Archive for October 31, 2009

More to come, but for now

October 31, 2009

Paranormal Activity and The Hurt Locker have a lot in common.

Happy Halloween from all of us at Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?!

October 31, 2009

holy moley my words are coming out of stan lee’s mouth

Not Comics Time: Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box

October 30, 2009

Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box

Jacques Boyreau, editor

Fantagraphics, 2009

200 pages, slipcover


Buy it from Fantagraphics, eventually

Buy it from eventually too

My entire circle of friends has been clamoring for this long-delayed collection of video box art for over a year–and could this be any more in my wheelhouse right now? If you made a Venn diagram out of the New Action, the Manly Movie Mamajama, and everything I talk about it that Dark Knight Strikes Again review, you’d find this right in the sweet spot. Even if this book didn’t exist, it would be necessary for me to invent it.

So let’s start by talking about what I didn’t like about it. Well, “didn’t like” is probably too strong–it’s fine, just not what I was looking for–but I couldn’t help but be let down by editor and compiler Jacques Boyreau’s introduction. You get a brief sketch of his personal history with home video, a lengthy technical history of the format, and a diatribe about the evils of digital. Actual discussion of “the lost art of the VHS box” is reserved for an interesting but meager two-paragraph rumination on the way their display in video stores made them the iconic equivalent of the films they contained, but this quickly gives way to one last swipe at DVDs, downloads, and digital projection. Nothing about any of the artists or designers involved, nothing about the evolving aesthetics of box art as home video went became a megabusiness, nothing about any of the covers on the pages that follow. If you’re looking for information about the business and creative decisions that led to the creation of this childhood-memory art form, you’ll come away disappointed.

But if you’re simply looking for a gallery of those memories and beyond, Boyreau did you right. He and designer Jacob Covery wisely chose to present the front cover of every box in the context of a product shot, rather than simply scanning the art and running it full-bleed–he’s absolutely right to argue that these images are inseparable from their status as objects. The box shots of the front cover (and spine) occupy the right-hand side of every spread, while the left-hand side reproduces the back cover. And here they do scan it and run it full-bleed, which actually just makes it funnier. Why? Well, it was clear from the start that what you needed to do with the front of your VHS box was make the image as lurid and eye-catching as possible, so there are surprisingly few variations in that regard beyond obvious budget and talent limitations in some cases. But what to do with the back cover? For a long time, no one seemed to know. The familiar tagline/teaser blurb/stills/credits framework was far from universal, and in its place were long lists of other movies released on home video by the studio (on the back of Vanishing Point, Magnetic Video Corporation listed fully fifty-eight), terse flat-affect plot summaries (The Chamber of Fear‘s blurb begins “The crevice of the volcano is very deep. Scientists are searching for a form of underground life that according to theory still exists.”), poorly written catalogues of the depraved behavior contained inside (Blood Spattered Bride notes “Although not rated this film contains nudity and scenes of graphic violence”), and in one memorable case (The Best of Burlesque–somehow I doubt it!) just a flipped and blown-up segment of the front cover’s airbrushed T&A illustration. Seeing all this proto-professional weirdness on the page normally reserved for placing the image next to it in some sort of factual context is hilarious.

But let’s face it, you’re here for the front covers, and they don’t disappoint. You’ve got titles like Drive-In Massacre, Don’t Go In the House, and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity. You’ve got taglines like Video Violence‘s “…When renting is not enough!!”, Slashdance‘s “SAVE THE LAST DANCE…FOR HELL!” and The Lift‘s “TAKE THE STAIRS, TAKE THE STAIRS. FOR GOD’S SAKE TAKE THE STAIRS!!!” You’ve got images you likely remember from the scary sections of your local mom-and-pop video shop–the girl-gun of Master Blaster, the knife-through-the mask of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (the back-cover blurb appends a question mark to that increasingly inaccurate adjective, by the way), and the genuinely striking redneck cheesecake of ‘Gator Bait. You’ve got bloody knives, Giger knock-offs, urban warriors, and underboob.

As is probably clear by now (if it wasn’t already from the book’s title), the bulk of these boxes are for B-movie genre pictures. The exceptions are therefore often all the more interesting. Go Hog Wild is a glorious example of a truly lost art, the cartooned/painted high-school sex comedy poster. Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World, with a 1987 copyright date, demonstrates the by-then astonishing moneymaking potential of the medium–a full rental fee for one 25-minute cartoon! The box-art design for Sidney Lumet’s Network, though crude by today’s standards, provides a representative look at the far classier approach to A-list studio affairs.

Most anomalous of all are the non-fiction efforts. A Johnny Bench documentary stands out for its blandness, while the Unknown Comic’s bag-clad noggin and overall awfulness could, with a little tweaking, fit right in with the various monsters and slashers. There’s a Gulf War I cash-in from ABC News, simply repackaging a military briefing from Norman Schwarzkopf. Grossest of all is an obliviously bloodthirsty hunting documentary called Bowhunting Whitetails: Just for Fun!: A grinning hunter holds a dead deer’s head by the antlers on the front, the back-cover copy revels in the hunter’s triumph over the poor stupid unarmed animal he slaughters, and there’s a tagline advertising “5 Vivid Arrow Impacts!” Even more than hilariously inept stuff like the Lon Chaney/John Carradine vehicle Alien Massacre and its crosseyed cover babe, it’s these documentaries and hobbyist videos that show just how widely the doors were thrown open to media producers and consumers of all stripes by the home video revolution.

