Monday, July 31, 2006

Thor: Disassembled

I borrowed this just to prove that I don’t only borrow the more “high-brow” or indy stuff from the library. Okay that’s a lie, I just wanted to read some Thor that I never read before. Which is a surprising amount actually. I was never the biggest fan of Thor even though I love the idea and I like mythology of almost any kind. Anything relating to ancient legends that involved swords and dragons is generally fine, on principle, by me. However, this is a modern genre that while fine on principle is lacking in execution. I don’t want to debate anyone but I generally like to pronounce the names of the characters I’m reading about.

But this has nothing to do with the book so I’ll get back on track. This was a somewhat lackluster return to the character for me. I’m not sure where the blame lays as I like Oeming’s work on Powers and can’t recall if I’ve ever read anything he’s written. It may simply be that he wasn’t up to the task of writing this bookend story, but I have a bigger suspicion that it was a Marvel editorial fiat that made some of this story less than enjoyable. Because for the most part, it was good, there were just a few areas that kind of left me bewildered.

For instance, Thor goes to get his avenging buddies Captain America and Iron Man to help him with the troubles on the homefront. Loki kicked some ass and Thor managed to get away with his life – barely. So he turns to his powerful friends for a bit of backup. There was one fight with Loki’s thugs and then Thor decides that Cap and Tony should be involved in the fight for Asgard. Wha huh? You need their help, they help, they want to continue to help but, no, you change your mind and decide that they shouldn’t be helping anymore after they proved invaluable. Fickle minds of the gods, I guess…

That whole thing just feels like a, “hey Mike, you need to put them into the story. I don’t care if it’s already complete, I’ll do it for you if you don’t. C’mon, printing only starts in like 2 hours – here I’ve got the art add some dialogue.” So, last minute, is what I was getting at there.

Not knowing all Thor’s background, enemies and allies was a bit of a pain as well since I didn’t really follow who died and what their relationship was. Again, a lot of this happens off panel so I couldn’t really place any of the importance behind the characters. And not looking up any of this was really my failing but I just wanted to read some punching and talketh of the smacketh.

But under all this is a great bone structure. It’s a simple and brutal story of Loki finally getting his own godly weapon to match Thor’s and conquering Asgard. It should be brutal and unforgiving which the story was at times. The simple amount of destruction was handled well and Thor’s quest in the last few issues is fairly cool if I do say so. It’s a decent Thor story for me, it just suffers from Marvel crossover-itis with a few random characters dealt with randomly. That’s unfortunate because I think Cap and Tony could have added more to the story than they did because the journey of a former hero turned king is a classic story that can be told again and again fabulously especially when they have Thunder Hammers and stuff.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Blankets, or How I learned to stop worrying and start living

What can I say about Craig Thompson’s Blankets that hasn’t already been said? I’ve seen a lot of people using words like “charming” or “heart warming” as well as it appearing on a lot of lists of comics to give to girlfriends. I’m sure all those work for other people but I don’t really care whether or not someone I love reads comics, I love her for who she is and this hobby of mine isn’t about winning converts.

But what I didn’t know was just how much Jesus Christ, and Christianity features in this book. I glanced at the back of the book before cracking the spine and the reviews from The New York Times Book Review and Publisher’s Weekly both mention how this book contains an examination of the protagonist’s relationship with God. And boy is it there. I was on the verge of stopping this story - it was just so bloody depressing to witness how parents can totally mess up an already awkward time of someone’s life by adhering to a fundamentalist religion. Jeez Louise, if anything, this story has reinforced my strict adherence to no organized religion and that I won’t raise my kids with any religion. I’ll let them choose their path when they can vote unless they want to join a religion on their own earlier. I certainly won't stop them but I definitely won't encourage it.

Reading this comic novel I felt like I was being let into the private thoughts of the author and the events that lead up to his enlightenment. The way this book is presented you feel like it is real life, the fact that the protagonist shares his name with the author also reinforces this connection with it being a “true story” no matter how much of it is recreated from edited memory and creatively presented. We’re given quite moments and experiences that most people can relate to. Being the outsider, falling in love, first time being naked in bed with someone you love, and the little delights of growing up.

I felt that at the end of this book I knew Craig Thompson, but honestly, I don’t know whether or not this story has any truth to it whatsoever – and it doesn’t need any. It feels real and in that I believe it accomplishes the goals it sets out for itself. Craig re-examines the moments that lead up to his own personal outlook on life. It is the events in this book that show him reflecting on his life, how it was structured and how he questioned things but had his natural curiosity shut down and his outlook predetermined for him. This reflection along with his relationship with Raina and coming to terms with his own life that allows him to break from structure and the rigidity of the Christianity he was forced into. Essentially the growth is to a point of realizing that the life set out for him by others is as jarring as Plato’s cave or the teachings of Christ filtered through the version of Christianity in which he participates. By allowing himself to make his own relationships and following his sense of right and wrong Craig grows to be a well rounded person instead of allowing himself to become rigidly defined by outside sources.

How do I know he became this? Simple. This text is recorded in a manner that reflects what Craig became. The art isn’t photo realistic, it isn’t limited to being a shadow cast on a wall. Craig lights his own fire and creates his own shadow puppets instead of using those provided to him that are limited and expressionless. The art is simplified which allows it to be even more expressive, even more whimsical, than a straight retelling of his story could be. It’s how I love my comic books – expressive, and following the rules of expression and acting more than rigid photocopying of the human form.

