Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Crossover By Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw


Part of my "strategy" for getting myself to post here more regularly is to focus on the things that I'm reading, watching or listening to that get me excited. My last review here on my blog was a part of that, and this one fits that bill too. Today I am looking at the comic Crossover, published by Image Comics, with writing by Danny Cates (mostly) and art by Geoff Shaw (also mostly).

This is a book that has been on my to read lists for a while. For comic fans of a certain again, most of the time we've been fans have been marked by the summer events or big company crossovers. From the JLA and JSA summer meetups of my childhood, to the first really big events like Secret Wars or Crisis On Infinite Earth, the crossover has been an important part of comic book reading.

These events are the subtext of Crossover, which Cates recontextualizes into a more personal kind of story. My introduction to Donny Cates' work came with his run on Marvel's Doctor Strange book, and after that I checked out a couple of his other Image Comics books. God Country is an interesting book that I would definitely recommend checking out, if you haven't. I don't think I'll get into his Venom run, mostly just because I was never a fan of the character.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Dawn of DC: Birds of Prey #1

I don't often finish reading a comic and think "Holy shit. I have to say something about this." Honestly, if that were the case I would have a lot more posts here on my blog. Today I decided to get out and go to the comic store, something that I haven't done in a while. I have been good with money lately, so I decided to treat myself with a couple of comics in print (rather than my usual digital purchases). After perusing the store for a bit I picked up a couple of trades (the Golden Age, Neil Gaiman's start on the Miracleman comic from back in the 80s, and DC's Pride Through The Years). Emerald City Comics, a local comic store that I've gone to for years now, is smart and they have a mini rack of comics at the register. I decided on a whim to pick up the first issue of the Dawn of DC "event" for a new ongoing Birds of Prey comic.

Am I glad that I picked up this comic.

I am a fan of Kelly Thompson's Marvel work. Her runs on the Kate Bishop Hawkeye and Black Widow are some of my favorites of either character. I figured that I would like this book, but I still had high expectations.

I had seen some previews for the book, so I knew that the art was phenomenal. Drawn by Leonardo Romero, and with colors by Jordie Bellaire, the art is everything that you want and expect from a super-hero comic. Romero's work is dynamic, and plays to the strength's of Thompson's writing. One of the things that Thompson writes well are dynamic fight scenes that flow across the page, and Romero brings this to life. Bellaire's colors move from restrained when showing the motion of characters, to vivid and "gaudy" in that way that great super-hero coloring can be.

Look at this page:

The art and color combine in a way that makes the page come alive. You can see the movement of two of the best fighters in the DC universe. You can feel the impacts of their blows against the ninjas they're fighting (only the League of Assassins would put ninjas in orange jumpsuits), and you can feel the bodies hitting the ground.

Back to the writing. The character interplay is stellar. From the reaction of Black Canary in the first panel of this page, to the conversation between her and Batgirl on the rest of the page, to how Harley Quinn gets involved with the team is all top material. The dialog is crisp, and each character has their own unique voice, such as with Big Barda (who has honestly never had a unique voice going back to when Kirby wrote her). Barda's referring to Cassandra as "small bat" throughout their interactions is just heartwarming. Barda has respect for Cassandra from their first interaction, and the nickname isn't meant to to belittle Cassandra, but shows the respect that she has for Cassandra as a hero and a fighter.

Zealot doesn't have a lot to do in this book, but it is all about the setup and many of the characters meeting for the first time. It is obvious that they know about each other, and their reputations precede each other. That's important because this is story about reputations. Black Canary is carefully assembling a team that will have a reputation for being dangerous. Black Canary. Batgirl. Big Barda. Zealot. Harley Quinn. All of these characters are characters that are the "best at what they do," and it is refreshing to see a team like that built around characters who are women.

Once upon a time, the only way that you would have been able to tell these characters apart would be because of the colors of their costumes, because women in comics were all drawn very similarly for a long time. The fact that each of these Birds of Prey have a different body type is another reason why Romero's art is so wonderful on this issue.

And, holy crap. That last page reveal. There's no way I am spoiling it, but holy crap. It is a deep cut that fans of certain Gotham related books of the last decade will really be shocked and amazed by. I don't say that lightly. What I can say is that you need to buy this comic, and if this first spectacular issue is any indication, you need to put this title on your pull list.

Unlike other Dawn of DC books that I've picked up, this doesn't look to be a limited series. I hope that, like with many of Thompson's Marvel books, we get one of her solid, and lasting runs on the book. I am excited to see where she takes the story, and what she does with these characters.

