Category Archives: Comics

Do You Hear What I Hear? Contest Winner

Consulting the Wikipedia entry for mondegreen, ((Kudos to Sam Chupp for pointing me to this.)) we find the following:

A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase.

“He played rubbery with his lips…”

When all is said and done, that phrase may not quite meet the definition of a mondegreen, but it is certainly a profoundly, incredibly incorrect interpretation of a song lyric. Just how profoundly, incredibly incorrect is the interpretation? Well, for starters, I didn’t even get the first word right. Here is the correct lyric:

“You played robbery with insolence…”

…and I played the blues in twelve bars down on Lover’s Lane. The song in question is “Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits (as heard on the Brothers in Arms album) and, in my defense, it features plenty of lyrics that a ten-year-old boy would find unusual if not downright impenetrable. That it took me more than twenty years to correct my ten-year-old interpretation is merely a testament to the power of procrastination.

“You must have had a pasty made out of wax.”

I have eaten countless Cornish meat pies—pasties—in the past thirty-odd years; they were a staple of my diet growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the tale of how my Finnish immigrant ancestors came to adopt them is one I won’t go into here. When I was ten I knew that Dire Straits was a British rock band and that the pasty had its roots in the United Kingdom, so it didn’t seem at all unusual to me that Mark Knopfler would sing about wax pasties. Not unusual at all.

“You must’ve had a passkey made out of wax.”

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?There was a grand total of five entries in the contest, though I was sure that once the Fabulous Prize was revealed I’d see a flood of new e-mail. Every entry was correct, so everyone who entered had a 20% chance of winning the Fabulous Prize. Having cast the die ((I realize that I’m using this idiom incorrectly, but the winner was chosen by die roll and “[h]aving rolled the die” doesn’t sound as cool. Plus, misusing the idiom fits with the theme of the contest.)) I am pleased to announce that the winner of the contest is Natalie Metzger. Natalie will soon be receiving a copy of Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert.

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. If you didn’t enter the contest for some reason, leave a comment or e-mail me at contest@kjtoo.com to let me know how I could make future contests (if there are any) more enticing.

Bitstrips: Remixing

One of the interesting things Bitstrips allows users to do is remix other users’ strips (provided the original creator grants the appropriate permission). The function is “Edit a new strip based on this one” and invoking it loads the original strip, complete with all of the characters, furniture, dialog, props and backgrounds into the strip editor. Once in the editor, you are free to manipulate the strip as you see fit: add a new character, delete a prop, change the colors, move the furniture, etc.

When blob published “To Each His Own” earlier this week, I was informed that I had appeared in a new strip.

Bitstrips: To Each His Own (by blob)

Sure enough, there I am, sitting at the bar in the background. And seated next to me (though completely blocked from view by blob’s character) is our mutual friend, 5thHorseman. If you look closely, you can also see the back of codeshaman‘s head, almost entirely blocked by the fellow who yells “Go Team!” in the final panel. I thought it would be cool to remix the strip from another point of view, so I hit the “Edit a new strip based on this one” button and started moving characters, furniture and props around to essentially put the camera on the opposite side of the room.

The result is “Meanwhile…“, and it takes place in the same bar and, in fact, at the same time as blob’s original strip.

Bitstrips: Meanwhile
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If you look at the characters in the background, they go through the same motions from panel to panel as they do in the original. Now, however, 5thHorseman is completely visible and we’re having our own conversation in that comicspace, while the dialog in the background is “inaudible”. Oh, and codeshaman is there, too. See, each panel in a Bitstrip comic is actually much larger than what is displayed in the frame, which allows the author to set up a large scene in one panel, duplicate it in the next, then simply pan the camera or resize the panel to include only those elements that are important to each single panel. So, codeshaman is there, out of frame. As in the original, he’s seated to my right. However, he’s only actually in the final panel, as I deleted him from the first two.

