Tuesday, January 31, 2006

And finally, remember...

The A to Z of breaking up

Yesterday was yet another “personal development” day for me. I tried to basically avoid two things, talking to people on the phone and computers. I managed half of it. Let’s just say that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II is a bit of a time sink. I did manage to pry myself away from the computer screen to flex my geek muscles. They’ve been atrophied as of late.

So I dug up my one long box from the “box room” that is the spare bedroom in the basement of our new flat. I had a chance to put away the comics that have been gathering in piles around my various sitting locations (office drawers, shelf next to my bed, bookshelves, coffee tables). I put a few CDs I hadn’t listened to in a while into the multi-disk changing stereo I got for Christmas, popped open the box and got crack-a-lackin’.

I noticed a couple of things as I did this. Firstly, I have this love/hate relationship with alphabetical order. I used to be quite type-A about having things going left to right A to Z. I had my bookshelf more or less alphabetized and would incorporate new books into the flow every now and again. I even had my 200+ CD book thing in alphabetical order. Then Allison came along and “cured” me. Basically, CDs went everywhere. There were stacks on top of boom-boxes, CDs jammed into any location in the collection. It was bloody carnage I tell you. I fixed it once, but realized it was a loosing battle. Now when I want some music it’s like hunting large game. Well, small circular shiny game but a hunt none the less. I realized I didn’t really need to give a shit about the order of my music especially since I had to incorporate hers into the collection. Like golf, you play where it lays.

Then there was the book shelf. We’re have two English degrees a piece so needless to say there’s enough paper in our home to be a fire hazard. We only have one big book shelf and like 3 huge bins of books that were rotated out of the main team. We’ve realized now that we need blank space on the shelf or the books start to be like rodents or some sort of infestation in our house. Where we used to have this really high-brow collection on display it’s now mysteries and sci-fi. We’ve both had our meal of literature, now we read for dessert. Anyway, when we first moved in together the A-Z bookshelf got “updated” as well. This wasn’t her doing but mine. It was sort of a hybrid at first – genre and theme was the main division then spurts of alphabetical in each genre or time period the books were sorted in, mostly by author.

Anyway, I realized that the whole alphabetical thing is a pain in the ass when you’re dealing with comics. It hit me when I got to Detective Comics. Do I file them under D or under Batman. Same with Action Comics or The Adventures of Superman. In the end, I kept characters together. I put New Avengers under A because at some point they won’t be “new” anymore and well, they’re still the Avengers aren’t they? But Young Avengers was under Y because there’s a whole separate vibe with that book. They’re not replacing the Avengers they’re just a reflection thereof.

As I was doing this whole ordeal I realized that I needed to purge. Which is the second thing I noticed. Now, I know a few of you out there are reading this thinking I have some mental disorder. Yes, I am coming close to filling one complete long box whereas you have whole rooms full of longboxes or have purchased separate storage locations for your collection. I just don’t want this to become like the book collection. Too unwieldy for me to actually purge when I could have previously. I have this backpack in the basement box-room full of books I’ve been meaning to bring to the second hand bookstore for like a year now.

I noticed that for every copy of All Star Superman I have a copy of The Outsiders, not Batman and the Outsiders but the ones with John Walsh in them. It’s a long story. And for Paul Pope’s 100% I have two Green Arrows, Batgirl or Robin. I was new. I didn’t know any better. But at least there is some logic behind these purchases. I was reading story arcs. If I really hated the arc I let the series drop – although I don’t know why I stopped reading Batgirl, I liked it, but needed a change I guess. I was naïve but there was a purpose to the madness. I was looking for a good title that I could try and write for. It’s a long term plan that I may bring up again when I’m further along.

So I’m thinking of hitting e-bay or waiting for the neighbourhood yard sale day to sell off stuff I know I will never ever read again. Nothing wrong in that, I’m not fooling myself. Some stuff I really like and plan to go back to, the rest is more or less ready to go.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Get up outta that Funk! - part 3 of 6

Man, talk about post-partum depression. The election is done and I can barely bring myself to wake up let alone come into the office. With the election campaign done the thought of helping campaigns with their finances for the next four months doesn't really excite me. And by excite, I mean "listen to them on the telephone about how they ignored all the e-mail updates I've been sending on how to do this stuff before it becomes a legal problem." But I digress.

Yesterday was good. It was a nice day to finish reading an actual book as well as catch up on two months worth of comics. Only I find myself not wanting to post anything anymore. I'll get to it eventually, it's just the thought of staring at a computer screen makes me want to blind myself. I think maybe I'm going through radiation withdrawal or something. I should probably force myself to post on my days off in order to get my daily recommended intake of computer radiation. It better turn me into something super as opposed to sterile or bald - unless of course I get telekinesis with the baldness...

So to cheer me up I decided I'd try to change my direction a little bit. I'm going to try and ween myself off the DC superhero teet little by little. How you may ask? Simple. I'm going to try to focus my efforts more and more on trades of older material or non-superhero type stuff. This isn't a mission statement or anything, just a way to try to keep myself from burning out on too much of one thing.

I started by ordering Jeff Smith's Bone: One Volume Collection. And of course the 2nd Ultimates trade. What? It was a good deal.

I tried to make a list of stuff I'd like to purchase over this year but the list is unruly and probably not going to happen as new and interesting stuff is constantly being released. I always get overwhelmed with these types of lists then give up entirely. If you want to help out with suggestions for non-superhero stuff, feel free. I've already been recommended to a New Teen Titans trade and Planetary, but I haven't gotten to either of those yet (although both are on my massive master list). What about collections of older stuff. So far I'm thinking Showcase Superman, Showcase Metamorpho, Essential Luke Cage and Essential Howard the Duck. Is there any of these types of collections that have rocked your world?

Oh yeah, today's post will suck. I guess it's like part three of six because very little happens and there's a big reveal that's a let down.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 25 January 2006

So the election is over and I was at work for about two hours before I realized I needed a longer break. So me and the rest of the staff went to the pub, I hit the local comic shop on my way home and I've been there since. I decided I needed a longer break. 8 weeks is a long time to be running in the red. So, I picked up some floppies and a trade, hit the couch and remembered I didn't do a Wednesday update.

Picked up Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #4, JLA Classified #16, Nextwave #1, and I found issues 6 and 7 of Godland. Woo hoo! and The Walking Dead fourth trade. Why did I not know this was out earlier?