After the Batgirls book by Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad, it is good to see Cassandra Cain on the front line of a comic again. If you haven't read that, you should really pick up the trades for it. Cloonan and Conrad are one of the great writing teams in comics right now, with great characterizations and stories in their books. I think their runs of Wonder Woman and Batgirls are going to be held up as some of the great runs not just of this era of comics, but for these characters in the long haul.

If the ongoing Birds of Prey book holds on to the potential of this first issue, Thompson's run is going to become a definitive one for the Birds of Prey.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Happy Birthday Dear Multiverses

June 14, 1961 and Barry (The Flash) Allen travelled to Earth-2 for the first time. Comics would never be the same again.

Before the Silver Age of comics, comic books tended to have a loose interpretation of continuity. If previously published comics fit into a story that a creative team was currently telling, that was awesome. If it didn't, someone sat around trying to figure out why and then they published something in a comics fanzine somewhere.

But, as of 1961, there were two Flashes, and they lived on Earth-1 and Earth-2. Weirdly the heroes who were around first were relegated to Earth-2. But for the first time there was an in story rationale for the then current Flash, Barry Allen, and the original, Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, to more or less coexist. And if both of these Flashes lived in the same universe that meant that the two characters could team up together. Fans of the Jay Garrick Flash of the 40s could read new stories about the character they loved, and hopefully find out what he had been doing with himself in the interim.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Action-Heroes RPG: Ground Division


I am working on some expanded setting material for my Action-Heroes game that will end up, at the very least, in the hands of the backers of my Patreon. Ground Division is 90s-style conspiracy/espionage action inspired by movies of the era and a number of comics from that time.

In the ramp up to launching the Kickstarter for the game, I talked about a couple of the primary influences on my design choices for the game. The name Action-Heroes is an homage to a line of characters originally published by Charlton Comics, and now owned by DC Comics. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, when Charlton was at the height of its publishing (such as it was, unfortunately) they had a line of heroic fiction that was a mix of offbeat revamped costumed heroes from the mind of Steve Ditko, espionage and military comics, and a couple of martial artists that haven't aged well. But, at that time the term "super-hero" was a trademark co-owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Dick Giordano, then editor at Charlton Comics, came up with the idea of calling their characters Action-Heroes (with the hyphen) instead. He felt that label fit their characters better since they weren't really mainstream super-heroes, like those published by the other comic companies.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Rebellion's "I Am The Law" By Michael Molcher


History isn't as much of a cycle as people would like to think. It is a staccato drumbeat, pounding at its points until people have to listen. I think that I Am The Law is the first ever piece of non-fiction published by Rebellion, and it is an historic look at the development of British comics powerhouses Judge Dredd and the 2000AD magazine.

The 2000AD magazine owes a debt to earlier comics magazines like Action and Battle. Where Action magazine crawled, and ultimately stumbled before being taken down by political forces in the UK, Judge Dredd would eventually stand up and walk.

Like a lot of satire, problems always arise when the satirical elements are taken at face value, and this happened with Judge Dredd pretty early out of the gate. Where the writers and artists of the early Judge Dredd stories like John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, and Pat Mills, looked out at the world in which they lived and channeled that into the creation of the character. Wagner looked at the rioting and police corruption in England at the time, and used it to create a world where the police were the ultimate arbitrators of right and wrong, who were judge and jury, as well as executioner.

The earlier comic magazine Action featured prototypes to the ideas that would find a home in Judge Dredd stories and its setting of Mega-City One. The Kids Rule, OK stories in Action showed a lurid and hellish cityscape where gangs of teenagers run amok, and not even the police could stop them. The One Eyed Jack stories took the essence of movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish and make them bleaker. However the magazine ran afoul of crusading "law and order" politicians who didn't like how they and the police forces were portrayed in these stories. So they cracked down on the comics and saw to it they were censored. Does this sound familiar? That drum beat is pounding away again today, as politicians seek to censor anyone who looks or thinks differently than they do.

This isn't a reflection on I Am The Law but I would really like to see Rebellion do an anthology of some of the early Action and Battle stories, particularly the Kids Rule, OK stuff. We've seen a reprint of One Eyed Jacks, but as far as I know the only Kids Rule, OK material currently available are the updated stories, including the Vigilant related one.

I Am The Law is a warning. It shows the rise of authoritarian police powers, a surveillance state that not only has cameras pointed everywhere but also keeps track of the bands you listen to, and corrupt politicians who want to rewrite history and hide what they've done in the past. This is a powerful book, and it leaps with both feet into the turbulence of the UK in the 70s and 80s that brought us punk rock, and Judge Dredd. Not everyone is going to like this book, and a lot of people will have problem with some of the brutality and utterly heinous acts that are recorded in the book. History is a staccato drumbeat, and with I Am The Law Michael Molcher plays that beat in as masterful of a way as Gene Krupa. This is a must read book, not only for fans of the history of comics around the world, but also for those wanting to know about about the rise of authoritarians powers and the dark mirror that fiction can hold up to them. Read this book.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

H.P. Lovecraft vs. The Public Domain

The other day I had a conversation via text with my friend Ben about the legal status of the Lovecraft copyrights. As one does. That caused me to go down a rabbit hole that led to this article, and made a couple of other forks.

