Sunday, December 7, 2014

5 x 5 Graphic "Novel": C.O.W.L.

So, while Wonder Wife was relaxing her birthday afternoon away in a Korean Spa, I had a chance to visit an actual comic book shop and get myself a few presents. This was one.

C.O.W.L. Volume 1: Principles of Power.

Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Rob Reis.

Image Comics.

1. I was drawn to this book by its cover - specifically by the union logo it depicted. Here's a closeup:

With this design sensibility and a back-of-the-book blurb that reads Welcome to the Chicago Organized Workers League - the world's first superhero labor union, I was expecting a trade-unionist, maybe even socialist interpretation of the superhero trope. It's not. While C.O.W.L. is indeed a union, and much of the plot circles around contract negotiations, the ambience is much more Mad Men than it is Matewan. The members of C.O.W.L. are certainly not working class, and the personal and political agendas on display have little do with the relationship between capital and labor. That was the first disappointment.

2. The second disappointment was that this is not a graphic novel at all; it is a collection of the first five issues of an ongoing comic. I blame myself for this one - it's clearly stated on the back and I should have noticed - but after have some good experiences recently with true stand-alone GNs, that this one ended in media res was a bit jarring.

3. The story is pretty engaging and the writing is competent, although it sometimes reads like the early days of cable when formerly-banned language was first creeping into broadcasts: just keep dropping those f-bombs so we remember this is "realistic." The art is quite good; Reis reminds me a little of Bill Sienkiewicz.

4. Not for the first time, I thought that a comic was part of the who's-gonna-be-the-next-Walking Dead phenomenon: even in its best bits, I couldn't help but feel that C.O.W.L. was a pitch for a movie or television series. Some of the staging and a lot of dialogue just feels too cinematic and not at all comics-y.

5.  I am really tiring of the banality of powers. Superhero teams have become just another collection of stereotypes like any other overworked genre. Instead of the planner, the face, the tough guy, and the gadget man in an A-Team ripoff, we have the flying guy with energy bursts, the guy with the power glove, the girl with telekinesis. There's no wonder, in-story or out, that humans can do these amazing things. Listing the character names with their specialties in the front matter of the book evoked the rules set of a role-playing game more than it did the old school "roll calls" of team comic books.

Wow, that sounded more negative than I expected, but I guess that some good parts aside, I really didn't enjoy the book as whole and won't be looking for Volume 2. 

Bonus fun bit: I cannot hear or read the word cowl without thinking of this lettercol title. It debuted in World's Finest in 1964, when I was 6 or 7, and I am pretty sure it was my first understanding of the word's meaning.

I also remember wondering about the title itself, because Batman had a cape, too...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How'd I miss this guy?

So, my google-fu must be slipping: when preparing for this post about bison-themed heroes, I completely missed this character:

Buffaloman is a character from the superhero manga Kinnikuman; from what I can tell, he is a good guy, but it looks like he started out as a villain.

I am still not satisfied, despite the glorious golden-age name this guy carries; while he is an appropriately powerful character, he doesn't have quite the shagginess that I would expect from a bison-based hero. The Kinnikuman Wikia offers some clue:
The buffalo in his name more than likely comes from the water buffalo, as his Long Horns resemble theirs. Also, his hailing from Spain and his habit of charging forward with his Long Horns in front implies he may be inspired by bullfighting as well.
I think the musical motif of this video confirms that bullfighting connection:

Once again, we have been led down the primrose path: I guess I will have to keep searching for that perfectly-realized superhero based on the American Bison. Or not.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wonder Wife Wednesday: Fantastic

So, my sister sent me a gift just because. Just because it was comics-related and just because she is sweeter and more sentimental than she would ever let on. But here, let Wonder Wife help describe it for you:

Now, there's no way I would have expected Wonder Wife to get Karnak or Gorgon or Crystal, much less Wyatt Wingfoot, but besides Thing, maybe she should have been a little closer to the mark on the FF, since we did watch the first FF movie together.  Although she did in fact fall asleep during the climactic final battle.

That she did get Medusa says something about the purity of that character design. If I recall correctly, wasn't Madame Medusa created independently, and then retconned into the Inhumans with the ol' amnesia gag? That might be germane.

