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Archive for the ‘Caped Crusaders’ Category

The most important holiday on the capitalist-utopia calendar, Cyber Monday, has come and gone, and that can only mean one thing:  most of the fall TV shows are either on hiatus, about to be on hiatus, or already cancelled.  That means I finally have chance to catch up on a bunch of hour-long serialized dramas, because that’s definitely how I should be spending my precious few hours between sleep and toil every day.   Here are my very scientific findings:

Constantine
Constantine 
I watched the series premiere of this, and quickly fell asleep trying to watch the second episode.  I am not a die hard fan of the Hellblazer comics (although I have a fat stack of ‘Blazer trade paperbacks I picked up in sort-of anticipation of this program and have yet to read), so I can only evaluate it on its own merits and not on how it stacks up vs. the Vertigo series.  My conclusion: this is a pile of hot garbage!  It does have a lot of pretty awesome special effects, and the pilot had one or two decent ‘scares,’ but hardly enough to sustain my attention.  And I wasn’t alone — as of this writing, NBC has suspended production on the series, which is not quite an outright cancellation but it’s certainly a sign things are on life support. GRADE: D-
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Arrow
Arrow hit some real peaks last season, with the interwoven story of Oliver’s escape from the island and his confrontation with Deathstroke in Starling City delivering the series’ most satisfying and ambitious arc to date.  By comparison, season three is so far floundering.  ‘Five years ago’ timeline Oliver is now off the island and working for Amanda Waller in Hong Kong, which means there is very little drama left in the flashback sequences.  All we wanted to know for most of seasons one and two was how Ollie would escape the island — now that that has been resolved, it seems like there is no tension left and really no reason to chart the rest of Oliver’s journey back to Starling City.  In the main, present-tense storyline, there are several promising threads unraveling:  Roy Harper has developed into a full-fledged sidekick, even adopting the Arsenal moniker, but continues to struggle with the after effects of the mirakuru experimental drug, which puts Oliver in the position of becoming more and more of a father figure for Roy even as the latter gains even more self-confidence.  Oliver’s sister Thea has returned to the city, ostensibly to reopen her nightclub, but in reality she’s developed ninja techniques and is working in cahoots with Malcolm Merlin, the Big Bad from season one, back (of course) from the dead.  And, in the most delightful but underutilized plot device of all, Queen Consolidated is in the process of being absorbed by billionaire super-genius Ray Palmer (aka, The Atom), played by failed-Superman Brandon Routh.  For existing fans of the show, this season still has the enjoyable characters and relationship dynamics (Oliver-Felicity-The Atom love triangle, anyone?) to obsess over, but plotwise, it really seems to be spinning its wheels.  Of course, with the 20+ episode seasons of all of these comic book inspired shows, it’s no surprise that the first halves of seasons are usually full of filler.  GRADE: B-
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The Flash
What do you love about classic Flash comic books?  Is it the affable, nerdy, do-gooder attitude of Barry Allen, one of comics’ most beloved heroes?  Is it the crime-solving and detective work inherent in Allen’s secret identity as a forensic scientist?  Is it the Flash Facts, little bits of science (or pseudo-science) frequently thrown in to explain the Flash and supporting characters’ remarkable powers and gadgets?  Is it the somewhat goofy lineup of rogues such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Gorilla Grodd?  Is the sheer joy of imagining all of the things you could do with superspeed, undoubtedly one of the most excellent of the classic comic book superpowers?  If you answered All of the Above, you should probably just go ahead and watch the Flash because it captures the vibe of the comics upon which it is based better than any comic-to-TV adaptation I can think of.  GRADE: A-
whyisyourpenis
How To Get Away With Murder
Superstar defense attorney Annalise Keating removes her many layers of makeup and her wig, turns to her husband, and utters the phrase that reverberated around the world: “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”  That was the stinger at the end of one of this show’s early episodes, and it was the moment that solidified the show as yet another obsession-worthy Shonda Rhimes Special.  Just as Kerry Washington’s white hot charisma powers Scandal, much of the joy of HTGAWM comes from simply basking in the intensity of Viola Davis as she rips students to shreds, blows the tops off of courtrooms, and frequently displays heartbreaking vulnerability.  For me, an even bigger pleasure comes from watching the sexcapades of Keating’s very young, very hot, super diverse, and full-on hilarious team of junior associates.  If you like backstabbing, double-speak, network television’s most explicit boy-on-boy action, and this haircut:
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you will love the hell out of this show.  GRADE: A+
Gotham
I love the comic strip Garfield minus Garfield.  By removing the fat orange cat from the strip entirely, and leaving John Arbuckle alone to contemplate his meager existence, Garfield minus Garfield creates something entirely new through the art of omission.  It takes something mildly funny and recasts it as something profoundly dark.  Gotham, which could just as easily be called Batman minus Batman, does the opposite and recasts something profoundly dark as something *very* mildly funny.  This is a tune-in-every-once-in-awhile-if-the-episode-title-seems-promising kind of show.  Recommended for fans of Batman: Forever.  GRADE: C-
Scandal
This season just makes me want to toss off my all-white winter wardrobe
 Scandal -- Screengrab from exclusive EW.com clip.
curl up on the couch with some fried chicken in my Uggs
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sip on a nice, modestly sized glass of wine
 olivia-pope-wine
and watch it over and over and over because there’s a decent chance that this is the best season of Scandal yet.  GRADE: A
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
This series received an injection of buzz and fresh ideas when Captain America: Winter Soldier came out in the middle of its first season and completely changed the show’s status quo.  Suddenly a show about a lame bunch of do-gooder government flacks became a show about betrayal, secrets, and life on the lam.  As the second series has begun to pick up speed, it seems like Agents is failing to take advantage of the excitement and tension inherent in the Hydra storyline.  Coulson’s crew are already back on the right side of the law, with access to seemingly unlimited resources — not excitedly the underdog scenario that was promised in season one’s final episodes.  The one saving grace of this season has been the action sequences.  The fight choreography and special effects this season have been pristine — too bad you generally have to wade through 30-40 minutes of blah storytelling to get to them.  GRADE: C+
Brooklyn 99
 The funniest traditional sitcom currently on TV — in fact, maybe the only funny traditional sitcom currently on TV.  Immature gross out humor, a cast in which ‘competent white males’ take a backseat to actually competent women and men of color, genuinely lovable and delightfully flawed characters, and this face on a weekly basis:
braugher
GRADE: A-

