Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As I've said many times before, this is probably one of, if not my all time, favourite incarnation of the character. What I particularly like about this document is that it says what all Batman and superhero fans think - there is no real need to re-tell his origin. Yes, it plays a big part in the very nature of the character, but there's no need to get caught up in the details of retelling it. It is basically common knowledge, so move past it and just start to use the format to tell stories.
For the most part the information here was seen throughout the series, except for the origin of Mr. Freeze. The eventual show about him was much better than the original idea. It's probably one of the best reworkings of a Batman villain that this series offers, although I'm quite partial to the Clayface two-parter.
I always find it interesting to see the nuances that are created by this type of document. How the show's creators work out the subtle relationships between the characters while in and out of the costume. I think the end result was a series that approached Batman as a millieu through which they could tell fantastic crime stories - from mysteries, to scary stories, to riddles, to death traps and global spanning espionage intrigues. In short this is the idea of Batman distilled to its essence all while keeping the sense of wonder and fun that is at the core of anything animated or comic book based. When you're just making shit up, you don't need to worry about the budget, so go nuts as long as it makes sense to the story.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I really hope it's as good as we all want it to be. Well, all of us except the guaranteed jerks who'll start asking for Boys Comics. Sheesh.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Yeesh, where to start? I’ll do the quick hits first I suppose. Y the Last Man’s narrative continues to move along crisply as Yorick arrives on the shores down under to discover his quest has been extended as Beth has moved on to Paris. The main action then gears towards Japan as the misfit group goes to find his monkey who is likely the key to the whole gendercide. Hijinks ensue and this continues to be one of my favourite series. There are more flashbacks giving the reader greater insight into Agent 355’s past as well as Dr. Mann’s. I think I’ve kind of figured out what it is that I like about this series. It just presents its ideas to the reader as fact. Australia is dealing with a major heroine problem (good pun by the way). Yorick is a talented escape artist. 355 is a bad-ass. Japan has sexbots and a Canadian pop star managed to take over the Yakuza. Things just come and go and while you never get the whole story, the narrative is stronger because of it. There is just enough plot and information provided to keep things moving. A lot happens and people continue to all focus on their own agenda as they try to survive.
At it’s core, this is a book that continues to show the petty nature of people as everyone continues to have their own personal goals and objectives and that is their focus whether it benefits others or not. All of the loftier goals are merely a side product of the personal quests for each of the characters and that is what makes the quest continue to be interesting. We, as readers, are experiencing the plot through these characters so having them each bring something relatable to the narrative is key to keeping us engaged. Sure we can also see the bigger narrative which makes all their petty nature seem even more frustrating. In the end though, these are characters that just seem human. There aren’t a lot of people who are altruistic – most of us would spend all our time pining over lost loves or trying to make ourselves more comfortable. It’s all very human in all its frustrating glory.
Then I read The Savage Critic post about the women of Marvel and I’m stuck with a terrible thought that the only way I can read a superhero comic where the women are presented as characters is only when all the male characters are killed off. I know that Y isn’t a superhero comic and that equating the two is apples and oranges but I think it’s a decent thought experiment. I wonder what would happen if a similar gendercide took place in the Marvel U. The cynic in me thinks that we’d end up with the flip side to Y the Last Man where all the same criticisms and failings of people are reduced to the criticisms and failings of women. I don’t think Y strays from critically examining certain behaviours, and it really shouldn’t – I mean how could it? This is a world populated by women, struggling to survive gender roles are explored but not in a hamfisted way. Yes, there’s subtext that reaches into the real world and by not ignoring that, the creators of Y the Last Man have created a stronger narrative in my opinion. It works because it is aware of what it is saying beyond the page.
I shudder to think what a Marvel cross-over that involved all the male heroes dying would entail. I just think it would involve too much of a cultural shift at the company to manage anything other than more male power fantasies and stories that more or less continue to entrench perceived gender roles rather than explore, critique or comment upon them. It could all very well be coincidence what Abhay points out, after all, but there is still a trend that he easily identifies and to not be aware of that is in itself a problem. Sort of like the racist stereotypes in the last Transformers movie - you see it and wonder how the heck that could happen, then you think of all the people disinterested, unconcerned or simply too busy to provide positive oversight. In the end, I’m just glad I continue to buy the comics I buy and that I’m not limiting myself to reading superhero stuff.
Then there’s the DC announcement that’s been making the rounds on all the other comic blogs and retailer blogs that you already read, right? I want to be optimistic about this, and I’m going to be until there is a reason I shouldn’t be. I like what they’re trying to do, and I wish them all the best in their efforts. I agree with pretty much everything I’ve read about yet another origin story. These origin stories are pretty much in the realm of public domain. Ask anyone on the street, at random, to give you the origin of Batman or Superman and they can do it. Then ask them if they read comics, or have ever read comics and you’ll see that it doesn’t matter. Sure, an updated origin can help set the context for the narrative but change it too much and you don’t have the characters anymore.
I’m no retailer or marketer so I won’t presume to tell anyone how to market and sell their books, but I do know what I’m looking for when I buy something. If this series takes the same old approach to continuity as all other comic book series then it won’t be on my list of items to buy. Yes, if the stories are strong enough and the creators are creating something fantastic I’ll buy, however, I don’t just want more stories where I need to read everything in the series to understand it. If they take a “monster of the week” approach rather than a “to be continued” approach, then I’d be more likely to be interested. I hope the creators just come to this project from a place where they assume you already know the basics so they just explore the story and the characters revealing the new world through the plot and narrative presented rather than “oh but this Alfred is Scottish SAS and he has a goatee! And Robin is an interdimensional robot!” Actually, that robot thing would be kind of cool. What I’d like is a series of GNs that could be read in any order. That would be groundbreaking. It worked for Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, and it worked for superheroes when they started. It can work again with this undertaking.
