Interviews Reviews Guest Stars Fanzine Misc

Monday, June 19, 2017

Batman Returns 25th anniversary -- what a great film!

June 19th, 2017 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Batman Returns (directed by Tim Burton, starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer). Since Batman Returns is easily one of my favorite superhero films ever, I felt it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't take a few minutes out of my day to write about it in some capacity or another.

I lived through 1989's Batmania (a direct result of the hype building around Burton's first Batman film) and was fortunate enough to have experienced it first-hand. I remember the excitement of seeing the movie at the drive-in with my dad and cousin during opening week. I remember all of the t-shirts, merchandising promos, the Taco Bell tie-ins and Diet Coke commercials. I remember seeing teens getting the Batman emblem shaved into the sides of their head. I also remember being too young (and thus having no real money to my name) and not being able to partake in any of it. [Let's not break out the violins, yet. I was actually a very spoiled child and had more G.I. Joe, Super Powers Collection and Masters of the Universe action figures and playsets than anyone else in my neighborhood. I'm sure I also owned a few Official Batman Movie t-shirts and other apparel by that point, as well.]

With the announcement of the NEW Batman film sequel launching on June 19th, 1992 I resolved that this time it was going to be DIFFERENT -- now I was eleven years old and commanded a hefty 5 dollars per week allowance to spend on whatever I pleased (within reason). This was my chance to experience Batmania's second-coming from the ground floor and to actually be an active participant. I did not waste time with this. I purchased trading cards, collected McDonlads happy meal toys, convinced my mom to buy cereals that had promo items in them, persuaded relatives to buy stuff from Zellers so I could acquire the trading cards -- let's just say, if it had anything to do with Batman Returns and was attainable through a small purchase (or even free), I was on it.

Batman Returns cereal. How bad could it possibly be?

Overlooking the fact that I got swept up in all of the Batmania hype -- how was the actual film? I was expecting to see a really entertaining sequel with two villains (instead of one), and Batman fighting a lot of people. Batman Returns delivered on both expectations. As an eleven year old boy, there's nothing you want more than to see a guy dressed up in a Batman costume kicking some bad guy ass. While 1989's Batman was very VERY good, and easily ranks as another one of my favorite films from my youth, it was also an origin story. so it meant there was a lot of build-up before you got to REALLY see Batman suit up and take action.

It's very rare that a sequel is just as good (if not better) than the first film. For me, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to really dig into something with the full conviction that they will probably never be able to top this, so I'm going to squeeze every second of joy out of this that I can.

My mom didn't have the type of patience/stomach for these types of movies, so I'm 100% certain it would've been my dad who brought me to see this movie. Probably at a drive-in. Probably as part of a double feature. It was a little unsettling that the entire story of Batman Returns takes place in December (considering it premiered late June in North America), but hey... that was a moot point... just show me Batman fighting the Penguin.

...but this article won't be about the film (because I'm sure there are already plenty of other blogs talking about that this week), today we'll take a look at the comic book adaptation of Batman Returns.

The 1992 Batman Returns comic adaptation came in two different variants: the Prestige Format and the New Format. The Prestige Format cost $2 USD more than the New Format, had a (mostly) painted wrap-around cover and an ISBN number. Meanwhile, the New Format had an illustrated cover with an advertisement for the Batman Returns film on the back cover. Despite paying a higher price for the Prestige Format, both formats contained the same interiors and neither formats contained any ads (unless you count the subscription page on the interior back cover of the New Format edition). I'm under the impression that the New Format was the 'newsstand edition', and the Prestige Format was only available in finer comic book shops and bookstores everywhere.

Prestige Format (left) and New Format (right)

The 'movie adaptation' comic book was pretty important in its day. In the pre-internet age, unless you possessed a VHS copy of said film, you couldn't revisit scenes from your favorite action/super-hero movies without resorting to your memory, the novelization, the trading cards, specialty magazines based on the film (see: Starlog) or -- best scenario of all -- the comic book adaptation of the film.

My best friend in the whole world bought the New Format comic adaptation for me that summer -- I *think* it was a birthday gift, since my birthday falls around the end of summer. Or maybe it was a gift while I was in the hospital (I had a medical issue that summer, and had to spend a few weeks in the hospital). Nevertheless, Nick Mureta surprised me one day with the film adaptation of a movie I was already psyched about. I was actually unaware this item existed before he surprised me with it -- within seconds of laying my eyes upon it, this comic had become so sacred to me that it felt like I had just gotten my hands on a mint copy of 1963's X-Men #1. Nick always knew where to find the coolest stuff.

