Archive for November 30, 2008

The Best Comics of 2006

November 30, 2008

Originally written on December 20, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal

37 for ’06

The following three dozen or so writers/artists/cartoonists/editors collectively created my favorite comics of the year. (NB: Since the Journal‘s deadline for Best Ofs was before the Christmas break–my prime time for cramming in all the books I hadn’t gotten around to over the rest of the year–please interpret any embarrassing omissions on my part as “stuff I missed” rather than “stuff I didn’t like.” For the most part.)

Brian K. Vaughan: In a better world, Vaughan’s ultra-professional scripting and deft balance between engaging soap operatics, sly and non-didactic socio-political exploration and faultless superhero action in titles such as Ex Machina, Doctor Strange: The Oath and (especially) Runaways would be the standard below which any other writers would be laughed out of the “mainstream.” If you can’t be at least this good–and thanks in part to his astute taste in artistic collaborators, including Tony Harris, Marcos Martin and Adrian Alphona–you really should do us a favor and just stop.

Christos Gage: Re: Union Jack and StormWatch: P.H.D.–congratulations, Mr. Gage. You have met the Vaughan Standard.

Ed Brubaker: Despite some well-intentioned but dishwater-dull franchise resuscitation attempts like X-Men: Deadly Genesis and Uncanny X-Men, The Man Who Would Be Bendis became a bona fide Name this year in superhero circles due to a pair of books in which it seems like he can do no wrong. The first is Daredevil, a title he inherited from his Bendis only to take it away from his superstar friend’s obsessions with dialogue and identity and move it even further into the realm of noir; if it weren’t for the fact that it stars an acrobat, you could easily hear Robert Mitchum’s voice reading the caption boxes. The second is the even-better Captain America, which is simply the best work anyone has done with the character, ever; an epic battle royale between Brubaker’s talent and the understated craftsmanship of his artists Steve Epting and Mike Perkins in one corner and the seemingly mutually exclusive Cap characterizations of two-fisted WWII patriotic icon, post-9/11 metaphor for Where We Are As A Nation, Steranko-influenced super-spy and Marvel Universe Star-Spangled Avenger superhero in the other. Brubaker wins, easily. (His creator-owned thriller Criminal and his and Matt Fraction’s collaborative updating of The Immortal Iron Fist from the Bruce Lee era to the Quentin Tarantino one are pretty good too.)

Robert Kirkman: The bulk of his corporate character work for Marvel (with the exception of the balls-out insane Marvel Zombies, easily the strangest thing the House of Ideas’ main wing has put out since George W. Bush’s reelection) has been utterly forgettable ’90s nostalgia-mongering. But the writer’s ongoing series for Image, The Walking Dead and Invincible, continue to be the most unpredictable horror and superhero titles in the market respectively, and among the most fun. It helps if you enjoy entirely gratuitous violence, which I do.

Grant Morrison: Is Grant Morrison the best superhero writer ever at this point? He’s certainly better than Moore, most people would say he’s better than Miller, and the Kirby comparison is just too much of an apples/oranges deal. There was certainly no better single superhero comic than All Star Superman #4 this year, that’s for sure; Morrison and artist Frank Quitely, who for all intents and purposes might as well be a homunculus that Morrison conjures from the ether to turn his visions into reality, use the basic building blocks of Bizarro, Doomsday and Jimmy Olsen to create a story that conveys everything appealing about Superman and his mythos, two things that I frankly didn’t think had all that much appealing stuff going for them. Oh, hey, did I say there was no better single superhero comic than All Star Superman #4 this year? I just thought of Seven Soldiers #1 and realized I may have lied. If ever there was a spandex book with a last page that better conveyed that euphoric feeling you get when you hear the last song on your favorite rock record, I haven’t read it. Finally, I can’t help but feel that Morrison is the animating spirit behind the weekly onslaught of High Superhero formal weirdness that is 52, and from what I understand, his fellow writers on the now-boring, now-baffling, now-exhilarating project feel the same.

Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns and Pete Woods & Renato Guedes: Please read their collected Superman: Up, Up and Away, because it contains the definitive Superman/Lex Luthor moment: Superman and Luthor hurtle through the sky until the point at which Superman’s powers of flight finally give out do to exposure to a Kryptonite super-weapon previously piloted by Lex. At the exact second that the pair freeze in free-fall just before plummeting back toward the Earth, Luthor looks Supes in the face and says “I hate you.” Fan-freaking-tastic. I know I’m not supposed to like anything Johns does, and tough titties, this is the best start-to-finish Superman story I’ve ever read.

Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell: Marvel’s Civil War mega-crossover was an aggressively irritating mess of “sneeze and you’ll knock the whole house of cards down” political allegory and agita-inducing violations of the characters we all know and, well, know. But holy geez, did it look nice. The art nouveau-influenced line of penciller McNiven and inker Vines meets the luminous, warm palette of colorist Hollowell for a look that’s somehow utterly unique in the superhero idiom, yet instantly recognizable as a part thereof. Seriously, just check out how they do hair or armor or thighs. It’s really somethin’.

Frazer Irving: One look at this artist’s pantomime faces, Corben-oval bodies and “no, actually, I think I’m all set, but if I need your advice I’ll ask, thanks” colors on titles like Klarion the Witch-Boy, Iron Man: The Inevitable and Robin is all it will take before you decide that someone at both DC and Marvel’s art departments is sending you a message: “I’m with you.”

Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis: Are this team’s Hellboy spin-off miniseries B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame and B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine better than actual Hellboy releases? Insofar as they both moved me and scared me more than actual Hellboy releases, yeah, they are.

Paul Pope: His Batman: Year 100 managed to convey the physicality of the act of Batmaning–running up and down stairs, climbing up and down and elevator shafts, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, attacking large groups of armed policemen, getting tortured and shot, wearing masks and boots and longjohns–better than any other Batman comic. (Sorry, Frank, you know I love you but interior monologues about how many ribs he just broke don’t count.) It also gave us a Batman that could conceivably scare the shit out of someone. Pope’s blog also owns.

Becky Cloonan: In my dreams I see Becky Cloonan eloping to Mexico with Paul Pope and returning four years later with a 600-page masterpiece of blobby, sexy inks and high hipster adventure. (Occasionally the role played by Pope, or by Cloonan for that matter, is taken on by Vasilis Lolos.) Here in the real world, unfortunately, Cloonan’s too often saddled with providing illustrations for less-than-masterpieces like Demo and American Virgin, in which Cloonan’s art is used to connote coolness rather than create it. Thank God, then, for her turn as a writer-artist with East Coast Rising, whose giant carnivorous sea turtles appear to indicate that my dreams are slowly leaking into Cloonan’s reality.

Bryan Lee O’Malley: 2006 was the year O’Malley lived up to the hype. (Actually, given the hype that’s pretty much impossible, but you get the idea.) The magpie mash-up “video-game realism” storytelling of his Scott Pilgrim added depth to its breadth in its third volume; in between the awesome bass-guitar combat scenes and references to Super Mario Bros. it portrayed the heartbreak of watching someone you care about choose to become someone who doesn’t care about you in return better than any straightforward slice-of-lifer with no end boss at the climax. It’s a book to get excited about.

