Archive for September 30, 2003

Fools Hush In

September 30, 2003

It’s been a delightful couple days to be ADDTF, thanks to the extremely kind words folks have been bandying around in reference to my gentle chiding of Jeph Loeb from yesterday. I’m privileged to say that so many people have said so many swell things about the piece (using fun words like hilarious, torrid, destroy, and annhiliation in the process) that I’ve actually lost track, but thank you to one and all. No one may have ever gone broke underestimating the taste of the American public, but no blog ever lost hits for beating the rhetorical snot out of people who do so.

So, what can I tell you. I realized after I posted the piece that I’d left out another major, sure-to-be-permanent change in the Bat-mythos that took place in “Hush”–Two-Face is now one-faced once again. Yes, a little plastic surgery and he’s handsome and one of the good guys, pretty much. Gee, that’ll last. Funny thing, though–why does this plot development seem so familiar? Oh, right.

There’s a ton of good writing floating around the comicsphere these days. John Jakala is back from vacation–I’m not sure if he’s even up to double-digits in terms of number of posts, but he was born a fully-formed comicsblogger. J.W. Hastings responds to David Fiore‘s take on Geoff Klock’s How to Read Super-Hero Comics and Why, and the endlessly fascinating Fiore (seriously, this guy puts up a comics-related gem every single day) responds back, and adds more analysis; there’s thought-provoking stuff said about everything from Jack Kirby and fascism to Neal Adams and realism to Frank Miller and revisionism to Harold Freaking Bloom and the anxiety of influence to Spurgeon & Raphael’s Stan Lee biography (David, you “loathed” it? Explain! and explain how you could call Raphael childish but give his “critic” a pass…) mixed in there, too.

I got over the hump on a couple of big professional projects today. That leaves me available to lay out some plans for what I’ll be doing on the blog this October. I’ve got some big ideas, about which you’ll hear tomorrow. They involve evil, but that’s all I’m saying for now.

Finally, remember: If Mr. Loeb (who I’m sure is a perfectly nice guy) happens to ask, make sure to tell him that it was actually Clayface who wrote that post.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

September 29, 2003




Hush to judgement

September 28, 2003

Warning: Spoilers ahead, provided that, semantically speaking, one can spoil something that’s already rotten. (There’s spoilers for New X-Men, Daredevil and Wolverine: Origin mixed in there too.)

The big event of mainstream comics 2003, the number-one best-selling book month after month, the title that’s supposed to be DC’s entree into the battle for superhero supremacy unilaterally initiated by the New Marvel regime of Joe Quesada and Bill Jemas (with hires like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski riding shotgun) has come to an end. And it sucked.

As a matter of fact, the conclusion of “Hush,” the 12-part storyline written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Jim Lee in Batman’s eponymous flagship monthly title, was offensively bad. It was much, much, so much worse than even I thought it would be. I suppose that saying this is akin to saying I was shocked–shocked–to discover, upon watching MTV’s reality series Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica, that pop sensation Jessica Simpson maybe has had a somewhat sheltered life and also is maybe not too bright,. But I am a superhero comics fan, and as such have a capacity for willful self-delusion rivalled only by Scientologists and Boston Red Sox fans who think it’s “their year.” The conclusion of “Hush” was like Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner rolled into one, if, that is, Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner were dressed up in spandex and then had the bottoms of their shoes drawn in awe-inspiring detail.

“Hush” concerned Batman’s attempts to determine the identity of a mysterious new foe, the mastermind behind a serious of surprisingly sophisticated attacks by the vigilante’s rogues gallery. In the first few issues, Batman balanced this detective work with the pressing need to become reacquainted with a childhood friend who apparently played such an important role in young Batman’s life that decade upon decade of Batman writers felt unequal to the task of portraying this relationship, because “Hush” marked this character’s first appearance. Ladies and gentlemen of the Batman-buying public, if you think this random-ass character, who appeared in Batman’s life at exactly the same time as the mysterious villain and wore exactly the same trenchcoat as the mysterious villain and made a big point of using the word “hush” which is the name of the mysterious villain, is in fact that very same mysterious villain–you’d be wrong!

Ha ha, no, I’m just blowin’ smoke up your ass. He’s the villain.

But writer Loeb was not satisfied by the depth of ineptitude to which this “mystery,” in introducing a brand new stupid-obvious character no one gives a tuppeny fuck about and then making him the big top-secret villain of the piece, has sunk–a depth which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is already pretty fucking shockingly low. Any mystery writer worth his salt will tell you that the reader must be thrown off the trail; Loeb, as a “mystery” “writer” who created a trail about as difficult to find as the Vegas Strip, had to go above and beyond the call of duty to throw us off of it. He therefore took the bold, clever, brilliant, not-at-all-cheating step of killing the brand new stupid-obvious character no one gives a tuppeny fuck about, but then–get this!–through a series of Batman-universe wonky sci-fi/fantasy plot devices, it turns out he wasn’t dead at all! He was just hiding! Ha ha! Fooled you, stupid readers! I’m a genius, I tell you!

Fortunately for us, Loeb didn’t blaze into this uncharted, not-an-enormous-gyp-at-all form of storytelling unprepared. Oh, heavens no. From what I’m told, this master storyteller actually honed this bold, daring, kill-the-villain-but-keep-your-fingers-crossed-when-you-do-it approach in not one, but two previous Batman projects. These projects, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, are part of his long-time collaboration with (legitimately talented) artist Tim Sale, a collaboration which nine times out of ten yields paint-dryingly dull, consequence-free rehashes of early-years continuity in the lives of various superheroes created several decades ago. Alas for me, I have not read either of these Batman books, and therefore cannot describe to you how Loeb refined this stunning, shocking, ground-breaking, not-an-humongous-motherfucking-lazyass-fraud-in-the-slightest method of funnybook magic from one to the other. But I’m quite sure that it’s an inspiring journey to take. And by “an inspiring journey” I mean “I wonder if there’s a class-action lawsuit pending because centering your story around a completely unearned surprise twist that you have to cheat like a bat-corking home run king to arrive at should be grounds for legal action on behalf of all the people who paid money to have their shoes pissed on and then get informed by the pisser that no, in fact, it’s Hurricane Isabel.”

I don’t want to give you the impression that Loeb is alone in concocting a plot the shocking surprise of which was possible only because the writer put no effort into setting it up in an even remotely plausible way. I direct you to Origin, the Paul Jenkins-scripted Wolverine story that spent two full issues following around a surly little funny-haired kid named Logan, who any reasonable reader would expect to be the earlier self of the surly little funny-haired mutant named Logan, whose code name happens to be Wolverine. But on the last two pages of issue number two, a second kid, one who neither looks nor acts nor is named nor (up until that moment) did a single goddamn thing to make us think that he might be Wolverine, has claws pop out of his hands. I can only imagine the back-slapping and high-fiving that went on in the Marvel offices upon the devising of this “shocking” “twist”–because I’m so distracted by my complete flabberghastation that grown men could congratulate themselves as brilliant writers for sticking a plot twist in the middle of a book without putting a single clue, a single character trait, a single goddamn anything that would enable a particularly perceptive reader or a reader who’s rereading the thing after discovering the twist to believe anything other than the initial deceptive direction that the author forced us into that even if I were at the back-slapping session in question I’d just have to sit there scratching my head and saying “what the fuck?” (A reaction similar, no doubt, to your own in trying to unravel that grammatically torturous sentence. Do you see what bad writing does to me? It’s contagious!)

Another comparison might be instructive here. In a recent issue of New X-Men, writer Grant Morrison revealed that the zen-spouting masked healer known as Xorn was, in fact, the presumed-dead Alan David Doane Magneto in disguise. Like all good twists, it was one that almost no one saw coming. Also like all good twists, it was one that, upon re-reading the issues that led up to it, almost everyone would smack themselves in the head and say “how could I not see that coming?” Morrison did a real purloined-letter on this, peppering Xorn’s words and actions with clues as to his true nature and identity. But his talent at misdirection was such that we a) never felt that this was too obvious (as might be the case if, say, you introduced a brand new character no one had ever heard of before who dressed exactly like the secret villain of your piece); b) never felt that this had been done by cheating (as if, for example, you introduced that character only to shoot him in an alleyway in full view of like five other major characters, then say “ha ha, no, that was actually a guy made out of clay using his magic powers to make himself into a clone of that character”; c) never felt that the surprise twist made a reductive mess out of the preceding storyline (as if, by way of a for instance, you’d kept everyone buying a story religiously for twelve months promising that “nothin

g is what it seems,” only to reveal in the final issue that, in fact, everything was exactly what it seemed, you dumbasses).

