The Face of Villainy: Great Joker Moments

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

For those of you who aren't yet aware, Jerry Robinson, who created the Joker, passed away two days ago. Comic Vine did a nice piece on how the Joker has helped make Batman the great hero that he is, and I figured I'd take a moment to post some of the momen

ts that I think made the Joker a great character. These five are just off the top of my head, but I'm sure there are others who would agree with at least a few of these examples of Batman's greatest foe in action.

Batman: A Death in the Family

In this landmark story, Jason Todd, the second Robin, had his fate placed in the hands of the fans of the comic, who narrowly but decisively voted to have the Boy Wonder killed. Who better than the Joker to do it? And we see the clown at his most viciously murderous, as he takes a crowbar and, smiling the whole time, proceeds to beat Jason to a bloody, messy pulp. This of course sends Batman into a vengeful rage, leading to a confrontation that leaves both smarting.

Robin: The Joker's Wild

A personal favorite. Tim Drake, the third Robin, is still fairly new in his crimefighting role when circumstances dictate a harrowing situation: the Joker breaks out of Arkham and Batman is out of town. When he confronts the Joker for the first time, the look of shock and surprise on Joker's faces is priceless. "YOU..." he says. "I KILLED YOU..." When Robin manages to put him away without his mentor's help, the Joker swears it's personal now.

The Killing Joke

Batman's caught Joker after a rough night, in which the clown has crippled Barbara Gordon and nearly driven Jim Gordon insane. After trying to reach out to the Joker and get him to help end their long feud, the Joker declines and tells Batman a joke. As he starts to laugh helplessly, Batman's stoic exterior fades, and he joins the Joker in his laughter. This is the one time I've ever seen these two laugh together.

I can think of two moments from The Dark Knight:

When Batman asks the Joker why he wants to kill him, the Joker laughs erratically and responds, "Kill you?! I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you?... You... you... complete me." This riff on a Jerry Maguire line is both hilarious in its delivery and a little unsettling when you consider how very true it likely is. As many have said, Batman simply wouldn't be the hero he is without the Joker, and The Dark Knight does an amazing job of showcasing why that is.

The interrogation scene between Batman and Joker after he's been captured by the GCPD is amazing. It showcases how they're essentially two sides of the same coin, yet also points up their similarities in a disturbing way. They're both extremists, doing anything to further each's own cause of either chaos or order. When Batman starts beating the Joker, all the clown can do is laugh at him, pointing out that "You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with! Nothing to do with all your strength!" It's a frightening display of how much power a chaotic enough force can

have over even the most delicate of circumstances, and it's that moment that Batman considers crossing the one line he's set for himself.

Again, these are just some scenes that occurred to me on first consideration of the topic. I'm sure there are plenty of others. What's your favorite Joker moment or quote? I really want to know!

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GN Review -- Smile / Raina Telgemeier

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

I will start this review with a disclaimer: I've met Raina Telgemeier. I've moderated a panel she's been on. I've found her to be charming, intelligent, and a total sweetie when it comes to discussing her work and the comics industry in general. So I may be a little biased. However, I'll go on to say that much more influential people than me have already lauded Smile, her autobiographical comic story. People who are involved with the likes of the Boston Globe, the New York Times Book Review, the American Library Association, and... oh yeah... the Eisner Awards.

So if I come off as gushing, hopefully it'll be the justified kind.Smile starts off with Raina, in sixth grade, tripping and falling in a manner that does serious damage to her two front teeth and the gumline beneath them. The next few years involve repeated trips to the dentist and orthodontist for braces, headgear, a special retainer... and all manner of frustration and uncertainty about the fate of her teeth. In addition, there are other concerns for her to deal with as a teenager: friends, boys, an annoying sister, and fitting in. And an earthquake (the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, if I'm not mistaken).

As the narrative moves towards high school, Raina gradually gets a better handle on things. There's still plenty of drama around her dental woes, but she gradually comes to have a better grip on things. She discovers her interest in and aptitude with drawing, as well as a burgeoning love for the visual arts and animation. Her friends from middle school, who seemed to treat her in a distinctly unfriendly manner at times, are given the proverbial boot as she comes to realize that she deserves better than them. Eventually her teeth are shaped and bonded to where things look normal, and she slowly comes into her own as a young woman and a well-adjusted individual.

One common axiom in writing is to write what you know, and Telgemeier has deftly taken this to heart, crafting a story that is genuine, funny, and it times sad. She does an admirable job of translating the uncertainties and frustrations common to many teens, and magnifies them realistically with the uniquely unsettling drama involving her teeth. She intersperses other plotlines regularly, keeping the story fresh at all times and constantly moving her autobiographical self to grow and progress through or past the dramas that arise in her life.

