Friday, January 11, 2013

Moving Day: when all the hemming and hawing has past.  The hesitation has been overcome.  The iron struck while hot.  The leap made.  The migration taken get the idea.

Yep, that's right - The Long Shot has found a new home.  What i thought was going to be akin to delicate surgery turned out to be easier than removing a Band-Aid.  It was like "click-click-click...done."  All the thought-provoking material you've salivated over so far is ripe for a second look over there already.

Over at the new site, you can expect the same know what?  To hell with that.

You can expect BETTER content delving into curious topics and MORE coverage of autonomous media movers-and-shakers.

For starters, my interview with stellar artist and super cool dude Jim Mahfood in the next couple of days.

A hale and hearty thank you! to all and every one who swung by and gave me a look-see over here.  i hope you will visit the new site and have a good time there as well.  i'll keep plugging away, you keep reading.

*i'll keep plugging away even if you don't keep reading, so you might as well visit - i'm not leaving!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reader Appreciation Award: a quasi-chain letter of positivity amongst bloggers to showcase one's favorites, share them with your audience, and foster interwebs community.

Imagine my surprise and complete humility this morning to do my usual round of checking in with all the media outlets and finding little ol' Long Shot included on the list of another bloggers list of noteworthy blogs.  Big ups to Longbox Graveyard once again.  More details about this prestigious award can be found at the just-provided link, and right here just a couple of grafs ahead.

Aside from being honored by inclusion, it's also a handy impetus to do some fresh writing today.  And here my plans for the day only included working on a story idea that germinated over the weekend.  The plate is filling up pretty quickly, and thank goodness for that.  Idle hands and whatnot.

Acceptance of the award comes with a few rules and regulations.  "There's always a catch," i bet you're thinking.  Well, yeah i guess.  But these are good ones.  So let's get through those first.

1.  Gratitude to your nominator and a link to their blog, in the Long Shot's case Longbox Graveyard.  Thanks, Paul!

2.  Choose 10 or so blogs that inspire, entertain, or interest you and provide links to them.  By doing so, you nominate them for the selfsame honorific.  Definitely dig that.  Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Longbox Graveyard, of course.

Some of these are more prolific than others, but all are worth a look-see if you ask me which, in a sense, you did by nominating me for Reader's Appreciation.  So nyah nyah.

3.  Answer ten questions posed by the blogger who included you on their nomination list.  Ooh!  i love answering questions.  Let's do that, shall we?  They're comics-related questions too.  Every time i try to get away, they pull me back in!

1. DC, Marvel, or other?  Which comics publisher is your favorite?
Excellent question, and a terrific opener to get the proper frame of mind for the rest of them.  Had to think long and hard on this one for sure.  My first inclination is to go with Marvel.  Growing up, they formed the bulk of my comics reading habit, primarily through the influence of my older brother's collection.  To this day, pound for pound i probably read more Marvel stuff than anything else.  The characters always came off as more grounded to me, more visceral and relatable.  On the other hand, and this is apparent in my Top Ten Favorites examination, DC heroes figure prominently.  And then there are The Rest, publishers whose works might not abound in my history of fanboy-dom but nevertheless put out great stuff that hold special places in my heart.  i'm looking at you, Dark Horse, Oni Press, and AAA Pop!.  Now, the big moment.  Envelope, please.
Obligatory drum roll...
DC Comics.  And here's why.  While it's true that Marvel's heroes have that relative semblance of realism that i enjoy on a day-to-day basis, the fact is that there's simply more DC stories that stand elevated above the rest.  More than likely it's because of, rather than despite, their characters' status as larger-than-life heroes.  The best of DC stories take these mythic, god-like heroes and put them in situations where all their power amounts to very little in the context of a grand saga.  Marvel characters are accustomed to facing personal adversity, and regularly have to overcome their faults and foibles as well as whatever baddie giving them grief.  For the most part, when i'm reading DC stuff it's mostly a matter of when the hero is going to triumph, rather than if.  But the stories i like the most turn that paradigm on its ear and leave you wondering if this is going to be curtains for the star of the show.

2.  Who is your favorite writer or artist currently working?
Wow...another toughie!  How does one go about answering this?  Comics creators are as varied as the costumed creatures whose worlds they define.  Right off the bat i'm going to split the decision asunder and narrow the field to artists.  If i may invite controversy, i've always held to the notion that the artist part of the team is more vital to the medium.  After all, without the art, a comic is essentially a short story.  How dare i, as a writer, trivialize the writers' impact on a comic book?!  Hey - i didn't say it wasn't important, but if you ask me, an artist can make a meh story into a great read, while a subpar graphic representation can turn what may be a profound tale into a chore to muddle through.
That certainly doesn't make the choice any easier.
Mike Allred.  There, i said it.
Why?  Because they guy's work is just plain fun and strikes at what the heart of comics is - colorful, exciting, and a visual treat.  He's given me a great time over the years and continues to this day with his work on Fantastic Four.  Thanks for staying so ginchy!

3.  Who is your favorite writer or artist from the past?
Jack Kirby.  'Nuff said.

4.  What superhero do you think makes the best team player?
In my head, i'm chuckling while considering Moon Knight.  i've been working my way through a terrific run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, who brought one of my favorite runs of all time with their work on Daredevil.  Their too-short take on the Fist of Khonshu had his fractured psyche having hallucinations of Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-Man giving him advice and Moonie co-opting their costumes and gear in a wonky war against the new Kingpin of Los Angeles.  How's that for team player?
All that aside though, i gotta give this one to Spidey.  For crying out loud, he was the star of Marvel Team-Up for nearly 15 years, appearing in 141 out of 150 issues.  As the everyman of the Marvel Universe, he provides that perspective in so many situations whether it be global intrigue or cosmic threats to all reality, and is the guy who's still in awe of his place in the pantheon of heroes.

5.  Whose superhero costume do you hate the most, and why?
Can i say all of them?  More than once here at the Long Shot i've mentioned my inability to fathom the leap in logic from gaining extraordinary powers or abilities to donning garish costumes to fight crime at night.  Granted, some make more sense than others, but that disconnect will forever niggle at me.
If i have to say just one though?  Hmmm...

