You expected this.

*Last column of the year. No industry review or awards handed out. Just something to consider as the snow falls and 2005 fades away.

*It’s good to wait until the end. Pretty soon I’m going to get over to the Comic Bloggers’ Poll, which is open until January 15, and enter some stuff in. But I can’t really consider voting in such a thing until the year is truly and actually over. It’s just me - I’m really an obsessive sort (as I prove again and again each day on the internet) and I keep getting the feeling that I’ll miss out on something if I declare the year ‘over’ as far as quality works go, and then I’ll be slapping my forehead and mumbling about blogging being a harsh mistress to whomever is sitting next to me at the bar as the ball drops in New York. But now - only a 92% chance of that.

So anyway -

Holy Candied Goddamn! It’s the Jog - The Blog 2005 Thrill Ride of Ten Great Books to Read or Maybe Nod Your Head Toward!

Yes, good old Top 10 lists. Nothing can beat them. Keep in mind that, as always, this is a fundamentally unfair list, as it mixes and matches daunting reprint collections of material originally presented over half a century ago with newly-produced work in a variety of formats, small pamphlets rubbing shoulders with decade-spanning works of hundreds of pages. Also, things I’ve not read aren’t going to be here, which probably explains the absence of Black Hole and Late Bloomer and Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays! (which I’ve yet to even lay eyes upon in person, let alone purchase and read). Fortunately, there’s no pretense toward the objective or the comprehensive here; it’s just me, and the things I’ve read, and the things I’ve liked. Ten of them, in order.

10. Planetes Vol. 4 (of 4), Part 2 (of 2): Spot number 10 is always kind of a problem. I usually have a pretty good idea of which books I really really liked all worked out by the time the end of the year rolls around, the top few spots pretty much locked down. But the lower regions - that’s where things start getting messy. There’s a lot of books that almost showed up here, names flying all over the place (Shaolin Cowboy, The Secret Voice, Desolation Jones, Scott Pilgrim 2, Carrot for Girls - don’t let some stupid old list dissuade you from picking up these titles, all of which are very good). But this is the one that lodged itself in my head, the final book in Makoto Yukimura’s semi-realist space-faring saga, which started out as something about garbage collectors in orbit and transformed into no less than a pop meditation on humankind’s strained interrelations in a place where the mechanical provides miracles every minute; you’ll recall it getting quite a lot of attention upon its 2003 debut, after which everybody seemed to forget it existed. Certainly the book’s sales didn’t stabilize, and frankly they probably didn’t deserve to, as the intermittently powerful Vol. 3 became trapped in a morass of turgid psychological grumbling, and Vol. 4 Part 1 emerged as simply rushed and half-realized. Which makes it all the more marvelous that this concluding volume is so damn good, containing many of the series’ best sequences (Fee’s long journey with the dog and the bike), some fantastic characterizations (Yukimura’s adamant refusal to demonize nominal ‘villain’ Werner Locksmith results in one of more delicate character handlings of the year), and two essentially flawless concluding chapters that truly accomplish the amazing: making all the rest of it seem worth the time. There’s something to be said for exceeding expectations, and this book pulls it off marvelously.

9. Solo: Hmm, been a while since I covered this one, eh? But the more I think about it, the more impressive this series has been, with each of the showcased creators afforded a lengthy, lavish showcase for almost anything they want, and it’s gratifying that so many creators have risen to the occasion with impressive contributions. Standouts include Paul Pope’s issue #3, with its jagged reflections on heroism and storytelling, Howard Chaykin’s issue #4, a crisply structured homage to comic genres perched right on edge of the Silver Age and their effect on the author, and Teddy Kristiansen’s brooding and elegant issue #8. But that’s not to dismiss the formidable technical skill of Darwyn Cooke’s issue #5, or the palpable joy coursing through (most of) Mike Allred’s issue #7. Pope and Cooke even indulge in some disarming experiments in remaking classic stories, to attractive results. Given the ‘new talent every issue’ mandate of this book, it’s heartening to see that the talents involved have kept the energy up so high. If current realities dictate that a project like this be considered an ‘experiment’ by Big Two standards, so be it: this one is plainly a success.

8. Walt and Skeezix Book 1: An object lesson in effective, complimentary presentation. Drawn and Quarterly could have just presented two years of Frank King’s long-running Gasoline Alley newspaper strip (not the first two years mind you, but the kickoff years for the strip’s realtime aging, familial relationship setup) with some attractive Chris Ware covers and called it a day. But the whopping 54 pages of introductory material - featuring Jeet Heer’s illuminating essay on King’s beginnings and family life, along with countless photos of King’s relatives, friends, and homes - offers a truly useful service toward enhancing the reader’s understanding of the strips themselves. Images of the people who inspired the characters, sweeping visions of the family travels that informed the strip’s action, whispers of the tragedy that informed the work’s themes, never quite cutting through the gentleness of the funnies page - one truly feels they understand King’s work a good deal more from having read this book, and that’s beyond a simple reading of the comics, which remain sweet and funny and just a little sad, though their quality is essentially beyond argument now. This book strives to inform our reading, and we are better for it.

7. Promethea #32: Singled out as an issue, since it really has little to do with the rest of the series, and yet it encompasses everything. I’ve gone on and on about this book before; I’ll just repeat that it’s “a rousing arts and crafts project coupled with a fun and simple dexterity test melded to a newspaper funnies-style farewell strip mixed into an annotations guide crossed with a game of ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ where the Crown of the Tarot replaces the star of The Woodsman,” and note that writer Alan Moore, artist/co-designer J.H. Williams III, and letterer/co-designer Todd Klein remained entirely devoted to pushing the form of comics as far as it can go, finally smashing the boundaries of story itself, and forcing the reader to not merely consider the way they see reality, but the way they read comics. Backwards, forwards, poster form, page-to-page - this thing was everywhere, which was fitting since it sought to cover everything. And at least it successfully transcends the boundaries of Moore’s magical education, achieving a singular state as a dazzling puzzle of a storytelling art object.

6. Seven Soldiers: I’ve written some things on this one. It’s appeared on a few of these lists already. Some take it as one title, one project. Others insist on breaking it down into miniseries components. I think it’s working better as the former, yet upon examination it seems to laugh at the very idea of categorization. My favorite issues of this were Guardian #4 and Zatanna #4, though both of them derive a good deal of impact from being part of a large project. My favorite of the miniseries was Klarion, though there’s little doubt that it’s being tossed around by the concerns of something bigger than it. There’s bumps in the road (Shining Knight, Mister Miracle thus far) too. But what finally shines through is the pure drive of writer Grant Morrison’s creative hungers, hell-bent on transforming the old and forgotten into something admirable and strong, and making his point over and over again, in seven variations, as if he needs to continuing shouting it until he’s reached the number of god. And that force transcends whatever structural reading you prefer - you can see it in one, and you can see it in all. It’s also resulted in the most fun, engaging superhero books I’ve read this year, so there's that too.

5. The Acme Novelty Library: Second only to the cyclical bouts of amnesia regarding Chris Ware’s gift for comedy that seem to roll along whenever a new wave of praise/backlash follows the release of a fresh project, the underappreciation of Ware’s talent at recontextualizing his own extant works stands high as an unfortunate aspect of the critical discussion surrounding this most-discussed contemporary talent. It’s understandable - one needs to have access to Ware’s prior versions of his own work to make any sort of informed judgment on such a level, and very few are actually reading the Chicago papers in which much of his work is initially presented. But this book, Pantheon’s compilation of material originally presented, well, all over the place, afforded me my first real glimpse at Ware’s vision for revision - what was once a slightly disconnected series of gags and vignettes is now a mosaic of futility and desperation and unexpected tenderness, robots and cowboys and collectors suddenly joined under the watch of a (sometimes literally) marginal god, and Ware’s use of the accouterments of amusement take on new and powerful forms when played against the ‘realistic’ action of Rusty Brown and Chalky White, as all is suddenly related. This material needed not have existed before to be considered great, but that it has only increases one’s marvel at the author’s much-fêted ability. One can only shiver at wondering how Acme Novelty Library #16 will look in the future, as we know its life cannot be stagnant.

4. The Push Man and Other Stories: The most important manga release of the year, Drawn and Quarterly’s presentation of works by Yoshihiro Tatsumi simultaneously offers us a glimpse into the ever-foggy, much-ignored manga past, as well as a street-level view of a decades-gone Japan; the illumination is thus double. The man who coined the term gekiga, denoting a new world of serious, adult manga, Tatsumi’s great success comes through his succinctness and visual simplicity. These are often dirty little stories, pimps and killers and thieves wandering the alleys, but their construction, both through stripped-down designs and hastily floating action, creates a poetic quality rarely achieved in such gritty subject matter, not as well as this. It’s a dark book, but its honesty and clarity are unimpeachable, and it has much to teach today’s chronicler of lost souls in sorry cities.

3. Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs: What joins the top three books here on this list is the invigorating quality of the work - all of them make me excited about the possibilities inherent to the form, accessible to any creative person with the imagination, and the impact is felt even upon several re-readings. I don’t think limits even exist in the world of Ben Jones, whose work this gorgeous PictureBox, Inc. presentation compiles, both alone and with Jacob and Jessica Ciocci, his cohorts in the Paper Rad art collective. Bouncing wildly from story to story (a tale of an artist in space, the exploits of a group of human and robot and mutant friends, adventures for open-source character Tux Dog, more) and approach to approach (simple wavy lines and circles on thick paper, lusciously rendered color art and sketches, achingly beautiful monochrome computer vector/icon art on glossy black sheets, more), you can’t help but be caught up in the sheer joy of creation exhibited by these folks. Paper Rad is known for mixing the elements of sugared childhood (Gumby! Garfield! Nintendo! Muppet Babies!) into a fevered mass of positivity and celebration, and this book captures that feeling while offering up some good laughs, compelling personalities, and a winning sense of aesthetic purpose, as if the act of creating art is not merely fun and healthy, but vital to human spirituality and the very order of the cosmos. If there is any book you ‘discover’ from reading this list, I really hope it’s this.

2. Or Else #2: Actually one of the reprints on the list (Supermonster #14 was its original minicomic incarnation), and the legal indicia mistakenly places it in 2004. But there’s no way I can forget the year in which I read this, an astonishing work of narrative virtuosity by Kevin Huizenga (his upcoming Ganges #1 from Fantagraphics is one of my most anticipated titles for 2006). Really, it has to be taken as a single piece, although much of the reader’s attention is likely to fall on the 'library' sequence, in which a quarter of the book is expended on protagonist Glenn Ganges’ wandering mind as it stretches to encompass the staggering totality of merely being in the library at a certain moment in time - this will cause you to miss the subsequent contraction of the narrative into the density of a scientific text, or the carefully positioned anxieties of Glenn and his wife as they await the arrival of their baby, or even the autobiographical story about basketball that closes out the book, and wraps it all up. I gushed in much more detail over at Comic Book Galaxy, if you want to read it. Another issue of Or Else was released later this year, and it was good, but this is the one that stands so tall over almost everything else, it can only appear individually. That’s just how it works sometimes.

1. Epileptic: Ho ho, look at that! David B. had to settle for #2 on last year’s list, with the first installment of Babel, but here he takes the prize for the collected edition of his comics memoir, which soon becomes hopelessly devoted to his older brother’s epilepsy, because that’s how it went with his entire family. Wildly expansive, prone to anecdotes regarding ancestors, possessed with a nasty satiric bite, and layered seemingly dozens of times with icons, characters, imaginings, dreams, and decorative visual accompaniment, the book coheres marvelously into a portrait of struggle transcending generation and linear space; the threads that bind us as humans are strong, but those that bind our security are barely visible, and easily shattered. All is filtered through David B., his eye invading and transforming reality as we expect it, as this is ultimately about him, which means it can only be about everyone, as the sickness spreads from the body to the minds. More here. The best.

So that’s it for the year. Preparing this list evoked a lot of enthusiasm in me, which is good - there’s nothing here that makes me think “well, ought to round out the list, might as well be this.” No, these are all worthy books. But then, what kind of shitty year would it have been in comics, with its hundred releases every week, had it been otherwise? I’d rather not think of that. Actually, I’d mostly like to think of the liquids to quaff as midnight approaches, so be good, happy new year, and I’ll see you on the other side.


The year is almost gone...

*Bookstore Sightings Dept: Chris Ware’s design for the new Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Voltaire’s Candide is one of the funniest things I’ve seen from Ware in months; sure, the gags in Acme Novelty Library #16 (review coming soon) were nice, but this is just a superb little piece of wit. A lot of the talk I’ve heard surrounds the front cover art, and it’s a nice cover indeed, offering up a quick summary of the entire story in comics form, hopefully providing some informative enticement to the curious classics-wary browser, and cannily mixing Voltaire’s satiric drive into Ware’s own artistic worldview (it might have seemed impossibly self-inflating on Ware’s part, were it not such a very nice fit) - however, the fun extends to all corners of the book.

In particular, don't miss the hilarious back cover text (which, if not written by Ware himself, is provided by someone aping his prose style marvelously), extolling the virtues of Michael Wood’s introduction as a homeroom cramming guide, providing positive and negative quotes from various noted personages, sagely noting that Theo Cuffe’s translation will be great for those who can’t read French, and generally being wry (“The satirical scourge of 1759, now in paperback!”). There’s also bonus comics on the cover flaps, including a character guide, a disease-themed puzzle page, gag strips starring Voltaire himself, and so much more. I was kind of skeptical about this idea when I first caught wind, but Ware has not disappointed; it’s funny, fitting, attention-capturing work.

*And here's a fitting final review as the hours of 2005 expire. Come back tomorrow for our annual special, The Official, Authorized, Completely Unfair Jog - The Blog 10 Best Comics of 2005 List Which Does Not Contain Works I Have Not Read, Like Black Hole. It'll be quite a zinger!

Solo #8

Very good issue here. That’s not an unexpected observation, given the generally high level enthusiasm surrounding this series; despite its very nature - different talents with each edition would seem to suggest some major fluctuations in quality - the book almost always remains an appealing read. This is good enough when dealing with firmly established talents; I don’t really expect Paul Pope or Howard Chaykin to screw things up too badly, to be perfectly honest. But when the title showcases a less visible creator, affording that talent a fairly large stage upon which to strut their stuff before one of the bigger potential readerships in pamphlet-format Direct Market comics, the effect of high quality can be much greater, as the reader truly feels that they’ve gained something new and valuable from the experience. It’d all fall apart if the talents involved were lackluster, but they haven’t been. And in Teddy Kristiansen’s case, this one being his issue, the talent is formidable, even more so than expected.

Born in Denmark, Kristiansen has consistently skated around the edges of visibility in DC-published comics. He worked on the first-ever DC-authorized, entirely non-US Superman book (1990's Superman and the Tale of Five Cities, written by Niels Søndergaard). He was artist on the 1995 Sandman Midnight Theater one-shot, a ‘crossover’ between Vertigo’s two Sandman series, written by Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner (Kristiansen has also done some work on various Grendel books). He teamed with writer Steven Seagle in 1996 for Vertigo’s 25-issue House of Secrets revival, with a 2-issue follow-up (House of Secrets: Facade) released in 2001; the pair reunited in 2004 for the highly visible Superman-inspired Vertigo graphic novel It’s a Bird, which is probably the source of most of Kristiansen’s current popularity. You’ll note that Kristiansen acts as artist for these projects; indeed, in this book Kristiansen is teamed with two of those prior collaborators, Seagle and Gaiman, the latter of which will doubtlessly bring along a few extra readers, despite the rather low-key publisher hype (perhaps to keep the focus on Kristiansen? I’d forgotten Gaiman was even in the book until I opened it up). But of the five stories herein, Kristiansen writes three of them himself.

And that is where so much of the impact of this book stems from. This is arguably the most impressive issue of Solo that I’ve read (and I’ve real all but the Tim Sale debut), simply because I had no idea how Kristiansen would fare as a writer, and it turns out he’s very good - he handily outshines his more visible collaborators in the scripting department, though the book as a whole remains remarkably cohesive. There’s an omnipresent mood of life’s ephemeral quality, with special attention paid to the mortality of love and creation, though the betrayals of the human body come into play as well. Death reigns supreme in these tales (just look at Deadman staring out on the cover), and all of humanity’s endeavors will eventually succumb. It’s far more brooding material than this title has seen before, heavy on contemplation and handsome allegory, with visuals all the handsomer.

The book begins with a strange collection of monochrome thumbnail images for every page of art in the book, then it’s on to Gaiman’s story, the only ‘superhero’ tale in the book, though it’s about as far as a story get from superheroics while still wearing a costume. Instead, Gaiman seizes upon Deadman’s body-seizing nature as a mystic avenue for thoughts on the futility of romance among tender, mortal humans. It’s framed as a conversation on a staircase with a strange young girl, and peppered with typical Gaiman whimsey, to whatever effect the individual reader might expect from such things. From the vantage of having completed the book, the tale serves largely as a very light appetizer, introducing the book’s predominant themes as diluted by colorful costumes and gentle humor, though the quality of Kristiansen’s visuals are already apparent, with thin and simplified designs filled with chalky skin and pale colors (all color in this book is by Kristiansen himself).

The character art is even simpler in the next story, Seagle’s, with Kristiansen’s lines taking on a certain fuzzy quality, though very few of them are utilized to craft expressions or forms. More dominantly, everything is washed over in various gradations of greenish hue, save for a few particular elements, like a dress or face paint or blood. But even panels depicting a man impaled on a dozen sharp missiles are kept modest, iconic (making the puzzling, unfortunate presence of computer sound effect fonts straight out of Infinite Crisis all the more garish). Seagle’s plot is hardly unique or inspiring - a pair of missionaries run afoul of murderous headhunters out in the jungle, and the imperceptible beauty of art (rather than the evangelizing bluntness of religion) saves the day - though there’s a good complimentary effect at work as per its positioning in the book; once again, the spiritual (here a more realistic uncertainty rather than the fantasy of Gaiman’s offering) is of no assistance to people in hanging onto what they desire, things that cannot last. Only the most imperceptible of beauties (note that the natives merely seem to enjoy the tones of the words spoken) can prevail.

