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.
My ability to track who visits this blog for what reasons is beyond rudimentary, but I know that there are horror fans who aren't interested in the comics material, and comics fans who aren't interested in the horror material, and general genre fiction fans who aren't particularly interested in either, and so on. I'd like you all to stay tuned because this book concerns all of you. But first let me throw the superhero fans a bone by talking about Nightwing for a second.
A while ago there was a storyline in one of the Bat-books where the ex-Robin named Jason Todd (he had been dead, but he got better) spent a year pretending to be Nightwing, the current crimefighting alter ego of fellow ex-Robin Dick Grayson, and no one knew the difference. In real life this would be totally ridiculous, because a domino mask isn't enough to prevent you from telling the difference between two different people. But in comics, you can't hear people's voices, and character likenesses from artist to artist, and sometimes even panel to panel, are so inconsistent that any two characters with the same basic skin tone and hair color might as well be doppelgangers. In other words, this is a story could only be done in comics is because it takes advantage of comics' unique weaknesses.
The reason Chris Ware's stories can only be done in comics, the reason Chris Ware is the best cartoonist in the world, is because he takes advantage of comics' unique strengths. His is the most naturally comics way of seeing the world I've ever come across. For example: With a few meticulous lines he reduces the descent of a rocket through the Martian atmosphere to a silver circle, a red dot, and an expanding cloud. Through tricks of scale and perspective he then uses that same basic visual vocabulary to depict a ball in mid-flight, a button on an instrument panel, a door, a window, a helmet, a planet, thumbtacks, faucet handles, a tiny illuminated patch in a sea of darkness, a shining flashlight blown up to gargantuan proportions, the entire universe shrunk down and crushed between the silhouetted of two colossal fingers. And far from empty formalism, it's done in service of a vicious, thrilling science fiction*/horror story about a sociopath--in other words, someone innately incapable of properly ascertaining scale and perspective in his own emotional life and that of those whom he hurts. (Perhaps the ancestor of this story's omnipresent circle imagery is HAL 9000, then? Certainly the closet comparison I can think of to ACME #19's horror images--world-class stuff involving freezing, corpses, dismemberment, and isolation--is the cabin-fever coldness of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 and The Shining, and that's even before we get to more specific points of similarity.)
In essence, these circular pictograms--and now that I think about it, Ware's unique, complex, trademark panel layout and sequencing, the very stuff of his comics--have no inherent meaning; we determine their meaning through context and assign it to them. But that means that if we falter or get it wrong or simply say "fuck it," it's all quite literally meaningless, as devoid of worth and value as the bogus maps and video communications are to the story's Martian colonists--or as human life is to murderers, or as existence itself is to those who've given up trying to make it mean something.
But there's more. Ware then applies the same shifting-scale trick he's done with the visuals to the entire story itself. He pulls back to reveal the story behind the story, that of its in-fiction author. Now we learn the source of this story's seething rage and deadpan but visceral horror, providing it with context (loved the reveal of why the sci-fi story's description of its female lead didn't match her visual depiction) even as it continues to dismantle the semantic underpinnings of the very notion of context. In much the same way that the sci-fi story's protagonist becomes morally adrift following a dual crisis in confidence over his mission and his fellow missionaries, his author is pushed to the emotional brink by his futile attempts to understand and possess his mercurial "romantic" interest, by his own inability to place his relationship's true emotional content in the proper scale and perspective. Throughout this meta-narrative he literalizes this failing of vision, both physically (our hero's glasses are shattered, leaving him looking at the world in part or in full as an assemblage of Benday dots--those circles again) and psychologically (a flashback sequence in which our hero's life is depicted as leading inexorably toward this ill-fated series of sexual liasons, here viewed as the connection of soul mates).
The business we see in the author's life is small beer compared to the life and death struggles and cosmic forces at play in that of his fictional protagonist, but that's exactly what makes it so devastating. If all it takes to untether us so completely from the notion that our lives have and tend toward meaning is a shitty relationship with an emotionally unavailable and damaged person, what hope do any of us have? By the time you reach the alarmingly proficient prose sci-fi pastiche that ends the collection (it's about time travel's dissolution of the meaning of time and therefore life), or the uncharacteristically blunt and brutal political swipe on the back cover (it's about how the causes, goals, means, ends, and legal framework of torture are completely nonsensical), you've already gotten the point. Gotten it, in fact, the first time you failed to tell the difference between the surface of a world and the tip of a finger.
* Happy New Year, everyone. The Missus and I have kicked off 2009 by being as horribly sick as we've ever been. Interestingly, this was also how we kicked off 2000. I don't know what it is about that damn ball dropping that it always has to land squarely on our immune systems.
* Before my life became a David Cronenberg movie, I wrote some things about event comics that kicked off a lengthy discussion in the comment thread by a galaxy of blogospheric stars, including Tucker Stone, Tim O'Neil, Tom Spurgeon, Marc-Oliver Frisch, Sean B., Matthew Perpetua, Ben Morse, Shaggy Erwin, Jon Hastings, Kiel Phegley, and Bruce Baugh. It was still going as of this morning, so pop in and see what you think. O'Neil and Dick Hyacinth have related thoughts at their own blogs.
* If you're like me and you think Abhay Khosla's be-boppin' and scattin' impedes rather than enhances his criticism, you'll really appreciate Tom Spurgeon's holiday interview with him--once you get past the opening answer, the schtick largely evaporates and leaves behind insightful commentary about a wide variety of comics. I particularly liked what he said about whether superhero fans "deserve" being taken advantage of. And even when he's saying things I disagree with, like praising Civil War for being a bona fide "universe breaker" event comic--which is true, but it broke it in bad ways--he's still on to something.
* Speaking of Tom (and over the holidays, when aren't we? dude keeps the comics blogosphere alive singlehandedly between Christmas and New Year's), here's some shelf porn strait outta the Spurgecave.
* Jog presents his Top 20 Comics of 2008. I don't wanna spoil it for you, but this bit from his write-up of Comic #1 made me laugh:
And I fucking liked the collage! Yeah, that's goddamned right! In fact, I'm calling it now - 2009 is all collage! Fantagraphics? Collage! PictureBox? Collage! First Second? Children's publishing collage!Kramers Ergot 8 is a 60-foot collage propped up against the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center!Ultimatum #5 is the Ultimate Collage! TheBattle for the Cowlis won by writer/artist Tony Daniel and the fists of collage, via collage! Where's my paste? My notebook? My pillow?? Where's the Publish Post button?! I am personally killing 2008 with my two hands, right this second.
The Immortal Iron Fist #21
Duane Sweirczynski, writer
Timothy Green, artist
Marvel, December 2008
The Immortal Iron Fist as co-written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and drawn by an ace team of artists led by David Aja was the most acclaimed Marvel comic to come along in quite a while. It took a largely forgotten character, reimagined and expanded his mythos, carved itself a storytelling space far outside Marvel's current military-industrial superhero idiom, incorporated video game and manga influences, looked lovely, and was both thrilling and funny, which is hard to pull off in superhero comics. (Usually they're one or the other.)
But Brubaker, Fraction, and Aja left the title rather quickly, and pulp writer Duane Swierirczynski took over. I liked his opening storyline well enough. The antagonist, a mystical Iron Fist terminator of sorts, fit right into the kinds of things Frubaker were doing with villains and the Iron Fist legacy, and the tone was right as well. I might have tried to do more with all the other Immortal Weapons that had just been introduced--witness how well Brubaker juggles supporting super-characters in Captain America and Daredevil, for example--but hey, it's his first shot. The much bigger problem was with the art, provided by Travel Foreman. With a wiry line that is often drowned out by thick, murky blacks, it bobbled the two balls that absolutely need to be kept in the air for this iteration of this character to work: character design and action choreography.
This stand-alone issue is more like it. Artist Timothy Green shares enough with Foreman that at first I thought that the latter artist had simply varied his style or had a different inker/colorist support team working with him. But Green's work is both looser (meaning less cramped) and tighter (meaning more self-assured). Yes, the backgrounds often disappear, but that just gives more breathing room for his Seth Fisheresque design flourishes, and for Edward Bola's pretty pastel colors. With the visual handicap removed, you can now really see that Swierczynski gets this character and this concept. A story that takes place a thousand years into the future, pitting a cyborg Fat Cobra against a nine-year-old Iron Fist who uses his chi to form a giant robot, and features as a key plot point a kung-fu punch that takes over twenty years to deliver? It's the exact same blend of majesty, absurdity, and creativity that made the earlier IIF so much fun. If the rest of Swierczynski's run looks like this, sign me up.
The posting of that Spirit review marked the successful completion of one full year of Comics Time comic book reviews going up on this blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, without fail. I'm proud to have done what I set out to do a year ago. I had a lot of fun reading that many comics, and perhaps to my surprise I had a lot of fun writing about that many comics, too. I'm certainly a better comics writer than I was when I started, and I think the blog is better overall. For this I'd like to thank all my readers, particularly those who emailed or posted comments. I'd also like to thank all the publishers who generously donated review copies.
In the New Year I don't think I'll be reviewing comics with this same level of regularity. Prose books beckon, as do sizable runs of comics that are hard to fit into your schedule when you've got to have three reviews up a week. That said, you'll see some backlog reviews popping up in the regular slots for a little while, and chances are good that if I read a substantial comic, it's gonna get reviewed here on the blog. (The occasional insubstantial comic will be thrown in for good measure.) I'm going to work my way through the remaining 2008 notables in time to put up a semi-timely Best of 2008 list of some kind as well. But for now, a leisurely re-read of Ed Brubaker's Captain America run beckons...
SPURGEON: One of the more interesting about the art in your Iron Man is Salvador Larocca's visual references to celebrities--in fact, you've worked with a number of strong stylists. Is there any way that you as a writer will respond to or make choices based on stylistic strategies undertaken by an artist with whom you're working?
FRACTION: I can't stand that stuff, personally -- yanks me out of the story immediately. Not photo referencing, that's not what bugs me, but using celebrities just... it's as intrusive as someone standing over your shoulder reading the word balloons with funny voices. Bums me out.
Wow, on the record and everything. But it really does interfere with my enjoyment of the series, which is otherwise quite good. Hmm, Fraction must also love working with Greg Land on Uncanny X-Men, huh?
* Speaking of Spurge, here he reviews early Daredevil and notes how the creators' uncertainty of what the point of the book was supposed to be gave them a lot of freedom. The funny thing about Daredevil as a character is that most of the great work done with the character, and there's been a disproportionate amount of that, has been tonally consistent from one creative team to another, so it's a momentary surprise to recall that it wasn't always noir and ninjas.
* Don't know why I'm just getting to this now, but the original Blog@Newsarama crew is back and blogging at Comic Book Resources under the moniker Robot 6. Welcome back!
* WoW Among the Ruins: Bruce Baugh takes a look at a less-traveled area of World of Warcraft, one that had once been the site of a lot of action, and notes its post-catastrophic ambiance.
* Jog reviews the first issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's supervillain noir Incognito, echoing my sentiments about the comic in two particulars: 1) It feels a bit shopworn, at least at the moment; 2) It's like Brubaker wanted to see what Wanted would be like if it were written by a good writer.
* Finally, a welcome Real Life Torture Porn update:
We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.
When I say, when I say come on Ron, I say, I say come on Ron, I say come on Ron, now lemme, I say come on Ron, lemme hear ya tell em, lemme hear ya tell em how I, tell em how I, tell em how I, tell em how I, tell em how I, tell em how I feel.
I say, I say c'mon lemme hear you tell em, tell em how I feel. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Huh.
Invincible Iron Man #8
Matt Fraction, writer
Salvador Larroca, artist
Marvel, December 2008
Here's a good example of how event comics can hijack a perfectly good ongoing series. Matt Fraction's take on Iron Man fortuitously jibes so neatly with Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.'s that its opening arc read like an adaptation of a nonexistent movie sequel. It featured Iron Man/Tony Stark on top of the world but cognizant of his limitations and the danger of his war machines. Now, however, the events of Secret Invasion mandate that Stark be removed from his perch atop the S.H.I.E.L.D. defense/espionage agency, to be replaced by the publicly rehabilitated captain of industry and serial killer Norman "The Green Goblin" Osborn--instantly, Fraction must throw the character's previous mien and milieu out the window. Indeed, everything that happens in the comic reminds us of the noxious ideas from other comics upon which they are contingent. For example, the presence of Osborn as Stark's successor is due to a ludacris plot twist from Secret Invasion, best analogized by Newsarama commenter Old Doom as "...O J Simpson cuts off the head of Osama Bin Laden on tv, and they make him the head of the C I A." Osborn and Stark tussle over the Superhero Registration Database, which owes its existence to a Civil War character turn in which Iron Man put his fellow heroes in black-site prisons, in service of implementing a superhero training and licensing program that would be perfectly reasonable if not for the event's writers inability to grasp the basic contours of their central metaphor. Fraction does his best with what he's been given, and his best is quite good. And as long as you can block out why everything that's happening is happening, it's fun to watch the superhero outthink the supervillain while surrounded by female characters who look like the movie stars they were photoreffed from. But it's hard to stay invested in a character who works best as a confident, competent, self-aware genius when everything about his current situation is derived from him being a brutal, bumbling, oblivious asshole in other people's comics.
* The New York Comic Con panel schedule is up, mostly. ("Most" movie and TV panel information TK, annoyingly.) If you're interested in seeing Sean T. Collins in his first comic convention panel ever, you're welcome to come to the Twisted ToyFare Theatre panel on Saturday 2/7 at 5:30pm in room 1A17.
