Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Eternals - Briefly

So I was reading the relaunch of The Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr when I got to the end and discovered this was only the first half/part of a bigger story. That was disappointing, even moreso than the constant shoe-horning of Iron Man and the Civil War mandated appearances. Although, having the Eternals out dickhead Tony Stark was kind of a nice touch - the did kill an eleven year-old kid afterall.

I never experienced Kirby's version so I have no reference point for comparison here, but I liked what I read which makes the random ending all the more disappointing. This is good comics that sort of ends like someone ripping a band-aid off your scraped elbow, it's just sudden and jarring and you're not too sure it was such a good idea.

Beautiful, beautiful artwork though. I could honestly just open this thing up at random and gaze at the colours on the verge of glowing themselves off the page. This book is luminescent as far as the artwork and coloring is concerned. Fantastic pairing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eisner on Racism and History

Reading Will Eisner’s Fagin the Jew is a bit like reading three separate stories that are related via one character. If you are thinking of writing comics and have tried to read as many writing resources as you can before putting pen to paper you will have come across the three act structure more than once I can assure you. And this story is no different, however each act feels almost detached from the previous one. Of all the Eisner stuff I have read this work feels the least structured.

The majority of what I’ve read by Eisner, outside his work on The Spirit, tends to be thematically linked works that don’t necessarily equate three acts of one story. Work like The Contract with God trilogy or New York Stories tend to share a setting or some characters to achieve their ends so their multiple arcs under one banner work in their own separate ways. In Fagin the Jew, the connection between the three arcs is one character so the difference in narrative is more pronounced.

Fagin’s early life is pure Eisner comics with a run down kid living as a refugee Jew in the unforgiving streets of London. Here he quickly learns how being streetwise is what will let him survive in a city that has nothing but contempt for him. From his father’s lessons and short life, to his apprenticeship with the accepted Jews who try to lift up their brethren by collective charity or simply by deciding to be culturally Jewish but religiously Church of England. It is a fascinating exploration of an immigrant culture at a specific time that feels timeless in many respects because of the shared history of the Diaspora.

When the story moves into the plot of Dickens’ Oliver Twist it feels like a different actor has been introduced to play Fagin. Suddenly this rather sympathetic character is forced to fit into the mold cast by Dickens and I’m not sure it is completely successful as Fagin becomes a harder personality with a few moments of warmth. It feels like he is suddenly removing himself from culpability and being entirely too selfish all of a sudden in order to fit the Dickens role, when he was entirely more accessible and slightly more gullible leading up to this point. In many ways that warmness is repressed as a reaction to his previous treatment and while understandable on an intellectual level, and upon recollection, it still feels like Eisner is trying to balance his message with the plot of Oliver Twist.

And in the final arc the message comes full circle in Oliver’s treatment of Fagin. How this man we’ve come to know and understand is so easily cast aside. His life only becomes important upon recollection and as the future generations take a more generous and accepting attitude towards one another does he become a more powerful and important figure worth remembering. And in that, I think the book is success in delivering its message even when it struggles to balance the two narratives.

Eisner’s run down artwork is the perfect presentation for this story. From the sepia tones to the fuddled lines of the characters clothes it is the perfect presentation for something meant to feel historic. And what it does is make the work feel timeless. It is next to impossible to remove Eisner’s non-Spirit work from a certain period in New York and even this story looks and feels as if it could easily be displaced there rather than Victorian England.

I’m a huge fan of Eisner’s ability to give his art emotion. From the embarrassment at their position in life to their pride and joy at other moments, every emotion looks genuine. And they look genuine even through their shabby dress because the structure of each character and panel is simply masterful, that no matter how many layers of rags are heaped upon it the natural understanding of comic book art always shines through.

This is a book worth your time both as entertainment and as something of a historical document. Just reading Eisner’s own introduction makes it something worthwhile to any student of Eisner’s and the comic book medium where Eisner confronts his own creations. He speaks of creating Ebony and how looking back at it, it is obviously racist even with all the qualities the young character portrayed and Eisner explores his relationship with the character and his later attempts to fix those errors. I have to say that I think the approach that The Spirit Archives is taking is the one Eisner would have approved of, in that these stories deserve to be read, warts and all, because they are important for their content as much as for how they recorded attitudes in a specific time and place which is lost for various reasons in the Tintin removals. Eisner is aware of what he did and he realized that apologizing wouldn't simply make it go away, so in many ways this work here is both an exploration into how his own racist portray came to be as much as it is an atonement for it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Both still good

I just read book five (or six, sorry can't recall at the moment) in The Walking Dead series and the last Runaways digest. Both are still quite good, although I don't need the torture porn in The Walking Dead, but that's because I'm not a fan of the genre. I understand that The Governor is a bad man and did horrific things but that was a bit much for me, which is odd seeing as this takes place in a zombie book where the living undead constantly evicerate or are blown away with rifles and hatchets.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

This just isn't my thing

I started to read Apparat and by the time this guy vomits into his lover's vagina I figured, I got the point of the comic and decided I had enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What, no faking dead or uppercutting?

