Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday's Loot - 30 June 2006

I actually picked up these books last night. It was a pretty good week with my selection. I didn't buy a lot and was happy with what I did get.

52 Week 8
Another decent week of decent stories this time focusing more on Steel and whether or not Luthor has a conspiracy against the whole Superman mythos. I really like that idea the more I think about it. Luthor is trying to kill an idea in any manner he can, even if it means using that idea to destroy itself. That’s great supervillainy right there. There’s some nice bits off planet, in Star City and Metropolis as well.
I rate this story: Still holding my attention in a good way.

Batman #654
I kind of feel like I missed an issue in this story. It was Two-Face back in action but the ending was a bit too deus ex machina to be completely wonderful. Still, this really hit all the proper notes of a classic Batman story didn’t it? And the ending was really touching. How many super-hero comics have you read in the past year that were actually touching? Good stuff showing Batman as a man.
I rate this story: A great return to form for the franchise.

JLA: Classified #23
Things go from bad to worse for our fledgling heroes. I’m telling you, the wilds of Canada are not a place you want to spend a lot of time. Outside of mammals that can eat you they seem to be infested with card themed villains.
I rate this story: Like cigarettes and whisky in comic form.

Solo: Sergio Aragones
I think this is probably going to be my favourite single issue of 2006. This is page after page of cartoon fun. I can’t remember the last time I read any Aragones from when I was a kid reading Mad Magazine or watching TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes. This was simply a joy to read and look at. He manages to infuse every scene with a sense of pure joy. The school scenes capture our memories of the raucous classroom and the one ruled by the ash rod. I also like how every panel with a “collection” has a Groo. The two page wordless stories are simply classic Aragones fillers. They’re always good for a chuckle and show how simple a good comic can be. It’s deceptively simple. The stories he tells are all unique and self contained. Unlike some of the other Solo issues where stories felt a bit incomplete these are all wonderfully polished. If anything this is a classic cartoonist showing a new generation how things can be done with class. I’m sure his decades of experience make cartooning easier but this should be a textbook for anyone thinking they can write and draw their own funny books. Sergio simply gives a clinic as the skateboard kids say.
I rate this story: As close to perfect as an issue of Solo can be.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My view on Marvel and DC - The Modern and the Post-Modern.

I think I’ve figured out my feelings towards the big two comic publishers. I’ve resorted to literary criticism for this. I think Marvel is essentially formalizing its Modernist bent while DC has adopted a Postmodern approach to superhero comics. Now bear with me as I usually rewrite a lot of this stuff but I don’t particularly feel like it today so you’ll be getting my essay as, basically, a first draft.

So using the Wikipedia links above you can read the more comprehensive summaries of these two notions. But lets see how they apply to the case I’m trying to make.

First up Marvel. How do I claim they are Modernist? Well it can be reduced to the Modernist notion of whatever is new is best. The biggest weakness of Modernism is that it ignores everything that came before it and only gives accolades for that which is new and current for the fact that it is new and current. Is this always a bad thing? Of course not. It has allowed for some great leaps forward and fantastic new ideas and developments but it also creates an equal number of problems if it is held on to at all costs. This was where DC found itself after it’s first Crisis of Infinite Earths.

Look at the whole deal with Spider-man. In one act one of the core bases of the character has been stripped away. By removing one of the defining aspects of the character is this really the same character? It is an illusion of change but it is a change more for the sake of pure change than for any other reason. It reeks of the ultimate failure in Modernism – that simply because something is new does not mean it is any good at all. The change has little worth except that it is something new and never done before. In this case it is one of the only Spiderman stories never told except for the countless stories of one villain discovering his identity and wreaking havoc on his loved ones. This time it is Peter Parker’s own volition to unmask that drives the story.

Personally the more I think about Peter Parker unmasking the less I hate it. It will allow for a whole slew of new stories to be told, but ultimately it will fail. Just like the numerous costume changes there is a limit to how many stories an unmasked Peter Parker can be told before that too becomes the old standard that needs to be changed back to the original and time tested appeal of the character. Change in the name of progress, or change simply for the sake of change does not really make something better. Spiderman is like a car that is exactly the same as last year’s model on with a blue lighted interior instead of an orange lighted interior. Would you buy a whole new car if yours works fine simply for an unnecessary cosmetic change? Change for something else, some organic change or an extension of the character can work but a dramatic about face ignoring an entire history simply feels cheap. Marvel is simply adopting the Modernist idea of it is good because it is new. Change is good instead of change is different. It’s like your loved one walked in your door punched you in the gut and said they hate pickles. Sure it’s new but is it really any better? (It is if you hate pickles). Was anyone really concerned that Spiderman had a secret identity? Nope. Was anyone really clamoring for a major shakeup to the Spiderman mythos? Nope. But it’s change, it’s radical change and it does make for opinions and talking. However simply creating gossip and getting people talking doesn’t mean the work is actually any good.

What is it that Oscar Wilde said? “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” It’s a great quotation and marketing strategy but not a great storytelling strategy. You see, Wilde actually separated his publicity from his artistic endeavors which were strong enough to benefit from gossip.

This sudden about face doesn’t really come as an ultimate shock to a lot of people. The storytelling structure really fits into the philosophical underpinnings of the entire company. Marvel is known as the “art” company. They care about images first and story second. Whether or not that’s true across the board, I can’t say for sure because I simply don’t read everything that comes out (and I don’t sit on the editorial boards of each book). But that’s how I see it. Marvel goes for art while DC goes for different things. Again, this is how I see Marvel as a Modernist group. They put one thing on top of the rest. Give them poses, make it new and cool (but not too new or different) and we’ll print it. Get them talking about the shock and the big changes instead of content beyond that.

Even their approach to their universe and crossovers is taking a more Modernist turn. Everything ties into Civil War. Everything is there to serve one major movement and one major event. Each latest and greatest turn in the Marvel Universe doesn’t just affect a character, it affects everyone. Each hero, villain and character lines up in relation to the newest task at hand. Only when they start to question why they need to line up and take part does the creation start to show that there really isn’t any structure whatsoever. There is no reason for everyone to be involved or for these massive plot shocks that will require more massive plot shocks to cure.