Adrian Tomine and Ai Yazawa: From opposite sides the mighty Pacific, these two very different artists prove with each new installment of Nana and Optic Nerve that angular bodies, white spaces, main characters who would be antagonists in most other stories and lines that you can practically feel etch their way across the page can make for the glammiest, sexiest comics around, whether their creators want them to be (probably Yazawa) or not (probably Tomine).

Alvin Buenaventura, Randy Chang, Sammy Harkham, Dan Nadel and Igort: Superheroes have become fodder for big-budget films and television series that seem determined to suck all the crazy right out of them (NBC’s Heroes is sort of like what Lee/Ditko Spider-Man might have been if every issue’s script consisted of repeating “with great power comes great responsibility” for 22 pages, while Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” had no, I repeat no, Super-punching). Alt- and Eurocomix have evolved into farm teams for big New York publishers searching the next memoir to feature an intractable foreign-policy issue and/or terminal illness (quick, someone find me a plucky young Muslim woman with cerebral palsy who was persecuted by the Nazis, stat!). So thank God for the men behind Buenaventura Press, Bodega, Avodah Books, PictureBox Inc. and the Ignatz line and their invaluable contribution toward the goal of keeping comics the most idiosyncratic medium on the planet, the Mos Eisley Cantina of art. Between them these guys put out Kramers Ergot 6, Art Out of Time, The Comic Book Holocaust, They Found the Car, Last Cry for Help, Cold Heat, New Tales of Old Palomar, Paper Rad BJ & Da Dogs, Daybreak, Private Stash, Babel–you could basically excise the entire remainder of the industry’s output this year and still come away thinking “wow, comics is incredible.”

Ivan Brunetti, Gary Groth and Eric Reynolds: If a stranger walked up to you and asked, “What do comics that are considered ‘good’ look like?”, responding by handing that stranger the anthologies edited by these guys would more than suffice by way of an answer. You know Gil Kane’s frequently blurbed quote regarding The Comics Journal–“the good is always in conflict with the better”? Groth and Reynolds’s MOME is basically the battleground where that conflict takes place; victorious combatants this year include Jeffrey Brown, who I hope just gets more and more creatively restless, and the brilliant David B., whose short stories blend fantastic fiction and the terror of war better than anything this side of Battlestar Galactica. Meanwhile, an apples-to-apples comparison between Brunetti’s Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories and similar efforts like Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore’s Best American Comics 2006, Chris Ware’s McSweeney’s Vol. 13 or even The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Stories reveals that this is hands down the best anthology of its kind ever. (Seriously, “Gynecology”! “Flies on the Ceiling”! “Love’s Savage Fury”! “Fun Things to Do with Little Girls”! An excerpt from Reidy & Regé’s Boys, for crying out loud!)

Michael Kupperman: Tales Designed to Thrizzle is so funny that you almost forget he drew it, too.

Megan Kelso: This one gets a quote, a line from Owen Wilson’s laid-back male model Hansel in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander: “Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music he’s created over the years–I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it? I respect that.” Kelso’s never really clicked with me; the art feels labored over the way I labor over assignments I don’t want to do when I’ve had too much caffeine, right down to the lettering, which still retains an overcooked feeling left over from her SuPeR CrAzY LeTtErInG days with no Eisnerian form/function mojo in its defense. But her collection The Squirrel Mother is a whole different way of doing comics: Nothing really happens, but not even in the sense that nothing really happens in a Tomine story–they’re about what it feels like for nothing to happen, and how that feeling can itself be something. They’re like the comics version of “There Is a Certain Slant of Light,” and the fact that Kelso’s making them? I respect that.

Renée French: Another quote, this one from Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman: “The skulls…the bodies…you give it all such a glow–I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.” The key difference is that in the case of The Ticking, you know damn well what it is. If French’s previous comics established she’d be a great art director, this one showed she could be the screenwriter, D.P. and director, too. And unless you count the things Alison Bechdel’s father does with interior decorating in Fun Home, no other comic this year did a better job of depicting the ways in which making art for a living can be used as a substitute for making sense of your life.

Chris Ware: One more quote, from Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” this time: “Don’t worry about who lookin’, just keep on doin’ what you doin’.” The 17th volume of Acme Novelty Library–not to mention those New Yorker variant covers–continue in much the same vein as the rest of Ware’s exquisitely drawn, confrontationally painful oeuvre, and good for them. Ware’s comics are like if The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm weren’t primarily comedies, and if you think (as so many people apparently do) that this makes them cold or clinical, I’ll wait while you come up with something more human to chronicle than failure. Jesus, that sequence where “Mr. Ware” tries to get the class to draw motion.

Ron Regé, Jr.: Regé’s post-Skibber Bee Bye career has suffered for its relative lack of ambition; where Skibber made you say “Where the hell did that come from?”, most of his efforts since could be quite easily aesthetically contextualized amid, say, the sorts of albums that made Pitchfork’s Best of 2006. Until The Awake Field, that is, which itself feels like an album, discreet sections blending one into the other for a cumulative effect as powerful as anything I read this year. Finally his uniform line weight provides both the hallucinogenic thrills and all-is-full-of-love thematic resonance he and collaborator Becky Stark have been striving for. After I read it I wanted to call and congratulate them, but not before I read it again.

Anders Nilsen: Nilsen’s work is important because of all the people who are monkeying with words and images in ways that don’t immediately call to mind what we might think of as comics and then say “hey, what is comics if not monkeying with words and images?”, his is the most readable, and the most moving. The odds ‘n’ sods he serves up in MOME are thrillingly far out, Big Questions is already fast-tracked for Best of Whatever Year It’s Collected In and Monologues for the Coming Plague is the proverbial cutting edge. Yet looking at those characters’ too-big heads and too-weak limbs and those drawings’ shy, sorry-to-intrude line and the dominant impression isn’t something artsy, but something sad.

Kevin Huizenga: We’ve all been told that comics can do pretty much anything. Huizenga shows us. (It’s late as I right this and I’m a little worried that I’ll want to roll this assertion back, but only a little. Books like Or Else and Curses and Ganges invite hyperbole. (Well, actually, Ganges didn’t hit me as hard as it did other people–I think he’s done the “spontaneous transcendence emerging from everyday minutiae” thing better in the past, like in the library sequence from Or Else #2. But the bit with the pigeons in OE #4 knocked me on my ass.)) If I had to pick one and only one cartoonist whose comics I’d be allowed to read for the rest of my life, I’m pretty sure he’d be the guy.

Alison Bechdel: A few years back Marvel Comics put out a mature-readers (read: dirty) miniseries about an old Iron Man sidekick called U.S. War Machine. The series followed a squad of black-ops soldiers in high-tech battle armor, and the motto of their unit was “RELENTLESS • INVINCIBLE,” and that same motto came to mind when I read Bechdel’s masterpiece Fun Home for the first of what undoubtedly will be many, many times. Watching Bechdel arrange her autobiography’s many elements (all done with lovely just-so cartooning and sumptuous SAT-word prose) is much like watching her father decorate their home must have been–it’s seeing an act of beautiful, desperate creation. In a year filled to the rafters with deeply pleasurable comics-reading experiences, this was the one most likely to give you lasting memories of the “where were you when you read it the first time?” variety. And aside from Phoebe Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, it’s the finest comics autobiography I’ve ever read.

