a couple of books I recently purged.

ddDaredevil

by writer Charles Soule and penciller Ron Garney

I don’t think any character emerged from Marvel’s 2015 mega-event, Secret Wars, as changed as Daredevil. The new volume moved him back to New York city from San Francisco, restored his secret identity, dropped his love life, turned him from a criminal defense lawyer to a prosecuting attorney, and gave him a sidekick.

In the span of one issue, Daredevil changed from one of the most entertaining and thought provoking books on the shelves to another generic superhero. Although it matches the successful Netflix show more closely, and may drag in new readers, it leaves me cold.

I’m usually a fan of Soule, but can’t describe this storyline as new or interesting. Nothing grabs me in this pedestrian tale of ninjas on a rampage. Garney’s art looks like an attempt to channel Frank Miller, and I don’t offer this critique as a complement.

NTT12 01Teen Titans

I tried so hard. I wanted to like Teen Titans. The addition of Power Girl was a missed opportunity to add a fresh perspective to the storyline. In addition, Power Girl and Bunker (a gay teen superhero) offered the potential to add some much needed diversity and interest to a white bread team. The art wasn’t terrible; although perhaps too objectifying of the young women it depicted.

Simply put, the comic is a complete mess. The convoluted storyline has become impossible to follow, I sincerely doubt that anyone knows what’s going on, anymore. I can’t say I recognize the behaviors of classic characters like (Red) Robin, Wondergirl, and Kid Flash. Unfortunately, a last minute change in author didn’t improve the final product. If anything, the twist ending and surprise reveal left people scratching their heads, their arms, and maybe even the soles of their feet.

Save the money and go buy Titans Hunt, instead.

The Pull List for May 11, 2016

Here’s a list of suggested comics due for release on May 11, 2016

LEGENDS_TOMORROW_3-copy_56b53563bf8ab1.76369780Legends of Tomorrow #3

DC Comics, various

This anthology book has nothing to do with the television show of the same name. Legends of Tomorrow provides four ongoing serials from some revered comics creators and their beloved characters. Len Wein writes Metal Men; Keith Giffen, Sugar and Spike; Gerry Conway, Firestorm; and Aaron Lopresti pens one of my favorite obscure characters, Metamorpho.

Each story offers solid comic book fare with Silver Age sensibilities. They are fun tales of good versus evil with healthy portions of humor, character development, and great art.

portrait_incredibleAll New All Different Avengers #9

Marvel Comics, written by Mark Waid with art by Mahmud Asrar

Mark Waid continues to write one of the most enjoyable comics coming out of Marvel at the moment. The author deftly balances the large cast of characters by giving each, its own, unique, voice. The relationship between Thor and Falcon feels very natural. The awkward musing of teen Ms. Marvel carry over from her own book. Dressed with all the usual trappings of a comic, this book offers a hopeful view of superheroes and humanity.

Mark Waid has created a book full of heroic optimism and fun adventure. If that’s not enough, this issue introduces the new Wasp!

JupitersCircle_vol2_06-1Jupiter’s Circle Vol 2 #6

Image Comics, written by Mark Millar with art by Wilfredo Torres

Millar and Torres wrap up the second volume of their realistic look at superheroes in 1960’s America. Throughout Jupiter’s Circle (and its sequel, Jupiter’s Legacy), Millar and Torres have focused on the all too human foibles of metahumans. The comic has explored themes of jealousy, family, and honesty, while simultaneously examining the effects of power on the human psyche. It has not always painted a pretty picture, but in spite of Millar’s trademark nihilism, a few moments of positivity have snuck in.

All of the Jupiter books engage the reader with thoughtful content and art. If individual comics are not your style, the first volumes of Juptier’s Circle and Jupiter’s Legacy are also available as trade paperbacks.

 

The Pull List for May 4, 2016

The Pull List, now on Tuesdays so you can plan better for new comics day.

