B.P.R.D. 1947 #1

When Jean Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece The Rules of the Game premiered in Paris on the eve of the Second World War, moviegoers incensed at the film’s portrayal of a dissolute French bourgeoisie attempted to burn down the theatre. The film was Renoir’s attempt to portray the social circumstances that had again failed to check Europe’s inevitable path to war. Renoir’s countrymen vigorously rejected the film precisely because it showed something about them that they weren’t willing to acknowledge.

This notion of an unwillingness to acknowledge or face up to unwelcome or unsavory truths suffuses the first issue of B.P.R.D. 1947. When scores of former Nazi officers found trying to escape suddenly turn up mutilated, the reaction of many of the former allies is to chalk it up to a sort of balancing of the scales. But as Professor Bruttenholm explains to Sergeant Maes in the second issue of 1946, there are monsters in the world and simply pretending that they aren’t there won’t make them go away.

The same idea is behind the story of the spectators burning down the opera house subsequent to the premier of Jean-Marie de Grigny’s Carnaval des Condamnés. Presumably those unsuspecting opera aficionados saw the monsters that Grigny was witness to at Baron Konig’s island party. But as Robert Louis Stevenson—and Jean Renoir, for that matter—knew, people are the real monsters and this precisely what we don’t like to acknowledge.

So we have monster stories. Of course, when they are done right, monster stories still manage to show us something of the monsters within us and one would be hard pressed to find a more consistent source of great monster stories than Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics.

One of the great ironies of the Hellboy comics is that the thing about which fans of the series complain most loudly—namely Mignola's choice to invite outside talent to help write and draw the books—is precisely what has kept the series consistently interesting and raised the overall quality of the books. Joshua Dysart, who also co-wrote 1946 with Mignola, is one of the most interesting writers in mainstream comics right now. As much as any other writer, Dysart has a perfect sense of the balance between the demands of narrative and the little bits of political and literary erudition that make a story more than a story. In 1946, Dysart recognized that the story's most interesting character was the Russian girl/demon Varvara and the high points of that series generally centered on those moments where her terrifying ambiguity was most apparent.

Both Varvara and Dysart are back in 1947 and are joined by the Brazilian artist/brothers Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. Anyone uncertain of the ability of this pair to illustrate a legitimately terrifying horror comic need look no further than the recently released Pixu: The Mark of Evil, in which Bá and Moon were joined by Vasilis Lolos and Becky Cloonan. Bá's chunky lines and expressionistic grotesquerie are a perfect foil to Moon's broad strokes and impressionistic dread. The shifts between the two artists' respective illustrations are subtle enough to be unsettling to the reader and yet not so subtle as to defy differentiation.

Somehow, Hellboy has become something of the Rodney Dangerfield of comics series, never quite getting the respect it deserves, in spite of its ever increasing quality. With creators like Dysart, Bá and Moon, not to forget Mignola himself, 1947 promises to be one of the handful of the series's truly great narratives.


Duncan Jones' Moon

It's impossible to discuss Moon without dropping a few spoilers. Even if you only watch the trailer, you'll learn of the first--of many--twists in the movie: There's apparently more than one version of Sam Rockwell's character on the moon. You learn this like thirty minutes into the movie and though it's a surprise, within the first five minutes of the movie, director Duncan Jones goes out of his way to make it very obvious Moon is full of twists and unexpected shifts in tone and sensibility.

This isn't lead-footed, clunky storytelling though, it's no bullshit, really honest storytelling. Rather than send you on a contrived twisty-turny series of narrative flips and dead-ends, Jones comes out and establishes the unreliability of "facts" right away. This is something all the more in demand given the pervasive, trust-no-one cynicism and "trick-ending" obsessions of movies as of late.

Sam, an astronaut on a three-year project to harvest H3 from the sun (or something) that then gets sent to earth is not-well from the first moments we see him. Though he's charming and self-aware about his isolation, there's a terrifying edge to it. It's almost like Rockwell's character from David Gordon Green's Snow Angels was sent on a space mission.

He's first shown hallucinating a woman sitting in his recliner--the movie's full of human/humane details like Sam having a recliner on the ship, or wearing slippers and trackpants, or listening to Katrina & the Waves--and a few moments later, transmissions from earth seem jagged and incomplete or malfunctioning. His HAL-like computer, Gerty, simply by being in the movie and playing off of HAL-9000, gives us a kind of knowing "this'll end weird" feeling. As I said, this helps the ever-shifting reality of the Sam character go down much easier: Stuff's screwy from the start. The rug's being tugged from minute one, so when it gets pulled from under your thirty minutes later, you were totally warned. It's less about twists and more about surrounding the twists in characterization and emotion so that when they happen, they mean something.

Without leading you on how the movie gets there, it becomes clear really early that Sam's a clone and that the other Sam is a clone too and that the company, a private company--a very important detail--that's harvesting H3 for the good of the earth is involved in some fairly questionable practices.

This makes the movie quinessentially 2009, despite its clear devotion to Sci-fi of the 70s--especially Silent Running. It's 2009, and we're no longer mindless consumers and wasters, nor are we enlightened, guilt-ridden conservationists, we're all kind of these environmental, earthly, ironists. "Green" is a political/social stance, but it's also tagline and stream of products. We're all well aware of our carbon footprints, doing something or other to curb it, but not enough, and we're sure to take note when we're wasting or abusing mother earth. Moon confronts you with the negatives of our luxuries.

Our irony towards the use and abuse of resources isn't necessarily a bad thing (it's honest at least), but it leads to a strange, knee-jerk self-justification when we buy something at Wal-Mart or throw out that IKEA dresser because it's easier to just buy a new one for 40 bucks than lug it up the stairs of our next apartment. What Moon does is wrestle with the "break some eggs to make an omelet" debate we all have in regards to living in a convenient Western world without falling on self-justification or self-righteousness. Here the "Eggs" are clones of an original Sam tricked to thinking they have a fully-functioning life and then having it ripped away from them under the guise of a "return" home--a home they only possess via implanted memories.

If it's solved the energy crisis, does it matter that some clones suffer some crucial emotional breakdowns? Jones doesn't even wrestle with that question though or rather, he wrestles with it by taking the characters seriously and simply dropping us into their existential dilemma; he doesn't allegorize or symbolize it. It feels rarefied and specific.

Unlike the past however many years of Sci-fi which likes to think "What makes us human?" is actually a fascinating question, Moon humanizes everybody--even a clunky, emoticon communicating robot--and lets the actual human and not-so-human drama play out. Moon grabs us via emotion and not ethical pondering. We're stuck on a spaceship with the eggs to be broken and it's all we ever really get to see, and so we don't even consider the omelet anymore.

And that's the brilliance of Moon, the big picture becomes implicit and the tiny little emotions at-hand takeover. Science-fiction often gets bogged down in explanation, exposition, or just a shit-ton of throat-clearing and so, a movie that just keeps it moving, that's focused on contingency and not definites (be them world-building or ethical) is a delight.


The Wednesday Comics Experience Part 3

We're officially into it. Now that we've got a couple weeks under our belt, I know exactly which ones to read and in which order. Basically, the good ones come first and the not so good are last. Some I skipped altogether and are going to left out for review purposes. Skipping pages is a little weird because of the cost issue, but I still feel like the good ones are good enough to justify the whole thing.

