Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas '05

I hope everyone had or is having a great gaggle o’ holidays. I’m pleased to announce that my girlfriend got me a beautiful copy of Absolute Watchmen, and to satiate her Logan-lust I got her the first two Greg Rucka Wolverine trades (thanks to the staff of CBG for recommendations) along with the first season of Lost and a matching set of earrings and ring. In the hopes of expanding my older brother’s funnybook range (traditionally he only reads Batman and X-related stuff, and only then if it’s the darker and violent stories), I got him the first volumes of Sleeper and Lone Wolf and Cub (Lone Wolf may be a leap, but I’m fairly certain he’ll dig Sleeper). He, in turn, got me a $50 gift certificate to Earthworld, my local comic shop, which I’m planning on spending today providing they’re open.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t already checked out JC Glindmeyer’s two-part list of unforgettable customers (JC owns Earthworld) at Comic Book Galaxy, go now. It’s great stuff. The first part is here, and the second is here.

I knew about one of JC’s Unforgettables, but only because it was mentioned in an article about the shop in Albany’s free weekly reader: The Metroland. The magazine regularly chooses Earthworld as the Capital District’s Best Comic Shop, though I think in the last series of “Best of” they chose Aquilonia Comics instead (in nearby Troy). But I think that was mainly because they just wanted to mix it up a little bit. I haven’t been to Aquilonia much, but for my tastes Earthworld definitely kicks its ass (in case you’re wondering, I’m not refusing to provide a link to Aquilonia out of consumer loyalty or anything like that – as far as I know, they don’t have a website). In my experience, Earthworld is much better purely as far as its diverse supply of comics is concerned. If there’s any area where Aquilonia surpasses Earthworld, it’s in the peripheral trading card and RPG stuff (something I’m not that interested in). In fact, my brother prefers Aquilonia only because they have weekly Magic card tournaments.

The biggest Xmas surprise was that my girlfriend got me a laptop. I half-suspected it because she wrapped up the box and put it under the tree early (we got a real tree this year, our first), and it seemed too big to be anything else I wanted (other than maybe a Hulk statue or something, but it wasn’t heavy enough…er…not that I picked it up beforehand or anything…um…), but at the same time I didn’t think she could afford it. It turns out her family on the West Coast all chipped in to get it for me. I’ve never been as touched by a present, especially coming from people I don’t really know all that well. With working all night and going to school in the day, it’s something I desperately need. With nothing but literature, fiction writing, and journalism classes in my collegiate future; things are going to get very writing intensive, and I need what I’ve been jokingly referring to as a “mobile base of operations.” I need to be able write anywhere, anytime, or I’m just not going to be able to get done what needs to get done. The specifics of my job both help and hinder my writing. My job’s relatively low-stress so I usually get a lot of school work done there; but it’s always been a pain in the ass because my PC at home has MS word, all the PCs at school have MS Word, but the PC at work only has Word Perfect. It’s usually not a huge deal - I just write stuff in WP, copy and paste it into e-mails sent to myself, and voila everything’s hunky dory. But thing’s just got a little bit more complicated. They replaced the PC I use at work, and the security settings are all funky. Among other things, I can’t save text files, and I don’t think I have to tell anyone how risky a proposition it is to write papers on a computer if you don’t or can’t save periodically.

If they hadn’t gotten it for me, I would’ve had to use next semester’s loan check to buy one. Now I can use the loan check money for more frivolous stuff like food and rent, and it’s desperately needed because I just found out that, as of my next paycheck, I’ll be doling out close to $300 every month to cover me and Nicole on domestic partner insurance. Nicole’s looking for another job, but in the meantime I have to make that loan stretch as far as it can.

All in all, it’s been a great Christmas. My brother, at least temporarily, made peace with my parents and thankfully showed up to their place on Christmas Eve with my adorable nephew who’s finally saying “Mommy” and “Daddy” (and breaks all our hearts every time he does). More than anything else, I’m happy Nicole was here. We’ve been going out for three years, and this is the first year she didn’t spend Christmas with her family in California. Our relationship takes some hard blows every semester, what with our competing schedules and all the stress of school and work (and we both contend with that two-headed monster). We really needed this downtime to just snuggle and be lazy and enjoy some holiday lovin’. Holidays are good, I think. Even if you have to buy a lot of crap.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hopefully, no one will be watching the Watchmen

Well, every now and then there’s some good news. Good news only, of course, if Hollywood’s continuing failure at adapting Watchmen to the screen keeps going as it is, and the project eventually goes the way of the Nicolas Cage Superman.

I don’t care who’s directing it or who’s in the cast. I don’t care if it’s two hours, two and a half hours, or three and a half hours. I don’t care whether Alan Moore’s name should be taken off all of his DC work or if they start printing his name on the covers larger than the titles.

Hollywood cannot produce a film adaptation that stays true to the spirit of Watchmen. There isn’t an audience in the world willing to sit in a theater for as long as such an adaptation would take. There isn’t an American audience ready for a superhero film that defies, as a true Watchmen adaptation would have to, the conventional superhero formula. There isn’t a studio in the world that would produce Watchmen without the intent of making it a blockbuster, and there isn’t a studio in the world that would produce a superhero blockbuster without the conventional formula intact. Rorschach will become Wolverine, Nite Owl will become either Mr. Incredible or Arthur from The Tick, and Doctor Manhattan. Oh, poor Doctor Manhattan.

If I believed in curses I’d boil frogs’ eyes and kill goats or whatever I had to do to make sure this project keeps going in the same direction: absolutely fucking nowhere.

The only Watchmen adaptation I could imagine working would be a cable mini-series, probably on HBO, provided of course the director and cast were up to the task and respectful of the source material. It would give the series the time it needed and the creators the freedom they needed to give its audience a story about superheroes that was completely unfamiliar to them. If it ever looks like something like that might happen, I’ll happily post my geek-positive dream cast lists and whatever else I might do if I found out there were adaptations in the works for Great Lakes Avengers. Until that happens or Hollywood abandons its plan for one of the greatest graphic novels of the 20th century altogether, I hereby promise that I would rather let Rorschach play with my mother’s underwear than give any more indications that I care about whatever piece of shit Hollywood may or may not squeeze out with the name Watchmen.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Just stopping by to confirm I'm not dead

I'm currently at the final third of a a 12-hour shift, and really I'm just posting so I don't fall asleep. I've worked overtime before and usually it's a breeze, but I've found it's a hell of a lot easier to come in 3 or 4 hours early and leave at the usual time than to come in at the usual time and stay 3 or 4 hours late.

Finals are over, so hopefully I'll have some more to say soon, but in the meantime I just wanted to let folks kind enough to follow my blog know that more stuff will be forthcoming. I've been a slug since school ended, using my usual writing time (my overnight job) to play flash games and watch TV.

This semester felt like a complete waste, but I'm amping up for happier (and a hell of a lot busier) times this coming term. Rather than two classes I have no interest in and was retroactively informed I didn't even need; I've got a graduate-level fiction writing workshop, two writing intensive lit courses, and a journalism class. Lots of writing. Hopefully I'll have a new laptop by the time school starts to help me handle all the typing (I have one now, but it's old and the battery has the staying power of a Chevy Chase talk show).

So yeah, expect more stuff later. And before I forget, congrats to Chris Allen for being picked as one of the Eisner judges.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Brief break from superhero stuff

Tragically, a student in my school committed suicide yesterday. Today was my last history class and our professor used the news of the freshman's death to segue into a discussion of stress during finals. I don't mean to diminish the death of a student by suggesting it didn't warrant in-class discussion, but this particular professor has a tendency to use any excuse to get melodramatic. He seemed sure he impress us, for example, by mentioning that this was the "third or fourth" student death he'd seen since working at our school. According to a speech the Dean at the time gave, at my transfer orientation we were informed that - including part-timers and grad students - there's around 20,000 students enrolled at our institution. The fact that a professor had been working there long enough for 3 or 4 students to die ain't exactly a sign of the endtime. And while I don't know exactly how long he's been at our school, he has tenure so it's likely those three or four deaths were spread across at least a decade or so. Even if he meant to say "suicides" instead of just "deaths," I'm no statistician but it doesn't sound particularly cataclysmic. There was no need to present it to us like he was coming straight out of 'Nam.

Anyway, he went on and on about how we shouldn't place too much importance on the subject of Medeival England, that it wasn't worth our lives, that nothing in college was worth it, blah blah blah. Nice sentiment. Condescending as hell, as usual, but nice sentiment.

After ten minutes or so of the same nice sentiment re-worded and repeated, he told us he hoped we do well on our take-home final because giving out bad grades was like "losing a patient on the operation table."


On one hand, we shouldn't place too much importance on our grades. On the other, if we get bad grades it's comparable to dying during surgery.

I just thought all this was amusing until I got home and told Nicole about it. See, as a grad student Nicole has taught at my school and knows all the rules professors are supposed to follow.

This s the last week of classes. According to Nicole, professors are strictly prohibited from giving finals during this week. Finals aren't supposed to start until next Tuesday.

