Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I know, I know...

I haven't posted in awhile. That's because I've been putting energy and thought into a new blog, which is a community project-- that community being the Big Monkey Regulars. We're doing "Bugle's Planet" and it'll be a blast.
Expect a link here when we're up and running.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Overheard at Big Monkey...

I'm putting this out now but plan to fill it in tonight.

Wednesday night at Big Monkey is like Callahan's bar for comics fans: a handful of regulars sit around shooting the breeze for hours on end, as customers drift in and out (then sometimes stop to talk awhile). In the course of this breeze-shooting, things get said.

Often they are outrageous things. Hilarious things. Heck, if we could podcast it, we would.

All of which is to say, I plan to bear a few of these bon mots back to my blog and share them with you. Maybe it'll urge you to come to BMC Wednesday evenings and hang out yourself.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Congrats to Drew and Kat!

It was our second wedding anniversary yesterday! Doesn't seem like it could have been two years, y'know? We celebrated with dinner at Clyde's in Gallery Place (ask for the patio overlooking the theater entry!), then home to watch Heroes.

Congrats to Dr Benhatton!

Big Monkey's own Dr Benhatton got married this past Saturday. Way to go! Join the ranks of the married and savor the tax breaks!

More About Heroes Finale

Pretty cool chat online with Tim Kring and Hayden Panettiere (Claire) here. Strongly suggests...

  • We haven't seen the last of Peter Petrelli;
  • Claire will be a significant presence next season;
  • Angela Petrelli has powers of her own;
  • Hiro's time-trip will have ramifications (and some reveals);
  • the team would *love* to have Claude return, if Christopher Eccleston is available;
  • the "cliffhangers" regarding several characters (esp. Parkman, Sylar and DL?) will be resolved; and
  • "Vol 2: Generations" will not be a season-long story arc but will end halfway through the season.


  • Coolest line of the night: "Call me Noah." (Wonder what Noah Gray-Cabey [Micah] thought of that?)
  • Niki playing "batter up!" on Sylar was terrific
  • Isaac's visions didn't *exactly* come true but... sort of!
  • I really was expecting them to find some way to cut off Sylar's ability to add more powers--how the heck are they going to stop him next time?
  • Revising my opinion from a few posts back, I doubt Parkman and DL will be killed off; they've suggested some cast members might not return in major roles, so I'm thinking they may shuffle them offscreen rather than kill them off for good
  • Mohinder is kicking more @$$ by the day!

That's all for this post. Keep an eye on there's going to be more stuff over the summer to keep us Heroes fans coming back.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Heroes Season Finale

Kat and I were blown away.
We were surprised by some developments, unsurprised by others.

We thought that Peter and Sylar would have MUCH more of a smackdown than they finally had; it was almost anticlimactic. However, we didn't see Niki smashing Sylar with the parking meter! What a great shot!
Of course, it was neat that Hiro *did* manage to impale Sylar... but he managed to survive, probably with his powers intact! Man, it's gonna be hard finding another Hero who can go toe-to-toe with him, especially with Hiro lost in the deep past. (Or is Sylar alive? Maybe something is just moving his body around... ew.)
Glad to see Ando survived, despite Isaac's artwork.
Does anyone really think Peter is dead? He exploded, sure, but he had Claire's healing power and we saw that Ted didn't suffer from the worst effects of his power. I'm betting Peter at least is alive. Nathan, sadly, is probably gone to that big Capitol in the sky.
Strong episode, now we can't wait until next season.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fantastic Forum

Another great time had by all on Saturday, as we taped three installments of "Fantastic Forum." Ulie and Sherin each hosted one episode, then Sherin hosted a third with help from Ulie (who was a panelist for the first time).

It's fun to watch a show taping from the inside, as a panelist sitting there and hoping you don't say something so outrageous it'll set the studio on fire. We seem to have had a few of those this time around... hopefully, you readers will tune in and see what I mean.

In the meantime, we have another taping day set for June 2. Should be a blast, and we have some ideas for how to end the season. Now it's just a question of which idea it'll be.

You Just Had to Be There...

Y'know, taping a TV show is one of those things that seems so easy, but takes so much work. For instance, there we were yesterday at DCTV, taping an episode of "Fantastic Forum," my friend Ulie's show about comic books. I did two of the three shows-- and in the second, one of my co-panelists, Roberto, digressed rather... um, spectacularly.

Can't remember how it happened, but Roberto began talking about Puerto Rican girls. I won't deprive you of the experience of watching this for yourself (keep an eye out for upcoming "Fantastic Forum" showings!), but suffice to say that Roberto has strong feelings regarding his community's distaff side. We were dumbstruck... and our host, Sherin, was at a loss for how to continue, even though we all laughed about it afterward.

On the down side, we're all afraid Roberto will never be safe in New York City ever again.

In other news, we had some good one liners crop up here and there. Notably:

  • "No name necessary!" (John Brooks)
  • "If we were the cast of HEROES, I'd be..." (a lot of us)
  • "I've got the hammer now!" (Ulysses Campbell)

C'mon, some of you reading this post where there. Help me out-- what were some other great lines? It was like Wednesday at Big Monkey on steroids. Definitely a blast was had by all.

Be safe, Roberto.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

End of the Season: Heroes

It's coming up on the season finale and I'm on the edge of my seat.
Some guesses:

  • Peter and Sylar will have one hellacious battle (or more than one);
  • Hiro will "rewind" the explosion after it happens, nullifying it retroactively the way he "unfired" that showgirl's gun in Vegas;
  • Sylar's power to acquire more powers will be broken (maybe by Peter), and he won't be able to gain additional abilities--he may even lose some or most of his existing powers-- but he'll survive the season's end;
  • Parkman seems to have been shot in the preview;
  • DL *might* survive;
  • Nathan will resign his newly-won position as Congressman, once the "exploding man" plan cannot happen; and
  • Ando is probably going to die.

Cannot wait.


I'm tired of it.
I'm tired of the many who feel the need to fuel fires of hatred between groups, races, religions, ideologies...
Heck, I'm partisan about my politics, but it's gotten to the breaking point. America needs to come together, to be UNITED, in ways that it hasn't been in a generation. It's easy to point fingers and accuse figures of years past-- but that will not get us anywhere.
The hard part is figuring out what to do.
How to heal the gaping wounds inflicted on our sense of commonality, on our sense of being Americans and knowing what that means-- beyond the flag-waving and rhetoric of patriotism.
How to make this country great again.
I'm tired now... I think a lot of us are tired.
But we can recover.
Where do we go from here?
It's time we asked ourselves that question.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Kat spent a big chunk of last night uploading a bunch of photos we shot while doing a friend's TV show (which should be online soon [or maybe even now]).
Here's the link!
Take a look and let us know what you think-- we get a little wacky.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dr Tran

You have to see this, but be warned: it is VERY twisted and NOT work-safe!
Blame Kat-- she got me into it.


Spider-Man 3: The Review

Okay, let's get it over with: I did not hate Spider-Man 3.

A number of my friends seemed to be unhappy and I'll admit, if I'd gone to a midnight showing of a two-plus-hour movie, I would've been a little ass-burned by the end too. (Especially if I had only three hours of sleep to look forward to afterward... I mean, jeez!)

Spider-Man is an iconic character. He might not be up there with Superman just yet in terms of universal identification but there are a lot of folks in the US who know that red-and-blue costume. Plus the movies have made him more famous than the past 40+ years of comics. As for this new movie... there were a few things at work here for me going in, as I shall enumerate below:

  1. My friends told me going in that it was at best mixed and at worst disappointing;
  2. The reviews said as much;
  3. My expectations were not very high to start, as I figure by any third part of a trilogy, the creative fires are guttering if not nearly extinguished.

Tobey Maguire gives it his all but Spider-Man ends up struggling for screen (and theme) time, what with Sandman, "New Goblin" and Venom getting origin stories, MJ's career getting flushed down the toilet (after one bad review? sheesh!), the introduction of Gwen Stacy (who never really amounts to being a rival for Peter's affections), and... well, on and on.

To me, the movie's about redemption. Peter suffers the sin of hubris (embodied by his reckless "jerkiness" while wearing the symbiote-- remember, it only *enhances* whatever is there, in this case a big fat head from too much NY/Spidey love), and comes crashing back down to Earth when it's rubbed in his face that it's costing him MJ. MJ suffers a lot here too, realizing that being Spider-Man's girlfriend is NOT all fun and games; like cops' wives, there's times when he won't be there for her and times when she'll worry if he's coming home at all.

On the villain side, Sandman's a small time crook and loser who only wants to see his sick little girl. His motivation is at least somewhat noble; not so Eddie Brock, who's a sleazy jerk eager to grab the spot Peter's worked for on the Daily Bugle staff. If Sandman is trying to do something positive--even through criminal means--Eddie is a dark twin to Peter: the guy who Peter might have been if things had been different. His Venom is a murderous glob of tar and malice with big teeth... and he's the only character who doesn't try to redeem himself in any way.