Moon Knight #2

Marvel Comics, written by Jeff Lemire with art by Greg Smallwood.

The first issue of this comic flew of the shelves of my FLCS (Friendly Local Comic Shop) last month and with good reason. It’s likely the strongest first issue released in the last year. Or, at least, I think it is. It may be one of the best insights into people with thought disorders (or perhaps serious mental illness) ever produced in the genre. I’m not sure.

Always troubled by mental health issues, Mark Spector (AKA Moon Knight) starts the series confined to an institution, or so it seems. Lemire’s storytelling and Smallwood’s shifting art styles leave the reader guessing as to what is real. Both the art and the dialogue plant clues throughout the pages. I know they will become obvious in the upcoming issues, but for now they have me guessing.

Moon Knight #1 intrigued me more than any comic in a long time, I’m very excited to see where it goes.

kingsquest1aKings Quest #1 

Dynamite Comics, written by Ben Acker, Heath Corson, with art from Dan McDaid

The nostalgia bug has hit me again this week. The previews of this book offer up what looks like pretty standard fare: heroes from different times and places (Phantom, another Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant, and Flash Gordon) to save a damsel in distress.

These superheroes remind me of my childhood.  The Phantom is one of the first superheroes I remember.  As a young child, I enjoyed hearing my father read Prince Valiant to me from the Sunday comic strips, and watching the Flash Gordon serials on TV. These characters will always have a special place in my heart.

Beyond my general like of the characters, this book promises to focus on someone I’m not familiar with, Jen Harris. She is a new Phantom and only the second woman to wear the mask.

I’m willing to fork over a few bucks to support my childhood friends.

A-Force #5

Marvel Comics, written by G. Willow Wilson and Kelly Thompson, with art by Jorge Molina.

Willow Wilson continues to give readers solid comic book fare with a light and comical touch. Molina’s art suits the near all female cast well, respecting their figures without objectifying them. These women wear realistic clothes and sport more accurate physiques. There is no fan service to speak of.

This issue kicks off a new story, “Rage, Rage Against the Dying Of The Light.” It’s a great place to jump onto a solid comic.

The Pull List for April 27, 2016

My picks of comics coming out on April 27, 2016.

detailThe Ultimates #6

Marvel Comics, written by Al Ewing with art by Kenneth Rocafort

This book shares nothing with its predecessor. The Ultimates of the Marvels Ultimate Universe offered up a nihilistic view of superheroes.  Now set in the mainstream universe, this Ultimates presents superheroes with proactive plans for ensuring the universes’ safety. The first story arc focused on the team’s efforts to cure Galactus of his world devouring hunger rather than the traditional formula of finding bad guys, beating them up, and walking away

Superheroes actually acting heroically and strategically, Imagine that.

Ewing and Rocafort have a great feel for this diverse cast of characters. Everyone speaks in their own voice and the art and color of the book suits its high power level.

This issue serves up a tale of truly epic proportions and wraps up the first story arc of the new series.,.

microMicronauts #1

IDW, written by Cullen Bunn with are by David Baldeon

I can’t give a detailed description of much this book, I saw a four-page preview yesterday. The art looks solid, but the snippet wasn’t long enough to get a feel for the stories or characters. Still, I’ve already added the comic to my pull list.

At the age of 12, my collecting habit started with Marvel Micronaunts series I have fond memories of trapesing to the bank to get a money order to send to Mile High Comics to get the only copy I missed on the stands, issue #1.

It could be that IDW is targeting old fogies like me with this release. If so, banking on nostalgia instead of quality will do a disservice to the property. I am hoping this doesn’t end up on a future Pull List, “The Comics I Regret Buying.”

detail (1)Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #6

Marvel Comics, written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare with art from Natacha Bustos

Lunella Lafayette, the so called “Moon Girl,” is the precocious, pre-teen nerd girl I imagine a few of us could relate to. She loves science, but hates science class. While her classmates struggle with understanding the definition of theory, she’s building a scanner to find abandoned Kree technology. Her natural curiosity leads through a series of misadventures, culminating the creation of a rift in time and the arrival of a red Tyrannosaurs Rex named Devil Dinosaur

The author, Amy Reeder, creator and owner the series Rocket Girl, has crafted another adorable yet formidable female lead character.   Natacha Bustos, known for her playful artwork, beautifully complements Reeder’s writing style.