The Best Comics of 2005

November 29, 2008

Originally written on February 9, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal

The 20 Best Comics of 2005


19. BPRD: THE BLACK FLAME, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis (Dark Horse)

18. TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics)

17. SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST, by Joshua W. Cotter (AdHouse)

16. DIARY OF A MOSQUITO ABATEMENT MAN, by John Porcellino (La Mano)

15. THE WALKING DEAD, by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard (Image)

14. SEVEN SOLDIERS, by Grant Morrison and various artists (DC) / SEAGUY, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC/Vertigo)

13. DOGS AND WATER, by Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly)

12. DAREDEVIL: DECALOGUE, by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Marvel)

11. SLEEPER, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Philips (DC/WildStorm)

10. 100%, by Paul Pope (DC/Vertigo)

9. WE3, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC/Vertigo)

8. PYONGYANG, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

7. PLANETES, by Makoto Yukimura (Tokyopop)

6. THE ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY, by Chris Ware (Pantheon) / ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #16, by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics)

5. ALL STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER, by Frank Miller & Jim Lee (DC) / ALL STAR SUPERMAN, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)

4. ICE HAVEN, by Daniel Clowes (Pantheon)

3. OR ELSE #2, by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

2. EPILEPTIC, by David B. (Pantheon)

1. BLACK HOLE, by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

Holy shit, I’ve had two and a half days off already and it’s still only 10-something in the morning on Saturday

November 29, 2008

The time yawns before us like a chasm. One thing I’ve done to help kill it while my wife reads her way through the entire Twilight series in as close to one sitting as she can manage and I bounce back and forth between farting around on the Internet and re-reading World War Z for the third time and generally putting off reading any of the several intimidating comics anthologies I really ought to be reading and reviewing for thishyere website is peruse Tom Spurgeon’s excellent 2008 Holiday Shopping Guide, which is at least as much of a gift as most of the stuff it lists.

Black Friday here on Long Island

November 28, 2008

A worker died after being trampled and a woman miscarried when hundreds of shoppers smashed through the doors of a Long Island Wal-Mart Friday morning, witnesses said.

“Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede,” Joe Gould, Daily News

Comics Time: New Construction #2

November 28, 2008


New Construction #2

Kevin Huizenga, Ted May, Dan Zettwoch, writers/artists

USS Catastrophe, October 2008

44 pages


Buy it from Global Hobo

Let’s be honest, this is a collection of thumbnails by the three St. Louis-based cartoonists listed above. If you’re not in a bit of an “I’ll buy any new thing Kevin Huizenga puts out” mode it’s probably not worth your time. However, it does afford you the opportunity to marvel at how many good ideas Huizenga throws out, even though this doesn’t cohere into a beautiful idea-in-itself as did Untitled, Huizenga’s earlier, manic sketchbook/notebook-minicomic about searching for a title for his series. It’s fun enough to see the thumbnail versions of familiar pages and covers from comics like Fight or Run, “The Curse,” “Jeepers Jacobs,” Ganges and so on, considering that those comics are rather era-defining. And I really liked the opening two pages, in which Huizenga offers an explanation of his thumbnail process that, by the time he starts speaking of acheiving “thumbnail mind,” reveals itself to be a pastiche of religious tracts. In general? I mean, you’re going to know going in how interested you are in a Huzienga/May/Zettwoch sketchbook kinda thing. It’s the definition of YMMV.

Happy Thanksgiving, you sons of bitches

November 27, 2008

Choke on it.

Carnival of souls

November 26, 2008

* Here’s a terrific rant about the terrifying absurdity of the Christopher Handey case, in which Handey was arrested for owning comics featuring characters who looked young have sex, which the authorities are erroneously labeling as child pornography. I mention this because the holidays are upon us and for me that means it’s charity donation time, and I want to encourage everyone to donate to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (Via Jim Henley.)

* Blog@Newsarama, a very good and wide-ranging group comics blog staffed by (among others) Chris Mautner, Kevin Melrose, and JK Parkin, is ending its life as we know it. The current staff are apparently sticking together and moving away from Newsarama, whose recent change of direction apparently caused them financial, logistical, and to a certain extent editorial headaches. I enjoy the blog and hope they land on their collective feet.

* B-Sol at Vault of Horror has posted a list of all the films that didn’t make the cut for the Top 50 Horror Films of All Time list he assembled from the collective wisdom of the horror blogosphere. It’s more wide-ranging, as you’d expect.

* Jog reviews Kevin Huizenga’s Flight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper. I liked it and he does too!

* Quote of the day:

If I was still doing Scott Pilgrim in ten years, I would be dead inside.

Bryan Lee O’Malley

* Hubba hubba, Rachel Maddow!


(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

* Eve Tushnet likes me, she really likes me!

Comics Time: Batman #681

November 26, 2008


Batman #681

Grant Morrison, writer

Tony Daniel, artist

DC Comics, November 2008

40 pages


First things first: The Black Glove is not a person but a five-person consortium of, as Brad Majors would put it, “rich weirdos”—a general, a priest, a dude in Arab headgear, a businessman, and Jezebel Jet. Their ringleader-type person is Doctor Hurt. Doctor Hurt claims, for the second time, to be Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, and for the second time this suggestion is shot down (first it was Alfred, this time it’s Batman himself). Batman theorizes he’s Mangrove Pierce, Wayne lookalike and actor in a film called The Black Glove that was at the root of his earlier case involving John Mayhew and the Club of Heroes, but Hurt shoots that notion down in turn, instead saying, “I am the hole in things, Bruce, the enemy, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning.” Batman rejects Hurt’s offer to spare the reputation of his parents and Alfred in exchange for servitude, then leaps up and crashes Hurt’s getaway copter, plummeting to his “death.”

That’s the gist, anyway. People expecting real answers about any of this are rewarded with not a whole lot more than people looking for a convincing Death of Batman are. So what do I take away from the conclusion to the big “Batman R.I.P.” arc? Well, it was a lot of fun–this is about as involved as I’ve been in a superhero storyline since I started reading the things again in 2001; moreover, this is the first single issue of a superhero series I’ve purchased since, I think, August 2004. Morrison’s Batman is about what it wants you to do–it presents itself as a dizzying series of clues and references that only the sharpest mind can unravel. What I didn’t expect was for the rug to be yanked out from underneath it all–the Joker revealing that all his red/black symbolism stuff was made up, Doctor Hurt revealing (I think!) that his origin is that he has no origin to speak of, at least as far as existing Batman lore is concerned. (This may or may not be true–he really could be Thomas Wayne, or as one friend suggested, he could be Thomas Wayne Jr. of JLA: Earth-2, aka Owl-Man. It would fit the alternate history Hurt presents in which Joe Chill kills Martha and Bruce.) But the kicker is that even with all its intricate structure and symbolism revealed to be a put-on, Batman still kicks the shit out of the Black Glove. The main narrative thread of this final issue is a Bourne-type situation where we discover Batman’s just plain too smart and strong and sharp for these clowns to possibly beat him. In fact, what looked like abject failure a few issues ago was really just a product of Batman’s sheer confidence in his own ability to have somehow prepared himself for any eventuality. That’s just how awesome he is.