Saturday Night Live
This has been a season full of lame hosts and totally lacking in breakout stars among the cast.  Michael Che and Leslie Jones have been delightful but underused.  Pete Davidson seems promising but has yet to develop any memorable characters — besides himself on Weekend Update.  It seems like Kate McKinnon and Taran Killam are keeping the show afloat most nights with their broad repertoires, but they’re so overused that it’s just starting to seem like schtick.  The best parts about this season have been Kyle Mooney’s weird little segments and digital shorts — he’s the one writer/player who seems to have a distinct voice at this point – and the last run of musical guests.  Prince, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson/Mystikal brought the house down over the last few weeks.
GRADE: C

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Marvel comics are filled with strange words and phrases: negative zone, infinity gem, cosmic cube, Shi’ar, Kree, K’un L’un, Genosha, vibranium, Immortus — but a few words I never expected to see in a Marvel comic were Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius.

They’ve been cropping up a lot lately in Ales Kot’s Secret Avengers, appearing for the first time in issue #6. Afficionados of Latin American literature might recognize these three nonsense words as the title of a 1941 short story by Argentine master (and my personal favorite author) Jorge Luis Borges. “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” like many of Borges’ greatest stories, combines literary criticism and fantasy fiction in a format that is as rigorous as it is imaginative. The story is narrated by Borges himself and features other real-life 20th century literary figures such as Bioy Casares¹. It concerns the discovery of an encyclopedia which is otherwise sound but includes an entry about Uqbar, a province in Asia Minor with a rich and detailed history that also happens not to exist.

“The literature of Uqbar,” we are told “was a literature of fantasy…its epics and legends never referred to reality but rather to the two imaginary realms of Mlejnas and Tlön.” Thus Borges glimpses the edges of a centuries long conspiracy which culminated in a massive effort by a group of linguists, scientists, writers, cartographers, and eccentrics to imagine, in its vast breadth and minute detail, the fictional world of Tlön:

“I now hold in my hands a vast and systematic fragment of the entire history of an unknown planet, with its architectures and playing cards, the horror of its mythologies and the murmur of its tongues, its emperors and its seas, its minerals and its birds and fishes, its algebra and its fire, its theological and metaphysical controversies — all joined, articulated, coherent, and with no visible doctrinal purpose or hint of parody.”

Later:

“Who, singular or plural, invented Tlön? The plural is, I suppose, inevitable, since the hypothesis of a single inventor — some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement — has been unanimously discarded. It is conjectured that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a secret society…”

How does this all tie back to comics? When this story first appeared in 1941, the idea of a team of slightly mad individuals devoting their lives to rendering every detail of a fictional universe probably seemed far-fetched. By the time the first English translation appeared 20 years later, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were about to embark on just such a task with Fantastic Four #1, the first entry in what would become one of the most elaborate and fully-realized fictions of all-time: the Marvel Universe.