This light-read touches on familiar nerd ground: alienation, anti-intellectualism, and lack of athletic ability. I It almost crosses over to caricature but Reeder and Bustos’ ability to express deep emotions and treat theircharacters with respect keeps “Moon Girl” firmly grounded. Outside of the main characters, The authors handle the antagonists, a cohort of cave people that happen along the same time rift as Devil Dinosaur, with equal aplomb. The small group fully-clad in stolen, modern day clothing, comes off as humorous and dangerous at the same time.

This is the last issue of the current story arc. If you can’t go back and find the reprints of issues #1~#5, I hope you will at least pick up the trade.

 

The Pull List for April 13, 2016

Since I’ve been writing other comics related stuff the last couple of weeks, I thought I would spend today writing about some books you may have missed.

bpBlack Panther #1, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates with art by Brian Stelfreeze. Released April 6, 2016

This is not Black Panther or the country that he rules, Wakanda, at their peak. Both have faced turmoil: Wakanda, mass death and destruction from an attack from Atlantis; T’challa, the loss of his sister and the devastation of his homeland.

Coates sets up an intriguing premise. Can this superhero, the king, rebuild both his country and himself. Plenty of complications and challenges lie between them and success.

Coats and Stelfreeze had crafted an intriguing and modern look at an old and oft forgotten character and his world. I’m adding this comic to my regular pull list.

detailMockingbird #2, written by Chelsea Cain with art by Kate Niemczyk. Released April 13, 2016

I found the first issue of Mockingbird and intriguing slice of life story about a recently empowered superhero. While I’m not familiar with her work, Cain clever knows how to mix humor in with the narrative. Niemczyk provides high quality, if undistinguished, illustrations. Disjointed in parts, the book planted enough story hooks and questions to interest me at least through the first story arc..

WWE1v1_CASE_A_5640e7023850f1.23440311Wonder Woman Earth One OGN, written by Grant Morrison with art by Yanick Paquette. Released April 11, 2016

Morrison and Paquette offer up a modern retelling of Wonder Woman’s origin while maintaining respect for the original work from the 40’s by creator, William Moulton Marston. The Earth One version of Paradise Island is a technological wonderment. Beautifully rendered sky cycles fly above advancements as the incredibly powerful Purple Ray. This is an unabashedly anti-male version of the Amazons. Contempt for men oozes from their words as much as sensuality and good health emanates from their depictions.

This Wonder Woman very closely matches the ideals Marston related in this interview from The American Scholar in 1943.

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Of course this ideal brings the Amazons into conflict with the outside world, once pilot Steve Trevor crash lands on the island. The struggle between the two societies offers the reader an interesting point of view on both American and Amazonian culture. Morrison presents them both as equally flawed with various strengths.

I found the book beautiful to look at, entertaining to read, and thought provoking. I know It will be far too long before the next volume is released.

5 Stories to Remind You Batman is a Detective and 1 That Will Make You Forget

I have one complaint about the depiction of Batman in the recent slate of films. These stories downplay The Worlds’ Greatest Detective’s analytical skills by focusing on the technology and “toys” that Bruce Wayne’s fortune allow him to obtain. This week, let me suggest stories that helped to establish Batman as a premiere investigator.

5 Stories to Remind You Batman is a Detective

“The Man Behind the Red Hood,” from Detective Comics #168, 1951. Story by Bill Finger with art from Lew Sayre Schwartz and Win Mortimer.

