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Tag: Giant-Size X-Men

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 5 – Comic-Book Movies and Mutant Cinema

I don’t have a lot of books about comic book movies, in part because I don’t think there are many out there that are not direct tie-in books. I have a few of those, including Frank Miller’s Sin City: The Making of the Movie, The Art of X2, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, and one or two more. Reference works are common, including Comic Book Movies by David Hughes and John Kenneth Muir’s comprehensive and readable (though pricey) Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Of actual books on comics movies, I only have a few, including my own. So I’ll start there with a quick recap of how Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen came to be.

I was attending the first New York Comic-Con in February of 2006, enjoying the show despite having to endure a type of winter weather that had long been absent from my life. On the final day, I walked the floor of the Javits Center and came across the booth of Sequart, manned by Julian Darius and Mike Phillips. Julian had just released his book Batman Begins and the Comics, now re-released under the title Improving the Foundations: Batman Begins from Comics to Screen. He told me about the book and how it analyzed the movie scene by scene citing and analyzing how the comic book source material was used through the movie.

I immediately liked the idea and asked him if they were planning any more books like this. Julian said he was planning one on the then-upcoming Superman Returns. I asked if they had any plans for X-Men, which at that point was also coming soon with X-Men: The Last Stand. Mike said that was a good idea but they were mostly DC guys and didn’t know anyone who could write it. My brain went off and I said I could do it, and after a quick listing of my credentials we agreed to talk about it after the show.

A few weeks later we’d worked out a deal and I started writing. I found writing it to be alternately enjoyable and aggravating. A structure came easily, but finding time to devote to writing it in between other gigs that paid the kind of money I needed to keep the lights on was harder than I thought. Revising it also was tough — I felt like I could have revised it endlessly and made it a bit better with each draft, but then it was never going to get done.

Getting the book finished and revised took longer than expected and the book’s original target release date of autumn 2006 quickly revealed itself to be optimistic. Sequart did a great job in getting a small batch of an early version  printed up under the title X-Men: The Movie Trilogy and the Comics for the 2007 New York Comic-Con, complete with a cool cover illustration from Kevin Colden. Concerns about trademark lead to the revised title of Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, as suggested by Julian, and another round of revisions was made before the book became final.

Reaction to the book at that NYCC was a surprise to me. Interest was limited among fans, most of whom already had strong opinions about the movie and familiarity with the source material.

The final version of the book was completed later that year and thus began a frustrating process in gaining distribution for the book. There was some technical issue with getting the book listed on Amazon — which took much longer to resolve than anyone expected. By the time all was repaired and the book was up on the site, a lot of key momentum had been lost as interest in the movies had dwindled after X-Men: The Last Stand.

Having watched each of the movies in the trilogy now dozens of times in writing the book, I think the X-Men trilogy will go down as a trendsetter that got the comic book movie off the ground. But they’ve been outpaced in terms of quality by subsequent, more interesting comic book movies.

The biggest puzzle for me is the strength of antipathy fans have toward The Last Stand. I agree with most that it falls short of X2 in most regards. But having watched it many times I also think it’s really not that much worse than X2 or X-Men. Most of the antipathy centers on Brett Ratner, whose public persona is about as far removed from that of Bryan Singer as you can get. But Ratner really was a hired gun on that movie, brought on just a couple weeks before shooting was to begin.  Ratner’s focus was on finishing the movie on time more than making a personal impression on the material.

The real fault for the movie’s problems lies with Fox, which set an impossible shooting schedule for the film and got cold feet when it came to following through with the Dark Phoenix storyline.

The movie works, I think, pretty well up to the point where Professor Xavier confronts Phoenix at her parents home and she disintegrates him. After that, the Phoenix storyline is dropped until the end of the film. And that ending changes the original story significantly from Jean as the hero, sacrificing herself because she knows she can’t control this level of power, to Wolverine becoming the hero and killing Jean even though he loves her. On the surface, it’s similar, but deep down, it’s quite different.

The other thing The Last Stand did well was to just unleash the characters into the action. On the first two films, Singer offered up inventive but short action sequences that always felt restrained. And it worked to keep the audience hungry for more because it gives the creators a place to go. But I don’t know that his instincts would have allowed him to deliver the kind of satisfying mayhem that Last Stand delivered.

In the end, I’m proud of the book, enjoyed the experience of writing it and learned a lot about my own personal strengths and shortcomings in the process.

If you’re interested in more, check out the book’s page on Sequart.com here, where you can read a sample chapter on previous movie and TV adaptations of X-Men and order the book. You also can get it from Amazon.com here.

