Saturday, April 25, 2015

On the Shelf: An old school Western, done Disney style, plus other musings

I meant to discuss this last time, and, well, as they say in the Old West, wal, ah plum fergot.

Marvel is adapting one of Disney's "Kingdoms", a thrill ride called Big Thunder Mountain Railroad into a 5-part miniseries, available now. I'm loving the old school feel to the artwork. Old school as in, of course, old school Marvel from way back in the day. Basically, it comes down to this. A millionaire's daughter decides to be a bit of a rebel and go adventuring, running into outlaws and the titular mountain.

But because Marvel can't help themselves, the series will be collected in a trade paperback about a week or three after the final issue, due in July, comes out. You'd think they'd wait it out a wee bit longer, but no. They ain't doing things the way they used to, and sometimes, that comes back to bite them on their corporate backsides.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad gets an A-.

Time for some retro reading. Just for kicks, I was in a second hand book shop earlier and snagged a copy of DC's Crisis On Multiple Earths trade paperback, which collects reprints of the original Justice League of America books from the 60's, particularly the annual team-ups with the Justice Society of America. Gardner Fox's scripts seem so easy to understand even today, compared to the present day editorial dictums that have DC & Marvel doing "event" storylines every year, failing to realize that while they're able to hook a few new, casual readers, older fans may be turning away because today's writers don't know how to write comics in its simplest form.

Conversely, looking at some of today's books, Mike Sekowsky's artwork doesn't hold up as well. In fact, when DC marked the original Justice League's 200th issue by revisiting the "origin" of the league in the winter of 1981-2, the horrific creatures that Sekowsky had created some 20 years earlier looked so much better rendered by the likes of George Perez.

We'll give Crisis on Multiple Earths a B-.

In advance of "Avengers: Age of Ultron", arriving in theatres next weekend, Marvel is putting out a special Avengers Magazine for free at comics shops. Reprints and rehashes of Avengers history and info that most older fans would know inside out and sideways. Plus some previews of other Marvel releases.

Rating: B--.

Over at Saturday Morning Archives the other day, I brought up Brian Michael Bendis' dopey decision to ret-con Bobby Drake, aka Iceman, as gay. As my brother reminded me last night when he visited, DC has created some original gay superheroes in the past (i.e. the New Guardians of the 80's had a gay member), but they didn't go over too well with mainstream audiences. In today's more tolerant society, why is it so hard to create a totally original gay character from scratch? Archie did it successfully with Kevin Keller 3-4 years ago, and it will be interesting to see how Kevin is used in the revamped Archie series come June. All DC & Marvel have done since the failure of DC's New Guardians is repeatedly reboot pre-existing characters, such as the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, as gay for today's audience.

Let me give you another example. Police detective Renee Montoya was one of two female characters who crossed over into the mainstream DC Universe from Batman: The Animated Series in the 90's (Harley Quinn, of course, is the other). I remember reading that she had harbored a crush on the Batman, but then Gotham Central writer Greg Rucka, for some reason, decided that Renee would be gay, breaking the hearts of a lot of young boys, I'm sure. Renee has been portrayed this way on Gotham, but has been sparsely used in the second half of the season.

So what's the problem? The writers and/or editors at DC & Marvel are reluctant to organically create new gay characters out of fear that they might offend the very same audience they're trying to reach. Taking established characters such as Renee Montoya or Bobby Drake or, as Marvel tried a few years ago, the Rawhide Kid (Johnny Bart), and repackaging them as gays serves as a safety valve against the likely backlash from GLAAD or other groups.

The solution, of course, is simpler than you think. DC introduced a completely new gay hero, Bunker, in the pages of Teen Titans, not that long ago, so that says to me that maybe, just maybe, they did their due diligence and consulted with GLAAD. If they can, why can't Marvel do the same? If you know, tell me, and we'll both know.

Speaking of DC, we know that in the New 52, Wally West was rebooted as being of mixed race, which would in part explain why Joe & Iris West (Jesse L. Martin & Candice Patton) on The Flash were cast as African-Americans. Now comes word that a African-British actor has been cast for the "anthology" spin-off series as "Jay Jackson", which fans are seeing as a cover for possibly Wally or someone else, such as Static (not likely) or even Black Vulcan (from Super Friends), who was never established as having a dual identity previously. All we can say for now is, stay tuned.

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