Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Hope Is All You Have

Cinema Blend has the story here that a Shazam! film about DC's Captain Marvel has a very slim hope of making it to a theater any time soon. That is due to the Man of Steel sequel you've been hearing so much about. The one with Henry Cavill as Superman, Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot, from the Fast & Furious film franchise (who love alliteration, give me a hey now!), just cast with Lynda Carter's blessing as Wonder Woman.

So, it all comes back to Superman's fault.

The Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal have a long history.

A history of being adversaries. Here's a quick recap. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster launched a super-hero boom. The most obvious, is that DC Comics - where Superman makes his home - wanted another character like Superman. Bob Kane created Batman, with input from baseball player and writer Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. Like a bolt of lightning, other publishers tried to copy Superman's success. C. C. Beck and Bill Parker created Captain Marvel for Fawcett Comics. DC filed a lawsuit, claiming that Captain (Shazam!) Marvel was an infringement on Superman. DC claimed that Fawcett had copied Superman as Captain Marvel. The Captain was shut down. DC later acquired Captain (Shazam!) Marvel from Fawcett; but, after Marvel comics had developed their own Captain Marvel. DC had shut Captain Marvel down and now could not publish the character as Captain Marvel due to possible infringement on Marvel Comics. That's ironic. DC now used the character under the banner of the Wizard that gave Captain Marvel his powers, and whose name alter ego Billy Batson shouted to transform, "Shazam!"

It might be hard to imagine just how similar Superman and Captain Marvel were at one Captain Marvel is really an orphan given powers far beyond mortal men by a wizard. He has the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and, the speed of Mercury. Superman is an orphan with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. How similar are these guys, really?

Pretty similar.      

But then, over the years, Superman developed an alien origin. He isn't just mild-mannered Clark Kent. He is really Kal-El, from the planet Krypton. Before the planet exploded, his father and mother, Jor-El and Lara put him in a rocket and sent him away to escape death. As his origin developed, Jor-El picked Earth as the place to send the boy. Jor-El knew that the boy would develop super powers under a yellow sun. Krypton orbited a red sun. Superman had no weaknesses, until, June 1943 and voice actor Bud Collier wanted a vacation and Kryptonite was created. Over the years, in addition to Kryptonite, Superman has a weakness for magic.

In contrast, Billy Batson was an orphan newsboy; he's become a a kid radio news reporter. Clark Kent was a newspaperman until the 1970's, when his became a television news anchorman. He's gone back to being a newspaperman. Emphasis is not really put on Billy having adoptive parents - loving adoptive parents - like Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark's adoptive parents. Billy's chief nemesis as Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a bald mad scientist much like Lex Luthor was from the Golden through the Bronze Age of comics. It is only a modern development that Lex has become a businessman and politician. Billy's only known weaknesses as Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is magic and lightning. Lightning is what transforms Billy into his alter ego.

Here's what I wonder. When DC acquired Captain (Shazam!) Marvel why didn't they have some fun and use him differently?

Instead of, say, just having Captain (Shazam!) Marvel always fighting Superman.

Instead of Captain (Shazam!) Marvel always fighting Superman.


Captain Marvel




Fighting Superman...

Here's what else I wonder: DC Comics' Golden-Age was made up of characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom. Characters that have changed over the years. The Flash in the Golden-Age of comics was named Jay Garrick. From the Silver-Age forward The Flash was a police forensics officer, Barry Allen. Barry was inspired to become the Flash after lightning struck a rack of chemicals and those super-charged chemicals doused him.

What if a young Clark Kent was inspired to become Superman and fight for truth, justice and the American way by watching Captain (Shazam!) Marvel? Batman's origin has been re-written that he was inspired by the Golden-Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, a Gotham City super hero. Alan was a railroad engineer that became a Gotham broadcast owner. Bruce Wayne was mentored by a number of Golden-Age heroes. Clark never really had a mentor, other than his adopted father, Jonathan Kent. Why couldn't a modern version of Superman include an origin where Clark was inspired by Billy Batson and his alter ego?

