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Archive for June, 2009

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[Disclaimer: I should point out that in discussing Cap’s return that I’m operating on the assumption that Marvel is indeed planning the return of the original Steve Rogers, of the mainstream 616, universe and that the media “event” playing out before us is in fact more than a red herring in the making. I trust Ed Brubaker’s judgment a great deal and I’m certainly hoping that everything is indeed on the level with Captain America: Reborn and will tackle the news under that assumption.]

Shortly after I fired up the blog I threw up a lengthy post about Captain America, Bucky Barnes, and how I viewed Ed Brubaker’s tenure on the book. In short, I was extremely impressed by Brubaker’s skill writing the book which over 2-dozen critically acclaimed issues had already born out, I had little doubt that Steve Rogers would indeed return one day, and that thanks in large part to Ed’s talent, that I had gained a much greater appreciation for Bucky that — even as a longtime Cap fan — I had never really had to any significant degree. He had taken a character that was on an invisible ‘n’er to return list’, one that was ultimately placed there because Stan Lee didn’t much bucky-barnes_caplike teen sidekicks, and had not only made him viable once more, but a fascinating one at that. Readers new and old alike have latched strongly onto Bucky’s story in the last several years and the result has been that another “living legend” has been (re)born on the four color page and is finally enjoying some well deserved attention at the hands of some very skilled creators.

Well, needless to say, I couldn’t be happier that Bucky is back and since his return he’s become one of my all-time favorites. He’s taken up Cap’s mantle with a measure of success that no one else has ever managed and in a very real way has successfully made it his own as he seeks to honor the memory and ideals of his “fallen” friend. I thought this idea was well expressed when in Captain America #50 a villain cries out in earnest ‘you’re not Captain America!’ to which Bucky replies: ‘you’re right, but I’m trying,’ right before clubbing him unconcious with the back of his pistol. In all honesty it’s likely that Bucky would never quite fill the boots that Steve Rogers occupied, but somewhat akin to Dick Grayson as Batman, no one is more worthy to try his darndest and I don’t think anyone would really realistically expect that of him because it’s this dynamic, in part, that makes the character so interesting to read about in the role. Brubaker has indeed succeeded in making Bucky a very interesting and very effective character, and Captain America, so it’s understandable that there are folks, many of which that are new readers, that aren’t quite ready to see Bucky step aside and return the mantle to Steve Rogers just yet.

But I think I view this as Bucky himself might. Steve Rogers is Captain America, he earned the stripes countless times over and created a legacy through a lifetime (or lifetimes) of blood, sweat and tears as he tirelessly sacrificed for freedom, and the American ideal, all over the world. Steve is his personal hero, and there’s nothing I reckon that he’d want more than to see his old friend return and take up the mantle, probably being more than a little relieved in the process. And the great part is that Bucky doesn’t have to go anywhere. Whatever role he takes, whatever name he assumes, whatever uniform he dons he’s still Bucky Barnes, living legend, Captain America’s brother-cap_rossin-arms, and one of the countries greatest heroes. Should he step aside he’ll certainly remain one of the books most visible supporting cast members assuming any writer worth his salt, and he’s successful enough a character that he’s likely to see his own book again down the road. His own potential hasn’t changed, nor has his fight, just the mantle he wears as he pursues his own fight for justice and (self-perceived) atonement.

As I said back then, to me, Captain America will always be Steve Rogers and I’m beside myself that he’s finally coming back! I happened to believe that, like Mark Gruenwald before him, Ed Brubaker had a plan for the book, that among other things we needed to be reminded how great Steve Rogers’ influence on Bucky, Sharon, Fury and the rest of the Marvel Universe was and that all of this was one huge tribute to the character and that the good Captain was never really lost to us. Cap is coming back, Bucky is alive and thriving, the supporting cast has never been as rich, or as cared about, and the way I see it all of this has been the means whereby things only get that much better. It’s a great time to be a fan.

Just stay on the dang book Ed! ; )

[Update: Read a free digital prelude to Captain America: Reborn #1 by Ed Brubaker & Luke Ross here at Marvel.com.]