Bitstrips: Pumped Up, On Originality, Bigger on the Inside

I was beginning to think my first Bistrip was going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and that I’d never have an idea for a second strip. Then I started messing around with the editor and trying to figure out what I could do with my avatar. Messing around with the poses let me to my second strip, “Pumped Up” (click image to enlarge).

Bitstrips: Pumped Up
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My third strip, “On Originality“, was born from the fear that I would subconsciously steal a gag I’d seen in someone else’s webcomic. The mini-strip (or “meta-strip” or “recursistrip”) was a bit of a pain to create, as there aren’t really any drawing tools or primitives on Bitstrips yet. I had to use the “speed line” effect over and over again for all the lines, and getting them aligned was a chore. I wanted to put some background color into this one, but there would have been no (easy) way to make the margins on the mini-comic white if I had.

Bitstrips: On Originality
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The script for my fourth strip, “Bigger on the Inside“, wasn’t written until after I had the entire layout finished. I wanted to see if I could effectively create a gaming table that was longer than the one included in the Bitstrips furniture library. Once I had Chris Miller and Miscellaneous G™ (AKA GoonStar) seated at the table, I decided they should be having an argument, much to the dismay of the other gamers at the table. Special guest star: Jason Penney.
Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside
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In retrospect, I really wish I’d kept the background color the same in all three panels to promote the idea that everyone is sitting at the same table. EDIT: I published a new version with a consistent background color across all three panels. Yes, it bothered me that much.

EDIT (again): I just published the final version of this strip. I found a bigger table that allows me to put together a proper-sized gaming group (four players plus a Game Master). This allowed me to do the strip in two panels instead of three and add a new guest star, SambearPoet. I also tweaked the expression on my face a bit; I figured two adjacent characters with closed eyes wasn’t a good idea. I’m leaving the second version here for posterity and comparison.

Bitstrips: Bigger on the Inside (Ver. 3)
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Bitstrips: Boundless Creativity

The latest big thing among my circle of Interfriends is Bitstrips, a site that lets you create your own comic strips. The concept is simple: create an account, build your avatar and start making comic strips starring your avatar, (or better, your friends’ avatars) and a library of characters props, scenes and furniture.

The drag-and-drop interface is pretty simple; it took me all of 10 minutes to write and lay out my first strip (after about an hour and a half of agonizing over my avatar, which still needs a proper goatee). Don’t expect me to be churning out Penny Arcade or PvP Online anytime soon, but the basics are there and I’ve already seen some fairly clever (if a bit niche) comics in the past 24 hours or so.

And so, without further ado, I present (assuming the embed code works properly) my very first comic strip, starring none other than me.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Comics: Iron Spidey

Apart from the occasional Ultimate Spider-Man trade paperback, I don’t pay too much attention to Spider-Man comics these days. I know there was some “Spider-clone” hubbub a few years back, but I had long since stopped buying the comics, so I didn’t get excited about it.

This morning, co-worker Chuck (AKA gator) tossed a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #531 onto my desk. The first thing to catch my eye was Captain America sitting next to two other guys on a couch, apparently watching a little teevee. The guy on the other end of the couch looked an awful lot like Tony “Iron Man” Stark, but who the hell was the evil Iron Fist wannabe munching popcorn in the middle?

Well, that’d be Spider-Man, in his new “Iron Spidey” costume. Seems Tony Stark is now Spider-Man’s “boss” and he gave the webslinger a new, upgraded costume. The new duds are red and gold, which makes for some nice color coordination with Iron Man’s armor (can you say “branding”?), and it was built by Tony Stark, so it’s got all sorts of gadgets and gizmos built in. You know, a nice Heads-Up Display, on-board computer, glider wings, and stabby arms that shoot out of the back.

Wait a minute. Stabby arms? Yep. Think Doctor Octopus, only… well, stabbier. I counted three golden, multi-jointed arms jutting out of a golden circle on the back of the costume, stabbing Titanium Man right in the face.