As always, thanks to Wonder Wife for being such a good sport about these pop quizzes.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Days of passed past

So, I want to make a big shout-out to cyber-pal Marc Burkhardt. We've been rattling around the same back alleys of the comicsweblogosphere for some time and have crossed paths pleasantly many times. Marc's still at the blog business and he's even got a Tumblr version, but I seem to run into him more and more on the Twitter. And it was there that he recently gave me a nice gift.

It's just a non-sequitur  Tweet, but it worked on me like a geeky version of Proust's madeleines.

You see, back in the early seventies, when I was a veritable comics-reading machine, the X-Men weren't the pop culture phenomenon they are now. In fact, their comic had essentially been cancelled - it was still being printed, but for about four years they were just reprinting the comics from about eight years earlier. They ended the practice before they caught up to themselves and destroyed the space-time continuum, but what's really important is that they were reprinting those Thomas-Roth stories that Marc is talking about.

And I loved them.

I particularly loved Roth's art. Roy Thomas himself is said have thought Roth's art was not suited for superheroes, since he was really a romance and westerns guy, but I totally dug his look and his diagrammatic approach to action:

He really did shine in the non-combat bits, though. Thomas and Roth created a fauxhemian beatnik world every time Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake (Beast and Iceman) would visit their favorite coffee house (decades before the Starbucks era), and it was a hoot.

Ah, those were the days, my friend. Not as flashy as today, what with the super-duper computerized color printing and grimness & grittiness and the every-comic-is-a-movie-treatment-in-disguise stuff. It was just action and adventure and fun - with some great art.

Roth died way too young, succumbing to cancer at age 52 in 1973 - when I was still reading and enjoying his earlier work. He continued to work in comics until his death, and will always be remembered for his work on the (in)famous Lois Lane race-switch story I am Curious, Black.

My past few days of googling and remembering has been an authentic joy, and I wanted to thank Marc and share the love. Peace out.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Not to beat a dead buffalo, but...

So, I wanted to follow up this reference a little bit more, not with more about bison, but about gorillas - or one gorilla figure in particular.

Man-Ape is one of my favorite comic book villains - heck, one of my favorite comic book characters. Fifteen-year-old Walaka devoured his first appearance in this "Full-length Bullpen Blockbuster" issue of Jungle Action, which had just become the hero Black Panther's solo title. I dug the contrast between the two: white and furry v. black and sleek; big and powerful v. lithe and agile; usurper v. regent. It had all the trappings of classic conflict, and I guess it continued long after I stopped reading mainstream comics. 

But one thing about the character dynamic bugged me, even back in the day, and moreso now.

Black Panther is T'Challa, the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda (at least he was when I knew him; he might have a different job now), and his "senses and physical attributes have been enhanced to superhuman levels by the heart-shaped herb." This is some kind of magic plant (whose properties and accessibility vary with continuity glitches).

Man-Ape is M'Baku, a former Wakandan official who attempted to overthrow T'Challa and continues to oppose him after the coup failed. He "possesses various superhuman abilities as the result of a magical ritual in which he killed a sacred White Gorilla, bathed in its blood, and consumed its flesh."

Now, here's what gets me: Gorillas are predominantly herbivorous, eating shoots and leaves and occasionally fruits (although some lowland gorillas will eat ants and termites as well). Panthers, on the other hand - any big cats of the genus Panthera - are carnivorous.

Given this, wouldn't it make more sense to eat special meat in order to become a magical panther-warrior and eat special herbs to become a magical gorilla-warrior?

Oy vey, sometimes I can't believe the things that stay with me...

The quote abut T'Challa's powers comes from; 
poor second-stringer Man-Ape doesn't even get a listing there, 
so I had to go to the Marvel Wikia for his quotation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Six of One: Buffalo pals, won't you come out tonight?

So, I had this great image (among other photos of buffalo) show up in one of my feeds, and I reposted it in the spirit of November 1st being National Bison Day (which it isn't yet, although a movement to make it such exists).