A mutant and thief, why he dons a pink and black body suit with cowl and metallic shin guards i'll never know.

6.  If you could bring one title back from comic book limbo what would it be?
This one is easy - Mister Miracle.  Scott Free wriggled his way to the #9 spot of my Top Ten Favorites list for his superb costume (one of the exceptions to my usual dislike of them), fun adventures with his wife, and general rebellious attitude and humor.

7.  What's the best comic book cover you've ever seen?
Another easy one.

Red Rocket 7

8.  Comic book action figures - way cool, or a step too far?
Given that dichotomy, i have no choice but to say "way cool."  And why not?  i'd be lying if i said i didn't have oodles of them as a child.  Heck, the first time i had my own apartment, the living room decor featured wall display racks with comics and a handful of figures.

Yeah, i had the Doom Roller. And the Turbo Cycle.  And all the figures too.

9.  What was the best comic book single issue that you read in the last 2 months?
The Question #1
Crusading journalist and philosopher and urban shaman who communicates with cities.  Sign me up.

10.  Finally, the age old question: if you were writing, who would win a fight between Superman and Hulk?  What's your logic?
 Superman vs. Hulk

You know, a friend and i were literally just discussing this a few days ago.  The geekiness comes full circle.  Lots of what ifs on both sides of the battlefield here.
On one side, the most powerful hero on earth, hands down (unless facing a mortal with Kryptonite gauntlets and a serious chip on his shoulder).
On the other, the strongest one there is, whose alter-ego once put a bullet in his mouth in an attempt to end his own life and, thereby, the monster he becomes.  The monster spat the bullet out.
Both my friend and i decided that ol' Jade Jaws would be the victor in this particular match-up.  It's well documented that the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets, and you know what makes Hulk angry?  Pretty much everything.  Some dude whose credo is fighting the never-ending battle is going to have his hands full living up to that with everyone's favorite gamma-irradiated rage beast.  Never-ending is the key here - Hulk would not give up, go down, or weaken as the fight progressed.  Quite the opposite.  Heat vision, freezing breath, and supersonic punches would only fuel his strength and endurance and prolong the fight.  We're talking Doomsday style combat here, and we all know how that turned out the the Big Blue Boy Scout.
After a fight that could go on for days, my money is on a defeated Superman.  When the smoke clears and the dust settles on the decimated remains of whatever locale the fight ends at, Supes is down for the count and an exhausted Bruce Banner kneels over the inert form of the Man of Steel left wondering why he couldn't just leave the big guy alone.

4.  Ask ten questions for my nominees to answer.  Fair enough, i've developed quite a penchant for asking questions through my journalism education, Long Shot interviews, and a general curiosity about...everything. Ready, nominees?  Here you go:

1.  What's the one thing you most enjoy, that most clearly defines your interests in life?
2.  What was your biggest accomplishment in 2012?
3.  What's your biggest goal in 2013?
4.  Work for yourself or work for an established, reliable company - what's your preference?
5.  You are transported to a fantasy realm (think Middle Earth) via a magical amusement park ride - do you quest to return home or remain in this land of swords, sorcery, and good vs. evil?
6.  When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
7.  Social media - brings society together or isolates us behind computer screens?
8.  Man's reach - exceeding its grasp, technologically speaking?
9.  The future - moving towards dystopia or utopia?
10.  Name one of the following, your choice.  Favorite and why: movie, song, book/comic book, city, TV show, stand-up comedian?

5.  Include the Reader's Appreciation Award logo on my site.  See top of page

6.  Contact my nominees to inform them of the great honor they've received, and invite them to keep the flame burning by making their own nominations.  Great, something else to do today.  Just kidding - it's my pleasure and the least i can do for the folks whose work i enjoy.  Keep it up everyone!

*     *     *     *     *

That was a lot of fun, and thanks again to Paul O'Connor of Longbox Graveyard fame for including me.  The blogosphere is fairly new to me, but i'm enjoying the hell out of it so far.  It's given me the opportunity to connect with a lot of really cool people all over the world, and feeds my ego to put my meager writings out there and see that people actually read them.

Now let's see what else i've got on the agenda today.  Work on that story i mentioned earlier and...oh yeah - my next interview is tonight.  i've remained clammed up about this one for a while, because i didn't want to jinx it.  And even now i'm pretty hesitant to mention it because it hasn't taken place yet.  But i've been keeping in touch with the interviewee and it's planned to go down this evening.

i am incredibly super-stoked to let you know that i'll be speaking with someone i've been a fan of for 15 years now - Jim Mahfood!

When i made my list of folks i'd like to interview for the Long Shot, i put his name on the list as, well, a long shot.  Figuring that someday, down the road when i had established myself as a reliable and respected journalist/writer/blogger, i'd hit him up.  Instead, i decided to shoot for the moon and Jim was totally cool about it.

Even as i wrote that last paragraph, i was overcome with a bit of dread.  What if i just jinxed myself and the interview falls through?!  You know what, sometimes you gotta say what the f**k.  i'm excited and i wanted to tell you about it.  Sue me.

Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Escapism: Sequential Art, part 2: in the first part i talked a bit about the sub-culture of comic books, the fans, and my own experiences as a reader and collector.  Here, i'm going to tell you about my experiences with comic book creation.  This shouldn't take long - it was a short-lived experiment.

The image above was (and still is!) the impetus for whatever daydreams i have about creating an original comic book.  These three panels by my friend Dan Maness harken back over a decade, to when i shared an apartment with him and another friend.  Back then, we spent the majority of our time testing the durability of Sega Dreamcast controllers exposed to extreme levels of furious white-knuckled gaming, spontaneous hiking and biking trips, and obsessing over kung-fu flicks in an attempt to incorporate the moves and philosophy into daily life.  Our residency in what we all considered the best pad we'd ever had culminated in a one-way trip across the pond, just after the 9/11 event that so rocked the world and still resonates today.

Prior to striking up a friendship, Dan was known as "Cool Guy #2" at the cafe where i worked and spent inordinate amounts of free time.  No one knew his name, but he was in there pretty much daily, working in his sketchbooks.  Anyone could plainly see his talent, and he definitely looked the part of a brooding artist with his headphones providing the kind of isolation needed for the intense focus he poured into those sketchbooks.  