But maybe even this is limited. The Kristiansen-written portion of the book begins with the issue’s centerpiece, a 16-page saga of a young artist, plagued by summer heat, becoming enchanted by a woman he spies reading in a window at night. But she preoccupies his mind, and he finds he cannot sleep. “Here in the darkness, each star seemed cut as a sharp piece of glass, reflecting the passed day’s sunlight.” Seen at night, the woman also reflects the oppressive heat of the day, though her own radiation is a result of our protagonist’s inability to approach her, to solidify her essence into anything resembling a relatable human. He can’t even paint her, so indistinct is her appeal. But time must pass, and he must choose whether or not to approach her, and the heat will never last, as summer gives way to autumn, and dreams fade with time. It’s a melancholic piece, beautifully rendered in dusty colors, the majesty of architecture looming in the distance, as our protagonist looms forward; watch what Kristiansen does with shadows here, pooling a thin mask of darkness across the artist’s face until the end of the story, as if he’s staring at this woman through a veil, dwarfed by grand structures.

Even these cannot stand, though. The next story, my favorite, concerns another artist, one Henry Fielding (not the British author), who is summoned to the estate of a Lord Bastian, architectural legend, on the curious assignment to paint portraits of all the Lord’s grandest cathedrals, but as imagined ruins. The artist becomes seized by nightmares as he imagines the decay of these formidable structures daily, and it soon becomes clear that the Lord is paying for symbolism, surrounding himself with images of accomplishment smashed, to accompany a more personal succumbing. All of this is rendered by Kristiansen in large, mistily painted panels, kept strictly two to a page, always horizontal and identical in size, as if we are viewing a gallery of portraits of portraits, and their creators, and their homes. The artist’s narration is accompanied with a chilled, omniscient voice-of-history counternarrative, as time itself has already swept these characters from the stage, just as they work (in the context of the story) toward documenting that very state. Is it any wonder that Fielding opts to study the human body at the end, seeking to prolong life by the most direct means possible?

It is of little impact. The final story in this ever-expanding study of mortality sees death reigning supreme, as the 35 men aboard a wrecked vessel become stranded in a polar region devoid of habitation. Nature itself denies life here, and the men resort to murder, cannibalism, scavenging, and madness, until only the ice floes are left, hence the title Ice. Kristiansen hardly differentiates the desperate, bearded men here as they fade away, the blue of the cold dominant, the blankness of the spaces profound. “After this there was nothing but the silence of the cold and the cracking of ice.” Those are the final words in this book, all of humankind finally snuffed before the comparative immortality of nature, humans and their lives and cathedrals and infatuations and ambitions and romances. And the playful, Gaimanesque afterlife is apparently of no relief to those that at least used to be mortal.

No, not the feel-good hit of late December, 2005. But the skill behind it is most captivating. I hope that more readers become aware of Teddy Kristiansen through this book, and I greatly look forward to his upcoming Red Diary, a European album-format release, that hopefully will appear in English (guaranteed in English: his next collaboration with Seagle, Genius). And really, that’s one of the greater rewards of reading a successful book like Solo - becoming excited about creators that were barely on your radar prior, after they’ve been given the space and creative freedom to impress. This was space well-spent, and I think you’ll agree.


I like you, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.

*Holy Shit Dept: Was that an honest-to-god Charles Atlas ad in the back of BPRD: The Black Flame #5?! I think it was! Apparently, this is the latest official revision of the legendary ‘The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac’ cartoon, which has had various incarnations from the ‘40s to the ‘70s to just a few years ago. But god damn it - this one loses the classic “I’ll gamble a stamp” line beloved by so many Flex Mentallo readers, since it seems that the Atlas book is no longer free - a $2 charge is now required. At least HERO OF THE BEACH has weathered the ravages of time and economics. And you do still get to check off your interests on the order slip: “A Big Chest,” “Powerful Legs,” “Magnetic Personality,” “Success with Girls,” etc. I for one am a proud, strapping devotee of the Atlas plan, but be warned - while I do credit all of my romantic success to “Dynamic-Tension,” my magnetic personality certainly wreaked some havoc on my Internet computing equipment! You’ll want to leave that Pandora’s box unchecked.

*Yeah, I just got caught up on my Punisher MAX reading, and man - those last three pages of issue #28. That’s what the book is all about, man. Ennis doesn’t exactly crack ‘em out of the park every time these days (did Ghost Rider get any better after issue #1?), but I’d rather not think about this book without him. It’s just too perfect a match of writer and concept, as far as Big Two properties go. And somewhere along the line the art really started getting good, but in a way that snuck up on me; currently, Leandro Fernandez (pencils), Scott Koblish (inks), and Dan Brown (colors) have created a wrinkle-rich, lacquered visual approach that’s perfectly keyed to Ennis’ harsh scenes, with enough caricature to recognize the wit still lurking underneath. It’s low-down, bloody fun, and remarkably consistent in quality; the book hasn’t had a weak storyline since Kitchen Irish way back in #7-12. It’s just that when there’s only so many books I can buy, it’s stuff like this that gets put on hold; I know I’ll always find a copy of this thing somewhere, even if I wait three weeks. ‘Tis the nature of the beast.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #3


That’s one double-page splash and seven single-page splashes out of twenty-two story pages, in case you didn’t want to count for yourself. Really it ought to be eight, except penciler Jim Lee adorns one of them with these dynamite emblems, in what strikes me as a homage to J.H. Williams III, only far more literal; Lee’s icons aren’t purely symbolic, they’re also directly sequential in that they illustrate Black Canary’s shifting inner state, responding to the more realistically-rendered action of the story in accordant time progression. This comes after last issue in which Lee appeared to be channeling Frank Quitely in We3, utilizing a contraction-expansion system of panel layout to emphasize the release of tension (it was through freedom for We3's animals - it’s the mustering of interior fortitude for Dick Grayson [age 12] here).

Debate however you’d like the aesthetic appropriateness of Lee on this material (obviously he’s needed for the economic boost), but he’s gamely working to incorporate a worthwhile set of influences into his work, and it adds a little spice to an issue like this - what with all the scantily-clad vigilante women, the big bushy hair on that little guy in the bar, and of course the many splashes, this feels more like an early Image book than anything else I’ve seen in a while, even from a genuine Image founder like Lee.

But you know what? It works pretty damn well here. And that’s undoubtably in part because of Miller’s already famously eccentric scripting, but this is no one man show. Just look at the first seven pages of this book. There’s that overheated narration (“A rotten joint. It sits there like something that came out of the back end of a horse.”). There’s corny gags, like the “It’s Sunday! Have a shot with Jesus!” sign, or Matt Murdock and Elektra sitting around in the background. There’s Miller’s odd predilection for replacing naughty words with less-naughty and rather silly ones (‘dipstick,’ ‘sass’). There’s plenty of cheesecake.

But as the pages pass, these elements suddenly fall into place as something resembling a coherent design strategy; Miller’s narration dances around that almost-splash, raising repetitive questions as dislocated word balloons toss out fragments of statements and snatches of jokes, often directly separating the narrative captions form one another. The fuse on the dynamite begins to burn away.

Across the next two pages, a mass of rectangles and balloons and icons slosh these elements around, bad jokes repeated (in the way bad jokes always are), literally clouding up the air as Miller’s narration becomes increasingly absurd (“From the men’s room – sounds that could be torture or rapture. Or both. The men’s room. God, who’s going to be cleaning it up this morning? And what will they be cleaning out of it? Stop it. Never think that far ahead.”), the panels become increasingly small, the smile on Our Heroine’s face never fades but the fuse keeps getting lower and lower.

And then, the first thing you see (your eyes trained to start at the top left of each new page) is that guy’s head and teeth flying straight at you. There are no words save for the sound effect and two isolated cries of shock. And then, you even go back and notice that there’s a punchline of sorts to the bit about the guy spilling the girl’s scotch from the page before.

It’s lurid and hammering, and lord knows the messages about respecting women are mixed, given the vantage point we have (but remember folks, as Miller himself has said in regards to this project: “I’m shameless.”), but god damn if it doesn’t work in terms of sheer blunt impact. And that’s when Miller starts cackling along, spitting out lines meant to evoke the omnipresent word balloons of pages past in short, damning beats, the edges of the square captions pertinent when compared to the woozy oval floatations of before. Finally, Miller settles on simply repeating the term “love chunks” over and over as globules of gore spill and bones pop, Lee throwing himself into every testicle kick. Garish sound effects are everywhere. Arrows point out helpful details. And finally, for the first time, you realize that Miller and Lee are operating as a real team, their styles finally complimenting each other.

After that, it’s really all gravy. You barely even notice that there’s almost no plot advancement whatsoever. The title characters show up for a four-page cameo, still blasting through (above, under) Gotham in the souped-up Batmobile (“Batman’s car talks. With a British accent. And it turns itself into a Harrier jet. And it drops like a stone. And it cuts the water like a knife. And I guess now it’s a submarine.”), still trading quips. And then Superman pops in for a ludicrous three-page epilogue in which he gets so mad at the newspaper that it catches fire. See ya in February, kids!

Way back when issue #1 of this thing came out, I wondered aloud if it was satiric. I understand now that there’s no need to wonder anymore, as there’s plainly no satire here. I don’t think there’s any parody either. I do think there’s elements of self-reference on Miller’s part, that much is clear, but after these three issues I’m convinced that the intent behind this book is largely straightforward. This is what Miller considers to be Fun comics. And it’s the same type of Batman he’s been writing since Spawn/Batman in 1994, only with even less palpable industry comment (which is to say none) - forget about DK2 and its neon tsunami of politics, superhero and otherwise. I’ve gotten fond of this Batman, these mumbling recitations and big loud silly blasts of excess. This book started out rocky, and I blame the dissonance between writer and artist. But that evaporates here. There is no embarrassment in the issue, though I figure the title will always toe the line.