Comic-book movies are definitely evolving. It’ll be interesting to see where Marvel goes once they’ve done two or three movies each with Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Avengers. It’ll be just as interesting to see if DC can recover from the dismal reception of Green Lantern and figure out how to make the likes of Flash and Wonder Woman into good movies. And with Sony already re-inventing Spider-Man, the pressure will be on Fox to find some way to make good with new versions of Daredevil and Fantastic Four. Comic book movies are sure to stick around for a good ten years — it’s just what they will look like and whether audiences will tire of them that is up for debate.

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 2

Lengthy interviews with comics creators have produced some fantastic reading over the years, particularly in the pages of The Comics Journal, which borrowed from the traditions of Playboy and Rolling Stone to set the standard for comics. As I said in my recent post about covering the junket for Captain America: The First Avenger, this kind of writing is surprisingly tricky to do well. It’s also produced some of my favorite reads about comics, as well as a few clunkers. I’ll start off by crediting The Comics Journal, of which I have dozens and dozens of individual issues packed up in a box somewhere. But this is about the bookshelf, so here are some more of my favorite good books about comics:

The X-Men Companion I and II were published by Fantagraphics in 1981 and 1982, culled largely from material that had already appeared in the magazine. But when I came across it in 1990 or 1991, again at Bookman’s in Tucson, it was a revelation. The interviews by Peter Sanderson are excellent, and span the entire run of the comic up to that point. Interviewees include Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont, Terry Austin, John Byrne and a joint interview with Claremont and then-editor Louise Jones about the future of the book. That these interviews were done at a time we now consider early in the book’s history, it’s fascinating to read about how these stories came together and where everyone expected to take the book in the future. I also very much loved the excellent reproduction of so much art in the book — most of it blown-up black and white reproductions from Marvel stats that look absolutely fantastic. Because of this book, I promised myself that if this material was ever reprinted in black and white I would have to buy it, and I did so when Marvel started its Essentials line around 1997.

The Comics Journal Library has offered some similar volumes of more recent vintage. I particularly enjoyed the oversize volumes on Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. I also greatly enjoyed the excellent volume on comics writers that collected vintage interviews from the magazine’s early days with Claremont, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Harlan Ellison. 
I also enjoyed other publications’ efforts at doing interviews, including the late, lamented Comics Interview. This magazine created several collections that found their way into my collection, including a Batman volume released in 1988 or 1989, around the time of the first Tim Burton Batman movie; and a mid-1980s special on X-Men that included interviews with then-artist John Romita Jr., Louise and Walter Simonson, editor Bob Harras and, of course, Claremont. I have many random issues of this title stored away elsewhere, and am interested in the recent collected edition that has been made available as an online print-on-demand premium edition.
A book I rarely see discussed anywhere is Comic Book Rebels, a 1993 volume by Stanley Wiater and Stephen R. Bissette. This book, subtitled Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics, features interviews with an outstanding group of creators from Scott McCloud and Moebis to Dave Sim, Richard Corben, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar and Will Eisner. Again, I don’t know why this book isn’t talked about more, but it’s especially fascinating to see these folks talk about the challenges the industry faced in the days before the internet and before even the heights and crashes of the direct market. 
Titan Books has in recent years done some nice interview books focused on specific comics characters and franchises. Comics Creators on the X-Men and Comics Creators on the Fantastic Four, both written by former Marvel editor in chief Tom DeFalco, are solid works that cover those characters up through about 2005 or so. It’s especially interesting to read the X-Men book after going through the X-Men Chronicles, as many of the same folks are interviewed, though 25 years later. I understand there’s a Spider-Man volume as well.
Last on this list is Eisner-Miller, which collects a weekend-long conversation between Frank Miller and Will Eisner on everything from comics history to the sexiness of inking. I wrote about this book here when it first came out and was pleased to see that some quick skimming showed it still holds up. It’s especially nice to have this book capture the views of Eisner late in his life, as he died not long after the book came out.
I had meant to include in the previous post an invitation for folks to comment on their favorite books about comics — either what they think of the books I’ve mentioned here or any that I’ve missed that deserve a look. From the looks of my list, I likely have two more posts in this series: one on how-to books and one on books that focus on the careers or life of a specific creator.

Mutants drift further from Utopia, but Batman and Spidey are doing quite well, thanks

It’s taken me a awhile to get to reading the giant stack of comics that piled up the past few months. Reading them has been sadly dull — I don’t know if it’s the comics or if it’s me, though I suspect if everything was a great read I wouldn’t have written what I just wrote. So let’s get to it.