Lastly, the whole "redemption" theme rests heavily on Harry Osborn, who has gone through some of the insanity his father left him as of the first movie. He's finally gotten clear of it but now has the power to choose: villain or friend? Murderer or partner? It's an interesting bit of story arc and James Franco handles it very well.

All in all, this could be the last installment of Spider-Man on film for awhile and that'd be okay. I'd rather see this group recharge their batteries and come back strong than limp through a bloated Spider-Man 4 (featuring Vulture, Electro, Rhino, Kraven and Carnage, kiddies!!). Sony would also do better with a better film, rather than chase after profits with some reckless sequel in two years.

Just my two cents.

...And We're Back!

Kat and I went to NJ this past week for Kat's birthday. She turned 25 on Monday (Happy Birthday, baby!) and had a great time wandering the highways and byways of the Garden State. We were in NYC Tuesday through Wednesday, got to see Spamalot (great show, btw), wandered into a little place later that night... all around a terrific time.

Now it's back to work. I have some editing to do on a freelance project, as well as writing the second chapter of a novel in progress.

Hope you've all had a fine week, as we plunge headlong from early spring into mid-summer, and that I'll see you all soon!

Chaos! Indeed Pt 2: Fun? At First, Yeah...

Chaos! was really a partnership more than a company-- it was Brian and Fran all the way. They had a number of employees, me among them (briefly), but it was their company, their blood and sweat and tears, their dreams and ambitions.

This may explain a lot to outsiders.

Brian was a high-energy idea machine and he preferred to work from home, as did Steven Hughes, the company's artistic director and founding artist (his Lady Death, to me, is definitive). We saw Brian every other day or so but most contact was by phone or email.

When I moved up to being managing editor, I realized that I didn't have the skills necessary to do the job. Confiding this to Brian, he urged me not to worry about it and began looking for a suitable candidate for the job. There were a couple of possibilities but nobody panned out, and things weren't getting better.

Meanwhile, I had work to do. Brian's philosophy was that we should run a 9-to-5 office. That usually is how it worked out but not always; being in the office until 6 wasn't uncommon, especially the longer I was ME. I did my best to apply what I knew from WildStorm to Chaos!, with mixed results. Mike Flippin worked hard to get each issue out the door, as did Jack Gray. The art moved through on deadline-- more or less-- and we got the books to print.

But cracks were starting to show, a number of them due to, well, me.

Brian brought in a chief operating officer and chief financial officer, one an old friend and the other met through a course of educational/life-enrichment training that many in Chaos! attended. Things, especially in terms of management, changed and I had the same sense I'd gotten at WildStorm in 1996: I wouldn't be around too long. There were things going on in the office that only made this clearer as we moved from June into July, and it became painfully obvious when Brian hired a new guy and asked me to start training him, right before Comic Con '97.

C'mon, the writing on the wall was in 48 point boldface.

Phil Nutman, one of the nicest guys I've known in the biz, invited me to breakfast at Comic Con in '97. He said he hadn't heard anything specific but that my job was on the line and I'd better right the ship immediately. (This came after an embarrassing blunder regarding publication of a special edition-- it was my slip-up, through miscommunication with our printer-- and Brian was livid.)

It was August of '97, about five months after I started, that things fell apart badly. Brian hit me (not literally) with two write-ups of things he insisted I had failed to do, and fired me on a Friday about a week before my birthday. It was startling but also a relief. I'd come to dislike nearly everything about Chaos! by that point-- there were some people I liked, some people I could work with, and some I couldn't even look at (luckily, this last group was very few in number). All told, though, I was relieved not to be in that job, just as I'm sure Brian was convinced he'd removed an obstacle to the company's success.

I cast around for another job, found a position through a temp firm, and worked for an insurance company until my year's lease in Scottsdale was up. (This job was, if anything, far WORSE than Chaos! but I didn't want to break another lease if I could avoid it. It didn't matter; I didn't get my security deposit back anyway.)

As with WildStorm, was there anything I miss about Chaos!? Anything that I liked?

Brian tried to run a happy office. Often it was-- a field trip to the local amusement park stands out-- but sometimes it really wasn't. He and I had different sensibilities-- he was passionate about certain types of horror, which didn't appeal to me as strongly. We co-wrote a pretty good EVIL ERNIE #0, with some stuff I'm rather proud of having written, but my enthusiasm for hardcore horror waned with every passing week.

In short, there's much less I miss about Chaos! than WildStorm.

Let me close with where I thought Chaos! might go. Some of you reading this may have already heard about how I suggested we head toward the millennium (some of which we incorporated into a card set), but here it is again:

  • Ernie and Smiley (his psychotic button) have a falling-out and Smiley leaves, which sets up Ernie falling apart-- his body (which isn't his) starts to rot fast and Ernie has to find his own original body before he collapses. (Smiley, it turns out, is an integral part of Ernie's undead vitality.) Along the way, he has to tie his arm-bones together with barbed wire lest they fall apart. He has a hellish encounter with the ghosts of his parents, an event that nearly destroys him, facilitated by the Dead Mind (a gestalt undead consciousness that wants to wrest control of the zombies from Ernie).
  • Smiley hooks up with Homicide and (GROSSOUT WARNING) pins himself to Homicide's eyeball so that his new partner won't toss him aside like Ernie did (or so Smiley thinks).
  • Lady Death realizes she's been played by Lucifer: If she pursues Mega-Death (note the similarity to the name of a certain metal band), Earth will become the Endless Graveyard (her Afterlife prison for hundreds of years). She can never return to a living Earth, which is what part of her always wanted. She begins to break past the attributes foisted on her by Lucifer (through a complex machination involving his creation of an "anti-Eve") and really fights the Devil's plans for perhaps the first time rather than being his catspaw.
  • Leonard Price injects himself with an anti-zombie serum and becomes "half-dead", an intelligent and independent zombie whose goal is to fight Ernie on more even terms.
  • Ernie's doctor (sorry, can't remember her name) is put on trial for 'necrocide' and nearly killed but survives.
  • Her little sister and her boyfriend are roaming zombie-killers.
  • The host of Chaos! characters align against Ernie, fearing that Mega-Death will kill them or put them under Lady Death's power.
  • Lady Death realizes that she does love Ernie; his love for her has been pure and selfless. It's a devastating moment for her. But she has to stop Mega-Death, putting her in the weird position of trying to save the world.
  • In a desperation move, she tells Ernie that she never loved him but only used his love to further her own goals. Ernie is driven further into madness by this betrayal and unleashes his full power to bend reality, even as the missiles fly, the zombie armies attack and Mega-Death is imminent.
  • The last double-page spread is a whiteout with little bits and pieces flying from an explosion in the middle: Smiley, part of Lady Death's belt of skulls, a shred of Ernie's leather jacket, and so on.
  • Close on THE END.
  • The next month, a new EVIL ERNIE series would launch with Ernie as a troubled delinquent high-schooler, his former doctor as a classmate (and the only one who remembers what happened before), and an evil greenish ghost-mist (Smiley?) that haunts Ernie; we'd also see an amnesiac Lady Death out in the middle of nowhere, depowered and bereft, put on a path to reclaiming the components of her identity through a series of trials and confrontations over the course of a year. The new Earth is broken in some significant ways, setting up new possibilities for horror moving forward.
  • And this would have been the springboard for the new Chaos! universe, circa 2000.

Ah well. Don't even get me started on the GEN13/EVIL ERNIE pitch I put together.

To be honest, I haven't so much as glanced at a Chaos! title (or Avatar or anything else Brian's written) since about 1998. Not much interest, really. It's not like I hate Brian; I haven't felt any animosity for the guy in a long time-- I even sent him a letter congratulating him on a deal with Marvel in 1998, to which he sent a gracious response-- and even wish him and Fran well. Besides which, they've weathered their own heartbreak: Ernie and the rest of the Chaos! lineup were sold when the company went out of business, but Brian held on to Lady Death (a character I always believed to be an homage to Fran, in a way) and has kept her in print, which is heroic in its way.

And that was the end of my days as a comic book professional. Let it be a warning to you, friends. Sometimes there are appealing, even dream jobs that you're better off turning down.

By the way, this post is subtitled in tribute to a Monty Python sketch.

Does anyone remember the Piranha Brothers by Monty Python? They ask a guy about his dealings with Doug and Dinsdale Piranha. He explains that after denying he was the guy Doug wanted to see "he loosed his temper and nailed me head to the floor."

The reporter, shocked, asks, "He nailed your head to the floor?"

The man replies, "At first, yeah."

This is to give context to my feelings about my time at Chaos!, in case you wanted to know.

New Reviews!

Hey readers, check out this month's new reviews on SFRevu! There's reviews of IRONSIDE by Holly Black and MEET THE ROBINSONS, the new movie from Disney. Check 'em out!