BATMAN by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso
This Batman story is blowing me away. A lot of the panels in this strip feel "Powerful Panels" worthy. Especially the panel when the son throws this droplets into his mouth. It's a weird panel because it's completely interpretive of the action. The panel is meant to convey getting the last drop out of your cup but there are slightly too many and it just looks like that's the way he's drinking. It's particularly good because it somehow manages to sum up why this guy is creepy. Like, he's so awkward, even his drink comes out awkwardly. Batman lurking in the background is a nice touch and his fist appearing while the girl is slapped works as a way to show Batman's anger in contrast to the son's. This is another page that could stand on it's own and tell a complete story.

KAMANDI by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Ryan Sook
I skipped this one on my initial run through, not because it's bad, but because it's more dense that most of the others. A mini adventure happens in each of the recent Kamandi. I get excited by the ideas of Kamandi like Apes driving jeeps, airships, and caveboys wielding guns. When it's drawn well and not too dense it works great. The characterizations are done very well. Tuftan, despite being this noble prince, has a warm reunion with Kamandi in the last episode and is reprimanded by Dr. Canus. He's shown looking sullen about it, which is a panel that really adds to the investment in the character. Stuff like this is especially important--these tiny gestures of characterization--when you're only getting a page a week.

SUPERMAN by writer John Arcudi and artist Lee Bermejo
I like how this page gives you the two halves of Superman's personality shown through the major locations in his life. The story seems to be just dissecting the personality of Superman. There hasn't been a single villian for the past two pages and it's still going strong. My big worry is that existential Superman could wear thin. I think as long as the art continues to knock socks off it will work. Be sure to pay attention to John Kents' expression in the last panel and that will pretty much tell you why this story is good.

DEADMAN by writers Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck and artist Dave Bullock
I'm really getting into this. I like how the page is carefully constructed to be a page in a newspaper. The idea of this crazy murderer's mind being all messed up is intense. Even the idea of this murderer being possessed by a demon or something, as the last panel implies, makes perfect sense as a metaphor.

GREEN LANTERN by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Joe Quiñones
I'm still not ready to give up here. The black and white panel of the astronaut changing into a alien and the half-Green Lantern half-Hal Jordan panel still got me to cross my fingers. Even the party with Ferris and Jordan has me a little intrigued. I hope next week rules.

METAMORPHO by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Michael Allred
I don't even care about this story. I would continue to be happy with full page Allred Metamorpho spreads though.

STRANGE ADVENTURES by writer/artist Paul Pope
Again, lots of good stuff to harp on. The best part is how Pope explains the silliness of the zeta-beam strike into something meaningful. He comments that nothing like this could have ever happend on Earth. It's almost as if Adam Strange is in on the workings of the story itself which even kind of makes sense because of his super power. Pope's always been one to play with comics form and expectations and he's quietly getting meta here even as he gives you pure Pulp.

METAL MEN by writer Dan DiDio and artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan
The reason why this works is because the strength of the villain. The robber in this page behaves realistically in the situation. He grabs onto a last ditch chance at safety and holds onto it. The last panel is a challenge to the "robots" to beat his trigger finger. It's a classic set-up but it still works because it grounded in reality. Guns are the sort of the ultimate power and seeing super heroes outwit them really never gets old.

WONDER WOMAN by writer/artist Ben Caldwell
Let's talk about Little Nemo in Slumberland. The reason why it is great is because of it's simplicity and it's formula. Most pages in Nemo end with him waking up. It's a large and important part of the story because it tell how his dream affects him in the real world. It's also the joke of the strip and the focus. In Wonder Woman there is no focus. What these dreams mean is undefined and they don't matter at all.

SGT. ROCK and EASY CO. by writer Adam Kubert and artist Joe Kubert
These pages have been simple, quick, and enjoyable so far. The page setup is excellent because the climax panel of the interrogation scene where Rock looks defiant is directly under the climax of the tunnel searching flashback where the Easy Co. asserts that they go in together and come out together. Both panels sum up what's special about these men. They have a brotherhood and heart that propels them forward. This contrasts with the two Nazi interrogators just from their body language alone.

FLASH COMICS by writers Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl
Remember how last week (Monday) I said it wouldn't be outrageous if Iris just left? Well she did! The thing that is really sad here is that Barry doesn't get the message even by the end of the page. Iris has left and by saying, "I loved you", she's made things pretty final between them. Then, in the Flash's strip he's still trying to make things right the same way he always has by doing superhero type feats. This is exactly what Iris is tired of and it makes the tension between the two strips--and the two characters--even deeper.

HAWKMAN by writer/artist Kyle Baker
The introduction of Aliens turns out to not even be that big a deal. Baker's art and his tone for Hawkman carry it right through the traditional comic book cliches. Aliens are typical comic trope but with lines like, "Suspecting and KNOWING are two different things" and a reaction that isn't exaggerated but a legitimate open-mouth speechlessness make this moment actually meaningful to Hawkman. The panel with Hawkman's red boots and blood on his mace is another Powerful Panels contender. Just sitting here and looking this far into one page of a comic is a pretty good indication that it has something going for it.


Powerful Panels: David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp

David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp is a mind-bogglingly effective confluence of art and design, narrative and philosophy, words and pictures. The book consists of a mirrored dual narrative that combines the structure of the classical Greek tragedy, with the generally untold story of how the tragic hero rejects his tragic fate and gets about the business of mending his flawed character and repairing his broken life.

The panel above depicts the moment in which the marriage between the book’s eponymous hero and his sculptor wife, Hana Sonnenschein, is irreparably broken. The spareness of the page, the reduction of each character to their respective component parts and the great fields of white space surrounding the characters attest to Mazzucchelli’s effective use of design in a manner that doesn’t simply look cool, but also adds shades of nuance and meaning to the story told.

Asterios has reverted to the state of rigid line and formal abstraction, representative of the complex defense mechanism that he has constructed for dealing with a world that ultimately baffles and terrifies him and, for her part, Hana has sunk back into the withdrawn, un-self-confident shyness that defined her earlier self. This moment depicts the reversal of the process of coming together depicted several hundred pages earlier at the party at which the couple met.

In that sequence, we see the extroverted, arrogant Asterios holding forth at a faculty soirée when he catches a glimpse of a quiet, unassuming Hana. As the two approach and slowly get to know each other, their respective design schemes gradually metamorphose into one another. This metamorphosis is a visual representation of an idea posited a few pages earlier, in which the narrator, Asterios’s stillborn, identical twin brother Ignazio, suggests that perhaps one person’s construction of the world, in other words, his or her individual view of reality, could influence someone else’s. Of course, this is precisely what a marriage is, insofar as marriages are ever successful. Such overtly philosophical musings can quickly become tiresome, but Mazzucchelli not only manages to illustrate them effectively, but also employ them in such a way that provides motive force and adds meaning to the narrative.

