Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
Immortal Iron Fist is my favorite superhero title on the market these days, though I'm not sure issue #12 makes the best case for that preference. As part five (really six, counting a related stand-alone annual issue) of a storyarc centered around a celestial kung-fu tournament, it's more of an exposition-laden lull than a bonafide step forward. Moreover it's capped off by a "threat" to Iron Fist's pals Luke Cage, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing that you and I and the writers all know won't be carried out; this is obviously par for the course in franchise superhero comics, but even when we know no one's gonna die the key is to keep us guessing as to what other consequences there might be, and while Iron Fist's tournament pulls that off, the Heroes for Hire getting kidnapped by Hydra doesn't. Artwise, the hugely rewarding structural breakdown the series has heretofore relied on, er, breaks down a bit. Normally, regular artist David Aja handles all the present-day material with his expressive version of the moody-realist modern-day Marvel house style (exemplified elsewhere by Daredevil's Alex Maleev, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudino and Captain America's Steve Epting and Mike Perkins), while a rotating cast of able guest artists tackles flashbacks focusing on previous bearers of the Iron Fist mantle. This time, however, Javier Pulido pinch-hits on a pair of present-day scenes seemingly selected at random, and his art, while pleasant as always, seems oddly loose, almost unfinished, compared to the shadowy stylings we've come to expect from Aja.
On the other hand (fist?), the proper guest-star turn by Kano is an absolute killer. His line has a physical presence on the page that imbues his flashback about Wendell Rand (the current Iron Fist's dad) bailing out of his own date with the dragon who gives the Iron Fists their power, provided he doesn't kill and eat them first, with real power and grace. As Wendell strides into the snow to face the beast, his body language and position in the frame convey all the date-with-destiny grandeur of "The Immigrant Song," only to be convincingly transmogrified into absolute panic as he realizes he's simply not up to the challenge. And man, his brief but fateful fight with ex-friend Davos upon his return is so chock-full of energy that it all but bends the page. This latter scene in particular is enhanced by the witty coloring of Matt Hollingsworth, who along with Dave Stewart is one of the best in the biz--after a decade or two of Vertigo, I never thought earthtones could be this exciting. As for Aja, I'm so used to enjoying his art that I almost find myself speechless about it. Suffice it to say that of all the talented guys I listed above who are doing work similar to his, he's my favorite, the best able to harness naturalist image-making to super-natural content.
And while, as I said, this isn't the most dynamic entry in the story so far, the elements that make this such an enjoyable series are all there. It's quite easy to armchair-quarterback the division of labor between the two writers involved: Fraction injects Brubaker's melancholy sins-of-the-past obsession with humor and a greater appreciation for this genre's wild side; Brubaker tempers Fraction's tendency toward glibness, goofiness, and condescension to his material and his audience with meticulous character work and emotional heft. Both writers are refreshingly, delightfully open to using the things that make the superhero and kung-fu material they're combining here so much fun: the tournament structure, crazy nicknames and finishing moves straight out of a Wu-Tang Clan sample, the fungible menace of enemy goons (presented by Pulido as a human sea in his finest moment here), an ever-expanding mythos that hews close to what makes the core character concept tick while increasing its possibilities exponentially. If you are open to superheroes at all, this is the one book you should be reading.
* I probably play video games once, maybe twice a year (not counting Snood), so I'm always on the outside looking in, but I still find the cultural and artistic ramifications of video games fascinating. So this New York Times piece on the increasingly communal nature of the top-selling video games definitely caught my eye. I would question, however, the notion that this is a new development in gaming. All my fondest video-game memories--swapping Zelda strategies with the kids down the block, getting stoned during marathon Mario Kart and Goldeneye sessions in college, taking breaks to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in the middle of the workday at A&F--are group efforts.
* Finally, the long-mooted film version of Books of Blood, the framing story to the Clive Barker short-story collections of the same name, has now been officially announced. This will be the first of a series of adaptations of stories from the series (well, "first" if we're not counting Rawhead Rex and Nightbreed and Candyman and Lord of Illusions and The Midnight Meat Train).
I finally got around to reading Clive Barker's out-of-the-blue return to proper horror, Mister B. Gone, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. In some ways it seems intended to be a return to the in-your-face splatterpunk of his earliest work: the violence, the grotesquerie, and the overall maliciousness and heinousness of the titular demon's behavior are all pushed to a level Barker hasn't approached in some time. It also feels like an angrier book than he's written since maybe Cabal, its first-person confessional set-up enabling it to literally berate and threaten the reader, and its big last-chapter revelation evincing a young man's hostility to conventional religious and moral authority. And while it is indeed the umpteenth paean to the power of storytelling and the magic of reading that you've come across, there's also a hearty dose of ambivalence, even dread, regarding the overall effect of literature on humanity that serves as a welcome leavening agent for such stories' usual self-congratulatory feel.
But that same first-person conceit--the demon, Jakabok "Mister B." Botch, has been magically transformed into the very book you hold and keeps interrupting his story in an attempt to get you to burn the book and end his suffering--continuously undercuts the effect Barker's going for. Mister B. begins the story as a kid, so his misadventures feel a little too jolly to mesh with the savagery of the gory setpieces. The same is true of his flowery prose; one wishes Barker would get out of his own way and be a little more economical at times, letting the extravagance of his imagination do the work for itself. B. also proves to be a lousy judge of what aspects of his own story are most interesting: Most of his worst misdeeds are simply alluded to, glossed over in too-brief recaps of his centuries-long reign of terror. Worse, the most interesting aspect of his life, his slowly building love for his demonic buddy, mentor, and traveling companion Quitoon, is asserted after the fact rather than developed organically through an in-depth recounting of their behavior together.
Perhaps the best way to look at Mister B. Gone is a throat-clearing exercise for the very busy Barker. After all, before its impending publication was announced, he'd never even mentioned working on it before, being in the midst of his young-adult fantasy series Abarat, his massive "death of Pinhead" opus The Scarlet Gospels, various film and television and painting projects, and perhaps the early planning stages of long-overdue sequels to past books like Galilee and The Great and Secret Show & Everville. The feeling that this is a book he had to get out of his system before he could proceed is a fun one to bask in, even if the book itself isn't as powerful as perhaps it was inside his head.
Comics Time: Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel
Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel
The New Press, September 2001
Dr. Seuss, writer/artist
Richard H. Minear, editor
$19.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
I have to admit that I personally find editorial and political cartoons to be a colossal, frequently distasteful waste of time and resources. 99.9 times out of 100 they're just strident, unimaginative, button-pushing sermons to the choir. They're intended not to enlighten or persuade but to flatten complex issues into images so reductive that they're not just simplistic but frequently misleading or even mendacious in their representation of what's being talked about--which really doesn't matter, because the right people will applaud and the right people will be outraged. You have to be extraordinarily gifted to make a go of this field, and maybe half a dozen such artists in the history of the English-speaking world have had that knack.