So the guy with his nice sentinments and his droll speeches about how we shouldn't stress out about grades is the same guy who's giving me and everyone else in my class six less days preparation than we should have because he and his Teacher's Assistant have other commitments. Yeah, it's a take-home, but it's due tomorrow and unfortunately my other professor is ALSO breaking the rules and giving us a final tomorrow, so I somehow have to squeeze in studying for geography while writing essays about history, and I get to do both AT MY JOB.

Fuck professors. Fuck them in their runny bottoms.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Songs for superheroes and supervillains

Probably like at least a few other bloggers, posting here is going to be sporadic at best until after finals. For me, that means the end of this week. The good news is I only have two finals and one's a take-home, the bad news is they both take place within 24 hours of each other: I get the take-home on Wednesday at 3 pm, it's due Thursday at the same time, and meanwhile I have an in-class final Thursday at 2:35 pm.

In the meantime, anyone have any good ideas for songs for superheroes/villains? Some of my co-workers have this unofficial mixed CD club and (probably due to the fact that I work at night and therefore have minimal contact with everyone else) I've never been invited. I thought making a "Songs for superheroes and supervillains" CD that I could distribute as cheap-o holiday presents would also act to force my way into their elitist CD-swapping. I'm not looking for stuff that's based on specific superheroes like Prince's "Batdance" or one of the half-dozen or so songs titled "Superman". More like stuff that could be said to have kind of a superhero-y/villain-y feel. For example, some songs I was thinking of using are "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" by Ben Folds Five (the speaker seems very supervillain-y), "Show Me How To Live" by Audioslave (a song about Frankenstein's Monster that could easily be transplanted to a character like the Hulk or any number of other comic book monsters), Coldplay's "Everything's Not Lost", Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly", etc.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On CrossGen and endings

I was checking my hits the other day and saw that I had received some hits from an August post on James Meeley’s Comic Asylum in which James discussed whether or not the heroes of the late CrossGen were "really superheroes in disguise."

I think James hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

I think the real issue here, is how indelible the superhero formula has been imprinted onto the pop-culture landscape. And that it now has become much more than merely a segment of sci-fi storytelling, but has evolved into an entity unto itself. An unfortunate side-effect of this, is that other types of sci-fi, which use elements of concepts people see as “superhero” in their reference, automatically makes THAT work a “superhero concept.” But that simply isn’t true.

Calling the main characters of CrossGen “superheroes in disguise” is interesting. It reminds me of a PvP strip (I could track down the url of the exact strip, but life is too short) where Francis mentions that Wizards of the Coast should sue J.R.R. Tolkien for swiping all their D&D ideas for The Lord of The Rings.

In other words, stories like the ones told in CrossGen’s books have been told a lot longer than action-packed soap operas featuring gaudily garbed crimefighters. The idea of individuals blessed with supernatural abilities aren’t confined to the 20th and 21st centuries. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the roots of the superhero go back further than the Bible. Myth and legend is filled with super-powered characters fighting for what they think is right, and the proof can be found in our comics if nowhere else with characters like Doc Samson, Orion and Steel (a.k.a. John Henry) named after ancient heroes; or more blatantly with characters like Thor and Hercules who are pulled directly from the myths to which the aforementioned heroes merely pay homage. If you call the heroes of CrossGen "superheroes in disguise" you may as well say the same about all the legendary figures I just mentioned and many more; and while you’re at it you can brand Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and Hannibal Lecter "supervillains in disguise."

There are a lot of places where CrossGen’s principles diverged from the superheroes of the Big Two, and James mentioned some of these differences. For me, the fundamental difference - which happens to be one of the big reasons why at one point I was collecting all of CrossGen’s books - was that CG’s story concepts were much more finite than those of Marvel and DC.

There are many reasons why superheroes have dominated the comic book market, and of course the puritanical Comics Code probably has more to do with it than anything else. However, I think another reason is that the simplicity of the concept lends itself to a greater range of stories. "Guy wears funny costume and fights evil." There’s no limit to the amount of stories you can get out of that, even if you’re essentially telling the same stories again and again, and the superhero supremacy of the comics industry is proof of it. The source of Batman’s enduring popularity is one of the best examples of the malleability of the superhero. His lack of super-powers makes him well-suited for the "street level" superhero stories, his dark stylization fits him comfortably in horror or mystery noir, while the very fact that he wears a funny costume gains him entrance to the world-threatening or cosmic stories. You can put him in a kung-fu movie or a spy thriller. You can have him put away crack dealers or hunt vampires. You can blast him off into space or send him back in time. There isn’t a single genre in action-adventure fiction where Batman can’t find a home.

CG’s concepts were much more finite. If you write Brath, you have a problem a Batman writer doesn't have. I mean, eventually Brath has to either win the war or lose the war, right? Lady Sin has to have revenge on the pirates, Sephie has to beat her Uncle, and Ethan has to make peace between the Herons and Ravens. Otherwise you risk making your readers feel like you’re on a Gilligans Isle track, with no intention of letting any of your stories get off the proverbial island. And if you do let them off the island, what do you do then? Do you end the series, thereby (assuming it had healthy sales) cutting off a source of profit, or do you drastically change the essence of the story; which could spell doom for your title if dedicated readers don't gel with the new direction? Once the cast of Sojourn assembles that magic arrow and kills Mordath, does he come back to life again or is he replaced by a new tyrant? If the folks in Sigil finally defeat the Saurians, do they come up with another alien race to wage war against, or do the assembled heroes decide to just go Star Trekking? With Brath’s rebellion successful, does the book turn into a West Wing for barbarians? Not counting the various limited series connected or disconnected from the "Sigilverse", out of all CG’s titles, the only ones whose concepts could have been milked without limit were Ruse (just a really good whodunnit book while Waid was on the title and his departure saw not only a break from the whodunnit feel but also a drastic drop in quality), The First (basically a 90210 for the gods), and maybe Mystic (a woman trying to deal with the consequences of her powers: Marvel’s X-books have gotten substantial bank from similar concepts).

Ironically, while CG’s relatively limited concepts (as far as translating into ongoing, successful titles) may not have brought in the dough, and while I don’t agree with the idea that the characters were merely "superheroes in disguise", these finite concepts are exactly what I’m hungry for in superhero titles. Ask me to name my favorite superhero comics, and it’s likely the list I come up with will be filled with limited series whose characters and plots never saw the light of day after the initial limited series ended (Watchmen), or ongoing monthlies that - in spite of the fact that they were ongoing - harbored concepts that dictated the story would have to eventually end (Sleeper, Starman).

Somewhat related to the subject, just yesterday over at Sleep is for Suckers, Joel Hunt wrote the following about the popularity of Starman:

I think it’s very telling that, although Starman was a very popular series, and Jack Knight a compelling and complex character, the series was ended with such grace and panache that there hasn’t really been very much outcry for its return.

While I came late to the party for Starman and have yet to read the entire series, it seems likely that the reason there’s been no call for a follow-up is the same reason there’s been no call for sequels to Watchmen or Sleeper.

Like the aforementioned series, the characters of CrossGen were characters. The stories of CrossGen were stories. The stories of Batman and Superman and Spider-Man aren’t stories. Hulk and Wonder Woman and the Flash aren’t characters. Stories that don’t end aren’t stories. Characters that never die, that either never change or change only to suit the will of the wallet, aren’t characters. Batman isn’t still on the rack in over a dozen books every month because it’s part of the natural progression of a complex character, despite the fact that by now he should either be dead or at least too old to have anything exit his body without a catheter. He’s there because he’s NOT a character. He’s an icon. More importantly, he’s a franchise. That isn’t to say that good stories about Batman can’t or won’t be told, or aren’t being told right now, but he ain’t a character. You can fulfill your addictive need for his continuing exploits every month, but the epic nature of the superhero’s ancient roots are lost. Ulysses is never going to find his way home. He’s just going to keep going and going and going. If anything the heroes of CrossGen were taking a step back in the world of the superhero; recpaturing the epic, dismissing the ongoing crimefighting formula, rejecting the black-and-white morality, and acting as honest-to-God characters rather than springboards for action figure sales and film options.

I think we deserve an end to these characters, because how can you appreciate a story fully until it comes to an end? It seems like, while they’re understandably unwilling to gut their franchises, the Big Two realize there’s a need for an ending, which is part of the reason why we get books like DKR , Peter David’s The Last Avengers Story, and Marvel’s various The End books. It’s part of why readers are enthralled by Elseworld/What If books and alternate reality tales. Divorced from standard continuities, they’re the only places where readers can get any kind of ending for their favorite characters. It’s an interesting paradox, really. I’m not ignorant of the fact that most readers would want my head for proposing the ending of favorite superheroes, but at the same time I’d wager most of those same readers are intrigued by the idea of getting a peek at how their heroes’ stories would eventually find a conclusion. As I’ve written so many times on the Net that if I were anyone of note people would probably tell me stop repeating myself, until someone convinces me that there’s anymore Hulk stories worth telling, I’ll continue to consider The Incredible Hulk #467 the character’s final story.

It’s one of the main reasons why I only read tpbs these days. As long as the collected stories are (more or less) self-contained, while I may not get an end to the story of Captain America or Wonder Woman, at least I get an ending to THAT story. There’s no way in hell I’m going to pick up any or all of Batman’s monthly offerings, but I’ll gladly pick up the tpbs for the stories Matt Wagner’s putting out right now. Speaking of Wagner, while I’ve read a lot of complaints on the net about Geoff Johns’s apparent failure at depicting the Doctor Mid-Nite of Wagner’s limited series, I’ll never have to know either way because while I’ve got Wagner’s Doctor Mid-Nite tpb, it would take one very drunk day in the comic shop for me to spend money on JSA.