1) The "estate" of Lovecraft, Lovecraft Properties LLC, who tried to get publishers and authors to acknowledge them as rights holders to Lovecraft's works had been dissolved by the state of Rhode Island in 2007. A collection of Lovecraft's works I have from 2009, and published by Barnes & Noble, acknowledged the estate, as did a few other works around the same time.

And internet search found the registration with Rhode Island, and that the registration was ended by the state for not following the rules (without stating what rules were violated). The best I can ascertain is that they didn't do a required annual filing with the state of Rhode Island. This could be because I don't think they were ever very successful at getting anyone to pay them for the rights to Lovecraft's works.

2) In a lawsuit filed by Donald Wandrei in 1973, contesting the will of August Derleth and the ownership of the rights held by Arkham House because they hadn't been paying Wandrei royalties on the various Lovecraft books they had published, the lawyer for Arkham House and Derleth took a unique approach to why they didn't pay any royalties to Wandrei: no one had ever actually renewed the copyrights to Lovecraft's works, so that meant it had all lapsed into the public domain. Because of this, Wandrei had no rights that required the payment of royalties from Arkham House.

The fact that a lawyer said this in a courtroom is pretty amazing:

Insofar as the copyrights are concerned, I can testify that there are no renewal copyrights for any of the H.P. Lovecraft stories that were signed on October 9, 1947 to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei.


Moreover, Lovecraft died in 1937 and while he left a will, the evidence will show that none of Lovecraft's copyrights were renewed. The forty-six (46) Lovecraft stories contained in Exhibit "B" were not renewed by the assignees nor could they do so under the copyright law. Thus all of the stories are now in the public domain with the result that there are no rights contained or effective under the agreement between Donald Wandrei and August Derleth, dated November 8, 1955.

So, from 1973 until 1986 (when Wandrei finally won his lawsuit against Arkham House) the lawyer for Arkham House argued that Lovecraft's works had in fact lapsed into the public domain. Despite this, Arkham House publicly claimed ownership of the rights to Lovecraft's works during this time, to get fees and licensing money.

For nearly the entire part of the second half of the 20th century, people argued about the copyright status of Lovecraft's work, while no one knew that the lawyers for Arkham House/Derleth's estate made these arguments in a courtroom. The judge declaring Lovecraft's works in the public domain would have been outside of the scope of the trail, so I am not surprised that there was no ruling on that. But, considering how intellectual property rights have to be fairly rigorously defended most of the time, I am really surprised that the legal representative of a company that otherwise vigorously defended these rights would say something like this in a public record. It doesn't really make any sense, but I am not a lawyer.

I had read up on all of this over the years, and never once before now had I seen a reference to Wandrei's suit, or Arkham House's defense that the rights had lapsed. Even Joshi's writing on the subject of the copyright status of Lovecraft's works didn't mention this, and I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't have known.

Originally I wrote this up as a post on my Facebook page, but I figured it deserved a more public sharing so I rewrote it a bit for this blog post. Nothing is this post should be considered to be legal advice, but it does contain links that you likely could run past an actual lawyer for actual legal advice.

In case you're wondering, this link is what my friend sent me that started my tumble down the rabbit hole of H.P. Lovecraft vs. The Public Domain.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Release The SRDs!

With everything going on in open gaming in tabletop RPGs right now, I have decided that I am going to release SRDs (system reference documents) for a couple of systems based on the Fudge role-playing game, to which I have the rights. I will be calling these the Crasher and Quest SRDs/systems. They will be derived from two game systems to which I own the rights. More details will be forthcoming, but the plan is to release each of these SRDs first under a Creative Commons license, and then probably eventually under the new ORC gaming license that is being developed. More to come!

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Action-Heroes Is Coming!

After years of development and writing, along with more than a couple of pandemic-related delays, my Action-Heroes role-playing game is finally coming to Kickstarter next week. You can click here to sign up to receive a notification when the project launches next Tuesday.

I am really happy to have the game so close to the finish line, because I have put a lot of work into this system over the years, and I am really proud of the end result. Please sign up for your notification, and also please support the game's Kickstarter project. There are only supposed to be a couple of stretch goals, but they are going to provide some nice upgrades to the game if we hit all of them. 

