W I D E A W A K E
Making a Monkey Out of the Masses
August 3, 2001
Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Monkeys and Were Afraid to Ask
When I was just a wee child of six or seven years, I saw the original Planet of the Apes (POTA) film on television. This was in the early 1970s, before cable television and VCRs had become common household accessories. The movie left an impression on me; it ignited my imagination, and stirred my curiousity. I was blown away by the final sequence. Blown away. In the years that followed, I watched all of the film's sequels. Some shone brighter than others, but all were credible movies given that each sequel had a smaller budget than its predecessor and given that the studio's did not initially plan to make a series of films from the initial moive.
Thus, I was more than a bit anxious to see director Tim Burton's remake of POTA. Unfortunately, Burton proves that too much information is not necessarily a good thing. POTA is replete with tiresome scenes of monkeys dining, engaging in casual conversation, bargining, playing musical instruments, attempting foreplay (no I am not making this up), removing dentures, etc. And really, I get the joke. Burton (who crafted one of the finest movies of the 20th century with Ed Wood) is trying to show the apes as intelligent beings--as a society with its own uinque customs and beliefs. But it's overkill. Like the banana that has gotten too ripe, it ceases to please the palate. A slow-paced, special-effect-driven dinosaur, POTA lumbers on for 2 hours before the end credits graciously save us from mental starvation. Horrid acting, unbelieveably amateur writing, and attention to all of the wrong details ensure that POTA will be a hit with the masses who have been feasting on similar drivel for decades. (Those who thought Independece Day and Event Horizon were smart, sassy science-fiction films may now leave the room and head for their local multi-plex.) If you have never seen the original POTA film, do so before you see the remake. Lastly, do not be deceived by the remake's special effects which, although impressive, can do nothing to save this otherwise embarrassing movie. I intended to write much more about this film, but life is short, and there are plenty of good things to write about...
Akin and Garvey
I am not what I would consider on the cutting edge when it comes to knowing what's hot and what's not in comics. Because I spend much of my free time illustrating Altercations, I don't attempt to follow new titles with any regularity (the exception's being Palookaville by Seth, Black Hole by Charles Burns, and Eightball by Dan Clowes--and since these comics are published quite infrequently, they are rather easy to follow). But there are plenty of names I'm not familiar with in comics, simply because I am not current and, quite often, am years behind with the so-called times.
You are undoubtably familiar with Ian Akin and Brian Garvey. Of course you are. This dynamic inking duo have worked professionally in comics for many years. I, conversely, was not familar with their work. It wasn't until I began completing my ROM: Spaceknight collection that I noticed their names on a run of issues from the 30s through the 50s or so. Now, you are also no doubt familar with the work of "Our Pal" Sal Buscema who has, of course, been a staple in the staple gun of the Marvel hardware kit for several decades. I like Sal's work. It is Marvel house style circa 1970s to early-to-mid 1980s. Before the dark times. Before Leifeld. Sal knows how to draw. He understands perspective. He is a fine penciller. But examine his work as inked by Akin and Garvey. Take a close, hard look at it. Look intently and you will see the genius of these men on the page. Their work is breathtakingly gorgeous. It is simply astounding! They take the canvas that Sal roughed out in pencil and craft it into a work that is refined and masterful. And until ROM I'd never even heard of them!
So I thought, What else have these guys done? This lead me to the 1982 Vision and Scarlet Witch 4-issue limited series (written by Bill Mantlo and pencilled by Rick Leonardi. Flashback for a second: One of the first comics I'd seen by Leonardi was the 1983 Cloak and Dagger limited series (also scripted by Mantlo but inked by Terry Austin [who was probably fandom's most popular inker of the 1970s to early 1980s]). The Vision and Scarlet Witch books were published a bit earlier than the Cloak and Dagger books (though I missed them the first time around). Suffice to say, the series stands as additional testimony to the greatness of Ian and Brian. It is difficult to describe what exactly draws me to their work, but theirs is a unique style--exceptionally clean, reminiscent of Michael Golden and Virgil Finlay, but imitative of neither. Unfortunately, finding other work by this amazing team has been quite difficult. I have located a few issues of Iron Man that they worked on with Luke McDonnell, and am seeking out several issues of Transformers (of all things!). There is, however, a bit of mystery surrounding these artists insofar as finding a checklist of their work, or a means of contacting them. As always, any information would be appreciated. Meanwhile, you owe it to yourself to look for their work. You might scoff at the idea of reading a series like ROM (where I have found the bulk of their work as a team), but you would be mistaken. Or, to coin nothing, "Try it, you'll like it."
