The Dylan Dog Case Files Out in April

Just noticed that a compilation of Dylan Dog comics comes out from DARK HORSE pretty soon: The Dylan Dog Case Files. Not a whole lot of information on it, but given the Mike Mignola cover and the page-length (600 pages), my guess is it's the series DARK HORSE released in the late 90s, as like these great, single, 100-page story-arcs in kinda cheap digest-sized trades. That's the only Dylan Dog stuff I've read but they're really some of the coolest, weirdest, comics in my collection.

Not sure if it's included in this trade, but there's a non-numbered, non-Mignola cover one put out around the same time, in the same style, called ZED that is super-trippy and bizarre. Either way, this is a trade actually work picking up, as it's 600 pages and all the stories are really dense and engrossing. You won't be paying 20 bucks for something you'll read on your lunch break with this.

Apparently, this in conjunction with Dylan Dog movie starring Brandon "Superman" Routh that's going to come out that like, I'm not judging but will probably be wack. Plus, there's already a Dylan Dog movie that's not quite a a Dylan Dog movie but feels as close to as weird and bizarre and rarefied as the comic, Cemetery Man...replacing Dylan's Grouch Marx look-alike sidekick with a balding Uncle Fester retard creepo dude somehow made perfect sense.

BONUS: Dylan Dog Commodore 64 Game:

"Her Body's Not Real/It Looks Like Crumb Drew Her"

UGK featuring Akon - "Hard As Hell"

So, most of you nerds probably only listen to like, Linkin Park and read Secret Invasion or like fall asleep to The Decemberists with a copy of Optic Nerve on your lap, but if you don't know, the great UGK's final album, UGK 4 LIFE comes out today and it's really good and on "Hard as Hell"--which on the real, is the only kinda boner-kill on the album, the verses are still great though--does feature Bun B describing as woman as "look[ing] like Crumb drew her". So you know, comics stuff too!

-UGK featuring E-40, B-Legit, and 8ball & MJG "Used to Be"

If you want my kinder, less asshole-ish reasons for why UGK's great, click here.


Elephantmen #17

Richard Starkings's Elephantmen has been around long enough for there to be a real danger of the series falling into one of the many traps that can kill a once great and original comic. That the series still feels fresh and new speaks volumes for Starkings's abilities, not only as a writer, but also as an architect of narrative. Throughout the run of the series, Starkings has remained surprisingly true to his intention of largely avoiding long, multi-issue story lines in favor of a series that is accessible to new readers no matter what issue they start with. This is a risky strategy, since a large portion of the comics-buying public stick with a series precisely because they get wrapped up in an intricate plot line. The upshot of this strategy, aside from the ease with which new readers can become engaged with the series, is that it has forced Starkings to be particularly creative in finding ways to keep the series interesting for those readers who've been with it since the beginning.

Having said that, since the completion of the three issue "War Toys" miniseries, the series has been tending toward longer narrative arcs. Issue 17 recounts the death of Tusk, the most tragic of the Elephantmen, and can be viewed as something of a coda to the events related in the "Worlds Collide" narrative that comprised issues 13-15. The story is bookended by several pages at the beginning and end of the issue which show mourners at Tusk's funeral. This framing technique at once highlights the real and very sad tragedy of the pulpy Monster-on-the-Loose story it surrounds and also Tusk's position as the dross of the dross--symbolic of the peculiarly human cruelty inherent in the whole Elephantmen enterprise.

There has always been a little bit of the cinematic Frankenstein in Starkings's book and issue 17 simply makes the reference explicit. From the EC-esque font on the "Monster is Loose!" banner to Tusk's encounter with the kindly, if incidentally offensive, old woman--one can almost see a little of the absurd old grandmother from O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in the way she apparently nagged her son to death, but that's another story altogether--Starkings's tale is structured on the stuff of pulp. As Susan Sontag has noted on the subject of the problematic history of literary adaptations, "it became a dictum that cinema was better nourished by pulp fiction than by literature."

The same can be said for comics and this is a big part of what makes Elephantmen extraordinary. Despite the series's explicit identification as "Pulp Science Fiction," Starkings makes use of the entire panoply of pulp genres to create exciting and atmospheric stories in which he can explore the various social issues that are at heart what the book is about.

Starkings may be giving in somewhat to reader demands that his series feature longer narratives, yet the stories are never so reliant on plot detail that a new reader wouldn't be able to pick up an issue and have a sense of what is going on. As an experiment, I handed my copy of issue 17 to a friend who had never read a single issue of Elephantmen and as I suspected she was able to engage with the story and with the underlying themes without feeling as though she lacked some critical information that would help her make sense of the story.

Brandon hit the mark when he described Elephantmen as Starkings's "slowly-growing masterwork." Having laid an ample foundation by his gradual development of the series's characters and their stories, Starkings now has a vast field in which to play with the literary forms and social issues that mean so much to him. Couple this with his recent branching out to welcome the contributions of new illustrators to the series--recent issues and covers have featured Boo Cook, Erik Larsen and Ian Churchill, while the next few will feature illustrations by Marian Churchland--and readers can look forward to more great "Pulp Science Fiction" for years to come.


Wolverine Turns 35 in Comic Years

In 2009 Wolverine turns 35 years old, and to commemorate this occasion a bunch of Marvel books are coming out with variant covers drawn by different artists. All of the covers pay homage not just to Wolverine, but also artists and art styles from throughout time. The idea was presented to the artists as a "What If?" style project, no one knowing how long Wolverine's been around, who knows who he's met and who would have captured him with their art? Here are the covers:

Edward Gorey
Alphonse Mucha
Gustav Klimt
Vincent Van Gogh
Cave Paintings
C.M. Coolidge
Roy Lichenstein
Pablo Picasso
Sunday Cartoon Strips
Salvador Dali
Rene Magritte
Andy Warhol
Edvard Munch
Japanese Woodblock


Creeping around the internet this morning, I discovered Marvel.com has been putting old episodes of the Japanese version of Spider-Man online. When I was a kid, there was one VHS of this show at my local Erols Video that I would rent constantly, but as an adult I didn't remember how un-Spider-Man the series was.

