2/27/2009

Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4


In Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4, you feel the gears turning, or more appropriate for this in-quotes, in-love-with-pulp comic, you imagine writer Gerard Way in a room with future and past plot points chalked on the wall excitedly connecting them all together with mad dashes and arrows, after three issues of invigorating explanation and throat-clearing, and that's a problem...for now.

Maybe this'll all wrap-up and make sense as six issues together, but the beauty of "Apocalypse Suite" was how it felt like a comic book-comic. More what you think comic books will be like when you were just watching "Batman" on TV before you got your mom to buy you an issue at the super-market and were like "Robin's dead? Jason Todd? I thought it was Dick Grayson! This is stupid." This "Dallas" storyline ain't that bad, but it's not not like that either and I increasingly feel like I'm pushing through the fractured confusion of the plot because it'll all come together soon enough.

This is my biggest problem with comic books and most serialized media. The sense that I'm supposed to keep reading month-to-month--or viewing week-to-week--because eventually it makes sense and'll be really awesome. The best stuff of course, strings you along but drops enough rewards and visceral awesome-ness that you don't have time to stop and be like, "Huh, what?".

And there's some of that here. The intro dream sequence that builds to a two-page spread of Spaceboy gripping the charred skeleton of his child-monkey. The brilliant truly chaotic exit of Hazel and Cha-Cha that by the way, happens to show Nolan/Ledger's Joker to be a mannered maniac and not the rolling ball of chaos they tricked people into thinking he was. John Perseus as a super-successful blindly forward-thinking hot-shot (with shades and maybe even a critique of JFK Jr.??). Seance's sucking head-wound. An issue ending, page-high illustration of the after-math of time travel, with a lone sad robot longingly in the corner. What it all means I don't know and it's pretty damned cool but sounds better in the paragraph above than it feels while reading it. Almost too fractured and all over-the-place.

Of course, part of that's the point of "Dallas". "Apocalypse Suite" was the history of the Academy and a quasi-ideal reunification in adult-hood. As I've said before, this is where the Wes Anderson movie ends. "Dallas" keeps going after the credits roll and The Faces fades-out where all the ugly angry bullshit that was temporarily forgotten or suppressed or whatever comes back and stuff gets ugly and lonely again.

The narrative's not fractured because it's a major comic-book event trying to fuse every different 'verse and character into the issue but because the characters aren't speaking. Still, the whole thing feels disjointed and even as the plot comes together and the characters start interacting and figure stuff out together, there's something perfunctory about the whole thing. And maybe that's the point too?

That the best moments of the issue feel like single-panel flashes of virtuosity or isolated sequences of inspiration, is both a sign that the series is starting to lose its way and a summation of the scatterbrained kitchen-sink brilliance of the series.

2/26/2009

WHITE BOX HERO: Junior Carrot Patrol by Rick Geary


Everybody here at "Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader?" is the type of comics nerd to spend two hours flipping through a quarter box of comics with the hope that there will be at least something sorta cool in there. Every once in a while, the nerdity pays off and you end up with something greater than you could've ever expected...a white box hero!

I first looked at this issue as a gamble for under a dollar. I decided to go for it half as a joke and half because it was so cheap. I picked it up one day months later when I was unbelievably bored. I had no idea who Rick Geary was but by page two, I was hooked. After I was done, it gave me that strange feeling when you know you’ve just read something that sums up a lot of shit for you. Geary’s writing and art encapsulate a model for a day to day existence and relationships into this tightly packed adventure comic.

You’re introduced to Chuck, Ethel, and Dusty, the three members of the Junior Carrot Patrol, from the very start. Geary gives a brief background on each. Even though each member has a predefined role--Dusty is a hippie, Ethel is a scientist, and Chuck is a hard nosed cynic--the characters never feel flat or clich├ęd. They tread the line between adulthood and childhood similar to Peanuts, Home Movies, or even South Park. They think like adults, discussing dreams and the meaning of it all, but don't have any adult responsibilities. This gives them freedom, but it’s not a freedom they squander. They've banded together in a pact to “uphold the cause of irrationality and nonsense in this uptight world” and whether they succeed or not, they always aim for this goal and work hard towards it.

Their pact is particularly meaningful because there is a sadness to them, especially when they talk about their parents. Dusty’s parents are “caught in the upwardly mobile thing” and pretty much leave him alone. This allows him to roam free but implies that his parents don’t really care about him. Geary shows them smiling but without any real eyes. There’s just two straight lines and it looks similar to the bullies, the “Chain Gang”, that show up later.
Chuck’s parental situation is much worse. Geary writes, “His parents are shadowy figures that compel him to watch television for hours on end.” This panel is truly creepy and its shadows reinforce its description. We can’t tell what Chuck’s parents even look like! He's shown completely as a shadow and they loom behind him. No other character or panel is treated like this and putting it early in the story sets a strange tone that's carried throughout. Dusty the narrator comments later that this causes Chuck to have a hard cynical look at life, but he also focuses on the positive that Chuck has become a trivia expert. The focus on parents is an extreme undercurrent in the story, and only takes up two panels.
The rest of the issue is focused on their exploits as they jump into photographs and teach pets to fly. It’s the little touches of these exploits that make them meaningful. Each one has some sort of problem that goes along with it. Some of the animals aren’t so good at flying shown as a hound dog clinging to a tree. The photograph of Winston Churchill they jump into isn’t exactly pleased to see them.

It goes back to the underlying sadness of their parents and extends it to the world they inhabit. The emphasis is on underlying because whatever goes wrong or whatever screwed up dream one of them has they plow right through it and on to the next adventure. It’s not ignoring their problems but just dealing with them and moving on. It’s their childhood confidence that propels them but it's their focus on living and thinking that makes then admirable.

