I just broke up with my comic shop…

I feel horribile about it—it’s a classic “death of small businesses” story—but I’ve finally gotten fed up with dealing with actual physical comic books. I’ve been flirting with the idea of going digital for a while, but I figured that this was the time to cut the cord.

I will admit that there’s a preparing-to-be-vindicated element to it—the biggest comics publishers (DC and Marvel) do not, at present, allow you to download copies of issues you “buy” for offline storage, though some smaller ones (Image), do.

Maybe I’m fooling myself in thinking that eventually this practice will be more broadly applicable—the electronic publishing industry seems to be moving in that direction (albeit very slowly), and the DRM wars were won on the music front years ago.

Or maybe ten years from now I’ll be absolutely screwed: although Comixology was purchased by Amazon earlier this year, and will almost certainly be around, Amazon’s record with regard to advocating for relaxed DRM on books is pretty non-existent, because that DRM also effectively drives people to Amazon’s hardware platform, which encourages follow-on sales.

This is different from the situation when Amazon entered the digital music industry—they had no hardware platform, so pushing DRM’d content gained them nothing.

You should read Young Avengers. Full stop.

I’m going to be honest—my first serious encounter with Kieron Gillen was his current stint on Iron Man. It has not been knocking my socks off, though I recognize that some of that is because it’s coming on the heels of Matt Fraction’s run which quite liked.

That said, I was well aware he was capable of doing great things—not everyone can make the Internet cry, as he did with the finale to his ‘Kid Loki’ storyline in Journey Into Mystery. But I hadn’t been picking it up as it went along, and it hadn’t been collected yet, so I waited. I bided (bode?) my time until the entire run was collected, and then followed a to start at the beginning and follow it through to the end.

I’m totally comfortable admitting I cried. Really, completely OK with it. They were very, very manly tears.

I hadn’t realized that he was writing Young Avengers, and I hadn’t realized it was starring, among others, Kid Loki. No, I don’t know how I missed it…what are you, my mother?

Anyway, I checked with the guys at the comic shop, and they told me that the first collection, comprising issues 1-5, was going to come out last Tuesday, so I went ahead and picked up issues 6-8 off the rack, and then waited for the trade.

Oh, my. I can’t recommend this enough. You don’t have to have read any of the other Kid Loki material to be appreciate it. You don’t have to have read the prior Young Avengers series to understand what’s going on.

Don’t wait. .

Incidentally, while you’re at it, you should also be reading the other best superhero comic of the moment: Hawkeye. Collections and are out, and you should read the hell out of it. It is every bit as brilliant, though I have to admit to being a little sad on those issues where David Aja isn’t illustrating—his brilliance is impossible to overstate.

One day, if they’re smart, Marvel will collect the whole Kid Loki storyline in one place, in order, with all the supporting material, so you don’t have to sit down with your set of collections carefully annotated with post-its so that you can read it all in order.

This is why the Hulk rocked in the Avengers, and has sucked in every other movie

Between Ang Lee directing one, and Edward Norton starring in the other, you’d have thought one of the Hulk movies would have been great. Or at least really good. But they both fell somewhere between boring and tedious—even while being well acted and well directed.

Because, I would suggest, they didn’t understand the character’s value. I have a vague memory of a review—I thought it was Roger Ebert, but a quick check suggests not—that suggested that watching a guy who feels like he can’t get mad get chased around was going to be fundamentally boring.

In fact, I think this deleted scene from the Avengers may do a better to explain why the Hulk as a character has the potential to matter.

The initial “Sage or Butterfly” exchange is funny, but the substance is at the very end:

“I know where I can do the most good, but it’s where I can do the most harm.”

“Well, that’s no different than anybody else.”

To do good requires changing things as they are—but anytime we are a force for change, there is the possibility that we won’t be successful, that the changes won’t take the form we wanted, or have the outcome we desired. That, in the end, we will end up being a destructive force. The Hulk is merely this truth writ large—which is why I think the other movies failed: the alternatives Banner was always being presented with were to do nothing, or be destructive, never to effect change for good. They were only ever showing half the coin.

New X-Men

I sold off my copies of Grant Morrison’s run of New X-Men from 2001-2004 in a big purge a couple of years ago, thinking to get the Omnibus to replace them…only to find out that it was out of print. I dragged my feet on picking up new copies in trade in the intervening time, until I found out several months ago that they were going to re-print the Omnibus—which I had understood never to happen, so yay procrastination.