Eventually, but not necessarily, Marvel could get to the point where DC is. DC had its crisis of Modernism and has essentially entered a Postmodern phase. It got to the point where devotion to new and different for its own sake simply couldn’t sustain itself across the DC Universe. The audience, the creators and the editors recognized that changes for the sake of change evolved their characters and stories too far from what made them interesting in the first place. The gave us a brilliant Modernist cross-over and managed to deconstruct their own properties, their own universe.

DC decided that they couldn’t support on massive hierarchy so they destroyed it and constructed something new (deconstruction in a sentence there folks). Now, one of the main aspects of Postmodernism is that you can never truly escape your foundations, so things like myth and legend, while remaining unique to each individual can never be truly left behind. That it is a fallacy to pretend the foundations weren’t there and simply worship at the altar of new and modern.

With the one year later stories and 52, DC has acknowledged its own past and isn’t trying to fix any of the actual problems they created for themselves in the Modernist era since the original Crisis of Infinite Earths. Those stories still exist warts and all and Infinite Crisis didn’t wiped them out, it managed to create a new slate that set up its own internal mechanisms and rules that differ slightly but they knew there was no way to invalidate that many years of stories, so they still happened they just hit reset and started all over again. DC isn’t ignoring their history in the least with the one year later stories, they are celebrating it. Have any of you been reading Batman these days? Do you think KGBeast was a highlight of the rogues gallery? Heck no. He was there, he’s still there but Batman has been reconnected to his own past and his current situation.

The stories in Batman seem new because they aren’t trying to be the newest latest and greatest. They are a development of an internal hierarchy. Whereas Marvel is trying to make all of its books fit into one major hierarchy, DC has basically splintered all of its books into individual hierarchies that while they do share threads are not essential to each other’s existence. You don’t need to read Batman to get more of the DC story, whereas Marvel is more about their entire line than characters existing on their own with a few shared elements.

I know what you’re saying now. There is no freaking way Aquaman recognizes its past while developing on its own. Sure I’ll allow you to say that. But it is able to exist on its own and I think its decompressed storytelling will eventually reveal the current series connection to the past. We’ll have to wait and see where it goes. But still, a Postmodern universe allows for this type of creation without invalidating everything else that came before. It feels like a reset button was pushed but when you look at the core of the series it does remain true to its roots. Undersea adventure. Yes the clothing has changed but it doesn’t destroy its own past. Have any of you seen Ian McKellan’s Richard III? It was set during WWII but it doesn’t invalidate the story being told or the source material because its Shakespeare taken out of the proper time period.

I like what DC is attempting. Yes its all tied together and there’s rampant consumerism driving a lot of their development plans but when you look at how the books interact with themselves and each other it is a lot more free form than how Marvel is approaching its books. Yes, some of DC’s series interact with others but most of that ended with the crisis. But you go to Marvel and its almost impossible to understand anything without buying everything else. DC is like a whole bunch of separate puzzles that when joined create a large picture but Marvel is a whole lot of pieces to one massive puzzle.

I know DC is just as guilty if not more so on creating interconnecting texts, but at least it seems to be limited to crossover titles and mini-series. Yes, every title was involved in a one year jump but there was no other way to transition that would have been a complete break that allowed for the same freedom of development along a recognizably more classic line. Some work better than others granted, but the stories are presented warts and all instead of trying to fix everything into place.

The biggest clue that DC was going back towards a Postmodern worldview was when Infinite Crisis became meta. The text itself became aware of its place in our world or its own limits and strengths. These are funny books people. Men are bulletproof and breasts defy gravity on every single woman – making sure history is done realistically seems a false notion to restrict this universe with. I mean how many of you actually jumped a year into the future? Comics work better when they aren’t limited to over arching restrictions but the organic developments that work in relation to their own separately created existence.

In other words, if the Aquaman stories work in relation to themselves then who cares if they match up with Batman’s? If they connect on some vague point, like a meteor streaks across the ocean’s sky and crashes in Gotham, that’s cool if you happen to notice it and actually buy both books. If you need to buy Aquaman to understand what’s happening in Gotham, then that doesn’t work for me. It’s why Omac was such a piece of shit as a series. It wasn’t actually a series. If the individual books are too interconnected then they are not standing on their own strengths. The one year later jump gave these series back their own feet whereas Marvel seems to be doing the Yertle the Turtle impression that DC gave us with their last crisis of tying everything together into one large construction that requires everything to remain strong (unlike the Ultimate Marvel Universe which is basically Postmodern Marvel).

And finally, DC is making a concerted effort to reach into different genres through the superhero medium. There is an ongoing western and fantasy books, there are gay men and women and a racially diverse cast that isn’t presented or seen only as tokenism. DC is presenting characters that exist on their own merits, that are introduced in their own stories and develop a natural rapport with the audience (or not). Yes the coverage of the new Bat-Woman has been reduced to lesbian in tights resurrected (when did Batwoman become a zombie by the way?) but the character is introduced as a character within 52. She doesn’t pop up fully formed like Athena. She’s easing her way into the new reality of Gotham in 52. Yes there’s a past established but she isn’t forced into the story suddenly without any appearance of motivation other than to get the gossip mongers spreading ink. That’s an added benefit that can bring readers to the series but the series is strong enough to stand on its own unlike Civil War that feels forced to make changes.

Personally I’d like Marvel to get out of the major crossover business and give us a bit of time to read their books in relation to themselves. I’m loving Last Planet Standing for that simple reason. It’s nowhere near perfect but it works within its own set limits. Same with The Ultimates. I’d like to see more of the Marvel books doing what they do best instead of simply trying to give me a product that is simply different than the product I intended to buy for the sake of creating new content. Does that make sense to anyone else?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sith Calls

You want to know what it's like being me all day?

The Emporer knows. Stupid rebellion.

No Loot Wednesday - replaced by We Were On Our Own

It seems that there are no comic book shipments in Ottawa today. Who knows it might just be late and they'll be in the shops when I go home after work. So no pointless opinionating until they arrive in the city.

