Friday, May 7, 2010

Attn: RSS, Facebook readers

If you read Signal Watch content via RSS feed, Facebook, or, in general, doing anything but clicking on the URL and visiting the site: please visit the site today and leave a message, anonymous or otherwise, in the comment section. Thanks!

Edit: Okay. We've actually switched to Feedburner. We're dropping Atom. Please update accordingly.

Happy Mother's Day!

Or, try walking. Through the door.

To a Mom who also heard all kinds of BS from her own son.

Love you, Ma. I know you're busy, but I'll call this weekend.

And, also, to a very special Mother-in-Law, who has been nothing short of a second mother to yours truly.

And to all the Moms out there, Happy Mother's Day.

Welcome to The Signal Corps!


In the poll for naming the readers of The Signal Watch, it came down to a tie. We dealocked on "Watchmen" and "The Signal Corps". Sensing this might occur, at some point, I told Jamie "hey, if we have a tie, you get the deciding vote".

So, the voting completed and the blog hopelessly gridlocked, I asked Jamie to write in today with her decision.

She says:

Hey, Signal Corps!

Ryan wanted me to expound on my choice of a name for his readers.

1) "Watchmen" is too well known as an already established title. Someone new to the site may get confused by the usage as a label for readers. I think "Signal Corps" is a little easier association to make to the blog's title, "The Signal Watch".

2) I know that the label "Watchmen", much like "firemen", "policemen", what have you, is not generally perceived as strictly identifying a group of dudes but rather a group of peeps. However. I am not a "men" and I know there are many other Signal readers who are not "mens" and therefore I prefer the gender neutral "Signal Corps".

3) I am the wife. End of discussion.

If it makes you feel better, lots and lots of things begin and end with #3 here at HQ.

So, welcome to The Signal Corps! We look forward to your participation!

Weekly Watch Wind - 05/7/2010

News/ Superheroes: This is about a week late, but worth reading. The Make a Wish Foundation came up with a city-wide-spanning adventure with superheroics, sports celebrities and the whole nine yards.

A kid suffering from liver cancer was given the chance to get on a super-hero outfit, rescue folks and stop bad guys. Sounds like a pretty darn good day to me.

Also here.

I find the story equal parts touching and compelling. Plus, I'd kind of like to be a superhero for the day.

Batman: The third film in the Nolan-directed Batman film series has a release date. July 20, 2012. So let's hope that if the Mayans are right, Armageddon can hold off until Labor Day.

I am really hoping they've chosen Crazy Quilt and Batman Jones to appear in this installment.

Spider-Man/ News: Real-life Spidey stops a crime! With help from The Flash and Jedis! Sure, it was a guy stealing from a comic shop on Free Comic Book Day, and the cops must have been quite amused to find Spidey on the scene. We can't help but tut-tut anyone who decides to steal books about people fighting crime.

But to do it right in plain view of masked crusaders of justice? That's just sloppy.

Comics: DC's web comics effort, Zuda, has abandoned the "competition" format.

That's fine by me. I quickly grew tired of watching good comics get voted out of existence and quit looking at Zuda over a year ago, knowing that DC was ushering their quality winners into print (see: Bayou), and I'd catch them there.

There was also something kind of odd about a "survival of the fittest" model when one benefit of webcomics is the low overhead and opportunity for niche items to find an audience. I look forward to seeing what Zuda is doing by 2011.

Comics: Life Magazine may be no more, but the photo archive lives on! And this week, they ran a feature called "In Praise of Classic Comics".

Comics: Cullen and Brian from The Sixth Gun are getting a lot of steam, thanks to that FCBD comic. Here's another interview at Indiepulp.

Awesome: Apparently there was a GI Joe convention. Complete with folks in costume. And, yes, there were women dressed as The Baroness.

Batman/ Porn: So... Vivid Entertainment, a purveyor of the finest in adult entertainment, has produced a movie entitled "Batman XXX: A Porn Parody". So obviously I'd like to see what they did. Yes, I said "obviously". The studio rented a realistic looking Batmobile, the costumes are spot-on, and it looks like someone dumped a lot of money on this thing. (The trailer is 100% SFW, oddly)

Sadly, I'm not much of a "porn guy", and I'm not sure how to get my hands on a copy of this thing without causing all sorts of problems.

