Monday, March 31, 2014

Reading Comics #120 "Alan Moore is really...Norman Mailer?"

So I've been writing about Alan Moore recently.  Well, not so much about him directly, except in the instance of a review for Miracleman, but in relation to other comic book creators.  Moore's legacy understandably looms large in the medium.  He's considered the titan of all writers, and those who cherish him, which is to say a large portion of the comic book audience and literary critics in general (Time listed Watchmen as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century), hang on to his every opinion.  His opinion tends to belittle everyone else around him, by the way.  This isolating effect preserves Moore in a vacuum, and as such this is how he would like to be considered.  But maybe that's not the only way to view him.

Watchmen in particular seems the best way to approach him.  It's the story of a superhero landscape converging on a decisive moment concerning the balance of good and evil.  The character of Ozymandias has determined the only way to break the cycle of victory and defeat is to unite everyone around an imagined enemy.  (Never mind that fifteen years later the whole world did in fact unite in such a way, and then very quickly disintegrated in spectacular and alarming fashion, after 9/11.)  Very pointedly, and also quite ironically for the continuing impact of the story, the Cold War looms heavily in Watchmen even though it is only a few years from being concluded.  (It was originally published in single-issue form from 1986 to 1987.)  It's not even specifically the struggle between two superpowers that fascinates Moore but the existence of the doomsday clock, one of the famous symbols of the story, counting down the world's chances of nuclear annihilation.

I came to Watchmen years later.  The disasters I was most familiar with growing up were Challenger, Chernobyl, Exxon-Valdez, that sort of thing.  I was nine years old when the Berlin Wall came down, twenty years removed from the chance to be alive when it was constructed.  I grew up in a different kind of world.  Moore's President of the United States isn't Ronald Reagan but Richard Nixon, who at the rate he would have been going eclipsed the record FDR actually set five decades earlier.  No one ever really questions the logic of any of these decisions in Watchmen.  I think it's because the target audience was far more aware of the world Moore grew up in than I could ever have been when I knew the story only as one of the most famous and critically praised comic books ever created.

As such, for me Watchmen itself exists in a vacuum.  Except it doesn't.

I've just stumbled upon this 1970s talk show clip:

In it, literary giants Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer engage in something you would probably never even imagine as a possibility in today's world, two writers engaging in a verbal war of words.  The last time a writer was on a talk show, Oprah was castigating James Frey.  We couldn't have a Truman Capote today.  Maybe the sight of Vidal and Mailer measuring the size of each other's...finger bowls (host Dick Cavett certainly has some fun with Mailer's comments) was enough to convince everyday Americans that writers were maybe just a little too full of themselves.

The clip was enough to get me to wonder a little about Mailer, who died in 2007.  His was a name I knew, vaguely, but had never read, and I think there's a good reason for that.  Probably in the 1970s everyone in college would have read him, but he never came up in the early 2000s.  His moment had passed.  So what was his moment, exactly?  He was one of the people who tried to figure out what the 1950s were all about.  Yes, that's how far back he goes.  He was a writer who tried to make sense of the culture shift occurring during the start of the Cold War.  At the start of the doomsday clock, if you will.

This had the effect of opening the last sixty years of American history wider than anything else I've experienced in half that time.  Mailer argued that the constant threat of nuclear annihilation should have produced a definitive break in human psychology.  And it did.  Except that instead of everyone fearing that the world was going to end at any moment, the younger generations started living simply for the moment.  I guess, initiating a full decade before the Summer of Love the concept of a counterculture.  (Marlon Brando in The Wild One and, more famously, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause thank you for acknowledging this.)  If there's no guarantee of tomorrow, why live by the old rules at all?

And you know what, that's something I completely understand.  I've been observing for years how the culture around me seems to have been directly influenced by the 1960s, socially and politically.  It never even occurred to me that it wasn't that decade at all, but a decade earlier that had produced this radical shift.  And so, maybe someone like Alan Moore makes more sense than he might otherwise seem, to someone who didn't experience any of the immediate effects of the Cold War, who only read about it in history books, watched it end on TV.

His Watchmen becomes the final statement of the doomsday clock.  His attempt to put the whole thing behind him, everyone, whoever cares.  This apathy for superheroes that infuses Moore's work is another symptom of his conclusions.  Superheroes were originally relevant in WWII.  This was a time when people needed superheroes.  They almost went away completely in the 1950s.  I guess it only figures.  When they staged their comeback in the 1960s, they were permanently warped, or so it seemed.  They became much more ironic.  (Which explains all the movies that have been made recently from Marvel characters.)  Moore's apathy, his latent cynicism, is a direct response to this trend that had been developing for decades.  Do superheroes stay or do they go?  Do they even still have a point, when the real world has no one capable of magically eliminating the greatest threat mankind has ever faced?

It's not Moore but Mailer who first addressed this.  Mailer didn't do it with superheroes.  But Moore's concluding thoughts from that era, they become so much easier to understand.  Today they're on the verge of losing all sense.  Watchmen will be remembered as a statement on superheroes.  But its deeper connection, its historical resonance, may be lost, if fans continue to listen to Moore himself, who long ago began a different kind of battle, one that, well, looks a lot like Mailer matching wits with Gore Vidal.

So maybe there's more to Watchmen than I once believed.  Not the clever symmetry in the art.  Not the dawn of the age of the adult reader.  There's a point to the fear Ozymandias represents, the fear of something so great it must be combated with something even more grotesque.  This is a story of morality, not superheroes.  And has everything to do with nuclear annihilation, but not a doomsday clock.  It's a war of cultures.

So maybe I need to read Norman Mailer.  Maybe Alan Moore doesn't really matter without the context of Mailer.  Then, and perhaps only then, will I truly be able to reconcile the monstrous ego of Moore, to find out what he's really trying to protect.  The kind of innocence his Rorschach dedicated a savage career to avenging, perhaps.

And perhaps, just perhaps, I'm struggling with these thoughts now because of another game of brinkmanship, once again taking place between America and Russia.  But we've learned from the past.  Right?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#12 "American Barbarian"

American Barbarian #1
From 2013.

Well, here's another great comiXology find.  I've been talking recently about creators like Alan Moore, Mark Waid, and Jack Kirby, how I see them comparing to each other.  By sheer coincidence, I end up reading a comic from a Kirby disciple soon after.  And Tom Scioli is proving my point all over again.  Out of those three, it's The King whose legacy rightfully will continue to loom largest.

Scioli has just completed Godland with Joe Casey over at Image, which I've never read but found obviously at least influenced by Kirby.  But as it turns out, it's probably safe to say that Scioli is definitely inspired by Kirby.  So I'll have to read me some Godland at some point.  (Not to mention read more Kirby.)

American Barbarian evokes Kirby material like Kamandi, the so-called Last Boy on Earth.  It's a futuristic landscape that actually strongly evokes Beowulf, with a father charged with extending a family legacy of guardianship over a kingdom and the seven sons who are meant to continue it.

This is a story packed with fun ideas.  It's easier and easier to see the huge debt Grant Morrison owes to Kirby (and why Final Crisis is so much more integral to his career than even diehard Morrison fans who left scratching their heads care to admit), when there are such easy comparisons to be made between Scioli and Morrison.  Both of them share Kirby's ability to synthesize material.

The other thing Scioli takes from Kirby is art style.  It's very easy to tell that Scioli is a fan just from that, which is also what made it easy to assume Godland was somehow related to Kirby appreciation.  It's the kind of style that is plainly evocative and indebted, but still unique enough to Scioli that it doesn't feel like aping or stealing.  It's what Kevin Smith used to call an homage (only, he said the word all douchy, which for the longest time had me wondering if I had it wrong myself, but no, it's totally Smith's bad), except it's more like Scioli using a template that clearly still has a lot more mileage on it to explore new stories.

It may seem familiar, whether you're thinking Kirby as much as I am, or '80s cartoons, like one Amazon critic said.  (Hey, is it possible that '80s cartoons really are another form of Kirby hero worship?)  But it's just good storytelling.