In a weird way, I can't help but feel as if Dark Reign is really, really shittily timed. Dark Avengers, the core book for the branding, gets released the day after Obama gets sworn in as President of the United States, and it's that cognitive dissonance that sticks in my mind. Marvel, for all their faults, are normally more in tune with the cultural zeitgeist than Dark Reign; it feels oddly... wrong, and somewhat DC-ish, to see them plunge into a depressing world of misuse of power at a time when we're about to bring in a President who made the country believe in Hope and Change again. Maybe they know something we don't... or maybe this is a sign that they've lost their touch.
This really is a problem. It's not even a political issue, really--it's that the guy has like an 80% approval rating, meaning that people in this country would have a hard time swallowing the idea that he'd put a mass murderer in charge of the American security apparatus. Seriously, Marvel Barack Obama just named the Green Goblin head of the equivalent of the CIA; Real World Barack Obama just named Leon Panetta. It's really rather tone-deaf. This kind of thing doesn't cut it, either.
* Kyle Baker makes the point I've tried to make, which is that there's plenty of the stuff you'll find in Frank Miller's Spirit in Will Eisner's Spirit, along with a lot of other things. Still haven't seen the damn movie, though. (Via Heidi MacDonald.)
However their images may resonate with the Jungian collective unconscious, dream comics really do exceed even autobio as sequential art's most solipsistic genre, a relentlessly inward-looking cataloguing of the contents of the artist's own head. They're personal. So I don't mind filtering this review of a collection of dream comics by the great French cartoonist David B. through my own, equally personal primary reaction to it: They remind me of my own dreams! Like B., I frequently return to action-adventure-thriller scenarios in my dreams, violent vignettes involving skulking, spying, fleeing, and above all the imperative to kill or be killed. Given B.'s background, his antagonists are frequently figures from France's World War II experience, or terrorists; given mine, my enemies were usually figures from popular culture--zombies, Aliens, mafiosi (terrorists were late entrants). It was enormously comforting for me to discover another mind so consumed with murder and mayhem even when asleep.
The greatest pure stylist of any of the big European cartoonists whose work gets translated these days, B.'s genius lies in how his comics do the same thing that dreams do: Break down full-fledged ideas into simpler, more symbolic totems that remain recognizably of a piece with some waking concern or other but gain power through their abstraction and fluidity. His angular, expressionist style is complemented with both an equally proficient use of curves and an equally stark and judicious deployment of thick blacks and midnight blues--it's really perfect for evoking the half-remembered mystery and chaos of dreams, even though in actuality those dreams are at the time as realistic-looking as our waking lives. Though the comparatively rigid layouts and the placement of narrative captions at the top of most panels leads to an unpleasantly staccato feel at first, eventually you get used to it--or B. does, I'm not quite sure which; at any rate he occasionally abandons the captions altogether, usually to enhance the shock and the you-are-there feel of what he's presenting. Beyond the engrossing dreams themselves, Nocturnal Conspiracies of course serves as a showcase for the many, many things David B. draws as well as anyone in the business, from warriors and weapons to hair and breasts; there's a panel in here that's the loveliest depiction of sexual penetration I've ever seen in a comic. Though less ambitious both narratively and visually than Epileptic, Babel, or the fable comics he's done in MOME, this is delightful work.
* My favorite mafia story, because it's the story that does the best job of stripping away the Godfather romanticism and revealing mobsters for the shitty little monsters that they are, is the one about how when one of John Gotti's civilian neighbor John Favara accidentally struck and killed Gotti's son Frank his car while Frank was riding his bike, Favara was later forced into a mysterious van and was never seen or heard from again. The case is back in the news as prosecutors allege a Gambino soldier dissolved Favara's body in acid.
* Hey, look, it's a trailer for George A. Romero's next zombie movie, which either is or isn't called Of the Dead. It's, uh, yeah.
* Jon Hastings ponders film adaptations' fidelity to their source material, and why it really doesn't matter. I think Tom Spurgeon had the best take on fanboy complaints about this subject:
what geek culture really means 99 percent of the time [when demanding films be "faithful to the source material"] is "please don't put us in a position to be mocked or laughed at."
I think Jon would agree.
* This made me laugh: Harvey Weinstein apparently knows less about the status of Sin City 2 than your average nerdblogger--he literally had no idea Frank Miller had even been thinking of writing the sequel--whereas actress Jaime King says her boy Frank has finished the script for the thing.
The collected Skyscrapers of the Midwest is more than the sum of its parts--and that, friends and neighbors, is really, really saying something. All four of Skyscrapers' original issues were dynamite: The first felt like a revival of the old-school one-man anthology altcomix, the second revealed it to be the seeds of a larger story that developed through the remaining three issues, each of which held together as a discrete storytelling unit (gilded with entertaining ACME-style ephemera) but adding depth, breadth, and power to the overall novel. The second issue was, in fact, virtually the perfect comic book. That it sits comfortably between the covers of a larger graphic novel without overwhelming it--that it in fact is enhanced by its new surroundings--is more of a testimonial to Josh Cotter's work here than I could ever offer.
It's not just that Cotter's art take funny-animal-era Crumb crosshatching and doughy character designs; it's that he applies them to Ware-informed layouts and and subject matter, with the occasional Kupperman-level black-humor interlude thrown in. It's not just that Cotter matter-of-factly introduces and kills with a seemingly neverending series of crackerjack visual symbols--migraine locusts, cancer squids, God robots, death jetpacks, angel kittens; it's that sweeping silent sequences where he really lets loose with this stuff segue seamlessly into painfully accurate, rigorously observed recreations of awkward childhood conversations at home, at school, in church. It's not just that it's an autobiography that never comes out and says so and is all the more effective for it; it's that it's also an equally sensitive and unsentimental portrait of other people in town whose inner lives Cotter couldn't possibly have access to. It's not just that it joyously recreates the way pop fantasy figures like He-Man and Marvel superheroes gave kids an outlet for their imaginations above and beyond whatever frequently dreary, yet often wondrous material was actually there; it's that it also viciously lampoons the material for its benighted assumptions about everything from women to justice, and for the way it literally preyed upon the insecurities of children to make money. It's not just that it unflinchingly depicts the go-nowhere futility of cancer-ridden, unexamined lower-middle-class life; it's that it's also a totally moving tribute to how the relationships we form with one another are the things that last and give us meaning in the face of man's cruelty to man, man's cruelty to nature, and God's cruelty to everything. Skyscrapers of the Midwest, in other words, is simultaneously one of the warmest and the coldest comics ever. It's brilliant and devastating, and I love it.
What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Where the hell do you think I am? I'm at the goddamn movies.
Tonight I tried and failed to see Frank Miller's The Spirit at one of the five total daily showings spread across the three remaining theaters still showing the movie on Long Island--failed because the picture quality was so bad that I got up, got a refund, and left.
When the trailers were shown in seemingly the wrong aspect ratio, I thought "uh-oh," so I ran downstairs and asked the guy at the concession stand to let someone know to fix it. Then the movie started and while the picture didn't look so badly accordionned inward anymore, it was still ran waaaaay past the top and bottom borders of the screen--credits disappeared right along with the top third of characters' heads. The picture was also crooked, which I was subsequently informed was due to the angle of the screen, meaning all the movies they charge people to watch in that particular theater are at least that screwed up. To top it all off, what you could see of the picture was murky, and the surround sound wasn't working to boot.
I know I was a film studies major, but this was in the era of VHS, so I feel like I'm not hugely particular when it comes to things like picture quality. I still don't have a hi-def TV or a Blu-Ray player, for example. But I also feel like maybe every third time I go to the movies there's an enjoyment-destroying, super-obvious problem with something. This time it was the picture being all screwed up. When I saw Doomsday it was the sound not being fully switched on. When I saw Let the Right One In it was the theater being north of 80 degrees. And I'm not even getting into the behavior of my fellow moviegoers. It's to the point where each time I go to the movies, one of my favorite goddamn activities in the goddamn world, I sit down dreading whatever the hell will ruin it this time.
This is the kind of stupid extrapolation from personal anecdotal evidence that makes blogs so, so awful, but I can't help it: Surely this sort of thing can't be good for business? I mean, especially in this case, where the movie theater knowingly has a screen set up so that every single thing they show on it will be tilted to one side like you're in the hideout of Frank Gorshin's Riddler. That's some chutzpah, my friends.
Anyway, I'm really angry that I didn't get to see The Spirit, because I can't possibly have a lot of time left to catch it in the theater. The end.
* Over at the Cool Kids Table, Ben Morse has posted a series of "collect this heretofore uncollected run of comics puh-leeze!" wishlists from himself, Kiel Phegley, Rickey Purdin, TJ Dietsch, David Paggi, and one Sean T. Collins. Check it out and bug the relevant publishers.
* Get those shopping lists fired up: Douglas Wolk has put together a pretty great list of the major alt/lit/art comics releases coming out in 2009.
* Chris Mautner continues his own series of such roundups, this one focusing on my webcomics publisher, Top Shelf.
* Mautner also weighs in on the big discussion we had here the other week about how to read and review event comics.
* Tom Spurgeon lists 25 great things about being a comics reader.
* Josiah Leighton reprints and examines Katsuhiro Otomo's pre-Akira short story "Nothing Will Be as It Was."
* Tim O'Shea talks to Josh Cotter about Skyscrapers of the Midwest, one of my favorite comics of the year.
* Finally, remember when I said that I thought Watchmen was going to be a real eye-opener for mainstream audiences in terms of a type of superhero imagery they'd be seeing for the first time ever? Apparently Warner Bros. agrees, because they're using that as the selling point for the commercial they've been running during NFL games and 24. (Via Topless Robot.)
Speak of the Devil
Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Dark Horse, October 2008
128 pages, hardcover
$19.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
Hmmm, you know what? Not quite sure what to make of this one. It's Gilbert Hernandez, so it's beautiful, in this case almost freakishly so. The image of the moon and clouds in the night sky in the first couple of panels is enormously evocative and engrossing--as cliche as it sounds, you really are instantly transported into the world of this comic. The book's glossy paper takes Beto's blacks to a new level of shiny, greasy oiliness. They almost look wet. He can lay out a page like nobody's business and has the same knack for doing the unexpected but just-right with his panels that John Bonham had with his drums, from a dialogue sequence where word balloons always accompany a shot of the person who isn't talking to a view of a make-out session that features a positioning of the two involved parties I'd never seen depicted before yet instantly recognized.
The story isn't quite so smoothly done. I buy the character work in the beginning--I understand why each of these people is making these unusual choices. I was almost thrown by the first outbreak of violence, but then it turns out to be something different and less grievous than I thought it was, so I was back on board with what I thought was a really astute take on troubled teenagedom. I could even go along for the ride when the killing started because of the people with whom it started. I watched Snapped, I know these things happen. But as things get progressively worse, I never quite bought the ease with which our protagonists become a Mickey and Mallory menage a trois, particularly the stepmother, who seemed basically happy with her life if a little kinkier than she felt comfortable letting on with her husband. I understand that we're not in the "real world" of something like the Palomar material but in the heightened reality of the "Fritz-verse" of b-movies Beto is slowly converting to graphic novel form, but I still feel like the work requires psychological integrity if not psychological realism, and I don't see how guileless serial murder flows from what we've seen in these characters up until that point.
And there's also this weird disconnect between the astonishingly graphic violence--seriously, this thing is brutal--and the strangely prudish sexual material. Which, I'm sorry, erotic thrillers should have nudity, particularly erotic thrillers from Gilbert freaking Hernandez, the most refreshingly no-holds-barred tackler of sexual material in alternative comics. Am I saying that I want to see the sexy female characters naked? Well, yeah, that's partially what I'm saying, same as how I wanted to see Superman actually punch people in Superman Returns--it's sort of the point. And while we're at it, this isn't Hollywood, we don't have the MPAA breathing down our necks, we can show dick, too, as Beto has countless times in the past. To do a Brian DePalma story about peeping toms with several sex and masturbation scenes and not show any nudity at all...it's just weird, it left me wondering why that decision was made and distracted when the over-the-top violence kicked off, like, "this is okay but nipples aren't?". At first I assumed it was because this was originally a serialized Dark Horse comic, but Dark Horse also published Sin City and Hard Boiled, both of them insanely violent comics with a decent amount of nipplage. I dunno, it's odd, don't you think? I have a feeling I'll be returning to this comic anyway, because like its sister book Chance in Hell it's magnetic and extremely revealing in terms of how much of its author it puts on display, but it doesn't quite all click for me the way thematically (and even visually) similar works like Black Hole click.
Over at Top Shelf 2.0 you can now find "A Real Gentle Knife," a comic based on the song "Rippin Kittin" by Golden Boy and Miss Kittin, written by me, and drawn by my old friend and up-and-coming comics blogger/educator Josiah Leighton. I hope you enjoy it.
* J.R.R. Tolkien continues to do his best Tupac Shakur impression: Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, "a volume of rare Norse epic poetry," will be released in May. The Children of Hurin was excellent, fwiw.
* Battlestar Galactica returns on Friday and will run an extra 3 1/2 minutes, so a lot of websites are saying to adjust your DVRs, but in my experience they usually pick up on this sort of thing automatically. I dunno, it's publicity, I guess. Also, that prequel webisode series The Face of the Enemy has wrapped up and I rather liked it. Not for the squeamish, mind you. Or for, I dunno, Rick Warren.
* Via everywhere, part one: Samuel L. Jackson says he and Marvel Studios have not come to a salary agreement regarding his returning as Nick Fury, the character basically drawn for him to eventually play, in subsequent Marvel movies like Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. You have to imagine the possibility of a likeness lawsuit is a possible bargaining chip here, no?
* Via everywhere, part two: Warner Bros. and Fox appear close to a settlement over the rights to distribute Watchmen.
* Via everywhere, part three: Covered, a new blog launched by comics artist and animator Robert Goodin and featuring various artists doing cover versions of their favorite comics covers. Here's Jeffrey Brown doing Mike Zeck's Secret Wars.