Thank you all in advance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Reading Grant Morrison's The Invisibles In 2023

Please note: This series is currently on hold. Over on the Facebook page for the blog I wrote this: "I know that one of the things I promised for the blog in the new year was an ongoing series talking about Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. I started a re-read with that intent, and as I read I realized that there have really been a lot of people who have covered this ground, and I am not overly sure that I have enough that is new or interesting to contribute to make the work worth the effort."

This upcoming Fall will be the 20th anniversary of my blog. I've tried to get more active in posting here over the last couple of years, but it has been difficult. The stress from online harassment really curtailed my desire to comment on things, but I really need to not let the harassers wins. So, I think the answer to getting more serious about writing here at the blog is to get more regimented about my posting.

One of my "projects" for the new year is going to be a re-read of Grant Morrison's comic The Invisibles, originally published through the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics. I don't know if the book is still in print physically or not (I have digital copies of the collections that I picked up on Comixology along with the original floppies) or what arm of DC Comics is handling it currently.

This post is going to set the tone for what I hope to do with this series of articles.

Kind of like with Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, I was not a big fan of The Invisibles at first, but for entirely different reasons. With The Sandman, I didn't really get into the book until it found its vibe around the time of the "Sound of Her Wings" story. I think that moving away from a direct involvement with the general DC Universe was a good idea for The Sandman. With The Invisibles the book just didn't grab me like other works of Morrison's had. The first arc of The Invisibles, dealing with the initiation of Dane McGowan into the group, had a "been there, done that" feel to me. I dove back into the book with the controversy over the second story arc, and found that the story clicked with me, and I ran with it until the end.

Probably one of the most difficult things to do in a new comic, with a new universe, is to create the feeling of an established universe right out of the box. This is something that comics have struggled with since there were comics. In regards to what a lot of comics readers consider to be an "established universe," it is really a build up of plot points that have more or less accidentally accrued around comic characters. A comic universe is like a build up of barnacles, or a growth of coral, where little bits build upon other little bits until a structure comes out of it.

I think that is why neither of these books clicked with me. For The Sandman that introduction leaned heavily into the DC Universe to provide the structure that Gaiman probably thought that his new universe needed, when really all that he needed was to push through far enough to get the growth of coral that eventually brought the Sandman Universe into existence. With The Invisibles, Morrison wasn't using an existing universe as a support structure, in the way that Gaiman did, but instead they leaned into the time honored "world outside your windows" approach that Marvel popularized in the 1960s, but they made their universe, the universe of The Invisibles as a group, much, much weirder than even much of the Marvel Universe was. 

The problem for me was that this weirdness really wasn't enough. Things like magic, "magick," conspiracies and UFOs have been an interest of mine for a long time. I blame 1970s TV as a kid for putting all of that weirdness into my head. This might upset some more diehard fans of Morrison's work, but like I said above it made me feel like that first arc was something I had seen before. Now, I am intrigued to be looking at the book from the perspective of a world where a lot of weirdness and conspiracies have become weaponized in our worlds (both online and off).

My approach for these posts will be to break things down by story arc. I haven't decided if the various one shot stories that appeared during the run of The Invisibles that Morrison wrote for various anthology books will be tacked onto a story arc that feels appropriate, or if I will write about them on their own. I don't know yet how in-depth I will go into things on these posts. Some will probably be explored more deeply than others.

What these posts won't be is a series of annotations and explanations about what happened in the various stories. Annotation posts have their place, and I've enjoyed them for a number of properties that also have a number of concepts that could need explaining to readers, but I don't really have the temperament to do those kinds of posts. This series of articles will be mostly my commentary and criticism. What I think works, and what I think doesn't work. There will probably be some explanations of material, but that won't be the focus of the series.

Will I get through the entire series with these articles? I hope so, but I can't make any promises. I don't know how frequently I will be making these posts, because they will depend upon my reading and working out concepts as I go along. Some arcs will probably take longer to write about than others.

Here is looking forward to the new year. It is probably appropriate, or at least a serious synchronicity, that I announce this on a Winter Solstice.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Where To Find Me

With the birdsite circling the drain, I am not posting there, accepting new followers or any active use of the site. If you want to follow me on social media, you can try the following sites.

Mastodon https://mas.to/@dorkland  (I have an account, but I don't use it actively)

Bluesky https://bsky.app/profile/dorkland.bsky.social 

Tumblr https://tumblr.com/dorkland

Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/chris.helton/

Discord  Christopher Helton#1676

Patreon https://patreon.com/dorkland 

I am not currently as active on all of these sites, mostly because I am trying to figure out how to use them. Mastodon has pretty much replaced my Twitter usage, and I am currently mostly Tumblr for looking at art people are sharing. But these are the places where I will publicly interact with others.