Spider-Man doesn't get his powers from a radioactive spider, but from an alien wrist band that holds his spider-suit as well as the controls to a giant robot, you know, so when the villain he's fighting goes skyscraper he can take him out. Power Rangers airing afternoons when I was a child, I can't help but relate the two. The show even has putty like henchmen similar to Power Rangers, but I was surprised to find out that the Spider-Man show predated Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the show Power Rangers was based on.

Everything about the Tokusatsu genre is incredible, giant monsters, giant robots, race cars, dirt bikes, sun glasses, babes, miniatures and explosions make Japanese action shows so much different from American ones, better, really. With the shows being so similar, the acting, cinematography and the quality of the special effects were what made some of these shows more than silly and weird. Spider-Man's intense villains and short bike stunts are what make it, check it out, Marvel is adding a new episode every few weeks, they're already up to four.


COMICS: The Future of Comics

A week ago I talked about losing my job and how it has impacted my comic book addiction, and Vee showed me this article from CBR, the author discussing what he wants from a comic store, and on a base level the industry.

Something that struck me about the article is that he talks about Comics as strictly a form of entertainment, and unfortunately that's how I think most people see it. I've talked about the negative aspects of collecting before, but it's also what keeps us weekly single issue buyers buying.

His dream comic store exists minus one aspect, the accessibility of the store, which is something I don't have a problem with, and I can't be alone. I'm very spoiled in this aspect, even my local library carries great trades, ranging from indies like Daybreak to all the major super hero titles. I have the opportunity to always be around comics in one way or another, and all of the shops in my area are thriving.

For me part of comics is getting into a friend's car, driving to a store that we hardly ever go to and looking for that one issue you haven't been able to find anywhere else. No one wants there to be a world where everything we read is on a screen, the printing world may be losing popularity but it isn't dying. It's "neat" to read on an e-reader but it's not comfortable, and it's not the same as carrying around a book or having a book shelf and seeing the landscape of spines. It's the same as records or even CDs, no matter how many times people have said that the end is near, people love a product, an in hand item they have and hold.

It seems like a lot of people see digital comics as a way of propelling Comics into the future, and while it may keep the media alive, who cares of the quality of the content decreases? Music is currently battling with digital taking over, the flood of new bands with easily downloadable songs from Myspace or itunes reflects their careers, you just can't stay in the game long when there are a thousand more behind you waiting to take your place that one week you don't produce a new song. Souljaboy Tell'em is a great example of this, that boy hasn't stopped working in years and is on top because of it, other rappers similar to him have just fallen apart because they haven't released something new each week.

The kinds of comics that won't be able to survive are books like X-Men, that rely on a comics readership that will stick with them through thick and thin, and are willing to remember years and years of information. Continuity in comics isn't always a positive thing, it becomes confusing and elitist, new readers are left in the dark when every character in a book seems to know someone you've never seen before. But continuity is what keeps us reading comics, we love seeing new artists and new writers take on our favorite characters.

One way most comic stores stay alive is by starting to carry non-comic items, such as role playing games, nerd board games like Utopia and cards. Most stores that have started to carry these items become more successful, but stop concentrating on comics, shrink the comics side of the store and usually become unorganized. It's not that they should stay comics only focused, but there is never a good balance, you only seem to be able to have one or the other.

The Top Two understand their position in the entertainment world, so the newly overpriced $3.99 comics are strategically chosen. The comics that are priced at $4 aren't each issue, or even books like The Might Avengers or The Amazing Spider-Man, they apply it to the event books like Secret Invasion and Final Crisis and oneshots. They hold out to use it on books that non-comics people will buy, the people who walk into a comics store and want to know where the newest and best Batman comic is.

We who have been reading comics for years feel threatened by the recent changes to our world, with huge blockbuster movies turning heads our way and bringing new interest. Comics, and all media, are changing and we aren't ready to change with it. We often forget that not all children want to read their comics online, and manga is proof of that, it is keeping some stores alive and while some comics dudes want to write it off completely, it's a whole new world for those of us who have seen everything.

My little sister, age eight, reads tons of comics ranging from Bone and Tintin to Princess Kalala and One Piece, and when I showed her some web comics she may be interested in she didn't care. She wanted to be outside while reading, and although that can be achieved with an e-reader, it's not the same for a kid.

We're all old and grumpy, we fear for our hobby (as dumb as it is to call it that), and forget comics are changing for us as adults, kids like my sister are still experiencing them and will continue to buy single issues of Sabrina the Teenage Witch because she can't wait for the collection.

More and more comics will be online, they will be available in ebook form and more comics will go straight to trade, but they won't replace single issue comics because that is what tells them what is popular and what people want. My little sister reads her comics in issue form because she understands what makes comics exciting is the week to week beauty of waiting, and she can always have three bucks for her fix. She understands this better than most adults and she reads Disney's Fairy Adventures.


DC Steps Its Game Up With Wednesday Comics

So, today DC Comics confirmed they are putting out a 12-part weekly series reminiscent of the one-page Sunday comics section. The comics will be over-sized and fold down into a traditional comics form. The most exciting news about this is that great creators like Mike Allred, Paul Pope, Joe Kubert, and Kyle Baker have been attached.

This seems like a great move for DC and the sort of thing they need to do more often. DC has always seemed like the Pepsi of the big two, always sort of aping their more daring competitor's style. They seem locked into a super crossover event war that Marvel has consistently won. The entire Marvel Universe seems meticulously planned with each book standing on its own but somehow still managing to compliment the others. DC's have the feeling of stand alones trying hard to lock into each other.

DC is at its best when it focuses on its characters, and it does this best when in an "Elseworlds" format. Their characters have always been more archetypal and suffered from the character drain that is continuity. Something like "Elseworlds" gives creators the chance to focus on what makes the characters essential and still relevant.

The format itself is exciting because in a time when the trend seems to be heading towards digital and trade paperbacks (see comments) DC steps forward and reminds us why reading comics every week cane still be exciting. It gives you something to look forward to every week and that’s something that can’t be duplicated in any another format.


Comics for Serious favorite Cosmic Comix, has the first banner up on our blog. We'd like to think of our blog as a place for the nerds that aren't complete fan-boys (not that I only read Marvel books) or "intellectual" comics Graphic Novels and Sequential Art readers (I don't have a Mome subscription, honest), and Cosmic's the same way.

