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.
Somewhere between plastic-soul David Bowie, "Sweet Transvestite," and "Werewolves of London." The veneer of 1970s cocaine-sprinkled* sophistication provided by the name-dropping lyrics and indeterminate-origin Eurotrash accent is really something to behold. I would be totally fine if Curry had entirely dropped acting for a music career, and I like his acting!
Originally written on November 1, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Martin Scorsese's Casino ends with narrator Sam "Ace" Rothstein declaring of the story he's just told, "And that's that." There's nothing that straightforward and simple about the movie itself, which is an absolute masterpiece of excess; but as an imaginary capstone to Nikolai Maslov's memoir of Communist life Siberia, it works perfectly. From Maslov's barely-there pencils-only art to his story's episodic "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened" structure, everything about this graphic novel evokes the feeling that Maslov is telling his tale not to find meaning within it, but to ascribe meaning to it - as if the simple act of recounting a life of grinding poverty, ubiquitous alcoholism, mental illness, and utter hopelessness will lend it a purpose that the Soviet structure relentlessly denied it. Maslov's figure work and portraiture are startlingly effective; they never rise too far above the level of "very talented high-schooler," but the pathetic ugliness of nearly all of his characters, including himself - they all look mildly retarded - is an almost perfect mechanism for chronicling a life and a society gone sour. The intimacy of the art's soft gray makes some of the sourest moments, like the scene in which an alcoholic peasant literally laps spilled wine up off the ground, an almost unbearable intimacy. Siberia lacks the sort of narrative through-line that characterizes most memoir writing, which can be both a curse and a blessing. Like a Harvey Pekar of Stalinism, Maslov doesn't always convince us that these anecdotes are worth relaying. But there's an undeniable frisson to be found in the fact that he and the rest of Russian society escaped from the grip of authoritarianism - if, as is now apparent, only for a little while - to relay them at all. That seems to be Maslov's message, to the extent that he has one beyond trying to come to terms with his own life. And that's that.
* Another massive, massive interview with Clive Barker has been posted at his official (and sadly RSS-less) site Revelations. Topics include the fourth and fifth Abarat books, the film adaptations of Midnight Meat Train, Dread, and The Book of Blood, and a lengthy stroll through Barker's prodigious notes on various and sundry other projects past, present, and future. Two-dicked demons are mentioned, as is so often the way of such interviews. (Via Dread Central.)
* Lots of news on George A. Romero's next Dead film: USA Today quotes Romero as saying that the film will be about a factional schism between people who want to kill the zombies and people who hope they can be cured. Dread Central clarifies a point made in the USAT article regarding the return of characters from Land and Diary, saying that while some actors will return, there will be no characters from the former and only arguably one from the latter. Fangoria doubles down on the "character from Diary returns" angle as confirmed by executive producer Peter Grunwald, and characterizes the film as the story of a Hatfield/McCoy-type rivalry inspired by the William Wyler Western The Big Country. I just hope it's not a terrible, terrible movie like Diary was.
* Also at Tom's you'll find my response to his latest Five for Friday reader-participation feature, about scary comics moments. You'll really want to click over to this one--the responses, and the illustrations, are pretty unnerving.
* Jeph Loeb is the worst of the eight to twelve contemporary superhero comics writers who can sell a project on their name alone. Apparently he didn't do such a hot job on TV either, because he's been fired from Heroes.
* My pal Ben Morse tells the tale of a Wizard feature we never got off the ground--the mother of all "who would win in a fight?" features, limited to hand-to-hand specialists. It woulda been sweet.
* "Barbara?" "Yes, Bruce." "Is the water warm enough?" "Yes, Bruce." "Shall we begin?" "Yes, Bruce." (Via Kevin Melrose.)
* Finally, please do your part to end the bottomless horror of America's torture regime, a horror I foolishly and disgracefully supported, by voting for Barack Obama tomorrow.
Over the past week or so this has become my default song. Walking to the train in the morning, walking to the train in the evening, riding the train, writing, reading, working. A few nights this past week I've put it on my headphones just before bed and just lied on my back, listening, letting sleep creep over me. Short of being under the influence it's the closest I've come to experiencing the song as a physical thing--the bass hitting me like a soft gust of air, each tinkling high note gently tapping its way across my head. And like most of Orbital's best tracks it will switch gears and lock into a new thing every so often--that insistent piano triplet, the moment when everything but the rhythm drops out and you're left skating across the black before the colors creep back in.
* The moment I have been waiting for has arrived! I'm talking, of course, about Bruce Baugh discussing the mythology of World of Warcraft. What did you think I meant? Bruce's initial post on the topic praises the game's writers for creating a fantasy world that's both sprawling and, in some ways, actually post-apocalyptic.
* One thing Bruce touches on that I myself picked up on right away is the presence of more than two opposing forces. When I was a kid, I was always drawn to characters who, though evil, constituted a "third way" that was distinct from both the good guys and the main bad guys: Destro in G.I. Joe, Hordak and those snake guys in He-Man, the Rat King in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett, and the bounty hunters in Star Wars, Shelob, Old Man Willow, and the Balrog in Tolkien, and so on. In essence, WoW boasts several such factions, which align and realign in such a way as to force alliances and conflicts out of a variety of configurations of the opposing powers. Now, in some ways that's just common sense--the real world is not a bipolar one, and even during roughly bipolar periods like World War II or the Cold War you had any number of independent actors out for themselves. (Stalinist Russia during the former and Maoist China during the latter are really the Destros of 20th-century geopolitics.) But in the context of a fantasy world I'm viewing through the eyes of my inner eight-year-old, realism has nothing to do with it--it's sheer magic.
* In a second, somewhat related post, Bruce takes a look at a major facet of the game as it stands these days--massive, organized attacks on the other races by a legion of demonically spawned undead called the Scourge--in terms of how it's manifested as gameplay. The mechanics of the Scourge's invasion are unique and greatly enjoyable--giant floating necropolises!--but in terms of my love of third-way villains, I could be wrong but I think this is a case of the game's third-way villains becoming the main antagonist, like if in the ruins of the Empire some surviving minion of Jabba the Hutt got ahold of another Death Star and some cloning facilities and went buckwild. I love it!
* Moving on, I'm sorry but I can't see any reason I shouldn't be predisposed to liking a movie in which you can see this:
* There used to be a piece on Splash Page in which Grant Morrison reveals that he's been involved in some way with preparations for a Flash movie, but I think it's gone now? Anyway here's what he said:
“The thing with Hollywood stuff,” Morrison started to explain, “is that I’ve signed all these NDAs, so I can’t talk about it. I don’t want to get myself in trouble for saying the wrong things. There’s a lot of projects I’m not ready to talk about. I can’t. It’s just not allowed.”
So we thought we were shifting gears by asking him his thoughts on the upcoming “Flash” film — after all, he’s resurrected the Flash in “Final Crisis.” But it appears that we may have hit upon another sore spot, since it appears he’s pitched a “Flash” film.
“Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I can’t talk about,” Morrison said. “Yes, I have talked to them. I’m deeply involved in those discussions. I know what’s going down with all of that, and it’s actually really exciting. But beyond that, I can’t say anything. I wish I could tell you. I’m sure announcements will probably be made at some point, but I can’t say anything.”
* Non-indie-comics reader Ben Morse ponders Matt Kindt's Super Spy.
My favorite song from my favorite album of the trip-hop era is a tribute to Barry White, which I didn't realize for a long, long time. The point of it is the liberation of dancing, and after a long build-up of groove and falsetto vocals, the keyboards finally kick in, and it's glorious, and this is what it feels like.
You immediately judge Alan's War against two separate non-fiction genres: World War II books and graphic memoirs set against major historical backdrops. You'll find it a low-key affair when stacked up against either. Culled from "The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope," as Guibert's subtitle puts it, Alan's War is as different from, say, Ken Burns's The War as the possessive proper noun is from the definite article. As a matter of fact, Alan is barely in the war; the vast majority of his recollections are of times before or after his entry into hostilities, such as it was. To hear Alan tell it, he appears to have been involved in combat only one time and never saw his attackers. The most horrific incidents he recounts both took place during Germany's surrender. It's not D-Day or Iwo Jima by a long shot. Nor is it Maus, where Vladek's experiences spoke directly to the central horror of the war. Nor even is it Persepolis, where Marjane's forceful personality made the conflict with Revolutionary Iran feel a lot more direct than events actually bore out. Instead it feels a lot more like Siberia, a sort of meandering, matter-of-fact presentation of a gentle soul who couldn't help but butt up against a cataclysmic world-historical scenario. In Siberia's case the inhumanity of the totalitarian USSR was really just another challenge for Nikolai Maslov's depressive personality; in Alan's War, life in the Army simply pushes Alan in a different direction but still is primarily viewed through the lens of the friendships it enables him to form. We come to see that interpersonal relationships are the way Alan learns about himself throughout his long life, culminating in a spiritual and philosophical "rebirth" late in his life owed to acquaintances he made in occupied Germany. This particular narrative throughline is obviously constructed by Guibert's editing of Alan's story, which begs perhaps the most interesting unanswered question in the book, that of Alan's possible homosexuality. The frequency with which Cope's reminiscences star friends and fellow soldiers coming to terms with their own identity led me to wonder whether that was the one act of self-examination the kindly intellectual was never quite able to perform on himself. In its way Alan's War is an compelling little book, its idiosyncratic protagonist going a long way to humanize art that is occasionally static and obviously photoreffed in the way that those rotoscoped credit card/financial adviser/whatever they are commercials that subtract a bunch of lines from a person's photo can look, but is just as frequently endearing in its simplicity.
* Here is the trailer for the next Clive Barker-based movie, Book of Blood. The Radiohead remix adds hella production value, I think. Also, how nice is it to see a Barker adaptation retain the original English setting and accents?
* And here's a promo reel for the next Barker flick, Dread--featuring interview snippets from Barker, director Anthony DiBlasi, and the cast, as well as boobies and some pretty horrifying things involving bleach.
* Meanwhile, I still haven't seen Midnight Meat Train--I didn't have it in me to try to OnDemand it the night before the election as originally planned. I know reviews from those I trust have been lukewarm, but Christ, if ever there was a movie I need to see for myself! Meanwhile, just so I can keep it straight in my head, I think the two Films of Blood on the way after Dread are The Madonna and Pig Blood Blues. Even if all of these films turn out kind of dull, I'd rather the horror section at Best Buy be filled with dull churned-out shingle-based horror movies based on great Clive Barker short stories that theoretically could find a new audience through them than dull churned-out shingle-based horror movies based on nothing in particular.
* Looks like George A. Romero's next ...of the Dead flick is, in fact, going to be called ...of the Dead. I can get behind that. Please be good.
* I really admire the obvious amount of thought and heart that went into Shaun of the Dead star Simon Pegg's Guardian-published essay about why zombies should be slow, but I also find it really silly (albeit admittedly so) when it tries to support that assertion on the grounds that fast zombies aren't "realistic," and really wrongheaded when it claims that speeding up zombies strips them of metaphorical power. Eve Tushnet, Bruce Baugh, and I beat up on that idea pretty good in a comment thread a while back. (Via Jason Adams.)
* Speaking of Bruce, here he runs down World of Warcraft's creation myth. Actually, that's an inaccurate word to describe it because in the game world, these things factually, demonstrably happened--there are Old God corpses lying around to prove it and everything. Anyway, it's an intriguing, "art of enthusiasm"-style mix of Lovecraft, Greek mythology, and Tolkien.
* If I had to rattle off the names of, I dunno, the 10 people most directly responsible for my life being what it is right now in terms of the prominent role comics play in it, Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas would be on there thanks to their construction of so-called "Nu-Marvel" in the early '00s. Therefore I'm really enjoying their reunion interview with Jonah Weiland at CBR. Jemas in particular is an interesting case: His ideas and approach really did shake up the company and make superhero comics much, much better on a qualitative level, but then as best as anyone can tell he kind of went a little ego crazy, and he was relatively quickly shuffled aside by his superiors. I think there are similar executive trajectories one can point to that were not brought to an end nearly as early, with the results you'd expect.
* This interview with Dan DiDio offers the first hints of an official confirmation that the art changes and scheduling delays for Final Crisis are due at least in part to tardy scripts from Grant Morrison. God knows I love the Mad Scotsman, but his work does tend to run into these kinds of problems, and the common denominator is, well, him. I'm not even complaining about the lateness (the calvacade of artists, now that I have some beef with from time to time)--it just has long seemed a shame to me that it all got laid at the feet of either the artists or the editors or the executives.
* I'm also excited to read that my friend and former boss Brian Cunningham will be involved via his new editorial capacity at DC in the upcoming Green Lantern (and i think overall DCU) event Blackest Night. If you look back at the past couple of years at DC, a lot of attention was given to Countdown and its countless spinoffs and tie-ins, none of which really merited it; but at the same time, you've seen pretty tremendous and momentous work on Green Lantern, Superman, and Batman from Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. If, after 52, DC had done everything exactly the same--published Countdown, Countdown to Adventure, Countdown to Mystery, Countdown Presents the Search for Ray Palmer, Countdown: Arena, Salvation Run, Amazons Attack et al--but just made the mental and promotional adjustment of declaring Johns' and Morrison's main titles and events--Batman, Green Lantern, Action Comics, The Sinestro Corps War, The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul--the so-called "spine" of DC's superhero line instead, I think you'd have a very different landscape to look at right now. Anyway, I think these missteps have badly undercut Final Crisis in terms of fan reception, but clearly the emphasis placed on it and Batman R.I.P. and Superman: New Krypton and Flash: Rebirth and Blackest Night indicate that DC is now aware of where its bread is buttered.
* They're gonna make a movie out of Paul Pope's yet-to-be-published cyclopean fight scene graphic novel Battling Boy.
Rarely have I gone less far out on a limb than by calling Jeff Smith's "cartoon epic" Bone universally beloved. One need look no further than the acknowledgments page, which offers sincere thanks to supportive comics-industry players ranging from Marv Wolfman to Art Spiegelman, Harlan Ellison to Craig Thompson, Wizard to The Comics Journal. Frankly it's not tough to see why everyone's wild about the thing. A lushly drawn and ostentatiously cartooned fantasy epic starring funny animals self-published over the course of 12 years? There's really something for everybody in there.
Let's start with the part that wasn't for me: The cutesy comic business left me flat for the entirety of the saga. Simply put, this book didn't make me laugh out loud a single time, and given how much of it is dedicated to supposed-to-be-funny schtick involving the titular Bone cousins, rustic villagers, cowardly rat creatures and so on--especially in the early going--I think that's a real problem. To be honest, if this wasn't BONE, if I hadn't been hearing about it for as long as I've read comics, I wouldn't have gone much further than the opening chapter or two. I think there was one gag that kinda made me snort, but now I have no idea what that was, which is revealing in its own way. (It certainly wasn't the recurring bit about quiche.)
Obviously, what draws you in and keeps you involved even when the "Tolkien as Saturday morning cartoon on Nick Jr." humor drags on is Smith's cartooning. I know I tend to tout character design a lot on this blog, but the effortlessly classic looks Smith comes up with for his major players are almost in a class by themselves. I'm not saying they're necessarily all brilliant or innovative--there's a certain slick Disneyness to a lot of it--but in a way that's the selling point right there: These characters and creatures look like you've been seeing them all your life. The droopy-eyed, floppy-eared Great Red Dragon; Mammy Yokum-esque Gran'ma Ben; giant, dead-eyed, rictus-grinned Kingdok (he's like a huge furry Jaws!) and his rat-creature minions; the eerily faceless Hooded One and the solemnly robed stick-eaters; gorgeous, shaggy-haired Thorn, especially early on; and the part-Pogo, part-Snoopy, part-Smurf, all-Bone Fone, Phoney, and Smiley...that's a helluva batting average. Having characters that unimpeachably solid running around makes the narrative all the more seductive--a must when you're dealing with something this long and sprawling.
