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I remember when I was reading the different “Superman” titles back in the early 1990s and each comic had its own niche and take on Superman’s world. So one had to do with his dealings with Lex Luthor and Supergirl, another was old fashioned superheroics, a third went for the strange Jack Kirby influenced characters… you get the idea. So with the relaunch of the “Batman” family of titles in November, it’s been nice to see the same sort of unofficial division happening. “Detective Comics” is dark and creepy, “Batman Incorporated” is way out there and larger than life, and as for “Batman” itself? It’s a great mix of the character’s super-powered villains and the organized crime of Gotham.

With Tony Daniel’s third installment of “Eye of the Beholder,” we’re getting a whole lot of fun. It’s in many ways the most “classic” of the Bat-books at the moment, delivering a “Batman” comic set firmly in the DC Universe but not losing sight of the elements that make Batman a great character. Sensei feels like a long-time Bat-villain under Daniel’s hands, and the return of the Riddler (who Daniel last dealt with in “Batman” #698-699, so it’s good to see a follow-up) and Enigma (forgotten since he and Geoff Johns created her for “Teen Titans”) is a pleasant diversion. At the same time, we’re learning more about the location of the mysterious Beholder that everyone’s trying to find, and while I Ching and Peacock are sidelined a bit this issue, they’re still part of the overall plot.

But more than that, Daniel is using the richness of the supporting cast here. We’ve got Robin, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Catgirl, even the director of Arkham Asylum. This feels like it’s part of a larger narrative that Daniel began when he took over writing “Batman,” and with each new chapter you’re getting a story that works well on its own but also clicks into the puzzle that he’s building. I think my favorite parts are the ones involving Catwoman and Catgirl; Daniel is doing a good job presenting their relationship with both each other and Batman, and I’m glad Catgirl’s stuck around since her initial introduction. Her point in the plot works well, without making her overly important.

It helps that Daniel’s art continues to strengthen on “Batman.” From the crouching Catwoman on the window sill to Batman and Catgirl leaping through the air, there’s a lot of energy and detail in every image. Even something as simple as Catgirl giving Batman a sidelong glance when she has to explain something to him is drawn carefully; it’s hard to believe at times how much Daniel has grown into his role as “Batman” artist.

The latest “Batman” has it all; secret histories of characters, fights, ambushes, and of course the set-up for next month’s conclusion. The tone picked for “Batman” is fun, pure and simple, and this comic delivers it in spades.


Austin author is new Superman writer

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Tens of millions have read the Superman comic books since America’s first superhero emerged in 1938. Few have been chosen to write them.

Now Austin author Chris Roberson has been tapped by D.C. Comics to write the new editions of the Man of Steel.

Roberson calls it his dream job and said he’s been preparing for it since he read his first Superman comic at the age of six.

“My earliest obsession was Superman. I have photographic records of me wearing Superman t-shirts and Superman costumes,” he said.

Roberson quit his engineering job at Dell seven years ago to become an author. A year and a half ago he turned to writing comics. Now he’s landed the gold standard and he’s delighted.

“It’s great because I get to spend weeks sitting around reading Superman comics and calling it work. I tend to clutter my desk with Superman action figures, some of which I’ve had for 35 years,” Roberson said. “Now I get to make up stories about Superman, which isn’t a million miles from what I did when I was six.”

Roberson’s first edition came out last week, and he intends to emphasize Superman’s cerebral side.

“He’s really smart. People forget it’s not just that he can fly and is super strong, so put him in a situation where he can’t fix by punching something and make him puzzle out a really smart solution to it,” Roberson explained.

Roberson considers Superman the ultimate immigrant and the ultimate self-made man, and he realizes there is a responsibility with his new gig.

“It’s a sacred trust, I think,” he said. “Superman has been around since 1938. He’ll be around far after I’m gone and it’s like a stewardship. I’ve got to make sure he remains Superman for the months I’m telling him what to do.”

D.C. Comics bought the rights for Superman from his two original creators in 1938, for the price of $130.


Writer Chris Roberson talks Superman

With his first issue hitting the stands last week, local writer Chris Roberson talks with KXAN about his new job.