I guess I can’t help but be cynical about something marketed directly at a core demographic in the core demographic’s terminology with a smattering of “new reader friendly.” I don’t think that’s a concern for new readers. They just want Batman and Superman stories that they can pick up and enjoy without being required to read x, y or z to understand what’s going on. Heck, I want that and I’m not a new reader.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
I find myself running into the same problem as most reviewers at this point in the series. We all know it’s a solid series and this volume is no different in that regard. This volume doesn’t play up Scott’s battles as the focus of the plot. The focus tends to be on the characters around him reacting to the constant battles; in this case, a bunch of hi-tech battle-bots.
Having the main narrative focus switch from Scott to Ramona (and to a lesser extent Kim Pine) was quite a brave move here. I mean, Scott’s name is on the title of the book but he’s certainly not the main focus. Rather we’re given more of a story about the supporting women in the larger plot. It works out well because by this point, five volumes in, the audience “gets it.”
The refocusing onto these characters allows the reader to get a better connection to the world. It helps us understand why they are important to Scott and why he’s important to them. That even though he’s generally self-focused their friendship for him is stronger. Although, to be honest, I was getting a bit tired of it in this volume. While he’s certainly a charming character I was starting to wonder why everyone was being so patient with him all the time. It certainly feels real for the time of life these characters are in, but for me I kind of moved beyond spending too much energy on selfish louts.
Weird, I didn’t think I felt like that about this book. I generally liked it and it has me anxiously awaiting the final volume and the movie version, but I found myself beginning to lose patience with the main character. I still love the ideas behind this series and I love the characters but I was also happy to have something of a refocusing onto characters I wanted to know more about. While it would be fantastic, part of me hopes we don’t get a Ramona Flowers Adventures type of follow up. I like her mystery and to see where her story goes. I have a feeling it’ll lose that beguiling nature if it’s explored.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows (or how I learned to stop worrying and start loving crossover events again).
I suppose I can recap how this is a book of two halves – the horror story tropes that make up the first few chapters (the serial killer episode is particularly well done, I’m a sucker for superhero fare where the hero is a background player) and the second half that is Alan Moore involving Swamp Thing into the Crisis of Infinite Earths. It’s kind of weird to be reading something involved in the first major publisher-wide cross-over event when it seems that each time the seasons change we’re given a new one. Each summer we have a corporate cross-over and each winter we’re given a title-wide crossover that might affect other titles if the thing does well or “gets legs.”
The more I read Swamp Thing, the more I kind of want this book to be a primer for anyone thinking of writing mature superheroics. It’s sort of the bible for mature superhero writing – it’s the template that everyone follows but there is a heck of a lot of misinterpretation. It’s not the mature themes that make this a mature book but the construction of the narratives. The crossover chapters don’t simply bring in forgotten characters willy-nilly they bring them in because the characters are relevant to the narrative. Heck, there are characters that are dramatically killed off, but in a manner that actually has relevance to the story other than being merely sensational or as a tableau for some gory artwork. Imagine having everything and everyone there to actually move forward the plot/narrative in your current summer crossover? It’s been done, I’ve read the proof.
I guess what I’m enjoying underneath all the other greatness of the series is that these are stories where the creative team was simply trusted to create good stories, even when they were dragged into larger events. I don’t think I get the feeling from today’s large events, although there are always a few exceptions (heck I have a few that I really liked). This doesn’t mean I dislike today’s event comics; I just like the type of thing on offer here a lot more. This is good writing and art done within the bounds of editorially mandated crossover.
There is a real innocence here as well. Sure, Swamp Thing as a series maintains a connection to the horror comic tropes it was founded upon but it is also thrust directly into the DCU proper. Yes, the wider DCU characters tend to be the ones inhabiting the fringes but it’s kind of fun to see how this is all happening in the same world where Batman can show up and scowl at John Constantine for a bit. I can understand why the Vertigo books are now in their own silo, but there’s just something inherently fun about having the DCU underwear perverts show up in all these early Vertigo books (heck Animal Man was basically mature DCU too). It’s nice to be reminded that even silly superheroes can be done well and with a bit of meaning.
On a completely different note, I’m always shocked at Alan Moore’s knowledge of obscure stuff. I think I’m just too easily amazed at how people knew stuff before Google. I just found out about the Winchester House through the Cracked website. One of the ghost stories in this collection is based on this place. I thought it was a brilliant idea and now I’m a bit more creeped out that it’s based on a real place.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I wish I had the brains to come up with these great ideas. In the absense of unique thought, I'll just contribute to online memes - they're quicker and easier.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I found the whole ordeal with the Governor a bit tiring as my taste for the ol’ ultraviolence has tempered as I leave my teens further and further behind. Less of that pent up angst once you own a house I’m guessing. The siege of the prison was appropriately thrilling and the deaths were legitimately shocking to me and when it was all said and done I must say that I was seriously hooked on the whole series again. It managed to pull the rug out from under me by essentially hitting the reboot button.