For the fans who are already no doubt bemoaning the confirmation that their favorite Blue Beetle is dead for good, I’d say they should consider themselves unlucky only in the stupid way he died, not that he did.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Have yourself a merry little X-man

My lovely Nicole has written a wonderful parody of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", that both highlights her wonderful sense of parody and exposes her unhealthy obsession with a particular Canadian little person. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A post specifically for people who know me in real life and want to get me something cool for Xmas

Courtesy of The Great Curve:

I want this.

And accepting the 2005 award for subtlety...Michileen Martin.

(but I'd rather have Absolute Watchmen)

Intrinsically Political

Well, this is interesting.

It reminds me a bit of the debate that broke out in March between the Dixonverse board and Peter David’s blog concerning, among some other things, the subject of politics in comics which, in Chuck Dixon’s words, are not “intrinsically political.”

Chuck Dixon (I tried to find a direct link to the message board, but it was a while back and the Dixonverse board archive keeps “only 300 messages at a time”):

”There’s a lot of beautiful books out there. But I won’t buy them if I have to read a political message along with the story. ANY political message even one (God forbid!) that agreed with me. Unless you’re writing an intrinsically political comic, keep your views to yourself. Don’t use comic icon costumed heroes to espouse your views.”

Peter David:

”As for politics in comics, Chuck, it’s easy to make sweeping statements. But let’s say I decided to revisit the Hulk as a boss of the Pantheon. A commander in chief of a military organization that goes wherever it wants and does what it wants, up to and including overthrowing foreign dictators . . . If I do that same story now that I did ten years ago, is it a politicized commentary on Bush . . . Should I studiously make sure that no comic have the slightest real world ties since just about everything winds up being politicized these days?”

Years ago, I was a little confused by the audience members on an episode of Oprah. Oprah had brought the audience to a screening of a Tom Cruise film, then brought them back to the studio to speak to Cruise himself. Not a few audience members commented negatively about how shocked they were at the amount of violence in the film. The film in question? Interview with a Vampire.

I have the same reaction I did to a group of people who were surprised to find violence in a film called Interview with a VAMPIRE, as I do to those who say personal politics should not be expressed in comics which are not “intrinsically political,” and among those comics that are considered to not be “intrinsically political” are those featuring “comic icon costumed heroes.”

You do not need any complex literary theory to agree with what I’m going to tell you. You don’t need any dense academic texts or any classes on the subject. You really don’t even have to be anything resembling a regular comic book reader.

Superheroes are intrinsically political. They always have been. They always will be. It’s so obvious, I feel silly writing it. It shouldn’t even be an argument. It goes without saying. You don’t need a college degree to know it. Fucking toddlers know it.

As soon as someone like Spider-Man or Batman pulls on his mask, he’s making powerful political statements:

A) Crime is a problem.

B) Agents representing official law enforcement are either unwilling or unable to significantly deal with crime.

C) Lawless vigilantism, completely ignoring most if not all of the rules governing law enforcement, is justified if its goal is to hinder crime.

D) The vigilantes in question are so justified in their actions that they should not be legally held accountable for the laws they ignore (with the possible exception of murder, though this is not always an exception for characters like the Punisher).

While I hope we would all agree with A, and suspect at least a healthy chunk of us would agree with B, C and D are both radically political statements and most of us would expect people adhering to such philosophies to be found in isolated mid-western compounds surrounded by massive arsenals. I would never argue that Stan Lee or Bob Kane necessarily agreed with these last two statements, but that doesn’t mean the statements aren’t there. They’re wearing costumes and, without any official sanction (at least originally, in the case of some), are illegally dealing violence to criminals. The statements are there, like it or not.

The only thing most shy from (though obviously a lot more since the 80's and 90's haven’t been shy about it at all) is killing. That, in and of itself, is a powerful political statement, especially considering the characters ignore almost all the rules of law enforcement, except that one..

What’s interesting to me isn’t the existence of a comic like Liberality, but the fact that - assuming it is taking an extreme pro-conservative stance - it’s considered at all unique. The concept of the superhero is one of fanatical conservativism, so much so that I’m willing to bet even most conservatives would reject it. The disregard of individual rights and due process for the sake of law and order is absolutely integral in the superhero world, and no, not just in extreme cases like The Authority. Batman doesn’t ask for a warrant before he breaks into an office or home to capture a criminal or search for evidence against him. No criminal in the U.S. would be convicted of a crime after being wrapped in webs, left hanging from a streetlight, put there by a man who won’t even reveal his name (the guy can’t even cash a check). The fact that some superheroes have obtained an official or semi-official status as law enforcers only proves the point, because it’s an example of people who are given special exceptions from the document that everyone in America’s political spectrum refers to in any legal debate - The Constitution - based solely on their natural abilities. And if/when they do achieve that status, their actions don’t seem to come any more closer to mainstream law enforcement than before. Batman may have a badge, but that doesn’t stop him from hanging people off the edges of tall buildings in order to squeeze info out of them (something that finds an easy home in the realm of “cruel and unusual”, in fact I’d wager that most lawyers would argue that simply being chased down by a man dressed like a bat would constitute “cruel and unusual” treatment).

So all of this is a long way of saying that simply because something doesn’t scream “THIS IS POLITICAL COMMENTARY!” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a political impact or that it has no origin in the creators’ political beliefs. Our politics are a part of us and there’s no way for those politics to completely escape a writer’s work. In the case of superheroes, you don’t need some pretentious critic to look at the comics with a literary microscope designed to find Christ figures and Freudian connections in order to see the politics at work. They’re there and they’re glaring.

I love superhero fiction, but my ongoing interest and study of the genre has revealed a lot of things I don’t particularly like. There is something political about the relatively small amount of comics devoted to minority superheroes; about the ultraviolent depiction of most black superheroes, about the pseudo-porn sexualization of female superheroes as well as female supporting characters; about the relatively small number of homosexuals in comics, about the fact that the only established character to die in Wolverine’s “Enemy of the State” was Marvel’s most well-recognized gay superhero; about the rape-fantasy images of Identity Crisis; about the fact that Bill Jemas ordered the creation of new ongoing series for characters like Namor and Ant-Man simply because films about the characters were in development, while the first Marvel character whose film adaptation found any kind of commercial success - Blade, perhaps the most recognized African American superhero in the world precisely because of those films - has enjoyed three movies and an upcoming TV series but still has no ongoing monthly; about the connection between the very concept of the superhero and supremacist ideology; and saying these things doesn’t suggest any kind of conscious conspiracy on the part of any comic company, but rather a lack of consideration and a healthy amount of apathy. There’s a lot of ugly shit going on in the genre I love, and before people start understanding that superhero comics are “intrinsically political” there won’t be hope for change.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cla$$war, Vol. 1

Script by Rob Williams, art by Trevor Hairsine
Published by Com.X; $12.95
Collects Cla$$war #1-#3

Aided by a rogue Black Ops agent, the U.S.-sponsored superhero The American has decided enough is enough. Tired of being a tool for the rich and powerful, The American breaks with supergroup Enola Gay and wages war against the clandestine forces who pull the puppet-strings of presidents and generals in Cla$$war, Vol.1.

Tervor Hairsine’s art is the highlight of the trade. His style is of the same more realistic school of fellow pencilers Bryan Hitch and J.G. Jones and lends itself well to a superhero/conspiracy tale, just as it did later in Marvel’s Ultimate Nightmare.

Cla$$war’s concept is promising, and perhaps a bit more original than it may seem at first. Placing a superhero vs. government isn’t a particularly new idea, but Cla$$war’s battlefields seem closer to reality than those of Coup D’etat or DK2. The American’s grievances have nothing to do with catastrophes engineered by supervillain organizations or supervillain duos in control of the government, but are inspired by the same kinds of allegations real people make in the real world about the government; like warmongering for the sake of blind patriotism, sponsoring tyrants in the third world to keep the weak countries weak, and funneling drugs into low income areas to secure the docility of the powerless.

Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t live up to the concept. The cornerstone of the series is best expressed by a blurb from Wizard on the front cover of the trade, describing Cla$$war’s superguys as "A gang of superheroes that make The Authority look like your grandma’s knitting circle". The story focuses on most of the characters’ decadent cravings, their blood-thirst, and their willingness to say "fuck" a lot. Even the President is depicted as a foul-mouthed imbecile, eagerly spouting profanities even in front of news cameras. Williams doesn’t seem able or willing to tone the stuff down enough to give the story the realism the concept demands. Understand, I have no moral qualms about violence, sex, or profanity in comics overall or specifically in superhero comics. Particularly in mature-oriented superhero comics however, authors tend to cross a line between using more "mature" elements to render a tale more realistic and overuse in order to make themselves sound cool; and it’s a line Williams wildly pole vaults over, muting the more human elements of the story and making the trade truly painful to slog through.