He(Chris) worked for Dell as an engineer before quitting 7 years ago to become an author. A year and a half ago he started writing comics, and now works for DC as the writer of the man of steel.

“My earliest obsession was Superman. I have photographic records of me wearing Superman t-shirts and Superman costumes,” Roberson says.

“It’s great because I get to spend weeks sitting around reading Superman comics and calling it work. I tend to clutter my desk with Superman action figures, some of which I’ve had for 35 years,” Roberson said. “Now I get to make up stories about Superman, which isn’t a million miles from what I did when I was six.”

Roberson goes on to describe his vision for Superman.

“He’s really smart. People forget it’s not just that he can fly and is super strong, so put him in a situation where he can’t fix by punching something and make him puzzle out a really smart solution to it.”

For the full interview with video, click on the link below.


Theater veteran G. William Zorn wins Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwrighting

East Peoria Community High School graduate and former local community theater veteran G. William Zorn isn’t on the same level as Tina Fey by a long shot. But you could say he’s had his brush with the big time.

That’s because in 2010 the Kennedy Center recognized both Tina Fey and Zorn for achievements in comedy.

Certainly the scale of achievement was different: Fey won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor thanks to her overall body of comedic work – everything from “Saturday Night Live” to “30 Rock” and her film endeavors such as “Mean Girls” and “Date Night.”

Zorn, on the other hand, won the Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwrighting at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival for “Metropolis Has No Superman,” which will be staged next weekend at Corn Stock’s Winter Lab Theatre.

Still, both Fey and Zorn have the iconic Mark Twain attached to their names – no little achievement in the case of Zorn, whose script beat out about 200 submissions for the honor, which included a trip to the national festival, a $2,500 cash prize and playwrighting residency with a professional theater company.

“Metropolis Has No Superman” unfolds in the Illinois town of Metropolis – official hometown of DC Comics’ Superman – and revolves around a gifted, yet conflicted, comic book creator named Chance, who has a falling out with his father, who dies in a freak accident.

Part of the problem is that Chance is gay (and the creator of the “Queer Boy” comic series). But the bigger problem is that Chance’s dad feels that he has long been playing second fiddle to the imaginary comic book characters in his son’s life.

The play isn’t just about father-son estrangement, however; it’s also about how family members are sometimes intimate strangers who learn to understand one another with difficulty and pain. The work grew out of a thesis for Zorn’s master’s of fine arts in playwrighting at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Currently, Zorn is studying for a Ph.D. at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“I tell you, the real sort of excitement came when I learned that Tina Fey won the other Mark Twain Prize,” Zorn said. “This year the two people who won the Mark Twain Prize for comedy at the Kennedy Center was me, this sort of nobody playwright from Kalamazoo, Mich., and Tina Fey. I didn’t have a big TV special accepting the award like she did with Betty White. It’s something I can really milk when I’m out of this Ph.D. program and looking for a job.”

Zorn, now 41, grew up in East Peoria, graduating from East Peoria Community High School in 1987 and going on to Illinois Central College to earn an associate’s degree in communication in 1990. A bachelor’s degree followed at Eastern Illinois University in 1992. Along the way he appeared on the stages of Corn Stock Theatre and Peoria Players and worked at Children’s Community Theatre.

“I have been a professional actor for 20-plus years,” Zorn said. “I got into theater because I liked the idea of people paying to see me do something entertaining. For whatever my personality deficiencies, I liked being the center of attention. I did lots of tours, lots of productions in Chicago, Seattle. Then about 1997-ish I was in Chicago. I was sort of getting tired of the roles I was being offered. I was always the funny fat guy. But there’s only so many times you can play Nicely Nicely in ‘Guys and Dolls’ before you’re bored with it.”

So Zorn started writing his own plays. In 1997 he wrote a short play called “Poetry,” which he sent to a gay and lesbian theater festival in New York. The novice writer was pleasantly surprised that the festival wanted to perform the piece.

“I was excited by that,” Zorn said. “The first play I had committed to paper and somebody wanted to do it.”

