Jun 14, 2013

On Superman and MAN OF STEEL

*Warning: Analysis and Mild, Non-Specific Spoilers for Man of Steel ahead.*

I’m not sure when I fell in love with Superman. I’ve been reading Superman comics for as long as I’ve been reading comics, but I wouldn’t say that I loved the character until recently, and I’m not sure that I can pinpoint just when it happened. It was before Superman Returns came out, for sure – the tears of joy that I cried while watching that movie for the first time were copious, and while I later came to recognize that it’s a flawed film, it's still one that I really enjoy.












I think, actually, that it was Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s incredible All-Star Superman that made me really get what Superman is all about. Superman is about the best of us. He exemplifies that ideal, and makes those around him strive to be better than they are. He inspires hope and peace. Batman is about the darkness in us; Superman is about the light, the inherent good in people. Superman is for everyone.

I went into Man of Steel hoping that the film would capture those feelings. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are dark, painfully serious affairs. That may work for Batman, but with Nolan producing Man of Steel my fear had been that it would feel the same way. The last couple of trailers gave me hope, though. The voiceover from Russell Crowe’s Jor-El made it sound like Nolan and director Zach Snyder got it, that Superman would be that inspiration, that beacon for the world that he’s supposed to be.
 
There’s a lot to like about Man of Steel. I thought the cast was superb. Henry Cavill is a likable Clark Kent, Amy Adams is stellar as Lois Lane, and Michael Shannon is wonderfully maniacal as General Zod. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane’s turns as Jonathan and Martha Kent give the film nearly all of its emotional depth. Antje Traue is great as Faora, Zod's number one lieutenant and a major adversary of Superman's during one of the larger fight sequences.  The bit players that surround the headliners are a who’s who of favorites – Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni, and Harry Lennix all get a good amount of screen-time, and it’s great to see Battlestar Galactica alums Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani in anything. Schiff in particular is masterful casting as the Superman universe’s resident scientist, Emil Hamilton (a role that, coincidentally, Juliani played on Smallville). The effects are beautiful, particularly during the Krypton sequences. The action sequences are intense and the stakes are high. Anyone who complained that Superman never hits things in the other movies should have no complaints here. And yet…

They missed him. They missed Superman. They missed the thing that makes me love him – his complete and utter selflessness.

Sure, at one point Superman hands himself over to the Kryptonian army in an attempt to spare the Earth. That’s great. But after that? Superman spends so much time hitting things that he doesn’t have time for anything else. He doesn’t have time to make sure no one’s in his way. He doesn’t have time to direct the action away from populated or developed areas. He doesn’t have time to save people who might have been caught in the crossfire of the one-man war that he’s fighting against an army of human-hating Kryptonian killers.

And that’s not Superman.

Superman always has time for those things. He always makes sure no one’s injured, or if they are that they’re taken care of. He always tries to move the fight to a location where minimal damage will be done. His first thought is always about how to keep people safe. How to beat the bad guys is part of that, but it’s not all there is.













There is one moment in Man of Steel of pure joy – Clark’s first flight, of course – and a few brief bits of humor, but overall it’s exactly what I feared it would be: a relentlessly dour, almost completely joyless movie. Superman in this film feels like a weapon. When he flies, he thunders away, and when he lands, he tends to tumble and crash. He is the most powerful man on the planet, and he’s worried about how people are going to react to that, and given the way he acts he’s right to be worried. There’s a grace to Superman that is absent from him in this movie. Maybe it’s because it’s an origin story and he’s still learning. I tend to think it’s just something the filmmakers didn’t think about while they were making the movie.

One thing you can tell Snyder definitely thought about was wholesale destruction of cities large and small. There are action sequences in both Smallville and Metropolis that basically leave both cities demolished. It’s as if Snyder watched the Destroyer sequence from Thor and the climactic battle of The Avengers and thought, ‘This shit is amateur hour.’ If the quality of a movie is directly proportional to the cost of repairing the city destroyed in it, then Man of Steel must be the best movie of all time.

All in all, Man of Steel is a fine movie. The story is decent and the action is exciting. As a Superman movie, though, the film fundamentally lacks an understanding of what makes Superman Superman . It takes more than a set of powers to be Superman. Hopefully Clark will have developed those qualities by the time Man of Steel 2 rolls around.

May 21, 2012

The King of Cartoons

 
My friend Jason Young has been making comics for as far back as I can remember. So, since 1999, the year of my traumatic head injury. Okay, that didn't really happen, and I can remember lots of stuff from before '99 (most of it involves toys or comics). True story, though: when I was in high school I fell off the side of a flatbed truck. It wasn't in motion or anything, but as soon as I hit the ground I was certain I had broken my neck and was paralyzed forever. That turned out to not be the case, but man, that was the most terrifying four seconds of my life.

Where was I?  Oh, yes, Jason Young.  I've been friends with Jason for a long time - we both work/have worked together at Mavericks Cards & Comics in beautiful Dayton, OH, and we both friggin' love comics. I've read all of Jason's comics since Panic Attack oh those years ago, and I've been a fan ever since. And not just because he's my friend. If I thought his comics sucked, I wouldn't be writing about them.  He's an excellent storyteller, and I've really enjoyed watching his writing and art evolve and improve over the past decade-plus.

Jason does a mini-comic called Veggie Dog Saturn, filled with autobiographical tales of the past and present. Last year he told me he was going to be doing a special issue with all of the artists that he knows. He would write stories and have them draw them, and it would be really fun and cool. I told him I thought that was a great idea. Then he asked me to draw a story for the special, and I asked if he was feeling alright. He assured me that he was, and after I made sure he really wanted me to do it, I agreed happily.

