Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dipping a toe in the swamp

Okay, just wanted to check in with any lost souls shambling in a muck-encrusted way to this here site and give a very quick update. Finished reading Saga of the Swamp Thing, and will be posting something in greater detail soon (I hope). But, I wanted to get one thing out there first.

What really struck me in the first issue was the contrasting panel layouts between Swamp Thing’s story and Sunderland (or whoever the old man is in the story). Swamp Thing’s story is told in organic panels without borders that grow and merge into one-another, while the old man is presented in hard, sharp angled frames that are both slightly off kilter and confining.

Both feel slightly threatening in different ways, but a wonderful visual metaphor for what I’ve seen as a theme being established in the first few stories. The connected whole of the organic earth struggling against the conscious constructions of man.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Death of an Icon

There's something to be said about reading a much hyped comic long after the hype has died.

No, I've still not had a chance to get to that Swamp Thing trade, but I did get the Death of Captain America trade. Again, I'm just completely bowled over by Brubaker as a writer and how he's handling these editorially mandated stories. I mean talk about a clunker! And yet, you still have a generally readable item, but man, would I not want to come to this thing cold!

While there are a lot of good things here, from the great characters found in The Winter Soldier and Falcon, to the new array of retrofitted Cap villains, there is a huge millstone around the neck of this story - Civil War. I read the trades leading up to this story but not Civil War so I was okay in understanding some of the backstory and motivation. Being a former comic book blogger (reformed) and knowing the general plot of Civil War meant I knew some of the main plots even if I have no idea why Peter Parker is in the black suit. But coming in cold? Nope, this would not be very fun to read at all.

You'd still enjoy the character moments but I could barely piece together the larger picture which kept forcing itself onto the plot. There is almost no way to separate the larger Marvel Universe from the plot of the story and really, that is unfortunate. I have no problem with how the title was both updating itself and honoring its history. Kind of making all the old villains new again, so why not the same with Cap? The idea flowed well, but then we've got someone I had no idea was Tony Stark in a SHIELD outfit, and cap's corpse looking Skrullish.

Part of me just wishes I didn't know the bigger picture but then I'd be completely lost rather than kind of lost and bit disappointed at what could have been a great and timeless story. I guess this is a great example of how comics haven't really changed only rather than getting them out as fast as possible now it's getting them out while meeting some kind of mass crossover content. In both cases you do the best with what you got, only now the reader kind of needs to have a lot of money (or less scruples and a bittorrent connection, I suppose).

What Brubaker can offer is always high quality but what Marvel offers is a bit unfortunate.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hiatus in Review

Okay, looking at that last post before the extended hiatus I should report a few things. I didn't read Labyrinths of Reason or Wasteland. Much like Swamp Thing I'm a bit shocked I haven't read Wasteland yet. I'll likely pick it up when I pick up Fallout 3 for the ol' X-box 360 some day. It's a series that I was really excited for when it was announced but I couldn't get a copy in Ottawa and well, it just sort of stayed that way until the trades started coming out and I was just lazy about picking it up. Huh, funny how that always happens. I guess it means I get to savor its post-apocalyptic goodness with a fine electronic parallel. And I'm still on the waiting list for the Hellblazer trades at the library, which seems really weird to me. I had no idea that many people wanted to read John Constantine comics from the Ottawa library.

I guess we should start with the comics first hey?

Wanted. Read it before the movie and I think the changes they made were completely necessary. The comic only works as a comic and well, I don't need to be told I'm a worthless prick for not being a completely selfish asshole. Otherwise, it's a rollicking villainous adventure. Liked the movie a bit more to be honest.

Sleeper and Criminal. Reading these made me kind of depressed knowing I would never write anything this good. I read a lot of Ed Brubaker and I really thought these were fantastic crime stories. Sleeper is the comic villain equivalent of something like Good Fellas, Donnie Brasko or The Departed in that you have a hero, Holden Carver, you become a bit unsure of and you start to understand the circumstances of the bad guys. I always appreciate the skill going into making killers seem sympathetic, something the Animated Batman series did amazingly well or Pulp Fiction did to a mass audience. Yeah they're the bad guys but you feel bad for them, you can relate to them on a basic level to a point where you're reacting to them much like Holden Carver is. Criminal, is a living breathing world where crime is the one thing tying everyone's story together. It's like the shared superhero universes only with a continuity that reveals itself rather than feel forced to make sense of things that weren't meant to be tied together. And with capers and characters that rival any in this genre, there was no doubt this would be a winner with me.