And believe it or not, a couple of the covers even succeed as art! Boyreau smartly puts the two that do best right next to each other–the jagged ’80s splash-of-paint surrealism for the euro-slasher Eyeball (featuring an extremely rare artist credit, for illustrator Dick Bouchard) and the striking still of a loincloth-clad Cornel Wilde running from his life from spear-chucking African natives that bedecked the colonialist adventure The Naked Pray. Elsewhere, the bold two-color art for Walter Hill’s rock’n’roll fantasia Streets of Fire is ripe for reinterpretation today, I’d say; it’s easy to picture a Scott Pilgrim promotional piece riffing on its look and pose. And did I mention ‘Gator Bait? Step it up, Terry Richardson!

Now here’s the thing: A little Google Fu and you could probably come up with jpgs of nearly all the titles I’ve mentioned, and more besides. Boyreau laments how digital phased out analog when it comes to our movie viewing; has the Internet done the same with his book commemorating the losing side of that battle? I say no. It’s not just because of the tremendous job Boyreau and Covey did with the cover reproductions, or the lovely, solid paper stock, or the cutesy slipcase. It’s because Boyreau is right: the aura of the object is irreplaceable. A book collection of VHS box art contains preserves what was special about them in a way a Flickr gallery just can’t. Next time you have a trashy movie marathon, pass this around between movies–unlike your laptop, you won’t even need to worry that much about spilling beer on it.

Carnival of souls

October 30, 2009

* STC Elsewhere: I shined the Strange Tales Spotlight on the great Becky Cloonan and noted the demise of Wizard’s price guide and message board.

* Fantastic interview with Gary Groth and Kristi Valenti about the revamped print and web iterations of The Comics Journal by Kiel Phegley over at CBR. Five words, folks: Gary Groth’s Happy Hour podcast. Also, among other things, we learn that TCJ will be hosting blogs by Shaenon Garrity, Rob Clough, and R. Fiore, as well as importing Noah Berlatsky and Ng Suat Tong’s Hooded Utilitarian group blog.

* Jog analyzes the sizzle-to-steak ratio in Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s Detective Comics. If there’s enough sizzle, can it become a steak substitute?

* Wanna see Benjamin Marra draw Marilyn Chambers?

* Wanna see Johnny Ryan draw the poster for The Exorcist on a post-it note? And do a kids’ comic with Dave Cooper?

* Wanna see Frank Santoro draw a Cold Heat tribute to the poster for Mario Bava’s Black Sunday?

* Wanna see every page of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan laid out on a wall?

* Wanna see a new comic written and drawn by Alan Moore? Also, he’s working with Gorillaz, he tells a cute story about Brian Eno, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book he’s finishing now takes place in the present day!

* Oh yeah: While Moore’s thoroughgoing ignorance about many aspects of contemporary culture is lamentable (no matter how good a writer he is), it’s also increasingly clear that his expression of it in interviews is in no small part due to lousy questions from his interviewers.

* Well, this is odd: This interview with Sleigh Bells and this interview with Gary Numan (via) reveal that both owe their entire careers to a coincidence: Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss met when he waited on her at a restaurant and happened to ask if she sang, while Numan discovered his signature instrument, the Moog keyboard, because someone left one at the studio where his ersatz punk band was recording. I can relate: the only reason I bumped into the old high school and college classmate who got me my first job as a writer and remains my editor at Maxim is because I was wandering around Manhattan looking for a party that turned out to be in Brooklyn.

* Quoted on Pitchfork! Made it, Ma! Top o’ the world!

Carnival of souls

October 29, 2009

* I’m pretty happy with how my piece on six great alt-horror cartoonists for “Robot 666” came out.

* And I’m really happy with how my review of Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again (and glo-fi and Paper Rad and Tim & Eric and so on) came out. In both cases, hyperlinks are truly the blogger’s best friend!

* Now that I’ve watched Matt Zoller Seitz’s “Zombie 101” video essay, I’m linking to it all over again. You know, for a subgenre that’s so dominated discourse about horror this decade, the canon, as demonstrated by Seitz’s choices, is really pretty small–the vast majority of the major clips come from the Romero and the 28…Later movies, with Shaun of the Dead for laughs and pick your black and white voodoo-zombie movie for roots.

* Seeing these lists of “Best of the Decade” lists for music makes me realize–have you seen any such lists for comics yet? I haven’t. And I sure haven’t made one, because frankly the prospect is too daunting. Not only does this decade contain virtually my entire comics-reading life, it’s also just such a seismic time period. It includes everything from Jimmy Corrigan to Kramers Ergot 7, you know? I think you could do a 100 Greatest Comics of All Time list that could conservatively be 25% books from the last ten years.

