TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Classics, Vol. 6

Published: December 16th, 2009 (IDW reprint version)
Written by: Larry Hama
Art by: Rod Whigham, Todd McFarlane, Ron Wagner
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Hasbro

Marvel Comics (original printing), IDW Publishing (reprinted), 236 Pages

Review:

This collection of the classic Larry Hama G.I. Joe comics is probably most unlike any of the others before it. The string of issues collected here, numbers 51 through 60, showcase a lot of new Joes and members of Cobra, as well as dealing with Serpentor taking control of Cobra while Cobra Commander spends some time connecting with his estranged son and trying out his battle armor, which was worn by his action figure after G.I. Joe: The Movie in the cartoon series and toy line.

One cool thing worth noting is that one of the issues here was drawn by Todd McFarlane before he would achieve fame with The Amazing Spider-Man and later, Spawn.

While I didn’t enjoy this as much as some of the collections before it, it is still a good string of tales. However, this is getting closer to the era of G.I. Joe that I didn’t like as much as the earlier stuff.

The franchise, at this point, has so many characters that comic book debuts happen nearly every issue and usually with multiple new faces showing up at the same time. One issue in here had the new look Cobra Commander out on his first mission with the debuting Raptor, Fred VII and a new group of Joes like Tunnel Rat and Outback. And I know I’m probably missing several others. It’s just hard for the comic to follow a tightly knit narrative like this series did at it’s peak from volumes 3 through 5.

Don’t get me wrong, if you love G.I. Joe, especially the Larry Hama side of the universe, then this should still satisfy you. It just shows that this is a franchise in constant flux and this feels more like a transition to newer things than something that builds off of what we’ve come to know thus far. But this is also planting seeds for the Cobra Civil War storyline, which was one of the high points in the comic’s entire run.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Any of the original Marvel G.I. Joe and Transformers comics.

Documentary Review: Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (2011)

Release Date: September 10th, 2011 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
Written by: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock, Joss Whedon
Music by: Jeff Peters
Cast: Joss Whedon, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith, Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Eli Roth, Seth Rogen, Thomas Jane, Seth Green, Edgar Wright, Corey Feldman, Paul Scheer, Todd McFarlane, Matt Groening, Frank Miller, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Joe Quesada, various

Mutant Enemy, Thomas Tull Productions, Warrior Poets, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I think the fans are the most important thing in the comic book business. And I might add, in any form of entertainment. I feel… you gotta be nice to the fans because without them… you’re nothing.” – Stan Lee

Here we go, these nerdy fan documentaries are a dime a dozen but I guess this one got some recognition for being well produced and for featuring a slew of famous nerd-centric personalities.

I didn’t know that this was a Morgan Spurlock film until I was already watching it. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t have watched it. Reason being, I think the guy’s a f’n hack and disingenuous. His most popular film Super Size Me was unwatchable to anyone that can see through a ruse, which it was. It wasn’t science, it wasn’t a real test to see how fast food effects you, it was one man’s entertaining mockumentary, sold as a legit documentary and damnation of the fast food industry. His documentary series on FX was also mostly a big bullshit endeavor where he went into everything with a bias then cherry picked info and edited everything down to the narrative he wanted. He’s the reason behind the modern alteration to an old phrase, “No shit, Spurlock!”

Anyway, this is exactly what you’d think it is. A bunch of famous nerdy types talk about their nerdy shit and their love for the San Diego Comic Con, which is barely about comic books at this point and isn’t anywhere near as cool as it once was. You missed the boat by a decade or so, Spurlock.

The only thing I really liked about this was seeing the behind the scenes stuff on cosplay. I don’t normally give a shit about cosplay but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.

As far as the interviewees, the only one that stuck with me was Stan Lee. Everything else was edited so choppy that the vast majority of comments could have been things out of context and then just thrown together for Spurlock to manufacture whatever narrative he was going for. Stan Lee’s bit was heartwarming though but that’s because he’s Stan Lee and he always has eloquent shit to say.

You’d probably be alright if you never watched this. It doesn’t do anything to inspire you to go to San Diego Comic Con. If anything, it told me to stay away because I like comics and don’t give a crap about massive celebrity panels or Joss Whedon publicly ranting about lefty hysteria.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: any of the dozens of other documentaries about nerd conventions or nerdy hobbies, there are so many.

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Original Run: October 8th, 2013 – October 15th, 2013
Directed by: Michael Kantor
Written by: Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, J. David Spurlock
Music by: Christopher Rife
Cast: Liev Schreiber (host), Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrision, Lynda Carter, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tim Daly

Ghost Light Films, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, 3 Episodes, 55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

A few years ago, PBS did this three part documentary series on the history of comic books. It was hosted by Liev Schreiber, which was really cool, and featured a ton of creators, as well as notable celebrities who have played some of the iconic comic book characters in television and film.

The history of comic books is incredibly vast. Narrowing down what to cover in three episodes, each of which ran just under an hour, couldn’t have been easy but the people behind this did a good job of focusing on the important stuff. I wish there was more time given to the challenges of the Comics Code Authority but that’s probably boring subject matter to most modern fans.

Superheroes spends a lot of time talking about the creation of Superman, Batman and the early heroes that would be at the forefront of DC Comics. They then spent some time talking about Stan Lee and his creations, which helped to put Marvel on the map. To my surprise, even though they didn’t spend much time on it, they covered some of the story that lead to the formation of Image Comics in the ’90s, which was the biggest thing in comic books during my most formative years as a comics fan.

I wish that this would have been bigger than it was. Three episodes just weren’t enough. This could have easily been one of those 10-part Ken Burns style documentaries with two hour episodes and they still wouldn’t have run out of material. I’m hoping that someone does do a comic industry documentary like that at some point; it’s long overdue.

