The Resurrection Machine.

*Ah, nothing like the philosophy of comics Events! That's the focus of this week's column, a little slash-'n-burn comedy with dabs of historical survey. I hopes ya likes it.

*Out of Time Dept: The new comics reviews in Entertainment Weekly (#847), however, are a bit more impressed with Infinite Commentary, as reviewer Jeff Jenson notes in regards to Infinite Crisis #1: “Though the apocalyptic plot by Geoff Johns is kinda fuzzy, the exploration of superhero relevance is provocative…” He also says that the book “…is bursting with world-quaking ambition.” It gets an ‘A-’ so it fares better than Charles Burns’ Black Hole (B+), to which reviewer Abby West says “Isolation and confusion aren’t the most novel takes on adolescent life…”

Well, actually, wholly subjective ‘letter’ grades applied to entirely different genres of comics by entirely different reviewers are fundamentally worthless as instruments of comparison. We all know that. Why do I keep quoting these things? Maybe it’s because EW’s comics reviews are very rarely more than 100 words long, and the application of some kind of ‘grade’ is necessary to tease out consumer recommendations from a review space that isn’t always sufficient to support such inference on its own. Um, anyhow, elsewhere in the issue, in regards to Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, “…you’ll wish more fiction were woven in with the science…” (Tom Russo, ‘B’), and Pyongyang author Guy Delisle “cloaks his tale with a compassionate cynicism that cushions the bleak horrors of this totalitarian Lost in Translation.” (what, you mean Delisle has a halting half-romance with a Sophia Coppola stand-in? anyway, that was from Wook Kim, ‘A-’).

Oh, but it’s hard to get too annoyed with EW, as this week also sports a 5-page feature article (also by Jensen) on the creation and legacy of Watchmen, recently named one of the 100 finest English-language novels of recent years by Time Magazine, which, coincidently, is published by the same entity that publishes EW, as well as (in a corporate wideview sense) Watchmen itself. But hey, at this point nobody’s arguing that Watchmen isn’t an important, singular work of its type, and the article does sport the full participation of both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is always a good time. And indeed, it’s a good article when it simply sticks to Moore and Gibbons and testimony from prominent admirers (Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof probably oversteps in declaring it “probably the greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced” but Joss Whedon fares better in describing the book’s utilization of genre history as “a template for examining the human condition in a way no one had seen before.” - Jude Law, Darren Aronofsky, and Richard Kelly are also noted).

Naturally, Moore himself is a treat, loudly proclaiming that “My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel,” identifying himself as a “mumbling recluse” and revealing that Ozymandias is actually a bit of a self-idealization. There’s some stuff I’d never heard of before (apparently, Moore occasionally retained Neil Gaiman for research assistance), and Moore even has some backhanded compliments for David Hayter’s recent Watchmen screenplay: “…as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen. That said, I shan’t be going to see it.” Pretty good reading.

The Intimates #12


The final issue of the sadly underrated Automatic Kafka, #9, saw the robotic title character being physically whisked out of continuity and deposited into a comics store, where he met up with Joe Casey and Ashley Wood, the creative team on the book. Casey and Wood filled him in as to the futures of his superhero teammates, and chatted a bit about the difficulties of launching new titles in current times. “Can you imagine…? Pretensions of art, sold in catalogs, listed like hair care products…” Casey explained over Kafka’s shoulder as the android superhuman flipped through a thinly-disguised Previews. There was self-depreciation too: Wood occasionally tore down art from the very pages containing him, muttering “It’s all shit…” while Casey mocked his own series-length use of cowboy comics as the sequential entertainment of choice in a world of superheroes (“Yeah, real clever, huh?”). In the end, the creative team opted to give their lead character the ultimate gift: freedom from revamping. Liberation from crossovers and future creative teams. Not comics death (bullshit that we all know it is) but true oblivion. It was an Animal Man for the 21st superhero century, where the greatest thing a creator could do for his creation now is spare him the indignity of life in the Direct Market. “…this is… better than the drugs… ever were…” Kafka sputtered as he faded into simple line art, and finally to nothing.

The Intimates, also written by Joe Casey, has exactly the same ending, only it’s totally different; Casey, in the bottom-of-the-page info scroll, even refers to this issue’s finale as the “Kafka Gambit,” though the same result is reached in a far more intuitive fashion, one better-suited for the book’s unique feel. But before we get to all that, I should note that the info scroll is very much worth reading this time (personally I always thought it was worth reading, though recent issues have seen it getting much more creative, occasionally devoting itself toward telling short side-stories or jokingly stretching itself out to extreme lengths during a decompressed fight sequence), as Casey devotes most of it to a narrative regarding the book’s creation and production. Don’t expect too much direct dirt, save for some veiled references (“As the rats jump from the sinking ship, who is left to sail the old girl home…?”) and general industry critique. You’ll learn how the title was originally supposed to be a miniseries, but got dropped onto the market as an ongoing, necessitating painful rewrites. You’ll also discover that the point of it all was (partially) to package a superhero ‘team’ book in which nothing particularly superheroic or team-like happens.