Detective_Comics_168

“The Man Behind the Red Hood”

In this issue, State University invites Batman to teach a Criminology class. He uses the opportunity to challenge the students to solve an unresolved, ten year-old case. A villain, dubbed the Red Hood, stole $1,000,000 from the Monarch Card Company and escaped down a discharge pipe. Neither his identity, nor his body, were ever discovered. The Red Hood never committed another crime.

This comic balances 50’s era camp with interesting detective work. Batman co-creator Bill Finger throws in a few entertaining twists and turns. Mistaken identities, false leads, and a shock reveal at the end should keep you engaged throughout the issue. Detective#168 also marks the first telling of The Joker’s origin story.

“One Bullet Too Many,” from Batman #217, 1969. Written by Frank Robbins with internal art by Irv Novick and cover art by Neal Adams.

"One Bullet Too Many"

“One Bullet Too Many”

This comic marks a clean break from the campy Batman stories of the 1960’s and is one of the first comics of the Bronze Age. After Robin moves out of Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne and Alfred pack up to establish a new base of operations in a Gotham high-rise. Batman adopts a new logo; the familiar bat wings surrounded by an oval of yellow.

None of Batman’s gadgets make an appearance in this story. Batman, and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, rely on their charisma and skill at disguise to investigate the murder of a doctor and coax the killer out of hiding. Batman’s physical prowess fails him, and a bullet wound in his arm becomes one of the key elements to solving the case. The creative use of thought bubbles in this issue reveals Batman’s mental process of working through the evidence and offers a behind-the-scenes look at what happens in an investigative mind.

“Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman,” from Batman #225, 1970. Written by Denny O’Neil with internal art by Irv Novick and cover art by Neal Adams.

"Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman"

“Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman”

“Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman” describes an elaborate scheme to frame the Caped Crusader by a confrontational talk show host. O’Neil leads us through the Batman’s investigation, challenging the reader to identify what his detective’s mind has noticed.

No author has done more to establish Batman as a Detective than Denny O’Neil. I found this issue representative of the overall quality of the run. O’Neil started with the character in Batman #217. Collaborating frequently with artist Neal Adams, the two set the tone for the Batman throughout the 70’s and beyond. O’Neil’s work has recently been collected into a single omnibus I can heartily recommend. There’s not a bad comic in the bunch.

Batman and the Monster Men, 2006. Story and Art by Matt Wagner.

Batman and the Monster Men

Batman and the Monster Men

In 2006, author and artist Matt Wagner went all the way back to a short story from Batman #1 to flesh it out to eight issues. The tale relates an encounter between Batman and the villainous Dr. Hugo Strange. It also includes all the characters found in the Detective’s early stories. As the story begins, Jim Gordon’s promotion to captain provides Batman with additional investigate perks. In addition, Bruce Wayne’s first love, Julie Madison, graduates from law school. Her character hopes to start a life of her own or to spend time with Bruce in pursuit of her MRS degree.

Wagner’s time on Grendel and The Shadow provide him with impactful expertise in writing for the mystery genre and detective characters. He wisely utilizes this knowledge to place Batman in the Batcave’s crime lab for a fair chunk of the story. Jim Gordon allows Batman access to the crime scene in advance of the GCPDs’ own CSI unit. Unlike the original, however, Batman doesn’t cure himself of Dr. Hugo’s monster making compound in a few scant moments. Still, in this version the World’s Greatest Detective takes care to use his mind and not only his fists, or toys, to catch the bad guy.

Batman #667-669, 2007. Written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by J.H. Williams III

Allnations

The International Club of Heroes: The Musketeer, Dark Ranger. El Gaucho with Raven Red, The Legionary. Man-Of-Bats, and Wingman.

In this tale, Batman and the International Club of Heroes find themselves trapped on an island. Batman, and Robin, who actually has a few nice moments to show off his detective skills too, must deduce the identity of a murderer before he kills all of its members. Writer Morrison slowly eeks out the history of the International Club of Heroes and offers up much in the way of motive and opportunity.