There is a measure of ambiguity in the words Hana speaks in this panel. On the preceding page, as Hana finally asserts herself to the consummately overbearing and arrogant Asterios, the latter responds with his usual obtuseness. Frustrated, Hana dissolves into tears, to which her cat Noguchi responds with a plaintive, “MMRRAO?” Thus, Hana’s question on the second page: “Why do you always let him talk to me like that?” can be read as rhetorical, aimed at the once again mute Noguchi. Be that as it may, the couple’s argument stemmed from an encounter with Willy Ilium, the choreographer who has hired Hana to design his new production, a modern retelling of the Orpheus myth (you can see a definite pattern here). Ilium, the corpulent id to Asterios’s pompous super-ego, is forever inserting sexual innuendo into his interactions with Hana—“I’d like to know more . . . about your hirsute pussy,” “Couldn’t you go for something firm in your mouth right now?”—but the cowardly Asterios always pretends not to notice, to Hana’s growing dismay. Thus, Hana’s ultimate displeasure and her accusatory question may be aimed just as much at Asterios as at Noguchi.

Asterios Polyp is the sort of book that repays multiple readings. There is an awful lot going on in the book, but in the final analysis, there is nothing that is not significant. It comes as little surprise, then, to recall that Mazzucchelli was the co-creator of the comics adaptation of Paul Auster’s post-modern detective novel City of Glass. In the early pages of that novel, the narrator explains that Quinn, the book’s novelist protagonist, admired mysteries for “their sense of plenitude and economy. In the good mystery there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant.” Asterios Polyp is a book in which co-existent plenitude and economy reach their paradoxical apogee.


The Wednesday Comics Experience Part 2

In reading issue two of Wednesday Comics, the initial excitement has only worn off a little. Usually the honeymoon stage for comics is about one issue and then most comics endure the dreaded sophomore slump. This week's issue carries a lot of momentum with it because it's only ONE WEEK later. The first issue hasn't really had time to settle in. When I went to read this week's issue, I actually remembered the plot of all of the story lines. If this was being released monthly there is no way it would be readable, but since it's still fresh in my brain I'm able to enjoyable juggle sixteen separate stories at once. The price tag is definitely sinking in. When I bought this and Blackest Night (which was good!) and my bill is almost ten dollars...something is wrong.

Sandy over at I Love Rob Liefeld did some number crunching and pointed out that the entire run will cost a grand total of $47.88 . There are too many stories worth reading in here for me to drop it though. Superman, Batman, Strange Adventures, The Flash, and Hawkman are shaping up to be great, while several others are very solid. There are a few clunkers, but really it's only .31 cents a story, and I can't wait for this week's issue.

BATMAN by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso
Another really solid page for Batman. The panel work and pacing are excellent. Especially the the recurring statue panel. The ending is a final, period-like ending the page but also, a sort of a twist and a lead in to next week. Mrs Glass is introduced as a one-dimensional gold digger but the last panel shifts her interests from money to darker desires connected to romance and presumably manipulation.
KAMANDI by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Ryan Sook
For whatever reason, this felt like more of an origin story than the last Kamandi page. The plot of the rest of the story is outlined which is kind of a bad sign. The story almost treads into narrative overload territory. I like the tone that the narration is striking, but too many words per panel makes things way too dense. The page works best when the words are kept to a minimum as in the second panel and the final two panels.

SUPERMAN by writer John Arcudi and artist Lee Bermejo
What happened to the art? Maybe there was a problem with the printing but the page looks washed in green. Batman is portrayed as really over the top especially in the art. I understand that they are trying to contrast the two characters here but drawing Batman like an actual demon/gargoyle is a little jarring especially after reading the Batman story first. The writing I thought was well-done again. Batman, although insensitive, is basically right and outlines what, presumably, Superman will discover through the course of the story. Even though he is right, Batman is only reinforcing Superman's problem that humans are sort of violence-loving loud mouths. Quick, smart complex stuff.
DEADMAN by writers Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck and artist Dave Bullock
The biggest surprise of Wednesday comics is Deadman. I really like the art and the page layout. The dark background gives it a Batman: The Animated Series feel. The simple plot, with the focus on Deadman's character works well. The panel with the giant green lady and the last panel are highlights.

GREEN LANTERN by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Joe Quiñones
Another big disappointment. I like the art but the layout and even the angle of the characters in the panels are boring. When it's done well it's great, like the "Holy--!" panel but others are just standard stuff or at awkward angles. I still have my fingers crossed that this ones picks up.

METAMORPHO by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Michael Allred
Ok, so they really switched it up on me here. A huge one page panel with some time lapse stuff going on in there. Gaiman seemed to dominate the last weeks page with a flopped attempt at throwback camp humor, but this week Allred's more genuine gee-whiz-like mentality shines through.

TEEN TITANS by writer Eddie Berganza and artist Sean Galloway
This one is even more bland than the last one, and the art choice really doesn't help. It doesn't give it any excitement which is pretty important for a superhero, action-based story. I still enjoy the art but it's not well suited here.
STRANGE ADVENTURES by writer/artist Paul Pope
I like Pope working in the circles in this one. The best part of this for me, is just going back and looking at the details in the art like the background blue monkey warriors and the striking facial expressions. Just another Flash Gordon-like adventure story but Pope's art elevates it to the next level.

SUPERGIRL by writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner

If this took anymore than five seconds to read this would be a waste of time. As it is now, it's entertaining filler especially after reading something intense like Adam Strange.

METAL MEN by writer Dan DiDio and artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan
Continues in the same style and similar quality as the last page. Jokes are funny and not ironic. The last panel is where the Metal Men are standing is where the art stands out. Leaderboard for favorite so far: 1. Lead 2. Gold 3. Iron 4. Tin 5. Platinum 6. Mercury.

WONDER WOMAN by writer/artist Ben Caldwell
Ok, this one lost me. I was a big fan of the previous page, but if this is going to be Finding Nemo every week count me out. There's too much work reading the thing to have such a thin storyline. It needed to go into a real storyline about young Wonder Woman hanging out on Themyscira or even sneaking off to the real world.

SGT. ROCK and EASY CO. by writer Adam Kubert and artist Joe Kubert
Joe Kubert's art is really intense when it's large. The first two panels are affecting by giving off a feeling of dread that even the panels of Sgt. Rock getting beat up don't give. Special Bonus: Easy Company portrait at the bottom!

FLASH COMICS by writers Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl
The dual strip really adds a tension to the comic. Iris is seperate and has her own strip, giving her equal footing with a superhero. It wouldn't be that outrageous if they broke up and she was going on dates as the Flash was going around saving people. Time travel is introduced and, despite my normal dislike, it was done well. It's always best where no weird paradoxs are discussed and it's more like a normal thing that's just happening.

THE DEMON AND CATWOMAN by writer Walter Simonson and artist Brian Stelfreeze
Still setting up the story. Is this just going to be Catwoman vs. The Demon? I have no idea how this is going to be interesting for sixteen pages especially when they are losing me at number two.

HAWKMAN by writer/artist Kyle Baker
The art and the writing are definitely in a nice harmony. Baker interjects some humor, and it works well, but the story's real strength is Hawkman as a warrior/general. His smiling thumbs-up gives a great contrast to the complete confidence he exudes in the last panel. The tiny details in the art helps make the silhouetted panels of Hawkman breaking into the plane and bodies flying out even more compelling.