Comics fans often hear that the decades of complex continuity inherent in properties such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman are intimidating to new readers and keep the superhero comics genre from growing.  But it is the long term commitment to world building that actually defines the genre.  Marvel and DC comics are not the best comics on the shelves, with rare exceptions (like Kot’s SA, natch) they are not artful examples of the potential of sequential art.  But a Marvel comic offers something that a Chris Ware or Joe Matt comic cannot:  50+ years of history, collectively constructed by hundreds of writers and artists and millions of fans.   Continuity is not what hinders corporate comics — it is actually the one thing that makes them unique and wonderful.

Realizing this, the most successful writers of such comics over the last decade have been those who have engaged with continuity as the defining feature of superhero comics.  Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns stand out as the two writers who have made the biggest recent impact on corporate superhero comics by actively engaging with the long history of DC comics, untangling and retangling the insane histories of Superman, the Flash and the Justice Society, retroactively altering history just like the magical hronir in Borges’ story.

Many of Borges’ stories end on a dark, or at least foreboding note, and “Tlön” is no exception.  In the postscript to the story (which is dated 1947, even though it was published along with the original story in ’41), JLB discusses how the discovery of the complete cyclopaedia of Tlön has rapidly remade the world.  Fictitious history has replaced the real — a scenario which does not seem so far-fetched.  It is not unlike Baudrillard’s state of hyper-reality, a world in which in reference to pop culture has become the dominant, and perhaps only, relevant form of communication.  Behind all of that slash fic, those reaction gifs, those cosplays, is it possible that we are all actually losing touch with reality, replacing it with a new one sewn wholecloth from imagination? Or, to put it another way, “Shaka, when the walls fell?”

 

¹ Borges and Casares engage in “A vast debate over the way one might go about composing a first-person novel whose narrator would omit or distort things and engage in all sorts of contradictions, so that a few of the book’s readers — a very few — might divine the horrifying and banal truth.” This is just the strategy later employed by late-postmodernist authors such as Paul Auster and Gene Wolfe, writers reared on the continental literary theory which was largely inspired by Borges himself. Of course, this excerpt is not only a suggestion to future generations of writers, but to future generations of readers, who may begin to question everything they are told by “Jorge Luis Borges,” the narrator of “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”

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annihilator1

annihilator2

Annihilator #1 by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving. Legendary, 2014.

Did I mention I’m not ‘keeping up’ with comics anymore? It’s not something that happened on purpose, like

“ARRRRRGHHH comics! I’m so mad at you! I’m not going to pay attention to the latest news and gossip about you Any. More.”

It just kind of happened accidentally. I blame Google Reader shutting down, a reality I’m just beginning to accept like…I don’t, seven years after the fact? This technologically driven 21st century time dilation is really fucking with my perception of history. What came first, Faith by George Michael or the Iraq War by George Bush? The world may never know.

Anyway, I couldn’t even begin to guess at what Grant Morrison is up to these days. I saw my local comic book shop had lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of copies of another new book of his, Multiversity. I thought Multiversity was already the name of a site that does in depth breakdowns of the latest issues of Morning Glories and shit, so that’s already confusing, and then Morrison is naturally confusing, and then obviously from the title there are multiple universes at play so I was like

“Girl, nuh uh. I am not going down that road again. He say he changed but no, we all remember Final Crisis.”

But, way in the back of the store, there’s this other new Grant Morrison comic. From a publisher I don’t really know. And a proper Grant Morrison artist — that is to say, British, weird, and mostly famous from 2000 AD.

Hmmm. Intrigued.

I’ve often felt Morrison lives and dies by the artists he works with. His writing can be accessible, enjoyable and fun, or obscure, masturbatory, and overblown, and it depends more than anything on who is turning the script into art. Frazer Irving immediately brings a grandiose and cinematic vision to this series that complements Morrison’s big imagination perfectly, but he also possess the visual storytelling skills to keep the focus on the imagery over text. The first few pages of this story could be totally understood without any of the accompanying captions or dialogue balloons, and that’s a real strength. And the digitally painted textures give everything a bit of a peak 90s-era Vertigo look, which certainly puts me in the mood for a vintage Morrison yarn.

Here’s the broad outline of the plot, as I understood it: There’s a black hole called the Annihilator at the center of the galaxy. There’s a fight in space that pits an evil empire against a lone hero. There’s a guy who looks a bit like Terrence Trent d’Arby who is very okay with the fact that the house he is about to buy is a legendarily haunted murder house. That fellow is Ray Spass. He is a screenwriter and he hasn’t had a hit for a long time. He wants to write a ghost story — hence the importance of moving into a haunted house. The studio wants science fiction.

So just put the haunted house in space.

The screenplay Ray is writing is Annihilator, and his protagonist, equal parts Riddick and Thanos, is Max Nomax, a hero in the capital R Romantic mode.

