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.
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Vols. 1-3
Naoki Urasawa, writer/artist
Takashi Nagasaki, writer
Based on Astro Boy: The Greatest Robot on Earth by Osamu Tezuka
200 pages each
$12.99 each Buy them from Amazon.com
I take back everything I said about Naoki Urasawa. Well, okay, no I don't, but everything I said about Naoki Urasawa definitely does not apply here. Finally, one of his series contains visual elements that exist for more than simply conveying the information of the story as clearly and dramatically as possible. And I didn't think that was in the offing, by the way, since in the first few pages you get a "guy with a gun turns a corner, does a half-turn and whips the gun at the camera" sequence that struck me as an unimaginative, un-comicsy rip from the cinema. But a few pages later our straight-laced, sad robot detective Gesicht informs a robot-maid wife that her robot-cop husband has been killed in the line of duty, and Urasawa gives us a series of close-ups of the grief-stricken robot's machine face, which, of course, never changes. And blam, I was hooked.
In Pluto, a contemporary-superhero-comics-style "reimagining" of a classic < i>Astro Boy story by Osamu Tezuka, Urasawa uses the presence of robots as embodiments of surrealism. From the bereaved wife's static expression, to the towering North No. 2 in his judge's robe, to sinister Brau 1589's mangled scrap heap of a body, to a revamp of Astro Boy (aka Atom) that makes him less like a jaunty short-pantsed slugger and more like an eerie kid out of The Shining, they're the flourish of Weird, the touches of visual poetry, that I always wanted from my limited experience with Urasawa's work. That his line and design sensibility is otherwise such a just-the-facts affair only heightens their "thing that should not be" effect.
And they seem to have unleashed more where that came from. The series of murders that are the series' central mystery are themselves like staged art installations, sort of like the theory that holds the Black Dahlia's murder as a macabre Surrealist masterpiece. Elsewhere, jagged black lines emerge from transmission static as a literal representation of despair; a huge black thing slouches half-unseen through the smoke and sand of a war-ravaged Persian town, the sight of it driving a young boy mad; traumatic memories of war are represented by indistinct flurries of the violent clash of robotic limbs, or a decontextualized and repeated offer of money for bodies; a sentient teddy bear sits immobile, a puppet master at the mercy of whoever moves it around; a tiny figure is captured leaping from rooftop to rooftop in the final images recorded by a dying robot, its blurry body silhouetted against the sky.
You add all this to Urasawa's usual page-turning panache, and suddenly what had felt like mere proficiency gains the power to haunt and to move. There are the usual resonances with and/or swipes from other genre-art touchstones: Brau 1589 is Hannibal Lecter with microprocessors, there's an Iraq War riff as is custom with science fiction that wants to be taken seriously this decade, and the plot--super detective believes that other super beings of his acquaintance are being hunted by a serial killer so he travels around to warn them with varying degrees of success--is straight-up Watchmen Chapter One. Plus, the whole thing is an adaptation of a story about Japan's Mickey Mouse/Superman cultural juggernaut. ("Flying boy robot in shorts" is the extent of my knowledge of Astro Boy, so what Urasawa is taking from Tezuka narratively or visually is beyond me.) But instead of coming across like button-pushing, all of this, and all the chases and clue-hunting and races against time and unsuspected reversals that are Urasawa's thriller trademarks, now feels like ammo in the arsenal of someone taking aim at some big old-fashioned sci-fi questions about war, technology, human rights, friendship, childhood, and that old chestnut, what it means to be human. The thing that fills me with delight here is that when you look at that robot maid just standing and staring, unable to express her emotion, you get the sense that for once, this master penciller and plotter doesn't have all the answers.
* Not Real-Life Horror: My friend Matthew Perpetua concocted a little flight of fancy about what would happen if a gaggle of Pitchfork bands were hired to play covers at the Insane Clown Posse's Gathering of the Juggalos. Sample quote: "I probably wouldn't be alive today if Will Oldham hadn't rescued myself and Antony and shepherded us to safety on a John Deere tractor."
* Elsewhere, there are great alternative comics being posted on the Internet everywhere you look. Here's some terrific new work from Kevin Huizenga and Noel Freibert. What Freibert's doing in particular, I could stand to see a lot more of.
* Since I'm too intimidated to even peep into the great Matt Zoller Seitz's days-long rollout of essays on the decade in film, I'll instead link to this clean and simple list from Peet Gelderblom at Setiz's old site The House Next Door. I love it, even for the placement of the films I haven't seen, just because of what I imagine them being like. Is there anything sadder than the fact that I haven't seen Mulholland Drive yet? Me?!?
Is Up in the Air the first movie about the Great Recession? Because I'll tell you what. Whether or not the movie succeeds for you largely depends upon how charming you find George Clooney, how sexy you find Vera Farmiga, how adorable you find Anna Kendrick, and how glorious you find cameos from Sam Elliott. I enjoy Clooney, Farmiga is very sexy (although: Permission to speak freely? Bummer about the body double), Kendrick is indeed adorable (and quite talented--she's been one of the highlights of the Twilights), and Sam fucking Elliott, man. Even though Jason Reitman's directorial choices are usually strictly functional, and when they're not (as in the flyover-view credits sequence) they overstay their welcome, there's more to a movie than that: These folks are fun to spend time around, and that's a big part of what can make a good movie--just the pleasure of sitting in front of people whose voices and smiles and faces draw you in. So I enjoyed it even if I rarely was blown away by its "Fight Club and Office Space: Ten Years Later" take on soul-crushing corporate culture. Except when, repeatedly, it put you right there in the room with men and women being fired. The level of unemployment and underemployment in this country right now is, frankly, nightmarish, and the inattention paid to it versus the daily Dow Jones rollercoaster is scandalous, and the culture that spawned it is a form of sociopathy. Speaking as someone who was laid off twice before he turned thirty, and has seen it happen to his wife and around three-quarters of his closest friends, I think people devastated by the fear, grief, and shame of losing your job so that your bosses can make more money need to be shown in cineplexes nationwide over and over again until they're at least as much a part of our national pop-cultural conversation as billionaire superheroes and gorgeous young urban professionals who need to learn something about love.
The Ganges material in Tucker Stone's installment of Tom Spurgeon's decade-in-review interview series is pretty great. I like all the attention he pays to how the mere size of the page Huizenga's working with for the Ignatz format gives him latitude he doesn't have in Or Else or Fight or Run--that's a pretty terrific point, especially considering how much the Ganges comics depend on reproducing certain effects across the space of the page. Jesus, can you imagine "A Sunset" as appearing in Ganges rather than Or Else? Drooooool
But let's face it, I came here to kvetch about Tucker's latest hand-waving about the futility of making value judgments as critics. He responds to Tom Spurgeon's (accurate) assessment of people who summarily dismiss non-genre comics as "ignorant" by more or less attacking the very idea that anyone should read anything but what they're already reading, labeling those who'd argue otherwise "boring assholes." It's similar to how, during the SPX critcs roundtable, someone mentioned the critical discourse, and he equated it to people on YouTube calling each other cunts.
First of all it dodges Tom's specific point, which is that it really is ignorant to dismiss comics like Ganges as boring out of hand. Yes, all criticism is subjective, everyone's coming at everything from different places, but if you can't say "Ganges isn't boring," there's no point to writing about comics at all. "Comics culture," as everyone from Wizard to the The Beat to the San Diego Comic Con to me understand it, is "comics plus genre work from other media," which is an indication of how hard non-genre comics have to fight to gain a foothold. It's big problem, and Tom's not wrong for pointing it out.
Secondly, Tucker tries to back up his argument by reversing it, saying it's just as stupid to harass big Anders Nilsen fans into reading Batman. But that's a strawman. Can you find anyone (besides maybe Rob Clough and Domingos) who dismisses genre the way so many superhero fans do the reverse, so that you would even have to harass them? Gary Groth loves Jack Kirby, Art Spiegelman wrote a book about Jack Cole, Joe McCulloch has read every Garth Ennis Punisher comic, and Tom Spurgeon has waged years-long campaigns on behalf of the Luna Brothers and Lee/Kirby Thor. On the other hand it's almost impossible to avoid best-of lists that don't include anything further afield than Mark Waid's Irredeemable. It's a problem in one direction; it's not a problem in the other direction.
I mean, if you met someone who only watched superhero movies, you'd think that was weird and dumb, and you'd be right, and saying so wouldn't make you a boring asshole, it'd make you a person who was right. Moreover, saying so does not mean you've extrapolated that they're some horrible CSI Miami-watching mouthbreather or anything else about "who they really are" or whatever. You're just a critic, addressing what people are saying about specific comics, which is a valid thing for a critic to do.
Finally, Tucker's coup de grace is the fact that most of the audience doesn't really care about critics or critical approaches to what they enjoy reading anyway. But so what? Most of the people in the theater with us at Up in the Air yesterday have never read Pauline Kael. But criticism is not therefore an egomaniacal waste of time, any more than making art that most of the audience for that art form doesn't really care about would be. Kevin Huizenga shouldn't hang it up just because he's not Jim Davis; similarly, we shouldn't crumple up the idea of analyzing art and arguing for standards and throw it in the trash because many people would just rather read/watch/listen and then do something else.
My sincere hope is that a couple years from now the collected Big Questions will lodge itself at the top of future Best of the Decade lists on the strength of material largely published the previous decade, like Jimmy Corrigan and Black Hole before it. Certainly Nilsen is a capital-M Major Talent, a real world-beater for his generation, but the book by which he will be defined has not yet been released. The two Monologues for... books from Fantagraphics delight me with their weird existentialist stick-figure stand-up comedy, but talk about an aquired taste. Dogs and Water might pick up steam in the post-The Road world, but it's always gonna read grim, and its strange release pattern--first as the fattest stapled pamphlet you ever saw, then a slightly revamped version in hardcover--threw folks for a loop. Don't Go Where I Can't Follow devastates virtually anyone who reads it, but its hodgepodge hybrid format, arising from its tragic origin as a travelogue-turned-eulogy, makes it a tough item to classify. The End could end up topping my personal Best of the Decade list, but it's a one-shot Ignatz-format pamphlet. I could see his mythological comics for Kramers Ergot clicking but there's just not enough of them.