2/25/2009

The Fantastic(?) Jonathan Hickman


So it appears that Jonathan Hickman is taking that next big step in Robert Kirkman's infamous how-to-make-a-living-in-comics-without-selling-your-soul-for-thirty-pieces-of-silver plan, having parlayed his string of successful creator-owned series into a deal penning one of the highest profile books in American comics. By most reasonable reckonings, this is pretty good news. Hickman is one of the more innovative talents in American comics to come up in recent years and his selection to write the main Fantastic Four book will not only bring him huge exposure and a considerably larger income, but it may also turn out to be the moment when mainstream superhero comics entered the 21st century.

Hickman's best work reflects a clear grasp on the notion of genre elasticity. In books such as Transhuman--art by JM Ringuet--and the as yet unfinished Red Mass for Mars--art by Ryan Bodenheim--Hickman plays fast and loose with genre conventions, refusing to pigeonhole his stories and often defying readers' expectations by introducing dramatic tonal shifts in the narrative.


Transhuman, which is probably the most fully realized of Hickman's completed series, begins as a more or less typical philosophical science fiction narrative--a near future world in which two companies are competing to corner the market for human improvements, the so-called "transhumanist" movement--with a satirical edge. This is familiar literary territory, but Hickman sets the book apart from similar stories by his employment of a complex narrative structure which takes advantage of the series's "documentary" format by gradually increasing the satire to the point of self-parody--making the series both a comment on the dangers of unchecked technological advancement, as well as the incestuous corporate and media systems which serve to self-legitimize these advancements in the eyes of an unwitting public. Moreover, the sense of whimsy maintained by this relentless self-examination prevent the book from falling into the sort of over-seriousness that generally plagues fiction of this sort.


As good as Transhuman is, Hickman's Red Mass for Mars has the potential to be a masterpiece--whenever the interminably delayed concluding issues make it to the stands. The latter series is a chaotic hybridization of speculative history, mythical narrative and space comics. There is enough going on in each of these narrative strands to make the series intriguingly confusing, but not so much that it comes off as pretentious and unreadable, a la Final Crisis.


The common thread running through these two series is that both were written, but not illustrated by Hickman. Hickman has a great sense of design and when used judiciously, it adds to the experience of reading his comics, as in the case of the informational pages appended to the first issue of the Secret Warriors series he is currently writing for Marvel. Be that as it may, there can be too much of a good thing and this is generally the case with those series Hickman has written and illustrated himself. Nightly News and Pax Romana suffer from an over-reliance on these "designy" elements--to use Hickman's own term--at the expense of visual narrative. This is not to say that neither of these series has something to offer, but simply that when too little of a comic's narrative is conveyed by its images, what you have is more of a novella with illustrations, rather than narrative sequential art, per se.

Unsurprisingly, there are naysayers out there who are lamenting Hickman's move into the big leagues of American comics. One commenter even expressed his wish that Hickman become an Alan Moore style "Fuck-the-Man" figure. Not only does such an attitude wildly exaggerate Alan Moore's supposed outsider status, but it would also seek to deny Hickman his right to develop himself fully within his chosen medium. Not only that, the restrictions inherent to signing on to such a major franchise as Fantastic Four are often precisely what an emerging creator needs in order to refine his art.

2/23/2009

YOU NERDS KNOW TWITTER?


If you guys don't know what Twitter is, you're missing out. You'll notice around here we're putting up fewer short posts and just giving you the good stuff, longer posts about things you actually want to read. Twitter is an ADD version of a blog, each "tweet" only being allowed a measly 140 characters, just enough space for a link, a quick piece of news, or whatever weird crap one of us is looking at right at that moment. If you thought Wikipedia was bad, join Twitter and get ready for weird three way conversations about animal-themed super heroes, yea, it's weird.

Add us from the link above, or on the left margin at the top. If you're too good for it, you can just read our tweets on the left, just hope you can keep up.

2/20/2009

YOUTUBE Fun: Adam West Batman Celebrity Cameos

A wonderful You Tube-r named loomyaire uploaded a bunch of those bizarre celebrity cameos from the Adam West Batman show. Check them out!








Baltimore Graffiti Profiles

This week's Baltimore City Paper--a publication I occasionally write for--has a cover story on Baltimore hip-hop with a focus on Baltimore rap of the past and how it informs and sometimes, doesn't inform what's going on in the rap scene today. The cover story "The Elements of Style" is worth checking out, but of special interest to comics fans would be the bonus interviews with Baltimore graffers Alco and Boodamonk:

"Born and raised on the east side of Baltimore, graffiti artist Alco is one of Charm City's many graf writers whose stories are as illuminating and gripping as his art. Alco and Labtekwon met back in 1987 when Baltimore's young hip-hop community was teeming with all kinds of activity that ran into skateboarding and even the punk community. Drawing was always something Alco did—"I've been drawing since I was a little kid," he says—but it was in seventh grade when he got kicked out of Southern High School—for tagging—and sent to Patterson High School that he was exposed to the wider range of graffiti going on in Baltimore."

"Born and raised in Baltimore, graf artist Boodamonk started drawing in the 1980s starting off with little "comic book characters" and started getting into hip-hop from his older brothers. Today, he operates Boodamonk Hip-Hop Tattoos."

2/19/2009

Scott Pilgrim Volume 5


The usually silly and video-game-nostalgia filled comic Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley takes a sharp turn in the penultimate fifth volume, "Vs. The Universe," putting away most of the series' fun and games for heart breakingly real moments. Before even opening the book, although not clear from the picture above, Volume 5 has a shiny cover, heralding the coming changes and surprises Scott and the gang will have to face.