This is one I'll be reading more of, definitely.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Star Wars #0 (Dark Horse)

(via CBDB)

writer: n/a
artist: Mike Mayhew

I'm kind of a sucker for Star Wars.  I say "kind of" because like every other fan, I have my limits.  Most fans seem to have had their limits right around 1999, when the prequels began to be released.  Me, most of my limits come from the Expanded Universe material.  It's just not for me.

So that includes, as a rule, Dark Horse comics.  But rules are made to be broken.  The Star Wars breaks all of them.

The Star Wars, as you may or may not know, is based on George Lucas's original draft for the saga.  Most of the names are the same.  Virtually nothing else is.  In his original vision, Lucas kept things in an incredibly mutable state.  This is true for any creator.  It's just, when something becomes truly iconic, it can become an exercise in the bizarre to see it in any other form.

This comic has made that seem like an entirely moot point.  It's been fascinating to read.  

This particular issue is a behind-the-scenes look.  Most of the early issues already took peaks behind the curtain.  This one just happens to delve more deeply.  The whole thing's laid out: characters, designs, even a look at the demo reel that was presented to Lucas to gain his approval.

I love it.  The version of the saga as presented in this project is fascinating not just because of its quasi-familiarity, the associations that naturally spring forth while reading it, but because it really does take on a life of its own.  It follows its own logic.  

Granted, in addition to Star Wars, I'm also kind of a sucker for background information.  I like to see the nuts and bolts.  I'm one of those people who enjoys the bonus material in home video releases.  So all around, this project has been right up my wheelhouse.

Definitely including this issue.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Powerpuff Girls #2 (IDW)

(via CBDB)

writer: Troy Little
artist: Troy Little

The Powerpuff Girls was an animated series that ran from 1998-2004.  It was one of those projects that bridged the shifting fate of superheroes in pop culture in the '90s to what it became in the new millennium.  And, I think, it's been more or less forgotten.  Just another cable animated series.  I'm sure it has its fans with good memories.  I'm not dismissing it by any means.  But when it went away, it...went away.  It vanished.

So it's good to see the Girls return.  They're sickly cute superheroes.  And they have a lot more to say about superheroes than you might think.  And apparently, their adventures are pretty clever.

I don't remember seeing a lot of the cartoon.  I certainly heard a lot about it.  At the time it really was a pretty big deal.  So I was always aware of it, but I basically had no idea if it was worth the hype.  

If this comic is any indication, it absolutely is.  This particular issue was great fun and insightful, in ways I'd hardly expect from even a DC or Marvel superhero comic.  Who'd've thought?

The Girls must figure out what to do when their arch-nemesis Mojo Jojo, who is a monkey with augmented cognitive ability, is turned back into a regular monkey.  It's Futurama-level clever.  And the Girls end up enjoying their arch-nemesis, naturally, a great deal more in his altered form.

And I guess the story continues after this issue.  It's kind of enough to want me to read more.  And I wouldn't have considered myself to be in the market for a Powerpuff Girls comic.  I'm just not the target audience.

Except, maybe I am!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Miracleman #1 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Alan Moore
artist: Garry Leach

One of the things fans never thought they'd see was the return of Miracleman.

This requires a bit of explaining.  Miracleman is Marvelman, who is Captain Marvel, who is definitely not Superman.  But we have Miracleman because we couldn't have Marvelman because we couldn't have Captain Marvel, who was definitely not Superman.

And we have Miracleman thanks to Alan Moore.  Miracleman was Moore's first Superman, before "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?," before Supreme, before Tom Strong.  As far as I'm concerned, Moore seems to be typical of British creators who famously invaded American superhero comics in the '80s, but who didn't necessarily understand American superhero comics, and didn't necessarily care to understand them.

Point of evidence?  Miracleman.  

Like a lot of comic book fans, I had never read Miracleman.  I knew it was one of those seminal '80s characters, that it was part of how Moore developed his reputation.  But Miracleman was gone by the time I started actively reading comics in the '90s.  Long gone.

Miracleman became tied up, ironically and appropriately, in the same legal tape as every other...definitely not Superman version of the character.  And so he disappeared for years.  Not unlike, it would now seem, the Miracleman in Moore's stories.

So now he's back.  It's back.  Marvel has been working toward this moment for a few years now.  It started by resurrecting via reprint the old Marvelman comics, celebrating British creator Mick Anglo, as is done again in this reprint.  Anglo has become more famous than whoever it is who created Captain Marvel.  (And to further complicate matters, not the Marvel Captain Marvel.)  (Yesh.)  

In Moore's story, Miracleman has been away.  For decades.  Dude forgot he was even Miracleman to begin with.  But then he remembers.  And is definitely no longer to be mistaken for Superman.  In any way.  Like a lot of recent Supermen, he becomes the opposite of the Man of Steel.  He becomes a terror.  He becomes, well, the villain.

Moore's love of Superman stems from the Silver Age, the fun-loving Superman.  The one filled with whimsy.  That Superman hasn't existed since, well, the Silver Age.  And I think Moore was pretty upset about that.  Even though he was one of the creators who definitely made sure comics were never as a rule like that again.  Except when he later wanted them to be like that, so he wrote like that himself.  But not with Superman.  

Instead, he began the work of deconstruction.  His Miracleman is all about that.  It's about as cynical as anything Garth Ennis ever did in The Boys.  

I mean, I know what Miracleman was all about.  But it's quite another thing to be reading it for myself.  Knowing other things Moore did at the time, or even things he did after it, doesn't really prepare you for this one.  Well, maybe the callous crippling of Batgirl in The Killing Joke, a flippant twist of fate creators maintained although redeemed for decades.  

This is kind of different.  It's not bad reading.  It's, just, so cold.  So dismissive.  It doesn't seem to think superheroes make sense anymore.  As a rule.  That's the whole standpoint.  Which makes perfect sense, to some extent.

Is this really what some fans have considered one of comics' great Holy Grails?

If you excuse me, I'll be waiting for Zenith.  (Which apparently, will finally happen starting at the end of the year.  I'll be waiting with baited breath...)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reading Comics #119 "And neither one is Jack Kirby"

In the previous installment of this column, I argued about the sour turn the legacies of Alan Moore and Mark Waid are taking.  Now I'm going to continue by adding a third name to the mix: Jack Kirby.

What does Kirby have to do with Moore and Waid?  Everything.  He's everything that their careers have been missing.

Kirby was a dynamo who co-created a large majority of the comic book characters you know.  That includes basically the whole '60s Marvel landscape.  (Don't tell Stan Lee, though.  He's still convinced he's The Man.  As if that makes a difference to fans who know Kirby as The King.)

Kirby, I'm going to argue, was basically exactly like Moore and Waid.  To a certain extent.  He was a fanboy, too.  The difference is that he was already in the medium when it took off to its greatest heights.  Here I mean the creation of Superman.  As far as I'm concerned, Kirby ended up dedicating his whole career to understanding the Man of Steel.  Hence, Captain America.  What else is Steve Rogers but a regular guy who turned himself into Superman?

Again and again, Kirby would seek to conquer this obsession.  It became most prominent when he finally took control of his own destiny (as much as he could, anyway), working as both artist and writer.  I'm talking about the New Gods, of course.

What else are the New Gods but Kirby's vision of what it would be like to have a whole world of superheroes?  Or the ultimate what if? with Superman, whether in the form of Mister Miracle (the spawn of the good gods) or Orion (the spawn of the evil ones), both of whom still became iconic heroes in their own right?  In their own ways, Superman.  Exactly Superman.  And who is Darkseid but the ultimate villain, who debuted in the pages of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, and has since gone on to become arguably the most iconic and translatable foe in all of comics, going up against Superman himself on countless occasions?

The bulk of Kirby's legacy could very well be viewed in this context.  I've never seen other fans arguing this, but it seems kind of obvious when you think about it.  He really wanted to write Superman.  He basically never really did.  But he still did anyway.  And everything he touched was the better for it.

He got a lot of bad breaks.  Everything that Moore complains about, actually did happen, very blatantly, with no apologies, to Jack Kirby.  Alan Moore is no Jack Kirby.  Yes, there's no great treasure trove of accolades for Jack Kirby stories the way there is for Moore's work, no one stumbling all over themselves to make movies of his comics the way they do over Moore's (who complains bitterly each and every time, just because he can, apparently oblivious to the fact that history always remembers the repeated story best, with rare exceptions; Alan Moore, I'm sad to say, is no William Shakespeare, who incidentally also worked on repeated stories).  But Jack Kirby is still going to leave a far greater legacy than Alan Moore.