“Metropolis Has No Superman” was inspired by a visit to the real-life town of Metropolis, which sits on the Ohio River on the southern most tip of Illinois. In 1972, DC Comics declared the little town of 6,400 or so the official “Home of Superman.”

“I saw the 12-foot Superman in front of the courthouse,” Zorn said. “And then you travel a few blocks down the street and you see the 24-foot Green Grocer in front of Big John’s Super Store. And I started thinking about the competition between these two statues and what would have brought that about. Being from Illinois, I thought my thesis play should be related to my roots, my upbringing. So I started from there.”

Director Sean Howell put out a call for a new short play for Corn Stock’s annual theater festival but did not receive many submissions. Since Zorn already had contacted Howell about “Metropolis,” Howell decided to go ahead with the piece even though it was a full-length work instead of a short piece. (A brief play, “Context,” by community theater veteran Laura Swantner Johnson also will be staged. The piece has no speaking and is a spoof on texting.)

Despite its serious themes, Howell said, the play is quite funny.

“For an audience to recognize something as very funny you have to temper it with something else,” Zorn said. “You have to show them the other side.”

Zorn’s goals include finishing his Ph.D. program and eventually leading his own playwrighting program. He wanted the play staged in Peoria partly so his mother – who hasn’t seen any of his plays – could see it.

“I’m glad to be bringing something back to Peoria after being gone for so long,” Zorn said. “It inevitably happens every couple of years that I’ll go home for the holidays, and I’ll see someone in the supermarket and they’ll say something to the effect of ‘I thought you were dead. Somebody said you were dead.’ No, I’m not dead. I’ve just been moving, living all over the country and working as an actor.”

Gary Panetta can be reached at 686-3132 or [email protected]


– What: “Metropolis Has No Superman,” a original play by former community theater performer G. William Zorn. The play won the Mark Twain Award from the Kennedy Center. Also playing is “Context,” a short one-act by Laura Swantner Johnson.

– When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21-22, 27-29. Also 2:30 p.m. Jan. 23.

– Where: Corn Stock Winter Playhouse, Upper Bradley Park.

– Tickets: General admission is $10 for adults, $7 for students (with ID). Call 676-2196.


There’s always someone right by superheroes’ side

Robin's role as a sidekick was to make Batman seem less dark and isolated.

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20th Century Fox via AP

Robin’s role as a sidekick was to make Batman seem less dark and isolated.

It’s a familiar trope, the superhero-plus-sidekick, and no accident, say academics who study comic heroes. Nearly every superhero of the comics (except, significantly, the very first one, Superman) and most of the heroes of world literature have subordinate figures to back them up in their adventures.

The earliest known literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates back more than four millennia, is the story of a Sumerian king, Gilgamesh, and his close companion, Enkidu, the wild man of Mesopotamia who accompanies the king on various quests.

And there have been scores of such pairs ever since: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Holmes and Watson. Huck and Jim. Tarzan and Cheetah. Ishmael and Queequeg. Lone Ranger and Tonto. (In fact, in the original radio series of the 1930s, Green Hornet is the Lone Ranger’s great-nephew, but that’s another story.)

True, some comic-book heroes besides Superman don’t have sidekicks — Iron Man and Spider-Man, for instance. But many do: Green Arrow and Speedy. Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. Aquaman and Aqualad. Flash and Kid Flash. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl. Even The Tick has a sidekick: Arthur.

There are four kinds of these characters in the comics, says Peter Coogan, director of the Institute for Comic Studies, an American studies teacher at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder of the Comic Arts Conference at the annual Comic-Con International in San Diego.

The assistant, who is not a superhero with superpowers (example: Batman’s butler Alfred).

The partner, a superhero with identity, code name and costume who works as an equal with another superhero (Green Arrow and Green Lantern).

The pal, who has neither superpowers nor a costume but hangs around (Jimmy Olsen and Superman).

The sidekick, who usually has special abilities (but not necessarily powers), an identity and a costume.

“Why are they there? In terms of narrative, sidekicks are there to give the hero someone to talk to,” Coogan says.