There’s more to “Hush” than this awful phony non-twist, though, I hear its proponents saying even now (they’re not using the words “awful phony non-twist,” but the sentiment is roughly the same). There’s the art by Jim Lee! Ah yes, and, um, art it is. I’m not part of the cult of Jim, a cult formed primarily through his work on X-Men and his co-founding of Image Comics in the early 90s. Though his hyper-rendered artwork doesn’t do all that much for me, I don’t find it offensive, as some others do. But what bothered me was my ever-increasing conviction that Lobe’s “plot,” such as it was, was simply an excuse to publish “How to Draw Batman the Jim Lee Way,” enabling Lee to create almost comically labor-intensive portraits of Batman villains (given slight revamps so that they look REALLY BAD-ASS!), Batman sidekicks (an ever more redundant clique of S&Mish nitwits who clutter up this supposed loner’s life like the world’s worst-dressed in-laws), and Batman shoes. Lee at his worst is not unlike Neal Adams at his worst, obsessed with “realism” yet divorced from reality, consumed with what and how he is drawing yet never really stopping to consider why. Why, for example, do we need to see painstakingly accurate portrayals of the bottom of Batman’s boots not once but twice? Unlike the identity of Hush himself, that one really is a mystery.

So you had the offensively stupid and badly-constructed “twist,” the plotless plot, the occasionally Yngwie-Malmsteenish art. What else is there? Oh yeah–the fact that not a goddamn thing that happened in this book matters a goddamn bit. Sure, Batman and Catwoman are now “together,” but if you asked nine out of ten non-fanboys (they’re easy to spot–they’re the ones who didn’t read this book) I’m sure they’d tell you that Bats and Cats were already an item. Capitalizing on the sexual tension between two gorgeous PVC-wearing nocturnal vigilantes–ooh, that’s a tough row to hoe! And sure, the brand new character (whose name was Thomas Elliott, if that matters, which I assure you it does not) was killed too–no, for real this time, it was in the last issue after he’d already come back from the dead so they couldn’t possibly bring him back again, hey we all saw him get shot right in the bulletproof armor and fall off the conveniently placed bridge into the flowing river that i guess moved his body downstream and out to sea where no one could find it, but he’s got to be dead, I mean, would Jeph Loeb lie about something like that? Another major, sure-to-be-permanent change in the Bat-mythos is that Two-Face is now one-faced once again. (Funny thing, though–why does this plot development seem so familiar? Oh, right.) Yes, a little plastic surgery and the bipolar baddie is suddenly handsome and one of the good guys, pretty much. Gee, that’ll last

Comix and match

September 26, 2003

It looks like professional concerns will calm down a bit next week, so that will probably be the time where you’ll see some longer-form posts: the oft-promised defense of Velvet Goldmine, for example, as well as possible examinations of Bowie’s Berlin period and an excoriation of Loeb & Lee’s Batman run. Till then, it’s the usual calvacade of links (which inevitably turns out longer than a long-form piece would, but whatever).

First and foremost, a fond farewell to Alan David Doane, who’s calling it a day and ending his website and weblog. It’s funny: A year or two ago, I vaguely knew of ADD as a guy who usually was on the opposite side from me of various message-board arguments, but I’d never actually gotten into it with him. So I ended up getting to e-know him from the interaction of our weblogs, and lo and behold, I quite like him and his work. Funny how the Internet works: A guy I probably would have hated had I spoken with him in one format turns into a guy I admire and like because I spoke to him through another format. Alan is/was a fine example of Internet comics criticism, whose passion may have occasionally gotten the best of him but much more often than not led to revelatory writing on comics many people (myself included) might not have otherwise tried. Since that was his frequently stated goal, I congratulate him: Mission accomplished.

On the other side of the coin, there’s bad Internet comics criticism. And then, o my brothers, there’s so-bad-it’s-good Internet comics crticism. Enter Michael David Thomas’s hysterical (in both senses of the word), ad hominem-laden attack on Tom Spurgeon & Jordan Raphael’s biography of Stan Lee. I haven’t read the book, I must admit, so who knows? Maybe the book is as bad as this review says. (It would be hard pressed for the book to be as bad as the review itself.) I do happen to know from experience that Tom Spurgeon’s antipathy to superhero comics is unslakeable. But in reading this review you get the impression that any book about Stan Lee that didn’t use a ton of exclamation points an alliteration and refer to Lee as “Smilin’ Stan” would be not just unacceptable but borderline heretical. What can you say about a review that slags the book for being biased, then ends with a section titled “Still ‘The Man'”? You can say it’s dumb, is what you can say. (Thomas gets extra points for referring to the Comics Journal in much the same way that George Bush the First referred to the ACLU, or how that woman in the diner referred to Tippi Hendren in The Birds.)

What, they couldn’t come up with a fourth book for the Fantastic Four? C’mon, guys. Make the Newsarama headline writers’ jobs a little easier, okay? “Four on the Floor?” “Four for Four“? “Fantastic Four?” It’d practically write itself!

Great, lengthy Grant Morrison interview over at comic book resources. With each new story arc my conviction deepens that this will end up being pretty much the best run on a monthly superhero comic ever.

Also on the Morrison tip is Big Sunny D, weighing in with his fourth take on The Filth, this time emphasizing the fantastic covers. I reiterate the need for someone with design sense, like cover creator Carlos Segura, to have design control over whatever collected edition The Filth ends up in. Also, feel better, Sunny!

Johnny Bacardi has updated both his blogroll and his front page, adding a Dave Stevens pin-up that I remember very, very well from my youth. I remember seeing it in an issue of Femme Fatales magazine that I bought from my local comics shop, Gotham Manor, back in the ninth grade. Boy, did I like that tissue. Issue. Sorry.

(Why does Johnny B’s site always inspire me to comment on what bits of pop-culture cheesecake I, as a pre-Internet adolescent boy, relied upon for kicks? Beats me. I have no idea.)

CrossGendered Comics continues to snip away at its assets, including, apparently, artist George Perez. I never cared one way or the other about CrossGen, except insofar as they a) Seemed to have the right idea when it came to packaging their trade paperback collections; b) removed a lot of retro-flavored fanboy-favorite artists and writers from wider circulation with their exclusivity agreements. While they’ve been bleeding those guys for some time now (hence Mark Waid being on Fantastic Four in the first place), I’m most nervous about Perez leaving. I happen to like quite a bit of what he does artistically, but having this 80s stalwart treated as a superstar (as he no doubt will be, what with the furor the CG situation is creating and the heat on his JLA/Avengers crossover) will be a big aesthetic step backwards for the superhero industry, one that’s already indulging in 90s retro with the Jim Lee run on Batman and Rob Liefeld’s comeback on Youngblood, and the upcoming Lee run on Superman, Marc Silvestri run on New X-Men, and Rob Liefeld covers run on Cable/Deadpool.

Forager–who, in the style of Daredevil, Captain America, Professor X and Spider-Man, has outed his secret identity as one J.W. Hastings!–has a couple of great posts today. One is a rant inspired by Frederic Boilet‘s manga vs. bandes-desinees article, including a refutation of the (baseless, pretentious, elitist, etc.) assertion that real-life stories are automatically better and/or more worthwhile than fantasy-tinged stories, and an upbraiding of the artistically self-indulgent minicomics scene. It touches (though it doesn’t mention it by name) on the possible negative ramifications of Team Comix’s hip-hip-hooray-for-us spirit; it’s also relevant to the discussion of the altcomix anthology Kramers Ergot 4 going on at the Comics Journal messboard.