I have always had a soft spot for the North American Buffalo, Bison bison; its near-extinction as a species is one of the tragedies of the American story. The buffalo is an impressive beast as well as an awesome-looking one; I have always dug that they are one of the few animals that face into a storm. One friend of bison called them "the fastest-moving slow animal." They are one of the icons of vegetarian badassery, right up there with gorillas.

Thinking about how cool buffalo are of course made me wonder: how many buffalo- or bison-themed superheroes (or villains) are there? It seems a natural choice: all that power and strength, plus a cool, shaggy look.

Surprisingly, there are not many, and none like I expected. I really had to scrape the pot just to fill out this feature - but here they are.


This one is really a leap, but I couldn't resist. He was created by Stan Lee's Pow! Entertainment (remember them?) for the National Hockey League, as part of an ill-fated plan to promote the teams through custom superheroes. Aside from some publicity leading up to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, The Guardian Project lived and died almost totally beneath the radar. Anyway, this is the hydro-electrically powered Sabre of Buffalo, New York. He's not buffaloey at all, not in the thematic sense.


I had high hopes when I saw this name pop up in my search, but they were sadly dashed. Bison is a Marvel super-villain, a basketball player turned into a "man-bull" by the Egyptian god Seth. Hunh? There weren't ever any bison in Egypt! There's a river buffalo there, a kind of water buffalo, but it's Bubalus bubalis, a different genus and species. Shouldn't this guy have been called Bull, or at best, Buffalo?


This guy was originally a videogame character (a boss) in the Capcom Street Fighter game, but he had a comic book for a while, so I guess he counts. He's not very buffaloey in any way that I can tell, though. He was played by Raul Julia in the live-action movie, and he was more a fox or a wolf than a bison, so I really don't know what's up here.


This guy is a hero from the anime Tiger & Bunny, and I figure he had a manga or a comic somewhere. But I don't know why I made the stretch to include him - he's even less buffaloey than the Egyptian guy. He just has horns on his armor (and great big drills on his shoulders).


Finally, a real connection to the American buffalo. Black Bison is a Native American villain who went up against the hero Firestorm, using vaguely defined shamanic powers on a mission of vengeance. So, besides his name, he's not very buffaloey either. But he is wearing a version of the bison headdress, which was used by some plains tribes, including the Blackfoot, in shamanic ceremonies and as a sign of rank.


This is the only character I had in my mind when I first was considering the existence of bison-based heroes. Flying Stag and I go way back - I remember reading his few adventures when I was just a kid. He was a 15th century Iroquois who gained unnatural strength, speed, and agility from a meteorite sent to him by the Manitou, the Great Spirit of the Algonquin; the bison-mask served to protect Flying Stag's identity when he went into action as Super-Chief (seriously). Why someone from an essentially Eastern nation was wearing modified regalia from the Plains Tribes was never fully explained. Despite this inaccuracy, I liked Super-Chief's look, and he had that earnestness common to Silver Age heroes. Notwithstanding my affection for him and his super powers, I have to admit that he isn't really very buffaloey, aside from his mask. I don't think any of his reboots (including a thankfully short-lived grim 'n' gritty version) were either.

So that's it. I expected some sort of Rhino-like guy, a hard charger, tough and strong, with a really imposing look. But even Dr. Peculiar failed me; the realm of a bison-based hero is apparently an untrodden prairie.

Bonus 7:
Super-Chief did break into the big-time once: In January 1972 one of his stories was reprinted in Superman #245, and on the back cover he got some face time right next to Big Blue himself:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Geek Girl Con Goes Fo(u)rth!

So, I made it to Geek Girl Con again this year - a four-peat! (is that even a thing?) I was intrigued by the inaugural event in 2011, gushed over it some more in 2012,  and gave a late report on it last year, and herewith is this year's installment.

Let me say again the GGC is the most inclusive, accepting, laid-back con I have attended; the contrast with the PAX event a few weeks ago couldn't be more striking. In addition to the Usual Suspects, I used an extra pass to pull in my colleague and office-neighbor, a biology instructor. She brought along her son and daughter and was not only thrilled to find so much pro-STEM content aimed at girls, but found herself having a great time right along with her kids, even though she is almost totally non-geek. It's just that kind of event.

This might have been the best year yet for me; here are three highlights before the usual parade of pictures.

