Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Top Ten Steel Covers (John Henry Irons Edition)

John Henry Irons was introduced during the bestselling "Reign of the Supermen" epic. In and of itself, that was enough to make the character just about the most highly visible hero of color in DC Comics history. Unfortunately, he was then written as such-- the good negro Tom Robinson of the lily white Superman Family. Steel was branded with an S-Shield, given his own terrible token series, and was dutifully included in all crossovers for years thereafter. The salvation of the character came in the strength of his original concept as a working class armored hero, his glorious design, and a late term creative team change that redeemed the Steel series with just over a year's worth of compelling stories.

After his series' cancellation, John Henry Irons became a co-star/regular supporting character in Superman: The Man of Steel, which emphasized his engineering genius. Steel's presence was also a highlight of the Morrison/Porter JLA's second half, especially his infamous conversion of the Watchtower headquarters into a virtual armor, prompting the hilarious declaration "I am now wearing this building!" Unfortunately, Irons "retired" as a super-hero around the time The Man of Steel was canceled and the JLA pared down. This left Irons and his one consistent supporting character, precocious niece Natasha, to drift through one title after another.

Attempts to employ the Irons pair in recent years have left much to be desired. Natasha made use of her own Steel armor for a time, then acquired super powers from Lex Luthor, prompting the involvement of John Henry in an inevitable confrontation. The pair were part of the painfully misguided Infinity, Inc. reboot, and Steel once again played substitute Superman during the World of New Krypton hubbub. The essential appeal, and perhaps even a basic understand of the Steel premise, continues to elude writers. The further out the world gets from "Reign of the Superman," the less likely it seems Steel will ever fully come into his own, and I find that a terrible shame.

10) Superman: The Man of Steel #117 (October, 2001)

I was really up-in-arms about the apparent death of Steel, but he returned in the same storyline. However he was briefly burdened with an excessively powerful new armor built by Darkseid out of an Imperiex shell. I think it was called the Entropy Aegis, and I know it totally missed the point of John Henry Irons, but the cover was cool.

9) Steel #41 (August, 1997)

Racially charged much?

8) 52 #8 (June 28,2006)

I love a good propaganda poster!

7) Steel #34 (January, 1997)

After three years of increasingly bad stories and art, DC finally began to treat Steel as more than crossover fodder before the release of his motion picture. Unfortunately, from what I've heard, the movie was about as bad as the comic had been. It's a shame, because DC's premier black super-hero finally began to be shepherded by actual black creators, with writer Christopher Priest turning in probably the best scripts of his distinguished career.

6) Superman: The Man of Steel #26 (October, 1993)

Not recognizing the full implications of the moniker, I declared "Iron John" my favorite of the Supermen, and the most likely to embody the soul of the Man of Steel. If any of the Supermen could stand beside "the real steel deal," it was John Henry. Plus, no one ever drew Steel quite as well as co-creator Jon Bogdanove.

5) Steel #45 (December, 1997)

Into a comics world where it was often up to the colorist to assign race, Steel was undeniably a black man, even when covered head to toe in armor.

4) Steel #23 (January, 1996)

This was such a powerful image that the forgettable story within is doubly disappointing.

3) Steel #3 (April, 1994)

Friggin' awesome perspective! You're going to be eating that hammer if you don't move out of his way.

2) Steel #37 (April, 1997)

This one is quite literally iconic, with most of the image consisting of silhouettes and high contrast head shots. I love how the DC bullet has been turned into another gear in Steel's (or is it Dr. Villain's?) machine.

1) Superman: The Man of Steel #22 (June, 1993)

This one is a bit of a cheat, as there's technically three covers (regular, deluxe exterior, and deluxe interior.) Regardless, they're all cool, and this is the first full Steel story, which made me an instant fan.

Honorable Mentions:
52 #14 What's with all the black male heroes being stripped down to bare chests?
Action Comics #807 (The Natasha bot gets a lovely cover.)
Hardware #17 (Similar concepts with wildly divergent characterizations played off one another.)
Steel #1 (Too static to rate inclusion.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Top 10 Captain Comet Covers

My interest in Captain Comet started out as youthful curiosity regarding comics' original heroic mutant, the first post-Golden Age super-hero, and the only long underwear type openly active in the 1950s. From his modern age appearances, I came to know him as a lovable old school stiff, and dug that he was an obscurity brought back in the '70s to battle the Secret Society of Super-Villains from within. Only recently did I decide to finally take the plunge and try collecting his solo adventures, only to discover some seriously obvious gay subtext running throughout his early career. So, not only will this cover gallery represent what I feel are the character's best frontpieces, but also an opportunity to make lewd jokes and promote the queer agenda. Who's up for a trip to Uranus?