Chaos! Indeed Pt 1: The Best Job I Should Never Have Taken

I met Brian Pulido a long time ago-- I think it was maybe 1990, right around the time he was publishing EVIL ERNIE #1. It was a splatterpunk book with some interesting angles to it, and (most interesting of all, to me) it was set in Long Branch, NJ... mere miles from where I was living as a teen and twentysomething. Brian was an interesting guy as well, intense and passionate and a great pitchman for his indy title. Activision in LA playing video games (which is both more and less fun than it sounds), I got in touch with Brian about writing some card backs, 'cause Chaos! was selling LOTS of card sets then-- it was just one of those "out of the blue" queries I sent out looking for work, since playing video games is not the ticket to vast fortune you might expect. He wrote back and put me in touch with Chaos!'s managing editor. She assigned me some card backs, I wrote 'em up and all was going well.

So well, in fact, that Brian asked if I'd consider a job with the company. He asked me to come out to Scottsdale, AZ, and talk-- which I did-- and we gabbed about the comics, the way they were going and what might be done with them. He was interested in my having done the WILDSTORMS! game and thought I had some good ideas about where Ernie, Lady Death et al might go next.

It was a huge ego stroke and it was comics (again!). When Brian called to offer me a job as "development editor," it took me all of a second to say yes. Money? Didn't matter, it was more than I was making. Moving? Yeah, I'd have to break a lease but heck, it wasn't going to cost me more to live in Arizona than LA. (HA!!)

Before I moved out, I had dinner with Brian, Clayburn Moore and Bill Liebowitz (the late, great presence behind Golden Apple Comics in LA), where we talked action figures and toy lines. I suggested accessory packs, which didn't go over all that well, but it was a good dinner and very productive; Clay was slated to the Evil Ernie figures and was very eager to get working.

When I moved out of LA-- a process that entailed renting a U-Haul and hiring a handful of day workers to move my stuff onto the truck-- I was eager and nervous myself. I moved in and spent a lonely weekend before starting work.

Once at the office, though, the Chaos! gang was cool, with Cheryl (the office's admin assistant) helping me find a place to live and everyone else welcoming me on board. I was given a nice office space, settled in and started reading everything Chaos! had published, while drafting a few ideas about games and long-term storylines.

I'd been in the job for a couple of weeks when the managing editor announced she was leaving and moving cross-country. This should have set off warning bells, especially when she said she thought the company would be in good hands with me as managing editor.

Oh boy.

Wild Wild Days Pt 4: The Storm Passes

Things were changing at WildStorm. People were leaving, moving on, and new people came on board. My workload shifted, as I was reassigned from WETWORKS and BACKLASH to STORMWATCH and then as assistant editor on GRIFTER and SPAWN/WILDCATS. I'd done more card backs for a bunch of sets, as well as contributing to the WILDSTORMS! expansion sets, but that sideline was winding down.

STORMWATCH was troubling. I made a few decisions that, in retrospect, probably weren't the best for the book, even though they were supported by the higher-ups at the time. The storyline was the build-up to SW #25, which was published first in 1993 as "Images of Tomorrow"-- a preview of the book that would actually be sold in 1995. The book showed the team in ruins, beaten by a monstrously powerful foe named Despot, who was opposed by only a single shadowy figure (unrevealed at the issue's end, too).

It takes time to mesh things like this and we were running out fast. A lot of story was pushed into issues 22 through 24, as our writer labored to make the foregoing fit with the already-known. Then we moved through 25 (with new ads only) to issue 26. Our writer, HK Proger, had a finish in mind for the story: he wanted Henry Bendix to kill Despot with a shot to the head, execution style. We felt it was too low-key an ending, so editorial (basically me) pushed for a huge ending, smashing up NYC, with the mangled Spartan robot frying Despot after Battalion (c'mon, everyone saw that coming) took him down.

It might've been best to let HK have his way. I don't know. What I do know is that we shouldn't have launched the two-part STORMFORCE story right after the events of #26. Readers were ticked off that we cut away from the broken team's mourning period to show a new batch of StormWatch trainees and the human military group formed to suppor them. Oddly enough, lots of these elements have since been used (especially Swift in AUTHORITY and Flint in STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES), so I suppose they were at least interesting to someone.

Summer of '95 also saw us launching FIRE FROM HEAVEN, our super-crossover epic, which revealed (in no particular order):

  • the location of a Daemonite warship (the original one that crashed on Earth about 10,000 years ago), which was the immediate flashpoint of the battle;
  • a traitor inside StormWatch;
  • Kaizen Gamorra's resurgence as a world-class villain (and owner of seemingly endless robot armies);
  • Helspont and the Cabal's last major undertaking;
  • the surprise history of Spartan (Yon Kohl, anyone?);
  • Backlash finding out something of his own history (he's a Gen-Active Kherubim!);
  • the secret behind the Gen-Actives and the launch of Sigma;
  • and too much more to list here.

FIRE launched the GRIFTER and SIGMA series as well.

The thing that pleased me most about this crossover was that I got to write STORMWATCH 34 and 35, the crossover issues, which featured a battle between Jackson Dane and Jackson King, one villain getting his hand blown off while another (the traitor mentioned above) lost his head, and so on.

Jonathan Peterson's role was recast from editor-in-chief to publishing consultant (as far as I remember), and he had projects with which he was rolling. Mike Heisler, creator of UNION, was brought on as the new EIC. A couple new assistant editors were hired and Mike Rockwitz was brought on as editor (and my new boss).

Mike R and I got along okay but it was clearer by the day that things were not working out. It'd be easy for me to blame Mike H for all of it (heck, it's my blog, I can write what I like) but there's no point; my time at WildStorm was getting worse almost by the day. I didn't like Mike Heisler and he didn't like me. My dissatisfaction was growing, especially after being effectively demoted to "assistant" when I'd been editing books on my own for over a year by then. I think they were trying to "straighten me out" but I wasn't on board with that program. When you don't have much respect for those doing the straightening, it's hard to go along, you know?

Among things that happened around then, I...

  • got yelled at for going to lunch with a writer on a new book, because it wasn't my project
  • helped a writer/artist on a GEN13 book by providing some background he thought was very useful
  • had dinner with Humberto Ramos (great guy), along with lots of other WS staffers
  • went to a bachelor party, moved (twice) and got absolutely nowhere in my social life
  • figured the writing was on the wall in early 1996.

And it was. Mike H gave me an evaluation that was sharply critical and negative; given the opportunity to respond, I really unloaded-- and had a sit-down with John Nee about an hour later. He said he was giving me a short while to clear up my business at WildStorm, then I'd get severance and a polite farewell. (Actually, I got more than that; Jeff Mariotte got me a pass on WildStorm's dime to that year's Comic-Con, which was a huge favor to me.)

Given the situation, it was remarkably generous: I could have been simply let go. There was no salvaging a working relationship between Heisler and me, so the decision was a simple one. Mike H was replaced as EIC a few months afterward by Scott Dunbier, a nice guy who's had the job ever since; Mike Rockwitz left within a couple of years and returned to NY (I believe). I went back to WildStorm once before heading to LA, where I spent about half a year as a game tester for Activision (thanks to Joyce Chin, artist on WYNONNA EARP, who gave me a lead on that job), but it was awkward; nobody wants to pal around with a guy who got fired.

I caught up with a few WS co-workers a year or so later, when I went to San Diego Comic Con as part of the Chaos! Comics contingent (which is a couple of posts in itself). They were all friendly and it was great seeing them.

Do I miss anything about WildStorm? Once in awhile, but it's mostly people that I miss. I miss folks like Tom Harrington (office mate extraordinaire), Jeff Mariotte, Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams (both among the very nicest guys in the business), Jeff Rebner, Mat Broome and Wendy Fouts, John Tighe and Tom McWeeny, Joe Chiodo and Martin Jimenez, Jeromy Cox and Ben Dimagmaliw and Laura Martin, Joe Dunn, Bill Kaplan and JP, Nicole Hunting (perhaps the nicest person at WildStorm), Sandra Hope and Trevor Scott (tireless professionals both), and a whole bunch more I'm probably leaving out by accident. And John Nee, which probably surprises both of us. (If more names occur to me, I'll edit this post.)

Nowadays, I can pick up a WildStorm book and flip through it with a sense of nostalgia, even amusement when a writer or artist picks up on things I worked on back when. I have my favorite anecdotes, opinions and insider stuff (a lot of which is NOT in these posts) and tell a bunch of stories about "back when" at my local comic shop. It was a wild time in my life, and I wouldn't trade those memories for anything... but I think I'm a lot happier now.

Watchmen: A Retro-Review

Watchmen_2 From the cover image of the first issue, you can tell this is like nothing you've read before. A long tracking shot from a blood-soaked gutter (and the iconic smiley face button therein) up the side of a highrise to a broken window, where a cop mutters "Long way down."

Narrated by Rorschach, last of the now-outlawed mystery men of New York, the tale kicks off as a murder mystery. A man was flung out a window to his death... but why? In short order, Rorschach establishes that the man, Eddie Blake, was in fact the government-sanctioned 'supersoldier' known as the Comedian. A veteran of three wars, as well as one of the few surviving "Minutemen" (a group of costume-wearing 'heroes' who fought crime and had their 15 minutes of fame in the 1940s and 50s), Blake wouldn't have been an easy target.