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I picked up We Were On Our Own when I was in Toronto a few weeks back and decided to check out The Beguiling. Chris was in NY at MOCCA and I was in a bit of a crappo mood that day after a lot of driving around for an entire weekend. Still, I wanted to check it out and pick up some stuff I’m finding hard to locate in Ottawa. Here's a link to a pdf preview. For some reason I can't seem to get photos loaded through blogger.

Basically I wanted something other than superheroes. I wanted a story that would be touching and a break from what I usually read. So I figured the memoirs of an older woman consisting of her and her mother’s escape from Budapest during WWII was as far away from capes as I could get without being erotic gay baseball manga.

I have to admit, I tended to avoid this book for the last few weeks. For a number of different reasons I seemed to avoid starting it. Part of the reason is what little I knew about the story and the main other reason was lack of time. I wanted to make sure I could sit down and read it all from cover to cover instead of in installments. Eventually I found myself with free time on a Sunday. I picked it up and read through the entire story as my cup of tea went cold on the coffee table. I was simply enraptured by the story.

The basic plot one we’ve come across countless times in the retelling of World War Two. The horrors of the extermination and brutality shown towards fellow human beings has long been recognized but this book it a part of the growing pantheon of stories about hope. The hope and desire to survive are quickly becoming a new mythology for this generation. This story acknowledges the horrors but focuses on the will of the survivors to simply survive. This is a basic human trait. It is the prime desire of any animal to survive and yet this story does not reduce its characters to a primal urge.

Yes they are simply trying to survive when faced with insurmountable odds but the characters manage it with something other than basic instinct. I want to say pride or grace but considering the circumstances involved none of these descriptors fit quite right. I think it’s because of all the horrors surrounding these women that the simple fact that they don’t give in makes them appear noble and strong.

The point of view of the story helps make the horrors a bit more digestible. We see everything through the eyes of a child. So we look up to her mother just as Miriam does. We don’t get the full details of what is happening but we see enough to be disturbed and see her strength of character to continue with her life. And ultimately for every large evil committed we see a small act of kindness as if both were simply unavoidable when dealing with people.

Then there are “extras” after the story is concluded – which I have to admit was shocking in the simple fact that it was a happy ending. WE are given snippets of letters her father wrote, a photo of a young Miriam, and a little anecdote about a map that honestly brought tears to my eyes. It was so unbelievable touching that it’s taken me a while to get to writing about it.

In the end the snippet about the map helps sum up the story. So many things from that time were simply lost. This story helps preserve some of the fear and wonder experienced.

I have to say that the only real complaint I have is the cardboard cover isn’t the greatest material choice. At least I think it’s cardboard because by the time I got it home all the corners were dented and starting to separate. And I wasn’t using the book for batting practice or anything.

Oh, I also picked up this book because it explored a time and place I know very little about. I was in Budapest for a while and it’s really one of the unknown gems of Europe. I even saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels there for the first time because it was like three weeks since I was somewhere where anyone spoke any English whatsoever and the movies were subtitled and not dubbed. I wanted to learn a bit more about the place which I did both through this book and by using this book as a catalyst to look up a few things about the history of Budapest.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. The art is recognizable and just distorted enough to convey both the ugliness of the situations and the beauty of others. There are frenetic violent scenes causing the reader a lot of tension but they are counter balanced with unbelievably loving and tender scenes. The sketchy pencil drawing used throughout really does solidify the childhood point of view throughout. This could just as easily be seen in the margins of a young girl’s schoolbook as in a graphic novel. I guess it was disturbingly beautiful if you’ll allow for the oxymoron. It is a wonderful book of a personal history that I’ve been recommending to people in look of a good book for a summer weekend.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Recommended Viewing

Last night I watched Paul Greengrass's film Bloody Sunday. I have not seen a film this good in a long long time. It was simply captivating from start to finish, even if I couldn't make out the young thug's accent.

It looks and feels like a documentary using long single shots, jump cuts and hand held cameras to tell the story. There isn't cuts and angles but someone following around subjects who don't appear to be speaking "dialogue." It makes the inevitable outcome that much more gripping and staggering.

Now, I'm no historian so I don't know how accurate this is other than the fact that 13 Irish protestors were killed and 14 injured. The film does wear its politics on its sleeve but that really doesn't detract from its power. I have never felt such dread and terror at an outcome the entire film was building towards and that I felt was completely pointless and easily avoided. You see the pieces of a bloody disaster taking shape for pointless reasons on behalf of the British.

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On a lighter note, I tried to make a few of the suggested villains. I ran into a few troubles. Saddly there are no ape parts in the character creation scenes. I got sort of close but it looked like a large grey and black man with fangs and not a gorilla or ape of any sort. Also there are no bows and arrows available so that was a no go. For some reason I didn't remember the alien gangster, which I'll gladly try to create at some point. And while I do appreciate the Walrus and the Carpenter I think it would only work if I had an online friend to play the other character. Instead I flew around in my blue Iron Man knock off "Mr. Zap" and beat up heroes with my electricity based powers. I love robbing fictional banks.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Name that Villain

So I've got the trial version of City of Villains (it's about to run out I think) and I'm trying to come up with a few more villains to play. I want your help if you're willing to give it.

So far I have a thug that looks like a blue Iron Man called Mr. Zap. I also have an X-ray eye-beam shooting radiation shooting villain called Nuclaire. After that I'm kind of stuck.

I want a few more Silver Age type of villains that aren't gangsters. I'd say Golden Age type of villains but I know little of this time in comic bookery. So help me come up with a few themes, power types and costume ideas and I'll let you know who I choose.

I'm trying to avoid those dark, gritty, barb-wire clad villains of the nineties so no "thing so evil that it cannot be named" type of entries. Wait, I might make a piece of Swedish furniture and call it "&The Thing so Evil it Cannot be Named&."

Preference will go towards people with Dr. Mr. Miss. Mrs. His Lordship, and the ilk in its title. I have Saturday to myself so I'm going for a major geek-out.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Another day without a post.