I get the "no tights, no flights" rule that Smallville operated under, but considering the opportunity for world building - like Marvel has been doing with The Avengers characters - the series was a kind of a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity that Man of Steel took hold of and ran at super speed with. DC is trying to get its characters into movies the same as Marvel, but using an opposite model. Instead of building up to a team movie - like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all leading to The Avengers - DC has been keeping characters like Batman, Green Lantern and Superman separate from each other. Until now. It appears the sequel to Man of Steel will be a group party.

Couldn't Clark have been inspired by the "World's Mightiest Mortal"? Maybe reading a Captain (Shazam!) Marvel comic book - Smallville's Lex was a Warrior Angel fan and had every issue. A Warrior Angel movie was even filmed in Smallville. Maybe Lex's father, Lionel, could have owned a production studio in Metropolis for a Shazam! television series.

With comic book characters, any thing is possible...     

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest 9 - Batman: Bat-murderer!

The Beloit College Mindset List is an invaluable resource understanding the current generation. It helps college professors understand the perspective of entering freshmen; it should help people understand the audience he/she/they are trying to reach.

There was a time before trade paperback collections; padded monthly comics designed for trade paperback collection and graphic novels. There was a time when comic books only reprinted themselves in comic book pages. The value and collectibility of a comic book was high. Print runs were low and so was the cover price. Welcome to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths world.

I've been re-organizing my paperback collection and found in a box of Batman paperback books, The Best of DC #9 - Batman. It's one of my treasured favorites. It collects the Detective Comics #444 - Bat Murderer storyline that ran from issues 444 to 448 and a 1969 reprint of Batman #216 - Angel - or Devil?
From a time when we enjoy full, complete creator credits, it is amazing to see a story with only three credits; writer, artist and editor. "Bat-murderer" is credited to writer Len Wein, artist Jim Aparo, and editor Julius Schwartz. That's it. There's no penciller, inker, colorist, letterer or assistant editor credits. Missing is the staple "Batman created by Bob Kane" credit!

The story is collected from 100 page issues of Detective Comics. Twelve-page original lead material, followed by several reprint stories. Wein's script is heavy melodrama. It opens with Commissioner Gordon scolding a Sargent for lighting the Bat-Signal. He then waxes eloquent and explains to this subordinate why the signal must go dark. Gordon is such a cool, philosophical, everyman boss. Wein's script. Is. Full. Of. Importance; highlighted by bold words. This is classic comics.

Gordon calls The Batman in to investigate why so many professionals are in Gotham. The Batman's investigation leads him to Talia and later to her father, Ra's Al Ghul, Sterling Silversmith and The Creeper, before he reaches the solution to the mystery. This is the alternative Batman to the Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman and Adam West's campy Batman of 1966. This is The Darknight Detective rather than Caped Crusader.

I must confess to a man-crush on Jim Aparo. Aparo was my first Batman artist, here in this digest and over in the three issue The Untold Legend of the Batman, The Brave and the Bold and then The Outsiders. He was a much leaner follow-up to Neal Adams. While Marshall Rogers is enjoyable, Aparo is more signature.
It's a noticeable change when Ernie Chan and Dick Giordano take over the story midway through to the conclusion.

In the end, it is a mystery if a smoking gun. Every bit a mystery that the Hush storyline would later be for Loeb and Lee.

Angel - or Devil? from Batman 216 is included to fill to 100 pages. It's a spotlight on the returned Alfred (who had spent some years deceased; and revived with a split personality as The Outsider), his niece Daphne and brother Wilfred. Both are thespians. There's a nice wink to Dick being incapacitated by a cold and unable to help Batman as Robin. That happened a lot before he left for college at upstate Hudson University. There's also a nod to the television series with a safe in the base of Shakespeare's bust. Dick Grayson's Robin is the only one who doesn't see a whole lot of action. This is more of an Alfred spotlight, with Batman as a supporting player, much like an enjoyable episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

Copies of this digest are very rare. If you have a copy treasure it and enjoy it. You might find a copy available for sale on eBay for upwards of $25! But it is certainly worth tracking down.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Would A Gilligan's Island Comic Book Look Like?

