Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pop Reviews: Alex Toth! World War Z! Golden Age Superman strips!

What I've been reading, hearing, watching, etc.


Genius, Animated: The Cartoon Art of Alex Toth
This is the third of three IDW Publishing coffee table books devoted to the life of master cartoonist Alex Toth. While the previous volumes focused on Toth's life story and his career in comic books, this one is mostly pictures - and that's not a bad thing at all.

From the mid 60s to early 1970s, Toth worked in Hollywood -- mainly for Hanna-Barbera -- doing character designs for such series as Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Jonny Quest, the Super Friends and more. And that's what we get here: page upon page of gorgeous drawings prepared by Toth for those animating these characters' adventures. It's beautiful work, printed in a huge format.

With this concluding volume, editors Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell have produced perhaps the most in-depth study ever of an American comics artist. Appropriately for the subject matter, they have blended text and a huge number of images, giving us the full picture of this complex and talented man.


World War Z

My son and I watched this one the other night. It's streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime and worth a look if you're not sick to death of zombies.

It's summer, it's hot and we were in the mood for a not-overly-challenging film This one fit the bill. It starts off with a bang -- snippets of radio and TV news coverage setting that stage with discussion of a mysterious plague that's making animals violent. No further exposition is necessary, as we're quickly placed into the company of former U.N. investigator Brad Pitt and his family as they leave on vacation and find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse while driving through downtown Philadelphia.

No big surprise, Pitt is pulled back in just when he thought he was out, and finds himself traveling the globe searching for the roots of the outbreak -- fighting zombies all the way.

The best bit really is the early sequence in Philadelphia, which features heart-racing car chases and lots of zombie mayhem. Things coast a bit from there, though there's a great scene aboard a passenger plane mid-act. This isn't a spoiler because you can see it coming a mile away.

Pitt is good, but doesn't do anything anyone else couldn't in his action hero role. More interesting was Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier who lends Pitt a zombie-slaying hand (in more ways than one!). Soon-to-be Doctor Who Peter Capaldi shows up in a small role, too.


Superman: The Golden Age Sundays 1943-1946


Here's another IDW book that's been on my coffee table for awhile. It's taken me forever to read and I'm still not entirely done. My reading of Mark Lewisohn's expanded Beatles bio and the third book of George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" series are mostly to blame (I need to read some short  books, occasionally). But the Superman book also suffers the problem of being more interesting as a historical artifact than as a collection of classic storytelling.

Certainly, there's some great Superman art on display here -- by Jack Burnley and Wayne Boring -- and the strips' reflection of what was happening overseas at the time (World War II, don't you know) is compelling. But the stories, by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, aren't terribly engaging.

Early on, the plots are focused on Superman's foiling of home front saboteurs. Then things take a goofy, somewhat entertaining detour, as the Man of Steel begins his "Superman's Service for Servicemen," ostensibly inspired by real-life letters the strip's creators received from overseas soldiers.

The premise is this: Superman and Lois Lane get letters from homesick grunts and honor their requests for help. Whether it's flying in a home-cooked meal or refereeing a love triangle, no request is too silly or small. 

It's fun for a while. You can see how these near-propaganda strips were aimed at making those at home feel better about feeling bad the troops "over there." But it all goes on too long. Perhaps if you only read one of these every Sunday -- as they originally appeared -- it wouldn't be so tiresome. But, as is, it's a slog. You also begin to wonder whatever happened to Clark Kent, as Superman is evidently given his own office at the Daily Planet to do this work and his mild-mannered is nowhere to be seen.

Finally, as the volume concludes, we get back into more typical serial storytelling. 

But that's not to say this is a bad book. As usual, IDW has done a masterful job of reprinting the art and has enlisted Super-expert Mark Waid to provide the necessary context in his forward - which also warns of the sometimes alarmingly inappropriate ethnic stereotypes on display within (World War II, don't you know). But it's more for the bookshelf and comics history research than for sitting down and reading.

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