I tried to read Casanova and didn't even finish it. I was hoping I could get behind the book and while I do hope people will it's not for me and I know this. I'm also thinking of ending this blog on the one year mark since most topics are covered sufficiently well elsewhere and I find myself struggling for things to say - well relevant things anyway. We'll see. I'm kind of having a crap day so tomorrow may bring more sunshine or something.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 21 June 2006

I'm going to try and do this with one sentence reviews. I already know it'll be tough and I'll kind of cheat because there was a lot of goodness this week. I wanted to only buy 52 in order to save some dough but it seems that every series I like had an issue this week or ended so I bought the final instalment. I didn't pick up Manhunter because I can't fund more purchases and I dropped Shadowpact for the same reason - even if I liked issue one.

Also Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is listed as one of CBC's Hot Stuff list for the best stuff of summer 2006. It's even top ten. Congrats.

52 Week 7
Ralph Dibny comes out swinging while Montoya becomes a new favourite for me and Adam Strange grows a beard in a week.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6
Is there really any other way this story could have ended?

All-Star Superman #4
Jimmy Olsen is the bane of Superman’s life and is not gay no matter how much he wears women’s clothing or is draped in rainbows.

Justice #6
Finally a glimpse of the heroes starting to organize a comeback.

Ultimates #11
It’s been a while but it’s fan-freaking-tastic and I don’t have to buy the Ulitmate Hulk v. Wolverine miniseries to find out how that ends.

Last Planet Standing #4
This comic has an Excavatron and no other comic does making them pale in comparison while adding riffs on the original Secret Wars and a petty bureaucrat make it cosmic comic gold.

Casanova #1
I didn’t read it yet.

I need to write something else here about 52 this week. I don’t know who the big guy at the end is. Is it one of the Manhunter robots from a bygone time? Also, A. knows someone who fractured an elbow but the doctors read their reports wrong and put a cast on her arm like Montoya has and it made the fracture worse. When the cast was properly replaced and she healed up she could never use her elbow to its full extent again. If Montoya’s elbow is fractured then putting a cast on below the elbow will make sure the elbow never heals and she’s in ridiculous pain. I think this cast would be fine for a fractured wrist but I'm not a doctor. Also, All-Star Superman is truly a fantastic comic all the time isn't it?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday - All clear.

I'm back to work for today and today only. England plays again tomorrow and I really have nothing to offer the comic blogorama today except that I will now be referring to John Terry of England as The Minister of Defense. Even if he plays for Chelsea who I loathe slightly less than Manchester United, I will give him props for that goal line save against TnT. If this post is gibberish to you then you need to watch more proper football. The kind where they actually use their feet.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Couple of things plus Marvel 1602

I just want to put this out there. I think I have discovered the shocking conclusion of 52. Donna Troy is the Earth-2 Huntress. They react the same to crisises and infinity.

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Sure the Spider-man reveal makes me think it's only a matter of time before an alarm clock rings and this was all a dream. However, even if it ignores one of the basic tennants of the character, this does open up a new door for Spider-man writers. I think any change can have positive results and honestly it's better than divorcing him because you're tired of writing about a happily married man. That's just bullshit. Spider-man revealing - sure I'm not big on it but I don't own the character. It's like that kid who put his Hotwheels into a vice pretending it was a car crusher. Sure it's fun but you end up with a pile of broken Hotwheels in the end and I wouldn't do it with my own unless they were already broken.

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I was going to do a longer post on Marvel 1602 but England had me in heart palpitations for 82 minutes and I needed more beer to calm my nerves yesterday. So here's the condensed post.

Marvel 1602 was one of very few graphic novels at the local Chapters. I kept seeing it, sometimes I'd give it a cursory flip then move on. I was intrigued but not committed to buying it - then it went on sale online so I ordered it. I read it and liked it. But it's really one of those books that could go either way. It's really destined for a couple of very specific groups:

Group A:
English Majors who read Marvel Comics

Group B:
History Buffs who read Marvel Comics

Group C:
Neil Gaiman completists

Group D:
English or History major who once read Marvel Comics and has an internet connection to figure out the missing pieces s/he doesn't know.

If you're not one of these I'm not sure this would work for you. I do think it's a great gateway comic but not for everyone. The reader needs to appreciate too many things on too many levels for it to be universally accessible. A fun read, definitely, but I'm not completely sure if everyone would want to see so much of the Marvel Universe redone instead of following one character around with cursory interaction with the rest of the Marvel U.

Also the severed head of Doctor Strange is a brilliant allusion to the severed head of Bob Dobbs if in fact that was intended, otherwise it's still good in my book but less clever.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 14 June 2006

52 Week 6
Another issue that furthers some plots along nicely. I’m liking how Black Adam’s story is shaping up to be a new cold war type of scenario with the introduction of The Great Ten and international politics coming into play. I thought it was well handled and a great way to play off the sovereign border issues with planetary concerns. Plus there’s a time-bubble and Booster is proving to be an ass so it’ll end up being an evil Skeets framing him (I’m guessing).
I rate this comic: Still keeping my attention.

Battle for Bludhaven #5
Robin says it best on the very last page – “This is completely insane.” I love this comic. Atomic Knights, Nuclear Family, various nuclear themed baddies, Captain Atom, Teen Titans, some kind of Freedom Fighters and a few other characters thrown in for good measure. Firebrand is taken into some sort of pseudo reality of the future while going for help – hmmm, was this cut out of Civil War? Anyway, how can you top a potty mouthed android terrier? I didn’t think you could, but this comic also has Hal Jordan beating Major Force with a refrigerator for the Kyle Rayner girlfriend episode, a bunch of the Freedom Fighters questioning Major Force’s sanity after he rips Major Victory’s arm off (there’s a plague of arm ripping in the DCU these days), the Teen Titans acting how they should be, and an evil nuclear guy figuring he could make more money selling all the weapons and android dogs other villains make instead of trying to blow shit up. And to top it all off, the image you see on the cover actually takes place in the comic.
I rate this comic: Exactly what I want from my summer entertainment.

DMZ #8
Part three of the Body of a Journalist moves the story along in an unexpected manner. After some decent single issues Brian Wood is really showing his storytelling chops with this series. Matty’s life heats up in a manner I didn’t see coming as he’s basically betrayed by everyone. He’s being used and sold out simultaneously by his employers while delivering ultimatums meant to goad a shooting war by the other. This plot boils along nicely and we’re given a bit more history that helps set up the current state of affairs. I liked this series from day one but then started to waver a bit until this current arc came along. It’s not about one point of view or another it’s about this guy making his own way and trying to do it on his own terms in a world trying to force him into choosing sides.
I rate this comic: Part of an arc folks should use to jump onto the series.