But you know, sprawling might not be the right word. It is a massive, massive story, and God only knows what it felt like to read it parceled out in individual issues over the course of a decade rather than in single volume that's heavier than my laptop computer. Even still, each chapter moves rather smoothly and inexorably into the next, like a prose fantasy epic would. This is a very different reading experience than a 1300-page collection of even the most cohesive superhero-comic run, where individual stand-alone issues and even storyarcs would diverge from the main narrative. And again, I think this linearity is a necessity for what Smith is trying to accomplish. Over the course of the story there is a pretty massive tonal drift, but looking back, I couldn't pinpoint precisely when it happened; all of a sudden you look around and the line is thinner and harsher, the pages look speckled with dust and debris versus the clean black and white of earlier chapters, and the story has gone from cow-racing and meet-cutes to internecine warfare between religious orders and attempts to thwart the beast of the apocalypse. This is accomplished with such a lack of herky-jerky shifts and seams that you hardly even notice it happening until it's already happened.
Does Smith fall back on standard fantasy archetypes and narrative tropes to do some of this work for him? Of course. The whole set-up--cute, diminutive, innately noble little guy and his cousins do the fish-out-of-water thing to save the tunic-wearing folk and secret, hidden royalty of a fallen kingdom against a resurgent and vengeful dark lord--is lifted directly from The Lord of the Rings. And as the common complaint against that work goes (a complaint I've never shared, but then I have the White Tree of Gondor tattooed on my arm, so I probably wouldn't), Bone's early, comparatively inconsequential chapters feel drawn out while the conclusion seems rushed. As I said, lingering on the unfunny comic business of the hapless Bones learning the rules of the road in the fantasyland they've stumbled across is a real obstacle to enjoying the book; by the end that stuff is mostly gone and replaced with what is to me a much more fun fantasy war/adventure story, but not even a geek like me is blind to how many key plot points there at the end are revealed through dreams and visions rather than earned, for want of a better word, and how rapidly key enemies and obstacles are overcome.
Unsurprisingly, Smith's fantastical worldbuilding and storytelling shine brightest at their most idiosyncratic, from both a narrative and artistic standpoint. We've all seen hooded, faceless villains before--again, see Tolkien--but when Smith's Hooded One speaks, the word balloons seem to ooze directly from the cavernous folds of the hood. I wasn't 100% sold on doing cartoony dragons instead of dragons who are actually scary and intimidating, but then you get a look at the whole dragon bestiary, and seeing every possible variation of cartoony dragon gives the concept a dizzying, zany punch. The creation myth and cultural hierarchy Smith devises are personal enough to somewhat transcend the elements they share with countless other such mythoi. I'm still trying to figure out why the giant mountain lion Rockjaw comes to dominate the middle third of the book and then reappears later to do...nothing; he's like the book's somewhat sinister version of Tom Bombadil. And there's one really chilling, batshit crazy sequence where the theocratic tyrant ruling over the abandoned kingdom confronts the Hooded One, only to be completely one-upped and outclassed in the insane and hideous and violent departments--that one will stick with me for a long time. The final fate of the big adversary was also quite memorably done--I saw the basic contours of that confrontation coming, but their final shape was not one I predicted at all.
I found reading Bone in a short timespan over these years to be a pretty engrossing experience, all told. Particularly toward the end, I'd anxiously look forward to my next train ride or pre-bedtime read to find out what happens next. But it never knocked my socks off, which seems to be what this kind of story is meant to do. I'm glad I read it, but had I never done so I think my life would have gone on just fine. There's no tattoo of the Crown of Horns in my future.
What he’s doing at the end of the story should, for all its gee–whiz futurity, feel slightly ambiguous, slightly fake, slightly “Hollywood.” Yes, he’s fulfilling Superman’s wishes by cloning an heir to Superman and Lois and inaugurating a Superman dynasty that will last until the end of time – but he’s also commodifying Superman, figuring out how it’s done, turning him into a brand, a franchise, a bigger–and–better “revamp,” the ultimate coming attraction, fresher than fresh, newer than new but familiar too. Quintum has figured out the “formula” for Superman and improved upon it.
In one way, Quintum could be seen to represent the creative team, simultaneously re–empowering a pure myth with the honest fire of Art...while at the same time shooting a jolt of juice through a concept that sells more “S” logo underpants and towels than it does comic books. All tastes catered!
I'm glad to see that that final image is intended to be ambiguous; I'd hate to be one of those guys who "doesn't get" Grant Morrison all of a sudden, particularly if this is due to some sort of innate failure on my part to cotton to his relentless pop-positivity, a sensibility I greatly appreciate even though I share it infrequently at best. Anyhoo, need I even say "read the whole interview"?
* That catch-all link comes courtesy of The Gold in Us, Will Survive in You, a new blog dedicated to chronicling the continuity of Grant Morrison's DC comics with the revelatory enthusiasm of the superfan. So far the pseudonymous blogger Zibarro has focused on connections between All Star Superman and DC One Million such as the Chronovore, the Prime Superman, and Solaris the Tyrant Sun. This should be a lot of fun to follow.
* Speaking of enthusiasm: Have you ever heard me tell my comic-book origin story, about how when I was in college I more or less stopped reading comics, except for stuff I'd borrow or get recaps of from my roommate, who eventually turned me on to The ACME Novelty Library and Savage Dragon. That roommate's name was Josiah Leighton, and he now has a blog called Consequentialart he uses for a class he's teaching on comics. I think my favorite thing about it is how it combines really open enthusiasm and awe for the art he's talking about, a relentless focus on art (layout in particular) as opposed to writing, and razor-sharp little insights into what makes it all tick. Here's a sample:
When I was in Japan, I had a very long and fascinating conversation with Naoki Urasawa, the creator of Monster, about [Akira creator Katsuhiro] Otomo’s use of his characters' gaze. Urasawa found this usage, leading the reader across the page from panel to panel, very Western. He cited this as further example that Otomo was affected to the core by European and American comics and film, not just in the superficial trappings of his style (which obviously owes much to Frenchman Jean “Moebius” Giraud.) By contrast, he showed me that most homegrown manga had the character’s eyes always facing out towards the viewer. He attributed this to the filmic style of Yasujiro Ozu, director of Tokyo Story. He said it was Ozu’s belief that the character should not avoid looking at the camera, but rather face it directly. The camera is always the first-person subjective point-of-view, he claimed, and therefore the characters should address it as a means of telling their stories directly to the viewer.
I know, right? Man I'm pleased to introduce the GZA, as he was known to us, to the comics blogosphere. You also might see some previously unreleased stuff that he and I did together in there, who knows.
* And while we're on the subject of image-making, I think my favorite link of the past few days is this impressively sized gallery of photos from throughout Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
BREAKING: Sean T. Collins would like Beyonce to play Wonder Woman
“I want to do a superhero movie and what would be better than Wonder Woman?” she asked the newspaper. “It would be great. And it would be a very bold choice. A black Wonder Woman would be a powerful thing. It’s time for that, right?”
Golly, is it ever!
“I would definitely have to keep it right for that costume."
What order should I read all of the Hellboy and BPRD books in? I've been wondering about the answer to this question for a while. Fortunately I've read them all already, most of them in the order they were released--as should you if you enjoy genre comics at all, because all of them really are that good, whether Mignola's drawing them or not at this point--so it hasn't been that pressing a problem for me. However, I now have a nice empty bookshelf with all the Mignolaverse books' name on it, and I really wanted to shelve them all in proper order. After all, they are meant to be part of one massive overarching storyline and should probably be treated as such. And with character-specific collections starring Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson now joining in, it's getting more and more complicated to keep everything straight. However, I've googled high and low for a proper reading-order list and come up empty.
Hellboy Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction
Hellboy Vol. 2: Wake the Devil
Hellboy Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin and Others
Hellboy Vol. 4: The Right Hand of Doom
Hellboy Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm
BPRD Vol. 1: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
Hellboy: Weird Tales Vol. 1
BPRD Vol. 2: The Soul of Venice and Other Stories
Hellboy: Weird Tales Vol. 2
BPRD Vol. 3: Plague of Frogs
BPRD Vol. 4: The Dead
Hellboy Vol. 5: Strange Places
BPRD Vol. 5: The Black Flame
BPRD Vol. 6: The Universal Machine
Hellboy Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Others
BPRD Vol. 7: Garden of Souls
BPRD Vol. 8: Killing Ground
Lobster Johnson Vol. 1: The Iron Prometheus
Hellboy Vol. 8: Darkness Calls
Abe Sapien Vol. 1: The Drowning
BPRD Vol. 9: 1946
I think this will be the next release, by the way.
BPRD Vol. 10: The Warning
I left off Hellboy Junior, since that's kinda obviously not canon unless you're feeling extremely generous (I also left out crossovers and cameos for the same reason), but it would go between Weird Tales Vol. 1 and Soul of Venice if you're feeling like a completist.
So there you have it! The reading order for all of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe books. My public service of the day!
Comics Time: An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories
Ivan Brunetti, editor
Robert Armstrong, Peter Bagge, Lynda Barry, Gabrielle Bell, Marc Bell, Jonathan Bennett, Mark Beyer, Mat Brinkman, Chester Brown, Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, David Collier, Robert Crumb, Henry Darger, Gene Deitch, Kim Deitch, Julie Doucet, Michael Dougan, Debbie Dreschler, Lyonel Feininger, Phoebe Gloeckner, Justin Green, Bill Griffith, John Hankiewicz, Sammy Harkham, Rory Hayes, David Heatley, Sam Henderson, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, George Herriman, Walt Holcombe, Kevin Huizenga, Crockett Johnson, J. Bradley Johnson, Ben Katchor, (pause for breath), Kaz, Frank King, James Kochalka, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Jason Lutes, Frans Masereel, Joe Matt, David Mazzuchelli, Richard McGuire, Tony Millionaire, Jerry Moriarty, Mark Newgarden, Onsmith, Gary Panter, Harvey Pekar, John Porcellino, Archer Prewitt, Daniel Raeburn, Ron Regé Jr., Joan Reidy, Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Charles M. Schulz, Seth, R. Sikoryak, Otto Soglow, Art Spiegelman, Cliff Sterrett, James Sturm, Adrian Tomine, Carol Tyler, Chris Ware, Lauren R. Weinstein, Wayne White, Karl Wirsum, Jim Woodring, Terry Zwigoff, writers/artists
Yale University Press, 2006
Price Buy it from Yale University Press Buy it from Amazon.com
I have to admit I'm a little tempted just to let the contributor list for this anthology serve as my review. I mean, look at that thing! And indeed I think I'd be somewhat justified in doing so. If the purpose of this anthology is to demonstrate the depth and breadth of style and effect possible in the comics medium as evinced by its best practitioners, well, the defense rests, you know? Provided your non-comics-reading buddy is a short-story guy rather than someone who needs a big long self-contained tale for their fiction fix, this book is an A-#1 Christmas gift.
But the strengths of this first volume in what I sincerely hope will be a long series of Ivan Brunetti-edited comics anthologies published by my alma mater go beyond the names in the table of contents. (Where they aren't listed at all, now that I think of it--Onsmith provides an illustrated TOC featuring drawings of the main characters in each story or strip.) As a curator, Brunetti knows not just who to include, but nine times out of ten what to include from them. Therefore, your Jaime Hernandez story is his masterpiece, "Flies on the Ceiling." Your Ron Regé Jr. contribution is drawn from his little seen, much loved, then-uncollected collection of haiku-like sex comics with Joan Reidy, Boys. Your Dan Clowes story is motherfucking "Gynecology." Mark Newgarden's "Love's Savage Fury." Phoebe Gloeckner's "Fun Things to Do with Little Girls." Richard McGuire's "Here," an ass-kicker if ever there was one. Kevin Huizenga's "A Sunset" (albeit just an excerpt, which sort of dilutes the power of what to me is the comic of the decade, but still!). The sense I get is of Brunetti in front of his bookcases, selecting what should go into the anthology based on which sections of which comics are the most dogeared, read and re-read, loaned out and repurchased. It's like when your friends come over and you go "oh man, you've gotta read this one!"
But it's not just a collection of shorts that run one into the next haphazardly--it's like the really well-made mixtape of comics anthologies. I was intrigued to read in Brunetti's introduction that he ordered the comics roughly by length, starting off with mostly gag-driven one-pagers and ending with long stories and excerpts. That's a smart and engaging structure in that the books trains you to read it as you go along, starting simple and gradually growing more demanding. Within those overall parameters Brunetti frequently arranges his selections in noticeable sub-sections, determined either by subject matter or artistic style: there's a crosshatcher's club with Robert Crumb, Joe Sacco, and David Collier; a childhood trauma section with Justin Green, Phoebe Gloeckner, and Debbie Dreschler; the Three Amigos of Canadian Comics, Joe Matt, Chester Brown, and Seth; an outsider-influenced section kicking off with Henry Darger and Rory Hayes and continuing through Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Mark Beyer, and Mat Brinkman; a Jewish ghetto of Julius Knipl, Maus, Berlin, and The Golem's Mighty Swing; and whether this is intentional or not, closing with Chris Ware and Dan Clowes seemed a deliberate crowning of those two artists as the giants of the modern era of comics, which I personally have always thought them to be. If I'm making this sound easy or rote, I don't mean to at all, by the way. Discovering what section you've just read your way into is a lot of fun, a big part of the pleasure of the collection.
Now, to draw pleasure from the collection in the first place, it probably goes without saying that you must be capable of drawing pleasure from astute depictions of misery. I'm sure there are broadsides against this book out there from people who want a little less dreary awfulness in their funnybooks than you're going to get from the contributors listed above. I think this complaint has some justification. The near-total lack of genre material of any kind, save only the horror-tinged monster-y comics of Jim Woodring, Mat Brinkman, Rory Hayes, and Charles Burns, offers a somewhat lopsided frame through which to view what people do with comics, narratively and emotionally. You're basically dealing with sadness and black comedy, with the occasional gross-out gag and "gosh weren't things beautiful in the olden times" nostalgia to leaven it a little. Of course, nostalgia and misery go hand-in-hand for many of these comics, particularly for the memoirists--between Seth, Crumb, Joe Matt, and several tributes to Peanuts, you will probably get tired of cartoonists complaining about how ugly and awful their lives are compared to their old clothes/houses/comics/records/etc. General self-pity is a running theme, too, and while the occasional cartoonist manages to convey it in a novel fashion--Ware's flat-affect trip down memory lane, incongruously set to a mocked-up Golden Age superhero comic--there's no way to get around the fact that you're gonna see a lot of funny lookin' dudes in glasses kvetching about themselves with a lot of exclamation points. I've never minded that tendency in the overall altcomix gestalt all that much, but when you put a lot of it between two covers, it gets harder to ignore and sometimes harder to take. And even when the nostalgic elements are presented as-is, those presentational choices can be a bit cloying. Most of the old-time newspaper strips we see, for example, are reproduced Chip Kidd-style as photos of the original pages rather than, you know, just taking the comics themselves and putting them on the page. Presenting old comics as fetish objects dulls their impact, whatever else doing so may have going for it--"Here's a Chris Ware strip, here's a Charles Burns strip, and here's something I found in my grandpa's attic." Similar moves done to emphasize the unique publishing circumstances of more recent projects--throwing a photo of a Jonathan Bennett minicomic in front of the actual strip contained therein, reproducing Jeffrey Brown stuff by photocopying them straight from the tiny diary-like books he originally draws them in--are sort of haphazardly done and to minimal understandable effect.