Whoever "Cool Guy #1" is, i certainly don't remember.  But Cool Guy #2 became Dan after i saw him at the local comic shop one Wednesday afternoon.  Now, when Comic Heaven opened in the 90s, i was one of the very first people in the door.  i learned about the shop a few months earlier, when i overheard the owner talking about it while i was mopping the floor in the McDonald's across the street from where the shop would be.  The owner was there, and i remember asking him if i could work there part time and get paid in Magic: The Gathering cards (he said no).

Anyway, in comes Cool Guy #2 like Norm from Cheers - everyone working there turns and greets him with hearty hello's.  He's got a pull list and they even special ordered a Buddy Christ statuette that arrived for him that day.

Who was this guy?

i'd been a loyal customer of the shop for years at this point and i'd never seen this dude before.  And here he comes strolling in with his comics set aside and special order merch.  Meanwhile i'm still waiting for the Red Rocket 7 #5 they said they'd get for me! (Kirt - if you're reading this - i eventually got it).
So after tricking Cool Guy #2 into inviting me to a WWF WrestleMania 2000 get-together that evening, we became fast friends.  We were both into comics obviously, and pro-wrestling, video games, and a desire to create something of our own.

He likes to draw.  i like to write.  Ipso facto we thought it would be cool to make our own comic.

Flash-forward a couple of months.  We've got our dope high-rise apartment, festooned with longboxes and centralized around the shrine of chop-socky films and gaming consoles.  One of countless controller-creaking epic battles takes place between Cable, Captain America, and Iron Man vs. Venom, Blackheart, and Shuma-Gorath courtesy of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2.

There is a pause in the action.

"Check this out," comes the call from behind us.

Three panels.  Four words.

We had our comic.

The Last Hit Man, as originally conceived, was distilled down to a simple concept.  'The Bogeyman of Stoners' was a mysterious individual who appeared unannounced at the abodes of pot-smokers whenever their supply of herb ran low.  Such hapless victims, upon retrieving their sack for a final toke, would find our man in the shadows.  His craggy face illuminated only by the glow of embers in the pipe, he vanished along with the puff of smoke from the remains of your stash.

He was a villain!  Or an anti-hero at best.

Okay, so it wasn't much to go on.  But we tried to develop the idea anyway and i think we came up with some pretty cool stuff.

Since neither of us liked superhero costumes all that much, we decided our guy definitely would not wear anything of the sort.  At best, his 'working clothes' consisted of a leather motocross jacket, but that was pretty much it.  He was just a regular dude, insofar as he did not shoot lasers from his eyes, fly, possess superhuman strength, or anything like that.

The influence of kung-fu films played heavily into our guy's persona, and he evolved into a kinda Remo Williams-style figure.  We gave him a home in fictional Souja City, where he lived in a lighthouse.  The city was traditionally watched over by a single person called the Hit Man, and our guy was the last of the bunch.  Hit Man received aid from a Chinese martial arts master named the Chess King, and even though we figured ol' C.K. taught our guy some moves, most of the time he preferred to fight with his fists, or firearms.  But more often than not, we imagined what his life was life when he wasn't saving the city.  This usually entailed stealing that last hit from area stoners and hanging out at the coffee shop with his friend Jack.
Yep, Hit Man has a pretty nice supporting cast.  In fact, i'd say we had more fun coming up with oddball characters for him to interact with than crafting any specific tales.  Now that i think about it, we probably just kept coming up with new characters and figured all the stories would just be their introductions into the universe and how they related to the main character.

Jack was supposed to be our 'everyman' character, the guy who doesn't have any special abilities, and basically just wants to live in a safety, work his job as a mechanic, and party with his two roommates Jono and Grant.  The latter is a catlike fella (ears included) with a penchant for naps and nocturnal hi-jinks, while the former turns out to be an extra-dimensional dragon in human form (he doesn't know it though).
Eventually, the trio's involvement with the Hit Man would lead them on an interstellar adventure where they would helm a massive vehicle called the Christmas Goose that was as big as a mountain and powered by Chess King's robot daughter.  Before we could get to any of that stuff though, we were going to need an antagonist.  Someone to match the Hit Man, test his mettle, and constantly plot and scheme to increase his power and control in Souja City.
Inspired by one of the all-time great villains in the best damn kung-fu movie ever, enter Nemesis Tao.

Ruthless, heartless, master of kung-fu and leader of a huge criminal empire in Souja City, Nemesis Tao was the perfect foil to the Hit Man.  He had plenty of goons for our guy to fight, and was himself more than ready and willing to throw down with anyone at any time.  Tao's motivation was perfecting his kung-fu, and everything else played second fiddle to his ambition to be the ultimate martial artist.  All the money, power, and influence he gained through his criminal enterprise was meaningless in the pursuit of perfection, and he would sacrifice even his own children without hesitation if it furthered his goals.

So we had our hero, a setting, supporting cast, and enemies.  What do we do next?

The answer to that came serendipitously enough through our friend Bob Ramsak, who has since moved to Slovenia and enjoys life as a world traveler and photographer.  But back in 2002, Bob lived here in Ohio and had just gotten a position as editor for a now-defunct publication called Tonight Magazine.

At that time, i had only recently decided not to continue with my college education at Kent State University where i pursued a degree in magazine journalism.  Here i am 10 years later, back in school to finally get that piece of paper while fumbling through this blog to hone my writing and interviewing skills.  So when Bob asked if i wanted to do any writing for the mag, i jumped at the chance.  My first published piece was an interview i did with John Greiner, a Cleveland-based artist known for his comics and flyers.  Incidentally, his is another name on The List and i hope to do a follow-up in the near future for The Long Shot.

In addition to that piece, Bob granted a quarter page of every issue to Dan and i for our comic.  Titled quite naturally "The Last Hit Man," we produced three installments of it before Tonight ceased publication.  i wish i still had those comics - they were really incredible examples of the kind of work Dan can do.  Maybe he still has them somewhere.  i'll have to check on that.