The comic adaptation was written by Denny O'Neil, penciled by Steve Erwin and inked by José Luis Garcia-Lopez. This was my first real exposure to Steve Erwin art (without me realizing it, yet) -- Erwin had already been illustrating Deathstroke: The Terminator and was best known as the regular penciller on 1988's Checkmate [a title I hadn't even heard of, yet]. Garcia-Lopez inked over Erwin's pencils, and it's also well known that Garcia-Lopez illustrated the official artwork for Batman Returns merchandise. If you saw a cool-looking Batman Returns t-shirt in the early 90s, there's a good chance the graphic was based on Garcia-Lopez' original artwork.

Erwin and Garcia-Lopez did a great job with this comic and the art was spot-on.

Michael Keaton/Bruce Wayne looked like he was supposed to:

As did Michelle Pfeiffer/Selina Kyle:

...even Danny DeVito/Oswald Cobblepot and Christopher Walken/Max Shreck received faithful adaptations:

Tim Burton's Gotham City was very gothic-looking and dark. And what I mean by 'dark' is that there wasn't very much natural lighting -- I can't remember too many scenes from that film that occurred during the day. To help convey this 'dark mood', the pages all had thick black borders between the panels. It worked out quite well.

page from the Batman Returns adaptation. New Format.

This comic book was integral in helping me understand the nuances of the story that I obviously missed the first several times watching the film. As an eleven year old, I just wanted to see Batman fighting thugs or using his vehicles to blow up bad guys, I didn't have time for sub-plots about political conspiracies or romantic tension. As far as I was concerned, any screen time that didn't have Batman in it (or was leading up to Batman fighting someone) was a waste of time. Naturally, my favorite scenes were the ones in which he fought the Red Triangle Circus gang:

Eleven year-old me loved this comic! Of course they didn't add *every* scene from the movie (this was only a 32-page comic, after all), but they did get the more important ones -- namely: Batman fighting circus thugs, Batman battling Catwoman, Batman's Batmobile getting hijacked, the BatSkiBoat and the big finale at the end. One scene that I can't believe they omitted was... well... notice anything different about Batman's second encounter with the Red Triangle Circus gang?


Did you spot it? In the film, rather than throw the bomb into an open manhole, Batman attaches it to a rather large, brutish member of the gang and kicks him into a sewer (causing him to explode).

Considering the intended audience of this comic book, it was probably in DC's best interest not to show Batman killing a man. But still... you and I both know it happened.

There were no splash pages in this comic: every page had at least 5 panels, and some even had 10 panels or more. The creative team did a great job with the pacing and flow of the panels. Easy to follow along. Love the details in the background -- all that architecture must've been a chore to pencil and ink.

Needless to say, my Batman Returns New Format adaptation is a priceless possession in my comic collection (if for no other reason than sentimental value). Batman Returns had a really big impact on my love of comic books. I still cite it as my favorite superhero movie (even though I honestly haven't sat through a full screening of it since... I don't know... 6 years ago). I still collect Batman Returns vintage memorabilia when I can grab it on the cheap, and I find nothing more enjoyable than re-visiting the video game adaptations.

I had to re-watch parts of this movie for this write-up and, while I still see why the 'eleven year old' me loved this film, I don't seem to remember Batman delivering so many zingers. It's really not as sinister/serious as I seem to remember it to be, but it was a great movie nonetheless. 

Can't believe it's been 25 years!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Artist Victor Santos talked to us about The Question, Kamandi and his latest work

Occasionally DC in the 80s likes to do an interview with a current artist that we find to be really exceptional. We have known about Victor Santos and his incredible work for years now, but recently discovered that he is a huge admirer of the classic 1980s DC version of The Question. Mark Belkin would be quick to identify Dennis O’Neil and Denys Cowan's run on The Question as one of the top 3 books of the 80s, and considers Victor Santos as one of the best artists working today -- so he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to find out a bit more about Victor, and expose fans to some of the work that Victor is currently working on.

Ladies and gentlemen... introducing Victor Santos

Mark Belkin (MB): I know the first DC Comic you may have read was Kamandi #32. Could you speak about your experience with that issue. How did it make you feel and what was it like reading it for the first time?

Victor Santos (VS): My youngest uncle was a comics fan and I usually infiltrated in his room silently (laughs). He had a lot of European books (Tintin, Moebius, Asterix, Valerian...), Spanish editions of Marvel stuff, superheroes and black and white Conan magazines. DC was not published in Spain, yet, I think we are talking about 1984... I was 7 years old. But he had Mexican editions of DC: Batman, Legion of Superheroes and Kamandi. Digest size editions with awful simplified translations. Kirby was a visual impact, I called him "the guy who draws exploding fists"; his art blew me away. All was different in that issue: his ships, those massive gorillas and tigermen, crude energy blasts -- this was the first time I realized art does not have to be realistic, but can work in its own way.