Now, granted, Titanium Man was kinda asking for it, and he is wearing a full-face, armored helmet, but the whole stabby arms business just doesn’t seem like Spider-Man to me. For that matter, neither do the on-board computer and HUD. Spidey has always relied on his radioactive-arachnid-given abilities and sharp wit to get by; using technological gizmos — with the exception of the web-shooters he designed — has always been a last resort. For a fine example of this (not to mention an example of Spidey’s bad luck with new costumes), see the alien costume saga, in which Spidey ultimately turns to Mister Fantastic and a sonic cannon to help him fight the symbiote.

New costume or old, I don’t plan on reading any more issues of The Amazing Spider-Man any time soon, and as long as Joe Quesada (Editor in Chief of Marvel Comics and apparently the brains behind the new costume) doesn’t mess with Ultimate Spider-Man or (even worse) the Spider-Man movies, I’m okay.

But damn, that’s an ugly costume.

Superheroes again: Captain America

I could probably turn this into a comic book blog (a la Dave’s Long Box) with a focus on Captain America if I had a mind to (and if I wanted to scare away the half-dozen people who actually visit the site on a regular basis). There’s no denying it: I love Captain America in an entirely platonic manner. ((Seriously, they’re going to have to get someone other than Matt Salinger to play him on the big screen before I switch teams for the Star Spangled Avenger.))

Captain America may not be the coolest hero to put on a pair of tights, ((I believe that honor goes to Ralph Dibny.)) and some might consider the patriotism that he embodies to be a bit passé in the post-modern world, but something about the Star Spangled Avenger strikes an idealistic chord deep inside my psyche. The country that Steve Rogers tirelessly defends may not be perfect, but I admire his values, determination and personal strength, not to mention his ability to kick every known subspecies of ass.

Cap also has the single coolest offensive and defensive weapon ever conceived. Forget about power rings, adamantium claws, batarangs, trick arrows and golden lariats, I’m talking about Captain America’s shield. The nigh-indestructible disc is so incredible that it has its own Wikipedia entry. In the hands of Captain America, the red, white and blue shield not only deflects bullets, it can disarm or disable multiple foes when thrown. Cap’s intuitive understanding of physics is so great that the thrown shield will almost unerringly return to his had after bouncing off any number of walls, bad guys or other objects. I spent many an afternoon in my youth attempting to coax all manner of discs—from aluminum garbage can lids to Frisbees to plastic coffee can covers—to bounce off the barn wall, a parked tractor, then my brother’s head and return to my hand. Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for my brother), the projectiles I flung rarely made it beyond the first bounce.

Captain America LunchboxLike most costumed heroes, Captain America has often appeared outside of the comic books in which he was created. I’m not what you’d call an avid collector of Captain America merchandise, but I do have a couple of things emblazoned with his patriotic visage. The first is my lunchbox, which I actually use on a fairly regular basis. The lunchbox in the picture has a blue handle, but mine is the rarer, “red handle” version, which generally fetches top dollar on eBay. ((No, not really.)) Second, I have a pair of Captain America pajama bottoms. Sadly, I couldn’t find a picture of these on the Internet and if blogging about Captain America doesn’t scare people away, pictures of me in my star spangled PJs almost certainly will.

Captain America (1991)Speaking of scary, I own a VHS copy of the 1991 film version of Captain America, which I won in an eBay auction a couple of years ago. ((Yes, really. After I’d made the winning bid, the seller e-mailed me to ask if I really knew what I was bidding on, and if I actually wanted to spend money on it. Oh yeah, the movie is that good.)) That version isn’t exactly easy to find and I doubt it will ever be available on DVD. Also in my VHS library are the two made-for-television movies, Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon, which co-starred none other than Saruman himself, Christopher Lee. The movies—starring Reb Brown as Captain America—were produced in the late 1970’s, and it shows. I’m not holding my breath for a DVD release on those, either.