Each manga style (but not format, it's still read left to right) volume has had Scott Pilgrim fighting for Ramona Flowers's (she's American) love, by having to fight one of her seven evil exboyfriends, who haven't all been "boy" friends. Volume after volume, we've seen Scott literally fight for Ramona's love--while avoiding the fact that he cheated on his previous girlfriend to get with her--in huge fight scenes at parties, on the streets, and at his band, The Sex Bob-ombs', shows. What none of these exboyfriends realizes though is that Scott is "the best fighter in the province," flying through the air DragonBall Z style to take down one more dude, in hopes of keeping Ramona around.

It's hard to talk about one volume without talking about the series as a whole. I first saw this comic and shrugged it off, the drawings were cute and it seemed like ironic video game bullshit, like a kid wearing a shirt with an NES controller that says "OLD SCHOOL" on it. My initial reaction was wrong, Scott Pilgrim is much more than an immature comic about love and video games. Through the five volumes Scott grows, not into a functioning adult per se, but into someone that understands there are consequences to things, especially in this last volume where Ramona ends up leaving him, unceremoniously.

Scott Pilgrim's characters live in our world, specifically Toronto, but the laws of physics and reality don't apply. They all have a sense of "comic awareness" about them, acknowledging things like the glow around surprised characters, guffawing at Scott fighting robots, and the exboyfriends have "finishing moves".

Hidden behind all the nerdity, Scott Pilgrim is a complicated but familiar story about dealing with everyone else your girlfriend's ever gotten with. Fighting the different exes is something that we deal with when with someone who's intimidatingly beautiful, interesting, or has just plain done more with their life than we have. Scott is a slacker in an okay band who sorta has a job and shares his best friend's bed, which is only really weird because he's gay. Couch hopping just isn't a good look.

All of Ramona's previous relationships have been with accomplished people, but have ultimately been awful. In Scott's brain it's hard to measure up to all of these attractive, successful people, but if he'd just be confident, he could be the best boyfriend she's ever had. Scott doesn't allow himself to see that what he has on all the others is that he doesn't see Ramona as just a prize--he actually loves her. Ramona becomes frustrated when Scott goes to fight these evil exes, almost as if she doesn't want him to and is mad that he'd even acknowledge them. He has her, they don't matter anymore, Scott needs to understand that.

One of the most notable things in the volume is the sex scene between Ramona and Scott shortly after a party. It's perverse in it's simplicity and frankness, blacks and grays hide almost everything, giving you just enough. It really feels like when you're fumbling drunk in the dark, it's honest, but not as honest as the conversation that takes place after where Scott finally fesses up to having cheated on his previous girlfriend with Ramona.

After fighting off more of the evil exes, Scott comes home to find a short-haired Ramona--her new hairstyle obviously coming from her form of self mutilation--and Scott and Ramona have what may be their last conversation, Ramona disappearing in a whiteout. This chapter appropriately named "The Glow, pt. 2", leaves Scott heartbroken and Ramona changing cities, and possibly boyfriends, again. She continues to run from her problems and Scott continues to not deal with his own.

#5 is the stand-out volume so far, O'Malley truly understands his characters at this point and cares for them, his simple drawings feel tighter this time around while still being simple pictures you could draw yourself. The sadness of of "Vs. The Universe" leaves you wondering where the series is going--if Ramona will come back or be gone forever. The major bonus in this one though, is the Brandon Graham pin up in the back!

The volume ends with Scott getting an apartment from his parents, which is a pretty classic move of parents of a slacker, and a call from Gideon, Ramona's last boyfriend, and the only remaining evil ex. The biggest difference between Gideon and the other exes is that he may not be so evil, he may have just been a boy she dated who was actually nice, which for a girl like Ramona is worse than some asshole. Stability is scary for people who like to run from things, it means responsibility and structure. It means adulthood, and we all know that's not what the comic is about.

2/18/2009

POWERFUL PANELS: Madwoman of the Sacred Heart by Moebius

Moebius and Jodorowsky's collaboration on Madwoman of the Sacred Heart feels relatively sane and down-to-earth in contrast with a sci-fi epic like The Incal or the picture book sex parable, Angel Claw. It takes place on this planet, it's concerns are more humane and gritty, and it's an all-out farce of religion, intellectualism, and the two dirty old men that wrote and drew it.

Let's just say, the movie of this one wouldn't manifest itself as a quasi-rip-off by Luc Besson, but a radically individual auteur like James Toback, an obsessor of obsessions, a reckless hedonist, and a dude just as comfortable pacing around a classroom spewing about in the world of the forms. Jodorowsky and Moebius (and Toback too) are Professor Alan Mangel, the main character of Madwoman and this sense of knowing connection and harsh satire fuels the schizophrenic plot that plays-out.

And the image above, of Daouda, the man Mangel's wife leaves Mangel for, at his own birthday party, in front of all his friends, while laying-out the reason(s) loud and clear (They haven't had sex in eight years), is a good place to start unpacking Madwoman's weird merging of opposites. In that image, Daouda's both given a lot of humanity, in his truly embarrassed "I wish I wasn't here" facial expression as his girlfriend cruelly prattles on at her ex, and sort of mocked in Moebius' stretched-out exaggerations of an embarrassed, "uppity" black man. Daouda knows why this chick he's with is nutty but doesn't care or enjoys it or something. That's the brilliance of good satire and farce, this multi-directional parody with a dash of sympathy too.

The punchline of this scene is Mangel's Wife using the younger, more exotic Daouda, to further embarrass Mangel and feed into her own "progressive" interests, to contrast with her stodgy, philosopher husband. On the page following the one I took these scans from, she self-consciously celebrates and justifies her relationship: "I may be twenty years older than he is...maybe I'm fulfilling some kind of mothering instinct...or going with a "White Woman" might be some kind of status symbol for him...but I don't care!". Of course, if she really didn't care, she wouldn't have footnoted her declaration of "love" like that. It's both a scene of out-there satire and unfortunate realism, as we've all probably heard some hyper-self conscious "it's not like that" speech from someone, the whole time thinking you know, it's totally like that.