From there the comic caroms back and forth from Ray’s world to the fictive world of Annihilator, each reflecting the other as such things tend to do. All very predictable until…Max Nomax shows up at Ray’s doorstep.

Oh bravo Mr. Morrisson. How very meta of you. No one would expect the author of Animal Man from THIRTY YEARS ago to play with the ‘ol boundaries between creator and creation, would they?

But I guess I asked for some vintage Morrison, and that’s precisely what I got.

wildsend

Wild’s End #1 (of 6) by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard. BOOM! Studios, 2014.

From the Improbable Mash-Ups Department: Anthropomorphic Animals + Edwardian English Countryside + Alien Invasion = Pretty Fun.

You could also call it H.G. Wells meets George Orwell, which is convenient because I get them mixed up (along with Orson Welles) all the time anyhow.

southernbastards3

Southern Bastards #3-4 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Image, 2014.

Four issues into this series and every major character has been beaten either to death or within an inch of their life. Some of these beatings we are supposed to interpret as bad and undeserved. Others are supposed to be good and well-earned.

All of the major characters are also white men. There is apparently one woman in Craw County, Alabama — the waitress at Coach Boss’ BBQ restaurant. There is also precisely one black man, the Sheriff, who is actually a puppet sheriff controlled by Coach Boss.

Jason Aaron’s previous creator-owned series Scalped (which, like Bastards, was the story of a disenchanted adult man returning to the hometown he was supposed to have left behind in order to work out some not-insignificant Daddy Issues) featured a complex moral universe in which it was rarely clear who was a hero and who was a villain. The book pivoted around the idea that there is no universal morality. The institutional morality of the American justice system, the personal morality of assorted cops and killers, and a higher morality hinted at by the few remaining practitioners of the traditional Oglala Lakota way of life were all constantly at odds with each other. Death and violence, which are rampant in all of Aaron’s works with the possible exception of the lighthearted Wolverine and the X-Men, took on a new meaning in that context.

In Bastards, Aaron seems to be hinting at a conflict between City morals and Country values, with the suggestion that there is no higher value than high school football. And no better way to resolve a problem than with a hickory stick. The trenchant realism of Scalped’s Prairie Rose Reservation (based on the actual Pine Ridge res in South Dakota) is here replaced by an uncomfortable pastiche of the rural South, a South that I suspect will be more familiar to regular viewers of Dukes of Hazzard reruns than to contemporary residents of Alabama. So far the flatness of the characters, the dullness of the setting, the emptiness of the message, and the repetitiveness of the violence does not impress.

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile by Brandon Graham, Simon roy, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz, Matt Sheehan, Malachi Ward, Bayard Baudoin, Onta, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Ron Ackins, Tom Parkinson-MOrgan, and selected colors by Amy Clare.

If you ever obsessed over the lavishly illustrated sourcebook to a tabletop game without playing the game, if you owned any edition of the Star Wars Technical Manual, if your favorite Punisher issues were the Armories*, if you think any drawing of a machine or vehicle could be improved by making it a cutaway, if you’re obsessed with properly ordering the timelines of completely contrived universes, if you ever bookmarked an online encyclopedia of Babylon Five aliens, if the numbers 1701-C and 1701-D mean anything to you…

…then for chrissakes be the nerd you want to be already and buy this book. Also if you’ve been reading Brandon Graham’s Prophet and have suspected the whole time that you have no idea what’s going on, this might help.  I can’t wait to go back and reread the series — I could never have guessed how epic and psychedelic it would become.

 

*

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From 1990, the Punisher Armory was basically just a bunch of really detailed drawings of guns accompanied by some thoughts from the Punisher about those guns, and how much he likes guns.  I’m not a gun guy or an NRA fan or anything, but I loved this comic just for the way it dug into technical minutiae.  The issue was illustrated by Eliot R Brown, a technical illustrator who was called in by the Big Two from time to time to illustrate things like cutaway diagrams of Iron Man’s armor, a topographic map of Gotham City, or the Teen Titan’s satellite base.   I strongly recommend a visit to his website.

 

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I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn't look exactly like me.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn’t look exactly like me.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A raccoon, a tree, the guy from Mouserat, Lt. Uhura, and a WCW Superstar walk into a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

I don’t have a unique take on Guardians of the Galaxy or anything to say about it really other than that I loved it.  I appreciate that self-spoofing, tongue-in-cheek postmodern humor has so thoroughly broken through to the mainstream to become the dominant form of entertainment.  I feel like you can chart a direct line from Andy Warhol to Giles Goat Boy to 30 Rock to Die Antwoord to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Everything is at it was predicted in Frederic Jameson’s seminal theoretical text Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

And Chris Pratt gets to be the Barthesian hologram, the hyperreal version of Han Solo, the more-Harrison-than-Harrison Ford of the 21st century.  Approval, be thee stamped!