As it turns out, Dr. Seuss was one of them. Prior to his enshrinement as the 20th century's preeminent author-illustrator of children's books, the then-struggling Geisel--prompted by a loathing of Fascism--was an editorial cartoonist for PM, a daily New York City newspaper that served as sort of an unofficial spokesorgan for the Leftist coalition called the Popular Front. But as editor Minear points out in his informative and readable text pieces that contextualize the cartoons in this volume, the good Doctor was more populist than Popular Front, and his war-era cartoons reflect a general sense of, if not quite Leftist, then left-leaning fair-play values. As such they are enormously refreshing to look at and read. Seuss passionately attacks the racist Jim Crow policies of the military and industry. He targets the anti-Semitism of Charles Lindbergh and the isolationist movement, including one memorable cartoon where his uniquely Seussian "eagle" (it's impossible to look at this big-beaked, long-necked American mascot and not put the species in quotes) bears a placard reading "I AM PART JEWISH." One pre-war cartoon even lumps Communists (with whom PM was basically okay) in with Nazis and Fascists as the joeys in the kangaroo pouch of America Firsters. In fact his earliest post-Pearl Harbor cartoons, of Dec. 8th and 9th 1941, seem to view the onset of war primarily as a rebuke to the benighted domestic forces of isolationism he and the progressives at PM were regularly targeting anyway.
Also exhilarating is his choice of imagery, which is deeply Seussian and totally alien to the usual played-out editorial-cartoon tropes. He makes surprising use of visuals indebted to horror and fantasy: On several occasions he portrays the Axis menace as massive sea serpents (as regular readers of this blog's horror posts know, I'm a sucker for water monsters), and in his best anti-Japan cartoon a spokesman for the Empire mouthing civilized platitudes is revealed by the downward-drifting eye to be a Lovecraftian monstrosity with lobster claws and dragon's feet. Similarly, one of his most memorable jabs at Hitler portrays the Fürher as a sword-wielding, horned-helmet and skull-and-swastika-wearing barbarian dictator seated in a shadowy cave lair atop a hill of skulls, sending out his Vichy lackey Pierre Laval to round up forced French labor.
The Japanese monster-man, of course, serves to highlight through contrast Seuss's big weakness: His depiction of the Japanese enemy as a fungible assortment of slanty-eyed, buck-toothed, pig-nosed, coke-bottle-glasses-wearing stereotypes, even extending to the supposed fifth column of Japanese-Americans who he lampoons as waiting for instructions from home in one cartoon. In this he's no different than pretty much every other American propagandist of the period, but it's still a letdown given his sensitive and progressive treatment of American racism generally, and how artistically creative he gets with virtually every other facet of the war. Take his bestiary, for example: his unusual American eagle I've already mentioned, while he frequently represents Germany as a put-upon dachshund. Russia almost always pops up as some giant bear, dinosaur, abominable snowman or something else huge. And delightfully, Seuss peppers astonished cats, dogs, and birds throughout his cartoons, reacting to the ridiculousness they encounter. Though it's true that, as Minear points out, Seuss's treatment of the Japanese is comparatively gentle compared to some of the really barbaric treatment they received from other artists, it's still depressing to see his humorous specificity dropped when dealing with Japan, which is almost always depicted as a stereotype Minear, in his text pieces, can't help but wrap in scare quotes.
But in pretty much every other aspect, these cartoons shine. For example, there are his drawings of the war's leaders. His Mussolini is a contemptible jut-jawed pot-bellied dolt, portrayed in one laugh-out-loud parody ad for the fatuous charity "Bundles for Benito" as buck-nekkid except for a strategically placed copy of Mein Kampf. Seuss's Hitler is always blithely unaware of his impending, inevitable defeat, eyes blissfully closed, nose in the air, combover jutting jauntily. (I do wish he'd have taken on the Allied leaders more directly: His infrequently depicted Stalin is pretty pro forma, and Roosevelt and Churchill, two of the most eminently caricaturable world leaders of all time and practically Dr. Seuss characters already, are never drawn at all.) Seuss also draws some wickedly complex Rube Goldberg-esque situations as allegories for bureaucratic red tape, and his occasional forays into military hardware--like the ginormous American warplane with fully 13 giant gun barrels bearing down on Hitler's pathetically tiny single-propeller affair--are packed with energy and high estimation of American power. He's a hoot as a wordsmith too, as you might expect. "Food? We Germans don't eat food! We Germans eat countries!" says a skinny Prussian father to his emaciated son in a cartoon ridiculing Germany's bad fortunes at home. A pre-war cartoon shows a matronly America Firster reading a storybook called Adolf the Wolf to her alarmed children: "...and the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones...But those were Foreign Children and it really didn't matter." The joke hits all-too-familiar targets in this the "Never Again" age.
Which leads to the most chilling cartoon in the collection: Hitler and Laval merrily singing a duet in a forest whose trees are laden with hanged Jews. In his text pieces, Minear argues that Seuss's goofy, Chaplinesque Hitler and his overall humorous comportment is inadequate to the task of upbraiding the true evil and horror of the war, while standout cartoons like this one and a pair of ominously Orwellian predictions of the fate of the American populace should Germany win do a better job. I'd just say different, not necessarily better. Seuss's cartoons neither deny the evil of Hitler nor lend to it an air of grandeur--they mock it to within an inch of its lousy life. I think that's about right.
I'm sure it helped that I didn't see Day-Lewis as purely wicked until the very end; I've read some critics going on about the relentless evil of the character, which strikes me as silly and wrongheaded. I always felt that Daniel Plainview was human, if increasingly compromised by greed and loathing; even in the film's early segments he acts primarily out of self-interest, yes, but Anderson and Day-Lewis spend enough time on bits of character shading -- prodding H.W. into understanding his line of work, basking smugly in stopping that little girl's abuse -- that the character at least exhibits signs of adhering to some personal code of ethics.
Totally. Even the marketing campaign gives the impression that he's bad to the bone, which is a shame; it left my wife (who hasn't seen the movie) asking me "Does this movie even have a story, or is it just about showing what a bad person this guy is?" Kudos also to Jog for noting the more sophisticated use of landscape in No Country for Old Men as opposed to here in Blood.
* If you're looking for a nice concise history of horror films in the '70s and '80s you could do a lot worse than B-Sol's run-down for the Vault of Horror. It might be a little too concise--lumping those two decades together makes for some strange bedfellows and unfortunate omissions--but there's none of the mainstream-critic condescension or fanboy-"Our Genre" nonsense that typically mars these efforts.
* Matt from the all-too-infrequently updated British horror-review site Black Lagoon rises from the murky depths once more for a review of Cloverfield that loses me each time it asserts that the movie would be better without the home-video conceit. I admire his gusto for specifically questioning the validity of the "YouTube generation" tag mooted as a justification for this technique's newfound popularity (by this blog and others), but from where I was sitting the seen/not seen effect of the restricted narrative construction was what made the monster work so well.
Pitchfork: After the glamorous disco fantasy of Supernature, the new record could almost be called Human Nature. A lot of people are going to see Seventh Tree as a more personal and even confessional record. Does it feel more personal to you? Are you being any more direct? Or is it just another aspect of your character?
AG: Well, Supernature wasn't just a character and nor was Black Cherry, so that's slightly insulting...
Pitchfork: I'm not implying you're playing a role...