The entire scene tows this weird line between being as out-there over-the-top impossible as any of the shit in The Incal and depressingly realistic. Even that name Daouda, while a real African name, seems goofily exotic or like, too-perfect, you know? And because we've witnessed and been subjected to more than a hundred years of racist caricature, we look at even realistic images of black people with a suspicious eye, so it's sort of brave for Moebius to really balance this line between his cartoonized style, real-life accuracy, and broad satire.

There's just something goofy-looking about Daouda, the attempt at a refined version of the flattop, the silent-move villain moustache, his slight neck-fat...you're kinda sizing him up as goofy-looking asshole the same way Mangel or really any now ex-husband would do to the wife's new lover. But like I said, there's something really humane about him too. He seems like a decent guy and he's clearly affected by this insane bit of melodrama playing out in front of him.

Moebius places the close-up of Daouda right after a similar close-up of Mangel, and really, the intention isn't to contrast the two--as Mangel's wife is doing--but to see their similarities. They both respond properly to the Wife's tirade: Mangel a kind of "whatthefuckisthis" attitude, Daouda, sincere confusion. Mangel's ire though, is in part directed towards Daouda, his wizened glare looking across the frame into Daouda's panel. Dauoda just tries to avoid eye contact and affect a "I'm not here, this isn't happening" look, even as Mangel's Wife's words invoke him in this weird attack.

Mangel's Wife's words too, hover above Daouda's--and Mangel's--head literally. While she's explicitly demeaning Mangel, her references to the many lovers she took kinda devalue Daouda or at the least, don't really set him up as being all that important, even as she's using him to represent the perfect lover in contrast with the can't-get-a-boner Mangel. The panel of Daouda's expression reveals something to the reader that Mangel's Wife is too blind with spite and anger to notice or just doesn't care. Moebius renders the face perfectly, showing Daouda's abashed expression and hinting that this isn't the first time he's been privy to his girlfriend's freakouts, making him look a little absurd and pathetic, but sympathetic too.

2/17/2009

The Swierczynski Universe


If you're a regular reader, you've definitely read our high praises for the current Cable series. I'm constantly impressed with the consistency of Swierczynski's writing. While it may have started as a simple survival story and Lone Wolf and Cub homage, it's been slowly growing into the beginnings of Swierczynski’s own universe. By creating his own future world, he bridges the gap between the continuity of the Marvel Universe and having a completely creator-owned work.

Working within the continuities of DC or Marvel can bog down even the best creators. After coming off of one his best projects, Grant Morrison was asked to helm the DC Universe crossover Final Crisis. While bits of the story have been exciting, it mostly feels muddled and uninspired. Cable gives me the feeling that Swierczynski, by successfully balancing the continuity demands for Messiah Complex and his own creative desires for Cable, might be the perfect person to head up a company wide crossover event.

Most of the best monthly titles somehow take place outside Marvel and DC continuity. The titles that take place within the continuity mostly seem to get crushed under the weight of everything that has happened before them. Swierczynski walks the razor's edge between continuity and his own universe. Here's how he does it:

PERSONALITY


This is exactly what usually gets lost in a big company crossover or a continuity monthly title. The focus in Cable is squarely on the characters. He’s taken Cable and Bishop, whose creation came in an era in comics where about all you needed to have a successful character was a mean streak and a big gun, and given them some depth.

Cable still has his gritty solider mentality but Swierczynski subtly mixes in telling personality traits. Cable has a strong family loyalty that is shown most obviously through his paternal feelings for Hope, but also more quietly in several issues, when he mentions his feelings towards his father Cyclops.

I sometimes think that Bishop has more going on in his personality than Cable does. He's more than your typical villain. The series even tends to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's motivated by a sincere belief that Hope ruins the future, and a subtext of the series is that he may be right. A couple issues focus mostly on Bishop and show his determination for catching Cable. It takes pains to highlight his intelligence and ingenuity. Seeing the interaction between these two and their motivations revealed throughout the story makes Swierczynski’s world complex.

These kind of subtle interactions force the reader to assume all the characters are operating on this sincere level. In the beginning of Cable #11, we're introduced to the commander of one of the last hold outs of humanity in an increasingly hostile world. He's only in the story for a couple of pages, but he feels like a complete character because of his interactions with Hope and Cable. Swierczynski smartly rewards this thought by having the commander's presence felt again when Hope thinks about the curse words he taught her.

MULTIPLE TITLES


One of the things that bogged down Final Crisis was the abundance of tie-in titles and their content that related to the plot of the main series. The King Size Cable Spectacular and now The Life and Time of Lucas Bishop show that Sweircynski has the ability to manage a couple of different artists and different stories for an overall effect. More importantly, these comics feel more like good bonus features than vital plot information.

Bishop's new feature comic tells in detail his origin in a mutant concentration camp. It shows how Bishop's life has been in constant pain which translates directly into his world destroying actions in trying to apprehend Cable. It also subtly highlights Bishop's imagination. When he's told stories about the X-Men we see versions of himself dressed in X-men uniforms. This just internally reinforces the notion that Bishop has this strange spark within him that makes him worth reading about and analyzing. It's technically a prequel to the story, but has enough personality tie-ins to make it pretty relevant.

TIME TRAVEL

It's strange to think that these two characters came out of confusing X-men time-travel stories. Swiecyznski re-vamps time travel so you don’t have to wonder about the paradoxes that are normally associated with it. It’s a tool or even like a mutant ability that Cable and Bishop simply have. Most importantly, it’s something we can comprehend.