But soon, along will come a thick hardcover of this monumental series, tracing its evolution from xeroxed minicomics sold at a table alongside Jeffrey Brown, John Hankiewicz, and Paul Hornschemeier comics, through its adoption by D&Q, into its status as one of the only regularly released alternative serials in North America. It's as fragile and frightening as any of Nilsen's many, many comics about the baffling horror of senseless death, but it's also a funny-animal book stuffed with subplots and side-stories and borderline gag strips about wisecracking birds. It works as a showcase of pure cartooning as well as even Nilsen's most abstract, "pure comics" stuff from MOME or The End, but in the service of a sad and searing realism whose beauty is apparent to any reader even remotely open to altcomics work--certainly I'd stack this issue's cockpit sequence against anything else this year for sheer stunning loveliness. It functions as allegory, but then turns around and acknowledges its own allegorical nature, and ads enough detail and twists to hold up as a real-deal semi-adventure. It manages to capture and cry for the world's cruelty, yet hold alive the hope offered by cooperation and community and small kindnesses, even those arising from bare enlightened self-interest, as well as anything this side of Deadwood. I laughed, I cried, in the space of this issue alone. Big Questions is a great comic.
* Robot Roll Call! Here's a round-up post I did featuring links to everything that went up during Robot 6's big anniversary weekend. Lots and lots and lots of cool content, something for everyone I daresay.
* My favorite of the bunch is our list of The 30 Most Important Comics of the Decade. Part One I already mentioned; Part Two contains my write-ups for The Complete Peanuts, Kramers Ergot, Art Out of Time, Daredevil, and Blankets--all in a row! But you'll have to click to see where they all fell on the countdown. And check the comment thread for a "editorial cartoons aren't comics" argument preserved in amber from the McCloudian past like one of those Jurassic Park mosquitos.
* I greatly enjoyed Douglas Wolk's conversation with Tom Spurgeon about Invincible Iron Man. It really is a conversation, and that's what makes it one of my favorite pieces in Tom's holiday interview series on the books of the decade thus far. To paraphrase what Tori Amos's Jungian mystic once said about me and my wife, the rocks in Tom's head fit the holes in Douglas's.
* The thing I loved about Jog's Best of 2009 post is that he spends as much time talking about the books he missed as he does the books he loved. A great idea! You get almost as much of a picture of the state of the art from the former as you do from the latter. The thing that bummed me out about the post is that two of his top five were books I haven't even read (through no lack of trying on my end, in my defense), meaning my own list is probably a big lo' shit sandwich.
* If you're looking for good music you haven't heard, you could do a lot worse than to download Matthew Perpetua's "Lost '00s" mix, featuring gems that were largely overlooked over the past 10 years. You really can't go wrong with Muscles and In Flagranti, I can tell you that much. I'll tell you what, it's a bit of a bummer that I've become friends with Matthew, because for years he was my source for music I could impress my friends with that no one else had ever heard of, but what the hell can I impress him with? My extensive Pigface collection? (It's pretty impressive.)
Avatar is a so-so movie that I highly recommend you see in as big and expensive theater as possible. My evening at Avatar cost me in the neighborhood of $30 all told, and had to be scheduled half a week in advance, like an in-demand local theater production or something. I do feel like I got my money's worth, even though everything that everyone says about the movie is 100% true. It's a deeply impressive visual experience tied to a deeply pedestrian script. But you don't ride the Cyclone for the character arcs, do you? Seeing the movie in 3D on the biggest IMAX screen in New York State that isn't for a museum seems to me the ideal way to see it. So yeah, thirty bucks well spent. Even though I very much doubt I'd even want to watch it on a television. Because here's the problem: It's only ever good enough.
The one thing it does inarguably well is take advantage of the 3D canvas to work with vertical scale. Worm's-eye and bird's-eye shots of the kind of landscapes that would simply boggle your mind were they real abound--you peer up and down floating mountains thousands of feet in the sky, you get a view of a tree the size of the Sears Tower. Fantasy and fantastic fiction generally sorely need to use their Y-axis, and Cameron gets that right, no doubt. It's obviously the perfect use of his genuinely fantastic 3D technology. You're not getting shit flung in your face, you're not simulating an amusement-park ride, you're as close to being in there, or up there, or down there, or out there, or whatever, as movies can get.
But. While they're not as obnoxious and ridiculous as you probably thought they were when you first laid eyes on them after all the hype, those blue alien designs really are dullsville. Smurf Gollum Jar-Jar Omaha the Cat Dancer people in loincloths and dreadlocks with your basic "here's what James Cameron synthesized from reading about tribal customs" worldbuilding undergirding them. That's all.
(Regarding a related issue, I'm not the kind of person who's easily offended by the supposed racial overtones of fictional races. The Gungans didn't bother me, and neither did the Orcs. Of course, in neither of those cases did the storyline hinge on the kind of racial dynamic we've actually seen here in real life, with white dudes coming in and knocking an indigenous people out the box to steal their land and resources. Even still, aside from a slightly cringeworthy bit where everyone gawked at the newcomer and some silly hula-hula dancing, it didn't really rub me the wrong way. I mean, it's too rote to be upsetting.)
I'd been similarly skeptical about the creature designs--they all just looked like a mess of colors and limbs with very little thought to how they'd actually evolve and function. Seeing them in action makes them a lot more persuasive--nearly all the lifeforms we see, the fauna at least, look and feel like they're part of a consistent ecosystem. Even there, though, I was frustrated by the lack of imagination. There's a monkey species, a lion species, a dog species (that barks!), a horse species (that our main character, Jake Sully, actually calls horses!), and then some dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are my favorites, you can get away with dinosaurs, but I couldn't help but feel like they could have done better with the rest. Meanwhile--prepare for geekiness--all of the animals have six limbs, except the Na'vi, the humanoids we're involved with here. Are they supposed to be on an entirely separate evolutionary chain? I don't think so--if the six-limbed monkeys, ostensibly the world's equivalent of the primates several limbs over from us here on Earth, weren't enough of a clue, the plotline about the interconnectedness of all life on the planet would argue against it. So you're left drawing the conclusion that they have four limbs because it's easier that way.
It's sort of unfair to compare the movie to The Lord of the Rings, in that Tolkien had one of the most unique minds in literary history while James Cameron, um, doesn't. But when you look at Peter Jackson's film adaptations, which share with Avatar the same special effects team, you can see how weak and doughy the world of Pandora is compared to the world of Middle-earth. Watching the behind-the-scenes material on the LOTR DVDs, you see time and again Peter Jackson rejecting sketches and designs for the various creatures that inhabit that world because they're too fanciful, they wouldn't work. No such guiding intelligence was at the helm here, so bring on the six-winged four-eyed rainbow dinosaurs.
Alright, to heck with it, let's compare it to Lord of the Rings. The reason those movies succeed so well as action cinema is because all the combat is so rooted in a sense of location and direction. I could sit here and describe to you the Battle of Helm's Deep like I was transcribing it from the screen, that's how well delineated each state of the fighting is and how clear the consequences for each major turning point are. The same is true of the attack of the Uruk-Hai at the end of Fellowship, and even the wide-open Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. When the Rohirrim reform the line and charge the Haradrim, it's crystal clear what's happening and why. (The one exception in all three films is the warg fight, for which they just didn't have time to devise an intricate fight plan, and for which they apologize on the commentary track--but since it's the exception, that chaotic lack of choreography ends up working for it. It stands out as a frantic, nasty battle.) With Avatar you just have a bunch of swooping and charging. There's the slightest nod to taking advantage of positioning at the very beginning of the climactic battle, and then it's all flying around and running around and shooting around. And there's a big ground charge where I kept waiting for what the trick or surprise would be, but was shocked to discover that there wasn't one. It's exactly what it looked like it would be. It's frustrating, because think of Aliens or Terminator 2--Cameron once knew how to stage action within a visually described environment. Here he seems to be hoping the 3D will do the trick for us. It doesn't.
Then there's the writing. Over the past few days I've given some thought to how important it is to care about, flesh out, and even empathize with your villains. This is because I'm a couple eps deep into season two of True Blood, and there's a storyline involving an evangelical megachurch pastiche that is just sooooooo boring, because you can tell that everyone involved with the show bleeds with contempt for these people and has no interest in making them interesting, appealing, or sympathetic. They're just cardboard cutouts. They're called The Fellowship of the Sun, which is funny, because the last time I saw TV antagonists this dull and this much a waste of my time they were called the Baltimore Sun and I was watching The Wire Season Five. Vampires and drug kingpins who've murdered dozens of people were painted in a much more sympathetic, and not coincidentally alluring and compelling, light than some asshole godbotherers and hack editors respectively. If the filmmakers don't care enough to even try, why should I?
I'm almost tempted to say this about Avatar, in which the military guns-for-hire who evolve into the movie's villains are just a faceless bunch of rapacious barbarians led by General Goony McGoonerson. One-dimensional barely cuts it. But it's hard to get too worked up, because there's really nothing going on with any of these characters. Everyone zigs when you expect them to zig, zags when the plot needs them to zag. People have the changes of heart you expect them to, make the heroic sacrifices you expect them to, misunderstand what you expect them to and then overcome those misunderstandings when you expect them to. Never once did I feel any attachment to anyone in the movie, or any investment in their fate, beyond whatever lizard-brain response run-of-the-mill "good vs. evil/underdog vs. empire" conflicts can muster.
The one surprise is just what a full-throated endorsement of treason the movie ends up being, and how full of visceral hatred it is for the despoiling of the environment and the invasion of small countries by big countries. I got a big kick out of all of that--it was so in-your-face it was admirable--but not enough to overcome how well it paid to expect the expected from the rest of the flick. Also, we've been there once before with Paul Reiser, who was funnier and sleazier and tougher to predict.
And there's more, of course: plot holes regarding the escape of our heroes from captivity, a boring score (dammit I am so sick of that), shots that stunned but never seduced (I counted three what I would call "visually poetic" shots or cuts in the entire film--lots of gosh-wow, very little damn). On the other hand I never got bored, which given its running time and predictability was definitely a peril--it does draw you in, and I didn't even get up to use the bathroom. Like I said, it was a good way to spend my time and money, a fun film, a demonstration of what someone with Cameron's budget and all the CGI and 3D tech now at filmmakers' disposal can do. I just can't wait for someone to actually do it.
