Sunday, May 9, 2010
Devil Dinosaur Omnibus Edition by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer: Comics legend writer/artist Jack Kirby co-created Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the comic-book Thor, Iron Man, the Silver Surfer, the original X-Men and thousands of other comic-book characters for a variety of publishers in a career that lasted from the late 1930's until his death in 1995. Devil Dinosaur, a Marvel comic that lasted nine issues back in 1978, is not generally considered to be Kirby's best work or his best creation. However, mediocre work from Kirby is still far more interesting than the best work of hundreds of comic-book creators.
I expected to really hate this book, so I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is. The concept is faintly ridiculous, even for comic books: in a somewhat confusing past in which fur-covered protohumans and dinosaurs co-existed, a smart little primate with the unfortunate name of 'Moon-boy' and the giant red T. Rex he saved from a fire and named 'Devil' protect the valley they live in (and its assorted dinosaur and mammalian inhabitants) from a variety of menaces. Their opponents include colonizing aliens, giant ants, a giant spider, a witch, a tribe of dinosaur riders, and an angry giant human. Moon-boy and Devil are sort of like Spider-man, in that they're often hated or feared by the very beings they work to protect. But it's all in a day's work.
Devil Dinosaur was apparently created in part because Marvel hoped that the child-friendly characters and storylines (a heroic dinosaur and a child protagonist fighting various giant things) might allow them to sell the rights to an animation studio. This didn't happen, though Kirby himself would go on to do a lot of conceptual and design work for animation studios in the late 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's (Thundarr the Barbarian is one of Kirby's design projects. for instance). A six-year-old child who likes dinosaurs, or someone like me, would probably enjoy this book. Recommended.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets by Herge: Before the 22 graphic-album adventures of Belgian kid-adventurer Tintin and his dog Snowy that are still popular today, there was this bizarre early 1950's volume, a comic inferno trip through the Soviet Union by reporter Tintin and his faithful pooch. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this thing is fucking bananas. Originally serialized in about 50 parts, this plays like a full-length anti-Soviet Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Accidentally buying this album for a child who enjoys the other Tintin adventures would probably be a big mistake, unless that child is Charles Krauthammer. Recommended, but deeply weird.
The Superman Chronicles Volume 6 (1941) by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and others: The sixth volume of DC's chronological reprint series of Superman's early adventures is a lot of fun. Superman is still a vaguely socialist firebrand rather than the paternal Establishment Man he would soon become with the advent of WWII for the US. So he fights various plots against the little guy both as Superman and Clark Kent (including a fake talent agency. Seriously.). He also fights Luthor, who is, as always, a dick, and a variety of other superpowered villains, including The Ghost, a radioactive killer suffering from terminal radium poisoning. I like early Superman a lot. When he threatens to throw a criminal into the propellers of an airplane unless the criminal talks, he's not necessarily bluffing -- he's like a super-powered Jack Bauer who works only for himself. Highly recommended.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, starring the voices of Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown and Alison Mack (2009, animated): Based on the first five-issue arc of the Superman/Batman comic series, this DC animated movie keeps much of Jeph Loeb's story intact while the character design emulates Ed McGuinness's art style rather than the more familiar Paul Dini/Bruce Timm designs that started with Batman: the Animated Series back in the early 1990's and continued through Superman and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited. Daly, Conroy and Brown reprise their voice roles from the 1990's Batman and Superman series as Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor respectively.
A war-and-economic-depression-plagued USA elects Lex Luthor president. Things seem to go well for awhile, though Luthor tries to make all superheroes work directly for the US government. Guess what two heroes refuse? Then a giant Kryptonite meteor is discovered on a collision course with Earth, and Luthor turns out to be even worse at disaster prevention and response than George W. Bush. This animated movie is pretty much one long fight scene. It's enjoyable, but characterization pretty much has to fall by the wayside. Still, it would make a great template for a live-action movie. Recommended.
Green Lantern: First Flight, starring the voices of Christopher Meloni, Tricia Helfer, Victor Garber and Michael Madsen (2009, animated): The Green Lantern Corps is the intergalactic police force of the DC universe, keeping peace and order under the supervision of the immortal blue aliens known as the Guardians. This animated movie puts Earth Green Lantern Hal Jordan (voiced by Law and Order SVU's Meloni) through his initial paces as a Green Lantern, while throwing in story elements from about 30 years of Lantern mythology.
The "greatest Green Lantern of them all", Sinestro (voiced nicely by Victor Garber and doomed by that name to a life of evil), takes Hal under his wing as they investigates the murder of Hal's immediate predecessor, Abin Sur. Someone is trying to create a competing power battery -- yellow to the Corps' green -- so as to destroy the Green Lantern Corps and take over the universe. Test pilot Hal Jordan appears to be in over his head, but like Earth people in any number of scifi plots, he makes up for his lack of training with grit, imagination, and a tendency to hit bad guys with giant boxing gloves made out of the ring's mysterious green energy that can do pretty much anything the wielder can imagine.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. The plot's awfully busy for an origin story, though (in GL's origin back in the 1950's comics, he simply gets his ring from an Abin Sur terminally wounded in an accident. Boy, those were the days of brevity when an origin story was something to get over with!). Highly recommended.