AG: Saying that you've got acoustic instruments and that's traditional and so people will think it's more intimate, that will always be the case. It's a more intimate sound, so it's going to sound more direct whatever you're singing about. I mean, it is a more personal record. But I think by the nature of having a voice that is more upfront and the way the vocals are set against the music, it's always going to feel more personal, even if the lyrics weren't, if you know what I mean? So it has it's moments of being more intimate or being personal, it's true. Some of it's confessional, but some of it is complete and utter gobbledeegook!
The idea that slick, sexy, glittery dance music is any less "honest" than stripped-down acoustic ballads is pretty...dare I say rockist?
Death Note Vol. 1
Viz, September 2005
Tsugumi Ohba, writer
Takeshi Obata, artist
Pookie Rolf, translator/adapter
$7.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
It's hard not to cackle with glee at how neatly Death Note fits into the scary-media pantheon, filling a slot previously occupied by Marilyn Manson, Beavis and Butt-Head, Bart Simpson, Grand Theft Auto, N.W.A., Natural Born Killers, Dungeons & Dragons, and so on all the way back to the days of Elvis Presley and EC Comics. The premise--a straight-A student discovers a death god's notebook, and anyone whose name he writes in it dies--is practically guaranteed to send authorities into a Chicken Little panic. It's not the world's most artful effort: like most translated manga, scene transitions are awkward and dialogue comes out in weird little bursts, while the figurework is sturdy but pretty standard and the characters play comfortably to type.
But it shines in a couple of regards besides that initial, killer high concept. I really enjoy the way Obata spots blacks; they're pitch dark and almost geometric, as though the page is occasionally partially posessed by a slightly greasier Mike Mignola. And they come together in the form of Ryuk, the death god whose comically lanky larger-than-life presence and googly-eyed, permanently grinning, static shock of a face is a continual source of chuckles for me in its ostentatious weirdness. The other highlight is Light, the model high-schooler who within a few hours of finding the death note has become an archcriminal capable of baffling the combined law enforcement agencies of the entire world with his plot to exterminate the global criminal underclass and force everyone else into good behavior via paranoia. I've grown reluctant to harp on sociopolitical messages in genre work, but the idea here seems to be that Japan's insanely intense educational culture produces miniature sociopaths, and that's just plain funny. Right now the cat-and-mouse games aren't engaging in any visceral way--by way of contrast, I'm watching the first season of The Wire for the first time, and there's just no comparison--but the whole thing just tickles me in much the same way that Light's plans tickle Ryuk, so I'll make my way through the whole series, I'm sure.
* Johnny Bacardi points out the weaknesses of the neither-here-nor-there cartoony realism of the Vertigo house style.
* Marvel editor Tom Brevoort hosted a Marvel-only best-of award vote at his blog, and the results are refreshing because the best writer at Marvel right now, Ed Brubaker, and the two best books at Marvel right now, Brubaker's Captain America and The Immortal Iron Fist, really clean up. (Via Graeme McMillan.)
Originally written on March 3, 2004 for publication by The Comics Journal
2003 saw the release of gargantuan tomes like Palomar, The Frank Book, and Blankets, so it might seem facetious to claim that the year's most ambitious graphic novel was a 128-page paperback. But how else to describe Mother, Come Home, a book wherein author Paul Hornschemeier's formidable formal mastery is harnessed to an even more consciously grand personal tragedy? This is the kind of storytelling that's as likely to fall flat on its face as it is to fly. Hornschemeier's willingness to throw the full weight of his skill into this task is what ensured the latter outcome.
Originally serialized in the author's Forlorn Funnies series, a more narrative-minded follow-up to his experimental one-man anthology Sequential, Mother tells the story of Thomas Tennant, a preternaturally conscientious seven-year-old dealing with the death of his mother and his father's subsequent disappearance into his own broken mind. Interstitial titles set up the conceit that the novel is merely the "introduction" to a larger work, the first "chapter" of which is to be called "We Are All Released." In this alone--that is, in grafting an unnecessarily complex framing device onto the story in order to deliver the four-word message of hope at the book's end--Hornschemeier's artistic fascination with the tension between control and freedom is evident.
It's a tension that's at work on every page. The cartoonist's considerable skill in graphic design manifests itself in a panoply of geometric intra-panel layouts--boxes bisected by a furrowed brow, the edge of a door, the bend of a telephone receiver. It's not specific images that stand out upon reflecting on Hornschemeier's art, but unexpected diagonals and rounded corners, a sort of poetry of shape. But when Thomas retreats into his fantasy life, this everything-in-its-right-place precision is forgone for scratchy, simplistic, childlike linework. The escape Thomas plans for his father is made manifest in the boy's own dreams.
Much has been made about Hornschemeier's skill as a colorist, and his work in that department is every bit as deft as you've heard, but his lettering merits special mention. Throughout the book, the characters' words are subtly dwarfed by the word balloons that contain them. This simultaneously suggests a certain generosity of spirit, a yearning for something more than what is being expressed, and a recognition of the futility and smallness of language to deal with the immensity of the suffering going on beneath, and on, the surface. (And it does so on the parts of both the characters and the creator, by the way.) Individual moments linger, too: Within the father's fantasy, it's the comments that seem the most casual which expand to fill their entire panels, conveying a sort of frantic off-handedness that smacks also of denial; lower-case lettering slips off-line and expands in manic curlicues, perfectly conveying Thomas's hysteria upon realizing he's alerted his uncle to his father's breakdown. Meanwhile, the simplicity of the captions' lettering offsets the occasionally baroque prose (perhaps bulletproofing the book against the kind of criticism occasionally leveled at Craig Thompson's similar linguistic stylings in Blankets).
What elevates the book from graphic-designers-gone-wild wankery, though, is the way these devices perfectly complement and convey the values of the narrative. As Thomas and his father's family falls apart, the two of them adopt a succession of tactics--a lion mask, a retreat into solipsism, a rigorously followed "groundskeeping" routine, a residential treatment facility, methodical escape plans--to exert control over the unbearable chaos of their lives, precisely for the purpose of freeing them from it. The tension-breaking achieved on a formal level by Hornschemeier's occasional insertion of exhilarating out-of-nowhere experimentation (the floating fantasy introduction; the full-page jacket-cover illustration for another book with a tendentious relationship to the story itself; the nighttime views of the book's sleeping characters, from the most important to the most obscure) is echoed on the narrative plane by flashes of humor (Thomas's hilarious smackdown of his teacher makes up for her somewhat unrealistic (and unforgivable) behavior) and immensely warm pathos (the exchanged glances between a smiling Thomas and a scowling nurse are worth the price of admission alone for their heartbreaking directness). It culminates in a climax that by all rights should seem ham-fisted and forced, and yet works, emerging as it does from intensely intimate (and therefore immediately understandable) details of touch and sight and (not) taste--tiny, sensate building blocks of calamitous inevitability. What hints of too-neat tragedy remain are torn to pieces by the book's final words, and the forward-looking eeriness of the image that accompanies them.
Mother, Come Home is the work of a young cartoonist who, confident in his craft, decided to do something big with it. For his ambition alone--which, thankfully, is far more common amongst his cartoonist peer group then its reputation as a collection of coasting glad-handlers would have it--he is to be respected. For his success--his indelible, beautiful, and heartrending graphic novel, the type of book for which the phrase "auspicious debut" was invented--he is to be celebrated. His book is a joy to read; the fact that this is a feeling forbidden to the characters therein makes it all the sharper, and sweeter, and harder to forget.