After that experience, my creative partnership with Dan evolved into an interest in film.  Initially, we thought our Last Hit Man would make a cool movie, so we taught ourselves how to write a screenplay and started working on that.  But after a couple of pages that saw the Hit Man shooting up a room full of bad guys before taking on an assault helicopter, we felt like it was just turning into a cookie-cutter action story.

While randomly flipping through a catalog of camping supplies one afternoon, Dan and i became entranced by an ad for a weather balloon.  While i was unable to locate the particular ad, the picture was very similar to this, and we started talking about a guy who used weather balloons to make a rudimentary flight pack.  That story eventually became a screenplay for The Aerialist (another idea in the back catalog of my mind that i feel still has potential).  But that's a whole other story.  We're talking comics here!  i only mention it because Dan and i put our comic book dreams on the back burner for a few years while we penned numerous spec scripts and tried our hand at film-making.
Neither of us really thought much about comics or talked about creating them for several years.  We got discouraged by our movie experiences, and our focus drifted to "real-life" stuff as we both got older, changed, and lost some creative spirit.

Like any great hero, the Hit Man refused to stay down.  So when i moved to Cleveland's west side and looked from my balcony to the cluster of buildings that is our downtown, my first thoughts were of comic book characters.  When i gazed at the metro center, i thought that it looks so quiet and safe from just a few miles away.  But i knew that was just a ruse, that there was crime in the streets and alleyways.  And i felt like how i thought a comic book character might, one who possessed a measure of power above his fellow man - like they could do something about it.

That feeling instantly brought me back to daydreams about creating comics.  If i was ever going to do it, it needed two things.  The Last Hit Man, and Dan's artistry.

Before the feeling could pass, i called Dan posthaste with the idea.

"Remember that comic book idea we had 10 years ago?  Let's work on that again."

He was into it.  Dan and i are a lot alike that way - no matter what else life has in store for us, we both have a desire to create...something.  Granted, neither of us is the most productive or intensely focused individuals by a damn sight.  Nevertheless, the yearning is still there and i'm positive that someday we'll create something really awesome together.

This image is from 2011's new-and-improved Last Hit Man, drawn by Dan on a Wacom Cintiq tablet.  When we were getting started, this was tentatively page 1 of whatever our comic would become.  As you can see, it's still got familiar elements that i mentioned earlier, like Hit Man's leather jacket and the lighthouse where he lives.  Artie Pons (what the former Jack evolved into) is here with him in this shot.

On our second stab at comics, we decided to do a lot more planning and plotting the course of our guy's adventures ahead of time.  The first time around, we were going off pure instinct and as a result the threads got frayed along the way.  Older and wiser now, we spent a good deal of time making bios for the various characters and deciding on thematic elements.

The Hit Man circa 2011 was more of a science vs. nature story.  Our guy was still the protector of Souja City, but these days he had a synthetic skin that absorbed chemical compounds to give him various extraordinary abilities.  He never knew what powers he would get, so he often had to improvise on the fly.  We realized a lot of the characters we came up with had substance-related backgrounds so we played with that extensively.  The Hit Man himself was a bit of an addict, using chemicals to enhance his performance and never quite sure if the need was his own, or his synthetic skin.  Another of his antagonists was a powerful athlete and mogul with a drug-related secret.  There are a lot of examples like this, and it felt only natural to explore those themes.  Along with Hit Man's new sci-fi elements came his refined origins.  You can see a taste of this in one of Dan's page layouts.

Unfortunately, this round of Hit Man's story kind of fell by the wayside too.  Both Dan and i struggled to find the time to make it happen, and we both had a healthy amount of self-doubt.  i can't speak for him, but for me, i was always second-guessing the writing.  Was it good?  Did it make sense?  Was i doing it right?  Thinking about it now and seeing those words on the screen in front of me though, looks like a cop-out.  

There's no "right way" to make comics.

And that's pretty much it.  Not exactly the exciting tale of comic book creation you might have expected.  But like Bad Service i am still proud that i created something, even if it is far from my expectation.  And i'm happy to share it with you at The Long Shot where, as i pointed out in my very first post, i hope to show myself as a whole person and how i fit into my surroundings.  If i have learned anything at all through the myriad attempts to create something lasting, even when it doesn't turn out how you imagined it would be, it's always worth it to try.

Try something different, then come back to something you tried before and make it better.

And if it doesn't work out, try again.

And again.

That's what i've done, and will continue to do.  As a matter of fact, i think i'll get a hold of Dan and see if we can come up with something new.  The third time's the charm, after all.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top Ten Heroes: in ranked order from 10th to 1st, my favorite comic book heroes.  These are the characters that i most identify with, enjoy tales about, or consider just plain cool.  The list is not limited by publisher.  If i'm honest, my comic book habits gravitate mostly around the Big Two.  In the 90s i did book passage on the Image boat, and i've dipped a toe in other waters from time to time.  But for the most part i'm a mainstream comics fan at heart.

Over the last couple of days as i knocked out one final exam after another, i spent my recently freed-up time visiting lots of other blogs and media sites and enjoying what other people had to say about the same sorts of stuff that pique my interest.

One of those things is, of course, comic books.  And i noticed something a lot of places have in common - lists of favorites.  Marvel characters, DC characters, comic book characters, and so forth.

That got me thinking how i would answer those questions, and my mind settled on crafting my list of favorite heroes.  Here's what i came up with - my favorites of the 'good guys' who star in their own titles and more-or-less stand for what is right, and pure, and true.

#10 - Oracle

The first thing to note here is the distinction between the Oracle persona and Babs' other vigilante nom de guerre Batgirl.  i don't know a whole lot about her career as a Chiropteran themed crime-fighter.  Around the time when The Joker put the kibosh on that venture i was pretty much a Marvel Zombie - the colloquial term for fans, not the eponymous book - so i wasn't aware of whatever she was doing at the time.  Giving an assist to the Suicide Squad from what i understand.

When i got into DC books in the late 90s, through Grant Morrison's phenomenal run on JLA, i was introduced to an unknown entity represented by a symbol that appeared on computer screens.  With seemingly limitless knowledge of people and world events, this entity provided the pantheon of heroes with critical information.  For a while i just assumed "Oracle" was the name of the Watchtower computer system.

