ZOT! 1987-1991 by Scott McCloud
I've read and enjoyed Scott McCloud's excellent examination of the comics medium, Understanding Comics, but I always wondered where his voice of authority on graphic storytelling came from, and what he'd done prior to that epic work. Apart from a look at one of his online strips starring the character, I'd never had the oppurtunity to read any of McCloud's work starring his dimension-crossed lovers amidst the world of the everyday and the world of a tomorrow that never was. With the release of ZOT! 1987-1991, we get a rare and intimate look at both the work of the writer/artist, but also commentary on his creation's roots and his thought processes in its inception and implementation.
Zachary T. Paleozogt (Zot for short) is a swashbuckling, high-flying, (courtesy of antigravity boots), laser pistol firing teen hero of the classic mold who lives in the 'far-flung future of 1965', a utopian vision of the future where everything Popular Mechanics and Tomorrowland promised us--flying cars, robot butlers, a world free of conventional crime or poverty--has come to pass. Oh, there's the occasional supervillain or coal-powered mad scientist from another planet, but by and large the world is a paradise. Zot's uncle Max discovers our world via his super-science, and travel between the dimensions becomes possible. Enter Jenny Weaver, a 14 year-old girl whose parents are dealing with divorce, she's struggling with the pitfalls of public education, and an older brother who's a pain. Their paths cross and it's pretty clear it's kismet, but Jenny maintains that Zot is 'not her boyfriend. . .we just like hanging out.' Mmhm.
The first half of the book 'Heroes and Villains' is a bit of what you'd expect with dimensional travel and the contrast between utopia and the real world. The book itself is a contrast between idealism and realism, and nowhere is that more evident than in Zot's more or less disastrous attempts to apply his superheroic mentality to a world that doesn't treat its heroic figures all that well. Zot also has to learn to come to grips with the fact that just because he believes he can save everyone doesn't make it true, no matter how good a person he is.
The second half of the book is--I think--where McCloud truly begins to find his voice as a storyeller. 'Earth Stories' has Zot trapped on Jenny's Earth with no real knowing if he'll ever find his way home again. Here Jenny and her family and friends come to the fore, each in their own single issue arc that highlights characters that feel as much like real people as they are supporting cast. Of them all, my favorite has to be issue #33 'Normal' featuring Jenny's friend Terry coming to terms with both her sexuality and the pressure cooker that is the high school environment.
Zot! is just plain fun on a lot of levels:the imagery of the utopian 'future', a rogues gallery featuring villains ranging from the humorous De-evolutionaries and Doctor Bellows to the creppy Arthur Dekko and 9-Jack-9. A future with flying cars and swashbuckling heroics makes for entertaining reading. But there's depth here too, and McCloud takes us--via commentary interspersed between issues--into his background and creative processes at the time of the book's creation. It's at once enjoyable entertainment for the reader and wonderful insight into the working method of another creative artist. Reccomended most highly.
Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow Lionsgate Films. Written by Christopher Yost, directed by Jay Olivia.
I'm a fan of superhero comics in general, and if it's one thing we superhero fans love it's resisting any and all forms of change. Now sometimes that's warranted, as in cases where Spider-Man makes deals with the devil, but in others that intractibility can prove to be a major detriment.
Now to be fair it's not all the fault of fanboys like me. Superhero stories cannot truly become the heirs of the ancient sagas and heroic ballads of the past because of one very salient and pertinent fact; superhero comics cannot change. They can provide the illusion of change, sure, but there'll be no last arrow to mark Green Arrow's grave or the ultimate resolution of humans vs. mutants, because once they do that the story's over. And Time Warner and Marvel Entertainment have far too much invested in their properties to ever bring their legends full circle and provide an end to their continually-rebooting-to-keep-up-with-the-times beginnings.
When I first heard of this movie, to be released as part of Marvel/Lionsgate's direct-to-DVD feature film line, I was completely turned off by it. Why not adapt some of Tom DeFalco's excellent MC2 work if we're going to jump Marvel's heroes into the future? Why do the characters look like that? The animation style seems so. . .well. . .stylized. In short, I had my arms crossed and my face scrunched up in the best Mr. Horse tradition, fully prepared to hate this film. But as the advance buzz trickled in, and I heard it got a standing ovation at the San Diego ComicCon (no mean feat in getting an auditorium of comicbook fans up and cheering) I decided to put aside my preconcieved notions and actually let a new idea have a chance.
And I am so very glad I did. Next Avengers is easily the best animated Marvel film yet, walking the tightrope of drawing in new blood while at the same time providing architecture and pieces that longtime Marvel fans will enjoy and appreciate.
It's several decades in the future and Earth's Mightiest Heroes have retired, their world largely trouble-free, to build lives and families of their own. But evil arises in the form of their constructed successor, the robotic Ultron. Originally designed to protect humanity, it decides the best way to achieve it's programmed goals is to control humanity. The Avengers attempt to fight back, but in the end they can't prevail. Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is ordered by Captain America to get the children to safety. From a hidden sanctum the daughter of Thor, the son of Captain America and the Black Widow, the son of the Black Panther, and the son of Giant-Man and the Wasp are raised in safety. Until, of course, one day when that safety is shattered. Soon a confrontation with Ultron becomes all but inescapable, and can a group of kids, an old armored avenger, a severed android head and the former love of the strongest being on Earth hope to stand against the calculating menace of an enemy that took on the world's greatest superheroes and walked away?
Previous efforts in Lionsgate's work for Marvel have felt a bit constrained, either by their desire to cleave to the comics or to do their best to toe the line with continuity while being accessible to new viewers. With Next Avengers it's clear they've hit their stride. The story of the Avengers' Last Ride (ingeniously told as a bedtime story) is just amazing, and the background nods to the old team are cool enough to make longtime fans nod and smile knowingly. A further miracle is Christopher Yost's writing of the kids, making them feel at once real and heroic, but not annoying or kitschy. Yes, these kids are kids and have a lot of growing up to do, but you enjoy them as people as well as heroic archetypes.
There are bits of business here I'd love to gush about (Iron Avengers, Tony's candid take on Clint Barton's reaction to a request for aid, and the at once touching and ghoulish moment in Ultron's 'Trophy Room'), but that'd run the risk of spoiling all the fun of the film. If you've got about an hour or two and want to have a kickass time that will appeal to all ages, I highly reccomend you check out Next Avengers. I don't think you'll be disappointed.