I read Joe Kubert and Brian Azzarello's Sgt. Rock book, Between Hell and a Hard Place, and while I enjoyed it I also noticed how it differentiates from your standard Sgt. Rock story. Having the Vertigo imprint should be enough of a warning that this will not be your standard war comic. What they managed to get right are the supporting cast that Kubert developed for Sgt. Rock, from Wildman to the Ice-cream Soldier to Bull to Sure Shot the regular cast is all accounted for. What is different, at least for me, is that suddenly Easy Company is thrust into a specific battle and well, they all pretty much get wounded. I have to admit I haven’t read all that many Sgt. Rock comics but I’m pretty sure Easy Company always managed to get out relatively unscathed. Not here.

This is the fictional WWII setting but a specific battle and while that’s about as detailed as it gets, it seems to be a departure from the formula in itself. Well, the formula as I’m pretty much making it up, regardless. This isn’t a tale of bravery or survival so much as it is the tale of the battle and their role in it, heightened by a murder mystery.

There is bravery and there is bloodshed and while I think this was a good comic I don’t think it was a great Sgt. Rock comic. I expect Sgt. Rock to, at least once, play dead then sock a ratzi in the jaw (then blow up a tank with a bazooka). This was more a mixture of fact and fantasy, and it is successful in its own way. I don’t think any comic character should be limited to one type of story and this is an example of how changing the comfort zone of both characters and reader can still result in good comics. Here we get a different take on fictional soldiers in a real war setting, and it is quite moving because the story manages to make these characters feel a bit more realistic for their harshness and reluctant acceptance of their own bravery.

I think the characters, because of their setting, readily lend themselves to a more serious story. At the same time, the soldiers here don’t need to be the Sgt. Rock crew. And yet I applaud Azzarello and Kubert for tackling a more serious story with characters that were created to get kids believing in the superhuman good of American soldiers. In this story we’re given broken and detached men who seem to keep fighting despite the odds (which really isn’t all that new to Sgt. Rock comics) but they actually have more consequences here for all the established characters rather than just the new meat.

I was expecting an easy comic about the toughest man in comics beating up Nazis but what I got was a brilliant story using established fictional characters in an unexpected manner, and liking the story all the more for it. This is a prime example of making comics more serious and grim, but in a way that works for me, albeit mostly because of the setting.

Friday, November 16, 2007

This Comic is Good

All-Star Superman #9. Superman returns to Earth only to find a couple of Kryptonian astronauts have taken up his role only as in true Kryptonian style they decide to become petty tyrants. From their behaviour to their wonderfully alien costumes (head antennas included) they just do not seem anything like Superman. They bring a sense of hyperactive aristocracy to Earth and since they can they decide to take over and creaete New Krypton - something that happens a heck of a lot when Kryptonians other than Superman show up.

Well this Superman just doesn't stop trying to help these two even when they break the moon then stitch it up with the world's famous bridges. It's his ability to be both alien and human that rises him above the other characters here - from Clark Kent's antagonist Steve Lombard to Superman's antagonists Bar-El and Lilo. He's got the power of the aliens, which is their strength but the compassion of humans, which is their strength.

The bright colours make this feel like mainlining comic books into your system. The art is simultaneously awe inspiring, wonderfully kinetic and horribly alien and threatening. And the ending is both happy and forboding with the mini-tyrants in the Phantom Zone looking happy to take over a bunch of Kryptonian criminals but their look could be one of patience to eventually come back to trouble Superman or one of simple satisfaction because they get to do what they like (beat people into submission).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If you are ever in Toronto - 'Zine Museum Opens

Today the 'Zine Museum at the Ontario College of Art and Design is opening. It could be a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m wondering if they have any from my friend Brian – Grape Juice Plus, or another one I remember called “You Ride a Horse Rather Less Well Than Another Horse Would.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Someday, It May Actually Change

Soooooo.... Yeah. Not much content here lately. Even less than normal it seems. It's not entirely intentional, just haven't really read any comics lately and don't actually think about them all that much to be honest. I've just burned out on superhero comic cross-overs and waiting entirely too long for the non-superhero books to come out. I do have a few books at home from the library, waiting for some free time - Will Eisner's Fagan the Jew and Warren Ellis's Apparat. I had a fire drill at work last week so I went to the library and just browsed to see what was there and, well, these caught my eye.