JLA Classified #22
So this is the infamous JLA Detroit? It’s not bad really. I like the tortured hero approach to Steel but I’ll let Scipio go on about Vibe, he’s better at it than me. The Royal Flush Gang is kind of neat here. I ended up dropping the Super Buddies arc of this series but I may keep with this one if the story continues along without me needing to have read other issues of JLA Detroit.
I rate this comic: Good if you’re into the nostalgia trip and up for something that has an older comic vibe.

Green Lantern Corps #1
I wasn’t sure if I was going to buy this series or not. I’m glad I did.
I rate this comic: I liked the miniseries and I like this book.

That's it for me, I'm now a DCZombie. I looked at the spoiler in Civil War though. Honestly, I think Marvel needs a crisis of their own.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

God is good but didn’t do it for me

Tantalizing title, I know but shockingly this isn’t about religion or belief systems. It’s about why I stopped reading Ex Machina. It’s meant to be a bit of a pun on “God in the machine” that isn’t all that great of a pun.

I started out really liking this series but it sort of sputtered out for me. I was hearing good things and reading some good reviews online so I picked up The First Hundred Days and was frankly, blown away at the premise. It managed to straddle the worlds of superheroics and topical politics while simultaneously straddling realism with fantasy in its execution.

And Vaughn set up a premise that would allow him to tackle issues from whichever point of view he wanted to. Having Mitchel Hundred elected as an independent allows the writer to tackle issues from his own point of view which may not tow a party line. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all since nothing is as cut and dry as a two party system wants things to be. Having the present intercut with the past also works well giving a bit of backstory simultaneous to the current plot. And mixing action with intrigue is never a bad thing with me.

Now, I really liked the first trade. It was one of the first new things I bought coming back to comics and it really impressed me for how simply different and brave the whole premise was. Then it kind of lost its luster for me in almost the same way Jonah Hex did. I really like both of them but I don’t buy either series anymore in the same way I don’t buy Sloan albums anymore. I’ve got some albums I really like and it all kind of starts to sound the same after a while. Not that it’s bad, but I already have enough and I want some more diversity no matter how good it is. Sounds insane right? But it’s how I roll. If I get it, I want more, not more of the same. Plus the violence just started to get a bit much for me. I’m not advocating against graphic violence I think taking a fairly realistic approach to violence is better than making it sensational but after a while I started to think okay, setup, flashback, something eviscerated, to be continued - every time I picked up Ex Machina.

Basically I felt that The First Hundred Days was a great setup but Vaughn never got around to pulling the trigger on the series. It’s like watching someone set up this fantastic set of dominoes but then they shut out the lights and say come back next month to see them fall, only next month they set up more dominoes. Kind of like Marvel taking a middle path in Civil War I started to feel like Mitchel Hundred was sort of talking about politics but without ever really getting all that political. Quite simply it didn’t really hold my attention anymore but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book by any means, in fact it’s quite good.

I feel like I’m taking a Mitchel Hundred position on this book. Yes it’s good, but I don’t buy it anymore. I do think it can work as a gateway comic for some people who haven’t read comics in a while but can’t think of comics as anything other than superheroes and don’t want to see anything too far away from superheroes – or for political junkies. I kind of think of Ex Machina to be The Rolling Stones – you should probably buy at least one volume (but not a best of the Stones those are generally boring – get Exile on Main Street or Black and Blue or something). Same goes for this book – you should buy some but you don’t need to own it all. If you’re flagging for something interesting to read and haven’t checked it out yet, Ex Machina is a great book to check out. It’ll hold your attention for a while but it didn’t keep me on for the long haul although the series I have I have re-read.

I guess I’m saying I get it and I don’t feel the need to continue the journey of the characters in much the same way as Y: The Last Man which has an obviously plot direction and a mapped out journey for the characters. Ex Machina is topical and you can jump on and off when you like and if you don’t like something they’re tackling you can wait for the next storyline. Someday I may buy this again but until then I’m happy with what I have and will be looking to expand my reading collection beyond what is already there.

Return to Fun - Northwest Passage 2

This was more or less ready yesterday but I never got around to putting it up. And for some reason I can't post pictures so this is all text.

Well day one of the week off was fantastic but I’m thinking there is almost too much soccer on each day for me to keep up my interest. I said almost. We’ll see how it goes. I may have to just keep it on in the background while I do other things when there’s games I don’t particularly care about on the telly. Then again here I am at 8 a.m. waiting for Korea to play Togo when I should be at the gym or sleeping in.

That being said, I did get to read the second volume of Northwest Passage two nights ago and finished up the Action Philosopher’s Giant Sized Thing number one yesterday. I can’t really add much more praise to Action Philosophers than what you’ve no doubt read everywhere else on the comic book interblog. It really is good. I was doubtful since I had to buy a few of those Philosopher for Beginners books that were comics about the theories of different philosophers or philosophies like Deconstruction or whatever. Action Philosophers is a whole different beast. It mixes biography with the theories and philosophies of the Action Philosophers with a lot of fun art and jokes. And yes, the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is really a highlight and exceptionally useful if you plan to examine pretty much anything containing a hero. Chances are if you like it, it follows the boardgame. Maybe that should be advice we as the comic book blogger-mongers heap upon comic book editors – “follow the boardgame.” Although the Saint Augustine done as a Marvel space opera was hard act to follow.

Then I get to Northwest Passage #2. I really should go back and read the first volume for a better sense of the story. Regardless, this is still one of my favourite comics being produced. Where Action Philosophers is able to mix the perfect amount of high-brow with Mexican Wrestlers and comic book humour Northwest Passage manages to present a fairly straightforward adventure story. This is as much a good thing as it is a rare thing these days. I don’t see this story starting strong then collapsing under editorial mandate for the Oni company wide crossover event of the summer.

Now for my slightly clever bit where I compare Northwest Passage to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey boardgame.