There is a lot of sadness in this book. It’s a sadness of lost innocence but it’s not overly depressing in the end. In the end we see that this journey has actually led somewhere. Not just to the creation of this text, but that even the things rejected did help establish the person capable of creating this text. The sadness is mixed with a fondness - it's sad because it was a beautiful time that has long since passed but there's a fondness in that it can be remembered.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 26 July 2006

If you haven't read all these books then be warned, I spoil plots sometimes.

Godland #12
Well that was certainly an ending wasn’t it? Again, I can’t say enough good things about this comic. It’s the perfect blend of old-school for a modern audience. It’s groovy cosmic fun. I’ll miss it while it’s on hiatus, but I’m thankful the creators had the decency to tell us in advance that there would be a delay instead of just letting us wait blindly like, say, Ultimate Hulk v. Wolverine. I love everything from the dialogue to the bright colours to the fantastic layouts in this issue. Heck, I feel like Lady Liberty on the cover and will shed a tear for this time away from Godland.
I rate this comic: A very satisfying cliff-hanger of an ending with enough fun to make up for anything you didn’t like this month.

JLA: Classified #25
Okay, so that ended. I liked the whole Royal Flush Gang using Tarot cards and the fortune telling bit was quite clever. But all in all I don’t really know why I kept buying this story. Oh well. I should have stuck with Green Lantern Corps I guess. And the previews show that this is the series where the JLA can’t interfere in global matters, it’s like the theme of the classified series I guess.
I rate this story: A decent Vibe moment in the end.

52 Week 12
Okay Montoya and The Question is still an intriguing mystery. Black Adam’s story is quite fascinating as well although that repeated dialogue from his woman friend would be a little annoying – it was bound to happen wasn’t it. Forget the broken elbow cast, this doubly placed dialogue is a bit of gaff. Still I’m not more than curious about the whole scarab symbolism no doubt about to connect Isis to the Blue Beetle. Crazy Billy is a grand idea but the whole Elongated Man sequence seems a bit, well, silly. I’d be a bit pissed if some alien teenager robbed me of my dead wife’s clothes and wedding ring for a “trial run” at resurrecting someone. And in two pages Mark Waid and Adam Hughes make me forget about the History of the DCU.
I rate this story: A decent advance in 52 with great character moments and interesting setups.

Batman #655
I thought the relaunch and Dini’s Detective story were good. This improves on all the goodness that has been happening to Batman and Bruce Wayne of late. Morrison has hit his stride with recompressing his storytelling. Oddly he manages to hit to the core of Batman in a manner that feels as fresh as his take on the laid back Superman in ASS. He’s trying to have fun and learn to be a regular guy again but of course there’s the international mystery involving the daughter of a more or less undying eco-terrorist who discovered his identity and seems to have Bruce’s son and an army of ninja-man-bats. Plus there’s a crowd shot of Bono and a Godzilla like creature in formaldehyde which are the attentions to detail that make a good story great.
I rate this story: Improving on an already improved longstanding character.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy on Earth

This was a definite change of pace for me. I first came across Chris Ware’s ACME Novelty Library with Quimby Mouse during my first ever visit to Ottawa back in 1998, I believe. This was a time I was flirting with indy comics and had a genuine conceit that black and white, independent or manga was “better” than that corporate bullshit. And at some point a friend gave me a copy of Jimmy Corrigan for Christmas. It was the sequence in the story that takes place in a restaurant where Jimmy tries to call his mother without his father finding out. I remember it as clean and a fantastic visual but a bit bleak.

Then I sat down and read this collected version. I had no idea how bleak it would get. This isn’t a bad thing, the story is completely captivating but it is definitely bleak. It should be and it should invoke those feelings in the reader as it helps connect us to the protagonist who is basically paralyzed by his neuroses of trying to fit in.

This is a stream of consciousness story structure which took me a little while to get used to. I wasn’t sure if I could read the whole thing as I was having trouble adapting to the flow of the narrative and the layout. Once you start to get the hang of it and get over the hump of adapting to the fascinatingly mundane story it grows into directions you didn’t see coming. Oddly the World’s Columbian Fair in Chicago is becoming a setting for a lot of my reading – this book and the story of America’s first serial killer. But for the general flow it tends to focus on the aspects of life we experience when we’re trying not to focus on anything.

We get sound effects for shutting doors, shuffling feet or the air exhaling from vinyl chairs. The gaze of the reader is focused on everything but the face of secondary characters. We see the main characters but never anyone else face on. Jimmy doesn’t look them in the face and we’re not given that comfort either. This process further enhances the uncomfortable nature of the protagonist. We’re not given the regular parts of a comic to focus on – characters, dialogue and loud noises. We’re given the soft noises, characters who cough, clear their throats, swallow, shuffle and gently shut doors.

The art is presented in block colours that are generally toned down. We’re given mood through the clear and clean colouring. Along with these tonal variations everything has an extremely clean line. The artwork has a classic look to it but is almost architectural in some ways. Everything feels measured and precise all the time being new and modern with a sense of history to it. And seeing as the story is about a few generations of the same family that is a great way to present it. And the panel layout on landscape formatted pages allows for flights of fancy as the characters dream, since we’re already reading in a oddly whimsical manner.