Quick Burns:

  • Michael Rooker!  I learned on IMDB that he is one of the few actors to have appeared with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, AND Van Damme.  You probably know him as Merle from the Walking Dead .  As Yondu Udonta, he was my favorite character in the whole movie, or at least the most scene-stealingest.  A little bummed that they toned down Yondu’s signature red mohawk so much though.
  • Karen Gillan, wassupwitu?  Are you tired of being typecast as a super hot redhead with a Scottish accent?  Amy Pond melted my heart one thousand times…but this blue space beastie with a rotten attitude?  Not doing it for me.  Is it because everybody loved Jennifer Lawrence painted blue in X-Men?  Because you don’t have anything to prove to Katniss Everdeen — you were a companion.  That is like Bond Girl x 1,000,000.  But I will watch your sitcom with John Cho.  I will watch it hard.
  • How long is it actually going to take to gather all six infinity gems and make them the focal point of the entire Marvel Cinematic universe?  I assume they’ll be in a Doctor Strange movie.  I assume there will be some element of the Illuminati/Secret Avengers storyline, although that will be pretty boring without Professor X and Reed Richards involved.  We know that Ultron is the villain of Avengers 2.  So are we building up to an Infinity Gauntlet story for Avengers 3, which will come out around the time that my as yet unconceived children are getting their learner’s permits for their flying cars?  Just seems like a lot of buildup for six magical stones I guess.  I’d rather see Secret Invasion, Civil War, or (please?) Kang the Conqueror as a cinematic universe storyline.
  • The five core Guardians were perfect.  I could watch this team, with these actors, and this dynamic, in a dozen films.  Zoe Saldana, who has always been close but no cigar, was the full Macanudo this time.  Rocket looked great, had the best lines, and Bradley Cooper sold that ridiculous accent for all it was worth.  Groot, an animated tree, was the heart and soul of the whole movie — and I wish the Vin Diesel haters would shut up.  Dave Bautista was the funniest thing in a movie full of professional comedic actors, and also the biggest, most dangerous looking thing in a film full of computer generated space monsters.  And Chris Pratt…his is the face that launched a thousand (Nova Corps) ships.  He’s just the sweetest.

GuardiansoftheGalaxy_20140323

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modok conspiracy wall

Comic-Con was last week.  I didn’t hear anything about any comic book news coming out of it.  “Comic books” are a mainly a genre of TV and movie now, in case you didn’t know.  This *could* actually be good for some creators — Mark Millar has shown one way to create a sustainable model in which he’s able to put out creator owned books on his own terms, pay his artists a living wage*, and fund it all on the back end with movie rights.  So if you’re creating the kind of comic book that could conceivably be transformed into a summer blockbuster or a multi-season ensemble TV spectacle, hey, there might be some money in that for you.

If you’re creating a comic book that is designed to be a comic book and take full advantage of the beauty and flexibility of the form, doing things that can only be done on the illustrated page,  I recommend the restaurant industry, freelance technical writing, or house/petsitting as ways to make extra money on the side.

Regarding this year’s Eisner Awards: congratulations to Los Bros; the fine folks behind Saga, Sex Criminals, Battling Boy, The Wake, and The Fifth Beatle; and Hall of Fame inductees Irwin Hasen (Dondi), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Batman), Orrin C. Evans (All-Negro Comics), Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore, Dennis O’Neil, and Bernie Wrightson.   Here is a link to a full list of the winners.

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southern bastards 2 cover

Southern Bastards #2 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour.  Image, 2014.

I was a bit harsh on the first issue of this series.  I had been stoked about a JA title set in the deep rural south, especially after what he did with the North Dakota reservation setting of Scalped.  But Southern Bastards #1 just read like one long cliche to me — more a parody of the South than something derived from lived experience there.  Issue two shows that some of those broad strokes were necessary to set up where this first story arc is going.  It seems like the idea is that Craw County is not just another chicken-fried locale where High School Football rules and the sweet tea flows freely.  It is all that, but much worse, because the football culture is linked to a culture of corruption that pervades the entire county.  By digging a bit deeper, Aaron and Latour have turned cliche into metaphor, with much success.  I should have known that they just needed a little time to get going.

star spangled angel

The Star-Spangled Angel by Scott Roberts.  Self-Published/Ubutopia Press, 2014.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the origin story of Captain America or the Hulk in the form of a highly abstracted, nearly wordless indie comic?  That’s basically what this is, and it’s totally awesome.  The story of Star-Spangled Angel is pretty simple: two childhood friends join the army and then sign up for a science experiment in order to avoid the worst of the combat.  The experiments transform them both beyond recognition, nearly killing them in the process.  They develop superpowers.  Later, a robot designed by one of the pair loses control and goes on a killing spree.  It’s kind of like the short-short-short version of the first few years of The Avengers.