* My pal Kevin Mahadeo got himself a nice little get: An interview with Grant Morrison about the fairly momentous events of Final Crisis #6 on the day FC #6 was released. I particularly liked this exchange:
On the soap box side of things, for me, there's been a long [stretch] of comics trying to be about the streets and about realism and dealing with the Bush Administration. We wanted to follow more popular culture, which is going in a more psychedelic direction, to use the want of a better word. I think things are starting to get a bit crazier again and people are enjoying stuff a little bit more—the fantastical and demanding of the imagination. I think that's what we're trying to do. Final Crisis #7 is almost inventing a new style. We had widescreen comics and decompression and super-compression. This is channel-zapping comics.
For every comic and series you tackle, you always ask questions about what the character means and where the character can go. Is that what you're seeing in Final Crisis, where can comics go?
MORRISON: Yeah. In particular with superhero comics. Once you've seen "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight," why bother doing realistic superheroes because now the movies can do them better than anyone. I kind of feel that what it does is free up comics to be a little bit wilder. We've got great artists who can sit there with their pencils and draw anything. They're not limited by budgets. We shouldn't be following the storytelling techniques of Hollywood because they can do it really well. Comics can do all kinds of other things. They can be really crazy and wild and can really stretch the imagination and be really progressive.
* Speaking of the comics one assumes Morrison was speaking of, there's been a lot of talk on this blog and elsewhere about the tone-deafness of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, specifically how rapacious asshole and obviously batshit-crazy evil serial killer Norman Osborn was appointed King Shit of SHIELD Mountain by Barack "Change We Can Believe In" Obama in his first act as the Marvel America's President. For me at least, this undercut the quick cash-in Spider-Man thing they did for the rubes where Barry gives Spidey dap. However, somebody or other told me that if the solicits for Thunderbolts are any indication, Obama's role in that infamous Osborn decision--its actual depiction limited, if I recall, to coloring the hand of the otherwise off-panel President brown--is going to be or has already been retconned, and that upcoming storyarcs will feature Obama's attempt to thwart his predecessor's decision to put the Green Goblin in charge of stuff while GG will attempt to assassinate Obama. For what it's worth.
Kramers Ergot 7
Sammy Harkham, editor
Alvin Buenaventura, assistant editor
Sammy Harkham, Shobo Shobo, Martin Cendreda, Walt Holcombe, Shary Boyle, Jerry Moriarty, Aapo Rapi, Ted May, Nick Main, Tom Gauld, Geoff McFetridge, Chris Cilla, Tim Hensley, Daniel Clowes, J. Bradley Johnson, James McShane, C.F., Kim Deitch, Chris Ware, Jacob Ciocci, John Brodowski, Jaime Hernandez, Matt Furie, Anders Nilsen, Ivan Brunetti, Carol Tyler, David Heatley, Dan Zettwoch, Johnny Ryan, Mat Brinkman, Eric Haven, Conrad Botes, Josh Simmons, Richard Sala, Jesse McManus, Rick Altergott, James Thurber, John Hankiewicz, Ben Katchor, Frank Santoro, Seth, Leif Goldberg, Blanquet, Blex Bolex, Will Sweeney, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine, Florent Ruppert, Jerome Mulot, Anna Sommer, Ben Jones, Pshaw, Jonathan Bennett, Helge Reumann, John Pham, Matt Groening, Xavier Robel, Joe Daly, Souther Salazar, Ron Regé Jr., Gabrielle Bell, writers/artists
Buenaventura Press, December 2008
96 comically huge pages, hardcover
$125 Buy it from Buenaventura Buy it from Amazon.com
The massive, gutterless, green white and orange panels of Frank Santoro's silent Iraq War morality play. The masterful repetition and variation of John Hankiewicz's three-page classroom vignette. The way Ben Katchor uses space to force your eye back and forth and effortlessly draw you to the conclusion of his strip about a woman reluctant to date a man who works in an ugly building (a LOL moment). Chris Ware's lifesize baby. Mat Brinkman's massive red white and black monsters. Josh Simmons's jaw-droppingly bleak horror story, its dense panels fluttering by so quickly it almost feels like you're watching the comic rather than reading it. Eric Haven's use of blue. Carol Tyler's huge block-letter "NUTS!" Ivan Brunetti and Kevin Huizenga forcing you to flip this gigantic book around. Jacob Ciocci using a Seal lyric as the philosophical lynchpin of a psychedelic freakout (another LOL moment). The electric guitar soundwave in the middle of John Brodowski's page. The delicious candy-colored nostalgia of the vintage bottlecaps lining Kim Deitch's strip. All those James McShane circle panels. The way the traditional altcomix layouts of Tim Hensley, Dan Clowes, and Jaime Hernandez's strips make you feel like you're reading a book from a land of giants. Double that with Adrian Tomine's spread. Tom Gauld's "two guys in a weird, large, isolated environment" schtick being used to tell the story of Noah's Ark like some lost Edward Gorey project. Aapo Rapi's blue yellow and green Grimm Cabbage Patch Kid fairy tale. Walt Holcombe's rock-poster title page. Matt Groening's dorm-poster contribution. Matt Furie's menagerie. John Pham's evocation of the gray urban nightscape in his strip about stray dogs. Gabrielle Bell's spy thriller (!). Ben Jones & Pshaw's color-coded gag strips. Ruppert & Mulot's vertiginous stairway strip. Sammy Harkham's two-tone sunset. Seth's Porcellino-like tribute to Thoreau MacDonald. Anders Nilsen's pastels. Helge Reumann's cycle of violence. Shobo Shobo's bright yellow endpages and nearly useless Where's Waldo table of contents. Sammy Harkham's creepy front cover and Shary Boyle's creepy back cover. Conrad Botes ending things on the downest down note he could play.
When you open these massive covers and flip through these massive pages and read these massive comics, you'll find things that lots of things that knock you out immediately and lots of things that work really well once you read them. You'll also find lots of things that don't work on a canvas this size, and a number of things that probably don't work at all. But all told, a decade from now or two decades from now when someone asks you what this decade was like in alternative comics, this is the book you're going to hand them. This is our era. You were there.
* Sean news one: the official ToyFare blog reminds us that I'm going to be joining some of my colleagues on the New York Comic Con's Twisted ToyFare Theater panel. So go check it out!
* Sean news two: Just making sure that everyone caught "A Real Gentle Knife", a comic based on a song by Golden Boy and Miss Kittin, written by me, and drawn by Josiah Leighton, over at Top Shelf 2.0.
* Battlestar Galactica returns tonight, and to celebrate, SciFi Wire has put together a pretty terrific feature in which virtually the entire cast talks about their favorite moments in making the series. Michael "Colonel Tigh" Hogan's is a goddamn doozy:
"The whole cast was there because we were burying the soldiers. It was the funeral," says Hogan. "Adama talks about how we have to be responsible for the things that we have done, and at the end of that ... We didn't really know each other, any of the cast members, and didn't really know what to expect, especially as far as acting, because this was first day of principal photography.
"Adama finishes this speech and then says, 'So say we all,' and I guess we sort of mumbled, 'So say we all.' Eddie [Olmos] kind of looked at all of us and said it again, 'So say we all.' Well, we weren't ready for that, so we said, 'So say we all.' And he looked at us and said, 'SO SAY WE ALL.' And he got us all going, and it was a chilling, chilling time. It was like, 'Whoa,' and by the end of it the whole room, the hundreds of us, are just yelling, "SO SAY WE ALL!" And that wasn't in the script. When that was over you were kind of, 'Whoa boy, we're in for a ride now'..."
* Meanwhile, The House Next Door's Todd VanDerWerff talks to the director of tonight's BSG premiere, Michael Nankin. It's a really interesting conversation if you're interested in the process behind BSG, but also for learning about life as a journeyman director who fell into TV from features and what he's learned from both.
* The Watchmen lawsuit has been resolved, and They've agreed to various boring business/money things, and now I'm done blogging about this movie barring something amazingly awesome until the thing comes out. (You're welcome, Frank.)
* Jog casts a semi-skeptical eye on Final Crisis #6. For what it's worth, I think the balance between "bog-standard" superhero event-comics moments and real head-scratchers is what makes the comic so durned innarestin', as the fella says.
* Jason Adams runs down his Top 25 films of the year. Jeez, Jason sees a lot of movies! Sigh, I wish. Then again I reviewed around 140 comic books, so I guess I'm okay too.
* Dark Obi-Wan? Sure, I'll eat it. (You're welcome, Matthew.)
* I love Hot Topic. I am totally serious. I've never understood why we hold it against teenagers that they don't live near a major legit font of underground culture, so where else are they gonna go? Walking into a Hot Topic makes me feel like I'm entering the nerve center of kids who get called faggots by other kids, which brings back memories. It's like coming home. Anyway, here's a Watchmen hoodie on sale at a Hot Topic near you. Last time I was there they had a kickass Final Crisis T-shirt, too, but not in my side, dammit.
Thank you for shopping at Hottopic.com!
Note that orders are processed Monday through Friday. Please allow a processing time of 1-2 business
days before your order is shipped.
Your Hot Topic order number is: XXXXXXX
Order date: 2009-01-16 20:57:58
Status of your Hot Topic order: Sent to Warehouse
* WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Don't read this entry unless you've seen last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica.
* Your BSG must-read of the day: The Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan has assembled a series of lengthy interviews with head honcho Ron Moore, writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, and director Michael Nankin about last night's episode. One thing they bring up again and again is that everyone involved believed the episode, the last to be filmed before the writers' strike shut down production, would be the last BSG episode ever, and consciously gave their all with that in mind. Just make sure to watch out when Ryan chimes in with her thoughts at the end of the piece, because she throws in a major, major spoiler for The Shield out of the blue.
* SciFi Wire interviews Kandyse "Dualla" McClure about her final episode, while the LA Times speaks with Kate Vernon about her return as Ellen Tigh and the reveal of Ellen's status as the Final Cylon.
* Jim Henley has my favorite take on last night's big Final Cylon reveal: in essence, "It's so crazy it just might work!" I've never been much for the "Who are the Final Five?" mythology mystery, but I have to say that solving it this way really impressed me. First of all, I can't imagine very many people had "Ellen Tigh" in their Final Cylon office pool--any of the major, obvious candidates would have felt anticlimactic, but this was a genuine and welcome curveball. Secondly, it makes Michael "Col. Tigh" Hogan the emotional lynchpin of the remainder of the mythology, a decision akin to how the producers of Lost decided to center their show around Michael Emerson, i.e. a brilliant one. I sure am glad, however, that the "next week on BSG" promo spelled out who exactly was the Final Cylon, because otherwise the Ellen/Starbuck debate would be raging right now.
* Finally, both Variety and the LA Times have tons of interviews and features on the show. While away the hours.
Captain America: Winter Soldier Vols. 1 & 2, Captain America: Red Menace Vols. 1 & 2, Civil War: Captain America, The Death of Captain America Vols. 1 & 2
Ed Brubaker, writer
Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, Marcos Martin, Lee Weeks, Butch Guice, artists
various page counts
various prices Buy them from Amazon.com
I think you can count the number of times the title character smiles in this long, high-quality run of superhero comics by Ed Brubaker on one hand and have three fingers left over. Considering how that's two different guys we're talking about here, that's really rather impressive. I suppose it's not necessarily a particularly noteworthy achievement to have crafted such a uniformly bleak work of superheroics in this the age of SUPERHEROES IS SERIOUS BUSINESS, but what distinguishes Brubaker's work from similar efforts by many of his contemporaries is not just a grimness of tone but a moderation of it. Brubaker appears in total control of the milieu he has developed for Captain America--as I've described it many times in the past, a perfect blend of countless Cap flavors, including World War II hero, post-9/11 symbol, black-ops badass, Steranko spy, and Star-Spangled Avenger, set in a world of super-powered espionage and terrorism. By tweaking the plot, the antagonist, the setting, or the combination of supporting characters just so, Brubaker can emphasize any one of those notes at any time. It's the rare comic where armed corporate security forces opening fire on protesters can share space in a storyline with a severed cybernetic arm springing to life and incapacitating a roomful of scientists and neither feels ridiculous or out of place. (Wow, I just re-read the review I wrote of a couple Cap issues from this time last year, and it's a little uncanny how closely what I just wrote echoes what I wrote then. But I guess masterful craft leaves an impression.)
In rereading the bulk of Brubaker's run in a handful of sittings, though, it really is a certain sadness that emerges as the dominant impression. Brubaker's Steve Rogers is a very lonely guy, held in awe by almost everyone who knows him but feeling like his adult life is a series of deaths and regrets. Nearly all of his supporting characters are similarly haunted by their violent pasts (and presents!). Brainwashing emerges as a recurring element, and perhaps as a metaphor for how we can't control what our minds and memories give precedence to. Heck, the Red Skull actually kills his archenemy and doesn't even take a single panel to gloat over it. To find another superhero comic this intrinsically unhappy with violent conflict you'd have to go back to Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga--yet here as there the action is both thrilling and constant, and drawn with flair by really the originators of the new Marvel house style, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, and several seamlessly slotted fill-in artists here and there. Strong, ultimately pretty unusual stuff.
What do you think it was like for the Edge when he came up with that riff? Like, he's sitting around with his guitar, trying this, trying that, and then suddenly that riff comes out. Then he's like, "Hmm. That's...that's something, alright." And he calls the rest of the band in and he's like "Hey guys, check this out, what do you think of this?"
It's kind of amazing to me that music like that is actually the product of some human being's trial and error, you know? I mean, when you hit on something like that, how must that feel?
Anyway, today is a wonderful, wonderful Martin Luther King Day.