We've written about the store before because we all feel confident supporting it. The incredible stock of new as well as old issues makes Cosmic worth a trip, but what makes it worth going back to are the people there who care about you and ask you how you are doing. Their eBay store is a testament to the crew, the prices don't suck and you're not just looking at more issues of Young Blood. There's just no bullshit at Cosmic, just some dudes who want to sell comics and turn you on to something new.

We are all involved in comics, music and other forms of art, and want to help be a part of, and build upon, the communities and people we respect. We want to help out the people who help us out, we want to work with the little dudes; we want comics to grow. On the real, we also wouldn't mind some extra money, giving us a little more freedom to update the blog, and attend comic-cons and stuff.

So, in a humble attempt to mix scene-support with money-grubbing greed, we're saying: You can advertise with us for really cheap. Contact us by e-mail about it and I'm sure we can work something out. Comics For Serious wants to be somewhere that independent comics creators, toy makers, and publishers can come to, we want to build a community where we can all come together to keep our industry (and non-industry comics blogs) alive.


Age & Sex In Unknown Soldier #5 & Black Hole

In the last issue of Dysart and Ponticello's Unknown Soldier (issue 6 comes out next week), Moses reunites with his wife Sera. It's one of those inevitables that a lot of other comics would hold-off as long as possible. Dysart's confidence in characterization and interest human drama though, trumps forever-teasing comic narrative and we're treated to an incredibly moving scene of husband and wife back together. Of course, it's under strained and rather ugly circumstances.

We've been right there with Moses since he damaged his face and went stalking the LRA, so we've grown used to his hastily bandaged face, but it's entirely new to Sera. Employing the kind of emotional realism and wise shifting of feelings within a few pages--and often on the same page--Dysart has Sera scared, horrified, and then moved by Moses. They embrace and then she removes the bandages out of medical concern ("These desperately need to be changed") and a loving wife's need to see her husband. Their interaction bounces between the pragmatic ("We're going to have to shoot you up with penicillin...") and the romantic ("My love"), followed by a lustful kiss; Sera and Moses both forgetting his wrecked face.

After their kiss, the narrative quickly shifts to a few years ago, when in the jungle, Moses proposes to Sera ("Will you grow old with me?") and then back to the present, where I could be wrong but they might be having sex, and then, the couple on a bed, Sera nursing his wound-of-a-face. As usual, Dysart's daring narrative choices and well-wrought realism magnify the feelings, and Ponticelli's art, a mix of precise line scratched-about ugly detail, makes the whole thing oddly cinematic in the flashy, over-the-top sense, and documentary-like real too (you can get lost staring into Moses' wounds).

And at the risk of drawing more ire from the #1 comics creep, who doesn't really want to accept that weird pulpy, eroticism's one of of comics' selling points, this scene's both oddly romantic and realistically lust-filled. This mix is one that comics do well and in a way it seems, only comics can do because literature does not have the visual element and films are rooted in real-life human beings and so, there's an odd distancing effect.

Maybe someone like Bertolucci's gotten there a few times, but that's about it. I'm struggling with something as I write it here on purpose, as sex and sexuality's got this weird, indescribable balance of idealized in-your-head-ness to it and very real, messy, fumbling-ness too. This is something I've struggled with before, when I talked about Pirates of Coney Island and a Paul Pope illustration and I think Dysart and Ponticelli's scene adds a deeper, more mature context to this. Less a scene of adolescent lust that can't be contained, this is two people, still in-love, still in-lust, after years of marriage and they cannot resist one another despite the context--be it Moses' meat-grinder face or the LRA's pervasive threat.

The scene above from Charles Burns' Black Hole immediately came to mind as a kind of partner sequence to Unknown. Partner in that both are about a kind of overwhelming sexuality, but in another way, Rob and Chris of Black Hole representing the same kind of lust but from a younger, less mature point of view. This scene's the highlight of Black Hole and encompasses Burns' themes and ideas brilliantly. It's comic books doing what comic books do best, taking something very real and relate-able and blowing-it-up into some oddball, sci-fi, horror, out-there conceit that actually makes the scene feel even more real and relate-able.

In just this one page, there's so many of the concerns, fears, joys, and dangers of adolescent sex. The infected functioning as so many things, from H.I.V and less STDS, to the simple change that happens when you're no longer a virgin, to a kind of weird fear/obsession one has with the opposite sex that's inconceivable until you're you know, doing it. Dicks and vaginas are weird and bizarre and like, not beautiful or anything, but there's this odd animal-brain reaction we have to them, that's certainly enhanced as a hormones-rushing adolescent. The fact that Rob has the mouth on his neck and in effect, has a kind of vagina which Chris kisses, also hints towards a very-real, sexual ambiguity, flexibility, and confusion that teens, "straight" or "gay" wrestle around with. Like that one Replacements joint "Sixteen Blue" goes: "...everything is sexually vague/Now you're wondering to yourself, if you might be gay...".

And so, Black Hole's scene is about the kind of youthful awkwardness and self-consciousness of sex, when you're like "Okay, this is weird, there's this weird sex organ in front of me" and Unknown's scene is about later in life, when you've grown at least kinda comfortable with this whole sex thing. What I love about the scene is that it addresses age and maturity indirectly, you're mainly viewing the characters as two lovers reunited, but behind it, is a kind of healthy desperation, a wise disinterest in what's "weird" that's trumped by the same lust Rob and Chris feel, but directed towards true, lasting, love and romance.



Today Marvel announced their first MMO, or for you comics-exclusive nerds out there, a Massively Multiplayer Online game. Both Marvel and DC have attempted to create an online world for their characters that could compete with games like World of Warcraft and Everquest, but both companies have fallen flat.

This time around, Marvel has an all star team behind them, Gazillion Entertainment, collecting minds from Apple and Windows as well as gaming giants Blizzard Entertainment (Diablo, Starcraft, World of Warcraft) and animation masters Pixar (you should know who these guys are). With Marvel's 3D Streets of Rage style Ultimate Alliance game getting a sequel later this year and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe being the best Mortal Kombat game since MK2, it's a natural and welcome progression into the world of Online Gaming.