Wonder Wife

As I predicted last year, the addition of Introvert Alley (a quiet-only zone where people can go to de-stress) was enough to get Wonder Wife to attend along with me, and she did so in style: we went as a cosplay team, Artie Nielsen and Claudia Donovan from Warehouse 13, the steampunkish Syfy series.

I think I did a pretty good job.

But I think Wonder Wife was spectacular!

Wonder Woman

Before yesterday, I would have told you that the last time I had sought an autograph was from Isaac Asimov at a Sci-Fi Convention in New York in 1978 (and that's a story for another time). I have never considered autographs important or even sensical.  Well, at this GGC I broke that longstanding streak: one of the guests was Susan Eisenberg, the talented voice actress who portrayed Wonder Woman in the Justice League animated series and several other projects, along with her other geeky and non-geeky work. That show, and her interpretation of Diana, has given me so much enjoyment that I just got swept up. I'm going to display the autograph proudly in my office.

Wonderful to Say (mirabile dictu)

As great as my costume was and as natural as that wig looked, I discovered after attending my first panel that the hairpiece did need some adjustment, so I went into the men's room and trimmed it with the scissors on my Swiss Army Knife (Officers' Model). A little while later, I discovered I was without my knife, apparently having left it in the restroom. I looked fruitlessly and then checked Lost & Found with little hope. They didn't have it, but took my name and number and said they'd let me know if it turned up.

I didn't expect anything, but a couple of hours later I got a text telling me the knife had been turned in. When I picked it up, the Agents (that's what they call con staff) said that even though it had been found elsewhere than I described, when it was turned in they connected it to me right away.

Tell me at what other convention of 5,000 or so people would an easily transportable, untraceable, hundred-dollar item be turned into Lost & Found and proactively returned to its owner? GGC is just that kind of event.

The Photos!

Pride of first photo goes to my partner in crime Margaret, who this year came as Ianto from Torchwood. The coffee cups turned out to be the critical part of the cosplay!

After all the reboots and re-interpretations, it was cool to see Classic Sherlock.

A totally adorable Korra; we didn't get to see it, but she was faux-waterbending with foil ribbons.

Groot meets the Dalek!

Jeanie showed up, just for Super Sissy (who is a big fan).

Agent Hill of SHIELD has a burgeoning fan following:

I am not familiar with Kill la Kill, the anime these characters are from, but these girls were rocking it awesome:

Sunday's con was at the same time as a Seahawks game, and this cosplayer covered both with SeaHawkgirl, complete with Shayera's name on the uniform and a spiked football for a mace.

After Captain Marvel won her round, I played on this giant Tsuro game. And lost.

So, listen to Wi-Fi the Robotic Squirrel: come to Geek Girl Con!

See y'all next year!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

w00t! Loot!

So, this rock has made another trip around the sun and I am officially one year older today than I was before. Some folks were kind enough to want to mark my natal anniversary, so we held a little "Sputnik Soiree," a start-of-the-space-age themed masquerade party, with folks coming in late-50s vintage get-ups. And a swell time was had by all.

Wonder Wife as Alla Masevich, head of Tracking Systems for the Sputnik Project

I suggested donations to the food bank in lieu of gifts, but some folks wanted to express their esteem materially, and who am I to say no? Herewith, the loot:

A great treat of the day was receiving a package from my sisters back East. Slightly-older Sister had just returned from a Budapest to Amsterdam river cruise which apparently called at Nuremberg, Germany, since that's where Ultra Comix is located, and she got me some stuff from there. But really, the gift is hearing from her, and from Much-older Sister, whom I see all too infrequently.

 Not "Die neue zweiundfünfzig"?

Wonder Wife continues to fill in my comics library with these important works that I should be embarrassed to say I didn't own before yesterday, except that I ran out of embarrassment in the late 80s.

No capes?!

Brah Phil brought his internet A-game with these two great finds. First, a magazine that is almost precisely as old as I am. Despite its "Fine" condition, I am going to open it, read it, and stick it in my back pocket, as was intended.

I think I have read the Asimov and Sheckley stories already...