Pencil is not an easy medium to publish in for a cartoonist--just ask the superhero artists whose work looks like the proverbial cake left out in the rain when "digitally inked" or colored right off the original pencils. But Carol Swain makes it look easy, and I think it's because she's figured out a way to spot blacks with a pencil. Those sooty shadows and clouds and night skies and manes of wild hair suffuse her work in Giraffes in My Hair with a sort of negative-image glow, popping her foregrounded figures off the page with a barely-there white aura. Couple it with her ever-shifting angles and it's a damned effective way to create a sense of space and depth, reminiscent of similarly adroit strategies by Jeffrey Brown and Ben Katchor. If Swain's jarring close-ups make her panels less immersive than theirs, her porous gray shadings make up for it with atmosphere--an inviting softness, tinged with just enough smokiness to remind us that what's going on here isn't entirely pleasant. The overall effect works so well that I really had to stop myself and peer at her pages to figure out what made them tick. I was too busy being propelled along by the effortlessness of the art.
So Giraffes, a collection of anecdotes from Bruce Paley's teens and twenties on America's countercultural fringe, is a breezy read. But it's one rooted in an almost unchanging nine-panel grid with sparse, nearly monotone narration. At times this allows the comics to tip over into bluntness, particularly with the ending to some of the stories: The tale of how Paley avoided Vietnam ends with a shot of the Wall; a story of New York City's '70s heroin scene ends with Death itself offering us a bag of smack. But in general, the art and the writing are a perfect fit. Swain's art rarely calls attention to or gets in the way of itself, and in that it meshes seamlessly with Paley's deadpan "here's what happened" narrative style, his reluctance to overstate or oversell the import of the anecdote reminiscent of Harvey Pekar's. (Of course, Pekar's work rises and falls on the strength of his collaborators--Paley's got Swain, so there's not much falling to do here.)
Yet at the same time the presence of that subtitle indicates a unifying theme, which makes Paley's storytelling choices all the more interesting. The first story shows an 18-year-old Paley ditching college and leaving home to hitchhike cross-country with his girlfriend, but the home life that led him to drop everything and drop out is relegated to a quick line of dialogue and about half a page upon his return from the journey. As hippies give way to punks we suddenly discover that Paley's a habitual heroin user, but we never see his introduction to the drug. A story about an ill-fated attempt to import drugs from overseas sees Paley casually mention time spent in Tangiers, but up until that point his adventures had been strictly domestic. In some graphic memoirs these lacunae would be maddening; here's they're sort of the point.
Paley's not claiming anything spectacular about the life he lived or the stories he plucked from it. The way he tells it and Swain draws it, living on the edge feels like an interchangeable commodity with Pekar's life as a civil servant. An interesting conversation with the janitor may be replaced by doing speedballs with Johnny Thunders, but the game's the same: get by, find a little happiness when you can, and cling to the stories that comprise your life, the recounting of which has a value all its own.
* Ben Schwartz and Tom Spurgeon talk B.P.R.D., the best ongoing superhero comic of the decade. It's a rambly thing that talks as much about Otto Binder and Alan Moore as it does about Hellboy, but you won't mind much. What's fascinating to me is that Schwartz got into the series as recently as the Black Goddess arc, which was the most recent one (until today's release of King of Fear #1). I played catch-up with Hellboy in, oh, 2002? 2003? and then started following all the Hellboy-verse books from there, so it's interesting to see the impact they can have on someone who reads a big chunk in a short time frame. After all, it's been telling one large story since Davis and Arcudi came aboard, so it's probably like plowing through an HBO show on DVD. Two things I wish they'd gotten to are 1) the degree to which both BPRD and Hellboy have become about the characters' failure to do what they're trying to do, and 2) that wonderful scene in The Black Flame where the evil CEO enters his boardroom in full flaming-skull supervillain regalia and calmly tells the board of directors "You're all fired"--one of my all-time favorite comics sequences, up there with the end of the World's Fair issue of ACME, the beach scene in Diary of a Teenage Girl, the locust sequence in Skyscrapers of the Midwest, the lizard-tail sex scene in Black Hole… Also, Tom, I don't suppose Ben convinced you to count B.P.R.D. and Hellboy (and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) as superhero comics for your best-of-the-decade shortlists, did he?
* A Masters of the Universe art show? Oh, indeed. The world of He-Man is deathlessly weird, an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink amalgam of stuff that's cool to eight year olds. It's the closest this country's come to the bizarre childhood entertainment franchises of Japan, I would say. (Via FarePlay.)
* Poor Curt Purcell. Curt, if I'd known you'd gone into your project of reading each and every event-comic tie-in title actually expecting to be entertained more often than not, I could have warned you, like the wizened old local at the end of the first reel of a horror movie.
* Only problem is that I'm clearly already ponytail-to-ponytail with Tucker Stone, if his Best Comics of 2009 list is any indication. Sample quote: "There's scary, and then there's horrifying. After reading Cockbone, I'm starting to wonder if there's a third thing that's even worse."
* By far my favorite set of responses to Heidi MacDonald's end-of-year/decade survey comes from Sparkplug's Shannon O'Leary, and not just because she's a rare voice of sanity regarding Battlestar Galactica's breathtaking finale. O'Leary digs in and unpacks the fallout from Diamond's decision to raise its order minimums in such a way as to essentially extinguish the presence of the small press in the Direct Market. I'm grateful, because it was only after reading Heidi's survey that I realized I'd all but forgotten that this even happened--that's how quickly and totally I internalized the notion that unless you're a really lucky person in a big city or college town, you can't get those comics in comic shops anymore, it's just a given. That's your story of the year, I'd say, much more so than the big moves at Disney/Marvel and Warner/DC, where very little has happened yet and I imagine the main effect will be to cut out some ingrained nonsense.
* What's more, Diamond's move has made Internet retail presences, webcomic set-ups, small-press shows, and small-press-friendly websites all the more important to an entire mode of expression. Case in point--I'm not sure you'd be seeing so many excellent altcomix, like this little number from Frank Santoro, online these days if the DM were still open to it at all. The move has made Internet retail presences, webcomic set-ups, small-press shows, and small-press-friendly websites all the more important to an entire mode of expression.
* What I'm most concerned about in 2010 is how Diamond, the economy, and the short-term-profit-maximizing policies of the big companies will jointly shape the fates of the '00's new breed of publishers. Bodega's already taking the year off; whither Buenaventura, PictureBox, Sparkplug, Secret Acres, AdHouse?
* I have no brief with Ti West's The House of the Devil, but releasing a VHS version as a promo item is a great idea, and its mimicry of vintage '80s VHS packaging is impeccable, as any Portable Grindhouse owner could tell you. It's the back cover that really gets it over.
Gross-out sex-life autobiography has a storied history in alternative comics, but it's sort of a St. Olaf story. (Crumb is repeated first as tragedy, than as farce.) Folks with sufficient cartooning chops are afforded ample opportunity to Tex Avery themselves out, which I do appreciate. And of course there's the thrill we get from coming across someone with no internal censor--to paraphrase Hesh Rabkin, between their brain and their pen, they have no interlocutor. But it's very, very, very well-trod territory, and you can count me among the people who came across Joe Matt's Spent and thought "Well, that's enough of that."
So it took some persuading for me to give Ken Dahl's Monsters the story of his life with herpes, a shot. Another comic about some creepy artist type's loathsome behavior around and toward women? Drawn with confrontationally ugly underground-style depictions of everyone involved and hyperactive exclamation-point-ridden lettering? Coupled with enough grand-guignol lesion close-ups to trigger my skin-growth phobia like wo?
Wrong wrong wrong! I enjoyed the heck out of this book. For starters, I was giving Dahl's art short shrift. Jeepers this guy is accomplished. I don't point this out nearly often enough, but as a non-artist, I really get a thrill out of good cartooning because it's so beyond my ken. To develop a visual vocabulary and deploy it consistently page after page...I mean, man. Anyway, on the most basic level, Dahl's bobble-headed, adenoidal characters are crafted with an assured, flowing line that trails off into feathering wisps for a hint of vulnerability beneath the slickness. Moreover, they are an instant visual signature, serving both to deflate the angst and self-absorption of his story and satirically skewer the various alt lifestyles of which he is a tangential part. (For what it's worth, I think the mockery--of everyone from Christians to vegans--is one of the less considered parts of the book, but still, no one comes out of this looking like an angel.) But more importantly for the book, they're a template from which he can deviate for extravagant, almost Tom Neely-esque sequences, in which Dahl's emotions and/or his infection literally explode from within and take over in monstrous fashion.
But for me, the most interesting thing about Monsters is Dahl himself. Turns out he's not a creep at all! He has no idea how he got herpes, had no idea he had it when he gave it to his girlfriend, and commits a grand total of one genuinely douchebaggish actions in the entire course of the book. Instead, he obsesses on his condition to a psychologically debilitating degree, sealing himself off from having a healthy social life or any kind of romantic relationship for years. In fact, while the "educational filmstrip" facts'n'figures sequence about herpes simplex is the book's ostensible centerpiece, for me the real tour de force was the ending, which in a quick one-two punch upends what I'd thought was going on with both the story's plot and its moral. Dahl turns out to be far more victim than victimizer, and the deft way in which he teases that reversal out of our expectations for a book of this sort is its best trick.
* Matt Maxwell asks, in essence, does that which is horror in micro become science fiction in macro? Really good question, Matt. Brainwave: Thinking about it with this in mind, I think what sticks with me about Cloverfield is that it goes macro but yet it still feels "horror" to me. Perhaps this is a specific feature of Lovecraftian horror?
* My wife showed me a clip from Human Centipede on YouTube and I was beyond disturbed. I can't remember the last time I had that visceral a reaction to something that wasn't one of my usual triggers, like growths or animal cruelty. Anyway, IFC will be distributing Human Centipede in the US.
Theo Ellsworth's Capacity, a monumental work of ferocious interiority combined with irresistible openness, was one of the decade's best comic debuts. It was a knockout. Sleeper Car is more like a playful tweak of the nose or pat on the buttcheek. Stepping away from the artistic-autobiography subgenre that made Capacity so singular, Ellsworth uses this 32-page pamphlet as an opportunity to deploy the same tools he used there--the endlessly inventive character designs, the googly eyes and rubber lips, the enveloping crosshatched backgrounds, the seemingly infinite fur and feathers and scales and joints and so on--in the service of what I think could best be called flights of fancy. The stories and strips here are funny, though they're not out and out gag comics; they're fantastical, though they're too loose and unconcerned with narrative worldbuilding to qualify as fantasy. What's interesting to me is seeing the different approaches he takes with each one.