But at least we live in a time where this wonderful medium isn’t considered low brow shit. It’s become a respected art form and format for storytelling. A lot of that has to do with the success of comic book movies the last few decades but at least fans don’t have to feel like they need to hide their fandom when out in public anymore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics and recent comic book documentaries Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The Image Revolution.

 

Comic Review: Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 3

Published: December 15th, 2009
Written by: Todd McFarlane
Art by: Todd McFarlane

Image Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

Since I flew through Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 1 & 2, I figured that I’d jump right into the third volume. Plus, the second volume cut off in the middle of a two-part story that carries over into this one.

I guess the biggest takeaway from this volume is that the man behind Al Simmons a.k.a. Spawn’s fate, Jason Wynn, is transformed against his will into another kind of warrior, Anti-Spawn. He is sent to destroy Spawn and the two get locked into battle not knowing who each other is.

The Spawn vs. Anti-Spawn battle is pretty epic and Wynn’s new identity feels like a real foil for Spawn and his powers. Really though, their first confrontation just leaves you wanting more.

Additionally, this volume introduces us to psychoplasm, what it is, how it works and how the substance played a part in Jason Wynn’s betrayal of Al Simmons.

After the Anti-Spawn story, we learn about the Overlap and meet Harold Houdini, who was the Houdini of old, who transported himself to the Overlap and learned true magic. Once he comes into contact with Spawn, he starts to train him on how to better harness his power and how to coexist with his costume, which is a living entity and a symbiote with his body.

Where the last collection is where the series really started to find it’s footing, this is where Spawn, the character, starts to find his, after his battle with Anti-Spawn, his undoing of Simmonsville and his lessons with Houdini. This is where Spawn gets beyond all the brooding over the past and really starts to move forward. Not to say he isn’t still going to brood, he just evolves as a character with more control and a more focused purpose.

At this point, Greg Capullo took over for Todd McFarlane on the art duties of this series. McFarlane was still the creative force behind Spawn but his McFarlane empire was just getting started and focusing all of his attention to just Spawn wasn’t possible.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Spawn: Origins collections and other early Image Comics releases, especially Youngblood and The Savage Dragon.

Comic Review: Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 2

Published: November 15th, 2011
Written by: Todd McFarlane
Art by: Todd McFarlane

Image Comics, 192 Pages

Review:

Well, after Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 1 left me wanting more, I had to jump right into this second volume.

This collection covers issues 7 through 14 but it omits issue 10, which I actually just read in chronological order because I still have my original Spawn comics up into issue twenty-something.

The first issue in this collection sees Spawn call out Overt-Kill in an effort to finish their intense battle from the previous issue. Spawn is intent on finishing the job and the second meeting between the two is pretty grand.

After that, there is an issue featuring Billy Kincaid and what happens to him after death. It also shows you what the different layers of Hell are like in the Spawn universe.

We then get introduced to Angela, who would become a pretty popular character in the Spawn series and would eventually move on into Marvel Comics, leaving Image and the Spawn series behind. She’s a character with a really weird journey through comic book history but she got her start in Spawn issue 9.

Probably the most important part of this collection is the two issue story arc that covers Spawn confronting his killer. While I remembered this being much more epic when peering back into my 13 year-old self’s memories, it was still a pretty good story but left a lot unresolved.

The final issue included in this collection is the first half of a tale that Violator tells to a group of kids, which then carries on into the first issue of Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 3.

This is a better group of stories than the first collection and it helped to enrich the Spawn mythos. Although, the first book is necessary in order to pick this one up. This is where Spawn started to figure out what it was and Todd McFarlane really found his footing in these issues.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Spawn: Origins collections and other early Image Comics releases, especially Youngblood and The Savage Dragon.

Comic Review: Spawn: Origins Collection, Vol. 1

Published: May 19th, 2009
Written by: Todd McFarlane
Art by: Todd McFarlane

Image Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

Having just revisited the original miniseries for The Savage Dragon, I wanted to return to this original Image Comics title and relive the experience that enchanted me as a kid in the summer where I found myself wedged between seventh and eighth grade.

Spawn is only one of two original Image titles to have a really long lasting run that went beyond two decades. In fact, it is still published today. The other title that has outlasted everything else is The Savage Dragon.

These Spawn: Origins books are reprints of the original Spawn stories. This first collection covers issues 1 through 6. Reading this now was actually really cool, as it brought me back to that place I was when my thirteen year-old mind first picked these up. I actually still own the first twenty-something issues of Spawn.

The only real problem with reading these as a collection, is that there isn’t a narrative that holds it all together as one story. Each issue continued the overall saga but each can also be read as its own standalone tale. We do meet Spawn, those he loves, as well as the villains Violator, Malebolgia, Billy Kincaid and Overt-Kill. This collection just sort of ends where it ends and leaves it wide open to keep going forward in the series, as nothing is really resolved but ultimately, I’m just really pumped to get into volume two.

Revisiting the earliest Spawn stories, two decades later, was a better experience than revisiting The Savage Dragon. I feel like these have aged better than a lot of the other early Image Comics stuff that had a tendency to embrace some of the bad ’90s comic book tropes.

Spawn was the most iconic Image Comics character to come out of the original launch titles in 1992. He is still the most iconic Image Comics character today and that’s including characters from The Walking Dead, which became Image’s biggest powerhouse series.

This collection does a good job of reminding us of how cool and how important Spawn was when he debuted in 1992.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Spawn: Origins collections and other early Image Comics releases, especially Youngblood and The Savage Dragon.