And finally interspersed between everything are the Easter eggs. I don’t know what else to call the various cut outs and construction projects throughout the book. You can essentially create play things out of the mundane lives of these characters. Again the presentation is extremely new and original while feeling like they are very old. Unfortunately, I feel that Chris Ware is to a lot of comic creators what Alan Moore was to those previously. Whereas Moore’s Watchmen essentially ushered in the whole grim and gritty superhero story that was attempted to various degrees of success since, Chris Ware has essentially made art out of the extremely commonplace. Attempting to make art of the commonplace has been attempted a lot since Jimmy Corrigan came on the scene and has had various degrees of success. I know I’ve read a lot of nice looking comics that were essentially pointless but this collections doesn’t seem to fall to the traps that others have. I wish I could verbalize exactly what those traps are a bit better for you but I’m sure you too can recognize them when you experience them. I think a lot of it is that this collection is precisely that. We are given here a longer more comprehensive story instead of a slice of life. A slice of life on its own can feel extremely empty but counter posing slices against one another can help create meaning instead of trying to attach meaning where there is none. The collection finds meaning in how the slices are collected but a slice on its own has nothing to which it can be compared.

Got it? Good. If you haven’t read any Chris Ware yet, then give it a try. It’ll be like nothing else you’ve read. It’s captivating and beautiful but you may want to have a solid drink when you’re done to rinse down the gobs of depressed anxiety that you’ll experience reading this.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Words and Images - Flight and Gangland

Just when I was getting down on the semi-corporate blogs, one of them had to go and impress the hell out me with a great post on representing heroes and social paradigm shifts. Greg does a great job here.

And there was a comic thing in San Diego that a lot of other comic based sites covered.

Plus I can't seem to upload images anymore so this site is looking rather text-heavy these days. Nobody seems to be complaining though.


Words and Images

Two of the first books I got from the library were compilations – Flight Vol. 1 and Gangland. I’d heard a lot of good things about Flight and Gangland just sort of caught my eye so I picked it up.

What did I think of them? Both had their strengths and weaknesses but the one I liked the least on first read has stayed with me the longest and I think I appreciate what was attempted a lot more. I’m, of course, talking about Flight. It’s been said many times before on the comiblognet by others better versed in comics than I, that Flight is really a great experiment. The artwork is simply fantastic but the stories are completely hit or miss. Actually, that’s being polite, some are down right boring and a waste of words, but the pictures, images and techniques more than make up for any lack of plot and dialogue.

Flight is primarily about the art and it delivers art in spades. It is a showcase for up and coming artists to present their work to us, the public. In a lot of ways, this volume reminds me of the Ottawa Animation Festival. This festival has pushed and continues to push the limits of what animation is. It’s not a festival of cartoons but of animation and any interpretation thereof. Same goes for Flight. It’s not about presenting a complete story or an action script. There’s some stream of consciousness stuff, some chapters from larger works, a couple of self-contained tales, but also a lot of imagery. It is more the graphic part of graphic storytelling.

Comics needs more collections like this. This is the cutting edge that bleeds out new and old techniques that can be used to tell stories. If nobody is pushing the limits of how to tell a graphic story the medium will dry up and die. However, if you don’t care about the cutting edge this is really not for you. This is for those readers who want to see where comics can go and may be heading. In the future we may see collage comics or ripped paper comics simply because this collection proved it is possible to use those techniques as graphic storytelling. I can’t wait to see the all cookie comic at some point.

Then there was Gangland. I don’t know what to really say about this except it takes a different approach to graphic storytelling than Flight did. It’s not a terrible collection if you like stories about horrible people doing horrible things with horrible images. I don’t mean poorly drawn, just bloody and disgusting as intended.

The stories in this collection were a lot better realized than the ones presented in Flight, however, if your not in the mood for violence the collection is sort of pointless. Still the stories do accommodate a genre and they all tend to function to their own internal logic. Whether or not you agree with that logic is a point of contention but they all have definite beginning, middle and end sequences. In the end these are more about the plot than the images, and while well done on both accounts, this really isn’t a genre defining work. I do, however, wish that more companies would work on this sort of thing because the collections would get better over time as the companies got the hang of it.

These are definitely worthy of a look, but I don’t know about actually buying either. I probably wouldn’t but that’s just me. If I had to choose, I would go for Flight especially if you’re looking for artistic inspiration. However, that being said, like the animation festival where I can only take so much abstract scratch animation to atonal music there’s only so much mundane slice of life that doesn’t really have an depth stories I can stomach. Wait until my next post when I contradict that last statement.

Friday, July 21, 2006

It’s the end of the world how I like it

I was going to do a compare and contrast of Grant Morrison works yesterday, but it obviously didn’t work out. It seems that the entire country decided to call me during my lunch hour, which I unfortunately took at my desk.

Regardless of my inability to concentrate on two things at once I did want to mention just how much I enjoyed Vimanarama. If Morrison brings this sort of recompressed approach to his work in Batman I, for one, will be a happy happy Batfan. I liked this story much more than WE3, although in quite a few ways they have a lot in common. Not so much content as form and style of story telling.

This too is a story that I thought would be longer, not that I’m complaining about its length. I just had it envisioned as a twelve part comic instead of what it was. This doesn’t make it worse just faster to read. I do think that the recompression technique used here works a bit better but the plot sort of feels like it was a TV movie edited for length. But a few jumpy transitions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of decompressed stories suffer for their penchant for going into mind numbing detail to explain why someone is doing something or where they came from and their motivation.