Because we're only starting to find it.  Did you notice how Argo, the movie that won the 2013 Best Picture at the Oscars, based some of its material on Kirby's work?  And not even work anyone had particularly even heard of.

That's the goal, if you work in comics.  It's not just to get your name in the credits, have a string of popular and critical successes.  Moore doesn't seem to understand that.  Waid doesn't seem to understand that.  But they long ago stopped considering themselves fans capable of adding to the canon.  They commentate all the time.  So did Kirby.  But he did so in ways Moore only approached in Watchmen, but so timidly he thinks it's a work that needs to be protected.  If Kirby had been so bashful, when he died in 1994 the only thing anyone would have said about him was "Comic Book Creator Who Jealously Guarded the Legacy of New Gods Passes Away."  And that's basically what's going to happen to Moore.  And to Waid.

Take a page from Jack Kirby, is what I'm saying.  Use that experience you had with Miracleman, with The Flash, with some of those other early, truly inspired works, and build on it.

Because years from now, people will still be talking about The King.  And rightly so.  What about you?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reading Comics #118 "Mark Waid is turning into Alan Moore"

Mark Waid is turning into Alan Moore.

Now, let me clarify that statement, as it could very easily be misconstrued.  What I mean is, the crotchety, compromised creator who was great back in his day, but is fast becoming known for material that does not reach those heights.

Moore, as you may well be aware, made his mark on such titles as Saga of the Swamp Thing, Miracleman, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke, Watchmen, From Hell.  He is justly considered one of the most seminal comic book writers ever, the leader of the '80s British Invasion and an icon who has become his own cult within the fan community.  Some fans will only take his work seriously.

Waid made his mark on The Flash and Kingdom Come.  Both are among my all-time favorite comics.  His character work was among the essential storytelling of the '90s and its earliest vanguard.

And yet, what've they done for me lately?

Moore famously broke away from mainstream comics.  He started out by working for Image rather DC or Marvel, writing Supreme, which led to his America's Best Comics line, where his Tom Strong was more or less a continuation of those stories and as such his Superman in all but name.  His most recent signature work is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen cycle.

Waid's transition has led him in a number of directions.  He has recently taken to staking his claim in Daredevil.

And that's what I really want to talk about today.  I've fired up sparks at several points around the Internet in recent months, and one of them was when I argued that Waid's Daredevil work was far inferior to what he's accomplished previously.  I made these remarks without having read the actual Daredevil material.  How can I be so presumptuous?  Because everything I've read about them has led to the same conclusion, that Waid is no longer interested in building or even reconstructing or deconstructing.  Now he's just messing around, and basically plain old destructing.

His Daredevil is a pointed departure from the Daredevil that emerged in the wake of Frank Miller's '80s work with the character.  Miller's Daredevil was basically a surrogate Batman for him, which was made all the more obvious when Miller famously and very successfully wrote Batman himself (Year One, The Dark Knight Returns).  Because Daredevil was relatively obscure, he could do whatever he wanted with the character.  So Miller turned the blind Matt Murdock into the most hapless character Marvel ever published.  And Marvel specializes in hapless characters.  So you know how epic it got, even if you personally have no idea what Miller actually did.  (Chances are you do.  Fans tend to forget that the 2003 movie was more or less a faithful adaptation of the Miller stories.  Since Ben Affleck was unpopular at that time, people tend to think the movie wasn't any good.  It was.  It remains one of the best superhero movies ever made.)

But Waid remembers a time when Daredevil's adventures weren't so grim.  So that's some of what he brought to his version.  But he's also emphasized Matt Murdock's inherent handicap.  And when I say emphasized, I mean emphasized.  I mean beat it over the head with a giant red billy club.  I mean make a caricature of it by making everything about the poor guy's life a reflection of his disadvantage.

Did I mention Matt Murdock is blind?  Blind superhero?  And because it's Marvel, he wasn't simply born blind, but had a freak accident involving weird chemicals.  So his enhanced senses, the ones any blind person develops to compensate, are the result of those chemicals.  So even though he's blind, he can still more or less see.

So he's not really blind at all.  (I loved how the movie depicted it, by the way, despite these reservations, which to the attuned ear certainly sound like mockery.  I love the echo patterns he sees.  Good stuff.)  But he's the blind superhero.  He's got a disability.  And so Waid's idea is to turn everything around him into a reflection of that.  The more I read about Waid's Daredevil, the more disturbed I am by it.

Not that it's purposefully offensive.  But it can certainly be interpreted that way.  And that's the way I view it.

(View.  Heh.)

To me, it's a direct reflection of how Waid approaches all his Marvel stories.  He's been there before.  In the '90s part of the reason people got upset about the Heroes Reborn arc is that it interrupted some of his material there.  But I still have no idea what made that stuff so special.  As far as I can tell, it was similar to what other creators had done with Steve Rogers, for example.  Just Waid going through the paces.  Not really thinking things through.

This might be fine for other creators.  For Mark Waid, this is a sin.  Because his best work is Mark Waid thinking everything through.  That's how he turned The Flash into an actual important character, not just someone whose sales were so bad in the '80s that DC allowed his series to run a single storyline for years not because it was feeling innovative but because it really didn't care about it, why the character could be killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths not to create an iconic moment but because, who cared?  The Flash was the signature character of the Silver Age.  And that's what happened to him.  And then Waid came around and made him an icon, a mythology, a franchise.

I have to explain more about Waid than Moore because most comics fans will know plenty about what Moore accomplished.

But the results are the same.  Both were creators who started out as fans.  It becomes so obvious.  Waid even did his own Miracleman with Irredeemable.  It was their heavy fan perspectives that gave rise to their best work.  And also to the career course corrections that led them away from it.

I'd say both could use a little more perspective in their work.  Which is ridiculous to say, because both Moore and Waid at their best defined comic book perspective.  But I think both of them have lost it.

And perhaps the reason is because neither has ever really actively tried to add to the comic book lore they loved so much.  They certainly defined huge portions of it.  But the closest either came to actively contributing to it was the Green Lantern planet Mogo and Bart Allen.  Everything else was a refinement, an observation.  Those make for good stories.  But later creators, such as themselves, won't really work on that so much as from that.  There's a crucial difference.  They set new benchmarks, but benchmarks are like records.  They're a line that becomes erased.

And so it amuses me when fans make a demigod out of Alan Moore, when he stopped being the vital creator worthy of that distinction decades ago.  He further exposes his limitations and hypocrisies all the time.  (LXG is exactly what you don't like to see people doing with your own stories, Alan; the only difference is that you pilfer from people who are dead; do you donate your profits, or a portion of them, to the descendants of those dead creators?  If not, then shut the hell up already, and stop destroying your legacy with your crotchety old man act.)

Waid's active supporters are exactly the same.  His legacy is not nearly as large as Moore's, but the unquestioning nature, the undemanding level of support, he enjoys, is exactly the same.  He hasn't grown a beard.  His stories haven't been adapted into numerous theatrical releases.  But his approach has become the same.  He's shitting all over his legacy.  And his admirers don't seem to notice, or care.

The part about the best work being eclipsed by others, the line shifting to embrace the best work of others who are still interested in doing their best work, I've seen it encroaching on Moore's territory for years.  His best work is very good.  It deserves its reputation.  But that reputation will diminish over time.  And that's why you don't rest on your laurels.  You may be good enough, in your own eyes, but you should never consider your own work as anything less than your own best challenge.  You're only as good as the next challenge you've tackled.

And I don't think Moore or Waid have been tackling challenges lately.  I think they've been doing much less than that.  In Waid's case, I'm actively shocked at his recent output.  So I'm going to cry foul.