Leave it to Grant Morrison to pull an obscure group of heroes from the 1950’s, Detective Comics #215 to be exact, and provide them with depth they never had in the past. Exposing and detailing these characters add history and a complexity to an engrossing and human story. J.H. Williams III’s art provides a somber mood and flashes of whimsy that suddenly turn dark.

And One that Will Make You Forget

Batman: The Dark Night Returns, 1986. Written by Frank Miller, illustrated by Miller and Klaus Janson

DKR set the tone for Batman throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Stepping away from his traditional role as  detective, this vision of Batman from an alternate future, relies less on his intellect and more on wrote power. This era focused on gadgets and inventions that enabled Batman to have superpowers. In DKR, a suit of armor gives him enough power to fight and defeat Superman. The recent slate of movies draw heavily from this concept, each iteration leading to a new Batmobile and other “toys.”

tdkr_batmobile

The Batmobile from Dark Knight Returns

7 Stories to Help You Feel Better about Superman (and 1 That Won’t)

I’ve made no secret about my enjoyment of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Many hated it. The chief complaint I’ve heard centers around the portrayal of Superman. Let me suggest these seven stories that will wash the aftertaste of that movie right from your mouth and one that offers a bitter pill to swallow.

“Superman v Luthor” from Superman #4, 1940. Story and art by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Luthor_Action_Comics_23A red headed Luthor and Superman face off for the first time. Through a series of tests, Superman proves his power. He can travel faster, fly higher, and lift more than any technology, while surviving practically anything. Siegel and Shuster make a point to show Superman saving a number of people from harm establishing the character’s concern for others early on in his history.

“What if Superman Ended the War” from Look Magazine, 1943. Story and art by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

An early, interesting, and very short look at how Superman could affect world politics. In this issue, the Man of Steel flies to Berlin and Moscow, picking up Hitler and Stalin and delivers them to Geneva to appear before the league of nations.

How-Superman-Would-End-the-War-Look-magazine-660x446

Superman doesn’t waste time fighting soldiers or destroying the machines of war. Instead, he intervenes at the highest level to stop the conflict.

“The Girl from Superman’s Past” from Superman #129, 1959. Story by Bill Finger with Art by Wayne Boring

Forbidden love, Superman style.

Forbidden love, Superman style.

Bob Finger, one of the creators of Batman, penned this story of romance. After rescuing a disabled fellow student at Smallville University, a young Superman falls in love with this mysterious co-ed. The story reveals Lori Lemaris as an Atlantean spy, a mermaid sent to the surface world to evaluate the air breathers’ technological progress.

This story paints an image of a lonely and nearly friendless Clark Kent falling hard for a woman who matches Superman’s courage and may surpass his intelligence. By the end of the issue, Lori needs to return to her people and the relationship ends.

The comic doesn’t directly explain why these two can’t stay together. Superman is more than capable of surviving the ocean depths and no prohibitions against cross species marriage are mentioned. The reader is left to draw a singular conclusion. Unwilling, or feeling unable, to give up his role as Superman in the surface world, Clark resigns himself to a bachelor’s fate.

“The Death of Superman” from Superman #149, 1961. Story by Jerry Siegel with art by Curt Swan & George Klein.

AWALKIMAG008This imaginary tale starts with Lex Luthor curing cancer. Impressed by Luthor’s change of heart, Superman argues for the villain’s release from prison. Lex Luthor becomes Superman’s BFF and reveals the Man of Steels deep levels of trust and naivete.

Luthor eventually betrays Superman and kills him with a kryptonite ray. While the world mourns the loss, Supergirl captures the villain. A Kryptonian court sentences Luthor to the Phantom Zone.

“For the Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11, 1985. Story by Allan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.