All the elements are there so far. Fort Newcastle is a peaceful locale with a retiring governor ready to go back to a roaring fire, snifter of brandy and a good book – perhaps to write his memoirs. There is a call to adventure back to the days of looking for the northwest passage (I think, I’m kind of going off memory of the first book here), and Charles Lord refuses it. Then the wizened and wounded Native shows up and has a vision that more or less matches up with an attack on Fort Newcastle. Charles Lord crosses the threshold not by defeating the first enemy or whatever but by beating his own desire to fight back. When the English discover what the French have done at Fort Duchess of York and the French arrive at Fort Newcastle the belly of the beast has been entered. The story iscurrently on the road of trials where Chantler plays with the boardgame’s form, in the atonement with the father.

This story is like the better comics I’ve read – it’s about an older guy coming to terms with his life and his place in the world. He was considered a hero and lived on his own terms – a man against nature itself. Now he has the chance to repeat those braveries but he’s older, he’s accomplished and has concerns outside of himself. It’s not about King and Country and glory to them through your actions but in coming to terms with the consequences of those adventures, in particular the French villain and the half-blooded son unaccepted by both the Cree and the English. The atonement with the father has the hero in the role of the father instead of a young hero dealing with his father’s legacy or whatever. We have a legacy father dealing with his own legacy and inheritors of it.

NWP is also a straight up rollicking adventure in the far Canadian North. There are heroes fighting villains and lots of running, jumping, swimming, paddling and hunting. It’s a genre that sort of hasn’t seen the light of day in a long long time. This used to be the dominant form of entertainment for young male readers and this series builds on that legacy with a bit of a twist. Comics have an older audience so here we also have an older protagonist instead of the young boy or teenager caught up in a world where they fight to live giving the younger readers a recognizable frame for the story. This may not be intentional but it does work to keep this reader engaged and I’m guessing it helps other older readers relate to a story that would otherwise be considered a purely young readers book.

I wouldn’t suggest simply picking up volume 2 in the hopes of getting a good story as you really need to have read the first volume to understand how the plot developed to this point. This story is really the introduction of some characters with great potential. There is John the Englishman who went native, has a past with Charles Lord and has shunned the European way altogether. He proves to be badass. Then there is Quick Jack who reminds me of Odysseus in that he’s quick of tongue and blade but as likely to cause you problems as get you out of them. And we get a bit more of the history of Charles Lord plus a scene that everyone who hated how Blue Beetle went down will love. Two characters comply so they can save themselves and work from the inside – well one of them is in the process of escaping but you should shut up already about Countdown and buy both volumes of Northwest Passage. Yeah I know all five of you reading this probably already bought the first volume or both but the hope is some random comic fan will see this post and be inspired.

Then there is the artwork. It’s like the Bruce Timm animated material but it works here for me better than the style does in Powers and even the JLU comics which are almost too cartoony sometimes. I love this style and I’m happy to support anyone drawing a book that is actually more representative than realistic. I believe the characters more because they can act more when they aren’t restricted by realistic interpretation. They can run faster, jump higher and exaggerate their expressions in a way that translates much more readily to the printed page (in my opinion at least). These are characters facing larger than life dangers so they should be represented in a manner that is larger than life. It’s not the fight against each other that makes them have to be effective but their surroundings. One slip up in the wilds of Canada and you’re done for. They need to be bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than when they were protected by the fort – Charles Lord knows this and you can see him transform from slouchy governor to the barrelchested adventurer of his youth. In otherwords, the art matches the story perfectly.

If you’re looking for a book that is quite simply entertaining this is the book for you. If you want adventure and new interesting characters instead of retreading familiar old territory, then this is the series for you.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Search is Over

I have finally found a copy of Northwest Passage #2. I had to travel five hours and go to my friend's wedding to find a copy but I got it. Just before I cracked it open I thought it better be good after all this turmoil to get the dang thing. It was good. It was just as good and intreaguing as the first volume. I'll right more later today (maybe) when the world cup games are done for the day.

I also went to The Beguiling on Sunday but I wasn't particularly in a great mood after all the driving I did on Friday and Saturday. The selection was top notch but I didn't really stick around too long or particularly talk to anyone so I don't have much of an opinion of the place. It was packed to the rafters with stuff I can't find in Ottawa easily. And A. browsed through some comics for the first time ever. She was taken by the First Second books and some selections from Oni I believe.

I picked up the second volume of Northwest Passage, a signed copy of We Are on Our Own and a Free Scott Pilgrim. More later the second half of Australia v. Japan just started.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 7 June 2006

Slow week. Good for the pocket book. Blogger was kaput yesterday so this is only up now.

52 Week 5
Well I’m happy that a certain someone whose series I haven’t finished reading in trades has made it. Plus teasing orange nudity. What more do you want from a comic? Senseless violence and pseudo-science? Oh wait, that’s in there too. This issue focuses on the aftermath of the Rann-Thanagar War and what happened to the heroes in the zeta beam and all the ones not killed off in Infinite Crisis or the specials. I thought it was pretty cool. This issue really focuses on Steel rushing to the hospital to help out and a surprise announcement from good old supervillain standby Lex Luthor which you just know is going to lead to some kind of massive plot. And is anyone else creeped out by eye stuff. Ever since Un Chien Andalou, eye injuries make me queasy.
I rate this comic: Still the way complex decompressed stories work well outside of the trade format.

Detective Comics #820
What the hell’s up with Bruce’s dad? Did I miss something? Otherwise this was another straight forward addition to a straight forward Batman caper that I’m loving. Scarecrow is sufficiently creepy and Tim is written how Dick should be written. If you’re wanting a great Batman and Robin caper you could to much much worse that this Face the Face story. Can I see hands on who thinks Two-Face is setting up Harvey Dent? I give it 5 to 2 odds. I do have to say that the interaction between Batman and everyone else is being handled much better here. He respects people and says so without being mushy and stern/concerned without being an ass. Plus he’s acting like he has faith in people now – even people who repeatedly mess up. He’s kind of like Job I guess suffering for his own belief instead of how the biblical story plays out.
I rate this comic: Batman back to basics.