But in the story proper this issue, the kids actually do act as a unified superhero team for the first and only time. Punchy and Destra have recently discovered that something sinister is being put in the food at the Seminary, the Wildstorm Universe school for teen superheroes that much of the series has taken place inside. We never find out exactly what the secret of the food is, but the very presence of a secret itself is enough to prompt a little action, especially since it’s come out that the Devonshire Corporation, manufacturers of delicious food products everywhere, are also in bed with the Seminary via core funding. Oh, and Destra’s daddy is Devonshire’s head, which does sort of raise the question as to how much Destra really knows about everything, or at least where her original suspicions rose from. Destra is really the most interesting of this book’s characters, and a canny taboo-tweak across the current comics landscape: a haughty, privileged, savvy rich girl, who’s also a largely positive character.

So the whole gang decides that the best course of action is to use the Seminary’s amazing experimental teleportation technology to whisk themselves away to Somewhere Else. It’s a metaphor, folks - don’t ask questions like why the kids simply didn’t try and contact their friends over the summer months then decline to register for another term or perhaps simply not show up; the focus here is escape, and not just escape from school and endless supervision (Destra, at least, has an excuse to return to the Seminary - it’s revealed that her father needs to keep tabs on her and he’s got the place wired). Throughout this issue, Punchy complains that his favorite spy comic, Supersonic Espionage Boom, is unfortunately being cancelled mid-storyline (“I knew they shouldn’t have had those flop fill-ins!” shouts Punchy - Ale Garza and Carlos D’anda “drew the pictures” this issue, and they do a nice job, even if character art jumps from light and bouncy to oddly heavy at random junctures); I hadn’t realized until reading some of those old Automatic Kafka issues that Casey had pulled the same trick as he did with the cowboy comics in that prior series, and perhaps now he’s directly citing the finale to Kafka in the context of the story itself. We also get scenes from the spy comic itself, all of them meant to evoke the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns; the suggestion is that SEB is actually a grand masterwork of the comics form, about to be snuffed before its completion, and such gently self-aggrandizing hi-jinx fit right into Casey’s info scroll ruminations on the value of ‘cult’ comics and the ability of characters to outlive their books in the minds of readers. This will come into play later.

Meanwhile, yet another aborted Casey project is momentarily revived, as the Wildcats 3.0 version of Jack Marlowe is also on hand to both aid and hinder the kids’ mission to escape, offering them both betrayal and emotional aid. Fascinatingly, Destra at one point confronts Marlowe about how he seems like a superhero (indeed, early Image fans know him as Spartan), but doesn’t really look like one; there’s tension between two poles of Casey’s oeuvre - superhero books like Wildcats 3.0 meant to pull focus away from superhero iconography, and books like this one that positively soak in it. And then, as we reach the issue’s end, the metafiction becomes patent, as the school’s faculty must decide whether or not to hit a big green button on the teleportation system marked ‘CANCEL’ before the kids manage to escape (oh, how droll). There’s a blast of light, and suddenly they’re gone. “Teleportation or disintegration? U-decide!” bellows Casey from down below. The final page of the book is actually the final page of Supersonic Espionage Boom, as its hero escapes his exploding fortress, wondering if there’s any point to even participating in such a world. “After all, how many super secret agents does the world need…?”

I’m sure you all get the point there. Once again, a book dying from unfavorable sales affords its heroes a greater escape. This time around, it’s more elegant; Casey neatly transforms his book in its twilight hours into a little fable about escaping a controlled world, a place that probably doesn’t have many of your interests in mind. There’s superhero food vendors there, and superhero fashion designers. And it’s not very hard to see the connections between the old men walking the halls of their big lab, their Seminary, and the corporate interests that Casey sees controlling the fate of his book. “Artistic integrity vs. the bright and shiny object: no contest, my friends (the lunchbox characters almost always win out).” Thus, the kids don’t merely escape the halls of education, they escape the Direct Market, they escape the Big Two. Does it really matter, then, if it’s teleportation or disintegration? Like in Kafka, obliteration is the result either way, and a glorious result it can be.

Casey has another book going now, another superhero book. Gødland. Perhaps you’ve seen the official site? This one’s creator owned, from Image. The Wildstorm line of comics is now turning back toward classic superhero smash work, away from the likes of Wildcats 3.0, or Automatic Kafka, or even The Intimates. Conspicuous in not escaping from the Seminary is Jack Marlowe. Of course not - he’s got revamps to appear in! Grant Morrison is on his way! Hell, Morrison will probably handle the material with care. And really, Casey perhaps makes too much of his metafictional flourishes. Automatic Kafka, the teens in The Intimates - they’re company-owned. It doesn’t matter if Joe Casey or Ashley Wood or the Seminary teleportation equipment ‘removes’ them from anything. They can come back in a snap. Alan Moore’s Promethea can come back in a snap. That is nature.


Cult heroes? A cult book? Who even remembers Automatic Kafka?

Maybe that’s the secret joy of the cult book, that which Casey speaks of in his now-halted bottoms-of-the-pages. Readers can keep characters close, characters can be important, but they can fly beneath the radar, evade the resurrection machine. They can really leave, or really die.

And that. This market. That’s fucking superhuman.