Bomb Queen Vol. 1 - WMD

When you’re an avid comics reader and you've pretty much bought everything you actually "need", you slowly reach these plateaus of comics reading where you need something new. And this crossroads in your collecting leads to one of two paths:

1) Becoming a “notebook collector” at conventions that has checklists in a loose leaf paper binder--maybe with stickers on it?--documenting what is already at home, stacked in white boxes, and what is essential to completing entire runs of series' you don’t really care about. It’s about completion and the hunt.

2) Looking through every comic in a back issue twenty five cent sale, hoping for something weird by a new artist, or browsing the spines at your local comic shop for a trade paperback of some comic you know nothing about, but for some reason are drawn to. This isn’t about reading canon books or even things you’ve heard people raving about, this is taking a chance on something that no one you know has read, or would want to read and just maybe it’ll be good.

This is what brought me to Bomb Queen, a Titty Comic that is uncompromising in it’s outward sexiness, which isn’t sexy at all--like all good porno comics or weird cult movies. It doesn’t give you a boner but there’s something naughty enough about it that makes it interesting.

See, Bomb Queen isn’t your typical super hero book, because it’s a super villain book, because Bomb Queen killed every hero in her metropolis, New Port City. She isn’t a lunatic who wants to take over the world, she just wants to keep her own city in-line and do what she wants.

BQ is her city’s Batman, except she embraces her city’s populace, not just the buildings and streets themselves. Instead of having a city with crooks on every corner and heroes to chase them, the “cape killer” has designated crime zones, where anything goes, so regular citizens, who can watch her on a webcam at anytime or become a part of her fan club, can live their lives safely. Bomb Queen is able to be totally free because she is a "villain". Her dictatorial, unofficial rule over her city allows her to make whatever rules she wants, and without the law, they work.

Jimmie Robinson, the writer/artist of the series, has been around the block. He’s written stories for kids, sci-fi, and even a hospital drama. He’s done work for Marvel, DC and Image, he knows the industry, and wants it to grow. Bomb Queen appears one dimensional at a first glance. The content and ideas behind the story are mature and parodic, but it doesn’t take itself seriously, which helps a great deal.
The art is sorta terrible, suffering from digital coloring with no inking, and the cover is just a set of boobs in a super hero suit, but really, most comics I read are like this. The art doesn't all fail to impress, the random super detailed city corner or the above head explosion makes the panel that much more devastating, and Bomb Queen's world that much more acceptable as a place that exists. It surprises you in it's grotesqueness, breaking you out of the story to go "ugh". It's gritty and jarring but not too gritty and jarring--the problem with so many "dark" or "mature" comic books.

To comment on superhero comics is a delicate thing, you end up going “all Watchmen” on everyone, being far too serious and the message you may have wanted to get across is lost; or you go all “Dark Knight” and show the “dark side” of a super hero who works outside of the law, changing the character so drastically they lose their heart and what made them a hero in the first place.

Both of these takes on “real life” super heroes have their merit, but the comics themselves aren’t super hero comics, they aren’t light and fun or weird. They want to touch on the reality of super heroes in our world, but the heroes don’t live in our world, they live in a fantasy world where flying men are real, where people die in alien invasions and where a man dressed like a rhinoceros crashes through your wall and kills your wife.

Bomb Queen shows us the collateral damage of super powered people fighting, the political agendas in a world where someone in a cape has more community impact than elected officials and "costume malfunctions" that happen when you're jumping around rooftops and fighting robots in spandex. The only other story that takes on comics like this is Ennis' The Boys, a series that presents super heroes in an over the top, balls to the wall exaggeration, where even the heroes are bad guys. The "good guys" use P.R. goons and lawyers to stay in public favor and out of trouble, even rape and murder aren't below these caped crusaders.

While Boys almost hits the mark, it's in-your-faceness is too extreme, and shock value takes over, not allowing the characters to really grow outside of getting "harder". It's too dark, not silly enough, and it's "realness" is just absurd, buttholes and blowjobs take over what could be a decent story. Stepping up to the plate, Bomb Queen manages to present super powered humans in a disgusting light while not just going for absolute shock-factor. BQ shows how something gross and taboo today is common place tomorrow. TV Reality shows where they kill off members instead of voting, which sounds crazy but really, how many of us have watched a video of someone killing themselves or 1 guy 1 cup? One day everyone is freaking out about "goatse" and not too much later we know his name and where he lives. Bomb Queen's like Souljaboy, she understands her city's fast paced life style and uses it to her advantage, giving herself to the people and tricking them into loving her.
For a while in Bomb Queen they dance around her nudity, placing objects just in front of her nipples, much like old X-Men comics would do with steam or hair, but suddenly in Bomb Queen, it just ends. Bomb Queen's costume is ripped in a fight and she doesn't cover up, she just keeps going.

The fans get what they want, in her world and in ours, and it's not that big of a deal. So many superwomen run around in skimpy, hardly-there costumes that they have to have a nip-slip eventually. It feels just as weird and awkward in the comic as it does in real life when some girl you're with at the pool's boob falls out, you sorta don't say anything and just act natural. They don't talk about it, no bystander screams "Cover up lady!", it just happens and life moves on.

Yes the comic is sorta stupid, it’s sorta ugly, it’s sorta sexist, but it knows, embraces and wants to be these things. It doesn't try to be real by implementing aspects from our lives, it's real because it answers questions we have about the fantasy world. It shows us some behind the scenes action we're kept away from usually. Like Expanded Universe Star Wars, it rounds out the edges, it makes sense where there wasn't any, Bomb Queen helps build a bigger picture of what our favorite super heroes are really like, why they do what they do, and of all the problems they aren't talking about. And it's still a comic book.


Elephantmen #20 & The "Yvette" One-Shot

Had Marian Churchland drawn "Yvette", the Elephantmen book for this month and a one-shot that fills in some gaps from the "War Toys" mini-series, it could've easily fit right in with the upcoming Damaged Goods trade, collecting Churchland's work on Elephantmen #18, #19, and #20, with some bonus stuff.

Alas, "Yvette's only got a variant cover by Churchland which only makes it more of a bummer when you open it up and don't see her cartooned comics realism and bugged-out marker colors. Not that regular Elephantmen artist Moritat isn't very good himself, it's just Churchland's style is the total opposite of Starkings' writing...and the perfect complement.

In regards to Moritat, if Churchland's run on the series has shown anything, it's that Elephantmen can thrive just as well outside of its very inward, awesomely prohibitive universe. Future issues should ease-up on the in-quotes 90's comics dark coloring and computer-y dark inks because Moritat's unfucked-with pencils are amazing. Just check the back of the issue sketches. Or look at the pages of "Yvette" wherein a ton of shading and splashes of color and sound effects aren't necessary, like the bizarre meeting with the Giraffe Medic. You see a kind of elegant 80s space Manga style there, just the right amount of lines and details. The single-panel page of Yvette following the Giraffe through a forest trail, the light from explosions of war emanating in the background is just gorgeous--mythic or something.

I'm spending some time on the art here, because Starkings' writing is always on-point but especially so as of late. The "Fatal Diseases" storyline was cool and is already echoing through the Elephantmen universe in big ways, but the arc was also the low-point of the series or rather, the lowest high-point of a series that can't be praised enough.