How can it do any less?

This is undeniably to me an entertaining book, as of this issue, happy to be floating off in its own world. The DC All Star line has two good comics in it, as far as I’m concerned.


Eyes turned eastward...

*Comics on the Newsstands Dept: Good ol’ Suehiro Maruo is the cover feature of the latest issue of Juxtapoz; he gets a fairly short profile inside, with much space devoted to his gorgeous, atrocious color work, a frothing stew of classic manga influence, fascist design chic, pulp magazine cover and horror movie poster design, and general debauchery. Someone in the bookstore gave me the evil eye while I perused this feature - truly the seal of approval as far as Maruo goes! The whole issue is devoted to Japanese art, so expect some stuff by Junko Mizuno and others too.

Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

Buy this.

Far and away the most worthwhile of my comics-related Christmas reading thus far has been this collection of prose essays by Frederik L. Schodt, which (I most shamefully admit) I’d never before obtained, despite having loved, admired, and indeed utilized (in my Golgo 13 special) Schodt’s landmark 1983 tome Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics (later updated for 1988) in the past. This is Schodt’s other manga book, from 1996 (with some sources revised for 2002), and I can’t believe I put off reading it until now. I plowed through all 360 pages in only three days, yet there’s more pure information contained in this book than any other contemporary or semi-contemporary book on manga I can think of. There is no doubt in my mind that this is required reading, one of the core texts on manga in English.

Much space in Manga! Manga! was taken up by historical study; this was valuable, indeed necessary information, particularly when viewed in light of today’s manga scene, where the popularity of ‘manga’ as whatever brand you take it as is greater than ever before in English, yet works from before 1985 are rare sightings on our shelves - the history of Japanese comics is a rich and complex one, a half-century of development and expansion, yet only a fragment is available for our eyes, with the more contemporary examples of certain favored genres dominating your local Borders and Barnes and Noble. Schodt performed a service (in 1983!) by chronicling the past, but he performs another, perhaps equally splendid service here - freed from the confines of producing an expansive introduction, Schodt throws his focus onto the myriad incarnations of the then-present, and his taste for the offbeat and unique in Japanese comics emerges, bringing us dispatches from places we still haven’t heard much of, living now in Fat City. If this book was too esoteric for 1996, it is absolutely ready for today.

There are seven chapters here, each with a different theme and a different approach. The first of them is very short, a reiteration of the introductory drive of Schodt’s prior book, with insights added as gleaned from the passing decade-plus. But the rest of the book spins out into fascinating new territory; perhaps my very favorite is the brilliantly simple third chapter, in which Schodt picks up twenty manga anthologies (these being the dominant form of manga serialization) from off the newsstands of Japan, ranging from the ultra-popular Shukan Shonen Jump (which at the time was among the best-selling weekly magazines on the planet, with a circulation of between five and six million) to the beloved alternative monthly Garo (now defunct) to the tanbi mandate of June (that which spawned a hundred knockoff male love mags) to the razor-focus demographic targeting of Yan Mama Comic (intended solely for young mothers) to the likes of Manga Pachinker (nothing but comics about pachinko, 200+ pages, every month). Schodt provides plenty of hard data, like publishers, prices, and circulation numbers (yes, apparently in the Japan of 1996, you could sell 180,000 copies each of three separate anthologies devoted to mahjong comics every damn month), along with editorial mandates, histories, and popular features.

But Schodt doesn’t stop there. He interviews the editor-in-chief (or some equivalent) of every one of these anthologies, asking them about current trends, plans for the future, the demands of the readership. He puts these magazines in their proper context among the comics serializations of Japan, and the picture he paints isn’t always pretty - there’s rampant pressure to conform to popular styles, cutthroat competition, fickle readerships that often demand (and get) changes based on all-important reader surveys, and countless alternative media concerns; Schodt’s telling of the creation of Sailor Moon, a procedure more akin to designing an automobile or refrigerator than producing an artistic work, is particularly eye-opening. But he remains sensitive to the cultural mores of Japan, the nation’s unique trends; as time-delayed as much of this insight is today, the particulars remain of vital interest to today’s reader.

Even more vital is the fourth chapter, consisting entirely of short profiles of twenty-four creators, books, or particularized genres, all of them joined by their uniqueness, even in today’s manga-saturated comics market. Some of the folks profiled will be somewhat familiar to 2005's readers: there’s that scamp Suehiro Maruo, increasingly-recognized alternative pioneer Yoshiharu Tsuge, Kazuichi Hanawa of the excellent Doing Time (in fact, Schodt’s profile of him concludes with the incarceration that would provide the raw material for his best-known-in-English work), and Akimi Yoshida of Banana Fish, which would soon after be picked up by Viz for English release. But still, you’ll want to learn about Akira Narita and his autobiographical comics about cruising for sex in ‘telephone clubs,’ a shojo manga titled Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun that reimagined Japan’s legendary founder as a psychic homosexual transvestite, manga released by the Japan’s Printing Bureau of the Ministry of Finance to educate the public on the nation’s legal system, Shingo Iguchi’s altogether hallucinogenic Z-Chan, and the incredible-sounding Henshu-O (King of Editors): manga about editing manga. And even all that pales in comparison to Schodt’s quest to obtain the infamous manga produced by the AUM Shinrikyo cult, members of which launched a deadly sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways in 1995; merely entering a cult-affiliated building elicits police attention, but the author brings home some telling samples of the work.

And there’s so much more fascination to be had. Even the more time-sensitive passages, like the seventh chapter’s exploration of manga in English, work well as snapshots of the era, viewed from a time in which so much has changed. Learn how Viz made a good deal of money off of early, low-selling English translations by reselling the rights to them for utilization in once-removed translations by other countries. Thrill to the coverage of the 1996 OEL manga scene (complete with prophetic words from Carl Gustav Horn, reasoning that the manga influence “might create a renaissance in the otherwise ailing U.S. comics industry.”). Become enlightened as to the very existence of Mangajin, a magazine devoted to the learning of the Japanese language, that ran for seventy issues and wound up utilizing samples from myriad (otherwise commercially poisonous) manga as translation exercises, providing a boon for fans; I’m reminded of Pulp’s occasional advocacy on behalf of Japanese-produced English-learning editions of various titles as an inadvertent shadow industry of good reading for English speakers.

Plus, there’s vintage examinations of the impact of computer technology on manga creation and fandom (charmingly, ‘the Internet’ is defined), an appreciation of the works of Osamu Tezuka, thoughts on the semantic implications of the very term ‘manga,’ and a visit to Japan’s enormous comics conventions (virtually all of it centered around amateur dojinshi). There’s really just too much here. Never mind that it’s written with wit and style, always kept accessible and engaging. There are some good books written very recently on the topic of manga (let this be the hundredth of this site’s recommendation of Manga: Masters of the Art; I’m also enjoying Taschen’s image-heavy Manga Design, which succeeds mainly through sheer force of breadth, occasional attribution faux pas aside), but few have left me feeling so full, so educated. I wonder if I’m only behind the times. Maybe everyone reading this is slapping their foreheads and mumbling “Jesus Christ, Jog” as they eye the well-worn copies on their bookshelves; that would be good. That would be a nice reaction to prompt, as I’d know that more people have already read this book. Because it's just the book we need right now.

Buy this.


Not until Thursday, remember.

*Short Attention Span Dept: The ‘dvd magazine’ is always a dicey thing in action; the marriage of chapter-happy video technology to the natural compartmentalization of the magazine would seem to be a logical, even inevitable one, though none of the past attempts I’ve witnessed have ever caught on for very long, at least not without a print magazine to back it up. And yet, the idea is just so damn perfect that every new attempt sees like a fresh innovation. Into the fray this time comes the estimable McSweeney’s, with their new quarterly disc project Wholphin, a collection of short films and fragments of interesting things from across the globe. As guilty as I feel asking you to endure the toxically twee trailer at the above link, I think it’s worth the agony to catch glimpses of the neat things included in the debut issue (which is smartly being included with the Dec/Jan issue of The Believer and McSweeney’s Vol. 18), including that film on Al Gore that Spike Jonze made a while back, bits and pieces from a David O. Russell documentary on the Iraq war, plus contributions from Patton Oswald and Miranda July, various cartoons and industrial films, Turkish sitcom footage, and more. Probably worth a watch, and here’s hoping it manages to survive on its own starting with issue #2.

*It’s late, but it might be great


We All Die Alone: This will probably be one of last really gorgeously produced books of 2005; even the cover texture has been gathering plaudits. It’s a 224-page collection of work by Mark Newgarden, RAW alum and co-creator of the infamous Garbage Pail Kids, though it’s his syndicated strips that make up the bulk of this material. Everyone’s taken a dip in the Garbage Pail at some time or another, although that might not prepare you for the often avant garde melding of ‘low’ culture with medium-bursting formal acrobatics, such as his famous Nancy homage Love’s Savage Fury (which is included). Your best shot at getting familiar with this fascinating artist.