For skeptics of Morrison’s pro-awesomeness philosophy of superhero comics, I’d imagine this is going to fall pretty flat, but I’m down with awesomeness from time to time, if not as much as your average Barbelith poster or comicsbloggers who use the word “pop” a lot. I’m certainly down with awesomeness from Batman, my favorite character, written by Morrison, my favorite Big Two writer. The idea that Batman created a nutso backup personality in case the shit ever really hit the fan? That’s fantastic. Can I also take this time to give a shout-out to the much-maligned Tony Daniel? I’ve been a bit baffled by the guff he’s been given, seemingly primarily by dint of not being Frank Quitely. I think his Batman has been consistently tough and badass–I like it better than Jim Lee’s similar yet much less crazy take–and he’s done some really spooky stuff with the Joker. There’s some really nice fight choreography in here too with Robin and Pierrot, too, and in general I haven’t found his fights or layouts as incomprehensible as many others have. In sum I enjoyed this storyline and even though I’m still not quite sure what happened, I’m okay with that.

UPDATE: Did you know there are two additional Grant Morrison Batman issues coming out before his hiatus from the book? I sure didn’t!

Carnival of souls

November 25, 2008

* Over at, I’ve got a piece up regarding real-world “superflu”-style epidemics, tying in with The Stand: Captain Trips #4. I’m finding it’s a real pleasure to be able to write about one of my favorite books and get paid for it.

* While I’m on the plugging my own stuff tip, I suppose I should be reminding people about my short comics collection Murder on a more regular basis. Won’t you please consider buying it?

* Behold, The Top 50 Horror Films of All Time as voted for by 32 horror bloggers, including yours truly, and compiled by the great and terrible B-Sol of The Vault of Horror. I must say, it’s a rather more conservative and old-skewing list than I expected, though I think the top 15 are all rock-solid members of the canon. That, of course, presupposes that one can disagree with the quality of a film but still think it’s canonical, which would be my take on Halloween, our little group’s number one.

* I am rather impressed with the high ranking we gave to The Blair Witch Project, though a little less impressed that it’s only the second-most recent film on the whole list! I think that’s probably because we voters were limited to listing our top ten films; more recent movies probably need a little more time to stew with us before a lot of us are comfortable putting them near the top. I know that was the case for me with Hostel, 28 Weeks Later, 28 Days Later, The Descent, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, just to name a few. The one movie to break the millennial barrier is The Mist, which probably owes a lot to the familiarity bred by having the original story around for a couple decades beforehand.

* Big ups to the group also for including the video for “Thriller,” and for not getting hung up on whether or not this or that movie is “really” horror–if enough people voted for it, on it went. Of course, this mostly applies to stuff that’s scary and gory and involves monsters but some people believe to be simply science fiction or action, like Alien and Aliens. There’s no David Lynch or David Cronenberg or anything like that. And I myself didn’t pitch things like Eyes Wide Shut or Heavenly Creatures or Barton Fink–my own list went no further afield than Lost Highway and Deliverance.

* Anyway, check it out, check out CRwM’s analysis (I was struck by his point regarding our affinity for sequels and remakes), and check out the lively comment thread, where a second list consisting solely of films from the past 15-20 years is suggested. I second!

* They say it’s your birthday: The Beatles’ White Album turned 40 recently. The White Album is my favorite Beatles album, and my favorite album by anyone ever. It contains pretty much every emotion I’ve ever felt. I honestly could think about it and read about it all day long, and now I can actually come close: PopMatters celebrates the album’s anniversary with a lengthy, multi-part look at the record and all its songs. All five official parts can be found here, and there’s a postscript here. (Via Matthew Perpetua.)

* Is Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming movie The Expendables, which just added Dolph Lundgren to a cast that includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Sly himself, the Manly Movie Mamajama-est Movie Ever?

* Midnight Meat Train finally comes out on DVD on Feb. 17th, which means I’ll finally get to see it shortly thereafter.

* The new blog Top Drawer: 10 Questions serves up interviews in the titular ten-question style with Hans Rickheit and John Hankiewicz, two of my absolute favorite young-ish cartoonists. (Via Mike Baehr.)

* Strange Ink’s Sean B. reviews Let the Right One In. I sure do wish the Angelika were playing the movie at times other than 5:15 and 7:45pm–those really don’t work for me!

* CRwM reviews Videodrome. The title of the post, “The new old flesh,” reveals a bit of how he approaches the film.

* Did I link to the first installment of Tim O’Neil’s series of posts on the business and aesthetics of mainstream superhero comics in the early ’90s? If not, I should have–I really liked it, because it echoes my overall perception of how the major industry players looked at the time, if not necessarily the specifics of how that perception did or didn’t drive my buying habits.

* Go, look: Kate Clark’s taxidermized human-animal hybrids.


The link is via’s Irene Gallo, who complains of the exhibit:

Certainly they are disarming for a moment but, surprisingly, the effect of a human face grafted onto the animal body does not seem to ennoble either species. They are neither wild nor intelligent…mainly just a little sad.

That’s a feature, not a bug.

Ladies and gentlemen, without no doubt, these are the JBs!

November 25, 2008

“I think LL Cool J and Canibus are both fantastic!” – MC Paul Barman

Over the past week I watched, for the first time, Quantum of Solace, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum. (Yes, it was an action-packed week for me, courtesy of Netflix and numerous interminable Long Island Rail Road delays.)

* I can see why the makers and stars of the Bourne movies might want to slag on nu-Bond, but I don’t understand why viewers and critics give into this weird Beatles/Stones, Blur/Oasis artificial rivalry. While it’s true that I watched both Daniel Craig James Bond movies before any of the Bourne films, even in retrospect I don’t see what the former directly owe to the latter, really. Frenetically filmed action sequences and using the supposed “good guys” as bad guys aren’t trademarkable, I don’t think; they certainly didn’t originate with Bourne.

* Regarding those action sequences, I’ve read enough about the Bourne films’ supposedly borderline-experimental use of “shakicam,” both pro and con, to have me half-convinced I was signing up for Stan Brakhage Does an Action Franchise. I was prepared to be convinced that making your fights and chases unintelligible conveys savagery and emotional turmoil, but fortunately i never had to be, since everything was perfectly, rather beautifully easy to follow in all three Bourne films, including the two Paul Greengrass-directed sequels that tend to be singled out for this. Anyone who’s watched Christopher Nolan’s woeful Batman Begins knows what an unintelligible fight scene or chase seen looks like, and the Bourne movies’ balletic, claustrophobic martial arts slobbernockers, ruthlessly efficient redshirt-cop takedowns, and meticulously chaotic car and foot chases are nothing of the sort. (Neither, for that matter, were any of the throwdowns in Quantum of Solace that were supposed to be so Bourne-indebted as to be embarrassing.)