Hopefully the yet to be titled game won't fall to the wayside like the rest of the Top Two's attempts at online gaming, both companies have claimed to have MMOs ready for release before. There are alternatives though, like City of Heroes, a nonlinear world where you create your own super hero (or villain with the City of Villains expansion), taking control of your city by going on patrol daily, or going after the experience point heavy event missions.

In 2004, Marvel actually sued City of Heroes creators, claiming users were creating Marvel heroes to use in their world. Marvel lost the suit, the judge ruling that you can't blame the game makers for the game players for not using their imagination. There's also the fact that Marvel actually created some of their own characters just to prove their point, no users were ever "caught" playing as Hulk or Wolverine.


Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (loosely based on the Civil War storyline):

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe:

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The Flowering Nose

The late, great Seth Fisher is unquestionably one of the favorite comics creators of all of us here at Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader?. Fisher's unmistakable design aesthetic, equal parts Moebius-esque clear-line realism and Japanese pop-art whimsy, was a touchstone in my own transition from occasional reader of culturally approved "graphic novels" to dyed-in-the-wool comics enthusiast. From the loopy philosophical questioning of Green Lantern: Willworld (written by J. M. DeMatteis), to Fantastic Four / Iron Man: Big in Japan's (written by Zeb Wells) shamelessly optimistic collision of Japanese and American pop-culture, Seth could be counted on to shed new artistic light onto familiar comics territory.

Fisher's untimely death in January 2006 was a great loss for the comics world and especially for those readers who had honed in on his peculiar genius. But while there may not be any new Fisher illustrated projects to look forward to, fans of his work can go to The Flowering Nose, where for the better part of two years Seth's mother Vicki has been steadily engaging in a public project of considering Seth's work through his various completed and unrealized projects.

The Flowering Nose is a labor of artistic love with few referents in our cultural history. One perhaps thinks of John Kennedy Toole's grieving mother making her way undauntedly to the office of Walker Percy committed to demonstrating the brilliance of her late son's work. The really unique part about reading Vicki's posts is that allows one to take part in a process of learning about the craft of comics illustration through the works and words of one of the medium's true masters. As Vicki says in her blogger profile, "it turns out that the process of looking carefully enough at his work to write about it is teaching me many things about illustrating in general, and about my son's amazing work in particular. To my chagrin, I never realized before just HOW good it is on so many levels."

Motherly regrets aside, it is this process of learning about craft that makes reading Vicki's posts the unique experience that it is. Several times weekly, Vicki pulls material from Seth's considerable corpus and shares with us her own conversations with Seth about his creative process and his influences. Regular readers of Vicki's blog learn how the Mos Eisley bar scene in Star Wars influenced Seth's illustration of a particular scene from Willworld or how Antonio Gaudí's alien-organic designs became a major influence on Seth's art.

Over the past four days, Vicki treated readers to Lift, a four-page wordless story by Seth originally published in Heavy Metal, one page at a time. Clearly anyone interested in Seth's work could easily pick up that issue of Heavy Metal for very little money. Vicki's readers, however, not only get to experience the story through the blog's generally high quality images, but they also get Vicki's insight into how this story was related to a larger project Seth had originally envisioned for television or cinema, and this part of what makes The Flowering Nose one of the highly polished gems of the internet.


Being Broke

Last week I was laid off from my job at one of the largest book retailers in the nation, me and a couple hundred friends across the country are filing for unemployment, applying for jobs, and hoping we can pay the rent. Once all of the "important" stuff had been taken care of, I looked at my comics and had the realization that my weekly addiction may have to be put on hold until my bank account is a little fatter.

The subscription cubby with the name "Sammy Rules" over it at Cosmic Comix rarely has more than six or seven books in it, I only spend about twenty to forty dollars a week on new issues. To those who don't buy weekly that may seem steep, but with all of the crossover events and mini series coming out on a weekly basis from artists and writers you're interested in, some comics buyers (readers and collectors alike) purchase practically every title. Secret Invasion is a perfect example of this, any missed issue across nearly the entire Marvel line could have meant a reveal you'd have to find out about after the fact.

Our little form of escapism isn't expensive if you can be frugal, it's easy enough to find three bucks in change for one more issue. The thing about "one more issue" is that it quickly becomes two or three, you just want to read Cable but have to read X-Force to get the complete story-line. Waiting for the trade paperbacks saves you a little bit of money, but by the time you've read them you're behind on the current issues and are left having to play catch up.

With other mediums there's always a way to have the experience without the actual purchase. Movies and video games can be rented, books can be borrowed from the library and music can easily be downloaded. New issues of comics can be found online, but it's not the same as going to the store and leaving with a brown paper bag filled with new books. With a lot of the older issues, the trades aren't even available, so even attempting to get some history on characters you're unfamiliar with isn't an option if you don't have a lot of cash.

Even if you're only buying one or two new issues a week and only pick up older issues at dollar sales, you end up with a lot of comics you've only bought to read. A question I am constantly asked is if I actually reread comics that I buy, and the answer is yes. I have stacks and stacks of things that I read on a monthly basis and some comics I weekly open up to take in again. Attempting to resell these older issues, no matter how lightly read, is almost impossible. Outside of the rarities and variants that people actually want, most comics aren't worth shit. Even on eBay, unless something is twenty years old, chances are your "investment" is only worth three dollars, sometimes even less.

When you get to a point that you decide to cut some comics, you start to think about why you read the titles you purchase. You have to begin considering if you care about what happens in that issue or if you only care about the outcome of the "universe" as a whole. I've found myself buying Black Panther even though I don't care about who this new female Black Panther is, I just knew it was a part of Dark Reign. I didn't want to miss what was happening, and that's what Marvel and DC want. We want it too, as fans we love these huge events, even if it's just to talk a lot of shit about how much we don't like them.

The prices of comics inevitably will all be $3.99, and that one dollar difference makes a huge impact on what you buy. New mini series that may be interesting are left on the rack, number one issues don't sell and three issues later the book is cancelled. I don't know how bad the Comics' Industry is doing right now, or with all of the movies coming out if they are doing bad at all, but flooding the market with Wolverine comics and a new series coming out each week just makes you resent the comics, and look else where for cheaper entertainment.



Morrison & Quitely's Batman Is a Go!