The first two Churchland stories were excellent and read like a movement back towards a certain "purity" of the first bunch of issues but also Starkings really challenging himself (or Churchland's art challenging him, or both) and the third Churchland issue, #20, is simple, back to basics Elephantmen. An entire issue that mostly takes place at a diner but sneaks little details about the Elephantmen universe in there (He has to apologize to the family of anyone killed in the line of duty as part of his rehabilitation process), works in the kind of obvious-subtle Stanley Kramer-like race metaphors the series does so well, and manages to tell an all too human story. Mainly, the issue's flipping expectations of Vanity, a girl with a tramp-stamp, who wears belly shirts, who's been weirdly flirty with Hipflask in the past.

When this issue was teased in #19, I assumed it was going to be a piece of Romantic Comedy absurdity, with Hipflask falling for an obvious "hot girl" and going to lengths to impress her. But it's nothing like that, it's a quick story whose main goal is to humanize Vanity the same way the series has gone about humanizing the Elephantmen, the ultimate symbol of maligned, outliers from society. Through dialogue primarily, Vanity's revealed as thoughtful and witty and perceptive to the things around her, and in the only point in the story where action supercedes dialogue, Vanity shows herself to be something of a karate expert--an odd, unexpected piece of characterization. And though it's hard to put into words, she's characterized as not a smart, cool chick in spite of her less flattering, makes-her-easy-to-dismiss style of dress but like those things don't matter; she's just a person. This ultimate rejection of the Comic Book Chick is the perfect way to wrap-up Churchland's run because in many ways, I saw her run as a tiny but important corrective to Elephantmen's smart but very dude-like presentation of the world.

The series' depiction of absurdly-proportioned women to me, always seemed kinda in-quotes (more a parody/nod to 90s comics than a continuation of the tradition) but Churchland threw in the tiniest and most human of details to the series' women characters--a rumbled bra on the floor, the way Sahara's hair rested on her shoulders, the solemn look on Vanity's face ad she stirs a straw between ice cubes--and it freed the series in an entirely new way.

And though I know it's fan-boy "What If" type bullshit, it's unfortunate Churchland didn't draw "Yvette"--if only because it would've been even better. Ostensibly, this one-shot is what happens between issues #2 and #3 in the mini-series, but contextualized as a stand-alone it holds even more power. Less the tale of one of the war's characters than the story of a character in the war, "Yvette" traces the character's arrival at unabashed brutalism--both a necessity for her to keep living and in many ways, the point where she stops living. "Yvette" is jarring in its brutality and moreso because it's come after three particularly down-to-earth issues of the series. That Elephantmen can jump from a super-sincere Hippo and cute girl in a diner to the war-torn future Europe is a testament to the series' balance of wide-angle socio-political pondering and humble, naturalistic characterization.


The Wednesday Comics Experience

You might be in a recession if: you see someone kicking a can down the street and you ask them what they are doing and they say "moving."

You might be in a recession if: you wave around a popsicle and call it air conditioning.

You might be in a recession if: your comics are shorter, printed cheaper, and still cost four dollars.

But seriously folks... Wednesday Comics is the much hyped newspaper throwback style comics where each creator takes one page per issue. As I alluded to jokingly above, the big problem with Wednesday Comics is the strange combination of quality and shoddy production. The quality of these high-profile creators' stories makes you want to tear into the thing, but being confronted with an actual newspaper is like being forced to solve a complex puzzle from another solar system. I remember watching my Dad navigating a newspaper as a child and being amazed at his skill in handling that bulky paper. I never got the chance to really master is because, you know, newspapers are dead and all, but now my time has come and I'm too worried about ruining it.

The first issue of Wednesday Comics was an exciting experience. Opening up for the first time and seeing a sad Commissioner Gordon staring at you, or a giant Kyle Baker Hawkman will make nearly any comics fan giddy. The stories themselves are really varied in tone and with all the creators working with a new format, it's awesomely overwhelming.

BATMAN by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso
"Every time I turn this on, it's like I'm signaling failure." A pretty bold kick off of the first comics you open up to when you unfold the pages. This comic is definitely one of the highlights of the collection. It uses up its page to perfection to introduce us to the story but also to tell its own contained story. If this page was the only page in the whole story, it would somehow make perfect sense.

KAMANDI by writer Dave Gibbons and artist Ryan Sook
This is another really solid page. It tells Kamandi's origin in a simple and direct way. It reminds me of reading an actual action newspaper strip like The Phantom. The art does a great job of making Kamandi and his world look like a contradiction of modern and savage. When he turns around in the last panel with a gun in his hand it's a real surprise. Interesting the story begins after the death of Kamandi's Grandfather.

SUPERMAN by writer John Arcudi and artist Lee Bermejo
Bermejo's art takes center stage here and seeing it in this oversized format is easily one of best parts of the whole collection. The gleaming city of Metropolis and Superman's reaction to the telepathic question from the Madman's Mott-like alien are exclamation point bookends to the comic. The words and panel are chosen carefully enough to be a sort of comic poem. It's strange to me that this of all the comics was picked up by USA Today. This page is so quickly paced that it might not even seem worth it to someone who isn't a comics fan--it's mainly an exercise in art and comics grammar and hero mythology.

DEADMAN by writers Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck and artist Dave Bullock
This is another origin set-up story. It's a little peculiar because his origin is in the title and also in the comic itself. The art here is pretty good--the Deadman in the center being a stand out highlight. This one seems like it will pick up as the story progresses.

GREEN LANTERN by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Joe Quiñones
Good Green Lantern stories are pretty hard to come by, so when I was looking at teasers for Wednesday Comics and saw the art I was pretty excited about this one. The intro box was good giving the story a timeless sort of feel but the rest of the story didn't really back it up. With nothing really notable standing out on the page, it doesn't seem to utilize the format well. The last panel has got me a little hopeful for future installments though.

METAMORPHO by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Michael Allred
Probably the biggest disappointment of the bunch. Allred's art is Allred but Gaiman's writing ruins it. While most of the other comics are mostly homage to the newspaper format, Gaiman goes for more of a campy/satirical approach. Gaiman just seems confused by the format and just decided to write a regular comic story and have it read a page a week, instead of inserting natural breaks.

TEEN TITANS by writer Eddie Berganza and artist Sean Galloway
The origin/explanation of the Titans as a group is solid, but this page falls apart with the Trident character. The art is decent enough, especially the Titans, through the ages does a good job of showing them in their different incarnations developing fluidly. It falls apart with the story and the panels get confusing towards the end.
ADAM STRANGE by writer/artist Paul Pope
Paul Pope is already a master at telling short cut off stories (see: Spiderman Tangled Web) so his Adam Strange is well paced. His art style is definitely modern, even "indie" by some standards, and the first half of the story plays into that showing Adam Strange waking up in his bed and hanging out a little in his house. The second half of the page plays with the sort of camp stuff Gaiman was trying but Pope pulls it off. Strange rattles off a list of sci-fi jargon that just comes off as completely genuine. Pope's art and the calmed introduction of Strange's character allow Pope to do this kind of sincere distance well.