I'm not much in the mood to give more of an update needless to say I may be changing local comic shops to the one where I can get Godland on a regular basis. Otherwise I liked them all but Nextwave. I'll hand in my geek card for not worshipping this one. I liked the "bleeping" bit but the rest just didn't hit any notes with me. I'll give this series a miss.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Black hat

You know how I can tell Superboy Prime is evil? He doesn't need a black hat or anything. It's pretty simple.....

He kicks a dog! That's harsh man, harsh.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Getting ready for the election on Monday.

I probably won't be posting for a few days since the election is on Monday. I'll be taking Tuesday off. Make sure you go vote if you're Canadian. I don't care who you vote for, just go do it.

Actually, that's a bit of a lie. I'm really terrified that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives will win anything. Reading Infinite Crisis #4 is basically how I see Harper. Hey, I'm a nice young guy, then zappo no more gay marriage, kablam no more women's right to choose, kablooie parents get $25.00 a week instead of a child care program. Fucking terrifying that anyone would willingly vote away their freedoms with this ass. But it's your vote and your right. Exercise it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

One Fine ASS

Okay I promise not to ever use the Acronym for All-Star Superman ever again. I got it out of my system. I wonder if the acronym has anything to do with the cheesecake bit?

In the interest of fairness here are two opposing views on All-Star Superman. You have to scroll a bit to get Greg's but not Jog's.

Personally, I loved this issue. It’s not plot heavy, certainly, but it does something else that is really ignored a lot as well. Issue number 2 went away from the fantastic action and wonder of the first issue towards a simple character study. We see Superman and Lois interacting and we’re introduced to this new Superman through the eyes of the “human” character. We’re shown where and how he spends his time not being Superman. That’s ballsy for a second issue.

Whereas we’re thrown into the middle of the first issue and a lot is set up there we’re then immediately taken out of any sort of action and given a pause. We’re given time to get to see how this guy functions when he’s more or less on his own. The audience isn’t further introduced to Superman through more of his actions, but through his inaction. Yes, we know he can lift cars, or stop trains, and all the other images we’ve come to identify with Superman over the years. Morrison deliberately leaves that all out here. We know he can do this stuff do we need to see it again? I don’t. Not particularly.

I think that’s where this differs from the Ultimate Marvel line. It isn’t, “here’s the entire history of this character, rewrite it all again but, I don’t know, give them new costumes and switch some of the sexes around (but only if they’re robots).” Not to completely dismiss the Ultimate line, they are coming up with really good stories, even when the premises are familiar. They actually have storytelling chops which I love. This seems more to me. Whereas All-Star Batman and Robin is treading a similar line but hitting all the wrong notes, Morrison’s Superman is chiming in perfectly for me.

Both books are silly and over the top, but Superman doesn’t seem as heavy handed about that. It’s the subtlety of the whole thing that makes it work for me. Yes, you can still the Morrison’s hand at work here but it’s not slapping you in the face so hard that you react with a flight or fight reaction. If Morrison’s creative hand hits you, you assume it’s to knock something off you – like a deadly spider you were unaware of – not a smirk. I guess they’re styles are like Samurais and Ninjas.* One wears a big flag and goes straight ahead chopping everything in his path whereas the other one completes the job without you ever knowing he was there. Either way, you’re dead – or entertained in this case it just depends on which way you prefer to go. Blatant or subtle.

I think in both All-Star cases we’re expecting things. We expect certain things from Miller and it didn’t work for me. I didn’t like how it was handled. No biggie, I don’t feel betrayed or anything I’m mature enough to move on and look for what does work for me. Whereas Morrison seems to be aware that his audience expects him to reinterpret Superman according to the history of major events in the man of steel’s life. So he avoids doing that – similar to his writing a team book as long as the team never meets and they don’t live in the same time or space. We want Morrison to show Superman as a little kid lifting a truck or frying a test with his laser vision or laying down for the train to go over him or freezing stuff with his breath. We want to see Morrison’s take on the Superman canon. Instead we get a guy hanging out at home with a bunch of goofy stuff.

I said earlier it was a character study and that the audience is introduced to the life of Superman through Lois Lane. At some points we’re given hints to their past relationship as they discuss it which continues the IN MEDIA RES universe from the first issue. But for the most part we get to know Superman through Lois’s tour of the Fortress of Solitude. The place is huge and full of wondrous items but it never seems jammed packed or cluttered. I suppose having super-speed means house chores aren’t the same time consuming task they are for the rest of us. The place looks even bigger not simply because of what’s there but because the place isn’t full. It shows you the scale that Superman lives on. He doesn’t need to walk around. He doesn’t need stairs to get around. He can collect the Titanic instead of making those ships in bottles – although he does have a bottle city.

Quitely’s art reminds me of Moebius. It’s colour blocks and simple lines but it manages to produce a sense of grandeur about the whole thing. That reflects perfectly how Superman is being presented. It’s silly dialogue and not much happens, but we’re given a real sense of greatness here. Lois Lane is always looking for something beyond the surface. She wants to look beyond the black and white that’s presented to her and again, that’s reflected in both the art and the story. Why do we get some black and white panels? It’s not just her world-view, its some whacky radiation affecting her. Everything is firing in this series. Think about it for a second. We’re given a very bleak landscape and what’s the brightest swatch of colour in it all? Superman. The place seems huge not because of what’s in it but because it’s so empty.

Unlike the excess of the nineties here we’re given the same sense of grandeur without being overwhelmed by crammed and beefed up panels. Things aren’t changed for sensation, they’re just sort of dropped into the room and mentioned. Not every single wall has something crazy in it. We’re shown some crazy ass stuff but then nothing but plain coloured walls after that. It’s a classic movie trick. There’s something in the room upstairs, the character runs up, turns the light on and there’s an empty room with an open window – our imagination does the rest. That’s classic. Today, and in the nineties there would generally be some CG monster and it might make us jump but we’d move on. Our imagination can create something much worse if we never see what that thing in the room was. Same goes here except away from the scariness and into fantastically awesome. We’re shown a few really cool things and we know it’s a big place so there must be more to it than we’re seeing. The possibilities are endless because we simply weren’t shown everything in a moment of completist excess.