* The big news in comics circles is that Diamond, the monopoly distributor of comic books to comic shops, is raising its minimum order cutoff from $1500 to $2500. Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald have both rounded up reactions and posted thoughts on the potentially chilling effect this move will have on the small press. I was particularly troubled by PictureBox Inc. publisher Dan Nadel's comment to Tom that titles like Travel, Powr Mastrs, Cold Heat, and Goddess of War would not have made the cut. Admittedly, there are a lot of issues at work here that complicate Diamond's decision beyond the black-hatted "aiding the powerful and popular at the expense of the independent and idiosyncratic" interpretation of this move: the cataclysmic overall economic picture; the legions of small-press companies that put out comics of dubious quality using methods of dubious reliability; the fact that it doesn't sound like that cutoff is automatic, et cetera. Still, it's most likely very bad news for some very good comics.
* Jim Woodring has announced the creation of a new 96-page Frank book. Everyone's happy about it except Manhog.
* Tim O'Shea interviews John Arcudi, co-writer of the excellent BPRD.
* Marc-Oliver Frisch really goes to bat in favor of Final Crisis #6. This bit made me laugh:
One of the features of a good work of fiction is that you can pick out pretty much any element in it and find that it’s somehow plugged into the work’s larger theme. And here, indeed, the theme is everywhere. It’s in the “God-Weapon” Brainiac 5 shows Superman, “a machine that turns thoughts into things” (Hey, kids: comics?).
* Bruce Baugh's post about how ruins-based World of Warcraft settings make him feel like his place needs cleaning made me chuckle.
The avant-garde fantasy slot. As with early Roxy Music or Björk, the familiar genre constraints give them the freedom to really run wild with style, tone, and effect.
12. All Star Superman (Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely, DC)/B.P.R.D. and related titles (Mike Mignola, John Arcudi et al, Dark Horse)/The Immortal Iron Fist (Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja et al, Marvel)
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. We are the keepers of this legacy.
B.P.R.D. Vol. 9: 1946
Mike Mignola & Joshua Dysart, writers
Paul Azaceta, artist
Dark Horse, November 2008
$17.95 Buy it from Amazon.com
Another Hellboy-verse tale, another litany of misery, failure, and impending doom. Like the proverbial pink elephant, now that I've noticed the mile-wide undercurrent of fatalism flowing like the Styx through all of Mike Mignola's interconnected Hellboy and BPRD comics over the past few years, it's impossible to stop thinking about it. But that's a good thing, because it prevents me from writing off this look at one of the early adventures of Hellboy's old mentor Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced "Broom," which I don't think I'd ever put together until now) as something of a throwaway throwback. Both the main Hellboy minis and the parallel BPRD books have gotten pretty far away from early HB's two-fisted occult-Nazi slugfests, so when you open a book with that familiar mix of cybernetic Nazi gorillas, sentient decapitated SS-captain heads in jars and so forth, you might think Mignola and his collaborators are going for the easy stuff. Not so: Mignola and his co-writer Dysart root nearly all the important character bits in the trauma of the then-just-completed Second World War. Much of what happens in the central storyline, centered around a Nazi vampire-virus doomsday weapon to be released when the Reich falls, happens because of how American and German soldier characters recoil from the thought of both inflicting and enduring further horrors. There's a genuinely difficult sequence in which the protagonists' noble intentions are thwarted by circumstance and they end up perpetrating the exact atrocity they promised not to. Mignola and company also make the effort to push the Nazis out of the "I hate those guys" boo-hiss villain mold and connect their blasphemous black-magic doings in the story to the real-world mentality that led them to systematically slaughter millions of people.
Which brings us back to do, if you will, and how the supernatural evil in Mignola's stuff seems to be slouching toward victory. One of the main characters here is Varvara, an unnervingly cute little Russian girl in a frilly white dress who runs the Soviet Union's BPRD equivalent. Turns out she's actually a demon in human form who hangs around our world because she loves watching people get hurt. If there's a better encapsulation of the prevailing tone of the Hellboyverse over the past few years, I'd like to see it. I wouldn't mind seeing it drawn by Paul Azaceta just like this one is, by the by. His loose, simplified, seemingly photoreffed style reminds me of Emmanuel Guibert gone pulp, and he executes all the creepy images and military hardware his writers serve to him with panache. It's exciting, emotionally resonant genre storytelling; with All Star Superman over and depending on how you feel about Captain America, I'd say it's another chapter in the best ongoing super-comic on the stands today.
* My pal David Paggi lists his best comics of 2008 at Wizard's Indie Jones blog. My list is here if you missed it in all the hubbub yesterday.
* Chris Mautner adds the very powerful, very well executed, very hard to read I Live Here to his list of the year's most criminally ignored books.
* I think many potentially interesting questions in this two-partinterview with writer Grant Morrison are phrased in such a way as to leech out any potential drama and disagreement, which is a shame, but still, it's a two-part interview with Grant Morrison:
In recent years, we’ve seen the superhero as celebrity and as super-soldier, tool of the Military Industrial Complex. The coming wave is more escapist, more psychedelic in tone. The Hero home from the War. The superhero always mirrors the emotional needs of his audience, and comic book creators adapt—sometimes quite unconsciously—to provide the kind of protector and role model each age demands.
Does the zeitgeisty success of the new Animal Collective album (officially released on Inauguration Day, no less; listen to it at the link) vindicate this theory of the New Psychedelic Age? U DECIDE!
* Morrison also mentions upcoming Vertigo collaborations with Cameron Stewart (see below), Sean Murphy, and Camilla D'Errico.
* I'm not easily offended, but see if you can figure out how this poster for some horror movie called Babysitter Wanted isn't just about the most misogynistic thing you've seen since Dave Sim's last letter column. It's lazy and derivative, too! All in all, a pretty tremendous illustration of how the tools of the extreme really only work in very, very skilled hands.
* A lot to swallow. Maybe too much? Maybe they should have just done an hour? Not that I'm complaining, really, but it was a little hard to get a handle on any kind of "story unit" flow because it was two separate episodes crammed together rather than a two-hour premiere. The breakneck pace established now that we've done away with flashbacks and flashforwards and are doing all-plot episodes contributes to the feeling that we're just seeing a lot of stuff happening.
* Last night I told a friend that I thought a lot fewer people were going to complain about the show dividing the cast this time than they did during the beginning of season three, because this time both halves of the story were so crazy and action-packed. But sure enough, there's someone on my Tori Amos board complaining about how boring the Sayid and Hurley stuff is. You really can't please everybody!
* My one beef/quibble/beefquibble with the time-travel storyline is that it would have been nice if, like, back in season two or something, we'd had maybe one random encounter between a character and a time-anomaly version of someone. Heck, even that same character, perhaps. I mean, maybe we HAVE, but it wasn't anything obvious. I'm mentally comparing it to a scene from Savage Dragon where the Dragon suddenly flashes forward into a post-apocalyptic future, and his as-yet-unborn son wearing a space suit appears to him and says "Dad?", and it wasn't followed up on for literally YEARS. I'd like for something like that to have happened relating to the time-travel storyline much earlier in the show--something that really stuck out, like Libby showing up in Hurley's asylum, but then they don't explain it for season after season. Trying to shoehorn it in after the fact--as with Faraday's meeting with Desmond, which Desmond had never been shown to remember until last night--doesn't cut it.
* Now that I think about it, it seems reasonable to assume that the mysterious eye that peers out of Jacob's cabin's window the second time Locke goes to visit it is in fact Locke himself. So maybe I've got nothing to complain about. But that's something we've all filed away in the "Jacob's cabin is crazy" file, not the "time travel paradox" file. Also, I'm hearing people say that maybe the whispers are the sound of people elsewhere in the time stream, and that when Locke initially discovered the crashed plane he had a flash-vision of the actual crash and then inexplicable leg pain, which would seem to connect to his Billy Pilgrim routine last night, so there's that stuff too, I suppose.
* It's good to see Sun becoming a cold-hearted bastard because she's always been a bit annoying and she's always had that side to her personality. And I was pleasantly surprised to see her stick the knife in Kate over her "I'll go get Jin" move on the freighter, which I had totally forgotten about but at the time was like "Way to go get Jin there, Freckles."
* I liked seeing Ana Lucia, and I liked the shout-out to Libby and the unspoken remembrance of Eko and his brother with the plane crash (even though Locke's mental associations with it would most likely be the death of Boone and Charlie's heroin addiction, at least WE can remember Eko and his brother). I like it when the show acknowledges the existence of the non-Bernard Tailies and acts as though that whole storyline actually made a difference even though it really didn't. I hate when external factors like negotiations with actors and scheduling conflicts and so on force changes on the storyline--the actor who played Eko not wanting to live in Hawaii anymore, for example, or the rumor that Libby and Ana Lucia's DWIs hastened their departure. And I always assume that otherwise unexplained gaps in the story in terms of actors playing a part and then disappearing are related to such external concerns--the stewardess who joined the Others, the tribunal Other woman who the creators now claim died during the Others' ill-fated attack on the beach camp even though we never saw her, why they've taken so long to follow up on Libby's story, why Michelle Rodriguez didn't show up again until now, why Eko hasn't made any more cameos, whether Matthew Abbadon is now stuck in Fringe purgatory and won't be coming back--and it drives me fucking nuts. So yeah, happy for all the Tail Section-related stuff last night.
* Always happy to see Rose and Bernard, too.
* Now that we've firmly established time travel as a phenomenon, who do we think are the Adam & Eve skeletons with the white and black stones that Jack and Kate discovered in the caves way back when? A friend of mine assumed it was whoever discovered them, since that would be the most poetically fitting thing. But the fact that it was Jack and Kate who discovered them makes that seem unlikely to me because a) I think the Sawyer/Kate couple will end up prevailing, not Jack/Kate; b) I'm not convinced that they're gonna let their main characters die on the Island, whether through foul play or because they stay there voluntarily and die of old age or whatever. So who is it? Jack and Kate? Sawyer and Kate? Jack and Juliet? Desmond and Penny? Ben and his mysterious disappearing childhood girlfriend? Daniel and Redhead Woman whose name I can't remember ever? Rose and Bernard?
* Do you think there are any mysteries they're just not gonna get around to explaining by the end of the show? Like how they consigned the Numbers to that stupid ARG and are now just kind of pretending that was never a big deal?
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.
The orders, which would be the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, would rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They would require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.
And the orders would bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.
A majority of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll oppose the use of torture in terrorism investigations, backing Barack Obama's pledge that "under my administration, the United States does not torture." But there's an even split on whether he should investigate whether laws were broken in the way suspects were treated under the Bush administration. [It's actually 50-47 in favor -STC]
Overall, 58 percent support the prohibition Obama declared before taking office, but there's a wide gap across party lines: 71 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents in the poll said torture should never be used, but most Republicans, 55 percent, said there are cases in which the U.S. should consider using torture against terrorism suspects.
Note that last bit, because it perhaps explains the behavior of some GOP senators in the confirmation hearings for Attorney General-designate Eric Holder: They're playing to their torture-enthusiast base.
* Bryan Alexander tracks the Onion's pretty shockingly horrific Bush Administration send-off pieces from the past few months.
* Curt Purcell catches that that much-discussed piece by former Starbuck Dirk Benedict on the supposed awfulness of the current Battlestar Galacticaactually dates back to May 2004, before all but the initial miniseries had aired. Benedict says a lot of things in the piece that are stupid and loathsome regardless of when he said them, but this does at least excuse some of his egregious misreadings and mischaracterizations of the show and its characters. It also makes the whole kerfuffle make more sense to me, since I recalled seeing Benedict happily chatting and smoking stogies with Katee "Stardoe" Sackhoff in a behind-the-scenes featurette on one of the BSG DVD sets. On the other hand, it speaks pretty poorly of either Benedict or the right-wing entertainment-ressentiment site Big Hollywood or both that they thought it appropriate to dredge the piece up and post it again.
* Kurt Busiek politely explains the uses and abuses of shared-universe, continuity-based superhero storytelling to a largely skeptical audience of Noah Berlatsky. I really liked what he has to say here, which I don't think will surprise those of you who've followed my recent explanations of my own approach to such comics. (Also via Dirk Deppey.)
* Shelf porn from my pal Ryan Penagos of Marvel.com! I've seen this in person, and it's freaking impressive.
Originally written on May 8, 2005 for publication in The Comics Journal
You don't need to know which of New York City's five boroughs is also known as "Shaolin" to grok that the pop cultures of the Far East and the inner-city West have been happily cross-pollinating at least since Jim Kelly's afro entered the dragon. From the RZA's obsessive referencing of films like Five Deadly Venoms and Shogun Assassin to Jay-Z's name-checking of Tokyo's Bathing Ape clothing label to the almost neurotic Japanophilia of Gwen Stefani's legion of big-name hip-pop producers, urban American tastemakers have happily pillaged Asian culture. Tokyo Tribes attempts to flip the script by grafting hip-hop fashion, patois, and pseudo-Shakespearean self-aggrandizement onto the visual language of manga. And woof, what a mess it makes.
Tokyo Tribes follows a pair of estranged friends, Kai and Mera, who have come to be leaders of rival Tokyo street gangs. While Kai's "tribe" is a relatively peaceful one, Mera's is puppet-mastered by Bubba, a genuine crimelord with the girth and coif of the Kingpin and the appetites of Caligula. Various shady enterprises and deceitful underlings cause the two to come into conflict, but the plot mechanics are practically an afterthought; the real focus is on the moments of excess--hip hop's true stock in trade, after all.
In this regard writer/artist Inoue is probably a student of Brian DePalma's Scarface, the Oliver Stone–penned epic of bad taste that has become hip-hop's over-the-top stylized-crime Talmud. That film's moments of outrageous violence--the chainsaw scene, "Say hello to my little friend!"--work with a breezily cheesy and offensive gusto, modeled as they are after similarly larger-than-life moments in the gangster films of the '30s and embedded within one of the greatest displays of sceneryphagy in cinematic history. Inoue has simply detached them from context, played up their most lurid aspects, and expected his audience's affinity for the cultural touchstone's he's hitting upon to help him pull it off.