The second good Forager piece isn’t comics related, but here it is anyway–a description of Forager’s ideal cinema studies program. For what its worth, the film studies program from which I graduated (magna cum laude, phi beta kappa, highest average in the major, best senior thesis essay in the major, ahem ahem), at Yale, was actually quite similar to the one Forager advocates, at least in terms of the classes I chose to take. I guess that’s the idea, though: in most cinema studies departments/programs, people can coast through on a river of bullshit if they want. (Even at my own beloved alma mater, I know one guy who didn’t even bother watching the movie he chose to do his thesis on. People, that movie wasn’t Ivan or Empire or something like that. That movie was The Blues Brothers.) Interesting Forager-post crossover: The fantasy writer he cites in his comics post as the best novelist of the past 30 years, John Crowley, was the person who graded my senior thesis screenplay for film studies! (He gave me an A-.)

David Fiore continues to mine old Marvel comics for philosophical-slash-theological gold. And like me, he thought Marvels was overrated. (And yet, I liked Kingdom Come. To quote Dr. Channard, the mind is a labyrinth.)

Two Jim Henley notes. First, Jim links to this post from the site Lean Left, following up on several of Jim’s criticisms of retailers and claiming (accurately, I think) that emotion, rather than intelligence or even common sense, seems to play the biggest role in the various arguments about how the industry should be run.

Second, Jim counters my counterargument about the Dave Gibbons/Lee Weeks Captain America run. Jim, I think you misinterpreted my bit about you “getting it completely wrong,” which is understandable, because that phrase is extremely misinterpretable. Alls I meant was that the comic was good, you thought it was bad, and therefore, you were wrong. (Hey, it’s my blog, and you’re wrong if I want you to be.) Politics didn’t enter into it (except that I assumed that, in critiquing how superhero comics “used to be written,” you were talking about not just the prose style, but the we’re-right-they’re-wrong theme of many of the plots). I certainly wasn’t accusing you of being part of an “anti-American conspiracy,” or even thinking of you as such in jest. Believe me, as seriously as I take my own politics, I’ve got no plans to resort to that kind of horsepucky.

Good news: Eve Tushnet is blogging about comics again! Bad news: She’s not blogging about anything I’ve read.

Fanboy Pandemonium!

September 25, 2003

CrossGen scraps its own business plan and fires two dozen employees!

Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo are hired back onto Fantastic Four!

Firestorm’s getting his own series again!

Switchboards across the country are on fire as portly gentlemen wearing glasses and all-over-print t-shirts put aside their copies of Spider-Girl, Brath and Fallen Angel to discuss these startling developments!

Comix and match

September 24, 2003

Every once in a while I’ll notice that my wife or one of my friends is visiting this page. Usually they get about as far as a sentence that begins, “With the final, Big-Reveal-laden issue of Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee’s Batman storyline, “Hush,” due in stores this week,” or “Heated–and yet intelligent and readable!–debates abound on the Comics Journal messboard,” then turn around and get the hell out of here. I’m not sure that I blame them.

For the unreconstructed fanboy in all of us (speaking of surefire ways to begin sentences in a fashion that scares the Missus away, huh?) comes the news that Brian Michael Bendis’s superduper Ultimate Six series will be extended a full issue because its climactic fight scene is too long. That sound you hear? That’s glee. (However, it is a bit disingenuous for Bendis to claim, “I didn’t realize the sixth member was going to be such a fun guessing game for everyone.” When you say you’re doing a book about six characters but only reveal the identities of five, you know what’s gonna happen.)

Bill Sherman continues his exploration of manga by reviewing Iron Wok Jan!, a series about chefs. No, I’m not kidding. It seems to be proof that Japanese comics can make anything interesting–you know, like movies can do. (Would you have reacted similarly if I had said Bill reviewed a movie about chefs? Didn’t think so.)

(Actually, Japanese TV has made cooking interesting, too, but maybe that’s just because when I watch Iron Chef I picture Chairman Kaga as mad warlord, with a legion of chefs-slash-ninja-assassins at his disposal. I mean, look in his eyes when he bites into that pepper–that is the look of madness. Dr. Doom looks like that sometimes. And during the final episode of Iron Chef, Kagasan rode into Kitchen Stadium on a horse. I swear to God.)

Ahem. Also on the manga beat is Shawn Fumo, who today discusses what European comics could learn from their Japanese counterparts. According to an article he sites by bandes-dessinees creator Frederic Boilet, manga’s strength is its lack of reliance on genre, which he sees as being as much of a problem in Europe as many believe it is in America. The flaw in Boilet’s argument, as Shawn and I both see it, is this anti-genre snobbery: Boilet appears to think that when it comes to genre fiction, none of it is particularly good (and believe me, in Europe they’re tackling a lot more types of genre fiction than we are here in superhero-fixated America). If Fantagraphics’s Kim Thompson is right and More “Crap” Is What We Need (the scare quotes are mine, naturally), then Europe isn’t a bad model to follow. Still, Japan’s emphasis on everyday-life stories (in my book, just another genre) is admirable, and one that American comics would be well-advised to investigate.

Let’s everyone wish Dirk Deppey well, okay?

Before it degenerates into the usual anti-Bush fatuities (is “The Hand Puppet” as clever and devastating a perjorative nickname for the President as Rall’s “Generalissimo El Busho”? U-decide!), Steven Grant‘s column offers a provocative two-pronged take on the perils of “servicing trademarks”: The dead-end nature (creatively and, in the long run, financially) of revamping old comics titles or characters, and the role that continuity rehashes like X-Men: The Hidden Years and Spider-Man: Chapter One played in artist/writer (I almost put “writer/artist,” heaven forbid) John Byrne’s fall from grace into “yesterday’s news” territory. I think Grant underestimates the enjoy-ability of a good revamp (what else would you call The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example, let alone Ultimate Spider-Man?), but he’s basically right: The big companies, and market & labor practices in general, have made supercomics the only game in town for people who wish to make a good living off the Direct Market, and the only supercomics people really buy star those good old characters; couple that with the big companies’ reluctance to publish stuff they don’t own, and you have a dramatic lack of new properties being invented. It’s the comics equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture, and in the long run, it’s not good.

Jim Henley analyzes the good, the bad & the ugly when it comes to his local and semi-local comic book stores. He points out something that should be obvious: People will walk past all kinds of stuff in a store to get to the staple products that they know are in there. This is why grocey stores put the produce and dairy all the way on the sides of the store and the meat in the back–they want you to walk past all the rest of the stuff, and since you know those important foods are in there and you know you’re gonna buy them anyway, you really don’t care. So why, then, do comics retailers insist on putting pictures of Batman and Spider-Man in their store windows while sticking altcomix and books all the way in the back? Supercomics fans know what they want, and they know where to get it–believe me, they’re not NOT going to come into the store on Wednesday because they think you’ve stopped stocking Wolverine since he’s not right next to the check-out counter anymore. As a matter of fact, everyone knows they can get superhero comics in comics stores, because nearly everyone thinks there’s no such thing as non-superhero comics. The stuff you put up front should be stuff that actually might catch non-fanboys’ eyes. I mean, duh.

I have to say, it was a pretty good day at the comic book store today. I don’t like to list what I bought, generally speaking, but I was just tickled by nearly everything I picked up today.

Amazing Spider-Man 499: Alls I can say is that NeilAlien will fucking flip out. And with that gorgeous JRJR art, who can blame him? One question, though: What exactly is going on in the graveyard at the end? Are we supposed to know?

Thor: Vikings 3: I’d imagine the ‘Alien will flip out again, but not in a good way–Garth Ennis seems to be writing Doc Strange a bit on the lavender side. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… but moreover, the callous attitude with which Thor and Strange, two of the Marvel U’s foremost boy scouts, treat the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is jarring, and not particularly relevatory or clever. I am enjoying the gore, though, and there seems to be more of that on the way, so hooray!