If you’re looking for lots of blood, sex, and naughty words in tales of superguys going toe-to-toe with governments, Empire or Sleeper are more worth your time and money.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sky Ape

Script by Philip D. Amara and Tim McCarney, art by Richard Jenkins
Published by ait-planetlar; $12.95 US
Collects Sky Ape: Les Adventures #1-#4, published by Slave Labor

While Kirk Madge’s resumé includes such titles as millionaire, scientist, and crimefighter; he knows nothing of his past, particularly of how he came to be a big, intelligent gorilla with a jet pack. When mousy Peyton Fenway arrives uninvited at Madge’s mansion - interrupting a perfectly good game of Risk between Kirk and his team of bizarre sidekicks like Paper Bob and Pirate Steve – he comes with a goal that may be the answer to Madge’s memory lapse: the legendary Suspense Jacket that lends its bearer knowledge of the past and future! In order get their dirty little hands on the thing, Madge and his compatriots will have to battle endless hordes of robots, cook endless stacks of pancakes, and learn how to prepare dishes like “Instant Donald Sutherland” in the first volume of Sky Ape.

I remember getting excited about the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles when I was younger, and was eventually disappointed when I found that the scene every commercial and trailer had aired – Steve Martin and John Candy wake up in the same bed, to find that Candy has inadvertently shoved his hand in-between Martin’s ass-cheeks – was the single funniest scene in the film, made a lot less funny by the fact that I’d seen it a few dozen times before buying a theater ticket.

I was worried that reviewing Sky Ape held the same danger the marketing team for Planes . . . faced; that my review would be nothing more than “this part was so funny, dude, Sky Ape, like, has curlers in his hair and he yells at Pirate Steve and, like, Steve is, like, dressed up as a chick and shit, and oh snap!” and that my precise descriptions of the funniest parts of the trade would serve only to spoil it for new readers. But after re-reading it, I realized that the trade is too relentless in its hilarity to ruin it by mentioning a few of the funnier moments. Amara and McCarney go with it full blast and keep you laughing your ass off as Sky Ape sighs, “Time for Count Chocula!” after a fierce battle, or wins entry to the hut of a secluded African seer with a bottle of Dr. Pepper. The absurdity of it all will remind readers of Seaguy, with a lot more laughs and few less “wtf?” And unlike a lot of humorous superhero-y comics, Jenkins’s art is absolutely beautiful and his action sequences stand up to be counted amongst any more “serious” superhero action/adventure stuff. You will believe a man can drink milk with his ass.

Did anyone else notice that the same music from Planes, Trains and Automobiles - a slow, twangy guitar usually played during wide shots of airports, train stations, etc. – was also used liberally throughout another cross-country buddy flick: Midnight Run (I checked, different directors and original scores)? And on another sidenote, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is always a good flick to remember during games of “Six Degrees of Separation”. Everyone forgets Kevin Bacon was in it briefly, as a guy racing Steve Martin for the only available cab on a busy NYC street. I have often been faced by unworthy opponents who ask me to connect John Candy to Kevin Bacon, who are thoroughly humbled by the Planes . . . revelation (and also forget that both appear in JFK). And for Sidenote Part the Third, a good movie trivia question to stump people with is as follows: “Val Kilmer has played two dead rock stars in his career. Who were the dead rock stars, and what movies did he play them in?” Everyone knows he was Jim Morrison in The Doors, but usually forget – because his face is never shown clearly in the film – that he played the ghost of Elvis in True Romance (a film featuring Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Samuel Jackson, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and James Gandolfini; yet somehow Christian Slater got the principal role, go figure – and Slater was in Murder in the First with Bacon, so don’t let any motherfuckers get you on Slater/Bacon either, not to mention that I think one could make a strong argument that Gleaming the Cube and Quicksilver are essentially the same movie anyway).

Which reminds me; this morning after thoroughly enjoying some hibbity-jibbity with my girlfriend, we cuddled in post-coital bliss and I talked about how I can’t watch sitcoms anymore. I’m too used to DVD collections covering entire seasons of good shows like Buffy and West Wing to handle half-hour shots of near-wit. We differ on a few shows, particularly Dharma & Greg. I fucking hate Dharma. Despite her hippy upbringing vs. Greg’s silver-spoon background, Greg is the victim of his hippy wife’s lies and manipulation. I recall an episode in which Greg wants to move to Scotland in order to become a golf pro, Dharma doesn’t want to go and sees Greg’s lack of talent more clearly than he does, and rather than opening her fucking hippy mouth and talking to the stranger she calls “husband” she hires a little girl trained by expert golfers to play Greg and thoroughly trounce him so she can crush his dreams without marring her own goddamn foot. Dharma is a dishonest shit with the maturity of a toddler.

Speaking of Scotland, does anyone know if King Missile ever actually went there? They said they wanted to on The Way to Salvation in a song cleverly titled “Scotland”, but I don’t know if they ever actually toured there. You’d imagine they’d get the chance with the success of “Detachable Penis.” I was always surprised when I bought their albums to find they kept trying to do legitimate songs instead of their spoken word stuff. Their songs sucked. “Jesus Was Way Cool” rules.

Oh yeah, and the other night I was watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and the killer was a guy who looked like a smaller, wimpier version of Mark Hammill (yeah, I know). The cops are talking about whether or not the guy ditched his weapon and B.D. Wong says something like, “That knife represents his penis. It is not disposable.” And I was like, “WHOA! He must’ve heard the song! He’s all intellectual and F.B.I. and shit and he heard the song! Woo hoo! King Missile! Take stuff from work!”

Speaking of Scotland, I disagree with my history professor on the subject of Braveheart. I mean yeah Mel Gibson is bugfucking crazy and the movie is homophobic and everything but it wasn’t meant to be historically accurate. It was meant to be inspiring and violent and make D&D fans spooge their pants, and it fucking succeeded. I was surprised that the Scottish actually did win that battle at the end (where they all charge and Mel Gibson’s voice over is like, “they fought like warrior-poets, they fought like rabid fucking androids, they fought like Scotsman, and won their freedom.” I thought he was speaking metaphorically about “freedom,” and that the Scots lost, because you know, the last time he says “freedom” before the voice-over is when he’s getting carved up like an extra in Jurassic Park.

Speaking of which, I have to pat myself on the back a little. Last semester we had to write a response to a review of a film, and I chose a negative review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The reviewer bashed it based mainly on the “body-switching” theme he claimed was apparent through all of Charlie Kaufman’s work, and went on to bash all Eternal . . . pretty much because he didn’t like Kaufman’s other work, so it inspired me to write a great fucking line in my response. I wrote that it was like, “writing a negative review of Schindler’s List because of all the ‘big, stupid dinosaurs.’” I fucking rule.

Yeah so Braveheart was a lot less historically accurate than I realized. I mean, I know that the first battle – the Battle of Stirling – was fought at a bridge in real life and the Scot’s strategy was much different, but the final battle – the Battle of Bannockburn – was totally misrepresented in the flick. The Scots didn’t, as they do in the movie, originally show up to pledge loyalty to the king and decide “what the hell, let’s kill stuff” at the last minute. Edward II sent his armies up there specifically to squash the Scots and the Scots showed up specifically to say no to squash, and the English got caught between two marshes so they couldn’t effectively use either their cavalry or archers, so even though the Scottish had pretty much nothing but spears, they got all Zulu Dawn on the fuckers.

Oh yeah. Speaking of Scotland, does anyone else think Denzel Washington would make a great Macbeth? I know, he doesn’t look particularly Scottish, but he’s really good at looking like he’s got Joy Division on repeat on the Ipod. Did you know there’s a superstition among a lot of theater people that you’re not supposed to say “Macbeth” in a theater during any kind of production (unless, of course, it’s a production of Macbeth)? If they talk about it, they refer to it as “The Scottish Play,” and if you say it you’re supposed to turn around three times and throw salt over your shoulder or something. Actors are dumb.

Sky Ape rocks. Get it now.

And watch yourself. Evil’s a fucker.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why I need to make a decision and stick to it

My impatience regarding Planet Hulk got the better of me yesterday. While Pak and Co. aren't on Hulk yet, I decided to temporarily suspend my wait-for-the-trade rule. I had to go into work a bit earlier than usual for a couple of meetings, and since my local shop is right down the street from my job I stopped in to pick up copies of The Incredible Hulk #88 and Captain Universe/Hulk.

Ho boy, was that a good reminder of why I instituted the wait-for-the trade rule in the first place. Hulk #88 wasn't bad, but it went by in a flash, probably that much faster since I haven't read any new floppies in a while, just trade collections. Plus, the big surprise at the end was just spoiled a teeny, tiny bit since all of the blurbs and Internet articles about the storyline have mentioned right up top that Nick Fury would be recruiting the Hulk. Captain Universe/Hulk was, well, no one got raped on-panel so that's something good I can say about it. Hulk turned blue. Fought robots. I bought floppies. Not gonna happen again.

Superheroes as heads-of-state

At the fan site Avengers Forever, Joe Casey talks about the upcoming sequel to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. One bit that may irk fans of Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther is that T’Challa will be featured in the sequel and while Casey doesn’t plan to retcon a particularly controversial revelation from Priest's series - that the African monarch had joined the Avengers solely to spy on them (revealed in Black Panther #8, of Priest’s volume obviously, not the current one) - he also doesn’t intend to "mention it, reference it, or ever allude to it as a concept that could possibly exist in the context of EMH2."