It doesn't work. We are hardly a handful of pages into the book before an overzealous rookie cop has an eye gouged out by a member of one of the tribes, in full view of not only a street full of passerby but of his own partner. I understand that we're to see the tribes as the power in the city, but even The Godfather acknowledged that in attacking policemen is taboo for even the most powerful of criminal organizations. Bubba, meanwhile, is quite explicitly modeled after Scarface's Tony Montana, perhaps after 30 years and 300 pounds were added on; a globe in Bubba's opulent foyer affixed with the legend "Fuck the World" invites direct comparisons to Montana's similar "The World Is Yours" motto, and those comparisons are not favorable. (Whoever thought we'd yearn for the subtle nuances of the script that gave us the phrase "This town's like a giant pussy just waiting to get fucked?") His incredibly, and I mean that in every sense of the word, graphic and sexualized outbursts of violence are so out of left field and so far removed from the strictly-business ethos of hip-hop crime that they deal the book a blow it's unlikely to recover from. This suspension-of-disbelief-shattering aspect of the story is only heightened by the "censored" bars superimposed, with Inoue's approval, on nude body parts throughout the series: We've just seen a fat old man anally rape a young boy until the victim's body literally bifurcates, and now all of a sudden we've got to hide nipples behind black bars? (On the other hand, the censored bars do mitigate against Inoue's tendency toward making all his woman characters either ethereal damsels in distress or straight-out sex objects, all too often literally so.)
Inoue's line is loose and idiosyncratic, different than either the slickness of typical male-oriented manga or the bubbly design of the graffiti aspect of hip-hop culture. Since it belongs fully to neither world, it can occasionally bridge them rather effectively. Perhaps its strongest moment is in the rooftop-to-rooftop chase and swordfight that kicks off Volume 2, a truly thrilling sequence that takes advantage of comics' ability to expand and juggle time and space in the context of action. (In its way, it's reminiscent of some sequences from another East-West fusion, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, which of course bore a comics influence far more formal, and more profound, than David Carradine's Jules Feiffer-cribbed Superman speech.) But Inoue immediately cuts the strength of the scene off at the knees by revealing that the dizzying heights our characters have been battling in are actually close enough to the street that one of them can drop down to the ground and incur barely a scratch. And then a rival gangster drives up wearing a samurai helmet and driving a tank. Sigh. Inoue forgets that for all its braggadocio, hip hop's roots are as "the black CNN," a mirror--a funhouse mirror, perhaps, but a mirror nonetheless--on the reality of life in the big city. I don't care if the city in question is Tokyo rather than the South Bronx or South Central--it's still got to be real.
In "Sean on dead tree" news, the latest issue of Maxim--boasting two different covers featuring swimsuit models Jamie Gunns and Sarah Mutch, and I swear I didn't make those names up--features a piece I did on Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series. It explains the basic premise and plugs mainly the upcoming fifth volume Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe but also the currently-gathering-steam Edgar Wright film adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I hope you like it.
Meanwhile, issues of Marvel's comic-book adaptation of Stephen King's The Stand continue to feature the pieces I've done on the book for Marvel.com, so be on the lookout for those, too.
Also, I'm a constant contributor to ToyFare magazine's long-running, Robot Chicken-inspiring action-figure parody strip Twisted ToyFare Theater, as well as the occasional random gag or cool-thing plug. I have the vague impression that TTT has a reputation for just being "toys with word balloons spouting dick jokes"--heck, that's what I myself believed. Then I read it and it turned out to be very, very sharp and funny, which I thought long before I had anything to do with it. I'll be on a panel discussing the strip on the Saturday schedule for New York Comic Con--hope to see you there.
Finally, I still don't have a copy of The Comics Journal #295, featuring my cover-story career-spanning interview with Brian K. Vaughan, but I'm told by reliable sources that it's out there in a lot of places. Let me know what you think!
* I'm not a big user of The Lost Internet since I don't go in for hardcore theorizing, but I do enjoy Whitney Matheson's "Best of the Comments" round-ups, which usually includes a few connections and callbacks I missed or theories I wish I'd come up with; I thought this week's was a strong batch.
* The Supreme Court has shot down the Child Online Protection Act, which if fully enforced would probably have had the effect of "protecting" a lot of consenting adults from "objectionable" content. It's the kind of law that brings out the "sneer quotes" in everyone. I can't decide if the last time I was this delighted by the demise of something inimical to free speech was when the Gordon Lee case was dropped or when Jesse Helms died. (Via Dirk Deppey.)
* Spencer Ackerman runs down three areas where he'd like to see follow-up in terms of the Obama Administration's crackdown on torture and other illegal and immoral practices regarding captives: Interrogation techniques that will remain classified and/or are a part of the problematic Appendix M of the Army field manual; how to determine whether or not countries we use for rendition torture or not; and how long the CIA is allowed to hold prisoners. To his list, per Rachel Maddow last night, I would add the question of the prison at Bagram, which has history of prisoner abuse similar to the more infamous Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay facilities.
* Chris's Invincible Super-Blog tackles Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke's Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2, and in so doing nails maybe the thing I like about Grant Morrison: "[Morrison] treats us like we’re grown-ups who know how lowercase-f fiction works." I've never read a Grant Morrison comic that made me feel like he thought I was probably a little slow, or spent a lot of time apologizing for itself and laying out ground rules we can all follow. Morrison assumes we all came to play, as it were.
* As every nerd site on the Internet noted today, Monty Python DVD sales are supposedly up 23,000% thanks to Python's new-ish YouTube channel . This is not an issue I've spent a ton of time thinking about because my own habits w/r/t DLing stuff for free and subsequently purchasing it are probably outside the norm, but personally I don't think this actually says anything more about the overall viability of using free content as a booster for pay content than did comparable initiatives by Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails, because my hunch is that in all three cases the groups in question a) have insanely devoted self-reproducing fanbases that can be counted on to purchase things from them provided they know they exist; b) are really fucking good and create things worth paying for. Mainly I'm just happy people are buying Monty Python DVDs. (Via Topless Robot, my nerd site of choice.)
* With the mythology-based guessing game finally out of the way, we have an episode that focuses entirely on the breakdown of both the body politic and people's psyches in the face of calamity, which is exactly what I come to this show for. I thought it was a pretty magnificent episode.
* I gave some thought to how Felix's sudden transformation into anti-Cylon extremist would play for people who didn't watch the webisodes (which I won't spoil for you if you haven't seen them yet, but suffice it to say that they bear directly on this point and see them you should) and decided that it probably works fine thanks to Anders shooting his leg off last half-season. The show made sure to pay a lot of attention to that bone of contention (pun intended) during the episode, too.
* I've been waiting for an officer to lead a coup for a couple seasons now--I had myself convinced it was going to happen in the Season Three finale--so I'm pretty excited about this. I also love Tom Zarek as a character, so I'm excited about him playing a major role again--and also being crooked, which I think fits. He's a natural revolutionary, not a natural politician. And hey, nice callback with the first big mutiny taking place on the Tylium ship, or as I like to call it, Harlan County, Colonial Fleet.
* Baltar was doing his best Jim Jones, huh? Having watched an MSNBC documentary on Jonestown during its anniversary a couple months back, that's really all I could think of during that sequence. I hope the "cult of Gaius" storyline is headed somewhere at least that bleak. It always seemed a bit of a random development to me, to be honest, but in this episode I finally bought that Baltar has basically lost it and this is the result. Maybe the next Baltar-centric episode will reveal that he's still the craven opportunist he's always been and barely believes any of this stuff, I dunno. I wonder how his personal Six will feel about him giving the One True God the middle finger?
* Throw in plot points that necessitate envisioning both Nikki Clyne and Mary McDonnell having sex and you've got a winner!
This week I finished reading The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, a very fine collection of Robert E. Howard's first 13 Conan stories presented unedited and in order of publication. Aside from some pretty inaccurate-to-the-actual-writing illustrations here and there, it was a wonderful way to be introduced to Howard's writing and Conan's world.
I'd imagine the criticisms I have of the stuff have been echoed by countless readers and critics across time. The stories can be repetitive, not only in terms of the basic "Conan shows up some place and kicks some ass" formula but also in terms of details. Here's a great little summary of that sort of thing from Will Duquette:
And some of the plot elements are distressingly repetitive. In at least four different stories (and it might be five) Conan comes to an island on which he finds ruins made of a strange green stone which were built by some cosmically evil non-human elder race who worshipped a horrible demon who will return to cause Conan grave difficulty but over whom Conan will ultimately triumph. Sometimes the remnants of the cosmically evil non-human elder race still live among the ruins.
Now, if this were one single cosmically evil non-human elder race which left its markings scattered hither and yon across the globe, that would be one thing. But it's quite clear that each story concerns a different cosmically evil non-human elder race, and that each went from extreme majesty and power to the control of this one single island, and then dwindled almost to nothing, only to be forgotten by time. I mean, really--how many cosmically evil elder races can one planet accommodate?
Also, while Howard takes a very dim view of the morality of pretty much everyone, including and often especially civilized white men, I think the African, Arab, and Jewish analogues come off looking particularly bad, as one sadly expects from American pulp writing of the time. And needless to say his take on gender relations is pretty benighted.
My biggest problem with the work, though, is the total lack of story-to-story continuity in terms of characters other than Conan. Though Howard's Hyborian Age backdrop is vivid and engaging, the lack of meaningful, repeated interaction between Conan and other people makes it more or less impossible for us to gauge his growth or feel attached to him for any reason other than his awesomeness. Reading these stories reminded me of this long-ago Jon Hastings post comparing J.R.R. Tolkien unfavorably to Howard (read it, it's fun), which focuses on Tolkien's use of world-building and continuity as a weakness. I think that's wrong for a lot of reasons that Jon dismisses, but this particular issue of making it harder to get to know and care about Conan as a person instead of just an avatar of coolness is probably where it's wrongest.
All that being said, man, these stories are great! Vivid, crazily imaginative ("The Scarlet Citadel" is basically one amazing idea after another), and faster paced than I imagined writing of the era could be. The lack of continuity from story to story gives Howard license to stick Conan in any situation he pleases. In one story, he's in the jungle with a leopard-skin loincloth. In another, he's fighting Vikings in the land of the ice and snow. In another, he's a pirate king. In another, he's a thief. In another, he's King of Hyborean-Age France. Basically, if it's awesome, Howard can make Conan do it.
Moreover, Howard's defenders often point out that Conan isn't nearly the one-dimensional killing machine that later interpretations of the character in literature, comics, and film made him out to be, and that's true: While he is certainly enthusiastic about fighting, fucking, and feeding, he frequently makes reference to how this is what he does in lieu of contemplating human life's nature as fleeting and futile. He cracks gallows-humor jokes and drops decades-ahead-of-their-time action-movie one-liners ("Who dies next?" is my favorite), but he also reacts with genuine terror to many of the supernatural threats he faces, which is humanizing and endearing. (It often may not stop him from attacking these supernatural threats, but it's clear that that's because he simply doesn't know what else to do.) It's addictive, but it's surprisingly satisfying, too.
* Kevin Huizenga is calling it quits with his series Or Else, which is a bummer (even if I haven't liked recent issues as much as I've liked older issues). It's not clear if the decision is a personal/artistic one or a business/logistical one, but fortunately he says he'll continue to put out comics (though he doesn't reveal the details as to where exactly material intended for OE will wind up, if anyplace).
Top 10: The Forty-Niners
Alan Moore, writer
Gene Ha, artist
DC/WildStorm/America's Best Comics, 2005
112 pages, hardcover
$24.99 Buy it used from Amazon.com
Originally written on November 18, 2005 for publication by The Comics Journal
This is a nice little comic from Alan Moore. That in itself is remarkable--did you ever think that in this stage in his career Moore would be producing "nice little comics"? In wildly ambitious books like Watchmen and From Hell Moore was the pioneer of the comic-narrative-as-intelligent design, in which meticulously devised plot points move like intricate clockwork toward an inescapable conclusion which consequently reveals to the reader the baroque planning in all that has gone before. (And I'm not even just talking about Moore himself there--the story arcs for his villains Ozymandias and William Gull follow the very same pattern.) And as extraordinarily rich and rewarding as the comics Moore created with that approach have been, it's nice to see him kick off his shoes and relax a bit. Creating art that's not quite so ostentatiously inorganic--telling a story rather than creating a parlor game, in other words--can be rewarding too.
That's not to say that this prequel to Moore's "Hill Street Blues with superhero cops" dramedy Top 10 is entirely free of the Bearded One's sometimes too-heavy authorial hand. A sequence in which an unsuccessful sexual coupling is juxtaposed with a brutal and sexualized multiple murder (by vampires, no less) is an almost shockingly facile use of montage for a writer of Moore's skill and experience. A subplot in which a young former World War II flying ace and his mustachioed German commander fall in love feels less like something two actual people are actually doing and more like Moore saying, "hey, they're gay, and that's okay!" Well, of course it is. And? Dopiest of all is a bit in which a partially viewed headline from a newspaper seen via a time machine ("NAZIS RUN USA" reads the obviously incomplete block text) manages to convince several otherwise intelligent characters that a couple of Nazi mad scientists will succeed in their plot to conquer America, despite the fact that an actual newspaper in a Nazi-ruled U.S. would no more need to run such a headline than the New York Times would need to announce to its readers "BILL CLINTON IS PRESIDENT" in mid-1994.