All motivation and characterization is here presented through the interaction of characters – as it should be in my book. The main “hero” is the hapless Ali, who is about to meet the woman his father arranged for him to marry, Sofia. He feels trapped by his family and is sort of the stock “young artist who gives his father grief unlike his more conservative brother.” He only wants to form his own destiny and feels that if it isn’t god’s doing, it’s probably his father who hates him and won’t leave him alone. Heck, he can’t even go to the afterlife without his father and brother interrupting and passing judgment on how he’s trying to accomplish anything. As I read this book a lot of the comedy reminded me of movies like East is East or Bend it Like Beckham dealing with “ethnic” England.

I felt a bit homesick for London reading this. The art manages to capture the essence of the location as much as any film could. The characters are generally sympathetic and hilarious in the way only the “English” can be. And the surreal aspects aren’t trying to be all trippy or dark but rely on an extremely bright and awesome colour pallet. The extra bright yellows, pinks, greens and whites reflect the ideas that these mystical interactions are brighter than reality as they should be. While sort of blinding these light bringing moments remind the reader that the supernatural is meant to be inspiring or pure ideas. They exist as pure light or pure colour while our world reflects those ideal forms. Same goes for the evil parts. They are darker than our version of darkness and revel in the fact that we’ve managed to make our own planet a dark, unbreatheable, artificially created mess that strives for the ideal forms of darkness.

I guess in a lot of ways the story is merging the frantic storytelling action of Silver Age comics and Bollywood movies. There’s a great two page spread of Ali on his bike with women breaking into dance behind him. The mystically high-tech underground city/prison looks like an old Indian city. There’s Buddha bubble men and an unspeaking guy who looks like a Russian doll piled upon himself and doesn’t speak.

It’s fun. It’s bright shiny, glad I read it fun. It’s kind of hard to examine something that you thoroughly enjoyed.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Grant Morrison Creature Feature

Nope I haven’t finished the Animal Man trilogy of trade paperbacks. I did manage to read WE3 borrowed from the Ottawa Public Library, my new favorite geek-out location.

WE3 was a hell of a lot shorter than I thought it would be. There was some neat visual storytelling involved, especially the escape scene, but I have to say this book didn’t hit me as a recompressed story. It wasn’t decompressed but it also wasn’t the same manic energy of the old school stories found in the Showcase collections. It was some sort of new recombination – recompression. I hope I’ve managed to coin that as a term.

It was a short story that presented a few really cool ideas and a rather simple plot. It had a couple of touching moments and some really big explosions. While the story isn’t harmed by its relatively straight ahead pace it did still feel a bit slight to me. It felt more like plot rather than an examination of anything. We’re presented with rather big ideas but then they aren’t really explored all that much. That being said, what is presented is enough to keep one thinking. I think in a lot of ways that straight ahead but somewhat shallow surface exploration of big ideas reflects a the contradictions that are at the heart of the story.

It’s a story about cute and cuddly animals who are killing machines. They can talk and want to go home, but they explode, get hurt and hurt a lot of things. They draw us in but they also repulse us. We can see the attraction but also the repulsion of their existence. Most characters have a similar struggle going on in them – they try to be nice but cause a lot of death or they’re the unfeeling scientist who lets the pets live in the end. The art is realistic one moment then stylized the next. It’s equally cute and disgusting, or disgustingly cute if you enjoy puns.

I did appreciate the exploration of “smart” weapons and the reemergence of animal testing as a part of “bettering” society. We are living in a time when war is becoming an ever more distancing activity as we develop warmongering technology. War used to be fought face to face, then trench to trench and now it’s done over miles. The distance increases as the weapons get smarter. You can now simply be a pilot. Pilots only press buttons, the missiles find the targets and do the killing. It’s easier now to remove yourself from horrible actions but the potential for catastrophe is that much greater the more you remove people from their actions. Yes, the pilot is safer, but if he presses the button and the missile hits his allies he can’t stop it. The weapon does the work and not the person.

These animals, the WE3, are sort of the next step. They’re a hybrid of weapon and brain. They are the evolution of the smart weapon in that they have animal brains. However they still mostly function on instinct and the conscience and decision making is still left to the human scientists who are even further removed from the destruction in this case. In this story, the scientists just make cybernetic suits or train animals, they don’t even push buttons, but in the ends they are the ones responsible. It is more tragic when they make the connections and realize the effects of their disconnected actions.

If anything, Morrison manages to un-cool cyborgs with this story. I think he’s dead on for predicting where, why and how cyborgs get developed. It’s not a pretty picture no matter how much you want it to be.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 19 July 2006

52 Week 11
Okay the Ralph Dibny aspect seems to be ignored but is also a generally creepy mystery. The Renee Montoya and Question segment is a fantastic Batman, er, Bat-Woman story. They piece together some information, there’s some random were-animals and the snake lady, then BAM! Bat-Woman starts kicking gorilla ass. It’s the forties all over again.
I rate this comic: A decent intro for Bat-Woman.

Aquaman #43
Best opening page ever. Ever! This was a text heavy issue as the new Aquaman discusses his situation with Vulko and we’re given a bit more of the connection between him and the original. I felt this issue was chalk full of exposition and sets up some action in the next issue quite well. I’m actually quite taken by the mystery and I’m enjoying where this story is headed, and how it’s heading there. I do have to say that the dialogue was a bit confusing a couple of times but that might just be because I didn’t take any cold medication today and I’m quite stuffed up and dizzy.
I rate this comic: Engaging and intriguing enough to keep me on the series.