Kamandi #32 (1975). So much Jack Kirby goodness.

MB: What DC comics followed that?

VS: I really didn't read many DC titles out of the stuff my uncle bought. I read American stuff recommended by friends in school, but not superheroes. The only DC exceptions were Norm Breyfogle's Batman and Mike Grell's Green Arrow, my father bought me some of them and I loved it. But I occasionally [read] things like Tim Truman's Scout by Eclipse and First comics stuff like Elric and Hawkmoon... and some Marvel books like Secret Wars (I had the toys). And later books derivative of animation like Masters of the Universe, Ninja Turtles or Transformers.

You have to consider I belong to the first generation influenced by the first manga wave. Dragonball, Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya... When manga arrived I only read manga. It was more accessible to me because I didn't understand the superheroes books with all these references to other titles.

MB: But you did read Dark Knight when you were very young and I've read you weren't into it. Have you changed your opinion over the years?

VS: Of course! (laughs). I didn't read it when I was nine because I never gave it a chance. I saw that mythical cover of volume 2 and said: "What crap! Batman is fat and old and he´s injured! Batman can´t be injured!" (laughs). When I attended the Fine Arts College I was influenced by friends who recommended a lot of classic and essential American stuff. Then I read the DKR and a lot of Miller's stuff like Daredevil and Ronin -- those titles changed my life.

MB: We share a mutual love and admiration for the 1980's version of The Question, the Dennis O' Neil and Denys Cowan masterpiece. How did you get into The Question? Did you start off with #1?

VS: Thanks to a friend from college, he lent me his DC and Vertigo complete collections: Things like The Question, Sandman, and Grant Morrison's Animal Man. I enjoyed all that stuff but The Question was my favorite ever.

The Question by Victor Santos. I made this my background image the moment I saw it. This NEEDS to be a story, I’m writing a pitch this very minute.

MB: How amazing was Denys Cowan's art? Have you ever had a chance to speak with him? If not, what would you ask him artist to artist?

VS: Mainly you can see and enjoy how is increasing and improving his art. When I read it I was growing as artist too, searching for my own style, studying Drawing, Anatomy and Art History, searching for my voice. You can see this in the art and how every issue is better than the previous one. And the story is the same, how Vic Sage grows as a human being and accepts his own human condition, both his mistakes and victories. I’ve never meet Cowan and I don´t know what I would ask him, I would simply thank him for inspiring me.

MB: Do any stories stick out to you? Any great memories of pages or panels?

VS: Richard Dragon and Lady Shiva parts of the story, I love them... well, all the cast of characters was incredible, like the reverend Jeremiah Hatch or that story of the kidnapped bus... The relationship with Myra... My biggest impression was the art and story of the final issues. How The Question was abandoning Hub City. That sense of failure and how you must accept that life is life, you cannot win forever. Sometimes the only exit is protecting a new generation and trust the hope they will bring.

Big Barda & Mister Miracle art by Victor Santos

MB: Were there any cross overs that you enjoyed? Any particular storylines from DC comics in the 1980s that still speak to you today?

VS: I never was a fan of crossovers. I read Crisis on Multiple Earths in a commemorative edition and never connected with them. I always preferred the closed stories and, if it's possible, the same creative team. For this reason I always loved manga, you never had that problem with it.

MB: How did you get into being an artist? What inspired you? I know Will Eisner's Spirit was huge for you. Was that the awakening of your love for noir?

VS: No, really my love for noir came from movies and Dashiell Hammet novels. Will Eisner inspired me in how I can play with the storytelling and how ambitious can be a story told with panels. I love animation and cinema, and since I was a child I drew comics because I wanted to draw motion pictures. When I was a teenager I drew manga exploits, rip-offs of Dragonball or Saint Siya (laughs).

I studied animation in College, I wanted to make animation. Batman TAS was a success then, that was my goal. But then I read Eisner, Frank Miller, Matt Wagner, people who twist the storytelling... They showed me the true potential of the medium. Then I understood comics are comics, and I chose that path.

DKR Batman by Victor Santos. Inspired by Frank Miller

MB: Who were some of the artists that you were most inspired by? Who do you like today?

