Monday, October 30, 2006

Accept no substitutes

Because I managed to lose my post about Usagi Yojimbo you’re getting some quick thoughts on Frank Miller’s 300. I've traded bunny samurai swords for naked Greek men with spears.

I liked it. I liked the format and how it fakes the dimensions of a movie screen. I like how the characters are just the meanest motherfuckers Ancient Greece had and they’ll do whatever they can to maintain that reputation. Mix that machismo with a whole lot of naked men who pile up corpses and use that to intimidate their enemies – twice, and you pretty much get 300.

It’s brutal and yet it’s captivating. It’s pointless and yet it’s noble.

What I wasn’t expecting when reading this story is that it is essentially about how storytelling creates the world in which we live. It’s not just the events that matter but the importance of what the storyteller leaves in or omits that matters in our interpretation thereof. Are they noble or foolhardy? Was their sacrifice a noble one or is this simply a story used to inspire the rest of Greece to take up arms against a common enemy?

I had no idea what to expect from this book and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. It’s a great distraction that’s worth checking out – but try to figure out what the message is and what the point of the story is. Who is actually telling this story? It has more going on than you’d like to think. I didn’t expect that from a book with a hunchback and multiple head-spearings.

It inpired me to pick Alexander the Great and Greece when I fired up Civ IV on Sunday. Unfortunately, my phalanx units were not so successful against barbarians.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Contract With God Trilogy

I've decided to continue posting for a while yet. I hope that someone returning to comics like I recently did finds these useful. I'm using them, the comic shop and the local library to catch up on the history of great works out there. If there's anything you think I should check out please let me know.

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I enjoyed this book for pretty much the exact opposite reasons I enjoyed the first volume of Ultimate Spider-man. This isn’t a straight forward story and it doesn’t explore the lives of the characters in extensive detail necessarily. The plot jumps forward and moves along between the panels as much as it does in any single panel. It’s interconnected as I used to say during my English Lit days. And with each volume I see that it isn’t just the relationships between the characters that is being explored but how they relate because of their attachment and association with a location. The characters relate because they are connected to Dropsie Avenue and the street moves from being a setting for some disconnected stories to a setting for connected stories to becoming the focus of an entire volume.

As the book progresses we learn more and more about the location as we do about the characters associated to it. In the end we learn that without the location we’d have no characters to read about at all. But much like Polanski’s MacBeth we see that the action and behavior of people in this location is cyclical. Not because of the location but because people are simple creatures at their core both blessed and cursed with the gift of consciousness.

Now this book is divided up into three separate volumes and was never planned to be one larger epic. That’s fine by me. I read them all as they came out in chronological order. And well, you can see the progression, not just of Eisner’s vision of what graphic storytelling should be but at his constant evolution and improvement as an actual storyteller. The books start in a simpler form then gets ever more complex with Eisner experimenting in the actual way he tells a story, not just the artwork which is consistently some of the best ever created. Eisner is, simply put, one of the apexes of American artists. In regards to the story structure, the first volume is more like a collection of short stories that are all set in one location. The second volume takes a more complex approach with Eisner weaving multiple storylines and characters around one another, again they are all connected to the location but their lives are all drawn together through various mishaps, fate, accidents, happenstance, dumb luck and human generosity. While the last volume the story is focusing on the location and observing the plethora of humanity that washes around it.

Oddly, the more Eisner focuses on the location the more human the stories become. The more the focus is removed from individual characters the more we get to see the human condition for what it is in its glory and degradation. I do think this is all the more powerful when you read these stories together since we see how people are set up as unique beings in the world. They are more than simple creatures striving to stay alive so the heights they reach are that much higher and their lows are that much sadder. They simply know better and have the ability to be better, unlike cockroaches for instance.

This is one of the better works of fiction I’ve ever read about the human condition. While the characters desire simple things or want to simplify themselves to basic instincts, wants and needs they can’t. They can’t reduce themselves as much as they can’t escape the fact that they are human. As we get closer to the characters we, the reader, are more sympathetic to them. We may not actually like them and they may not actually be nice people but we can sympathize with them. When we watch the maw of humanity from the point of view of the indifferent location we see that as a whole they tend to work in cycles that they can’t escape. It should feel fatalistic but it doesn’t. It feels like while each individual is capable of greatness the group reduces them because of the limits inherent in social interaction. How many times have you had the same conversation with someone? Try to explain to someone that comics are moving and brilliant sometime to see what I mean. That person might be a great person but when they resort to social expectations they revert to something assumed about the unknown.

If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, I implore you to do so at your earliest convenience. These really are some of the most original stories and some of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve seen in a long time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wednesday’s Loot – 25 October 2006

I’m going to take a note from Scipio’s book and list things that made me happy this week.

Seeing Godland back on the shelf.
Seeing the first issue of Seven Soldiers of Victory on the shelf (although I’m unsure about reading this until I get that last trade - see below).

From 52: Week 25
Egg-fu – Matrix-style!
“Happy Halloween, Judeo-Christians.”
“MMmmm, nature’s toothbrush. CHOMP.”
Dr. Fate’s helmet starring in the role of Skeets.

Godland #13
The very first sentence made me smile and feel good about comics again.
Seeing “What the hell?” instead of the word disease “the hell?”
“He’s…got me in a friggin’ headlock.”
The entire prison episode, monolith guards included.