Last but not least is the 1944 serial starring Dick Purcell as Captain America. This version bears almost no resemblence to its comic book forbearer. Captain America is not Private Steve Rogers of the United States army, but a district attorney named Grant Gardner; instead of the signature shield, the black and white serial version wields a pistol; where the comic book Cap is a living symbol of America, the Republic Pictures Cap is just a guy in a costume punching out thugs. The only real resemblance is superficial: the Purcell version wears a costume that is nearly identical to the one found in the comic books. Still, it’s Captain America, and the tapes sit on the shelf beside his other video incarnations.

Perhaps when (or if) the new Captain America movie is released in 2009 some of the older versions will be made available on DVD (as the Batman & Robin serial was when Batman Begins was released) and I’ll be able to move one step closer to a VHS-free household. Until then, the tapes (along with an unspecial edition Star Wars trilogy) are just about the only reason there’s still a VCR in the house.

I guess that about covers it for Captain America. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I suppose I can go back to talking about video games and crappy science fiction movies.

The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security

The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland SecurityThe Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security

Written by Mark Millar

Illustrated by Bryan Hitch

I clearly don’t purchase enough comic books. Some people (my wife, in particular) might question the accuracy of that statement, but “enough” is a subjective term and is currently subject to my parameters. Thus, the statement is valid.

The upside of not purchasing enough comic books is that the titles that I might be inclined to purchase are often collected in trade paperbacks that are convenient and largely advertisement-free. This is the case with Marvel’s Ultimate universe. I’ve never purchased a single standalone issue of any series in the universe, but I’ve purchase trade paperback collections of The Ultimates, Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. Ultimate Fantastic Four is next on my list.

Last week I bought a copy of The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security, which collects issues 7 – 13 of The Ultimates comic book. Now that I’ve read Homeland Security (how many Google hits am I going to get from that phrase?), I can see that The Ultimate Avengers animated movie was pretty much based on the first thirteen issues of the comic book.

If you read my review of The Ultimate Avengers, you may recall me mentioning the alien invasion storyarc that wasn’t evident in the first six issues of The Ultimates. That’s because the aliens weren’t a factor in the series until about issue eight, when Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much retconned the latter half of the 20th century. The big difference between the movie and the comic book is that the shape-shifting aliens (called the Chitauri, though in some cultures they are known as Skrulls) aren’t shy about revealing their true form on the screen, something they almost never do in the comics.

The pesky aliens, as it turns out, have been around for quite a while and frequently try to stir up all kinds of trouble. Such a stir has begun and Nick Fury wants The Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D. to put an end to it. On the roster are Captain America, Iron Man, the Black Widow and Thor. Team members Giant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye and the Hulk are largely uninvolved this time out, for various reasons. I say “largely” because all of them figure into the story at one point or another, though not necessarily into the “defend Earth from alien invasion” bit. Also, I’m not entirely certain that Hawkeye is officially a member of The Ultimates.

It’s not a new story, by any means, but that doesn’t make it any less entertain. Mark Millar spins a decent yarn, and his “Ultimate” take on the characters is interesting. Captain America, for instance, is still an uberpatriot, but he’s also not going to put up with any shit from his teammates, and he’ll pound the point home very literally, if need be. Bruce Banner starts the series almost entirely wrapped up in his own little (well, big) problems, but has begun to appreciate the consequences of having an angry, destructive force living within himself. Thor is a hammer-wielding hippie who may or may not be an escaped mental patient and/or the son of Odin.

To go along with Millar’s imaginative interpretations of these classic heroes, the artwork by Bryan Hitch is beautiful. Taking a cue from Alex Ross and other comic book artists who lean toward photorealism (and, perhaps, from the X-Men movies), Hitch’s heroes aren’t running around in spandex. Their uniforms appear far more practical and (with the exception of Captain America and Iron Man) far less flashy. They look more like clothing and less like a second skin, which works very well for the series.

I believe that The Ultimates wrapped after thirteen issues, followed by The Ultimates 2, which picks up a year after the alien invasion is resolved and features a bunch of new characters. Whether the sequel to The Ultimate Avengers movie will continue to follow the comic books remains to be seen. All I know is that I don’t purchase nearly enough comics and The Ultimates 2 Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters is on bookshelves now.