For example, the longest, central story, about two verbosely formal robots who make a bet about the existence of gnomes, uses a staid six-panel grid to heighten its deadpan humor. But the source of that humor shifts throughout--first it revolves around the wordplay of the droids' creaky way of speaking, then gets goofy showing the second robot passing the time as the first embarks on his search for proof, then there's a series of very funny "photos" of the victorious robot's shenanigans with the loser's forfeited arm, and then there's a punchline splash page (!) that injects a whole new comical menace into the proceedings. Throughout, it's all about knowing just what image will nail the required effect. You see this in many of the strips here: A traveler's wanderlust depicted by showing him distraught and on skis at the top of his staircase, say, or a sleeping behemoth scratching his head in wonderment as an explorer rockets out of his gullet, or a kid's eyes peering from the distended neckhole of his pajama shirt as he wraps up his knees, feet, and arms in it to form a "pajama tent," or a drawing of empty bus stop letting us down easy after a strip in which a traveler's face transformed wildly from panel to panel. None of it's gonna bowl you over, but none of it's meant to. It's expert, effective cartooning--little sketches of where a cartoonist with this visual vocabulary and this set of ideas can go. I'll follow him there, that's for sure.
* Tom Spurgeon ends his holiday interview series with a bang: Bill Kartalopolous on Kramers Ergot 4. I find the way he situates the book in terms of previous publishing efforts by Jordan Crane and Tom Devlin really welcome, since that's the environment in which I was approaching the book at the time. It's also worth comparing his experience with Kramers and Blankets at MoCCA 2003 to mine.
* And with that, the holiday interview series draws to a close. Thanks, Tom, I know I'm biased since I was involved, but I enjoyed it as much as any online comics writing I've come across in a long time. Here's a wrap-up/round-up/highlight reel.
* I fully support 3D re-releases of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies. But is it really true that "Experts now predict that 3-D will become the new multiplex standard within five years" in "as dramatic a shift as when the 'talkies' killed off silent movies in the early 20th century"? Also, do you really need to grant anonymity to a source when all they're saying is that George Lucas is excited to tinker with his old movies using new technology? Oh well.
What If Pim & Francie Got Bitten by a Radioactive Luke Cage? Afrodisiac, like Al Columbia's fractured masterpiece, is a comic, an art book, an objet d'art, an assemblage of stories and story fragments and illustrations and pastiches and sketches and ephemera and so on. Yet I'm guess everyone interested in an Afrodisiac book would have been perfectly happy with an anthology of straightforward blaxploitation riffs, showcasing the heavy-lidded, angular action characters, juicy design choices (this thing is like sound-effect lettering porn), and deadpan over-the-topness we saw from the Rugg & Maruca team in Street Angel, maybe with a few ben-day-dot nods in the direction of faux vintage. So why go further? Well, for one thing, if you have the design talent that Rugg and Chris Pitzer do, why not.
But what these moves communicate is the slipperiness of what Afrodisiac really is. The titular hero receives a different origin with each story--he's a cyborg, an inner-city Billy Batson, a ghetto Captain America or Thor or Spider-Man. He's marched through a variety of comic-genre parodies--Archie, romance, funny-animal, Bronze Age Marvel magazines, Bronze Age Marvel comics. Sometimes his adventures are made to look like they could have sprung straight from the '70s, but other times the coloring or the printing or the language (this ain't Comic Code approved!) tip the project's hand. And that's to say nothing of Rugg's art, which is sly and slick in a fashion that befits a guy who gets into the annual Society of Illustrators show every year rather than a member of the Gerry Conway-era bullpen. And have we ever lived in a world where a character like the Afrodisiac would get a toy line or a Saturday morning cartoon?
It could have simply coasted on the asskicking concept of a superhero pimp called the Afrodisiac, but every choice Rugg, Maruca, and Pitzer make here makes it harder to put your finger on what's going on. Which, I think, is the point: Afrodisiac is an attempt by modern white nerds to capture and critique the art made by the white nerds of yesteryear's attempts to capture the art made for that era's black audiences in response to what that era's white entertainment industry thought of that era's black audiences, specifically what they wanted to see from the relationship between black criminals and white women. (Phew.) It is, in other words, about the nature of truth, about different marginal or marginalized subculture's attempts to understand and interact with one another, how those attempts magnify and distort one another, and in the end produce art as fascinating and fractured and entertaining and incomplete as the cut-up "final issue" that ends the collection. Powerful stuff? You're damn right.
* Hey, it's a new comic I wrote! Well, it's actually not new, but it may be new to you and it's certainly new to the Top Shelf 2.0 site. It's "Pornography," a non-pornographic comic written by me and drawn by the great Matt Wiegle. I hope you enjoy it.
* The League of Tana Tea Drinkers horror-blog collective is tackling horror comics. Click the link for further linkage.
I personally think it worrisome that there's a drift downwards in books that sell over 50,000 copies, which would seem to support a theory -- or late-night, drunken blurting-out, as you will -- that a lot of effort is necessary to push certain comics into respectable sales territory and that maybe nothing is being done or can be done for the bulk of them. The comic book middle class is rotting away, in other words. One might suggest that the more poignant outcome of "event fatigue" isn't that people are going to get tired of events eventually (even though they likely will), but that people are only excited by events now and fatigued by everything else as a result.
* Curt Purcell kicks off a series on Final Crisis by labeling its use of Modernist techniques self-defeating--an anti-story movement welded to a celebration of stories and storytelling. There's a lot to disagree with here, from the characterization of Morrison to the characterization of Modernism, but I wanna see where we're headed first.
* The latest What The--?! video is a parody of Dark Reign. The stuff I didn't write made me laugh.
* Dannie Flesher, cofounder of Wax Trax! Records, has died at age 58. I really would not be the same without him. When I was a teenager, the industrial aesthetic pioneered by Flesher, his partner Jim Nash, and Wax Trax! acts like Ministry, KMFDM, and their myriad side projects defined "cool" for me in a way that still holds true for me today. Trent Reznor and Al Jourgensen joining forces to cover Black Sabbath with 1000 Homo DJs' "Supernaut" is pretty much the most amazing thing a 16-year-old Sean could imagine. Any day I'm dressed all in black, which is usually three or four days a week, you pretty much have them to thank. Today I'm still impressed by just how committed Wax Trax! bands were to their sound and style. There's a totality to their encapsulation of deviance and decay that's still chilling, and extremely edgy and ballsy even now. Plus, a vintage Ministry side project is a joy forever--I listened to the Revolting Cocks Beers Steers & Queers just this morning, not knowing what had happened, and it's still a death-disco hoot. Thank you, Dannie. I hope wherever you are now, Jim's there with you.
You could rough this one up pretty bad if you wanted--like Jog says, it's an alternative comic of the "here's some stuff that happened" school that people who dislike alternative comics think all alternative comics attend. Collardey's stories--actually, that's too strong a word--reminiscences about her move to Brooklyn, her visit to San Francisco, her interview with Francoise Mouly, her conversation with her Holocaust-survivor grandfather, even her very life story aren't revelatory, or (with one obvious aforementioned exception) even memorable on their own terms. What they are is a showcase for her art, and she's got some serious chops. I'm really drawn to her wavy line, the way a series of gentle S-curves both cohere into little people and convey the timidity and uncertainty with which Collardey apparently approaches the world. Against that backdrop her depiction of Mouly really pops: Bigger eyes rimmed with make-up, darker hair, taller body, confidence and competence standing out amid Collardey's gee-shucks artistic personality. Equally impressive are color sequences that employ brown and gray watercolors to convey warmth rather than desolation or "realism," most notably in a self-portait that strikes me as both clear-eyed and flattering--which is then surrounded by a colorful panoply of cartoon heads. The paper stock really holds Collardey's brushwork and colors well, by the way. As a sampler of an artist with a lot of potential, it's worth a glimpse. Let's see where she goes from here.
This is why the general mediocrity of the Great Zombie Revival is actually the key to its success: A subgenre that reinvents itself in mind-blowing ways every two or three films is going to exhaust the mental bandwidth of its audience as well as sow some discord among people who latch on some particular configuration of the genre elements and decide to become purists. But a certain pandering familiarity, spiced with only slight hints of novelty, neither taxes your audience nor risks alienating them.
* Matthias Wivel, Tucker Stone, and Noah Berlatsky explain their choices for the Best Online Comics Criticism of 2009. I recommend Matthias's and Tucker's posts, but not Noah's, since he thinks Ganges is boring.
I was pretty happy with the high concept I came up with for Afrodisiac, so let's try it again: What if the stars of Anders Nilsen's Big Questions were the Big Answers? Like Nilsen's funny-animal epic, Forming tells the tale of characters struggling with the stuff of existence--life, death, fate, their place in a universe that appears fundamentally capricious. Unlike Nilsen's birds, though, Moynihan's characters are archangels, cosmically powered alien beings, demigods and titans of legend, founding members of humanity who commune (and copulate) with higher beings on a daily basis. The metaphor scales our human plight up, not down, in other words. The art follows suit. Moynihan's line is soft, its weight gently fluctuating, shored up by quietly irregular coloring, suggesting the same vulnerabilities as Nilsen's stippling and figurework. But the design is maximalist: Crazy Kirbyesque costumes, Fletcher Hanks psychedelic action, long sequences of physical combat, extradimensional travel, mental fantasias. The stakes are similarly higher--the central action includes Lucifer's battle with Michael and the birth of human civilization as conferred upon us by ancient astronauts. The gag, of course, is that these highfalutin' types are just as messed up as we are, complaining about their jobs and their family and their sex lives and so on.
So yeah, you've seen it before. But what makes its use in Forming so appealing is the strip's rolling, loping, laconic pace. New subplots--a literal clash of the titans, Lucifer & Michael, Adam & Eve, corporate intrigue on the alien homeworld--are slowly folded into the strip, and our lens on the action swings back and forth between them like a pendulum. Moreover, most of the strip's two-page installments are stacked on top of each other, our eyes slowly cascading downward as the action unfolds over a long vertical plane. The cumulative effect does even more than the specifics of the dialogue in terms of humanizing the cosmic characters and wringing bleak gallows humor from their dilemmas. If this thing ever gets collected in print, I'd love to see it in a super-tall, super-narrow format just for that reason. It's a very pleasurable reading experience, and it's easy to see how rewarding a weekly visit could be.