VS: The people I mentioned you and a lot of artists more like Mike Mignola, Jim Steranko, Mike Oeming, Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima, Osamu Tezuka, Hugo Pratt, Jose Muñoz, Mark Buckingham, Akira Toriyama, Alex Toth, Jordi Bernet, Edurado Risso, Walter Simonson, Tim Sale, Gendy Tartakovsky

MB: Would you say that your soul is noir? That something inside of you is inspired by that Hollywood criminal dark past. The scars, the eye patches, the violence. Is that anything like your regular life?

VS: No, I live in a very safe place (laughs). I love the iconography and pulp flavor of these things; patches and scars... It comes from my love for Spaghetti western movies too, where the characters are defined by little visual elements or rituals. I'm obsessed by the "Pulp and cheap" inspiration, you know, things like the John Carpenter movies. I also I'm a fan of American culture and its Modern History. The culture or the gun is something, as European, I can´t understand and maybe even hate it, but at the same time it holds a fascination for me.

MB: Your work just blows us away at DC in the 80s. Could you talk about a few of your works? Did you draw any inspiration from the past for your art and writing?

VS: Thank you! I began in the Spanish and French market, writing and drawing my own books, first as self-publisher and with indie publishers, and later with other big publishers. I created Los Reyes Elfos (the Elf Kings), a black and white comic-books saga that was popular there, inspired by Nordic mythology and won some prizes. I made six series' compiled as GNs, three anthologies and even two spin-offs. Made some noir GNs like Pulp Heroes, Faeric gangs, Protector, Black Kaiser, Lone in Heaven and a lot more, and wrote GNs for other artists like Silhouette, Ezequiel Himes: Zombie Hunter or The Blood of the Valkyries. I tried in the US market with two collaborations with an american good friend, writer Miles Gunter, Zombee for Image comics and Demon Cleaner for Antarctic... but they didn't work out really well.

In France I created a young readers series titled Young Ronins, very 'Bruce Timm style'. Just when I was doing Young Ronins came Filthy Rich.

MB: Could you tell us more about Filthy Rich for Vertigo?

VS: It was a great chance mainly thanks to Brian (we meet at a Spanish con), but I must say I think it was a lost opportunity because I was really conservative. The chance scared me a little and the little size format didn't let me do some storytelling things that I felt would be cool. He wrote an AWESOME story and the book looks cool, but I think in the next collaboration with him (we're chatting about), I have a lot of ideas to fix a lot of things. I'm awful selling the book (laughs) but the good part is the book opened me a lot of doors, although not to DC (laughs).
page from Filthy Rich (Vertigo). If this isn't noir, I don't know what is.

MB: Maybe that will change some day. How about your long run on Mice Templar?

VS: This was a great chance too, Miles Gunter was close friend of Mike Oeming and he offered me the chance to continue the book. Above all it was a great human experience and an incredible schooling. Bryan Glass and Mike gave me all the freedom and during the 39 issues I drew, I tested all kind of storytellings and designs. Sadly, at the end of the series, the sales dropped down and the final stages were a little dying -- it was hard to hang on until the end -- but I don´t regret it, I´m proud of being part of that Mice Templar family.

Mice Templar by Victor Santos

MB: How was the experience of Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters?

VS: I always say this was my first contact with a popular character and how that world is. People of IDW were really cool and they let me do whatever I wanted -- but some reviews and criticisms were terrible. It was hard working day by day knowing the opposition of some hardcore fans (and this was before the twitter rising, luckily) but I had fun drawing my beloved fat lizard.

Godzilla by Victor Santos. Looks great to me!

MB: Furious

VS: Bryan and me collaborating together again! A really easy job, my editor was Jim Gibbons, who was the editor of Polar and the relationship was great. We had budget limitations so they let me color the book, this was important to me (and I had good colorists). I think the series deserved a continuation. Bryan is going to continue it with another publisher and artist but I´m going to be involved, too, with covers and designs.

MB: I really enjoyed reading Polar online. How was publishing a webcomic and collecting it? Did you feel a connection to your audience that maybe you don't see when putting out a monthly book or collection?

VS: Well, when I began with the web comic it was more something made for myself than for the audience. I need to recover the joy of drawing before a lot of franchise stuff had affected it. The reason I transformed it into a web comic was “Hey, if I'm going to do it for free maybe some editor will see it and give me a job”. I never expected Dark Horse would publish it, they were FIRST on my list because they published Hellboy and Sin City. Then I had a GNs series, options for a movie and the book sold to a lot of countries... and this began because I wanted to do something I could enjoy. It sounds like a cheesy story but sometimes doing something with the heart works.

Polar page by Victor Santos. Hotness.

MB: And now you've just put out Violent Love as a GN. How did that come about?