But it’s also a really gorgeously hand-printed three color risograph featuring truly absorbing artwork and imagery.  Roberts really uses the artwork to get deep inside the mind of someone undergoing a profound and frightening transformation.  There are only about 125 words of text in the entire comic, yet there is more nuance and psychological realism here than in even the most ambitious mainstream versions of similar “science gone awry” origin stories.

Roberts created this comic for Brain Frame, Lyra Hill’s long-running performative comics series that has been a focal point of the Chicago alt comics community for three years now.  You can watch Robert’s performance on Vimeo.  There is didgeridoo involved.  Sadly, Brain Frame is nearing its end, but there are still tickets available for the last ever Brain Frame, to be held at Thalia Hall in Pilsen on August 9. (Conflict of interest report: I work for the company that owns and manages Thalia Hall).

wonder woman 111

Wonder Woman #109-112 by  John Byrne with Patricia Mulvihill.  DC (Warner Bros.), 1996.

My big goal at C2E2 was to find as many of the ’90s Wonder Woman issues with Brian Bolland covers as possible.  I fantasized that a few hours of crate digging would lead to a complete set, but what I found was that very few of the vendors had any Wonder Woman from this, or any, era.  What I did find was a complete run of John Byrne on the title.  In 1995, Byrne came on Wonder Woman with issue 100, in the hopes that he could do for the title what he had done a decade before for the Man of Steel.

The results were…mixed.

Byrne doesn’t seem to have much of a feel for the character, the biggest disappointment being the somewhat retrograde portrayal of gender roles.  Byrne’s artwork is decent but hardly belongs on the same shelf with his best work — the inking is sloppy, the layouts are jumbled and sometimes barely readable, and many of the character designs seem to be lifted directly from Byrne’s own Next Men series.

The one standout storyline buried in the middle of this morass is the four issue arc starting in issue #109.  Wonder Woman encounters The Flash, who is running rampant and carelessly destroying the city.  Even more shockingly, it’s not Wally West (who was the Flash at the time) but Barry Allen, who was supposed to have died a decade early during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Soon, Diana also runs into Sinestro and Doomsday, who are acting similarly out of character and, of course, leaving trails of destruction in their wake.  Needless to say, there’s a mystery to be solved and a hidden actor pulling the strings.  It’s a pretty hokey story, and Byrne’s understanding and depiction of computer and videogame technology are particularly laughable today, but it’s a very nice self-contained arc that makes for a really fun and satisfying read.  Recommended, but skip the rest of the Byrne run and treat yourself to some vintage Fantastic Four or Uncanny X-Men instead.

clap for modok

Secret Avengers #5  by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Oh, Ales Kot from Zero is writing this?  Mmmm, Tradd Moore is doing covers?  M.O.D.O.K. is one of the main characters and there’s a big ‘ol conspiracy wall with M.O.D.O.K. at the center of it?  Whoa there, you can stop sellin’ cuz I’m ready to sign on the dotted line.  HAWKEYE AND SPIDER-WOMAN ARE IN THIS TOO?  Are you serious?  Take my fucking money, here please just take this $20, keep the change, okay thank you bye.

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* That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, of course: “I’ve started having all my artists sign on to not work for other publishers while they’re working with me, because creator-owned can not be part time,” he added. “The rates I’m paying are better than the rates at Marvel and DC, generally, so I say, ‘You have to commit to this for six or 12 months.”   What I don’t know is whether Millar also shares any of the profits from his Hollywood licenses with the artists behind the books.   I’m pretty sure John Romita Jr. did get a fat payday for Kickass — if you can confirm or deny this, leave it in the comments!

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thor-0003 captain america

There’s some pretty big news in the comics world this week and in case you haven’t heard about it, I just want you to mentally steel yourself before you read the next sentence:

(this is where you do your mental-steeling)

Some fictional characters are being altered in ways that are neither novel nor (likely) permanent, for the sake of telling stories that will be slightly different rather than exactly the same way they have been for thirty, forty, or fifty years.

Specifically: starting in October, Thor, a fictional celestial being who can fly through outerspace at physics-defying speed, control all weather phenomena, and has a telepathic relationship with a morally-judgemental hammer, will be portrayed on the page as…a female version of same.  Also, Captain America, a one hundred year old man with the ability to make a metal disc the size of a manhole cover bounce an unlimited number of times before returning to its original starting position at its starting velocity, will be replaced by the man who has been his assistant and sidekick since 1969.  This comes after Captain America was replaced by his previous sidekick, also nearly one hundred years old, who spent the years between 1945 and 2005 as a cryogenically preserved superweapon with a robot arm who served the USSR — a storyline which, by the way, everyone loved.   Only, this new guy Sam Wilson, he’s (wait for it) not a white guy with blonde hair.