But none of that really takes much away from the impact of the collection, for all of the above reasons and one more: Is there something to be gained from having so much work from so many different artists all in one place, even when many or even most of them already grace your bookshelves? Sure, and it's gained through juxtaposition. I found myself noticing all kinds of things about work I already knew pretty well--Joe Sacco's art runs full-bleed. R. Crumb's "trademark" style shifts far more radically than I'd ever noticed. You really can see Hayes in Kominsky and Beyer. In all honesty I feel like I got as much out of this book as any newbie might. That's the mark of a great anthology.
How far is too far? At what point does a horror movie cease to be entertainingly disturbing and become just plain unpleasant and unenjoyable? I wondered this going into Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury's Inside/À l'Intérieur, given that what little I knew about it was that it was a movie about some nut or nuts menacing a pregnant woman. The bloody scissors on the DVD itself, moreover, indicated it would be a movie about someone's attempt to cut the baby out of the pregnant woman's stomach. This is all, needless to say, rather difficult material to "enjoy," but you know me, I've probably seen worse. Did I mention we had a miscarriage a couple months ago? God help me I actually thought I'd enjoy the movie more because of that. It's a trauma I'm close to, and I come to horror for the trauma.
Anyway, given the air of menace that surrounded the very idea of the film for me--reminiscent of Hostel in that regard--I knew I'd be in for a rough evening, but like I said, that's what I'm here for. And early on the movie didn't disappoint. I mean, hey, it starts with a fetuscam view of a fatal car accident in which the pregnant star's husband is killed. Then there's some obligatory business at the hospital and with her mother and her editor (she's a photojournalist) to show that she's lost the lust for life. Then she goes home and someone starts menacing her, sure enough. There are the expected homages as one would find in pretty much any indie-ish horror movie these days--Aliens, Hellraiser, The Descent, Halloween. There's the expected business with threatening the pregnant woman's belly with sharp objects. It's all pretty tense and engaging. Then it gets a little silly when some unexpected guests arrive, and things go down in sort of the most pat and/or over-the-top ways possible, but hey, lots of horror movies have missteps here and there. The gore is unflinching and, for the most part, not splattery but genuinely brutal; the score is creative and impressive, clearly building on John Carpenter but doing its own unexpected things with some frequency. Like all great kill-or-be-killed thrillers it seeds little clues here and there as to what will happen later in the film, and keeps you guessing as to which guns on the mantel will go off and which won't. It makes you wonder what the killer's connection to our heroine is and why she's so nuts, and whether her vague ethnicity has something to do with the banlieu riots constantly being referenced by the news reports and the editor character or whether that's just a headfake. In other words, it's disturbing but in a good way.
Then the killer grabs the heroine's cat.
Sorry, folks, that's all she wrote for me! I'm not trying to make any kind of grand sweeping political statement about what's okay to show in movies and what's not. In the past I've enjoyed a decent number of movies in which pretty rotten things happen to animals--usually at the hands/paws/claws/teeth of other animals/dinosaurs/xenomorphs/whatever, but certainly not always, right, Christofuh and Cosette?--and I expect it can and will happen again. But no, no thanks, not for me, not in this movie, not when the point of the movie truly is to be maximally brutal and unpleasant about everything it touches. I mean, on one level it just reduces everything to a kind of bloody white noise, like an attempt to push every button and it all cancels each other out--you could object to it that way. On another level it seems like a bit of a gimmick, like "hey, this lady's really awful, look, she'll kill an innocent cat, what a psycho, look out for your unborn baby there, heroine!", like cheesy. On still another level it was predictable in that gun-on-the-mantel way--I swear to god, the second the pregnant lady opened the door to her house and the little black cat meowed a greeting to her I said to myself "Oh Christ, they better not hurt the goddamn cat."
You can object on all those levels. Maybe I object to it on all those levels! But really the only level I object to it on that matters is that I just don't enjoy watching movies about people killing cats. Maybe, maybe if I felt like the movie was up to more than just trying to be really scary and brutal, maybe. I think there are horror movies that have Something To Say, and not just in the American Nightmare/George A. Romero way, I mean something to say about life, something to say about the real horror of life, the horror that strikes you at 1 in the morning or 1 in the afternoon and you look at the world and you imagine your life stretching in front of you like a gray ribbon into the future and all around you and all in front of you are death death death, that horror, I think there are horror movies that have Something To Say about that. And to those movies, I say, if you wanna kill a cat, I'm probably okay with it. I think Inside is a movie about how scary it is when psychos chase pregnant ladies with scissors, and I don't want to watch them kill the cat. I turned it off without finishing it, without letting them finish, and I'm gonna send it back to Netflix and in my head, the cat's still alive, Schrödinger be damned, the cat's still alive.
* Wolf Man and Rocketeer director Joe Johnston will apparently be handling the obnoxiously titled First Avenger: Captain America for Marvel Studios. I am filled with lack of feelings about this, although I will say that I remember his Jumanji being pretty effective in a "My First Movie About Uncontrollable Hordes of Hungry Things Trying to Eat People" sort of way.
* This strikes me as being pretty weak tea to actually be worth reporting, but for now at least, Danny Boyle himself may direct the sequel to 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. I have a bad feeling that this will set up a reductive and unhelpful "skip the second movie" sentiment somewhere down the line, but still, it'd be neat.
* I'm not going to read Jog's review of The ACME Novelty Library #19 until I read the book itself, but for now I want to note that I like the Jog-suggested idea of being "that guy in the comics blogosphere who really loves animals."
Comics, how they are composed, is like an architecture, right? Well, I’ve become obsessed with the structure of comics of how one reads comics and how comics spreads are composed. I’ve also come under the spell of Pythagorean Theory and how it applies to image making and Architecture. That all might sound really pretentious but it’s really the most un-pretentious approach to creating images ever. Basically, it’s all the perspective tricks that we all learned in 6th grade art class but way more complex than three point perspective. Pythagorean Theory and The Golden Section are the building blocks of Renaissance perspective. In oil painting all of these compositional techniques have been used for centuries. There are “harmonic points” on a canvas that can be used like one would use harmony in music. These points can be measured. In comics, these ideas are often used WITHIN the borders of each panel but the overall design of the page is often muddy and bottlenecked and this undercuts the power of the image inside the panel borders. The whole structure of the spread should be “in key” with the images. And, for the page or the whole two page spread (all comics are read as two page spreads when they are in a book) to “sing”, to really be clear, the structure has to be “open”, and have a symmetry that is dynamic as opposed to static. Again, it’s like Fractals. I’m writing a book on it for Picturebox. People go nuts, in a good way, when I show them how simple it is to do. It’s like comics are just figuring out certain approaches that Painting and Architecture have understood for centuries. It’s fun stuff, and I wished someone would have hepped me to it years ago. But, honestly, people just look right past it. Who needs to learn perspective when a digital camera and a illustrator program will do it all for you?
I've thought for a while that the distance metaphors like "too far" don't really serve. In my head there's a taxonomy that builds on the image of pushes and shocks emerging from the zero point that is the movie, heading out in all directions. Things that could be measured, notionally, include the direction of the push, its speed, and its relentlessness - the difference between a single bottle being lobbed in the direction of someone's head and a bulldozer blade crushing everything that might resist it.
Each of us in the audience rests behind a set of barriers that surrounds the movie point. In some places are barriers are close up to the point and flimsy, so that not much gets through - like you, I'm that way with cruelty to animals, and also with certain specific kinds of head and face deformities. (Which is why one part of the excellent Vanilla Sky was so grueling for me, and why I just can't go see The Dark Knight at all.) In other places, our barriers are far back and well supported, so that we aren't overwhelmed even by a lot of whatever it is.
I think Bruce is probably right about the utility of "too far." It's tough to argue that killing a cat is "further" than, I dunno, hanging a girl on a meathook while you dismember her boyfriend with a chainsaw, just to name the first example that comes to mind. (Although I'd imagine the cat was dispatched in a far more visually explicit fashion than either of those unfortunates from Texas Chain Saw ultimately were.)
Regarding Bruce's notion of different barriers for different things, I've thought about that before in terms of phobic reactions, which to me are very different things than one's usual gradated responses to various scary or disturbing or unpleasant things in horror movies. For example, my wife is emetophobic, so vomiting, gagging, dry-heaving, and certain kinds of throat-trauma, choking, or coughing just plain hit the panic switch in her brain. It's not a question of the imagery being one level too extreme or too frightening for her to take, being just powerful enough to break through a given barrier--there is no barrier.
I am the same way, not quite as bad but getting worse even as she gets better with her phobia, about skin growths and growth-like structures, and to the extent that their bodies and multiplicity can evoke growths, bugs. Again, it's not like there's a level at which I can handle it that can be surpassed--I go from zero to curling up and shaking in a second. If it hits that anti-sweet spot for me, panic! Based on what Bruce is saying, I think that's what's going on for him with facial deformities, though I could be wrong.
On the other hand, I think there's something different about animal cruelty, which you and I and my wife are all very sensitive about. My wife also has a real problem with people soiling themselves with fear. I've thought about this hard and I'm pretty sure that there's something different going on here than there is with my phobia. It feels more thoughtful, more considered, more fleshed out a reaction to the stimulus than the reflex response of a phobia, you know? Like I said, I really do think there are contexts in which I'd be able to accept animal cruelty in film, because it's happened with me before, though I would always find it very, very troubling. But there's no context in which I'd be able to handle my phobia--if it's triggered, it's triggered. That to me says that there's something different at play, even if my reaction when the animal-cruelty barrier is violated can be just as extreme and binary.
Someone's been reading Stephen King's "Here There Be Tygers," huh?
* Lotta list-making and list-mulling going on in the horror blogosphere lately, inspired by B-Sol's reprint of HMV's top 50 horror films list. B-Sol's in the process of compiling a list out of weighted submissions from all of us Tana Tea-swilling elitists. CRwM goes Nate Silver on the very idea of list-making drawn from polls. Curt Purcell hasn't seen a lot of the "classics" you'd think he would have, including such films of bona fide groovy-age provenance as The Wicker Man, The Texas Chain Saw Masscare, Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, etc etc. Stacie Ponder posts her personal top 10. FWIW I submitted my own Top 10 to B-Sol, and if he posts it I'll link to it, but paring down the amorphous mass of my favorites to a ranked list of 10 was a pretty arbitrary process once you got past the first handful.
* My ongoing quest to reblog pretty much everything Bruce Baugh writes about World of Warcraft continues: First up, Bruce tells the story of another one of those in-game memorials for a player who died in the real world, in this case an 11 year old boy. But unlike that classic funeral raid, this one's not blackly comic so much as out and out adorable--897 players decided to create minotaur-type characters who would run from the Tauren capital en masse in an attempt to sack the Alliance capital Stormwind in the kid's honor. They crashed the server, but the idea, and the images captured before the thing went kablooey, is just as ridiculous and delightful as you'd expect.
* Next up, Bruce gives us a you-are-there view of the invasion of the Alliance and Horde capitals by the Lich King's zombie dragon things. It's fun to watch a game build a sense of anticipation for some upcoming super-duper-event via smaller but still holy-cow events like this. Somehow it feels less cynical than when comics do it.
James Robinson, writer
Renato Guedes, artist
DC Comics, 2008
32 pages each
James Robinson's still-young run on Superman, of which these issues comprise the opening arc, is an odd duck among my superhero-reading friends. As far as this group is concerned in today's superhero-publishing climate, there's usually a pretty clear consensus as to which titles are good and which ones aren't. Allowing for outliers in terms of people who really like Jason Aaron or just can't get into Grant Morrison or something like that, a real schism is rare. Superman has provoked just such a schism.
If you ask me to judge based on this storyline--okay, extended fight scene in the shape of a storyline--it's pretty good! I can understand how some of the things Robinson is doing could throw some people. For instance, he's writing this weirdo staccato dialogue, particularly in the first-issue conversations between Superman and Green Lantern and the various members of the Science Crimes Unit. It's strange sub-Bendis pseudo-Mamet-noir stuff that neither sounds like how people actually talk nor makes up for that with sufficient style; you'd expect it out of a real newcomer, not a storied veteran of high-end superhero comics like Robinson.
But those hiccups sort of dwindle away after a while, and you're left to focus on the things that work. Provided you're like me and your ideal Superman comic is like if primary colors could punch each other, there's plenty. I've been a fan of Renato Guedes' open, strangely delicate linework and character designs back when he co-drew Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek's memorable "One Year Later" (remember that?) Superman/Action Comics arc Up, Up, and Away!--still one of the two or three best Superman stories I've ever read--and he's in fine form here. His characters are warm and believable, yet he also cartoons, particularly in several fine combat sequences. Hi-Fi's colors give the musclebound proceedings a purple-pink hue that suggests both vulnerability and tumescence, which is what I for one want out of my superhero slobberknockers.
Meanwhile, the whole idea of the story--big huge dude shows up, should be a standard "Superman vs. brick" battle that Superman wins handily, but it turns out he's getting his ass handed to him and him and his friends have to figure out why before he gets killed--is a clever twist on the usual "Superman vs. villain of the month" stuff that I always thought was the lamest aspect of the modern-era version of the character, given that, y'know, he's Superman and it's tough to convince us he's in danger very often. (Kudos on that score have to go to Johns, who's been reliably tuning up Superman's classic rogues gallery for quite a while now.)
Superman's main antagonist in this story is the forgotten Jack Kirby creation Atlas. Naturally I'm in favor of bringing back any and all '70s Kirby characters to the forefront of the line, especially in a way that sort of captures how powerfully written and drawn they all were by instantly making them major threats. That's what Robinson and Guedes do here, including a shattered-memory origin sequence drawn in Kirby's style; trying to figure out how Atlas went from heroic but rageful Kirby barbarian to single-minded heel turns out to be key to the story. If, like me, you had no idea who this Atlas guy was before seeing him here--I just thought he was an attempt to take the Atlas character from Grant Morrison's All Star Superman and make him canon--you'll enjoy him just fine anyway.
All things considered, I'm suddenly a lot more excited to see Robinson trade eights with Johns during the just-launched New Krypton Super-event. I'm really rather pleased with several of DC's core properties at the moment, in fact; it's just nice to see someone whose initials aren't GJ or GM contributing.
I think that one of the reasons I'm writing so much about my decision to stop watching the film Inside because the killer was gonna kill a cat is because on some level I'm ashamed of that decision. As I described in my follow-up post yesterday, cruelty to animals isn't something I'm phobic of. It's not something that triggers an on/off switch where I just can't bear the sight or thought of it. It's not Room 101 for me. (Although if that's what was waiting for me in Room 101 I would not like it AT ALL...but nor would I like watching someone be sliced to ribbons either, and obviously I can handle that in films just fine.) I think that for me, cruelty to animals does exist on some kind of overall cruelty continuum. And to the extent that I believe horror is about cruelty--to the extent that cruelty is the aspect of horror I find so compelling--then I feel like on some level I've failed by refusing to watch it.