He uses it so that he can get out of the Marvel continuity but also as a plot tool to reflect the characters emotions, building a believable world in which they can live. Cable #2 has Bishop jumping through time over and over with each panel placing him in the same spot highlighting the tedious nature of the detective work he's doing.

The most recent issue has Cable and Hope trying to jump forward far enough that the Earth has regrown plant-life after its devastation. Each time they do they are in a wasteland. By magnifying the scope of their hardship to thousands of years, it gives the same sort of empty searching feeling as issue #2, but also an idea of just how painful the events of the past issues have been.

The creation of Swiercynski's universe within a universe looks back to early days in Marvel where each title had it's own internal logic. Sure the characters knew about each other but when Galactus showed up, you didn't have the Avengers help fight him, you know? While not all the titles have the benefit of time travel, it definitely gives me some hope for continuity comics.

2/16/2009

The Negative Zone: THE ISSUE #3 BONER-KILL EFFECT

Something that's obsessed me about comics, especially over the past year as my weekly comics intake's gone out of control--and especially because a lot of good or at least promising series have begun--is how many series I've dumped at issue #3: Kick-Ass, Final Crisis, the "Old Man Logan" storyline, "Batman R.I.P", Glamourpuss, Haunted Tank, probably some others too (interesting that there's two by Millar and two by Morrison on that list...).

The third issue's the make-or-break issue because a writer can rely on the pretty-much-always-interesting first issue and can usually, if they've set the first issue up passably well, ride that wave into the end of #2. By #3, stuff's gotta start happening or ideas gotta start flowing or something, anything. And usually what a third issue does is too-much or too-little. The leisurely pace punctuated by a few "what the fuck" moments is what made "Old Man Logan" and Kick-Ass, and then the third issue of each respectably, stumbled into some sub-plot about Spiderwoman or threw in a little girl who chopped heads and said "Cunt". Okay.

Final Crisis and "Batman R.I.P" suffered for the opposite reasons as they did nothing at all and fumbled further into themselves. You felt all the narrative pieces moving around, being set-up for that big "Woahholycrap" moment but that was the problem...you could feel the moves being made, each weird sub-plot or new character/concept to pay-off later. And the pay-off might be worth it, but I don't read comics for the pay-off, I read them for the evolving, temporal-ness of the narrative that ideally, builds to something actually worth it. I need to feel like I'm in good hands and I'm not in good hands whether the writer decides on a total tone-change in issue 3 or to just continue setting-up fort for some forever-delayed "payoff". Series' like Haunted Tank and Glamourpuss expose themselves by their third-issue for just sort of coasting along, with little interest in changing or even complicating previous issues. They're too confident and as a result, feel obsessively planned-out. No room for complexity or fun or anything to leak in.

That's why Cable is the best series going on right now. It's heavy in continuity and it's circling around itself in terms of time-travel weirdness, but every issue works on its own. The most recent issue, which is essentially Cable and Hope in empty space talking about time-travel continuity shit I register but couldn't regurgitate to a new reader, works because stripping the action comic of its vague action comic connections unravelled deeper things about Cable and Hope's relationship.

That the issue ends with (spoiler-not-spoiler alert) Cable collapsing, both matters and doesn't matter. Matters because the series' bad is gonna go to worse, but doesn't matter because the issue wasn't building up to that "shocker" ending. Of course, it was kinda inevitable that a food-less, water-less Cable would collapse, but you forgot about it because the human interaction was so fascinating in and of itself. Basically, the comic put you in Hope's shoes, so caught-up in the immediate that you forgot about essentials like food and water and as a result, Cable's collapse is as shocking and desperate to you as it is to her.

That's of course what the best "keep-you-reading" or even "twist" ending stories do. They don't pull some tricky bullshit out of their ass two pages before it ends, they wrap you up in the story itself, distract you from greater, scarier issues at-hand, all the while making them pretty obvious and then...BOOM, it's got you. An odd, hard-to-describe mix of in-the-moment storytelling and obsessive story-planning. Giving you more of the same and knowing how and when to subtly flip it too.

2/13/2009

All Star Superman Complete Retrospective Fun Fest

Since you can now order All Star Superman Vol. 2, and recommend it to people without lending them your issues, I thought it'd be good idea to take a look back and remember just why the series was worth recommending in the first place. There have been a couple really great interviews with Morrison particularly this one at Newsrama. It's 10 parts and Morrison tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the series.

Issue 1: “…Faster…”
Summary: Superman saves Quintum’s mission to the sun from Lex’s plot to destroy it. In his trip Superman flies straight through the sun super charging his cells giving him new super powers, but also starting his road towards death.
Its Importance to the Series: This issue establishes all of the threads that will run through the series. It shows, through a speech by Quintum, that Superman's legacy isn’t just saving people’s lives but the hope he inspires.
Morrison Says: "And I think that’s what makes him great. He just keeps tirelessly trying to make things better, to be a role model for everyone. People take him for granted – he’s always dealing with characters who think he’s an idiot, or irrelevant or who just don’t like his plain morality and can’t see that he’s just a genuinely good guy slightly hampered by a fear of forcing his ideas on people." Link.


Best Panel: Superman flies through the sun. Yeah, it’s a two page spread but it’s too good to pass up. It’s only on page two but it’s when I first realized this series was great. Superman is completely rigid in his flying position but still looks like he’s gliding. His face has a mix of determination and hope that is perfect.
Best Quote: This issue is full of them but I got to go with, “I’m getting older and…and he isn’t. So, if I want to die happy, it’s time to get serious about killing Superman. Don’t you think?” –Lex Luthor
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Voyager Titan. Quietly’s art helps make this thing really weird, but it’s Quintim’s explanation that is really nuts.