The many minor characters are well done, and complement the narrative of Telgemeier's younger self. Her family is concerned, at times overprotective, at times annoying (for various reasons), and always a loving presence, whereas her initial crowd of friends are petty, insecure, and put her down at every opportunity. There are evil teachers, evil and incompetent periodontists, sweet and awkward boys who kind of might (but maybe not) like her, and a whole host of memorable characters who help make the story a delight.

Telgemeier's artwork definitely suits this narrative. The cartoon style is simple and bright while still retaining plenty of expression and depth. The level of detail she puts into certain elements, particularly references to video games (an approximation of a screenshot from Super Mario Bros. 2, the package to Wizards and Warriors), are particularly endearing to the likes of me, who grew up playing many of the same games she slips into the story.

I recommend Smile to anyone who likes a good coming of age story, autobiography-style. I think teens and especially girls

will identify with it, but so will anyone who has ever experienced uncertainties about their appearance, their friends, or their view of themselves. If you want to read an uplifting story about dental drama and coming into your own, give Smile a shot. Highly recommended.

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GN Review -- Amazing Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection, v. 1 / J. M

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

Some spoilers in this review if you haven't read this yet. You've been warned.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud makes a persuasive case that comic books don't have to be the juvenile, two-dimensional form of entertainment that they've been pigeon-holed as for decades. He suggests that the blend of text with pictures with pictures in sequential form has every bit as much potential as prose literature, film, and painting at their highest cultural, aesthetic, and narrative pinnacles as a medium for storytelling and expression. When you consider how comics had been perceived (up until, arguably, the late 1980s), it was difficult to find an example of the medium that could delight both critics and fans.J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man was certainly not a grand first in terms of elevating comics to mature remarkable storytelling when it came along, but it was an excellent example of how a talented writer, in collaboration with a good artist and creative team, can breathe new life into a title and cause fans to fall in love with a character and his world all over again. From the get-go, JMS puts Peter Parker through the paces as fate's personal chew toy, delighting readers with clever dialog, imaginative new foes, allies, and situations, and a rock-solid depiction of Peter's persistence to do the right thing as Spider-Man even during the worst of times. Multiple overlapping story arcs and plot points converge to shake up the status quo of Peter's world in ways that both matured the series while bringing it back to its roots.

JMS has always been strong at writing engaging story arcs for characters in a series, and he really shines here, weaving a large number of events right on top of one another. We have the introduction of the totemic aspect of Peter's powers--which, like it or not, gave readers some interesting food for thought with regard to his origin--and two characters central to the concept, Ezekiel, an ally who knows Peter's identity as Spider-Man, and Morlun, a super-human who hunts and kills totemic recipients with single-minded devastation. We have Aunt May learning Peter's identity as a result of the fight with Morlun. We have her talking to Peter about it and them dealing with it. We have Dr. Strange showing up to help Peter as he tracks down missing teenagers. And we finally have Peter and May going to Hollywood to attempt to reconcile with Mary Jane--and, incidentally, help Doctor Octopus take down an upstart who's stolen his technology.

What works with all of these arcs is not only the pacing, which is varied and realistically handled, but also the dialog and plotting, both of which are pithy, fast-paced, and remarkably well tailored to the story. For example, when security guards ask Peter about his web shooters, Aunt May, who now knows her nephew's other occupation, lends a hand by mentioning that they are hers, used for gynecological purposes, making the security guards back off fast. It's a laugh-out-loud resolution to a potentially compromising situation, and one that wouldn't have been possible without May's discovery of Peter's life as Spider-Man. Peter also handles a variety of problems, from the typical super-villain fights (Dock Ock and Morlun) to the lower-powered but no less important mysteries of homeless teens disappearing from their refuge. JMS depicts a Spider-Man who's never lacking in people to help, and whose interest in helping other guarantees many and varied requests, none of which he's too good for.

Helped along by John Romita, Jr.'s strong pencil work, JMS chronicles Peter's life in and out of costume in iconic fashion. There was a time (long ago) where I didn't care for his artwork and dismissed it as too cartoony, but he really has come a long way since then. Either that or I have. His style is extremely well suited to Spider-Man and his world. Peter is his perfectly cheesy self as he struggles and perseveres through the loops he gets thrown for in his personal and "professional" lives. Mary Jane, his wife from whom he's currently separated, is beautiful and stunning in her independence she develops her career in Hollywood away from Peter. Yet she is also vulnerable and uncertain as she tries to reconcile her need to be away from the uncertainties of his costumed life with her deep and undeniable love for him. And Aunt May is the picture of quiet strength as she learns more about her nephew's life and comes to understand and accept more than she ever thought possible.