A hard target in a hard world. Nixon is still President in 1985 and veiled references are made in one panel to two reporters from the Washington Post found dead in a car trunk. The Soviet Union's armed forces are positioned for an attack on Europe, bringing the world ever close to the point of atomic destruction; the clock hand sweeps toward humanity's midnight.

Rorshach_badge Regardless of the world's crisis, Rorschach pursues his investigation by seeking out and interviewing his former comrades, including Daniel Dreiberg (aka Nite Owl II), Jon Osterman (aka Dr Manhattan, the world's only superbeing and linchpin of America's defense), Osterman's girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk (aka Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world). He even follows up on an old enemy-- Edgar Jacobi, aka Moloch. (Of them all, this one-time crime boss with a mystical shtick has fallen on hard times, being near-destitute and having developed incurable cancer. For all that, however, his interactions with Rorschach remain one of the miniseries' darkly comic highlights.)

The investigation stirs up a lot of old business for these former friends (and enemy). Much of their history is told in flashback, where we see the "golden age" of mystery men give way to a darker and more violent second chapter--wherein new heroes such as Nite Owl II, Rorschach and Ozymandias are branded as fascists and public enemies, before they are finally outlawed. We also see how pirate comics gained popularity when real superheroes were discredited, in an ongoing (and darkly allegorical) series of snippets from the "Black Freighter" comic read by a boy at a newsstand.

Things grow worse quickly. Ozymandias is attacked by a gunman, Dr. Manhattan is driven to lash out at a TV studio, after which he goes to Mars for peace and quiet, and Rorschach is hunted relentlessly by the NYPD after being framed for a murder. Even Dreiberg and Laurie are attacked by street punks, an event that triggers a dormant attraction between them.

Told with accelerating pace, the book careens headlong toward a collision in many dimensions. What does it mean to "save the world" and what price must a hero pay? Is there anything good that can come from a monstrous crime or do concepts of good and evil break down at the scale of humanity's survival? And the innocents--a collection of bystanders met here and there throughout the book--what is being saved if they are to be sacrificed?

SPOILER WARNING- I'm discussing some details of the plot's resolution here, so... be warned.

Watchmencharacters WATCHMEN grew out of a proposal Alan Moore drafted to use the characters DC Comics acquired from Charlton Comics. This group included Blue Beetle, the Question, Captain Atom, Peacemaker and a few others. However, DC realized that Moore's story would make such massive and fundamental changes in these characters that few (if any) could be used in future stories afterward. Moore was encouraged to invent a new set of characters, and he did-- based obviously upon the Charlton pantheon.

Blue Beetle became Nite Owl, the Question became Rorschach, Captain Atom became Dr Manhattan, and so on.

The change probably liberated Moore to go larger in scope than his original proposal (maybe not, though I suspect the destruction of New York wouldn't have been okay with DC). In any case, the book had license to be one of the darkest works seen in comics to that point, as well as a searing deconstruction of the heroic myths underpinning superhero comics in general.

Much is made of the diverse neuroses and even psychoses of the main characters. I liken these to the kinds of stress disorders suffered by police officers in crime-ridden precincts or soldiers in combat zones. Moore never explicitly draws the connection but it is clear that being heroes had damaged all of these people in different ways. Dan Dreiberg can only be gratified in costume; Rorschach's mind broke and he surrendered his identity in the wake of a horrific kidnapping/murder; Ozymandias has succumbed to megalomania (perhaps); and Dr Manhattan has grown so alien, he cannot comprehend even the basics of human emotion any longer. They are tragic and broken individuals but have committed themselves to something noble, something largely beyond their power.

Some final thoughts.

Consider the wonderful grace notes sprinkled through the book. Rorschach palms a sugar cube in one book and chomps on it in another; the smiley-face motif repeats in odd places; a bottle of cologne is passed around; and unconnected strangers meet in odd circumstances. Truly, WATCHMEN is an intricate piece of work with many interrelated pieces, fascinating to observe and consider (especially for a first-time reader).

Among the characters, Rorschach alone achieves the heroic. True, he is deeply disturbed, but his integrity is unbroken; he is committed to justice (with an unhealthy fanaticism, true, but still) and cannot tolerate the idea that the New York incident will go unpunished. He also realizes what would happen if he exposed the truth. Caught between these irreconcilable extremes, he dares Dr Manhattan to kill him-- that is the only way that the truth's shattering ramifications can be averted.

Even so, his journal is in the hands of the New Frontiersman magazine, and the story may not be over. As Dr Manhattan says to Veidt, nothing lasts forever. Not even a utopia founded on millions of deaths... and an enormous lie.

Truly one of the great works of comics, as well as one of the most controversial, WATCHMEN will be read and discussed for decades to come.

Wild Wild Days Pt 3: WildStorms!

It was late November 1994. Thanksgiving, for a handful of us displaced East Coasters (me, Bill, inker Tom McWeeny and his girlfriend Nancy), was held at Disneyland-- which is a nice enough place if you're not too homesick.

Not too long after that, Jim had me come to his office. He called me at home around 11:45, asked what I was doing (sleeping) and said "C'mon in, I want to talk card games." Jim was apparently a night owl. So I dragged my half-asleep butt to the office and talked with Jim about card game design. I knew a good bit about MAGIC: THE GATHERING, then the predominant game (of any kind) on the market, and thought there were a lot of ways we could adapt one-on-one card gaming using WildStorm's characters.

Jim and I talked for a couple of hours, kicking around ideas for the "battlefield" and how the character cards would be set up. I still have the folder full of notes from that night, including a Grifter head Jim sketched on one page. The game was to be called WildStorms: The Expandable Superhero Collectible Card Game. We had a good foundation for a game by the end of that session and I was feeling pretty good.

It didn't last. The circumstances of my working on the card game were not what I'd hoped they'd be.

My enthusiasm went into the toilet and I didn't devote much time, energy or imagination to the card game, even though Jim was looking for progress. He wanted it on the shelves by summer and I spent my time on my editorial tasks (which honestly do consume a healthy work day). So Jim and John Nee called around and found a guy who'd done game design before, who was willing to take on WildStorms as a project.

Matt Forbeck. He's now a novelist and game design guy with a great wife and five (?) kids. Check out his website!

Matt's coming on board stirred me to action. I convinced myself that doing WildStorms could be a good career move for me-- why not? Do the game, get a design credit, maybe go on to more freelance projects. So Matt and I got to work. We kicked around ideas nonstop for a couple of weeks, generating a rough version of the game, which friends of mine in New Jersey playtested (as did a bunch of folks in the studio). We found some flaws but otherwise had a great engine for the game.

WildstormsBy summertime, we were ready to go on the road. A bunch of us headed out to GenCon in Milwaukee (that'd be me, Dave [John's assistant, see Pt 1], Jeff Mariotte [who is also now a novelist], Mike S. Miller and his girlfriend Jill) and showed the game. My job was running demos, which was a pretty nice gig. I met someone who became a close friend for several years (Hi, Kathy!) and enjoyed myself tremendously.

I did three conventions in four weeks, exhausted myself, and got home in time for my 30th birthday... only to find myself locked out of my apartment. I tried to get in through the balcony door-- no luck-- and then woke the superintendant to use her passkey. Got in just at the stroke of midnight on my birthday.

It was my first one away from home. (I know this doesn't bear on the game, but so what, right?) I was kind of bummed, so Mike and Jill took me out to the movies (we saw Clueless); they were great friends to hang out when I needed them. I hope they'll read this one of these days and know how much I appreciate what they did.

WildStorms was a great game. It sold well, on the strength of WildStorm's position in the market, and we got to work developing expansion sets. We even drafted stuff involving Marvel characters (not knowing that Heroes Reborn was just around the corner), which became chase cards in one set. And there was an Image expansion, where we got to play with characters from Spawn, Savage Dragon, CyberForce, ShadowHawk and more.

One odd thing happened while we were on our game tour: we came home and I had a new boss. Jonathan Peterson had been brought on board by Bill as his deputy EIC; now JP was running the show. He was a great guy, full of ideas and enthusiasm, and my office mate Tom and I were his unofficial proteges. I thought things were going to go straight up from here.

How little I knew.

Stay tuned for Part 4, wherein I discuss (diplomatically, I hope) changing circumstances in the editorial office and my eventual firing (albeit with two months' severance and a pass to San Diego Comic Con).

Wild Wild Days Pt 2: November's a Bad Month

In October 1994, I was getting used to being in San Diego and working at WildStorm.

In mid-November, I was almost fired.

It happened like this. One of my jobs was writing letter pages for a bunch of WS titles. About the only ones I *didn't* write in this time were WildCATS and GEN13. That means I wrote the letter page for StormWatch. Issue #17, to be specific, there was a letter professing great affection for a character. It didn't strike me at the time that the nature of this affection might be considered inappropriate for a comic book nominally sold to kids. (Given the content of the book generally, I really wonder what "kids" were reading SW, but I digress.)