The Times of Botchan Vol. 2 (of 10): Ah, another release by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, those specialists in gorgeous presentations of smart, sophisticated manga (and manga-influenced European tomes). This is the latest entry in their magnum opus of translation - a dense work of historical fiction, a survey of early 20th century Japanese living and thinking, incorporating characters real and fictional, young and old, westernized and traditional, always drifting back to author Soseki Natsume and the creation of his novel Botchan. Writer Natsuo Sekikawa leaned somewhat heavily on background-dispensing captions in the first volume, though there are many characters to introduce and many scenes to set, and such verbiage is at least interesting. And artist Jiro Taniguchi is at the top of his game, lavishly detailing period setting and costumes yet retaining an appealing pliability in character faces, despite the heaviness of his designs - for all its studious accuracy in place and being, there are some memorable human exaggerations, like an epic, heavily moistened kissing scene. This volume will bring the English translation up to the end of the first Japanese collection, which perhaps raises a key qualm for domestic readers: these aren’t thick books, and at $19.99 a pop they’re well above the current manga pricing average. But they’re also well above average quality, and there’s probably going to be some nice historical information included. I’d make a joke about this story not being done until 2010 at the rate it’s coming, but then again the work took a decade to complete in the first place (1987-1997), so it’s not so bad a wait.

Buddha Vol. 7 (of 8): Prince Ajatasattu: On the other hand this one is almost done, after a little over two years’ wait total. It’s also a lavish (hardcover, even) presentation of a lengthy, relatively highbrow manga, this time by the beloved Osamu Tezuka himself. My personal history with this book extends only to Book 2, after which I stopped pursuing the hardcovers to wait for the promised low-priced softcover printings, which then never materialized, leaving me quite far behind. One of these days I’ll catch up, seeing as how I love Tezuka’s stuff (including his mature works’ oft jarring blend of violence, slapstick, and philosophy) and this heavily fictional look at the spiritual figure is often considered to be among his best projects.

Solo #8: Teddy Kristiansen. It’ll probably look good.

A1 BoJeffries Terror Tomes #1 (of 3): Wow, this was first announced roughly forever ago, but I’m still interested. The feature presentation is obviously the reprints of Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s The BoJeffries Saga, a strange, compelling series of comedic short stories surrounding the Addams-like BoJeffries clan, though the real appeal comes from the working-class English atmosphere that saturates every panel. There’s plenty of other features, new and old, including a reprint of Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli’s animal rights-themed horror short Baby Cakes, some Mr. Monster material from Michael Gilbert and Dave Dorman, the long-delayed short story debut of the Warren Ellis/Steve Pugh creation Alice Hotwire (sans Ellis - Pugh is writing the story himself), a Ramsey Campbell story with art by David Lloyd, and much more. Newsarama has a huge 24-page preview of the issue; looks really nice.

Lady Snowblood Vol. 2: The Deep-Seated Grudge: Killings.

Malinky Robot: Bicycle: I enjoyed the fast-reading, Xeric-fueled predecessor to this, Malinky Robot: Stinky Fish Blues, which writer/artist Sonny Liew (also of Flight and the Vertigo miniseries My Faith in Frankie) self-published a while back. This is the follow up, released by Slave Labor Graphics, a digest-sized 48-page book, in b&w and color for only $2.95. If it’s anything like the last story, there’ll be plenty of light antics and gentle messages, with some utterly gorgeous visuals. Scads of pages from the new work here and here.

The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue: As mentioned yesterday on this very site. But starting this Thursday you won’t have to head off to a big bookstore to pick up this $29.95 omnibus, collecting the three works cleverly contained by this tome’s lengthy title - A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue. Probably the favored way to pick up this material, if you don’t have it.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #3: Oh, this book!

Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays!: Ha ha, boy I hope your shop’s already got this puppy ordered, since there was apparently only 150 loose copies left for sale as of last week (the second printing is due in March). Still, all you pre-ordering Direct Market denizens will now finally get your allotment of this hugely-lauded (and just plain huge) best-of compilation of Winsor McCay’s classic, with freshly restored colors and deluxe printing and general sheen. Apparently just staring at this thing is experience enough to justify the $120 tag, though (armed with my big red Little Nemo 1905-1914 book from Taschen) I haven’t quite had the urge, not the spare cash to foster said urge. Maybe I just need to lay my eyes on the thing.


Monday means wicked tricks!

*So how about living the past with


Seven Soldiers - Bulleteer #2 (of 4)

Iron Man: The Inevitable #1 (of 6)

Jason X Special #1 (of 1), A Nightmare on Elm Street: Paranoid #1 (of 3)

Don't let the love end.

*But nothing can possibly end


oh jeez, wait. No comics until Thursday? Hrm.

*Spotted in a large chain bookstore today: what I believe is the first product of W.W. Norton’s hardcover Will Eisner reprint project, The Contract With God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue. Sort of a deluxe cousin to DC’s recent softcover release of The Best of The Spirit, it’s a big fat 544-page omnibus, collecting A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue for $29.95. Looks like a really lovely production, though I can’t say that much of Eisner’s ‘graphic novel’ period output holds a lot of appeal to me beyond historical interest. Enthusiasts ought to keep their eyes peeled. Apropos of nothing, that same bookstore, an unusually comics-friendly location from what I’ve seen, also carried the first copy of the City of Glass comics adaptation that I’ve ever seen in a bookstore.

*Yeah, so I was going to talk more about King Kong, and then I realized that the entire movie had pretty much fled my system; I look back on that one paragraph I wrote the other day, and I really do think it’s pretty sufficient - the rest of it just passes right through me, leaving only a watery memory of about twelve thousand shots of Naomi Watts climbing ladders in the last fifteen minutes. Hm, maybe that’s enough of a review itself.

Anyway, since we’re on the topic:


I have to start out by concurring with Rose and Abhay (scroll down) on one matter; the alleged daunting complexity of this film’s plot has been quite grossly overstated by various commentators (for the purposes of illustration, allow me to present the Entertainment Weekly-provided capsule summary of Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review: “A dense, proudly complicated drama of geopolitical intrigue that has a lot of big, important things to say about big, important things and doesn’t care whether audiences understand what’s being said.”). Frankly, I thought there was a little bit of hand-holding at work - right off the top of my head I can recall one major plot point, the freezing of the assets, that characters actually step into another room to explain for us all, even highlighting how such a situation might affect the other players in the story. Fortunately, for the most part the exposition is handled with more restraint; the audience is trusted to be able to retain information and remember characters, and sometimes even draw the connections between them, though the plot dutifully strings most things up by the end. All the better to offer some sense of dramatic finality, I suppose, though I wouldn’t have minded if this multi-faceted subject matter - the all-consuming grip of oil - had produced far more loose ends, as the nature of the beast supports it. Still, this is drama, and the old ‘if you see a gun in Act 1...’ adage most certain comes into play, despite the socioeconomic hydra presiding over it all.

And yet - there’s also that occasional odd moment where the dialogue tumbles into obviousness, with one lawyer spitting out something along the lines of ‘we’ll be ok as long as there’s conflict in the middle east, ha ha!,’ or another character who delivers a top-of-his-lungs speech in favor of corporate corruption; but then, that’s not really overexplaining, it’s simplistic political grandstanding, positioned solely to elicit triumphant jeers and vigorous fist pumping from the true believers in the audience, and that’ll prove to be troublesome later on, a much worse problem than opacity of story.

I mention ‘action’ above in reference to the plot; let me indicate that I was actually rather surprised by how much of a ‘suspense’ film this thing tried to be. Why, there’s explosions and nail-biting break-ins and races against time set to jumpy music and everything, and it’s actually fairly good at it. I greatly appreciated the film’s presentational modesty, its sights and sounds largely understated, as if writer/director Stephen Gaghan just happened to have been in the area with a camera as all of these authentic-feeling events were unfolding. The score does slide into the occasional treacly tinkling of piano keys, yes, but it only provides momentary distraction, which is important - while far from overbearing in its inherent difficulty, this is the sort of story you need to pay attention to, and flashy tricks could only act as distancing tools in such an environment, to no good end.

But the film also largely fills a role I’d more expected: panoramic tour of its subject matter, with dozens of characters running around the globe, and a few plucked out for intensive study. The quintet of personages that attain such relative primacy include (in descending order of interest): George Cloony as a grizzled (maybe even hard-boiled!) veteran CIA operative, Alexander Siddig as the Prince of an unnamed oil-rich nation that’s just handy a cherry energy to China, Mazhar Munir as an impoverished Pakistani teen who falls in with extremist religious forces, Matt Damon as a vaguely idealistic energy trader who half-voluntarily becomes embroiled in an increasingly volatile international situation, and Jeffrey Wright as a smart (if seemingly milquetoast) lawyer who’s working on the high-powered merger of a pair of US oil giants. All of these characters are caught in the grip of world oil, and all of them are also provided with families, all of which are ultimately tossed to the side while the concerns of oil dominate. Some, like Cloony and Wright, have already given it up, and can only sink deeper. The rest will drown with them, unless they can wake themselves.

Indeed, the breakdown of familial understanding (and perhaps human tenderness itself) in the face of all-encompassing economic power is the film’s primary theme to my mind, and the force that joins all of these disparate people. Actually, it’s pretty much the only interesting thing going for Damon’s underwritten character, his family quite directly broken down by business concerns (and some clumsy foreshadowing, though everyone’s hesitation around water from that point on is subtly handled and satisfying - contrast the recurring visions of life-giving water with the omnipotence of fire-bringing oil as twin ties that bind Damon and Siddig); he otherwise just stands around and delivers inspiring factual data, providing a nominal western presence without the character baggage of big business or the CIA. It’s also the only means of crawling inside Wright’s cipher of an attorney, who otherwise acts only as a vessel to convey information about corporate shenanigans, growing subtly more jaded as time passes by (or maybe gradually revealing his true nature); too bad the non-story with Wright’s father goes absolutely nowhere, merely making a gesture toward providing the character with a non-work (and non-plot facilitation) existence.