10) Strange Adventures #40 (January, 1954)

Shrinking and going bald! Every man's nightmare!

9) Strange Adventures #27 (December, 1952)

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with himself, Captain Comet anticipates his aughts reboot. Plus, the two faces of Blake argue over whom the cop in the tight pants with the provocatively posed rifle will fire upon, until the piece officer chooses to blast them both. Up against the wall, pervps!

8) DC Special Series #6 (November, 1977)

The Man of Destiny presents his ass to the entire Justice League of America and the Secret Society of Super-Villains, exclaiming that he could be struck anytime and anywhere! En garde!

7) Mystery In Space #7 (May, 2007)

A proportionately childlike Adam Blake turns his back to the viewer while walking toward the crotch of a deviant alien priest, whose arms are outstretched in an ecstatically welcoming posture. Hail Mary!

6) L.E.G.I.O.N. #44 (August, 1992)

A vibrant Kevin Maguire cover that for once showcases Comet's mental powers. What?

5) Strange Adventures #17 (February, 1952)

Gil Kane drawing man-made-men rising up from puddles of seminal goo? Not only does this cover look great, but the only way it could play up the queer subtext of the series any more would be if Comet were pushing the girl "out of harm's way."

4) Mystery In Space #1 (November, 2006)

Adam Blake casts off his wrinkled old man flesh for a tight young body and a nice big phallic symbol. Note the streaking star seed and the smoke drifting out out of old Blake's crotch, as though he just ejaculated his new self.

3) Strange Adventures #33 (June, 1953)

Pink skies? Bondage? Miniature humans working out of a yellow hive pocked with entry points? Evil mocking giant sentient bug gently stroking Captain Comet's arm? This cover is what would happen if Freud and Kafka had a love child.

2) Strange Adventures #39 (December, 1953)

Gorilla covers are a monkey's paw full of win anyway, but Blake as the prosecuting attorney arguing to send Coco to death row? That's the face of awesome.

1) Strange Adventures #9 (June, 1951)

This image doesn't make a lot of character sense, because it isn't like Adam Blake was some dapper chap thrust into the role of spaceman. However, it is the first Captain Comet cover upon his original appearance, and striking besides. Also: Metrosexuality.

Honorable Mentions:
Mystery In Space #6 (Comet fighting his way out of an enormous flesh-eating space penis.)
Strange Adventures #10 (Captain Comet ignores hot space chick in a mini-skirt to focus on giant nude infantilized alien.
Mystery In Space #2 (Adam Blake is a wanted man!)
Secret Society of Super-Villains #10 (Getting beat-up by Grodd, Star Sapphire and the Wizard.)
Strange Adventures #35 (Chess board action!)
DC Comics Presents #22 (Captain Comet is out of control, and shoots himself at Superman!)
Secret Society of Super-Villains #2 (In another example of working through sexual frustration, Captain Comet decks that paragon of heterosexuality, Hal "Green Lamtern" Jordan.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Frank Review of "Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience" (2010)

The Short Version? Iron. Man. Two.
What Is It? Super-Hero Flick.
Who Is In It? The Pick-Up Artist. Shakespeare's Love. Woody Allen's masturbation fantasy. The Wrestler. Chuck Barris.
Should I See It? Yes.

I figured my girlfriend ought to see the first Iron Man movie before we caught the sequel, and she fell hard for the charisma, the cars, and the engineering geekery of that initial outing. We were both hella busy for the week afterward, so I called my Iron Man fan buddy to see if we could hold off on a screening until the sequel’s second weekend of release. In the meantime, I skimmed reviews, carefully avoiding spoilers, and determined the consensus was that Iron Man 2 was too busy and came up short of the original’s charm.

This is a constant issue with super-hero movies, falling under studio and licensor pressure for bigger, better, faster and more. It made me think that one of these days, a sophomore effort should buck the trend by embracing it. Make an episodic movie, broken up into half hour or so segments, spotlighting new characters. Instead of trying to give a villain an arc, give their origin(s,) then lead them directly to their one round defeat by the hero. You could almost do it as a concept piece, giving sections off to different directors and letting them make their own mini-movies with the super-heroic lead as a linking device. Iron Man could be the Keyser Soze of a film structured like Pulp Fiction with a group of former Soviet villains training for a segment, and maybe one of the Titanium Men buying it at the end. In the meantime, you could set up the Gremlin, Red Guardian, Crimson Dynamo, another TM or whatever for a sequel that could get straight to the story, as the set-up was already out of the way. Black Widow couldn’t support a whole movie, but give her and Hawkeye a segment where she steals plans for an Iron Man armor while seducing Hawkeye to pit his low tech archery against weak points discovered in the armor. It worked in Vietnam, its working in the desert wars, it’s how Stan Lee did it, and how a movie could do it again. Give the audience a series of smaller pay-offs, send them home happy, and then really own them come installment number three.