The fellow in charge (not my boss Bill or Jim Lee, btw) blew up. He nearly fired me on the spot. Insisting that the film would be late and that it would have to be rushed to LAX after the production guys stripped out the offending letter and ran new film... he decided he didn't trust me enough to take the film to the airport. Needless to say, it left me somewhat terror-stricken of this superior. (Note: we've spoken since and all is great!)

Another incident shows how a rookie editor can screw up with the best of intentions. A couple of weeks earlier, I was given my first script to edit: WetWorks #4. Reading it over, I thought the lines as written were OVER-written... and I proceeded to "edit" them down.

Lest this be lost on any of you, this was a mistake. I should have sent it back to the writer with suggested changes rather than doing it myself. The way I did things antagonized the writer-- but frankly, I don't think I would ever have liked the guy no matter what I did.

The writer (whom I will not name here, largely because I still think the guy's a jerk) got the assignment as writer after Brandon Choi left the book. Brandon supported Whilce by giving him a writing assist-- Whilce had never written a book on his own before, though he'd co-plotted X-Men-- but he left after issue #3. Whilce suggested this other guy, who was hired before I came on board. If I'd had any pull whatsoever, he wouldn't have lasted two issues, but that's neither here nor there.

My rather extreme edits were passed on to Comicraft, who did the lettering. The letterer called and asked who wrote the issue. Feeling pleased with myself, I said the writer had done the dialogue and I'd pruned it into shape. He said it was the best written issue of the book he'd seen. (Sorry, Brandon.)

But it was indeed a mistake. The writer was furious. He came to my office, highly confrontational, and things didn't go very well. He didn't accept my apology and held a grudge the remainder of the time I was editing the book. But my position was relatively secure; Bill had no interest in reassigning WetWorks or Backlash. Perhaps you can figure out why.

WetWorks ran into a snag maybe two issues later when Whilce went back to the Philippines before he finished pencils for the book. To say this caused some distress in the office is a severe understatement. There were four pages to go and Whilce got them in-- but the book shipped very late.

As for Backlash, I had a good working relationship with Brett Booth and Sean Ruffner for quite awhile. Brett was a hard working artist, penciling two pages a day on average (which was miraculous speed for WS). Nowadays Brett is doing the adaptation of Laurell K. Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures.

It was definitely a learning process being a rookie editor at WildStorm. I like to think I was an okay editor, good at some things, not so good at others. Things were okay, once I got past the fear I'd be fired any minute. I was getting freelance work on trading cards-- Ted was now the official "card guy" in the office and assigned a bunch of us the task of writing the copy on the backs of the cards. My first real project was writing about half of the first SPAWN set-- I was a very fast writer and not too bad at condensing Todd McFarlane's work into 50-word chunks.

(Side story: after the first set was in process, I had a call from the switchboard. "Drew, Todd McFarlane's on the phone for you." So I took the call. It was my one and only real interaction with Todd but I found him a nice enough guy. And then... "So Drew, would you read the card backs to me?" "Um... what?" But I did-- for about three hours. I figure he was drawing the book and using my words as atmosphere, but it was far and away the most interesting phone call I ever had at WildStorm... except one.)

In my next post, I'll describe what happened when Jim wanted WildStorm to publish a card game... with me as designer. (Remember I said my game design experience would come into play?) Come back soon for the tale of "WILDSTORMS! The Collectible Trading Card Game!"

Wild Wild Days Pt 1: Hired at WildStorm

"Seems like yesterday... but it was long ago" -Bob Seger, Against the Wind

Wildstorm_logo In 1994, I was one unhappy guy. Professionally, mostly. I was in a dead-end, low-paying temp job that was cutting my hours and didn't have anything to go from there. Lucky for me, I saw (and answered) an ad in the New York Times looking for someone with editorial experience and an interest in comics. The area code told me it was San Diego, which told me it was Homage Studios.

Never heard of Homage? No big surprise, I guess, but it was the studio where Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio did their thing. They dreamed big and were part of the gang that broke from Marvel to launch Image. Well, Marc went to LA and set up shop as Top Cow, while Jim relocated to La Jolla and set up WildStorm. Whilce, one of the most laid-back artists I've ever met, went with Jim.

So I answered the ad. Not too long after, I got a phone call from Bill Kaplan, WildStorm's editor-in-chief. He was coming to New York for a comics convention and did I want to chat about a job as assistant editor? Hell yes!!

We met in a hotel lobby and shot the breeze about comics for a few hours. Bill was a dry-witted but intense guy with strong likes and dislikes; we didn't agree on more than half of the stuff we discussed but it was a good chat. I went back to New Jersey and didn't hear anything, then a month or two later I moved.

Not long after, I get another phone call. It was Bill, who'd been trying to track me down. Do I want to talk about the job again? Sure, I'd be glad to meet with him. We met for breakfast this time and wandered Midtown, looking for somewhere to eat. We settled on a Canadian place, where Bill got the biggest order of pancakes I've ever seen in my life. Well, this conversation must have settled a few things because I was offered the job of assistant editor.

It hadn't hurt that I'd done some writing in comics journalism (COMICS SCENE, STARLOG, and a piece or two in FANGORIA) or that I'd written some Dungeons and Dragons stuff. The game design background would come into play later.

So in September 1994, I packed up my car with everything it would hold, discarded much of the rest, bid farewell to family and friends for a trip to California (the second time I did this, btw) and headed out. My mom came along for the ride and helped me get settled, as I found my way into the world of WildStorm.

My first two titles were to be WetWorks (of which I knew a bit, having interviewed Whilce for COMICS SCENE some months before) and Backlash (of which I knew nothing). It was to become an interesting experience...

I found a studio apartment about a half-mile from WildStorm's offices in downtown La Jolla. Easy enough to walk to work, and I did most days, even though I had a car and a parking pass. About the only days I didn't were those I had errands to run outside of the office, which happened about once a week.

You may be wondering what the life of an assistant editor is like. Well, my days at WildStorm started with a thorough reading of everything the company had published. I'd bought and read most of it before but now I had to become an expert--and I was. My grasp of WS characters was pretty damn encyclopedic. (Of course, that was then and this is now so I could probably get taken in a contest of trivia by a hardcore WildStorm fan but I was pretty good back then.)

One of my first tasks was to find a desk, so Dave (VP John Nee's tireless assistant) helped me out. I think he still regrets it, as I took awhile finding the ideal desk... and it didn't match anything else in the office. Bill probably had second thoughts on hiring me right about then.

Did I mention my coworkers? The other assistant editors were Sarah Becker (who went on to fame in REAL WORLD: MIAMI) and Ted Adams (who went on to form IDW). Sarah was especially tight with Jeff Campbell, artist/creator of GEN13 (ever notice how much the title looks like "genie"?), while Ted was getting involved with special projects-- like trading cards. (More about that later.)

As an assistant editor, my basic job was "trafficking" the book. A comic book (at least at WildStorm) was done in this order:

  1. a plot is written;
  2. the plot goes from writer to penciler;
  3. penciled pages come in;
  4. xeroxes are made, one set for the file and one set for the writer to start writing dialogue;
  5. the pages themselves go to the inker;
  6. inked pages come in;
  7. xeroxes are made, one set for the file;
  8. inked pages are also scanned into the computer server for the colorists;
  9. along with dialogue from the writer, copies of the inked pages (marked up with balloon placement, a crude sketching-in done by the editor) goes to the letterer by fax;
  10. half-sized xeroxes of inked pages go to the color guidist (who colors scaled-down copies by hand as a guide for the computer colorists);
  11. color guides go from the guidist to the computer colorists, who work from the scans and the guides to produce full-color art;
  12. the letterer sends back files with lettering, including effects (such as BOOM! or K-POW or PHAM!);
  13. the editor reviews copies of the lettering (returned on faxes, usually) to spell-check and confirm placement;
  14. the production guys take all these pieces and assemble them into finished pages;
  15. the editor, meanwhile, writes up a letters page and makes sure that everyone has stuff to keep them busy as the work goes through the process;
  16. the editor draws up a map of the pages, identifying where double-page spreads are to go and where ads should be placed;
  17. the production guys create a letters page and place the ads;
  18. once that's done, they run film;
  19. the editor checks the film for scratches, after which it goes to the printer;
  20. the printer runs a blue-line (an unstapled copy of the comic in shades of blue) which are checked for placement and scratches;
  21. after getting an okay, the printer runs a "make-ready" which is an unstapled copy of the comic-- this is really the last point where production can be halted;
  22. the comic is printed, shipped to the distributor and ends up in your local store.

And that's how comics are made.

In my next post, I'll tell you how I screwed up, nearly got fired, made a serious enemy of a creator and more... all in my first month on the job.

DC Comics: What I Like and What I Don't

DC Comics was my first.