Now if someone wanted to send me a screener...

Captain Marvel/ Comics/ News: I saw this story online entitled "Shazam! Berlin looks at superheroes' Jewish roots", and...

1) Sounds like a neat exhibit.
2) The press needs to put a halt on all stories that have any "Bam! Piff! Zow!" exclamations in the title. Officially played out as early as 2002.
3) The creators of Captain Marvel (aka: Shazam) weren't actually Jewish. I double-checked Gerard Jones' "Men of Tomorrow" (as good a source as any, I guess), and Fawcett was unusual amongst comic publishers of the Golden Age for not being primarily Jewish staffed (Captain Marvel artist CC Beck was a Lutheran from Minnesota). So... swing and a miss from either the exhibit or from the news wire. But I guess fact-checking is just so passe these days.
4) Solomon is important to Judaism, but its not like he doesn't appear in Christian texts, too. (I think he's featured heavily in Kings, if you've a Bible handy). So that "S" standing for Solomon? Not exactly your silver bullet explanation.
5) Pretty much every other comic character you care about? Created by a Jewish guy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


I was the outlier on "Grindhouse". I cackled my way through "Planet Terror", and wanted to poke out my own eyes during "Death Car" or whatever it was called.

But I loved the trailers. And I especially hearted the trailer for "Machete". They had me at "Cheech Marin as a shotgun-toting priest", and melted my brain with "motocycle with gattling gun jumping out of giant fireball".

Randy has informed me that "Machete" will actually hit theaters as a feature, and we at The Signal Watch could not be more thrilled. We can only hope the actual full length film will feature the same cast that appeared in the trailer back a few years ago, but will also include Michelle Rodriguez with an eye patch an pistols.

Here's the updated trailer to the film with a message about some current events added on as a preface (happy Cinco de Mayo, AZ!) . Warning: naughty words make their way into the trailer.

edit note: The trailer with the Cinco de Mayo message was pulled so I am putting up the trailer from Grindhouse and a link to one I found elsewhere.


new Machete:

Yup. That's Austin.

KryptoColumn: Collecting Kal-El

I read at Comics Worth Reading that folks hitting Free Comic Book Day should avoid the Overstreet Guide to Collecting that was offered as a freebie from Gemstone comics. The Overstreet Guide is a handy book that gives the value of practically every American comic, depending upon condition, so they've a little incentive to pitch collecting as a hobby.

From one perspective, I can understand why Carlson and Co. would say "pass". This thing isn't really much of a comic, and more of of a bit of propaganda for the Overstreet Guide. And certainly there's a lot of folks who turn their nose up at "collecting" in and of itself as part of the comics-reading hobby. But having picked it up for the Kirby-Fourth World tribute cover, I can say that I wish someone had put that thing in my hands when I was 13. I've been at least crating comics since I was 14.

Then, the other day Daily DCU ran a post on "How to Start Reading Comics", which gave out some good advice as well, even if your mileage is going to vary wildly when you reach "Step 3: Trust Your Comic Shop Staff" (I trust my LCS's staff, this in spite of Brandon's bouts of melancholy and manic and unsupportable predictions about the skyrocketing value of holo-foil covers).

I confess, I was 30 before I got the best advice I'd ever get about collecting comics, which appears both in the post and in the FCBD give-away. I think its safe to say that I simply wasn't that interested in collecting back issues until sometime around 2003 during our Arizona sojourn when my shop started getting in a halfway decent back issue selection. Around 2005, my shop had been sold to a new guy, and the owner was telling me how he was helping his son make purchasing decisions about comics by getting him to focus on one character. In this kid's case, he'd picked Wolverine.

I guess, inherently, I knew that a focused collection was better, but the conversation definitely informed my thinking. Build a "collection" in the true sense, not just in the "I have a pile of comics" sense.

