Thursday, December 31, 2009

Metahuman Press Goes Print!

All right, folks! It is big announcement time! Today, Metahuman Press kicks off the New Year a day early with the debut of its first print edition! Over the next few months, we will release a few more print versions of our story. These join the print editions of T. Mike McCurley’s Firedrake and Robin Reed’s Power vs Power already available.

So what is our first release? Well, it’s the very first story ever to be published on Metahuman Press!

Buy Freedom Patton now! Click here!

I have brought Freedom Patton back online with the print edition of his first adventure, now subtitled “A Dangerous Place to Live”. The initial chapter has been revised and expanded and the entire story has been re-formatted for the printed page. All behind a snazzy cover and available through the fine, print-on-demand folks at Lulu for only $13.95! As economic times tighten, we encourage all our fans to start purchasing both our new print editions and the merchandise store. Help us continue to bring your favorite serialized fiction to the web by showing your support for the finest super-powered fiction on the web!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Timeline 20: The Rise of Rulah Notes

I am going to be straight up with everyone here. I love Tarzan. It doesn’t even matter how many terrible reinventions or terrible actors play him, I love him. The entire concept of the jungle hero is something I truly love. And it’s not just Tarzan. I absolutely love the new Sheena material from Devil’s Due. I still miss Bruce Jones, Mark Waid, and Priest on Ka-Zar. I go to newspaper websites well out of my area just to read Phantom strips online. Heck, I love Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire for its jungle hero Atlanteans. So it should come as no surprise after I say all that, that I wanted my own jungle hero. Generally, I try to use literary characters wherever I can to avoid pastiches. I didn’t want Torzo, Jungle King, or anything equally preposterous.

So, what should I see, while cruising Toonepedia. for info on more golden age heroes for Tales of the Living Legends, but Rulah, Jungle Goddess. A quick surf of my favorite public domain download site quickly found her first and subsequent appearances. All with art by the amazing Golden Age artist Matt Baker!

Rulah has a real love-hate relationship with cats
So my jungle hero choice was made clear, Rulah was the one for me.

My plans are to continue irregularly writing new Rulah stories for the foreseeable future, but I will cover more on that at another time. Before I could really start making original stories, I thought it would be best to adapt her origin story from the horrendously title Zoot Comics #7. I updated a few bits and tried to clean up the dialogue. I also took the time to explain why all these African tribemen spoke perfect English. And finally I inserted Tembo, a character that will play an important role in my stories for the next few years.

As to the means for Rulah’s new stories to appear. I will just say that an old sister site, dating all the way back to MHP’s days as a subsite, will be making its return in a big way come 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: The DC heroes battle the Supernatural Big Two!

Thanks to the fine folks at my local library I have been able to read a copy of the preposterously long titled Superman & Batman vs. Vampires and Werewolves. The premise is as simple as the name sounds, but the carry-through is far more convoluted.

Written by former Valiant mainstay Kevin VanHook and drawn by veteran penciler Tom Mandrake, the book strangely doesn’t feature Superman for the first couple issues. When he finally does arrive he does pay an essential role, although I could argue that characters like Green Arrow and the Demon are just as important. Oh, did I mention the bland werewolf and vampire heroes added to fight the threat? Or the appearances by Nightwing, Wonder Woman, and Man-Bat? More oten than not, this series really feels like “lets throw this against the wall and see if it sticks”. It’s main problem, is it rarely does.

Mandrake is an able artist, although his style is definitely more fitting to Batman’s world than Superman’s. He evokes Gene Colan quite often, specifically Colan’s work on Tomb of Dracula and Night Force. But the style seems a little off-putting when it is used to draw four-color heroes.

The story seems less an attempt to introduce vampires and werewolves to the DC universe as a whole and more a back door pilot for the vampire hero Dimeter. Unfortunately, he seems like a bland attempt to make a white Blade (the movie version). Never does he feel like a real attempt at even developing a new idea, let alone a character worthy of his own book.

I think the main thing this book seems to be missing though is fun. A title like Superman & Batman vs. Vampires and Werewolves doesn’t exactly evoke images of serious supernatural fiction of the past. It more makes me think of silly B-movie schlock. But no, this seems to be an attempt to bring the Marv Wolfman-style horror of the seventies back, but with superheroes. And it just doesn’t work.

I wanted to like this book, but it just needed to have more there. But if you are the kind of reader who just loves vampire fiction and superheroes, maybe you will find something to love. As for me, it’s Not Recommended.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Rise of the Fan Pages

Just a quick note to say that yesterday’s Shadowdragon post was the three hundredth blog entry on Take the Helm presents!