Born 4: Ennis’s Vietnam Punisher origin story comes to its brutal and depressing climax. Thank God for brutal and depressing, as opposed to brutal and zany, which Ennis has been doing in his main Punisher series with diminishing returns for some time now. I’ll quibble, of course, with the broadly stated anti-American-war sentiments at the beginning (I can only assume the comments are directed at the architects of Gulf War II, who are obviously the puppets of the big companies and therefore attacked Iraq, but are obviously the pupptes of the big companies and therefore DIDN’T attack Iraq for years, so, uh…does not compute), but Ennis’s look into the addictive psychology of killing and the soporific effects of hopelessness was very appealing to me, and a good sign for what will happen when he takes the Punisher into his promised more-serious direction later this year. (I guess Mark Millar will be taking up the zany reins on his upcoming Punisher project. Woo hoo.)

The Incredible Hulk 61: Now that we’re really focusing on The Conspiracy, it would help if at least some of the conspirators didn’t look exactly alike. Still, I can’t wait to see where writer Bruce Jones ends up with this, and Mike Deodato’s art is lovely (and sexy, again). One question: the leader of the conspiracy has got to be The Leader, right? I mean, who else?

Captain America 18: A big “fuckin’ a!” to this story of Captain A, on the run from Nazis in a German-ruled alternate 1960s New York City. Like I pointed out last week, this is how you do Captain America–un-arrogant, unbowed, and beating the snot out of genocidal totalitarians. It’s also how you do alternate-history Marvel stories, by the way: This Easter-Egg-filled romp of an issue, with some tremendous action sequences by the increasingly good Lee Weeks, is basically a Where Are They Now (or Where They Were Then, or Where They Would Have Been If Then Was Like This Instead Of How Then Actually Was?) of important Marvel characters, showing the ways in which an Axis victory in WWII would have changed our beloved fictional universe. Writer Dave Gibbons’s done this much more entertainingly–and, importantly, organically–than Neil Gaiman has managed with his much-touted, now much-maligned series 1602 thus far.

Smax 1&2: I guess I was one of those people to whom this project just screamed “inessential”–chalk it up to the goofy art and the “Top Ten meets Shrek” word-of-mouth. I figured this was going to be another lark in the vein of much of writer Alan Moore’s America’s Best Comics work, which leads to a “thanks, but no thanks” from yours truly. But on ADD’s recommendation, I picked up the series’ two issues thus far, and enjoyed ’em quite a bit. Since it’s a Top Ten spin-off, it’s written very much in that mode: If TT is a TV show, Smax is like the nostalgia-fueled post-cancellation TV movie. It doesn’t have as many fanboy eye-pops as its predecessor, but there’s still quite a few fun cameos in there (the white troll buying drugs from a black troll would have been a funny and pointed gag even if they weren’t troll-doll trolls; I also enjoyed spotting the occasional Tolkienism). I wasn’t quite as disturbed by the second issue as was ADD, but it was definitely rough stuff that belied the cartoony look of Zander Cannon’s art, and that dragon was simply astounding. Glad I picked this up.

Finally, the much-ballyhooed Batman 619: Um, are you kidding?

Comix and match

September 22, 2003

Lo, there shall come… a Fumo! Prolific comment-poster and manga-booster Shawn Fumo has got hisself a blog at long last. Enjoy!

The comicsphere gets Filthy: Bill Sherman, Johnny Bacardi and myself offer our opinions on the now-completed Grant Morrison series The Filth, while Big Sunny D has a thoughtful three-part examination of the book with a fourth on the way. This weekend I lent all my trades of Morrison’s The Invisibles to a friend, and took the time to compare it to this more recent, superficially similar series. “The Invisibles,” I said, “didn’t make sense. Neither does The Filth, but unlike The Invisibles, it makes sense in the way it doesn’t make sense.” Um, can we get Chip Kidd to design the collected edition? Or let cover creator Segura Inc. run the show? Please?

Jim Henley finally gets around to reading Eightball #22, which is probably the best single-issue comic ever. I don’t like doing the whole “best ever” kinda thing, but trust me, this book deserves it. 32 pages long, and you can go back to it as often as you do Watchmen, From Hell, Dark Knight, Jimmy Corrigan, or whatever happen to be your own personal favorites. It’s astounding.

Damn, but Doctor Strange lettercolumns were interesting! David Fiore reprints another letter examining Doc’s theological repercussions. NeilAlien, your people need you!

A stupid talk show bashes a stupid comic book, which leads to a stupid political thread on Newsarama, which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that nothing good can come from Joe Kelly thinking that he’s the spandex set’s George Orwell. (See also: Wright, Micah Ian, delusions of grandeur of; O’Reilly, Bill, enormous boost to Al Franken’s book sales due to comments by.)

Ninth Art has a roundtable discussion of comics-creators-as-rock-stars, and the extent to which a writer (that’s primarily what they’re focusing on here) can establish a “brand” through a high public/fan profile and a unique physical appearance. They cite Grant Morrison as the foremost example of this phenomenon, and indeed he is–as I’ve said before, he understands the personal, psychological, and creative benefits of persona creation as well as the economic and business ones. The Ninth-Arters also mention Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, and (they debate this, though to me it’s undebatable) Alan Moore. Notice a through-line here? They’re all from the UK, where the arts, particularly the popular ones, are steeped in a rich tradition of self-conscious theatricality. Personally I think 9A missed a couple additional obvious examples: Mark Millar (though he’s modeling himself more on brash Hollywood types than rock stars) and Paul Pope, the sexiest man in comics. I saw Paul at SPX, though, and in that crowd a good-looking, stylish, thin cartoonist sticks out a lot less than if you surrounded him with DC Editorial and the founding members of Gorilla Comics, for example. But Paul really seems to “get” what he’s doing–“I want to look like I could have stepped out of one of my comics,” he once told me, and he does. I think the rock-star model will be very important to the medium in the future–or at the very least an extremely useful tool for ambitious and talented creators.

Summer Blockbusters

September 22, 2003

With the final, Big-Reveal-laden issue of Jeph Loeb & Jim Lee’s Batman storyline, “Hush,” due in stores this week, and with the sales of Kurt Busiek & George Perez’s JLA/Avengers generating much discussion of the degree to which it is or is not a huge hit and does or does not proscribe the limits of the Direct Market audience, I thought I’d weigh in on these two books, the supercomics equivalent of big summer tentpole popcorn movies.

I’m trying very, very hard not to have the ending of “Hush” spoiled for me. (For those who don’t know, “Hush” chronicles Batman’s attempt to survive unusually sophisticated and dangerous attacks from about half of his Rogue’s Gallery, instigated, it would seem, by a mysterious villain in a trenchcoat and invisible-man face bandages. The mystery villain appears to be acting with inside information, leading Batman to question his relationships with the various vigilantes and helper-monkeys with which he makes common cause). To be honest, getting that big payoff of the surprise ending is close to the sole reason why I’m buying the book. It’s not that I actively dislike “Hush”–It’s… entertaining. In a way. A lot less entertaining than a lot of books that I buy strictly for entertainment value, but entertaining nonetheless. Unlike what seems to be the case for most people who buy-but-don’t-really-dig “Hush,” I don’t particularly care for Jim Lee’s–but then I never did, not even back when I first started buying comics and Image, the company he co-founded with a slew of other then-popular flashy artists, was King Shit of Turd Mountain (I was a Spawn/Maxx guy). In this current case, I remember seeing the cover for his first Batman issue, being told by my boss “Isn’t it awesome?” and saying “Well, it certainly is an awe-inspiring view of the sole of Batman’s foot.” Yuck, in other words. Lee’s a solid craftsman, but for me at least, that’s as far as it goes. The story, meanwhile, has all the trappings of a big shake-up without actually changing anything about the book’s status quo. Sure, Batman and Catwoman are now an item, and one of Batman’s most redundant and irritating sidekicks is no more, but so what? The Loeb/Lee Batman, while superficially similar to the New-Marvel approach in that it took a pretty big-name writer, paired him with a big-name artist, and put them on an imporant character, really is just an excuse for Batman to run around bumping into his Rogues Gallery and chatting with his comically large posse of S&M-dressed vigilante buddies and assorted other characters who know this intense, near-psychotic loaner’s secret identity, address, and social security number, written by a man who’s made a career out of doing change-free continuity rehashes and drawn by maybe THE fanboy-fave artist in the industry. Compare it to the big books that define New Marvel, like New X-Men, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, even (to a lesser extent, but still) Amazing Spider-Man–these writers were trying to redefine what these books could be about, how stories about these characters could be told, what kind of audience could read and enjoy them. But the reason I keep buying, and yes, even enjoying “Hush” is mainly because, despite all its flaws, it has managed to make itself into A Big Event by sheer force of will. This is a book that will matter in the long term for the character, which to me is an important criterion for superhero comics. I love the character, so even though I think this kind of storytelling and artistic model is a very bad one for the industry to start following–it’s basically a streamlined, souped-up method of Preaching To The Converted–I’m buying this book. I realize I couldn’t have thought up a reason to buy this book less relevant to a real critic’s way of thinking if I sat around and tried, but that’s the way it is.