Before they created the Watchmen, the creative team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons authored what many consider the most well written Superman story. Attacked by a telepathic, alien plant, Superman lives through an idealistic existence as an average Kryptonian citizen on a planet that never exploded.

The comic offers the reader a rare glimpse into Superman’s true desires. He wants to live a normal life, marry a good and talented woman, succeed at an intellectually stimulating career, and have children. It is only his incredible power and deeply rooted sense of responsibility that prevent him from fading into the mass of humanity.

Superman fights the influence of the Black Mercy.

Superman fights the influence of the Black Mercy.

Shaking off the influence of the Black Mercy is described like ripping off an arm. Superman does it to save the Earth.

All Star Superman, 2005 ~ 2008. Story by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quietly.

Author Grant Morrison pitched his idea for a revamped Superman all the way back in 1998. At the time he wanted to attempt “an honest attempt to synthesize the best of all previous eras. Our intention is to honor each of Superman’s various interpretations and to use internal story logic as our launching pad for a re-imagined, streamlined 21st century Man of Steel.”

The fulfillment of that dream reached the stands in October of 2005. Poisoned by Lex Luthor, Superman faces the last year of his life. His actions speak to both the human and superhuman aspects of the character. He reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane and undertakes a bucket list to help both the Earth and Krypton.

All Star Superman presents a modern image of the character, without sacrificing the huge heart of the character and left a deep impression on Superman fans.  IGN.com ranks this tale as the #1 ranked Superman story of all time. This meme, critical of Zach Snyder’s handling of the character, draws from All Star Superman.

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Superman: American Alien, 2015. Story by Max Landis with art by Nick Dragotta, Joelle Jones, Jae Lee, Frances Manapul, Tommy Lee Edwards, Jonathan Case and Jock.

This eight issue miniseries explores Superman’s origins from new and more longitudinal angle. Illustrated by a different artist, each issue focuses on a specific moment in Clark Kent’s life. This slice of life approach allows Landis to really examine the factors that combine to build the character of Superman. It’s “less about becoming a superhero,” the writer tells us, “and more about becoming not-an-asshole.”

Each step of this journey reveals some small component of Clark Kent’s compassion for others and a growing sense of responsibilities such emotions compel. Unfinished as of this writing, I am looking forward to seeing Landis’ vision of a fully formed Man of Steel.

Superman: Red Son, 2003. Story be Mark Millar with art by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett

Superman_in_Red_SonThe master of nihilism, Mark Millar, delivers this tale of Superman landing in the Ukraine to become,”the champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”

Believing in the Communist cause and acting for the good of the people, Superman grows up to nearly take over the world as an authoritarian dictator. Superman creates the ultimate “Nanny State.” It’s mentioned that people don’t even wear seatbelts anymore, firm in the belief their leader will save them if they get into an accident. Only through the efforts of Lex Luthor, depicted as quite the sociopath, does the US remain unconquered.

A true commitment to the underlying character of Superman, his compassion and humanity, generates a very different outcome.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Batman v Superman

I mumble about my enjoyment of Superman: Man of Steel. For all the visual spectacle, I felt the film lacked emotion. My excitement watching it felt as muted as the color palate used to depict the doomed dystopia of Krypton.

I will loudly proclaim my love for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. My worry and the sick feeling I had in my stomach have been replaced by a wide smile and a handful of chocolate covered almonds from the concession stand.

These frames from B:TDK will look awfully familiar after seeing BvS.

These frames from B:TDK will look awfully familiar after seeing BvS.

Director Zach Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong craft each shot with care to produce a sense of wonder. The pictures on the screen tug at the emotions and provide a series of stunning visuals. The images draw strongly from Frank Miller’s seminal work Batman: The Dark Night Returns, plucking art directly from the page up to screen.

BvS does not offer a very smart or mature Superman. Instead, it serves up a very flawed and human one.