* It's been brought to my attention that some people may doubt my sincerity when I sing the praises of Tom Brevoort's blog and/or Twitter feed--from which I mined the content in this Robot 6 piece on the Marvel/DC rivalry. Let me assure you that I'm serious as a heart attack. It's not that I agree with everything he says, or that I don't realize that it's at least in part showmanship--it's that I wish every other bigwig in the biz came out and said what they were thinking. We'd be healthier.
* Here's Jeet Heer on the paradox of James Cameron's Avatar. Speaking of, I know it was very nice-looking, but I'm trying to figure out why the hell it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, and in fact why it was even nominated versus, say, District 9 or Paranormal Activity, and the only answer I can come up with is that Hollywood wants to canonize absurdly expensive filmmaking that makes an even more absurd shitload of money in turn. If this thing had flopped as hard as people thought it would--as hard as I thought it would--heads would have rolled in the dozens. (Well, in theory; accountability is so not hot right now.) It was structurally important to the American film industry for this movie to be hugely popular with audiences and critics.
* I thought this Onion News Network piece on Lost fandom could have gotten a lot more vicious than it did, but it's the appearance of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse toward the end that tipped the scales in its favor. They kid because they love!
Detective Comics #854-860
Greg Rucka, writer
J.H. Williams III, artist
24 story pages each
I'll admit it, I was too hard on Detective Comics. I always understood, and agreed with, every word of praise offered for J.H. Williams III's almost comically proficient art, mind you. You don't need me to go over that, Jog handled it nicely. It's just that beyond the art...well, I didn't think there was anything beyond the art.
Maybe it's that Question back-up that threw me, with the erstwhile Renee Montoya adopting the exact same crimefighting set-up as the lead feature's star, i.e. beautiful lesbian with military and/or law-enforcement training adopts the mantle of a male superhero while her old-man sidekick sits at a computer back at HQ. And it's not exactly as if either of them are the only strong-women-also-cry tough gals Rucka's ever written. Meanwhile, some past Rucka plot points I never really got into come along for the ride, most prominently the convoluted Religion of Crime and its Batwoman-obsessed prophecies. I liked that idea when it was tied directly into Darkseid--the more other stuff that it hooked up with, from Vandal Savage to some old Rucka characters to the actual Bible, the less compelling I found it.
On a more fundamental level I think I'm just a lot less interested in superhero comics as fed through the filter of writers who've read, watched, and written a lot of spy and crime fiction over the past decade. What was once a thrilling deviation--seriously, The Ultimates, Sleeper, Gotham Central and the Daredevil/Alias/Powers trifecta blew my mind once upon a time--is now the default. Over at Marvel you're seeing, or you will be seeing, I think, that noir/black-ops framework give way to a bold new era defined by loosey-goosier writers like Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman; Ed Brubaker's given a pass because that really is the perfect place for a postmillennial Captain America to be. At DC, that kind of stuff doesn't interest the main moneymakers and ship-steerers, Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, in the slightest. And though I'm far less militant (heh) about this point than other readers I know, there's always the suspicion that shoehorning superheroes and their fantastical fiction into exciting but reality-based counterpart activities like law enforcement and espionage and organized crime is a way to strip them of the weirdness and wonder even the worst of them usually contain--to polish them up even while darkening them up, to smooth out the angles and make them action-franchise-friendly. So for all those reasons there's a degree to which I've had my fill of books in which characters nonchalantly drop military argot in conversation and suchlike, and thus I'm a tough nut for Rucka's writing in 'Tec to crack.
But after taking the opportunity to read all seven issues of the "Batwoman in Detective Comics" run, I've realized just how far short I was selling it. Is the story a game-changer, a brain-melter? No. But it's a good deal wilder and weirder and, yes, more wondrous than your average spandex-turned-kevlar effort. And shame on me for not seeing how Williams's art, far from an Avatar-style silk hat on a pig, draws on and enhances Rucka's strongest stuff while muting the weaker elements. Simply put, how did I miss how very Hot Topic the whole "pale redheaded lesbian dresses up like an S&M vampire and does battle with her pale loligoth Satan-worshipping evil twin sister who dresses like Alice in Wonderland" thing is? It's a very glam, very goth, very fetishy, very fun set-up, hammered home with Williams's dark psychedelia, polymorphous mimickry (that extended Mazzucchelli impersonation is really breathtaking) and (you don't hear much about this, but for real) dazzling good-girl art.
What's more, this is actually some of my favorite Rucka writing I've come across. You know how most superheroes have a two-stage origin? Batman's parents are killed, and the bat flies through his window; Spider-Man gets bitten by the spider, and his Uncle gets killed; Superman's home planet blows up, and he's raised in all-American fashion by his kindly adoptive parents? Batwoman's mother and sister are killed, and then she gets Don't Ask Don't Tell'd out of the military. She's not just gay--homophobia is a foundational trauma for her. I love it. I also really like the air of doomed glamour, to use a favorite phrase of mine of late, with which Rucka imbues the whole affair. Batwoman's bright-red trimmings seem like war paint she puts on to power past the sense that this was all a terrible, terrible idea. Rucka knows the power of pointed silences and fade-outs, all of which are painstakingly choreographed by Williams, using disembodied panel boxes to pinpoint moments in the comics equivalent of slow motion. When we suddenly see Alice's tear-streaked mascara emphasized during her fight with Batwoman's father, when Alice falls across the top and down the right hand side of a climactic spread with a great gulf of ocean mutely occupying the rest of the pages--it means something. I can already hear the Moore-derived derision that none of this has any echo in any one's real life, but even if that's true, who cares? It's violent, it's sexy, it's spectacular--just what I want from my superhero comics.
So the Battlestar Galactica prequel series Caprica debuts this Friday night. Sort of: They did that weird SciFi/Syfy double-dip where they released the "uncut" pilot on DVD first and show it on TV months later. That's what they did for the stand-alone BSG movie Razor (I think; it's possible they premiered around the same time), and that's what they did for the show's movie-length epilogue, The Plan. But I guess my TiVo didn't recognize it as part of my Battlestar season pass, because I have no idea when it actually aired. It was only hearing that Caprica was finally ready to blow that made me watch my DVD copy in the first place.
Given my level of Battlestar Galactica fandom generally and my enthusiasm for its extremely divisive ending particularly, that's kind of weird, right? But maybe it's not. I was deeplysatisfied by the BSG finale--like, almost spiritually satisfied by it. It was a take on apocalypse and cultural extinction I'd never seen before--a people sacrificing their nominal legacy in hopes that a true legacy of peace, free from the sins of the past, might someday be inherited by their unknowable descendants. Also, Starbuck was an angel. You can check io9 or Tor.com for the vitriolic C.W. on these developments; I loved them, was powerfully moved and shaken by them. The idea of watching a new episode of Battlestar after that, no matter how many "answers" it promised to provide, was just...anticlimactic.
To their credit, writer Jane Espenson and director (and supporting player) Edward James Olmos seem to realize that. The Plan isn't the fill-in-the-blanks everything-you-know-is-wrong blockbuster I had vaguely in mind. You might even see it as a bill of goods. Turns out the only "plan" the whole "and they have a plan" bit was referring to was just "they would like to kill all the humans." Um, surprise?
What you do find out that you didn't know before is that the Brother Cavil who lived in the fleet, the one to whom the Chief came when he thought he might be a Cylon way back when, was orchestrating the fleet-based Cylons' various attempts at murder and mayhem. So you see how Boomer got her instructions when she was a sleeper agent--it wasn't internal programming, it was orders she received from Cavil, who then put her back under to fulfill her missions. You find out how Leoben became obsessed with Starbuck. You find out where that phony Defense Department Six came from when she tried to frame Baltar for the crime he actually committed, and where she went afterwards. (I think she was airlocked.) You find out why the Five who suicide-bombed himself did it. You get some back-up for the way multiple copies of the same Cylon roamed around the fleet without getting caught, and why. You find out who Caprica Six was meeting on Caprica before the attack, and you find out that yes, it was Baltar who passed Adama the note about the 12 Cylon models.
In addition, there are some comic-book-tie-in-style new storylines introduced. There's a Four in the fleet, and he has a human family he doesn't want to destroy; there's a Four in Anders's little group of survivors back on Caprica, too, and by contrast he wants that group's Cavil to pull his thumb out and get to murdering. And the two Cavils come to very different conclusions about the Cylons' attempted extermination of man, which is sort of the philosophical crux of the episode. (It's hard not to call it that.) These are welcome developments in that Dean Stockwell becomes the star of the show, while Rick Worthy, always the most underused of the Cylon actors, finally gets a chance to do something with his sinister warmth. But again, none of it gives you the "a-HA, so THAT'S what was going on!" feeling you might have expected.
And so. We can question the wisdom of prefacing every episode of your show by referring to a Plan but never, in fact, having one, and then not even bothering to make it up in time for the finale, so that you have to create an almost anthology-style appendix to the show and air it months after the fact. Moreover, you can question the weirdness of the execution of that enterprise. In the opening credits there's a line about how the film is "based on the series Battlestar Galactica created by Ronald D. Moore" or something like that, as if it's not even technically a piece of the series. Moore isn't the only MIA figure, either--try half the cast. Apollo, Starbuck, and Baltar appear only in repackaged footage from the original episodes. Despite the movie being about the Cylons, Lucy Lawless's D'Anna has approximately three seconds of flashback screentime. Most bizarrely, Mary McDonnell's President Roslin doesn't appear on-screen at all; in an unintentionally hilarious bit at the very end, you see the legs, and only the legs, of a character I assume is supposed to be Roslin descending a ladder. Roslin's absence also makes it next to impossible for there to be much Tory material in the movie--her involvement amounts to crashing her car when the bombs hit, getting rescued, and then walking down that ladder. Finally, because this was a straight-to-DVD release, there's a bunch of entirely gratuitous nudity. (And no, not from anyone you'd already decided you wanted to see naked.) It's a weird project, in other words, and the seams of its production show.