Ideologically, he says, they’re there to provide a minority figure subordinate to the dominant hero, to soften the image of the hero (as Robin does for the dark, isolated Batman), or to reinforce his superiority.

Kato, however, is in most respects smarter than Rogen’s Green Hornet — he not only drives the high-tech car, but he also designed it.

Nicholas Yanes, who studies the comics as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, says this version of Kato tracks more like the Bruce Lee version on TV in the 1960s; Lee’s portrayal helped bring the martial-arts craze to the West.

“The new movie “is the first time it’s blatantly clear that the sidekick is more competent than the superhero,” says Yanes. “Usually the Green Hornet is the superior being, but here we have Kato building the weapon and kicking the superhero as a fighter. He’s not only equal but probably better than Green Hornet.”

Coogan draws on contemporary literary-criticism ideas to explain that the sidekick is sometimes intended as a way to assuage audience guilt about how minorities are or have been treated.

“If Tonto is the Lone Ranger’s friend, then the Lone Ranger is not guilty of genocide and we don’t have to feel guilt, either,” Coogan says. “The Kato figure tells fat, lazy, slovenly Americans that we can work with fast, sleek, rising China. We don’t have to worry about China overtaking us in technology and resources; it’s still subordinate,” as Kato is.

But The Green Hornet story also is a hero-and-sidekick story reflective of the impulses that first animated human storytelling, says Coogan.

“They’re about selfish boys turned into responsible men, which is what happens in The Green Hornet,” he says. “The cultural function of a hero story is how to turn selfishness into selflessness.”


DC Universe Online launches on PC and PS3


Change city


DC Universe Internet Game Hits Stores

DC Universe Online will also be available throughout Europe and other international territories the same week with the official launch in the UK and Ireland on January 14, 2011, and across Europe, Asia and Africa on January 12, 2011 with Italy launching on January 19, 2011. DC Universe Online will ship in Australia on January 20, 2011.

About DC Universe Online

Lex Luthor has traveled back through time with news of a dire future: While the heroes and villains spent years battling amongst themselves, Brainiac has been feeding on their powers, building strength to return to Earth and destroy humanity. To change the future, Lex has come back to set off a device that bestows super powers to thousands of every-day citizens and give humanity a fighting chance. Can Brainiac be stopped, or is this another nefarious Lex Luthor plot?

For the first time, players and fans will be able to enter the DC Universe as an active force for good or evil. DCUO was created in the artistic vision of legendary comic book artist Jim Lee, and set within a world created by famous DC writers including Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman.

In the game, players can pick up buses, fly into the air and throw them at enemies, run up the sides of buildings to engage in melee brawls while shooting flames of fire from their hands, or cling to the side of buildings while using a grappling hook to pull flying opponents out of the sky – all while interacting with the iconic characters of DC Comics.

For example, players might be tasked with rescuing Batwoman from the fear gas that Scarecrow has unleashed in Gotham City’s sewers, or battle Power Girl as they work with Lex Luthor to create an army of mutants out of Metropolis citizens.


DC Universe on D2D

Sony Online Entertainment’s highly anticipated MMORPG, DC Universe Online, is now available for PC download at Direct2Drive. Experience the visions of legendary comic book artist Jim Lee, and writers Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman, in an epic struggle between good and evil. Enter the world of DC Comics online and choose your allegiances! Team up with Superman, Batman, and the DC Comic superheroes to save Earth, or join up with The Joker, Lex Luthor, and the DC villains.

For more details and to review D2D’s huge library of more than 2,500 games, check out


Zadzooks: Star Wars Blood Ties & Superman vs. Muhammad Ali

This chronic feature lets me review what recently has passed my bloodshot eyes. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to Mr. Zad’s comic critique.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali: Facsimile Edition, oversized hardcover graphic novel (DC Comics, $39.99)  The cost of admission was $2.50 back in 1978 to see “The Champ” challenge the “Man of Steel” to an intergalactic boxing match.

The price to own this reprint of a DC Comics’ Treasury Edition today has increased dramatically, but it’s worth it.