* There is a pretty obvious difference between the two franchises: Bourne strives to keep everything both real and “unconsidered,” as Greengrass states in the special features, meaning he aims for realism in plot, setting, and mise en scène alike. As de-cheesified as the Bond movies have gotten, however, they’re still recognizably Bond movies, creatures of a heightened, high-tech, glamorous “reality.” Q and his gadgets may be gone, Bond may be spending less time cracking single-entendre quips with Miss Moneypenny and more time murdering people in the Third World, but there are still stunning women, stunning menswear, stunning hotels and beaches and casinos and villas and whatnot, and stunning shots of all of the above. Joan Allen aside, Bourne doesn’t do stunning. I think both styles work for their respective franchises. I mean, obviously it’d be goofy of someone who had as much fun with GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough as I did to suddenly insist that Bond be played like The Battle of Algiers. My point is that I greatly enjoy the mainline injection of “realism” the Bond movies have received at least in part because of how it plays off of the traditional Bond business. It adds a sense of stakes, and an anchor for the flights of fancy if you will.

* Another obvious difference, at least as the respective series go by, is that Bourne is a reluctant killer while Bond is fairly enthusiastic about it. To a fault, in Quantum of Solace’s case. The storyline of the Daniel Craig Bond movies has James Bond driven to become more of what he is in response to the death of a loved one, while Jason Bourne is driven to become less of what he is under similar circumstances. Eventually Bond puts the breaks on when faced with just how little solace straight-out vengeance would afford him, but basically, he doesn’t give a damn, while Bourne gives a damn deeply. Maybe that attitude is why the Bond movies are still recognizably Bond movies.

* One virtue shared by both the Bond and Bourne characters in these movies is physical genius. What these men do with their bodies is the combat equivalent of lateral thinking, a sort of instinct resting somewhere in their muscle tissue or something that enables them to almost always be three or four steps ahead of where our feeble audience brains have us in any given fight scene or chase sequence (let alone the bodies of their antagonists). Anticipating the needs of the battle in five seconds or ten seconds and doing what’s required to be on top at that juncture–that’s the stuff of the action scenes in these movies. Think of Bourne’s precision takedowns of countless cops and intelligence officers, or how you’ll see him grab objects during a chase (a bottle of vodka, shirts hanging to dry on clotheslines) for god knows what reason only to use them in just the right way (spitting the vodka in the face of a policeman to blind him, wrapping the shirts around his hands so he can vault off a glass-shard-lined wall). Think of Bond using the fact that his plane is mortally wounded to out-fly the pilots sent to shoot him down, or how he uses a combination of split-second decision making and brute force to out-chase that bomber in the construction site and embassy. It’s really remarkable how well done this is in both franchises, ginning up a sort of wide-eyed admiration among viewers. (Well, among me, at least.)

* Similarly, these movies are very much about Bond and Bourne outwitting antagonists with vastly superior numbers and resources. Particularly in the Greengrass Bournes, a real point is made to show Jason making monkeys out of the CIA goons who are tracking him. By the third film, the degree to which Bourne puts himself at risk in order to send a message that amounts to “PWND!!1!!” actually gets a little distracting, or it would if it weren’t so damned entertaining. Bond behaves in much the same way–I can’t be the only person who laughed out loud when he barged in on Quantum’s opera-house conference call. But in that case he did it for a reason, to flush the members of the group out of hiding and take photos of them. Ultimately, though, the point in both films is just that having the underdog make the overdogs look like outclassed nincompoops is a lot of fun.

* Regarding the Bourne movies, each one has something going on that’s a little bit pat. In Identity, it’s the simplicity of the “he stopped wanting to be an assassin because his target had kids with him” reveal. In Supremacy, it’s the coincidence of Bourne’s mysterious dreams being directly related to why people are after him, and it’s the woman-in-refrigerator bit with Marie, though I’ll grant it was beautifully shot and returned to on a consistent and emotionally true basis throughout the rest of the movies. And in Ultimatum, it’s the return to the mysterious-flashback well literally still in the middle of the events of the previous movie (revisited with fill-in-the-gaps material), and it’s the hambone supervillain psychiatrist played by whatsisname. But in each case this is all offset by the films’ strengths, most of which lie in their willingness to be openly emotional and even troubling. Many times, Bourne and his ersatz allies fail to save the people we want to see him save–in Marie’s case it was easy to see coming, but damn if that journalist in Ultimatum wasn’t a punch to the solar plexus. Bourne’s mano a manos with fellow assassins nearly always have the feel of “domestic violence,” as Greengrass describes that fight in the kitchen in Supremacy; they’re intimate and unpleasant even as they’re thrilling. I thought Bourne’s apology tour with the daughter of the assassinated Russian reformer and the brother of Marie was a refreshingly strange and uncategorizable addition to the films. Obviously, and especially by film three, the bad guy is basically the U.S. government; it’s tough to watch a guy in a government building order the murder of a journalist. And on a fundamental level, Bourne himself is really up against it–as we learn in the final film, it really was his choice to become a monster, and watching him try, well, not so much to redeem himself as to form an account of why he did what he did has to resonate with any of us who’ve said or done things we wish we could un-say or un-do but know we have no way of doing so.

* Perhaps where the Daniel Craig Bond movies break most definitively with the past are in two memorable scenes where the characters are basically broken down by the brutality of their world. They’re similarly staged: Bond and Vesper on the floor of the shower, embracing as Vesper weeps from the violence she’s seen and her narrow escape from it; and Bond and Camille on the floor of the burning hotel room, preparing to commit suicide rather than burn to death. I think that’s the equivalent of Bourne’s apologies.

* I think both franchises are remarkably well cast. This is perhaps most obvious in the Bourne movies, whose supporting casts Greengrass has likened to a fleet of high-end automobiles, and for good reason. But I’m thinking mostly of the two leads. Though my wife disagrees with me, Daniel Craig strikes me as a fabulously handsome man, combining a steely-eyed glare, a battle-damaged face, and a confident swagger that is more Bond than Bond has ever been before. And the dude is cut out of wood–there’s a reason the big “rising up from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit” shot in Casino Royale was of Bond and not a Bond girl. (Though I certainly wouldn’t have objected to Eva Green going for a dip. Best Bond girl ever.) Yet I think his body is put on display as often as it is in order to drive home just how vulnerable it is, that it’s just a slab of meet you can really pulverize the hell out of–witness the nude torture scene in Casino. Meanwhile, it took me a long time to come around to Matt Damon, but between the Bourne movies and The Departed he’s really learned to use his sort of vacant Abercrombie-model looks in the most perverse way possible, suggesting a ruthlessness beneath the all-Americanness. And as the depths of his crimes are slowly revealed to him, he does “dazed” very well, too, almost a panic about what he’s learned he’s capable of. Both Craig and Damon sell it, mentally, physically, emotionally.

* I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that the two franchises are derived from books by Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum respectively. What does that say, and who or what does it say it about? I don’t know.

* One thing I learned from watching all of these movies in such close proximity is that I really love movies about psychologically wounded men who become ruthlessly efficient killing machines and murder their way to justice. In addition to Bourne and Bond, I think you can loop the late-model John Rambo into that group; as Matthew Perpetua pointed out to me, take out the killing and replace it with ass-kicking and Batman works there too. Movie-version Aragorn wouldn’t be out of place either. I think I appreciate the way that violence and regret intertwine for these characters. Perhaps that’s as it should be.