I read volumes nine and ten in conjunction and in many ways it feels like the series has found its feet again. That wasn’t meant to be a pun on the whole road trip thing that the characters are on, but it works, so self-congratulatory pat on the back for that unintentional pun. Anyway, I enjoyed the slower pace and seeing Rick and Carl meet up with some fellow survivors both new and old. Having the heroes get a purpose again helps feel like the series has a bit of direction again as I always felt that the prison setup was just going to last until Kirkman could figure out how to evict the survivors.
Volume nine focuses more on Carl and what his role as a kid who witnesses tragedy and horror entails. It’s a weird place for a still young child to be, at the age just before really hitting puberty but still capable of being responsible while not quite at the stage of wanting independence. He’s not deluded but he still holds a love for his parents and a fascination with the world he’s still discovering. In some very direct ways he’s dealing with the death of his mother and sister in a more mature way than his father who still requires something physical to hold onto.
Volume ten has the survivors both new and old on the road to Washington. The tension and suspense is ramped up because of the prison siege and there are some great new ideas about zombie herds and how some of these people survived. I find myself being sucked into the double guessing and the suspicion of the new characters – is he really a scientist or just a survivalist trying to be important? Will he be gunned down randomly?
There is the familiar setup of the two alpha males at odds and the long suffering support character ready to abandon hope as well as the elements of tension thrown in like the unsound friend or depressed lover. Having a quest for the hero is always a more appealing story structure for me rather than seeing the details of how the hero lives at home. Sure it’s interesting to wonder what happened after the grand adventure but even the greatest of heroes tend to use that time to try and figure out how to get back on the road, so having Rick, Carl and the other survivors out there amidst the walking undead is something I like in this series – it feels to me to have more purpose, in thought and action.
And yet it’s strange because while the plot feels to be back on track and going somewhere the narrative action remains quite intimate. There is a lot of time spent between father and son, and a new group of survivors slowly sniffing each other out. You feel the tension of all these people having witnessed horrible events, and Kirkman sets up this feeling really well when the groups meet. There doesn’t need to be a longer explanation right away but when it comes, it’s sort of an extra spice to a solidly built meal.
Don’t read this if you’re looking for a happy little read – it’s incredibly depressing but because it’s actually presented really well, not in a “jeez, I guess they’re all getting horribly tortured and killed again” way. Now, lets see the challenges they need to overcome along the way. I’m back on for the ride.
Friday, October 16, 2009
What I’ve been enjoying recently though is that I get to see comic shops in other parts of the country. Sure, they’re more or less the same in the most basic sense but after my experience in Victoria I’ve noticed that there’s a huge difference in the spirit of shops. Last night I went to Golden Age Collectibles in Vancouver. I wasn’t as much a fan as I was of Legends, but it’s still a great shop and one I liked more than the local shops in Ottawa. It could just be the novelty but I liked the arrangement by favourite authors and then everything else alphabetically. The staff was nice, they were helpful and knew their stuff and well, they were located by my downtown hotel and open late enough on a weeknight for me to hit the shop after the various events, receptions and cocktail parties I had to attend.
If you’re in Vancouver it’s well worth a stop.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Wow, these new Rian Hughes/Matt Fraction Invincible Iron Man covers are simply fantastic. They remind me of the old Penguin Classics covers which immediately associates forward thinking and smart in my brain. I like the idea of retro-futurism, the idea of looking forward by mining the best aspects of our past. Go with what works and repurpose it into something new - an idea that sits at the heart of Tony Stark and Iron Man.
Monday, October 05, 2009
When the promo "how to host a party" videos first went online I was worried about this, but thankfully the remixes show just how much fun one can have with this type of thing. I wonder if I can use this to combine the themes with my next post about the latest couple of Walking Dead collections?
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
It’s a small space packed floor to ceiling with comics, many arranged to highlight writers, artists and cartoonists. There’s art books, indie stuff, and the superhero trades with nary a figurine in sight. It felt sort of like walking into the ideal home library, is the best way to put it.
They know the audience they’re going for, and I feel like I fit right in. I ended up picking up the last couple of Walking Dead trades and I went back to get a gift for an eight-year-old, and was recommended Amulet (he’s about to finish Bone). All-in-all a great comic buying experience that just had a cool vibe. It could just be the whole West-coast thing since Victoria generally had a more laid back pace to it but I think this shop is something special. It seems like it should be easy to have more places like this but for whatever reason, I haven’t found them.
I really wish there were more shops like this, bookstores specializing in comics (or whatever you feel like calling them). Well worth the visit if you’re in Victoria BC.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Okay, maybe that is a bit harsh since there really isn’t anything wrong with this comic. The art is good, the characters are well developed and well written. The plot is engaging and the motivations for the characters all make sense. In the end, I sort of felt like this was all very familiar though and that while good it wasn’t the kind of pastiche I usually go for. On paper, it sounds like it should be my kind of thing and I’ve been trying to figure out for a few weeks now just why it wasn’t. I guess it just felt a bit too tied down to the analogous source material in some ways.
I don’t mind the riffs on the Justice League, but this just didn’t go far enough I think. These characters are full of potential, as is the plot, but the setup was just a bit too familiar and it all kind of felt a bit too much like what people who criticize superhero comics complain about. It’s all sort of been done before.
I’ll likely borrow my friend’s copy of the second volume and read a bit more of the plot since I do think it’s a decent conspiracy story and I’d like to see where the characters are going and how they all end up as players in the narrative. I guess I’m just a bit burned out on origin stories or something. I think it works as a more adult version of the Justice League but I kept wondering why I couldn’t just be reading a Justice League story instead. Does that make sense?