Not only is Superman presented as a solid hero, he’s the ultimate decent guy. He’s obviously wanted to invite people to his home, why else would he have a sign that says “Keep Out. Superman At Work”? And what’s he working on? A freakin’ birthday present. You just don’t see this kind of lighthearted fun in superhero comics anymore. Then, what’s the gift? Super-serum so he can let the woman he loves know what it’s like to be him. Ten bucks says Luthor attacks when Lois is Superwoman in issue 3.

At the close of two issues, we know what this Superman is like. We know he’s basically the gentlest of giants. He doesn’t question his role to the point of incapacitation. Sure he’s lonely, he’s in love, he’s embarrassed about his place – he’s the ultimate normal man. Lois is the flip side the normal person we’re being turned into. Unlike the mythical Superman, Lois Lane needs to suspect the heroes presented to her. She’d rather destroy him than see him change. Makes you wonder how aware Morrison is about fan’s reaction to All-Star Batman and Robin?

To me, this is proof that decompression can actually tell good stories when it’s handled right. We’re introduced to characters. We get to know them and see how they’ve created their world. If every single issue was like this – okay, boring – but this was good. It didn’t push me away like Batman, it made me want more. It looks good, it reads good, and most importantly it feels good. Quite frankly Superman is super because we haven’t been shown everything he can do and neither has the world he exists in.

*Please don’t send me e-mails about how I don’t understand Ninjas and Samurais. I’m not trying to explain their history. It's a goddam metaphor people.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 18 January 2006

Dang, what a week. Infinite Crisis #4, All-Star Superman #2, JSA Classified #7, Iron Man: The Inevitable #2, and a brand spanking new Sgt. Rock story.

Read them all but Sgt. Rock. I don't have much to say right now so I hope to read them again at some point and give something more than the lame ass first reviews I usually put up here on Wednesdays.

What I noticed. Everytime I make fun of Marvel they give me an issue that knocks my socks off.

Iron Man: The Inevitable is great. I'm loving The Spymaster (and I don't know anything about the character or his history because I've never read Iron Man before) and all the happenings of this book. That and a really unique look to the art is enough to make my week. But no, it gets better...

Infinite Crisis continues to heat up. Of course a bunch of people I don't know anything about die, but that's fine by me. Temper, temper Superboy. Talk about your teen-tantrums. Then we're hit with a Batman who's a decent chap. This issue reminds us of why Dick Grayson came around and how they actually work well together. The twists are great especially if you love gigantic hero battles. And I do.

All-Star Superman - This is becoming my favourite comic because of the sheer joy that comes out of it. The writing and the art are definately top notch as all other comic blog mongers will certainly go into better detail than me. Does anyone else think Morrison is poking fun at the uproar about Vicki Vale and Black Canary in the other All-Star title? It's also my favourite acronym. It's amazing that something so toned down and sparse can be so chock full of goodness - art and story wise. This is decompression done right because it doesn't feel slow.

JSA Classified. Just when you think your out they drag you back in. I do believe I like this arc better than Villains United. It was boiled down caper goodness.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Official Marvel Handbook: The DC Knock-offs

Okay, I know I pick on Marvel more than I should but they make it easy. Like when someone falls down. I always laugh. Always. I sometimes go help out if it looks painful and they're relatively close to me, but I laugh first. It's just how I am. I do like some of Marvel's products, so maybe after this post I'll have gotten it out of my system and move on to more positive things.

Back to front: Starro, Mogo, Ambush Bug, The Spectre, The Phantom Stranger in his demonic female form, Deathstroke, Black Lightning, Sasha Bordeaux as the omac-person with pink eye but as a dude, Bizarro Luke Cage (or some elvish aroebics instructor), an Omac, Star-girl, Sand, Oliver Queen or Bizarro Luke Cage's gay lover "Mr. Stereotype," Mr. Mxyzptlk , Etrigan

Crisis of Infinite Spoilers...okay, only one

Looks like Superboy Prime becomes the Anti-monitor. Thanks for that. I don't enjoy twists. Then again I could be completely wrong and just shooting from the hip here. Let's wait and see...

Also, feel free to make comments about Dr. Light, The Teen Titans, and Balls.

Pack your bags and take a trip to the eighties

For better or for worse the eighties were one hell of a decade. Think about this for a second. Michael Jackson was a black guy making funky songs and mini zombie movies, Madonna was getting banned and berated for singing about being a virgin, we had ET and Return of the Jedi in the cinemas and comics gave us Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. It seems to me that this is the era where we see the beginnings of uber-pop. Music was becoming more about spectacle and making record amounts of money. Same with movies. Now, I know that things have gone beyond then but that's really when it started.

It was in the eighties that McLuhan's theories really took hold and in the last twenty years they've really taken off. Then, spectacle was new now it's expected. We're now living in a time of simulacra (look at the title on the book Neo gets the disk from in The Matrix) which is simulations of simulations. We're not tapping into something new anymore but representations of what came before which were in themselves representations. I think the big hits of the eighties earned a place in our consciousness not simply because they were big and flashy but they still maintained something in their core. There was still meaning in all of that glam and flash. Now the image has replaced the actual content.

For the decade that first gave us pop entertainment in its purest form with a large budget - greed was good remember - it also gave us comics that just don't seem to exist anymore. The seventies started it in the Green Lantern comics but in the eighties it reached unparalleled heights. It was a height that really hasn't been reached again. The stories I'm reading from the eighties all seem to be topical, clever and jammed full of content. For a medium that was on the verge of its own death throes comics really were kicking ass and taking names.

Yes, this is the roots of dark anti-heroes but it was also the end of an era. Basically the nineties came in and simply replaced content with flash and glam like these other mediums, but I don't see the actual connection or evolution in comics. In movies, and pop-music it's pretty obvious but in comics it seems like a drastic swerve. Maybe it's because I wasn't there and I'm looking at it from the outside and through the benefit of experience and history. I guess in part it was the fact that the stories I've praised above were released as 12 issue miniseries that has caused every single title (except Jonah Hex) to think it too can release long winded story arcs. They took the form but ignored the content. Again, image over substance.