These days, I'm actually budgeting for back issues, etc... and realized I'm becoming one of those weird old guys who has no idea what's going on in a lot of current comics, but gets very excited when he finds certain key back issues. That doesn't mean I'm not picking up new stuff, but I find that idea of a quality collection appealing.

I, of course, am collecting a lot of Superman-related back issues.

That's a complicated thing, because a quality collection for a series like "Superman" started around 1940, and hits issue #700 this summer. So, yeah, there are key issues, and its unlikely you'll ever be able to get a complete run. I was going mostly for wacky covers (of which there are many), and key issues.

Issue #400 of Action. Using my criteria, we call this a "Two-Fer".

Want to make a friend of The Signal Watch staff? Back issues and gift certificates.

For my birthday, Jamie bought me a comic I'd always wanted, but could never locate:

IMHO? Advantage: Nigh-Invulnerability and Heat Vision

I guess I talked a bit too much about the fact that Austin Books had gotten it in, and I'd made moves to get it myself, but you can't argue with results.

With gift certificates I received, I also picked up a copy of the most vintage comic now in my collection, Superman #41.

Yes, that's Superman stumped for what to draw on the cover of his own comic. Did that just blow your mind?

It's an odd thing. I sealed up the comic, fairly certain my fingers will never touch it again (at least intentionally) in my lifetime, and knowing that were anything to ever happen to me, I'd very much want for the comic to find a good home. Its one of a handful of comics I own that I know I'm likely renting time on, and that I sincerely hope will find their way into some other OCD-victim's collection for safe-keeping as a cultural artifact one day.

You have to bear in mind, also, that Superman has been a terrifically successful franchise since 1938. Realizing Action Comics was a success, the first thing National Periodical Publications did was to launch a companion title in Superman. Since then, there have been dozens of mini-series, affiliated series, etc... So when you start trolling the back issue bins, you have to consider Adventure Comics, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Supergirl, Superman Family, and many, many more... So there's a lot to even look at.

I tend to really like the "WTF? Covers", which is mostly SOP when it comes to Jimmy Olsen comics, and, honestly, that was a selling point for a lot of Superman titles when Mort Weisinger was editing the Superman books. But some Superman covers pass right past "WTF?" and head into the sublime.

I don't have this issue, but I'll be looking for it. The cover has all the hallmarks of a truly great cover. Krypto is thinking aloud on the cover, red kryptonite is the catalyst for the story, there's an implied value judgment about a protagonist who has been one-upped (double points that it's Krypto who has to put up with a possible jilting. This isn't the only time the topic comes up on a Superman-related cover for poor Krypto), and... the conflict is that Krypto finds himself to be a handsome collie? My hat is off. We need a Superman cover drinking game.

I do actually read these comics, by the way. It's a wild ride through the culture of the day in which the comic was released, and as you enter into Bronze Age comics, largely through comic-geek colored glasses. I think its hard to say that the comics are kids material as much as they're very PG-ish in a way that entertainment has kind of forgotten how to do, so the reads, while usually very light, aren't quite as simple as you might assume.

The ads, by the way, also believe the comics are read by all ages. Along with the ads for kid-related items, here are ads for high school correspondence courses, wedding rings, all kinds of stuff.

I'm also picking up issues of comics featuring "Enemy Ace" here and there. Its a much easier goal to imagine an Enemy Ace complete collection in my lifetime than that of a complete Superman collection.


No worries for those of you here for other comic news and info. The purchase of new Superman comics goes on unabated (as well as Flash, GL, Wonder Woman and Batman). We'll get to some of that in future KryptoColumns, and depending on how badly you people clamor for it, we'll maybe take a photo-safari of my own Fortress of Solitude.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rick Geary and Murder Most Foul Makes for Good Comics!

So let’s discuss some comics, shall we?

In addition to super-heroics, last year I picked up Rick Geary’s “The Lindbergh Child” from NBM’s ComicsLit imprint. Outside of a few pop-culture references and a barely remembered Wikipedia reference I’d one done, I knew very little about the actual Lindbergh case.