But The Forty-Niners remains fun because of its delightful setting--Neopolis, a city full of superhumans--and structure--like a TV series, it has ongoing interweaving A, B, and C plots, and individual "episodes" alternate between focusing on this or that set of characters. These two wide-open parameters give Moore a lot more room to play than either his ABC line's more straightforward genre pastiches like Tom Strong or Tomorrow Stories (cute but depthless) or his didactic magickal opus Promethea (wonderful to look at, but I didn't buy this kind of stuff when it was being fed to me in Catholic school; is it supposed to be easier to swallow from a guy who invented his own snake god?). Moore uses Romanian vampires as an Eastern European mafia, has superhero cops arrest superhero civilians for vigilantism, and creates a female German defector named Sky Witch who rides around on a rocket-powered broom-lookin' thing. He's clearly having a good time, but at the same time creating a story that doesn't depend on contrast with preexisting archetypes or on castles-made-of-sand metaphysics for its oomph.
And he's helped quite a bit by artist Gene Ha, who skillfully tempers a dynamic naturalism that would be at home in one of Marvel's Ultimate titles by giving nearly all of his characters slightly overemphasized noses that look like they've been blown into cheap tissues about forty times that day and legs that look like they'd comfortably fit on the body of Tommy Tune. They look real, but they look vulnerably cartoonish too. And his designs for Neopolis itself are wondrous--it's probably the best-realized superhero city since Anton Furst's Gotham in the first Tim Burton Batman picture. Colorist Art Lyon bathes Ha's figures in sepia to convey the story's post-war "pastness"; sure, it's a little easy, but it's also a little gorgeous. Kinda like the book itself.
* More silver linings to possible comics-economics dark clouds: Kevin Huizenga has announced a new minicomic containing a story originally intended for his now-cancelled series Or Else.
* Ken Parille takes a close look at Chris Ware's use of the red-circle leitmotif in Acme Novelty Library #19, my favorite comic of 2008. I did something similar in my own review.
* David Uzumeri does his level best to explain the cosmology of the DC Universe as revealed ("revealed"?) in Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke's Superman Beyond. I'm still a little unclear as to how this all jibes with the revived Anti-Monitor as seen in The Sinestro Corps War and kinda-sorta in the upcoming Blackest Night, part of the Geoff Johns Green Lantern run for which Morrison has expressed much admiration (so you know he probably does want them to jibe). (Via Douglas Wolk.)
* A Broadway musical based on Thriller? Sure, I'll...well, actually, I'm not sure if I will eat it or not. If it's just another one of those "here's a greatest-hits package from a pop-rock artist with some feints in the direction of musical theater thrown in" deals, I'm not that interested. But I am on record as a huge proponent of the original John Landis "Thriller" videos effectiveness and importance as horror, so if they take things in that direction, you can sign me up. (Via Dread Central.)
* A Star Wars horror novel? Sure, I'll...no, you know what? Pretty doubtful I'll eat this one. I suppose this marks the emergence of the Star Wars Universe into full post-Silver Age maturity, where now you can do "Star Wars plus crime / horror / whatever" genre mixings a la Nu-Marvel, but I look at that cover and think "No way can this be good." Prove me wrong? (Via Topless Robot.)
* I debated whether or not to blog about the horrible case of Kim De Gelder, a 20-year-old Belgian who entered a nursery and stabbed two babies and a caretaker to death. Now authorities are examining possible (though to my eyes dubious, at least given the evidence cited) links to the death of Heath Ledger, his performance as the Joker, and possibly The Crow as well, so it's truly become my kind of story, God help me. God help us all, actually.
* I'm going to try not to end these things on down notes like that, at least not all the time, so here's something that actually might cheer you up: 27 Comics Ben Morse Loves.
Final Crisis #1-7
Grant Morrison, writer
J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Marco Rudy, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, art
DC Comics, May 2008-January 2009
30something story pages or so each, I think
WARNING: SPOILERY SO LOOK OUT
I find the way some people online spend paragraph after paragraph picking Grant Morrison comics apart for hidden meanings and insight into the nature of life and art and thought distasteful, because that's the behavior of Baptists at Bible college, not grown-up art critics. Even so, I couldn't help but realize after I finished reading through all seven issues of Morrison's uniquely Morrisonian DC event comic that it could be roughly summed up in the words of Newman from Seinfeld: "When you control the mail, you control...information." Right from the opening scene in which the New God Metron pops up on Anthro the First Boy on Earth and brings him both "knowledge" and fire, most of the book's superheroic and supervillainous action revolves around attempts to transmit or block the transmission of information and/or light--which, as Barry "The Flash" Allen implies, are basically the same thing if you're running fast enough.
On the side of light, thought, knowledge, the flow of information, you have Metron and his circuit pictogram, the Guardians and Green Lanterns and their will-powered light, the Tattooed Man and his magic ink, Lex Luthor and the Ünternet, the Ray transmitting himself around the world to pass on Metron's anti-Anti-Life circuit, Nix Uotan's Multiversal monitoring, the Monitors themselves as "beings of pure thought," Barry Allen being reconstituted out of pure information to tell the other Flashes how they can stop Darkseid, the Miracle Machine taking relativity a step further by turning thought into matter, the Supermen of the Multiverse as an army of explicitly "solar-powered" heroes. On the side of darkness, mindlessness, ignorance, restriction of information, you've got Libra killing the heroes' premiere telepath and literally extinguishing the Human Flame, the Justifier helmets shutting down thought (and blocking all the characters' eyes), Darkseid's fall creating a singularity out of which not even light can escape, the hanging of the Calculator - i.e. the villain whose M.O. is the transmission of information, "Dark Side," Mandrakk the Dark Monitor who dwells in the darkness "where all stories end," the Anti-Life transmission rendering all communication devices useless. Like a prism breaking light down, the comic's storyline gets more manic and disjointed as it goes. Heck, I think you can make the case that the slow breakdown of a coherent art style into a panoply of pencillers before everything is finally refocused into a single (albeit different) art style is an effective reflection of that refraction. Not necessarily a persuasive case, but a case.
The message seems clear: Life and good is light and thought and our ability to communicate them both, death and evil is darkness and hate in thought's place and being prevented from thinking or feeling or speaking freely. That's an interesting and not entirely uncontroversial set of equivalencies Morrison is making here. If it's less subversive than Jack Kirby's original conception of life and Anti-Life, which as Tom Spurgeon has pointed out was an argument that taking up arms against Anti-Life is itself Anti-Life, it is at least subversive in its own, different way; I know I'm not the only reader of this comic who spits "Anti-Life!" in response to events in the all-too-real world. Anti-Life is in demand.
But you know what? I'm not sure how interesting any of that really is to me, in the end. Much more exciting than any kind of Lost-message-board "here's what it's about"-style theorizing was the simple experience of reading and enjoying a crazy-ass superhero story in which I almost never had any clue what was going to happen next! The supervillainy was seedy, joyless, and unnerving--the Fourth World meets the Black Lodge. The pacing was Morrison at his most fearless and formally inventive, at times as dizzying and dazzling as the Hernandez Brothers; I, for one, certainly never expected to read a superhero event comic that reminded me of "Flies on the Ceiling" (both formally and thematically!). The art got a little shaky in the middle, and I think at this point in his career we have to blame Morrison for necessitating a cast-of-thousands art-team approach in so many of his projects, but it's bookended by career-best stuff from J.G. Jones and Doug Mahnke, images I can and do look at for a long long time. All the heroic protagonists got cool triumphant beats. The Twitterable/Facebookable/Google Chat Statusable quotes were almost unceasing. It was knowingly self-parodic at times and satirical at others and deadly serious at still others. Yes, Batman: Last Rites and Superman Beyond really should have been part of the main story somehow in that they're the main storylines for the two biggest characters DC has, and it would be nice if they were going to be collected in the main Final Crisis trade between issues 4 & 5 and 5 & 6 respectively, but you know what? Batman killed the embodiment of evil and died, his body was cradled by Superman, and he was reborn as a caveman on the last page. In the words of the Dark Knight himself, "DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?" I loved this flawed, weird, complex, simplistic, fun, wondrous comic to pieces.
Deep Dish featuring Everything But the Girl - The Future of the Future (Stay Gold)
This song is really a perfect example of a vaguely defined genre of music I mentally refer to as "Straight '98." Burbly, ice-blue but warm British dance music, trip-hop, moody actual hip-hop from the States--this is the stuff that soundtracked my life during college. The funny thing about this particular example is that even though the feelings engendered in me by listening to this music today are so tied to nostalgia (that's not all it is, not by a longshot, but that's a big part of it), the song itself is resolutely anti-nostalgic: "You say, 'Think of the old days--we could have them back again.' Well, I thought about the old days--they'd go bad like they did then."
And yet the song is equally chilly on the prospects of the future: "The future of the future will still repeat today. Time goes fast and fades away...I'm not going home again. Tomorrow will never come." This in particular is interesting to me because the promise of "the future" always seemed to me to be implicit in the technological wizardry of this kind of music.
So what's left? The present. "It's so bright tonight!" I think this could be seen as a message of live-for-the-moment clubland hedonism, but I rarely saw this kind of thing that way before and I definitely don't see it that way now. To me, it's resigned celebration of, or maybe celebratory resignation to, the idea that right now is all we really have, so we must take what pleasure comfort from it we can. "Do you see those cars, those lights? Do you see those roads, these skies?" We're traveling, our points of departure and destination are perpetually out of reach, and all we can do is admire what's outside our window right this moment. "Whatcha gonna do about me now?"
* Tom Neeley announces his next project, a book/album collaboration with Aaron Turner called The Wolf. So far, so scary:
* John Landis is suing Michael Jackson over profits from the "Thriller" video. My second Thriller news story of the week? How did that happen? (Via Whitney Matheson.)
* Fun with close reading: Using a chase sequence from Jeff Smith's Bone, Josiah Leighton dives deep into framing images, and how framing affects pacing.
* And then he picks apart that crazy Pat McEown quadruple-page spread from Dave Cooper's Weasel #1. Oh, Dave Cooper's Weasel. MISS U
* Slate's James Parker reviews/explains Jaime Lowe's Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB through the lens of spiritual autobiography--in the Ol' Dirty Bastard's case this means his relationship to the teachings of the Five Percent Nation/Nation of Gods and Earths, which is sort of like the Nation of Islam Meets Illuminatus! In so doing he looks at the Wu Tang Clan as worldbuilding project:
Dirty's home in hip-hop was the Wu-Tang Clan, where--commercially speaking--NGE doctrine was part of the package, part of the plan. His cousin and fellow Five Percenter the RZA masterminded it on brooding solo walks around Staten Island, N.Y.: In order to conquer the world, Wu-Tang would have to be a world. Nine killer MCs pickled in late-night kung fu flicks, chess lore, Marvel comics, street life, weed cabbalism, and NGE slang eschatology--a hip-hop Middle Earth, with its own legends and grades of being. No other crew could match the sorcerous allure, the smoky Dungeons & Dragons vibe curling off those minimal Wu-Tang beats. "I lived in at least ten different projects," wrote RZA in The Wu-Tang Manual, "and I got to see that the projects are a science project, in the same way that a prison is a science project. ... And in comics, when a science project goes wrong, it produces monsters. Or superheroes."
Wu-Tang, to me, was what I always understood black geekdom to be. Karate flicks, Comic Books (but what about the Wonder Woman bracelet), cartoons (form like Voltron), wrestling (My style broke muthafuckin backs like Ken Patera) etc. They took all of that and then filtered through New York, and through the lense of urban black America, at large. It was a great time.
Indeed it was! Speaking as a white Ivy League suburbanite, I think the geek element, and the emphasis on worldbuilding even beyond the geek stuff, is why I maintain a connection with the Wu above and beyond any other hip hop acts. It really, really feels like a shared intellectual experience to me. (The closest anything else comes is Public Enemy growing up on Long Island.) But it's also a really fun and enjoyable art project--the only other artists I can think of who fire up my imagination through sheer totality of vision and expanse of imagination the way the Wu Tang Clan does are the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, who were just as interested in worldbuilding via psychedelia + utter mastery of myriad songwriting traditions/mysticism + exploration and admixture of worldwide roots music respectively.
* Did that make any sense?
* Kiel Phegley lists his 10 Favorite Comics of 2008 that he read. I tell you, this year was the first where I even came close to feeling comfortable leaving off the "that I read" caveat, given that I read so many comics this year. (But there were a few that slipped through the cracks. so don't feel bad if you drew one of them.)
* Dustin Harbin gives the business to The Prestige, which though not quite as stupid as director Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins was indeed pretty stupid. Pretty, but pretty stupid.
* David Allison runs down his master plan for killing off his blog by beating it to death with posts about Grant Morrison and Jack Kirby comics. Or something.
Traditional healers in Tanzania are defying a government ban announced on Friday, intended to stop the killings of people with albinism for ritual medicine.
A BBC correspondent has seen at least 10 healers working openly.
It comes days after the latest murder of an albino man in Tanzania brought the national death toll to at least 40 since mid-2007.
The killers reportedly sell albino body parts - including limbs, hair, skin and genitals - to witchdoctors.
--Via Bryan Alexander. I don't know why, but this story reminds me of how I've long wondered why human breastmilk and semen aren't treated as delicacies in highfalutin' restaurants someplace. Maybe they are, I don't know. The most dangerous cuisine, that sort of thing.
* If you are familiar with the horror film The Broken, chances are it's for one of two reasons: 1) Sessy sessy star Lena Headey; 2) Awesome awesome poster featuring the bifurcated head of same. Naturally, the two new American posters for the film lose the powerful imagery and add in the fucking Horror Movie Font. Goddammit. (Good call, Jason Adams.)
* Make sure to click over to Ryan Catbird's site to see this gallery of Yes Studio album art for the band Maxïmo Park at full size. It's really lovely.
* Lego Twin Peaks!
This is much, much funnier when it relies on accuracy for laffs than it does when it starts riffing, so you end up wishing it had stuck to the script the whole time. It also more or less ignores the Hornes and related characters and events. But still, in the words of Sheriff Harry S Truman, "Yeah." (Via Matt Maxwell.)