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for my take-away Pad Thai so I went across the street to see what comics were available at the local library branch. I ended up picking up the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen trade Century 1910. It seems I can only really read comics by Alan Moore these days. I don’t know, I think it’s in my contract or something. Actually that’s not so true, I just read another Hellboy trade but how many times can I just write, “Hellboy trades are just so awesome!”?
Anyway, I knew this wasn’t the whole Black Dossier, 3D glasses, confuse the bloody bejeesus out of everyone hybrid graphic novel so I gave it a whirl. I really liked the original story, but the second volume left me a bit cool. This one, left me a bit more disconnected from the material. I liked it well enough and thought the caper and characters were all quite well done and interesting. I just didn’t find them as engaging as the characters in the first volume.
There were some great ideas presented – the man trapped in London throughout history, bringing in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (which really is a great book by the way - Woolf is one of the rare classic authors whose prose I find extremely readable), and well the general intrigue of the times engaged by the occult. But what happened more, for me, was that this was Alan Moore referring to a bunch of things I had no connection to or little understanding of. While it doesn’t completely detract from the enjoyment of the work, it does a bit more than in the original volume or even Watchmen. In those works the deeper understanding reveals hidden layers to the narrative whereas here understanding the narrative almost requires a passing knowledge (or more) of what is being referred to.
Thankfully there are Jess Nevins’ online annotations because it really helps me understand just what the heck is going on. I know nothing about the Threepenny Opera, or Jenny Diver (other than she’s referenced in the song Mac the Knife, which also plays a role here) and well, all the English pulp heroes. I realize that I’m complaining about being a lazy reader here, but honestly, I would rather enjoy the work for what it is rather than as a source for further reading in order to come back and understand it. Although that’s mostly what this work is about for me, and that’s not really a bad thing.
What I think this book is really about is rereading. Read through the text once and while you can get the surface plot elements and whatever references you’re familiar with, the rest of the meaning comes through by actively learning about the elements. Read Jess Nevins’ annotations, find out what the visual metaphors are, use them to read more and discover new works you didn’t know about (populate your own fiction collection the way Alan Moore combines them in his world where all of fiction exists together).
So yeah, it’s good, but at times it feels to be a meaningless read, particularly if you just want a quick yarn about some potential Armageddon starring some literary characters. You do get some of that, but with enough Greek Chorus and sung narration that you kind of realize that your nose is being rubbed into what you might not know or be familiar with.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I'd read at least one whole issue of this dude watching street crime and saying , "Well, KJ, you gotta do what you gotta do" before he dives into action. He could fight all your typical Edmonton crime, not just purse snatchings - bars watering down the draft beer, someone not driving a pickup truck, people not voting Conservative, all the classics.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
It's got me thinking a little bit about the industry side of comics again, and while I'm not about to make a blanket statement about something I know next to nothing about, I will say that what he's thinking about is kind of how I'm feeling about the whole thing for a while now. I don't buy monthly books anymore, which is just my choice more than anything. Personal finances, not working right next door to a comic shop any longer and well, just wanting to know I'll be getting quality material has lead to this.
I don't want to take a dig at any company but when I'm trying to be better with my finances it just doesn't make sense to have a monthly obligation. There's a lot of good comics out there for good value, the trick is to know what's good. So that means waiting for the new stuff to pass muster from the other reviewers or buying older stuff in collected formats. Sure I think people should collect whatever they like, it's just not really for me, and particularly not at this time. I'm only now reading Alan Moore's Swamp Thing for the first time, which to me feels better than having delayed books on Hero X with too many unknowns about quality. I call it discerning customer taste, you might call it cheap, in the end it's still how I'm reading comics - out of fun and desire to, not out of a sense of obligation.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
On the flip side of comics, guess who just won an autographed copy of Jeff Lemire's Essex County?
I really loved the first two volumes of this work and will find the time soon to read volume 3. I really think that what's been created here is some of the strongest material to argue for comics as literature. Engaging stories, elegant construction of narrative and subtle questioning of the reader's assumptions are found in what I've read.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
The boys were kind of a hilarious revelation. They wanted number ones but ended up buying my run of Infinite Crisis, and a couple of Batman comics. They almost destroyed the box though, but I restrained myself from saying anything - I mean dollar comics I'm selling isn't something I should be overly concerned about. There were a few comics they kind of were interested in but then shied away from - Villains United and some Morrison Batman comics. They bought some of Dini's Detective Comics run though. The reason - they flipped open a random book with "future batman" on the cover and saw this Batman laying in a bloody pulp and they deemed the book "too scary." I'm guessing they just have parents who would be a little pissed if they found them with excessively violent books (and I'm not going to draw that line for other people). Although I seem to recall Infinite Crisis involving at least one decapitation, so at least they avoided Identity Crisis.
It was weird because it happened twice with the Batman books. Another group of boys thought it was too scary as well. Weird.
I ended up selling a run of Ex Machina (12 issues after the first trade), the entire run of Ultimates 2, the three issues I had of Action Philosophers, an Iron Man mini-series (can't remember the name just now) and a smattering of other comics here and there. One kid bought the first issue of Countdown, so I gave him the next 3 or 4 that I had and it made his day - until he starts to read them, I suppose (zing!).