Regarding JLA/Avengers, I bought it out of willingness to give a Busiek-scripted book the benefit of the doubt: Though I didn’t like Marvels, I do like Astro City and really enjoy Arrowsmith, which I picked up solely on a whim. I’ve also got a bizarre weak spot for George Perez’s art–again odd, considering I wasn’t weaned on his Teen Titans or anything like that. I think it’s weird that he gives every woman giant Dolly Parton hairdos (didn’t think I was gonna say “hairdos,” didja?), and weirder still that CrossGen thought it was a good idea to base their entire female-character aesthetic on this, but there’s something about his manically overdrawn pages that has this weird pop appeal to me. The hardcover collection of Crisis on Infinite Earths that my wife gave me a few years back is one of my prized possessions–what’s done in that book, and also in JLA/Avengers, can really only be done in comics, and moreover is inherently comics, if that makes sense. In the first JLA/A issue, there’s a two-page spread of an alien-parasite invasion of Manhattan that is genuinely breathtaking. Also, I actually think Busiek did a pretty nice job with characterization and dialogue in this one, much better than he usually does. My two major complaints? 1) Why in God’s name is he sticking to the official Avenger’s roster? Half–actually, let’s face it, all of the appeal of this book comes from seeing the biggest characters from Marvel and DC punch each other. I suppose there are fanboys who are genuinely interested in finding out whether the Avengers team proper would win in a fight against the self-evidently more powerful Justice League–but is anyone else? I can’t imagine anyone being really excited about a matchup between also-ran Avengers like Jack of Hearts and, well, anyone. Ditto Yellowjacket and all those other dorks. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, fine–throw in Hulk and Spider-Man and Doc Strange and Namor and Wolverine and the Fantastic Four and make it fun, for Pete’s sake. (I guess he’ll be doing this later on, but I’m impatient.) 2) As many people have pointed out, the video-game-style hunt-for-magical-objects structuring device couldn’t be lamer. Busiek really hit on something in the fascist-overlords vs. dereliction-of-duty ideological conflict between Captain America and Superman in this first issue; it’s that rare thing in supercomics–an battle of ideas in which both sides actually make some good points. If he had slowly built this conflict up and let it explode at the series’ climax, he’d have had a really good book. Instead he seems to be implying that Cap and Supes are only arguing because of some hazy cosmic jive (the other team members seem stunned at their leaders’ belligerence), and he’s sure to abandon the battle in favor of having the teams join together to fight the Anti-Monitor or Thanos or whatever. Boring. But again, this is A Big Event. That’s part of the attraction of superhero comics to me.

I just wish that a summer blockbuster comic would come along that’s not just a story well told, but a story worth telling.

Cat update

September 22, 2003

Amanda has the scoop. Since that post went to press we’ve actually gotten some QT in with Lucy–last night she let us reach under the bed and pet her, and she even came out from under while we were in the bedroom to play with her toys! Tonight we think we may leave the bedroom door open so she can explore the rest of the apartment, because we can tell from her attempts to get into the closet that she’s getting both curious and brave. And soon… snuggles!

I’m sorry–was that too cutesy? Read the post below, in which I basically cop to buying a couple of dopey comics because they’re popular. That’s nauseating in a whole different way.

Critical mass

September 22, 2003

Courtesy of ADD, here’s a link (click and then scroll down) to a tremendous interview of Ninth Art & X-Axis critic Paul O’Brien by Movie Poop Shoot “Breakdowns” columnist Chris Allen. If you are interested at all in the state of comics criticism–a hot topic ever since Gary Groth’s recent jeremiad in the Comics Journal–this long, essential dialogue between two internet critics is a must read. For though Groth was right in calling for more stringent critical standards, applied frequently and without the interference of misguided team spirit, he was wrong in saying it’s nowhere to be found. It’s here on the Internet.

In a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion, Allen and O’Brien tackle a slew of issues facing comics critics, fans, and creators.

* The pros and cons of niche reviewing: O’Brien’s X-Axis site is devoted almost exclusively to reviewing just about every mutant-related title that Marvel puts out. This enables him to compare how different creators explore different themes using the same core concept, and their relative success or failure; it also forces him to review dreck for completeness’ sake and is an essentially procrustean outgrowth of his early years as a fanboy.

* The need to engage the mainstream: Both Ninth Art and X-Axis (obviously, in the latter case) focus primarily on mainstream comics. O’Brien argues that this was, in fact, his deliberate critical intention, because it is vital for any artform for its mainstream entertainment to be engaged and evaluated by critics. I’ve complained long and loud about what I perceive to be the lack of such engagement from print-media’s only “legit” source of comics criticism, the Comics Journal. (Well, “only” is an exaggeration, but not by much.) My conversations with TCJ staff have since led me to the conclusion that they simply do not see the magazines role in the artform or the industry the same way I would were I in charge, and that’s fine; this is why I think online comics criticism, embodied by the comics blogosphere and non-press-release-reliant news-and-reviews sites like Ninth Art are of (pardon the pun) critical importance to the medium.

* The role of “duty”: As I mentioned below, I get some comics out of more or less the perceived obligation to keep up with the really big, popular books. As a kinda sorta critic, this obligation is heightened, in a way; for bona fide critics like Allen and O’Brien, it’s even more of a consideration. It’s fascinating to see issues like this get discussed.

* The weakness of the floppy pamphlet, the switchover to trade-paperback as the dominant American-mainstream format, the coming rule of manga over all of comics, and the effect that all of the above are having on mainstream storytelling: These are all pet topics of mine, and that Allen and O’Brien are tackling them too bodes well for building up some sort of critical mass (again, pardon the pun) toward getting the industry to really pay attention to these issues. It may be a pipe dream, particularly when the folks we might usually count on to publicize voices speaking to these issues, ie. Gary Groth and the Journal, seem to be writing off the one venue of criticism that’s out there promoting these smarter business and artistic decisions because it doesn’t read enough like Pauline Kael. But if comics have taught us anything, it’s to dream big.

There’s more, too: on Grant Morrison’s franchise vs. creator-owned books, on the respective difficulties of writing really negative and really positive reviews, on how the need for topicality leads columnists to focus either on molehill-derived mountains or almost exclusively on industry trends rather than aesthetic or literary concerns, on the strengths and weaknesses of New Marvel’s X-books, on the relative dearth of reviews graphic-novel and alternative comics offered by O’Brien’s sites (his one real weakness, in my book–I don’t think there’s much of an excuse for holding up “new mainstream” books, like Queen & Country (which I’ve never read, admittedly, but somehow I doubt it ranks with Black Hole) or even James Kochalka (who’s good at what he does, but probably not the sign that points the way to where comics should be going), as the books “everybody should be reading)… Fascinating stuff that I’m glad to have read. Good Comix Criticism Ain’t Dead.

Big Weekend

September 20, 2003

There are two big new additions to the Collins Household. The first is the sexy new iBook I’m currently using to blog this entry with. The Missus and I both use Macs at work, and her old PC was increasingly slow and unreliable, and I’d love to have the ability to use a word processor during my 2 hours worth of train rides every workday, so there you have it. We haven’t used it to do much except blog from bed, upload a bunch of Karolyn‘s pictures of Jeffrey Brown from WizardWorld Chicago, and attempt to look at Tori Amos porn, but we’ll let you know if we get it to do something particularly neat.