For the past few years, cartoonist Rick Geary has devoted a bulk of his work to the creation of non-fiction accounts of very real life murder. Wacky fun, I know, but Geary's skillful storytelling makes for some great comics.

The murders, while infamous, are not romanticized, and the details around the case are relayed in much the same manner as classic Dragnet “just the facts”, rather than any sort of case-building-by-way-of-historical-fiction, that it’s not hard to imagine most other creators might pursue in order to convey the story. Geary knows that the facts stand on their own; and while it’s almost unavoidable that he might focus on certain specifics he finds engaging, he lets the reader’s inference draw the horror of the murder scenes between text and his well chosen images. That said, Geary's dry delivery isn't without snarky observation or a bit of well-phrased sarcasm.

Because Geary relies upon well documented, true-life crimes, which occurred during the 19th and early 20th Century (many fall under the banner of "A Treasury of Victorian Murder"), the stories often come to confounding and messy conclusions which are hard to imagine in the age where a simple telephone call and running a driver’s license could be enough to corner a suspect. The stories are filled in as much as possible in these regards, including theories, false leads, and fates of major players.

The cartooning style (and it is cartooning, mixed with fantastic bits of illustration when it comes to important details, such as the blueprint of, say, Lizzy Borden’s house), may take some getting used to for the uninitiated. However, the exagerated cartooning enables Geary to draw distinct and representative characters for each person involved, with tremendous expressive quality.

Of the books I've read so far, the tales where I knew little to nothing have been most rewarding. "The Beast of Chicago" and the aforementioned "The Lindbergh Child" kept me up for hours after reading them, following up with additional web research, as the stories were so incredible, but completely true. ("The Beast of Chicago" was particularly fascinating as I knew literally nothing of the case until page 1.)

NBM Publishing has placed several pages of "The Beast of Chicago" on Google Books for review. Take a look!

From "The Lindbergh Child"

Geary has done several of these books, and I'm still picking them up here and there. Many will be available at your local comic shop. You can also find them online, including at the NBM site.

Sometime this year I'll also be looking for Geary's Trotsky biography.

These comics are definitely the sort of thing I'd put in the hands of someone looking for a good read, comics or otherwise. With summer coming, feel free to swing on by and borrow one from The Signal Watch Library.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

DVRing Martha Stewart

If you followed League of Melbotis, then you might know that my family is friendly with the family of Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory". Sheldon now has his own catchphrases and Jim is a staple of late night TV talk shows, which is super cool.

It seems Jim is appearing on "The Martha Stewart Show" this week. And in honor of Mother's Day, they've invited along Mrs. Parsons. Apparently, she's going to be crafting alongside Martha Stewart.

It is indeed a strange world we live in where a high school buddy's mom pops up on Martha Stewart.

But I can tell you, having known Mrs. Parsons over the years, the world needs more folks like Mrs. Parsons. I can only hope this appearance will get her her own show, perhaps where she serves people tea and chats with them.

DC Comics DVDs for $8

Looks like the WB Store is clearing house. I don't know how long this sale will go on, but the WB Store has a whole bunch of DVDs starring DC Comics characters on sale, many for as low as $8.

You don't even want to know how much this would have saved me over my lifetime.

No Post

Blame the DVR'd episodes of "Treme" and "Tim and Eric" I wanted to catch up on.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jonah Hex Movie Trailer and "We're Still Doing This? Really?"

There's a new movie coming called "Jonah Hex" starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox. It is loosely based on the DC Comics character of the same name.

I'm not a huge Jonah Hex fan, but he's a cool character in the right hands.

A) I've never heard of any Jonah Hex origin story or explanation for his, uh, interesting facial condition.
B) Jonah Hex may appear in comics, and occasionally in series where weird or supernatural events occur (I loved "Rider of the Worm and Such"), but Hex himself has no powers aside from general orneriness and a willingness to shoot anything that moves. Again, at least in anything I've ever read.
C) I have no idea who Megan Fox is supposed to be in this film.