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Japan “Part One”

Himeji_Castle_Large

Himeji or "White Heron" Castle

My fiancee and I had to nail down the plans for visiting Japan fairly quickly once we got word that her parents really wanted us to come out, so after scrambling to get the best deal on airline tickets I had only a couple of months preparation before we left, and a whole lot of nerves to overcome knowing that I’d be meeting them for the first time, and that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them nearly as well as I would like. Well, I managed to get over that, and after getting everything together and managing our way through DFW’s baggage claim, before we knew it we were lifting off for Tokyo early Wednesday, June 10th.

After a 13 hr. flight (of which I slept no more than 30 min. each way) we were both fairly tired, but there was so much to see that any fatigue kind of took a backseat to the adventure of everything and I forgot about it until much later that night when the 36 hours without sleep finally set in (and I promptly passed out on my futon following a hot Japanese bath). But my first impressions upon arriving in the city via a 1 hr. bus ride was that Tokyo is actually much bigger than I imagined it would be. Granted, I thought it would be big, but when we first entered the city it was hard for me to wrap my head around just how big it was, being immediately impressed with just how many buildings/skyscrapers there were on all sides, all around me, particularly as we moved toward the interior where it seemed they were countless. If it wasn’t a huge office building, then it was a large residential apartment complex, a “love hotel” or a 6-floor mall. The buildings weren’t all large, of course, but they were everywhere and for a boy homegrown in Texas, and much more comfortable in the “country side” it was a sight to behold. And it would only become that much more impressive when later in the week we visited Tokyo Tower in Shiba Park, Minato, where some 150 feet up I was able to see just how expansive it really is. I still have to go through the pictures but I’ll be posting up several so that you can see some of what I’m trying to describe.

Anyhow, we took it easy for the first couple of days and just eased into life in Japan. My fiancee obviously grew up there and she was right at home again in more ways than one. Walking everywhere, for example, is fairly foreign to me as to get anywhere in Texas you pretty much have to hop in the car given the distance between everything but in Tokyo they use their feet as the primary means of transport to get to where they need to go, or to make it to the nearest train station which takes them the rest of the way. The entire trip we walked, and we walked, and we walked, and I while I’m glad we were both in shape enough to manage, I was amazed at how well Tokyo natives thrive doing this. Her parents, for example, are pushing 60 years of age and they literally walked circles around us and never seemed tired, or whispered a word about being winded. We weren’t quite as adept, but it was almost always fun. Walking everywhere had the added advantage of letting me see things up close though. Everywhere I looked there was something interesting to see, be it the countless local restaurants, shops, billboards, or people stealing glances at the tall, foreign, white guy that no doubt looked a little out of place. Those first few days we wondered around Tokyo just checking out the stations, malls (the $1 store was a highlight funny enough) and trying a lot of the interesting foods. While I’d be lying if I didn’t say I immediately missed my favorite things to eat back home, I really enjoyed a lot of what Japan had to offer in terms of its food. I had some of the best bread I’ve ever tasted there (you can find a bakery every other block it seems) and I couldn’t get enough of their apple juice, which is 100% apple, and better than anything I’ve ever had here in the states. I must have drunk a couple of gallons of the stuff while I was there. Places to eat are abundant and they were all pretty reasonably priced, though an adjustment to the size of the dishes is required. The only negative I think I found the whole trip was that so much of their foods are rich in soy, and I’ve never been particularly keen on the flavor, particularly in large amounts. But I always had something great to eat around me and had fun sampling everything that was put in front of me (where I was thankfully able to manuever my way around chopsticks enough that I didn’t look like an idiot).