Warner Bros. has announced that Josh Gad will write and star in a feature film update of the 1960's television sitcom Gilligan's Island. It's unclear, as yet, which stranded castaway Gad will play, or when the film will reach theaters. There have been a number of proposals over the years of who should play the classic characters. The late Sherwood Schwartz considered Michael Cera, from Scott Pilgrim, Juno and Superbad, to be an ideal candidate for Gilligan. Cera's response was that he hadn't been offered the part, nor was he even interested. Whatever story a Gilligan's Island cast and film tells, I'd like to see Warner Bros. affiliate DC Comics publish a monthly all-ages comic book.

But what would a Gilligan's Island comic book look like? It could look like a lot of different things.

Archie Comics have recently gotten renewed energy after celebrating a milestone 600 issues with a "What if?" storyline involving Archie marrying either longtime sweethearts Veronica or Betty. Not only that, but Archie has recently met KISS, done a crossover with Glee and parodied Twilight. Right now, Archie is riding the zombie craze with a Walking Dead-like storyline, Afterlife With Archie.

A Gilligan's Island comic book could look an Archie comic book. 600 issues is a pretty good model to follow. DC Comics published 163 bi-monthly issues of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen from 1954 to 1974. Issues from that series have been collected in Showcase Presents: The Superman Family, and Superman: The Many Transformations of Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy Olsen, like Archie, has had a lot of wacky and strange adventures. Jimmy's encounters with Professor Phineas Potter were the source of a lot of those wacky adventures and strange transformations.

A Gilligan's Island comic book could look something like a Scooby Doo comic book. Archie comics brought the Hanna-Barbera character to comics in 1995. DC Comics acquired the rights two years later. DC published 159 issues of Scooby Doo before relaunching the title as Scooby Doo, Where Are You in 2010. DC just launched a Scooby Doo Team-Up book.

In 1992, when Warner Bros. launched an animated Batman series - cartoon are now known by the sophisticated term "animated series" - a tie-in comic The Batman Adventures was launched. The book was relaunched a number of times to reflect changes in the series. The Batman Adventures ran 36 issues; The Batman and Robin Adventures another 25; and Batman: Gotham Adventures 60 issues. DC's all ages imprint has had equal success with Superman Adventures, a tie-in to the Superman animated series; Justice League Adventures and Justice League Unlimited; Teen Titans: Go and Tiny Titans. Those are just the super-hero properties. DC's Looney Tunes published 212 issues starting in 1994.

Still, what would an issue of a Gilligan's Island comic book look like? The Batman Adventures perfected a three-act story scripted out over twenty-two pages. A twenty-two page comic book is comparable to a thirty minute episode.

A Gilligan's Island comic book could look like a Simpsons comic book. Over the last twenty years, Bongo Comics has published 207 issues of Simpsons Comics. According to Wikipedia, with 538 episodes over twenty-five seasons The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest running animated series, and is the longest running prime-time scripted television series. Gilligan's Island lasted only 98 episodes before it was cancelled. Legend has it that creator Sherwood Schwartz wrote down ideas for the series on a roll of paper he unrolled at CBS offices to pitch the series.

If Archie can reach 600 issues, The Simpsons 207, Looney Tunes 212, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen 163 and Scooby Doo 159 - and that is 159 in just one of three different runs - then Gilligan's Island certainly has potential. It's just a matter of finding the right all-ages writer that can capture the moral lessons of Gilligan's Island. Names like Sholly Fisch, Jeff Parker, Michael Uslan, J. Torres, Art Baltazar, Chris Giarusso, Kelley Puckett, and Terrance Griep come to mind. Each one has proven success writing all-ages comic books. Tim Levins comes to mind as a penciller to capture the look of the Castaways.  Joan Hilty would make an excellent editor.