Now, failed as what? A viewer, a critic, a genre buff, an artist, a student of the human condition, a blogger, a film lover, a former film student? I'm not sure I know. But I'd be lying if I didn't say that concern was going on internally, to the point where I immediately felt bad about sending the movie back to Netflix and will likely put it back on my queue and try it again soon. Maybe I'll try to watch it during a time of day that's less conducive to an immersive horror-movie experience--a day-lit lunchbreak instead of at night with the lights turned down alone in the house.
Keep in mind that this isn't the only time I've been really upset by something only to want to try and "best it" with a rematch. Perhaps you recall that horrifying Coney Island ride I went on, the Topspinner? I guarantee you I go on one of those again to prove to myself that I didn't need to be so scared the first time around.
Also keep in mind I'm talking about make-believe animal cruelty, not actual animal cruelty done for the purposes of entertainment a la Cannibal Holocaust. Fuck that with something hard and sandpapery.
* Apparently the next, possibly Danny Boyle-directed 28 Units of Time Later movie will not be called 28 Months Later. Once upon a time there was an idea for a prequel that took place before the bulk of the events in 28 Days Later--28 Hours Later, perhaps--and maybe that's what's going on here. (Via STYD.)
* My pal Rob Bricken, editor of Topless Robot, gets the interview treatment from Poe Ghostal.
* So it looks like They're making ">an HBO series out of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, to be called Game of Thrones after the first novel in the series. My reaction maps to Rob's in virtually every particular, including the whole "never read 'em" angle and the "fantasy give the HBO drama treatment could be pretty spectacular" vibe.
* Curt Purcell takes a swing at a pair of frequently voiced memes among horror fans: "it's scarier because it could really happen" and "what you don't see is scarier than what you do see." I will say that I've found myself having more intense reactions to horror films in which the "monster" is a human, but I think that has more to do with me being frightened by human cruelty than with plausibility; perfectly plausible "nature gone wild" movies wouldn't have the same effect.
Let's watch as all-time A-#1 Sean T. Collins style icon Gary Numan shows us how it's done:
Jesus jumped-up Christ in a chariot-driven sidecar, that is essentially the coolest thing that ever happened in human history. Daft Punk and Beck need to be sending regular royalty checks.
That footage is from 1979, I believe. A couple of years later, having decided that his set's Metropolis light towers were insufficiently gigantic and extravagant and his own personal mien was insufficiently supervillainous, Gary decided to revamp his performance of this song as follows:
The sort of complete commitment, totality of vision, and lack of fear or self-deprecating irony required to perform a song about androids whilst seated in a mobile throne you're piloting around the stage is impressive beyond words to me. Great tune, too.
* Kevin Eastman says that David Fincher, Zack Snyder, and Gore Verbinski will be directing segments in the new Heavy Metal movie, and I totally believe every word he's saying, don't you? (Via Splash Page.)
* Bruce Baugh explains why he thinks World of Warcraft's Wrath of the Lich King events are working so well: It's optional, it's containable, it's graspable, and it makes it worth your while.
* Speaking of which, I know I'm spending an awful lot of blog time on something I don't participate in in any way, but I could not help but dig the hell out of the cinematic intro to the Lich King expansion pack:
One thing Bruce has discussed in his "WoW for N00BS" posts is that the game has a zesty sense of scale, embiggening stuff to make it more awesome. Good! One of the advantages of doing something as unrepentantly nerdy as designing World of Warcraft is that you don't need to be ad hoc apologists for your material, making sure it's as realistic as a historical epic or as rooted in readily graspable allegory as possible. If you want to show a giant Sauron guy in skull armor and furry boots break free of a throne encased in a glacier and unleash a gigantic zombie dragon thing in order to psyche up your undead army over music that launches every salvo in the generic-fantasy-score arsenal and narration that's one vowel away from namechecking the Forest of Lornadoon like it's straight outta Bored of the Rings, you can knock yourself completely out with it. You can commit.
* In the comment thread downblog, Bruce, Tom Spurgeon, and Strange Ink's Sean B. offer their opinions on the pros and cons of the soon-to-be-seen-on-not-TV-but-HBO fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Bruce and Sean are mostly pro, Tom mostly con.
To the extent that things like World War Hulk work, it's because that angry, savage Hulk can be seen as a reaction against the world failing to work like it does for him in stories like this. The Hulk is both the world as it is and the world as it should be. Batman is the same way, I think, only in his angry version he's trying to beat the world back into making a sense it fails to make in his non-angry version rather than lashing out against the world when its pre-fallen splendor is interrupted for him. In other words, Batman's innocence aspect is without hope, while the Hulk's experience aspect is without hope, if that makes sense.
Eh, a lot of slow motion and superhero/trailer cliches, and they call the "team" "The Watchmen" which is like if someone sat around thinking up the best example of a dumb thing Hollywood would do. As the trailer began to load I suddenly realized I'm pretty bored with this movie already. My friends Rickey and Sam point out, however, that this could be a pretty exciting trailer for people who haven't read the book, haven't seen the first trailer (although thanks to The Dark Knight that doesn't describe too many people), haven't seen the San Diego footage, haven't seen the Scream Awards teaser, haven't seen the promo posters, and on and on and on...
Hellboy: Darkness Calls
Mike Mignola, writer
Duncan Fegredo, Mike Mignola, artists
Dark Horse, 2008
$19.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
I think B.P.R.D. is better than Hellboy at this point, whether or not Mike Mignola himself is drawing either one. With John Arcudi as co-writer and Guy Davis on art, B.P.R.D. has that mix of action, horror, sly black humor, and quietly but genuinely unnerving fatalism that has long characterized Hellboy at its best, with art that is totally different than Mignola's yet in many ways equally accomplished and evocative. But now it's more grounded in things you can grasp and understand than Mignola's increasingly unfettered "main" series--there are still recognizable human concerns, likable characters, and dramatic stakes at play, rather than Hellboy punching his way through esoteric world mythologies inhabited by an increasingly prodigious cast of hard-to-discern faerie-demon-god-witch-ghost things. I also think that of all Mignola's recent artistic collaborators, Duncan Fegredo is doing my least favorite work; that's a pretty faint damnation since it's still pretty good, but there's something about the way he apes Mignola but throws in more lines and details that just doesn't satisfy the way the work of Mignola himself or the not-at-all-imitative work of Guy Davis does.
All that being said, you know what? I reread this graphic novel the other night and had a grand time with it. In large part, I think that's because reading it all between the same set of covers in one sitting enabled me to finally figure out what the hell is going on! Basically, Hellboy's living in the estate of a very old friend of his mentor's. He goes out for a stroll and happens across a trio of weirdos who turn out to be the anthropomorphized familiars of medieval witches slain by a witchfinder-general type. They resurrect their old mistresses, but the witchfinder guy still haunts the area and attacks. The familiars split. Witchfinder-zombie kills two of the witch-zombies, but the third snags Hellboy and brings him to a big meeting of all of England's witches. They're seeking a new ruler, since the witch-queen Hecate was previously vanquished by Hellboy and was since unsuccessfully resurrected by a half-man half-devil named Igor Bromhead who tried and failed to take her powers for his own. They ask Hellboy to be their king, and he says no. A servant of HB's old enemy, the Russian mythological baddie Baba Yaga, offers to take HB off their hands by way of vengeance for his spurning their offer, so that Baba Yaga--another HB vanquishee--can get her own revenge on him. They say yeah sure, so HB finds himself in the dreamworld-Russia of Baba Yaga, who sics an army of skeletons and an immortal warrior named Koschei the Deathless on him. She promises to let Koschei die if he kills Hellboy--she has possession of his soul--but I guess it turns out that Hellboy can't be killed in this dimension either. (Or maybe not at all?) While Baba Yaga does manage to kill Perun, the pagan Russian god of the earth, her and Koschei keep coming up empty against Hellboy himself. With the help of a spirit of the forest, a little house-elf type guy, and a creepy little girl who once used a gift from Baba Yaga to kill her abusive step-family, Hellboy keeps schooling Koschei, who keeps getting revived by Baba Yaga, but each time she does so she throws more and more of her own power into him. Finally she runs out of juice (even tossing old Rasputin's soul into the mix), but in one last-ditch effort she gets Koschei to lob a knife into Hellboy's back. This still doesn't work, but it makes HB drop a magic piece of paper the creepy girl gave him, which turns into an ocean and allows him to swim back to the real world. There he dispatches that witchfinder-zombie from earlier on. That guy's sword is inscribed with the name of Igor Bromhead, the half-man reptile dude who we saw swing and miss in his attempt to take Hecate's powers as his own. Turns out he's been slithering around Italy eating sheep and things ever since. Hellboy kills him but not before he can get out a prophecy about HB leading Hell's army, which after all is HB's whole reason for being around. This ties into something one of Baba Yaga's undead Russian comrades told her earlier--that Hellboy wasn't "ready" to give her an eye in exchange for the one he poked out of her years ago, but the implication being he might one day. Meanwhile, as all this is going on with Hellboy, a little pig-guy named Gruagach has pitched the witches on resurrecting a mysterious "HER" to use as their new queen now that Hecate is out of commission and Hellboy is a non-starter. He and some minions find this big giant who's in charge of keeping this mystery lady's pieces in a box in a deep dungeon and explain that the witches want the box. The giant gives it to him but then crawls into the dungeon himself since he wants no part of the bad stuff that will go down once whatsername gets loose. On their way back to the witches Gruagach and his pals come across Dagda, who I think is king of the faeries or something and who doesn't want them to open the box. One of the minions kills him and then feels terrible about it and kills himself. Gruagach proclaims to assembled faeriedom that whoever's inside the box will now be their queen as well. Then there's a pair of epilogues: In the first, the BPRD gets their first letter from Hellboy in six years, just a quick note telling them where he's hanging out now. They realize that the old friend he's been staying with has been dead for 24 years or so. Uh oh! In the second epilogue, an old witch-hunter-type guy we've seen mentioned here and there named Edward Grey does a seance with Hecate to ask her life story, and she explains that she once upon a time helped ruin the proto-kingdom of Hyperborea by delivering unto them promethean knowledge of the workings of the universe that she stole from the fallen angels its ruler had penned up. (It's kind of a Sauron/Numenor deal.) She makes it sound like it's going to be Grey's mission to stop Hellboy from unleashing the apocalypse (her included), which she says Hellboy will not survive regardless. The end!
Okay, I got a few things out of writing down that summary. First, now I think I finally understand what happened. Second, it becomes obvious that this story is waaaaay too convoluted, even for Hellboy. There's upward of a dozen factions at work, each trying to do something that's a little ambiguous and mysterious to begin with. Put it all together and it's borderline incomprehensible--you can't tell the players without a scorecard, and unless you sit and bang one out like I just did, none is forthcoming. Third, the art really doesn't help. Fegredo's spin on Mignola is already a little too manic and cluttered--he admits in the sketchbook section reprinted in the back that he's not really adept at spotting blacks, certainly not on the level Mignola is--and a lot of it hits your eyes and brain as a wall of noise. Meanwhile, a lot of the different characters are pretty hard to tell apart--I thought the pig guy was part of the cat/frog/bird crew, i thought piggy's minions were Baba Yaga's minions, I thought the faeries were the witches, and on and on and on. Add these problems to the already murky plot, and whoo doggie.
But I mentioned the fatalism of the Hellboy books earlier, and I think that's what comes through the strongest here for me. The Hellboy-proper comics have flirted with incomprehensibility for quite some time, so that's really no surprise; what is sort of surprising to me, given how ongoing genre titles usually work, is that Hellboy and the BPRD seem to be headed for an unhappy ending. When you think about it, ever since Hellboy left the BPRD and struck out on his own, the status quo for both halves of the equation has actually gotten worse with the close of each new adventure. This story all but says that Hellboy, our cute sardonic two-fisted hero, will indeed become the Beast of the Apocalypse he was born to be. That's what I take away from Darkness Calls--that underneath the sea of crazy that flows from humanity's collective unconscious, underneath the haze of mythology and Lovecraft that Mignola is increasingly untethered in, something terrible is happening. That's a fine, black beating heart for powering a mythos.
* When I step back and take a look at my tastes--in comics, in music, in film, and in literature--the former two appear to be much broader than the latter two. Provided a first-glance look at the art doesn't make me want to close the book and not look again, I'll read virtually any comic, I'm rather voracious about it, I enjoy the experience of reading a lot by a lot of people, etc. With music I'm almost obnoxiously eclectic, and while I'm not necessarily a first-adopter when it comes to new artists (particularly compared with dedicated music bloggers) I do indeed enjoy an enormously wide range. In neither case is this an "eat your vegetables" deal--I truly like a lot of different stuff.
But when you look at my film-viewing habits over the past year or two or perhaps even longer, I'm basically only ever watching and talking about genre films from major studios. That's due in part to the parameters of this blog during its all-horror incarnation, and to the fact that I really do love horror and a lot of other genre entertainments, and to the fact that tracking down genuine independent and art-house fair involves an expenditure of time and money, but I don't feel the movie-review sidebar of my blog is actually representative of what I'm interested in overall. I'm a little more expansive in what I've been reading prose-wise, but only a little. Again, this is striking me as odd. There's probably no reason why my movie-watching and book-reading habits shouldn't be as wide-ranging and reliant on independent outlets as are my music-listening and comics-reading habits.
* In a few weeks I will have spent a year reviewing three comics a week every week without fail. I'm proud of this achievement and I've gotten a lot out of it. I still have a bunch of Comics Journal backlog to post and a pile of review copies I really want to get to, so it may stretch into the New Year as well. But one thing that's really fallen by the wayside, particularly as the year has gone on, is my prose reading. (Actually that's probably a good reason why the books I've read haven't been all over the map--I haven't read enough one way or the other.) I think it would be a lot of fun to be reading prose at the rate I've been reading comics lately, or at least close to it. I sometimes sit around and think of how much fun it'll be to finally read The Master and Margarita, or the two or three Chuck Palahniuk books I haven't gotten to yet, or Moby-Dick, or maybe taking a crack at those George R.R. Martin fantasy novels HBO is going to adapt, or diving into Robert E. Howard because I feel like my pulp pump has been duly primed, or Nixonland, or the Stephen King short story collections that aren't Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, or Four Past Midnight, or or or or or. Nearly all of my dedicated reading time is taken up by comics, though. Maybe I'll change that in the New Year, despite how much I've dug my thrice weekly Comics Time.
* Oddly, I don't feel like my writing time has been impacted nearly as much, even though I've spent more time on the blog than ever before. I think that's because my writing habits have always been weird and dependent on long periods of simmering and stewing and mulling culminating in several-hour bursts of creativity, rinse, repeat. That's an easy schedule to fit into existing frameworks. Meanwhile, having Murder come out scratched a big part of that itch to Be A Comics Writer, obviously. And I have two separate "graphic novels" (in this case meaning "book-length collections of interrelated short stories) largely in the hands of their artists right now, plus a separate short story or two, so I don't feel like I've been slacking.
* One thing you will not see me do, no matter how much I blog enthusiastically about it, is start playing World of Warcraft or any other video game, because that would so clearly be a disaster for me it's almost comical. There goes the little time I'm not spending at my day job, doing freelance work, doing personal writing and reading, or doing blog writing and reading--poof, gone. No can do!