Shouldn't this be blowing up the internet? It probably would if comics fans gave a shit about anything really. DC should get extra points for slyly sticking the teaser art in the back of their books this week, without proper credit, just Quitely's brilliant art standing alone. But the internets figures this shit out and really, this is a big deal because other than that slept-on Kevin Maguire Batman Confidential joint from last year, has anything DC (not Vertigo, DC) been worth anything since All-Star Superman?

Too bad there can't just be some kind of real-life version of DC retarded time fuckery in which the earth could be spun backwards or shot into another 'verse or some shit so that All-Star Batman never existed and this new Morrison and Quietly could just also be a part of the "All-Star" brand. And then, every couple years ago they make some forward-thinking incredibly dope but still all-out superhero comic for a classic DC character. No matter what though, this should be good.

And even though that tiny-ass Robin is less the "classic" and more like Damian from Morrison's "Batman & Son", that happens to be the best bat-shit crazy Morrison/Batman storyline and I'd love a return to that sort of weirdness instead of whatever's going on in "R.I.P" and subsequent fall-out from that. The art too--basically what'll make this an amazing instead of interesting Morrison comic--is especially exciting because it retains that lumpy playfullness of Quitely's work but also seems to be trying something new too.

Quitely's great but his work can sometimes feel really same-y, the above cover seems to be reaching for a little more reality, which works. I'm reminded of Paul Pope's Year 100 with a sense of reality or like, pragmatism to the costume and gadgets. Check out the padded parts of Robin's suit, or the realistic, stream-lined but still sorta bulky boots on Batman.

There's also a scrawly scratchy sense of shading to the work that's especially prominent in sample page below. Maybe it's the black and white, maybe it's the bad-ass action scene in a tunnel, but here Quitely's on his Otomo shit. Maybe all his work looks this incredible or this special kind of awesome before coloring and digital effects, but yeah, this looks good.


Irmin & The Technicolor Silver Surfer Track Jacket

Was just talking to Sammy about how Black Sabbath are just this slightly more heavy hippie band but too many of their fans don't like to admit it, so I was going through You Tube showing comparable heavy/scary hippie groups like CAN and found this late-career performance which is pretty great for a number of reasons, among them, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt's awesome technicolor track jacket with a big Silver Surfer on the back.


Rick Veitch's The Maximortal

In his typically dismissive, if no less hilarious review of the Watchmen movie, New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane says of comics fans, "[they] are masonically loyal, prickling with a defensiveness and an ardor that not even Wagnerians can match." Lane's particular genius is that it is usually in those moments when he is being most petty and cruel that he is also most accurate, as a perusal of comics bloggers' responses to the negative criticism of the film that has surfaced in recent days will attest. The typical response to a bad review of the movie essentially mirrors the typical response to a negative opinion of the comic, which is to say that fans will claim that detractors just don't get it, as though it were somehow impossible to both get and dislike Moore's opus. The secret is that Watchmen is like Proust only in the sense that it isn't actually that hard to get, it just takes a fair amount of effort to get from the first page to the last.

For the record, I get it. Watchmen is a grittily realistic deconstruction of the superhero comic as a genre and the superhero as an idea as it relates to notions of American exceptionalism and bourgeois culture. I don't like the book and presumably will not like the movie because in my estimation it fails as a comic, fails as entertainment and fails as an intellectual exercise. The best way to demonstrate this is by holding Watchmen up to a deconstructive superhero comic that succeeds: Rick Veitch's The Maximortal.

It is interesting to have this review of The Maximortal follow Brandon's write-up of Milligan & Fegredo's Enigma in that Veitch's approach to the phenomenon of the superhero is problematic in many of the same ways as Milligan's. As Veitch's afterword in the King Hell Press trade paperback edition points out, his whole approach to the history of the American superhero in the 20th century is based upon a fundamental misreading of Nietzsche and his impact on world culture.

Popular notions of Nietzsche's philosophy to the contrary, the philosopher's greatest legacy was not the ill-defined notion of the uber-mensch, but was rather his demonstration of the fallacy of the idea of objective truth. Moreover, Veitch's attribution of the rise of the phenomenon of the superhero to the influence of Nietzsche's uber-mensch ignores the entire history of mythology and his equation of superheros with Nazi eugenic theories is just plain intellectual irresponsibility.

I take pains to point out these problematic aspects of Veitch's book in order to demonstrate, as Brandon did in the context of Enigma, that a writer can base his reading of the superhero phenomenon on a set of questionable assumptions and still turn these into a successful book. The Maximortal works, in my view, because Veitch's approach to the subject provides a broad formal framework in which to explore the issues in question. Veitch has written a broad revisionist narrative of the phenomenon of superheros in all its aspects: as displaced extra-terrestrial being raised by a kindly American couple; as comic-book-character-cum-multimedia-marketing-and-cultural juggernaut; as government weapon and propaganda tool; and finally as symbol for the tarnished values of a civilization. What this shows is that while Veitch can have some fundamental suspicions regarding the implications of superhero veneration, he stills loves his subject and respects the creators who have contributed to its history.

Veitch further demonstrates his respect for his subject in the subtle ways in which he uses and alters his art style throughout the book. The Maximortal is clearly rooted in the comics of the golden age and his representations and particularly his painstaking inking reflects this heritage. Moreover, Veitch employs a variety of inking styles in order to reflect shifts in tone and narrative, from the fine, clearly delineated lines of Sidney Wallace's studio and offices, to the impressionistic brushwork of the book's occasional fiery infernos. Like all great artists, Veitch borrows tropes and techniques from his predecessors and recombines them in order to create new meaning.

Perhaps the book's most valuable tribute to the history of the superhero in America comes in the form of Veitch's revisionist retelling of the story of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a story that was little known outside of comics insider circles in 1992. Veitch of course took liberties in his portraits of Jerry Spiegal and Joe Schumacher, but as he says in the afterword, "it is all exaggerated fiction, but yes, it's all true too." What these characters demonstrate is that whatever your view of the impact of superheros on our culture, behind these beloved characters are creators willing to work for very little in order to share their vision with the world. Moreover, in an era before artists were more clearly protected by copyright law, there were just as often unscrupulous business persons who enriched themselves at the expense of those creators.