The second is a lovely little lady named Lucy, a crosseyed calico cat who is now our baby. We brought her home from a local shelter called Bide-a-Wee this afternoon, and that was pretty much the last we saw of her: She’s been hiding under the bed ever since. Apparently she comes out when we’re not in the room–we can tell because her food’s been eaten, her litter’s been used, and her catnip toy keeps moving around. We’re told that many cats are like this for a while after moving into someone’s place from a shelter, so we’re not offended. And she’s just adorable. How she’s found room to hang out under the bed without being smushed between all those comic books is beyond me.

(I know, I know–a few days ago I was saying how I can’t be buying so many comics every week, and then all of a sudden I come home with a laptop and a pet. But both were essentially paid for by my folks–the computer was purchased with long-unused wedding-gift money intended for just such a purchase, and all the cat supplies were donated to us because my parents had bought it all with the intention of getting a cat a few months back but then never ended up doing so. The bank remains unbroken.)

What else is new? Amanda, in additon to cat- and computer-getting activities, has been painting quite a bit ever since she got really excited about it during an art-therapy class at Renfrew. She does lovely, evocative things with colors. The paintings can be hard to look at when you know what they’re really depicting, but it’s a much healthier way to work these things out than her previous coping mechanisms. The most recent one is a larger version of the final panel of a comic Amanda drew the other day, one which nearly tore my heart out. And they’re beautiful, too. We’ve got to get them framed–our apartment looks so bare, since we’ve nothing on the walls.

We’ve also managed to acquire an original page of art from Craig Thompson‘s Blankets. It’s the first such thing we’ve ever gotten, and we’re both just kinda stunned that we have it.

We actually saw two whole friends of ours today, plus my parents and brother, all of which made us feel very popular.

It’s really exhausting to be friendly with the people I’m friendly with and have the politics I have. (Not the friends we saw today, actually, but most everyone else.) I mean, I walk around wondering why there aren’t Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam rollin’ up his sleeves-kinda posters on the walls of my office–I am seriously gung ho, Big Two-style gung ho (this current period being, in my opinion, Big Four). And then I realize that a goodly percentage of the people in my various fields of endeavor and interest think I’m stupid, insane, dangerous, or all three. I spend so much time hearing things that make me want to pound on the table, and then I realize that if I were to open my mouth, that’s exactly how I’d make everyone else feel, and that’s an incredibly alienating feeling. You really do wonder: Have you given up on people? Have they given up on you? Are your beliefs strong enough and important enough that the answers to those questions don’t matter enough to change those beliefs? I want to go back to 10th grade, when my bad guys and the bad guys of the bands I listened to were the same people. I miss that so much.

Well, things may have changed, but my ability to pick fights with cranks is a gloriously reliable constant.

Please go ye and eat Edy’s Pumpkin Ice Cream. It’s a limited edition flavor–they disappear these suckers right after New Year’s. You’ve only got a few months to eat it, and believe me, that is not enough time.

I’ve added a whole bunch of new folks to my blogroll, and shuffled the thing around a bit generally. Browse away.

Ken, if you don’t blog about “the sweater-vest incident,” I will.


September 19, 2003

There really are quite a few things that I’d like to write about at length for the blog right about now, most notably rebuttals to Johnny Bacardi’s pan of Velvet Goldmine and faint-praise damning of David Bowie’s “Heroes” (which actually compared it unfavorably to, get this, Lodger!) I’m not sure if I have either of these things in me these days, but we’ll see. I’ve got a lot on my professional plate. Ah, the travails of writerdom.

Anyway, yeah, Johnny reviewed “Heroes” in his latest record round-up, which also includes interesting thoughts on post-glam smart-pop duo Sparks, the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated flirtation with psychedelia, the conflict between punk and prog, and more. Johnny–like Bill Sherman, Kevin Parrott and many other pop-obscurist bloggers–is a goddamn great writer, and it’s criminal that there’s no market for this kind of writing in American music magazines. Actually, that’s not entirely true–Maxim’s Blender is actually really good: smart, entertaining and thorough while never resorting to the snarkiness that passes for criticism at Spin or the Joy of Stoopid faux iconoclasm that’s the stock in trade of today’s Rolling Stone (a magazine that placed Jack White at #13 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time–30 or 40 places ahead of Pete Townshend and Frank Zappa!).

Courtesy of Johnny comes a link to this bizarre take on David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks by communist pop aficianado Antipopper. He’s a good writer, too, but his almost physical aversion to the concept of “good vs. evil” as depicted in Lynch’s series is as good an indicator as any as why I’ve always found the socialist left completely idiotic, even before recent events made me into the bloodthirsty killblogger you know and love. (That, and the fact that they seem to see the hammer-and-sickle as sexy, and not as, you know, the symbol of the deaths of tens of millions of people in gulags and execution chambers. Their hearts were in the right place, I suppose.)

John Jakala joins in the “Get a Blog, Shawn Fumo” chorus. Everybody sing!

John also has some fun at the expense of some goofy upcoming covers from DC. Particularly entertaining is the way he spots Courtney Cox Arquette in Wonder Woman drag (believe me, this is vastly preferrable to the Joanie Laurer version that Adam Huges did for Wizard way back when–accompanied by Meg Ryan as Supergirl, for the love of Jesus!) and points out that there’s a bunch of characters on the cover of an upcoming Superman/Batman who are complete mysteries even to fanboys.

(A propos of this, can someone please kill off the entire Batman family? All right–I understand the need for Jim Gordon and Alfred, probably Robin, maybe Catwoman, maaaaaaybe Nightwing at the outside, but isn’t Batman supposed to be an intense, driven, secretive loaner? Instead he’s got this P. Diddy-sized posse of Alfred, Robin, Catwoman, Nightwing, Oracle, Huntress, Batgirl, Azrael, Spoiler, Thalia, Commissioner Gordon and the entire Gotham City Police Department, Superman, and Harold the mute hunchback car mechanic, plus the forty million villains who’ve figured out his secret identity, like Ra’s al Ghul, Bane, Hugo Strange, and God knows who else. The writer who gathers all these pointless characters on an island somewhere and then has the Joker blow it to non-Mark-Waid Kingdom Come will be doing Batman a bigger favor than anyone since Frank Miller.)

David Fiore finds some gems in old Marvel letterpages, including a view of Dr. Strange as antinomian rebel. NeilAlien, take note!

David also reponds to my question as to why he will never read Fight Club. I see where he’s coming from, but I think Chuck Palahniuk has gotten an incredibly bad rap as the poster boy for Battle of Seattle black-blockers when his work is about a million times smarter and more involving. (Choke, for example, is a masterpiece; and all his books portray the need for familial connections in a completely unexpected and moving way.)

ADD nails DC’s stillborn attempt at doing for Superman what Marvel did for the X-Men, Hulk and Spider-Man, and what DC itself has kinda sorta -it-or-Sienkiewicz-draws-it done for Batman. On the other hand, much to my own surprise, I’ve been buying and enjoying Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, and I’d imagine Azzarello’s Superbook will be entertaining, too.

Radically shifting gears, Andrew Sullivan demolishes Wesley Clark’s tough-guy commander credentials. I’ve been saying to people for some time now that anyone familiar with how the Kosovo campaign actually went down should know that Clark is pretty much a joke. (To be fair, Clark’s hands were tied in Kosovo by everyone from the Clinton administration to the foot-dragging NATO allies–but this is now the campaign he’s holding up as an example as to how these things are done! Good Lord.)

Shifting back, Bill Sherman offers his take on the now-completed Grant Morrison maxiseries The Filth. I too thought this book had a heart that many of Morrison’s gonzo gross-out underbelly-touring UK compatriots would kill to achieve. The last caption of the series was tremendously moving, even haunting, to me–this despite the fact that I’m still not 100% sure what the hell happened in that last issue. I’m extremely glad that I stuck around through the duration of this series, which was the most radical thing DC has done (and, unsurprisingly, also the best) since The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

Newsarama brings us a look at Mike Ploog’s art for the upcoming fantasy series Abadazad. I guess it’s silly of me to be surprised that it’s so straightforward compared to the only other Ploog stuff I’ve seen, his extravagantly sloppy pseudo-psychedelia for Ghost Rider from the 70s, but surprised I was. It still looks lovely, though the book is seeming more and more like the Clive-Barker’s-Abarat clone I pegged it as a few months back.