More successful is Siddig, who provides the film’s best performance, rather arrogant and standoffish, but crackling with some genuine fire; he wants to make money, and he’s a good capitalist, and he believes in the core values of democracy and the free market. It is the film’s most potent irony that the satiric Committee to Liberate Iran facilitates events that ultimately both prevents democracy from gaining a stronger foothold in an portion of Middle East, and retards the area’s future economic viability. But there’s that human element too, with the frailty of age and the temptations of security conspiring to undo progress and once again shatter the family. And then there’s Cloony, who appears to be inhabiting a somewhat different movie than everyone else (probably a more immediately entertaining one), which is fitting since he lives in a different world, one that’s sanded away his sense of politics but not his analytical acumen; he can’t grasp the big picture any more completely than anyone else, but he’s at least experienced enough to know he’s a pawn, and he revels in his duties. But he’s also doggedly self-preserving, and will broker no betrayal - that his motives in his final scenes are left obscured is a boon to his character, and the movie as a whole. He needs to save himself, but how? How?

Rejection of the system is a possibility, one perhaps suggested in the film’s final moments; but then, we’re confronted by Munir’s entirely detached youth, who cannot escape the ripples of the market. This leads him into violent extremism, and maybe takes the film into a difficult place too. Clearly Gaghan isn’t being modest with his politics throughout the film - just check out the framing on those hootin’ hollerin’ oil men at their huntin’ retreat, suddenly decidedly unnatural. Goony, grinning faces everywhere, lit by ominously glowing fire, exotic animals hunted for idle pleasure; I was surprised not to see horns sprout from Chris Cooper’s head as he licks his chops over delicious foreign deposits. Meanwhile, terrorism gets the soft touch, or so it seems.

I’m willing give Gaghan some credit here: presumably, the ‘recruitment’ scenes are made pleasing and gentle to emphasize the appeal that such experiences might have to otherwise wayward, hungry youths. Frankly, the whole setup reminded me of the seminary retreats they’d take all the Catholic school kids like me out on every so often; the playing around, the vigorous laughter of authority at youthful games and spiritual doubt, much of it meant to make us consider a life in the priesthood. Similar procedures are seen here, to more violent ends, but the familiarity the film raises was powerful for me. In addition, I presume that Gaghan meant to extend his trust in the audience far enough to leave the prospect of a suicide bombing sitting as a self-evident negative. Munir, after all, is asked to literally destroy his life, and we’re meant to soak in the poignance of a life snuffed. But these two approaches combine to create an awfully ‘softball’ approach to the film’s terrorism focus, and clashes with Gaghan’s more strident handling of the film’s other political content. Indeed, after all the dirty work and backstabbing and deaths, this line of staging makes the finale of Munir’s subplot take on a perverse, heroic edge; one can almost hear some Rage Against the Machine blaring on the soundtrack as acts of murderous destruction are considered, and this undercuts the film’s effectiveness at a crucial point, causing one otherwise sympathetic audience member to scratch his head and blink a few times and wonder if maybe the film’s stretching for comprehensiveness is leading to sadly shallow insights.

It even sours the final voice-over, delivered by Munir, and its summary of the film’s themes; it all suddenly seems preachy and wayward. It’s also decidedly nihilistic, unless you’re willing to subscribe to the possibility that people can divorce themselves from this all-seeing force, apparently all-destroying force, despite the film’s nonstop evidence to the contrary. Perhaps we can only hope for peace in the next world? Well shit, Stephen, does it matter how we get there then? Syriana isn’t a difficult movie to understand, and also not a difficult one to admire on some level. But liking it, without strong reservations? That may well be the tough part.



*At some point in the early morning of Saturday the 17th, as I careened into my eighth consecutive hour of blissful unconsciousness, subsequent to arriving at my parents’ house, a man entered a convenience store about a two or three minute drive away.

*Sitting down to eat with relatives on Saturday evening, they relayed to me the latest information to emerge from the beauty shop that afternoon.

They said the little girl working at the cash register at the convenient...”

The one at the fork?”

Yes... no, the one on South Main. Two big men came in and they cut her throat.”


Yes... Uncle was driving by to get the morning paper and the state police were all around, and their tape was all up.”


They said she’s in the hospital now. They were big black ones.”


The men who cut her.”

At this point, my impressions as per the reasonableness of the entire narrative tend to seep, I must confess.

Oh, ok.”

It’s going to be on the news at six. It’s too bad we’re going to miss it.”


*It was quite a spread at Grandpa’s house on Christmas Eve.

There were sausages.

And pepperoni.

And peppered cheeses.

And a strange olive mixture.

And candies.

And pretzels.

And bread.

And homemade red wine.

And Seagram’s VO.

Upon my second shot of VO, my mother elected to offer up a story concerning Cousin Johnny, who lives down in a Carolina or another. He’d somehow discovered the secret of preparing Lupini beans, despite his seemingly limited aptitude at all other aspects of food preparation. It’s a surprisingly attiotion-demanding procedure, such preparation, requiring the beans to first be hammered into submission via pressure cooker (the mere operation of such provided my mother with much satisfaction as to the development of Cousin Johnny’s abilities), then soaked in water, which must be changed day after day, the immersion continuing for weeks in order for the beans to attain the correct texture.

When water used to be free,” my mother explained, “Papa would just leave them in the tub, running water over them all the time. You didn’t have to watch back then - it didn’t cost money.”

So Cousin Johnny pulled off the preparation, and he took the beans with him, all up from whatever Carolina it was, and stopped off at my auntie’s home with his dog, to drop the stuff off and rest for a while before taking off to see yet more relatives, even farther up.

That dog... she doesn’t like dogs.”

What kind of dog is it?” I asked.

A mutt. Its name is Sandy.”

Like in Little Orphan Annie?”

Yes! That’s where it came from! How did you know?”

We went into the other room after that to listen to some records in Italian.

*So I called up a friend of mine, or rather he called me, and we made some plans to go out and hear some live music at a hole in the wall.

Ok... we’ve gotta wait for my friend after he gets off work. He’s gotta go home and dye his hair.”

I paused.

*Look at the police blotter on Sunday morning, I only saw that the cashier at the convenience store had been ‘assaulted’ with a knife. There was only one assailant. Assault can mean a lot of things. Not just being slashed ear to ear.

*Don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t feel a charge of righteousness. Don’t don’t.

*So we’re all climbing up a hill on one day in the middle of the week. I forget which one it is. It’s been decided that it’ll be a good togetherness exercise for us all to see an outdoor nativity play. There’s apparently a very lavish one being held outdoors at the grounds of a local church.

They’re Protestants,” I’m told, “I don’t remember which kind.”

So we park the car (not the new one, the old one) on the side of the road, and we begin to hike up this steep hill, impossibly steep. It looks like it’s been lavished with salty attention - fortunate, as even the slightest trace of winter ice could send someone flying head over heels down foot after foot of blacktop, hallowed grounds or not. It’s a pretty long trudge up.

Good thing your aunt isn’t here, or you’d be carrying her on your back.”

There’s lights in the distance. I look off to the southwest, and from my heightened vantage I can spot this bar I’ve been to in the past, and which I’d go to in the near future.

*My friend keeps pouring me shots of something resembling vodka, only blue and pleasant. I keep downing them as the blues are played from the corner of the room. There will be no blues show next week, as there’s going to be a Christmas break.

Fuck. Christmas. Fuck. Fuck. Christmas. Christmas. Fuck fuck fuck. I ought to do some shopping later; I only have about four days in which to do it. I can probably get a column out of the experience too, since I’ve already been planning it that way.

I need a break,” says the blues man from the microphone, explaining his soon-to-be-absence.

Yer always on vacation!” shouts some friendly face from the rear of the bar.

That’s the place where I’d exit the bar. The rear. There’s not many bars left in this place, not many for good live music (if such things are ever particularly good - the potentialities, at least, are diminished by the thinning of the herd). I don’t slip on the ice as my friend cracks open his trunk to reveal to me the results of the most recently-closed club’s unofficial liquidation sale. All sorts of things from behind the counter for only five bucks. I accept a plastic bottle of gin.

*Outside of a different bar, at a different time. We’re all talking to the band members who’d just been playing. The drummer is very very drunk.

Man... I been... all over from like Montana to Texas and shit... and now I’m twenty-four in a couple minutes and I always said I’d been old when I’m twenty-four and now I’m just old... I’m here and I’m in a band and I’m old and fucking twenty-four... that’s where my life is...”

We all nod. They play Rocket Man as the fellow’s birthday emerges from the Midnight jangles of glasses and maybe a clock in the back.

*Leaving the mall, after shopping, in the new car, my mom was confronted by a fellow who decided to run a red light.

He was not very quick on the draw, and badly underestimated the time he’d need to clear the intersection.

He hit another vehicle.

My mom said the front of it just went away.

It did not stop him.

He was in a truck.

The truck continued forward, now freed from the confines of rational human steering.

It hid the median.

It did not approach the side of the road my mom was on.

It took flight and tipped.

Beside my mom and new car, it came to rest on its roof, scraping the road like a monster.