But here as always, for me, Battlestar Galactica is all about the delivery. Not the mythology or the mysteries, which were all kind of a convoluted, contradictory mess when all was said and done (this ain't an Alan Moore comic, it's not even Lost), but exploration and observation, through writing and acting, of how individuals and societies deal with catastrophe. And on that score, The Plan came through. It's essentially a big ol' tone poem about murder and suicide. Character after character comes to the point where they must kill, and then they do or they don't, and we see what that does to them. That's pretty much it in a nutshell, and to say it's down my alley is to understate the case considerably. I mean, find me a Blue Velvet fan who doesn't want to watch a movie in which Dean Stockwell orchestrates a series of cold-blooded murders, culminating in a particularly ugly and taboo one he commits himself.
Aside from some clunky theological dialogues between Anders and Cavil, Espenson mostly stays out of the way of these parameters. Given that her last episode was nearly series-ruining in its awfulness, her redemption arc is perhaps The Plan's standout. Meanwhile, Olmos, who established himself as one of the series' finest directors with the episode in which Baltar was tortured, acquits himself equally admirably here. He lets silence and image do the talking a lot of the time--following nuclear payloads to their destination, following mushroom clouds into the sky, following battlestars as they drift and burn, following airlocked bodies as they freeze and float, following bodies as they fall.
It's in this way that The Plan dodges the knockout punch thrown by the series finale proper. (Actually, I think you could comfortably stick it within the finale--pop the DVD out after the climactic shootout and the final jump; watch The Plan; put the finale back in and finish it up.) If "Daybreak" was about human and Cylon abandoning their horrific legacy, The Plan IS that horrific legacy. A gutsy choice, leaving that as the final taste in our mouth...and yet it tastes delicious.
* Lost time is almost upon us, and with that in mind I got a lot out of this interview with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and this interview with Michael Emerson. The former is sort of a collation of everything they've said about the general theory of ending a show--discussion of the Battlestar Galactica and Sopranos conclusions abounds, as does what constitutes a mystery and what constitutes an answer. This bit was particularly welcome as it echoes what I've been saying for a long time now regarding developing theories about what's going on:
But I think the sci-fi distinction you make is an interesting one because, when you talk about the "Sopranos" ending or the last episode of "Seinfeld" or "Friends," there's only so many iterations of what can happen. The "Sopranos," the only thing that people were talking about is, "Is Tony going to live, or is somebody going to kill him?"
With "Lost," nobody can even guess what the ending is going to be. If you were to have a contest right now saying, "In one paragraph, summarize what you think the last episode of 'Lost' might be" -- if you say it to 100 people, you will get 100 paragraphs that have nothing to do with each other.
The Emerson interview breaks a whole bunch of news, or at least to me it does. SPOILER ALERT OF THE 'WHO'S COMING BACK AND WHO'S NOT' VARIETY: Michael and Libby will be back, Annie won't (at least as far into the season as Emerson has gotten). END SPOILERS And this struck me as mighty promising:
I feel great curiosity, because from what I've shot up to this point, I don't see any end in sight. The storyline is continuing to expand instead of contract. It's grown more fragmented, rather than becoming more unified. The threads aren't joining up, they're flying away. It will be dazzling to see. Certain big mysteries on this show are being answered. Every episode, something huge is falling into place, but it's still a mystery.
It's been a while since I've posted a mix, and today I finally got off the pot and put together this little three-volume collection of my favorite songs of the year that was. No trail-blazing, no ground-breaking, just a bunch of songs I really enjoyed from 2009. I hope you like them too! If you do, buy the relevant artist's record, please. Not a clunker in the bunch.
DOWNLOAD VOLUME ONE
Music Again - Adam Lambert || Cannibal Resource - Dirty Projectors || Dominos - The Big Pink || Bricks and Mortar - Editors || Hold Out - Washed Out || My Wife, Lost in the Wild - Beirut || Another World - Antony & the Johnsons || What Would I Want? Sky - Animal Collective || Marrow - St. Vincent || Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear || All the King's Men - Wild Beasts || Yesterday & Today - The Field || Take Me Baby (feat. Jimi Tenor) - GusGus || Ashes Grammar/Ashes Maths - A Sunny Day in Glasgow || Remorse Code - Richard Hawley || Travelling Woman - Bat for Lashes
DOWNLOAD VOLUME TWO
Bay of Pigs - Destroyer || My Girls - Animal Collective || When I Grow Up - Fever Ray || Feather - Little Dragon || Siren Song - Bat for Lashes || Bad Romance - Lady GaGa || Talk to Me - Peaches || Happy House - The Juan MacLean || The More That I Do - The Field || Lion in a Coma - Animal Collective || While You Wait for the Others (feat. Michael McDonald) - Grizzly Bear || Coconut - Fever Ray
DOWNLOAD VOLUME THREE
Glass - Bat for Lashes || A/B Machines - Sleigh Bells || Mommy Complex - Peaches || Summertime Clothes - Animal Collective || This Must Be the Place - Miles Fisher || Feel It All Around - Washed Out || Kingdom of Rust - Doves || For Your Lover Give Some Time - Richard Hawley || Stay - Ghostface Killah || Ring Ring - Sleigh Bells || Clean Coloured Wire - Engineers || Useful Chamber - Dirty Projectors || Blinking Pigs - Little Dragon || Fine for Now - Grizzly Bear || Miss My Friends/Starting at a Disadvantage - A Sunny Day in Glasgow || Aeon - Antony & the Johnsons || Chase the Tear - Portishead
Carol Swain's panels are like prisons. They feel too narrow, too cramped for her dramatic angles, her furiously filled-in blacks and grays, her askew, sometimes even fish-eyed perspective, and her disorienting character close-ups. Thus they root you in this moment, then this one, then this one, force you to confront it head-on--often literally, bringing you right up against the face of the protagonist in each of this anthology's thirty-plus short stories. Which is fitting, since they too are often rooted or even trapped themselves. Some are hemmed in by the metaphysical constructs of Swain's daydreams or gentle magic-realist conceits--immovably knee-deep in the mud of the Atlantic, chained in the bedroom by overprotective parents who alternately rattle off the dangers of the outside world and the many knitting projects she could do inside, sealed in the black glass of fused sand created by a bomb blast in the desert, trapped in the middle of nowhere by faulty compasses and starless skies. Others are stuck in more quotidian predicaments--an immigrant's plight, soft vote suppression, lots and lots of dead-end towns, lots and lots of dull grinding urban grayness, lots and lots of glimpses of a larger world that seem only to reinforce the futility of reaching further and higher. And yet, there's always that lovely, lush shading and linework, a hint of softness, and with it a suggestion that maybe there's reason to hope. I think that makes the book harder on you, ultimately. In hopelessness there's release.
* That of course reminded me of the greatest David Letterman Top 10 List of all time, Top 10 Body Parts and/or Van Pattens. Oh man, get ready to waste some time and laugh your ass off at that link. Top 10 Words That Almost Rhyme with 'Peas,' man.
* I'd like to leave you for the weekend with this video of Leighton Meester lounging around in her underwear. The reason I like it--well, the other reason--is that the video uses the song "Clean Coloured Wire" by Engineers, which you might have spotted in my Best of 2009 mixes below. The song is based on a sample of a song called "Watussi" by the Krautrock-ambient supergroup Harmonia, the vocal melody is a snatch of "Come In Alone" by shoegaze titans My Bloody Valentine, and the vocals are delivered with the prime blissed-out head-music style of the really good early Dandy Warhols albums or something like that. It's music of epic, sexy mystery. So using it as a soundtrack to watching Leighton Meester strut around in lingerie makes seeing Leighton Meester strut around in lingerie seem like the most awesome thing ever, akin to, I don't know, entering the Stargate or discovering a hidden city of extradimensional gods on the Moon. If this is the song that comes to mind when people picture you in your underwear, you're in pretty good shape.
One Model Nation
C. Albritton Taylor, Donovan Leitch, writers
Jim Rugg, Cary Porter, artists
Image, December 2009
$17.99 Buy it from Amazon.com
Well, here's a strange little number. Let's take it step by step. C. Albritton Taylor is Courtney Taylor-Taylor, lead singer/songwriter for the Dandy Warhols, but the only reason I know that is because artist Jim Rugg said so on his blog months and months ago. Donovan Leitch, scion of "Atlantis" troubadour Donovan and a musician himself, is credited as the book's "historian" and shares with Taylor the credit for "original concept," which I assume means he helped concoct the Venn diagram of its plot, in which late-'70s radical West German politics and terrorists overlap with a breed of Cold War art rock, highlighting a very, very specific niche. Rugg's work here looks nothing like Rugg's work anywhere else I've seen; it's like he purposefully threw his usual slick and kinetic art out the window, employing a rough, thin, uncertain pen style instead. Riding shotgun for a few-page framing device is artist Cary Porter, working in a mushy all-pencils style that reminds me of Nikolai Maslov's Siberia. Taylor is billed as "producer" along with Image's Joe Keatinge and cartoonist Mike Allred; if the incongruously colorful David Bowie who shows up in the middle of the story to chat with the titular band isn't drawn by Allred himself, then Rugg is doing the world's best Red Rocket 7 impersonation.
The story: In 1977 or thereabouts, a four-man band called One Model Nation--from what we can gather, a stylistic, sonic, and sartorial melange of Kraftwerk, Einsturzende Neubaten, Joy Division, Gang of Four, and Berlin-era Bowie--appear poised to become West Germany's, and perhaps the world's, next big thing. But the peril of being the voice of one's generation is that sometimes one's generation is filled with terrorists, as was the case in the Germany of the day, plagued as it was by the nihilistic/Communistic violence of the Red Army Faction, aka the Baader-Meinhof Gang. When people peripheral to OMN's world--friends, fans, exes, roadies--turn out to be involved in the killings, the intense public, political, and police scrutiny forces the bandmates, particularly sensitive Sebastian, to come to terms with the at-times dueling imperatives of fame and creativity.
It's tough not to read the book as thinly veiled autobio at times, or at least as a soapbox upon which Taylor can talk about issues he clearly cares about a great deal. It's easy to imagine the framing conversation between a fellow-traveler of OMN's and a documentarian investigating their disappearance as a variant of ones that took place between Taylor and Ondi Timonder, director of the excellent Dandy Warhols/Brian Jonestown Massacre doc DiG! Ditto the band's chat with Bowie--a friend of Taylor's--and his droll observations about taste, art, and politics. Ditto, almost didactically so, a comparatively long discussion of critics, pundits, the press, and their deficiencies. The very idea of the book, a fictionalized account of a particular era of rock and roll that its makers find fascinating, reminds me of a discussion I had with Taylor when I interviewed him long ago about the film Velvet Goldmine, which, despite his admiration for director Todd Haynes, he dismissed as "jocks dressing up like rockers." This is sort of like Velvet Goldmine "done right."