Right after the Morlun fight and Aunt May's discovery of Peter lying, bloodied, bandaged and unconscious in his bed, his torn Spider-Man costume nearby, the narrative is interrupted by a commemorative issue. It's the 9/11 acknowledgment from Marvel, which originally had a grave black cover. It depicts the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, with superheroes helping police, firefighters and EMS personnel rescue survivors, as super-villains look on, shaking their heads in acknowledging that these terrorists have gone too far. It gives weight to an horrific event that we all remember, and paid homage to the true heroes of 9/11 with a salute from Marvel's own heroes.

This volume of Spider-Man lore is a prime example of Scott McCloud's assertion that comics do indeed have the potential to be more than the juvenile, low-brow entertainment that they are commonly derided as. Super-hero stories can, with the right touch, be as captivating, poignant, and emotionally relevant as any other form of literature or art out there. With dramatic storylines, deep emotional investment, and breathtaking artwork, this tome is my go-to example of how deeply rewarding comic books can be. Very highly recommended.

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GN Review -- Manga Man / Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

On its surface, Manga Man has a clever and promising concept: a character from a manga universe becomes trapped in a more realistic, Western-style comic book world. His expressions, actions, and emotions are all reflected in conventions normal for manga--he takes a chibi form and gets hearts for eyes when he sees the girl of his dreams, for instance--and that's what people in the "real" world literally see him doing. It seems like this would be a perfect opportunity to blend humor, metafiction, and drama-adventure into memorable storytelling.

And for a while, it is. It's entertaining to watch Ryoko attempt to find acceptance in a world where his sound effects and speed lines literally appear out of thin air... and then fall to the ground, leaving a mess for others to clean up. It's intriguing when he explains "empty space" and panel perception to his love interest, Marissa, touching upon the literary device embodied by gutters in comics.

But the novelty simply doesn't last the intended length of the narrative. The love story, while cute in places, doesn't seem particularly inspired or interesting; in some places it feels formulaic and inserted out of a sense of grudging placation. The arc involving Ryoko's attempts to get to his home dimension with the help of military scientist Dr. Louis Capeletti and a portal he's created feels incomplete, overly simplified, and lacking in anything more than surface information. The metafictive humor and situations lose their shine by the story's mid-point, and I'm left with a narrative that felt like a struggle to finish.

I'm a big fan of Barry Lyga's written works, particularly The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, as well as his Wolverine book, Wolverine: Worst Day Ever (both comic-related, so keep your eyes out for eventual reviews of them as well). So I was very excited to get my hands on Manga Man for that reason alone. Unfortunately, this work didn't feel like it was up to his usual standards, writing-wise. Not a big deal--we all have our off-days--but I do seriously doubt this particular work will go down as one of his better efforts.

Colleen Doran's artwork does its job well enough in differentiating convincingly between the two comic styles--and I know that can't be easy. It does feel like the linework is a little too thick in places, and the complete lack of any shading is off-putting to me, but it does effectively highlight the fact that this is a comic about the differences between two separate comic types, not a manga and the real world. The Western style in her work is very photographic despite its apparent simplicity, and leaves you staring at some of the portraits, wondering how someone achieves such realism with so relatively few lines.

Overall, I'm ambivalent about this work. While the concept is creative and original, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The artwork is pretty good, and definitely relevant to the story, but the writing feels rushed and incomplete. It's fun in places, but felt like a trudge by the time I finished the story. Manga Man therefore gets a reserved recommendation for those who want to explore metafiction in comics, and a suggested pass for most other comics enthusiasts.

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GN Review -- Avatar the Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures / Var

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

If you enjoyed the Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender a few years ago as much as you loathed that live-action movie it inspired, then you truly must check out this collection of stories that take place "between" the television episodes. The Lost Adventures features the off-screen adventures of Aang and the gang as they continue their quest to beat the Fire Nation and end the century-long war afflicting their world. The strips were originally featured in Nickelodeon magazines, and are written and drawn by a number of writers and artists, some of whom worked on the show.

Like the show, some of the stories are remarkably poignant, and appeal well beyond its target demographic of young boys. One story in particular, "Relics," depicts how Aang nearly falls into a Fire Nation trap that plays on the desires of any remaining Airbender's longing to see artifacts or environments reminding them of their old homes in the mountains. Though Aang escapes unharmed, he muses at the end of the story that, probably, several Airbenders probably were lured into their trap as he almost was. It's a sad and humbling realization for a boy who's lost his people, and brings home the idea that, while this show was ostensibly about the kids and their adventures, there are themes in it that can resonate with anyone.