Battle For Bludhaven #6
Apparently this was all just a prelude for Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. I’ll not be buying that so as a conclusion to this series I was left a little let down. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this series since it began but I realized with the last issue and about half way through this one that there was no way all the loose ends would be tied up. It was well controlled insanity and does a good job of leading up to an intriguing ending/beginning but I don’t particularly want to jump on board a new series to see how this story “ends.” I am happy they destroyed Bludhaven though, there really wasn’t any way to make that place cool so just get rid of it. That’s quite ballsy. I am a little tired of the hero being pushed to the limit and having an extremely rash and overly dangerous temper tantrum. And Cpt. Atom’s armour is, well, not as cool as his regular get-up.
I rate this comic: A non-ending to a decent series.

Last week's stuff.

52 Week 10
This one is from last week but I didn’t post anything then. Clark Kent is pretty damned awesome in this issue but I’m sort of blasé about Super-Nova. I actually like where the whole Black Adam storyline is going although some name captions would have helped with the villains. I recognized August General in Iron from a previous issue and the Rocket Red Brigade but I have no idea who the rest are. Is that a female version of Copper-Head or is she like Dr. Medusa or something? And is that Dr. Strange? Still, I know a lot of folks are down on this series but I continue to appreciate it.
I rate this comic: Still worth the money week in and week out.

DMZ #9
This story arc is by far a high water mark for this series so far. Matty is equally engaging and paranoid in this one. He messes up as much as he learns but at least he’s developing as a person adapting to his situation. Plus his neighbour is a wonderfully mysterious “more-than-he-appears” character that feels like he’d be at home in Blade Runner or something along those lines.
I rate this comic: Setting a better standard for this series during this arc.

JLA: Classified #24
Okay I ended up buying this one on Monday when I went for a haircut since I had nothing to read and Green Lantern Corps was sold out. Sure this is a hokey return to a silly time in the JLA history and presents a lighter approach to story telling with Aquaman talking to salmon then washing himself in human blood. Read that again. AQUAMAN BATHES HIMSELF IN HUMAN BLOOD! What the fuck?! Okay, I like The Royal Flush Gang and all that, and this is a neat approach to their evolution and a decent focus on Vixen but Aquaman bathes himself in human blood.
I rate this comic: Reminiscent of a different time when comics were lighter and the heroes bathed themselves in the blood of their fallen enemies. Cripes!

Fear Agent #4
I also found this on Monday and couldn’t pass it up. Didn’t #5 come out recently? I don’t know what’s going on with this series anymore. I remember some cool old school sci-fi robots in the last issue I had and they seem to be back here but who the hell are the green barbarians? I have to go read the other issues because I was quite lost.
I rate this comic: Still good but does anyone know what the schedule is?

Library Treasures

In which I update a bit on where I've been and then talk about Rick Geary's Treasury of Victorian Murder, The Borden Tragedy, The Fatal Bullet and The Beast of Chicago. And I've tried to upload images, and Blogger says it's done but nothing appears so you're out of luck to see the covers here. I suggest looking through NBM's website and here and here for Geary's stuff.

- - - - -

Well I think the hiatus is over although I’ve managed to get a sinus cold in the middle of a heatwave. It’s mid to high thirties all the time which is the low hundreds for you non-metric people. Anyway, it’s disgustingly humid out and I love central air.

In between going to Bluesfest and discovering a wide array of new music and seeing some old favourites (Wilco was amazing live by the way, if you get a chance you should definitely go) I managed to discover the Ottawa Public Library and their Graphic Novel collection. Since this city got amalgamated all the regional libraries are connected and you can request books from any of the cities libraries, they get sent to your branch and you can drop them off at any location you like. And you can do most of this stuff online as well as keeping your own list of books you’re planning to borrow. But enough of that.

I picked up a few of the books in Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series. I believe I heard about them a while back as they seemed familiar or James Sime mentioned them on the Isotope website or something.

Needless to say I was captivated by these books. It was a nice break from the capes, cowls, and cleavage of the superhero books I gravitate towards in my spending habits. In a lot of ways it was a nice escape from the routine I’ve created for myself.

The presentation of the Treasury is one of the first things I noticed and was drawn to. The format is smaller than the regular sized comic book page and similar to the proportions of the Bone: One Volume Edition. And this format along with how the story is presented is all reminiscent of grade school history books, or books that presented “true” history to younger readers. In a lot of ways it tricks you into learning something, even if it’s not pure history and sort of trivial or sensational history. As I read them I made sure to remember these titles in case someone ever mentioned to me that they had a son who wasn’t interested in reading. These are great books for boys as they’re not fictional and they’ve got dark content. For some reason a lot of boys tend to be drawn towards the blood and guts type of stories at a certain age if they’re reading anything at all. Stephen King sells gangbusters for a reason.

The black and white artwork manages to invoke a sense of history into the presentation. There is a focus on line work and crosshatching (although I don’t think it’s actually crosshatching but a lot of lines in one direction that is used to the same effect as crosshatching is – please let me know if this process has a name) with simple faces focusing on the spirit and look of the people involved. These are representations of the people involved but without the exaggeration of caricature. You won’t mistake Geary’s style for photo-realism but his characters look like their real life counterparts.

This drawing technique is echoed through the documentary-like style of the presentation. There are a lot of moments presented that are essentially photos with disembodied narration. And throughout each book there are a lot of over the shoulder shots as if the audience is following the players around and recording the action. This helps focus the audience’s attention on the era and the surroundings of the players as much as on the player’s and his or her actions. This expanded focus is one of the strengths of these collections.