Finally, at long last Dirk Deppey snaps and goes absolutely MOAB on the Direct Market. Read this essay–it’s a thing of angry beauty, like Helena Bonham-Carter at the end of Fight Club. Dirk asserts that the Direct Market has proven, through its complete inability to adopt even the most common-sense changes in its business model, that its complete collapse is inevitable. Frankly, I’m pretty sure Dirk is right, which is a big reason why I’ve been humping the book-like manga format as much as I have. Thin though they might be, there’s no room for floppy pamphlets on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble, and within ten years at the outside that’s where you’re gonna have to go to buy comics….


September 19, 2003

Please ignore this post – it will be neither funny nor informative. This is a test of the rss generation system, and has nothing to do with comics, music, capturing terrorists, Halliburton, Amanda Ferguson or her Bobo. It’s just a test.

Man it’s cool being a site operator. Hi mom!


September 19, 2003

Another good day for killblogging hawkish political commentary: In addition to Andrew Sullivan‘s dismissal of Wesley Clark, there’s Glenn Reynolds‘s ominbus summation of the current batch of sky-is-falling horseshit streaming from Big Media’s collective rear-end, Charles Johnson‘s exposure of the Arab News’s most recent salvo of vicious anti-Semitism, and Victor Davis Hanson‘s latest demonstration that the best weapon against “anti-war” forces is sanity (God, is he good). I highly recommend all four.


September 18, 2003

Today seems to be a good day for warblogging. If you come here to read about politics, I’m pretty sure you already read the sites that the following links are linking to, but hey, the important thing is that I link to them with the words “I agree” following shortly thereafter.

James Lileks has an absolute must-read (I really don’t say that very often) column. You need to scroll down a bit, but before long he produces an evidence-laden decimation of the assertion that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al Qaeda (an argument I hear being made every day, all day long in the mainstream media). He follows up by pointing out that the “Bush Lied” contingent a) didn’t think President Clinton was lying when he bombed Iraq for non-compliance, and indeed thought this was a great move, so long as it didn’t actually threaten Saddam’s grip on power in any substantial way; b) supported lifting the sanctions once upon a time (those same “genocidal” sanctions that, a few months ago, we were supposed to sit back and allow to “continue to work”–ed.) in a proposed best-case scenario that would have left an even stronger Saddam in power; c) when stripped of their veneer of legalese and “yes, but”s and “perhaps, however”s, advocated courses of action in which this monstrous bastard would remain in charge in perpetuity. God, it’s good, so much better than my clumsy summary.

Little Green Footballs’s Charles Johnson is on fire today, which I guess is to be expected, since pretty much every day is a good day if your hobby is cataloguing the neverending stream of violent fanaticism and duplicity streaming from the Islamic world. Today he notes that Saudi Arabia has initialized plans to acquire nuclear weaponry (joining Egypt and, of course, Iran in the We Want the Islamic Bomb Club currently moderated by Pakistan); that Iraq‘s infamous information minister is now openly bragging about having bribed France, Russia and China with lucrative oil contracts in exchange for their support of the Baath regime; and loads more of the infuriating same. Start at that first link and just start scrolling down.

Instapundit, meanwhile, points out that his long-standing contention that France is now an enemy of the United States and is fighting a proxy war against us through various Islamic dictators and terrorist groups is now being echoed in the New York Times by Tom Friedman; he also has a round-up of the mockery the BBC‘s anti-Blair war has made of the Beeb itself.

Both Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan point to stories illustrating the loudly-voiced antipathy many Iraqis feel toward their “brother” Arabs, whose leaders (in many cases with the enthusiastic support of the people themselves) cheerfully ignored the execrable conditions in which the Iraqis were living (and dying) in order to enrich themselves at Saddam’s trough. The Palestinians, who apparently managed to find enough time in their busy schedules of making their children hold automatic weapons and walk in parades full of masked murderers to come to Iraq in droves, come off particularly badly.

Interesting times, eh what?


September 18, 2003

At some point I will write a full-length defense of Velvet Goldmine, but till then please read Johnny Bacardi’s COMPLETELY BASELESS ASSAULT on this wonderful, wonderful film.

Aw, Johnny, I kid because I love. Just ask the sincerely and kindly apologetic Alan David Doane, who’s been a real gentleman in the aftermath of the New X-Men fiasco he created. But if you do ask him, just be warned: he was actually Frederic Wertham in disguise this whole time!

Comix and match

September 17, 2003

When Jim Treacher first brought this press release hyping Warren Ellis’s upcoming prose-novel debut to my attention, I read it and thought, “What is this, a parody of the kind of book Warren Ellis would write?” But you know what? American culture’s dark underbelly really is woefully under-toured. I mean, can you think of a single British genre-comics writer who’s toured American culture’s dark underbelly lately? Me neither! Thank God that brave Mister Ellis is there to Abuse Our Illusions, etc!

Heated–and yet intelligent and readable!–debates abound on the Comics Journal messboard today. Here’s the ongoing SPX/Team Comix donnybrook, now centered around the question of whether the current generation of alternative cartoonists holds a candle to the two or three previous ones; here’s a battle over the big anthology Kramers Ergot 4 centered around the question of whether the non-comics material therein helped or hindered the anthology, or indeed whether it’s non-comics material at all; and here’s a thread in which the place of such comics legends as Steve Ditko, Gary Panter and George Herriman is being debated with considerable intellectual gusto. The Journal board is a pretty entertaining place these days. I wonder why

Jim Henley reviews a bunch of recent comics, and in so doing gets the most recent issue of Captain America completely wrong. I’ll see if I can explain this so everyone understands: What you do with Captain America is not have him run around the country feeling bad about himself, then go cry in a blown-up building in Dresden until some undead schmuck nearly hands his ass to him. What you do with Captain America is also not have him stand around talking to some girl from Atlantis or wherever for five issues until everyone just gives the fuck up on the book around chapter three of the story and waits for your boring ass to go back to writing about people in Iron Man armor blowing terrorists’ heads off and aliens from outer space fucking Cro-Magnon women. What you do with Captain America is put him in a storyline called “Cap Lives” and have him kick the living snot out of Nazis. And God bless ’em, writer (! not quite used to that yet) Dave Gibbons and artist Lee Weeks deliver. Weeks honed his meaty, muscular style to near-perfection during his impressive run on Bruce Jones’s Incredible Hulk, and he gives this “What if Hitler had won?” alternate-history tale the kind of awful pulpy grit and horror it needs to work. Gibbons seems to intuitively understand that to do an effective Captain America, you don’t need to gloss over the terrible crimes that America has committed over the years, but nor should you dwell on them in order to compensate for the fact that during World War II we called Japanese people “Japs”–you just need to depict a man who, dammit all to hell, loves America so much that he’ll make up for those crimes and more–with his fists. (Note: I happened to like Robert Morales’s revisionist take on the Captain America icon quite a bit, but that’s because it seemed tempered with an honest love for what’s great about this country, something that wasn’t coming through in the runs of John Ney Reiber or Chuck Austen. It was also very, very weird, which I tend to like.) It’s a pity that, in a world chock full of genocidal totalitarian theocratic woman-hating gay-hating Jew-hating bastards with not one whit of compunction when it comes to killing civilians willy-nilly because God told them to, this comic felt the need to resurrect the old German bugbears to give Cap someone to beat up, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction.

Anyway, Jim also has some smart thoughts on the most recent real-world-superheroes story, J. Michael Straczynski’s Supreme Power.

Eve Tushnet worries about the results of the infamous New X-Men #146 (Turns out Alan David Doane was the bad guy all along!) Eve, have more faith in Grant Morrison!

New kid on the blogroll David Fiore waxes digressive on an early issue of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire. I think it’s pretty impressive how Cage has gone from laughing stock to revered supertoughguy thanks to his recent treatment at the hands of bald Brians Azzarello and Bendis. Perhaps the material was there all along.