THEY’RE DEAD!! THEY’RE DEAD!” cried my mom’s passenger.

Large men raced from their adjoining cars, abandoning their presents, and yanked at the doors of the fallen truck.



They were all right.

I hope they didn’t buy any fine china.

*Also, the girl working at the convenient store was all right. The news kept changing - it now appears that her neck was indeed cut by the assailant, but only ‘superficially,’ as the news now says. It’s like a middle ground was needed, and was duly provided. There were hints of attempted rape, but that’s all the new reports are suggesting right now. There is no activity, nor syllabi of events that might suggest the intrusion of such intent. But it’s suggested, the truth as I know it in flux as the holiday approaches.

*So we’ve settled down into our stadium seats, as the nativity thing is beginning. It’s a pre-recorded deal, with music and voices largely provided by the speakers, with the local church actors pantomiming their parts, lip synching. Did I mention it was a musical? Also: it was 15 degrees out. We all wore a lot of clothing.

The music was, as expected, a goulash of reverent orchestral cues and the very latest in Christian pop, with bits of gospel and the like thrown in. Satan was given a voice not unlike Draco Malfoy's. They have an opening confrontation, before the action spills out into the traditional Birth of Christ thing. There’s a lot of things going on. There’s live camels, for one. I had an interesting time watching their feet. One of them seemed to move with a limp, going down a big hill above the fabled manger, and I wondered if he’d fall, since the area didn’t seem all that well treated (historical inaccuracy?).

There were a lot of fireworks involved, a lot of children dressed as angels prancing about. Live horses dragging chariot equivalents, ridden by men in Roman garb. I whispered to my sister that the horses were on loan from the local race track, and she laughed. It was in some ways a strange production, as far as bible scenes go. There was a very quick crucifixion/resurrection scene, as if the story just couldn’t go without it, regardless of holiday. There were odd lines in the songs, lyrics about nations charging off to war; I wonder about when these things were recorded, what context in which they were released.

And there was this one part. The one kid comes out - kinda stocky, I can’t tell if it was a boy or a girl. And the kid’s dressed as an angel, and some power ballad about Jesus comes on, and the kid dances and sways and writhes without self-consciousness, clad in shimmering white and gold, glitter in the hair, glitter on the shoes. The kid dances to music not being played, to song not emanating from live lips. I can’t even see winter’s breath coming out of the kid’s mouth, but it’s hypnotic as the kid moves from one side to another, fists pumping and head whirling, as the kid recruited to play the virgin Mary stares in wonder. And god oh god I ignore the cold for a moment, and weather and the bar sitting over my shoulder and concern and everything. It’s pretty. It’s pretty. It’s pretty.


Merry Holiday Affair!

*There's no substantive post today, because it's Christmas Eve, and there's ten thousand places to be. I'm going to be serious for a second, and I wish every one of you the best for now and the coming year, and everything else. Thanks for reading. Good luck on everything you do. I'll see you all tomorrow, when we'll get back to endless words.


Your chimney is as good as invaded.

*Charlie Brown and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer can burn in fucking hell forever. Here is the new holiday standard - this week’s column. It’s a heartwarming tale of Christmas miracles and the triumph of simple humanity, and it has already warmed millions if not dozens of hearts across the globe. Red states and blue can join hands over this one; please, share this column with your families, and read it to your children. Or even just children that are nearby - they don’t have to be yours. This column is my gift to all of you individually, as well as the whole of American letters. Merry, merry Christmas, and do come back next year, when I can hopefully begin rerunning the damn thing ad infinitum.

*And just to play off of some of the concerns raised by the above fable:

Jason X Special #1 (of 1)

I actually got the ‘terror’ variant, by the way.

It’s entirely possible that this book might work bast as a sampler for those wondering what Warren Ellis’ upcoming Avatar horror book Blackgas is going to look like - the artist here is Sebastian Fiumara, who will be providing visuals for the Ellis book too. Fiumara is only known to me for his short contributions to Avatar’s intermittently released (to put it mildly) Lovecraftian anthology Yuggoth Creatures, his cover art on Alan Moore’s A Hypothetical Lizard, as well as his inks on his brother Max’s pencils for a number of Avatar projects, such as Nightjar. I was impressed with Fiumara’s Yuggoth Creatures work, dark and suggestive and sooty; it worked very well in b&w, affording the project a whisper of burnished illustration among the more explicit and direct entries of Juan Jose Ryp and Jacen Burrows.

Here, however, Fiumara has stripped down his style to respond to the needs of color (provided by the unfamiliar-to-me Mark Sweeney, apparently giving Avatar workhorse Andrew Dalhouse a rest). What emerges is some smooth, simple character designs, thickly outlined, with just a touch of Fiumara’s charcoal atmosphere haze, most evident on the page in which Jason is blasted by lightening, blips and coughs of white erupting from his chest as pebbles sizzle in the air. It’s good stuff, though the coloring does a more thorough job than usual of instituting a type of ‘house’ look on the book, though again, perhaps it’s just Fiumara himself accommodating the necessities of full-color licensed comics.

As always, Brian Pulido scripts, to surprisingly weird results. Unlike the other three horror licenses that Avatar is working with, which by necessity exist in some sort of hazy in-between state vis a vis filmic continuity, this one is a direct continuation of the Jason X film, utilizing the final scene of the film as its opening pages. The movie was a goofy, slapdash affair, which started out terrible but heroically clawed its way up to passable amusement by the final scenes. And initially, Pulido maintains the humor, offering up a pretty funny sex scene (partially excerpted over at Progressive Ruin the other day); but soon, things take a turn for the surreal, as the ghost of Jason’s Mother (or at least some kind of computer program that thinks it’s the Voorhees matriarch) tales over a scientific lab, possessing hologram mechanisms (a literal ghost in the machine) to simulate typical campground slaughter sites, sending Jason chopping up robots that appear to be copulating teenagers. There’s also something going on with the last surviving couple of a near-extinct civilization, who need Jason’s ever-regenerating tissue samples to help their race survive (irony at its best).

None of this makes a ton of sense, though it’s probably the most successful of these four introductory specials because of it - aided by Fiumara’s art, the book adopts kind of a cheeseball dream logic, bouncing from event to event, mixing abrupt campsite carnal skewerings with androids belching flame and tiny insect robots crawling over Jason’s eye. Par for the course with these things, it all feels like a set-up for something else (and indeed, Avatar already has the two-issue Friday the 13th: Jason Vs. Jason X coming up from writer/artist Mike Wolfer), and it’s not as much creepy as garish, but the same could most certainly be said for the source material this time around. Indeed, maybe by hitching the wagon to more recent, gratuitously aware icon horror junk, Avatar has found the perfect specimen for this ongoing experiment in over-the-top licensing shenanigans.

A Nightmare on Elm Street: Paranoid #1 (of 3)

On the other hand, this new miniseries extension of the dream-based horror franchise has little in the way of Jason X’s unconscious pep, despite also issuing from writer Pulido. It’s actually a rather schematic book, dutifully moving from dream sequence to dream sequence, all of them predictably sadistic, all of them ending in just the way you’d expect, with just a bit of ongoing plot drizzled in the gaps. If the initial issue of the current Friday the 13th: Bloodbath miniseries derived some fun from its wholesale embracing of every slasher cliche under the blood-red sun, this book errs in adhering too closely to the more particularized Elm Street formula, without enough verve added to the crucial dream sequences to quite pull it off.

That’s a shame, especially since it’s Juan Jose Ryp on art, whose detail-crazed style would seem to loan itself well to gruesome flights of fancy. In addition, Ryp (unlike Fiumara) probably benefits from the addition of color (it’s Dalhouse here), the discriminatory force of which wrings some added coherency out of his b&w art, which often dispenses with such niceties as shading or line width, constantly inching toward incoherence through volume, page by page. And there’s some good visuals, at certain points - the vision of a girl literally falling to bits, her skin reduced to deli slices, has some nasty kick, and Ryp’s character design for the heroine’s shifty father is wonderfully sweaty and wrinkled.

But Pulido just isn’t offering too much of interest. The miniseries is a direct continuation of the prior A Nightmare on Elm Street Special (even visually evoking the prior book’s death scenes in its opening pages), peeking in on the town of Springwood, which has managed to suppress the slumbertime rampages of Freddy by denying his existence en mass and covertly pumping the local teenagers full of dream-suppressing drugs. But now there’s a nasty shortage of the elixir coming up, and the local kids are getting curious as to what all the adults are trying to hide. But this is just a skeleton on which inevitable-feeling dream sequences are hung, all of them synching up perfectly to their accordant character’s predominant personality trait (the bulimic girl sinks into a river of vomit! the overachiever is lead on a graduation march to death!).

They’re not all that interesting (both the characters and the dreams), and reading a book like this the absence of such interest is like trying to breathe in outer space - there’s nothing to sustain you. I guess I can still fathom how the connecting plot might turn out to be sort of fun, but the now two books worth of execution isn’t getting my hopes up. For a book dependant on dreams, this is stunningly rigid stuff.


I finished my shopping. The holiday is now over.