And it is done right, I'd say. I mean, it's a weird weird beast. I think Rugg's style here is going to throw a lot of people--it's so understated, so scratchy, with muted colors, and a really rigid panel grid with wide gutters. The rectangular word balloons and computerized lettering meshes with those big white lines to create a feeling of artificiality and distance. The character designs are at times difficult to distinguish from one another, and they frequently sit on the page as if they're uncomfortable being there, all awkward elbowy arms and long faces with dull hair hanging limply. The plot kind of weaves in and out and back and forth: Sebastian leaves the band, fed up with the attendant nonsense, comes back, high-tails it after a raid, comes back again... Cameos by the Red Army Faction and the actual, Russian Red Army are given equal weight as cameos by, say, Klaus Nomi. The whole thing ends with a whimper, too. There really aren't any epiphanies or climaxes. I imagine that if you don't share my fondness for the creative team or the subject matter, you'll walk away shrugging.
But I think that's the idea. Making art, the book seems to argue, is an ongoing process of decision-making rather than a vocation handed down by the gods. Obviously innate gifts and talent are a part of it, but hitting upon the sound and style that rockets you to the top is the product of countless factors beyond your control. A lot goes into being a hero, and if you make it, terrific, but some people are heroes just for one day, for one reason or another. Nomi died of AIDS; One Model Nation peters out in the face of the revelation that the terroristic public image thrust upon them was just that--an image. They make a decision to stop making the decisions necessary to be rock stars. Some of it's in our control; a lot of it isn't. What you do may be dramatic, it may be influenced by dramatic events, but whether you do it or not is not a drama. It's kind of a gray message. It's kind of a gray book. I'm still mulling it over.
What did John Bonham do during the first half of "Stairway to Heaven" when Led Zeppelin played it live?
* Psych himself up
* Consume the biosphere of a small planet to recharge his cosmic energy
* Prank call Keith Moon
* Play the drums in his head
* Play the drums in a soundproof room elsewhere in the arena
* Play the drums for another band at a nearby venue after knocking their drummer out
* Grow and shave off one cycle of his mighty beard
* Gather a party of stout Bossonian bowmen and raid the Pictish wilderness ruled by Zogar Sag beyond the Black River
* Play pinochle
* Concoct and spread the "mudshark incident" rumor as an experiment in memetic engineering
* Listen intently and imagine where the drum parts WOULD go
* Translate the lyrics into Quenya
* Use his four sticks to sit in for Clyde Stubblefield AND Jabo Starks over the phone during a JBs recording session
* Sit quietly and wait his turn
* Bed down the significant others of each and every member of Vanilla Fudge
* Chip in a few chanted verses from Aleister Crowley's Liber AL vel Legis to keep Jimmy Page's black magick curse against David Bowie going
* Do a quick set of squat thrusts
* Entertain the roadies with a few Monty Python bits
* Continue his years-long investigation into the "Paul Is Dead" rumor--the very thing would end up getting him killed when he got too close to the truth
* Shift his molecular vibration over to an alternate universe where the band was already up to the drum part of "Stairway," perform it there, and then come back just in time
* Very long, very thorough, very interesting, minimally controversial interview with Grant Morrison over at IGN on Batman & Robin and Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne. Dan Philips always does a fine job with these.
How's this for a secret origin: The Cylons were an unsuccessful attempt to develop the Cinco Boy.
[hey RSS users--you gotta click the actual post to see a couple videos here]
People thought Battlestar Galactica was dark because its pilot episodes centered on genocide, with a dollop of 9/11 on top. That's true. But they were still a swashbuckling space adventure with dogfights and killer robots and sexy robots and so on. The pilot for Caprica, on the other hand, is pretty much just a suicide bomber blowing up a subway and killing some teenage girls, and chain-smoking fathers in dark suits dealing with their grief. There's some science-fictiony stuff in there too, to be sure--and in the DVD version that I watched, that stuff includes virtual-reality titties--but for the most part it's about as thrilling as importing your old files to your new MacBook. Nope, you come for the parents burying their children or you don't come at all.
That's a lot to ask of your audience, and a very big risk for a pilot episode on the network that brought us Ice Spiders to take. For all the talk of BSG as SciFi/Syfy's flagship show, it never did flagship ratings, Peabody Award or no. I can't imagine that in a culture as angry and ground down as we are right now, an actionless morality play about the lengths to which people are driven by grief is going to put up gangbusters numbers. Frankly I'd be surprised if it got renewed.
That would be a pity, because I really enjoyed this episode. For one thing, it just looks so classy. "Classy" usually means "blue-tinted" these days, but not here. I mean, sometimes I guess, but when I realized there was going to be a major plotline about the mob connections of our lawyer lead character Joseph Adams (nee Adama) and it was going to be shot in the rich golds and blacks of Gordon Willis and The Godfather, the blues and grays struck me more as Godfather Part II than perfunctory prestige picture. Throughout, the stately, ruminative pace of late Battlestar was maintained--an editing rhythm that puts you in the company of big, unpleasant moments and questions and lets you sit with them. I know to some that's a minus--cf. Jim Henley and his "Caprica: Planet of the Assholes" lament--but if I want happytimes I can watch The Golden Girls. (Except any episode with a touching Blanche moment. God, those are a punch to the gut. Or the one where Sofia's son Phil dies and she has to deal with her grief, to bring it all back home.) I don't mind assholes. I am an asshole myself.
Fine cast of assholes, too. I was particularly taken with Esai Morales as Joseph Adama. He came across like a classy, hardworking guy with some part of himself burnt out by a life of tragedy and unfortunate choices, and I bought his climactic conversion as an effort to try to relight that spark because living as he had brought no hope to him. Eric Stoltz had a tougher row to hoe as technological and corporate wizard Daniel Graystone--he had to deliver some mad-scientist speeches to Joseph when both were at a particularly low emotional ebb, which would be a challenge for anyone to pull off. The way he sold it was by hinting that his drive to technologically reproduce his slain daughter was a manifestation of grief-driven mania, but then utilizing all the tools of salesmanship and argument to expertise that made him Caprica's Bill Gates in the first place. When he guilts Adama into helping him steal the technology he needs, his "leave now and you'll always wonder what could have been" speech didn't feel like a cliche, it felt like something a results-oriented businessman would say to seal a deal.
Then there's Allesandra Torresani, as both teenage-radical trustafarian jerk/budding computer genius Zoe Graystone and the virtual-reality duplicate of herself she develops. It's funny reading everyone automatically lash out at teenage actors, like no one ever enjoyed The Goonies or Rebel Without a Cause; me, I liked her raspy sullenness and regional-production-of-Zooey-Deschanel looks. She seemed like the kind of smart-and-knows-it teen dickhead I was at my worst, and I thought she handled the heavy lifting of the show's wooliest "what is it to be human?" sci-fi ponderings with aplomb. Keep in mind that when Battlestar started, Grace Park, Tricia Helfer, and James Callis were all somewhat difficult to stomach. Things worked out pretty well with them.
On a purely nerd level, I got a kick out of the glimpses of Colonial society we got here. Strife between the Colonies, racism, cultural and religious differentiation, and the roots of the rancid brand of monotheism that infected the Cylons in BSG. Also, "Cybernetic Life-form Node." Not bad! Plus, the great Bear McCreary is back for the music. That guy's an MVP, and a huge part of what made both shows feel classy in the first place.
There's reason to be worried, of course. Wikipedia tells me that there are a lot of cooks in Caprica's kitchen. The concept was developed as a separate movie pitch by Remi Aubuchon, who was then thrown together with BSG's Ronald D. Moore and David Eick by Universal. Moore and Aubuchon, who's since departed the show, co-wrote the pilot for Friday Night Lights' Jeffrey Reiner to direct. There have already been three showrunners: Moore, BSG/Buffy's Jane Espenson (who has an aggressively mixed track record in this world), and Desperate Housewives' Kevin Murphy. BSG's worst fault was schizophrenia, even with a pretty consistent hand at the helm; who knows what result all this will have. Meanwhile the show could get bogged down by its fairly cheesy depiction of what a VR counterculture would look like (has science fiction ever done that convincingly? It's all Rent extras and underground Matrix rave orgies), or by making Polly Walker's secret, scheming terrorist cell leader a supervillainess, or by a whole plethora of potential pitfalls. But I have faith in Moore and Eick, faith they earned and rewarded in BSG. By gods, I'm on board.
Every single Perry Bible Fellowship comic strip ever, plus a bunch of extras that didn't make the website cut, in a sizable yet reasonably sized hardcover with one of those built-in ribbon bookmark things, for $25 SRP? Pretty glorious. Nick Gurewitch's webcomics sensation--and that's exactly what it is/was, a strip that batters past the most well-secured don't-care-about-webcomics defenses--was already the kind of work you'd stumble across thanks to a friend's recommendation and almost instantly attempt to consume in its entirety in one sitting. Which isn't even all that hard, given the one brief shining moment Fawlty Towers/British Office brevity of its run. Moreso than with many other webcomics, a fat book collection serves the material well.
Placing every strip between two covers allows you to easily follow along on several parallel tracks. You can watch the maturation of Gurewitch's art, for one. His line smooths and strengthens. His designs round out and combine with his increasingly sophisticated and subtle color palette to produce that sickly sweet Stay Puft feel. He becomes increasingly comfortable showing off illustrative chops not usually seen in a campus weekly--his dinosaurs, monsters, and animals would all be at home in Golden Age pulp or an immaculate children's storybook, while his impersonations of Edward Gorey and Shel Silverstein or his pastiches of Asian and commercial illustration styles are impeccable. His stable of recurring visual tropes--people with inanimate objects for heads, meticulously drawn fantasy- and animal-kingdom characters, those cookie-cutter people--have more of an impact each time.