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Exodus #1 (Marvel, $3.99) is the conclusion to the Utopia crossover storyline, and it’s reasonably good. That’s to be expected when you have folks like Matt Fraction writing and Mike Deodato and Terry Dodson drawing. The Utopia storyline was pretty overtly political for X-Men, starting with an initiative called Proposition X that would require medical birth control for all mutants. That leads to the mutants, who’ve established San Francisco as their new home base, going on the riot path and H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn bringing in his Dark Avengers to restore order and discredit the X-Men and install his own lackeys — the Dark X-Men — as the public face of mutant kind. It’s a heavy handed and painfully obvious attempt to tie the mutants into the gay rights issues that are at the forefront of society. And that would probably work, but there’s such a sense of change fatigue when it comes to the X-Men franchise that none of this really has a chance to stick. It was only a year ago that the X-Men came to San Francisco, and nothing about that switch really stood out as meaningful or interesting — and now we’re on the move again to the remnants of Asteroid X, now renamed Utopia. It would have been nice for the X-Men to have stuck around San Francisco long enough for that setting to made a difference. And it’s hard when your arcs all run four, five, six issues to establish a real sense of place the way comics used to back in the days when they were periodicals through and through. I think of the first Wolverine series from 1982, where that setting of Japan really came to life and was important to the story. Nowadays, even with a half dozen spinoff titles, the X-titles (and Marvel titles in general) have become kind of cookie cuttered in the Bendis mode — where characters’ dialog rarely has much to do with the story and the overall tone is self-conscious and self-referential to the point of inanity. All of this was fresh 10 years ago, but at least for me, this style has worn out its welcome.
I also read the Utopia tie-in issues Dark X-Men: The Confession #1 (Marvel, $3.99), X-Men: Legacy #227 (Marvel, $2.99), both of which suffer from much the same symptom. Confession is basically an entire issue of Cyclops and Emma Frost having it out over the status of their relationship and their respective guilt and responsibilities in the whole thing. And character is important — it’s part of what made Marvel great — but this exemplifies the self indulgence that I think is plaguing the X-books in particular. Another example is The Uncanny X-Men #515 (Marvel, $2.99), the first issue of the new “Nation X” storyline that heralds the return of Magneto, usually a big event with lots of drama even when it’s not done well. But here, it’s sudden and just seemingly random. Even the things that should work don’t — a minor character dies in a rather nice scene, but again it’s a character who hasn’t been around long enough or done anything interesting enough for the reader to care about his passing with the same passion some of the X-Men display.