Today, we are going to take a moment to introduce you to the two awesome new fan pages for Take the Helm’s sister sites Metahuman Press and Arc the Comic. Both have exclusive content: The MHP Fan page has information on our new series The Wicked. The Arc Fan Page has never before seen development art from Arc! Click on the links on the fan page badges below to join!

And once you have joined both awesome groups, you can create your own fan badges for all your websites and the like by visiting the Facebook fan badge maker. And thanks for supporting our sites!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Obscure Heroes: Shadowdragon

Shadowdragon is a true exercise in obscurity. Primarily a Superman supporting cast member of the mid-nineties, he was essentially a high tech ninja. He remained something of a mystery throughout his supporting cast appearances in the four Superman titles at the time. I didn’t buy most of these as my Super-comics buying had faded by 1995. I was intrigued by Shadowdragon, don’t get me wrong, but his appearances in those books were usually relegated to 2 to 3 pages an issue. He managed to meander through seven issues of the main title and a team-up with Lady Shiva in Showcase. In between those appearances, he managed to get an annual, despite never appearing in a comic of his own.

Shadowdragon Annual 1 gets right to the point, as his co-creators Brett Breeding and David Michelinie (along with layout artist Dick Giordano) give the definitive origin of Shadowdragon.

He is in fact Savitar Bandu, prince of a tiny Asian nation of Bhutran (not to be confused with Bhutan, one would expect). Neighbored by Chi-Lann, the two countries have been at war for quite some time. As they meet for peace summits, Savitar learns that the people of Chi-Lann may not be on the up and up. He sneaks across their border and visits a weapon research facility. He finds several advanced suits of armor. Donning his Shadowdragon armor for the first time, he uses the advanced abilities and his own martial arts skill to defeat the other super-suits and escape back to Bhutran.

And that is pretty much all there is to the annual. We get a brief recap explaining some of the modifications and additions made to the suit, but otherwise the character doesn’t go much past that origin story. Unfortunately, any further stories were not to be. After that one final appearance I mentioned before in Showcase ’96, Shadowdragon faded in to obscurity forevermore. It’s too bad, as he has some cool visuals and at least limited potential as a standalone character. Instead, one can only suppose he will someday be revived for one of DC’s inter-company crossovers and promptly slain. Here’s hoping, he gets better than that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Living Legends 23 Notes

We close out Living Legends for the year with the second part of our Christmas stories.

Big clue as to the identity of Dominique, one you might have already connected if you have been reading Tales of the Living Legends, our webcomic companion.

While working through a lot of the Golden Age comics I have downloaded (thumbs up to public domain download site Golden Age Comics), I stumbled across a second Captain Fearless, this one a powerless sea captain. I instantly realized even without his powers, Ernesto didn’t need to be retired. So watch for him to return to action in a subsequent chapter.

A little bit of fun with Ghost Woman and Green Lama. I have been digging through old Green Lama stories in the last few months, and the one thing that seems perfectly clear to me is that he may be one of the biggest dicks in Golden Age comics. Don’t get me wrong, he is still definitely a hero, but I do not really see the calm, collected Buddhist monk of his other modern interpretations. I have mellowed him a little (decades stuck in the Abyss Sphere would do that to any man), but I want to keep some of that spunk. This chapter really shows that.

Welcome to Christmas baby Gabriel Blake. The poor kid is going to have a hard life right from the start. We will get to that very soon, as we will come at you twice again next month.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Comics of Yesteryear: Starman volume one

Comic connoisseurs have fond memories of James Robinson’s excellent nineties series Starman. I loved it too, but at the same time, it offered a hint of sadness for me. You see, Jack Knight was the replacement for one of the first DC heroes I fell in love with as a ten year old: Starman.

He had no relation to any previous incarnation to Starman. He didn’t need it. Much like DC’s Silver Age characters featured new heroes with old names, so did Will Payton. Instead of any kind of cosmic device, he gets hit by a ray frm the sky that apparently kills him. He wakes up in a morgue, unharmed, and with great levels of power. With his sister’s encouragement, he uses his stellar powers to become Starman, hero of Denver.

Written by Roger Stern, fresh off of his Marvel runs on titles like Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man and soon to be Superman writer, and illustrated by Tom Lyle, contributor to Impact’s The Comet, John Ostrander’s Punisher, and numerous other short runs on various books for the next decade. They weren’t out to innovate the way the later Starman’s creative team was. They wanted to complete a successful superhero book and that they accomplished with gusto.