What I'm left with:
- A bunch of Morrison's Batman run
- A bunch of Dini's Detective run
- the first 19 issues of Godland
There is more comics in there but I haven't gone through them just yet so I can't really remember if Identity Crisis went - I think it did. I'm really quite surprised there wasn't at least one Morrison fan who flipped through. I sold Warren Ellis's JLA: Classified a few years ago based on his name being on the cover. And really, have we already moved on from The Dark Knight being in theatres? I'm guessing so. Weird. I thought the Batman stuff would be a lock for sale.
I understand the Godland stuff not going. I think anyone who saw it and was interested would already own them. Everyone else figured it was religious or "lame." The fools.
There were also a lot of guys trying to get the box for $20 or so. Now if there were close to 20 comics in there I'd have been fine with it, but I wasn't going to just get rid of 70 or 90 comics for that. Sorry, I was selling them at $1.00 each or 6 for $5.00, but if you got like 7 I took $5.00. And I was pretty generous if someone picked up 9 or 8 or whatever - I wasn't THAT much of a stickler so would usually take what people offered (within reason). Most people got 2 or 3 extra comics beyond that sixth, and for any younger kids I threw in complete stories if they were buying number three of five or whatever.
It was kind of neat seeing the kids weighing their purchases because most of them only had two bucks or five bucks to spend for the day. If they were digging through and were unsure I'd just say, hey, if you want the Iron Man stuff, I'll give it all to you for a dollar. They kind of looked at me in disbelief and say, "well I only have two dollars" but I'd just pass them the lot and say "don't worry about it, enjoy the whole story." It was they dudes with the fulltime jobs trying to get a bargain that annoyed me for whatever reason.
The last thing I'll mention is that there were twice as many people who would look at the box labeled "comics" and pretend not to be interested. They'd sort of stare it down as they walked by but wouldn't stop because they were with a guy or girl and wanted to look "cool" - even if they had an LP of German Drinking Songs or a ratty stool that looked like a frog. Just as many women did that as men. Okay, maybe they were just thinking "comics, they still make those?" but I saw the longing in their eyes. Just go for it people, it's a neighbourhood wide garage sale - go for the fun stuff - board games and comics.
So, yeah, selling comics is weird.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
It all started when my wife said that she’s read to Pulitzer Prize winning books and loved them. We were talking about how yet another Canadian book prize was given to another book that neither of us had any desire to read, ever. I think we’re a bit more cynical than most readers what with the excessive English Lit degrees between us. I’m not trying to point out my ability to study, just that in the course of our educations we’ve both been exposed to way too much crap. In fact, my standard joke about CanLit is that it requires a minimum 2 of the following 3 contents – rural setting, sexual abuse (best if it’s incest) and substance abuse (best if it’s alcoholism). So reading prize winners that had nothing to do with these was quite welcome.
I know I’m tarring with a large brush here and that some Pulitzer winners probably fall into my CanLit theory but the whole point of this is that I told her about Maus. She seemed interested and asked about it a few more times, so I ended up buying it for her birthday. After a few months she’s picked it up and is just completely absorbed by the whole thing.
At first she asked how I read comics and I have to admit I didn’t know what she meant. She clarified the question by asking if I looked at the pictures as much as the words. I haven’t really thought about it much which I think comes from having more familiarity with the medium, and that I think of it as more of an organic whole. But really, I probably favour the words then go back and look at the pictures closely if I reread. Although I try to absorb as much as I can from the images because they contain the action.
We discussed how easy it is to read comics and how it’s kind of refreshing to simply be presented with the action and setting rather than excessive description which can be found in some writings. I’m not the biggest fan of minute detail description but I can get absorbed in pretty much anything. I just know if I notice it, I tend to get pulled out of a story so comics kind of helps with that.
What really opened the idea to write a post about this is when she said that what makes the book amazing is the presentation of the characters. It’s easy to forget that this is a true story because you’re reading about cartoon mice and cats. And if it wasn’t for the presentation then this would just blur into the fog of thousands of other books upon the subject. It’s precisely the presentation that makes it unique and unforgettable but provides enough distance from the horror through the cartoon representations for the reader not to feel entirely hammered with a message regardless of the importance of the message.
We briefly talked about how the presentation of the father felt new in that after his experiences he’s still not always the greatest guy. Even if he’s presented as a mouse he’s still a very human character full of human failings despite what should be experiences that make him into something audiences have come to expect. The other point she mentioned was that the mice have incredibly expressive and human hands – I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, but I haven’t read the book in a heck of a long time, so when she’s done I’ll pick it up and have a look.
I have to say, I’m looking forward to talking about this a bit more and I’m wondering what anyone else has found to be a good gateway book? Personally, I think it needs to be something that the reader would actually have an interest in and that’s pretty much it. She had tried to read an issue of Buffy a while back but just found it kind of distracting whereas Maus just seems to be presented right while containing a gripping enough narrative to hold my wife’s attention. I didn’t think something like Watchmen, Fables, The Dark Knight, or Sandman would work because like it or not you kind of need to already have an interest in comics to grasp onto those regular offenders as “gateway” books. (Although Fables might work here if she has any interest to read anything else comics wise).
I don’t really want blanket recommendations or anything but has this type of thing worked for you? Why do you think a particular book worked? Was it random or did you put some effort into matching a request to have a comic with the person’s established interests/temperament?