So why am I suddenly pro-eighties. In part, coincidence - I've just read the Alan Moore DC Universe omnibus as well as various other trades from the eighties. Yes, there are continuing stories but even so you get enough content per issue to make it feel like a tome compared to the current single issues of an arc. These stories don't pander to the audience but they still have a sense of humour and wonder. I do actually like dark stories but when there is only darkness you simply don't notice it anymore and it's dull. I appreciate that there are stories directed at me, the mature reader, but I also appreciate writers who are enjoying the process. Write Hulk-speak, I won't hate you or laugh at you. Use thought balloons if you want to, I really don't think it'll take away from your ouevre. Put Robin in pixie-boots and let Superman shave by reflecting his heat vision from a mirror. It's okay to have fun, it makes the darkness hit harder if that's what you're going for.

I guess I noticed this stuff in the first story of the Alan Moore collection. It deals with current political situations while not beating us over the head with it. Superman's father is attaching himself to the religious right of Krypton in order to get political power. The story isn't just a "what if?" Superman story. It's also examining the current political climate of the world. Whereas the Green Lantern stories of the seventies managed to talk about current issues it also dates the stories because they are so obviously of that time. It's not a bad thing. It had to happen that they addressed the world as the creators saw it. It was the first time such a popular and previously disposable form of childrens entertainment asked questions about the state of the world in a blatantly obvious manner. Then it matured into the stories of the eighties that are still addressing current events but in a more timeless manner. They're dealing a lot more with ideas than actual circumstances.

Then something happened and all this addressing of current events seems to have left comics all together. When it does show up, it's more of the sensational variety - child abuse, rape, or some other horrible atrocity. So it's a bastardized version of what was happening in the seventies GL stories whenever something appears that is anywhere near current. I think Batman: A Death in the Family may have something to do with this. It exists in a specific time and addressed some of the world stage politics but was geared almost completely towards sensation. The Killing Joke on the other hand managed to be sensational but forced everyone to adjust to the change in a major character. They didn't simply take the easy route of killing off Bat-girl and replacing her. Yes there's a new Bat-girl, until March I think, but Barbara Gordon became one hell of a character because they managed to tell a good story while being sensational.

Hell, if you want the greatest version of comic simulacra it has got to be Infinite Crisis. It is basically a comic about the state of comics and the retelling of a, guess what, twenty year old story. Now, I like it because it is aware of what it is and I can appreciate that. Hell, Animal Man pushed the limits of playing with the medium this is slightly different. It's an event about a previous event. It's a new simulated reality dealing with a previous simulated reality.

I'm not sure if this makes sense to anyone but me, I'm sort of just writing it as I go but I find it strange that for such a frivolous decade it managed to be so influencial in comics. I guess when things are on the cusp of change we manage to see some of the greatest accomplishments. Is it because there was simply nothing left to lose? Comics weren't mainstream, were probably on the verge of crashing (when aren't they?) so everyone thought, fuck it, have fun. Go for broke. Whereas now it's simply how much money can we make? No, don't take a risk that could insult anyone anywhere because it could lose us money. Well, except women because they don't read comics (that's sarcasm, I know it's hard to write sarcasm so I'm pointing it out before the comments start - see I'm doing it too).

Oh yeah, spoilers. Ah hell, if I ruined a twenty year old story for you, deal with it you big baby.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Moore Minor Thoughts

So I've managed to read a few of the stories from the Alan Moore collection. I bet he'll be either smug or pissed about the missing text that is apparently some kind of big deal. Meh, whatever. I do find it funny that all the introductions are by everyone but Moore.

What's the deal with Vigilante? Could there be a more depressing story in there? Jesus that was bleak. Funny when she swallows the roach but holy crap man.

The Green Arrow and Green Lantern stories were quick and interesting with more ideas per panel than most floppies these days. Green Arrow is badass and the villain is a pretty cool concept. Then Mogo Doesn't Socialize is an absolute hoot of a story.

I think that's what I'm missing in a lot of current comics the lack of storytelling. These stories need to actually go somewhere whether or not they're too be continued or part one of a gajillion. I'm glad there's easy access to this older stuff for us relative newbies who haven't collected all this material the first time around. I like a lot of newer stuff, I don't want to sound too dismissive but I really think that having access to these older stories is really what makes today's market that much more interesting. We aren't completely stuck in the here and now.

What does pain me though is that I'll probably have to start waiting for the trade of both Amazing Joy Buzzards and Godland. That makes me really upset as I love both books and want to support them. I just can't get them locally and I don't particularly want to become a subscriber to anything.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Walk with the animals, talk with the animals...

...duh duh la la la with the animals. Okay I don't know the words to that Dr. Doolittle song but I do know that the first trade of Grant Morrison's Animal Man run is a great read. I know that anyone who is anyone in the world of comics, blogs and comic-blogs has already read these stories but I didn't so you can skip this post or see if my head is securely lodged in my ass.

Coyote Gospel is a brilliant piece of four coloured fiction. It manages to arc between looney-toon action, to Vertigo "mature readers" while blurring the line between fiction, reader and creator. The artist and writer create these stories but it is the reader that gives them life. It is the reader that bring meaning and understanding to this story. Morrison created it with his art team but makes you acutely aware of the fourth dimension by deliberately blurring the lines of "fiction."

In one masterful swoop this story is infused enough layers to make your head spin. There are internal realities that are related although they shouldn't work together in one story. Then when you think it's all over the "creator" is added to this story drawing your attention to the actual medium, through the use of the medium. It isn't actually Morrison's computer or the Artist's hand you see but graphic representations that help frame the action of the story.

The whole invasion thing is a bit off-putting because there is obviously stuff happening that relates to the plot here, but it's dealt with quickly enough to not slow down the pacing too much.

I like that the kid has a mullet, and that everyone wears t-shirts describing themselves. But what the fuck is up with Buddy's Daisy Dukes? I know it was the eighties but those short shorts and pink t-shirt are kind of flaming for a married man. But who am I to say anything I work with hippies and I'm the one with a pink t-shirt in this office. What can I say? I'm not afraid of colour.

Also B'wana Beast is now less sucky to me. That is some fucked up power that guy wields. I guess I can just imagine him riding a giraffe/cheetah hybrid to safety in Crisis of Infinite Earths. And now I know why Mike Sterling posted so much about the Mirror Master. Nothing like a Scottish thug to make a great villain.