Do better.  There's still plenty of time to accomplish the only aspect worth its reputation in your chosen careers.  Not what the fans say.  But what you're able to accomplish.  What you dare to dream.  Quit making excuses.  Quit doing material that's beneath you.  Or you'll find that people will agree with what you've apparently admitted.  That creatively, you're all but finished already.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#11 "After Twilight, Afterlife Inc., Allwenn: Soul & Sword"

After Twilight #1 (Nu-Classic)
From 2011.  This is, in case you were wondering, not at all related to the Stephenie Meyer vampire books.  Instead, it seems to be a liberal fever dream about a Texas religious revolt that turns the state into a despotic land with Christians being very, very bad.  Basically a bunch of ridiculous propaganda, about as "good" as Garth Ennis's similar anti-superhero comic The Boys (I'm in no way validating either one, nor placing one at the level of the other; while Ennis has considerable support among fans as an established creator who for some reason continually writes about why he can't understand superheroes, no one in After Twilight is ever going to reach that status).  The art is terrible.  You know it's an indy book because of the art.  The storytelling is disjointed, completely inelegant.  A hot mess.

Afterlife Inc. Vol. 1: Dying to Tell - Tales of the Afterlife (Jon Lock)
From 2012.  This is a graphic novel from writer Jon Lock featuring across-the-board excellent art (from Jack Tempest, Del Borovic, Will Tempest, Roy Huteson Stewart, Ash Jackson, and Gerry Gaylord).  It's Lock's vision of, well, the afterlife.  It's a collection of shorts.

There's a ton of comic book associations I can make with this one.  It's kind of like Dean Motter's Mister X.  It's kind of like Fables, if it was an anthology.  It's kind of like Atomic Robo, if Atomic Robo were an ambitious businessman in the afterlife who kind of randomly appears in a series of stories and has a tie with a life of its own like Dilbert, who has become Pointy Haired Boss.  Or Catbert.

That's also what's kind of wrong with the whole project.  It's brilliant, to a very limited extent.  One has the sense that if any one of these stories had been focused on a little more, Lock could have still done the rest of them, and they would have had much greater impact for it.  But the main character just becomes random.  His name is Jack Fortune.  It's the kind of project where the creator, in this instance Lock, makes his premise clear well outside of the stories themselves, and then thinks he can do whatever he wants in the stories.  Except he really can't.

It's not incompetent stuff, but it comes off that way.  It's incredibly professional.  Actually, it's like a demo reel for all involved.  The artists come off the best.  Lock, because he spent so little time making the stories as interesting as they are so close to being, would have come out best of all.  But Jack Fortune is nothing more than a vaguely menacing cipher.  Like After Twilight, and this is the only way these two comics are similar, Afterlife Inc. kind of flings the whole idea of religion under the bus.  It's just assumed that whatever Lock came up with stands on its own.  Except it doesn't.  Like just flinging Superman out there.  Plenty of superheroes have tried to do that.  Marvel's Sentry is one of the more spectacular recent failures in that regard.  Or all the wannabe Batmans.  The whole reason Marvel's boom happened fifty years ago was because it spent so much time developing a whole line of ripoffs.  (Don't tell them I said so!)

Read this.  But kind of expect better from any of the involved parties in the future.  Although technically, this is a pretty solid start.  If it had been released by a reasonably established indy company, it might even already have become a cult phenomenon of some kind.  Except it hasn't.  So maybe either refine or rethink for next time.

Allwenn: Soul & Sword
From 2012.  First, the only negative thing I have to say in relation to this one: I really wish comiXology listed page count for its titles.  This one's over four hundred pages long.  I had no idea.

But it's worth it.  It's big and epic and intimate and intricate.  It's the difference between overwrought and ambitious.  It's just about the best kind of fantasy there is.

And yeah, it kind of reminds me of Grant Morrison.

Specifically, Morrison's 18 Days graphic novel, which was supposed to be a preview of a movie, much like the later Dinosaurs vs. Aliens.

This one's from the mind of Jesus Vilches, who has been working on the mythology since 1988.  He eventually found a perfect collaborator in artist Javier Charro.  Apparently they've developed a tight bond.  With results like this, they really deserve that kind of relationship.

Allwenn is the hero, whose doomed love of Ariel leads him on a rampage of bloody revenge.  You've read it before.  You've never read it like this.

Vilches clearly knows his material backward and forward.  He unfolds his tale deliberately.  There are very few actual plot points the story hits, but rather visits and revisits and intensify.  You have the sense that he could very easily tell this whole thing over again, and better still.

And that is not a complaint.

It's a prose story with illustrations from Charro, evocative of the two other elements in the title, frames that are limited and repetitious, and all the more striking for it, reframed for greater emphasis.

This is exactly the sort of thing you hope to find when you're kind of wading through random material.  It's a true diamond in the rough.  And it will probably be one of the best things I read all year.  And it's only March.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hawkeye #16 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Annie Wu

I was long kind of interested in sampling Hawkeye.  It's Marvel's indy-as-mainstream comic, featuring a character who's best known as an Avenger and was even included in the cinematic universe, but was once considered expendable enough to be killed off by Brian Michael Bendis in his "Disassembled" arc, brought back in a different guise, and replaced by a teenage girl.  

Actually, the teenage girl was part of Allan Heinberg's Young Avengers.  Her name was Kate Bishop, and although she's the member of that team who got the most official sanction to carry on the legacy, she's also better known as...Kate Bishop.

To be clear, this series more regularly features the original Hawkeye, Clint Barton.  But this particular issue features Kate.  It's not really familiar storytelling to Kate fans who originally followed her in her Young Avengers days.  It's very much an indy-as-mainstream comic.  And I really liked it.

Part of that might be because Matt Fraction used the whole story to tell a version of the Beach Boys saga, a troubled musical prodigy (Brian Wilson) who has a less talented brother who becomes jealous, and their history goes from great collaboration to far less impressive results, including a lost work of genius that seems destined to be lost forever.  Now, in the real world, Wilson actually released that project (Smile!) ten years ago.  In this version, the ending is not as happy.  Which is fine.  If it leads readers to the source material anyway, all the better.

Good stuff.  Good...vibrations.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files #9

(via CBDB)

writer: Mike Costa
artist: Antonio Fuso

All things must end.  Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso have been, like Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, been collaborating since 2009, and their projects ended in 2013.  While on the surface the worlds of Oz and Cobra have nothing in common, the approach from their respective creatives team in this context could not have been more similar.  They were both genius, and understood the basic appeal and possibilities better than anyone else.

Costa and Fuso were masters of psychological warfare.  Together, they tracked the fortunes of Cobra exiles Tomax Paoli and Erika La Tene, a story that like the team of Costa and Fuso comes to an end with this issue.

Paoli and La Tene's fortunes have been in flux.  Paoli has been a prisoner of G.I. Joe, and La Tene has been struggling to prove herself as a valuable ally.  Whereas Paoli has only been pretending to help, La Tene has been on a course toward redemption.  But Paoli has been lying, and his end game involves causing his former ally to doubt whether or not she has been successful.

Last issue it was so much obvious that Costa was writing from the perspective of someone who was not necessarily writing just the characters, but a writer who was being forced to vacate a story early.  This issue, he leaves all the doubt on the table.  He ends his epic run on a note of ambiguity.  I wasn't initially sure how to interpret this, but really, it's the only appropriate end for this saga.  It remains, as it always was, a sheer work of genius.

And hopefully more readers will come to appreciate that, especially now that the whole thing has been published.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Emerald City of Oz #5 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Eric Shanower
artist: Skottie Young

They started on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 2009.  Then came The Marvelous Land of Oz, and then Ozma of Oz, and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, and Road to Oz.  "They" of course being Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, adapting L. Frank Baum's original whimsical material.  And if you never really knew Oz whimsy because all you knew about it was Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow," then these comics were a master class in Oz whimsy.  

I started taking them for granted.  Well, that became kind of easy after I stopped reading comics regularly.  I just assumed they'd continue indefinitely.  This is more possible than you'd think, since Shanower himself has been among the many would-be "royal historians" who have continued writing new Oz adventures over the years.  There are in fact eight more Oz books by Baum himself (that there was more than one at one point surprised me, but here there are six of them better represented than they have in more about a century now).  If Marvel has decided they want to stop publishing these things, maybe Shanower and Young can take their act on the road.  Or perhaps everyone's just taking a break.  Or maybe this really is the end.