In the Wolverine corner of Marvel, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s alternate future run concludes in Giant-Size Wolverine: Old Man Logan #1 (Marvel, $4.99). Alternate future storylines can be fun, and this one has had its moments of coolness. But the ending, delayed from the regular run of the title to this special, is disappointing for just being so damn obvious. This post-apocalyptic Western tale, in which Old Man Logan has to rediscover his spine as he tries to protect his family from the victorious supervillains that rule the land. The end, however, sees Logan finally pop the claws and go to town on everyone — but it does so in so mundane and excessively violent a fashion that it’s hardly satisfying or even terribly interested. The art’s nice, even though it’s a bit gross at times, but this ending throws no curves at all and I couldn’t help but think, “That’s it?”
Still, it’s better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99), the most recent Origins one-shot. I guess this does a decent job of recapping the character’s origin and making it jibe, both storywise and visually, with what appears in the movie of the same name. But in simplifying the story, it loses the interesting parts of the good stuff and exposes the lame stuff for being truly lame. It also doesn’t do much to explain itself — like who are Heather and James Hudson, who weren’t in the movie? The art, however, is nice — no surprise since it’s by Mark Texeira, who did a good job drawing the Wolverine series way back in the early 1990s.
X-Factor #47-48 (Marvel, $2.99 each), continues to be a consistently entertaining read. Yeah, it’s gotten complicated, with future Dr. Dooms, an adult Layla Miller, a future Cyclops and more Madrox dupes than you can shake a stick at. But writer Peter David does a good job of giving everyone a personality and structuring his story so that it’s entertaining even if you don’t remember every detail of the previous 46 issues.
Before we leave the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe, there’s X-Men Forever #7 (Marvel, $3.99), which reminds me how great writer Chris Claremont was at establishing a new direction for a series and how quickly the new status quo could be forgotten. After a memorable five-issue opening arc, the last two issues have been a lot more murky and directionless. This one features a lot of flashing back on Nick Fury’s part to the days when Logan (currently believed dead in this timeline) did a lot of dirty work as a solider. It’s all still very recognizably Claremontian, which is comforting at times, but lacks the obvious forward momentum and focus of the first arc. Given that the outcome of Claremont’s stories usually depends greatly on the talents of the artist he’s working with, Tom Grummett can’t return to these pages soon enough.
Fantastic Four #569 (Marvel, $3.99) wraps up another Mark Millar run, though this time without the artist who kicked it off, Bryan Hitch, and with an assist on the scripting from Joe Ahearne. This is a definite ending point, though I recommend rereading as much of the run before trying to tackle the finale as possible because who’s who and what’s what is, once again, a complicated matter. The best part of the book comes at the end, when Ben Grimm’s wedding day arrives at long last. Removed from the plot complexities of the first half of this book, the characters are fully enjoyable and the situation surprising for the nature of the conflicts and how they play out. The art, by Stuart Immonen, is a good imitation of Hitch’s style, giving a bit more warmth to the characters. Looking back, the run didn’t measure up to the potential of the earliest issues. Seeing the acclaim for the follow up run by writer Jonathan Hickman tells you all you need to know about fan reaction to Millar’s run. But it still turned out well and I think will grow a bit in fans’ eyes over time.
Lastly from Marvel is The Amazing Spider-Man #602-604 (Marvel, $2.99 each). The plot in these issues, written by Fred Van Lente, features a good twist on the old Chameleon character (he’s been a villain since way back in ASM #1) as he mistakenly takes on the appearance of Peter Parker without knowing he’s Spider-Man. There’s some funny moments as Chameleon manages to fix a lot of Peter’s personal problems without really trying too hard. The return of Mary Jane figures fairly prominently, not completely justifying three consecutive MJ-themed covers, but OK, they’re well done. The Amazing Spider-Man has succeeded in its attempt to be a serial of its own — it may be the only part of the Marvel Universe that doesn’t rely on constant crossovers or participation in things like Dark Reign. Shipping three times a month, it’s also worked out a unique rhythm to its plotlines that is most like that of a TV series. I don’t know how much of an effect this had had on readership — whenever I ask at the comic shop, I’m told that overall interest in Spider-Man is down — but I think Marvel should stick with it because it’s, at the very least, different.
Having dug through the Marvels, it’s time to look at a few DCs from the Batman corner. Batman and Robin #4 (DC Comics, $2.99) is the first issue drawn by Philip Tan instead of Frank Quitely. I think it takes Tan a bit to find his groove on this issue, as I had a hard time following the art in the early pages but was very much enjoying the issue by the end. Grant Morrison’s story brings back The Red Hood, though who’s under the hood remains a mystery at this point, and his sidekick Scarlet. This is a good Batman story — the plot, villains, conflicts and visuals all work as well, if not better than, the previous Quitely-drawn issues.
It’s only moving on to read Batman #689-690 (DC Comics, $2.99 each) that I wonder what specific purpose each book is intended to serve. Maybe it’s just that with Batwoman having taken over Detective Comics, they needed to start Batman and Robin to have that second main Bat-title. I don’t know. But these issues, written by Judd Winick and drawn by Mark Bagley, were also quite enjoyable. Bagley’s art, especially, is refreshing on Batman because his style is so associated in my mind, and I’m sure others’, with the sunnier superhero fare of Thunderbolts and Ultimate Spider-Man. His Batman has some of the same quality, but after so many years of downplaying the superhero aspect of Batman it comes off as cool and interesting. Of course, Winick’s script helps, emphasizing as it does new Batman Dick Grayson’s happier outlook on life when compared to that of Bruce Wayne.
Lastly, comes Detective Comics #855-857 (DC Comics, $3.99 each), featuring solo tales of the new Batwoman by writer Greg Rucka and amazing art from J.H. Williams III. Considering how easy it would be to butcher a series about Batwoman, who was introduced to the world in a flurry of news articles about her homosexuality, it’s a bit of a minor miracle that this is so good. A lot, I think, comes down to Williams, who remains underrated despite outstanding work on Alan Moore’s Promethea and the seemingly lost Desolation Jones with Warren Ellis. The “Alice in Wonderland” villain is beautifully rendered, the pages are shockingly designed to be read as comics rather than movie storyboards and the imagery is powerful and beautiful all at once. And it does so with an unmistakable homoerotic undercurrent that’s attractive and playful in a way no comic has been since Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbe’s Cobweb feature from the ABC Tomorrow Stories series. And let’s not forget Rucka, who gives Kate Kane everything a character needs to be interesting and true to herself without doing the obvious sex scene. Instead, there’s a rather romantic dance between Kate and Maggie Sawyer from the Superman books that is really well written, staged and drawn. I also like that this series doesn’t interact with the other Batman books, that the series is getting a chance to stand on its own and hopefully develop its own identity and audience. There’s also a backup strip in these issues, written by Rucka and starring The Question. This is the new Question, former Gotham City cop Renee Montoya, and it’s so far so good there too.
We’ll see how much more of the pile I can plow through this week, though I’ve been on a real Jack Kirby kick of late and am interested in revisiting some of his work. Also, I’ve been reading Moebius — Blueberry Vol. 1 (the Marvel/Epic version) and The Airtight Garage just arrived in the mail today — and picked up a couple of interesting items in France and Italy that I want to get to and will … eventually.