* Get a load of this: The Los Angeles Opera is making an opera out of David Cronenberg's The Fly. And get a load of the creative team: Music by Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Silence of the Lambs, and countless Cronenberg movies), book by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), design by Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Sweeney Todd), conducted by Placido Domingo (of Three Tenors fame) and directed by Cronenberg himself. Damn! (Via Ian Brill.)
* Dread Central reports that Romero's next project may be Diamond Dead, an off-beat non-Dead-verse story he'd tried to get off the ground once before about a rock singer who makes a deal with death to bring her band back to life.
* Dread Central also says that Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha (!) might now be 3-D. It's funny: I still remember the brief moment after Haute Tension when this guy was supposed to be the future of horror. But hey, I actually prefer the idea of a 3-D movie about man-eating fish to anything else Aja's been associated with thus far.
* Another "Get a load of this" moment: Behold, a six-gilled shark with a meter-wide head and an 18-foot body, swimming around at 3280 feet below the surface. You've gotta love the beside-themselves commentary from the researchers.
* Finally, this week's Horror Roundtable is one of my favorites in a long time: Name your favorite horror-movie cliche! Best of all, every single participant has a different answer. Feast your eyes, glut your soul!
* First, Matador pictures has posted tiny images of the teaser poster and a couple of stills from their upcoming adaptation of Clive Barker's Book of Blood. (Via Dread Central.) So far so good, I think...
Today it occurred to me that there's an obvious political read of the film version of The Mist's rejiggered ending, and I don't recall seeing it anywhere:
Couldn't one say that insofar as the mist is a horrible but ultimately very fleeting catastrophe, and David's homicidal/suicidal reaction is basically much ado about nothing, there's a parallel to America's response to the horrendous but ultimately isolated (so far/thank god) attacks of 9/11?
I'm not saying this was the filmmakers' intention; I'm not commenting on the validity or the interestingness of the interpretation; I'm just saying it seems like you could look at it that way and I'm surprised no one did, as far as I know.
The Complete Persepolis
Marjane Satrapi, writer/artist
Pantheon, October 2007
$24.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
The first two-fifths or so of The Complete Persepolis is a pleasurable, even gripping read, coming across like a ground-level view of a real-world 1984 played as farce instead of tragedy. The euphoria of revolution giving way to factionalism and repression, the first ominous signs that something really bad is on the way, the lack of a coherent "and then this leader did this and this city did this" historical through-line (the Ayatollah Khomeini is never mentioned or even alluded to), the story told instead through only the glimpses of the avalanche of history available to a little girl—all this is reminiscent of Winston Smith's memories of the dawn of Ingsoc and Big Brother in Orwell's dystopian masterpiece. In this way Persepolis does those of us on the outside of Oceania Iran a great service as it reveals that this regime's thought police is a miserable failure: Beneath the veils and behind closed doors, people live the most normal, hopeful, free lives they possibly can. The breezy cartooning and young Marjane's precociousness leaven the proceedings with the kind of humor you've got to figure is anathema to the benighted thugs who've forced otherwise regular people into an ongoing nightmare of political prisons, bloody fanaticism, and hypocritical sexual repression.
But when the second chunk of the story rolls around, the seams start to show. Teen Marjane's misadventures in Europe are a lot less compelling as narrative than li'l Marjane's Revolutionary childhood--they're not a whole lot more exciting than any kid you ever knew who smoked weed a lot in high school, in fact. And it's at that point that you start to really notice the weakness of Satrapi's cartooning. Her line seems chunky but without purpose, like it's simply out of shape, while she either has the most limited ability to draw clothes and figures I've ever seen or she actually does know more people who dress head to toe in black all the time than you'd find in the audiences shown in Depeche Mode 101. Juxtapose both aspects of her art with the frames of the animated feature based on the book that populate this edition's cover and the comparison is not flattering to the source material: The cartoon's line is cleaner, the character designs tighter, and the graytones give the backgrounds (frequently nonexistent in the book itself) a lush life of their own. Satrapi also proves to be an unreliable editor for her own biography, as a lot of the juiciest material (losing her virginity, dealing drugs, the "hours of hallucinations" she suffered after a suicide attempt) are almost completely elided, in favor of countless stories about how tedious she finds her friends. (Hey, I'm with her there!) The book rambles on structurelessly, but not in a way that evokes the randomness of life--it's all just there, and then it all just stops. The bummer of it is that when it does, you can still remember a time earlier on when you would have wished it didn't.
* The WGA strike is all over but the shouting. E!'s Kristin Dos Santos talks to people who work on Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and a bunch of shows I don't care about regarding how many episodes they expect to shoot and get on the air during what's left of this season.
* Roy Scheider died. A long time ago one of Steven Wintle's Horror Roundtables was about Oscar-worthy performances in horror movies, and I totally whiffed. Like Jason Miller in The Exorcist, Scheider in Jaws was just an astonishingly likeable, no-frills, lived-in character. I love him in that movie and I'm sad he's gone.
* Steve Gerber died. I remember him best as the creator of Thundarr the Barbarian and his companion Ookla the Mok.
* Although this Maul of America post is way too credulous when it comes to the emotional power of the human drama in Cloverfield, it's certainly a welcome addition to the all-too-small canon of anti-The Host criticism as it calls bullshit on the egregious slapstick-grieving scene and the pat political subtext. (Via Matt Zoller Seitz.) Also, big ups to the post for picking out this admittedly very cool, Charlie White-esque still from The Host by way of illustration.
* Finally, here is how I first discovered the Wu-Tang Clan: The astonishingly intense video for the astonishingly charismatic Ol' Dirty Bastard's astonishing all-one-verse song "Brooklyn Zoo," my favorite hip-hop track of all time.
* In case you missed 'em, I recently reviewed The Complete Persepolis and (repackaged from The Comics Journal's Best of 2003 issue) Mother, Come Home. New reviews go up first thing every Monday/Wednesday/Friday.
In theory I should love this book. A collection of various shorts from 2002-2004, it more or less epitomizes the abstract short-form comics that so excite me--an emphasis on repetition and rhythm, a disconnect (syncopation?) between text and image, figures and patterns bearing equal emotional and narrative weight, a pointed lack of "this means this, that means that" allegory or straightforward storytelling, emotionally rather than intellectually intelligible content. And yet it leaves me cold, both on its own terms and when compared to the Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, and John Hankiewicz comics of this sort that I find myself constantly returning to. Shaw's line seems uncertain, frequently unattractive but for no discernible purpose, done this way out of lack of craft rather than intentionality. His stream of consciousness flows too frequently into the shallow waters of shock-value sexuality and easy self-reflexivity, neither of which seem to serve much purpose other than announcing themselves. The end result is scattershot, like it's trying to do too much at once. The best work here is the lyrically minimalist day-in-the-life comic that concludes the volume, "Cheese"--the line shapes up, the visual language is clever (a one-panel shower scene riffs on the familiar breast self exam diagrams found in college dorm bathrooms everywhere) and, in the concluding sequence that uses the arching and flattening of a single line to signify the onset of sleep, quite poetic and beautiful. It displays the focus the rest of the book lacks. I think there's enormous potential here--that he chose to do this kind of comics at all would indicate that--and obviously he's got several more years worth of work under his belt at this point. But for now it's not quite there.