So I picked it up last Tuesday and spent a week getting through it. Re-reading it was interesting.

I was impressed with Morrison’s ability to set himself up at the very beginning with things that weren’t going to reach fruition for a while. For instance, there’s a moment in the second issue where Cassandra Nova injects herself with nano-Sentinels that I had never before noticed as the moment setting up the nano-Sentinel sickness that becomes of importance…well, all through the series. From the early sickness that afflicts all the X-Men that ultimately leads to Beast’s downfall at the end of the series.

In fact, it is this very deftness that leads to the one great disappointment, which is, of course, the big reveal of Xorn as Magneto. A lot of people say they see evidence from the moment that the character is introduced that Morrison planned it that way, but if that’s the case, it’s too subtle for me, because I find it all but impossible to make it fit as seamlessly and clearly (in retrospect) as so many other thing in the series.

Besides that, I find it most interesting to view this through the lens of Morrison & Quitely’s Absolute Superman.

New X-Men reads like a dry run, in some ways, for that book—the sense that the value of the events is to shine a light on the characters, to let their most vital essence show through, the willingness to acknowledge what has come before without being bound by it.

The moments at the end for Jean Grey—when Logan kills her in an effort to try and spare her a painful death, and the surrender in her final statement to Scott Summers, “I’m always dying on you.”—carry a lot of emotional weight while still acknowledging the fundamental unseriousness of death in comic-books, and set the scene for an emotional component that Morrison succeeds in sustaining throughout Absolute Superman.

I’m not going to suggest everyone go out and spend the $71 that Amazon charges (in contrast to Absolute Superman, which I would suggest everyone read), especially since this ends up being a true doorstop of a book—it’s a little unwieldy. But if you have any affection for these characters—if you grew up with them in their heyday of the late 70’s and early 80’s, you should really consider reading this, even if you just borrow it.

Thor

…was never one of my favorite characters. Still, I had read some favorable comments about the movie, and Hell, it was directed by Henry VKenneth Branagh, so it should be OK, right?

I think Kat Dennings was probably my favorite part of the movie, really–cute, sassy and way more interesting than either Jane Foster or muscle-boy.

Yeah, that’s right, the two-dimensional sidekick was way more interesting than the main characters, who managed roughly 1.5 dimensions.

Hell, The Destroyer–which had no lines and did nothing other than blow things up (though it did that magnificently)–was more interesting than our ostensible focus.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll watch–and, I suspect, dis–Captain American next.

Axe Cop: The Movie – Part 1

Ummmm…yeah.

The Axe Cop comic strip is deeply, deeply weird–as you might expect given the author is 5. The movie is astonishingly good at capturing that weirdness–that sense of things just happening one after another with no actual, err, plot–and even a lot of the visual style of the original.

Look at it this way, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the upcoming Green Lantern film is likely to be.

100 Bullets

Last week the last collected edition (#13) of 100 Bullets arrived. So I started back at the beginning and read all the way through.

This is not a shiny, happy story. To give you an idea, if you look at the Wikipedia page listing the main characters, there are only three who are not at least presumed deceased, and of the ones who are marked indeterminate, I, personally, would only consider one of those to be truly likely.

Even though stories like that usually aren’t to my taste, I found it a compulsive page-turner. It starts off as if it’s going to be a too-clever sort of a morality play repeated ad-infinitum, and just when you think it’s not worth proceeding, you’re shown that there’s a lot more going on than you realize.

Azarello’s scripting is tight–nothing is wasted, with what seems to be throwaway background action in one arc becoming part of the foreground in another–and his feel for how real people speak never rang false for me. The characters are posessed of their own idiosyncracies, feeling true and in some cases worthy of compassion. And Azarello’s not afraid to surprise you–something that I’m sure was made easier by having a well-defined end-point in mind when he started.

Risso’s art is the bomb. Having the same artist for the entire run is helpful because it gives the characters a sense of more concrete identity–even during flashbacks or after dramatic personal changes, they remain easily recognized. And his economy of line is brilliant–it is as if Frank Miller had taken his best approach to fine line-art (from Elektra Lives Again or thereabouts) and then continued down that path, creating a vocabulary that is expressive, compelling, and versatile.

Definitely worth a read.

Upon re-reading “Fables”

So, over Memorial Day Weekend, instead of getting together with people (well, there was some of that) or cooking a bunch of food (though there was some of that, too), I organized my comics.