As for her parents, I really enjoyed their company. Her Mom is a sweetheart, and I really got along with her Dad who came into town from Osaka a few days after we arrived. Whew! We’re both history buffs, and enjoy a good book, museum, historical spot, or sitting back to watch the Discovery channel so we seemed to hit it off pretty well. He was gracious enough to take us to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, for example, only moments after he arrived from his trip home. We enjoyed the museum for a solid 2-3 hours, and then had the good fortune of stumbling upon Tezuka Osamu’s 80th Birthday Celebration (1928-1989) going on in another part of the building. I don’t know if there are an awful lot of manga/anime fans reading but it’s likely you’d recognize Tezuka Osamu (coined the “god of anime” and “father of manga”) as the creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Princess Knight, Black Jack and so many others. It was interesting to watch as so many Japanese fans, of all ages, in huge crowds gathered to see a glimpse of his b&w comic pages in a manner we would imitate at a Jack Kirby exhibit. My fiancee’s father was like a kid again as we walked through the winding halls and you couldn’t help but stand back in awe at Tezuka’s timeless art form, and all he was able to accomplish, despite his relatively early death. I’ve been a fan for years, but I walked out with an even greater appreciation for the man, and spent more than a few dollars adding some of the rarer Tezuka works unavailable in the U.S. to my current Tezuka collection.

In the days that followed we stayed in Tokyo and visited Ginza (an expensive shopping region where I bought…very little), the palace of the royal family, numerous Buddhist temples, huge marketplaces and all kinds of local sights. A few days later we hopped a train to check out areas central to the famous Genpei Wars (a chapter in Japanese history I initially gained interest in after reading a Usagi Yojimbo story entitled “Grasscutter” by Stan Sakai story a couple of years back appropriately enough), before heading to the extremely impressive Hejimi or “White Heron” castle in Himeji, the Hyōgo Prefecture that blew me away (if I did have to duck an awful lot to avoid hitting my head). The next day, or thereabouts, we headed to Kyoto where we visited the Kiyomizu-dera temple, which dates back to 798, and sipped water from the Otowa-no-taki waterfall, which I was informed by my family to be with great enthusiasm ‘would bless me with longevity…until I died.’ Ha! We toured gardens, more temples, examples of ancient and modern architecture and even a quick cruise trip on the coast as we traveled around Japan the last week (thanks to the graciousness of her parents), and of course I was able to sample more great food all along the way. We had authentic ramen of course, as well as these great beef dishes were you cooked your own meat and vegetables on the grill, tasty noodle dishes, and all kinds of sweets, like the sweet bean paste rolls that the Japanese are so fond of (took some getting used to, for me, but they really were good). Some of the best ice cream I’ve had this side of Blue Bell in a long time as well.

Totoro_3We had to leave her Dad near Osaka before we returned to Tokyo via bullet train (awesome!) but he gave me an awful lot to remember as we toured those several days and it was a blast getting to know him. We spent the last couple of days just exploring Tokyo and taking it easy. I picked up a ton of books, and a few games that are difficult to find back home, as well as a bunch of souvenirs for my family back home. Even got a few “toys” that reminded me of my youth, like an Ultraman figure and a few other things. The highlight of what I brought home was likely a ceramic planter featuring Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro and friends that apparently both my fiancee and I couldn’t live without (okay, okay…that I couldn’t live without). We had fun trying to figure out how to get the stuff back to the house on the crowded trains (I now know how sardines feel!) and while it’s difficult to really include everything in a single post, we really did an awful lot thanks to her parents and it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. If you’ve had any experience with Japan or have any questions feel free to drop me a line and I’d be glad to go into detail on more of this stuff. We spent our last evening having dinner with a friend of ours from a university here in Texas that recently moved back and sad to see the trip come to an end, we packed our bags — our much heavier bags, for home — though I have to admit that Japan feels a lot more a part of me then I would have imagined and I’m glad to have my own connection to it.

I was sad to end the vacation, but I was glad to be coming home as well knowing that we’ll be going back in another 7-9 months, or so, for the wedding in Japan. It was a fantastic trip and while I know I wasn’t able to do the trip justice, I hope you enjoyed following that for a few minutes. Thanks also, to those that dropped a line to wish me a good time and a great trip. It really was.

Stay tuned for pictures!

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Back From Japan!

Ultraman by Alex Ross

Well, it was an extremely fun, if not exhausting trip to Japan and despite it being the first chance I had to spend some serious time with my fiancee’s parents (who call Tokyo their home) and that I had to face down those jitters, it was a pure joy to have met them and to experience the culture in what turned out to be a whirlwind of a tour.