To modern readers, Starman’s first couple issues might seem right at home, but at the time I thought they were rather strange. The first two issues were spent doing little more than learning his powers (flight, energy projection, super strength, facial reconstruction) and how to use them to fight crime. Issue three finally brings his first super-villain, the rather lackluster Blue Devil foe Bolt. The end of that issue does show us his first villains uniquely his own: the Power Elite. They attack just as the Invasion crossover starts. (And this is where I first bought the book back in the late eighties.)

The story gets thrown to the side for a two issue team-up with Firestorm that leads to Starman taking a major role in the battle against the Dominators’s invasion force. I ate it up as a kid, but I can clearly see now where Stern’s plans get back-burnered in favor of a crossover event. But they still maintain the fun, exciting spirit set up by the previous few issues.

After Invasion, the Power Elite storyline returns. This is when the book really shines. Issues seven and eight wrap up the Power Elite story with a (literal) bang. The team of Stern & Lyle really come together with these issues. They would continue for another dozen or so issues before Lyle left for greener pastures. Stern would disappear a few issues later.

I really don’t want to go in to too many details about this book. While it does get in to the angst that started to really bury comics in the late eighties in to the nineties, Starman still carried the fun but semi-real style that DC cultivated post-Crisis. Sadly, DC has yet to add (or even mention it as a potential addition) to its Showcase line of black and white reprints. You can still find most of these issues for a buck or under in any number of back issue bins. You should go check them out. You might just like ’em. Recommended.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Comics of Yesteryear: Todd MacFarlane's Spider-Man Torment

We are back with a few Christmas week reviews, as Super-Powered Fiction Files finally makes its full fledged return. This week we will take a look back at comics past as we travel through the Comics of Yesteryear.

In the early nineties, comics were very, very different. A speculators’ market was growing, the industry was still selling hundreds of thousands of comics, and superstar artists were taking the market by storm. Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Mark Silvestri all came out of the X-books, but Amazing Spider-Man’s Todd MacFarlane was arguably the biggest of them all. So big that when he expressed an interest in writing, Marvel gave him his own new series, simply titled Spider-Man to test his skills in.

As his first foray in to writing, Todd MacFarlane’s Spider-Man: Torment could be far, far worse. Basically an overly drawn out battle between Spider-Man and the Lizard (with a little bit of Calypso on the side), the story would do early 2000’s Marvel proud for its level of decompression. It takes to half-way in to the second issue just for the primary two players to meet. From there, they just keep bouncing around the city, never fighting for more than a couple pages.

Throughout it all, the story is buried under narration so heavy even Chris Claremont would blush. His early Spawn issues may have been wordy, but they offered nothing in comparison to Torment. Check out the page below, and this is not the worst offender by far:

It seems odd that an artist, especially one as popular as MacFarlane would choose to obscure so much of his art with superfulous dialogue. But this book was an exercise in excess. I highly doubt the editor ever said no to his writer/artist. They were both too busy counting their cash.

The art is stupendous. This is probably MacFarlane at his finest, after having honed his craft on Amazing Spider-Man for years. Every page seems to ooze energy from it, even if some of the layouts may make your head wobble a bit. And I do recall this book really made me question what the Comics Coude Authority was for:

Yup, that seems code approved and child friendly.

Despite its flaws, Torment is worth having just for art and the history related to it. The first issue of this book broke records, selling more than 2.5 million copies, a record at the time. Marvel collected it in to a Premiere Hardcover earlier this year. I have yet to see it, but the company usually gives a solid level of production quality for these editions. Give it a looksee sometime when you’re in the bookstore if you appreciate good comic art. Maybe even pick that baby up. Mildly Recommended.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Living Legends 22 Notes

With this chapter and the next we take a look at Christmas time for all of our heroes. This is very much a connecting chapter as we start the build to the secrets of Dominique and her cabal.

I will let this one speak for itself for the most part. But I will say that the mystery of Luna still has some time before it is revealed. She holds the key to the next major story arc of Living Legends and a major shift in the series post-Dominique.

More in future posts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Living Legends 21 Notes

The contest from last chapter is still going by the way. If you can figure it out, I will have that fancy piece of clothing shipped right out. Spoilers ahead, so go read the chapter first!

Chapter 21 is a big one. This serves as a major set up to actually move towards the finish of the Dominique storyline. We open with Ace and Fear Lass on Airlab. Airlab, like New Salem, will be making an appearance in upcoming chapters of Out For Vengeance but for now it is a mighty fine place for a battle between our heroes and a new team of super-villains. Unlike just about every other character that popped up in previous chapters, no legacy comes attached to the criminals. I just needed four thug villains. Usually I’ll plum the piles of old story plots I have dating back to my high school years, but I took a different tack with these ones. I pulled out my old copy of the classic TSR Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game and randomly generated all four. After that, I designed personalities around their classes, powers, and talents, and voila, I had more than enough for a team of criminals. Sometimes one dimensional characters can stay one dimensional, and these four, much like the Lady Foulplays in chapters past, probably will. At least for now.