VS: Frank and I met because Boom Studios! needed an artist for a miniseries. I had refused other series' from them, but then I needed the money (laughs) and the plot looked fun to draw. Frank was a nice guy and really easy to work with, and we'd chat about noir and a lot of common likes, like the Powers series. He has writing a successful series for Image [comics], Five Ghosts, and I wanted to return to Image with a new creator-owned series because all the cool people were at Image now! (laughs) So we chatted about we wanted to do and the result of these conversations was Violent Love, a crime story that was also epic and a romance.

Violent Love from Image Comics. I bought it, You should, too.

MB: Anything else we missed you'd like to mention?

VS: Right now, at the same time as the Violent Love series, I'm drawing a graphic novel for Gallery 13, the GNs line of Simon & Schuster publishing. It's a great noir book written by Alex de Campi about the heist of a Cuban casino in the 50s. It will be published next year and I think if you like books like Darwyn Cooke's Parker this is your book.

This October Dark Horse will publish Rashomon: A Commissioner Heigo Kobayashi case. It's a 160 page original graphic novel written, drawn and colored by me and published originally in Spain. It's a free adaptation of the Ryonosuke Akutagawa tale which inspired Akira Kurosawa in his classic movie but with a touch of noir. Think of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential placed in the Feudal Japan. I think this is one of my best scripts, solid and complex, so if you've read Polar and think "hey, that guy draws OK but his scripts are simple" then read Rashomon.

MB: What inspires you to draw today? What process do you go through at home?

VS: Well, I try to get inspiration for everything: books, movies and TV shows, art, music. I´m a disciplined guy and this is the reason I produce so many books, but working on a lot of things at the same time make this job so much fun. If my schedule lets me, I used to work on a different project in the morning and another in the evening. I try to do the boring things at the beginning and at the end of the day, so I´m focused on the important things in my most productive time. Try to do some exercise like jogging and I use this time for "mind work" like scripts and storyboarding. And I never work at night because I want to take care of my sight.

Above all I try to enjoy what I do with every work, I don't want to be an embittered artist in the future. If some day I see that I hate drawing, I think simply I´ll quit.

MB: You have so much work that we want to see. Where is the best place to pick up your work?

VS: If you go to my sites and you can find a section with links to all my books (and a lot of links to my social network and tons of images and comics).

MB: Thanks so much for talking to us!

Victor Santos sketch cards

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mike Deodato's Wonder Woman in the Extreme '90s

Everyone seems to unanimously agree that 1987's Wonder Woman #1 relaunch (credited to George Pérez, Len Wein, and Greg Potter) gave the character a much-needed revival and was hailed as a critical and commercial success. Depending on how closely you were following Diana of Themyscira's exploits in the late 80s/early 90s, you probably remember her appearing all over the DCU, the re-introduction of legacy Wonder Woman characters, and the War of the Gods cross-over. So how did Wonder Woman fare following that? By the mid-90s, comicdom had reached the apex of the 'Extreme 90s' and the market was overflowing with Bad Girl anti-heroes and X-book knock-offs. In response to this, new penciller Mike Deodato came on board with issue #90 (1994). 

With the Wonder Woman film now breaking box offices records and her popularity at an all-time high, Michael Campochiaro explores a time when she wasn't handled nearly as progressively or sensitively as she is today.

Mike Deodato's Wonder Woman: long legs, tiny waist, gravity-defying breasts, and of course a thong. Must be the '90s.

Everything you've ever heard about '90s comics is true. The obscenely large muscles, the balloon breasts, and the massive guns. The excessive amount of pouches on everybody's clothing. The gratuitous, leering obsession with the female form. Everything, and I mean everything, was Extreme!!!! It's all true, which is partly why I drifted from comics for a while during the decade.

Don't get me wrong, I loved and still love me some classic '90s Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and Marc Silverstei art. Those guys were superb. Plus you had Grant Morrison's JLA and Mark Waid's Flash, and also writers like Chuck Dixon seemingly churning out seven books a month, all of them solidly crafted and well written. But the decade is often remembered for the excesses listed above.

When I recently read the collected edition Wonder Woman by Mike Deodato I assumed I was in for more of the cliched '90s comic book tropes, including an abundance of brokeback poses and lots of violence and mayhem. And Deodato certainly delivers. Boy, does he ever. Make no mistake, he's a talented comic book artist, with a real flair for dynamic and kinetic panel designs and gloriously over the top fight scenes. And William Messner-Loebs, who writes all of the issues in the collection, matches Deodato's energy with crisp dialogue and a propulsive forward momentum throughout. There's a b-movie feel to the run, with Messner-Loebs telling fast-paced, action-packed stories, and Deodato providing the cult movie exploitation-style gonzo art.