Issue 2: “Superman’s Forbidden Room”
Summary: After Lois finds out Superman is Clark Kent, they take a trip to the Fortress of Solitude. Lois stumbles onto a secret room and becomes paranoid about Superman's intentions.
Its Importance: Going deep into Superman and Lois’ relationship. She comments herself how strange it has been over the years. It shows Lois’ strength; she's willing to take on Superman.

Best Panel: Lois’ teeth. This panel is truly creepy and shows Lois’ paranoia about Superman.
Best Quote: “And you’ve always been Clark Kent? Sorry. I just don’t believe you Superman.” – Lois Lane

Craziest Sci Fi Moment: It’s a tour through the Fortress of Solitude so there are a lot but the craziest has to be Superman feeding the Sun-eater with miniature suns he creates on the Cosmic Anvil from New Olympus. Honorable Mention – The half-a-million ton fortress key.



Issue 3: “Sweet Dreams, Superwoman”
Summary: Lois is given the gift of Superman’s powers for 24 hours. They meet up with Samson and Atlas who flirt with Lois. Lois plays hard to get but sees Superman’s the real deal after he rescues her from the Ultra-Sphinx.
Its Importance: The issue shows how others behave with Superman-like powers. Samson, Atlas, and Lois all have powers comparable to Superman’s but he is constantly rescuing and setting right their mistakes.
Best Panel: Lois and Superman kissing on the moon. Everything on Earth is small to them compared to the feeling of this kiss. Lois is a stone-cold fox.
Best Quote: Lois’ life hangs on the line. The Sphinx asks Superman “What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?” Superman replies “Ha. How about this? They surrender.”
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: The Ultra Sphinx. Where did this guy come from???

Issue 4: “The Superman/Olsen War”
Summary: Jimmy Olsen becomes Professor Quintum for the day while doing a piece for the Daily Planet. Superman rescues him from the Underverse but is exposed to black kryptonite which turns him evil.
Its Importance: Establishes Jimmy Olsen as an actually interesting character. He isn’t annoying as has been hinted at in the previous issues, but always somehow at the center of action. We see Superman trusts Jimmy and values him as a close friend. When Superman turns evil, it’s Jimmy who handles the situation.
Best Panel: Another Superman flying. Similar to the first two page spread.
Best Quote: “The Black K Superman was everything you’re not. A bully, a coward… a liar…Weird thing is the worse he acted, the weaker he became.” – Jimmy Olsen
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Quintum goes on a trip to meet the Elecrokind. Tungsten Gas life forms with a brittle glass exoskeleton.

Issue 5: “The Gospel According to Lex Luthor”

Summary: Lex Luthor has been sentenced to death. Clark Kent goes for an interview, but Parasite begins absorbing power, causing chaos in the jail.
Its Importance: This issue focuses on Lex Luthor. He talks about Superman as being an impossible ideal. He looks down on him because he comes from another planet and didn’t earn his super powers. He can’t see past his own ego to realize Superman is an inspiration to people.
Best Panel: Parasite falling through the panel. This is just an interesting panel technically. The edge of the panel is also the bottom and top of the floor. Parasite eats everything, even the world around him!
Best Quote: “We all fall short of that sickening, inhuman perfection, that impossible ideal. Feel that, Kent. Real muscles, not like his.” – Lex Luthor.
Honorable Mention: "Attila the Hun. Genghis Khan. Al Capone. Adolf Hitler. Lex Luthor..." -Judge at Luthor's trial.
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Luthor’s Bibliobot Mark 2. “A roving library. He’ll read you any of a thousand classic works of literature from ‘Ulyssess’ to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’” -Luthor

Issue 6: “Funeral in Smallville”
Summary: Flashback time. We head back in time to Superman’s life in Smallville. He meets up with three generations of the Superman Squad, and deals with the death of his dad, Jonathan Kent.
Its Importance: Superman confronts death and the fact that he can't save everybody.
Best Panel: After flying around with Krypto, Superman relaxes on the moon, staring at the beauty of the Earth. The Earth is touched-up by computers enough to make it stand out, and look special to Superman. Reinforced by the Lois/Superman kiss panel in issue 3.
Best Quote: “He taught me that the measure of a man lies not in what he says but what he does. And showed me by example how to be tough, and how to be kind and how to dream of a better world. Thanks, Pa. Those are lessons I’ll never forget.” -Superman. Jonathan Kent's Eulogy.
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Superman meets the leader of the Superman Squad.

Issue 7: “Being Bizarro”
Summary: The Bizarro World attacks earth. Superman, in an effort to save earth, gets stuck on the Bizarro World.
Its Importance: A lot of people say this is where the story slows down. I think it gives a deeper perspective on Superman and his personality. He recognizes he might be in a hopeless situation and that he’s only one man, but listens to help from his friends at the Daily Planet. With their help, he finally repels the Bizarros.
Best Panel: Godspeed Superman. I love these Superman flying panels. This one shows his trail as a kind of sci-fi neon light. It's computers so it contrast the art around it highlighting his superhuman speed.
Best Quote: “The formula for an experimental Bizarro Repellent is right here on this card I planned to give you. Merry Christmas.” –Superman talking to Lois
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Square Earth.


Issue 8: “Us Do Opposite”
Summary: Superman, stuck on Bizzaro world where he is slowly dying. With the help of Zibarro, a genetic fluke of Bizarro world, and Bizarro Superman, he escapes on a rocket ship built from trash.
Its Importance: Superman is confronted with a world that makes no sense and one where he is slowly dying. He inspires hope in Zibarro, and inspires all the Bizzaros to help him get home. The Bizarros become an alternate version of humanity, one that's lazy and disorganized, and it shows the series' humanism about earth and its people.
Best Panel: This goes along with Lois' teeth panel. It's really creepy and gives the feeling of paranoia around Superman. Like one false step could be the end.
Best Quote: “Bizzaro-Green Lantern am no have ultimate power ring can make it real what me am no think of! Only trouble is…me am no think only of everything.”
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Issue am too normal for un-science.