When i discovered there was someone on the other side of the screen, it was definitely one of those no *expletive* moments.  As far as i knew at the time, her fate had pretty much been sealed by the Clown Prince of Crime about a decade earlier.

As many critics have pointed out over time, my first reaction was skepticism over Babs' handicap.  She existed in a world where people regularly come back from the dead or at least recover from crippling injuries in relatively short order.  But if you ask me, this event wasn't the the end of a career.  It was the inciting incident that sparked the beginning of one.

The debate over whether or not Ms. Gordon ought to remain confined to a wheelchair or not in lieu of the fantastic universe she lives in has gone on for years.  People on both sides of the field weigh in with convincing reasons for and against it.  Arguably the character's biggest fan, blogger Jill Pantozzi wrote a heartfelt op-ed on the topic for Newsarama last year when DC announced plans undo the character's paralysis.

For my taste, i'm in the camp that believes she ought to retain the physicality she's had for the past...geez it's been like 20 years already.  i certainly don't want to cast judgement her evolution in the comics - i haven't even read them if i'm honest.  But for my taste, Barbara Gordon's Oracle persona made her into one of the most intriguing, well-rounded, and believable heroes.

Oracle is the result of the most human of qualities that we all identify with - the ability to endure.  She came out of a place of pain and sadness and decided she wasn't going to let that stop her.  Instead, she tapped into a deep well of strength and moved forward, all the better for it.  i can almost picture her struggling through the recovery process, sitting up alone late one night within a small cone of lamp light.  Too exhausted in the doldrums to look out at Gotham City and lament the days she prowled her streets, in her desperation making a list of pros and cons.  Soul-searching to find some meaning in all of it.
Pros: Genius-level intellect. Photographic memory.  Vast knowledge of computers and electronics.  Hacker.  Martial arts discipline.
               Cons: Can't move legs.

The power in the concept of the Oracle character springs from the real-world practicality of it all.  Around the time of her debut, the Information Age took a quantum leap forward when the World Wide Web emerged, and here is a character that tapped directly into that.  She used her smarts and the resources available and dollars-to-doughnuts did more good for the world from her Clocktower than she did from the Batcave.  What better way to tap into the escapist power trip fantasy of comic books than a character who is essentially a nerd with a computer that Superman has on speed dial?  And on top of that - no costume!  That definitely speaks to me, as someone whose grown-up perspective on comic books often results in not grasping the leap from "i've got extraordinary power!" to "i should make a colorful costume and go out at night to fight crime."

Pure indulgence.  That's the top reason Scott Free makes my list.  When Jack Kirby went to DC Comics in the early 70s, he basically got to create his own universe.  The Fourth World consisted of three titles - The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle.

There's no disputing the King's influence on comics.  If you've ever read comics, you'd have to go out of your way to avoid characters he helped create or at least see the influence of his work.  Frankly, i am surprised that only two of his creations wound up on this list.  After thinking about it though, i guess i cut my teeth in comics during the period past his heyday.

Anyway, yeah...Mister Miracle.  This character just screams I'm a comic book character! to me.  And everything awesome about him is right there on the cover to issue #1 from April, 1971.

The first thing that catches my eye is that costume.  It's outrageous, garish, obnoxious - absolutely terrible.  And i love it!  One of the core concepts of the character is Mister Miracle's origins as a stage performer, and the colorful costume is basically his stage duds.  The guy on the cover here is actually the second Mister Miracle, Scott Free.  After the leaders of some cosmic deities exchanged infant sons in a truce, Scott grew up on the evil dudes' planet Apokolips at a 'Terror Orphanage.' But he escapes all that and comes to earth, where he naturally apprentices to carnival escapist Thaddeus Brown, and also incites a galactic war.  But then someone killed him and Scott took up the mantle.

After soaking in that image, your eyes float up to the big bold title.  Mister Miracle...what does that mean?  Turns out to be pretty multi-dimensional.  One of the New Gods using their skills and powers on humankind's behalf?  i'd say that qualifies as divine intervention.  A guy that can cheat death, defy man, and not be bound by any trap, a SUPER escape artist - all extremely outstanding or unusual events or accomplishments.

One of the things i enjoy most about Mister Miracle's adventures is that he adventuring partner was his wife - Big Barda.  She is a warrior woman whose personality was based on Kirby's own wife Roz. In contrast to Scott's light-heartedness, humor, and brains-over-brawn approach, Barda is tough, brazen, and serious.  The role-reversal works for the duo, and resonates with me because i'm the nerd in the comic book store buying Vs. cards while my girlfriend is chasing down thieves in the parking lot and jump-kicking them off her absconded bicycle.

It stands to reason that if my favorite comic book story stars this character, there's place for him in the top ten.  Dream is one of seven beings called the Endless that each personify powerful universal concepts. The embodiment of all dreams and stories, Dream is certainly appealing from a writer's perspective.  

Tales of his adventures are epic dramas of tragedy and comedy.  Loss and heartbreak set against peril to the fabric of existence one moment, and musings from a curmudgeonly pumpkin-headed janitor the next.

While i had certainly heard of the character before, and seen issues of The Sandman on the comic book racks, the first story i ever read was the one mentioned above. At the time it was written, i was in high school and going through the familiar rebellious phase (i don't think it ever truly ended).  Initially, the artwork by Marc Hempel drew me in.  It's so colorful and quirky, and different from the morose stuff i'd seen on countless Sandman t-shirts peeking out from under black leather trenchcoats.

The thing that kept me counting down the Wednesdays until the next issue was the story-telling.  i'm sure i don't need to explain how terrific Neil Gaiman's skill is.  What i enjoy most about his work on this book are the nods and references to countless pieces of classic literature and mythology.  i'm no expert, so i'm sure many of them go unnoticed by me.  At the same time, i've closed out a few Jeopardy! categories on mythology and literature from the couch, so i'm not sweating it.  

My experience with this book re-ignited my interest in comics at the time, which comes and goes for me in cycles.  Not since the Infinity Gauntlet saga had i really collected a story arc religiously as it was being published, and this book whet my rebellious, intellectual, sometimes-angsty whistle a whole helluva lot more than a superhero slugfest on a floating-in-outer-space temple of death.