The trade collects Wonder Woman #0, #85, and #90-100, plus Legends of the DC Universe #4-5. That's fifteen issues of prime early '90s era Wonder Woman and all that entails, including a new and absurdly revealing costume and increasingly objectified depictions of the female form over the course of the run. I'll discuss some story elements here, but this won't be a straight review of the plots. Instead I'll focus on Deodato's art. After all, it's his name in the title of the collected edition and it's his art that's most associated with this era of the character.

I don't even know what to say about this choice of camera angle. How about,"Frank Cho would be proud?"

As was de rigueur in those days, women are usually drawn posing in ridiculously contorted positions, both in action and in static scenes, for maximum extreme objectification. I lost count of how many times Diana and her Amazonian sister Artemis -- who wrestles the mantle of Wonder Woman from Diana during the run -- stood with rear ends extended impossibly high in the air behind them, backs arched dramatically, while at the same time pushing their chests forward with gusto. Deodato's art on Wonder Woman reminds me at times of Silvestri's Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine from earlier in the '90s. No stranger to dramatic exaggeration or highly stylized sexuality in his art, Silvestri still looks tame when compared to the way Deodato deploys both. Of course, if you bring Jim Balent's '90s Catwoman into the conversation, Deodato's style suddenly looks as innocent as Curt Swan's. So it's all about degrees of "Extreme!!!!" when it comes to '90s "Extreme!!!!" artists, I suppose. I also get a strong Norm Breyfogle feel at times from Deodato here, with characters dramatically leaping across the page, nearly flying right out of panels and into your lap.

Before reading the issues, the only thing I knew about the run was that *this* was the infamous era when Diana wore an insanely tiny thong. Seriously, she must have been awfully uncomfortable fighting in that thing. Even as the most famous woman in comics, Diana still isn't immune to being objectified by both readers and creators. Her costume has often been derided as "skimpy" but rarely did it look quite so revealing until Deodato arrived. Not only does she start off sporting the teeny tiny thong, but after losing her title as Wonder Woman in "The Contest" Diana dons one of the most '90s outfits imaginable. It consists of hot pants and a cropped leather jacket that's always open to expose her gravity-defying breasts, which are barely contained within a BDSM-style bra. It's risible attire for the preeminent female superhero, but dammit if Diana doesn't pull it off. Certainly, Deodato makes her look great, but it's all so unseemly in its overt sexualization that you can't help but cringe. Deodato also draws her as lithe and strong, with a confident gait and a smoldering intensity. In those regards, he does justice to her iconic status. It's just that he does so while also outfitting her in a thong, and then in the so-'90s-it-hurts bondage bra.

One of the top items on the '90s checklist: Gratuitously torn clothing revealing even more female flesh. Click here for image [NSFW]

With Artemis though, Deodato really outdoes himself. She too charges into battle in the most microscopic thong imaginable. Seriously, it's hardly even there. It makes Diana's look like boxer briefs. Artemis' legs are ludicrously long, while her absurdly large breasts are usually spilling out of her tops. They're also always standing at attention, whether she's sitting, running, or flipping upside down. Her waist is impossibly small. Her measurements must be the stuff of legend. Basically, she's drawn in a way that will satisfy every adolescent boy's fantasy. Yet, in a lot of ways, the art fits with Messner-Loebs characterization. Artemis is hilarious throughout precisely because she's a tough Amazonian supermodel-warrior with no sense of humor who's constantly flummoxed or downright annoyed by all of the idiot humans around her. Consequently Deodato renders her in permanent withering scowl mode. She's a hoot and her interactions with the kind and calm Diana are a highlight of the book.

Still, at times Deodato also lets the prurient art style run amok. There's no better example than when Artemis is brutally beaten by the White Magician. Artemis' Wonder Woman costume is ripped to shreds and she's tossed around like a well-endowed rag doll. And of course she maintains her alluring sensuality even when being pummeled. It reminds you of the "Death of Superman" showdown with Doomsday, except here it's filtered through a pure fanboy drool-worthy style. Eventually, her thong is just a string of fabric, held together by a few worn threads, and her bustier is torn to pieces, exposing huge portions of her breasts. In fact, Deodato strategically places the rips where nipples should appear—but if he was going to draw them in, DC editorial must've nixed the idea. Nevertheless, it's gratuitously executed, obviously meant to titillate. You can imagine the slobbering '90s male readers stammering, "Look, you can see her boobs!!" Ugh.