* Ridley Scott says the Alien prequel he’s working on will take place about 30 years prior to Alien. Just getting that out there.

* I like Rich Juzwiak’s review of the Michael Jackson concert-rehearsal film This Is It.

* Purple Reign: Meet the Flamingo, terror of the Gotham City underworld and apparent Prince fan. (I don’t know what it says that it feels like this is the first time we’re seeing him even though he’s already appeared in this series at least twice, but hey.) Gotta love that this got out there on the same day I spent all this time comparing a Batman comic to colorful ’80s-conscious pop art.

* And here’s another song I coulda linked to in that DK2 post had the review gone up at the right time. Woo doggie, more like this please.

Comics Time: The Dark Knight Strikes Again

October 29, 2009

The Dark Knight Strikes Again

Frank Miller, writer

Frank Miller & Lynn Varley, artists

DC, 2003

256 pages


Buy it from

For today’s Comics Time review, please visit The Savage Critic(s).

Gossip Girl thoughts

October 28, 2009

* No way am I burying the lede this time around: Best Serena cleavage ever.

* Of course Rufus is lame enough to make KISS jack o’ lanterns.

* Make Blair kiss a girl, Chuck! Make Blair kiss a girl!

* That publicist character is the fucking worst. Every minute she’s on screen is insufferable. This, of course, is an accurate portrayal of publicists.

* These people just routinely lie to each other. Trick or treating, career stuff, helping your boyfriend, dating your costar, whatever, it’s always time to lie.

* I liked that goofy shot of Serena taking all that time to walk out of the Humphrey loft as Dan and Olivia argue over her pretending to still be dating her ex-costar. It was like something out of Wet Hot American Summer, only featuring awesome stems.

* The gangster outfits were a little much even for this show.

* Here’s why the end of the episode was a mess: If getting busted by the cops is so self-evidently good for the hotel, why would Serena think it would be bad for the celebrities? Even if you want to grant her the initial freakout, eventually it’s no longer theoretical–it turns out to be great for the celebrities. And yet she’s still pissed at Blair. Meanwhile, Blair never says “hey, it’ll be great for them too,” she makes some kind of lame “I’m putting Chuck first” argument instead of pointing out that it’s an obvious win-win. Bad writing.

Carnival of souls

October 28, 2009

* Appearing in the Strange Tales Spotlight today: Corey Lewis. That stuff looks lovely.

* Ooooh man, I cannot wait to sit down and watch Matt Zoller Seitz’s “Zombie 101” video essay.

* Tom Spurgeon talks to Gary Groth about the coming rejiggering of The Comics Journal‘s print and online iterations.

* Curt Purcell reviews the Superman and Batman Blackest Night tie-in minis. I think Curt is right to defend them against accusations that they’re “red skies” tie-ins, i.e. that they perfunctorily acknowledge the existence of some wider crossover framework but then go about their regular business. Clearly, they’re about nothing but the Blackest Night goings-on. But for me, that’s sort of the problem. What they are is really nothing more or less than three-issue depictions of what’s going on with Superman and the new Batman (and their sidekicks) during the invasion of the Black Lanterns. They don’t really have their own beginnings, and they certainly don’t have much in the way of endings–they’re basically like the “here’s what’s going on with so-and-so” sequences we’ve seen in the main miniseries, only extracted and expanded. It’s just kinda weird, is all. And compared to the two-issue Final Crisis tie-ins for these two characters, which also removed them from the main flow of the event but showed them dealing with unique problems, they feel a little unnecessary. I dunno, man, writing tie-ins that make those who buy them feel like they matter and those who don’t buy them feel like they’re not missing anything crucial to the enjoyment of what they are buying is perhaps the toughest row to hoe in this the event-comics era.

* My love-hate relationship with the Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader gang continues with Brandon’s post on ’70s & ’80s Eurocomic weirdness. I’m all for reclaiming forgotten, fecund areas of comics history, but your argument for this needn’t be laden with egregious strawmen or attacks on publishers simply for not sharing your own tastes. You may not like, say, the comics of Fletcher Hanks, but isn’t that pretty much exactly the kind of “hey, look off the beaten path and shake off your insularity and publish something overlooked” project you’re calling for? And I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t get to say things like this…

It does not really benefit the smaller companies, especially the tastemakers like Fantagraphics or Top Shelf to try to republish this stuff because their bread and butter is still very much the overtly sophisticted, gets-write-ups-in-the-New York Times type comics, be it personal, arty stuff made now or lost pieces of early comics history.

…without getting called out about the Hernandez Brothers and Josh Simmons and Johnny Ryan and Charles Burns and Gipi and Robert Williams and Jacques Tardi and Portable Grindhouse and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Surrogates Super Spy and Renee French and everything else those publishers publish that gives obvious lie to those claims. If you think people should publish more weird ’70s and ’80s genre comics that aren’t superheroes, that’s what you should say. If you’ve got confidence in your case, make it on the aesthetic (and financial) merits.

* Tom Neely’s horror-comic cover versions are always a delight.

* So are the Cold Heat pages Frank Santoro posts on his blog.