Personally, I would hate to see Shanower continue without Young.  I've read some other Oz comics, and they don't come near to the right tone for a number of reasons, and one of them is the art.  Young instantly became the signature Oz artist for me.  I know opinions on him for some reason differ, but to me he's a genius.  Baum did a lot of variations on the crazy loner character, but their greatest unity came from Young's designs.

The great news is that these adaptations go out with a bang.  I don't know what else Baum could have done to complete his Oz adventures, other than continue them, because Emerald City presents a pretty definitive statement, one that I hadn't even considered until reading this issue.  

I now believe that Oz was Baum's impression of the pre-WWI world, one that still struggled to exist even into WWII.  One in which nations could still consider themselves relatively isolated from each other.  Oz could be Japan.  It could even be America.  It's the idea that the unknown, isolated land can be anything.  It's the exotic possibilities Marco Polo encountered, that allowed Jonathan Swift to send Gulliver on his travels, Odysseus to visit strange islands, the rhinoceros to become a unicorn.

It makes Baum out to be quite the clever visionary after all, not merely whimsical but strange for a reason.  The end of this story places Oz apparently forever free from outside interference.  But even Peter Pan eventually grows up.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dexter #5 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Jeff Lindsay
artist: Dalibor Talajic

I don't really understand the appeal of Dexter, the "serial killer who kills serial killers."  He's another of those anti-heroes who have proliferated in pop culture in recent years, possibly inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and in this case quite literally so, a bad guy who goes after bad guys.  We're supposed to root for him mostly because otherwise he's also another character who goes around solving crimes (even though that's not necessarily his job description).

And so there are books about him, TV shows about him, and comic books about him.  Creator Jeff Lindsay wrote this comic.  

I still don't get it.  I mean, it's all perfectly fine, and the results are competent and everything, but I still don't the character as inherently compelling.  I mean, he gets captured by the people he's trying to bring down.  Then he just slips out of his restraints.  And then serial kills.  

I would expect something more impressive from the character's creator, but then maybe because I'm already expecting to not be impressed, it's much easier

And so I leave this comic behind without higher an opinion of Dexter than when I picked it up.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Detective Comics #27 (DC)

(via CBDB)

writer: various
artist: various

The original Detective Comics #27 was released in 1939.  It immediately entered into history as the first appearance of Batman.  When the New 52 company-wide reboot in 2011, DC fans probably weren't thinking about the possibility of a unique anniversary issue suddenly becoming a real possibility.

The reboot already celebrated a soften celebration previously with #19, which was also the 900th issue in the title's history.  This particular milestone was not only much more hyped, but featured plenty of high profile material, and creators.  Funny enough, but writer John Layman is the common link between the issues, and may still be the highlight of both.

Infrequent comics scribe Brad Meltzer kicks off the festivities with his version of the very first Batman adventure, sharing the same title ("The Case of the Chemical Syndicate").  I don't know how well the two stories mirror each other.  I know Meltzer's is more a character study (with a series of statements Bruce Wayne makes as to why he's fights crime as Batman), as well as a version of the Joker's origin.  It's always fun to see Meltzer dabble in comics.  His origin effort, Identity Crisis, revitalized the whole DC landscape.  I've become a fan of him as a novelist, too, although I don't typically read thrillers of the kind of he writes.  I guess I love his ability to identify American icons and spin stories out of them.  (His Book of Lies actually involves the creation of Superman.)

The art for this segment comes from Bryan Hitch, by the way.  Hitch's legacy has turned out to be his work in the original Ultimates comics, and so he's the artist on record responsible for turning Nick Fury into Samuel L. Jackson.  He's known for photorealism, like Greg Land, a style that's sometimes criticized for appearing to come directly from traced source material.  In this effort, Hitch has relaxed those instincts.  It may signal a shift in his approach.  I don't know that it'll make him more or less popular, but it certainly shows a willingness to do something different.  

The second story comes from Gregg Hurwitz, another novelist who sometimes dabbles in comics, most recently taking over Batman: The Dark Knight.  With all due respect to Hurwitz, however, it's more significant for the art, supplied by Batman legend Neal Adams.  Adams last worked on Batman Odyssey, with his inimitable style that is a hallmark of the Silver Age.  Cleverly, however, he takes the occasion to draw not like Neal Adams, but to evoke classic Batman in general, a tale that winks at the character's more lighthearted past.  

My boy Peter J. Tomasi, whose work in Batman and Robin has constantly impressed me, writes the third segment, which is essentially the anti-Dark Knight Returns.  An aging Bruce Wayne has his Bat-family help him celebrate his birthday, and then he slips away to operate once more under the cowl, even though it kills his body to do so.  Once more taking a cue from Grant Morrison, Tomasi knows that this does not have to be a grim legacy, even though it looks nothing like the Hurwitz/Adams tale that precedes it.

Francesco Francavilla is usually associated with pulp characters, and he delivers an appropriately moody entry, minimalist and effective.

Mike W. Barr is another classic creator who makes an appearance.  Barr is responsible for a lot of Batman mythology, including the Outsiders and the idea of the liaison with Talia al Ghul that created an offspring (Son of the Demon).  In his tale, the Phantom Stranger gives Batman a glimpse of what might have been had his parents not been murdered.

John Layman comes next with the first part of his "Gothtopia" arc, which imagines what Batman's world would be like with the grim aspects completely eliminated.  I was soundly impressed with Layman after Detective 19, and so it's a real treat to see him finally receive a standout crossover of his own, even if it still won't rival Scott Snyder's continuing "Zero Year" arc in the minds of most fans.  The whole alternate reality Layman envisions is pretty awesome.  I hope to read the complete story later.

Snyder, meanwhile, rounds out the issue along with Wake collaborator Sean Murphy (who always impresses me).  And even he comes up aces.  I tend to marginalize his efforts in strict contrast to how everyone else tends to greet him, but here I think he does an excellent job.  He worries less about what he's allowed to do when he's not concerned with current continuity.  It's one reason why I look forward to exploring "Zero Year" later.  This effort is like the Batman version of Moon, a succession of Bruce Waynes creating their own legacies as Batman over the years, a clever way of extrapolating the character's 75 years and many permutations.  

Overall, a truly excellent celebration.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#10 "Krampus, 51 Serif St., The Accelerators"

Twas the Night Before Krampus (Lifesize Monster Ghost)
From 2013.  Featuring excellent pacing and narrative structure from writer Ben Avery and artist Tim Baron, Krampus reimagines two Christmas icons locked in annual combat. One of them is St. Nicholas, who here distinguishes himself from Santa Claus legend and becomes a holiday templar.  The other is Krampus, a monster and seasonally variant tradition you may have heard about.

It's not surprising to find out both have worked on Oz-related material in the past (Avery has also adapted George R.R. Martin's Hedge Knight to comics), since there are moments where the spirit of those adventures can be found, especially when Avery's elves show up and look like creations straight out of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young's adaptations.

This is a graphic novel, black and white.  It represents a couple of talents that could very easily expand further together, with future collaboration.  It reminds me a little of The Mice Templar.  This is not really a story that asks for sequels, but there is room to explore more of its mythology.

51 Serif St.
From 2013.  Horatiu Radoiu's graphic novel looks plenty moody, a real horror experience in the vein of Ben Templesmith or Dave McKean's work in Arkham Asylum.  The thing is, it's accompanied by block text (which itself is fine) that kind of drones on and on.  The text is first person narration.  That much is fine.  It's the nature of the story it relates that begs for a little logic.  Either our main character never realizes that he's been locked in an asylum or Radoiu perhaps...doesn't know the difference between a rehabilitation center and the kind of institution featured in Shutter Island.  There are a lot of deliberate choices that don't really add up here like that.  Radoiu doesn't have a strong narrative voice, nor an ear for dialogue.  Again, this would all be fine if, say, the narrator is supposed to be unreliable, but I don't think that's the case.  I think Radoiu thought he could get away with taking shortcuts.  With just one small push, this whole thing could be considered a success, a real mood piece and study in psychological terror.  Instead, the reader can see all the seams.  And that's the difference between a success and a misfire.