Well, Iron Man 2 didn’t do that. The main story is that the device that keeps Tony Stark alive is fairly rapidly poisoning him, so he’s got to find a cure. Unfortunately, he’s distracted by seventeen subplots that keep the movie from being about anything but set pieces and characters. Fortunately, those set pieces are fairly well constructed and diverse, as are most of the characters, so the movie manages to coast on those charms. Still, there are areas where the flick tries to be sober, but the gravitas isn’t there, and the relationships aren’t as strong this time out. This is the thinking man’s stupid popcorn movie, clever enough not to offend, and entertaining so long as you don’t pause to analyze anything.

I don’t need to tell you Robert Downey Jr. is awesome, so we’ll skip that. Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t as enjoyable this time, as she’s forced into a role of such great responsibility that she has no time to flirt while cleaning up Tony Stark’s increasingly messy leavings. Sam Jackson’s looking a little pudgy as Nick Fury, but he’s having fun, and it was cool that both of Stark’s main bromances of the film were with brothers.

Jeff Bridges was so powerful as Obadiah Stane, that attempting to compete with him would be madness. There was a familial intimacy between Stane and Stark that couldn’t be replicated, and I loved how his firm hand on Tony’s shoulder usually mean his other paw was up the ass, working him like a puppet. In retrospect, there was a lot of Justin Hammer, the mafia don of technophiles, in Bridges’ Stane, so what did that leave Sam Rockwell? Well, this is Justin Hammer in name only, truly a poseur Tony Stark motivated by jealousy to overtake the real deal. Regardless, Rockwell steals every scene he’s in, partially because of his character’s awareness of when he falls short of the mark, whereas Downey’s Stark sometimes overestimates himself to the point of teasing an audience backlash. I love RDJ, but he’s not quite as cool as Stark is supposed to be, and Rockwell’s intentional posturing almost comes off as a mockery of RDJ’s arrogance as Stark.

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke’s physical presence may be bigger than Bridges’, but his screen presence is running at an unusually low wattage here. Usually, you don’t so much cast Rourke as unleash him in a role, but it feels like the lion’s share of his eccentricities were left on the cutting room floor. His Whiplash has moments, but never fully comes across as a threat, and has too few scenes to play of Downey.

I’ve come to appreciate Terrence Howard’s performance in the first film, but had he returned, Rhodey’s strained relationship with Stark would have come off more as quarreling lovers than friends. Blessedly, Don Cheadle has the stones to pull off acting as a War Machine, and is the best black super-hero the silver screen has seen after Blade. I do wish Cheadle would rock a goatee, though, but he has good tension with Downey, and I hope he gets to continue strutting into the Avengers movie.

The one unforgivable weak link in the picture is Scarlett Johansson, a performer so poor even Paltrow, one of the least worthy Academy Award winning actresses in recent memory, can run circles around her. Johansson has no range whatsoever, and even her face seems mostly frozen in sex doll mode. She’s about the worst reasonable choice to play Natasha Romanov, but her character is sort of a mash-up with Bethany Cabe anyway, though her personality vacuum means this is inferred more by her hair and how she’s positioned at Stark Industries than anything else. Things only get worse when the Black Widow suits up for battle, by which I mean a totally unconvincing Johansson awkwardly assuming positions intercut with a blatantly obvious stunt double. An effervescent Russian secret agent with a gymnast's body who can bring the kung-fu grip? Milla Jovovich was born to play this role, but barring that, any random Soviet Bloc model could have made a more lasting and legitimate impression, no acting experience necessary. Thankfully, Johansson’s prominence was massively overplayed in the advertising, as her role is both small and undemanding.

Finally, at my friend's insistence, we saw this in the best "IMAX" theater in town, but seeing as the picture wasn't shot in IMAX, it was a wasted expense. Unless you're seated middle center, and we weren't, you're only going to strain yourself unnecessarily to see the whole screen. I'm glad Favreau isn't a flashy director, because it was only during the most rapidly cut scenes I couldn't forget the IMAX and avoid eye irritation.


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