Carnival of souls

November 24, 2008

* Here’s a by-definition SPOILERY promo for Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5, as I suppose they’ll be calling the show’s final stretch of weekly episodes. (There’s still the prequel pilot/potential series Caprica and at least one TV movie to account for, of course.) One thing that looks promising is increased screen time for Richard Hatch’s Tom Zarek, one of my favorite characters.

* Tom Spurgeon explains what he doesn’t like about Final Crisis. I agree with his points about how the series is conveying hopelessness, and disagree with but appreciate his observation regarding Morrison’s interpretation of the Anti-Life Equation. (Actually, in the sense that Tom’s interpretation of Kirby’s original idea allows for an even more hopeless universe than Morrison’s, it’s probably something I’ll cotton to myself eventually. You know how much I love hopelessness!) But Tom’s main beef, in a nutshell, is that he doesn’t care about the DC Universe or the vast majority of its characters anymore. As this has long been his position regarding the big corporate superhero farms, it’s not exactly a surprise. It reminds me a little of my friend who today told me she thought Let the Right One In was overlong and overrated and generally terrible, but maybe someone who doesn’t hate vampire movies the way she hates vampire movies would like it. No kidding!

* However, one aspect of Tom’s critique for which my response goes beyond “agree to disagree” is whether bad comics set in a particular character’s or mythos’s continuity hurt comics like this. I’m honestly not a whole lot more invested in the idea of “The DC/Marvel Universe” than Tom is, but I do still hold some affinity for a lot of the ideas contained in both, and I’ve never understood why I have to pay any attention at all to bad comics about them. I haven’t said to myself “But wait, that contradicts Countdown #3!” or “man, this would be good if I hadn’t known what happened in that lousy Countdown #3!” a single time while reading Final Crisis, because long ago I realized that no matter what Dan DiDio or Joe Quesada say, it’s entirely up to me what I choose to treat as canon when reading big superhero books. In that light, some crappy comic that steps on a good comic’s thematic or narrative toes no more ruins my enjoyment of the good comic than the fact that there are stinky comedies set in New York City ruins my enjoyment of Ghostbusters or Annie Hall.

* Speaking of disagreeing, I enjoyed Neil Marshall’s Doomsday a bunch, but the movie just won a reader-participation contest at Topless Robot for Stupidest Fantasy World–not, I have to admit, without reason. The phrase “Sir Knight of Eatingpeopleshire” is deployed.

* Four things Becky Cloonan draws well are hair, tentacles, pretty girls, and skeletal toothy mouths. Put them all together and you’ve got a recipe for delight.


* The Dark Knight is doing the For Your Consideration bit in the trades, and I thought this ad was really lovely because of how normal it looks. This image is like if a friend of yours had snapped a picture some dude on the street, only the dude is the Joker. The Dark Knight is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, and to me the idea that it’s a Godfather-level masterpiece is utterly cockamamie, but there’s not a whole lot involving the Joker it got wrong. In this case, the idea that he’s just some clown off the street (heh, no pun intended) is quite creepy.


Comics Time: Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light

November 24, 2008


Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light

Anders Nilsen, writer/artist

Drawn and Quarterly, November 2008

48 pages


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Big Questions #11 contains enough wow moments to sustain your average cartoonist’s career for several years. The latest installment in Nilsen’s series about the reaction of various birds and animals to a plane crash in their midst is pretty much one bravura sequence and image after another. The wild dogs coming thisclose to eating the sleeping crash survivor…the pilot’s fever dream of a monstrous swan erupting from the earth…carving the swan open to unleash a maelstrom of bloodsoaked birds…the mocking, sinister blackbird who refers to carnivores like himself as “the walking, flying dead,” since you are what you eat…the pilot’s second dream, where he quietly tends to the other survivor…the wounded bird who spends the entire issue dragging himself across the ground by his head, just to climb a hill where he can see the sunrise on the final page. As an artist Nilsen continues to grow, doing things (like the inky, frightening flock of birds that fly out of the slain swan) I’ve never seen him do before and doing them wonderfully well. It’s Wild Kingdom directed by David Lynch, suspenseful and rapturous, a comic of terrible sadness, horror, and beauty.

Carnival of souls

November 21, 2008

* This David Lynch short film shot with a cinematographe camera is horrifying.

(Via Stacie Ponder.)

* Timothy Olyphant is going to star in the remake of George A. Romero’s The Crazies. That’s nice, but mainly what struck me about the Dread Central article where I found this out is the picture of Olyphant as Seth Bullock. Good God was Deadwood a great television program.


* Renee French is talented.


* If you watch Heroes live every week as it initially airs, creator Tim Kring thinks you are “saps and dipshits.” Thank goodness superhero fandom doesn’t get riled up that easily, or else he could catch some flack for this!

Comics Time: I Live Here

November 21, 2008


I Live Here

Mia Kirshner, J.B. MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, Michael Simons, primary writers/artists

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Lynn Coady, Joe Sacco, Kamel Khélif, Chris Abani, Karen Connelly, Tara Hach, Lauren Kirshner, Valerie Thai, Niall McClelland, Seamrippers Craft Collective, Tina Medina, Julia Feyrer, Tiffany Monk, Charlotte Hewson, Sean Campbell, Phoebe Gloeckner, Julie Morstad, Karen Comins, Lackson Manyawa, Felix Yakobe, Edward Kasinje, contributing writers/artists

Pantheon, October 2008

320 pages


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Because it’s easier than talking about the content, I’m going to start my review of I Live Here, actress Mia Kirshner’s labor-of-love examination of human rights abuses suffered by women and children around the world, by discussing the presentation. Simply put, it’s stunning, certainly among the loveliest, most lavishly and thoughtfully designed books I’ve seen this year. The “book” consists of four slim, separate softcover volumes, each one reminiscent of a small notebook or journal, encased in a surprisingly sturdy, unfolding slipcase, the texture of which evokes the white paint/plaster/whiteout/whatever that is comprises the cover’s visuals. Each volume focuses on a different region where suffering is endemic: Ingushetia, a Russian republic that serves as home for thousands of Chechen refugees; the refugee camps (more like internment camps) along the Burma-Thailand border where members of the Karen ethnic group have been herded by Burma’s military dictatorship, as well as the Thai cities where Burmese refugees often end up as sex workers or domestic servants; Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican border city that serves as a narco capital and the site of literally hundreds of murders and disappearances of women and girls, many of them unsolved; and Malawi, an impoverished African nation where the rate of HIV infection hovers around 20%. Kirshner and some of her collaborators (Sacco, Simons, Gloeckner, and MacKinnon) traveled to each place, and the information and material they collected formed the basis for a variety of reportage, memoir, fiction, poetry, illustration, painting, photography, collage, comics, and assorted other visual and textual accounts of what’s going on in these places.