* My pal Zach Oat at Movies Without Pity is but one of a horde of nerdy critics whose positive reviews for the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace I've spotted today. This is noteworthy because buzz for the film up until a couple of days ago had been pretty lukewarm. Now I'm excited for it all over again.
* Related: I've Netflixed all the Bourne movies, to which Quantum is said to be rather deeply indebted, and may get to watch some or even all of them before I finally hit the theaters for 007. I'll keep you posted. (Aren't you excited?)
* Also related: Quantum director Marc Forster has signed on to direct the adaptation of Max Brooks's excellent zombie mock-oral-history World War Z, with a screenplay by not-excellent comics and Changeling writer J. Michael Straczynski. (I dunno, Supreme Power was good, so fingers crossed I guess. ) So now I'm invested in the success of Quantum even more deeply. (Via AICN.)
* Haha, the star of Twilight calls the books out for their egregious Mary Sueishness. This to me is a far more acceptable framework for taking potshots at the series and its imminent film incarnation than the horror-site bog-standard "eww girls."
* One thing I did not expect to find today was an in-depth examination of the Hellraiser series by comics blogger Tim O'Neil. Part one is an encomium to the Hellraiser concept, part two contains reviews of every theatrically released installment, and part three deals with the "apocrypha"--aka straight-to-video sequels. Sample quote:
Considering that this film was made for a reported $1 million dollars, it's easily one of the best-looking "low budget" horror films ever made. Considering the Faustian bargain that Barker reportedly made in order to have the film made his way - signing over future franchise rights to New Line and agreeing to a paltry budget in exchange for the chance to direct his own book - the fact that it looks as good as it does is something of a minor miracle. Especially if you consider the fact that Barker was himself a novice filmmaker, with just two experimental shorts under his belt as a director. It's a shame, in a way, that he's not temperamentally suited to working in the film industry, because if he had chosen to focus his energies he probably could have been a director for the ages. As it is, he's probably a better writer, but still, the prose world's gain is film's loss. (And the first person to mention Lord of Illusions in the comments gets bopped on the head.)
It's true. There are images and sequences in Hellraiser that are stunning given the inexperience of its director, and frankly I think Nightbreed, despite the evident studio interference, is a pretty remarkable film at times too.
* Kramers Ergot 7 tourdates! One of the drawbacks of the emergence of Brooklyn as a hipster mecca is that now many comics events I might go to were they held in Manhattan end up in the borough of Kings, a paradoxically closer yet less accessible location relative to where I'm usually at.
* I realized while reading Bruce Baugh's latest, picture-filled look at what's going on in World of Warcraft right now that these posts are filling the role of "the new TV series I'm following this season" for me. Best of all? No commercials! WARNING: ADORABLE WALRUS GUY AHEAD
Comics Time: An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories Vol. 2
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories Vol. 2
Ivan Brunetti, editor
Jessica Abel, Anonymous, Lynda Barry, Mark Beyer, Ariel Bordeaux, Chester Brown, Jeffrey Brown, Charles Burns, Martin Cendreda, C.F., Brian Chippendale, Daniel Clowes, David Collier, Robert Crumb, Vanessa Davis, Kim Deitch, Debbie Dreschler, Charles Forbell, Renée French, Drew Friedman, Phoebe Gloeckner, Leif Goldberg, Carrie Golus, Adam Gopnik, Bill Griffith, Milt Gross, John Hankiewicz, Fletcher Hanks, Sammy Harkham, David Heatley, Tim Hensley, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Bill Holman, Kevin Huizenga, Jess, Cole Johnson, J. Bradley Johnson, Ben Katchor, Kaz, Megan Kelso, Dave Kiersh, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Michael Kupperman, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Matt, David Mazzuchelli, Winsor McKay, Richard McGuire, James McShane, Jerry Moriarty, Anders Nilsen, Diane Noomin, Elinore Norflus, Onsmith, Gary Panter, Paper Rad, Laura Park, Harvey Pekar, John Porcellino, Jayr Pulga, Archer Prewitt, Ron Regé Jr., Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Souther Salazar, Frank Santoro, Kevin Scalzo, Seth, R. Sikoryak, Art Spiegfelman, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Eugene Teal, Matthew Thurber, Adrian Tomine, H.J. Tuthill, Carol Tyler, Maurice Vellekoop, Chris Ware, Patrick W. Welch, Mack White, Karl Wirsum, Basil Wolverton, Jim Woodring, Dan Zettwoch, writers/artists
Yale University Press, November 2008
$28 Buy it from Yale University Press Buy it from Amazon.com
While not quite the world-beating effort that was its predecessor, this second Ivan Brunetti-edited anthology from Yale University Press still makes it difficult to imagine a more welcome addition to the bookshelf of a comics fan looking to expand her repertoire, or a non-comics fan looking to dive in head-first. If anything this installment casts an even wider net for contributions, roping in a greater number of cartoonists and even including such one-off, quasi- or literally anonymous outsiders as Elinore Norflus, Eugene Teal, and the author of Utility Sketchbook--the former pair being just two of a solid number of artists this particular comics buff had never even heard of. (At one point, after reading a sample strip from Charles Forbell's old-time comic Naughty Pete for the first time ever, the obvious inspiration it afforded Chris Ware made me laugh out loud when I saw it was from Ware's own collection.) In a way that offsets at least one complaint I've heard about the first volume, that its contents were too easy to duplicate in your own collection. But I think it also say something about the book's mission--despite its impeccable "starter kit" credentials, it's not necessarily intended to serve as a linear roadmap for your further comics purchasing and reading, because in comics there are plenty of dead ends worth exploring regardless.
If there's a major problem with this volume, it's not so much with the selections as with their arrangement. Volume 1 was ordered mostly by length, which led to an engrossing sense of flow yet also allowed Brunetti some leeway in terms of which strips he placed with which. Here, Brunetti reveals in his introduction, he's just freestyling, which paradoxically gives a more rigid feel to some of the sections. My beef is primarily with the "slice of life" section, which begins on page 154 with James McShane's "draw what you're doing every ten minutes throughout the day" strip from Kramers Ergot 6 and continues for almost 100 pages before ending with Phoebe Gloeckner's stone-classic "Minnie's 3rd Love." Those two strips alone indicate the range of artistic and narrative ambition and interest in this autobio-anthology-within-an-anthology, and much of the time the juxtaposition is not flattering to the navel-gazers. Perhaps it's trite, but I can't help but feel that the true-storytellers dealing with genuine trauma and tragedy here--Gloeckner, Anders Nilsen, Debbie Dreschler, Joe Sacco--have a major leg up on the "here's how my day went one day" folks, a passion that somehow gets reflected in superior visuals, be they the impeccable draftsmanship of Gloeckner and Sacco, the four-color expressionism of Dreschler, or the things-fall-apart experiments of Nilsen. (Not all the people dealing with really rough stuff come out winners, however: Maybe I'm just fed up with anti-science from Left, Right, and Unclassifiable, but Chester Brown's anti-psychiatry tract "My Mother Was a Schizophrenic" always strikes me as a sad indulgence along the lines of Neal Adams's hollow-earth theory, Dave Sim's Marxist/Feminist/Homosexualist axis, and Steve Ditko's A=A screeds.) This is not to say that all of the more quotidian strips in this section fail. I think Dave Kiersh's paean to suburban Long Island, Jeffrey Brown's account of losing his virginity, and John Porcellino's tribute to his late dog are all sweet, memorably drawn, and actually moving, for example, while the vicious lampooning of her own mother in Aline Kominsky-Crumb's strip almost must be seen to be believed. It's just that...well, the Joe Matt material sucked the life out of me, I suppose, and a lot of the stuff that surrounded it didn't help.
But most of the sections are quite strong. A series of newspaper strips into Harvey Kurtzman strips into Art Spiegelman's tribute to Kurtzman into Spiegelman's pastiches of old newspaper strips into Jess's example of same two decades earlier ends up being fairly revelatory for each of its constituent parts. There's a beautiful, art-driven sequence of blocky, washy markmakers including David Mazzuchelli, Jerry Moriarty, Ben Katchor, and Frank Santoro's Storeyville. A sequence of R. Crumb/Harvey Pekar strips about blues and jazz records and record collecting ends up feeling like a complex and at times uncomfortable suite about race, sex, class, art, and modernity. And the sequence of strips that ends the book--Seth, Adrian Tomine, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, David Heatley--ends the book on a high note. And a funny one. I wonder if the recent kerfuffle over Heatley's comics too completely overlooked the fact that his neurotic cataloguing of awkward events is almost always geared toward very funny punchlines? And I suppose it had been a while since I read Ice Haven, but man, that is some hot shit. In just the "Mr. & Mrs. Ames: Detectives for Hire" strip alone, the savage misanthropy ("It's just another shithole, filled with worthless pigs") had me losing my balance on my chair from laughing so hard, only to be completely and devastatingly upended by the desperate and true expression of love ("I said, 'This world would be absolutely unbearable without you.'") I closed the book feeling thrilled to have read it. Somebody told me that Brunetti doesn't plan on doing any more volumes in this series. I'll confess to being pretty upset about that. I almost want to break into his house and hang out in front of his bookshelves until he walks me through a third.
Here's an admirably po-faced fan-made video for a song I really enjoy. Even as a little kid, when you might expect me to connect most solidly with the fantasy-tinged heroism depicted in this song, I grokked it for the quietly brutal anti-war song it is. The contrast between the gentle grandeur of the music, with its troubadour acoustic guitar and celestial vocal harmonies, and the fact that they're ultimately talking about this "lucky man" getting shot to death on the battlefield struck me as bracingly honest about how glorious these sorts of endeavors really are. Obviously that's a lesson Tolkien prepared me for in this context, but still.
* Jog takes a look at one of my favorite comics of the year, Yuichi Yokoyama's Travel.
* Leigh Walton makes the case for Rorschach's tough-guy voice, The Watchmen, and other fan-lamented aspects of what we've seen from Zack Snyder's Watchmen thus far. Bonus points for making the retrospectively obvious "Have a Cigar" connection.
* I've tended to think of Brian Michael Bendis's New Avengers as follows: A strong, exciting opening arc full of solid action beats (Hydro-Man floods the basement, the Sentry tears Carnage in half) provides an interesting mix of A-listers and potentially interesting also-rans with a solid raison d'etre and mission statement, i.e. fate threw them together just like the original Avengers; now they must track down all the criminals broken out of a super-prison while finding out who's responsible for the breakout and the subsequent massacre of slaves in the Savage Land. The book then gets sidetracked almost instantly by storyarcs devoted to explaining who the (it turns out) not terribly interesting after all also-rans are (the Sentry, Spider-Woman), messing with continuity in a pretty unsatisfactory way (House of M, the Xorn/Collective stuff, Illuminati), and the demands of outside titles and external crossovers (dropping Daredevil from the team before he could even join, splitting up the team for Civil War), all despite occasionally impressive character work (particularly with Luke Cage, who really has become a leading player in the Marvel Universe thanks to Bendis's great work with him). Jon Hastings's critique is a simpler yet somewhat more fundamental one: Bendis never learned how to write action scenes for large numbers of characters. True enough, whenever I think of a big Bendis team-book/event-comic action sequence, it's a two page spread of people punching and stabbing and shooting in every direction, accompanied or followed by cutaway panels highlighting indistinct individual bits of action--just like Jon says. (Meanwhile in the comments Jon takes a swing at the basic reason for the team to exist, but I'm not ready to go that far.)
* Over at my favorite new TV show of the season, Bruce Baugh continues to explore what's up with World of Warcraft. One thing that strikes me anew with each new post is just how many major factions are involved. My fantasy background is almost solely Tolkien, where for all intents and purposes it was a strictly bipolar world; intra-faction strife (Dwarves vs. Elves back in the Elder Days, Saruman vs. Sauron in the "present") tended to be of limited scope and duration. I don't recall other fantasy series I enjoyed (Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander) deviating from that model overmuch. (Ursula K. LeGuin kinda eschewed bad guys iirc.) By contrast, WoW is lousy with rivals on every side, and it seems like part of the fun of the game is that you really never know where the next big story-driving assault will come from, or whether the alignment of powers when the next big thing is resolved will in any way resemble the current alignment.
By the time this song came out Danzig had already had his big crossover hit with "Mother." I'm pretty sure America was in the throes of "Closer"-era Nine Inch Nails mania at this point, though, and the comparatively non-metal electronic vibe of this song is an indicator of that, as is the part-NIN part-Tool video. This is pretty far out of Danzig's traditional horror-punk and Frazetta-metal comfort zone, and, I've always thought, rewardingly so. The primary trick here is repetition. Danzig repeats a series of negative statements on pretty much the same handful of notes without a hint of his Viking Elvis voice to be heard, and the musical backing is exactly the same throughout; the closest it gets to a chorus is just repeating the previous verse while running the vocals and guitars through distortion effects. The tone is relentless and claustrophobic, yet also seductive thanks to that industrial groove--which fits, because the song is about the growing appeal of both isolation and self-destruction, both of which are often attractive to the genuinely depressed. "Gonna live with all my soul inside," he repeats; elsewhere, "Keep thinking of suicide." There's no escape and I find that rather haunting.
My goodness, this is a filthy book! Powr Mastrs Vol. 2 is a "fantasy" in both the generic and sexual senses. A throughline of eroticized mayhem only briefly glimpsed in Vol. 1 (Aphasia the Witch's boob-bearing corset, and of course the Jellyfish Emperor/Lady Minirex hentai sequence) emerges as the dominant mode of C.F.'s odd indie epic of magic, mad science, and violence. Maybe that's what makes the violence here so memorable and disturbing--a certain sexualized vulnerability for the victims and animalism for the perpetrators.
The bit everyone's going to remember from this volume is Ajax Lacewing's Midnight Express/28 Days Later style dispatch of a giant. The eye-gouging and decapitation are gory enough on their own, but when accompanied by genuinely upsetting smack-talk ("I know you can't see now, but you can hear me: You're trash. Giants are trash.") and Ajax's erect penis in full money-shot mode, they're a true violation. The savagery here and throughout (Buell Kazee introduces us to Viskoser Tod, Tetradyne Cola battles Darman Orry) is palpable, as is the sexuality (the Bosch-like construction of Cool George Herc's nude body, Minirex's masturbation, the languid psychedelic sensuality of Aphasia and Windlass Wendy Wheetah the Witches, the Sub-Men's underwater dalliances). And it all makes sense in a way, given that we learn that the plot's prime mover is the exploitation, and subsequent rebellion, of the sentient creations of the aloof Mosfet Warlock. It's a strange and sinister mythos, based on the use and abuse of people's bodies by other people; I can't help but feel that outside of the world of artcomics there are hardcore SFF readers who would take to this like ducks to water. I'm not entirely convinced that it justifies a $18 price point for what is essentially one-sixth of a larger story, but this is impressive work.
* Strange Ink's Sean B. makes the case for Rorschach's seemingly Snyder-elided monotone, comparing the vigilante to such memorable flat-affect villains as Anton Chigurh and HAL 9000. I think Chigurh is an apt comparison given that I think Moore and Gibbons meant Rorschach to come across like a Leatherface/Michael/Jason-style masked slasher to his victims. That said, I think it's a mug's game to argue whether or not movie-Rorschach will maintain the original's embodiment/critique of Ditko-Rand A-is-A black-and-white morality based on his accent in a trailer or two.