Evil is on the run!

While looking through the third box of comic books last night, I hit a veritable treasure trove. I found about two or three dozen issues of The Mighty Avengers, a hefty pile of The New Mutants and probably a dozen and a half issues of What If…? ((I loved What If…? The series required that the reader have a pretty good knowledge of the history of the Marvel universe. Uatu, the all-seeing Watcher who made his home on Earth’s moon would focus on a key event (or, in some cases, a seemingly trivial event) in the Marvel universe and show us how different things would be if that event had played out differently. What if Spider-Man had never married Mary Jane? What if Susan and Reed Richards’ second child had lived? What if Rick Jones had become the Hulk? One of my favorite issues is “What if Spider-Man’s clone had lived?” Why? Because it turns out that Spider-Man’s clone never died. In fact, the Spider-Man that many of us followed for years and years is the clone! Not every spiderfan is happy about his development, by the way.

At any rate, I remember explaining the concept of What If…? to my brother, Keven, many years ago. “Yeah,” he said, “and what if superheroes were real?” I guess he thought the idea of alternate histories for a fictional universe was kind of silly. And it is. It really is. But it’s entertaining, too.))

I even found an issue of Crystar, The Crystal Warrior as well as an issue of the DC equivalent, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. Good grief.

But the real jackpot was a near-complete collection of Rom, Spaceknight. The series ran for seventy-five issues (plus four annuals) between 1979 and 1985. I’m guessing it’s 80-90% complete (including three of the four annuals. Some issues in the collection may have belonged to my brother, David, but the bulk of them were given (or perhaps sold, the details are somewhat fuzzy) to me by Mike Butcher. ((Mike Butcher was my aunt Susie’s boyfriend. When my younger siblings and I went with my mother to visit my dad (working in lower Michigan at the time) one summer, we also visited Susie and Mike. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mike was an avid comic collector. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I (or maybe it was Adam and I) wound up with a hefty chunk of Mike’s collection, including not only Rom, Spaceknight, but the first twenty-five issues of The Savage She-Hulk. Mike, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He suffered a fatal heart attack several years ago, while attending church. I didn’t know him all that well, and only met him on a few occasions, but I always thought he was a cool guy.)) For the most part, they’re in decent shape, but ten-plus years of sitting in a box in the attic have taken their toll. Even sitting in a box specifically designed for them, comics degrade over time. If they’re not bagged and boarded (and these aren’t, though I’m thinking about correcting that), gravity works its evil magic and the bottom of the comics start to curl.

Condition aside, this is an amazing find. I knew the series was there, but I had no idea how close to complete it was. It might even be possible to fill in the gaps without putting too much hurt on my wallet. Maybe. I have no idea what the comic book market looks like these days. Apart from the occasional issue of Captain America or Ultimate Spider-Man, I’m pretty much out of that particular loop.

Rom Spaceknight #1
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What’s the big deal about Rom? Well, he sacrificed his humanity to save the planet Galador from the Dire Wraiths. After defeating the Wraiths on Galador, Rom—who was the first Galadorian to volunteer to become a spaceknight—followed them through the galaxy for 200 years, eventually arriving on Earth. Using his Neutralizer, Rom banished Dire Wraiths (who had disguised themselves as humans) to Limbo. Unfortunately, whenever Rom banished a Wraith to Limbo, it appeared that he was killing a human being. This didn’t sit well with the populace of Earth, and Rom was treated as a murderer and pursued by the U.S. Army.

Marvel did something incredible with Rom. They took a Parker Brothers toy and created a fantastic, compelling story. Rom wants little more than to regain the humanity he sacrificed to save his people, but he cannot rest until the threat of the Dire Wraiths is eliminated. Deep within the awesome armor of the spaceknight is a man who longs to be a man once more. The Rom, Spaceknight comic book far surpassed the toy upon which it was based, becoming a story that explored the depths of what it truly means to be human.

Plus, that Neutralizer kicked ass.