In a 72-page story, originally blown up to tabloid-size format, readers were introduced to a hostile species named the Scrubb that challenged Earth to put forth its greatest champion to battle its own brute or risk being obliterated.

Of course Superman was ready, but Ali was the only true champion of the human species at the time. It was decided the pair would duke it out on the planet Bodace and the winner would face Scrubb’s best.

Yeah, that’s a stretch, and the equally impressive creative team of artist Neal Adams (supported by Dick Giordano and Terry Austin) and writer Denny O’Neil eagerly take the plot to the most outrageous level.

Not only does a vintage Ali teach Superman how to box, but he also proceeds to pummel him into a bruised bag of pulp during the fight. It seems their match took place on a planet with a red sun, diminishing Kal-El’s powers.

Now Ali has to fight a massive Scrubb champion while Superman recovers in time to save Earth.

Take it from a guy who owns the original edition: It’s wonderful to reread the story in its large size (13 inches tall by 10 inches wide) with heavier glossy white paper and recolored to make Mr. Adams’ work pop from the page.

I fondly appreciated Howard Cosell standing by in disbelief while Jimmy Olson announced the fight and scanning an unforgettable wraparound cover that offers a who’s who of 1970s celebrities in the crowd from all parts of pop culture, including Tony Orlando, Joe Namath, Gil Kane and Frank Sinatra.

Story Continues ?

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Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal


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That’s the word young Billy Baston has to say to be transformed by a magic lightning bolt into the world’s mightiest mortal (and an grown-up too, I might add) Captain Marvel! As Captain Marvel, young Billy has the powers of –

Solomon – wisdom

Hercules – strength

Atlas – stamina

Zeus – power

Achilles – courage

Mercury – speed

Pretty neat, huh! What little kid wouldn’t be drawn to such a character? And like flies they were during the 1940s and early 1950s, outselling Superman by 14 million comic books a month. Besides the Captain, who appeared in three comics a month, there were comics with his sister Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr., and even a funny animal character Hoppy, the Marvel Bunny.

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The huge popularity of Captain Marvel is celebrated in the book, Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal (Harry N. Abrams, 246 pp.) by writer and designer Chip Kidd and photographer Geoff Spear. Together they show us oodles of “Marvel Family” merchandise and ephemera, mostly from the collection of Harry Matetsky.

And what a collection it is, from Captain Marvel club items to clothes, toys, games, puzzles, figurines, and paper dolls, just to name a few. Among those which stood out to me: the “personally” addressed letters to fans “signed” by the Captain himself (Fawcett Publications, who printed the Captain Marvel comics, had 30 full-time staffers to answer the Captain’s fan mail); and all the clothing – ties, shirts, dresses (from Mary Marvel). The funniest, however, was the replica of Captain Marvel’s cape, which has a disclaimer printed on it: “Play cape does not possess superhuman powers,” probably to prevent any unnecessary roof jumping.

Besides merchandise there are comics and letters that were sent out to companies to entice them to have Captain Marvel endorse their products.

All the collectibles leap off the page thanks to the amazing page design of Kidd. His enthusiasm for his material is contagious, from the cover with its neat lightning bolt shape cut out to display the word “Shazam” on the page underneath, to the items (beautifully lighted and photographed by Spear) shown on page after page. Many of them get a full-page treatment and there’s even a gatefold.

Kidd’s text leads you through the items with brief descriptions and a history of the “Shazam” phenomenon, letting the collectibles speak for themselves. He only breaks from them occasionally to show covers of the various “Marvel Family” comics.

But what happened to the Captain Marvel craze? Kidd recounts the battle that Captain Marvel lost – the one in the courtroom. D.C. comics claimed that he was a Superman rip-off and, after years and years of trials, Fawcett stopped publishing the comics.

Kidd’s introduction is my favorite part of the text. Here, he reveals the degree to which this book was a labor of love. Kidd tells how he discovered Captain Marvel at age 8 and shares pictures of a home-made Halloween costume of the Captain he wore at age 9. He sums up the character’s appeal simply but eloquently:

“Batman was Menace.

Superman was Power.

Captain Marvel was Charm.”

Rich Clabaugh is a Monitor staff artist.

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