The Accelerators #1 (Blue Juice)
From 2013.  Crude but fairly entertaining concept comic featuring time travel.  It's the kind of story that just tosses the reader into the middle of it and hopes it makes sense.  It does, at least during the parts where the main character starts traveling with an unwitting passenger and begins explaining things.  The passenger's biggest asset to the story is in noting how pop culture has made high concepts like time traveling easier to understand.  I'd probably argue that the passenger is the character we should have been following all along.  The sequence that begins and ends the issue suggests a different story entirely, which is a little odd.  Maybe it makes perfect sense with the next installment?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#9 "Final Crisis, Pandora"

Final Crisis #1 (DC)
From 2008. Fans have long had a contentious relationship with Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, the so-called conclusion to DC's Crisis trilogy, begun with the seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985 and Infinite Crisis from 2005.  Whereas Geoff Johns made considerable efforts to tie his sequel in with the Marv Wolfman original story, featuring direct, obvious consequences, Morrison was, well, Grant Morrison.  The greatest link he includes in his extrapolation of the Monitor concept originally featured in the first story, which like most of what Morrison does is greatly expanded in complexity although following the same basic model as before.

Their unifying element concerns the DC notion of the multiverse, which the first Crisis was meant to end and the second one bring back.  Morrison's task, if anything, was to solidify the functional convenience of having different realities present in the same story framework.  There's a Superman side-story that tackles this directly, but Morrison can be more accurately said to explore this idea by integrating some of the less fanciful elements of the DC universe, if "less fanciful elements" can be said to be found among superheroes.

So he sets about his grand vision of what happens when the bad guys win.  Johns himself has recently been exploring that in the pages of Forever Evil, and Marvel has done it, too.  The key difference here, as with any Morrison effort, is the execution, all the spinning parts, the key of which is the classic concept of Jack Kirby's New Gods.

Other than Kirby himself, who originally sought to create a whole mythology and self-contained epic in his Fourth World, aside from chief villain Darkseid's nearly instantaneous appearances as a foe to Superman and the Justice League, few creators ever seemed to know what to do with the New Gods, much less the fans.  They were never popular.  They were a tricky concept, basically two worlds filled with heroes and villains, diametrically opposed.

Morrison ends these worlds and transfers the battleground to Earth.  This debut issue touches on this, as with a number of other things, such as Anthro, whom the writer links with Kirby's Kamandi as well as the classic DC immortal Vandal Savage, who has been alive since he was a caveman.  The Green Lantern Corps is used as a police force.  Villains unite.  A major hero is killed.  Some of these things have been done before, and would be done again.  But not like this.

That's always the point you have to remember when reading Morrison.  Eventually, fans considered Final Crisis to be too outlandish, too sprawling, too ambitious, too convoluted.  But reading this first issue again, I can't help but see how Morrison's typical ambition seems to have once again reached a high note.  It may almost be worth considering this story outside of continuity, as a standalone epic, something that stabs into the sandbox without limits and sees how tall he can build the sandcastle before it all topples over again.

It definitely makes me want to read the rest of the story again.

DC Comics - The New 52 FCBD Special Edition #1 (DC)
From 2012. This is probably one of the happier things I've collected from comiXology.  Free Comic Book Day is basically a geek's own holiday, one I've enjoyed celebrated over the years, but every so often, that experience is compromised, include mine in 2012, the crucial one as far as the emerging New 52 landscape was concerned.  One of the major new characters introduced by DC for the relaunch was Pandora, who was a mysterious presence lurking around the corners in the early going.  This special was going to be her first spotlight.

As with most of the the big stories from DC these days, this was written by Geoff Johns.  The funny thing, this issue is probably one of his weaker, more simplistic efforts in some respects.  Usually Johns can be counted on for snappy dialogue, but there are moments where this story reads like amateur hour.  I can't really account for that.

Otherwise, it's full of his trademark big concepts and insights into the DC universe.  It's also a tease for the "Trinity War" Justice League crossover event.  Pandora herself, although narrator, receives minimal characterization, which is perhaps why her subsequent ongoing series has really been seen as anything important by fans.  Her fellows in the Trinity of Sin, the Phantom Stranger and the Question, are obscure DC icons themselves, and come off better.  Pandora is basically the character from the Greek myth of Pandora's box.

This is not to say that the character doesn't work at all, but this was, like I said, perhaps not the best example.  The character of Cyborg receives far better work, and he's not even technically in the comic.

Still, I'm glad to have read it finally.  In greater context it probably works better, which sometimes happens in comic books.  FCBD releases are meant to entice readers into return as paying customers.  This would probably have done the trick regardless of the few missteps, and that's all that matters.  It got people engaged with the New 52 concept all over again.  That's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Deadpool: The Gauntlet #1 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Gerry Duggan, Brian Posehn
artist: Reilly Brown

You know Deadpool?  Maybe he's kind of cool after all.

Maybe he's been a joke of a joke since he originally debuted, but perhaps Deadpool is not completely irredeemable after all.  

The difference between a bad Deadpool comic (which I assume is every other Deadpool comic) and a good one (this one) is knowing about a concept known as context.  In the wrong context, Deadpool is random in word bubble after word bubble, ultimately means nothing, and his stories are instantly pointless.  Any humor to be found has no weight because the character has no depth.  He's the Merc with a Mouth.  As opposed to Spider-Man, who also spends all his time making quips.  Or Nightwing.  Or any number of other superheroes (all of Joss Whedon's Avengers, every Iron Man movie).  Deadpool doesn't stand out except that quipping is the only thing about him.  Usually.

Maybe this has happened before.  I don't know.  This comic was a free preview, and so I maintain my record of never having paid for a Deadpool comic.  But the thing is, it presents context all over the place.  The guy is playing off of a damsel he's rescued, who plays along willingly and is completely smitten...until she sees under his mask.  For no apparent reason, Deadpool is one of the rare comic book characters (Doctor Doom is another; the Phantom of the Opera is the completely unjustified classic precedent I will use to give either of them more credit than they deserve) who wears a mask for a reason.  Like the original Spawn, his face is mincemeat underneath.  Hilariously (for real this time!) the girl immediately gives up on him.

And the writing is pretty good.  There was some controversy when the series on which this comic is based, also by the team of Gerry Duggan and comedian Brian Posehn (a master of slacker deadpan), announced its creative team, which was nothing like the impressive presence creator Rob Liefeld expected for the character.  But really...besides Brian Michael Bendis (no shit, I would buy that comic), who among the current pool genuine comic book writing all-stars is capable of doing Deadpool justice?  Better to give him to a pair of comedians, especially ones who come with relatively little baggage.

It's a gamble that seems to have paid off handsomely.  (Unlike Deadpool's origin...whatever it is.)

The main foe in this story is Dracula.  Marvel loves it some vampires.  I don't know that there have ever been any good Marvel vampires stories (probably the Blade movies come closest), but the company keeps trying.  And perhaps it's Deadpool, improbably, to the rescue!

The other big draw to Duggan and Posehn's take on the character is his upcoming wedding.  Deadpool gets married???  Somehow I trust these guys to pull it off, no matter how they do it.

And maybe, just maybe, I will buy me a Deadpool comic written by someone other than Brian Michael Bendis.

Deadpool Kills Deadpool #4 (Marvel)

writer: Cullen Bunn
artist: Salva Espin

I don't get Deadpool.  There, I said it.

I mean, I get Deadpool.  He's Marvel's officially sanctioned representative of irreverence.  If you want to read a comic that takes superheroes about as seriously as every other scene in The Avengers, then this is your guy.  He's been a cult star in the making for years.  He even showed up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and was long rumored to have a spin-off of his own in the works.  

It never materialized.  

I'm going to argue that the reason was pretty clear: Deadpool means absolutely nothing except to comic book geeks, and he only means something to comic book geeks who apparently love a character who has no point except to be a complete lunatic.  In an X-Men context, he makes the least sense of all.  Tellingly, the last time the comics tried to make that happen was a long time ago, when he was inexplicably paired with Cable for years.