Needless to say, there has been backlash.  Thanks to The Internet, any time any event of any type occurs, there are people who will make very horrible sexist, racist, and otherwise -ist comments about it.  This time around, I was heartened to see that the backlash-to-the-backlash, people coming to the defense of Marvel’s decision to include more women and persons of color in its core titles (albeit as fictional characters, not as real life employed creators because that would have actual consequences in the actual world) was so much louder than the initial backlash that the initial backlash essentially disappeared.  Which I guess means there are more people out there in the world who are sane and level-headed than there are total bigots who can’t fully distinguish comics from reality.  And that’s a good thing.

Super Special Bonus Feature: When Reboots DO Go Wrong

So Thor’s going to be a woman and Çap’s going to be the Falcon and that’s fine.  But there have definitely been a few times that Marvel and DC have gone too far in their attempts to update classic characters.  Here are five of them:

feral wolverine

Feral Wolverine

1995: Also known as Pirate Wolverine, this is what happened after Magneto ripped all of the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body (which was pretty awesome).  For reasons that were totally unclear, this caused Wolverine to start smelling worse, walk around with a horrible ape-like posture, speak in barely legible chicken scratch, and wear a tattered zorro mask.  Most worryingly, it almost made Logan’s nose appear to disappear completely into his face, not unlike that of an adorable pug.

guy gardner

Guy Gardner: Terminator, Mixologist, Pro-Wrestler?

1994: Guy Gardner, whose bowl haircut was the funniest thing about the very funny Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International, became much less funny (at least less intentionally funny) when he lost his Lantern ring and had to look abroad for a new superpower.  He found it when he drank from a chalice full of Warrior Water (not kidding) which gave him the ability to shapeshift his body parts into any type of weapon, T2 style (not kidding), because of previously-unmentioned alien DNA that was implanted in his ancient ancestors (not kidding), which inspired him to not only return to crimefighting but to open a Planet Hollywood-esque superhero theme bar* (nope, not kidding) called….Warriors (STILL NOT KIDDING BUT MAYBE ACTUALLY DYING BECAUSE MY BRAIN JUST EXPLODED ALL OVER THIS WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE). 

Any resemblance between Guy Gardner Warrior and Wrestlemania Vi-era Ultimate Warrior is, I assume, purely coincidental

Any resemblance between Guy Gardner Warrior and Wrestlemania Vi-era Ultimate Warrior is, I assume, purely coincidental

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Espectacular is right, my friend

Espectacular is right, my friend

Superman: Reign of the SuperMullets

1993: Much ballyhooed to this day, the reports of Superman’s death were, to borrow a turn of phrase, “greatly exaggerated.”  After being savagely beaten for seven whole issues by Doomsday, Superman didn’t die so much as go into a Kryptonian Kush Coma, emerging just a few short issues later as the same ‘ol Man of Steel.  Albeit with one very significant difference:  a beautifully flowing Kentucky Waterfall, all business up front with a rockin’ party bus ’round back, a mane like a Triple Crown winning champion….that is to say, a thick’n’hearty jet black man mullet.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took Clark Kent so long to update his ‘do.  After all, look what it did for these icons of style:

Lionel-Richie-Moustache acslater

 Ronnie James Dio Comedian Joe Piscopo

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Old vs. Nu Harley Quinn illustration via Comics Alliance

Old vs. Nu Harley Quinn illustration via Comics Alliance

New 52/Arkham Asylum Harley Quinn

1998: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the sadomasichistic-nymphomaniac-undead-juggalo-schoolgirl look that Harley Quinn has been wearing lately just seems off.

Superman-HPW-05

Superman 2: Electric Boogaloo

I basically don’t think people should care what happens to comic book characters.  I mean, if you really don’t like the new direction they’re taking with Thor, there are more than 500 issues of the previous version of Thor already so you can just read those (watch out, though, he also turns into a frog and a horse-lookin’ alien a few times).  But don’t mess with Superman.  Superman is a really, really boring superhero, but he’s kind of great as a mythological figure representing the age of American prosperity and the pursuit of truth, justice, and the ability to wear your underwear on the outside if you want.  Go ahead and give him a stupid mullet, a canine sidekick, a love affair with Wonder Woman, a kind of different origin story, or a movie in which he plays the role of Goku in Dragonball Z: The Frieza Saga.  But don’t turn him into a bolt of blue lightning.  Because that, that my friend, is Fucking Stupid.

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*I would rank Warriors  somewhere between Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and Cyberdelia on the list of Fictional Bars You Must Drink at Before You Die:

warrior!