Well, maybe not exactly. I was reading Harvey Comics and Archie for a bit before jumping into the wild and woolly world of superheroes (a term that is trademarked by DC and Marvel, btw). But DC was my first superhero experience.

Blame it on the Batman TV show. I loved the colorful villains, the wacky visual effects and the stuff Batman and Robin used to fight crime. It probably aimed me at getting my masters in criminal justice oh so many years later, but that's a side issue. What it did right away was get me eager to read Batman comic books.

My mom was not thrilled. Batman at the time was undergoing the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams renaissance, where he became dark and somewhat forbidding. Nevertheless, she bought me things that she thought might be appropriate but which I can see (in retrospect) were probably not ideal for an elementary school reader. However, Superman and Flash and most of the rest of the Justice League featured light, kid-friendly stories that were perfect for me. I became a huge fan of DC's superhero characters and read just about everything I could afford.

Flash forward (no pun intended) cough-cough-30+-cough years. DC Comics is now wrapping up its year-long "extended miniseries" 52, catching us up with the One Year Later books and how the new and improved DCU got that way.

It's been a rocky road.

What I like:
Justice Society of America- absolutely fantastic book. I can't believe I wasn't reading JSA, an oversight I will have to rectify. The relaunch of this book requires no foreknowledge, just jumps right in and bang! You get it. That's my kind of storytelling.

52- an ambitious project with a few "off" issues here and there, but overall a tremendous feat of planning, plus (I am sure) massive amounts of coffee and frayed nerves. The juggled storylines didn't precisely expand to encompass the whole DCU, as I thought they might, but they did give spotlight time to a bunch of second-stringers. Indeed, it did show a world without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, which really was the whole point.

Detective- I gave up on reading Batman comics around the time of "Knightfall." The protracted beating-up-and-breaking of Batman, then his replacement as his broken spine healed, left me disinterested. However, Paul Dini's stint as writer on Detective has reignited my interest. He's been doing great "done in one" stories featuring Batman's classic villains. If they keep this up, I might just come back as a Batman reader.

Getting better (thank Rao!):
Flash: Fastest Man Alive- Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo showed (with the 1990 TV show) that their grasp of Barry Allen was shaky at best. Going against my policy of giving the benefit of the doubt, I dropped the book after their first issue. However, this book has taken a remarkable turn for the better with the advent of Marc Guggenheim as writer-- I'm actually reading this now that the creative team's been shaken up.

What I'm not liking so much:
Wonder Woman- this is a shame because I love Terry Dodson's art. I have since Mantra, so help me. He's a great artist, especially for Wonder Woman. So what happened? Allan Heinberg. C'mon, is it so damn hard to write 22 pages a month? I know TV's paying your mortgage but don't take the gig if you can't cut it. Not to mention how badly off his take is, given where we see WW in...

Justice League of America- another book with fantastic art that nevertheless falls way short of its potential. Brad Meltzer took a chainsaw to the Justice League in Identity Crisis; now DC's seen fit to let him at the JLA full-time. It took six issues for the team to get together! I understand the whys and wherefores, honest, but this was too much.

Action- the Richard Donner/Geoff Johns story arc has gotten off to a wretched start. Delays and long gaps between issues (plus a filler after three issues that were running late?) spell a train wreck. It's an okay story-- though I'd be happier if they hadn't been doing the same thing in Batman-- but this is driving me off Superman titles generally.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder- Frank Miller! Jim Lee! Feh. At least the art's good.

I know this sounds like a lot of griping but I really love DC. I want them to do amazing stuff, and a lot of what they do is stellar. There are tons of books on the shelves that deserve acclaim-- and I hope to cover them in weeks to come.

Until then, here's hoping that DC firms up the high profile books that aren't cutting it. It'll take some work but I have faith they can do the job.

My Name is Drew

Last night, I got an email that made my day.

Back when I was an assistant editor for WildStorm (there's a long post on that experience coming one day), one of my jobs was reviewing writing submissions. The studio was in the middle of a talent search and writing was one of the categories.

We got hundreds if not thousands of submissions. For a couple of hours each day, I would dutifully go through plot summaries that ranged from good to terrible. The WildCATS in space, StormWatch fighting against Daemonites, the WetWorks team taking on Team 7... all sorts of permutations of WildStorm's characters, concepts and settings. (By the way, if you're curious, the name 'WildStorm' was apparently coined by Mike Heisler, former E-i-C and creator of 'Union'--it's a hybrid of WildCATS and StormWatch, the company's two cornerstone titles.)

Whenever possible, I tried to write something encouraging to the submitter as a response. I might critique the plot a bit, offer things I thought were good or needed work, and tried to be encouraging. My boss at the time didn't think that was an effective use of my time-- there were LOTS of submissions, after all-- but I did what I thought best. (The only one I rejected out of hand was from a guy who called me at home from Australia. Note: this is NEVER a good idea!)

One of these submissions was by a fellow named Ryan. (If he's okay with it, I'll use his full name and link to his blog but I want to ask his okay first.) He wrote me last night to say that my response, back in the day, had encouraged him to keep at it. It was a long and clearly heartfelt email; I'm probably going to frame it for my office. (It was that good.) Today he's a professional and about to launch his own miniseries (or two!); he wrote to thank me for my support when he was just starting out.

That must have been eleven or twelve years ago. Odd to think how things like that last.

It's easy to write words to encourage others. It really is; the words come easy. The trick is taking time to do it. To be generous with your praise and your criticism, hoping that the person you're talking with might benefit in some way.

I'm very proud of Ryan. He's forged ahead and built a career in a business that is damned hard to enter. I look forward to reading his work and believe it will be excellent. (I'll blog about it here when I get the first issue.) If I did anything that helped him along his path, then karma rewarded me with his email.

In the meantime, whoever's reading this, find the time to encourage someone who asks for your support. Karma can be pretty sweet.

Favorite Superhero: The Question

Question_34_denys_cowan Radio reporter by day, faceless crimefighter by night.
Vic Sage. Charles Victor Szasz.
The Question.
Created by Steve Ditko in the pages of Blue Beetle #1 (1967), published by Charlton Comics, this backup character was a shadowy vigilante whose approach to crime was ruthless, judgmental and entirely dispassionate. Vic Sage, crusading radio reporter in the hopelessly corrupt urban jungle of Hub City (located somewhere in southern Illinois), erases his features with a mask of "pseudoderm" (a fake skin created by his friend and ally, Dr. Aristotle "Tot" Rodor), which bonds to his skin with a binary gas secreted from his belt buckle. Garbed in a trenchcoat, fedora and retro-looking suit, the Question gets answers Vic Sage could never hope to find.

The Question represented artist/writer Ditko's interest in objectivism, a philosophy popularized by Ayn Rand. His moral judgments were absolute and admitted no gray areas; black was black, white was white, and crime was crime. Criminals received what they deserved, no more and no less.

The character made only a few appearances but retained a loyal, fascinated following. He was revived in 1987 by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Denys Cowan, after Charlton went out of business in 1986 and sold their characters to DC Comics. His blunt, forceful approach in the first issue led to his apparent death; however, he survived and was trained in a more Zen philosophy by Richard Dragon, martial artist extraordinaire. He also learned martial arts, enough to become a skilled hand-to-hand fighter.

Sage's personal life endured several ups and downs, particularly when he learned his true love, Myra, had married the corrupt and alcoholic Hub City Mayor Wesley Fermin. Nevertheless, he sought to uproot the criminal element infesting the city's politics, step by step.

Question_jlu More recently, the Question has appeared in Justice League Unlimited, where he was a featured character in the show's first season. Rather than a political vigilante, The Question here was portrayed as a conspiracy theorist with a dubious reputation among his fellow superheroes. His love interest was The Huntress, with whom he defeated a massive crime boss named Steven Mandragora, and his biggest contribution to the League was discovering the truth behind the Justice Lords--a tyrannical alternate Justice League. He attempted to murder Lex Luthor to head off a looming crisis, but that did not turn out very well; he was captured and tortured for information by Luthor's confederates in Project Cadmus. He had a final appearance in the JLU's series finale, alongside the other Charlton characters brought into the larger DC (animated) Universe.

In 2006, Denny O'Neil wrote "Helltown," a paperback for the DC Universe line. This presented the origin story for Vic Sage, helped along in his quest by the Batman, the assassin Lady Shiva and the aforementioned Richard Dragon.

In 2006-2007, the Question was a featured character in "52," DC Comics' year-long miniseries showing how the world fares without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. The Question was one of a handful of heroes to learn about and fight against a pervasive, world-threatening set of menaces; he enlisted former Gotham City detective Renee Montoya in his initial investigations, coming to rely on her more heavily as the series progressed. Together, they exposed Intergang's plot to take over Gotham City, as well as their illegal smuggling of Apokoliptian weapons.

[SPOILER WARNING: Invisotext in use]

As of the conclusion of "52," Vic Sage has died and Renee Montoya has become the new Question.

Okay, so why do I like The Question?