Last Planet Standing #3
Is this Marvel’s answer to 52? It feels like it’s coming out weekly. I love this comic. It’s just completely fun. It’s simply Galactus and his herald blowing shit up. They got rid of the Shi-ar and their impossible haircuts, then Asgard and it’s rainbow streets, this time out it was The Watcher and a bunch of celestials (except that was Reed not Galactus and no bodies have been produced).
I rate this comic: The Marvel summer series for me.

Also picked up Action Philosopher's Giant Sized Thing but only read the Plato bit so far.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Nobody is asking the right questions...

...or at least the questions I want to hear answered.

See, last weekend CSIS arrested 17 guys on a terrorist sting. Big news. Well it turns out that one of their plots was to break into parliament and behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Brash you might say, ballsy at best, most of us think it would be simply impossible and/or extremely dumb. But hey it makes a GREAT HEADLINE so I've been reading it the entire course of my walk to work.

This got me thinking why the real questions don't get asked. For instance, who thinks it's a good idea to behead any politician? At this time in Canadian history they're kind of like those mutts who've been at the pound too long and are like an hour from being put down anyway. I guess that's the curse of a minority parliament they need to be all puppy faced and charming because there could be an election at any time. Really though, it's more like putting down a horse that broke it's leg - or looked like it was about to anyway. It's kind of like - oh you mean now they can't raise my taxes, give themselves a pay raise and appoint their friends to the Senate - man, that's a shame, a terrible terrible loss.

But Stepehen Harper? Really? You think he couldn't function without his head? I mean he was sucking Satan's cock so hard to win the last election he's become bloated from ingesting all that black demon seed. Are you telling me he wouldn't simply keep going? Either he'd pick up his head and reattach it or simply grow another one. I'm pretty sure he's the Hydra or some other demonic spawn.

Actually I think he's been functioning without a head for a while. I mean he thinks $25 a week is a childcare plan. That's not even my comic book addiction. I guess it means I'll be stuffing third world residents into the trunk of my sedan when I get one. "Hey paco, watch the kids, don't touch them you ain't got your shots yet and I don't want my child in a hepatitis commercial!" (ed's note - I have a friend called Paco and he really did get hepatitis from a pool in Mexico). I guess it doesn't matter when you make the Prime Minister's salary.

But what really gets me is that these guy's with the plan obviously don't recall a lot of current events. I mean it wasn't very long ago that some dude broke into Jean Chretien's residence when the RCMP in the guard house fell asleep. The PM's wife heard him break in and woke up ol' Jean who simply locked the bedroom door and picked up an Inuit statue to bash the guy with should the door open.

People need to remember there's a reason you can play ultimate frisbee on the lawn in front of the House of Commons - our Prime Ministers can probably kick your ass. They're trained to get out of desparate and hopeless situations even if they have to bring the place and all their friends down with them. I've been to parliament, there's a lot of sharp and heavy blunt objects that aren't bolted down - no way I'd fuck with a parliamentarian.

I know this is sort of hard to grasp for you Americans where a child who loses her frisbee over the fence of the White House will get surrounded by guys in suits and cattle prodded, but our security budget for the Prime Minister is kind of hoping his friends will stick up for him. And you really are allowed to play frisbee on the lawn of parliament. Rick Mercer once said that the US spends ridiculous amounts on ensuring that the leader of the free world responsible to his own people can't be seen or reached whereas in Canada we hope the Prime Minister's wife is a light sleeper.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Plan

Now that it's June I have a bit of a plan taking shape.

First I will be in Toronto this weekend because a friend of mine is getting married. I will do my damnedest to get to The Beguiling. I'm hoping to meet up with a few folks (all of A's relatives are in Toronto so we have a crazy schedule and England plays Paraguay Saturday morning plus the whole wedding thing) and go check the place out. If they have a copy of Northwest Passage #2, I'll take it! I'm trying my best to ensure I get to the shop but it'll most likely be the first thing cut from my schedule if things get out of hand and hectic.

Also, I'll be taking next week off to basically watch as much of the World Cup as humanly possible and pretend to be working on some secret project. Thankfully there's a pub on the ground floor where I work so I can get at least one hour a day during lunch on the weeks I'm not taking off.

After last night's debacle I think I'm off hockey until next season unless Edmonton can pull it together tomorrow. The World Cup helps.

I'll be doing my best to go through my bookshelf and write reviews/examinations on as much comic collections as possible. This will be the first activity I cut out though as I continue to plug away at Crimson Skies on my X-box. Stupid charismatic Indian Jones guy flying really cool planes. It's like the fillings in my teeth sent radio waves directly to the brains of video game developers and they made a game based on my childhood obsessions.

Day of the Beast

I realized just now that it's kind of an ominous day for you practicing Christians out there. I hope the Anti-Christ doesn't show up with his hell-hounds today or get born today or anything. Please don't go around killing first born sons or anything just in case...

So here's the Wikipedia page for the number of the beast and you should go out an buy a copy of Lucifer, Fallen Angel, Hellblazer, Son of Satan or Spawn. Did I miss anything? Blood of the Demon maybe?

I'm told there's an Irish saying that goes something like this: "You only need to concern yourself with two things - If you're healthy or not. If you're healthy you have nothing to worry about if not you have two things to worry about - whether you'll live or die. If you'll live then don't worry, if you're going to die then you have two things to worry about - whether you'll go to Heaven or Hell. If you go to Heaven you have nothing to worry about, if you go to Hell you'll be surrounded by so many of your friends you won't notice." See you in Hell.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Curse you DC!

Drat, foiled in my first act of supervillainy. It appears Manhunter has won a temporary reprieve. This is only a temporary setback in my plan to use my powers of indifference and sarcasm to have acclaimed titles cancelled. Looks like I’ll have to end up buying this one now that I said I was about to.

Curses! I was trying to save. Ah, well, I’m still looking at you Thing and Spider-Girl. You make me happy.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Seven Soldiers - Identity Crisis done right.

After reading three of the trades for Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers I’ve kind of noticed a theme of loss and solitude running through each story. There is a loss of innocence, people dealing with loss, and people losing a lot of stuff. Then each story focuses on the solitude of each of the characters. The Shining Knight is out of place and time, Klarion grew up in an isolated underground village and goes out on his own, Guardian works alone and is the sole symbol of his employer, Bulleteer loses her husband, Frankenstein is a solitary creature, Zatanna is dealing with her own loss and solitude, Mr. Miracle is running the razor’s edge of insane guy in his own world or displaced reality guy.