While William Messner-Loebs story arcs are engaging and often well written -- although a Boston mafia war plot is a bizarre fit for Wonder Woman -- it's the Deodato art that sells the book and is ultimately what led me to try it out. I've heard so much about this era over the years -- some of it positive, much of it negative -- that I finally had to judge it for myself. How do I rate it? Certainly not in the upper echelon of Wonder Woman stories, but it's still a jaunty and exciting yarn. It's solid '90s comics, and overall quite fun. My opinions on the art are more complicated. The adolescent comic book fanboy that still resides somewhere in the darkest nether-regions of my soul would blush at Deodato's art, but still enjoy it. The adult comic book reader I've become finds the overly sexualized style both problematic and tiresome, but also still appreciates Deodato's talent for drawing exciting superhero action adventure. Besides the elements of '90s excess, the art is compelling and energetic.

Artemis: scowling, twisting, and contorting while wearing very little clothing and kicking copious amounts of butt.

In many ways the era this collection comes out of seems to be a curio of sorts -- a time when DC was far less progressive in their visual representations of their Amazonian Princess, and instead dressed her in what amounts to butt-floss and posed her like a soft-core porn actress. It's strange stuff, for sure. It's still worth a look though, both for historical perspective and for some entertaining art. Just keep in mind it's also filled with cheesecake. In today's more progressive era with an increased sensitivity to issues of equality, representation, and the importance of symbolism in fictional portrayals, this '90s era feels like a hundred years ago. That's probably because in Patty Jenkins' new Wonder Woman film, Gal Gadot gives such an exceptionally inspiring performance. She perfectly embodies the strength, compassion and love inherent in Diana. I'm a big fan of that version of Wonder Woman -- the one most associated these days with George Perez, Nicola Scott, Gail Simone, and Greg Rucka, to name a few creators. Still, it's worth remembering a time when the character was presented more as a pouting supermodel in barely-there clothing than as a true champion of the oppressed in more warrior-appropriate body armor. If only to gauge the representational progress made over the years. Diana has come a long way, clearly.

As a postscript I'd like to give special mention to Brian Bolland's gorgeous covers from this era, many of which are included in this run. His Diana is still sexy like Deodato's version, but Bolland dials down the objectification aspect. Instead, his Diana is never anything less than beautiful, empowered, and fierce. It's worth noting that he designed the roundly disliked black hot pants and leather jacket outfit, but even he didn't like it. It seems he was following directions from editorial. So, if DC is reading this, please know that I would buy the hell out of of a Brian Bolland Wonder Woman covers collected edition. A quick online search reveals that he did covers for issues 0, 63–92, and 94–100. The slim collection could be fleshed out with cover sketches and maybe even commentary from Bolland and/or editorial. I realize this isn't likely to be published, but I can dream, can't I? I'll conclude this piece with a few examples of the stunning Bolland covers included in the Deodato collected edition.

One of several Bolland action covers featuring Wonder Woman battling various aliens and other assorted creatures.

Diana looks nothing short of majestic here.

Here's a side-by-side of Bolland's preliminary sketch for #90 and the final version of the cover.


Michael Campochiaro is a seasoned veteran of retro pop culture journalism and has written for Sequart, The After Movie Dinner, Spectrum Culture and his own blog, Words Seem Out of Place.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Reviewing Back Issue magazine #97 (July 2017)

About 9 months ago we received an inquiry from one of our readers on our twitter about an interview we posted with Jack C Harris a few months prior.  We're actually BIG fans of collaborating with other comic enthusiasts, so we did our best to help him with a research question he had.

Not too long after that, we received an e-mail from Back Issue magazine editor Michael Eury requesting permission to use an image from our website (which we happily obliged). Eury was a DC editor in the late 80s/early 90s, and we selfishly took this opportunity to pick his brain about his behind-the-scenes work at DC comics during this era -- which led to this fantastic interview. [Eury is actually a very patient and friendly chap, and we couldn't have asked for a more interesting interviewee.]

We thought that was pretty much the end of our correspondences with Back Issue magazine, but last week this suddenly showed up in our mail:

cover of Back Issue #97 -- why yes, that IS a George Perez illustrated Hawkman on the cover!

To date, I have never purchased a physical copy of Back Issue magazine. I've viewed a few samples pages from the digital version, saw they were good, and made a mental note to grab an issue if I ever saw any at my local comic book shop -- but the opportunity has never presented itself to really take an in-depth look at one.