You can also trace the evolution--maturation's definitely not the word here--of his sense of humor. The strip starts out as the kind of bawdy, horny humor lots of collegiate wits unleash upon their newly parentless world. A recognition that sex is fun and attractive people are awesome joins hands with the realization that one's pursuit of the aforementioned is often really stupid and the failure to make it happen is often miserably painful, and off they go, skipping and tra-la-la-ing across your funnybone.The strip also mines a lot of humor out of senseless violence from the get-go. But right around page 82-83, "Mrs. Hammer" and "Gotcha the Clown," its riffs on that theme, and the whole gestalt of the strip, make a quantum leap. Suddenly the capriciousness of physical violence in the PBF world is joined with a gleefully anarchic sense of comic timing--that much-ballyhooed gap before the final panel, much wider than any other gag strip, leaving much more to the imagination, and making the payoff that much more unexpected and hilarious. Something awful will most likely happen by the end of any given strip; the trick and the genius of it is that you don't have any more idea of what it'll be than the poor saps to which it'll happen.
It's worth noting that it's not just that leap of faith Gurewitch forces you to take between the penultimate and final panels that makes his strip such solid gold by the second half of its run. (To be fair, there are three or four head-scratching clunkers in the early going; it took him a while to make that punchline panel work.) It's the way he sticks that landing, the moment-in-time specificity of the body language he so frequently depicts--freezing battling characters in mid-beatdown, capturing just the right looks of amazement on the faces of cheering crowds, doing the same with characters weeping in devastation or fleeing in terror. There's also often a perfectly calibrated comedown from the pomposity and grandiosity of the beginning of the strip to the deflated rimshot or sad trombone of the final panel, and Gurewitch uses an array of tools to nail it: ornate, expressive lettering; shifts in illustration style; jumps in time or spatial perspective.
And then like that--poof--he was gone, off to do animation or funny award-acceptance speeches or whatever it is he's up to. He left behind one of the most visually accomplished and mercilessly funny comics this side of Tales Designed to Thrizzle. If you like to laugh at comic books, this belongs on your bookshelf.
* Diamond is changing its policy regarding minimum orders so that they'll still fulfill orders for an item that falls short, only canceling related future issues. So you can still get your foot in the door. It's still more of a hatchet than a scalpel, in the parlance of our times, but it's a step in the right direction.
* My main takeaway from Marvel's official Heroic Age/Avengers announcement is that it appears Gorilla Man from the Agents of Atlas is joining the Avengers. More, but alas not more about Gorilla Man, at USA Today and CBR.
* Bout of Geekery #1: The fact that neither CBR nor USAT actually listed the characters depicted in the promo art indicates to me that maybe this line-up isn't really the line-up. Regardless, it's Thor, Iron Man, Bucky Barnes as Captain America, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, the Thing, Beast, Black Widow, and Gorilla Man. It's interesting to me that after all the to-do about getting the Big Three Avengers back together, this team gets Bucky Cap rather than Steve Rogers. Also interesting: a bit of a sausagefest, no? Also also interesting: It'd be cool if the Thing, Beast, and Gorilla Man were there as official representatives for their respective teams, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Agents of Atlas. That seems like a geekily logical way to build teams like the Avengers and the Justice League. Heck, by that light you could see Black Widow as an agent of SHIELD, and even Spidey as a liaison from the New York City street-level dudes. Also, I could be wrong, but I don't see a lot of potential for intra-team conflict in that line-up. That's a bunch of get-along guys, for the most part.
* This is indeed a fine piece on Lady Gaga by the great Rich Juzwiak. Locating her as the fulfilled prophecy of electroclash was a nice touch, as was examining the role of mystery and mythmaking among young listeners, something I wasn't sure was even possible anymore in the Internet age. If anything I think Juzwiak's a little hard on her regarding her philosophical pontifications--I mean, Bowie was all over the fucking place in his provocateur days any time he ventured much further than talking about rock music, and no one holds that against him, or no one should. (Via Pitchfork.)
Red = Wolverine
Orange = Doctor Doom
Yellow = Green Goblin
Green = Spider-Man
Blue = Captain America
Indigo = Professor X
Violet = Cyclops
Black Lantern Avatar = The Punisher
Black Lantern Guardian = Thanos
This wasn't all that easy.
Ben picked the Hulk for Red, and obviously that's a great choice, but a) I wanted Wolverine on here, and b) there's already a Red Hulk so the visual impact wouldn't be as strong. Berserker Wolverine's just as logical a choice.
I thought about making Doctor Doom Yellow, since I think he needs to be the A-Number-1 supervillain for Marvel and should scare the shit out of the heroes any time he shows up, but his lust for power, knowledge, and the kudos Reed Richards got instead of him makes him a prime Orange candidate.
I picked the Green Goblin for Yellow to get him back to his scary crazy Halloween-costume roots (something I think that Brian Bendis/Michael Lark mask sequence in the Siege prologue issue did very well, by the way).
I imagine Spidey as the Green Lantern leaves some folks scratching their heads, but a) making the flagship Marvel character the flagship Lantern makes sense on a meta level; b) Spidey is all about overcoming great fear and adversity. The Corps could rest assured he'd use his power responsibly, duh. Plus I think you could get some neat power-ring-as-web-shooter visuals out of it.
Cap's a no-brainer for Blue.
I wanna see Professor X get back to being the Martin Luther King of the Marvel Universe, instead of a slaveowner who covers up multiple murders routinely, so Indigo for him.
Cyclops seems like a character defined by his relationships, first with Phoenix and now with Emma Frost, so it's Violet for him. If you insisted on having a woman in this role since we haven't seen any male Star Sapphires yet, I think it'd be an interesting commentary on Emma to give it to her, implying that her feelings for Scott are really real and have really changed her. Plus, she's pretty much already there, outfit-wise; you'd just have to change the color scheme.
It ain't rocket science making the Punisher the Black Hand of the Marvel Universe--he's cheated death twice, and the more-or-less in-continuity Garth Ennis origin story Born literally had him make a deal with Death for eternal life in exchange for being able to routinely murder people, so he's already halfway there if not more. And Thanos as Nekron = obvs.
For reference, here are my ideal DC Lanterns--I've changed the line-up somewhat:
Red = Doomsday
Orange = Lex Luthor
Yellow = Batman
Green = Hal Jordan
Blue = Superman
Indigo = Steel
Violet = Wonder Woman
I've come around on making Wonder Woman Violet/Love, rather than my initial idea of Green/Will. Seems to me that part of what makes Wonder Woman dull these days is this a very joyless interpretation of what a tough superheroine warrior woman would be like. Tapping into her as some embodiment of love for humanity might lighten and liven her up a bit. If they lost the bare midriff from the costume, I wouldn't mind it at all. Plus, this way the marquee power of the line-up is stronger than when I had Hal out altogether and Kyle Rayner in the Violet slot.
Red = Liz Sherman
Orange = Baba Yaga
Yellow = whoever the King of Fear turns out to be, obviously
Green = Hellboy
Blue = Lobster Johnson
Indigo = Abe Sapien
Violet = Johann Kraus
Black Lantern Avatar = The Black Flame
Black Lantern Guardian = The Ogdru Jahad
Red = John Locke
Orange = Charles Widmore
Yellow = Benjamin Linus
Green = James "Sawyer" Ford
Blue = Jack Shepherd
Indigo = Kate Austen
Violet = Desmond Hume & Penelope Widmore
Black Lantern Avatar = Christian Shepherd
Black Lantern Guardian = The Man in Black
Malachai Nicolle & Ethan Nicolle, writers
Ethan Nicolle, artist
Ongoing webcomic, December 2009-January 2010 and counting Read it at AxeCop.com
This comic was inevitable. In retrospect, it's where we were headed all along. The New Action. The Art of Enthusiasm. Attempts to recapture the childhood joy of drawing, the ability of action to form its own narrative logic through sheer visual cohesion, the incorporation of the almost surrealist conventions and tropes of video games and action-figure lines and kung fu films, all of that--Axe Cop does it by having a five-year-old kid come up with characters and storylines and dialogue for a 29-year-old Eisner nominee to lay out and draw. From Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim to Benjamin Marra's Night Business to Geoff Johns's Green Lantern to C.F.'s Powr Mastrs to Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction's Immortal Iron Fist to Brian Chippendale's Ninja to Kazimir Strzepek's The Mourning Star to Kevin Huizenga's Ganges #2 to BJ and Frank Santoro's Cold Heat to Malachai and Ethan Nicolle's Axe Cop. There was no other way.
Now, let's not get crazy here: the elder Nicolle is not inventing new ways of conveying action and physicality and space on a page, or constructing elaborate metaphors for the fate of the artist in a rapaciously capitalist society, or drawing on previously ignored methods of pop-culture storytelling. He's "merely" an accomplished illustrator, drawing his kid brother's delightfully crazy ideas for a super-cop with an axe and his partner, who wields a flute as a weapon, then transforms into a dinosaur, then transforms into an avocado. His swanky line is employed to milk humor out of mirrored sunglasses and mustaches, or superheroes made out of socks that fly around like boomerangs, or babies with unicorn horns who you can throw around like a grenade. Ethan uses his older fanboy's experience to wring specificity and hilarity out of the super-action conventions with which young Malachai is already entertainingly familiar: opposite-number characters (Bad Santa and his newfound enemy Good Bad Santa), secret origins (Axe Cop and Avocado Soldier are secretly brothers whose parents were killed by their time-traveling nemesis, but they bumped heads while walking backwards and have had amnesia about their true relationship and origin ever since), enemy archetypes (rejected heroes, giant robots, elementals) and so on.
I'm not going to say the storytelling style is inimitable, because lots of people imitate it, but there's no faking the "and then...and then...and then" rhythms of a really excited first grader. The comic's web interface enhances the flow: Instead of clicking from page to static page, you drag your cursor to scroll around one gigantic mega-page per episode, catching the craziness as it comes. My guess is that this is as much of a reason that this comic went from total obscurity yesterday morning to Internet fame by yesterday afternoon as the don't-that-beat-all backstory, impressive and accessible cartooning, and overall Looney Tunes "Duck Amok" zaniness level. On every level it's a pleasure of a sort you haven't experienced elsewhere. Hernandez, Buscema, Kubert, Nicolle--if you're going to be online for the next few months, make room in your brother-act pantheon.
Yesterday I discovered that even one of this blog's most frequent readers and commenters didn't realize that I have links to pretty much every comic, book, and film review I've written in the sidebar to the left. But I do! In the absence of tags, that's probably the best way for you to find an old review or just browse to see what I've said about this or that. There are also links to a handful of "best of ADDTF"-type posts, interviews I've done, interviews I've given, all the comics I've written that are currently online, and so forth.
I tend to update the non-blogroll portions of the sidebar around the end of each month, so right now it's pretty current. Happy surfing!