As previously mentioned I don't really try to keep up with what's new and exciting in comics. However, I still read new comics, albeit not on a regular basis. The cynicysm that has all but drowned today's mainstream titles is typically too depressing and, to me, pretty much sucks all of the fun out of the hobby like a giant sucking thing (to paraphrase the U.K.'s Black Adder). Wherein previous decades have focused on the triumph of the spirit, the struggle for good over evil, and the hero/antihero motif, so much of today's comics are simply about pain and suffering. And yea, I know that I'm going to be in the minority here, but it's my dime and I'll state my opinion without apology later.
Tangled Web 4: Severance Package
Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso do a fine job in telling the story of the last few hours of a mobster's life. You see, the mobster, Tom, is in the employ of the Kingpin, and Tom makes a mistake. The story is well-paced, and slow and deliberate. Problem is, I don't care if Tom lives or dies. I don't care what the Kingpin does to him. Both characters are just stereotypes, albeit the stereotype of gangster and crime kingpin has changed over the years in both popular cinema and novels. That said, the characters in "Severance Package" remain stereotypical. Tom dies because he was overseeing a weapons ring that was busted by the police--with the help of Spider-man. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on your POV), Spidey will never know that he unwittingly attributed to Tom's death. I would have preferred to learn whether Spidey (were he to learn of Tom's fate) would have 1. sought to avenge it or 2. stayed awake at night wondering how many other people had suffered similar fates as a result of his "interference."
Another aside, the Kingpin himself, who kill's Tom for his error, would have seemed more perhaps human (i.e., believeable) were he to acknowledge Tom's error by realizing that he, too, has been bested before by the likes of Spider-man and Daredevil. The story is not overly bad, it's just not overly good either.
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up 6: Spider-Man and the Punisher
I don't collect this series. I don't collect Bendis. I enjoyed the first story-arc in Powers, though not enough to continue collecting the series. I have no interest in the "Ultimate" line. But I like Siekiewicz and there's virtually nothing I won't purchase merely for the joy of seeing Bill's amazing art. Hell, I even bought (and still own) some of the dreck stories from the Scarlet Spider era simply because Bill was inking Sal Buscema's pencils. Why did I give my money to Marvel for Ultimate Team-Up 6? Plain and simple: Sienkiewicz.
In that regard, I was not in the least disappointed. Although he no longer illustrates a monthly comic, Bill has not at all lost his cutting edge. If anything, it's more finely honed, as evidenced here and in the recent Sentry/Hulk one-shot.
As for the "team-up" in this issue, well, it doesn't exist. Here's our story, kids (try to follow along): The Punisher (who is currently serving time) kills a fellow inmate. He is visited by a doctor. A flashback of the murder of his family occurs (sans dialogue). The doctor leaves. He escapes.
Not much storywise, but plenty of pretty (often disturbing) images to savor. Spidey appears on the final two pages of the story. He and the Punisher are "teamed-up" when Spidey clings to a wall on which a large tv screen shows an image of the Punisher announcing that he's escaped. Granted, this is part 1 of a 3-part series, but perhaps the title of this comic should be altered to more accurately reflect its contents. Alternatively, Marvel might consider publishing the tales as one-shots (ala Elseworlds) versus the serialized pamphlet format.
I've been doing most of my comic book reading during my daily commute into Center City. I recently decided I would reread the original Mirconauts series. I've read through the first 25 issues in the last week or so. Micronauts (a toyline manufactured by the Mego Corporation in the 1970s and 1980s) was developed into a series by Bill Mantlo. The first story arc spanned 12 issues, each of which was amazingly drawn by superstar Michael Golden. This first story arc contains some of the, if not the, most powerful writing of Mantlo's career at Marvel.
Issues 12-18 are illustrated by Howard Chaykin and, while less spectacular in their scope, and certainly far less spectacular artistically, they nevertheless feature several well-written stories, one of which features the Fantastic Four and Psycho Man, another.
Artists Pat Broderick and Armando gil are the illustrators of the issues I'm currently reading, and they are no less than spectacular, capturing the beauty and spirit of the first dozen Golden issues. Likewise, Mantlo's scripting seems to be super-charged, and at the same time he is having fun with his characters, adding quite a bit of levity at times. Bill masterfully handles quite a large cast of lead and supporting characters, and continues to introduce new characters and concepts into the writing. While critics of this series panned it as a "Star Wars rip-off," I find myself wishing that George Lucas had looked at this series before working on Jedi or the Heaven's Gate of science-fiction films, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Far from being a rip-off of anything, Micronauts is an action-packed team book with aliens and humans from a microverse who have banded together. The series is easily every bit as enjoyable as the classic Claremont/Byrne/Austin run of X-Men. The Micronauts' lives, loves, triumphs, and failures are played out on the pages; and I, for one, am right there with 'em.
To Dianne for love, support, and companionship (and for indulging me by doing dramatic reading of comics with me); to Jay for the awesome watercolor drawing and for his good friendship; to Chris for design help and for many laughs.
NEXT: From the Land of Fun and Surprises!
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