Issue 9: “Curse of the Replacement Supermen”
Summary: Superman comes back from the bizarre world to discover Lilo and Bar-El, astronauts from Krypton, have found their way to Earth. They have some ideas of their own on what to do with the planet. When they become afflicted with a Kryptonite illness, Superman saves their lives by sending them to the phantom zone.
Its Importance: Lilo and Bar-el show another path that Superman’s personality could have taken. They are obsessed with their heritage from Krypton and look to take over the Earth as Dictators. Superman’s basic kindness is shown again when he tries to help the two after they’ve become sick by Kryptonite.
Best Panel: Lilo! Quitely is a master of showing cowardice and fear.
Best Quote: “That’s not fair. What right do I have to impose my values on anyone?” -Superman
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Repairing a crack in the moon with bridges!

Issue 10: “Neverending”

Summary: A lot goes on in this issue. Superman writes his will, and rushes around the world doing good deeds. He creates a universe to see what it would be like without him.
Its Importance: This is my favorite issue of the series. The best scene is when Superman talks a young girl from committing suicide. The issue takes all the themes of the series and compresses them down into short moments. Lex spitting at Superman is an example of everything that goes on between them.
Best Panel: Superman’s Last Will and testament. His clothes are too big. He's looking completely weak and vulnerable here.
Honorable mention: Regan dropping her cell phone. Has that timelessness effect. Where things hang in the air.
Best Quote: “As she spoke, I watched 35,000 dead skin cells scattering like confetti…like promises…like the dust of stars.” -Superman reflecting later on a conversation with Lois.
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Creation of Earth Q.




Issue 11: “Red Sun Day”
Summary: Superman inches closer to his death. Lex Luthor somehow survived execution and is now super powered. Earth is attacked Solaris but is defeated by Superman and his robots. Superman is finishing up his last moments before death.
Its Importance: This issue feels a lot like armageddon or something. Things are getting to the end of the line. Superman closes up the Fortress of Solitude for good. Death weighs everything down and it's pretty heavy.
Best Panel: There’s always a way. Something about this gets me. I don't think I've ever seen Superman without some kind of shirt on. Here his 'S' is obscured and he looks like a normal guy, except for that heroic look on his face.
Best Quote: "What a Life! I've traveled across time and space. I've seen and done thing beyond imagination. Blessed with friends like Pete and Lana and Jimmy. And Batman...what incredible adventures we've shared. What amazing people I've known." -Superman
Craziest Sci Fi Moment: Lex Luthor builds a robot in one panel.

Issue 12: "Superman In Excelsis"
Summary: Superman starts off in a dream/alternate universe of Krypton right before it explodes. Jor-El talks him back into living again. He returns and the final showdown with Luthor. He flies into the heart of the sun saving Earth one last time.
It's Importance: This is it. It's the final showdown. All the panels feel apocalyptic and claustrophobic. It's Superman's greatest challenge but somehow he's been planning it from the beginning. It's the end and it feels like it, but it somehow leaves you still wanting more. The ending feels like a bizarre cliffhanger to a sequel. This non-ending gives you the feeling of a loop and a desire to pick up issue 1 all over again.
Best Panel: Superman in the heart of the sun. See below quote.
Morrison Says: "Superman grew up baling hay on a farm. He goes to work, for a boss, in an office. He pines after a hard–working gal. Only when he tears off his shirt does that heroic, ideal inner self come to life. That’s actually a much more adult fantasy than the one Batman’s peddling but it also makes Superman a little harder to sell. He’s much more of a working class superhero, which is why we ended the whole book with the image of a laboring Superman."
Best Quote: Luthor's epiphany. It's weird that Luthor ends up kind of summarizing the feel of the series all in this quote: "This is how he sees all the time, every day. Like it's all just us, in here together. And we're all we've got."
Craziest Sci-Fi Momment: Superman's cells turn into pure energy-information.


2/12/2009

Casual Racism In Comics

Casual racism in comics is something that's either dismissed and laughed-off by white fat nerd comics fans (you know, most comics fans) or with the sensitive smarty-pants types, seems to get shoved to the side for issues of casual sexism. And it seems that generally, sexism or racism's obsessively poured-over by the kind of comics fans that wouldn't ever talk about MARVEL titles if not for the fact that it offends them as they're more apt to be reading a TOP SHELF title or something, so it often feels like one more way for a certain kind of comix fans to feel superior to that other kind of comics fan.

So, while I'm delighted by the grossed-out guffaw that happens when some moronic Neo-Con in Asheville, NC thinks he's being clever and biting, I can't help but wish that comics that wrestle around with race properly got their due just as much because they're the real way casual racism--or just good old regular racism--gets corrected and upended.

A series like Elephantmen or VERTIGO's race comics (Unknown Soldier and Haunted Tank) just get reviewed alongside everything else without the special attention and praise they deserve for touching on an issue that a) Totally doesn't sell comics and b) Opens you up for a lot of criticism from all sides. The three aforementioned series' are especially worthy of praise because they go way beyond being defiantly anti-racist, but roll around with the complexities of the issue and still come off as fun, goofy pop too.

Elephantmen as I've said quite a few times before, is basically mining the concept of "victims" and "perpetrators" and forcing it through a Heavy Metal or TMNT lens of adolescent fun. Unknown Soldier is well, a journalistic comic book masterpiece. The joke I've expressed with other readers is how writer Dysart keeps promising the pulp but never wavers from this right-minded sense of sophistication and complexity. If next issue though, Moses discovers some like underground African cave of moloids or some shit, it'd still be awesome. And Haunted Tank, while I must admit to have stopped reading it, is basically a broad goofy race satire in the style of Watermelon Man...delightfully silly, and sensitive even as it's tries to push your P.C buttons.