His reasons?

"I’ve got tons of respect for Priest but there’s no way in hell I can get behind the idea of the Panther spying on the Avengers. Sorry to any readers who dug that particular revelation, but I happen to take my heroes’ nobility very seriously and that’s just not something the Panther I grew up reading would ever do."

I was a big fan of Priest’s Black Panther series, and never complained much about this part of the run. I thought it fit with a guy whose strategy for enlisting the aid of the Fantastic Four was to invite them to his country and subsequently beat them up one-by-one in order to test their abilities.

More importantly, it seemed like the answer to a glaring question. Why would the ruler of a nation, already bogged down with the necessarily hectic schedule any head of any nation would be victim to, spend so much time outside his country having adventures with guys in spandex UNLESS he has ulterior motives?

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized this revelation of Priest’s had always quietly rubbed me the wrong way. Not because it compromised the nobility Casey speaks of, but purely for practical reasons. The Black Panther joined the Avengers in Avengers #52. Judging by the appearances (and lack thereof) of Panther on the covers of the series, he left somewhere around Avengers #87. He rejoined in Avengers #105, and left again some time after Avengers #126. Those two stretches alone equal 56 issues. That’s a pretty significant amount of time. While I can totally buy that Black Panther would have initially joined the group in order to gather information on them, what doesn’t fly is that he would stay with them for so long. You would think it wouldn’t take him too long to figure out that the group had no plans or intentions to threaten Wakanda in any way.

It’s an interesting paradox. Yes, it does seem silly for the head of an African nation surrounded by potential enemies and threatened by its own superhuman menaces - not to mention all the problems any nation is prone to deal with - to join an American supergroup out of pure altruism. It doesn’t seem as silly for him to join with the goal of covert information-gathering, but it still doesn’t make sense for him to stay as long as he did. In fact, either scenario makes him look damn irresponsible.

And it seems it’s a paradox that exists for all comic book characters who exist as both superhero and nation ruler. If a writer wants to use a character like Black Panther, Aquaman, Sub-Mariner, or even Black Bolt as a superhero protagonist, the usual justification is to have that character temporarily lose control over his nation. I don’t know as much about either Black Bolt or Aquaman (though I know Aquaman did lose his throne at the start of his current series), but I know of at least three separate cases in which Sub-Mariner lost his kingdom. He lost it before he first joined the Avengers, he lost it some time post-Heroes-Reborn (if I remember correctly his efforts to regain his throne were chronicled in the short-lived second volume of Marvel Team-Up), and most recently lost it in the Busiek/Larsen Defenders series. And those are only the instances I know about.

So to make a super-powered ruler a super-powered hero, you pull out the rug from under his throne. It renders places like Atlantis and Wakanda difficult nations to hold on to. Both make Eastern Europe look like a pillar of political stability. Their nations are made more volatile to facilitate their freedom to be superheroes, and they refuse to curb their superhero exploits in order to lessen the instability of their nations.

It opens up an interesting opportunity that, to my knowledge, has never been exploited. Is it possible to write a superhero series about someone like Sub-Mariner or Black Panther, in which the main character acts solely as ruler of his nation? Sure, in both Sub-Mariner’s 1960's series and Priest’s Black Panther the heroes went on their various adventures specifically to safeguard their respective nations, but in the end that just comes off as a convenient excuse to make a head-of-state a crimefighter. Sure, T’Challa travels to America in the beginning of Priest’s run to find out who’s conspiring against his throne; but he’s still the monarch of Wakanda spending most of his time on another continent; and he’s still having monthly fisticuffs with people like Kraven The Hunter and Klaw. You can cry out “He’s a head-of-state, not a superhero” from the rooftops as much as you want; he still looks and acts like a superhero. He’s still in a funny costume beating up other people in funny costumes.

You could argue that being the head-of-state in a world of superheroes necessitates some ass-kicking every now and then, but wouldn’t it make sense for someone like Aquaman or Sub-Mariner to find other people to ass-kick for them so they could spend the bulk of their time on such inconsequential tasks as feeding people and making sure Attuma’s army doesn’t overrun the kingdom ONE MORE TIME? I mean Wakanda’s got all that vibranium and Atlanteans are supposed to be ass-kickers from birth, so you’d think there would be no lack of natives of either land wanting to throw on the spandex and go on adventures.

You could also argue that in a lot of these cases, fictional cultures like those of Wakanda or Atlantis (i.e. monarchies) demand that their heads-of-state be both sovereign and warrior, just as medieval European monarchs were often expected to physically lead their armies onto the battlefield. But there’s a big difference between leading armies to victory over foreign powers, and fighting Hydro-Man in a commercial jet over NYC. And regardless of cultural justifications, it still just feels like a thin excuse to send an executive ruler on adventures against supervillains. Forty-plus years of Air Force One.

I guess I just feel that Marvel and DC both have a rich history including fictional and fantastical nations, that it might be interesting to take a look at the necessarily bizarre diplomacy practices and politics of such realms without simply acting as pretext for more action/adventure. The only examples I can think of that come close to this are Ex Machina and Empire, though as far as I know neither took or take place in cooperative universes.

Also, it adds a gray area to the usual black-and-white morality of superhero stories, specifically in the case of the "no-killing" policy of the traditional superhero. This is something Priest touched on in Black Panther. I believe as early as the first issue of the series, Black Panther warns his bodyguards the Dora Milajae (hope I spelled that right) to not kill their combatants because they were in a country (presumably unlike Wakanda) that frowned on such practices.

Later, in Black Panther #29, after T’Challa defeats Klaw he attempts to kill the villain and is physically yanked off the guy by a bunch of civilian bystanders.

The idea of superheroes being pushed over the edge and attempting to murder supervillains isn’t a particularly new or riveting subject, but this isn’t exactly the same. This isn’t like Batman trying and failing to murder the Joker at the end of "Death in The Family" in retaliation for Robin's death. Black Panther is a head-of-state. Klaw tried to murder him. Klaw tried to murder a head-of-state and even in more so-called "civilized" cultures in the real world, attempting to kill a head-of-state is likely to get you executed if not torn to pieces by an angry mob or shot in a parking garage by an angry mobster. Assuming, for example, that Lee Harvey Oswald did kill JFK (I know, I know, but I’m just not going to go there right now), he would almost assuredly have been legally executed had he been tried and convicted. And even the most hated despot wouldn’t be bad-mouthed by foreign powers for executing someone who had attempted to assassinate him. Considering this, Black Panther might not only be considered morally justified in killing Klaw, but absolutely obligated to do so, particularly if he comes from a nation whose rulers are required to eat poisonous roots and fight in bare-chested, violent rituals in order to justify their ascent to power. It adds an element of moral ambiguity to the world of super-people, something that world desperately needs (beyond the thin bad-ass factor of characters like the Punisher).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Planet Hulk

There are indications that, some time soon, The Incredible Hulk might not suck: Greg Pak discusses the upcoming “Planet Hulk” story arc at Newsarama

what the fuck you lookin' at?

Okay, so I know this doesn’t exactly look groundbreaking, and it certainly has its roots in old "Jarella’s World" stories (and, to a lesser extent, Bill Mantlo’s “Crossroads” arc), and "Planet Hulk" is kind of a dumb name, but he’s got a big fuckin’ axe and he’s cutting up that bug thing and there’s the thing with the armor and the weapons and DUDE he’s fighting monsters and shit.

It’s too soon to tell, but is it possible that we’ve got a Hulk writer who’s going to let the Hulk BE the Hulk? No more pseudo-spy thriller bullshit? No more contests about who can revamp the Hulk’s origin better than who? No more splintering the character’s psyche into a million pieces? Just big, monster-stompin’ action?

Not that there isn’t room for introspection in the story of the green goliath, but it’s just gotten so convoluted and stupid. I’ve failed to understand any of the praise most of the post-David Hulk stuff has received. Azzarello’s Banner did nothing but reveal that, in real life, the Hulk might hurt people (shocker). His incarnation in Ultimates didn’t do much more. Ennis’s Hulk Smash was a retarded, five second long soldier morality tale. Hulk: Gray was so bad it read like someone trying to impersonate Jeph Loeb. And, Bruce Jones, well. Good luck, DC. Christopher Priest’s one-shot was cool; there have been some fun guest/team appearances (mainly in Black Panther and Defenders); and Jenkins did some stuff that wasn’t horrible, most notably with the Incredible Hulk 2000 Annual and Sentry/Hulk one-shot, but for the most part the post-David Hulk stories have been occasionally mediocre and usually pure shee-ite.

I realize I’m basing this off very little, but it seems there’s just the faintest glimmer of hope that the Powers That Be at Marvel have realized the green guy is at his best when he’s handled more like a mythic hero than a Bixby/Ferrigno clone. This looks more like the days of Roy Thomas and Len Wein, and very soon it may become difficult for me to adhere to my wait-for-the-trade rule.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

JLA: Heaven's Ladder

Script by Mark Waid, art by Bryan Hitch
Published by DC; $9.95 US

After a massive spaceship spears Earth with a giant spike and carries it away with a host of other inhabited planets, the JLA assists the world-snatchers in their bizarre quest to build themselves an afterlife in JLA: Heaven’s Ladder.