* Behold the origin of the Psychic TV logo.

* And Now the Screaming Starts notes David Bowie’s mid-’70s occult meltdown. Surprising no one, I have actually written a comic about this. Would anyone out there like to draw it for me? Email’s to your left.

* This Halloween mix by DJ Daymage really is outstanding. Download it twice.

Let me explain to you why I don’t care for Basement Jaxx

October 28, 2009

Honestly I don’t feel very strongly about Basement Jaxx in either direction. But lately I’ve been listening to “Where’s Your Head At” a bunch. It’s a very good song, mostly thanks to the firepower of its fully armed and operational Gary Numan sample. But it’s as though they were unsatisfied with merely centering their song around one of the most monstrous synth lines ever constructed and felt compelled to add a bunch of unnecessary junk to it, like some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The single edit in the video above is better than the full-length version in this regard, but it still gets a little too goofy with the funny voices. And the full-length version has about 45 unnecessary seconds in the middle and another 45 unnecessary seconds at the end. It’s not like I’ve listened to a ton of Basement Jaxx, but pretty much everything I’ve heard is like this in some way–just too busy. I understand that this is considered “maximalism,” but for me it’s clutter, or mania, or trying too hard, or something else unappealing, and when you’ve divorced it from a colossal Numanism it’s not something I’m interested in hearing at all.

Comics Time: Dark Reign: The List #7–Wolverine

October 28, 2009

Dark Reign: The List #7–Wolverine

Jason Aaron, writer

Esad Ribic, artist

Marvel, October 2009

48 pages


Well well well, looks like Marvel decided maybe they should have strained that Grant Morrison bathwater for babies before they threw it all out. Yeah, Joss Whedon (and, in those nobly intentioned but ill-conceived Phoenix minis, Greg Pak) got to nod in New X-Men‘s direction now and then–Cassandra Nova, a one-line reference to Magneto’s trashing of Manhattan, even the Bug Room. But other than wiping out Genosha, killing Jean Grey, and establishing Emma Frost as the X-Men’s new HBIC, Marvel basically ran, not walked, away from Morrison’s ideas and tone alike. (Exhibit A: that Xorn arc from New Avengers.) So writer Jason Aaron’s full-fledged Morrison Marvel Team-Up in this very very central event title, pitting Wolverine, Marvel Boy (!), and Fantomex (!!!) against Norman Osborn for the fate of The World (i.e. the Morrison-created birthplace of the Weapon Plus program that spawned everyone from Captain America to the ol’ Canucklehead), is something of a turning point. Certainly I didn’t expect to see a French-accented international man of mystery playing a role in Dark Reign, except perhaps as someone for Ares to chop in half in a throwaway sequence in Dark Avengers.

What’s impressive about this is that rather than try to ape high Morrisonian “mad ideas” (except for a played-for-laughs viral-religion thing), Aaron riffs on an entirely different Morrison tone: cheeky high-concept comedy. Instead of writing Marvel Boy as some sort of brooding military brat, Aaron returns him to the quasi-Clockwork Orange blend of arrogance, ultraviolence, and killer good looks that made his original Morrison miniseries such a hoot. He’s like Chuck Bass with insect DNA. (Okay, more insect DNA.) Similarly, Fantomex is treated as a charming rogue with a cool white uniform rather than Aaron simply waving his hands in the face of his weird power set and Frenchness and giving up or phoning in some black-ops boilerplate. Wolverine actually plays a supporting role more than anything else, but when he’s unleashed, it’s in a splatstick fashion consistent with the joli-laid physicality Morrison’s collaborator Frank Quitely imbued him with. Ribic’s art goes a long way in this regard–I’d previously known him only for his admittedly dynamic Alex Ross-indebted painted work, but his pencils have a cartoony zest that would be right at home on some three-issue Vertigo miniseries.

What does it all mean in the context of Dark Reign and The List and so on? As best I can tell, not much. But reintegrating Morrison’s many toys into the mainstream Marvel Universe, as opposed to the province of editorially hands-off limited series, is pretty momentous in and of itself. Fingers crossed we’ll see the Phoenix Corps again when all is said and done.

Carnival of souls

October 27, 2009

* Today’s Strange Tales Spotlight subject is Chris Chua, a relative unknown who more than anyone else in the series so far is gonna make you marvel that this is being published by Marvel.

* Whoa, The Comics Journal is shifting to a semiannual with a beefed-up online component.

* Battlestar Galactica: The Plan comes out on DVD today, and thus ends the series. It turns out I don’t enjoy this sort of release pattern at all–instead of making this appointment television, it’s become “eh, I’ll buy it eventually.”

* Oh yeah, buncha Monty Python docs of the sort I usually really enjoy come out today too.

* Given my usual preoccupations in terms of this show it’s probably no surprise that my favorite parts of Whitney Matheson’s reader Q&A with Lost honcho Damon Lindelof center on how outside concerns like actor availability and budget overruns affected Lost‘s story.

* The Hellraiser remake is going to be 3-D, I guess.

* New Chris Ware! (Via JK Parkin.)

