Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows (or how I learned to stop worrying and start loving crossover events again).

Trying to come up with anything new to say about these Swamp Thing Collections is not the easiest task I’ve ever set for myself. What can I say that is possibly new after all these years of this series sitting on shelves being well known, well read and well respected?

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

Superhero History of World War 2

I read this post on io9 and this one on Comics Alliance and decided to take Agan Harahap's idea and rip it off completely.

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

Just in time for Halloween: The Walking Dead Vols 9 & 10

As I was reading the last few volumes of The Walking Dead I had moments where I kind of just felt I had enough and that I got the point of the whole thing. People are pretty shitty and horribly violent to one another in the face of unprecedented fear and that violence begets more violence (and that it is an easy slippery slope to find yourself on once you commit one horrible act).

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

New to me Comic Shop: Golden Age Collectibles, Vancouver, BC

Wow, it seems that having a new house, a steady flow of guests and a conference on the other side of the country every two weeks means that posting to an already spotty scheduled blog gets even more random.

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

Iron Man vs. Penguin Classics

Via io9.

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

So easy and spontaneous: Invited to a Windows 7 Release Party

Okay this is definately not comics, but I've just signed away the rights to my likeness to be used as promotional material for Microsoft because a friend of mine is hosting a Windows 7 Release Party. I'm a bit torn about this because on the one hand, he's a great friend and I really don't have the same hate-on for Microsoft as most people but on the other I really don't want to be used as part of a marketing plan by a major conglomorate and I like the parties I attend to not be sales jobs (not that it'll be a sales pitch in the least - Maritime kitchen party). I suppose I can just look dishevelled and get shitfaced enough so they won't want my likeness anywhere near their product unless they're going for the even beligerent drunks can use this angle. I'm sure my wife would appreciate that approach.

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?