Friday, May 08, 2009
I'm finding myself more and more in Moore's camp that this really works best as a comic since most of the meaning is derived in the same way that words and image create the comic book medium. Now, I actually liked the movie, but the more I look into the comic the more I'm finding it a bit staggering how it all ties together - then again, look too long at anything and you can see connections that don't exist.
Things I never really figured before:
- For the most cited and offered graphic novel for new readers to use as a gateway, you kind of need to have a lot of preknowledge to make sense of the whole thing. Sure it's a solid Whodunit? but the book isn't really about who killed the Comedian.
- It lays a lot of the groundwork for the symmetrical structure of Moore's later work Promethea.
- You're forced to deal with linearity and chonology as separate aspects.
The other thing I noticed is that while the comic used a cinematic approach to a lot of its presentation, these were dropped for the actual cinematic release. I can't say if this is for the best or detriment of the work, but it's funny how we use this word to denote a certain approach but when it's most appropriate the actual approach doesn't work as well. I don't want to get too much into this since it'll be explored a bit more somewhere else.
Monday, April 27, 2009
What I'm basically trying to tease out of my brain is the idea that the front cover, the text pieces, and some of the main visual metaphors all work together to create a symmetrical form between the comic and the real world. Too much for a general audience?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Simple. The woman who won best new artist (Lights) has a back tattoo of Wonder Woman fighting Giganta. I'm sure the amount of internet offers of marriage she gets has increased about 5000 times because of this.
Personally, I like anything that shows geek stuff as slightly less geeky but not quite redundantly mainstream. Anyway, cool stuff.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I did enjoy it though for what it is and it is a book I’ll certainly recommend to others looking for a certain type of read. I have to say that Seth’s quest for a past that somehow feels more honest and real hits close to home these days. He’s looking for something that exists in the creations around him – buildings, clothes, literature – but I’m just looking for a time when our current Prime Minister wasn’t in charge of anything.
At the moment I’m seeing a lot of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation in things I read because of another project, and really It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken is a perfect example of searching for a more truthful and honest past that never exists. That what current life is simulating may never have existed in the first place. That can be a very powerful and depressing idea or it can free you to simply enjoy what is there now. It’s a frustrating story to read on quite a few levels, from Seth’s search for John Kalloway to his interactions with people and constant self-reflection. You both love the character and get frustrated by him which makes the character appear all the more real and human. He can’t be distilled down to a core idea or element (well, maybe the idea of moving forward while watching the road through a rear-view mirror – see Marshall McLuhan for more on that).
I love Seth’s lingue Claire artwork that feels as much like an anachronistic detail as the buildings and clothes surrounding the protagonist. It’s equal parts comic books and newspaper comics (as well as the New Yorker cartooning), that is somehow more expressive and clean than you feel it should be. It shouldn’t be able to portray the content because it is a style meant for gags and single panel cartoons but it is precisely the freedom of the style that allows for a beautiful world to be created. I’d say the art style hits at the core of the word decadence – something overly beautiful with something decaying at the core or as the subject in this case. Beautifully rendered buildings that are falling apart and the like.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Monday, March 09, 2009
Things I think were actually better than the comic:
The world creation during the opening credits. Hot damn, that was probably one of the best opening credit sequences I've ever seen. From the song choice to the visuals working with the name credits (I admit, I didn't really pay attention to the actors' names, I was busy watching the scenes) the opening credits set up the world of The Watchmen in a matter of minutes. So anyone new to the movie knows what fans of the comic learned in the text pieces, the role playing game, obsessively looking up Watchmen articles online, etc. I think it really played to the strengths of the medium of film, and was so successful because it actually added to the core text in a positive way.
The repulsiveness of the violence. Okay, in a few years it may look hokey when this is being played on Spike TV, but in the theatre it was enough of a turn-off to get that point across what with the broken limbs and blood splatter.
Things I found slightly distracting:
They kept referring to themselves as The Watchmen. Yes, it's nit-picky, and I completely understand why it was done but I think I have more faith in the audience. It sounds like some exec was wondering why they kept talking about The Minutemen as a failed super-group, wasn't this movie called The Watchmen? They should call themselves The Watchmen.
Rorschach's narration at the very end. I liked the more ambiguous ending of the comic where his journal is left in a stack of other cranks. The ending narration implies it is read but it could have been added just to make sure the point is driven home that it's Rorschach's journal.
The narration in general except Dr. Manhattan's. This is the constant problem of adapting written fiction to film. The way the narration was handled in the comic is all on written materials (except Dr. Manhattan's) which simply can't be adapted onto film except as someone reading from the journal, etc. The narration in the comics works much better in regards to the narrative because these objects exist within the world of the Watchmen as actual objects, not dramatic readings. It helps sell the "realistic" nature of the Watchmen world because the audience is only allowed to see into the characters' minds via additional media except for Dr. Manhattan whose thoughts are in blue boxes (and thus the closest to the traditional thought balloon). This kind of reinforces his connection to classic superheroes as well as emphasising how far from humanity he has drifted. His relation to the world is different from the other characters because he doesn't need a separate medium to communicate directly to the audience. In the movie, all characters have that relationship to the audience because there is no way the director will show you page shots of Rorschach's journal to read while the action happens.
This I wished were included (please ingest your grain of salt from here on in):
Okay, this is just my fanboyishness here so you know, it's subjective. Where was the fate of Hollis Mason? No, I don't really want to see an old man lynched, but it would really have helped sell the idea of this being a time of crisis and heightened paranoia. It could have been included if they reduced the sex scene, no? I'm no prude, but I felt the owl-ship sex scene went on just long enough to be kind of embarassing - we get the point, make the visual joke, move on.