Since that time, of course i've gone back and read earlier tales of Morpheus and whattya know - they're great too!  If i take a step back though, what most impresses me is how the author really uses the character as a stand-in for himself.  At least, it seems like it to me.  i don't know him personally by any stretch.  But the character definitely gives me the sense that Gaiman is using it to explore questions and thoughts he's had himself.  It's just set in a fantasy environment.  To me, that's the best kind of writing - exploration of human nature in a construct where anything is possible.  It really drives home the point that we all share common ground.

Despite, or perhaps because the character is the immortal embodiment of all that is not reality, he's really just a moody, romantic, kinda self-absorbed guy who sometimes feels burdened by the responsibilities he's been shouldered with.  But damn if anyone is going to threaten his position - all of a sudden he's fiercely protective of his niche.

And i like his raven companion Matthew too. 




Sandman, The Kindly Ones

ARB for Sandman: Dream and Matthew, his companion crow. (I wish had a companion crow.)

"Hey - I thought you said Top Ten Heroes.  Magneto is a villain!"

Depends on your perspective.  And in mine, i never considered the Master of Magnetism a bad guy.  Always cast as the violent counterpart to Professor X, Mags has been a foe of his X-Men since the very beginning.  With a story that springs directly out of the civil rights movement of the 60s, the tale of mutant oppression focuses on a dichotamous choice between peaceful co-existence and evolutionary dominance.

Now i know, Magneto has many times in the past inflicted terrible harm upon humanity, caused death and untold destruction, and personal pain.  But i ask you - can you really blame him?

While i'm not endorsing his deeds by any means, what i always come back to is a teensy little point embedded in the core of the character, something that i bet even Charles Xavier knows too - he's right.

Mutants are a step up on the evolutionary chain. Dubbed homo sapiens superior, their genetic mutations manifest as extraordinary powers (in Mags case utter control over the forces of magnetism).  This mutation is significant enough to warrant acknowledgment as a species removed from that of all other humans on earth, the homo sapiens.  Because of fears about their power and the possibility of mutation in anyone, humans in the comics have tried more than once to put an end to the mutant race.  

Inject into this scenario a man who survived the Holocaust and finds out he wields enormous power as a member of a new species, and how do you expect him to react when a government decides to marginalize him and/or eliminate his species altogether?

i was actually going to make a point how the opposition he faces from the X-Men only really works in the comics because of the code against killing that heroes typically follow.  Then i think about the Punisher, who's "super-power" is basically a willingness to gun down criminals, and how the other heroes have continued to let him operate all these years.  And these days, without the Comics Code Authority and a shift in audience perspective that some grey area is okay to explore in regards to the occasional offing of a bad guy, even that argument doesn't hold much water.  

Maybe it's just because he's so darn powerful, it's all the heroes can do without just leveling with the guy.

"Look, dude," some hero says.  "You're right.  Mutants are genetically superior, and you're the most powerful of them.  You could tilt the planet off its axis if you wanted.  We get it.  But we can't just roll over for you.  Can't you be content knowing you're at the top of the food chain?  The rest of us will cotton to it eventually."

Image Featuring Jack KirbyThat's the other thing i like about Magneto too - his power.  Back when he was created, he was pretty much a gimmicky villain to oppose the X-Men.  He's called Magneto!  And he can fling metal stuff at you!  It probably didn't cross Stan and Jack's mind that he could potentially manipulate the Van Allen Radiation Belt and that sort of thing.  But they did make point out that he's "Earth's most powerful super villain" right there on the cover to X-Men #1 from 1963.  

So many classic comic characters are like that, with powers that they couldn't possibly have fully comprehended at the time because science hadn't figured it out yet.  Here we are years later, looking back at oddballs that manipulate light, gravity, kinetic energy, and so on.  Why are they wearing costumes and punching each other?

Here's a book that i'm so happy i judged by its cover.  By the time i got into it in 2000, the end of the 81-issue run by James Robinson wasn't too far away.  So not only did i experience the joy of discovering a great character from a talented writer and artist team along with Tony Harris, i got to sink my teeth into a back-issue collecting adventure like i talked about a few weeks ago.

What's not to like about Jack Knight?  He's a rebellious guy more interested in classic Count Basie records and forgotten bric-a-brac than fighting the never-ending battle between good and evil.  Thankfully, his older David took up the Starman mantle from their Golden Age dad.  But when David is murdered by one of their dad's old nemeses, Jack takes up the cause.  He only does so on one condition though - that his dad shares his scientific genius with the world to make it better, instead of to make nifty star-themed gadgets to fight bad guys with.

The other thing i dig - the digs.  No costume!  Jack can go directly from the jazz club to an outer space adventure without stopping by the phone booth to get in character.  He does wear my absolute favorite accessory though. Goggles, the anti-flare sort, to protect his eyes from the brilliant light of his cosmic staff.  Later in his career, he pinned a sheriff's star on his leather jacket and made a really cool star-logo on the back.

By the time this impressive yarn penned by James Robinson wraps up with a showdown between Jack and all of his foes, it's not the epic battles that stand out in your memory.  It's the times in between.  The peace times, when friends are made and you can laugh about the hardships you face because at the end of the day, you're just another person trying to get by and have a nice, quiet life.  Find someone you love.  Start a family.  Maybe open up that store you always wanted, in a new city.

i like the way my friend Dan put it when we were talking about our favorite heroes.

"Madman has my vote for general good timey-ness."

i'm not even sure how to begin to describe this character in a way you can relate to.  If the adventures of a resurrected car accident victim named for the intellectual and artistic heroes of a scientist whose experiments on his own brain transform him into a cosmic consciousness sound like your cup of tea, you're in for a treat.

Madman generally has a good heart, and doesn't like to see bad stuff happen to people.  Or aliens.  Or robots.  Maybe mutant beatniks though.

What the character most enjoys is time spent with his girlfriend Josephine, in the books more commonly Joe. 

i think i'm starting to see a pattern here.  More than one of the characters' books on this list seem star the author themselves.  This one is the sweetest story though - it's got the author and his real-life sweetheart.  Sort of.  You tell me.