Heaven’s Ladder is one of those regrettable instances where the reader’s appreciation is dependent on whether or not h/she’s the type where great art is enough to carry the book (and no, I’m not one of those guys).

Bryan Hitch’s art in the OGN is beautiful. With multiple alien landscapes, as well as more familiar Earth settings and vast space shots, Heaven’s Ladder is no small undertaking. From barren desert worlds to spaceship battles, Hitch pulls it off wonderfully and the oversized format makes it that much better, lending more power to the story’s epic nature. His work here is more impressive than his stuff from Ultimates or the regular JLA series, and arguably better than the art of any JLA collections before or since.

Waid’s writing, on the other hand, is surprisingly weak and much less impressive than his post-Morrison JLA run or, as far as I can tell, any of his work. The signs of its weaknesses spring up early, particularly in a scene in which his narration describes each League member as h/she reacts to the Earth’s sudden kidnaping. He spouts out lines that make you absolutely groan like "Aquaman drowns in shock," and "Plastic Man lives in his own pliable reality." The science stuff is dealt with much too quickly, and it’s particularly confusing considering the mixture of science and religion. There are so many "Oh, of course!" scientific revelation moments that it feels like a dozen episodes of Star Trek squeezed into one. The climactic battle at the end feels a bit too much like end of The Authority’s first arc, and the conclusion is so cheesy that it really doesn’t belong anywhere outside a Superfriends episode.

If you’re such a huge Hitch fan that the story’s secondary at best, pick it up. Otherwise, I’d recommend just about any JLA OGN or collection before this one (except maybe Austen’s, which I haven’t read . . . but it’s Austen).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Young Avengers: Sidekicks

Script by Allan Heinberg, art by Jim Cheung
Published by Marvel; $19.99 US (hardcover edition)
Collects Young Avengers #1-#6

In the wake of "Avengers Disassembled" a new team of teenage superheroes emerges, mimicking former members of the disbanded Avengers. Met with a distrustful public, an inquisitive Daily Bugle reporter, disapproving former Avengers, and a time-traveling warlord, this new band of super-teens will have to deal with a hell of a lot more than puberty in order to survive Young Avengers: Sidekicks.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed Jim Cheung’s work on Scion until I read Young Avengers. His work remains crisp and clean, and is complemented wonderfully by Jim Ponsor’s colors. My only very minor complaint is that Cheung’s apparent dislike for motion lines makes some of the action sequences stiff to the point where there are times when it’s not clear what’s going on. For example, in the second chapter Hulkling is cut by a drug dealer’s knife, though it looks like the guy actually missed. You don’t find out he actually found his mark until two panels later when Hulkling assures his buddies that he’s "almost healed." Likewise, a villain’s sword passes through an intangible character in chapter 5, though at first it looks like he’s just holding the sword rather than swinging it. It’s nitpicky, and I noticed similar instances in Scion.

I haven’t watched many of the TV shows that Heinberg’s worked for (The O.C., Gilmore Girls, and Sex and The City, among others), and haven’t been a big fan of the ones I have, but his first foray into the world of superheroes doesn’t fail to impress. His super-guys are multi-dimensional and refreshingly fallible, filled with both the doubt and defiance any teenager knows. The concept itself was just a bit of genius. It’s difficult to endear superhero comics fans to brand new characters, so Heinberg conceived a team with the guise of connection to established characters, only to reveal those connections were thin at best (or, at least, the wires didn’t cross where everyone expected them to). The newness of the characters allows Heinberg more freedom than he might have working on established supers, keeping the readers guessing about the origins of the characters involved.

(FANBOY INTERLUDE: Being the ever-vigilant Hulk afficionado, I had a pair of theories about Hulkling which both proved incorrect. One involved a story from The Incredible Hulk Annual 1997 in which the Hulk and Gladiator fought over a child clone of Bruce Banner. The other was that he might be the son of the Maestro: the tyrannical, futuristic version of the Hulk from The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect. The Maestro was resurrected in one of Peter David’s last issues, The Incredible Hulk #461, and ended up buried under a big pile of rocks at the end of the issue, but if you don’t see a body . . . I was wrong but, as a drunken would-be passenger on Airline once said, "I may be wrong, but I’m all about bein’ RIGHT!")

The one thing that’s probably earned the series most of its attention - the nature of the relationship between Asgardian and Hulkling - is hinted at first, and all but obvious by the end of the collection. I can’t decide whether or not I think it’s a good thing that this inspired so much Internet debate. It’s good to get it out in the open, and Heinberg doesn’t whore the relationship out as a controversy that will support the book all on its own. It’s handled respectfully and without propaganda from either side of the aisle, and the heroes’ orientation doesn’t seem to have any more significant impact on their relations with the rest of the group than Patriot’s skin color does on his. Still, it would be a shame if five years from now the only thing people have to say about this series is, "There was gays!"

Not only does making the spin-offs of two of Marvel’s biggest super-masculine rivals gay lovers sit much better with me than having fans roar their throats raw over Hulk/Thor versus debates, but it’s disappointing to find so many Hulk-nuts who’d like to stuff Hulkling’s head down a toilet and flush until he turns blue. Maybe I’m one of a small number of Hulk readers who remember that it was Peter David’s original Hulk run that brought us some of the first respectful portrayals of homosexuals in superhero comics. I really don’t care if he’s gay or not. It’s just refreshing to read a Hulk guy who can kick ass; but is more human, fallible, and likeable (and I actually dig his outfit, though I’ll always prefer the purple shredders on the original green guy).

(P.S. For more on my thoughts concerning the Hulkling/Asgardian subject, check out "Regarding what is apparently the ONLY reason anyone has anything to say about Young Avengers" at my old blog, and forgive the mistake of referring to Asgardian as "Lightning Lad" - it wasn't a joke, just an honest error)

On a sidenote, I’m curious about the Vision’s involvement in the series. While I’ve only read the first collection, I’ve spotted him on the covers of later issues, suggesting he has an ongoing relationship with the team. Considering he was apparently the one who indirectly formed the Young Avengers, I’m curious about whether or not the similarity to Young Justice (which featured a previously deactivated android - the Red Tornado - acting as mentor to a group of teen heroes) is homage, subconscious theft, or pure accident (I’m not making any kind of creative indictments regardless, just curious).

My only concern with Heinberg’s writing is that the importance placed on ongoing mysteries, while engaging in this first collection, may threaten Young Avengers’s survival as an continuing series. Nearly a third of the first chapter deals with nothing but Daily Bugle regulars like Jessica Jones and J. Jonah Jameson mulling over some of the same mysteries that have fans theorizing on the Internet. Where did they come from? What’s the nature of their powers? What’s the exact nature of the relationship between Hulkling and Asgardian? What does the Vision have to do with it all? Why didn’t the android tell anyone of his plans? What are their connections to the Avengers?

You could call it the Twin Peaks Syndrome or, making it more funnybook-relevant, the Thunderbolts Syndrome. First, once the mysteries are revealed, will the readers care (just as Twin Peaks viewers dropped away once Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed)? Second, is Heinberg threatening the potential of new readership by hinging so much of it on ongoing mysteries? I jumped on the first Thunderbolts series after Nicieza took the reins, and quickly jumped away, confused by the half-dozen or so ongoing mysteries that were enthralling the guys who’d been reading since day one. I mean, if you start on the series the issue before you find out "WHO’S IN THE THIRD POD?!?!?!" you’re not going to give a shit about "WHO’S IN THE THIRD POD?!?!?!"

But it’s too early to nay-say, and so far Young Avengers has earned its spurs. For now, this Hulkling’s impressed, and he aims to stay.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Beating the undead horse

So, among other things, Joss Whedon's working on a new Buffy comic, as well as developing a Spike movie.

More Buffy comics? Sure. I had a pretty lukewarm reaction to the one Buffy collection I've read, though I know there are a lot more out there. I've stayed away from them because I assumed (still don't know whether or not I was wrong, if anyone cares to inform me) that most just adapted the episodes rather than featured completely new stories.

But I don't like the idea of more TV/film projects. Buffy ran its course, and plummetted downhill towards the end. TV and film necessitate dealing with a much more difficult human factor than comics, and it risks making any future Buffyverse projects embarrassing in a very Star Trek V kind of way. The Buffy cast is getting older. James Marsters is in his mid-40's, and if the one shot I saw from Smallville is any indication, it's starting to show. I guess it wouldn't be such a problem if he was the Captain of a starship, but vampires are supposed to be eternally young, aren't they?

While I've only watched the first season of Angel, I understand that its final season didn't give fans the same closure Buffy did, and that this is the source of a lot of the desire for more projects.

Still, I just don't want this to catch on. I don't want to watch an aging Xander with his pirate-patch visiting Giles in his nursing home to get more occult research tomes for Willow, who's just adopted her first child and named her "Miss Kitty Fantastico". I don't want a half-dozen films with ever-greying actors (The Wrath of Schneider, The Search For Giles) ending with a bittersweet film of fat, balding Buffy veterans spouting out wildly misinterpreted lines from old films and Shakespeare.