Wow, this really added a LOT to intelligent debate and assessment of the current state of comics. Let me sum up "Grant Morrison is good. Comics from the eighties have funny looking stuff in them."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 11 January 2006

So I'm killing comics and my budget this week. I picked up one whole floppy and two trades. DMZ #3, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, and Seven Soldiers of Victory, Vol. 1 (because I'm an idiot for not jumping in on this at the ground floor).

DMZ #3
If your liking this then you will continue to like it. If you don't like it then this issue won't help much, but you've dropped it by now right? Personally, I like it. This issue sees Matty out on his own for a bit and introduces the play between soldiers and citizens as well as the media's relation to the audience and Matty. Characters are brought to the breaking point but are also set free. I like the way these snippets are connected but stand alone just enough to make these stories more or less accessible to anyone jumping on now. Then there is the art. It goes from good, to holy fuck that's awesome!

I rate this story: Continuing to hold my interest.

I didn't read the trades yet. I did read the introduction and a couple of pages of the Alan Moore collection. I like that Batman calls Jason "chum." He sounds like Adam West in my head. Then tells Jason Todd to have clean thoughts as they follow Wonder Woman through the snow. I guess Mr. Moore beat me to the punch with this story since I was plotting out something similar for Bats - fuck. I am happy to get my fix of good comic writers this week.

Jon's back is now minus one monkey.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Eleven reasons for new comers to check out The Best of The Spirit

This was my first ever Will Eisner read, and what a read it was. Yeah, yeah, I know, how can I live without ever having read anything by Eisner? Well I live quite well thank you very much. And as I’ve said before I’m sort of new again to comics so I’m learning as I go. What I can say is that I am very happy that this collection came out. It’s a great selection of stories and at a very reasonable price. It managed to accomplish exactly what it set out to do – it got me interested in Eisner and The Spirit. It whetted my appetite.

Since so many people have already sung the praise of Eisner for so long I’ll try to take a bit of a different tact. I’m going to look at this work as a new comer for other new comers.

First and foremost don’t be intimidated. The name Will Eisner is now of such epic proportions and comic fandom so damn snarky that I thought picking up this collection would issue wide-eyed shock and muffled comments or outright comments of disbelief. Or the questioning of how I could consider myself to be a comic’s fan if this was my first ever Eisner read. It didn’t happen. I tend to create worse-case scenarios in my head. I think it’s giving me an ulcer. Anyway, the whole point of this book is for the uninitiated in content and price. That means it is for YOU.

Second, there may be some content you aren’t used to seeing because it’s from a long time ago. There’s some racial stereotypes you probably aren’t used to seeing. I think at some point the black-faced Sambo type character is changed into a blonde white kid. I don’t have the book in front of me so I can’t check to see if they have the same name. It’s interesting if it is because this would be around the time of racial equality movements.

Third, get ready to find out where most of the superheroes started. Especially Batman but with others there as well. This guy is a masked detective with a female foil that is ambiguously good. She also pops in and out of his life throughout the span of these stories. The Spirit is also a masked mystery-man that knows he exists to act slightly outside the law. So where the police are caught up in a time consuming system he can act expediently. You’ll notice that it isn’t just modern comics that have dark content. There’s a lot of downtrodden and homeless, battered women, a hero that allows the villains to be killed and a hero that get shot and beaten on a regular basis.

Fourthly, there are more strong female characters than male ones. It’s weird because the men hold the titles of power – The Spirit, the commissioner, and all the mob bosses, but the women are usually in charge whenever there is a women in a story. There are wives controlling their husbands and female counterparts that constantly outplay The Spirit. These women go above and beyond the role you’d expect them to play or the position you’d expect them to be complacent about. There is a constant desire and achievement for the women in these stories to be more than they are expected to be. These are the stories where you’ll find all the female supervillians and femme fatales while the men are all beaten down and rarely redeem themselves or go out with dignity.

Fifthly, Eisner plays with form more than anything you’ll see today (that I know of). The look of these stories will almost always reflect the content. From rocking panels on a trolley, to stamps, to snow covered panels these is never wasted space in any aspect of these comics. Not only are the contents of the panels exciting, the panels themselves reflect the story. It was unbelievably refreshing and made me ask why nobody is doing something so obvious anymore? It made me recognize one of the things that was bothering me about comics and wasted potential – I could never vocalize it before but seeing these panels made the penny drop.

Sixth. I sort of felt that this collection should be subtitle “Deus ex machine” since The Spirit usually stumbles into victory or randomly shows up in some impossible situation.

Seven. The characters act. They don’t move from pose to pose they are expressive. The art is kinetic and frantic but a treat at every turn. If you’re a stickler for consistency then you’ll notice that this isn’t the most consistent rendering of characters but that’s not the point. Personally I’d rather look at this art than static shots of the same person over and over. When the Spirit punches someone in the face it looks like he’s really punching someone in the face and it hurts. When the characters realize they’ve been burned by their competitor, they really look steamed. Every range of emotion is here from joy to heartbreak, from being knocked unconscious to being shot in the ankle and it all looks right. Outside of comics for kids, it’s rare to see expressive art. It’s an absolute treat.

Eighth. Again you’ll see how post-war America wasn’t the shiny land of milk and honey it’s portrayed as. There are countless homeless and downtrodden here. But in the midst of all that there’s hope and community that you can only find among birds of a feather. There’s some deeper meaning to it but I won’t bore you with a history leason.

Ninth. You’ll love the name of each and every gangster. Unless you have a heart of stone every single gangster name will bring a smile to your face. This is the comic equivalent to characters in Tom Waits’ songs or Guy Ritchie films without Madonna. After reading this I wanted a name like Bullet or Shooter.

Tenth. You’ll see how a creator is capable of telling single stories in seven pages that stand on their own yet there can be continued plots. The part one of X is an unnecessary burden for storytelling. Characters and plots recur here but you don’t need to read each and every one of them or bloat storylines to meet an multiple issue goal.

Eleventh. I was just amazed by the absolute breadth of stories here. You’ll get straight up hard-boiled detective stories next to stories about men who can fly next to stories about Sirens. It’s staggering to think one creator was just using everything he came across to tell stories that always entertain.