* Kristin Dos Santos has the final word on post-strike Lost: After airing the seventh of the eight pre-strike episodes on March 13, the show will break for six weeks, then return at 9pm on April 24 with the eighth. It will then be rolling out at 10pm (after Grey's Anatomy) for the following five weeks' worth of post-strike episodes. And show honcho Carlton Cuse tells Michael Ausiello that the spare three hours of show out of the originally planned 16 that they now won't end up using this season will be employed at some undetermined point in future seasons. Man, that was frickin' exhausting.
* I'm not going to read the whole thing until I see the movie—and god knows when that will be, given its super-limited release and a bevy of lukewarm responses that make me reluctant to go out of my way to track it down—but I really liked the opening lines of Robbie Freeling's review of George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead:
There's a tendency in some high and low circles to instantly enshrine any new work from classic horror-meister George A. Romero, good-natured, jocular guy that he is, as a way of validating not only his formidable zombie oeuvre but also the seventies horror movie canon itself. Always the most overt of that bunch in his penchant for toothy sociopolitical commentary, Romero has often traded in rather glib social satire since the revelation of his 1978 Dawn of the Dead; whereas Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter's genre work has mostly been greeted with retrospective praise and analysis, Romero's never made any bones about his intent. His easy-to-bottle concepts have always had a clever ring—the pop-allegorical purity of brain-devouring zombies shambling through a shopping mall was a great idea waiting to happen.
The main characters are on vacation in Mexico after having graduated college, and before heading off to work or grad school. From my 40-something perspective it's all too easy to look at such people and think rude thoughts like "slacker", but in fact they're not slackers. They have no great sins and not many significant lesser ones. They're not doing anything that would normally ever be wrong, until they go off on what should be a lark and isn't. Calamity ensues. They're naive, yes, but then part of the point of a civilization is that people don't get thrown into the state of nature all the time so a little naivete won't kill you.
In conversation with Bruce he pointed out that the attitude of the book toward the characters is much less judgmental than that of similar stories by Clive Barker and even Stephen King, which I think is about right.
Captain America #33 & #34
Ed Brubaker, writer
Steve Epting, artist
Marvel Comics, December 2007 & January 2008
24 pages, $2.99 each
What can you say about a series that in one issue sees a disembodied cybernetic arm spring to life and effect a prison break like the Addams Family's Thing on steroids, and in the next sees protests over mortgage foreclosures and high gas prices lead to a brainwashed squad of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents opening fire on unarmed civilians outside the White House? Taken together these two scenes illustrate the best thing about Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America, which itself may well be the best thing ever to be done with the character: It blends all the disparate Captain America flavors—two-fisted World War II hero, star-spangled costumed superhero, Steranko superspy, gritty black-ops badass, American icon, Marvel Universe elder statesman, post-9/11 symbol of Where We Are As A Nation—into a smoothie of pure action-adventure satisfaction.
Of course, since his "death" (sorry, can't help but put it in quotes) in the series a few months back, Cap himself is nowhere to be found in the book that bears his name, and everyone and their grandmother will tell you it's a testament to the handle Brubaker has on the cast of supporting quasi-super characters--Sharon Carter/Agent 13, Bucky/The Winter Soldier, the Falcon, Black Widow, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Union Jack, Spitfire, the Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola--that the book remains eminently readable. Everyone and their grandmother is actually wrong, but only because the way they're framing the issue is so silly: I understand the expectations inherent in the concept of "title character," but Brubaker is a skilled craftsman and so are his main artists on this title, Steve Epting and Mike Perkins, so the notion that the death of Steve Rogers--in terms of superhero secret-identity complexity, we're not talking Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne here--would scotch the whole affair reminds me of that Seinfeld routine where he says that people who get passionate about their local sports teams are essentially rooting for laundry. No, what's impressive about the continued quality of this series is Brubaker's grip on the tone--how the absence of Cap has seemed only to intensify Brubaker's abilities to draw from the strengths of all the aforementioned aspects of the character by extending them to his entire milieu. This sleight of hand is so deft that you're so caught up with the cloak-and-dagger stuff involving various superpowered people infiltrating AIM and RAID and Kronas and so on that when the entirely organic-feeling results of those organizations' schemes--the destabilization of the American economy via problems we in the real world are currently facing in slightly less intense forms--come to light, you're just staggered by how appropriate it feels, even in a book where a major supporting character has the mutant ability to talk to birds. Heck, the guy even gets something interesting out of Mark Millar's astonishingly stupid Civil War plot by playing the victorious Iron Man as a conqueror with a conscience.
The big hook in issue #34 is that Cap's old sidekick and current ex-Manchurian Candidate, Bucky, has now assumed the Captain America mantle. I don't really understand why his new suit is shiny, other than it gives designer Alex Ross an excuse to bathe his paintings of it in even more sourceless white glow than usual, but who cares? He makes an interesting candidate for the position because unlike Rogers, who could only grieve over the horrors of the world, Bucky, like America itself, has actually committed a few. Now he's trying to make up for it, and hey, we can relate, I think.
The festivities in these issues are underpinned by Epting's muscular, much-imitated noirish stylings. His action choreography is impeccably intelligible, his punches feel like physical things, and he clearly has a great time with the costumes, uniforms, and tech that give the book its superheroic sheen even as he dirties it up with unidealized faces and blacks galore. His Red Skull is intimidating as heck, too; thanks to the plotline, it's once again a mask rather than a guy with a skull for a face, and those normal eyes peeking out from behind all that latex or whatever it is are reminiscent of those shots in Texas Chain Saw where you can see Leatherface's peepers rolling around beneath the mask. He's creepy, in other words, and makes a great enemy for one of the three or four best superhero titles on the market today.
Like The Wicker Man (the original, not the nightmarish Nic Cage version, and God am I tired of having to say that), this beautiful minicomic by the prodigiously talented artist Eleanor Davis smartly plays upon and then reverses the ingrained sympathies of the modern genre reader. What appears to be a simple, perhaps even simplistic fable about a maternal monster, a man with a gun, and how we kill what we don't understand turns out, in a fairly grim (perhaps even Grimm) fashion, to carry almost precisely the opposite message, albeit with enough ambiguity to keep you uncomfortable long after you've finished.
Davis is a thrillingly precise artist. In a slightly different world her art might have drifted into the overly slick style of the Flight school of animation refugees; instead it stops short of their cold cartoonishness thanks to unexpected touches of vulnerability in the character design and figure work (she's Young Comics' preeminent poet of breasts and body hair), yet without sacrificing a sense that every line is going exactly where she wants it to. Her use of black is powerful, guiding the eye around her immaculately composed layouts and as strongly delineated as the mini's ridiculously attractive die-cut cover. Best of all she ends the thing with no fuss or fanfare--nasty, brutish, short, and highly recommended.
* When comics critics collide: Tom Spurgeon interviews Doug Wolk. It's full of great stuff, including investigations of Wolk's reactions to various creators and comics, the value of "conversation-starting" and shared universes, and tons more. If you're interested in comics criticism you should certainly read the whole thing.