Now, that all being said, this is probably the first week in quite a few months that I'll actually be buying new comics. The new issues of Scott Pilgrim and All Star Superman are out so I'll be picking those up. I sort of have a feeling that I missed an issue of The Spirit somewhere along the line which I'll have to double check tomorrow.

With the holidays coming up I'll likely be picking up some new trades but I'm undecided on continuing with the Hellboy, Y: The Last Man, or The Walking Dead or simply trying another series that I never read but is meant to be fantastic like Fables, Sandman or Swamp Thing. Time and money will tell.

On a lighter note, tonight is naked model night at the drawing course. That will be odd seeing as I'm the only man and person under forty/without kids there and the community theatre is rehearsing A Christmas Carol in the gym next to our room - the wall separating us is totally windows, but there are blinds. I'm just wondering if you can see silhouettes because this might get some angry letters from parents if their children see silhouettes of a naked lady while they're learning to dance as Victorian Englishmen.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jennings on Canada

I just heard CBC radio paraphrase Peter Jennings on what it means to be Canadian. He said, being Canadian is being proud to be Clark Kent rather than Superman.

I really like that.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Second in a Series

Here's the second comic book blogger I've sketched in about a minute or five. Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin. I find myself reading less and less comic book blogs these days but Mr. Sterling will always have something interesting to say, and when he doesn't there is something fun. If only more actual superhero comics were like that. So what are you doing here, go read his musings on the retail side, the industry itself or something about the death of Superman.

Marvel at my inability to capture the likeness of a human being. Next time I'll just go for something completely abstract.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Don't spank that monkey, choke the life out of him.

Yesterday I picked up Zack and Wiki: The Search for Barboros' Treasure for the Wii. It is this old-school puzzle based point and click adventure game that uses just the Wii remote and treats each screen as a puzzle to be solved. The level design is amazing and each the presentation is pretty great all around except for my problems noted below. Better yet, additional Wii remotes can be used by anyone else around as a pointer onscreen to help you out. So up to four people can be involved.

It has also gotten a lot of good reviews across pretty much every online reviewing site.

But the voice acting is truly horrendous. I wanted to strangle the magical flying monkey every single time some dialogue box appeared. Seriously, mute the system and just press the A button as much as you can until you're at the first level. Reading the dialogue and dealing with the abrassive cacaphony of character cues and noise is enough to turn a saint into a video smashing child. I was ready to chuck my Wii remote at the obnoxious characters.

It's such an unfortunate contrast because the actual gameplay is a blast and just plain fun.

So get it for cheap just get ready to hate the characters before the game actually starts.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Kids love them four coloured superheroes

Yesterday me and my wife went to see Bee Movie with some friends of ours and their 3 kids. Afterwards we hung out at their place for the evening (played some Wii, watched the hockey game) and their 3 year old twin girls told me how much they love superheroes.

One just randomly told me she loved Batman and the other girl looks up and says she loves Superman.

They're three years old so I know they've never seen a comic book and wouldn't know what to do with one if they did. What they do have are some The Batman dvds that one of the girls chose. They do recognize the images of the characters and that they're superheroes. They are presented these characters in multiple other media to the point where the kids know about the characters but don't really know anything about them other than the image.

Good thing I'm in their lives. I can create little nerds and geeks. Lovely.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Good Grief

Today on CBC Radio there will be an interview with David Michealis the author of the recent Charles Schultz biography that is getting a lot of press these days, both good reviews and concern from the Schultz family. It will be streamed live at 2pm EST but should also be available via Q:The Podcast - whenever that is made available. I haven't tried it yet so I have no idea how it works.

Following a comic book fanboy thread here's a review of The Tracey Fragments starring Ellen Page who was Kitty Pryde in the last X-men movie. I'm sure this new movie will either excite or disgust the imaginations of KP fanboys. Highway 61, Road Kill and Hardcore Logo are some of my favourite movies and I'm not overly interested in challenging movies these days but I'll probably check this out if I feel like it.