It's a funny thing to be a black kid into fantasy. Most of this stuff is ripped from Tolkien, and as much as I love LOTR, there is, indeed, something disquieting about the total whiteness of the movies. I don't blame that on Jackson or Tolkien. If someone was doing a fantasy epic based on Xhosa creation myths, I wouldn't expect to see any white people.
Meanwhile, this comment regarding how "race" and attractiveness have affected the evolution of World of Warcraft was pretty fascinating to me. Actually, the whole comment thread is pretty terrif and if you're a politically sensitive follower of fantastic fiction it's well worth your time.
* CBR's Alex Dueben speaks with Ross Campbell, creator of the weird, wonderful Wet Moon and Water Baby. Campbell is a really unique artist in comics right now and hearing about his mental process is pretty fascinating. There's a great bit where he reveals his Minx effort, Water Baby, was originally planned to have a raunchier story but less sexy visuals:
Actually, looking back on the artwork just now, I still really like it, but I think I went a little overboard on Brody's breasts. Even though Louisa's are even bigger, Brody's particularly seem overly prominent, not specifically because of their size since obviously tons of girls have these proportions and they're fine and normal, but just the manner in which I drew them. Maybe it's just Brody's nipples, which always seem to be pushing into her shirts (I guess I was trying to show that Brody never wears a bra, too), I don't know. Maybe if I could go back and fix up all the nipple protrusion it would be perfect. [laughs]
He also reveals that Tokyopop is resolutely fucking him out of being able to do anything further with his excellent goth-zombie graphic novel The Abandoned, which is a crime. (Via Dirk Deppey.)
* Chris Mautner speaks with Ivan Brunetti about his two-volume Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories. Once again, we see that anthologies of this sort eschew good superhero comics not out of choice, but out of necessity, courtesy of those comics' publishers:
Then there were things that were prohibitively expensive and just impossible to track down the rights on. It’s really hard to get a hold of Marvel Comics. I would have loved to have stuff by Jack Kirby in there. You can’t even find who to contact to get those rights, plus they would have been so expensive. The recent Best American Comics —
Q: — wanted to get in Paul Pope —
A: Yeah and DC wouldn’t even want it reprinted. There were those kinds of issues to consider.
* Fangoria speaks with World War Z author Max Brooks about the coming film adaptation, directed by Quantum of Solace's Marc Forster and written by Spider-Man: The Other's J. Michael Straczynski.
Brooks is also pleased with the latest WORLD WAR Z script draft by J. Michael Straczynski, whom some predict will win an Oscar nomination for his screenplay to the Clint Eastwood film CHANGELING. The scripter managed to distill Brooks’ wide-ranging collection of journal entries, interviews and anecdotes detailing the ultimate battle between man and zombie into a cohesive screenplay. “I’m thrilled that the man who created BABYLON 5 is working on this movie,” Brooks said. “I can’t give it away, but Straczynski found a way to tie it all together. The last draft I read was amazing.”
* David Bordwell sings the praises of that golden age of edgy Hollywood filmmaking...the '80s?
--Some crazy lady on the train to work this morning. Unfortunately, being actually crazy, she didn't know to quit while she was ahead, and used the line (by which I mean shouted it to no one in particular) twice. So now it's unable hang in the collective memory of her fellow passengers as a singular, spontaneous flash of shamanic-savant brilliance the way I'm sure we'd all prefer it to.
I Live Here
Mia Kirshner, J.B. MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, Michael Simons, primary writers/artists
Ann-Marie MacDonald, Lynn Coady, Joe Sacco, Kamel Khélif, Chris Abani, Karen Connelly, Tara Hach, Lauren Kirshner, Valerie Thai, Niall McClelland, Seamrippers Craft Collective, Tina Medina, Julia Feyrer, Tiffany Monk, Charlotte Hewson, Sean Campbell, Phoebe Gloeckner, Julie Morstad, Karen Comins, Lackson Manyawa, Felix Yakobe, Edward Kasinje, contributing writers/artists
Pantheon, October 2008
$29.95 Buy it from Amazon.com Visit the website Donate to the I Live Here Foundation
Because it's easier than talking about the content, I'm going to start my review of I Live Here, actress Mia Kirshner's labor-of-love examination of human rights abuses suffered by women and children around the world, by discussing the presentation. Simply put, it's stunning, certainly among the loveliest, most lavishly and thoughtfully designed books I've seen this year. The "book" consists of four slim, separate softcover volumes, each one reminiscent of a small notebook or journal, encased in a surprisingly sturdy, unfolding slipcase, the texture of which evokes the white paint/plaster/whiteout/whatever that is comprises the cover's visuals. Each volume focuses on a different region where suffering is endemic: Ingushetia, a Russian republic that serves as home for thousands of Chechen refugees; the refugee camps (more like internment camps) along the Burma-Thailand border where members of the Karen ethnic group have been herded by Burma's military dictatorship, as well as the Thai cities where Burmese refugees often end up as sex workers or domestic servants; Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican border city that serves as a narco capital and the site of literally hundreds of murders and disappearances of women and girls, many of them unsolved; and Malawi, an impoverished African nation where the rate of HIV infection hovers around 20%. Kirshner and some of her collaborators (Sacco, Simons, Gloeckner, and MacKinnon) traveled to each place, and the information and material they collected formed the basis for a variety of reportage, memoir, fiction, poetry, illustration, painting, photography, collage, comics, and assorted other visual and textual accounts of what's going on in these places.
It's all beautifully done, and virtually never maudlin, self-indulgent, or over-designed, which is something of a miracle given the subject matter and the sheer number of contributors. Kirshner's eye for detail is impressive for a first-time author, but I don't think she ever gives in to the temptation to oversell the import of a shared moment or specific insight (even regarding her family's experience with the Holocaust or her own rape as a teenager, both of which inform her intent to create this book); the focus is still squarely on the full contours of the human catastrophes to which she bears witness. Moreover, while I Live Here can only be called a graphic novel in the very loosest sense--sequential art driven by panel transitions accounts for exactly two subsections of the whole project--Kirshner and her main collaborators bring a comics sensibility to the entire affair, concentrating on a juxtaposition of text and image that conveys more information than simple illustration. Sometimes this can be fairly complex and unexpected, as in the needlepoint and craft works that accompany an account of a murdered young woman in Juárez. Other times it's as simple as just explaining what we're seeing: In the Burma/Thailand volume, there's a powerful one-page sequence of 12 increasingly out-of-focus snapshots captioned, in white-out, "Self-portraits—She took one picture every hour while working her shift in the brothel. She had six clients in 12 hours." Some contributions rely on the way the text is presented: What looks like four pages of word-find puzzles in the Juárez volume turns out to be names of dead and disappeared girls written out end to end; a series of short first-person accounts of life in juvenile prison in Malawi is illustrated by Malawian signmaker Edward Kasinje, whose visual representations of their words end up reminiscent of the type-based work of Ray Fenwick.
The actual graphic novelists involved in the project hand do memorable work here, unsurprisingly. Joe Sacco's strip "Chechen War, Chechen Women" contains some of the best art I've ever seen from him, his figures containing a searing, prophet-like power. This is also where we get our first good look at Phoebe Gloeckner's experiments with digitally manipulated photography and doll-making, in a monumentally upsetting series of diorama-like depictions of the rape and murder of women and girls in Juárez. Her overripe, disturbingly childlike imagery is juxtaposed with flatly literal translations of reports on the crimes from the Mexican media and police documents ("Said, 'she leave her children to me because I am now without work. She should know how tempted, and no right has to anger with me when she is not there.'").
As is probably apparent by now, this is devastatingly, soul-crushingly sad material. It clearly got to Kirshner, who admits as much throughout the book, after seeing a series of photos of carnage taken by a Chechen refugee, after visiting Juárez. As her journeys go on, the books feel less comprehensive--I think each subsequent volume is a quicker read than the one before--as if Kirshner eventually lacked the heart to throw it all at us again and again, preferring impressions to examinations. There's stuff in here you're going to wish you could un-read, un-see. You'll cry. (It was a short fiction piece about a Karen child who had to leave her dog behind while fleeing her village and wondered if the dog was sad because he couldn't understand where his masters went that got me.) You'll start making comparisons in your head: Is Juárez, with its recognizably North American pop-culture and commerce, more or less upsetting than the familiar Eurasian rubble of Chechnya? Is the perfect storm of man's brutality to man in Burma and Thailand more or less unjust than the avalanche of disease in Malawi? Is hopelessness quantifiable? If the world is the sick, unfunny joke these stories of these places suggests it to be, there's something heroic about those willing to go out of their way to hear that joke be told, is there not?
* Timothy Olyphant is going to star in the remake of George A. Romero's The Crazies. That's nice, but mainly what struck me about the Dread Central article where I found this out is the picture of Olyphant as Seth Bullock. Good God was Deadwood a great television program.
* If you watch Heroes live every week as it initially airs, creator Tim Kring thinks you are "saps and dipshits." Thank goodness superhero fandom doesn't get riled up that easily, or else he could catch some flack for this!
Comics Time: Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light
Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light
Anders Nilsen, writer/artist
Drawn and Quarterly, November 2008
$6.95 Buy it from D&Q
Big Questions #11 contains enough wow moments to sustain your average cartoonist's career for several years. The latest installment in Nilsen's series about the reaction of various birds and animals to a plane crash in their midst is pretty much one bravura sequence and image after another. The wild dogs coming thisclose to eating the sleeping crash survivor...the pilot's fever dream of a monstrous swan erupting from the earth...carving the swan open to unleash a maelstrom of bloodsoaked birds...the mocking, sinister blackbird who refers to carnivores like himself as "the walking, flying dead," since you are what you eat...the pilot's second dream, where he quietly tends to the other survivor...the wounded bird who spends the entire issue dragging himself across the ground by his head, just to climb a hill where he can see the sunrise on the final page. As an artist Nilsen continues to grow, doing things (like the inky, frightening flock of birds that fly out of the slain swan) I've never seen him do before and doing them wonderfully well. It's Wild Kingdom directed by David Lynch, suspenseful and rapturous, a comic of terrible sadness, horror, and beauty.
* Here's a by-definition SPOILERYpromo for Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5, as I suppose they'll be calling the show's final stretch of weekly episodes. (There's still the prequel pilot/potential series Caprica and at least one TV movie to account for, of course.) One thing that looks promising is increased screen time for Richard Hatch's Tom Zarek, one of my favorite characters.
* Tom Spurgeon explains what he doesn't like about Final Crisis. I agree with his points about how the series is conveying hopelessness, and disagree with but appreciate his observation regarding Morrison's interpretation of the Anti-Life Equation. (Actually, in the sense that Tom's interpretation of Kirby's original idea allows for an even more hopeless universe than Morrison's, it's probably something I'll cotton to myself eventually. You know how much I love hopelessness!) But Tom's main beef, in a nutshell, is that he doesn't care about the DC Universe or the vast majority of its characters anymore. As this has long been his position regarding the big corporate superhero farms, it's not exactly a surprise. It reminds me a little of my friend who today told me she thought Let the Right One In was overlong and overrated and generally terrible, but maybe someone who doesn't hate vampire movies the way she hates vampire movies would like it. No kidding!
* However, one aspect of Tom's critique for which my response goes beyond "agree to disagree" is whether bad comics set in a particular character's or mythos's continuity hurt comics like this. I'm honestly not a whole lot more invested in the idea of "The DC/Marvel Universe" than Tom is, but I do still hold some affinity for a lot of the ideas contained in both, and I've never understood why I have to pay any attention at all to bad comics about them. I haven't said to myself "But wait, that contradicts Countdown #3!" or "man, this would be good if I hadn't known what happened in that lousy Countdown #3!" a single time while reading Final Crisis, because long ago I realized that no matter what Dan DiDio or Joe Quesada say, it's entirely up to me what I choose to treat as canon when reading big superhero books. In that light, some crappy comic that steps on a good comic's thematic or narrative toes no more ruins my enjoyment of the good comic than the fact that there are stinky comedies set in New York City ruins my enjoyment of Ghostbusters or Annie Hall.
* Speaking of disagreeing, I enjoyed Neil Marshall's Doomsday a bunch, but the movie just won a reader-participation contest at Topless Robot for Stupidest Fantasy World--not, I have to admit, without reason. The phrase "Sir Knight of Eatingpeopleshire" is deployed.
* Four things Becky Cloonan draws well are hair, tentacles, pretty girls, and skeletal toothy mouths. Put them all together and you've got a recipe for delight.
* The Dark Knight is doing the For Your Consideration bit in the trades, and I thought this ad was really lovely because of how normal it looks. This image is like if a friend of yours had snapped a picture some dude on the street, only the dude is the Joker. The Dark Knight is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, and to me the idea that it's a Godfather-level masterpiece is utterly cockamamie, but there's not a whole lot involving the Joker it got wrong. In this case, the idea that he's just some clown off the street (heh, no pun intended) is quite creepy.
Ladies and gentlemen, without no doubt, these are the JBs!
"I think LL Cool J and Canibus are both fantastic!" - MC Paul Barman
Over the past week I watched, for the first time, Quantum of Solace, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum. (Yes, it was an action-packed week for me, courtesy of Netflix and numerous interminable Long Island Rail Road delays.)
* I can see why the makers and stars of the Bourne movies might want to slag on nu-Bond, but I don't understand why viewers and critics give into this weird Beatles/Stones, Blur/Oasis artificial rivalry. While it's true that I watched both Daniel Craig James Bond movies before any of the Bourne films, even in retrospect I don't see what the former directly owe to the latter, really. Frenetically filmed action sequences and using the supposed "good guys" as bad guys aren't trademarkable, I don't think; they certainly didn't originate with Bourne.
* Regarding those action sequences, I've read enough about the Bourne films' supposedly borderline-experimental use of "shakicam," both pro and con, to have me half-convinced I was signing up for Stan Brakhage Does an Action Franchise. I was prepared to be convinced that making your fights and chases unintelligible conveys savagery and emotional turmoil, but fortunately i never had to be, since everything was perfectly, rather beautifully easy to follow in all three Bourne films, including the two Paul Greengrass-directed sequels that tend to be singled out for this. Anyone who's watched Christopher Nolan's woeful Batman Begins knows what an unintelligible fight scene or chase seen looks like, and the Bourne movies' balletic, claustrophobic martial arts slobbernockers, ruthlessly efficient redshirt-cop takedowns, and meticulously chaotic car and foot chases are nothing of the sort. (Neither, for that matter, were any of the throwdowns in Quantum of Solace that were supposed to be so Bourne-indebted as to be embarrassing.)
* There is a pretty obvious difference between the two franchises: Bourne strives to keep everything both real and "unconsidered," as Greengrass states in the special features, meaning he aims for realism in plot, setting, and mise en scène alike. As de-cheesified as the Bond movies have gotten, however, they're still recognizably Bond movies, creatures of a heightened, high-tech, glamorous "reality." Q and his gadgets may be gone, Bond may be spending less time cracking single-entendre quips with Miss Moneypenny and more time murdering people in the Third World, but there are still stunning women, stunning menswear, stunning hotels and beaches and casinos and villas and whatnot, and stunning shots of all of the above. Joan Allen aside, Bourne doesn't do stunning. I think both styles work for their respective franchises. I mean, obviously it'd be goofy of someone who had as much fun with GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough as I did to suddenly insist that Bond be played like The Battle of Algiers. My point is that I greatly enjoy the mainline injection of "realism" the Bond movies have received at least in part because of how it plays off of the traditional Bond business. It adds a sense of stakes, and an anchor for the flights of fancy if you will.