If there’s any interest in where I visited, who I met, what I brought back, etc. let me know and I’ll take some time to write up something. Fortunately, I’ll actually be going back within a year for the actual wedding, so I’ll call it “Part One.”

Should be up and running again soon…after walking miles and miles each day, and a 12 hour flight, I think I need a nap. ; )

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I`m still enjoying a couple of days in Japan before heading back to Texas, but I found a few minutes this morning to log in and check on things comic related and was overjoyed to find the following gem waiting for me.

From Newsarama:

Richie said that Boom’s immediate plan for the license is to start telling new stories, much like they have done with The Incredibles, Cars, The Muppets and others. `The Gemstone material that was being printed most recently are some of the greatest comics in the world – you’re talking about Carl Barks and Don Rosa and all these incredible creators, but what we’re going to be doing is branching off and going in a completely different direction,` Richie told Newsarama. `We’re going to start to approach the Mickey and Donald material from a completely different direction, and we’re going to try to have something that at the same time is less the ‘greatest hits’ reprints and more dovetails into what the Boom Kids stuff is, which is sort of an add to and extension of, modern presence creative take on these classic characters that I think can connect with kids today.`

That said, Richie added that the rights to publish the classic Disney Comics material is included in Boom’s license, and the publisher has plans for it. “We will be handling the classic material,` Richie said, declining to go into detail at this time. `We’re not going to abandon the fans that are buying that material, so we will have programs and products for them.`

I should reiterate that I am sorry that Gemstone couldn`t retain the license, that I loved their commitment to the books and that I wish them all the best as they brought me many a fine memory but I am glad to hear that Donald, Uncle Scrooge, Mickey and the gang are likely in very capable hands and that they`ve got a solid plan in place for old and new fans alike.  I`m still most interested in the classic material so I hope to hear more of what their plans are on that front, but I have to admit that I`m looking forward to seeing what new stories they can dream up.

Look for Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #699 and Mickey Mouse and Friends #297 in September 2009, and be sure to stay tuned here for more.

[Oh, and you can`t imagine how happy I am that Captain America (Steve Rogers) is back (or is coming back more matter of factly)!  Expect more discussion on that when I return!]

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tokyo-ginza

Hey folks, just wanted to let you know that I’m heading off on a much anticipated two week adventure to Tokyo, Japan (to finally meet my fiancees parents) and that I probably won’t be able to chime in until I return later in the month. Should I get some extra down time I’ll try to check in, but otherwise I plan to take advantage of a much needed vacation on what is my first of what I hope will be many a trip to Japan. Enjoy the books you’re currently engrossed in and I hope to return with a fresh review or two thanks to a 13-hour plane trip each way.

In the meantime, if you’ve been to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka and there’s something I’ve just gotta see (or that I’ve gotta eat) by all means drop me a note so that I can try to check it out when I’m there.

“Ja Ne!”

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Flash-Williamson-sample-1If you’ve got a few minutes, rocket on over to Newsarama for an in-depth interview with Mark Schultz about what we can expect from the new Al Williamson compilation from Flesk Publications entitled Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifetime Vision.

Schultz has long since cited Williamson as one of his chief inspirations and when asked what it is that makes Williamson’s art so enduring, Mark Schultz offered the following:

I think the thing that makes Williamson’s artwork unique and special, that keeps you coming back to it – and I talk about this a little bit in the essay – was that Al more than any other comic artist I know, he went beyond the traditional illustrative roots of adventure comic art. Even though he incorporates traditional illustration, as his inspiration Raymond did, Al was a big fan of motion pictures, especially the old movie serials from the 1940s. He would endlessly watch these films and their choreographed fight scenes, and he just has a genius for taking the choreography from these movies and interpreting it on the page. He creates the illusion of movement on the page, and he’s better than anyone I know at creating a sense of elegance and movement. That I think sets his work apart from just about anybody else I can think of, he does it better than anyone.

Beyond that sense of movement and action, there’s a feeling of elegance to his work, his figures and his compositions. Though he mostly works in fantasy and science fiction, there’s a wonderful feeling of elegance and dignity and mystery to everything that he does. That’s just part of it.

Look for Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifetime Vision this August.

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scott c_NinjaCatch-copy

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