We leave Mary Lee in place for the time being as we move in to the continuance of Atoman’s saga. More next chapter.

We know Robert “Lash Lightning” Morgan has ties to Dominique. Now one of our heroes gets the first hints of what is actually going on at the Chateau. What Isobel can do about it during a fragile pregnancy remains to be seen.

And, finally, our lost heroes return to reality, months after they disappeared, but only a few minutes for them. Doctor Frost’s own arrogance works against him, and this little band of heroes is suddenly without a leader. But they are far from through. Ghost Woman and Blackout both have places to go still.

And they will do it over our next two chapters. Over the next two weeks, we will hit both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as each of the characters celebrate (or at least survive) in a different way.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Diamond Destinations for December 2009

I always see articles from other bloggers claiming to “valiantly” slog through the latest issue of Previews so comic readers can see what’s nifty coming up without cracking the magazine themselves. I think the notion is silly, as I consider my monthly perusal of the catalog to be a highlight of the comic buying experience. But that doesn’t mean I cannot go through my own recommendations.

Page 77: Milestone Forever is the series that will finally wrap up the dangling plot threads of the classic Milestone titles from the nineties. I loved these comics as a kid until DC decided to push their distribution of them in to the gutter. My local shops stopped carrying them and amazing titles like Icon, Static, and Blood Syndicate vanished. It may be for only two issues, but they are back right here, as the Milestone universe finally comes to a shocking close that will lead in to the Milestone characters arrival in the DCU.

Page 84: Warlord 11 is just another issue of the title, but with writer Mike Grell now on art duties as well, it really is a can’t miss title. More people should be picking this one up before it ends up canceled.

Page 124: Ame-Comi Steel does things to Natasha Irons no man should see. Isn’t she still jailbait in the DCU?

Page 144: Spawn 200 is a milestone for a title outside the big two. Besides Cerebus I know no other title that has made it this far. Sure the creative team changed several times over, but the recent return of Todd McFarlane has revived this title for the first time in years. This issue features art by McFarlane and Capullo and guest art by a half dozen top talents. Sounds like a great place to jump on if you haven’t already!

Page 148: Speaking of good jumping on points, here is Invincible Returns #1. Invincible gets his old costume back, a bunch of guest covers, and the start of the Viltrumite War storyline. Invincible is one of the best titles on the market. Here’s where to start picking it up if you haven’t read it yet.

Page 152: Another underrated series returns with a one shot. Help keep the series alive by picking up a copy of The Perhapanauts: Molly’s Story!

Page 166: I am not quite sure what to expect from Broken Trinity: Pandora’s Box but the opposing forces of Finn and Glori wre definitely interesting characters back in the original Broken Trinity. Top Cow is really pulling out all the stops to make great books in the last year or so, and I would bet that this will continue that trend.

Page 194: Fathom has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, but now I feel a lot less guilty. David Schwartz, writer of a great Image book from a few years ago called Meltdown and original Stormwatch artist Scott Clark are teaming up for the new series, “Blue Destiny”! Sounds like a great line up for the next volume, but you can check out this 0 issue preview for only $2.50.

Page 207: If you haven’t picked up The Anchor yet, Boom has got the first trade out for just shy of $10. That’s a truly great deal. If you have read it, the next issue (#5) is also out and ready for purchase. I cannot say enough times how great this title is!

Page 255: I don’t know if it matters whether the story is good or not, as The Phantom Double Shot #3 teams Phantom up with Buckaroo Banzai. Comics don’t get much crazier than that.

Page 261: The fourth volume of Atomic Robo kicks off, and this time he faces “The Revenge of the Vampire Dimension”. This book oozes zany coolness. Give this issue or one of the three previous trades a try ASAP.

Page 306: I have to point out the Kryptonian at Heart t-shirt just to say that anyone who wears that is a tool. I have seen some ugly shirts, but dang, that one takes the cake.

Page 336: Let’s close things out with a series of amazing looking Usagi Yojimbo Status. I don’t have the kind of money it takes to buy these, but these are some real beauties.

That wraps up the independent superhero goodies coming in February, folks. And if you can’t wait for all that super-goodness, let me just throw out a reminder that my own webcomic Arc continues to update every week for your reading enjoyment!