All of these aspects of Veitch's book are instrumental in making the successful deconstruction that it is, but the fundamental reason for the success of The Maximortal is that it is one hell of a read. Veitch's sensibility, both in terms of narrative as well as his illustrations, is exceptionally bizarre. From the peyote-eating, neo-Golem creating alchemist of shit, El Guano, to the bizarre and wildly anachronistic Doctor Blasphemy, Veitch's book is filled with some of the strangest, most unsettling characters and set pieces in modern comics. Moreover, Veitch's skill as an artist coupled with his remarkable sense of visual narrative allow the images to be the centerpiece of the book, with text playing a supporting role. The Maximortal is by turns laugh-aloud funny, profoundly disturbing and intellectually engaging to a degree that few comics are. Comics are fundamentally an entertainment medium and creators who are cognizant of this and keep their readers foremost in their minds will always be those who write the best comics.


Milligan & Fegredo's Enigma

"I’ve always regarded Peter as the best writer, in the grown-up, literary sense, to have graced the comic book business (as an adult exploration of the superhero concept, I believe his Enigma book is far superior to Watchmen in every significant way)."

-Grant Morrison

One of the more delightful meta-comics strands is Grant Morrison and Alan Moore's subtle and not-so-subtle critiques lobbed at one another. Be it through you'd-have-to-be-a-fan-of-both-to-catch-it references in one another's comics to harsh but even-handed quotes like the one above, the two are having some fun and taking this comics stuff kinda seriously. It's also fun because it just makes sense that these two wouldn't really see eye-to-eye and it's great that they recognize that on a like ideological or maybe even moral level.

This debate becomes more fascinating when you throw-in Peter Milligan's work, especially on his superhero deconstruction Enigma because although it's been praised by Morrison (see above and the Introduction for the trade), the series has about as much in common with Morrison's work as Moore's. The difference then, is that Enigma just does what Watchmen does way better. Milligan, as Morrison says, writes comics "in the grown-up, literary sense" better than anybody. This is key to approaching Enigma in the context of Watchmen because although it's a much better and more thought-provoking, it isn't any less formal and capital-M mature than Moore's mega-classic. Like all really good stuff, the difference is in the details.

The most notable aspect of Enigma is that, although it's an incredibly harsh, anti-Romantic sense of comics and superheroes, it never seems enamored with itself for being a harsh, anti-Romantic comic book. The same can't be said for Moore, who even today, seems to think that before Watchmen, no one had taken a sort of skewed, critical take on superheroes. Besides the simple fact that Watchmen isn't even the "first" of the big two, super-well-known comic deconstructions--starting 8 months after Miller's Dark Knight--there's an entire history of deconstructions that did it without yelling-out "Look! I'm attacking superheroes!"...stuff as mainstream as Iron Man--the entire premise, a play on superhero egomania and hidden vulnerability---to something like Spain Rodriguez's Trashman to the old Adam West Batman show.

Milligan wisely leaves comic-book comics behind from the start, less trying to parody or flip expectations than forget about them altogether. So, while the conceit of Enigma has to do with Super-Heroes, it's about heroes on the comic-book page and how the simple existence on the pages fucks around with the hopes and ideals and wish-fulfillment junk inside of our minds. Not Moore's high-falutin' what if... but a practical, humane application of one form of goofball un-reality media to our real-world.

But what it says about how these on-paper heroes we obsess over as children and teens is just as cynical. The basic set-up is Michael Smith, a guy with a life as ho-hum as his name, is suddenly confronted with the characters from some kinda crappy underground comics super-hero parody in "real-life" and it leads him to all kinds of questions about his life, sexuality, identity, and blah blah blah. It's really hard to describe without overloading you with spoliers--which nearly every write-up on the comic does--so I'm trying my best to be interesting and vague enough here...

Anyways, the point is, it's making some kinda obvious and even obnoxious points, about how being a boy reading comics about buff dudes in tights might be latently homosexual and about transferring our dreams onto fictionalized people that can't dream (so our dreams are safe), but Milligan does it with the right amount of confidence with his premise and comfort in absurdity. And there are two additional pieces of the Enigma puzzle that move it out of the "smart guy mocks comic in a comic book" sub-sub genre and into the category of masterpiece. The appearance of the creator of Smith's childhood favorite--a actual curveball in a sub-sub genre known for "curveballs"--and a game-changing "trick ending" switch-up that I'll only mention and leave it at that.

So, back to this whole creator-as-character thing. Milligan found a way to balance Moore's meta-comic philosophizing with Morrison's border-line obnoxious putting-himself-in-the-comic trickery, by incorporating a creator character that's not a stand-in for the creator himself and isn't an above-it-all satirical figure either. Although there's pathos and emotion in Watchmen, the all-too knowing politics of the endeavor, coupled with the overt satire of good ol' American comics, puts Moore and readers sort of above that which it's critiquing. Moore doesn't have a character to reflect him or the readers because the whole point of the comic is a kind of distanced condescension about media, politics, and the world at-large. This is of course, why it's so popular amongst intellectuals that don't normally read comic books. It's "smart" on that obnoxious Berkeley level.

Part of Enigma's thesis is indeed, the way that these small, frivolous pieces of media can have profound effects--often negative--on the reader. We see this play-out in excruciating detail as Smith moves away from his girlfriend and one-fuck-a-week routine towards a life of adventure and risk and eventually, a total revaluation of his sexual identity and beliefs. Titus Bird, the creator of The Enigma, Smith's favorite comic book as a child, which later comes to life and claims actual victims, is presented as an old and bitter homosexual who mainly created the comic as a lark, fitting into the goofy, quasi-philosophy of 60s underground comix and the counter-culture overall. That Moore himself is something of a product of that counter-culture might be another essay altogether, but Milligan does a clever comment on the responsibility of the creator and the need for integrity in one's creation, by taking the result of phoned-in, cash-in work to it's horrifying, illogical extreme. What if even your hack-iest, more played-out, cash-in work had real-world effects? That's a scarier, more precarious point than Moore's knee-jerk, angry 60s politics slapped onto 80s comics darkness.

And I haven't even gotten a chance to talk about Duncan Fegredo's art, which is as ugly and fucked-up as Milligan's story, eschewing the obnoxious formalism and pseudo-cinematics of Gibbons and Moore, for a fever-dream of lines, porous panels, and overall unease, that makes Enigma even harder to digest, as it should be.