Madman won me over with with lively story-telling, smart and hip writing, and truly remarkable art work all done by Mike Allred.  If you want to understand the power of a few simple lines, look no further.

For my money, his best work is Red Rocket 7, a comic book limited series of (you guessed it) seven issues.  In a nutshell, it's the story of alien clones saving the universe through rock n' roll.  The reason i mention it is because of this gem from the series, a collage of music's greats.  Far from photorealism, it nevertheless portrays unmistakable likenesses that are immediately evident.  Here, take a look.

Red Rocket 7

Say what you will, i'm a firm believer that every comics fan can fit and should fit Supes on their list of favorites.  At the very least, runner-up with a convincing argument for the ones that beat him out.  i mean, come on.  It's freakin' Superman.

He's been voted the greatest comic book character of all time for good reason.  That's right, because he can wear his undies on the outside and still look totally manly and confident.

In all seriousness, this Cleveland-born character is demonstratively the greatest comic creation of all time.  Just a few months from now in April is Clark Kent's 75th birthday.  How has this cultural icon remained relevant and popular for all those years?  That's easy - simplicity.

Superman is an alien trapped on earth who uses his great power to always do what's right and good no matter what.  People look up to Superman in both the comics and in real life.  Now that's some powerful influence.  He represents the best of everything in humanity, yet he is not human.  He's a hero because he believes in us.

When you're the hero that other superheroes look up to, you know you're doing something right.

Now i could likely write an omnibus myself about why Superman deserves the #1 spot on any list.  But i made the decision that if i went that route, all the other choices would feel skewed.  Instead,  i stared out the window at downtown Cleveland's little cluster of skyscrapers and daydreamed about the days of comics past.

Which stories do i remember reading and getting excited about?  As it turns out, Kal-El popped up in every comic book phase i can think of.

In the early to mid-80s Superman battled Lex Luthor in his funky green-and-purple warsuit a lot.  Those were fun.  In the 90s Superman died and i was deep into that story.  During the early part of this century, Metropolis truly became the City of Tomorrow after Brainiac embedded itself into the infrastructure.  Luthor became POTUS. Grant Morrison's (him again) All Star Superman.  Yeah, there's quite a few stand-out Superman stories in these memory banks.

If i wasn't a fan of motorcycles before, running into a house the first time i tried piloting one of the infernal things didn't make one of me.  And i'm generally not that much into horror stuff with the exception of H.P. Lovecraft and Evil Dead.  But for some reason this flaming skull headed demon biker chained up some part of my imagination early on and threw away the key.  For some odd reason, it has something to do with this issue from 1981 'Evil is the Enforcer.'  The art by Bill Sienkiewicz might have had something to do with it.  i couldn't tell you what the issue was about, and it seems no one else can either.  After searching around for more time than it should take to find something on the Internet, i came up with nothin'.  But i always remember this cover.

About a decade later, during a routine Friday evening bike ride to Comics and Collectibles, down the forgotten corridor of the Shoregate Shopping Center, i spotted the Spirit of Vengeance again.  At the back of the issue was a subscription order form.  That would be the only time in my life i bought a subscription for a comic book.  And since i typically waited until Friday for the $10 we got for setting up bingo tables after school, receiving my copy of Ghost Rider in the mail on Wednesday when it actually came out was a big deal for me.  The subscription lasted until shortly after the Midnight Sons cross-over story arc, and then i went off to college and had no money for comic books for a while.  But i took all my Morbius and Ghost Rider books with me.

Believe me, i was surprised that ol' flaming skull head wound up so high on this list.  He's quite unlike most of the others here.  What i like most about this character is that, while his conflicts usually revolve around the struggles of supernatural forces like demons, witches, black magicians and the like, he still takes the time out to put the screws to everyday, run-of-the-mill scumbags.  When you're a tireless engine of vengeance, you can spare those few moments to run down a murderous trucker, a filthy rapist, or violent mugger and look them in the eye...and make them relive all the pain they inflicted on others with a Penance Stare.

One last thing - while i don't condone the sequel, which was just an awful mess, the first Ghost Rider movie with Nicolas Cage was pretty cool.  The story was dumb, and if i were the casting director Peter Fonda wouldn't be the first name that comes to mind for the role of Mephisto, but i enjoyed Cage's performance.  He brought that nuttiness to the role that someone like Johnny Blaze needs.  You can only watch your own face melt off so many times before you get a little wonky.

Just yesterday, while reading another Top Ten list over at Longbox Graveyard, i came across this nugget of description that gave me a true laugh out loud moment.

"Sure, Daredevil is really just Spider-Man with his eyes closed," wrote the blog's author Paul O'Connor.

They both use their radiation-caused superpowers to acrobatically swing around New York City and foil nefarious plots while struggling to keep their civilian lives together.

But i started reading DD during the legendary Frank Miller run of the early 80s, and that made all the difference.  People fought to the death.  The hero got beat up.  For crying out loud the first page of one issue opened with ol' Hornhead tied up inside a sewer pipe to drown (he got out).


Possibly the coolest thing about Daredevil is how his superpower, his vulnerability, and his secret identity are all three the same thing - his blindness.  If people never suspect the 6'3", 225 bespectacled Clark Kent could possibly be the 6'3", 225 Superman, who's gonna think a blind lawyer is a ninja master vigilante?

Daredevil for the most part has always stuck to street-level crime.  Through the lens of innocence, the childhood me really didn't grasp that there are people in real life who perpetrate the kinds of crimes DD fought to stop.  That was just his rogue's gallery, like Spider-Man and the Sinister Six.  Now that i'm older and wiser, or just watch the news enough to know that you don't have to have mechanical stilt-legs to hurt innocent people with your criminal activity, i appreciate Matt Murdock even more as a hero.  He's never really been one to jump into the action during big crossover events, or find himself on other worlds or in myriad dimensions.  He's a Brooklyn kid who wants to keep his neighborhood, his little slice of the universe, safe.