* A small part of the interview touches on something I said, which I think bears clarification. In referring to my disapproval of his own excitement about Dave Sim's upcoming project Glamourpuss, Doug says...
If I had to limit myself to art by people whose world-views matched mine, I wouldn't have a lot left, and if I couldn't enjoy art by people whose world-views I find repugnant, I'd lose some things that mean a lot to me.
I've said the exact same thing from time to time and still believe it; however, to the extent that an artists repugnant world-views are the subject of their art, as is the case with any Dave Sim comic purporting to be about women, I think it's perfectly legitimate to find the art just as repugnant as the worldview, no matter how pretty or inventively laid out it might be. (And let's just say I beg to differ on that score as well. I mean, Jesus.)
* This week's Horror Roundtable asks us to name a scene in a horror movie that brought us close to tears. After watching the episode of Twin Peaks last night, I've got another one to add to the list.
* Am I the only person who thinks that Cloverfield monster toy is inaccurate? I seem to remember its forepaws (or whatever you'd call them) facing backwards, with the wrist or ankle joint pointing the feet back, not forward. I remember that being a very disconcerting detail in fact. (Via Topless Robot.)
As if I didn't like the cerebral English dance act Hot Chip already, the video for their new single is laden with references to Tim Burton's Batman, the superhero movie that makes all subsequent superhero movies look like the humorless, gutless, visually inert experiments in tedium they are. I count Axis Chemicals, the little giftwrapped box that the Joker sends Vicki Vale a gasmask in, throwing paint at the statues, "you're my number one guy," Prince's half-Joker "Gemini" character and Vicki Vale's black dress from the "Batdance" video...I am in LOVE.
* NBC is abandoning the traditional September-May TV season next year in favor of the 52-week rollout that's been the de facto model for the past few years anyway. In terms of the few shows I care about I think this is good, as arbitrary scheduling decisions should have less of an impact on storytelling decisions, although I guess none of it really matters until Nielsen rejiggers sweeps.
* Ken Lowery tries to explain why he doesn't like "torture porn," but in lumping together and subsequently dismissing a whole slew of movies including the Saw series, the two Hostel movies, Turistas, The Devil's Rejects, Chaos, and so on, he disregards separating the wheat from the chaff in any meaningful way, and moreover discusses only one of those films in any kind of detail, so even if his argument is that there is no wheat, that's not at all clear. I think one day we'll be as unlikely to hear these kinds of arguments from genre buffs as we currently are to hear them say "slasher movies are no good" as though there's no difference between Halloween and Jason Takes Manhattan.
The Would-Be Bridegrooms
Shawn Cheng, writer/artist
$4 Buy it from Partyka
The most recent minicomic by my friend Shawn Cheng sees him continuing to mine his interest (obsession?) with bestial forms, particularly the almost manic detail found in art representing the mythical monsters of Native and South American cultures. As opposed to the bleakness of his Ignatz-nominated collaboration with Sara Edward-Corbett The Monkey and the Crab, this one is much more playful in nature, despite sharing with that earlier work a plot involving a game of one-upsmanship gone horribly awry. As his coyote and jackrabbit protagonists play their game of dueling transformations to impress the grandma of their prospective bride, the fun is in watching Cheng's character designs evolve from knowingly lo-fi (dig the coyote's first-grader triangle for a nose) to hilariously baroque. Quickly running out of ideas, the two would-be bridegrooms start repeating themselves, producing high-level video-game variants on earlier creatures they've transformed into ("DEMONIC Ice Giant!" "MUTANT White Bear!"); once they max out their imaginations with their absurdly complex World Serpent and Thunderbird creations, they pause, give up and simply start beating each other up. All this is smartly offset by the constant observing presence of the adorable little round-headed grandma. (Her startled squeal of "Oh!" upon seeing the first transformation tickled me pink.) It's she who gets to deliver the story's punchline/moral, which is that showoffs inevitably lessen themselves compared to the woman they intend to impress. It's an appropriate ending for a neato little mini that uses an understated, perhaps even slight, narrative to, yes, impress.
* The new Meathaus anthology, featuring Jim Rugg, Ross Campbell, Dave Kiersh, Brandom Graham, Farel Dalrymple, James Jean, the Hanuka Bros., Dash Shaw, and Ralph Bakshi (!), looks pretty pretty. I will however admit some reticence, because in the post-Kramers Ergot and Mome world, the content bar has really been raised--there's more to anthologies than pretty drawings. (Via Heidi MacDonald.)
Cartoonist Mat Brinkman is the most compelling member of the Fort Thunder art collective, combining the whimsy and chops of a Brian Ralph with the weirdness and choppiness of a Brian Chippendale or a Jim Drain. And in this little book, he's created a minor sequential-art masterpiece. This nearly wordless, black-and-white collection of short adventure stories, in which a variety of monstrous, faceless creatures explore their respective environments with alternately hilarious and frightening results, recalls Jim Woodring's Frank stories, in its deft use of scary-funny black humor and unexpected surprises. But it eschews Woodring's familiar funny-animal tropes for something new, eerie, and original. The art, which simultaneously possesses the starkness of woodcuts and the manic detail of the '60s undergrounds, quite simply looks like a transmission from Another Place.
Each of Teratoid's subsections has its strengths: The wild wanderings of "Oaf" are notable for their emotional range and their visceral description of this fantasy world's geography; The simply-drawn creatures of "The Micro-Minis" are like cartoon automatons, their actions flowing naturally from their own design as a function of the very mechanics of drawing them; The wordplay of "Cridges," the book's only non-silent section, show Brinkman to be as able and witty a manipulator of language for its own sake as he is of art. The book's real tour-de-force, though, comes in the section called "Flapstack," which concerns the subterranean realm of little creatures that look a lot like pulled teeth. That section's story "Sunk" is, I think, the single best comics sequence I read all year. Three of the teeth creatures, each bound to the other by a length of rope, fall into a winding labyrinth. As they try to navigate this complex maze, Brinkman intercuts between them as though multiple cameras are involved. The three creatures are indistinguishable but for the corresponding numeral that appears each time they come back "on screen." Before long we have a sense of exactly where in the maze each creature is, and it's the intense concentration required to keep up with Brinkman's byzantine constructions that attaches us to the creatures as surely as their frustratingly short lengths of rope attach them to each other. As they attempt to overcome the obstacles they encounter, the tension is, almost stunningly, an edge-of-your-seat affair. The powerful end to this thriller--which, again, stars three silent and indistinguishable walking teeth--is testament to the power of the medium when artists deploy it in new and sophisticated ways, and to Brinkman for having the vision to do.
* Zachary Wigon at The House Next Door bemoans what he feels is a lack of critical focus on content (as opposed to formal technique) in No Country for Old Men. In my experience, beyond a half-hearted sentence about how pretty it is or, perhaps, the dopey argument that its technical proficiency makes it a bad movie, just the opposite has been true, and everyone sits around trying to figure out what it all meeeeeeeans based on who was in what hotel room or whether Chigurh was carrying a weapon in such and such scene or whether the words "dog collar" are an Abu Ghraib reference and on and on. I've found the vast majority of writing on this film useless in its tendency toward "decoding" the story, which I think is why I haven't done any myself despite the fact that it was my favorite movie of the year. Sometimes a Chigurh is just a Chigurh.