As much as these books follow a specific plot with specific characters such as Lizzie Border, President Garfield and his assassin or H. H. Holmes, the books also present asides on what is happening around the characters. There are cross-sections of prototype air-conditioners used to keep James Garfield comfortable during a summer heat-wave after he was shot. There are blueprint style drawings of the Borden house or H. H. Holmes’ Castle. This taps into the feeling of learning something about the time and not just reading a murder mystery.

Each story isn’t presented in precisely the same manner. For instance, The Fatal Bullet takes a parallel approach to structuring the plot. It follows the lives of James Garfield and his assassin Charles Guiteau. There are a lot of striking parallels to be made and it’s fascinating to see how one man went on to great success, sometimes despite himself, and the other fell into a solitary mess of madness and insanity. The Border Tragedy is presented as if it’s told to you by a nosey neighbour, and while it sometimes forgets that style it does work most of the time. It’s a great way to capture the sense of a small town murder that has become legend. The Beast of Chicago presents the story of H. H. Holmes as if it were a newsreel. It follows his career and his twisted opportunism connected to the throngs of people coming to Chicago’s World Fair. I read this before going to bed and was really really creeped out by the story. It’s one thing to read and watch the X-Men fight giant spiked pinballs in Arcade’s Muderworld, it’s another to see the blueprints to The Castle guesthouse built by H. H. Holmes to murder and mutilate countless victims. I never knew such a place existed outside of fiction and the mere fact that it does is shocking enough to disturb me.

Honestly, forget about zombies and horror books for a little while and track down The Beast of Chicago if you want real scares that won’t be easily forgotten.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Random thoughts for Tuesday

Ghost Rider would be much cooler if he had a white motorcycle with a horse's skull strapped to the front and his bike had a horse skeleton motif. I’d hear Johnny Cash whenever I saw that.

The Phantom Lady actually has a figure. Sure, she’s still cheesecake but at least she isn’t a waif in the new solicits. Look at her thighs… (Okay that’s the saddest thing I ever wrote here, I promise not to do that anymore).

I’d like to see Dick Grayson and Tim Drake invite the Teen Titans over to Wayne Manor for a pool party and drinks when Bruce is away on business. I would if I had access to that place if only to hook up an X-box 360 to the big screen on the Bat-Computer.

I think there should be a black and white issue of Birds of Prey called Birds of Grey. It could be about a blizzard or something.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wonder Twins Powers, Activate!

In the hopes that someone reading this is living in the Chicago area, please note that Gescheidle gallery is currently hosting Wonder Twins Powers, Activate! To take directly from the text in that link "This exhibit includes selected artists from across the globe who experiment in all media to create works that are aesthetically charged, and reference symmetry and metamorphosis. All the artists explore double troubles, science fiction, fantasy, blurred realities and inner visions. " There is even an online preview here.

And all this time you thought Wendy and Marvin we sort of lame, and at best the Teen Titans' house sitters. Finally someone has discovered the deeper meaning where none was assumed. I hope next year they do something based around the theme "Super Friends" or at least Aquaman's seahorse.

I totally ripped all this information off from the much cooler, Coolhunting. With a name like that you know it's much cooler than this site.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What today is.

July 13th is Embrace Your Geekiness Day. Just thought you all should know.

I think having a blog dedicated to comic books qualifies.

I did buy 52 and DMZ but I'm on hiatus so not posting. Dropped Green Lantern Corps and JLA: Classified. I'm busy listening to a lot of live music and falling in love with the library. Today I returned the Treasury of Victorian Murder - post upcoming - and picked up, Flight Vol. 1, Blankets, the massive Jimmy Corrigan collection, In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot, and Gangland. I believe the library system will let me begin my exploration of manga. It is free so it is less intimidating to take risks. I'll take suggestions by the way.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Still hiatusing

I should really go on hiatus more often. I’m still not fully back since Bluesfest is still going on. However, I just wanted to say that someone got a library card and is really enthusiastic about it!

Recently a lot of people in my life were talking about how great the public library system was in Ottawa. You could rent movies and request stuff from any of the amalgamated city libraries online and even renew your books online. What really made me curious was one friend who showed me the Zombie survival guide he got from the library. So I checked it out online and said to myself “Self, if they have Swamp Thing you’re going to get a library card.” They had Swamp Thing, although not the Alan Moore stuff which I wanted but I wasn’t specific so I went anyway.

Well I requested a bunch of stuff online but the real treasure was seeing their actual “Graphic Novel” section at the branch I can easily get to at lunch. The English selection was sparse but the rest of it was absolutely jammed full of Bandes Designes. I didn’t pick up any BD because I don’t have the energy to dedicate to reading with a French-English dictionary. Yes, even though I know French I haven’t exactly used it a lot in the last decade or so. So I’m a bit rusty. Still, this looks to be a great way to spend the winter months – cozy up to some Marshal Blueberry and hundreds of books I’ve not seen since my visit to France.

I did manage to pick up some English books. I took home WE3 and a bunch of Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series. I managed to read WE3 and two of the Geary books. I don’t know what to say at this moment but something will come of it shortly perhaps. I liked a lot of the ideas in WE3 and the relatively compressed story but I wasn’t completely enthralled or captivated. I appreciated it but I didn’t love it.