It’s all beautifully done, and virtually never maudlin, self-indulgent, or over-designed, which is something of a miracle given the subject matter and the sheer number of contributors. Kirshner’s eye for detail is impressive for a first-time author, but I don’t think she ever gives in to the temptation to oversell the import of a shared moment or specific insight (even regarding her family’s experience with the Holocaust or her own rape as a teenager, both of which inform her intent to create this book); the focus is still squarely on the full contours of the human catastrophes to which she bears witness. Moreover, while I Live Here can only be called a graphic novel in the very loosest sense–sequential art driven by panel transitions accounts for exactly two subsections of the whole project–Kirshner and her main collaborators bring a comics sensibility to the entire affair, concentrating on a juxtaposition of text and image that conveys more information than simple illustration. Sometimes this can be fairly complex and unexpected, as in the needlepoint and craft works that accompany an account of a murdered young woman in Juárez. Other times it’s as simple as just explaining what we’re seeing: In the Burma/Thailand volume, there’s a powerful one-page sequence of 12 increasingly out-of-focus snapshots captioned, in white-out, “Self-portraits—She took one picture every hour while working her shift in the brothel. She had six clients in 12 hours.” Some contributions rely on the way the text is presented: What looks like four pages of word-find puzzles in the Juárez volume turns out to be names of dead and disappeared girls written out end to end; a series of short first-person accounts of life in juvenile prison in Malawi is illustrated by Malawian signmaker Edward Kasinje, whose visual representations of their words end up reminiscent of the type-based work of Ray Fenwick.

The actual graphic novelists involved in the project hand do memorable work here, unsurprisingly. Joe Sacco’s strip “Chechen War, Chechen Women” contains some of the best art I’ve ever seen from him, his figures containing a searing, prophet-like power. This is also where we get our first good look at Phoebe Gloeckner’s experiments with digitally manipulated photography and doll-making, in a monumentally upsetting series of diorama-like depictions of the rape and murder of women and girls in Juárez. Her overripe, disturbingly childlike imagery is juxtaposed with flatly literal translations of reports on the crimes from the Mexican media and police documents (“Said, ‘she leave her children to me because I am now without work. She should know how tempted, and no right has to anger with me when she is not there.'”).

As is probably apparent by now, this is devastatingly, soul-crushingly sad material. It clearly got to Kirshner, who admits as much throughout the book, after seeing a series of photos of carnage taken by a Chechen refugee, after visiting Juárez. As her journeys go on, the books feel less comprehensive–I think each subsequent volume is a quicker read than the one before–as if Kirshner eventually lacked the heart to throw it all at us again and again, preferring impressions to examinations. There’s stuff in here you’re going to wish you could un-read, un-see. You’ll cry. (It was a short fiction piece about a Karen child who had to leave her dog behind while fleeing her village and wondered if the dog was sad because he couldn’t understand where his masters went that got me.) You’ll start making comparisons in your head: Is Juárez, with its recognizably North American pop-culture and commerce, more or less upsetting than the familiar Eurasian rubble of Chechnya? Is the perfect storm of man’s brutality to man in Burma and Thailand more or less unjust than the avalanche of disease in Malawi? Is hopelessness quantifiable? If the world is the sick, unfunny joke these stories of these places suggests it to be, there’s something heroic about those willing to go out of their way to hear that joke be told, is there not?

Carnival of souls

November 20, 2008

* Did you know that Phoebe Gloeckner is blogging again? She is. Did you expect it to be sad? It is.

* CBR’s Alex Dueben speaks with Ross Campbell, creator of the weird, wonderful Wet Moon and Water Baby. Campbell is a really unique artist in comics right now and hearing about his mental process is pretty fascinating. There’s a great bit where he reveals his Minx effort, Water Baby, was originally planned to have a raunchier story but less sexy visuals:

Actually, looking back on the artwork just now, I still really like it, but I think I went a little overboard on Brody’s breasts. Even though Louisa’s are even bigger, Brody’s particularly seem overly prominent, not specifically because of their size since obviously tons of girls have these proportions and they’re fine and normal, but just the manner in which I drew them. Maybe it’s just Brody’s nipples, which always seem to be pushing into her shirts (I guess I was trying to show that Brody never wears a bra, too), I don’t know. Maybe if I could go back and fix up all the nipple protrusion it would be perfect. [laughs]

He also reveals that Tokyopop is resolutely fucking him out of being able to do anything further with his excellent goth-zombie graphic novel The Abandoned, which is a crime. (Via Dirk Deppey.)

* Chris Mautner speaks with Ivan Brunetti about his two-volume Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories. Once again, we see that anthologies of this sort eschew good superhero comics not out of choice, but out of necessity, courtesy of those comics’ publishers:

Then there were things that were prohibitively expensive and just impossible to track down the rights on. It’s really hard to get a hold of Marvel Comics. I would have loved to have stuff by Jack Kirby in there. You can’t even find who to contact to get those rights, plus they would have been so expensive. The recent Best American Comics

Q: — wanted to get in Paul Pope —

A: Yeah and DC wouldn’t even want it reprinted. There were those kinds of issues to consider.

Another crime.

* Fangoria speaks with World War Z author Max Brooks about the coming film adaptation, directed by Quantum of Solace‘s Marc Forster and written by Spider-Man: The Other‘s J. Michael Straczynski.

Brooks is also pleased with the latest WORLD WAR Z script draft by J. Michael Straczynski, whom some predict will win an Oscar nomination for his screenplay to the Clint Eastwood film CHANGELING. The scripter managed to distill Brooks’ wide-ranging collection of journal entries, interviews and anecdotes detailing the ultimate battle between man and zombie into a cohesive screenplay. “I’m thrilled that the man who created BABYLON 5 is working on this movie,” Brooks said. “I can’t give it away, but Straczynski found a way to tie it all together. The last draft I read was amazing.”

Another crime?

* David Bordwell sings the praises of that golden age of edgy Hollywood filmmaking…the ’80s?

* Look! I’m a highlight!


That’s from an SPX retrospective strip by Dustin Harbin, who sure can draw. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)

* Frequently you hear comics people talk about DC’s iconic heroes. If I made a list in my head of who those are, it would map exactly to this drawing:


From a DC Comics color guide, drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. (Via JK Parkin.)

* A Ghostface Killah Greatest Hits featuring a song called “Ghostface Christmas”? Oh, indeed.

* Quote of the day:

‘Tis the season to be crazy!

–Some crazy lady on the train to work this morning. Unfortunately, being actually crazy, she didn’t know to quit while she was ahead, and used the line (by which I mean shouted it to no one in particular) twice. So now it’s unable hang in the collective memory of her fellow passengers as a singular, spontaneous flash of shamanic-savant brilliance the way I’m sure we’d all prefer it to.

* Finally (via Whitney Matheson, Chinese Fucking Democracy.

Carnival of souls

November 19, 2008

* First-time director Mark Poirier will be remaking The Host. Fans are worried he’ll deviate too much from the original by making the remake a good movie. (Via Dread Central.)

* Looks like Damon Lindelof and Leinil Francis Yu’s Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk will finally finish! Good–it was a good comic so far. (Via Kevin Melrose.)

* Strange Ink’s Sean B. makes the case for Rorschach’s seemingly Snyder-elided monotone, comparing the vigilante to such memorable flat-affect villains as Anton Chigurh and HAL 9000. I think Chigurh is an apt comparison given that I think Moore and Gibbons meant Rorschach to come across like a Leatherface/Michael/Jason-style masked slasher to his victims. That said, I think it’s a mug’s game to argue whether or not movie-Rorschach will maintain the original’s embodiment/critique of Ditko-Rand A-is-A black-and-white morality based on his accent in a trailer or two.