As with the cartoon, the best stories are the ones that give its characters a chance to shine. Other noteworthy stories included "Going Home Again," depicting Azula at her scheming best as she manipulates her brother Prince Zuko into returning with her to the Fire Nation. It also sets up the rekindling romance between Zuko and Mai, who are simply an item at the start of the show's final season. "Swordbending" is a highly amusing romp showing Sokka in his element as the comic relief and clever out-thinker of the group as he challenges Zuko to a swordfighting duel he's destined to lose... somewhat. Finally, there is "Dirty Is Only Skin Deep," which features Katara and Toph arguing and engaging in a brief earthbending-waterbending duel. It's always fun to watch those two clash, in both senses.

Art-wise, with a couple of exceptions, this collection is almost completely like seeing the cartoon directly transcribed into comic book format. Given the number of contributors that worked on the stories, that's pretty remarkable. Even the ones that strayed the furthest visually were still recognizably consistent with the show, you just noticed that they weren't quite on target. For some people, this might be an issue, but for me it's really not; different artists have different styles, and to expect everyone to do the same would be ridiculous.

The Lost Adventures is a good read, but it's definitely intended as a treat for the fans, who long to see more about their heroes that the show didn't have time to depict. It might not resonate as strongly with anyone unfamiliar with the TV show, though I believe some stories will hold up just fine on their own. Overall, I highly recommend for fans of the show, and give a solid recommendation for non-fans looking for a collection of short graphic stories to read.


Manga Review: Otomen, v. 1-3 / Aya Kanno

I am still very new to manga in general . The only series I have even purported to like until this point is Kentaro Miura's Berserk, which is violent, horrific, gory, and extremely well written. Overall, I haven't been terribly interested in manga and anime, but I am slowly exploring the genre. I've recently read and enjoyed the first three volumes of Aya Kanno's series Otomen, which is about as far a cry from Berserk as you can get.

Clearly, I have a wide spectrum of taste in this genre.

The basic premise of Otomen revolves around the character of Asuka Masamune, whose father wanted to become a woman and left his mother when the boy was very young, traumatizing his mother and causing her to pressure Asuka to be as manly and masculine as possible. The problem is, that while Asuka is good at acting the "manly" part, for instance is stoicism and prowess in physical activities like kendo, he also enjoys many "feminine" pursuits, such as baking, cooking, sewing, and shojo manga. He therefore feels like he has to suppress a major part of his identity in the name of placating his mother, and the rest of society.

Then we get the supporting cast, who of course complicate matters. There's Juta Tachibana, a carefree playboy type who likes to observe Asuka for the famous shojo manga he secretly writes, and Ryo Miyakozuka, a beautiful tomboy of a girl who Asuka falls for. Throw in the fact that she has none of the traditional feminine interests and skills, and that Ryo is a skilled martial artist, and it's easy to see the potential for romantic comedy.

Some of the story arcs in these volumes include Asuka meeting Ryo's strictly masculine father and resolving differences with him; reluctantly training a young effeminate boy in how to be manly; an arranged marriage brought on by his high-pressuring mother and compounded by a manipulative would-be bride; and Asuka's personal torment as he resolves his very strong feelings for Ryo against his unending reluctance to share them with her.

The concept behind Otomen is amusing, though its execution is not always perfect, which the author freely acknowledges at points in the text. For example, how Tachibana has time to woo multiple girls, hang out with Asuka and Ryo all the time, AND write a super-popular manga is a mystery that will probably never be answered. Still, certain details are very well handled. Tachibana, despite the two boys' mutual disdain for one another, ends up being a loyal friend to Asuka, on multiple occasions checking up on Asuka when he gets in troublesome situations and bowing out when he thinks doing so will bring Asuka and Ryo closer together. Sure, he thinks it'll be good for his manga, but his heart is also in the right place where those two are concerned.

The artwork is fairly simple, being what I'd imagine is typical fare for shojo. It's not heavily detailed, but gets the basics across, and there are appropriate style change-ups when the tone demands it. I'm generally not a fan of chibi artwork, but when done during certain points in this story, I would laugh at the sudden lightness of the mood and situation brought by its exaggerations.

Overall, it's an enjoyable start to an amusing series. I will probably read more, as time, energy, and ability allow. Recommended for teens, people interested in gender roles and stereotypes, and anyone who's ever felt the need to hide who they really are. Definitely worth checking out.


Neatness and Sweetness!

Wow, you get a blog with a free account? That's pretty sweet.

I suppose my main reason for being here is twofold: first, I want to check out good comic book websites to keep myself informed about the industry. Second, I'd like to generate traffic for the blog I just recently started, The Comics Cove. That may translate to me re-posting some of my TCC blog posts to this one, since I like to use all the resources I'm granted, even cool free ones I was in no way expecting. :D

Anyway, hello! Hope to meet lots of you soon and make plenty of friends!