I also read the Treasury of Victorian Murder and The Fatal Bullet about the assassination of President Garfield. Sitting at home now are The Borden Tragedy and The Beast of Chicago both by Geary in the VicMur style. Again, I don’t have much to say about them right now except his style reminds me a lot of my friend Brian’s.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Music thoughts - and yes it relates to comics

On Saturday I saw a lot of good music. One of my favourite moments ever in Ottawa was seeing Brazilian Girls on a Saturday afternoon singing to a crowd of middle aged people in lawn chairs "Pussy pussy pussy marijuana!" Then trying to get all the guys to shout, I need one, I need one and all the women to shout, I got one, I got one! It was hundreds of older people looking on in wide eyed abject horror as their children rocked out to the German woman in a sexy Clockwork Orange style stage get-up. Other favourites were Great Lake Swimmers, Jason Colett and Feist. Friday night I saw Seu Jorge from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Broken Social Scene. I think summer officially starts for me when I see Broken Social Scene at an outdoor concert.

So this got me thinking a little bit about comic book blogs, as summer concerts tend to...

Basically I find myself less inclined to spend time reading the newly sponsored blogs. Has the content changed? Maybe not but my perception of it certainly has. I don't want to begrudge anyone their success, I think they should take what they can get and cash the cheques to continue their hobby. But under it all I'm still a punk kid at heart and I hear a subconscious voice in my skull screaming "Sellout!"

I kind of feel like this is the Jim Guthrie movement of blogs. For those of you that don't know the story (it might just be that the commercials play in Canada only), this guy is an "alternative" or "indy" artist who released a song for a bank before it was on an album. He's now being touted by the business sections of newspapers and magazines as proof that independent musicians want to cozy up to big money. When really it just alienates anyone who was predisposed to the charm of an independent artist, who created for the sake of creation.

I remember a big stink when Bob Dylan's The Times They are A'Changin' was used in a bank commercial. It was one of those end of civilization moments for a certain generation who now tout selling out as a virtue. It's okay for the people they look up to to "keep it real" but their children shouldn't learn that lesson. Yes I'm trying to use clichéd speech to make my point.

I'm wondering how many people have experienced the wisdom of Bill Hicks. To paraphrase him "When were banality and selling out to the highest bidder good examples to set for our children?"

I know I had issues with Search and Destroy being used by Nike, even if the commercial was pretty awesome. And now I'm hearing Iggy Pop songs to sell cruises and flowers and Blondie to sell dusting clothes. Yeah I know that these artists probably don't actually own the rights to their songs (I'm not about to do research or anything valid here), but it's still disconcerting. Although hearing Lust for Life, a song about male prostitutes who "hypnotize chickens" selling cruises, is kind of funny whether or not the irony was intentional.

So yeah, the content might not be any different in quality, and they might be doing well for themselves but I find myself less inclined to visit sponsored sights. If I wanted editorially mandated content I'd buy magazines or newspapers or watch television. If I want content straight from the creators head filtered (sometimes poorly like this post) through a keyboard onto the net I'll go to the blogs that keep their own. But that's just me and I can post whatever I like here.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bonus Friday Post

Detective Comics #821

I’m glad I picked this up. While Robinson’s Batman/Detective crossover helped reinvigorate the whole Batman concept, Dini’s first issue of Detective is really a return to form for, not just Batman the character, but the actual comic itself. This issue is a done in one caper that, shockingly, highlights Bruce Wayne’s ability as a detective. There’s a neat throwaway villain reminiscent of the old time villains who were meant to appear in one caper then disappear forever. Modern comics seem to be plunging into the recycling fad a bit too much these days – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Façade has a neat shtick and serves the caper well. If I never see him again that’s fine but he does have potential as a Gotham based villain who should probably go up against The Question at some point.

I rate this comic: A true return to form for Detective Comics.

Damn you Paul Dini

So as the reviews start to pour in I'm more and more tempted to get this week's Detective Comics. I've loved Dini's Animated Series work and was sorely tempted to get this but avoided it because I didn't want to get sucked into another long to be continued marathon. Turns out it's a single issue story and I find that simply too inviting for my poor financial management to withstand.

Review pending buying and reading.

Hiatus fest.

I am on an unofficial, unspecified hiatus while Bluesfest is in town. Also, I'm planning to cut out most comics except 52 and the next Seven Soldiers trade until October or November. Those are the only guarantees at this point anyway with a lot of solid maybes like any Batman comic, and the minis I'm in the middle of like Secret Six.

If anything brilliant strikes me I'll let you all know.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Wednesday's Loot - 5 July 2006

I've managed to reduce my pulls this week to three. I decided to give Gail Simone's Atom a miss, even after I promised to buy it and she posted here and everything. It's not for lack of interest or anything, it's a purely financial move on my part. I just can't spend as much as I have been on comics. So I also gave Detective Comics a miss this week even though I like Dini's stuff from the Animated Series. I'm going to stick with Morrison's Batman for my fix of the caped crusader. It was a tough call. I guess my mind has changed a bit on a few things. Like jumping on points are just as easily jumping off points, unfortunately. Basically this financial situation I'm in is the same reason why I haven't picked up Manhunter or X-Factor yet even though I'm thoroughly interested in both. I guess they'll completely depend on which week I buy them.