* Another obvious difference, at least as the respective series go by, is that Bourne is a reluctant killer while Bond is fairly enthusiastic about it. To a fault, in Quantum of Solace's case. The storyline of the Daniel Craig Bond movies has James Bond driven to become more of what he is in response to the death of a loved one, while Jason Bourne is driven to become less of what he is under similar circumstances. Eventually Bond puts the breaks on when faced with just how little solace straight-out vengeance would afford him, but basically, he doesn't give a damn, while Bourne gives a damn deeply. Maybe that attitude is why the Bond movies are still recognizably Bond movies.
* One virtue shared by both the Bond and Bourne characters in these movies is physical genius. What these men do with their bodies is the combat equivalent of lateral thinking, a sort of instinct resting somewhere in their muscle tissue or something that enables them to almost always be three or four steps ahead of where our feeble audience brains have us in any given fight scene or chase sequence (let alone the bodies of their antagonists). Anticipating the needs of the battle in five seconds or ten seconds and doing what's required to be on top at that juncture--that's the stuff of the action scenes in these movies. Think of Bourne's precision takedowns of countless cops and intelligence officers, or how you'll see him grab objects during a chase (a bottle of vodka, shirts hanging to dry on clotheslines) for god knows what reason only to use them in just the right way (spitting the vodka in the face of a policeman to blind him, wrapping the shirts around his hands so he can vault off a glass-shard-lined wall). Think of Bond using the fact that his plane is mortally wounded to out-fly the pilots sent to shoot him down, or how he uses a combination of split-second decision making and brute force to out-chase that bomber in the construction site and embassy. It's really remarkable how well done this is in both franchises, ginning up a sort of wide-eyed admiration among viewers. (Well, among me, at least.)
* Similarly, these movies are very much about Bond and Bourne outwitting antagonists with vastly superior numbers and resources. Particularly in the Greengrass Bournes, a real point is made to show Jason making monkeys out of the CIA goons who are tracking him. By the third film, the degree to which Bourne puts himself at risk in order to send a message that amounts to "PWND!!1!!" actually gets a little distracting, or it would if it weren't so damned entertaining. Bond behaves in much the same way--I can't be the only person who laughed out loud when he barged in on Quantum's opera-house conference call. But in that case he did it for a reason, to flush the members of the group out of hiding and take photos of them. Ultimately, though, the point in both films is just that having the underdog make the overdogs look like outclassed nincompoops is a lot of fun.
* Regarding the Bourne movies, each one has something going on that's a little bit pat. In Identity, it's the simplicity of the "he stopped wanting to be an assassin because his target had kids with him" reveal. In Supremacy, it's the coincidence of Bourne's mysterious dreams being directly related to why people are after him, and it's the woman-in-refrigerator bit with Marie, though I'll grant it was beautifully shot and returned to on a consistent and emotionally true basis throughout the rest of the movies. And in Ultimatum, it's the return to the mysterious-flashback well literally still in the middle of the events of the previous movie (revisited with fill-in-the-gaps material), and it's the hambone supervillain psychiatrist played by whatsisname. But in each case this is all offset by the films' strengths, most of which lie in their willingness to be openly emotional and even troubling. Many times, Bourne and his ersatz allies fail to save the people we want to see him save--in Marie's case it was easy to see coming, but damn if that journalist in Ultimatum wasn't a punch to the solar plexus. Bourne's mano a manos with fellow assassins nearly always have the feel of "domestic violence," as Greengrass describes that fight in the kitchen in Supremacy; they're intimate and unpleasant even as they're thrilling. I thought Bourne's apology tour with the daughter of the assassinated Russian reformer and the brother of Marie was a refreshingly strange and uncategorizable addition to the films. Obviously, and especially by film three, the bad guy is basically the U.S. government; it's tough to watch a guy in a government building order the murder of a journalist. And on a fundamental level, Bourne himself is really up against it--as we learn in the final film, it really was his choice to become a monster, and watching him try, well, not so much to redeem himself as to form an account of why he did what he did has to resonate with any of us who've said or done things we wish we could un-say or un-do but know we have no way of doing so.
* Perhaps where the Daniel Craig Bond movies break most definitively with the past are in two memorable scenes where the characters are basically broken down by the brutality of their world. They're similarly staged: Bond and Vesper on the floor of the shower, embracing as Vesper weeps from the violence she's seen and her narrow escape from it; and Bond and Camille on the floor of the burning hotel room, preparing to commit suicide rather than burn to death. I think that's the equivalent of Bourne's apologies.
* I think both franchises are remarkably well cast. This is perhaps most obvious in the Bourne movies, whose supporting casts Greengrass has likened to a fleet of high-end automobiles, and for good reason. But I'm thinking mostly of the two leads. Though my wife disagrees with me, Daniel Craig strikes me as a fabulously handsome man, combining a steely-eyed glare, a battle-damaged face, and a confident swagger that is more Bond than Bond has ever been before. And the dude is cut out of wood--there's a reason the big "rising up from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit" shot in Casino Royale was of Bond and not a Bond girl. (Though I certainly wouldn't have objected to Eva Green going for a dip. Best Bond girl ever.) Yet I think his body is put on display as often as it is in order to drive home just how vulnerable it is, that it's just a slab of meet you can really pulverize the hell out of--witness the nude torture scene in Casino. Meanwhile, it took me a long time to come around to Matt Damon, but between the Bourne movies and The Departed he's really learned to use his sort of vacant Abercrombie-model looks in the most perverse way possible, suggesting a ruthlessness beneath the all-Americanness. And as the depths of his crimes are slowly revealed to him, he does "dazed" very well, too, almost a panic about what he's learned he's capable of. Both Craig and Damon sell it, mentally, physically, emotionally.
* I haven't yet mentioned the fact that the two franchises are derived from books by Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum respectively. What does that say, and who or what does it say it about? I don't know.
* One thing I learned from watching all of these movies in such close proximity is that I really love movies about psychologically wounded men who become ruthlessly efficient killing machines and murder their way to justice. In addition to Bourne and Bond, I think you can loop the late-model John Rambo into that group; as Matthew Perpetua pointed out to me, take out the killing and replace it with ass-kicking and Batman works there too. Movie-version Aragorn wouldn't be out of place either. I think I appreciate the way that violence and regret intertwine for these characters. Perhaps that's as it should be.
* Over at Marvel.com, I've got a piece up regarding real-world "superflu"-style epidemics, tying in with The Stand: Captain Trips #4. I'm finding it's a real pleasure to be able to write about one of my favorite books and get paid for it.
* While I'm on the plugging my own stuff tip, I suppose I should be reminding people about my short comics collection Murder on a more regular basis. Won't you please consider buying it?
* Behold, The Top 50 Horror Films of All Time as voted for by 32 horror bloggers, including yours truly, and compiled by the great and terrible B-Sol of The Vault of Horror. I must say, it's a rather more conservative and old-skewing list than I expected, though I think the top 15 are all rock-solid members of the canon. That, of course, presupposes that one can disagree with the quality of a film but still think it's canonical, which would be my take on Halloween, our little group's number one.
* I am rather impressed with the high ranking we gave to The Blair Witch Project, though a little less impressed that it's only the second-most recent film on the whole list! I think that's probably because we voters were limited to listing our top ten films; more recent movies probably need a little more time to stew with us before a lot of us are comfortable putting them near the top. I know that was the case for me with Hostel, 28 Weeks Later, 28 Days Later, The Descent, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, just to name a few. The one movie to break the millennial barrier is The Mist, which probably owes a lot to the familiarity bred by having the original story around for a couple decades beforehand.
* Big ups to the group also for including the video for "Thriller," and for not getting hung up on whether or not this or that movie is "really" horror--if enough people voted for it, on it went. Of course, this mostly applies to stuff that's scary and gory and involves monsters but some people believe to be simply science fiction or action, like Alien and Aliens. There's no David Lynch or David Cronenberg or anything like that. And I myself didn't pitch things like Eyes Wide Shut or Heavenly Creatures or Barton Fink--my own list went no further afield than Lost Highway and Deliverance.
* Anyway, check it out, check out CRwM's analysis (I was struck by his point regarding our affinity for sequels and remakes), and check out the lively comment thread, where a second list consisting solely of films from the past 15-20 years is suggested. I second!
* They say it's your birthday: The Beatles' White Album turned 40 recently. The White Album is my favorite Beatles album, and my favorite album by anyone ever. It contains pretty much every emotion I've ever felt. I honestly could think about it and read about it all day long, and now I can actually come close: PopMatters celebrates the album's anniversary with a lengthy, multi-part look at the record and all its songs. All five official parts can be found here, and there's a postscript here. (Via Matthew Perpetua.)
* Is Sylvester Stallone's upcoming movie The Expendables, which just added Dolph Lundgren to a cast that includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Sly himself, the Manly Movie Mamajama-est Movie Ever?
* Midnight Meat Train finally comes out on DVD on Feb. 17th, which means I'll finally get to see it shortly thereafter.
* The new blog Top Drawer: 10 Questions serves up interviews in the titular ten-question style with Hans Rickheit and John Hankiewicz, two of my absolute favorite young-ish cartoonists. (Via Mike Baehr.)
* CRwM reviews Videodrome. The title of the post, "The new old flesh," reveals a bit of how he approaches the film.
* Did I link to the first installment of Tim O'Neil's series of posts on the business and aesthetics of mainstream superhero comics in the early '90s? If not, I should have--I really liked it, because it echoes my overall perception of how the major industry players looked at the time, if not necessarily the specifics of how that perception did or didn't drive my buying habits.
Certainly they are disarming for a moment but, surprisingly, the effect of a human face grafted onto the animal body does not seem to ennoble either species. They are neither wild nor intelligent...mainly just a little sad.
Grant Morrison, writer
Tony Daniel, artist
DC Comics, November 2008
First things first: The Black Glove is not a person but a five-person consortium of, as Brad Majors would put it, "rich weirdos"—a general, a priest, a dude in Arab headgear, a businessman, and Jezebel Jet. Their ringleader-type person is Doctor Hurt. Doctor Hurt claims, for the second time, to be Batman's father, Thomas Wayne, and for the second time this suggestion is shot down (first it was Alfred, this time it's Batman himself). Batman theorizes he's Mangrove Pierce, Wayne lookalike and actor in a film called The Black Glove that was at the root of his earlier case involving John Mayhew and the Club of Heroes, but Hurt shoots that notion down in turn, instead saying, "I am the hole in things, Bruce, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning." Batman rejects Hurt's offer to spare the reputation of his parents and Alfred in exchange for servitude, then leaps up and crashes Hurt's getaway copter, plummeting to his "death."
That's the gist, anyway. People expecting real answers about any of this are rewarded with not a whole lot more than people looking for a convincing Death of Batman are. So what do I take away from the conclusion to the big "Batman R.I.P." arc? Well, it was a lot of fun--this is about as involved as I've been in a superhero storyline since I started reading the things again in 2001; moreover, this is the first single issue of a superhero series I've purchased since, I think, August 2004. Morrison's Batman is about what it wants you to do--it presents itself as a dizzying series of clues and references that only the sharpest mind can unravel. What I didn't expect was for the rug to be yanked out from underneath it all--the Joker revealing that all his red/black symbolism stuff was made up, Doctor Hurt revealing (I think!) that his origin is that he has no origin to speak of, at least as far as existing Batman lore is concerned. (This may or may not be true--he really could be Thomas Wayne, or as one friend suggested, he could be Thomas Wayne Jr. of JLA: Earth-2, aka Owl-Man. It would fit the alternate history Hurt presents in which Joe Chill kills Martha and Bruce.) But the kicker is that even with all its intricate structure and symbolism revealed to be a put-on, Batman still kicks the shit out of the Black Glove. The main narrative thread of this final issue is a Bourne-type situation where we discover Batman's just plain too smart and strong and sharp for these clowns to possibly beat him. In fact, what looked like abject failure a few issues ago was really just a product of Batman's sheer confidence in his own ability to have somehow prepared himself for any eventuality. That's just how awesome he is.
For skeptics of Morrison's pro-awesomeness philosophy of superhero comics, I'd imagine this is going to fall pretty flat, but I'm down with awesomeness from time to time, if not as much as your average Barbelith poster or comicsbloggers who use the word "pop" a lot. I'm certainly down with awesomeness from Batman, my favorite character, written by Morrison, my favorite Big Two writer. The idea that Batman created a nutso backup personality in case the shit ever really hit the fan? That's fantastic. Can I also take this time to give a shout-out to the much-maligned Tony Daniel? I've been a bit baffled by the guff he's been given, seemingly primarily by dint of not being Frank Quitely. I think his Batman has been consistently tough and badass--I like it better than Jim Lee's similar yet much less crazy take--and he's done some really spooky stuff with the Joker. There's some really nice fight choreography in here too with Robin and Pierrot, too, and in general I haven't found his fights or layouts as incomprehensible as many others have. In sum I enjoyed this storyline and even though I'm still not quite sure what happened, I'm okay with that.
UPDATE: Did you know there are twoadditional Grant Morrison Batman issues coming out before his hiatus from the book? I sure didn't!
* Here's a terrific rant about the terrifying absurdity of the Christopher Handey case, in which Handey was arrested for owning comics featuring characters who looked young have sex, which the authorities are erroneously labeling as child pornography. I mention this because the holidays are upon us and for me that means it's charity donation time, and I want to encourage everyone to donate to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (Via Jim Henley.)
* Blog@Newsarama, a very good and wide-ranging group comics blog staffed by (among others) Chris Mautner, Kevin Melrose, and JK Parkin, is ending its life as we know it. The current staff are apparently sticking together and moving away from Newsarama, whose recent change of direction apparently caused them financial, logistical, and to a certain extent editorial headaches. I enjoy the blog and hope they land on their collective feet.
* B-Sol at Vault of Horror has posted a list of all the films that didn't make the cut for the Top 50 Horror Films of All Time list he assembled from the collective wisdom of the horror blogosphere. It's more wide-ranging, as you'd expect.
New Construction #2
Kevin Huizenga, Ted May, Dan Zettwoch, writers/artists
USS Catastrophe, October 2008
$3 Buy it from Global Hobo
Let's be honest, this is a collection of thumbnails by the three St. Louis-based cartoonists listed above. If you're not in a bit of an "I'll buy any new thing Kevin Huizenga puts out" mode it's probably not worth your time. However, it does afford you the opportunity to marvel at how many good ideas Huizenga throws out, even though this doesn't cohere into a beautiful idea-in-itself as did Untitled, Huizenga's earlier, manic sketchbook/notebook-minicomic about searching for a title for his series. It's fun enough to see the thumbnail versions of familiar pages and covers from comics like Fight or Run, "The Curse," "Jeepers Jacobs," Ganges and so on, considering that those comics are rather era-defining. And I really liked the opening two pages, in which Huizenga offers an explanation of his thumbnail process that, by the time he starts speaking of acheiving "thumbnail mind," reveals itself to be a pastiche of religious tracts. In general? I mean, you're going to know going in how interested you are in a Huzienga/May/Zettwoch sketchbook kinda thing. It's the definition of YMMV.
Holy shit, I've had two and a half days off already and it's still only 10-something in the morning on Saturday
The time yawns before us like a chasm. One thing I've done to help kill it while my wife reads her way through the entire Twilight series in as close to one sitting as she can manage and I bounce back and forth between farting around on the Internet and re-reading World War Z for the third time and generally putting off reading any of the several intimidating comics anthologies I really ought to be reading and reviewing for thishyere website is peruse Tom Spurgeon's excellent 2008 Holiday Shopping Guide, which is at least as much of a gift as most of the stuff it lists.