Henry Cavill plays a subdued Superman. He is that quiet kid on the block, trying so hard to do the right thing and so evidently not understanding the gap between his actions and the perceptions of them. Confusion plays out across his face as the public tries to wrap their heads around the significance of the appearance of a powerful alien among them. A fire breaks out, he goes to save a child. During a flood, he rescues families. When called by his government to present himself, he goes. He plays the victim to the bully of Batman, pleading with the Dark Knight as a naïve boy scout in a desperate attempt to forestall a fight.

These two characters clearly adore each other in BvS.

Clark and Lois clearly adore each other in BvS.

An established love affair between Clark Kent and Lois Lane has not been presented on the screen before. Scenes between Cavill and Amy Adam as Lane, finally develop some chemistry between the two. Seeing these characters together, with their mix of playfulness and seriousness, feels real and honest. I believe it’s part of the reason behind the success of the current Superman: Lois and Clark comic and it works beautifully here.

If you're not reading this book. You should be.

If you’re not reading this book, you should be.

For all the previews of the armor and incredible toys, Ben Affleck reestablishes Batman as a detective and Bruce Wayne as a martini guzzling womanizer. The movie offers a vision of a slightly older Batman, a grognard deeply affected by his years of conflict. Again, Snyder pulls the best parts from the Batman: The Dark Night Returns, leaving Affleck’s surprisingly compassionate Batman war weary and tired, at the brink of true, authoritarian madness.

This is a Batman from the Golden Age. He is well armed and, using the words from 1940’s Batman #1, willing to “spit death.”

Frames from Batman #1, 1940.

Frames from Batman #1, 1940.

Jeremy Irons as Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth deserves more than a mention. His version of Alfred offers a more compassionate foil to an increasingly pressed Batman in an effort to pull his boss back from the edge. The movie Alfred serves to remind Bruce that his efforts and time spent outside of the costume matter as least as much as those within.

A few choice lines reused from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns spice up the portrayal with sardonic humor.

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I admit. I squeed at Wonder Woman’s entrance.

Without a doubt, Gal Gadot steals every scene where she appears. Diana Price never came off as so cool and collected, so poised and classic. Wonder Woman has never felt more right, a warrior princess from an island of Amazons. Gadot projects incredible insight into her character with a single, fleeting smirk during the climactic fight scene. Just thinking about that moment gets me counting the days until June 23, 2017 and the release of Wonder Woman.

 

It works better than you might think. Really.

They work better than you might think. Really.

It took a while for me to warm to Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. The comic book Luthor always feels unflappable; not one step ahead of the heroes, but five or six. Eisenberg’s character struck me as too flighty and disheveled to ever rise to the Presidency as did his comic book counterpart. Only in remembering Gene Hackman’s portrayal in 1978’s Superman, did I make peace with this interpretation. This is not the first time I’ve seen a more manic version of the villain. To Snyder’s and writers’ Chris  Terrio and David S. Goyer’s credit, this version of Lex Luthor works very well on film.

The story spills out like a comic book and can’t bear much scrutiny or careful consideration. The audience figuring out Lex Luthor’s convoluted scheme well before either Batman or Superman suits the movie, however.

This is an epic film, filled with epic characters. Like the gods of mythology, these are characters laid low by fatal flaws. A beacon of hope, Superman cannot conceive of the machinations of evil that surround and entrap him. A creature of darkness, Batman lies trapped by his inability to see anything but dark intrigues and collusions. This brings them into natural conflict with each other. I am thankful for the screenwriters who decided to use some pretty obscure bit of comic trivia to unite the two together. The conflict allows the friendship and respect of the two to begin.

I believe Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice marks director Zack Synder’s conquest of style with substance. I enjoyed both Superman: Man of Steel and Watchmen. For all their carefully crafted composition, they did little for me emotionally. BvS left me breathless and stunned, unsure where the movie was taking me, and not wanting the experience to end.

Fortunately, with the hints of the struggles to come sprinkled throughout the film, I know Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is just the beginning.

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