Right now, DC is publishing a tie-in comic for Arrow; Smallville: Season Eleven; and Batman '66, stories based on the 1966-1968 live action Batman television series starring Adam West. There's no reason why a Gilligan's Island comic couldn't be both profitable and successful. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Gilligan Adventures

There was a Welcome Back, Kotter comic book. 'Strewth. It lasted ten issues. There was both a My Favorite Martian (nine issues) and a The Courtship of Eddie's Father (two issues) comic book. There have been tie-in comic books for The Terminator, Back to the Future, Lost in Space, Married...With Children, Quantum Leap, The X-Files and The A-Team.  

Star Trek and Star Wars have done very well as comic books. Star Trek: The Original Series started out at Gold Key Comics. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, Marvel won the license and produced a number of issues before the license went to DC Comics. Right now, IDW is doing very well producing Star Trek comic books, based on the new J. J. Abrams reboot of the property. Star Trek made the bog leap to film in part because of the whole sci-fi boom of the '70's. A boom that was started by George Lucas and a film he made called Star Wars. Marvel produced a giant-sized, two issue adaptation of the film, a six- adaptation of the film and a total of over a hundred monthly issues that wrapped up with the release of Return of the Jedi. A few years later, Dark Horse acquired the license and has had great success for over twenty years with the property. Star Wars-inspired titles like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Flash Gordon - which had been newspaper strips - to make the jump to film and television and ultimately comic books. Battlestar Galactica did modest success for Marvel in the '70's and recently for Dynamite Entertainment.

Right now there is a boom in licensed comic books. Cult favorite Firefly is returning as a Dark Horse comic book, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done well with both Season Eight and Season Nine comic books. Firefly has already enjoyed success with mini-series and one shot books at Dark Horse.

This year, Doctor Who celebrated his 50th anniversary on BBC and in a twelve-issue series, "Prisoners of Time", at IDW. The Matt Smith iteration is wrapping up a four-year run as well there. 

The Green Hornet was at Now Comics, then at Moonstone and now does very well at Dynamite Entertainment. The Lone Ranger is at Dynamite; along with The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman. Along with Firefly at Dark Horse, coming in 2014 at Dynamite is The Six Million Dollar Man: Season Six.

Companies like Boom!, Dynamite, Gold Key, IDW, Innovation, Now, Topps as well as Dark Horse, DC and Marvel have had modest to overwhelming success with licensed comics. DC and Marvel have turned it almost into an  infinity loop. Comics based on cartoons or live action series based on their comic book characters. Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League, Teen Titans and Young Justice for DC; Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and The Avengers are just a few of the characters at Marvel that have been developed as cartoons, then in turn tie-in comic books.

This is basically just a long explanation that if you can watch it on television or in film, you can probably see it show up as a comic book. Which makes me hope that with Warner Bros. going ahead with a reboot film of Gilligan's Island, DC Comics will add the property as a digital-to-physical comic book.

Bongo Comics has produced The Simpsons, Bartman, Radioactive Man and Itchy and Scratchy comics along with Futurama comics. The idea is not that far-fetched.

I think it would be kinda cool to see continuing adventures on Gilligan's Island. Classic Gilligan's Island. With the original characters. Like what DC is doing with their digital-to-physical Batman '66 comic. They can use the designs from the animated series and run with it. I'm nostalgic, so I would buy it in a heartbeat. The question is, would a '60's concept like Gilligan's Island sell today. IDW launched with CSI and 24 tie-in comics. Dynamite is working both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet which are Golden Age concepts, as well as '70's properties The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman. I would think if the stories and the art are good, a Gilligan's Island comic book would sell. There have been a lot of television and film tie-in comic books. The ones that sell have had high quality production values.

I believe that Warner Bros. and DC Comics need this. They have been trying to launch their super-hero properties from comic books to live action for a while now. Wonder Woman stalled in a live action reboot; Green Lantern underperformed. Superman has had mixed results. Batman has been the only proven money-maker.

I might be biased, because I am a fan of Gilligan's Island, but I'd like to see the little Minnow that could finally achieve the potential that it has been so close to.

What do you think?