My favorite run on the character is without a doubt the Bendis/Maleev years, starting with issue #26 in December, 2001.  During this time, Matt Murdock faced some of his greatest challenges and they weren't just nocturnal rooftop battles against various assassins.  But there were some of those too.  It brought to the table a sensibility of what might really happen if someone took the law into their own hands and starting dispensing vigilante justice.  Lawyers and the media became the bigger threat, powerhouses that you can't beat with your fists.                                                                                                                                                        

Well, maybe a little.                                                                                        

But only if you're a blind ninja master with super senses.

Sometimes, if i squeeze my eyes shut real tight, i can almost block out the memory of Daredevil's appearances on the big and little screens.

The superhero with the best superpower of all - money.  Billionaire Bruce Wayne, his parents gunned down in cold blood before his 8-year-old eyes, makes a vow to avenge their deaths and do everything he can to prevent tragedies like his own.  

But 'Bruce Wayne' is just a mask he wears, the costume of that little boy who may as well have died in Crime Alley with his parents.  One of his most enduring catchphrases sounds more like he's convincing or reinforcing himself than telling anyone else.

No other comic book superhero represents the distilled concept of the power of humankind to persevere against any odds than the Caped Crusader.  The inciting incident alone is a tragedy that overcoming is triumph enough in real life, and that's just where he gets started.

In his nearly 74 year crime-fighting career, Bats has taken on any and all comers, including his colleagues in the capes-and-tights community on more than one occasion.  He's been campy, groovy, brooding, sociopathic, and just about every other incarnation possible through a fractured psyche.

A few years ago, Grant Morrison (how many times is he going to creep in here?) posited that Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker is not insane, but in fact super-sane.  That got me thinking, maybe Batman is super-insane.  He's certainly violates societal norms himself, with abnormal patters of behavior and thought.  But at the end of the day, he's the most resolute and determined hero of them all.  The one who takes his self-appointed mission more serious than any of the other heroes could imagine.

Like those of us who discovered comics in our youth, Bruce Wayne himself believes in the power trip fantasy.  And with his vast resources, he was able to accomplish what we all secretly wish when we read about our comic book heroes - he became the myth.  As i mentioned earlier, the difference between Batman and other characters is that the costumed crime-fighter is his secret identity, and the aloof playboy is the costume he puts on when he isn't living his true life as the one man on earth willing to engage with gods on their own turf with the confidence (or arrogance) in his own superiority.

This year's Dark Knight Rising has a scene that i think wonderfully captures Batman's psychosis. After he decides to re-enter the world, Bruce Wayne attends a masquerade ball and encounters Selina Kyle. In regards to her black lacy domino mask, he remarks that it's a brazen look for a cat burglar.  She retorts by asking him who he's pretending to be.

"Bruce Wayne," he replies with a wry smile.  

If they only knew, Bruce.  If they only knew.

Perhaps my absolute favorite Batman story is from Detective Comics #241, from March 1957.  From the very instant i laid eyes upon it in the display case at Comic Heaven, i had to discover the answer to the burning question Robin asks of Batman on the cover.

The proprietor of the shop cleverly segued my intense curiosity into a sales pitch, and within a few months i received the issue as a gift from my girlfriend.  Have i told you how awesome she is already?  This was just another reason.  Finally, the riddle was solved!

i don't want to spoil it for you, so if you really want to know why Batman MUST wear a different colored costume each night, you'll have to go find out on your own.  Earlier today i retrieved the book from the box o' mementos and i noticed the emphasis on Batman's words isn't the same as i imagine.  The emphasis is on "Robin" and "Batman" on the cover, but in my mind i'm hearing emphasis on "must" - he MUST change his costume every night!  That's the kind of determination i admire in a comic book super hero.  When your genius-level intellect tells you the most logical solution to a situation is rainbow-colored versions of your crime-fighting attire, you go all in.

i think it's pretty safe to say i'm a bit of a freak when it comes to Batman.  There's no replica Batcave under my home where i store all the memorabilia i've acquired over the years or anything - i said i'm a bit of a freak.  But i love the character in all his incarnations.  In comics, books, cartoons, movies, video games, television, alternate universe versions, versions from the past, versions from 1,000,000 months in the future - there's just something universally appealing about the character for me.

That's not to say i love all those renditions.  i'm 100% against rubber nippled-batsuits for example.  But i'll give them a chance at least once.  i owe Batman that much at least.

For English 101 my freshman year of college, i wrote a paper that compared and contrasted Batman and Hamlet.  If i still had a copy of it i would share it with you.  Since i don't, i'll just go ahead and tell you, it was really good and made a lot of sense.

The oldest memories of have of reading Batman comics are during Len Wein's run in the late 1970s.  A really cool site i came across helped me locate the earlier issue i remember, part of my older brother's milk-crated comic collection.  He probably had more Batman books than any other character, which probably explains my connection to the Dark Knight. Skimming through all the covers, it looks like the exploration into the possibility of Batman's instability had its roots in this era.  At the very least, the question is raised in your mind "maybe this guy is a little crazy."

Well, that's it for my list of my favorite comic characters.  Some of these came easily to mind when i started thinking about it, but i have to say i wasn't expecting several of them to so readily take their place as my favorites.  And more than a few wound up on the fence and didn't make the cut.

The closest runners-up were probably Dr. Strange, The Question, and Ragman.  Maybe i'll explore them on their own at some other time.  Right now, i'm coming down off what was basically 12 hours of comic book research (during which of course i got lost enjoying a book or two).  Lately, i've spent a good deal of time re-connecting with my love of comics, and i'm kind of looking forward to exploring some other topics here on The Long Shot.  However, i did vow to delve into my own experiences with comic creation, and i wouldn't want to deprive you of that.

After blowing your minds with that sure-to-be riveting post, i plan to spend my winter break from school banging out a few more interviews with some of the creative people from The List.

And how's this for a slick coincidence - one of them is a local film studio that will be shooting a documentary about another one!  i'm really looking forward to visiting the set.  It will be my first opportunity to see somebody in action doing their thing with a chance to speak to them about their work afterwards.  i'm also working to negotiate what could possibly be another car-to-car conversation with an artist i've admired and followed for the last 15 years.  

So yeah...pretty exciting stuff in the chute.

Thanks for visiting!