Let's waste as much energy praising smart comics that deal with race as we do condemning dumb comics--or political cartoons--that get it all wrong.

2/11/2009

X-Men Cartoon Over Homework Any Day


Previously, the X-Men animated series episodes were released only in single disc packages with one or two episodes stuck together just to get hype for the next Marvel movie. Fortunately, Marvel has finally decided to release the X-Men cartoon series, originally airing afternoons on Fox, in two DVD volumes, on April 28th.

It's taken far too long for this to come out, I can still remember walking home from school and watching this show, and becoming completely obsessed with the X-Men. For a while, the Fox afternoon was just too good; this series and Spider-Man both played a huge part in my pre-teen imagination.

Being in elementary and middle school, this cartoon was a little more mature than the others and put my mind at rest, bringing me back into comics and giving me an artistic outlet, creating my own mutants and drawing the characters I related to.

The X-Men is probably the most continuity-heavy comic in the history of comics, every character, location and action seems to be important to something that will happen in the future, and because of that you become seriously involved. You care more about the characters you like and put yourself in their shoes. I loved some characters so much, and hated others, here's where I was at as a child, and now:

CYCLOPS

THEN: Cyclops is everything not cool about a super hero. He's like Superman without the humanity, just a fucking cop who harasses you for skating in an empty parking lot. My neighbor loved him when we were young and would always talk about how great his powers were, which at the time I just saw as laser beams, and would shit on my favorite X-Man, Nightcrawler. Cyclops is just your friend's dad who won't let you play behind the shed.

NOW: Cyclops has become a man who demands respect, breaking away from Professor X's rule, and is doing what needs to be done to protect the few remaining mutants. I realize his "laser beams" aren't lasers but pure force that has to be held back, but when dude lets loose it's actually pretty scary. He's still an asshole but now I know it's for the better of the X-Men and not just because he's a prick.

JEAN GREY

THEN: I never understood why everyone wanted to bang her so badly, or why Professor X even had her around. I get she could move stuff with her mind or whatever but she didn't feel essential to the team, not her specific personality. A friend once said to me "There are two kinds of people, ones who bring something to the table and ones who don't" and I've gotta apply this to Marvel Girl here, why do you matter outside of causing problem?

NOW: She's dead and Cyclops is with Emma Frost, which makes a lot more sense. Emma is strong and over all more interesting, and I don't mean because of her revealing outfits. Jean caused nothing but trouble, she's like the damsel in distress but she was causing the distress! Good riddance, unless, you know, she's Cable's baby in some fucked up way.

GAMBIT

THEN: Gambit was so cool. He wore a trench coat, threw these playing cards and stood leaning against walls. Everything as a little boy you think is cool, except instead of sunglasses his eyes were just dark! That transcends coolness.

NOW: What were we thinking? He's everything lame about a character. All he needs now is a motorcycle or to team up with Starman or Constantine. He's just what kids in the 90's thought were cool. The worst thing looking back are his powers, the man has the ability to use kinetic energy to charge anything to cause it to blow up and he decides on playing cards? SERIOUSLY?

ROUGE

THEN: Her ability to steal powers from any other mutant made her one of my favorites. I was even willing to be her when we'd play X-Men, taking on the ridicule until I would suck up all their powers and win. I had a little boy crush on her too which just makes that weirder...

NOW: Rouge is the X-Man that all dudes my age continue to have crushes on, even though she hasn't been in the comics for a long while. Her powers still remain some of the most interesting, but most under-utilized. Marvel sometimes won't put the time needed into building a character, and so we're left with heroes like Rogue, who we'll see for two months until they run out of ideas. She, like most of the X-Men, just doesn't have enough life outside of the X-Men to make them interesting.

STORM

THEN: Storm's powers seemed stupid to me, but I think that may been been because weather is something we see every day, its just wasn't "sci fi" enough.

NOW: Storm is one of the, if not only, strong black characters in comics that doesn't rely on race to tell her stories. I know now that her powers are incredibly diverse, dude can't even fly but manages it by using winds! She's not as involved in the X-Men anymore but has moved onto the Fantastic Four books with her husband Black Panther, and is currently in the running for actually being the next Black Panther. She's one of the few characters from the X-Books to really evolve since I was a child.

BEAST

THEN: I have always been into monster characters so Beast always appealed to me. The obvious difference between him and other smart dudes just made him more popular with me and my friends, his blue fur and sudden bits of rage were frightening after being so used to his calm demeanor. They have never given Beast a proper toy, step it up Marvel!

NOW: Secondary mutations have made Beast into a blue, humanoid lion, very few pieces of him remain man. His character has managed to develop alongside the rest of the X-Men, taking a sidecar to action and acting almost exclusively as a behind the scenes character.

WOLVERINE

THEN: I hate Wolverine, from his stupid one liners to his cowboy hats. He was everyone's favorite and each and everytime we'd be on the playground, at least five kids were yelling "SNICKT" and slashing through everything. I always just wanted Magneto to rip him apart and get it over with.

NOW: I love Wolverine, from his great one liners to his flannel shirts. I buy into it completely, picking up every one-shot, excited to see which artist they've gotten for the character next. He's the new Conan, in a way, he's done so much his adventures are all legendary, and because of his powers and past, we have no idea how old he is or how many places he's actually been. Instead of sitting complacent on a character they didn't need to expand, they've done everything they can to make him relevant, it's why the X-Men are still interesting to people, they never settle down.