Put a stake in it. It's done.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sabretooth: Open Season

Script by Daniel Way, art by Bart Sears
Published by Marvel; $9.99 US
Collects Sabretooth #1-#4

Sabretooth is on the hunt. He’s chased a legendary beast to a snow-swept island in the middle of Lake Superior. When a U.S. Coast Guard ship answers a distress call from the island, followed by the arrival of Alpha Flight strongman Sasquatch, things get a bit more complicated and a hell of a lot bloodier in Sabretooth: Open Season.

Open Season has a lot in common with the first collection of Way’s Venom series. The protagonist is a popular Marvel supervillain, soldiers find themselves caught in a struggle between superhuman combatants, you’re never really sure exactly who’s on who’s side, and of course the setting - a relatively uninhabited wilderness during a brutal winter - mirrors that of Shiver’s.

One area in which Open Season and Shiver unexpectedly differ is in the quality of the art. Unlike Bart Sears’s disappointing run on Captain America and The Falcon, he tones down his hyperhuman style with the more non-super subjects, leaving his usual touches - e.g., jutting jaws and chins; prominent lower lips and foreheads; and compact, scrunched up faces - for the characters who deserve such treatment like Sabretooth and Sasquatch.

With Open Season, Sears shows much better instinct in when he should and shouldn’t amp up the more dynamic aspects of his style. For example, the face-off between Sabretooth and his prey at the end of the trade is one of its most artistically impressive moments. It’s featured in a double page spread that fools the reader into thinking the combatants are physically closer than they actually are. It’s the kind of thing one would expect to see every few pages of The First or Cap/Falc, but worked wonderfully in Sabretooth specifically because Sears saved it for just the right moment. This is Bart Sears at his absolute best.

Open Season is a fitting title, emphasis on “open”, as the cast grows and eventually everyone gets a chance at everyone else’s throats. Way handles the crowded line-up well, breeding suspense rather than confusion. The story is quick and bloody, and like Shiver treated in the way you’d expect in films from the Alien or Predator series. The Coast Guard guys get steadily picked off - though even by the end of the story it’s never completely clear who’s done the picking - and most of the victims are given enough dimension for the reader to care about their undoings.

It’s the only thing about the story that threatens to make Sabretooth a sympathetic character. While there’s a big question mark regarding whether or not Sabretooth has spilled human blood in the course of hunting his inhuman prey, it’s clear that the beast is his sole target and - assuming any of the murders are on his hands - any other victims were, in his mind, collateral damage.

Even Sasquatch is something of a suspect, considering his strange behavior towards the Coast Guard. I’m not a stickler for continuity (nor have I read much Alpha Flight and so would be ill-equipped to find any continuity errors), but Sasquatch’s actions seem bizarre. His mission is to stop Sabretooth from hunting his prey because the mutant’s success would supposedly cause an "imbalance in nature". Not only does this seem a strange sentiment coming from a superhero who is only a superhero because he purposely attempted to recreate the accident that turned Bruce Banner into a destructive and nigh-unbeatable juggernaut (i.e., this would rate very low on a “respectful of the natural order” scorecard), but he effectively sacrifices human lives for this thinly-defined principle (i.e., he never says “It will cause an imbalance in nature, and so fiery shit-boulders will flatten Toronto). He lies to the Coast Guard Captain when he enters the story, claiming he knows nothing about the situation. Maybe I’m just not well-educated in the motivations of Sasquatch; but it seems strange he would pass up the opportunity to save the lives of children and soldiers - not to mention warning away the Coast Guard ship and the other ships en route - in order to save the life of a ferocious, uber-powerful, man-killing beast. His presence succeeds in giving the story what Way wanted. It adds yet another unpredictable mix to the already crowded battlefield, and it builds suspense for the final battle between predator and prey. Sasquatch gets thoroughly trounced by both Sabretooth and the beast, showing the readers what both combatants are capable of. It seems a bit much though. The poor monkey bleeds more than Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs. Even the Coast Guard guys get a piece of him. Each defeat of the Canadian powerhouse seems that much more unremarkable. It would’ve been better to either keep Sasquatch out of this series altogether, or preferrably to come up with a more believable and well-defined reason for his presence.

Though, like I said, I’m no Alpha Flight scholar, though that’s also something of a minor weakness of Open Season. This is not a story for the Marvel-uninitiated. It’s likely most readers would at least know of Sabretooth from the X-Men films, but no background is given for the two other comparatively obscure super-guys in the story. Since I was at least passingly familiar with everyone involved, it wasn’t a problem for me, but it could confuse those unfamiliar with the Sabretooth’s prey. The drama of the revealing of the creature’s identity hinges on whether or not the reader has read past stories featuring the character (this may not have been a problem in single-issue form if they included those little bios at the beginning of each issue: I only read the trade so I don’t know if this was the case).

Despite these weaknesses, overall Sabretooth: Open Season is a worthwhile read. It’s fast-paced, but it’s not the kind of fast that you’ll breeze through it in ten minutes and put it back on the shelf. It’s fun and scary with beautifully rendered action sequences and an ending that will chill your bones. Refreshingly, it’s the perfect story for a character like Sabretooth by featuring him as a protagonist while not watering him down to the point where he’s no longer a villain. I’m becoming more and more impressed with Daniel Way’s work - to the point that I’m considering picking up his second and third Venom trades despite the mismatched art that turned me off from Shiver - and I’m looking forward to his upcoming run on The Incredible Hulk.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The only comics blog post-San Diego report that has nothing to do with a Con

My brother got married a few years ago, and my participation in his wedding is always brought up at family gatherings. My brother is the kind of Irish-American who is very much into being Irish-American, so much so that he regularly denies the otherwise incontrovertible concept that my mother’s German and Italian genes found a home in his body. Along with insisting on an open bar at his wedding reception with both Guinness and Harp on tap, he rounded up the sausage side of the bridal party for a road trip to and from New Hampshire in order to be fitted for Irish kilts. It was because of my brother’s enduring loyalty to his Irish heritage that I got stinking drunk at the wedding reception (and, truth be told, was already tipsy during the ceremony: there was champagne in the limo). As I tell him every time he brings it up, “You had an open bar, and you made me wear a skirt. Of course I got drunk.” I propositioned every woman (except the bride) under 40, destroyed a few patio chairs, and dropped so much stuff (wallets, condoms, keys) out of the kilt’s front pocket that my brother sent the Best Man after me, in order to pick up my debris. Despite the fact that my brother always tells the story with sighs and shakes of his head, he doesn’t realize I was consciously doing a younger brother’s duty in such a situation: I was working damn hard to make him look good by comparison.

Being a groomsman is fun. Being the significant other of a bridal party member at the wedding of a man and woman who are strangers to you - and whose participating family and friends are likewise strangers - sucks. It sucks long and hard, and not in a good BJ kind of way. In a Bruce Jones kind of way.

Even though you won’t be wearing a matching tux, or standing with the bride and groom as the vows are read, or accompanying them in their limo, or sitting at the head table, or any of that stuff, you are more than just a guest. You are attached to the bridal party and they want the same sweat and blood from you that they’re going to excrete in the incomprehensible madness that is the preparation for an American wedding. But, in spite of the work that’s expected, you just aren’t as essential, and are left to fend for yourself. So, for example, when your girlfriend makes plans for you to dog-sit on the night of the bachelor and bachelorette parties and to sleep on the bride and groom’s couch that night, and the groom either ignored or was unaware of this, and an argument ensues between the bride and groom about whether you’ll be snoring on their couch or in a hotel suite with a bunch of drunk bride’s maids, and the bride tells you to not worry about it, it doesn’t hold much weight. She’s gone with her drunk bride’s maids, you’re on a couch watching Michael J. Fox on In The Actor’s Studio, and you’re at least 20% sure that shortly after you fall asleep your snoring will be interrupted by rude, drunken groomsmen hands, followed by a swift kick in the ass and a cold night in a stranger’s backyard. Thankfully, that didn't happen, but the potential didn't exactly aid my sleeping process.

So, in spite of the big pile of school books and trade collections I hefted with me to San Diego, I’ve got little to show for it. I had plans to write at least three or four reviews before I got back, but there just wasn’t time. When I finally did have a chance to sit in our hotel room with the laptop, my girlfriend was so exhausted from the wedding stuff that doing so much as putting a plug in an outlet or unwrapping a candy bar kept her awake. The wedding dominated the trip, and it wasn’t until the last day that we got to strike out on our own.

There was one notable exception. See, our sleeping arrangements were a little complicated for the trip. The bride wanted us in the hotel she was staying in, but it was a little pricey. We only stayed there Friday night (the night before the wedding) and Saturday night. On Thursday night, my girlfriend crashed in the bride’s hotel suite while I stayed on the groom’s couch. Wednesday night, the night we arrived, we stayed at a Best Western. It was conveniently situated a mile down the street from the bride and groom’s apartment.

When I travel, I like to find new comic shops, and visiting one was my only ironclad, unswerving, fuck-your-wedding rule for the trip. As I became more educated on the schedule of the pre-wedding stuff, that rule became more swervy. I tried to find some help in the form of my fellow Comic Book Galaxy writer, Chris Allen. I e-mailed him only hours before our flight out of NY. Unfortunately, while he did e-mail me back, we managed to completely fail in finding any kind of Internet access while in California (the more pricey hotel did have a wireless network, and my girlfriend’s laptop was supposed to have wireless access, but for some reason they just didn’t like each other).