I am embarassed how many I have–I have, somewhat unfortunately, gotten back into the habit of reading them, and damn if they don’t pile up. But for the last couple of years, I have not been in the habit of keeping them organized. Things got shoved in boxes or stacked up on boxes or generally just hidden and neglected. Finding things was a non-starter unless I was feeling absurdly energetic.

So I got them all organized this weekend (which is also the first step in trying to divest myself of a lot of them).

Having, for the first time in a long time, the ability to go back and re-read things in a continuous stream that I had previously only read in short temporally discontinuous bursts, I’ve been re-reading some stuff. Since I go to the trouble to pay $20/month for the virtual server to host this blog, it seems like I should use it, so I may review some things here.

Fables, by Bill Willingham1, was the first thing I read through. It’s taken me a couple of days to get through the 80+ issues.

The good news is that I liked it–sometimes it’s easy to lose that basic perspective when you’re taking something in a couple dozen pages at a time separated by weeks.

In terms of storytelling, it doesn’t really hit its stride until the second story arc, where it becomes obvious that it’s not going to just be a lighthearted romp. And it doesn’t find its emotional core until Storybook Love. But Willingham, with consistent artist Mark Buckingham, have come to work as a great team.

And I have to give props to Willingham–there are elements that he planted within the first dozen issues that are just now coming to fruition; characters I was utterly unaware of have suddenly become monumentally important–though, I have to admit, I feel like the current storyline (“The Great Fables Crossover”–and yes I think they are being ironic with that title) is a bit of a diversion from what seemed to be developing. I’m confident that in the end, it will all at least appear intentional.

Anyway, I would recommend this to pretty much anyone. There are people in tights, but they’re medieval, not superhero, tights.

1 I should mention that I remember Bill Willingham from back when he used to do illustrations for TSR–in fact, I think I have a couple of comics from the early 80s that have ads he illustrated on the back covers.

100 Bullets

Brian Azarello and Eduardo Risso have created something pretty amazing–a distnictly noir-influenced comic that I like despite the rampant, generally brutal and often graphic violence.

I picked up the first collection about a year ago, and read all the collections to that point over the course of about a month–picking up the next collection or two each week. The twelfth (and, I suspect, given the significance of 13 in the story, penultimate) collection just came out last week, so over the last couple of days I re-read the whole story–I thought about waiting until the last collection was going to be out, when I realized it was going to be another year. I sure wasn’t gonna wait that long.

In my experience, the best serial fiction rewards re-reading because it’s only upon re-reading that you see the careful set-ups that make you realize that the creator(s) knew what they were doing from the very beginning–they telegraph things that are going to happen down the line well in advance, and the second time around (and any subsequent ones) you get to see this a lot better.

100 Bullets definitely has that quality.

Also, Risso seems to have all the best qualities of Frank Miller’s Ronin-era line-work, with a much more expressive palette of facial expressions, and a great feel for when to just leave some lines out, something Miller seems to have forgotten how to do.
And, finally, I just want to know what happens. I’m not sure there’s any better compliment.

Obscure comic-book note

So, I watched Superman Returns. Oh, Bryan Singer, how did you fall so far?

But rather than dwelling on its many issues–starting, I think, with its desire to reference the 1970s movies to a fault, and ending with it’s conveniently fluid take on the effects of kryptonite on Superman–I will take the time to note that James Marsden has played a comic-book character on screen (Cyclops) who, in an issue of the comic book (X-Men #176) has also ended up in a bad situation in an amphibious plane.

Useful knowledge? Hells no. But the moment I saw him in the plane, that’s what I thought of.

Watchmen is either going to rock…

or it’s going to suck so badly no one will be able to escape its event horizon.

In the “hope for the former” arena, we have side-by-side versions of the original ads and movie posters that show that there’s a fair bit of attention being paid to the source material. It’s almost slavish, except, honestly, I like it better than Dave Gibbons’ art, which was always the low point of book for me.

Via

Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg

So, four years after the initial announcement, the first collection of Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg is out.

The first of Chaykin’s work I ever read may have been the original Star Wars adaptation he did for Marvel. 30 years later it’s hard to be sure, but I can actually remember, for instance, issues in the later series credited to Carmine Infantino.

After that, the next thing I would have seen, strictly speaking, was Heavy Metal, for which he did some design work, but I’m not sure that counts.

No, the next thing I remember is the collection of his The Shadow mini-series, which was beautiful and twisted. I bought that, The Watchmen and the last two issues of The Dark Knight Returns pretty much right off the plane when we moved back from Germany.