I've just been informed that all the WizardUniverse.com pieces of mine linked over in the sidebar--interviews with Damon Lindelof, Eric Reynolds, Johnny Ryan, Jordan Crane, and so on--have disappeared, along with, it seems, everything up on the site prior to the redesign they did a few weeks ago. I'll try to dig them up and repost them here, I guess.
Last night the Missus and I spent a lovely evening courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, watching Psycho, The Birds, and Poltergeist in a row. As a marathon, it was not flattering to its concluding film. Granted, Hitch is a tough act to follow, especially with those movies--she and I were astonished anew at Anthony Perkins's heartbreakingly naturalistic performance, the still-shocking violence of the shower scene, Martin Balsam's oh-crap-I'm-in-the-wrong-movie private dick, the sheer relentlessness of bird attacks on children, the proto-Night of the Living Dead house under siege, and on and on and on. By comparison, Poltergeist is pretty freaking stupid.
I'm honestly kind of baffled as to why that movie has the scary reputation it does. Maybe it's "the curse" and the tragic fates of Dominique Dunne and Heather O'Rourke? I guess it's the nature of the film's scariest images--simply put, they're tailor-made to scare the living shit out of any little kid who saw the movie while still in grade school. Evil clowns, evil toys, evil backyard trees, getting sucked into the closet, eerie TVs left on in the dark, parents who can't save you...that's all straight outta Spielberg's eight-year-old id, from what I understand. But for grown-ups, it's really rather weak.
And it's not just the goofy and boring nature of the fright images the filmmakers deploy--it's how haphazardly they deploy them, with seemingly no regard to a crescendo of escalating horror. Once you've seen lasers shoot out of the wall, who cares that the chairs are rearranging themselves? How do you expect the audience to process a sudden leap from slip-sliding across the kitchen floor like a cool carnival ride to a man-eating tree and a haunting with the power to trap a kid in another dimension--in the space of a few hours?
By the time the paranormal investigators show up, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are treating the disappearance of their daughter following their son's near-murder by an evil Ent and an ongoing paranormal riot in the kids' bedroom like a particularly unpleasant bedbug infestation. So long, high stakes. No one's reaction to what's going on seems commensurate with the magnitude of the supernatural occurrences they're witnessing, even though the script goes out of its way to downplay the investigators' most notable prior experiences. And again, it bounces super-rapidly between novelty-act stuff like old jewelry dropping from the ceiling and a Hulk action figure flying around, to grand-guignol horror like a maggot-infested chicken wing and a guy tearing his own face off, back to Spielbergian "wow!" moments like a ghost parade down the staircase. I don't know if this is a product of the uneasy collaborative dynamic between nominal director Tobe "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" Hooper and screenwriter/producer/de facto director Steven Spielberg or what, but it plays havoc with the film's pacing and leeches the pizzazz out of the scares. And once Zelda Rubenstein shows up and they go through that absurd physical business with the tennis balls and the rope and the bathwater, I was yawning and ready to change the channel. (For a far more effective combination of the supernatural with physically-verifiable science-fiction trappings, see Ghostbusters.) Also, if you can figure out why they go through all that trouble to establish that she's the real deal only to have her erroneously pronounce the house free of hauntings anymore, please fill me in.
But you know what is compelling about the movie? All that gloriously weird suburbia subtext! I'm not even sure the filmmakers realized what a bizarre beneath-the-surface look at three-kids-and-a-dog middle-classness they were providing. You obviously don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what they were getting at with building developments on top of graveyards--in terms of metaphorical subtlety it's up their with Dawn of the Dead's zombies in a shopping mall--or by opening with the Star Spangled Banner. But what about the fact that JoBeth Williams's extravangly MILFtastic mother is 32 and her oldest daughter is 16? What about the pot-smoking scene, or the alcoholic desperation of Craig T. Nelson's football-watching buddy's beer run? What about the oldest daughter showing up at the very end with two huge, unexplained hickeys? What about Mom getting a kick out of the construction workers hitting on her daughter? What about Williams spending much of the climactic sequence with her panties on display? What about the seemingly endless amount of conspicuously consumed stuff in the kids' bedroom? What about that vagina tunnel into the afterworld? I don't think it's at all surprising that the sequence that's the most effectively scary, the climax, is the one where this stuff all comes to the fore most directly. I almost feel like when people remember Poltergeist, they're transferring their impressions of that strange, and therefore frightening, final sequence onto the rest of the movie.
Daredevil #103 & #104
Ed Brubaker, writer
Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, and Stefano Gaudiano, artists, #103
Lark, Azaceta, Tom Palmer, and Gaudiano, artists #104
Marvel Comics, December 2007 & January 2008
Daredevil is writer Ed Brubaker's most overlooked book at the moment. It's not as rollickingly entertaining as his and Matt Fraction's wild genre mish-mash The Immortal Iron Fist, it's not as character-defining as his Captain America, it lacks the "book I've always dreamed of writing" vibe of Criminal, and it's not part of a high-profile crossover like Uncanny X-Men. What's more, unlike Iron Fist or Cap, Daredevil is also up against years-long high-quality runs on the character, by the likes of Frank Miller and Brubaker's immediate predecessor on the title, Brian Michael Bendis. And one thing that came up repeatedly during my monthly discussions of the series while at Wizard is that it's one of the least showy superhero titles around: with no stunts, no events, no reboots, it's simply consistently good issue after issue, which bizarrely works to its detriment in terms of maintaining a high profile with critics and readers. That's a shame, because man, this is a very satisfying masked-vigilante comic.
Forget Spider-Man/Peter Parker: Matt Murdock is Marvel's true everyman hero. Not in the sense that he's a dork who lives in his aunt's basement, but in the sense that he's someone who, but for his blindness and super-senses and ninja training and red pajamas, you feel like you could actually meet in New York City: a rich lapsed Catholic pussyhound lawyer who can't stand losing. That regular-guy vibe is used quite well in Brubaker's run: The character is constantly shown bouncing between his superheroic activities and his civilian ones, on an almost scene by scene basis, like superheroing is a job he just can't leave at the office and affects his life accordingly.
More importantly, those superheroic activities consist almost solely of beating criminals until they do what he wants. (Another Wizard colleague once told me that you can always recognize a bad Batman story by whether or not he's acting like Daredevil, i.e. solving cases with his fists instead of his brain.) Now, it shouldn't be hard for anyone who's lived through the past few years to make the connection that what our superheroes do all the time, our government has to ignore international human rights treaties to get away with. In keeping with that Marvel-realist tone, Brubaker tackles the torture aspect of Daredevil's vigilante activities head-on in this storyline (a blowtorch factors in at one point), and the result leaves us feeling refreshingly uncomfortable with our ostensible hero. He also portrays supervillain-driven gang wars in a convincingly ground-level way, simply replacing the strategic use of an AK-47 or a well-orchestrated hit (or, if you prefer, appearances by Luca Brasi or Omar Little) with the arrival of the Wrecking Crew or the Enforcers.