Mutant Mysteries: Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #1 cover changes

One of the fun parts of a hobby like collecting comics is the right to obsess over things no one in their right mind would give a second thought. For me, one of those has been the small variations that have cropped up whenever the cover image to X-Men #1 and Giant-Size X-Men #1 were reprinted. For me, the bigger mystery was always Giant-Size X-Men #1. For years, the reproductions of the cover that I saw in various reprints all looked like this (click for a close-up, hi-res look): The real cover looks like this: There’s only one difference between the two: the cover date. For whatever reason, all the images that I had seen over the years had a cover date of May. That’s how the cover appeared reprinted on the inside back covers of X-Men Special Edition #1 and Classic X-Men #1 (which sports an awful re-coloring of the classic cover). It’s also how it appeared in Marvel Masterworks (the volume featuring Giant-Size X-Men #1 was first published in 1989) and the 1991 Marvel Milestone reprint that even included all the original advertisements of the original comic, and in the reprint in the first hardcover collection of Ultimate X-Men, which came out in 2002 or so. But Marvel obviously also had access to the correct image, which appeared in 1988’s The Official Marvel Index to the X-Men #4, and in the 1994 update of that series. It also showed up correctly in the 1996 first printing of Essential X-Men Vol. 1. So, where did this version with the May cover date come from, and how did it become the primary — but not only — version Marvel used? The original artwork — which can be seen here — includes none of the trade dress and offers no answer. My only credible thought is that a version was prepared for a house ad that might have appeared just before the issue came out. But I’ve not been able to find such an ad anywhere online, so it’s all just supposition on my part. The May date is probably correct. X-Men #93, the last reprint issue of the series, had a cover date of April 1975 and X-Men #94 had an August 1975 date. The gap between Giant-Size X-Men #1 and X-Men #94 make sense, given the now well-known story about how the story intended for Giant-Size X-Men #2 was broken up into two issues and run as #94 and #95 when editor and writer Len Wein left Marvel. The May cover date also places the release of this issue in January or February of 1975 (I always go by my memories of the May Marvels coming out in the direct market in January, usually a few weeks ahead of issues showing up on newsstands). But looking at the actual indicia for Giant-Size X-Men #1 shows the only cover date to be 1975, and the frequency of the book as quarterly. Giant-Size X-Men #2 similarly only has a 1975 cover date, but the frequency had been bumped up to annual. Anyways, the mystery of where the May cover date came from and how it became so commonly used by Marvel over the years is likely to remain a mystery. The changes on X-Men #1 are in a lot of ways not as obvious, but definitely more significant. Here’s the real thing:And here’s the version that appeared in the original Marvel Masterworks, Marvel Milestones, etc.: Some of it’s just minor stuff — changes in coloring, etc. But there’s also changes to the artwork, and someone at some point added a circle around the “In the Sensational Fantastic Four Style!” blurb, even though the lettering looks exactly the same. Also, the blurb about Magneto changes from reverse type (white on red) to black on red. I recall reading somewhere – I can’t find the piece or remember where I read it — that the version with the grass background and power effect for Marvel Girl was part of the original artwork that Jack Kirby and whoever inked this cover turned in. Taking a closer look, it’s clear that more was changed between that version and the one printed than those elements just being dropped out. A close look reveals that Marvel Girl, Angel and Beast were moved up and spaced out a bit, perhaps to make each more distinct on the cover. There’s also a few motion lines dropped over near Angel. It’s kind of horrifying now to think that this classic cover might have been cut up with an X-acto knife and the characters all re-pasted into their new positions in Marvel’s production department. But it’s not that the original was changed that’s so much of a minor mystery as, again, how the non-published version was reprinted so often. Someone at Marvel, however, has noticed the difference, as it has been corrected in the revised editions of the Marvel Masterworks series to match the published version of the original comic. Maybe someday, convincing answers will come forth and allow me to settle this errant thought. But if not, it’s also fun to roll this completely inconsequential bit of trivia around in my brain every now and then.

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