On to the corporate whoredom:

Last Planet Standing #5
Wow that was all kinds of fun. There’s a big goofy ending that I kind of like, merging two cosmic beings into a creation of hope and rebirth. The only thing I wished there was more of is Thor hitting things with his hammer. This was a fabulous series that is completely self-contained, pounds upon pounds of fun, some great character pieces and a satisfying ending. All that and it came out pretty much instantaneously for a comic these days. There’s a reason this is my only Marvel purchase of late.
I rate this story: How I want more mini-series, not all, just more.

Secret Six #2
More focus on some villainous villains here. They hit the torture beat and then there’s the Pulp Fiction type of “humour” throughout. They’re nasty and mean but they’re still people. Noble deeds done ignobly, or something like that. The only things I wasn’t huge on was the whole lesbian bondage monologue. But I’m into neither so that might just be why. It seemed a bit extraneous.
I rate this story: A story about villainous villains who are willing to cut out your heart of gold and make sarcastic comments to you before you hit the floor dead.

52 Week 9
The newly resurrected zombie Batwoman makes a costumed appearance in one of the best issues of 52 yet. This one had some smackdown action between Steel and his daughter with Luthor being the evil plotting villain that he is. The lost in space heroes’ situation is explored a bit more with some decent foreboding action on that front. And then we’re treated to some great moments between The Question and Renee Montoya, with both of them dressed down for the sultry Gotham summer nights. I think they got rid of Batwoman’s high-heels from the last image.
I rate this story: A few moments we’ve been waiting for.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Modern Post Modern – The Sequel.

This time it’s genres! Um, sort of.

So I don’t have much more to add to my tirade of last week other than this. When DC had its last big major universe crushing event it did so in a new manner. Shocking, yes, but true. Unlike Marel’s current event and previous DC events, the lead up to Infinite Crisis was split into genres rather than a build up in all the titles. Yes there was still a build up in all the titles, there always is and always will be but DC went beyond that and tried to approach its own universe not only through its characters and proven titles but through four corners of the DCU which more or less match up to genres.

This is not a new approach for a commercial print house. Any publisher markets books under different genres but the big two comic companies tend to shy away from this. The four lead up mini-series focused almost directly on them. There was the magic section, the space section, the spy thriller section (aka crappy Omacs) and the villainous or noir section. I don’t think these series are the paragons of genre storytelling but other than their lead up to Infinite Crisis they serve little other purpose than to show that these corners of the DCU exist, and they have writers who can handle it.

Now the end success of each mini-series is not what I’m questioning. If you want to make fun of their quality or value go right ahead it doesn’t insult me. What I find interesting is that it’s not so much about the characters but the genres here. DC staked its claim to this during a big crossover instead of letting it happen naturally. I think it was their attempt to see if they could divvy up the company into a genre publisher. Let’s face it they have westerns, war stories, sword and sorcery and any number of other genre fictions happening and doing well right now. This is growth in the right direction.

The focus isn’t on, you like hero X, buy more books where hero X shows up or is the star. Marvel has cornered the market on that and does it better than anyone else. I’m glad DC didn’t try to go toe-to-toe with Marvel on that. Last time I said Marvel focuses on one thing first and foremost (mostly art) like big poses or moments. What they also do very well is focus on characters. Look at their current event comics. There’s Annihilation which is their exploration of Marvel’s Sci-fi stock of characters. They don’t focus on different genres or story telling techniques found in sci-fi but on their own characters interacting and reacting to an overarching story. Their lead ups to the event all focus on individual characters instead of different corners of the bookshelf.

DC’s approach to this type of character based storytelling can be seen in their dollarama specials. The most recent was Brave New World. It’s one dollar and introduces their next generation of new and improved old fashioned characters. It’s quick and dirty so you can make up your own mind to invest your time and money in an unknown property. It can work or it can backfire horribly. How many great trailers ended up being terrible movies, and how many great movies have crap trailers? If you’re interested in the character and ready to invest the time and money into one of them, the Marvel approach works fine. If you want to know the story is good before you plug in, then you’re hoping the Marvel trade paperback program is cranking them out. Honestly I have no idea what the state of the tpb program is for any publisher since my buying habits are, well, sort of random.

I seem to recall Marvel having those introduction books for their crossover events. Can someone let me know if they did one for Annihilation and what the cost was? I’m hoping they did the four intros for a buck thing, I think it’s a solid idea that wins over a skeptical fanbase that is inherently skeptical of everything nowadays.

So this isn’t very coherent or anything but I just wanted to say that DC appears to be exploring genre storytelling a bit more overtly than Marvel. Marvel continues to focus on characters first and foremost and connecting its characters to a larger universe wide story. DC shows its universe and presents that first, event through its characters. DC shows a universe where a hard drinking, hard smoking chimp dressed like Sherlock Holmes lives down the street from The Creeper. Marvel shows us Nova and unmasked Spider-Man and forces them to occupy a shared space, or tries to make them take part in a shared universe because Wolverine shows up in both. Sorry that was a low blow.

I’m not saying DC doesn’t do characters as well as Marvel or that Marvel doesn’t do genre as well as DC. I’m seeing DC working on their foundations first, and once they are solid you can forget out them and move on to great stories that don’t really need to connect to anything else. Marvel is looking at looser story ideas that can simply involve all their characters and tell that larger story through all its characters.

Its subtle but it’s different. Both work.

Superman Returns - The Required Post

Saturday was Canada Day and I watched England lose to Portugal on penalty kicks again. But France won and that makes me happy. What, you think Cormier is an English name?

Anyway, on Sunday I saw Superman Returns. This movie made me raise my fist and shout "Yeah!" in a cinema. I loved it.