In the end that’s the goal of every story teller. To entertain. This collection has done that for me in a way few modern comics do. I’m not saying it’s better or worse than current comics just that this one is really really good. The price of admission is right and if you are tired of current superheroes give this a shot. You’ll see their cultural predecessor and you’ll see the stories wearing their hearts on their sleeves which is such a rarity now. It brings you to a new time and place, not simply because it comes from the past, but because they are crafted so masterfully. It just feels like Eisner’s stories are firing on all cylinders no matter what they are telling. It feels fresh not because of the sheer vastness of the variety but because of how the characters are more expressive than straight up real world copies. Fantastic fun if found here folks. Get it if you haven’t read The Spirit.

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Blue Bettle moment

So I was reading the first trade of Animal Man this weekend and a kid named Jaime asks Buddy for his autograph because he collects superhero autographs. I vote that this is the kid who moves to Texas for university and becomes the new Blue Beetle. How else would a "new-comer" be able to distinguish between Green Lanterns if he didn't one time collect their autographs?

In other new Blue Beetle news I realized that I actually kind of like the new costume. I laughed at first because it looked like he just came out of a car wash or was sprayed by a skunk or something. Then I saw the character sketches and whatnot and it won me over - except the whole mouth thing, is he wearing wrestling make-up? And if so, where does his nose go? That seems like a crappy super power, unless maybe you're fighting someone with a spastic colon.

My guess is this will be the new Iron Man comic because there's a sort of technology based hero, only monthly.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Lions, Tigers and Bears - Hell Yeah!

James Meeley beat me to the punch on this book see number 4 – he hits a lot of the same points I will.

I came across this book by chance. Pure chance. I was walking to the cash to pay for my weekly loot and caught this out of the corner of my eye. I’d been keeping an eye out for it but I just couldn’t find it anywhere I looked. Then voila, it appeared like the magical creatures within the story. Or it just got reordered and re-shipped to the comic shop. Whatever.

I’m not sure if there is more love I can give to this book than creators Mike Bullock and Jack Lawrence already did. Same with the gagillion blog-mongers and other comic reviewers that have already praised this work – what do I have to offer that’s different.

Well, not a whole heck of a lot other than to remind you few people out there who haven’t read it yet that you should. If you have a kid who is starting to read and is looking for their own comics give them this trade for a birthday or instead of their Archie comics. I would really suggest giving this to anyone whose favourite movie is The Iron Giant. They style is similar and some similar ground is tread here – believing in yourself and your friends alongside the awkwardness of growing from child to adolescent.

There is a great sense of wonder presented here that appeals to both the older reader and the younger reader. I gave it to one of my co-worker’s son who was in the office and he loved it and I’m now looking for another copy for him because I hadn’t read it yet. The colours, the character design and the production values are all remind me of the Iron Giant and childhood imagination. The reds and oranges are somehow redder and more orange than real life while the characters are both unreal yet believable. Scary without being horrendously frightening. These characters can act in a manner that reminds me of what I saw in Eisner’s The Spirit recently. They are dynamic and expressive instead of being in static heroic pose after static heroic pose which stands out to me these days. It’s weird what you get accustomed to when you are reminded that things don’t need to be that way.

The story is a mixture of everything you can remember loving as a kid and some you probably remember as more recent canonical additions to “children’s lit” and entertainment. I felt like this was a glass of wine that I’d never tasted before. I do this all the time, I take a sip and say I don’t like it but by the end of the glass it’s a new favourite. I do that with first issues all the time and I did it here as I started the story. It felt familiar and verging on hackish, then I was engrossed and could only see how new and original this was instead of harking upon how it’s similar to so many other previous works. I mean, really, there’s only so many types of stories out there so everything feels familiar to us these days.

Lions, Tigers and Bears is a heroic epic on par with Beowulf for me. Okay, maybe not in historic importance but it follows all the points that make Beowulf such a powerful and important work. The character learns and grows internally as well as externally. He faces all the dangers surrounding him and grows. It’s not just the adventure and danger that teach Joey but his interaction with his Grandmother and King Bear outside of the adventures that teach Joey about himself. This plugs into the same tales that Tolkein plugged into for his Middle Earth stories. That and a sense of wonder – how can you go wrong?

Lions, Tigers and Bears = Goodness.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Thursday's Loot - 5 January 2006

I picked up 4 measly floppies today: Day of Vengeance One Shot, Loveless #3, Jonah Hex #3 and the Star Wars: Purge One Shot. Okay, Purge sounds hilarious to me as a name but I’m hoping this is where we see Darth Vader as a bad-ass hunting down the remaining Jedi as opposed to a whiny kid in a silly suit killing smaller kids and Clone troopers killing Jedi. Talk about your let downs. I could go on but I’ll read this and report back.

Loveless #3
Okay, so I was a bit late on this one. Sue me. Number 2 in the series really had me intrigued but this one had me confused. I finished this book and want to drop the series again. I think I might. Whereas the last issue sort of explained how broken the characters were, this one just had me confused. One moment he’s with the union, the next he doesn’t have an arm, and then soft-porn. Whatever, it feels more pointless than loveless.

I rate this story: dropped like an ex-girlfriend I just stopped calling.

Jonah Hex #3
Now this is a western I like. Strange because I like it for all the same reasons I dropped a lot of other books. It’s simplistic and horribly obvious but fun in the summer movie blockbuster way more so than All Star Batman and Robin. So far these single issue stories have been pulpy goodness. They move along at fine pace and end up being rewarding. I was iffy about the first issue but the last two have been great. This is the dark and gritty Batman that we don’t get in the Batman titles. There’s a line of justice that can be violent, but it’s there and the audience is never too sure where the story is going. That’s good story telling. I find it strange that these single issue stories are much more compelling and exciting than the six to twelve issue epics. The character development is better, the characterization is better, the dialogue is better. Why? Editors. I think it was Rudyard Kipling that used to only edit with a small paintbrush and a bottle of ink. That way he could only remove things that were unnecessary to the story instead of bloating it. I guess that’s what these stories do, show us how bloated a lot of other works have become. What was once the standard is now the gem. I think this seems so good because it is just so damn unique these days.

I rate this story: The first I want to read when it comes out.