In the end, his work on American Flagg wasn’t available to me because we were in Germany when it originally came out, and there were no specialty retailers, just the tiny book store on-base, and by the time I had heard of it, it was over, and I was out of comics anyway. When I got back in my third year in college, it just wasn’t available.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, “When I saw the collection, I picked it up.”

Maybe it would fare better if I had some nostalgia for it in play, but I have to say that it has not aged well. The layouts are a much less polished than I’m used to with his work–I’m used to his visual storytelling being superlative, but this is really hit or miss. The pacing of the story is absurdly compressed–there’s so much crammed into each page it feels like too much exposition. And, finally, the comedy in the names and situations feels a little too broad.

In the end, it’s not that I think it’s bad, it’s just that, like all too many pioneering works, the people who came later did it better. And one of those was Chaykin himself.

Well, that was a bit of a kick in the gut

I saw The Dark Knight. It was well-written, generally well-directed, fairly well-acted (except for Heath Ledger, who was amazing), and I have no immediate desire to see it again.

Let me back up a bit: I liked Batman Begins a lot. A lot. It was one of the finest super-hero movies ever. I think X2 may have been a little better, but I have more affection for the characters. Factor that out, it’s a dead heat.

I don’t mean to be pejorative when I call Batman Begins a super-hero movie. I like super-hero movies. I wait for good ones to come out all the time.

But I contend that, deep down, The Dark Knight is not a super-hero movie–the level of nihilism it displays on all sides far surpasses even its spiritual source material, The Dark Knight Returns. The relentlessness with which the Joker drives forward the story is entirely in line with the implacable onslaught of the creature in Alien. Like the creature there is no respite from the Joker.

Like Alien, when we’re not being asked to imagine the horrors that the creature visits on the crew of the Nostromo–and the movies are similar in that most of the real gore is implied, or happens very, very quickly rather than being lingered over and sensationalized–we’re asked to be fascinated with the creature itself; this is the thing that drives Christopher Nolan to show us the Joker lurching out of the hospital in a nurse’s uniform, the same way Ridley Scott would show us the creature unfolding and unpacking itself from some improbable space, moving with an inhuman quality.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a well-made movie. It affected me viscerally. But I don’t find its horror-movie-in-super-hero-clothing to be something I feel the need to repeat any time soon.

Considering Warren Ellis’ “The Guts Of Dr Horrible”

I don’t know why I’m surprised when Warren Ellis drags out his critical skills. I suppose it’s because his default mode is so often dismissive.

Still, while we do get the admission that “Musical comedy makes [his] balls itch”, he’s more than willing to take on Dr. Horrible on its own terms and makes an interesting point about how hubris often derails inexperienced creators: Everyone wants to write some epic-length piece with tons of Deeper Meaning, and forgets that–to take a recent successful example–the first Harry Potter book was short and self-contained.

So release early, release often can also be a mantra for creators of content, not just software.

I don’t think I mentioned before

While we were in New York in January, we went to see a production of The 39 Steps on Broadway.

It was a tour-de-force of clever stage technique, and quite funny in a sly, clever way–all the more so because it is exactly the same story as the Hitchcock film of the same name, but with everything slanted just enough to make you laugh.

I just thought of that because on the link in the Sandman story just now, there was a pointer to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier which incorporates elements of the same story.

I liked Black Dossier much less than I did the other League material. Just, you know, for what it’s worth.

I look forward to November

The fourth, and final, volume of the Absolute Sandman is released. I will take a few days and move slowly through the whole series, front to back.

I really don’t expect it to be easy–not because I expect it won’t hold up, but rather the opposite; every time I go back and re-read, it pulls me in deeper.

The Comprehensive _Pogo_

Walt Kelly’s Pogo has never been collected in its entirety–something less than six years were collected by Fantagraphics in the ’90s, but that was something less than it’s full 24-year run.

Well, they’ve decided to do to Pogo what they did to Charles Schulz’ Peanuts (and several other strips)–“publish the whole run, in order, in a series of hardback books”:http://www.fantagraphics.com/blog/archive/2007_02_01_fantagraphics_archive.html#2583732417830212795.

I’ve heard reviews of Pogo that suggested that it wasn’t always as great as people remember it–and really, what is? But it’s hard to ignore a newspaper comic strip that was considered threatening enough that, “his [Kelly’s] phone was tapped and the US Government corresponded with a newspaper reporter who claimed that the eccentric patois Kelly created was a secret Russian code.”

It’s certainly a tempting option.