It always blew my mind a bit that Gus Gus, the Icelandic film and music collective responsible for perhaps my favorite record from my imaginary "Straight '98" electronic music genre, Polydistortion, so quickly abandoned the sweeping, glacial tone of that album for earthy, sexy bangers like this one. It hails from their third bonafide album, Attention, a 2002 release that featured only four bandmembers instead of the previous (I believe) nine, and a brand new singer named, appropriately enough, Earth. It's a much more techno-centric record than its two predecessors, Polydistortion and This Is Normal; I saw at least one of its songs on an electroclash compilation. So yeah, it's fairly far removed in several different ways from the Gus Gus that made its first impression on me.
But it's also a fabulous song. Early Gus Gus certainly did "celebratory"--cf. "Barry," "Purple"--but never in such a directly sexy way. Obviously the killer element to this song, even more so than the buoyant beat or the big hands-in-the-air keyboard riff that functions as the chorus, is the lyric: "I still have last night in my body. I wish you were with me." I think the sign of a great lyric is tackling a familiar concept from an unexpected direction--like a Looney Tunes character who sidesteps an oncoming freight train only to get hit by a falling anvil--and that opening line does exactly that. We've all thought "man, I had a great time last night!", but phrasing it as "I still have last night in my body" makes that connection not just mental but physical, not just a leisurely reminiscence but an immediate, palpable link, indeed one that's not quite within our control to sever. Better still, she could be using the phrase purely metaphorically, but the literal interpretation--involving any number of substances imbibed through any number of orifices, bless her heart--is just as plausible and far more tantalizing.
Now, a couple paragraphs ago I mentioned that Gus Gus's shift to sexy was a rapid one. "David" came out five years and several major cultural and musical shifts after Polydistortion, so it doesn't exactly make my case for me. "Starlovers," from 1999's This Is Normal, on the other hand...
Gus Gus - Starlovers
This right here is straight-up Straight '98, and sexy as hell. In the album's context, the song follows an even more explicitly raunchy number called "Teenage Sensation," which is about exactly what you think it's about. So here, when Daniel August sings "Love, God, and affection--you know exactly what it means, still you're only in your teens," we know exactly what it means too. The notion of sex as revival-tent spiritual revelation, a gateway to an eroticized relationship with creation itself--"You are in love with God, you are in love with stars, you are in love with something that will tell you who you are"--well, this is a wonderful, wonderful idea to explore when you're 20 years old! Yet Gus Gus cleverly include a bit of old-time religion in their message: "They need love, they need God, they need guidance from above." You may know exactly what it means, but someone has to teach you a bit about it. And that, too, is sexy, in a hot-for-teacher (Rabbi?) kinda way, and in an implicit youth-gone-wild way as well. Nowadays it makes me think of Gossip Girl.
Why bring all this up? Well, coincidentally, even as I've been revisiting music from this period over the past few days, I've also been talking and thinking a lot about Grant Morrison comics, and different critical approaches to them--positive ones, this time, rather than negative--and different critical approaches to art in general. One such approach seemingly shared by both many Morrison defenders and Morrison himself is a poptimism-inflected belief in the future as a locus of potentially unlimited positivity, and the consequent importance of valuing art to the degree that it supports that belief. As Morrison put it:
For me, Final Crisis is about the type of guilt-ridden, self-loathing stories we insist on telling ourselves and, especially, our children--about the damage those stories do and about the good they could do if we took more responsibility for the power and influence of our words....
People like superheroes, particularly in stressful times, because there are very few fictions left which offer up a utopian view of human nature and future possibility. I suspect that's some part of the appeal. The superhero is a crude attempt to imagine what we all might become if we allowed our better natures to overcome our base instincts. If we are not a race of predatory monsters intent on murdering ourselves with toxins and famine and war, then the superhero is the last, best shot at imagining where we might be headed as a species. The superhero occupies a space in our imaginations where goodness and hope cannot be conquered and as such, seems to fill what I can only describe as a spiritual hole in secular times.
As I was reading things like this, I was listening to a kind of music that even at the time I thought of as "the music of the future," the music that near-future science fiction of the late 20th century said we'd be listening to, digital music, soundscape music.
Suddenly, I realized that the time in my life during which this music emerged and took precedence for me was the time in my life that most closely resembled a Grant Morrison comic.
I attended Yale University from 1996-2000, after emerging from an all-boys Catholic high school. I was suddenly surrounded by many of the smartest, richest, best-looking people I'd ever met. My only responsibility was to find out what I was really interested in and learn as much about it as I could. At varying times my homework assignments included reading The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, analyzing the use of Tarot symbolism in Vertigo, watching Cries and Whispers, and creating a performance piece based on the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in Star Wars. My sex life was intense, even creative. I would get very, very stoned and watch Barton Fink or Little Big Man or listen to Sex Style or The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. I used Yahoo! Search and Persian Kitty. I hosted a radio show, wrote a screenplay, performed sketch comedy at midnight to a packed house of inebriates. One night I watched David Cronenberg's The Fly and David Lynch's Eraserhead for the first time, back to back, starting at 2am; another night I listened to Pulp's "Seductive Barry" on my discman while walking to a naked party. I was in love. Intellectualized glamour soundtracked by Massive Attack remixes permeated my every waking moment. It was a wonderful time.
But of course it was also an awful time, rife with emotional turmoil that rose almost to the point of abuse, of which I was both on the giving and receiving end. I drank Bud Light out of kegs and grain'n'grape out of pilfered punch dispensers. I thought and wrote some truly embarrassing things. (This has not changed.) I encountered/experienced/perpetrated snobbery, pretension, classism, intellectual coasting, moral turpitude, and soul-crushing loneliness. My house was so filthy that there's a decent chance I literally caught a disease from it. (The doctors were never quite sure.) I realized that maybe I'd always feel unbelievably miserable and angry from time to time with no innate ability to stop myself from feeling that way, maybe that wasn't just something that happened when you're in ninth grade listening to Alice in Chains. And you know how I'm always talking about my fear of making mistakes that can never be fixed, of hurting people in ways you can never make up to them? Where do you think I got that fear, middle school?
My point, besides the fact that I am a beautiful and unique snowflake and no college student has ever loved and lost like I have, is that for four years I lived in the future, and it was both awesome and awful--just like the past, just like the present. That's fine. That's as it should be. Well, no it's not, but it's definitely as it is. And to me, that's the most beautiful about Straight '98 music. You have your "David"s, yeah. But you also have your "Is Jesus Your Pal?"s.
* The Blair Witch Project extended edition? Blair Witch Project prequel? Lots of stuff to chew on in this interview with Co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez on the occasion of the film's 10th anniversary. The pair talk about how the film got made, say they're mulling over prequel ideas, and reveal that there was once a 2 1/2 hour cut of the film and that they'd like to see that footage restored in an anniversary-edition DVD release. Personally, I'd like to see a certain scene cut: the bit where one of the townspeople in the beginning explains what ends up being the last shot. It was the only thing from the final version that wasn't included in the rough cut I saw, and the movie's much scarier without it. Yikes, shivers. (Via Bloody Disgusting.)
* I think I already mentioned that the guy who's directing Army of the Dead for Zack Snyder, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is going to be directing the prequel to The Thing, which fact was confirmed today. But I don't think I noticed that the movie is centered on...Kurt Russell's character's brother? All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again, eh, screenwriter Ronald D. Moore?
* Final Crisis #7, by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke, came out yesterday. I reviewed the entire series here. There's a burgeoning comment thread attached to that review, mostly focusing on critical approaches to Grant Morrison comics, here. And there's a semi-related post about how Morrison uses the concept of "the future," and about the Icelandic trip-hop/techno outfit Gus Gus for some reason, here.
* Believe it or not, other websites have been discussing this comic too! Here's Jog's review. As with most of his FC reviews, he's skeptical...
...but ultimately mostly pleased. Kudos to him for leading with how the opening of this issue is basically Morrison dragging Dark Reign's zeitgeist misreading out into the street and beating it to death. Made me laugh to beat the band, as the fella says. Did everyone note the pharaonic architecture of the, ahem, White House?
* Douglas Wolk does his usual annotation thing, as does David Uzumeri. Both of them detect a heaping helping of Watchmen references and Alan Moore bashing--young(er) imaginative Morrison slaying the Dark Father, that sort of thing. Personally I didn't see it--I remain a bit thrown by how out of the blue the Mandrakk/Monitor climax seems after six issues of "this comic is about Darkseid," though Jog's comparison of the Monitor digression in Final Crisis/Superman Beyond to the similarly tangential presence of Darkseid himself back in the Sheeda-centric Seven Soldiers helped me contextualize it a bit better. But if you're really going to read the climax as Morrison slaying a particular way of doing comics, Moore is as good a target as any, though Matthew Perpetua prefers Brian Bendis.
I wanted to be faithful to the spirit of the King. This had to be a story of gods, of God in fact, hence the 'cosmic' style, the elevated language, the total and deliberate disregard for the rules of the 'screenwriting' approach that has become the house style for a great many comic writers these days. The emphasis on spectacle and wonder at the expense of 'realism', the allegorical approach...it's all my take on Kirby.
This certainly isn't the first time he's taken fairly obvious swipes at the Master of the House of Ideas.
* Just as interesting, however, is the way he uses this interview to express anticipatory displeasure and dismissal of how his own publisher will handle many of the ideas he introduced in Final Crisis. I'll be honest, this bothers me a bit, since I think he has not exactly been forthcoming about his own role in both the series' delays and in DC's inability to properly situate it amid the rest of their line. But that doesn't mean he's wrong about this.
* As is his wont, he goes after the peanut gallery too:
Of course I'm aware of a perpetual and chronic discontent from a particular jaded minority on the internet but I try to overlook their constant expressions of dissatisfaction on the grounds that it's depressing and often personally abusive.
Surely part of the fun of comics includes following stories across titles? If you like comics, what's so awful about buying another one to see what happens next? And if you don't want to buy it, don't bother. Do something else. Buy cigarettes or booze or bananas. I don't know!
Every time I read about the agonizing pains of 'event fatigue' or how '3-D hurts my head...' or how something's 'incomprehensible' when most people are 'comprehending' it just fine, it's like visiting a nursing home. 'Events' in superhero comic books FATIGUE you? I'm speechless. Admittedly they do tend to be a little more exciting than the instruction leaflets that come with angina pills but... 'fatigue'?
Superhero comics should have an 'event' in every panel! We all know this instinctively. Who cares 'how?' as long as it feels right and looks brilliant ?
"As long as it feels right and looks brilliant." Aye, there's the rub, Grant! YMMV, as they say. But it's nice to see him once again explicitly prescribe a "buy what you want, read what you want, ignore what you want" remedy for Dem Ol' Konfuzin' Event-Komik Blues--even, if he is to believed in this interview, when that cuts against the lasting impact of his own work.
* So what would he want you to want to read, and how would he want you to read it? Comme ca:
FINAL CRISIS # 1- 3
SUPERMAN BEYOND # 1 - 2
FINAL CRISIS # 4 - 5
BATMAN #682 - 683
FINAL CRISIS # 6 - 7
I'll probably give the whole shebang another read-through in that order. It's too bad it's not going to be collected like that in the near term, but in much the same way that the heroes pray for resurrections, the readers pray for Absolutes.
* This sort of thing drives me crazy, and is actually part of my problem with the intensity of focus some critics have on Morrison comics too:
I found myself wondering what it would be like if comics' storytelling stopped aping film or TV and tried a few tricks from opera, for instance. How about dense, allusive, hermetic comics that read more like poetry than prose? How about comics loaded with multiple, prismatic meanings and possibilities? Comics composed like music? In a marketplace dominated by 'left brain' books, I thought it might be refreshing to offer an unashamedly 'right brain' alternative.
Some really, really needs to banish Grant Morrison to Earth-PictureBox Inc. Seriously, there are a lot of exactly these kinds of comics out there. I'm always disappointed when intelligent people--intelligent professional comics-writer people, for god's sake!--act as though there aren't because Martian Manhunter hasn't been in one. How I would have loved to title a post "Carnival of Acme Novelty Library #19"! I really want Alvin Buenaventura to comp Morrison a copy of Kramers Ergot 7. You don't need the combined might of Superman and Captain Marvel to lift it, Grant, I promise.
* This is getting into the minutiae a bit, but there's a passage about Wonder Woman that echoed something my friends and I were discussing just yesterday:
NRAMA: Regarding the big legends of the DCU: Superman got his mini-event, Batman took on Darkseid, Flash tries to outrun death, Green Lantern overcomes granny . . . but Wonder Woman turns out to be Anti-Life Patient Zero and spends the bulk of the series as a disfigured thrall. Why does Wonder Woman not have a comparable moment in that context?
GM: I wondered about that myself. I love what Gail Simone (especially) and other writers have done to empower the Wonder Woman concept but I must admit I've always sensed something slightly bogus and troubling at its heart. When I dug into the roots of the character I found an uneasy melange of girl power, bondage and disturbed sexuality that has never been adequately dealt with or fully processed out to my mind. I've always felt there was something oddly artificial about Wonder Woman, something not like a woman at all.
Having said that, I became quite fascinated by these contradictions and problems and tried to resolve them for what turned into a different project entirely. Partly because I didn't want to use any of that new material in Final Crisis, I relegated Wonder Woman to a role that best summed up my original negative feelings about the character. My apologies to her fans and I promise to be a little more constructive next time around.
Wonder Woman gets a 'moment' in Final Crisis #7 but by that time, Mandrakk has sucked all the life out of the story!
The thing about DC's Big Three (or Trinity, if you must) is that the only thing that inherently links those three characters is their pop-culture currency from 1966-1978, and the fact that their copyrights are controlled by the same corporation. On an alternate Earth, the DC Trinity consists of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and Doc Savage, while Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are consigned to the Wold Newton Universe and WildStorm comics written by Alan Moore and Warren Ellis.