Day of Vengeance One Shot
Then there is this thing. This is a dead and bloated cash cow that is continually flogged by some faceless corporation. But you know what? It’s good reading. I didn’t read Day of Vengeance but I picked this up for the hell of it and really enjoyed it. I’m not a huge fan of magic. Whenever I played D&D or any sort of PC RPG I tend to avoid magic users but this I liked. It was straight forward, knew where it was going and got there. Badda-boom, badda-bing. It’s not literary perfection and if it was small enough I’d suggest reading it at the shelves then moving on, but you have money so give it a chance. This book had me enjoying magic users and it sets up a few plot threads for the year later or the next issue of Infinite Crisis – whatever. If you can’t get passed that then don’t buy this book.

There's an exchange between a talking monkey and a talking dog - how can that be bad. The explination about Blue Devil getting his trident back was also a chuckle. Plus there's heroics of the obvious as well as the harder self-effacing, sacrificing your comfort kind by agreeing to live in an unstable rock formation.

I rate this story: Fun if you don’t hate big events.

JSA: The Golden Age get a Gold Star

Well I’ve listened to them and they’re right – I’m a number five mixed with a bit of six and a pinch of the rest.


And since I’ll get my blog license revoked if I don’t mention it, I just don’t like All Star Batman and Robin so I dropped it. I gave it a chance but I just don’t like the thing and I do think it’s sexist and it turned me off but I don’t particularly want to debate anyone about it. I figure diverting my money to another title will have more of an effect than polemics about the content. To me it’s Daredevil movie bad.


And now for something completely different…

JSA The Golden Age. I embarrassed myself on another blog with this title because I thought it was more recent than 12 years. It taught me to look at something other than reprint dates. I also read that it was good and it is.

For some reason my day off had a lot to do with wartime America. This comic is sort of the opposite from Sgt. Rock’s Combat Tales as it revolves around the after effects of the war and the people left behind or coming back from the horrors of war to adjust to regular society. I can’t really inform you about how the art reflects the content than to repeat what is in the introduction, needless to say it really works. From the men in suits and hats to the haircuts we see and the slight emergence of the Beat generation into the cultural conscience – it’s all there and it all looks like a comic from the era. Simply brilliant.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the story to follow a similarly brilliant path. This story is as much an exploration of the characters in the time period as much as it is a story from that time period. The reader is drawn into the story through the characters. We see them all doing their own thing, using their own voice to explore not only their situations but their perception of post-war America. Then the reader is pulled back from the close-ups of all the characters and witnesses the larger plot taking place which is taken directly from the best pulp stories and movies of the fifties. As a reader we experience the characters exploring their new place in the world and we only see a bigger threat when they do. Only when the characters stop focusing inwardly are we given the real fight.

In some ways this book is really prescient in that it explores how the self-absorbtion that afflicts post-war America allows for horrible things to happen. The heroes are too caught up in their own problems, the problems of not having a role in society like the returning soldier, and it allows the American dream to become a nightmare. The war gave everyone a role to fulfill and without an identifiable threat the social contract was essentially ripped up and these characters don’t know where they fit in anymore. In turn, it allows the villain to create a false sense of belonging for those who want to fit in no matter the cost. Simply having a role to play is better than not having one at all whether or not the new role completely violates the principles your existence was based on.

The new post-war America looked to it’s own citizens as criminals and villains with the costumed heroes being no different. Where they once took part in the social make up their motives and means were now questioned and suspect. The hangover of everyone with a place became everyone needs to stay in his or her place. The women who built the weapons of war were expected to return to their homes, the men who risked their lives daily were expected to return to their 9-5 jobs and anyone who couldn’t adjust was suddenly suspect. This is the era that first saw biker clubs and introduced the Beat Generation and the revolution of bebop jazz. This generation was swarmed with images of wholesomeness and servitude but is remembered for rebels and restlessness like Hourman who was experimenting with a pharmaceutical escape. The corrupted social hangover felt imposed and false to anyone who remembered why they fought or why they took on new roles during the war – why would they voluntarily submit to repression when they all fought to protect what they believed in?

Now how does all of this relate to the book? The easiest connection is with Paul Kirk returning as the very obviously damaged Manhunter. He did horrible things in the name of goodness and a wholesome America. Is it any wonder he cannot adjust? Yes, he gets conked on the head but he, more than anyone, is aware of the façade that is post-war America. And for that, his country, the home of freedom needs to get rid of him. Even though he can accept that he did horrible things in the name of good and right the powers he serve cannot allow their myth to be proven as a myth. In other words, the image is more important than the reality. A wholesome America would not systematically kill people, or its own citizens, to keep its wholesome image – the lie must be contained whether or not the public cares. With so many people returning from war it’s foolish to think they wouldn’t accept that killing had to be done in order to protect freedom. What we see through Manhunter is the beginning of image over content as politics. This is when it started. We see the introduction of television and we see how damaged soldiers cannot be allowed to confront the public. Paul Kirk would shake the faith of average Americans. They fought the good fight, so why would one of their own be damaged?

And yet this perception of the powers that be is wrong. When Paul Kirk goes through America he is welcomed and understood. He is given a place and accepted because the people were there with him. They all lived through the same horrors and are just as suspect of the created vision they are presented with by those in power. Yes, they all listen to the radio announcements of Tex Thompson but you never see many characters paying attention to it. It’s background noise to them because this is the age of the individual. It was when men who were men were suddenly expected to be a part of a group. They all earned their piece of the pie but were expected to be the same as everyone else. It’s no wonder they don’t pay attention to the demagogue on the radio – they were there, they know the truth of an enemy, they fought him face to face. After killing your fellow man it becomes harder to believe in foreign threats. The threat becomes yourself when you’ve taken part in mass murder under any name. Believing in truth and justice doesn’t mean blind faith in the State you were born under. This is where the battle is for most of these characters.

Take Starman for instance. His pursuit of knowledge leads to the Atom Bomb. His noble pursuits are used to destroy that which he holds most dear. He too becomes fractured in the same way America was. There is the pure face but the terrifying underlay of destroying those which do not conform. I see him as the William S. Burroughs to Hourman’s Jack Kerouac in a lot of ways. He’s the visionary that’s broken.