Forager adds his voice to the growing chorus of folks who think that when it comes to Marvel’s much-hyped Elizabethan continuity clusterfuck 1602, emperor Neil Gaiman has no clothes. But he also includes a throwaway line that one of Marvel’s recent titles is one of the “most loathsome super-hero comic books” he’s ever read. Which one is it, Forager? With great power comes the great responsibility to call out comic books on your weblog, man!

Finally, some personal and professional developments have made me cut back on the number of comics I’ll be purchasing for the forseeable future. I’m sad that I won’t be able to experiment as much, but glad that I’ll end my Wednesdays without thinking “That was a waste of money” a lot more often. It’s interesting how necessity is the mother of getting rid of deadweight in your pull bag. Today, for example, there were a couple of comics on the list (Gun Theory, Human Target) that I put back simply because of the coloring, in both cases done (as was instantly obvious upon first glance) by Lee “If it’s yellow, put some green in it; if it’s brown, great!” Loughridge. (I’ve heard great things about his work from creators, and I’ve seen the occasional book that looked lovely from him (Kingpin #1, for example), but it simply does nothing for me. Meanwhile, I found myself still buying Superman/Batman, despite not being wild about either writer Jeph Loeb or artist Ed McGuinness, simply because it would appear that at some point in this story arc Batman and Superman will more or less depose President Lex Luthor. That’s pretty neat, in a Dark Knight Strikes Again sort of way.

How I feel

September 16, 2003

“What is required is a steady, unostentatious stoicism, made up out of absolute, cold hatred and contempt for the aggressors, and complete determination that their defeat will be utter and shameful.”

Christopher Hitchens in Slate on the proper response to 9/11. Also:

“My second-strongest memory of that week is still the moaning and bleating and jeering of the ‘left.’ Reflect upon it: Civil society is assaulted in the most criminal way by the most pitilessly reactionary force in the modern world. The drama immediately puts the working class in the saddle as the necessary actor and rescuer of the said society. Investigation shows the complicity of a chain of conservative client states, from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, in the face of which our vaunted ‘national security’ czars had capitulated. Here was the time for radicals to have demanded a war to the utmost against the forces of reaction, as well a full house cleaning of the state apparatus and a league of solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and with the whole nexus of dissent and opposition in the Muslim world. Instead of which, the posturing loons all concentrated on a masturbatory introspection about American guilt, granted the aura of revolutionary authenticity to Bin Laden and his fellow gangsters, and let the flag be duly seized by those who did look at least as if they meant business.”


Bring Me the Head of Jann Wenner

September 16, 2003

Rolling Stone is the awfullest magazine ever. I say this knowing full well that there are many, many awful magazines out there, now more than ever, perhaps. But weeping Jesus on the Cross, Rolling Stone is just so awful, so very, very awful awful awful. Whether it’s the spectacle of a magazine run by an aging, Eagles-loving gay millionaire putting Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen on the cover and headlining it as “America’s Favorite Fantasy,” or putting Britney Spears on the cover–again!–in a pose so transparently and badly airbrushed that it makes even a Photoshop tyro like me want to put his head through his computer monitor, there seems to be no lengths to which this horrendous publication won’t go to pimp teenage girls in an effort to win over young readers that is likely to be about as successful as Dino De Laurentis’s remake of King Kong, but with less charm and more, you know, appallingly immoral teen-girl body-image mindfucks.

And for the love of David, they call their article on MTV’s annual calculated-“outrage” fest “MTV Awards Fail to Suck,” and lede it with the following: “When the annual MTV glitzfest of the Video Music Awards begins with Britney slipping Madonna some Louisana tongue, you can feel certain that your night in front of the TV is going to be quality time.” Can you, Rolling Stone? When a Rolling Stone article on the VMAs begins with the kind of embarassingly breathless dicksuckery normally reserved for Maureen Dowd columns about the Clinton administration, you can feel certain that the magazine, in actually acting (or worse, being) shocked and titilated by the grotesque, 100% prefab sexual assault against two pill-addled middle-aged-men-controlled developmentally-arrested girl-women by an aging self-obsessed insufferably boring harridan intent on reviving her interminable career as quote-unquote provocateur, is an enormous steaming dung-beetle-encrusted pile of elephant shit. Why I flipped through the magazine, and consequently stumbled across an article emblematic of the kind of hard-hitting political analysis that won Jann Wenner his many Pulitzers in which it is alleged that computerized voting systems are a big plot by the Bush puppet masters to steal (“more”) elections, is quite frankly as much a mystery to me as I’m sure it is to you, but I’ve entered therapy and I’m trying to work these things out. (Next session will be devoted to understanding why I looked at an article about how the U.S. military is poisioning, uh, the U.S. military with depleted uranium. There’s even some pictures of Iraqi kids with leukemia! It must be true! BUSH LIED!!!! Also, Mick Jagger’s solo album is a four-star tour-de-force.)

Please, Rolling Stone, I’m asking you now because I know how instrumental you were in advancing the career of Jackson Browne and that’s obviously really important, but please douse your collective selves in gasoline and light yourselves on fire. It’s really the only way for things to be made right again in this crazy world, RS. The only way.

Comix and match (and a bit of a round-up laced throughout)

September 15, 2003

However you feel about Team Comix, I think you can agree that it’s a concept that brings out people’s, er, passionate sides. NeilAlien has a go at the anti-TC brigade; Dirk Deppey responds with a dollop of snark. Dirk, I think it’s a little unwise for a Fanta/TCJ employee to get into a “who fired the first shot?” contest with Chris Staros & Top Shelf, but you do have a point in this case.

Meanwhile, at the TCJ messboard, yours truly and former Comics Journal editor Tom Spurgeon go at it over the role the Team Comix mentality played (if it indeed played one at all) in the respective pleas for help made by the financially beleaguered indie comics companies Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, and Fantagraphics. There’s also some interesting chit-chat about the role of critics in there, too.

Also on the TCJ board, Shawn “Silverthorn” Fumo weighs in on European comics, aka bandes-desinees, and argues that everything that might make BD popular here in the states (idiomatically it’s much closer to American comics than manga is; it’s almost solely concentrated in genres that make for very popular airport reading in America, like crime, mysteries, thrillers, horror, fantasy, erotica, even sports–the recipe for industry success according to Fantagraphics founder Kim Thompson) is offset by the simple fact that it doesn’t have the same thriving underground support in this country that paved the way for manga’s big success in the last couple years. Good point, as they tend to be when they’re made by Shawn Fumo. Shawn, why don’t you have a blog? I won’t beg, if that’s what you’re waiting for–it’s unsightly…

Though I’m guessing I’m not the only one with misgivings as to Joe Quesada’s ability to accurately portray the lives of club kids and gutterpunks, this new NYX series sounds and (thanks to Josh Middleton’s sensually clear line) looks lovely. Also in the plus column: you’re far less likely to read things like “I really couldn’t give a fuck whether or not you buy this book because I get $5000 for a painting and my girlfriend blows me all the time” than you would if this book had gone through with its original artist, David Choe, still attached.

At long last, Bill Sherman has reviewed Battle Royale, and it was good. (The review and the book both.) Here’s food for thought, though: how is Keith Giffen’s translation-cum-adaptation really affecting the dialogue? I’ve read several interviews in which Giffen proudly claims to have jazzed things up a bit for the English audience, which may not amount to much more than inserting standard-issue “mature readers” comics dialogue cliches. Anyone got a good take on how he’s been doing so far?

Johnny Bacardi hated Velvet Goldmine. I know this news isn’t comics related, but it does make me wonder whether Johnny’s from Bizarro World.

This is pretty cool. Just wish it came in red.

Courtesy of the above-linked Big Sunny D post comes this spoiler-filled run-down of the last year or two of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, as seen through the prism of the most recent issue. You know–the issue that Alan David Doane ruined for everyone who reads his weblog.

Franklin Harris has been righteously pissed at the recording industry and its supporters lately, as should we all. Start there and scroll down.

Finally, Dirk, any time a person’s position on what the Direct Market should be doing is concluded with an explanation as to why it doesn’t make sense to him to buy novels, I think we can just stick that one in the cylindrical file, don’t you?