Flex Mentallo: Hero of Comics

In honor of "Um, I Don’t Really Like Watchmen Week," I’ve decided to take a close look at Flex Mentallo. It’s kind of a meta-comic and in some ways responds to the Watchmen’s status as comics’ shining beacon. Legal issues with the estate of Charles Atlas has made DC reluctant to publish it in trade. This obviously has Flex Mentallo flying under most peoples radar. Don’t let this fool you though, it’s one of the best comics out there.

“All we can do is hope.”
-Flex Mentallo
Flex Mentallo has two major story lines running through it: Flex’s mystery and Wally Sage’s suicide. It seems that Flex’s world is the world inside of Wally’s imagination, but they both overlap. They weave through each other and interconnect, each commenting on the other world. Wally Sage is a musician who grew up reading comics. In his storyline, he is committing suicide, and while he waits to die, he wants to talk about comics. Wally’s storyline towards the end becomes a quest for him to become a functioning adult and human being.

One of the things Morrison does well with Wally is give the scatterbrained feeling of someone who is about to commit suicide. The fragmented plot line and jumping around makes sense because Wally is someone who is in crisis and his brain has entered red alert mode. What starts to come across, especially in issue #4, is that this is Wally’s “to be or not to be.” It becomes more and more apparent that he has control over his own final outcome. This struggle is played out by Flex and others inside Wally’s head.
On the side of life are Flex and his supporting cast. Fighting against them is a world that is increasingly falling to pieces, which turns out to be represented by the final villain, the Man in the Moon a.k.a. adolescent Wally Sage. To get to him, Flex has to go through a series of tests and trials.

Flex is introduced to us from the very beginning as the embodiment of hope in Wally’s psyche. He’s very similar to Superman in Morrison’s All Star incarnation. He knows exactly who he is and won’t stop fighting until his goals are accomplished. Flex was created by Wally Sage as a child to one day save Wally from the suicide he now contmeplates. At one point, Flex mentions that Wally died in his arms. This is probably the childhood version of Wally that we see throughout the story. There is a theme of growing in stages as even Flex says that his Golden Age version disappeared. We see Wally in all stages of life in the story. It’s ultimately his adolescent version that is the villain and what he needs to overcome.
Then there is the Hoaxer, the Lieutenant, and the Fact. These three characters all play important roles within the story but aren’t quite as obvious as Flex’s. They are vaguely reminiscent of an Id, Ego, and Super Ego.

The Fact starts the book by throwing one of his bombs birthing the universe we are about to read. Throughout the story he acts behind the scenes guiding Flex. He’s very mysterious and Flex describes him looking like a Big Foot or UFO photo. At the end you see that he’s been the one listening to Wally’s phone conversation. He seems to function as a white blood cell for Wally’s consciousness. The Fact's most interesting page is when he sets the stage up the background for Flex's final fight. This gives the feeling that we are watching a play and brings attention to what these characters represent.

The Lieutenant is kind of a representative of a normal blue collar side to Wally’s personality. He has a wife he loves and a job he works hard at. He gets the Hoaxer out of prison and they join forces to find Flex and fight adolescent Wally Sage. He intellectually triumphs over adolescent Wally when he says, “I loved my wife, you fuck! What do you love?” He’s the most real of the three with no super powers, using a gun as a weapon.

The Hoax is the most confusing. He can flash a light in your face and make you think you are anywhere. It’s ultimately the Hoax who defeats adolescent Wally Sage by giving him the illusion of control. His one final act appears on the very last page. He’s shining his light directly at us and repeats the first lines of the book. In the world of the comic, he is in Wally’s apartment, which is now clean, and his girlfriend is there. It’s not a coincidence that the question marks on him form a heart. The Hoax pulls the wool over our eyes and Morrison may be arguing this is a good thing. It gives the story a heart and allows us to see the good in life.

"Only a bitter little adolescent boy could confuse realism with pessimism."
-The Hoaxer

Under all the story, there is the subtext of comics as art and the value of super heroes within comics. There’s been a couple good breakdowns on the web of Flex Mentallo and its relationship to comics history so look there for a more in depth analysis. The basic idea is that each issue corresponds to an era in comics history. Issue #1 corresponds with the Golden Age, issue #2 with the Silver Age, issue #3 with comics “Dark Age”, and the final issue with the future of comics. Of course it isn’t that simple. Even in the first issue Flex sits down watching TV and notices the world around him seems to be falling apart.

The final battle between Flex and adolescent Wally is a battle for the future of comics. This is where the Watchmen comes in. Wally Sage committing suicide is how Morrison sees comics at the time. It's a little less meaningful these days with all the good super hero titles that have sort of been following Morrison's formula, but it's still strange that Watchmen is increasingly embedded in the comics canon. Celebrating Watchmen is celebrating an era in comics that had lost its heart and it’s a shame that Watchmen is regarded as the representative of a medium that embodies heart and soul. I don't hate Watchmen but I don't like that it's been put on such a high pedestal. It tears down super heroes without ever really explaining why.
Morrison is giving us a defense for the super hero comic through the Legion of Legions and Flex. The Legion of Legions is a super group similar to the Justice League. In order to save their world, which seems to strongly overlap with Flex’s, they become fictional in Wally’s world. They represent a archetypal version of the world. They are the unknowable in the universe that science can't explain. They are everything that is good inside of us. The leader of the Legion explains to Wally that the heroes are inside everyone waiting for us to believe them to life. They give us an ideal to strive for and the hope that we can achieve it. Wally attains a sort of epiphany at the end. The final panel is his girlfriend looking up out of the panel at us in Wally's position shining down. Of course, we are the ones with the true potential.

Download Flex here.


Doom Patrol is STILL Better Than Watchmen

When this post first appeared in the nascent days of Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader? I reflected upon how the bundling of the early trailer for the Watchmen movie with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight generated huge new interest in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's supposedly ground-breaking book. Unsurprisingly, the intervening months have seen this interest magnified exponentially, with a deluxe new hardcover edition, the reissue of the comic's first installment at a bargain-basement price, and of course the rash of obligatory movie tie-in books (Watchmen and Philosophy anyone?). Of course, none of these alters the point: however many ways DC devises to dress up that pig, it's still basically unreadable and will never be able to hold a candle to Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol.