Originally written on February 9, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
The 20 Best Comics of 2005
20. THE MURDER OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN, by Rick Geary (NBM)
19. BPRD: THE BLACK FLAME, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
18. TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics)
17. SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST, by Joshua W. Cotter (AdHouse)
16. DIARY OF A MOSQUITO ABATEMENT MAN, by John Porcellino (La Mano)
15. THE WALKING DEAD, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (Image)
14. SEVEN SOLDIERS, by Grant Morrison and various artists (DC) / SEAGUY, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC/Vertigo)
13. DOGS AND WATER, by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)
12. DAREDEVIL: DECALOGUE, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Marvel)
11. SLEEPER, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (DC/WildStorm)
10. 100%, by Paul Pope (DC/Vertigo)
9. WE3, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC/Vertigo)
8. PYONGYANG, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)
7. PLANETES, by Makoto Yukimura (Tokyopop)
6. THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, by Chris Ware (Pantheon) / ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #16, by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)
5. ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER, by Frank Miller & Jim Lee (DC) / ALL STAR SUPERMAN, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
4. ICE HAVEN, by Daniel Clowes (Pantheon)
3. OR ELSE #2, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)
2. EPILEPTIC, by David B. (Pantheon)
1. BLACK HOLE, by Charles Burns (Pantheon)
Originally written on December 20, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
37 for '06
The following three dozen or so writers/artists/cartoonists/editors collectively created my favorite comics of the year. (NB: Since the Journal's deadline for Best Ofs was before the Christmas break--my prime time for cramming in all the books I hadn't gotten around to over the rest of the year--please interpret any embarrassing omissions on my part as "stuff I missed" rather than "stuff I didn't like." For the most part.)
Brian K. Vaughan: In a better world, Vaughan's ultra-professional scripting and deft balance between engaging soap operatics, sly and non-didactic socio-political exploration and faultless superhero action in titles such as Ex Machina, Doctor Strange: The Oath and (especially) Runaways would be the standard below which any other writers would be laughed out of the "mainstream." If you can't be at least this good--and thanks in part to his astute taste in artistic collaborators, including Tony Harris, Marcos Martin and Adrian Alphona--you really should do us a favor and just stop.
Christos Gage: Re: Union Jack and StormWatch: P.H.D.--congratulations, Mr. Gage. You have met the Vaughan Standard.
Ed Brubaker: Despite some well-intentioned but dishwater-dull franchise resuscitation attempts like X-Men: Deadly Genesis and Uncanny X-Men, The Man Who Would Be Bendis became a bona fide Name this year in superhero circles due to a pair of books in which it seems like he can do no wrong. The first is Daredevil, a title he inherited from his Bendis only to take it away from his superstar friend's obsessions with dialogue and identity and move it even further into the realm of noir; if it weren't for the fact that it stars an acrobat, you could easily hear Robert Mitchum's voice reading the caption boxes. The second is the even-better Captain America, which is simply the best work anyone has done with the character, ever; an epic battle royale between Brubaker's talent and the understated craftsmanship of his artists Steve Epting and Mike Perkins in one corner and the seemingly mutually exclusive Cap characterizations of two-fisted WWII patriotic icon, post-9/11 metaphor for Where We Are As A Nation, Steranko-influenced super-spy and Marvel Universe Star-Spangled Avenger superhero in the other. Brubaker wins, easily. (His creator-owned thriller Criminal and his and Matt Fraction's collaborative updating of The Immortal Iron Fist from the Bruce Lee era to the Quentin Tarantino one are pretty good too.)
Robert Kirkman: The bulk of his corporate character work for Marvel (with the exception of the balls-out insane Marvel Zombies, easily the strangest thing the House of Ideas' main wing has put out since George W. Bush's reelection) has been utterly forgettable '90s nostalgia-mongering. But the writer's ongoing series for Image, The Walking Dead and Invincible, continue to be the most unpredictable horror and superhero titles in the market respectively, and among the most fun. It helps if you enjoy entirely gratuitous violence, which I do.
Grant Morrison: Is Grant Morrison the best superhero writer ever at this point? He's certainly better than Moore, most people would say he's better than Miller, and the Kirby comparison is just too much of an apples/oranges deal. There was certainly no better single superhero comic than All Star Superman #4 this year, that's for sure; Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, who for all intents and purposes might as well be a homunculus that Morrison conjures from the ether to turn his visions into reality, use the basic building blocks of Bizarro, Doomsday and Jimmy Olsen to create a story that conveys everything appealing about Superman and his mythos, two things that I frankly didn't think had all that much appealing stuff going for them. Oh, hey, did I say there was no better single superhero comic than All Star Superman #4 this year? I just thought of Seven Soldiers #1 and realized I may have lied. If ever there was a spandex book with a last page that better conveyed that euphoric feeling you get when you hear the last song on your favorite rock record, I haven't read it. Finally, I can't help but feel that Morrison is the animating spirit behind the weekly onslaught of High Superhero formal weirdness that is 52, and from what I understand, his fellow writers on the now-boring, now-baffling, now-exhilarating project feel the same.
Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns and Pete Woods & Renato Guedes: Please read their collected Superman: Up, Up and Away, because it contains the definitive Superman/Lex Luthor moment: Superman and Luthor hurtle through the sky until the point at which Superman's powers of flight finally give out do to exposure to a Kryptonite super-weapon previously piloted by Lex. At the exact second that the pair freeze in free-fall just before plummeting back toward the Earth, Luthor looks Supes in the face and says "I hate you." Fan-freaking-tastic. I know I'm not supposed to like anything Johns does, and tough titties, this is the best start-to-finish Superman story I've ever read.
Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell: Marvel's Civil War mega-crossover was an aggressively irritating mess of "sneeze and you'll knock the whole house of cards down" political allegory and agita-inducing violations of the characters we all know and, well, know. But holy geez, did it look nice. The art nouveau-influenced line of penciller McNiven and inker Vines meets the luminous, warm palette of colorist Hollowell for a look that's somehow utterly unique in the superhero idiom, yet instantly recognizable as a part thereof. Seriously, just check out how they do hair or armor or thighs. It's really somethin'.
Frazer Irving: One look at this artist's pantomime faces, Corben-oval bodies and "no, actually, I think I'm all set, but if I need your advice I'll ask, thanks" colors on titles like Klarion the Witch-Boy, Iron Man: The Inevitable and Robin is all it will take before you decide that someone at both DC and Marvel's art departments is sending you a message: "I'm with you."
Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis: Are this team's Hellboy spin-off miniseries B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame and B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine better than actual Hellboy releases? Insofar as they both moved me and scared me more than actual Hellboy releases, yeah, they are.
Paul Pope: His Batman: Year 100 managed to convey the physicality of the act of Batmaning--running up and down stairs, climbing up and down and elevator shafts, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, attacking large groups of armed policemen, getting tortured and shot, wearing masks and boots and longjohns--better than any other Batman comic. (Sorry, Frank, you know I love you but interior monologues about how many ribs he just broke don't count.) It also gave us a Batman that could conceivably scare the shit out of someone. Pope's blog also owns.
Becky Cloonan: In my dreams I see Becky Cloonan eloping to Mexico with Paul Pope and returning four years later with a 600-page masterpiece of blobby, sexy inks and high hipster adventure. (Occasionally the role played by Pope, or by Cloonan for that matter, is taken on by Vasilis Lolos.) Here in the real world, unfortunately, Cloonan's too often saddled with providing illustrations for less-than-masterpieces like Demo and American Virgin, in which Cloonan's art is used to connote coolness rather than create it. Thank God, then, for her turn as a writer-artist with East Coast Rising, whose giant carnivorous sea turtles appear to indicate that my dreams are slowly leaking into Cloonan's reality.
Bryan Lee O'Malley: 2006 was the year O'Malley lived up to the hype. (Actually, given the hype that's pretty much impossible, but you get the idea.) The magpie mash-up "video-game realism" storytelling of his Scott Pilgrim added depth to its breadth in its third volume; in between the awesome bass-guitar combat scenes and references to Super Mario Bros. it portrayed the heartbreak of watching someone you care about choose to become someone who doesn't care about you in return better than any straightforward slice-of-lifer with no end boss at the climax. It's a book to get excited about.
Adrian Tomine and Ai Yazawa: From opposite sides the mighty Pacific, these two very different artists prove with each new installment of Nana and Optic Nerve that angular bodies, white spaces, main characters who would be antagonists in most other stories and lines that you can practically feel etch their way across the page can make for the glammiest, sexiest comics around, whether their creators want them to be (probably Yazawa) or not (probably Tomine).
Alvin Buenaventura, Randy Chang, Sammy Harkham, Dan Nadel and Igort: Superheroes have become fodder for big-budget films and television series that seem determined to suck all the crazy right out of them (NBC's Heroes is sort of like what Lee/Ditko Spider-Man might have been if every issue's script consisted of repeating "with great power comes great responsibility" for 22 pages, while Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" had no, I repeat no, Super-punching). Alt- and Eurocomix have evolved into farm teams for big New York publishers searching the next memoir to feature an intractable foreign-policy issue and/or terminal illness (quick, someone find me a plucky young Muslim woman with cerebral palsy who was persecuted by the Nazis, stat!). So thank God for the men behind Buenaventura Press, Bodega, Avodah Books, PictureBox Inc. and the Ignatz line and their invaluable contribution toward the goal of keeping comics the most idiosyncratic medium on the planet, the Mos Eisley Cantina of art. Between them these guys put out Kramers Ergot 6, Art Out of Time, The Comic Book Holocaust, They Found the Car, Last Cry for Help, Cold Heat, New Tales of Old Palomar, Paper Rad BJ & Da Dogs, Daybreak, Private Stash, Babel--you could basically excise the entire remainder of the industry's output this year and still come away thinking "wow, comics is incredible."
Ivan Brunetti, Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds: If a stranger walked up to you and asked, "What do comics that are considered 'good' look like?", responding by handing that stranger the anthologies edited by these guys would more than suffice by way of an answer. You know Gil Kane's frequently blurbed quote regarding The Comics Journal--"the good is always in conflict with the better"? Groth and Reynolds's MOME is basically the battleground where that conflict takes place; victorious combatants this year include Jeffrey Brown, who I hope just gets more and more creatively restless, and the brilliant David B., whose short stories blend fantastic fiction and the terror of war better than anything this side of Battlestar Galactica. Meanwhile, an apples-to-apples comparison between Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories and similar efforts like Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore's Best American Comics 2006, Chris Ware's McSweeney's Vol. 13 or even The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Stories reveals that this is hands down the best anthology of its kind ever. (Seriously, "Gynecology"! "Flies on the Ceiling"! "Love's Savage Fury"! "Fun Things to Do with Little Girls"! An excerpt from Reidy & Regé's Boys, for crying out loud!)
Michael Kupperman:Tales Designed to Thrizzle is so funny that you almost forget he drew it, too.
Megan Kelso: This one gets a quote, a line from Owen Wilson's laid-back male model Hansel in Ben Stiller's Zoolander: "Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years--I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it? I respect that." Kelso's never really clicked with me; the art feels labored over the way I labor over assignments I don't want to do when I've had too much caffeine, right down to the lettering, which still retains an overcooked feeling left over from her SuPeR CrAzY LeTtErInG days with no Eisnerian form/function mojo in its defense. But her collection The Squirrel Mother is a whole different way of doing comics: Nothing really happens, but not even in the sense that nothing really happens in a Tomine story--they're about what it feels like for nothing to happen, and how that feeling can itself be something. They're like the comics version of "There Is a Certain Slant of Light," and the fact that Kelso's making them? I respect that.
Renée French: Another quote, this one from Jack Nicholson's Joker in Tim Burton's Batman: "The skulls…the bodies…you give it all such a glow--I don't know if it's art, but I like it." The key difference is that in the case of The Ticking, you know damn well what it is. If French's previous comics established she'd be a great art director, this one showed she could be the screenwriter, D.P. and director, too. And unless you count the things Alison Bechdel's father does with interior decorating in Fun Home, no other comic this year did a better job of depicting the ways in which making art for a living can be used as a substitute for making sense of your life.
Chris Ware: One more quote, from Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" this time: "Don't worry about who lookin', just keep on doin' what you doin'." The 17th volume of Acme Novelty Library--not to mention those New Yorker variant covers--continue in much the same vein as the rest of Ware's exquisitely drawn, confrontationally painful oeuvre, and good for them. Ware's comics are like if The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm weren't primarily comedies, and if you think (as so many people apparently do) that this makes them cold or clinical, I'll wait while you come up with something more human to chronicle than failure. Jesus, that sequence where "Mr. Ware" tries to get the class to draw motion.
Ron Regé, Jr.: Regé's post-Skibber Bee Bye career has suffered for its relative lack of ambition; where Skibber made you say "Where the hell did that come from?", most of his efforts since could be quite easily aesthetically contextualized amid, say, the sorts of albums that made Pitchfork's Best of 2006. Until The Awake Field, that is, which itself feels like an album, discreet sections blending one into the other for a cumulative effect as powerful as anything I read this year. Finally his uniform line weight provides both the hallucinogenic thrills and all-is-full-of-love thematic resonance he and collaborator Becky Stark have been striving for. After I read it I wanted to call and congratulate them, but not before I read it again.
Anders Nilsen: Nilsen's work is important because of all the people who are monkeying with words and images in ways that don't immediately call to mind what we might think of as comics and then say "hey, what is comics if not monkeying with words and images?", his is the most readable, and the most moving. The odds 'n' sods he serves up in MOME are thrillingly far out, Big Questions is already fast-tracked for Best of Whatever Year It's Collected In and Monologues for the Coming Plague is the proverbial cutting edge. Yet looking at those characters' too-big heads and too-weak limbs and those drawings' shy, sorry-to-intrude line and the dominant impression isn't something artsy, but something sad.
Kevin Huizenga: We've all been told that comics can do pretty much anything. Huizenga shows us. (It's late as I right this and I'm a little worried that I'll want to roll this assertion back, but only a little. Books like Or Else and Curses and Ganges invite hyperbole. (Well, actually, Ganges didn't hit me as hard as it did other people--I think he's done the "spontaneous transcendence emerging from everyday minutiae" thing better in the past, like in the library sequence from Or Else #2. But the bit with the pigeons in OE #4 knocked me on my ass.)) If I had to pick one and only one cartoonist whose comics I'd be allowed to read for the rest of my life, I'm pretty sure he'd be the guy.
Alison Bechdel: A few years back Marvel Comics put out a mature-readers (read: dirty) miniseries about an old Iron Man sidekick called U.S. War Machine. The series followed a squad of black-ops soldiers in high-tech battle armor, and the motto of their unit was "RELENTLESS • INVINCIBLE," and that same motto came to mind when I read Bechdel's masterpiece Fun Home for the first of what undoubtedly will be many, many times. Watching Bechdel arrange her autobiography's many elements (all done with lovely just-so cartooning and sumptuous SAT-word prose) is much like watching her father decorate their home must have been--it's seeing an act of beautiful, desperate creation. In a year filled to the rafters with deeply pleasurable comics-reading experiences, this was the one most likely to give you lasting memories of the "where were you when you read it the first time?" variety. And aside from Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl, it's the finest comics autobiography I've ever read.