* Your quote of the day comes from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

It’s a funny thing to be a black kid into fantasy. Most of this stuff is ripped from Tolkien, and as much as I love LOTR, there is, indeed, something disquieting about the total whiteness of the movies. I don’t blame that on Jackson or Tolkien. If someone was doing a fantasy epic based on Xhosa creation myths, I wouldn’t expect to see any white people.

Meanwhile, this comment regarding how “race” and attractiveness have affected the evolution of World of Warcraft was pretty fascinating to me. Actually, the whole comment thread is pretty terrif and if you’re a politically sensitive follower of fantastic fiction it’s well worth your time.

* Rest in peace, Guy Peellaert.


(Via Dirk Deppey.)

Comics Time: Powr Mastrs Vol. 2

November 19, 2008


Powr Mastrs Vol. 2

C.F., writer/artist

PictureBox, November 2008

104 pages


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My goodness, this is a filthy book! Powr Mastrs Vol. 2 is a “fantasy” in both the generic and sexual senses. A throughline of eroticized mayhem only briefly glimpsed in Vol. 1 (Aphasia the Witch’s boob-bearing corset, and of course the Jellyfish Emperor/Lady Minirex hentai sequence) emerges as the dominant mode of C.F.’s odd indie epic of magic, mad science, and violence. Maybe that’s what makes the violence here so memorable and disturbing–a certain sexualized vulnerability for the victims and animalism for the perpetrators.

The bit everyone’s going to remember from this volume is Ajax Lacewing’s Midnight Express/28 Days Later style dispatch of a giant. The eye-gouging and decapitation are gory enough on their own, but when accompanied by genuinely upsetting smack-talk (“I know you can’t see now, but you can hear me: You’re trash. Giants are trash.”) and Ajax’s erect penis in full money-shot mode, they’re a true violation. The savagery here and throughout (Buell Kazee introduces us to Viskoser Tod, Tetradyne Cola battles Darman Orry) is palpable, as is the sexuality (the Bosch-like construction of Cool George Herc’s nude body, Minirex’s masturbation, the languid psychedelic sensuality of Aphasia and Windlass Wendy Wheetah the Witches, the Sub-Men’s underwater dalliances). And it all makes sense in a way, given that we learn that the plot’s prime mover is the exploitation, and subsequent rebellion, of the sentient creations of the aloof Mosfet Warlock. It’s a strange and sinister mythos, based on the use and abuse of people’s bodies by other people; I can’t help but feel that outside of the world of artcomics there are hardcore SFF readers who would take to this like ducks to water. I’m not entirely convinced that it justifies a $18 price point for what is essentially one-sixth of a larger story, but this is impressive work.

Danzig – Cantspeak

November 18, 2008

By the time this song came out Danzig had already had his big crossover hit with “Mother.” I’m pretty sure America was in the throes of “Closer”-era Nine Inch Nails mania at this point, though, and the comparatively non-metal electronic vibe of this song is an indicator of that, as is the part-NIN part-Tool video. This is pretty far out of Danzig’s traditional horror-punk and Frazetta-metal comfort zone, and, I’ve always thought, rewardingly so. The primary trick here is repetition. Danzig repeats a series of negative statements on pretty much the same handful of notes without a hint of his Viking Elvis voice to be heard, and the musical backing is exactly the same throughout; the closest it gets to a chorus is just repeating the previous verse while running the vocals and guitars through distortion effects. The tone is relentless and claustrophobic, yet also seductive thanks to that industrial groove–which fits, because the song is about the growing appeal of both isolation and self-destruction, both of which are often attractive to the genuinely depressed. “Gonna live with all my soul inside,” he repeats; elsewhere, “Keep thinking of suicide.” There’s no escape and I find that rather haunting.

Carnival of souls

November 17, 2008

* Jog takes a look at one of my favorite comics of the year, Yuichi Yokoyama’s Travel.

* Leigh Walton makes the case for Rorschach’s tough-guy voice, The Watchmen, and other fan-lamented aspects of what we’ve seen from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen thus far. Bonus points for making the retrospectively obvious “Have a Cigar” connection.

* I’ve tended to think of Brian Michael Bendis’s New Avengers as follows: A strong, exciting opening arc full of solid action beats (Hydro-Man floods the basement, the Sentry tears Carnage in half) provides an interesting mix of A-listers and potentially interesting also-rans with a solid raison d’etre and mission statement, i.e. fate threw them together just like the original Avengers; now they must track down all the criminals broken out of a super-prison while finding out who’s responsible for the breakout and the subsequent massacre of slaves in the Savage Land. The book then gets sidetracked almost instantly by storyarcs devoted to explaining who the (it turns out) not terribly interesting after all also-rans are (the Sentry, Spider-Woman), messing with continuity in a pretty unsatisfactory way (House of M, the Xorn/Collective stuff, Illuminati), and the demands of outside titles and external crossovers (dropping Daredevil from the team before he could even join, splitting up the team for Civil War), all despite occasionally impressive character work (particularly with Luke Cage, who really has become a leading player in the Marvel Universe thanks to Bendis’s great work with him). Jon Hastings’s critique is a simpler yet somewhat more fundamental one: Bendis never learned how to write action scenes for large numbers of characters. True enough, whenever I think of a big Bendis team-book/event-comic action sequence, it’s a two page spread of people punching and stabbing and shooting in every direction, accompanied or followed by cutaway panels highlighting indistinct individual bits of action–just like Jon says. (Meanwhile in the comments Jon takes a swing at the basic reason for the team to exist, but I’m not ready to go that far.)

* Over at my favorite new TV show of the season, Bruce Baugh continues to explore what’s up with World of Warcraft. One thing that strikes me anew with each new post is just how many major factions are involved. My fantasy background is almost solely Tolkien, where for all intents and purposes it was a strictly bipolar world; intra-faction strife (Dwarves vs. Elves back in the Elder Days, Saruman vs. Sauron in the “present”) tended to be of limited scope and duration. I don’t recall other fantasy series I enjoyed (Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander) deviating from that model overmuch. (Ursula K. LeGuin kinda eschewed bad guys iirc.) By contrast, WoW is lousy with rivals on every side, and it seems like part of the fun of the game is that you really never know where the next big story-driving assault will come from, or whether the alignment of powers when the next big thing is resolved will in any way resemble the current alignment.

Emerson Lake & Palmer – Lucky Man

November 17, 2008

Here’s an admirably po-faced fan-made video for a song I really enjoy. Even as a little kid, when you might expect me to connect most solidly with the fantasy-tinged heroism depicted in this song, I grokked it for the quietly brutal anti-war song it is. The contrast between the gentle grandeur of the music, with its troubadour acoustic guitar and celestial vocal harmonies, and the fact that they’re ultimately talking about this “lucky man” getting shot to death on the battlefield struck me as bracingly honest about how glorious these sorts of endeavors really are. Obviously that’s a lesson Tolkien prepared me for in this context, but still.