He would make much more sense in an Avengers context, especially one that, like a lot of recent Avengers comics, seems like it was written directly for fans of the movie.  I would read the Deadpool out of a Brian Michael Bendis Deadpool comic.  That's probably the only way I'd deliberately read a Deadpool comic.  This was, along with a number of other comics I've been writing about here recently, part of a grab bag.  I did not knowingly purchase a Deadpool comic.  Why would I?

This comic is a good reason to ask that question.  Even if I had read the three previous issues, I'm certain I still would not know the answer.  In the mind of Deadpool fans, the character is a legend.  There have been so many random Deadpool adventures in the past few years, you'd think Marvel thought so, too, but I would assume it's more a case of striking while the brand is hot.  Because once it cools, this guy will once again slip into obscurity.  Can't we just Howard the Duck him already?

Basically, like a lot of those other comics, Deadpool only exists in this story to play off other stories, because there's no story potential any writer has found yet in the character otherwise.  This is like the event book of all meaningless event books, Deadpool battling countless alternate versions of himself.  Countless Deadpools spouting countless versions of the same gibberish.

If it's supposed to be funny, I don't see the humor.

The writer is Cullen Bunn, who has for a few years now been one of the indy writers with the biggest buzz around him, thanks to his Oni series The Sixth Gun.  I haven't read it.  I never really found a compelling reason to, other than that there is constant buzz around it, and thus more work for Bunn elsewhere, like in this comic.  But if Deadpool Kills Deadpool is any indication, I don't think I've been missing anything.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Damian: Son of Batman #s 2-4 (DC)

(via CBDB)

writer/artist: Andy Kubert

Andy Kubert was the original artist for Grant Morrison's Batman run.  This means he was there at the beginning of the Damian saga.  It also apparently means that he seems to have considered his role a fairly significant one, important enough to try his hand at extending the character's legacy past his death last year in the pages of Morrison's Batman Incorporated.

This mini-series is a what-if that returns to the world of Batman #666, a future that saw Damian become Batman.  As readers became more familiar with the character, it was easy to see how different Damian would be in the role compared to his father, Bruce Wayne, and yet more similar than anyone else who has worn the cowl over the years, whether Dick Grayson or Terry McGinnis from that other future, Batman Beyond (soon to finally achieve continuity in The New 52: Futures End).  

In fact, the second issue presents a stark contrast between Damian and McGinnis, both of whom start their careers succeeding Wayne with the aged crimefighter observing them.  Where McGinnis always had Wayne's begrudging sanction, Damian most certainly doesn't.  It leads to a short-lived fight that causes Wayne to suffer a heart attack, which sidelines him for the remainder of the series.  

We witness Damian's conflicted emotions (which he struggles to admit to himself) as he consults a priest in a confessional.  It's implied that the priest is really Jim Gordon, one of Batman's oldest allies.  By the end of the issue, Damian has donned his distinctive variation of the classic Batman costume.

The third issue features Kubert's most creative conceit, Alfred (whom Damian always calls simply "Pennyworth") dying but transferring his consciousness to a cat.  It's something Morrison might have done himself (and in fact is reminiscent of his Happy!), and works well in the warped but intelligent psychology of the new Batman.

Gordon, or least the priest who appears to be him, pulls a classic Batman disappearing act on Damian, and that's one of the nice touches to the issue.

The fourth and final issue is all about Damian's confrontation with the Joker, who is not actually the original Joker, but like Damian a self-styled successor.  It's an appropriate way to conclude the series.  The way this substitute Joker's story ends is appropriate, too (which I won't spoil), just as the way Damian's does.  It's the way some fans no doubt wish he would have ended up in regular continuity.

As a series, it's not overall very similar to Morrison's Batman, or other DC comics in general.  Kubert's style is as full-throttled as Damian's, and at first this can be a little disconcerting, but really, that's exactly the way a Damian-as-Batman story should be.  If he lived long enough to enter that future, this is what he would become.  In a lot of ways, Damian was always what Jason Todd would have been like if he'd been Bruce Wayne's son.  The similarities between Jason's revised fate and what would have become of Damian are no mistake.  The thing is, this story could only have happened with Damian.  

Kubert is less concerned with the doubts Morrison and Peter Tomasi have featured in the bond between father and son.  It drains some of the emotion from the story, but it also means that there's more of a classic vigilante adventure to be found here than is usual for Damian.

If this is the only adventure Kubert gets to tell about this Batman, then that's fine.  Although it would certainly be nice to have more.  This is not a classic, but it's a fine memory to have been given with a classic character.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cataclysm # 0.1 (Marvel)

(via CBDB)

writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
artist: Mico Suayan, Mirco Pierfederici, Leonard Kirk

Marvel's Ultimate Comics line originally debuted in 2000.  The whole idea was to present readers with a soft reboot, an arena with which to rediscover old favorites from the beginning of their adventures.  In 2014, that idea looks a fair bit different, and a book like Cataclysm is hardly likely to improve matters.

The legacy of the Ultimate concept is considerable, but only in two aspects: it gave birth to the cinematic Avengers and Brian Michael Bendis is still writing Ultimate Spider-Man (as of a few years ago in his very own model, Miles Morales).  Other than that, the original idea gradually lost its point when it became clear it was generally unsustainable, that fans were never going to follow these comics the way they had and still do the original Marvel universe, and that creators given the option to make the Ultimate version of events more gritty sabotaged the entire line to the point where although the story continues it has not only lost all relevance but has also become just as impenetrable to new readers as, well, the original Marvel universe.  Probably moreso at this point.

Cataclysm, again, is a good (?) example of that.  It presents Galactus as a new threat to the Ultimate reality, even though there was already a years-long event with the Ultimate version of Galactus (which I believe was the basis for the much-maligned version in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer).  Really, the only reason the Ultimate reality still exists at all is because of Ultimate Spider-Man.  And as soon as Bendis stops writing him (/them), this whole thing will end up like 2099 (although good news for Morales and Bendis, Spider-Man 2099 continues to be the only lingering element of that experiment).  It's just a bunch of nonsense at this point.

This is no real judgment on the creators.  Had Marvel limited the Ultimate reality to a few mini-series, the way it has recently turned to the "Season One" graphic novels to reintroduce origins to new readers, the way the first few Ultimates adventures that introduced the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury were released (the only real argument against this remains Bendis and his Ultimate Spider-Man, by the way; that run is directly responsible for his whole Marvel career) readers would have some nifty graphic novels to enjoy and maybe one or two definitive, iconic stories. 

The latest rube to write for the Ultimate experiment is Joshua Hale Fialkov, one of the many DC defectors who became upset with issues of creator rights.  Fialkov was another one who seemed to have such a bright future ahead of him, too, and now he's writing something like this.  Again, it's not so much the work itself but the concept that fails him.

The Ultimate version of the android Avenger known as Vision, which seems to be completely different from the regular version of the character, is in the spotlight, and Fialkov does a fine job writing from her perspective.  That much is perfectly fine.

But you have to question why yet another Ultimate crossover event/reboot is even happening.  Does Marvel really think any of this is still salvageable?  That the whole concept isn't straying further and further from the original point, all because someone realized a pocket universe can get away with things regular continuity can't, like killing off key characters like Peter Parker and Wolverine?  The only readers who will care at this point are those who were there at the start, or can still be convinced that this is a cool concept.

It was cool in 2000.  Now it's just old and tired.  And increasingly pointless.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Preview: Overrun

(all images via Forty Five)

writer: Andi Ewington, Matt Woodley
artist: Paul Green

available at: Midtown Comics

Description: Your computer is a living breathing city filled with jpegs, docs, mpegs and xls files.  But time is running out for these citizens, not only is there a citywide memory shortage but someone has released a deadly virus upon the unsuspecting population.  The world is about to be Overrun.

Creator Andi Ewington is someone I first discovered from his brilliant, unorthodox graphic novel Forty-Five, which takes the form of so many interviews with an entire world of superheroes.  He also ended up releasing BlueSpear, featuring a full, traditional-style story with one of the subjects from Forty-Five.  He's someone, consequently, I'm always eager to see additional material from.  I'd expected more from the world of Forty-Five, but his new project is entirely unrelated.  It is, however, equally fascinating, and has incorporated everything Ewington has learned so far, pushing it to a whole new level.