(My pal Matthew Perpetua pointed out to me that in most regular readers' eyes, the real trinity at this point would probably be Superman, Batman, and Hal Jordan. I'd probably rather read interaction between those three, if only because it probably wouldn't be about how important the three of them are to each other and the world.)
Thinking about this, I realized that what Wonder Woman needs is an Ed Brubaker/Captain America run. To quote Tyra Banks, I always thought that Captain America had all the potential in the world, I obviously recognized his important role within the fictional Marvel world, he was fun to see in team-ups, and it would constantly frustrate me that no one was producing the post-9/11 Cap book of my dreams, but for the most part I'd written him off because almost all the stories done with him were so lame. In other words, he was Marvel's Wonder Woman--seriously, replace "post-9/11" with "feminist" and the situations are almost identical. If Marvel had structured their entire universe around, say, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America as a "Trinity," Cap would have looked like a total unreadable punk by comparison. But they didn't do that, they used him where it made sense, and eventually they got lucky and Brubaker came along knowing EXACTLY how to use the character, and he turned out to be awesome. Then they killed him and somehow he got even more awesome. Now he'll come back, probably around the same time as the movie hits, and he really WILL be a big deal to the fans.
To be fair, I actually agree with Mark Millar that Marvel's real pop-culture magical characters are Spidey, Wolverine, and the Hulk, not Cap, so it's not a perfectly analogous situation to Supes Bats and WW, but you know what I mean. Point is, instead of forcing her into an "important" role in every because she's an "important" character--and certainly instead of making every run on her solo book be about how important she is--just tell a cool story with your biggest characters. Eventually someone will come along and really know how to make the character sing to people who didn't write papers on her in college/aren't bloggers who focus on gender in DC comics/don't want her to be 300 in drag, and THEN you can start making a big deal of her again. (Chances are that writer will be Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison, as has been the case with basically all the other major characters at DC over the past few years, and it sounds like in this case it will be Morrison.) I don't purport to know how that would work anymore than, in the end, I had a clue how to make Captain America work. But I gotta believe someone does, and Morrison seems like a safe bet.
The Best American Comics 2006
Anne Elizabeth Moore, series editor
Harvey Pekar, guest editor
Joel Priddy, Kim Deitch, Anders Nilsen, Lilli Carré, David Lasky, Ben Katchor, Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Justin Hall, Chris Ware, Rebecca Dart, Ivan Brunetti, Jonathan Bennett, Jaime Hernandez, Esther Pearl Watson, John Porcellino, David Heatley, Lloyd Dangle, Hob, Gilbert Shelton, Olivia Schanzer, Alex Robinson, Jessica Abel, Seth Tobocman, Terisa Turner, Leigh Brownhill, Rick Geary, Tom Hart, Kurt Wolfgang, Jesse Reklaw, Lynda Barry, Robert Crumb, writers/artists
Houghton Mifflin, October 2006
$22 Buy it from Amazon.com
Pretty much all of the big hardcover comics anthologies published by non-comics publishers over the past few years have been obsessed to the point of neurosis with proving the worth of the medium to readers of pictureless literature. Nowhere has goal been made more explicit than in the introductions to this volume provided by editors Anne Elizabeth Moore and Harvey "American Splendor" Pekar. Moore does it using that good-ol' "the disreputable comics of yore have blossomed into a bona fide ninth art, but look out, they'd still get you kicked out of study hall" reverse-psychology formulation, while Harv once again recounts his "bitten by a radioactive Crumb" origin story and how he's been fighting for comics-as-literature since the days of the undergrounds.
But the funny thing is that compared to Ivan Brunetti's Yale-published Anthologies of Graphic Fiction or Chris Ware's McSweeney's collection, this book feels the least concerned with making a swing-for-the-fences, for-the-ages case for the greatness of comics. Perhaps it's because it's shorter; perhaps it's because the fairly well-documented neuroses of its editors are nonetheless of a different, less labor-intensive variety than those of Brunetti and Ware. I think it's most likely because Moore (who selected 150 candidates for inclusion here) and Pekar (who picked his 30 favorites from that pool) cast their net a little wider, or at least in a different direction, than the anthologies we're used to. The aforementioned Brunetti and Ware efforts tended to draw their conclusions from a fairly familiar comics-as-high-art canon: classic newspaper strips, the undergrounds, Raw, people published by Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly during the '90s, and Kramers Ergot. This edition of Best American drags in some alt-weekly strips, some World War 3 Illustrated alums, some vets of non-"Big Two" altcomix imprints like AdHouse and Alternative, self-publishers who aren't from the Fort Thunder/Highwater/NON/Kramers tradition, etc.
The result is less cohesive than more high-falutin' efforts--given its mission statement, it seems odd to lead off with an extended stick-figure superhero parody from Joel Priddy, for example. It has its fare share of duds, including a few of the then-young anthology series Mome's less impressive stories, excerpts from longer slice-of-life fiction works that come across inert outside their original contexts, and a lengthy autobio piece from Jesse Reklaw about his childhood cats that basically made me want to punch him and every member of his family in the face for mistreating and neglecting helpless animals for year after year. Moreover, I've never had much use for the aesthetics of the aforementioned alt-weekly strips orWorld War 3 Illustrated stuff, and that trend remains un-bucked. And I don't know if it's me coming to a canon naturally or the canon shaping my preferences or what, but I think on a surface level the material here is on average less visually sophisticated and appealing than what you'd find in one of those Brunetti books.
But there's a sense of playfulness and fun in these selections that you also don't find in this anthology's more studied counterparts, a feeling that you're engaging with artists who don't usually get this high-profile an outlet for their work, or this high-level an imprimatur for it either. For example, I think the book's real revelation, and also its longest contribution, is the non-fiction "La Rubia Loca" by Justin Hall--a cartoonist best known for gay erotica--which tells the story of a manic, possibly schizophrenic woman's ill-fated trip through the Mexican wilderness with both insightful sensitivity and genuine page-turning suspense. Another standout is "Rabbithead," an ambitious, flawed, bizarre, singular work of dark fantasy by Rebecca Dart that functions like a cross between a good Guillermo Del Toro movie (I'm told they exist!) and Richard McGuire's "Here." This is not to say that the usual suspects are absent--far from it. There are several strong, oft-anthologized pieces in here: from Joe Sacco (on Iraq), David Heatley (on his Dad--say what you want, that strip's funny!), Chris Ware (on the "history of comics"). But there are also some killers I haven't seen outside their original homes. John Porcellino's "Chemical Plant/Another World" is the real world-beater among them, astonishingly evocative of a particular setting yet also masterful in how it translates lived experience into abstraction, prefiguring similar works by the likes of Kevin Huizenga or Anders Nilsen. Robert Crumb's "Walkin' the Streets," from a recent (!) issue of Last Gasp's Zap, wows as usual with its powerfully rendered art, this time coupled to a comparatively deadpan recounting of life with his profoundly dysfunctional family--and to a happy ending! Ben Katchor's "Goner Pillow Company" is as pitch-perfect as everything else I've read by him and makes me wish his Metropolis material gets collected toot sweet. There's even an astutely selected passage from Anders Nilsen's underrated chronicle of vaguely post-apocalyptic perambulation Dogs and Water.
I think maybe the best way to understand this anthology is as a replacement for a visit to an altcomix convention like MoCCA or SPX. At those shows, you stroll around with eyes and wallet open, picking up stuff from the big Fanta table in the corner, but also taking a few chances with unfamiliar stuff, or with work from someone you've seen at every one of these shows for years but never quite clicked with. You go out of your comfort zone a bit, you take some risks that don't pay off, but, to quote Pekar's introduction, "you may be pleasantly surprised."
* The House Next Door's Todd VanDerWerff returns with reviews of the latest episodes of TV's two great science-fiction dramas, Lost and Battlestar Galactica. I don't think I have particularly novel thoughts about either episode this week, but here goes anyway:
* Regarding Lost, like everyone else, I'm guessing that the H-bomb is buried in that Chernobyl-style concrete block in the original Hatch, and that maybe that was the origin of the "press the button, save the world" mission; and that the adorable British soldier girl who Daniel Faraday told she looked familiar to him is a) his mother; b) Mrs. Hawking, the scary time-cop lady who is apparently Ben's superior in some way.
* But what struck me is how much confidence the show's creators have in their ability to push our buttons at this point, and how much fun they're having as a result. There's no reason to introduce the birth of Desmond and Penny's son Charlie in flashback, then reveal that he's currently about two or three years old--but they do it that way because it's fun to make our minds do a little work in order to piece together that timeline. Similarly, it's fun to make our brains race around the history of the show to connect Adorable Soldier Girl with Faraday's Mom with Mrs. Hawking, or the H-Bomb with the giant concrete block in the Hatch that Sayid said reminded him of Chernobyl. It's fun in the same way it's fun to have Young Widmore cockily say "Do you think some old man knows this Island better than I do?" and then cut to bald badass Locke punking him out with his Awesome Tracking Skillz, Bourne-style.
* I do agree with Ross Douthat, though, that some of the scariness of early Lost has been, well, lost now that we know so much more about the Island and the Others and the Dharma Initiative. I mean, I find it to still be a very intense show--as with Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, The Sopranos, and Deadwood, maybe I'm just naive, but I honestly have no idea whether any of the characters will live to see the end of any given episode, which is truly thrilling. But it's true, and something I've discussed with people recently, that the sense that our heroes are up against enemies who are supernatural, almost existential, threat to them has been lost to a certain extent. I think that element will be reintroduced as Jacob, whoever or whatever he is, becomes more prominent in the storyline. The show's last genuinely terrifying moments all took place in Jacob's cabin, after all.
* As for Battlestar, like I think I've said, I've been pulling for an officer-corps revolution for at least a couple of seasons--since Baltar started really ranting about the Adama/Roslin aristocracy--so it's nice to see it happen. All of the show's power struggles, coups d'etat, civil wars, and juntas have heretofore involved palace intrigue, some combination of Roslin, Adama, Lee, Baltar, Tigh, Zarek, Cain and her Pegasus successors, and/or the Cylon leadership squaring off over this or that issue. This time around, Zarek's involvement is largely as a satrap for Gaeta and the rebellious military; what you're seeing is the fleet's middle class rising up against its upper class, which feels right.
* Cleverly, the show reinforces this by putting all of its main characters on the targeted side of the rebellion. Roslin, Adama, Tigh, Lee, Starbuck, Baltar, Chief, Anders, Athena, Six, and Tory, under siege by the likes of Gaeta, Zarek, Racetrack, Seelix, and a bunch of assholes from the Pegasus? Clearly the ruling class is in trouble.
* This line-up also subtly conveys the dire straits humankind now finds itself in. When you look at that list of characters, I count a grand total of four prominent human beings who are still truly loyal to the government, maybe only three depending on WTF is up with Starbuck. Every other main character is either a Cylon, a traitor, or dead. When the show forced me to acknowledge this last night, I was actually pretty shocked and wondered how things could continue from here. Which is exactly how I want to feel after watching Battlestar Galactica.
* The carnival of Acme Novelty Library #19 Final Crisis #7 continues: Here are 7 Reasons Why Douglas Wolk Loved Final Crisis. Kevin Melrose rounds up some info on the comic's prominent, Dark Reign-undercutting use of a superheroic Barack Obama analogue. And the jibber-jabber about Morrison's post-game comments about Wonder Woman continues in this comment thread.
* I know I swore off posting links to promotional stuff for Watchmen--you haven't seen me link to those not-as-convincing-as-people-seem-to-think Dr. Manhattan period images, for example--but a couple of rather lovely image galleries went up recently. First there's this series of black and white portraits of the main cast, taken from an upcoming book of such images. And second there's this gallery of things like Nite Owl's snowsuit, some of the World War II villains the Minutemen fought--you know, geeky stuff--taken from another, different upcoming book of such images. Regarding that first set, quite frankly, this picture of Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre is stunning.
I can't remember if I've discussed this on the blog or not, but one thing I was a little skittish about regarding the film was how drop-dead gorgeous Ackerman looks as Laurie, versus the somewhat more contextualized beauty of the character in the comic--she's attractive to the other heroes in the book at least partially the same way the pretty girl in your office or your honors chem class is, you know? That girl probably couldn't compete with an airbrushed Bar Rafaeli swimsuit layout, but because she shares your interests and is part of your world, why should she? But now I'm thinking that maybe it's the same deal as those movie-fied costumes: Zack Snyder's dealing with people's expectations derived from Jessica Alba in a blue jumpsuit, and he has to shift things accordingly. Maybe that's more thought put into the reasoning behind having a smoking hot woman wear next to nothing in your movie than is strictly required, I dunno, but that's what I'm thinking. It's also kind of amusing how much of the already meager costume they're apparently taking out in post, as it were. (Links via everyone.)
* Heidi MacDonald notes concerns that a pair of British anti-obscenity laws could spell trouble for any number of media, though in the comment thread UK native Paul O'Brien says it's much ado about nothing.
* Tom Spurgeon takes a look at a recent issue of Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark's Daredevil, emphasizing the sheer craft chops on display. That's something that impresses me more and more about Brubaker's superhero work.
* I'm not going to read the whole review because I haven't seen the movie yet, but from what I skimmed, CRwM's argument that The Strangers should be viewed as an update of the slasher film rather than part of the post-torture-porn "home invasion horror" subgenre was interesting to me.
* Cryptomundo's Loren Coleman reprints a 1940 article on the sasquatch that presents the phenomena strictly in terms of a possible early-man angle, which is interesting.
* Finally, this made me do one of those "slow-building applause that leads into a raucous ovation" kinda things. Then my wife and I made love on a bed of Kramers Ergot 7 comp copies, after which we smoked cigarettes we lit by burning whichever pages were still dry enough to catch fire.