He sent me the script for the three-page story in May of 2011.  By March of 2012, I had completed one page. When he gave me a deadline for it, I managed to crank out the remaining two pages within two weeks.  Lesson learned: Joe needs deadlines.

The story I drew is called "The King of Cartoons". The Veggie Dog Saturn Special is available for purchase here. While you're on his site, check out Jason's other work, including his regular diary comics, "Day-Off Diaries".  A preview of "The King of Cartoons" is here:

PageforBlog

I have to admit, I'm really proud of this story. The rest of the special is excellent as well and features some really funny and really touching stories. Everyone who worked on this book is amazing. Plus me. You should all order a copy from Jason right away.

Between working on this book and going to a small-press comic convention up in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, I'm seriously itching to make more comics. Post-Script was a good warmup (copies still available, kids!), but drawing this story for Jason instilled some real confidence in me. Writing scripts and doing concept work at the moment.  More to come sooner rather than later.

Sep 6, 2011

Also, I brought you back to life.

Back in the '90s, Green Lantern Hal Jordan's hometown was destroyed by aliens. It's more complicated than that, but that's what it boils down to. Hal went nutso, destroyed most of the Green Lantern Corps, and became a supervillain. Around this time, Peter David was writing The Incredible Hulk for Marvel. At one point during his run, David had Bruce Banner commited, though I'm not sure what the circumstances around that were. Still, with Banner in an insane asylum, why not throw in a nod to the Distinguished Competition's recently bonkers ringslinger?

Hulk426Panel

I love stuff like this, little unofficial crossovers between universes, and this one is one of my favorites. My pals Jason Young and Eric Shonborn have both had work published on the excellent Repaneled blog, and I thought I'd give a shot to joining them. I've been told that copying other artists is a totally normal way to learn, so it's both fun and educational, and how many things can say that they're both of those things? One night, while drawing with Eric and Jason, I decided to redraw the panel above. I penciled it, and Jason inked it. Here's the lettered black and white:

Hulk426Repanel

Jason's inks are awesome. I particularly like the 'halo' effect around Hal's shirt/fist. I colored it with colored pencils, and submitted it to Repaneled. By some miracle, it's being featured today. You can check out the finished product here, and be sure to check out the other great stuff there, too.

Aug 30, 2011

Jody and Mark's Wedding Favor

While I haven't blogged in a while, that doesn't mean I haven't been drawing. Maybe not as much as I could or should be, but some drawing is better than no drawing, I think. A few things I can't show you yet because they're either not done or because I'm saving them for a special occasion (I don't know what that means), but I can show you this, which I drew for my friends Jody and Mark for their wedding.

Jody and Mark are big Iron Man fans, so they asked me to recreate the cover to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (which actually had two different covers)...

ASMAnnual21aASMAnnual21b

...but with Iron Man characters instead of Spidey characters.

Their wedding was superhero themed, with Mark as Iron Man, and his groomsmen as Spider-Man, The Hulk, Captain America, and Wolverine. Also, apparently Pepper Potts has her own set of armor in comics now, a variation on the Silver Centurion armor, and she goes by the name of Rescue. So that's a thing that she wanted to include. I looked up Rescue's armor and wasn't impressed - too many plates and unnecessary pieces - but I figured since I was going to be using Iron Man's silver age armor, I would modify Pepper's armor to look more like the original Silver Centurion.

Here's the piece that I first drew, around two months before their wedding.

IronManWedding

I was really happy with this. I didn't want to screw it up from there. So rather than do any more work on it, I let it sit for another two months, until finally, a week before their wedding, at more or less the last possible moment, I decided to finish. I need a deadline, is what I'm saying. Here's the finished product. I drew in the rest of the groomsmen, and added in the logos and their heads.

IronManWeddingComplete2

They put copies of this on the tables at the reception, along with crayons so the guests could color. I understand people had a lot of fun with them, and that there were an appropriate number of devil horns drawn on both of their heads.

Congrats, Jody and Mark!

Jul 4, 2011

Not Exactly the Fastest Man Alive

So I haven't updated in a while. That's mostly because I haven't been drawing a ton lately. I've been busy with other things, and while some of those things are video games and mainlining TV shows, not all of them are. Here's what I've been doing:

Writing - I've written a short story to submit to the Machine of Death 2 anthology. I may write another one before the July 15th deadline. I'm pretty happy with this first story, though.

Workin' On My Fitness - I got on the scale a few weeks ago and did not like what I saw, so I, with Jennie's help, have started dieting and exercising. This past week was the first week we've done it, and I've already lost 8 pounds. It's exciting, and hopefully means I will live longer, thus giving me more of a lifetime to not blog. Hooray?

I sat down to draw last night while we watched Black Swan. I intended to try to draw Natalie Portman or something else from the movie (I'd seen it before so I didn't mind being distracted), but I couldn't get into it. When I can't think of what to draw, I draw The Flash. So I drew The Flash.

TheFlash1

Good old Wally West. How about those proportions? He looks like a He-Man figure. I decided to move on from just drawing heads, though, to trying to draw full figures. I read the next chapter of the DC Comics drawing book, which was anatomy, and afterwards my head was swimming with all of the muscles and how they move and what-not. I know I'm not going to do it well on my first try, and this drawing is proof of that, but I'm going to keep trying. That's what this is all about, right? About the only thing I really like about this drawing is the left hand. The rest...well, it's a process.

I've got a few books to read and work through now, so hopefully I'll be posting more. I'll try to play fewer video games, too. It's really just Batman: Arkham Asylum that I've been playing. What a great game.

Till next time.