I haven't read much Hex in my lifetime, so I could be wrong on some of this stuff, but... You're going to see the trailer soon on TV or at the movies. And you're going to think "oh, this is what happens in the comics". This is not, in fact, what happens in the comics any more than Halle Berry's turn as Catwoman had anything to do with the comics. In fact, its worth noting that the producer on this movie is Akiva Goldsman, the guy who wrote "Batman and Robin" and "Batman Forever", if you're wondering about what sort of perspective you should expect on the source material.

If I sound a little irritated, I am.

There's nothing wrong with mixing genres. FCBD comic and Oni Press's newest darling "The Sixth Gun" is a great example of a series which is mix-mastering genres to make something new and cool. But "The Sixth Gun" is also fresh from the mind of Cullen Bunn. It is not an existing property twice the age of the intended audience of 20 year-olds.

Due to the WB corporate structure, DC has had a very hard time getting its properties to screen. The properties are either auctioned off to producers who want to work with WB, or given out like treats to favored producers who hear Sony made a boatload of cash on Spider-Man, and one comic character is the same as the next, right?

I am exactly as excited about this as I was about "Van Helsing".

While we were away, Joel Silver, possibly the man with the dumbest luck in Hollywood, announced a "Sgt. Rock" film. "Sgt. Rock", for decades at DC Comics, was the face of the every-man soldier serving in the European theater in WWII. His adventures in "Our Army at War", 'Star Spangled War Stories", and other titles, were fairly gritty, well researched morality plays and Vietnam-era ponderings on the nature of war. Stories about losing your buddies in fox holes and trudging through France in awful weather and getting shot at from all sides.

Joel Silver has announced that his Sgt. Rock will take place in the future.

This isn't just missing the point or having no disregard for the character. This is straight-up confusing, except to a producer who still can't quite understand what made movies like X-Men, Batman Begins and Spider-Man work. Or, for that matter, "Band of Brothers" or "The Pacific".

I shiver when I envision a director like McG getting his hands on "Enemy Ace".

Despite turns on "The Batman/ Superman Adventures", "Justice League Unlimited" and even "Batman: The Brave and the Bold", outside of comicdom, nobody has ever heard the name "Jonah Hex". Jonah Hex has virtually no pop-culture presence, and barely pings on the comic fan radar in 2010, even with a series which will hit its fifth year later on in 2010. So it appears likely that Hex's introduction to the planet is now a hacky script written by producers who became confused that the comic character they'd bought the rights to didn't fly or shoot lasers out of his fingers.

I am reminded of a conversation I had in 1997 with a film school instructor who asked me about a pitch I was working on for a class assignment. He asked me if I was trying to make my script like a comic (he knew I read comics). "Yes," I answered, truthfully. And he went on about how it wasn't hitting the notes right to feel like a comic. I nodded solemnly, writing down notes in a spiral and leaning back thoughtfully in my chair, but it took me several minutes to really figure out why we seemed to be talking past one another. Where he was talking "generic, lantern-jawed stereotype of a superhero" when he said comic, my brain had gotten on the rails with Grant Morrison's "Invisibles", some of Ennis's "Preacher" and had probably cut the brakes with "Kid Eternity".

I imagine that this sor of cognitive dissonance must be all too common when a producer receives a prospectus that a young producer looking to adapt a property drops in his lap. There's a generation of Hollywood producer and creator out there, who still can't be bothered to give a damn about the properties at which they've chosen to throw millions. And, honestly, when you're Akiva Goldsman or Joel Silver, you're going to make money and make more movies no matter what happens.

Here's the thing: making a Jonah Hex movie should have been shooting fish in a barrel.

For thirty years, the comics have been ripping off various aspects of "High Plains Drifter", "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and "Name any Sergio Leon Movie You Watched in College", with varying degrees of success. Yeah, he's got the scars, but that's all they had to do. Instead, they decided to make a new installment of the Smith/ Kline "Wild, Wild West".

I'm not even going to link to the trailer.