* Honestly, my main takeaway from these interview snippets with Marvel VP of Sales David Gabriel is that Marvel will be switching to a more DC-style release pattern with its trade paperbacks–i.e. they’ll take forever to come out–which really bums me out as someone who really only ever wants or buys trade paperbacks for this material. I imagine the reasoning behind not wanting to stagger the release of books featuring the same character will raise some eyebrows.

* Jason Adams is on the Scott Pilgrim movie beat, catching some interesting tweets from Juno director Jason Reitman following a screening of 30 minutes of footage from Edgar Wright’s adaptation:

It is a game changer for Edgar and the genre. It moves the speed of light and carries more unadulterated joy than Ive seen in recent cinema.

SP does what everyone our age has been dreaming about: achieves the first all encompassing film of the joystick generation.

I’m in awe of the sheer control in the filmmaking. It feels like a “Matrix” for love and how willing we are to fight for it.

Honestly I wasn’t as crazy about the first volume of Scott Pilgrim as a lot of other people were, but I still remember the way it worked video-game combat and iconography into its relatively normal story hitting me like a ton of bricks. If the movie can really do the same thing, hoo baby.

* Green Zone, a Paul Greengrass-directed Matt Damon-starring politicized action film that isn’t a Bourne movie? [Pause for thought] Sure, I’ll eat it.

* My friend Ben Morse hired Todd Nauck to draw portraits of the groomsmen at his wedding as their gifts. That’s a pretty rad idea.

* Renee French is freaking me out.

* He-Man is awesome. (Via Kiel Phegley.)

Some kind of monster

October 26, 2009

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker starts off by playing upon what I believe is the oldest and most primal human fear, developmentally speaking. You sit down in the theater with its stereo surround sound blazing, you watch a team of explosive experts use an all-too-clumsy robot to gingerly manipulate a roadside bomb in Iraq, and before you know it your heart is pounding because an explosion could occur at any moment and some part of your brain really, really does not want to be startled by a loud noise.

The whole rest of the film is essentially a demonstration of how life as a soldier (or civilian) in Iraq works in much the same fashion. Though far from the comfy confines of a movie theater on 13th Street, these people are similarly subjected to an environment where something brain-rattlingly terrifying could happen to them at any moment. Most of the film’s set pieces–and it basically moves from set piece to set piece, like Saving Private Ryan (with one key difference I’ll get to in a moment)–create tension and suspense simply by demonstrating, through a few shots of a byzantine network of alleys or featureless expanse of desert or cramped and hole-riddled warren of rooms, that there is literally no possible way that our trio of American soldiers could prepare themselves for every way in which that brain-rattlingly terrifying thing could happen. Keep your eyes in one direction and get shot from another. Defuse a bomb and get blown up by the one five feet away from it. Pop your head up to shoot someone and get shot in return. And unlike in Spielberg’s paradigm-shifting shakicam action epic, there’s no sense of forward momentum, no inexorable drive to the fulfillment of a quest. There’s just a countdown till the last day in Bravo Company’s rotation, a slow grind of hundreds of daily life-and-death situations, an increasingly indistinct and almost pointless parade of triumphs and tragedies. A tedium of terror. To the extent that the film has an ideological or political component, you can suss it out from there.

But it’s a very big world with a lot of people in it, and surely there are people out there who don’t just survive such a situation but thrive in it. That’s Sgt. James, our hero, played by Jeremy Renner just as marvelously as anyone who’s seen Dahmer or 28 Weeks Later would expect. Like Sanborn and Eldridge, the two other men in his three-man bomb squad, I spent much of the movie trying to figure out what makes this guy tick. Is he an arrogant, cigarette-smoking John Wayne wannabe, living every day as if this is the one during which he can walk away from an explosion in slow motion? Is he Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, a bloody-handed sociopath glibly waltzing through the killing fields, knowing that some day this war’s gonna end but never quite allowing himself to finish the thought? Is he enacting some sort of slow-motion suicide by haji, running headlong away from responsibility for others and for himself alike until someone or something finally puts him out of his misery? Or is he just the best damn explosives expert anyone’s ever seen–as Eldridge puts it, “not very good with people, but a hell of a warrior”? In one brilliant scene, a murderous commanding officer follows up a near-disaster outside the UN compound with a creepily complimentary inquisition of James that seems to entertain all these possibilities at once.

Two key conversations convey one last possibility: that there’s no real method to James’s madness. We can rule out sociopathy, at least, because he clearly cares deeply about some of the violence’s victims–though his pathos in this regard turns out to be both dubiously inspired and stupidly, self-aggrandizingly addressed. But beyond that, how can he do it? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, he says; later, he casts life as a process by which the things you love are slowly revealed to be basically garbage, except for one or two real, true things. It’s love as a fix, and his love, his fix, is his pas de deux with death. He seemingly can’t help being the way he is any more than Bodie from Bigelow’s Point Break (or Johnny from Mike Leigh’s Naked, whom I thought of quite a bit by the end). In this light what looked like recklesness, like not caring, is revealed to be what he cares about the most. His body needs a blast radius.