Besides Paul Kirk, I think the character of Lance Gallant/Captain Triumph has a very poignant roll. He is basically another version of the post-war male trying to come to terms with the post-war female and technology. Lance is quite literally haunted by his past ghosts and does a decent job of repressing them to function in his current life. He needs to fight himself and his past beliefs in order to fall in love with a new woman and eventually defeat Robotman. Now Robotman is great. He is essentially the faceless, ruthless nature of technology personified. He is the Tin-man who isn’t looking for a heart. Robotman’s heart is the heart of his controller. It’s no coincidence that he is the one who destroys Miss America. It was women who took to the factories when they were needed and when they question their forced return to passive rolls the technological oligarchy destroys her. Lance realizes his own failings and is old self as something that really doesn’t have a role anymore. He does what he can to ignore it when he realizes that this new technology is corrupt and is helping to destroy those around him, especially the women around him.

And yet in the end his plight is just as doomed as most of those around him. It’s an outdated sense of valour that kills Lance. His woman is holding her own against the technological menace but he gets involved because he cares. Only it is his refusal to allow for his past that really kills him. If Lance would only admit that his past wasn’t completely wrong he would have had a chance to survive. He just simply denies his roots, doesn’t touch his birthmark and doesn’t become Captain Triumph to fight Robotman.

In the end, all of this is wrapped around a great romp of a story. Only in the best pulp stories to you get Hitler’s brain being transferred to an American superhero. Not only that, he’s constantly doing speed. The arrogance of the Ultra-humanite is also pure golden age along with the blatant lines drawn between good and evil. And yet this story is all about the evil that is hidden just below the glowing surface of post-war America. Even it’s most powerful hero appears flawless but under his skin is a drug addled, crazy, fascist dictator.

This is also a story of hope. Yes, it’s okay to be fractured, it’s okay to be lost. But it’s the characters that go beyond their assumed role that show us the way. The Green Lantern shines because he is basically aware of who he is and accepts who he was. He is strong and upright – a glowing beacon whether he’s Green Lantern or Alan Scott. He knows what he serves and what is right and wrong – confident without being arrogant. Self-effacing without being self-absorbed. He continues to embody what the new generation of heroes looks up to and what the old generation needs to be reminded of.

So yes, I liked the story very much. It introduced me to a lot of characters I've never read before in any form and it makes me interested in their stories. It gives me hope that this medium, even when it's mainstream, is capable of fantastic heights. And yet I'm always left with a bit of knawing guilt that these older books can't be repeated, that they're just too clever, that they've simply "been done." Where are the current books that examine the time and place of the story itself and why aren't we demanding them? Do we even recognize them anymore and can we? I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Back to the grind...I mean fun!

Wow, it truly is amazing what a day off can do to a man. I feel great! Still tired but great nonetheless. I lazed around, read a few comic trades and played Star Wars, Knights of the Old Republic 2. This was a good day.

Now I can go back and catch up on the month + of comics I missed.

Yesterday I read 3 trades. JSA: The Golden Age, Sgt. Rock’s Combat Tales, and Lions, Tigers and Bears first trade. I didn’t really take notes or anything because I just wanted to enjoy them and not analyze what I was reading for once. Alas, two degrees in English lit won’t let me do that no matter how hard I try. So let’s get back to things shall we?

I’ll begin with the easiest thing here and ask why DC isn’t releasing more digest sized books? This collection of Sgt. Rock stories was an absolute blast. And not just because of all the grenades and bazookas. For me this is the type of book you leave on the back of the toilet for your visits to the “library.” I was really pleased with story telling here but reading them all at once wasn’t the smartest thing on my part. These were single stories that came out monthly and should be read one at a time, not back to back. Reading the collection in one sitting really makes the craft stand out. I started to notice the similar plot devices used like the aforementioned bazookas.

What I liked best about the stories is that they plug you into a different time and place. These were written closer to the actual time of the events so they somehow ring truer than WW2 stories that can’t help but be told through the lens of history. We just can’t see things the same way now, it’s ingrained in us. The fact that the majority of soldiers are basically nameless and constantly changing is something today’s storytellers don’t quite catch onto. Now we’re force fed a group of “characters” that we are forced to identify with in order to have their deaths be more effective. In the end these current stories and deaths feel affected instead of being effective. I guess that the stories in this collection don’t pander, they don’t pretend that one death is more important than another because one character isn’t more important than another – a sense of social cohesion necessary during the war.

It’s only when the characters relate directly to “The Rock” that we learn anything about them, and even then it’s in passing and I forget most of the names now. These are grunts, joes, doughboys. Nameless but necessary. They need heroes as much as we do so they’re given the godlike Rock, the unbreakable Rock while they end up characters in his stories of bravery and death.

On my way to work I finally realized all this. The name of the collection is really fitting. It’s not just stories about war or Sgt. Rock, but stories about war being told in a comic about war. These folk tales are told either by Rock or someone in Easy Company to pass the time or distract the other soldiers for the horrors they are facing. And that’s what they are – folk tales. Mostly because the men were folk before they signed up to fight. Just like folk tales are made up to distract from the difficulty of daily life, these combat tales are told to distract from the horrors of the war. Reading the stories without Rock in them are basically admissions on how unimportant the individuals are. They are gun jockeys, they are sardines, they are regular nobodies who strive to be like The Rock – unbreakable.

And yet the very first story is about The Rock and how he’s a shitty boxer. He’s a terrible fighter. He’s hopelessly average and will never win but he doesn’t give up. That’s basically the spirit that flows through these stories as well as the whole reason for them. The stories exist so the men in them won’t give up. They too may not be the greatest warriors but as long as they don’t give up they win in the end.

I love the artwork. I really truly miss the use of colour to separate foreground and background in panels. It gives a lot of unearthly hues that really suit something like a war comic. I guess I also like reading a story that isn’t full of posing men. The only pose here is the occasional shot of Rock standing up. He looks more heroic by looking completely relaxed. By appearing as a normal man denying the fears and terrors trying to deparately kill everyone around him Rock becomes even more iconic than any spandex clad clod flexing, flying or swinging.

On the really fun side I wonder how easy it would be to go to Germany and fool everyone by playing dead then when they ignore you punch them in the mouth? They never wise up to that in these comics, then blam! Rock or someone in Easy pops them one. Kind of like Batman’s exploding batarang. Will they ever learn?

That’s that. More tomorrow.

Monday, January 02, 2006


We just completed our full slate of registered candidates. I'm going home for about 48 hours.

If you are Canadian and reading this, go vote on the 23rd of January. I don't care who you vote for, just go vote for someone you want to win. If you don't wote for who you want to win, you'll get the parliament you deserve.