Scott Pilgim Gets it Together. It took me a long time to finally get this book. I did. I read it. I was slightly less charmed by it this time. I don't really know why because it's still great comics but I almost feel a bit too out of touch with the youth ethos in it as I get less lost in my own life.

Cpt. America – Red Menace and Winter Soldier. I can't remember the last time I ever read a Captain America comic book. These were the same solid procedurals in a superhero dressing that Brubaker presented in his other work. The more realistic based artwork really worked in these stories as it tried to humanize a symbol and bring him back to the real world. Yes, grown men in silly costumes do a lot of damage to each other and the world around them, but having things look almost real made the stories seem a bit more real as well. And that's the goal of comics isn't it, to have the art reflect the words – it works well here.

Watchmen. Just as good as the first time I read it. Actually, slightly better because you catch more of the things you missed the first time. I tried to explain it to my wife after we saw the movie preview and while it was a kooky rambling effort on my part she did consider reading it for about ten minutes after our chat. Never really understood the pirate comics until I read a few more interviews with the creators – makes sense that a world with superheroes wouldn't have superhero comics. Seeing a few more examples of how deep the metaphors run, especially visually, was a real treat. From the recurrence of clockwork mechanisms, to the marquee showing the band Crystalnache playing just before the tragedy brought onto the city's population by some self-proclaimed superior human.

Books (without pictures)

Catch-22. Great metaphor, great message, but really, I got it long before the book ended. How can you be sane in an insane situation when you have no sane option or sane action. I do understand why it's considered a great work of fiction but I also understand why people don't like it either. It can be tough to sit and read such a looping text once you understand that the characters are living their lives in the same way the text is written – reliving events over and over and feeling trapped by them only to relive them all over again when something similar happens. Perhaps the point is to get you to give up on the whole mess?

The Chrysalids. Man I love John Wyndham's writing and how his stories are considered sci-fi without any real noticeable sci-fi elements or stand-bys. I think he helped lay the foundation for the genre expectations so reading this book felt completely new to me. It's about the human condition more than anything with a few fantastical ideas thrown in there. The kids struggle for freedom only to find it in a society that is just as intolerant only in line with their abilities. Is this a reflection on the role religion plays in human society? Most likely showing how the exclusionary message of anything is not something that helps anyone except those preaching and conforming. Like the atheists say, be good for goodness sake. I'll be making a stronger effort to read more Wyndham, and really, I'd like a lot of superhero comic writers to do the same to see how you can get a message attached to a story with fantastic elements.

Blood Sucking Fiends and You Suck. These were fun and the perfect read just around Halloween. I mean having a group of late night grocery store employees called The Animals who become vampire hunters is in and of itself enough of a fun idea but throw it in with the rest of the loveable characters, and you've got a great series. Although I enjoyed the first book more.

And finally, skated into work today in a bit of a snowstorm. The canal looked like a frozen ocean with the mini-snowdrifts across the ice. Hitting them sort of slowed me down so it felt a bit more dangerous than it was. There was less than an inch of snow down but there was a solid sheet of ice down under the snow. Was listening to Gorillaz - Demon Days which was the perfect mix of creepy and fun.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not a New Year's Resolution

Hi there ten or so people that remember this was once a blog about comics. It's a new year and I got a new idea. Oh, this will still be about comics and all that but I'm not really buying weekly floppies anymore and haven't for quite some time. Nope, I've been kind of doing this random read through the history and current publications of comics in their trade paperback form or "graphic novel" format. I've not really had any desire to post online for a while then something strange happened this Christmas.

My wife bought me the first trade of Alan Mooe's Saga of the Swamp Thing. And, well, I thought it would be kind of neat to record my thoughts on this book seeing as I've never read it. Mike Sterling is shaking his head in disbelief as are most comic fans, I'd imagine. Don't feel sad, feel glad, let's see where this goes.

This isn't a resolution or anything. I'll try to post some interesting things as often as possible but I'm not going to try to create a daily blog, others do it much better than I. My only real resolution was to try and skate to work as much as possible this winter. The Rideau Canal froze on New Year's Day (although I didn't know until the 3rd because I was cocooned in my house) and I've since started skating to work. I think that makes me the most Canadian comic book blogger online right now, not that it's a contest.