This weekend brings the return of Washington D.C.’s annual Awesome Con. This year’s guest list includes artist Greg Capullo, whose long career in the industry includes such high-profile properties as Spawn and Batman. His creator-owned work ranges from The Creech to Reborn. In advance of Awesome Con, I recently had an extended conversation with Capullo covering various aspects of his work, including his creative process for Batman, the importance of artistic collaboration and his experience working at Image during different phases of their history.
Thanks to Greg Capullo and Awesome Con for making this interview possible.
Tents pole movies always come with astronomical expectations. Fans are hoping for the most amazing film they have ever seen (until, at least, the next installment) while studio executives are hoping to be awash in cash. Critics, depending on how they stride the pop culture divide, are either sharpening their knives or readily willing to suspend disbelief. As box office attendance continues to decline, the stakes have only increased. The continuing lackluster performance of Aliens: Covenant has many analysts wondering who assumed there was any pent-up demand for a sixth helping of silver screen Xenomorphs. Into this contentious atmosphere Wonder Woman arrives with even weightier expectations. It is the first superhero film directed by a woman. It is the first solo female superhero film since the genre’s resurgence a decade ago, and not just any superheroine at that. Wonder Woman has been, from her inception, a feminist icon; how she would be portrayed on screen would be critiqued in circles far removed from fandom, especially in the current social environment. Meanwhile, back in their beach bungalows, the suits have their own concerns. After last year’s critical takedowns of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Warner Brothers desperately needs a little respectability for their superhero universe. Yes, both those films made a lot of money, while the latter somehow won an Oscar, but perception is important. In the cliché parlance of the day, they want a narrative reset for the DC Cinematic Universe. And so, Diana arrived in theaters on Friday with an unreasonable amount of baggage. The good news is that the movie easily proves itself more limber than anything else the DCCU has offered up so far. Despite its flaws, it is an entertaining experience.
In honor of Wonder Woman’s solo film debut this weekend, DC has proclaimed Saturday, June 3rd Wonder Woman Day. Created 76 years ago by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter as both a superheroine and symbol for women’s equality, Diana has had an eventful history. Her legacy is a rich one, which the staff of Nothing But Comics have often revisited. So, for those wishing to delve deeper into Wonder Woman and what she represents, here is a selection of writings from Nothing But Comics on the adventures of the Princess of Themyscira.
On Friday, Woman Woman’s first solo live action film will premiere in US theaters. Fittingly her primary antagonist will be Ares, a character possessing a long, storied history with the Amazonian princess. He is the Joker or Lex Luthor of Diana’s Rogue’s Gallery, the mirror image which defines who she is. Played by the talented British actor David Thewlis, there are high hopes for Ares to be a commanding presence on screen. In addition, Warner Brothers has confirmed what many fans have long suspected: Diana will face off against a second adversary, namely Doctor Poison. While Doctor Poison debuted several months prior to Ares, the character has never had the prominence of the God of War. Still Doctor Poison’s roots are tied to the earliest of Wonder Woman’s exploits.
In recent years, DC’s Vertigo imprint has lost a bit of the sheen from its acclaimed run in the 1990s. Originally launched in 1993, the brand built on existing titles, such as Sandman and Hellblazer, to cultivate a line of titles which could, more or less, stand independent of DC’s superheroes in both form and content. This strategy was an immediate success. In the following years, Vertigo published the likes of The Invisibles, Preacher and Lucifer; their name quickly became synonymous with the cutting edge. However, as it often does, time can dull what was once trendsetting. Vertigo still produces some excellent comics, such as The Unwritten or The Sheriff of Babylon. Another example would be Saucer Country from the team of Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. Saucer Country was a deep dive into the heady realm of UFO mythology. Writer Cornell deftly avoided many of the common traps of the genre, keeping the reader on their toes while maintaining their engagement through compelling characters and themes. The series returns to shelves this Wednesday, after a four year hiatus; first though, an examination of what made the first volume of the title so memorable.
Contains a spoiler for the mid-credits scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, plus multiple ones for Infinity Gauntlet and its aftermath.
This past weekend Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 arrived, racking up the box office and leaving fans wondering what was next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s cosmic heroes. The immediate answer is Avengers: Infinity War which will involve Thanos, Infinity Stones and some sort of existential threat to life throughout the universe. The question is what comes after all that. Guardians writer/director James Gunn has already confirmed that there will be a Guardians Vol. 3 for Phase 4 of the MCU and that he will be returning to helm it. In his statement, he reiterated Marvel Studio’s party line about Avengers 3 and 4 being a culmination of everything which came prior. He also dropped a hint that, like Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Guardians will see some status quo shifting post-Infinity: “It will conclude the story of this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and help catapult both old and new Marvel characters into the next ten years and beyond.” This is a rather broad statement which covers a wide amount of ground. The universe is a vast place and, even with certain character rights tied up at Fox, still well-populated with assorted friends and foes. The following is not in any way a prediction of what Marvel and Gunn are planning but simply an imagining of what one possible avenue could be.