Justice #8
Two old friends chilling.
Aquaman being regal and commanding respect.
Honest Abe, er, Joker.
Elongated Man throwing down with Plastic Man.

By the way, I really like the last issue of Agents of Atlas and the 3 issues of 52 I never mentioned in my time away. Evil Scientist Isle is my favourite development so far.

Simple Request

Hello comic book internet people. I have one request for all of you this week. Please don't anyone review the first issue of Seven Soldiers (if you actually get it in your hands).

Some of us are reading this in trade (yeah yeah see you in hell) and don't know how half the mini-series ended.

That is all.

I'm also taking requests for the rest of this week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hey, I'm back, but...

...I'm thinking this blog is pretty much dead. I've lost sight of the goal and I'm not having so much fun trying to write here anymore. It may just be writer's block or general uneasiness of my workplace but it's not clicking for me.

I'm thinking of pulling the plug officially but not for another week at least, just to see if I get over this hump.

The wedding and the honeymoon in sunny London were fantastic. The flickr site is here:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hiatus until October 17th

I'm going on official hiatus until October 17th. I'm getting married this Sunday to the woman I love then going to London, UK for our honeymoon (my gift to her). I'm off all things geek until we return.

I do have some reviews on my computer ready for posting when I get back as well - The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner, Usagi Yojimbo Vol. 1 by Stan Sakai and the 2nd volume of Dungeon are ready for return posting.

Until then I hope 52 doesn't sell out and that you all enjoy your funny books. Remember, they're entertainment so enjoy the dang things and don't waste your money on what you feel is crap.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Decompression Project - Step the Second

Ultimate Spiderman Vol.2

Okay, now I see why people make fun of the dialogue so much. Really? Really. Yeah? Yeah. Okay. Yeah, really.

I’m glad I’m reading this series now in collection because I do think it reads much better that way. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to wait 30+ days for the next issue to come out. Although I think this team has been rather consistent with deadlines over the years. Please let me know if I’m right or wrong on that. Still, I recommend reading this as a collection since the plot kind of works better without commercial interruption. Then again maybe it’s just me. I tend to watch TV only on DVD these days because I can’t watch 20 minutes of a show stretched over an hour.

This volume saw the introduction of Doc Oc and the return of the Green Goblin while setting up a few more characters like Harry Osborn to take on the next Goblin role and we either see or hear about Electro, Sandman and Lizard. I like this Doc Oc a lot. He’s threatening and intelligent rather than a doofus with extra arms. This character gets across his ruthlessness, his intelligence and his power. While I do still think the movie version is my favourite because he’s more like one of the animated Batman series villains, this Ultimate version is also a great bad-guy. The main difference is that the movie version has some sympathetic characteristics. Like the animated Batman rogues there’s more to his story than guy in a costume who is bad. Not here. And that works for me too.

This Doc Oc was a cold detached man before any of this went down. So adding the extreme physical trauma to an already detached and sinister man really makes for a great psycho. I am a bit let down by the amount of villains that already know Peter Parker is Spider-man. I get what Bendis is doing in pointing out the weaknesses of the original story, but come on.

Then the Osborns are back, as is Samuel L. Jackson, er, Nick Fury and the grunge/pop-punk version of Gwen Stacey. I do have to call bullshit on that one issue that retells the rooftop meeting between Spidey and the Green Goblin from the Goblin’s point of view. Okay, he’s crazy, that was already established. I’m glad I didn’t spend money on the same story twice – that’s the kind of crap that made me not watch Lost anymore. But otherwise I liked most of it.

I do like what is happening and how most the relationships are developing. We see Peter and MJ getting closer and how this life is getting in their way. But honestly, the repeated dialogue pages can be cut down. Even without the dialogue they’d be better in a couple of cases. I, personally, find it a bit distracting but that could just be because of all the flack that it’s been getting online for a while now.

Otherwise I have two genuine complaints, other than my esthetics of storytelling. The first is a big one. Simply that some of Spidey’s “thought balloons that are shaded squares instead of puffy clouds” weren’t shaded with the gradient. That’s the kind of rushed mistake I can stand on a weekly comic like 52 or even a monthly that meets its deadlines, but for the trade I’m pretty sure Marvel could have got their Photoshop guy to fix it. I mean, I could have.

The second complaint is the woman doing the 20 minute workout. That fad died in the eighties. I don’t know anyone who does that in that outfit anymore. Yoga, fine, but the Jazzercise just doesn’t ring true to me.

Otherwise all is (mostly) well in Ultimate Spidey world. I especially like the Crocodile Hunter version of Kraven. Please tell me he doesn’t come back because this would be the perfect use of an Ultimate villain. Although I’m fairly certain that his girlfriend will work some Wakandian magic on him or something equally offensive to make Kraven a “serious” threat.

Still, when are we all going to just call shaded captions thought balloons? That’s what they are, just without the puffy bits. Get over it.

Runaways – Vol. 1-4

So I read all of these and am enjoying them quite a lot. I can’t really add much more to the praise or examination of this book. What I can do is ask why this book is coming out in any form other than digest? I mean, nothing happens in any of the single issues but over the digest format you get a decent plot and character development. I think this should just be a digest book that comes out quarterly, it’d be better.

I do have to praise Marvel for coming up with new and original characters. That is certainly refreshing.

And I have to praise The Fortress Keeper for taking on the Ultimate X-men. I'll be there someday. I use to be a medium sized X-Zombie in my youth.