SUPERGIRL by writer Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner
We'll have to wait to next week to see how this one really pans out. Supergirl plus animals is a good mixture but nothing really happens here.

METAL MEN by writer Dan DiDio and artists Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan
Didio goes for camp too, but pulls it off because he just goes for it instead of trying to be too clever or above it all. The joke with Gold being part of their stash and talking to them is actually funny so it works.

WONDER WOMAN by writer/artist Ben Caldwell
Here, Caldwell jams about three pages worth of story into one page. I think it utilizes the format well and the art is really interesting. Having this sort of prequel Wonder Woman, totally modern and neon, makes a sort of weird sense. It's a nice change from the sword-bearing killer that Wonder Woman has turned into recently.

SGT. ROCK by writer Adam Kubert and artist Joe Kubert
Six huge panels of Sgt. Rock getting beat up looks really awesome. These guys obviously know what they are doing. No surprises here but reading Kubert--Joe at least--is all about this kind of hard-ass craftsmanship.

THE FLASH by writers Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl
This one sort of suprised me. It divides the page into two separate strips. The Flash's strip is completely action but it's done well with the Flash using and explaining his power in a coherent way that sometimes doesn't happen with the Flash. The panels at the end are well done, enhancing the effect of the Flash's compressed time. The second strip is about his girlfriend Iris done in an Apartment 3G style. Kerschl also changes the art slightly giving it a more dramatic/romatic focus. The combination of the two works really well and makes the other one better. Kind of like a real relationship.

THE DEMON AND CATWOMAN by writer Walter Simonson and artist Brian Stelfreeze
I like where this is headed. Both have these snobby personalities that actually play well into each other. Nothing too spectacular about the panels but the art is good especially the shadow panel of Catwoman. How Catwoman is ever going to tangle with Etragon should be interesting.

HAWKMAN by writer/artist Kyle Baker
is similar to Batman and Superman pages by being a story into itself. Told from the point of view of his birds, the story gives insight into Hawkman's strength of character as a leader. It's also a look into the mindset of soldiers of any sort of autocratic governing system and how they value strength and purity. The art is simple but really effective. It matches the tone of the story and takes complete advantage of its format. Even the colors seem to be complimented by the paper.


Shatterstar's Gay. Rob Liefeld's Mad. The World Keeps Turning.

Brandon: Basically, Sammy and I wanted to comment on this “Shatterstar’s Gay” kinda controversy and even yelled about it to one another on the phone for a bit, but both of us were hoping the other dude would be the one to sit down and write the essay. So, we thought we'd attempt a kind of back and forth, working our through this comics controversy which is both really stupid and really fascinating. It's also sort of important. We'll get to that. Maybe.

But yeah, before we begin, here's the deal: X-Factor #46 features the characters Shatterstar and Rictor kissing. This has been speculated by readers of the comic before and it's even been sorta playfully hinted at in previous books featuring Shatterstar...but the game just got real. Thank Peter David. Unless you’re Rob Liefeld, then you’re really mad about it.

Sammy: There are two kinds of gay comics characters in mainstream--and I mean actual mainstream, not just Marvel and DC, I mean Alison Bechdel and the like as well comics--and that leads to two kinds of stories. One kind has comics that, while trying to be progressive and show gay characters living their lives, presents all homosexuals as people who thrive on drama, and being sad-asses rooted in their oppression, stereotyping, etc.

The other kind of book is actually progressive, where characters just are gay. It's not all they talk about, they aren’t always creeping up on other characters, they just are gay. Sometimes it even really sucks for them but it doesn’t dominate the narrative—just as it doesn’t dominate a gay person’s real-world narrative. I don't care if characters are gay, I don't care if they are in relationships, I don't care if they kiss. I just want my comics to be good, and worth the three bucks I spend on them.

B: Peter David's always been something of an envelope pusher and a muckraker, and something of a capital-P Progressive, but he’s also not Alison Bechdel, and so, story comes first—he’s gotta entertain and work this into whatever strands of plot and character already coarsing through the book, so my guess is, he’ll handle this well. That said, that in 2009, in a business that though the general public thinks is for kids, is really for nerdy twenty to forty somethings, making a character gay would be considered envelope-pushing is kinda crazy.

S: David's been making a lot of crazy decisions lately, Madrox the Multiple Man reabsorbing his baby is akin to him eating it, many of the current X-Factor issues come with a letter from Peter David asking readers to not drop any spoiler alerts; obviously to create hype and get new readers involved without ruining any plot points. David could be, possibly, just creating a new relationship between two characters and just happened to choose two men. The dude is an outspoken supporter of gay rights, maybe to him it just wasn't a big deal.

B: To him it isn’t a big deal, but he’s gotta realize it’s gonna be a big deal to others. David strikes me as a kind of bleeding-heart Liberal, which comics need more of—it’s really the only place in the world in need of bleeding-heart Liberals—and so, this was certainly in addition to an interesting storyline, a cool challenge. I'm reminded of David and Todd Macfarlane's debates, in which it seemed David really enjoyed pushing MacFarlane's buttons. Though it'd be crazy if that was David's sole intention in gay-ifying a character, to upset another IMAGE Comics O.G. My guess is though, David's devilishly smiling.

S: Also, this isn’t the first time this has happened in an “X” book. In Ultimate X-Men, Colossus, a huge mutant Russian with the ability to become encased in metal while gaining super strength (in short, he’s stereotypicaly masculine and following Liefeld’s logic, not gay), is eventually revealed as gay. It's hinted at for a while in the series, but you never think the writers will actually take it there, or maybe they don't feel the need to show him being gay and the knowledge is enough. That is until Colossus is invited by Northstar, another gay mutant, to attend his homecoming. The real "controversy" starts when Nightcrawler, the best friend of Colossus, gets wigged out and stops talking to his friend. The change is sudden, and frankly, real. We've all had a friend who's come out of the closet, and in reaction, we've had a friend that's sort of a homophobe not come around as much because "he doesn't hate gay people, just doesn't like to be around them".

B: Colossus in 'Ultimate X-Men' is the sort of treatment of gay characters we both prefer--the "actually progressive" kind and I gather, where David will take the character. What's so fascinating about David’s choice to make the character gay is how it ultimately seems to be an earned evolution of a character. Shatterstar began asexual and for him to have finally found his sexuality and for it to manifest itself as homosexuality implies a lot about how sexuality is rather porous. David's rejecting the belief still held by many, and especially comics fans--who are a conservative and Conservative lot--that homosexuality is abnormal or a sort of transgressive choice (that part of the belief, someone like Bechdel also believes, so that muddles it further) and not just a normal feeling.

S: Yeah, I mean it seems to be the real-life weird shit that X-Men has been doing forever. Perfect parts something close to real, everyday human drama but also complete Sci-Fi too. Just like when a character comes around and is racist, or how the Friends Of Humanity is handled, it's different because the world is fake, but is also just as real because it's this real thing stuck in there. It’s what comics are all about.

In the video game world, large RPGs give you the opportunity to chose sexual orientation on occasion, the most notable being Fable and multiple game of the year away winner Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In Fable you can be a gay man, and in KOTOR you can be a gay woman. The video game community, which I would consider much, much more liberal, embraced the games, and characters, most reviews not even noting the option.

