Friday, May 31, 2013

Childhood Memories: Spider-Man's Black Costume Saga

I started collecting comics in the mid-1980s, and like most adult fans, that period of time when I first discovered the hobby is my Golden Age.  And the overarching storyline of Peter Parker's black costume is one that I fondly remember.

It all began in Secret Wars #8 (a book that does not even come close to holding up when I tried to re-read it a few years back, but does have some interesting ideas and concepts hidden within).  Spidey gets a new costume through an alien machine that Peter believes all the other heroes have been using. But once the costume is fitted, he discovers that he utilized a different machine.  But he quickly dismisses that, as there appears to be nothing out of the ordinary with this new suit - other than the fact that it seems to react to his thoughts and expands over his body like a second skin rather than the previously mundane act of actually putting on a costume, as he did with his classic one.  And this is a mysterious world created by the Beyonder from pieces of myriad worlds, so if the science is beyond these Earthlings, who is Parker to argue the point?

But, once Peter returned to Earth, things changed.  He found himself fatigued, even after a full night's sleep.  His emotional health began to suffer, and while in his guise as Spider-Man, encounters with civilians and fellow heroes became awkward.  And readers come to discover that all of this is occurring because the costume - which is actually an alien symbiote rather than some scientific wonder - is leeching Peter's strength by forcing him to go out into the city at night, while Peter is still asleep.

This was a crazy idea that really had me, a relative newcomer to comics, invested and excited about Spider-Man.  This story climaxed with the landmark issue #300, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Todd McFarlane.  Peter has figured out that sound waves - loud and intrusive - can harm the alien symbiote that has now permanently latched itself onto him.  He ends up going to a bell tower, high above street level, and suffering through the cacophonous rumblings of the bells as they toll the hour, forcing the symbiote to release its hold on Peter and slip away, apparently defeated (if I am remembering correctly).  And with the next issue, Peter returned to the classic red-and-blues.

But, of course, the threat of the symbiote - which would become Venom - was not over.  Not by a long shot.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Childhood Memories: G.I. Joe #23-24

Spurred by Larry Hama's posts on facebook, I decided to dive into the longboxes and pull out the first comics I bought for myself and re-read them. These are the ones that lured me into the habit.  One that continues to this day, nearly 30 years later.  G.I. Joe # 23-24.

Often, when I go back to re-read an old comic or read, for the first time, a classic comic, it struggles to hold up.  Too wordy.  Too juvenile.  Lacking in how the words and pictures mix on the page.  Bad dialogue.  Too much exposition.  Waaah, waaah, waaah. 

It's difficult for older comics to stand up to the scrutiny of a seasoned reader post-Watchmen/Dark Knight/Blankets/Authority/Invisibles/etc. etc. etc.  I cannot read a Chris Claremont comic. Can't.  I can't read a Roy Thomas comic.  Cannot do it.  For all they've done for the medium, their comics (specifically the dialogue) are horrid.

Which brings me to the comics at hand.  Ones written at a time when exposition, a villain more deadly than Galactus and Mephisto combined, was running rampant through the Marvel universe - allegedly due to dictates from then-EIC, Jim Shooter.  And yet, Larry Hama manages to create comics that are new reader friendly without dumping exposition on them in a manner that feels forced or sounds stilted.  Certainly, there are instances of this, but in these two books those are few and far between.  Hama thinks about where to place the exposition, about how to contextualize within a scenario that almost demands such dialogue.  And when he writes that dialogue it does not sound silly or ridiculous.  It sounds natural, which keeps me reading and keeps me enjoying the book.  It's a skill that was rare when he was working on these books in 1984, and one that is even rarer today, as the medium and the way stories are told has evolved. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed these books thirty years removed from their initial publication, and I look forward to continuing my re-read of these classic comics.

Yo Joe!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Childhood Memories: Web of Spider-Man #30

Critically-acclaimed comic writer, Christopher Priest - noted for his work on Black Panther and Quantum & Woody, among many other titles - initially went by his birth name, Jim Owsley.  And as I look back over my almost 30-year comic reading history, it’s fascinating to discover Owsley’s name credited with a number of comics that resonated with me, back in the day.

Here’s one - Web of Spider-Man #30, which revealed the origin of the Rose and probably does not get as much recognition today because it was overwhelmed, in people’s minds, by the next issue, which happened to be part 1 of the J.M. DeMatteis/Mike Zeck classic, “Kraven’s Last Hunt.”


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Orleans by Gaslight now available!

My story "You Gotta Give Good..." is now available in the new steampunk anthology, New Orleans by Gaslight, published by Black Tome Books and available at Amazon.

I've never written any steampunk fiction before, so this was a real blast.  I did my homework, read some books on steampunk as well as voudou, and I have to imagine that this is part of what allowed my story to resonate with the editor - enough that this is the first piece of short prose I've had published in a print edition (other than a DIY magazine a couple years back) - which has me very excited, obviously.

The cover art is by Rob Cerio, and the editors for the book were Brandon Black and Christopher Wong.

And here's the description from the back of the book:

In a New Orleans that Never Was and Never Will Be, there are a thousand stories to tell.  There are stories of sorrow and triumph, of passion and fury, of love and of revenge.  Aloft with cloud and sun, great warrior airships drift silently over the city below, crewed by eager young men and women awaiting the moment they will be called upon to strike against foes with cannon and with sword.  Steamboats float down the river bringing travelers from far climes and distant lands unknown to our more mundane world.  Lovers ride down the boulevards upon clockwork carriages drawn by mechanical horses.  Cheated gamblers decide between making a break for the door or breaking the quiet calm with the staccato beat of revolver gunfire.  Ragtime music echoes as fallen women ply the world's oldest trade in the streets of Storyville.  Soldiers lead clanking platoons of clockwork automatons through the port on their way to their next deployment and archaeologists, explorers and adventurers set forth aboard airships to find new lands, fortune and glory or perhaps death in the forlorn forsaken corners of the globe.  These are the stories of New Orleans by Gaslight.

If you enjoy steampunk or fantasy fiction, I think you'll like this.  And if you check it out, drop me a line here and let me know what you think.