*Oh King Kong. Maybe I’ll talk more about it tomorrow. I actually wasn’t prepared for how... well, silly it was. It’s quite often a very silly movie - I’m talking ‘Naomi Watts and a Tyrannosaurus Rex swinging at each other on vines’ silly. A lot of it’s actually fairly witty too. But boy was everyone right when they said the film gets sluggish at times; it’s just that they were all saying these parts were up front, which wasn’t true at all for me - it’s the Skull Island material that just drags on and on and on. The endless special effects set-pieces cannibalize one another in terms of impact; it’s just a blur by the end, when they mercifully get the beast back to New York and things pick up and Peter Jackson kind of dials it down a notch. Really, if there’s anything I took away from this move in terms of its director, it’s that Jackson is a clever, enthusiastic fellow, who simply doesn’t know when to stop sometimes (yeah, yeah, I arrived at the same smashing conclusion at the end of two out of three Lord of the Rings movies too). Oh hell, I don't know. Maybe he had studio heads breathing down his neck and chanting "MORE DINOSAURS! MORE DINOSAURS!"

Yeah, probably more talk tomorrow.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #1 (of 6)

A sturdy superhero book, and maybe nothing too much to say beyond that. Decent people involved too; I’ve enjoyed work by writer Joe Casey (The Intimates, G∅dland) and artist Frazer Irving (Klarion) in the past, and they don’t drop the ball here. There’s a little action and a few neat ideas thrown around. Not a thing wrong with that.

It’s an Iron Man miniseries, as one might suspect from the title, following Tony Stark, jillionaire and armored hero, as he goes about his business. He participates in a sting operation targeting a pair of ‘futurists,’ actually frustrated scientists (or at least those who know the right terms) who purchase bizarre technologies off of eBay and hawk them in the black market. He fights a big robot. He attends a charity function. Most interestingly, he hires a superhuman-specializing psychiatrist to attempt to restore the mind of the Living Laser, who has not only lost his human form, becoming a being of pure energy, but whose consciousness has decayed to the point where he can no longer maintain a remotely humanoid appearance, trapped as a haze of particles in a containment unit. Is it guilt that drives Tony? The memory of all those repulsor blasts fired into his foe? Or is it something else? Meanwhile, a bunch of villains are planning to perform some sort of sneaky deed; Spymaster is at the helm.

Perfectly good superhero comics. Some imagination, some fun, some good looks. Irving’s colors are the first thing that really jumps out at you, with plenty of sequences washed in a single hue, like toasty sepia for flashbacks (I think those might be photo backgrounds too) and plenty of soothing pink to denote the presence of luminous high technology (and glittery high society). I really liked the character designs, with bits and pieces of caricature at work with the incidental cast, and a great set of eyes on Tony (which, you’ll notice, carry most of the burden of ‘acting’ for the character). If there’s any problem with Irving’s approach, it’s that the big action scene suffers from a certain lack of flow - staring at individual panels, I was able to figure out what was going on, but the entire sequence is maybe too dimly colored and bit overcompressed (Iron Man raised mid-air in the grip of a robot’s claw in one panel and then standing free on the ground in the next really threw me for a second), though I enjoyed the ‘tiny panels giving way upon vertical reading to larger and larger panels’ page design, which climaxes with a big vehicle crash in a big concluding panel.

So yeah, nice looking comic. Potential. I’d like to see where they go with it.


These things really happen.

*Walking out of King Kong. The whole family went. A wide variety of reactions. My younger sister was seeing it for the second time. My mother grudgingly admitted that it wasn't quite as horrible as The Fellowship of the Ring. And my dear great auntie, oh she liked it. Five stars! Ten out of ten! And then, driving away:

"So... who was the fellow in the gorilla suit?"

My hand is on my heart.

*Superb examination of Grant Morrison’s use of literary allusion in All Star Superman, now up at Jim Roeg’s, covering everything from the infamous Willy Wonka jacket to the characterization of the title character, including a lengthy examination of the Ray Bradbury story The Golden Apples of the Sun (not to mention the full text of the story itself!), which strides mightily across Morrison’s field of reference. Plus: bonus chat on New X-Men, and citation of a few among artist Frank Quitely’s fine art inspirations. There’s no excuse for not reading this - it’s thoughtful, genuinely enlightening work. (Found at Comics Should Be Good)

*Film Dept: As regular readers of this site know, I really enjoyed Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Actually, I’m fairly sure it’s going to wind up being the best thing I saw in a theater this year, although I’m at least going to try and fit Syriana in too before time runs out.

So naturally, I’m stoked about this, the teaser for Herzog’s newest film, Rescue Dawn, his first foray into non-documentary work since 2001's Invincible. It’s not too far removed though - the film is actually a dramatization of events chronicled in Herzog’s own documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, from 1997. Christian Bale stars as Dieter, a POW in Vietnam for six months - the film presumably tracks his wartime experiences. Just seeing Herzog shooting jungle footage kind of inflates my hopes; too much history behind that. It’s not a great teaser, but I’m really looking forward to the film. If only Klaus Kinski were around for this...

Seven Soldiers - Bulleteer #2 (of 4)

Oh me oh my. I wonder what this issue might look like to somebody who isn’t fully immersed in this project - I take it they’d pick up on some semblance of a continuation of the ‘DIY superhero’ theme, with focus fairly well-thrown onto the less spectacular motivations driving those in the metahuman bush leagues. But man:

It’s one big picture. Look.”

I mean, it’s pretty tough for me not to see this issue as an admission on writer Grant Morrison’s part that this project is best taken as exactly that: a single project. I have no idea if it was planned this way from the very beginning and Morrison was simply toying with everyone via interview, or if he somehow managed to sense the emerging lack of modular self-sufficiency among the project’s titles mid-stream (mid-scripting? quick additions late in the process?); hey, maybe he really does think that this thing is working on a miniseries-specific structural level, but in that case I dare say this issue belies some sort of subconscious doubt on the writer’s part. It’s all about tying up threads in this one, searching through disparate strands of information to grasp that big picture. There’s ludicrous coincidences, but since the project has already revealed itself as madly self-aware, perhaps we’re only glimpsing a more tangible (though not the most tangible - that's in Zatanna #4) manifestation of the author’s (authors’?) hand(s).

For those of you perturbed that Mister Miracle didn’t serve up many megastory connections last time out, good god does this book seek to compensate you. I found myself spreading out my copies of Seven Soldiers #0 (which quite marvelously manages to take on additional meanings with each additionally informed reading), Klarion #3 and Shining Knight (all of ‘em) to cross-reference seemingly half the issue. And unlike with the fumbly Shining Knight/Zatanna intersections, this one goes down rather smooth (when someone mentions something being tucked away in a location featured in Klarion #3, you can search the backgrounds of that particular book and - yep - there it is). There’s only one jarring continuity boo-boo, relatively speaking - one of Boy Blue’s lines in Seven Soldiers #0 is missing a word (‘machine’ rather than ‘a machine’); aside from that, the gaffes are either totally inconsequential (by this time, the fact that Neh-Buh-Loh has a slightly different character design every time he appears in a new series is a fully-fledged character trait) or even plainly intentional - we’re quite clearly supposed to be scratching our heads over why Tom Dalt has been appearing in temporally impossible places. And more than any other issue thus far, this one informs our understanding of earlier events; I was particularly drawn to Tom’s Seven Soldiers #0 declaration of “I think I made a big mistake” after muttering about his brother - the line now very much may have a double meaning. Indeed, for those closely following the action, readers of this issue will realize that Morrison has pulled off quite a neat fake-out regarding what really went down at Miracle Mesa, playing with reader expectations as per the book’s timeline.

Hell, we even find out who the Seventh Soldier was, and not only is it perfectly fitting to the megastory, it slides right in with the milieu of career uncertainty this miniseries has been presenting. Even more pronounced in this particular series, however, is the presence of base human concerns afflicting the superhero-saturated landscape of the DCU. Last issue, you’ll recall, was suffused with lust, the lecherous gaze permanently fixed on the main character as an extension of one man’s unhealthy fixation. Now we’re confronted with a similarly familiar issue: racism. Naturally, in Morrison’s hands, bigotry (or the perception of such) takes on strange forms in a metahuman world, or at least becomes prone to curious misdirections. But ultimately it’s painfully human faults that suffer mutation in a more-than-human world; even though the title heroine largely sticks to the role of observer here (shades of Guardian #4), she’s tightly connected to the story through her doubt, and her desire to do something good with her situation in a less-than-glamorous slice of a world of magnificence.

So pronounced are these elements, and so infectious is Morrison’s sense of play, that this chapter handily overcomes its occasional flaw in presentation. I momentarily became confused as to the fairly tangled web of allegiances woven here, especially regarding a certain character at the chapel (oh yeah - did I mention there’s a great variation on the old ‘stop the wedding!’ climax?). When you think about it, the big plan at the prison really doesn’t require a costumed superhero at all, at least from what I can see. And maybe it’s just me, but I always feel a bit wary around plots that openly embrace wild coincidences (and there’s a whopper in this one) as an explicit element of their make-up; the whole thing always smacks of narrative cheating, even though I ought to reiterate that the project has set up such things for use a while ago, and has as good a claim to the technique as any - it’s just I’m not a huge fan of the technique itself.

Still, even then, there’s those great little details. Dynamite Dan having just finished hosing down his dog before his picture is taken. Alix having to remove her helmet before driving a car, because it’s too big and pointy to fit. The revisiting of the milkshake aside from Shining Knight issue #3, which highlights Agent Helligan’s purity of heart. Well, ok - you won’t get that detail at all if you haven’t read Shining Knight. But hey:

Uh... what milkshake?”

That Morrison. He’s rubbing our noses in it.