Thursday, May 19, 2022
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
|photo by Luigi Novi|
George Perez was not just a comic book artist.
George Perez was THE comic book artist.
For me, he was the greatest comic artist ever to work in the medium. He had a style that was so powerful, dynamic and vivid. But at the same time, his work was not overly stylized in the way that the Image generation of artists was. His work was completely and utterly accessible. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it absolutely is not. Some artists turn you off by the quirks of their style. I don't know anyone who was not enamored of Mr. Perez's work.
My first memory of seeing his art was in The New Teen Titans #39. The second page was a gigantic splash page of all the Titans taking on the villains. What drew my attention was how he drew Dick Grayson as Robin. At this point, Dick was about to leave the role behind him because he had outgrown it. But he was still wearing the classic costume he had worn since his debut decades earlier. While it is clear that he had outgrown it, I was amazed that Mr. Perez drew him in a way that did not make him look silly. That is no small feat given the nature of the costume, pointy-ankle-booties and everything. Mr. Perez could do this because when we looked at Dick, we were looking at the man beyond the costume.
One of the greatest sequences he ever drew, in my opinion, was in that same storyline, The Judas Contract, where Deathstroke attacked Dick Grayson in his apartment. In just a few panels, Perez was able to create cinematic motion and incredible dramatic tension as Dick tries desperately to escape the clutches of a man he know he cannot beat.
In the middle of the 1980's The New Teen Titans was the biggest selling book at DC. This is a tribute to writer Marv Wolfman's work to be sure. But Mr. Perez's art style was a gigantic draw. He had the difficult task of making sure our heroes looked mature, on the verge of adulthood, but not too mature. They still needed to keep their youth and innocence. They also had to be incredibly cool, which they were. The art was stunning and dynamic. He designed the look for Nightwing and the others and set tone of style for other books.
Mr. Perez's best work is, without a doubt, Crisis on Infinite Earths. I truly believe that series would not have been nearly as successful without his deft hand. He could create scenes of the most epic scope, filled with hundreds of characters. Some of his pages I would simply stare at in awe, looking at all of the characters he put into it. And even in these pages and panels you could see his genius as a micro-storyteller. His details of body language and facial expression told little stories about how characters felt about each other and how they interacted. The scale showed his power as a macro-storyteller. Crisis was a story of unimaginable size and he made everything feel larger-than-life. I read and re-read Crisis so many times that the images are burned into my imagination.
He also did amazing work for Marvel. Although I never really connected with the book, his art on Avengers defined the look of the team. He also drew one of the greatest Hulk stories every written: Future Imperfect. Everyone who talks about that story remembers the Rick Jones trophy room shot. If I remember the story correctly, Peter David wrote that Thor's hammer would be hanging on the wall. But Perez, who loved the character, reminded David that it would have to be on the ground, since only someone worthy could lift it.
Mr. Perez also drew the first few issues of The Infinity Gauntlet, where brought his epic Crisis style to that book. My favorite shot is a strange insert of Captain America, bleeding into the background.
Since he was such a respected artist at both companies, they commissioned him to draw their Justice League vs. Avengers comic. But company politics caused the book to be cancelled, even though Mr. Perez had already been drawn several pages. Fortunately after many, many years, the big two companies were able to work out the problems and they very wisely returned to Mr. Perez to draw the book. This comic is a visual feast. You can see how much fun Mr. Perez had playing with all the Marvel and DC toys while at the same time showing his utter reverence for the characters.
He was able to complete revamp Wonder Woman after Crisis, but I have never gotten around to reading that book. I was so pleased that Mr. Perez, my favorite artist, was able to work with Geoff Johns, my favorite writer, on Legion of 3 Worlds. That is another book that truly, no one but Mr. Perez could have drawn.
There is too much in his illustrious career to capture in this small remembrance.
He married his second wife, Carol, in the 1980's. From what I was able to gather, she was a professional dancer and she helped him understand how to incorporate more dynamic and graceful movements in his art. They did not have any children.
He suffered from several health problems over the years including diabetes and liver disease. This past December, he was diagnosis with inoperable pancreatic cancer. He was given no more than a year to live. He opted to forgo treatment and enjoy his last few days with his wife as best he could.
His last words to his fans were these:
Well, that’s it for now. This is not a message I enjoyed writing, especially during the Holiday Season, but, oddly enough, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit more now than I have in many years. Maybe it’s because it will likely be my last. Or maybe because I am enveloped in the loving arms of so many who love me as much as I love them. It’s quite uplifting to be told that you’ve led a good life, that you’ve brought joy to so many lives and that you’ll be leaving this world a better place because you were part of it. To paraphrase Lou Gehrig: “Some people may think I got a bad break, but today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”
It brings me comfort to know that so many people were able to reach out Mr. Perez and let them know how much he touched their lives. This is the bond that the artist has with his audience. He opens up a window into the good, the true, and the beautiful which feeds the soul and lives. That is what he did for me. He opened up an entire universe of heroic virtue and endless possibilities that still inspire my imagination.