Captain Metropolis. The way the failed meeting was handled was fine, but I kind of miss the connection to history all the old heroes brought to the story. If the opening credits show how vital they were to the world, then having them removed from the plot kind of feels like a missed opportunity.
Anyway, I went to see the movie with both geeks and non-nerd-herd people. Everyone enjoyed it but the nerds complained about stuff more - no pirates, my thing about calling themselves The Watchmen, etc. The only slightly negative I heard from the non-nerds was that it seemed like a movie you should watch again to understand more of it. That's something I felt as well, which means it's pretty much how I felt after reading the comic for the first time. In that regard, it was great and all in all, I think the changes made were necessary for the film version and should have been made.
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Now, I know that your average sports fan will go see Iron Man or Spider-man or Batman movies, but I'm not so sure there will a lot of love for Watchmen. I'd love to be proven wrong, and I wish I could remember how V for Vendetta did when it was released for a bit of context for this release.
Anyway, I just thought it was a bit odd there. Happy consumerism and post-modern deconstruction of the entire genre of superhero comics and the form of comics itself just doesn't seem to flow for me. I'll still go see the movie at some point because I'm reasonable enough to know it won't affect my love of the book.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Growth Rings. Much like the way new growth on a tree expands from the centre (as well as up) the plot for the series begins to reflect itself and grow to reinforce itself. Depending on how you look at it, these levels appear different. If you cut it open and look down, you see the rings forming into themselves, but if you tap it from the side you only see lines in sequence.
Having these stories in collected form lets me as a first time reader see the cycles and reinforcements much easier. I’ve got the collected firewood, so to say. But, I can imagine getting Swamp Thing month after month you would only see the lines in sequence (at first). Once you see where they come from you can adapt your perception to the wider whole. The lines are part of a bisected circle.
Anyway, growth rings are a great metaphor here, not just for the organic and organized nature of the larger plot that begins to support itself, but hey, he’s a conscious plant. What I have also come to notice is that this cyclical metaphor (here growth rings in a tree) are also used in Moore’s other works, particularly Watchmen and to some extent in Promethea. A perfect circle is symmetrical, and well, just open the pages of Promethea to any random pages and you’ll see the symmetry of the layout fairly clearly. In Watchmen, there are the cogs of the watch that Jon Osterman was working on when his father chucks it out. Again, the cogs are important in reinforcing the cyclical nature of time – something I’ll be exploring elsewhere in a bit more detail (I hope).
So where in Watchmen the circular cogs have specific points of contact that as a whole can create some kind of meaning (making a watch move and tell time, or how the heroes lives create some terrible and fragile peace) the growth rings of Swamp Thing show the organic progression from monthly comic towards comprehensive graphic novel.
Make sense? Perhaps I’ll find the time to write more on it.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
What really struck me in the first issue was the contrasting panel layouts between Swamp Thing’s story and Sunderland (or whoever the old man is in the story). Swamp Thing’s story is told in organic panels without borders that grow and merge into one-another, while the old man is presented in hard, sharp angled frames that are both slightly off kilter and confining.
Both feel slightly threatening in different ways, but a wonderful visual metaphor for what I’ve seen as a theme being established in the first few stories. The connected whole of the organic earth struggling against the conscious constructions of man.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
No, I've still not had a chance to get to that Swamp Thing trade, but I did get the Death of Captain America trade. Again, I'm just completely bowled over by Brubaker as a writer and how he's handling these editorially mandated stories. I mean talk about a clunker! And yet, you still have a generally readable item, but man, would I not want to come to this thing cold!
While there are a lot of good things here, from the great characters found in The Winter Soldier and Falcon, to the new array of retrofitted Cap villains, there is a huge millstone around the neck of this story - Civil War. I read the trades leading up to this story but not Civil War so I was okay in understanding some of the backstory and motivation. Being a former comic book blogger (reformed) and knowing the general plot of Civil War meant I knew some of the main plots even if I have no idea why Peter Parker is in the black suit. But coming in cold? Nope, this would not be very fun to read at all.
You'd still enjoy the character moments but I could barely piece together the larger picture which kept forcing itself onto the plot. There is almost no way to separate the larger Marvel Universe from the plot of the story and really, that is unfortunate. I have no problem with how the title was both updating itself and honoring its history. Kind of making all the old villains new again, so why not the same with Cap? The idea flowed well, but then we've got someone I had no idea was Tony Stark in a SHIELD outfit, and cap's corpse looking Skrullish.
Part of me just wishes I didn't know the bigger picture but then I'd be completely lost rather than kind of lost and bit disappointed at what could have been a great and timeless story. I guess this is a great example of how comics haven't really changed only rather than getting them out as fast as possible now it's getting them out while meeting some kind of mass crossover content. In both cases you do the best with what you got, only now the reader kind of needs to have a lot of money (or less scruples and a bittorrent connection, I suppose).
What Brubaker can offer is always high quality but what Marvel offers is a bit unfortunate.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Okay, looking at that last post before the extended hiatus I should report a few things. I didn't read Labyrinths of Reason or Wasteland. Much like Swamp Thing I'm a bit shocked I haven't read Wasteland yet. I'll likely pick it up when I pick up Fallout 3 for the ol' X-box 360 some day. It's a series that I was really excited for when it was announced but I couldn't get a copy in Ottawa and well, it just sort of stayed that way until the trades started coming out and I was just lazy about picking it up. Huh, funny how that always happens. I guess it means I get to savor its post-apocalyptic goodness with a fine electronic parallel. And I'm still on the waiting list for the Hellblazer trades at the library, which seems really weird to me. I had no idea that many people wanted to read John Constantine comics from the Ottawa library.