Right off the bat, this appeals to me because it was shipped in a flat cardboard box (the same way you'd ship a vinyl record in the mail) and didn't get folded in half. I've subscribed to a few mail-order magazines in my day, and there's nothing as discouraging as finding a permanently curled magazine in your mailbox (even if it was just GQ magazine). I appreciate this, Tomorrows Publishing.

shipped in a rigid cardboard mailer

Just flipping through without really reading anything, I immediately notice that it's a really gorgeous, well laid-out magazine. Back Issue magazine is full-color and makes use of images that compliment the articles -- you're going to see a lot of DC house ads from that era, original art, a few comic interiors and various comic book covers. Every now and then, a recent head shot of a creator (writer, editor or artist) will be included in the article, which I find to be a nice touch since it's always nice to put a face to a name.

crisp colors and nice layouts

Since Hawkman is on the cover, I'm expecting to see a lot of Hawkman coverage in this publication. This issue does not fail to deliver:

-As this issue's lead feature, Doug Zawisza provides one of the most comprehensive reviews on the Hawkman's Bronze Age history that I've ever read. Zawisza's article spans a whopping seventeen pages and covers everything from Hawkman's early '70s appearances in Justice League of America up to the end of his own ongoing series in 1987. This article goes above and beyond as it not only gives us very detailed background info on the conception and execution of 1985's The Shadow War of Hawkman, but it details everything that happened with Hawkman following the mini up until the end of his ongoing series (this includes behind-the-scenes editorial decisions and comments from series writers Tony Isabella and Dan Mishkin). I assure you, this would've been no easy research feat -- I know because I've tried.  Kudos to Doug Zawisza (and Back Issue magazine) for pulling this one off.

-Marc Buxton provides a detailed play-by-play of Hawkgirl's first adventure (sans Hawkman) in 1981's DC Comics Presents #37.

-Steven Wilber examines the 1989 Hawkworld mini-series and the subsequent ongoing series. This is a nice 8-page feature filled with behind-the-scenes info from editor Mike Gold, artist Graham Nolan and writers Timothy Truman and John Ostrander.

The theme of this issue is 'bird people', so we get a few additional articles about some of DC's avian-themed characters:

-Bryan D. Stroud wrote an extremely inclusive article about the history and evolution of the Penguin (including his mysterious origins and several creators talking about their take on the character). No word of a lie, the Penguin is easily one of my favorite Batman villains (probably as a holdover from my Super Powers Collection days), and was a character I was actually thinking about lately as there doesn't seem to be much info about him floating around out there.

-Michael Eury gives us a very in-depth history [14 pages!] on Hawk and Dove -- everything from their 1960s debut up to the new 52 relaunch. He even includes interview snippets from Dick Giordano, Karl Kessel, Mike BaronBarbara Randall Kessel and Greg Guler. I really dug this article as it is extensive and gives us a lot of great info about the evolution of the characters.

-There were a few articles that I skimmed through but didn't actually read: an article about Dynomutt and Blue Falcon by Mark Arnold, a look at Disney's 1981 Condorman film by Andy Mangels, and an interview about late 90s Nightwing with Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel (by John Trumbull).

Initial thoughts:

I lucked out since this particular issue of Back Issue had a lot of 1980/90s DC comics coverage (i.e., The Shadow War of Hawkman, Hawkworld, Penguin Triumphant, Hawk & Dove). These articles were informative and revealed new details and facts I was previously unaware of. I feel this magazine goes the extra mile by being attentive to the details -- which is important. The interviews with the creators were a very nice touch. If it's written by fans, it'll most likely answer questions fans are curious about.

I would definitely recommend this issue to a Hawkman fan -- this is probably the closest thing you can get to a modern-day full-color Hawkman fanzine. If all other issues of Back Issue magazine are anything like this one, you can count me in. Eury mentions the possibility of a Matt Wagner Grendel issue in the near future -- I'll be keeping watch for that one.

Back Issue reminds us that you can order previous issues of their magazine as physical or digital copies -- but once the physical copies are gone, they're gone. I'm used to reading things on my Samsung tablet, so I really have no objection to obtaining digital copies of this publication -- in this case, however, I'd probably opt for the physical magazine.

Back Issue is a REAL magazine and has large pages than a standard comic book, and it looks much nicer in physical form than it would on my 10.1" Samsung tablet (see pic below). All this to say, since I'm considered to be an 'international' buyer, I'd opt for the less-expensive digital subscription, but if I ever saw reasonably-priced physical issues from a local vendor, I'd pick those up instead. It's worth buying the physical copies. Everything about Back Issue looks great and reminds me that the art of the print magazine is still alive and kicking.

Back Issue magazine vs my 10.1" Samsung tablet

In conclusion, seeing my name mentioned in the credits of an article really went a long way towards boosting my ego. I'll probably frame this issue once I'm done re-reading it.