In 1986, I had just graduated from college and gone to work for the Asbury Park Press. By 1987, I was in that post-college daze where you think "what am I doing? is this what I want from life?" And along came The Question. As written by Denny O'Neil, the character took on issues of identity and philosophical exploration, while also trying his best to redeem Hub City from hopeless depths of political corruption. Vic Sage was willing to explore all different possibilities, unlike his original "my way or no way" absolutism. He was a more complex and interesting guy than most superheroes, and his "cases" rarely ended with a clear-cut victory.

It was that kind of moral complexity, search for self-knowledge and willingness to fight authority gone sour that appealed to me. If you can, look for O'Neil's books in the back issue bins at your local comic book store-- the appearances made after his own series don't hold up very well, especially the recent miniseries by Rick Veitch that turned Vic into a sort of "urban shaman" in Metropolis.

The Question. Not the most famous of DC's heroes, but absolutely one of my favorites.

The Question is copyright DC Comics, all rights are reserved. Above artwork is copyright DC Comics and Warner Brothers Animation. The first illustration is The Question #34 by Denys Cowan, the second is The Question from "Justice League Unlimited."

Featured links:
The Question: Wikipedia entry (unofficial fan site of The Question)

My wife reviews too

Here's Kat's review of the new Tiptree Award anthology, on Check it out!


Heroes_2Heroes is perhaps the best show on TV (as of this writing). Interlocking storylines, featuring a diverse array of characters, have become a mosaic with intriguing layers and complex interaction. Where to begin...?

Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia), a hospice caregiver living in the shadow of his ambitious lawyer/politician brother Nathan (Adrian Pasdar), dreams that he can fly. He's pushed by these dreams further and further, until he gives it the ultimate test... and learns that *Nathan* is the one with that particular power. But it turns out Peter has a nifty talent of his own: he absorbs the powers of anyone he encounters.

Cheerleader Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) wants to be an ordinary girl. Problem is, she's basically indestructible. Multiple attempts at hurting or killing herself have left her unscathed, unscarred. Her adopted father (Jack Coleman), while seeming to live the life of a Texas middle management guy with a wife (Ashley Crow) and son (Randall Bentley), has secrets of his own: in partnership with a mute, mindbending Haitian (Jimmy Jean-Louis), Mr. Bennet works for a clandestine organization that is kidnapping and studying those with strange powers. A former associate, Claude (Christopher Eccleston), who has the power of invisibility, teaches Peter how to use his powers until Bennet gets too close and frightens him into fleeing Manhattan... much of which will be destroyed on November 8th by an "exploding man." (Peter believes that it is his fate to explode, overloaded by powers, unless he finds a way to control them.)

Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is the son of an recently-murdered Indian geneticist. The elder Suresh's career took a nosedive after he published a radical theory of evolution, but Mohinder is convinced his father was onto something huge. Now relocated to New York, he is picking up where his father left off... although it seems a number of people (including Mr. Bennet) have designs on his research, especially the list of those individuals most likely to possess powers. Curiosity may yet kill this cat.

Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg), an LA cop, discovers the power to hear others' thoughts, while Niki (Ali Larter), a Las Vegas single mom and self-employed cyber-showgirl, finds that she has an evil twin in the mirror... one that is stronger than she is. Her convict husband DL (Leonard Roberts) can walk through walls, while her son Micah (Noah Gray-Cabey) controls machines. When Niki is taken over by the superstrong Jessica, she goes to work as an assassin for the mysterious Linderman (Malcolm McDowell), a filthy rich and morally gray man with fingers in too many affairs to list.

Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera) is a heroin-addicted painter with the power to paint the future, including his own murder, while a superpowered serial killer named Sylar (Zachary Quinto) stalks the Heroes and adds their powers to his collection-- ripping their brains apart in the process. So far, Sylar's only lost one target: Eden (Nora Zehetner), a young woman with a hypnotic voice, who took drastic action to keep her power out of Sylar's hands.

And then there's Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), a cubicle drone from Tokyo who escapes his humdrum reality with the power to stop time and teleport. Accompanied by his best friend Ando (James Kyson Lee), he begins a "hero's quest" to save the world, after his future self tells Peter Petrelli that he must "save the cheerleader, save the world." An eternal optimist, Hiro suffers grievous disappointment when he fails to save the life of Charlie (Jayma Mays), a waitress with supergenius memory ability, but rallies when he seeks out a mythic sword to refocus his dwindling gifts.

The plotlines of the series to date are far too byzantine to cover in depth, but they are boiling down to two major threads: Sylar's bloody murder-spree and the looming threat of the exploding man. How will these play out? And who will be left standing, if New York does erupt in atomic fire?

Tune in April 23 for the next exciting episode, ".07%." I know I'll be watching.

Featured links:
NBC's Heroes page
IMDB entry for Heroes
9th Wonders

Dakota Cow Girl

If you haven't been along the 14th Street corridor near Thomas Circle in awhile, you might have missed Dakota Cow Girl (1337 14th St. NW, 202-232-7010).

You'll do yourself a favor by dropping in and grabbing a burger, because this place makes some of the best in DC. My wife and I love their avocado cheeseburger, especially.

The prices are low for downtown ($8-9/burger) and the service is always good. When you've shopped yourself to the bone along 14th Street, drop by Dakota Cow Girl and relax with a great burger. You'll be glad you did.


Heroclix_2Heroclix-- published by WizKids Games-- is a game where you build teams of heroes, villains or shady in-betweeners and face off against one or more opponents. Better than a videogame, more visual than most card games (and this from a guy who co-designed the WILDSTORMS! CCG back in the '90s), it's a gaming tour de force.

The game is built around "clix," which are individual characters posed atop black plastic disks. Each disk has a custom dial with information on it: attack, defense, movement, and other special qualities, including any team affiliation, and point value. This last is important, because teams are built with points.

Characters move across grid-lined maps, some flying and others using their own two legs (even at superspeed, like The Flash or Quicksilver, or leaping like the Incredible Hulk), then engage in combat. Two dice are rolled and added to the attacker's score; if the total exceeds the defender's defense value, the attack succeeds. The defender's dial is turned a number of "clicks" (hence the name) equal to the attacker's damage score-- characters like Superman and Wonder Woman dish out a LOT of damage, while folks like your average Hydra agent... not so much. When the dial is spun around far enough, the character is KO'd and out of play.

Sounds simple, right? Ah... but there are so many permutations, given the diverse array of powers, that no game plays the same.

Starter sets are available pretty widely (or have been), at chain bookstores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble as well as local hobby shops-- I buy my sets at Big Monkey Comics in DC. Clix can also be found plentifully (and often very cheaply) on sites like eBay and Amazon. Give the game a look if you're in the mood for some superheroic faceoff action!

(Update: Monday, April 16) I played this weekend at Big Monkey, taking a team of five JLA heavyweights against a group of seven middle-to-heavyweight JSA'ers. Got my clock cleaned. It was a great lesson in how to pick your clix strategically (Dr. Mid-Nite heals injured clix... who knew?) and how to use the terrain to best advantage. The game told me I had a lot to learn, but I'm eager to play again!


Grindhouse_bigfinalposterWritten and directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, released by Dimension Films. Starring Kurt Russell, Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton, Zoe Bell, Danny Trejo, Michael Biehn, Josh Brolin and many more...

Grindhouse. It's an audacious piece of art. Let's be clear on that.

It's also rather ingenious-- an attempt to recreate the experience of a "grindhouse" double feature, showing two low-budget movies with a flock of trailers for equally low-end movies. Nostalgia for those (like me) who remember the '70s, an all-new experience for anyone (like my wife Kat) whose life experience began with Reagan in the White House.

The first feature, "Planet Terror", revolves around a military experiment gone awry in the vicinity of Austin, Texas. Bruce Willis (in an uncredited cameo-- honest, you can't even find it on his IMDB entry!) plays Lt. Muldoon, whose men were exposed to a greenish gas after a (successful) mission to kill bin Laden. When this gas is released, it turns ordinary people into raving, cannibalistic zombies. Naveen Andrews plays the 'nad-happy scientist who invented the gas and *might* have an antidote.

Rose McGowan plays Cherry Darling, a go-go dancer who wants a change of pace. Leaving her job, she is nearly run over by a military convoy, but makes her way to local BBQ haven the Bone Shack, where she encounters wrecker-drivin' Wray (Rodriguez), a long-ago boyfriend. When Cherry is attacked by zombies outside the Shack, her leg is the biggest casualty.

Panic-stricken, Wray gets her to the hospital just as all hell is breaking loose. But zombies aren't the only problem. Amid the carnage, Doc Block (Brolin) and his wife Dakota (Shelton) are about to part ways on rather bad terms-- assisted by a variety of painkillers.

There's a lot going on, but suffice to say that "Planet Terror" captures the world-is-going-to-hell tension of a classic '70s zombie flick. Robert Rodriguez and his cast do an excellent job of making something that will become a classic in its own right, even to the point of scratching the film, adding audible pops and even cutting the action with a missing reel at a crucial moment.