Each of them is on their own and lost something. Whatever it is that each of them lost is the catalyst for their solitude. They function on their own because each character has either removed themselves from society or was driven from society for whatever reason. Not only are they solitary and lost each of them is running from something or being pursued. Whether the pursuing is done by the Sheeda Queen or a haunting notion of feminine beauty, it is there.

I see these themes more than I do the themes of each character representing a type of comic book superhero. It’s a surface metaphor, and a very good one I’ll admit, but the themes joining these stories together are extremely powerful to me. Sure we don’t know what’s happening all the time and we don’t need to in order to enjoy these stories but we can relate to each of them on some level. They are alone and don’t particularly want to be but they accept it by never admitting to the fact that trying to avoid loneliness is what is essentially driving each of the Seven Soldiers. They want to simply fit in and be a part of a team. This sets up the series for one of the best tragedies ever created in the four colour comic book medium. Now, I haven’t read all of the series and am still waiting for the fourth trade so I may be wrong but these series are definitely not comedies so I see them as tragedies in the classic Shakespearean sense.

Each character is flawed through their own doing but mostly because others have put the heroes in a tough spot. The heroes are kept in their solitude because others are unwilling to look beyond whatever it was that isolated the hero in the first place. Now, the isolation may not be completely the fault of others – Guardian killed someone who was innocent and Zatanna is in a self-imposed exile, but each are kept there longer than need be because of their own perceptions of what other people think of their actions.

AS much as these stories are interconnected visually with a few characters moving between books and some visual themes throughout all of them, it is this sadness of being alone that strikes me the hardest. Just like the Sheeda invasion, there is something not quite right under the surface world of these heroes.

And yet, each of them continues on in the face of adversity. They sort of claim to just be caught up in the mess and doing what anyone else would do, but let’s face it, they aren’t anyone else. Yes they get caught up in something that is beyond their control but it is how they act and react to it that makes them seem heroic and pathetic. I mean in the pathos sense not the scornful sense. We pity them for the situation but we are captivated by their indomitable spirits. We see them each on their own and dealing with tragedy yet they continue to fight the good fight without making excuses for their solitude. I see sadness because I see them on their own not necessarily because of their own choosing. Yet at the same time I see each of these characters recognizing that solitude but not letting it become debilitating. It is quite simply life.

These themes of loss and solitude get reflected again through each character trying to recapture a part of the past or the future. They want to go back to easier times that were fun or times that were magical. To go back and do things differently knowing what you know now or going into the wild blue yonder and being open to whatever exciting prospect comes your way in the future. Klarion has the energy and enthusiasm or a teenager going off to college (or dropping out), Guardian is trying to atone for his past and lose himself in his work to make a better tomorrow, Frankenstein is dropped into a horrible high-school wish fulfillment story, Bulleteer is a beautiful 27 year old woman trapped in amber, Zatanna teams up with a young sidekick, Shining Knight is trying to find Camelot and live up to a past she was never a part of, and Mr. Miracle is a man outside of time and space who doesn’t know if he’s futuristic or not.

Each of them has lost some of their innocence and it makes for captivating storytelling. It isn’t simply the thematic remixing in each of the titles that makes this work as each series is good and well on its own. To me this is the loss of innocence and solitude that Identity Crisis was going for but in a manner that didn’t work when real world horrors were brought into a superhero story to set up a superhero power mystery. Where Identity Crisis fell apart for me was in that crucial moment. The motivation for the heroes was something that happens in my world – a murder and a rape, and it sets up a person backward talking someone’s memories away. No matter what the superhero crime was there is no way it could be more horrific than the two real world crimes used to set it up so the story falls flat when the two horrific crimes are dropped.

In the Seven Soldiers stories the real world crimes and horrors are mixed with the superheroics. There is murder and death and creepy sexual scenes but they are done directly because the people are superheroes. I, as a reader, am never drawn out of the story because it is always an equal mix of real world and superhero. Nobody has to break character to act in any way the plot deems necessary to move the story along. There is never an attempt to make the heroes more human to make the stories more realistic because these characters are presented as human first and are kept that way throughout their plotlines. Yes, even the monstrous ones are essentially human as they do what is right no matter what.

Yes they suffer and none of them really set out to be heroes but they don’t slap on bright coloured tights, go out and act like the paragons of human heroics and mention later that they did a whole whack of terrible things to keep up their sparkling fa├žade. None of them had the sparkle to begin with here, so it works. It works because none of them are presented like average people in an average world. They don’t remind me of, well, me or act like anyone I know but I can see myself and people I know in each of them. These are characters first who are given “real” human traits and emotions instead of being characters who represent something more than human then later portrayed as an average person who won’t rise above real world problems. These characters rise above fantastical problems at the same time they rise above “real” world problems. Because of that they are my seven favourite heroes at the moment. I can’t wait to see how this all ends with the next trade and the ongoing series starting up eventually.

I know a lot of people have been praising this series for a long time now and I put it off, foolishly. But I never got more than some plot hints and exploration into how each series is looking at a different aspect of superhero comics and then more heaps of praise. Now I see why. It's really good and pretty much anyone who reads it will agree. It's complex and it's a formal exercise but it is also a hugely creative undertaking beyond that. When something is good it becomes hard to pinpoint what it is that makes it so good and when there is general concensus that something is good why spend more time examining it. I think that's been my failing here - criticism for bad things and trite happy comments on the good stuff. I'm trying with this post and that one from a little while ago to actually explore things I like and why I like them. That's why you don't see a lot of Alan Moore stuff on the blogs. We all agree that we like him and are worried to examine what we like under the microscope - you risk ruining it for yourself. I mean, maybe Mr. Miracle was meant to have a different artist on each issue - he's meant to be at odds with reality so why not get different people shaping that reality in each issue?

I hope to have another Seven Soldiers post sometime after I read the entire first series. Hope you're on the edge of your seat. I am. Simply because it's so damned good to read.