B: It also seems like the only person upset about this is Liefeld? Has anyone else spoken out against it? David’s a guy who has left books when they didn't like his injection of highly-politicized ideas into the plots. This is David doing more of the same but that same's a pretty cool/interesting/challenging thing. Liefeld is also unfortunately doing more of the same. I'd love to defend him because he gets shit on way too much and maybe when I eventually drop my bomb-of-a-theory that Liefeld and Jack Kirby are pretty much exactly the same, I can defend the guy, but he's a fucking dick flat-out. That he's basically an angry frat-boy who took one Queer Studies class, so he's learned enough to be like "Look, this isn't anything against gay people", but still doesn't fucking get it, is a shame.

S: Liefeld is completely irrelevant in today's comic industry, people see him as a joke, or as Brandon said on the phone to me earlier,a "comics nerd's punching bag". Ignoring his long list of comic book creator faux pas, the reality of Shatterstar is that ROB DOESN'T OWN THE CHARACTER! He may have created another Liefeldian character for Marvel, but he has no ownership of that character, and so therefore, Peter David can kill him or make him lose his powers or turn him into a frog, becoming Shatterfrog, if he wants. David has the rights to do what he pleases, as long as Marvel, the owner of all the characters, says it's ok. David works for Marvel and may use their characters, Liefeld doesn't. That's what it comes down to.

B: Yeah, I mean clearly Marvel editors said this was a good idea or at least let David do it, Yes it’s political, but my guess is it will at least attempt to illuminate X-Factor’s stories even more.The issue with gay or gay-themed comics is essentially the problem with being a part of a sub-culture that the world, especially America, has labeled a "sub-culture" or "minority" and so, the simple act of being and/or being a character in a comic becomes political. The recent death of Michael Jackson would be good example. Forced to represent black people simply because he was black and then labeled some kind of “race traitor” when he got into all that weird skin-bleaching/plastic surgery, we all forget he was just a single person first and foremost. He can do what he wants. It’s like that Jay-Z line, “Can I live?” MJ probably thought that and if there was some Grant Morrisonian meta-rip in comics time wherein Shatterstar could confront Liefeld, I think he’d ask Liefeld the same question: “Can I live?”

S: While reading the 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings for the fiftieth time, and as much about Liefeld as I could, I sorta started to feel bad for the guy. He's just a dude who (probably) isn't that smart and is just a Dude, he probably doesn't hate gay people but like most white people are with anyone who isn't a straight white male, he's just a little weirded out.

B: Well, this is devolved into a Liefeld conversation, but that’s totally appropriate. The story’s really rooted it seems, in all of us dorks loving to pile-on top of Liefeld (not in a gay way though, don’t worry Rob) and in Liefeld enjoying the chance to speak out on shit like this because what else is he gonna do? I’d suggest the whole controversy to be contrived or drummed up by both sides if again, anyone other than Liefeld seemed upset about this. Him saying stupid stuff like "Shatterstar is akin to Maximus in Gladiator. He’s a warrior, a Spartan, and not a gay one" and of course, prefacing this stupid stuff with, "I have nothing against gays, I have gay family, nuthin’ but love here” really does seem to come from the heart. What also comes from the heart though is the disgustingly cynical comment, "Can't wait to someday undo this" which implies Liefield will get the chance to because he's such a big deal (though he isn't a writer or a big deal anymore, so not sure how he'll undo this) and just sorta highlights how calculated and fleeting he perceives this comics stuff--which is way more offensive than a gay superhero.


Batman & Robin Round-Up

Following their collaboration on All Star Superman, the dynamic duo of comics creators have finally decided to take on the... dynamic duo. Their take on Superman paid heavy homage to Superman's Silver-Age years, but was really all about distilling all the time Superman has been embedded in our culture into something modern and new. Batman and Robin, so far, takes a similar focus but with a different approach. You can tell that both Morrison and Quitely are concerned with keeping things modern and fresh, but Batman and Robin, even more than All Star Superman, nods to an earlier day in comics. Of course, you see it in Morrison's choice of oddball villains, but also through in Quitely's kinetic pencils and especially in Alex Sinclair's pop-art coloring.

The style and themes Morrison and Quietly create fly in the face of what was going on with Batman just a year ago with the release of The Dark Knight. The movie that poorly re-hashed the themes comics creators were working with ever since Batman: The Dark Knight Returns had people debating whether the character of Robin, a sprightly sidekick was irrelevant. While too late to directly respond to the movie, Morrison/Quietly are at least combating the idea of The Dark Knight, and more recently "the Goddamn Batman", simply by having an exciting plot and three dimensional characters.

What's interesting about Dick Grayson as Batman is that he's just as brooding as earlier, more explicitly dark incarnations of the characters. It's just not obnoxious when he does it. Grayson has a similar origin story to Bruce Wayne but his origin isn't his motivation. The way Bruce Wayne is usually portrayed is as someone who uses hard work and anger to escape sadness. Dick Grayson is able to actually deal with his sadness already making him a really interesting Batman. Although Morrison has chosen to make his plot rather simple, he still injects shades of gray into the characterizations.

Morrison, for good or for bad, always tries to make his stories different. When he succeeds he's easily one of the best writers in comics and when he fails, well you have some kind of begrudging respect for his attempt. Quitely seems to have a similar mindset by always trying new techniques in his art. Batman & Robin has energy, momentum, and it's exciting. Something that can't be said for most everything Batman as of late. Here are some of the highlights of the though young, already fascinating series:

ISSUE #1 "Domino Effect"
Summary: "Batman and Robin together again for the first time." Basically the tagline for this issue and a runner up to to best quote. Again harps on the modern versus legendary history of the characters. We're introduced to everything in this issue: The super weird circus villain plot, the tension between hero and sidekick, Alfred's guiding hand, and the general fun that is felt on every page.
Best Panel: The opening panel. This panel starts the issue and the series off perfectly. It's spotlight shape introduces an interesting theme that is developed in issue #2 about how the story is similar to a dramatic archetypal play.
Best Quote: "Crime is Doomed" -Batman
Quitely's Best Embedded Onomatopoeia: See above panel. Here the words are the actual explosion. I really like this technique. It helps provide the series with its pulp feel but at the same time, makes each panel look more like a work of cohesive art without too many action-words cluttering it up.

ISSUE #2 "Circus of the Strange"
Summary: A bit of a change in tone here. We're introduced to the new relationship between Gordon/The Police and the crimefighters. It's told in a flashback as if the reader were Alfred. Grayson is unsure of his role as Batman but Alfred coaches him to make it his own. A great feeling of acomplishment as Batman overcomes his doubts and goes to rescue Robin in a plot device straight out of the animated TV show.
Best Panel: Alfred's poor Yorick. Something about the cowl here is really amazing. It conveys Batman's death and Alfred's kind of weird reaction to it so far. It also continues the theme of Grayson, and everyone else for that matter, as actors portraying archetypal roles.
Best Quote: "Everyone's waiting for the hero to take the stage" -Alfred
Quitely's Best Embedded Onomatopoeia: Robin's SMASH into the wall. This is the only one in the issue but it works really well. The Smash is seamlessly woven in and glossed over unless you're paying particularly good attention.