Watchmen and Doom Patrol are admittedly two radically different books. Be that as it may, in the sense that both present superheroes as outcasts, more or less unwanted by the societies in which they live, they share some common ground. In the case of Watchmen, Moore's stated premise was to show what it would be like if superheroes existed in our own world--or at least in a world very much like our own. This is a pretty flimsy premise to base an entire 12 issue series on and his conclusions about how such superheroes would comport themselves are typically grim and pessimistic.

Moore's assumption is that for someone to actually go through the trouble of putting on a costume and executing vigilante justice, they would of need be pretty ridiculous and pathetic. Not only is this not necessarily true--or even really plausible at all--but it also makes for characters that are fairly one dimensional and devoid of any emotional appeal. The irony of course being that when quizzed about what makes Watchmen such a great comic, its fans invariably express the fact that it is not about superheroes at all, but about people. Yeah, maybe pathetic, overweight, impotent people who write scholarly articles about ornithology.

The heroes of Doom Patrol are also misfits in the sense that they are uncomfortable with the super powers with which they are blessed (cursed?) and as a result have difficulty fitting into the world at large. What separates them from the misfits at the center of Watchmen is their identifiable emotional attraction--to each other and to their readers. When Robotman encounters Crazy Jane in the first issue of Morrison's run, an emotional bond is developed between the two characters that is real and is sustained throughout the entire run of the book. He doesn't just want to fuck her, as is the case with Nite Owl II Daniel Dreiberg and Silk Spectre II Laurie Juspeczyk--in fact he couldn't fuck her, he's a robot, and this is somehow really refreshing.

The elephant in the room, as it were, when dealing with Watchmen and its fans is its ostensible intellectual component. When someone mentions this aspect of Moore's book, however, all they are really saying that it is difficult to read--in other words, it is boring. Don't get me wrong, I have read Proust and Ulysses--twice, as a matter of fact--so I do not have a problem with difficult literature per se. The problem with Watchmen is that it is difficult for the sake of being difficult--its abstruseness is arbitrary and a serious obstacle to the appreciation of the book.

Much is made of its "meta" qualities, but the only thing that really strikes me as being "meta" is the pirate comic which interposes the action and apparently comments on it. This comic, however, is just about as boring as the narrative proper and I find myself skimming over the text in these sections. This is a really bad sign in a comic. Besides, comics are supposed to be entertaining--it is sort of like, the contract between the artists and their readers. People approach the novels of Proust or Mann understanding that they will have to do some work in order to unlock the full meaning contained therein. A comic which demands this of its readers seems somehow dishonest.

This is not to say, of course, that a comic cannot be intellectual. Grant Morrison is well known for inserting considerable erudition into his work and Doom Patrol is no exception to this. The difference of course is that the erudition is real, not feigned and that throughout it all, the comic never loses the sense of whimsy that makes it an entertaining, and ultimately successful comic. Doom Patrol is a sort of touchstone of intertextuality in comics. Morrison uses the book as a forum to analyze and comment upon much of what is going on in the comics world--including Watchmen.

Watchmen gets its title from a quote from the Roman satirist Juvenal, which translates roughly as "Who watches the watchmen." The book is littered with panels in which this phrase is shown painted on exterior walls. Morrison took this sort of iconic image from Moore's book and translated into one of his most brilliant original characters, Danny the Sentient Street. Danny is exactly that, a sentient street who can relocate himself anywhere in the world. Moreover, the stores and business located along Danny are all overtly masculine (hardware, firearms), yet are decorated in a frilly, feminine style--commenting on issues of gender and sexual identity in a most original, whimsical manner.

The intelligence of Doom Patrol doesn't end with its overt intertextuality. From The New Brotherhood of Dada and the Painting That Ate Paris, to the 'Potlatch' episode from volume 3, Morrison mines the history of art, philosophy, religion and mythology in order to enrich his stories in a manner that is as edifying as it is hilarious.

At the end of the day, comics are a visual medium and their stories are told as much by their images as by their text. Much is made of Dave Gibbons's art in Watchmen--in particular its cinematic qualities and embedded symbolism. The problem is that what is called cinematic is really just a way of describing the book's utter lack of visual narrative movement. The result of this is that Watchmen is almost entirely dependent on Moore's text in order to convey the movement of the narrative. This is problematic in general, but especially in a comic that is so often bogged down by wordiness.

Another issue with Gibbons's art is its tendency to insert information that at first might seem significant, yet in reality turns out to be meaningless. The obvious example of this is the inkblot pattern on Rorschach's mask, which alters from panel to panel, signifying little besides something "cool" for readers to comment upon. None of this is to say that the art in Watchmen looks bad--it doesn't--however, the art adds very little substance and reflects the book's overall clumsy pretension. Richard Case handles the pencils for the majority of the issues of Morrison's run on Doom Patrol and his work very ably adds to the comic's overall mood of enlightened levity. There are occasional moments of genius in the art, like the alien castle that is clearly modeled on Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. Morrison's vision for the book is ambitious, to say the least, and Case and the other artists have successfully translated his ideas into artwork that carries and even amplifies the comic's whimsical seriousness.

Ultimately, I think, these two books reflect the differences in temperament and attitude of their respective creators. Like much of Moore's other work, Watchmen is a politically confused, philosophically deterministic and ultimately morally muddy mess. How else does one describe a book in which the people who put on costumes to help their fellows run the gamut from jingoistic fascists to psychopaths to ineffectual effete pseudo-aristocrats; or in which the only character who can properly be described as a superhero can foresee the conclusion of events into the future; or in which another of the ostensible heroes engineers an "alien" invasion, destroying a city in order to prevent the destruction of the world?

Grant Morrison is clearly as off-the-wall a creator as Alan Moore could ever hope to be, but his worldview as presented in his books is gratefully free of the pessimistic moralizing and self-conscious "grittiness" that more or less defines Moore's oeuvre. Instead, Morrison chooses to exercise his curiosity about the world, about art and about the significance of the comics medium in a way that never ceases to entertain his readers--or at least he did so with Doom Patrol.