So far, Marvel Studios has had a bit of a sequel problem. Iron Man 2, 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultrondelivered various levels of enjoyment while containing flaws which prevented them from fully hitting the heights of their initial installments. Thor: The Dark World was able to improve on the first Thor outing (an admittedly low bar to clear) and provide an entertaining experience. Still, it is unlikely to make many fans’ favorite lists. Only Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War have been able to avoid the sequel curse. Both films were able to deliver bigger thrills while also deepening the characters driving the narrative. The movies, particularly Civil War, drew on the advantages of having a shared universe without getting bogged down in the negative aspects as did Age of Ultron. This pattern is odd, given how successfully Marvel Studios has cultivated their cinematic universe; after all, in a sense, even new properties such as Ant-Man or Doctor Strange are simply further chapters in the unfolding Avengers saga. Fans know sooner or later that all of this is going to tie together. Watching the pieces fall into place can be exciting, but it can also be tiresome when mismanaged (again all that foreshadowing in Ultron). Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 pulls back from some the first film’s more overt seeding (sorry, no surprise Thanos cameo) in order to focus on the Guardians themselves. The result is an entertaining film which delightfully extends the zany vibe of the original.
As with much of the Marvel Universe, the seeds of its cosmic sphere can be traced back to the collaborations of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, specifically the pages of Fantastic Four. While not the earliest of the First Family’s encounters with extra-terrestrials (that honor goes to #2’s tale of Skrulls), the most iconic is The Coming of Galactus. This three party story (#48-50, 1966) not only introduced many important characters (Galactus, Silver Surfer, The Watcher) it also laid a groundwork for the tone of Marvel sci-fi. Its narrative focused not simply on action, but, character, anchoring heroism in a sense of humanity. In the next decade Jim Starlin would build on these elements when crafting his philosophical, surreal journeys through the cosmic realm. This initial phase of Marvel’s cosmic story ended with Starlin’s original graphic novel The Death of Captain Marvel (1982). In the 90s though, Starlin returned to Marvel’s cosmic characters, scripting Infinity Gauntlet which ushered in a higher level of visibility for this corner of the Marvel Universe. Starlin worked on multiple projects during this period, many revolving around a pair of characters who had come to be synonymous with his Marvel work: Adam Warlock and Thanos. The final comic Starlin wrote during this second phase of his Marvel career was a Thanos series. Starlin produced the first six issues before departing, replaced by writer Keith Giffen. After wrapping up the Thanos series, Giffen would proceed to inaugurate the third era of cosmic Marvel with a Drax the Destroyer limited series.
Comics can be strange. Rich men processing their grief by dressing up as a bat, pummeling street thugs and adopting an orphan/sidekick. Perfectly logical, right? And that is one of the more “grounded” examples. One of the sources of richness within the medium has long been the play between creators who favor naturalism versus absurdity. Coming down squarely in the latter camp is Bob Burden who dreamt up one of the most surreal series in comics’ history: Flaming Carrot Comics. Chronicling the mundane and outrageous adventures of its titular hero, Burden crafted a book that defies reason. Narratives would take sharp left-turns or, in some cases, drop-off entirely. Plot points from decades ago remain dangling to this day. Like his fellow absurdist Steve Gerber, Burden’s strengths as a storyteller did not include long-term plotting. Where Burden’s talent did shine, however, was writing and illustrating one of the funniest, most odd-ball comics ever published. Also, like Gerber, Burden’s output has retained its edge over two decades later.
This review was originally published last October when the movie screened at the New York Film Festival. It opens today in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto; it will expand to additional cities over the coming weeks. For more information on the film’s expansion schedule, please see Dash Shaw’s tumblr.
Over the past several years, Dash Shaw has earned widespread acclaim through writing and illustrating of graphic novels such as 2014’s Doctors. This year he unveiled a new type of project: his first feature length film, My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea. Shaw’s animated movie premiered last month at the Toronto Film Festival before appearing this week at the New York Film Festival. My Entire High School is a thrilling, poignant movie, which demonstrates that Shaw’s skills stretches beyond the printed page.
Film by its nature is a collaborative process. When a movie is successful, it is the result of a variety of talented individuals blending their skills into a final product. At the same time, some filmmakers leave behind more prominent fingerprints than others. Most fans would be hard pressed to distinguish the characteristics of an Andrew Stanton directed Pixar film from a Peter Docter one. This is not a slight on the quality of their movies, which is quite high, but an observation about style. Meanwhile, other recent animated films such as Frankenweenie and Anomalisa are instantly recognizable as the products of Tim Burton and Charlie Kaufman’s idiosyncratic imaginations. Shaw’s My Entire High School fits into this second category. As with Frankenweenie or Anomalisa, My Entire High School is a visually striking, emotionally resonant experience. To watch it is to become fully immersed in the distinct vision of its creator.