But above all, his art gave me joy.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Rest in Peace, George Perez
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature
One of the criticisms leveled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most successful movie franchise in history, is that they smother the creative vision of the directors. Executive Producer Kevin Feige and the production team at Marvel Studios enforce a certain "Marvel Style" on their films to keep them from deviating too much from the formula. As a result
t, some see the Marvel movies as bland.
For Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel hired director Sam Raimi. Not only is he famous for giving us the original Spider-Man trilogy, but he also made some of the strangest, most iconic horror films in the Evil Dead trilogy. Say what you will about Raimi, he has a very distinctive style, tone, and vision.
And it is when Marvel lets Raimi be Raimi that this movie really comes to life.
Multiverse of Madness is a sequel to the original Doctor Strange, but it is also a sequel to WandaVision. This movie goes all in on the audience being up to speed on that Disney+ show. Without that context, much of the plot will not make sense.
The story begins as Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a guest at a wedding where he begins to reflect on his life and his choices. He saved the world several times but at a terrible cost. And even though he has emerged victorious, happiness seems to elude him. He doesn't have time to think about it, but a young woman named America Chavez (Xochiti Gomez) needs saving from a monster. With the help of fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong), they rescue America and find out that she is from another universe and that she has a unique gift: she can travel the multiverse. However, some person is after her to steal her power. In the wrong hands, this power would be a threat to all realities. With so much at stake, Strange reaches out to fellow magic user and Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), hoping that she can help defend America against this malevolent force.
I cannot speak too much more about the plot without spoiling things.
When it comes to movies, I like being fooled. What I mean is that so many movies today have plots that are so predictable that they border on tedious. But there were a number of twists to the story that I did not see coming (although based on all the information out there I probably should have). This, along with a lot of stunt cameos, made my jaw drop in geeky-joy.
One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it got better as the movie went on. The first act feels very much like boiler-plate Marvel fare. Action sequences with witty banter fill up this part of the movie. But the further the story goes on, the more you begin to see Sam Raimi's very distinctive flair. There are moments when the great evil is attaching the sorcerer's sanctuary that you can see glimpses of that awful and off-putting body horror from Evil Dead, and I mean that as a compliment.
This movie is much darker than most Marvel films, so it is not for little children. This is the closest thing I have seen the MCU do to a full on horror movie. There are lots of visual homages to its horror movie roots like Evil Dead and Carrie. And as this horror feel takes hold, you can feel Raimi weaving more and more of his spell on you to draw you in. By the time you get to the final act it is so ridiculous, but in a way that makes think of how awesome everything is. If that last statement doesn't make sense to you, then you've never seen a Sam Raimi film.
Visually, the movie is great. I plan to go back and see it in 3-D, because there are times when the visuals feel like they want to completely envelope you and I want that experience. Raimi knows how to use the camera to create a sense of dread and terror, but he also knows how to make ridiculous things look amazing. There is a fight sequence towards the end that involves a combination of sorcery and music that is one of my favorite parts of the movie.
Many of the performances are good too. Cumberbatch has charisma for days. He is very different than Robert Downey Jr., but he has a similar ability to pull you to him despite his arrogance. Olsen is better than she's ever been in a Marvel movie. She has to play so many contradictory emotions with real truth and she does so excellently. Even when the script calls for her to go over-the-top, it still all feels very real to her character. The moral push and pull between her and strange is the heart of the movie. Wong is very good, carrying with him a weariness that being Sorcerer Supreme weighs on him. Gomez is decent but not great as America. She is not distractingly bad, but she doesn't really shine in this movie.
One of things that really intrigued me about this film is it's exploration of happiness. It asks this implicit question: do we have the right to be happy?
Is happiness something that we deserve?
Strange knows the morally correct thing to do, and yet he still ends up lonely and sad. Another character has suffered great loss and therefore is willing to cross any moral line in order achieve their happiness. It made me think of how narcissistic and self-centered so much of our culture has become. You see reflected in the villain this same moral vanity: other people's lives are disposable so long as I can achieve my own personal happiness. It makes me think of how human beings exploit each other for our own gains or how the unborn are disposed of because they are seen as obstacles to happiness. It was refreshing to see that narcissism play out as a villainous perspective, even if the villain comes off as sympathetic at times. And Strange always runs the risk of falling into this same moral quagmire. What separates Strange from the villain is that Strange is willing to sacrifice his own happiness for the greater good. That is what makes him a hero
The film also touches on the idea of using evil means to bring about a good end. One of the points made is that if you use things that are intrinsically evil, even though you have good intentions, there will be a bad consequence. Both this idea and the one above it are very Catholic ideas that play out nicely, though not perfectly, in this film. Like a lot of movies today, it glorifies non-traditional marriages in a way that really doesn't add anything to the story.
When it comes to comic book films, I am fairly easy to please. And while this movie started off slow, it gained more and more of my interest as the it went on. And that is not an easy spell to cast.
Monday, May 9, 2022
As of this writing, it looks very likely that Roe v. Wade will soon be overturned. This was the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized the scourge of abortion in all 50 states. The decision declared that a woman’s right to privacy superseded the state’s interest in life. For that reason, a woman had the right to abort her unborn child and any law that restricted this was declared unconstitutional.