I Luv Halloween

Zowie.

I Luv Halloween is a most violent, disgusting and hilarious book.

I mean, how else can you describe a comic in which a group of children, disgusted with the apples given them by an old lady, put razor blades in one and give it to a cop?

Or this little exchange at the end of the night:

Pig pig Y’know that whole zombie thing you were talking about earlier?
Finch Did a lot of zombie talking earlier.
Pig pig About coming back as zombie slaves?
Devil Lad You hoping this lot’ll come back as your zombie slaves?
Finch I think you have to have a direct hand in killing them.
Pig pig Oh.
Devil Lad There’s still Nips.
Pig Pig Nah…she used to babysit me ‘n’ all, y’know?
Devil Lad All the more reason to want her dead.

Yes, I think he’s nuts, this is just further proof

From Neil Gaiman’s journal:

If you’d like to read one of the Sandman parody issues of Cerebus, Dave [Sim] will send you one. He’ll send it to you very happily, free of charge. He will sign it for you, too. And he won’t charge you a thing. Not even postage.

And if you’re wondering what the catch is, it’s this: Dave wants to know (as, I have to admit, do I) how many of the people out there in internet-land will actually go and do things that don’t involve passively clicking on a link and going somewhere interesting. So what you have to do is write Dave a letter (not an e-mail. Dave doesn’t have e-mail) telling him that you read that he’ll send you a signed Cerebus, and telling him why you’d like him to send you a copy. It’s as easy as that. And, quite possibly as difficult.

The address to write to is:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc

P.O. Box 1674 Station C

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

I just finished reading the last collection the other day. Like Neil, if I have anything significant to say, it won’t be just now (I’ll probably be mentioning why in a day or two, when things are finalized).

I do think Dave Sim is really around the bend, and I know it’ll be at least a year or two before I’ll be able to sit down and read Cerebus, every word from beginning to end (and Chet, if you think that John Galt speech is long, boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet).

But here’s the thing: I want to. As difficult and nuts as I may think Dave Sim to be, there is a part of me that wants to start re-reading right now, because for all its flaws, Cerebus is a mighty artistic achievement. Even right to the very end, Dave Sim’s visual storytelling abilities amaze me. Even as Cerebus became this wierd Dave Sim monolog, I always wanted to know what happened in the end.

I don’t know what higher praise I can give Cerebus: I think its creator is a delusional idiot, and wild horses could not keep me from recommending it.

Me, I’m writing to Dave tomorrow. Maybe I’ll even tell him I think he’s nuts.

I’ve been getting back into comic books of late

I noticed a sign near the coffee shop I go to for a new store opening up around the corner–it turns out that simply having a car was not enough; I needed proximity, too, and the shop in Chapel Hill could only lure me in for something I knew I wanted like 1602.

So–predictably, I suppose–I’ve found myself alternately catching-up and finding new stuff; it’s sure as Hell more fun than, say, tracking the declining State of our Union–I happily leave that to kos and Josh and Billmon.

As an example, I’ve picked up most of the Hellboy trades (I date myself by admitting that my first remembrance of Mike Mignola is Rocket Raccoon), and, as something of a Lovecraft fan, Hellboy works just wonderfully for me.

I wonder how I’ll like the movie. I suppose it couldn’t be worse than Underworld, but I doubt it could approach Lost In Translation, either.

(More on that later, perhaps)

There’s Y, The Last Man–as the proprietor of the store pointed out, “The best last-boy-on-earth story since Kamandi!”

I’m also amused to see Bill Willingham doing a ton of writing, when I remember him first for his illustrations in various AD&D materials in the early ’80s.

I’m waiting, with intense anticipation, for the end of Cerebus–while reading with a great deal of distress the reports of just how, well…NUTS Dave Sim has become. Still, if you have the slightest inkling of interest in comic books, and you haven’t read High Society and Church & State, you’re missing out.

I fear that means you, Chet. 😉

And, finally, I’m sad to see that Julius Schwartz died. While I would be lying–or at least overstating things–to suggest I have some sort of eidetic memory, the fact is, this stuff sticks with me for a long time. And I remember a lot of comic books I read when I was a pre-teen with Juliuz Schwartz’ name on the masthead.

I don’t know why this seems so sad to me right now–good lord there’s plenty of other sadder things going on in fifty-zillion places than an old man who had a pretty damned good run dying just shy of 90. Perhaps it’s just the passing of someone that you realize had, however ephemeral, some influence on your childhood.