He gets slightly less mileage out of Murdock's tortured-as-always romance, this time with his villain-targeted wife Milla--forgivable, considered how well-worn that territory is for the character. I think perhaps he could have tried to ground her slide into dementia by couching it in the emotional language of losing a loved one to depression, alcoholism, Alzheimer's, or some other more relatable mental disease; perhaps he'll get there eventually. For now, as aided and abetted by the fits-this-writing-to-a-tee art of the team led by Michael Lark, he's cranking out a heck of a superhero book anyway.
I would say that some of it does, but not all. Indeed I'd say that a lot of horror comes from forced intimacy, which I guess is in itself a form of betrayal.
* While this New York Post article on Lost bears the obvious scars of an editor who doesn't know the show very well, it nevertheless has an interesting broad-strokes breakdown of what Seasons Four, Five, and Six are "about" from showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. (Via The Tail Section.)
* Katherine Follet at Not Coming to a Theater Near You has posted an evocative review of Robert Frank's legendary lost Rolling Stones tour documentary Cocksucker Blues. It's a pan, not just of the movie but of the conduct of its subjects, all of which makes me want to see it more.
On the one hand this book is an absolutely magnificent display of bravura cartooning--understated, energetic, loose as a goose, full of the joy of imagemaking. In a fashion reminiscent of Bill Plympton's animated shorts, Delisle creates miniature portraits of various, mostly unpleasant women in wordless-strip form. The uniform layouts--tight grids of 15 tiny square panels per page--provides a static contrast by which we can marvel at Delisle's effortless line and proficiency with delivering whatever tone he chooses--kinetic action in "Rita," genuine erotic heat in "Diane" and "Karine," delightful and unexpected visual puns throughout (my favorite, I think, was "Irene," where both of the title character's arms slide out of her left socket as though they were connected through her shoulders like an axle). Delisle chronicles his own sexual neuroses and issues with as much candor and visual cleverness as you're likely to see this side of John Cuneo's similar project nEuROTIC.
On the other hand, it's quite easy to read this book as savagely misogynistic in its repeated reduction of women to their constituent body parts, or its repeated depiction of staid portly women as literally holding the pneumatic sluts within themselves prisoner, or its repeated message that women are materialistic, hypocritical assholes who'd just as soon make men miserable for no reason as look at them, let alone fuck them. Men don't come off that great either, but that's usually because they were stupid enough to get involved with women in the first place. The tone gets so strident that it flattens out the sophistication and creativity of Delisle's ideas--cleavage and vaginas swallowing men whole, a literal vagina dentata, yes yes, we get it. It's entirely possible that this is all quite self-aware--the existence of the androcentric companion volume Albert and the Others would appear to indicate that, though I haven't read the book itself--but it's also entirely possible that that doesn't matter, and that at a certain point putting your conflicted or outright hostile feelings toward women on display leads to reinforcing them rather than confronting them. I honestly don't know. It's a powerful comic book, I'll give it that.
* Details are emerging about The De2scent, the idiotically titled, Neil Marshall-less sequel to Neil Marshall's truly terrific horror movie The Descent, most notably that it will star the main character from the first movie, which is...interesting, given the events of that film.
* This deeply, deeply unnerving video from Swedish dance act The Knife beats even Jack Palance doing one-armed push-ups in terms of being the best award-acceptance speech I've ever seen. (Via Pitchfork, who translate it from the Swedish.)
* Ain't It Cool News reports that banes of Peter Jackson's existence (and the existence of Lord of the Rings fans everywhere) Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne have jumped/been pushed from New Line, which is now a full sub-unit of Warner Bros.
* Heidi MacDonald points out the irony inherent in a comic about the Holocaust, an atrocity perpetrated by people who believed other people were inferior to them by virtue of their Jewishness, by Dave Sim, a person who believes other people are inferior to him by virtue of their femaleness. Tom Spurgeon points out the foolishness of the position that one should separate evaluations of Sim's work from evaluations of Sim's ideas since the former is so thoroughly informed by the latter. And I point out that his work is ugly these days anyway.
Comics Time: The Chunky Gnars: A Chocolate Gun Tribute
The Chunky Gnars: A Chocolate Gun Tribute
Chris Cornwell, writer/artist
PictureBox Inc., October 2007
$3.00 Buy it at PictureBox
Like Paul Pope's cover version of the first issue of Jack Kirby's OMAC from his issue of Solo and Josh Simmons's unauthorized Batman-as-psychopath minicomic Batman, Chris Cornwell's Chunky Gnars mines the fertile vein of another creator's work, in this case Frank Santoro & Ben Jones's wondrous drug-teen-rock-action opus Cold Heat. I think these kinds of call-and-response comics can really tease out what works and doesn't work in the original and be an extremely enlightening exercise for the responder.
In this case, Cornwell doesn't quite hit the heights that the originators do, but to be fair that doesn't seem like his intent--his goal is playing up the mixed-genre nature of Cold Heat for humorous effect, like having a rock-star-slash-assassin and an evil senator piloting a giant robot minotaur. Some of those moments are very funny, in fact, if a little catchphrasey--"I don't start killin'...TILL I'M DONE ROCKIN'!!" shots the hipster assassin when the senator tries to get him to skip the encore and start the massacre. Better still is Cornwell's funny-because-it's-true depiction of the senator's absurd, obliviously prurient fixation on the supposed evil of popular culture: Beads of sweat running down his bald head (which has suddenly been isolated against an oozing abstract background), he kicks off a test run of his latest speech with the immortal opener "We have become a nation that worships the rectum," before his assistant unceremoniously cuts this reverie off.
While the whole thing doesn't exactly cohere nor rise to the level of its inspiration, it does contain some gaze-worthy art that is at alternating times reminiscent of Santoro, Brian Chippendale, and in the second of its four title panels Beto Hernandez. Mostly it exists as a testament to how fired up Cold Heat has people, which is valuable in and of itself.
* Here's the Iron Man trailer that ran during last night's Lost episode. It's pretty much as note-perfect for the character and concept as everything else we've seen from this movie so far. The likes of Mark Millar and J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada should be thoroughly chastened by this. (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* Speaking of Millar, while I'm sure the dialogue in his Kick-Ass #1 is just as wooden and devoid of insight into actual human behavior and popular culture as Ian Brill says, I think Ian's really overreaching when he keeps heaping scorn on the notion that high school kids don't read superhero comics. Um, I did. It's certainly a hip notion to suggest that they don't, but not one that is borne out by reality if pretty much any trip I've ever taken to any comic store ever is any indication.
In the confession, Underwood said he lured the girl, his upstairs neighbor, into his apartment in Purcell, hit her with a cutting board, smothered her with his hands, sexually assaulted the body and nearly cut her head off as part of a fantasy involving cannibalism.
"I wanted to know what it tasted like, and just the thought of eating someone was appealing to me," Underwood said in the confession.
Underwood told FBI he hit the girl her over the head with a wooden cutting board while she was watching television and playing with his pet rat.
Agents asked Underwood what the girl said after he hit her.
"That's something that's haunted me forever since it happened," he said. "She started yelling, I'm sorry,' which I'm like, What is she sorry for? She didn't do anything wrong. It's me. I'm the one that should be sorry."'