Carnival of souls

October 26, 2009

* Today on the Con War front: I’m pretty happy with how my Robot 6 piece on the friendly date-switch deal made by Heroes Con and Supercon came out. There are the usual Wizard/Reed tidbits mixed in there as well.

* I also enjoyed the lengthy round-up by Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon’s “what does it all mean, and not mean?” piece. Tom makes one really interesting distinction, between “aesthetically gross” stuff done by the various cons and “ethically gross” stuff, which is a different and more pressing issue but which remains difficult to separate from the former category simply because so few people are willing to go on the record about the many, many shady things being whispered about behind the scenes.

* Robot 6 is rebranding itself Robot 666 for this pre-Halloween week. Boo!

* Paranormal Activity beat the tar out of Saw VI at the box office during the latter’s opening weekend. To me this isn’t a story of David and Goliath so much as Goliath in David’s clothing vs. Goliath’s great-great-great-great-grandson, but hey, worth noting.

* It’s a great privilege to be able to claim Jim Hanley’s Universe as my Local Comic Shop. It’s with that in mind that I read and appreciated Jim Hanley’s eulogy for his late buisness partner Rich Hafstead. (Via Dirk Deppey.)

* New Hans Rickheit!

* New Kevin Huizenga!

* New R. Crumb!

* Old Al Columbia! And new Al Columbia I had no idea existed!

* I dig Frank Santoro’s minimalist APE recap. The Troublemakers is out!

* Real-Life Horror: 15 minutes of sensory deprivation can make you hallucinate. Via Andrew Sullivan, who points out that the United States government has subjected its own citizens to way, way, way more than 15 minutes of sensory deprivation.

* I loved The A-Team as a kid, and while I think the movie version will have a really really tiny needle to thread in terms of finding a tone that’ll make it enjoyable, I am indeed delighted by this picture of the cast. That’s Liam Neeson, believe it or not.

Comics Time: nothin’

October 26, 2009

Today’s Comics Time review has been canceled because I accidentally read and reviewed a book that’s embargoed until Wednesday. I am a doofus. Comics Time will resume on Wednesday, and I may throw in an extra review at some point this week just to make up for this. You never know.

Comics Time: Invincible Iron Man #19

October 23, 2009

Invincible Iron Man #19

Matt Fraction, writer

Salvador Larroca, artist

Marvel, October 2009

40 pages


It’s been a long time since I read superhero comic that wasn’t by Grant Morrison more than once out of enthusiasm rather than confusion. But golly, I enjoyed this one, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

Subtitled (somewhat pretentiously) “Into the White (Einstein on the Beach),” this is the conclusion of the year-long “World’s Most Wanted” arc of Fraction and Larroca’s movie-toned Iron Man book, in which the disgraced and deposed Tony Stark runs around the world trying to destroy both his tech and his own mind lest both fall into the hands of new King Shit of Turd Mountain Norman Osborn. In the past I’ve found this set-up very hard to swallow because of how dependent it is on other, lesser comics like Civil War and Secret Invasion. For example, I don’t care what universe you live in, if Bernard Kerik can go from Homeland Security chief nominee to getting his mugshot taken, it strains credulity that a guy who used to dress up as a goblin and throw pumpkin bombs at people is gonna get put in charge of jack shit.

But Fraction compensates for this inherited conceptual sloppiness simply by making the plot mechanics for this story as tight as he possibly can. He cuts relentlessly back and forth between the protagonists and antagonists: the Charlie’s Angels trio of Black Widow, Maria Hill, and Pepper Potts attempting to escape from Osborn’s lair; Osborn’s second-in-command Victoria Hand trying to prevent this and quaking in terror of what will happen if she doesn’t; Osborn himself cockily closing in on his quarry; the intelligence-officer grunt who’s secretly feeding Osborn bad information and the colleague who smells something fishy about him; and Iron Man himself, experiencing an Algernon-like loss of his faculties as he hurls himself in his dilapidated old armor toward his final destination. If you’ve ever tried to write an action sequence, let alone cross-cut between several of them, you know how hard it is to get what needs to happen to happen for any reason other than your need for it to happen, right? Well, never once do the A-B-C sequencings of Fraction’s various plots feel like they’ve skipped a letter just to get to point Z quicker. From the captured spies moving up and down and in an out of an elevator, to the precise interpersonal dynamics between all the personnel involved in Norman’s pursuit of Tony Stark, each moment proceeds directly from the last, whether physically or emotionally.

How many fight scenes have you read lately where a character will get smacked several dozen yards by some giant powerhouse only to be up and about a few pages later? How many times have creators had to go online to clarify the physical fate of a character whose beating they wrote into incomprehensibility? How many times has a climactic battle been undercut completely by glib banter, almost completely disconnected from the circumstances of that place, that moment, those characters? You’re not gonna get any of that shit here. Each scene and sequence feels like it’s taking place in a physical space you and the characters could navigate, with physical maneuvers having readily understandable physical consequences. Each move toward and away from the characters’ goals comes with a sense of the stakes involved–the grand illusion of serialized shared-universe superhero storytelling, that there really can be winners and losers, has rarely been so astutely conveyed.