The basic premise is sort of like The Matrix if the Wachowskis had stayed inside the program rather than followed Neo out of it.  This is not to say that Overrun is a Matrix ripoff, but that it shares many of the same sources of inspiration, namely a fascination with the computer age and our sense of identity as well as individuality, and the constant threats to both.

Overrun is not the head trip The Matrix was.  It doesn't have philosophy so heavily on the mind.  It's pretty straightforward.  Ewington and Matt Woodley have crafted their world out of archetypes known from computer lore but also fashioned characters out of them, and seeing it in action is to instantly fall in love with it.

There are computer files, computer programs, and even computer games at play here.  The last image I included is Sarge, who is sort of like the Wreck-It Ralph of Overrun, though he's not the main hero (so far as the preview goes, anyway).  The main hero is what Neo would have been if Morpheus hadn't dragged him kicking and screaming into the real world, sort of if Thomas Anderson had met Neo instead of Morpheus.  It's not as confusing as it sounds.

The art from Paul Green is another strong suit.  It follows the twists and turns of the story just as well as the minimalist dialogue, and presents it vividly, which is clearly no Goth world like Neo's.  

Did I mention zombies?  Because there are zombies, too!  But Overrun is clever enough to not use them as one of the driving elements of the plot.  They don't even appear in the preview.

Speaking of which, this is indeed a preview of a preview.  The actual graphic novel doesn't have a distributor yet.  It really deserves one, based on the strength of this material.  It has plenty of selling points and features superior quality in every aspect.

I'm more than happy to see more from Ewington.  He's proven in the past he deserves to become well-known in the comics medium.  This is another strong testament to that.

I'm a fan of clever.  And Overrun is definitely clever.  The rest of 2014 will have a hard time competing with this as one of its highlights.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Digitally Speaking...#8 "Elric, Adam West, Worlds of Aspen"

FCBD 2011 Elric: Balance Lost (Boom!)
Elric is one of those quasi-classic characters floating around, who certainly has a considerable following, but mostly on the basis of how creator Michael Moorcock has lent him out over the years, to the point where the character sometimes seems to be ubiquitous.  The question is, does Elric even warrant this kind of treatment?

My judgment at this point is that the character is little better than C.J. Henderson's Lai Wan, who I first discovered in a short-lived Moonstone comics adaptation.  Henderson is an almost-entirely self-generated publishing figure, and Lai Wan is not even his major creation, nor has he ever written a book based completely around her.  The comic is based on a series of short stories.  I read the first issue on a whim, and found little merit in it, although Henderson is clearly devoted to his creation, viewing her in almost a mythic fashion, one that is not really warranted by the material.

The same can be said for Elric.  The only reason I know about Moorcock or Elric at all is because both periodically pop up on my radar, usually in association with each other but almost never with any definitive work between them.  Elric is just a character that has been relentlessly promoted over the years (originally created in 1961), and has appeared in a number of books and scores of adaptation revivals.

This comic is the latest.  I hope it's not representative of the overall Elric material, because it's pretty terrible.  I realize I don't write in the most traditional sense myself, but I think I can tell the difference between dialogue and declarative statements.  Every shred of dialogue in this comic is a declarative statement.  This is not storytelling.  To go by this comic, Elric doesn't have a story at all, but a general character description.

Another painful layer of the comic is that it's written by Chris Roberson, who at one point was one of DC's heirs apparent, until he and the company came to disagreement over the issue of creator rights, which was incredibly odd for a creator who hadn't really done anything at that point, and now writes characters who are all but in the public domain.  It's an especially poor reflection on his talents one way or another, and beggars the question of a major company even wanting to work with him again, regardless of his views.

FCBD 2011 Misadventures of Adam West #1 (Bluewater)
This comic, on the other hand, is another of those polar opposites I keep finding in my comiXology collection, featuring a character very much the cult variety of Elric, but whose complicated march to a 2011 Free Comic Book Day entry ends up looking very different.

That cult character is of course Adam West, who starred in Batman on TV from 1966-68 (including one theatrical release).  The actor never really did anything else, and seemed fairly fine with it, having once become an icon (which is sometimes, if rarely, good enough for actors), although he's had a tough time with the portrayal of his Caped Crusader on film ever since.  He campaigned to appear in Tim Burton's 1989 film, which would certainly have been a jarring inclusion in a famously Gothic production.  West's interpretation of the character has been reduced to being considered not just comic but campy, what's otherwise known as throwing a wink to the audience, letting everyone know that the material is not exactly being taken seriously.

This comic, however, casts a different light on the series.  What if West's version, if being a little silly, really was a legitimate take on the character, a more innocent perspective, family friendly in a way only cartoons have been in recent decades?  What if West's Batman, even if only his his own mind, is a more heroic version of the famous superhero?

One of the clever things the comic does is sort of mold West into a Georges Reeves figure, a martyr that emerged in the excellent film Hollywoodland, except it replaces Reeves' reluctance to be Superman with West's eagerness to continue the spirit of his Batman.

It's a classic Bluewater comic book, certainly, and I'm not saying this because I've got two Bluewater biographies under my belt (with a third hopefully on the way by the end of the year).  I've read basically a handful of Bluewater comics.  I don't go out of my way to read them.  One celebrity biography comic is basically like any other celebrity biography comic, and because the vast majority of the company's publishing schedule is made up of them, it's hard to gage what else it has to offer.  I first saw this as a goofy extension of those efforts, without having read it.  It's not even the only one of its kind.  But then, Bluewater comics have been adapted into major motion pictures (Wrath of the Titans).  Bluewater is basically one of the lower rung spinoffs from Image (where other Bluewater comics like The 10th Muse and Legend of Isis came from), and like pretty much any comic book company ever has latched onto known properties in order to establish its brand.

The approach to Misadventures, then, is pretty clever.  It uses the biography template to launch West's further exploits (he is not the writer, by the way).  I don't know if further issues have touched on the fact that West has very cleverly subverted his reputation on Family Guy over the years, or if that's even possible, given the conceit seems to switch to a magical youthful regeneration by the end of this debut, which would lead one to assume that perhaps further issues feature less melancholy and more '60s-style Batman adventures.

As for the whole cult of Adam West I originally referenced, there are of course now DC's own Batman '66 comics, plus the recent news that the '60s series is finally being released on DVD (even George Reeves didn't have to wait that long!), and West's own improbable continuing cultural relevance (via Family Guy), now offered in these comics themselves.

Was he actually on to something?  Very probable, indeed...

FCBD: Worlds of Aspen 2013 (Aspen)
Aspen is another Image spinoff, the baby of the late Michael Turner, responsible for some of the most gorgeous pinup comic book art of the past twenty years.  His legacy is also dominated by his style, however, despite the fact that he didn't just create a style but at least one long-lasting character (Fathom).  His is the lithe version of the Babe Comics otherwise known as the Bad Girl Comics, or in other words Turner was best known for drawing beautiful women with very little clothing on them.  The lead story in this sampler is a perfect example of why this needs to be reconsidered as the dominant form of his legacy.  There seems to be a pretty good story in there, but it's buried under the dominant images of the two lead women in bikinis.  The fact that they're in bikinis is not itself distracting, but the fact that the artist is trying his hardest to evoke Turner is.

And apparently Aspen publishes a lot of stuff that doesn't rely so heavily on the Turner template.  You'd hardly know it.  Both Bluewater and Aspen could use to not so heavily promote only one version of themselves, or they will always be marginalized in the community.  Aspen doesn't do itself many more favors by reducing the rest of the looks at its offerings to barely-anything, with the biggest example being a two-page spread with prose imposed on a single image, and prose not particularly well-displayed on it.

These are decisions that will need to be corrected.  Whereas a creator like Chris Roberson, having once taken a principled stand, seems incapable of doing himself any favors, and a guy like Adam West just sort of stumbles into them, Aspen might fall into an Elric fate, well-known but obscure (via a creator, whether it's Michael Moorcock or Michael Turner), or it could move on to something greater.

The decisions are entirely in the air.  The subjects of this particular Digitally Speaking... are all in transition.  Their fates could be great, or they could sink into obscurity the more history has its say on them.