I guess we should start with the comics first hey?
Wanted. Read it before the movie and I think the changes they made were completely necessary. The comic only works as a comic and well, I don't need to be told I'm a worthless prick for not being a completely selfish asshole. Otherwise, it's a rollicking villainous adventure. Liked the movie a bit more to be honest.
Sleeper and Criminal. Reading these made me kind of depressed knowing I would never write anything this good. I read a lot of Ed Brubaker and I really thought these were fantastic crime stories. Sleeper is the comic villain equivalent of something like Good Fellas, Donnie Brasko or The Departed in that you have a hero, Holden Carver, you become a bit unsure of and you start to understand the circumstances of the bad guys. I always appreciate the skill going into making killers seem sympathetic, something the Animated Batman series did amazingly well or Pulp Fiction did to a mass audience. Yeah they're the bad guys but you feel bad for them, you can relate to them on a basic level to a point where you're reacting to them much like Holden Carver is. Criminal, is a living breathing world where crime is the one thing tying everyone's story together. It's like the shared superhero universes only with a continuity that reveals itself rather than feel forced to make sense of things that weren't meant to be tied together. And with capers and characters that rival any in this genre, there was no doubt this would be a winner with me.
Scott Pilgim Gets it Together. It took me a long time to finally get this book. I did. I read it. I was slightly less charmed by it this time. I don't really know why because it's still great comics but I almost feel a bit too out of touch with the youth ethos in it as I get less lost in my own life.
Cpt. America – Red Menace and Winter Soldier. I can't remember the last time I ever read a Captain America comic book. These were the same solid procedurals in a superhero dressing that Brubaker presented in his other work. The more realistic based artwork really worked in these stories as it tried to humanize a symbol and bring him back to the real world. Yes, grown men in silly costumes do a lot of damage to each other and the world around them, but having things look almost real made the stories seem a bit more real as well. And that's the goal of comics isn't it, to have the art reflect the words – it works well here.
Watchmen. Just as good as the first time I read it. Actually, slightly better because you catch more of the things you missed the first time. I tried to explain it to my wife after we saw the movie preview and while it was a kooky rambling effort on my part she did consider reading it for about ten minutes after our chat. Never really understood the pirate comics until I read a few more interviews with the creators – makes sense that a world with superheroes wouldn't have superhero comics. Seeing a few more examples of how deep the metaphors run, especially visually, was a real treat. From the recurrence of clockwork mechanisms, to the marquee showing the band Crystalnache playing just before the tragedy brought onto the city's population by some self-proclaimed superior human.
Books (without pictures)
Catch-22. Great metaphor, great message, but really, I got it long before the book ended. How can you be sane in an insane situation when you have no sane option or sane action. I do understand why it's considered a great work of fiction but I also understand why people don't like it either. It can be tough to sit and read such a looping text once you understand that the characters are living their lives in the same way the text is written – reliving events over and over and feeling trapped by them only to relive them all over again when something similar happens. Perhaps the point is to get you to give up on the whole mess?
The Chrysalids. Man I love John Wyndham's writing and how his stories are considered sci-fi without any real noticeable sci-fi elements or stand-bys. I think he helped lay the foundation for the genre expectations so reading this book felt completely new to me. It's about the human condition more than anything with a few fantastical ideas thrown in there. The kids struggle for freedom only to find it in a society that is just as intolerant only in line with their abilities. Is this a reflection on the role religion plays in human society? Most likely showing how the exclusionary message of anything is not something that helps anyone except those preaching and conforming. Like the atheists say, be good for goodness sake. I'll be making a stronger effort to read more Wyndham, and really, I'd like a lot of superhero comic writers to do the same to see how you can get a message attached to a story with fantastic elements.
Blood Sucking Fiends and You Suck. These were fun and the perfect read just around Halloween. I mean having a group of late night grocery store employees called The Animals who become vampire hunters is in and of itself enough of a fun idea but throw it in with the rest of the loveable characters, and you've got a great series. Although I enjoyed the first book more.
And finally, skated into work today in a bit of a snowstorm. The canal looked like a frozen ocean with the mini-snowdrifts across the ice. Hitting them sort of slowed me down so it felt a bit more dangerous than it was. There was less than an inch of snow down but there was a solid sheet of ice down under the snow. Was listening to Gorillaz - Demon Days which was the perfect mix of creepy and fun.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
My wife bought me the first trade of Alan Mooe's Saga of the Swamp Thing. And, well, I thought it would be kind of neat to record my thoughts on this book seeing as I've never read it. Mike Sterling is shaking his head in disbelief as are most comic fans, I'd imagine. Don't feel sad, feel glad, let's see where this goes.
This isn't a resolution or anything. I'll try to post some interesting things as often as possible but I'm not going to try to create a daily blog, others do it much better than I. My only real resolution was to try and skate to work as much as possible this winter. The Rideau Canal froze on New Year's Day (although I didn't know until the 3rd because I was cocooned in my house) and I've since started skating to work. I think that makes me the most Canadian comic book blogger online right now, not that it's a contest.