The good news is that about three months ago, DC Comics announced a reorganization. Out of that, Diane Nelson, head of DC Entertainment, named DC Comics super-writer Geoff Johns as Chief Creative Officer. Basically, anything that's going to be a movie and stamped with the DC label has to go through Johns, and Johns is not the kind of guy who is going to let "hey, let's give Hex magical powers!" the green light. And, in fact, likely got the job specifically because they knew what he'd do, and they've seen the correlation in success with Marvel's properties with their fidelity to the original concepts.

I am more than fine with changes. Nolan's Batman doesn't have a Robin. Gwen Stacy is a forgettable minor character in the third Spidey film. But once you alter the basic premise, and (dare I say it?) the milieu, you've lost me. And most of the time, you've lost the audience, too.

It's a terrible disappointment to see a trailer that seems like such a mid-90's throwback to the treatment of comic source material. But with Goldsman involved, is there any big surprise?

By the way, Hex's final fate is a bit of favorite comic-nerd lore. Possibly not just because they had the guts to say what happened to him, but that it so epitomized the hard-luck hero to begin with. I leave you to Google-search that one on your own. Just... you know, ignore the "Hex in the 25th Century" jazz. It was the 80's. People were trying things.

I'll now wait until cable for "Jonah Hex", and that's too bad. But after the Miami/Travolta-heavy "Punisher", Frank Miller's ridiculous misstep with "The Spirit", "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (which I still haven't watched more than a snippet of) and a handful of others, there's too many people trying to do right with comic adaptations to spend money on the ones where its clear that something has gone terribly wrong.

There's obviously a fine line between worshipfulness and letting the director and producer find the right alchemy within the source material without just chucking the source material (see: Wanted). But when it comes to comics (especially DC properties), we've seen perfectly good concepts get manhandled, as if its a bit of material nobody had ever seen before. The current Fox TV show, "The Human Target"? They've actually abandoned the central conceipt of the comic character. He's a master of disguise, not just a guy who is willing to be shot.

I feel bad not just for the audience who is getting screwed out of a chance to ever see sometimes brilliant ideas make it to TV or movies, but for the creators who watch as writers who can't be bothered to spend an evening reading start a train that will make and lose ten times what most of these creators would see in a lifetime.

Again, Nelson has put Johns in place, and one can hope the position will actually have some clout. Perhaps he can even slow down Silver before Sgt. Rock gets transplanted to the future.

But I'm not betting on it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

FCBD 2010 @ Austin Books

Saturday May 1, 2010 was Free Comic Book Day across all the land. In our little neck of the woods, we headed down to Austin Books and Comics. Austin Books had a selection of over 90 possible titles, and 20,000+ comics to give away.

Troubles, Steanso and PaulT joined me for a bit over an hour at Austin Books before heading over to EZ's, where we met up with PaulT's significant other, The Amazing Erin.

Upon arriving, there was a considerable, but steadily moving line snaked around the building. Also, The Hulk was standing guard over the store.

Here's the reverse shot, which includes the tent and orange cones. I find it funny Austin Books has to own cones.

The Hulk picked a fight, and your faithful writer had to show him what-for. Man, I am pale.

Inside the tent, there were three solid walls of comics to choose from. That "War of the Supermen #0" was actually better than I expected.

Ah! The creators of "The Sixth Gun", artist Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn. I managed to get a signed copy, a poster, a copy of their graphic novel "The Damned", and a hearty handshake from both. Terrific fellows! From Missouri, I believe.

This was their "are we doing a candid shot?" shot. In no way was this candid.

PaulT. joins forces with The Amazing Spider-Man! Coincidentally, I think you can see a copy of "The Damned" just over Paul's shoulder.

Sometimes doing meta-jackassery about pics with CosPlay girls just comes off as jackassery. Anyway, that's also the back-issue selection at Austin Books. I picked up an issue of "Superman's Girlfriend: Lois Lane". I'm carrying issues of the new Greg Rucka series, "Stumptown".

The Dark Knight took time off from browing manga to pose.

A great day.

I picked up Superman, Little Lulu, MouseGuard and a whole bunch of others. Gotta go read some comics now.