This is all the result of what feels like a real partnership. This issue’s success is equally due to Fraction’s just-right dialogue and direction and Larroca’s deft work with body language and fight choreography. (His days as a Greg Land-style spot-the-photoref novelty act are loooooong behind him.) Both shine brightest in the climax, making Osborn’s slide from glee to rage to frustration to confusion to defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as clear as day and almost frightening. It’s capped off with a one-liner in which the totality of Tony’s pwnage of Norma is made hilariously clear (provided you’re a Marvel nerd), and a one-page coda that manages to set up the coming mega-crossover without losing a sense of beatific victory and loss.

Did I mention that they managed to rehabilitate Iron Man’s badly damaged character in my head, despite the fact that even now none of his actions during Civil War have turned out to make any kind of practical or moral sense within the world of the story in any way? And that they managed to establish Spider-Man villain the Green Goblin as a for-the-ages Iron Man enemy as surely as Frank Miller made Kingpin the archnemesis for Daredevil? I dunno, man, this is some mightily effective work in this genre. I feel like it should be taken apart and studied at story summits for a long, long time: If this is what you want to do, this is how you want to do it. Aw, hell, I’m gonna read it again.

Carnival of souls

October 23, 2009

* Today’s Strange Tales Spotlight: Jonathan Jay Lee. You might not have heard of him before–I hadn’t–but his work sure looks lovely.

* Beware the savage lure of Matt Wiegle’s 1984.

* Get this: Two Kentucky librarians refused to allow an 11-year-old to check out The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen because they thought it was “pornography”…and they got fired for it! Regardless of the wisdom of letting your 11-year-old read Alan Moore’s Mina Murray/Allan Quartermain May-December fanfic, you have to admit it’s delightful to see the kinds of nitwits who’d label this book “pornographic” get shitcanned for it.

* I’m not reading this until I see the movie, and god only knows when that will be (The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Zombieland, etc.), but for what it’s worth, the estimable Rich Juzwiak has titled his review of Paranormal Activity “Believe the hype”.

* I read Devin Friedman’s GQ profile of Von Dutch/Ed Hardy mastermind Christian Audigier in the pharmacy yesterday and realized that if you combine it with The New Yorker‘s James Cameron profile and Bronson Pinchot’s (ongoing!) tell-all interview(s), you get a sort of group portrait of contemporary Hollywood awfulness. (Pinchot link via Whitney Matheson.)

Carnival of souls

October 22, 2009

* Over at Robot 6, I pointed out the Frank Miller/Victor Davis Hanson connection (via Rodrigo Baeza), linked to the Kramers Ergot 7 minicomic (via Blaise Larmee), and continued riding the Con War train into Pulitzer Junction.

* Today, my Strange Tales Spotlight shines on Jay Stephens.

* And eff it, I’m linking to my interview with Brian Chippendale for Providence’s website one more time. If n’ Oof is going to be 700 pages long, did you know that?

* TJ Dietsch’s list of The 12 Weirdest Horror Movie Theme Songs at Topless Robot is solid gold. I figured nothing would top Burt Bacharach’s “Beware of the Blob,” but then I didn’t count on “The Ballad of Harry Warden.”

* Kristin Thompson presents Hollywood blockbusters: weapon against the trade deficit!

* Real-World Horror: A group of prominent pop and rock musicians have joined together to demand that their music stopped being used to torment prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. No one saw the irony of using “March of the Pigs” to torture people?

* Wow, that really is a great Nova sketch.

* Finally:

Its a wild world. You can travel to the US city of your choice with your cowboy hat and your stirrups and have a gun fight in a back alley. You can sign up with Blackwater Inc and go murder woman and children in Iraq and get good health benefits as well. Grab a job at the Pentagon or a private firm piloting robotic drone bombers in Afghanistan, 10 points for a grandma! 20 for a pregnant lady! You might even hit a Terrorist! Air conditioned office, ergonomic chairs, free coffee! Hell, sign up to print those huge signs that folks with lots of extra time and solid legs hold outside of family planning clinics, photos of bloody, melted, gnarled, oozing aborted fetuses. Drive home after a long hard day of life-saving life-affirming work to eat a good rare steak, dripping red juice. Beat your kid. Feed the dog. Swing by the church to check out the choir boys. You can sleep under a bridge with homeless families near a halted condo development, or you can peep under a different bridge to see a sanctioned village of sex offenders, each with a scarlett letter stamped on their forehead. You can pray in a circle of your friends around your sick daughter as she dies of treatable diabetes, a display of failed Magic/Kung Fu. You can listen to radio hate-seller Rush Limbaugh spew violence that we can only hope will turn inward on his vacant icy soul, causing a massive, prolonged, agonizing heart attack. His already bloated body writhing in an unseen torture, as his inner demons “blow off some steam”. He can broadcast the grunts, the groans. I will turn on my receiver, I will amplify his final address, the hospital gets caught up in paperwork but he will live on in some fashion.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Brian Chippendale begins his review of The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu #34.