And in the same theme, he brought another I-had-one-of-those! goodies:

It actually belonged to a cousin, 
and I surrounded it with green army men, since it was a flying saucer.
That's just the way we rolled back then.

There were actually a lot of non-geeky elements to the celebration, but that's for another blog, right?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

5x5 Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

1. There are still over a million hits on Google for "Days of Future Past" when excluding X-Men, Marvel, or Wolverine, and only a few are misspellings of the Moody Blues album title: most use the expression in connection with articles about either about nostalgia or predictions. Was the 1981 comic book story arc the real source of this phrase, and has it really become that ubiquitous just since then? I never actually read the Marvel series, but I knew enough about the story going in that the movie didn't surprise me.

2. The seventies ambience was not quite as wonderful as the sixties ambience on display in First Class, but it may have been even more authentic. And it proved that even Peter Dinklage can't make seventies fashions look good, and that did surprise me.

3. The best thing in the movie was the Xavier-Magneto relationship, both in the past and in the future. Everyone else, even Wolverine and Mystique, seemed to be there just for window dressing, without any internal life at all.

4. I am pretty sure I am done with Wolverine movies, even if he is one of Wonder Wife's favorites to watch; Hugh can hang up the claws any time, as far as I am concerned. Not bloody likely: he's still in like every third Marvel comic, isn't he?

5. I am also getting close to being over superhero movies in general. After so long wishing somebody could do one right, it now almost seems that there are too many being done all the time. Maybe I am just waiting for someone to do one really well.

And was I the only one who thought Quicksilver was too fast?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Do you believe in Magic?

So, I went back to PAX for a second day.

Sunday seemed a little less crazy than Saturday, but it was still an exhausting mess. I try to allow as little waiting-in-line into my life as possible, but it seems that cons are all about lining up. I know that there are some really popular events, but speaking as someone who has had to do more than a little crowd control in my time, it sometimes felt that the queuing was somewhat over-managed, which created a sense of  anxiety in many attendees, resulting in a bit of "queue-creep," when people line up earlier and earlier even for events that may not even fill.

I might not have minded it as much if the sessions I was lining up for had been more productive or enjoyable. The first was under-moderated and, like yesterday's session, devolved into a series of anecdotes vaguely related to the topic, late-career entry in game design. The second was supposed to be about gaming in higher ed, but was actually about higher ed for gaming; that is, it didn't focus on how to incorporate gaming into the classroom, but described a program for learning how to do game development. The last session I attended was at least actually about gamification of the classroom, but all of the panelists were from K-12. I did glean some recommendations for games that work in a classroom setting:

Um, okay.

While people are waiting to enter sessions, staff come by, engage line-standers in impromptu games, and hand out prizes; or to put it more accurately, they hand out many instances of the same prize, to wit:

I had gotten one yesterday, too... 

Yes, I'm such a good gamer at things like D20 Challenge, Win, Lose, or Banana, Cowboy-Ninja-Bear, and some kind of match game that I won eight Magic the Gathering decks: two red, two black, two green, one white, and one blue. I don't even play Magic!

I spent part of the day that I wasn't on line wandering with buddy Sahar, who had snagged a free ticket late in the game, and some of her luck rubbed off on me. We were at a vendor table with Liz Spain, who was demonstrating her steampunk find-Atlantis board game, Quest for Atlantis (part of a projected Incredible Expeditions series). After the spiel, she invited us to draw a ball from a gum-ball machine.

The prior visitor had drawn a clear ball (we could see the balls were mostly clear, with just a few blue ones) and had gotten an art print, so I told Sahar to hope for a blue one. In fact she drew one and won a USB drive with a kraken on it.

It was my turn, so I clicked the little handle around and out popped a beautiful marble. Our eyerows went up and Liz's eyes got wide, and she said that I had won a free copy of the game!

Autographed, no less!

I was pleased beyond just getting lucky for a change, because it actually looks like a really cool game. Its art design is just fantastic, the theme is awesome, and the gameplay looks creative and workable. We'll set up a playdate and I'll report on it later. Thanks, Liz!

Well, that was about it, besides a little more hunting for cool tabletop games. I'm not sure I'll go back to PAX next year, but it did make me eager for Geek Girl Con in month or so.

I wonder how long the lines will be there...