Comics you can buy in English, today!

*And comics you can't, tomorrow! But let's not wish our lives away.

*Absolutely fascinating response to Dirk Deppey’s excellent Chobits/Love Hina analysis from the new issue of The Comics Journal, right here on the Journal board. I’m referring specifically to the long post by freelance Viz editor (and Journal contributor) Shaenon Garrity that ends up comparing Chobits to The Dark Knight Returns. You might want to read the whole thread and/or Dirk’s review in the issue itself (and maybe Chobits itself, since Shaenon and Dirk both reveal the ending), or at least one page back to brush up on the otaku concept of moe, which I recall a pair of FLCL crewmembers describing as a fleeting sense of flawless innocent eros in a female anime character; the goal in crafting an anime girl, for some, is to achieve moe, as they put it. It was creepy.

*Comment On Current Events Dept: Call me a pervert or a provoker, but I think the terribly dirty and very very pornographic (and Not Safe For Work) ‘Hot Coffee’ sequence for Grant Theft Auto: San Andreas would have been even more destructive and obscene and lethal to the faint of heart and small animals if the male character ever took off a stitch of clothing even once. As it is, the version of the minigame I saw resembles a quasi-interactive David F. Friedman softcore job circa 1966 when obscenity standards still dipped down to cover anything below the waistline, save for the female derrière. Thank god the likes of The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill have risen from the pop culture cemetery to become the last crucial pebble necessary to snap loose the cliff holding a game loaded to exploding with rampant crime, absurd amorality, blood and gore, and total disregard for authority polite or otherwise, sending the whole affair plummeting into ‘AO’ territory, regardless of any satiric or exaggerative intent. I’m serious thinking that Trey Parker and Matt Stone got incredibly mad over the theatrical grosses of Team America: World Police and, out for revenge, secretly built an interdimensional teleporter that has now beamed us all into an episode of South Park. I just hope it’s a good one.

JLA: Classified #10

Prior storylines in Justice League Clearinghouse have included an unofficial Seven Soldiers prelude (which sort of stood well on its own, dodgy art aside) and a sequel to a kinda-popular miniseries that itself was a sequel-in-spirit to an incarnation of the Justice League concept from back in the ’80s. And now, a Warren Ellis storyline that’s been sitting in someone’s drawer since 2003.

Not that such quibbles really matter; the first three issues of Desolation Jones was also written a ways back, and that turned out perfectly well (of course, a lot of credit needs to go to the art team on that one too). But Ellis’ first issue on this book seems to be particularly susceptible to a certain brand of latecomer’s disease: it hearkens back to something from the future.

I don’t really know when Ellis completed his scripts for the first wave of his new Marvel output, the books themselves hitting the stands in late 2004, but there’s no denying that Warren Ellis in DCU superhero mode is almost eerily similar to Warren Ellis in Mighty Marvel Mode. In particular, this issue resembles some of his work on Ultimate Fantastic Four in several regards. There’s the playful, flirtatious relationship between Reed+Sue/Lois+Clark. There’s the hard-bitten supporting character who suddenly begins spitting out Ellisisms left and right, General Ross in UFF, Perry White in JLA, with the good editor spouting Bad Signal-worthy snappers like “Lane. Kent. I am your editor. Prepare to die.” or “People kill themselves every day. In fact, I intend to kill you myself after I have drunk your blood.” or “You are bargaining for your life, Lane. Make it very good.” I’d be more inclined to accept this sort of thing on its own terms if these characters didn’t sound so much alike, which raises to mind the image of Ellis giggling behind his word processor rather than the voice of an actual character. There’s also the obvious discomfort with certain aspects of superhero tradition; Wonder Woman tells us her superhero name this issue for the sole purpose of insinuating how dumb it is, hearkening back to the humorous name-swaps from bits and pieces of Marvel’s First Family (to be fair, Bendis and Millar indulged in more than a bit of that in their issues as well). And don’t forget the Big Action and issues not as much ending as running out of space, though that sort of thing shows up sometimes in Ellis’ creator-owned work as well (see: Ocean). Even the self-pitying researcher’s suicide recalled a Marvel sequence, though that one was in Iron Man #1.

So what’s going on? I presume that Ellis has simply found a groove to work in with his modern company superhero work, though I have to wonder if he might have opted to revise tiny fragments of his long-delayed JLA script into work he knew would see print sooner. That’s pure speculation, mind you, but it provides an interesting theory to describe the air of familiarity surrounding this book.

But still, even subtracting similarities to earlier/later work, Ellis seems on firmer ground when working with his own creations rather than with icons. Sure, Tokyo Storm Warning wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t the front-to-back disaster of Ultimate Nightmare. Conversely, I certainly can’t recall off hand any established property work Ellis has elevated to the level of Planetary or the aforementioned Desolation Jones, unless you’re willing to count the thoroughly scrambled and reconstituted StormWatch that was The Authority. Even in the Ultimate universe, there’s characterizations that need preserving, certain boundaries that don’t exist in Ellis’ more liberated titles, and Ellis works best liberated. Even if you subscribe to the notion that a lot of his work is essentially superhero stuff in sci-fi masquerade, it’s still more effective superhero stuff than his actual superhero stuff, no matter how much piss he aims to take out of it.

Which returns us to the story at hand. Mysterious suicides are all over the place at LexCorp, and Lois and Clark are out to chart the connections. Meanwhile, Batman gets dressed and zips around town to uncover some foreshadowing left on a dead corporate whistleblower’s computer. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman says hello to some people and watches an island explode. To Be Continued! Sure, as Ellis warned us in today’s Bad Signal, “…I figured I may as well hit the high points and do "my" Superman scene, my Batman scene, etc, just the once. Eats up some space and probably makes it a little slow to kick off, but JLA comics rarely have the "transformation" scenes that are to my mind central to superhero fiction.” Except, this issue doesn’t really have those, unless Batman’s transformation involves putting his costume on while listening to expository police broadcasting (although Ellis does have fine taste in manga, as the most recent Signal indicates).

But what the hell; I thought Ultimate Fantastic Four was doing all right as a big loud superhero thing by the twelfth issue of Ellis’ run. Iron Man is mostly enjoyable (not to mention the most fully immersed in Ellis’ pet themes), when it actually comes out. Even Ultimate Nightmare had some ok art, and the art here is better than ok; Butch Guice has a shadowy realist approach, heavy on the haggard skin curvature and inky detail. He sports the occasional clever trick of layout, like having Clark staring off to the left of a top panel, contemplating an event that actually happened right on the flipside of the page edge he’s glaring at. There’s some good work with contrasting Bruce’s scar-laced, pained body with Clark’s smooth lily-whiteness. And Michael Stribling’s cover doesn’t look nearly as bad in your hands as it does on your monitor; Batman doesn’t look as much stiff as statuesque, iconic.

The only icons within the book are Ellis icons, though. Still, if you’re willing to put up with the usual tics (or if your really enjoyed Ellis’ recent Marvel work), you’ll probably enjoy this nostalgically pre-dating stuff. Maybe a good build will be in the cards.