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Top Row: Saint's Love by Krystal DiFronzo, Ines Estrada, Needle Dick by Anya Davidson.  Bottom Row: Chris Cilla, Blimpakind by Tanya Modlin, Lucy Knisley

Top Row: Saint’s Love by Krystal DiFronzo, Ines Estrada, Needle Dick by Anya Davidson. Bottom Row: Chris Cilla, Blimpakind by Tanya Modlin, Lucy Knisley

Topical!

I spent my weekend at my favorite comics convention of the year, CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo.  I wrote a full report for Comics Beat  , which was kind of a big deal for me.  Even after writing that massive 4,000 word con report there were a ton of comics that I was excited about that I didn’t mention or give enough attention to, so I’ll be mixing some of those in with my usual tights’n’fights stuff in this column over the next few weeks.  It’s kind of remarkable how a show like CAKE, which is approximately 1/30th the size of C2e2 (CAKE had 2,200 attendees this year, C2e2 63,000) can offer so much more diversity than the larger show.

That means diversity as far as who was at the show and diversity in terms of the types of comics and art on offer.  C2E2, a convention which aims to embrace all of pop culture, essentially boils down to popular science fiction and epic fantasy franchises, video games (but only popular current and vintage mainstream games, not experimental or indie), superheroes, and paranormal romance.  Creators at CAKE had comics about all of that stuff, but also about food, punk music, graffitti, environmentalism, dealing with illness, coming out, losing touch with friends, making new friends, buttsex, non-butt sex, crossdressing, long walks on the beach, dismantling the patriarchy, baseball, absentee fathers…and that’s just walking down one row of tables.  Basically what I’m saying is that comics can be about anything, anything in the world, and CAKE proves that.  And at C2E2, about 80-90% of the creators exhibiting are straight white men.  At CAKE, more than half of the creators are women, and there is a ton of representation of the LGBTQ community, who are the backbone of the Chicago indie comics scene.  CAKE also has a higher percentage of creators of color, although it did seem like C2E2 drew a higher percentage of fans and attendees of color.

I hope the future of comics look a little more like CAKE and less like C2E2, although I love aspects of both shows.  If I could have a show that combined the diversity and range of creators and comics of CAKE with the event programming and cosplay of C2E2, that would be my ultimate show.

*****

Flu Drawings by Michael DeForge.  Self-published, 2014.

Drifting in and out of reality, the author envisions a psychosexual memory of adolescence.  Is it a poem, a memoir, a comic, a fever dream?  Whatever, it’s pretty good.  Pretty and Good. DeForge’s surreal illustrations allow the boundary between real and imaginary to become diffuse, inviting the reader to question the reality of the narrative as well.  Is the unseen narrator DeForge himself, or someone else?  Is the story being told truth, fiction, or something in between?  It sparks a lot of further contemplation for such a short work, which as a metric of quality is as good as any.

Image via Comixology

Image via Comixology

The Lizard Laughed by Noah Van Sciver.  Oily Comics, 2014.

“Even weak men can become fathers.”  That’s what Harvey has to say to Nathan, the son he hasn’t seen in a decade or more, after a tense confrontation in the desert.  It’s an effecting moment in a comic that’s full of them.  Set against the backdrop of Jemez Springs, New Mexico, the comic shines a harsh light on the effects of shirking parental responsibility, while also hinting at the possibilities of an alternative value system in which our traditional conception of family is turned upside down.  Engrossing.

Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult #1 by Mark Waid and Neil Edwards with Jordan Boyd.  Gold Key/Dynamite, 2014.

What if Mythbusters was the most popular TV show in the world, was hosted by a fabulously wealthy eccentric with severe bipolar disorder, and even the most outlandish Myths turned out to be real?  That’s the basic premise of Mark Waid’s Spektor relaunch, which succeeds where so many recent paranormal adventures have failed by secretly being about reality TV instead.

Image via Valiant Universe

Image via Valiant Universe

X-O Manowar Vol. One: By the Sword by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord with Stefano Gaudiano and Moose Baumann.  Valiant, 2013.

Barbarian, meet crazy advanced alien culture.  Crazy advanced alien culture, meet Aric of Darcia — wait, what?  He already took your most powerful weapon and he’s hell bent on revenge?

Ideal for superhero fans who love historically accurate content about Visigoths.  Valiant’s flagship title may actually be the kookiest of the bunch.  I think I figured out my recent obsession with Valiant — entering this new universe recaptures the feeling I had delving into Legion of Superheroes  and The Avengers  as a kid — the feeling that I was in over my head, that there was a whole wild world out there and that it would take me ages to fit all of the pieces together.  Now when I read Marvel and DC comics it’s all “Green Arrow would never this” and “Wolverine’s costume is supposed to like that” — my preconceptions and, tbh, childhood associations make it hard to fully appreciate new developments in the universe.  With Valiant, I have no such biases, and am left ready to be blown away.

 

 

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