Gossip Girl thoughts

October 21, 2009

* Blair’s All About Eve dream sequence marked the Gossip Girl debut of Vanessa’s cleavage. Let’s hope it’s a recurring role!

* Not to be outdone, Chuck makes his first appearance in a purple paisley bathrobe. For those keeping score at home, Prince is now the second-coolest man to (presumably) have worn this garment. And Chuck is two-for-two for sleepwear this season.

* I was pretty impressed with the poker storyline. Clearly they’re going to keep the “schemes” portion of the show as larger-than-life as Chuck and Blair’s earlier anti-Carter machinations would indicate. Betting for a man’s life is about as big as it gets.

* Blair listed Mao as one of the philosophers she wanted referenced in her speech? Alert Glenn Beck!

* Despite getting off to an auspicious start, Vanessa was really loathsome in this episode. That was some bush-league psych-out stuff from her regarding Olivia, Dan, and the speech. With each scene she dug herself deeper, fucked over her supposed best friend for no reason even worse, and made me hate her more. And it wasn’t just her that was annoying, it was the whole mix-up storyline, which is the sort of thing I almost physically can’t stand. Cleavage pass revoked, Vanessa.

* And here’s the funny thing: The kind of behavior that makes you hate Vanessa makes you love Blair. “You really think you’re that much better than me?” “Oh, I think we both know the answer to that?” We sure do, Blair!

* She was so horrible that I kind of enjoyed that her mom was even more insufferable than she was, to the extent that it made her life worse. Mom walking in to hear Vanessa declare how much she hates her was just icing on the schadenfreude cake.

*Related: By all means, Gossip Girl writers, lay shit like “He’s installing the solar panels on the chicken coop at the co-op” as thick as you please. In the Gossip Girl world, that is of course the only lens through which progressivism could possibly be seen.

* That said, Vanessa’s instantaneous reaction to her mom blowing her off at the coffee place was beautifully acted by Jessica Szohr, and actually moving. The Missus and I just turned and looked at each other and made sad faces, which is saying something given that we’d spent the whole episode hoping they’d kill her off.

* Okay, okay. I know what you’re really here for. And yes, the Chuck-on-dude kiss was a cop-out. (I wanted tongue, goddammit.) But here’s the thing: The lead-in and follow-up were sooooooooooooo magnificent that I couldn’t stay mad if I tried. Chuck’s affirmative smile and nod when Blair revealed the target was a guy and asked him if he was still up for it…”Can I help you?” “Oh, definitely.”…”You think I’ve never kissed a guy before?” Hoyay to the UNNNNNNNNF power. Chate shippers, there’s still hope!

Carnival of souls

October 21, 2009

* At Robot 6, I continue to be the Ben Urich of the Con War.

* Is the $3.99 price point on certain Marvel and DC comics hurting post-launch sales? I’d add two other questions: Does Marvel’s method of raising the price on its “important” books cannibalize mid-list sales? And does DC’s method of adding back-ups starring B-list characters to justify its price increases move the needle one way or the other?

* This week’s “best of the horror blogs” round-up at The League of Tana Tea Drinkers focuses on bloggers’ favorite horror novels. I’ve got a couple links in there for the curious.

* Every interview should be like The Onion AV Club’s Bronson Pinchot interview.

Comics Time: Slow Storm

October 21, 2009

Slow Storm

Danica Novgorodoff, writer/artist

First Second, 2008

176 pages


Buy it from

This is like half of a good book. The visual half, for the most part. Danica Novgorodoff’s story of a Kentucky firefighter and the undocumented Mexican worker she kinda sorta befriends after a fire claims the stable he tended is a stunning-looking thing. She has a wiry line that often suggests handwriting, with all its idiosyncracies, so that the occasional wonky scale or perspective seems like (or can be passed off as) a deliberate choice. Individual moments beam out a little Taiyo Matsumoto, a little Ralph Steadman, a little Gerald Scarfe, only with the dial turned from savage to lilting. And her watercolor coloring takes a limited palette of greens, browns, grays, and oranges and fleshes out the artwork so lushly I barely even realized just how few colors she limited herself to in the first place. It’s in the moments where she really draws with the colors–a creek, a tornado, the omnipresent cloud and fire motifs–that the book comes alive.

But its in moments where the dialogue takes the lead where it sputters. Frequently too portentous–every conversation creaks under the weight of capital-M Meaning–it fails to convince us of firefighter Ursa’s shattered psyche, so that when she perform’s the book’s central act it feels like a horrifying, selfish overreaction. Which, granted, it’s supposed to feel like, but you’re also supposed to think “okay, I could see where that came from,” whereas I just thought “Christ, what a fucking maniac.” Ditto her behavior during the event’s fallout, which adds “asshole” to the equation. Meanwhile, Rafi, the Mexican immigrant, is laden with poetic visions of saints and white horses–it’s just laid on too thick. The key for Novgorodoff (an Isotope winner and Eisner nominee who clearly doesn’t need any advice from me but what the hey) will be to scale back her swing as a writer and tell a story as understated as her art is sweeping.