Thankfully, the gods either don’t always hate me, or when I travel it takes time for their hatred to lock back onto my ass.

The morning after we arrived, I woke up early. Around 7 am. My cell was short on minutes, so I went out looking for a store that might have a phone card. As I stepped out of the Best Western, a big-ass sign directly across the street caught my attention


Abandoning the quest for a phone card, I walked across the eight-fucking-hundred lane road to check the store hours. It opened at 11, the same time we were supposed to get picked up by the bride’s mom. I told my girlfriend that they could just give me the address, I would help her pack the luggage into the car, and I would make sure I was at the apartment by 2 pm (at which point, everyone was supposed to leave the apartment for their gender-segregated night of drunkeness, though they didn’t really leave until about 6 pm). The bride’s mom, once she arrived, refused to leave me without a clear idea of where the apartment was (and also, I suspect, wanted my help unpacking stuff), but was gracious enough to drive me back to the comic shop once all our stuff was dropped off at the apartment. The walk back was pretty simple. It was on the same street, and I’m used to taking long walks, so the only hassle was crossing the eight-fucking-thousand-lane roads that you can find in just about any major or semi-major Southern California city.

It was a nice shop, with a great selection of graphic novels. It was confusing at first, because they organize their trades and Hardcovers by company. Lots of manga. Also, lots of sculptures and other collectible stuff. I’ve all but abandoned my desire for collectibles, but I had to invoke a great deal of discipline to leave without their Sam Kieth Hulk mini-bust.

I browsed for about two hours, and had to pass over a lot of stuff I was itching for. In particular, they had a rare (I never even knew it existed) hardcover copy of The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect. They had almost all of the manga books Rob Vollmar recommended to me. I came close to getting the first volume of Usagi Yojimbo, a series I’ve been meaning to check out for a while, but I was limiting myself to $35 or $40, and there was other stuff I wanted. Finally, I settled on the fifth and sixth volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub and the hardcover edition of Young Avengers: Sidekicks. In spite of all the trades I brought with me, those were pretty much the only books I got to read during the trip, other than a library copy of the first volume of Fables for my next Overdue Books column.

So, if you’re ever in San Diego check out Comickaze on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Very nice selection of stuff.

Our last day there, Sunday, Nicole and I finally got to do some corny touristy stuff. We tired ourselves out touring the decommissioned aircraft carrier Midway in the bay. It was only a few blocks from the hotel (the second, more expensive one, not the one near the comic shop), and right next to the pier where I used to spend my lunch breaks during the few months that I lived in San Diego.

We didn’t get a lot of pictures. Nicole set the camera for high resolution, so the memory ran out quick. But here’s some of what we got:

“Mick, honey, we need a picture that really evokes our love and devotion for each other.”

“You’re right, sweety. If only there was a flying machine designed to kill people that we could take a picture in front of":

Mick’s tribute to the final moments of Top Gun's Goose:

Nicole enjoys listening to Franz Ferdinand on her ipod while escaping the fiery death of a dogfight:

Mick comforts his girlfriend as her hair attacks her:

And just an incredibly cute shot on the boat where the wedding ceremony was held of the ringbearer, flower girl, non-affiliated high-energy girl, and an ugly dog:

I should also note that I was happy to find a package of trades waiting for me when I got home - trades I'd ordered specifically for the article on supervillains-as-protagonists that I will hopefully get done this decade providing I don't have many more weddings to attend - specifically I got Thunderbolts: How to Lose, Sabretooth: Open Season and Bullseye: Greatest Hits.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rant time

Between school, work, preparing for a trip to the west coast, and trying to gather and read the books for next week’s installment of Overdue Books, I’ve got no reviews or relevant comic book commentary today. Sorry. In the interest of living up to the title "The Daily Burn," I’m about to bitch about my life. Sorry again.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, I met a frustrating road bump in my academic life recently. Actually, no. Not a road bump. It’s more like I realized I wasn’t driving in the wrong direction, but was going two hours out of my way for no reason. This is my third semester back in college, and I was only just informed that I was not responsible for certain General Education requirements (e.g., Foreign language, Math, Information literacy, cross-cultural studies, etc.). My school’s current Gen Ed policy came into effect in 2000, and it was decided that students who earned any credits at any school before 2000 were excused from those requirements. I attended a universty in Florida between 95 and 97. In the meantime, I have either completed or am in the progress of completing a total of 18 credits since attending my new school specifically to fulfill the Gen Ed stuff. It may not seem like a lot perhaps, until you consider that I took 15 credits last Fall, that was the largest number of credits I took in a single semester since returning to school, I've been here for 3 semesters, meaning that - in terms of time, work, etc. - completing these unnecessary classes represent more than a semester’s worth of work. It’s as if you took an entire semester’s worth of my work, balled it up, tossed it over your shoulder, and gave me the finger.

Twelve of those credits aren’t worth worrying about. They’re done, they gave me two A’s and a B, so no big deal. I’m taking the other six this semester. Two classes: World Cities and History of England. If I withdraw, no more financial aid. Instead, I petitioned the Dean of Undergraduate Studies to waive the deadline of declaring classes pass/fail on the basis that the officious bastards never informed me that I didn’t need the classes I signed up for (for those unfamiliar with the stupidity that is university bureaucracy, “pass/fail” means that you get credit for taking a class but it neither helps nor hurts you overall Grade Point Average, and you usually only have a certain amount of time - often within the first few weeks of the semester - to declare a class or classes pass/fail) . In order to even have the petition considered, I needed signatures from each professor attesting to the fact that I’m still going to class (which I am).

The World Cities professor was no problem. World Cities is a big 200+ lecture course, the professor was notably busy when I visited him, so I figure he would’ve signed anything I handed him just to get me out of his hair.

The history professor was a bit trickier.

Just to skip the foreplay, yes, he did sign it. But he made me pay for it. For a half hour, he looked at the sheet I wanted him to sign, sighed, read the letter addressed to the Dean, sighed, flipped through my degree audit (which was attached to the sheet in order to prove that I had been mislead as to my Gen Ed requirements), sighed some more, and just fucking refused to fucking get it. It was like asking my parents to borrow money. I know they’re going to fork it over, but not before a good lecture.

“I don’t understand.”

“You’re not going to get less than a B, anyway.”

“I think this is a mistake.”

“I don’t understand. You have a good GPA.”

Yeah, and I’d like to fucking keep it. I mean, hey, if I had a 2.1 GPA, I’d understand what he was saying, because what’ve you got to lose at that point? You might as well step up to the plate and try to do what you can to make your diploma more meaningful than toilet paper.

I think more because of my girlfriend’s accounts of the downside of teaching than anything else, I understand the guy’s problem. If you stand in front of a bunch of strangers, talking about something that you have devoted your professional life to (and probably a good deal of your free time), you want to feel like those strangers are listening. And maybe you’re worried that someone trying to take the class pass-fail just wants to skim through without doing anything.

But at the same time, I’m there every day. I’m one of the more vocal students in the class. I get the distinct feeling that, even now after he signed the paper, I’m one of a small number of students who actually reads the required texts. If I was the guy who always comes in ten minutes late and never speaks, I’d say he had valid concerns. But that ain’t me. I don’t care whether I signed on to the course because it was a requirement or because I thought it would change my life. If I’m there, I’m fucking THERE. I don’t have enough time to spend what little I have twiddling my thumbs and staring at the ceiling.

Here’s the thing. Here’s the big, BIG thing that scares me.

Last semester, using my Marxist Theory paper on Batman to do so (hey, who said this post wasn’t comic book-related), I got into the English Honors program. In order to stay in the program, I need to maintain a 3.25 overall GPA, and a 3.5 GPA in my English courses. Right now, my overall is 3.76, my English is 3.85. So, I’m not in any imminent danger.

I didn’t apply to the program to impress potential employers, impress other English students, or beef up my chances of grad school acceptance.

I did it because as a member of the Honors program, I have the opportunity to work on a thesis project in my senior year (9/06-5/07). I’m also allowed the option of a creative thesis (i.e., writing short stories, poems, screenplays, a novella, etc.).

I think I won’t be overgeneralizing when I say that for anyone who’s a creative writer and in an undergraduate program - with the exception of those who are lucky enough to be in a creative writing program (I was a Writing major in my old school, but it’s not offered as a major in my current one) - the most frustrating things are the amount of material you have to read and write, how little of it is anything you want to read and write, and how little time it affords you to work on your own stuff. I can’t express how maddening it is to have to forcibly shove the excitement I feel towards a new idea for a short story, poem, or an essay for the blog or CBG because I have a paper to write on the rise and fall of the Iron Age Kingdom of Meroe.

As an unpublished writer who doesn’t want to remain unpublished, the opportunity to have an entire year to finally develop my own creative writing project for college credit, and to essentially have people who are paid to give me constructive feedback on my work, is a gift from Zeus. I can’t put a price on that. It will probably be the single most relevant project I’ll work on in college, and I can’t imagine that anyone would think that it’s okay to threaten the loss of that opportunity because I remembered a few less facts than I should have about the fucking Battle of Agincourt. Fuck the Battle of Agincourt. French people fought English people. What a startling fucking milestone.