The second feature is "Death Proof" by Tarantino. This was a tough one to watch, because the violence done is both realistic and inflicted on characters you have come to like, even love. Tarantino doesn't shirk on the horrific effects of vehicle-on-vehicle mayhem-- but he builds up to it like a master.

"Jungle Julia" (Sydney Poitier, daughter of Sidney Poitier) is a local radio celebrity in Austin. Getting together with a bunch of her girlfriends (including Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito and Monica Staggs), she is struggling with a faltering relationship and her best friend's lackluster birthday, when Stuntman Mike (Russell) enters the picture. He's a real movie stuntman-- or so he says-- who drives a souped up and heavily reinforced car with a death's head on the hood. He makes his way into Julia's party and grants a ride home to Pam (McGowan, in her second role of the film)... only to reveal that he has a darker agenda for Julia and her friends.

The second half of "Death Proof" veers into a high-octane revenge fantasy, as a second group of women (played by Tracie Thoms ["Rent"], Zoe Bell [a real-life stuntwoman], and Rosario Dawson) are targeted by Stuntman Mike. The action is a roaring chase scene through the Tennessee landscape, as each driver tries to get (and keep) the upper hand. This was filmed AT ACTUAL SPEED, which takes the action from remarkable to unbelievable.

The ending is brief and brutal, but entirely appropriate.

The two movies are bracketed by a flock of trailers for low-budget exploitation films, including "Machete" (starring Trejo as a revenge-seeking Mexican), "Don't" by "Shaun of the Dead"'s Edgar Wright, and "Thanksgiving" by Eli Roth (best known for "Hostel"). Trejo is great, Wright's trailer is WAY creepy and Roth admirably recreates the low-budget gorefests of the late '70s and '80s.

Is it worth seeing? Heck yes! Not sure if I'll watch it again (parts are way intense, even for me) but this is one hellacious bit of filmmaking. See it in the theaters while you can.

Featured links:
IMDB entry: Grindhouse (2007)

Run time: 3 hrs., 11 min. Rated R.

Titans of Chaos

Titans At the end of Fugitives of Chaos, the five orphans were struggling to survive an attack while cruising aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. Lord Mavors (aka Mars, god of war) has encircled them with a fleet of black ships from which there seems to be no escape... but a daring feat of seamanship aboard Vanity's silver ship allows them to slip free of Mavors' trap.

Thus begins Titans of Chaos, the conclusion of John C. Wright's Chaos trilogy. Replete with strange heroes, even stranger villains, weird powers and juxtapositions of real and surreal landscapes, this is the turning point for five youngsters battling the gods and monsters of myth for their survival and that of the world itself.

The five seem to be teenagers, but each comes from a reality with its own rules, which exist outside the Earth's native dimension (which is an artificial construct known as the Cosmos, created by the long-dead Saturn for unfathomable reasons). They have been hostages, held to assure that their people will not attack Cosmos; without the thunderbolt held by the now-deceased Lord Terminus (aka Zeus), the Olympians are unsure of their chances.

Amelia (the book's narrator) leads her team to seclusion on an island, where they train in their powers. But adolescence, even when one is a godlike entity of Chaos, is never easy. Amelia's crush on Victor is as strong as ever, even though Colin makes plain his budding love for her, while Vanity and Quentin settle deeper into a happy, intimate relationship.

Their time on the island is cut short, however, when they realize that Mavors is using them as bait to trap a more dangerous enemy: Lamia, the vampiric creature who may be behind their recent difficulties (see Fugitives for details). Unwilling to wait to be attacked, they set out to see America and prove themselves with a jaunt into outer space, but soon find themselves battling a freakish array of monsters and hostile powers--while the true author of their troubles finally makes himself plain.

There is, naturally, a great deal more that happens but such is the complexity and depth of Wright's work that condensing it into a handful of paragraphs would be a disservice.

Suffice it to say that this is not light reading (though many bits are light-hearted, between ever-increasing challenges to their lives and freedom); it is a bit of work to keep straight what the individual characters are capable of and how their powers interact, not to mention the factions of enemies (and their powers) lined up against them. Throw in motivations, working at cross-purposes and the hormonal hyperactivity of teenagers and it is easy to see how this could become a serious piece of reading.

Amelia remains an appealing focal character, with abilities that may be the most easy-to-grasp of the five; her true body (of which the teenage girl she seems to be is only a slice) exists in multiple dimensions with multiple aspects, which can be "rotated" out and thus transform her physical presence in nearly infinite ways. Although she is a shapeshifter, her mindset is definitely that of a young woman with ambition and an iron will. She has come a long way, however, and is not the simple schoolgirl seen in Fugitives of Chaos; Wright has wisely allowed her to "grow up" through the experiences she has had and the burden of responsibility and leadership she's had to shoulder.

Her comrades develop along similar lines, realizing that their paradigms may be incompatible but their friendship is not. (In some ways, this character arc is reminiscent of teen films such as The Breakfast Club, wherein dissimilar teens find that they have a lot more in common than they realized. That's not a knock on Wright's work, by the way.)

Their enemies also grow into more fully realized characters, partly because the children are able to treat with them as equals rather than the child-teacher relationship they had earlier. The orphans see the flaws and frailties of those who seemed like invincible and unbeatable enemies; it also doesn't hurt that Amelia gains access to memories that tell her how to defeat the Olympian ability to decree fate, which comes in very handy. Mavors and Boreus, in particular, show up as semi-tragic figures, bound to fight a war they don't think they can really win.

Wright skillfully evokes Zelazny in this trilogy, creating a complex but internally consistent set of realities with overlapping powers and a mythological structure. It's a tremendous feat of writing, though it can make one's head swim trying to keep it all straight. Nevertheless...

Strongly recommended. (****)

Featured link:
John C. Wright's blog

This review first published in April 2007 issue

Star Wars: Allegiance

AllegianceIn Star Wars: Allegiance, Timothy Zahn delivers an action-packed thrill ride as rogue stormtroopers, a Sith apprentice and the heroes of Star Wars are on a collision course.

The slaughter of innocents sparks discontent among a handful of Imperial stormtroopers; when an unfortunate encounter with Imperial Security leads to a death, they flee for their lives in a ship filled with Imperial hardware. Daric LaRone, leader of the group, decides that they will fulfill their oath to the Empire and mete out justice in their own fashion.

Mara Jade, following a corrupt governor's stolen artworks to their source, uncovers a link between the governor and a band of pirates. At the same time, Luke and Han set out on a new mission that Han fears will turn political, while Leia seeks to figure out a way to keep an important ally on the Rebel's side. What none of them realize is that their problems are intertwined, a problem that will scramble alliances and enmities before all's said and done.

As the stormtroopers break up a criminal gang's stranglehold on a small colony world, establishing themselves as "the Hand of Judgment," Mara commandeers their Star Destroyer to follow the trail of corruption -- little realizing that the fearful captain and stormtrooper commander will do whatever it takes to cover up the defection of the five troopers. Even if it means killing an Imperial agent -- like Mara Jade.

Luke, coached by the voice of Obi-Wan, learns more about how to use the Force, especially in terms of trusting his feelings about people and situations. Though far from being a Jedi Knight, he's more than just another farmboy from Tatooine. He's becoming more clear about his purpose, even if his skills aren't all there yet. On the other hand, Han -- who wants only to get back to being a smuggler, not an errand boy for the Rebellion -- finds he is confused and uncertain. It doesn't help any that he's got feelings for Leia, which may or may not be reciprocated.

Leia, meanwhile, finds that her mission has left her trapped and hunted by Imperials. Aided by Chivkyrie, an alien with a flawless sense of honor and propriety, she hides out as a waitress in a crummy restaurant. It seems there's no way out, unless Luke and Han can reach her before the Imperials do. But that might prove a bit difficult when the two are partnered unwillingly with the Hand of Judgment!

The pirates are indeed part of a complex plot, assembled by an unlikely villain who has an ambitious goal in mind. However, as anyone who's made complex plans could relate, more details mean more things that could go wrong -- and tossing two Force-using young people, a smuggler, his Wookiee co-pilot, a gun-toting princess and five ticked-off stormtroopers into the mix is not part of the plan!

Timothy Zahn is one of the finest writers in the Star Wars stable. His own work shows a gift for combat-minded SF, while his ability to handle characters as well-established as Luke, Han, and Leia (not to mention creating SW mainstays such as Mara Jade and now the Hand of Judgment) is masterful. Zahn is able to tease out new wrinkles from each character, be it in small moments (a look between Han and Leia, for instance) or significant revelations (such as exploring how Luke continued to learn about the Force from Obi-Wan, in a sort of ongoing Socratic dialogue that Han thinks is Luke daydreaming). The stormtroopers, nominally the focus of the story, get a lion's share of the screen time in this story; they show that even "faceless" characters like the Emperor's white-armored soldiers deserve respect.

Fans of Star Wars or just good old space opera will enjoy this new adventure of Luke and his friends.

Strongly recommended. (****)

This review first published in April 2007 issue