Bay's Transformers 2 vs. Abrams' Star Trek

Even before the absurd racism rushing through the movie (A jive-ass robot...with a gold tooth...really?), Transformers 2 was problematic. We can start with the simple snobby point that it's directed by Michael Bay, he of jingoistic characterization and imagery, or that it was based on a childhood cartoon that itself was pretty racist (something people keep forgetting) just now stretched to marketing-synergy extremes.

Still, simply by being so awesomely explosive and transparently, the party-dude of popular cinema, running down a checklist of audience-pleasing turns and self-justifying thematics, Bay is often sorta celebrated. Armond White's review summed up a near healthy contrarian take on Bay--his review begins "Why waste spleen on Michael Bay?".

As cool as it is when a notable part of the media jumps on some actually racist shit, it's as much because Bay's an easy target as it is actual social/cultural indignation. That Transformers 2 was vilified for its racial hard-headedness and Star Trek not celebrated for its pop-racial sophistication on this front, sorta negates any "searing" critiques of Bay's directorial choices. Had Abrams' Star Trek--written by Roberto Corci and Alex Kurtman (the same two guys behind Transformers 2) and the big, dumb, franchise blockbuster before Transformers 2 stomped onto the scene--not arrived just two months ago, White'd be right. But he's not.

The differences between the movies are clear and fun to list: Meghan Fox's bland beauty vs. Zoe Saldana's rarefied allure, Bay's leadfooted action cutting vs. Abrams' embrace of hand-held chaos and roving single takes, the tension of saying "I love you" between Spock and Uhura vs. Mikaela's cunty frustration with Sam for not uttering those words, the dopey slapstick of Transformers vs. the from the original series dead-pan weirdness. All of these show Star Trek to be both more artistically and socially sensitive than Transformers 2.

In part, this begins with the original show's conceit and the decision to comment or not comment on it. In fact, both directors are essentially "faithful" to the original properties. Bay decided to continue the selfish excess of the 80s (it makes sense as little kids, we loved Transformers, we were 5 yr. old selfish pricks) and Abrams kept-in all the goofball sincere multi-culti 60s stuff of the original Star Trek. When it's 2009 though, and you're doing this, recontextualizing an old time-capsule piece of popular culture, it becomes political. It just does.

There's a scene in Star Trek in which Kirk (at this point a stowaway on the ship, and a total jerk) and Sulu, along with a particularly gung-ho crew member, sky-dive (or something) onto the Romulan's ship. Waiting to leap down, this gung-ho third member is bouncing up and down, full of adrenaline and hubris--in short, he's a character from a Michael Bay movie--as Kirk and Sulu look at him strangely, maybe even sadly. Once they leap, he continues shouting extreme-sports platitudes, and eventually, misses the intended target and gets burned up in the Romulan ship's jets. This scene illustrates what would happen if a Michael Bay character got dropped into Abrams' more studied and realistic (for an action movie) world.

Abrams' perspective in this scene is of course, made more complicated by the character of Kirk, ostensibly the movie's main character and one defined by his daring and arrogance. That's to say, a lot of the time Kirk acts like a Michael Bay character himself and so, having a scene in which a complete arrogant goon vs. a kinda arrogant goon is destroyed by his arrogance is brilliant. It's all about the tiny little details.

Early in the film, we see a very Bay-like flashback to young Kirk stealing his step-dad's car and speeding across a golden, Mid-West vista (it's essentially awful, like, right out of a Bay movie) and it's followed up by a later scene in which a drunk Kirk hits-on Uhura and gets in a fight. What would happen in most movies is that this early awkward assholism would be rectified or shifted to something resembling sensitivity and Uhura, despite her initial disgust for Kirk, would grow to love him...or at least sleep with him.

Not so much in Star Trek, as Kirk never gets "the girl". A scene in which he's shown making-out with a girl at Starfleet Academy is presented as fairly loathsome, sad, even robotic. Even more crazy is that it's Spock who "gets the girl". This shift is not only a "clever" re-up of an old series, but a mindful shift in sensibilities. Abrams' Star Trek rejects Kirk the jerk in favor of Spock's hyper-sincerity. When the movie ends with the famous "Space...the final frontier" and it's spoken by the aged voice of Leonard Nimoy--we're not working with clever revisionism but an ethical improvement on the past.

To base the movie around poetry-reading, In Search Of...-hosting Nimoy vs. the chintzy, hair-pieced, ego-tripping Shatner (the movie's Kirk, when he's at his worst, most selfish, acts Shatner-like) is fascinating. Cynics might chalk this up to some kind of "wussification" of American culture or something, but they'd be missing the nuanced evolution of Kirk's character--both a core decency he clearly gleaned from his father (who we meet before we meet Kirk) mixed with a fuck-it-all sense of confusion a very specific kind of American radical individual feels.

Even at his worst, Kirk's never the gung-ho asshole incinerated by a Romulan ship, but it's through experiences on the Enterprise and the interaction with the ethnically diverse crew that he (and all of them) come together. This is where Star Trek's wizened and realistic understanding of patriotism usurps Michael Bay's U.S of A. belligerence.

Where characters and images in Bay's movie act as short-hands to re-instill played-out, long-internalized values, Star Trek seeks to remind Americans of the importance of plurality and understanding--the rejection of black and white for grey. The Enterprise begins as a sort of "Team of Rivals" and they slowly come to realize their similarities. The merger of Spock and Kirk is, when it finally becomes civil, simply pragmatic, but from that pragmatism it spins into something lasting, true, and worthwhile. Differences are more than accepted, more than celebrated, they're seen as vital.

In this sense, Star Trek indeed, functions like a product of filmmaking or television from the progressive 60s or 70s--what Pragmatic philosopher Richard Rorty called, "platoon movies" (100). Platoon movies, Rorty explained, were a byproduct of the pre-60s (pre-P.C) left and "showed Americans of various ethnic backgrounds fighting and dying side by side" (100). About the only other successful "platoon movies", that's to say, not movies simply playing on this trope of an ethnically diverse crew working it all out, but really internalizing it, that I can think of in recent years would be Wes Anderson's movies--especially The Life Aquatic.

The movie itself is pragmatic, both giving viewers what's necessary (a ton of action, Saldana in her underwear, bad jokes, old-show reference irony, ethnic jokes) and flipping the script in weird ways, as to never topple over from the unfortunate stupidity necessary for a big-budget movie. Notice the way it glosses over the alien races or nearly pushes all characters not Spock or Kirk to the side, all the while maintaining their humanity...not in a quest to maximize whiteness on the screen, but to treat diversity as a foregone conclusion of life. Abrams is not interested in "other"-ness, even the villains though darkened and evil-ized, get a decent enough reason for their actions beyond simple "evil"--precisely the kind of primitive value system that is literally Bay's meal ticket.

Just as Michael Bay's Transformers 2 begins its second week of hyper-visibility, JJ Abrams' Star Trek makes its way to your city's "dollar" theatre. The decision to see Star Trek maybe again, maybe a third time, over Transformers 2, is not only financially savvy and aesthetically wise, it's ethically prudent too.

-Rorty, Richard. "Achieving Our Country". First Harvard University Press, 1999.