Since that decision, the pro-life movement has been working tirelessly to have this ruling overturned. We have be voting for pro-life candidates that would eventually nominate and confirm pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. By God’s grace, it looks as though that after almost half a century, all of this hard work will pay off in the courts.
To be clear, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion does not become illegal in the US. Instead, abortion laws will default back to each individual state. There are some states like California and New York that will have very permissive abortion laws. And there are other states like South Dakota and Texas that may have very restricted abortion laws.
This is why the pro-life movement does not end with the overturning of Roe.
It is only getting started.
One of the reasons that this Roe was so controversial is that it took the question of abortion out of the hands of the electorate. Now “we the people” will get the chance to make the arguments for and against in the arena of ideas.
But the end goal of the the pro-life movement has never been purely legislative. Even if we win every single argument in every state, making abortion illegal everywhere in this country, we would still not have achieved the goal, nor would it end abortions. A country like Brazil has very severe anti-abortion laws. But according to The International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, one in five Brazilian women have had abortions.
Does this mean winning a victory of Roe is pointless.
Of course not. The legal victory would be an important step on the journey.
But the real victory is not in changing the law.
It is in changing hearts.
We are called to help create a Culture of Life as described by Pope St. John Paul II. Pro-life legislation should not simply be the end in itself. Instead, it should be the natural outgrowth of a culture that values each human life.
In order to achieve this, we must win the hearts of the people of our culture.
So how do we do this?
I do not think that I have the magic bullet that will fix everything. But in the next few weeks and months, here are some important reminders.
We can do nothing without God. If Roe is overturned, it must be acknowledged that it is by God’s grace alone that He has allowed this victory. Going forward, we have to remember that the power to change hearts is in His hands, not ours. We must continue to turn to Him in prayer, fasting, and adoration, begging for His grace in the fight to save the unborn.
2. Humility in Victory
A very good friend of mine (who is wiser than I am) wrote to me about the possible overturning of Roe and he wrote: “Besides gratitude, magnanimity in victory may be the most important response to this unexpected act of Divine Mercy. It took time and effort to dissuade some people that treating another human being as property was wrong. Getting some to think of the unborn as human beings will also be a challenge.”
Tensions and emotions are already running very hot. When Roe is overturned, there may be a desire on the part of some to take a victory lap. To be sure, it will be a fantastic cause of celebration. But it is important to do so in a way that does not seek to denigrate and humiliate those on the other side of this issue.
We believe with all our hearts that they are in the wrong. But we are all made in God’s image. Our goal is not simply to defeat them in the courts. We want to convert them to the Gospel of Life. As my friend pointed out. This will take time and patience.
Sunday, May 8, 2022
"Smile! Your Mom Chose Life!"
Some of you may have seen this bumper sticker. I was thinking about that today as I began to write this post. With the real possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the near future, it made me think about how I was born after this horrendous decision. Because of this, my mother could have aborted me.
When I was born, my family was traveling from state-to-state for my father's job. My mom had two kids already. On top of this, my father had both of his parents living with us. That is already a very busy household. Yet, when my mom became pregnant with me, there was no hesitation to bring me into the world.
There were no serious considerations about abortion (as far as I know). Both of my parents were Catholic and my mom had wanted a large family. Still, if she had wanted to, she could have decided that three was too much.
My mom chose life.
Today is a day to honor all of our mothers. Your life may have been planned or unplanned. But for many of us, once we were conceived, our mothers had a choice whether or not to let us be born.
Even if it was never really an option in your mom's mind and heart, today would be a good day to thank your mother for choosing life.
Later today when I visit my mother at the cemetery, I plan to tell her this. The separation of death is overwhelming at times, but I try to remind myself that it is temporary. My mother is alive in Jesus Christ. And right now I pray she is in Heaven with my sister Tori.
I often forget that I have another sister. She died before she was born. My mother never got a chance to hold her and tell her how loved she was. I don't pretend to know how the mysteries of the afterlife work, but I feel in my bones that Divine Mercy would allow them to finally embrace. It is incredibly comforting to think that my mom is with one of her children right now and that she will not be alone until the rest of us join her.
I think about all of the children whose mothers did not choose life. I imagine them in Heaven, praying very much for those mothers so that one day they too will be reunited by Gods' gentle mercy.
Today too, I am blessed that my mother-in-law lives with us. Today is a reminder that through marriage, I have someone here on earth to honor as a mother on this day.
For all mothers out there, know that I am praying for you and thanking God that you chose life! The effect you will have on the minds, hearts, and souls of your children will be felt for all of eternity.
Yours in an eternal work and an eternal glory. Every purely human endeavor on this world will disappear. The greatest novel, the most beautiful work of art, the grandest scientific achievement, the most momentous political movement... these things will all be swallowed up by the death of this mortal universe.
But the soul is immortal. We are immortal. The person will persist forever.
And you, mothers, are shaping that eternal work of art that is your child's soul in a way that no one else will.
Today, I honor you!
Happy Mothers Day!
Saturday, May 7, 2022
15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)
Starts as typical MCU film, evolves into exciting superhero horror with Sam Raimi's distinctive style.