All that Wednesday!

*Another new blog for you all to turn your attentions toward: Graphic Language, a site devoted to interviews with people connected to comics, though not necessarily comics creators. Sounds like a good idea to me, and a nice opportunity to bring readers a dedicated source for a brand of information not consistently seen in the comics internet outside of the major news sites. It’s run by Kevin Church, Ed Cunard, and Chris Tamarri, though contributions by others are invited. The first feature is a chat with writer-on-comics Douglas Wolk, conducted by Tamarri; I particularly appreciated Wolk’s comments on the language of comics criticism, and its need to rely less on terms that don’t apply to the medium and do nothing by reaffirm a linguistically dependant status as per the medium’s discourse (I really don’t care for the use of terms like ‘shots’ or ‘camera’ myself - just like how there’s no director to warrant a 'director’s cut' of a comic book, no camera is filming anything and nothing is being shot). Keep your eyes on this site.

*52 Dept: Issue #2. I already get the feeling this series this series is going to manage at least one eye-rolling sequence per issue, and this time it’s the bit with the Question wandering around Montoya’s apartment at night, then dangling her panties in front of her slumbering form whilst enquiring “Who are you?” - that’s supposed to compliment the “Are you ready?” that concluded last issue, I guess, though on the page it looks more like a critique of Our Heroine’s taste in undergarments. The Question’s not a thong fellow, then? I’m not going to speculate on who’s writing what in here, though I will say that the Booster Gold sequences once again top everything surrounding them, offering fun and movement and wit. Contrast that to the bit in prison that follows the first Booster sequence, which proves to be interesting enough in terms of set-up, but awfully dry and exposition-choked. The Ralph Dibny parts worked better than last issue, though, and I really like where his subplot is going; perhaps it’ll be a less overtly humorous, more continuity-firm spin on the same themes suggested by Marvel’s current X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl miniseries. The back-up feature will probably prove useful once it’s done, and that’s the best I can say of it.


I’m no good with codes myself, and I’ve never read the book, but I was still forced to embark on an amazing Da Vinci-related adventure yesterday: a journey to convince one of my relatives that the source novel was, in fact, fiction, and not some sort of learned treatise or historical study or anything. I think there’s an impetus among certain people to simply accept pop cultural things as whatever they’re held out to be if enough people are talking about them in such a way - thus, enough Decoding Da Vinci or Cracking the Da Vinci Code or Da Vinci Code, Konami Code: Playing with Too Many Lives tomes on the stands can convince certain folks that there’s actually something of serious historical import in the work under analysis. I tried to being Preacher into the discussion but my relative started to look queasy once I brought up the term ‘Arseface,’ so I steered the chat back to Tom Hanks.

As with all major entertainment events, I look forward to reading about it on the internet and cackling with bemused detachment from the safety of my chair - I can never be hurt if I never leave my fortress, ho ho! Here’s the best half of a sentence written in regards to the film thus far:

“‘The Da Vinci Code,’ Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence...”

- A.O. Scott, from his not terribly positive though quite funny review in the New York Times... bonus points for the Hergé reference!

*Speaking of literary adaptation -

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allen Poe #1 (of 3)

Or you can call it Edgar Allen Poe’s Haunt of Horror, like the front cover does. It matters not.

It’s nice that Marvel is continuing to pursue b&w comics adaptations of horror classics, helmed by seasoned veterans of the form - I really liked the 2004-05 miniseries (and subsequent hardcover) Stoker’s Dracula, collecting and completing Roy Thomas’ and Dick Giordano’s adaptation of the seminal novel. Now comes Richard Corben (with co-writer Rich Margopoulos), tackling assorted poems and stories by Edgar Allen Poe, the whole affair doubtlessly bound for its own collected edition just in time for Halloween. But it’s not to our benefit to refer to these works as ‘adaptations,’ as that will raise certain expectations concerning fidelity to the source material (the Thomas/Giordano book hewed scrupulously close to the source) - Marvel opts to credit Poe with ‘inspiration’ on the inside-front cover, and that’s for the best.

Take The Conqueror Worm, one of the three stories provided in this debut, all-poetry issue. It’s evident from consulting the source verse (the Poe originals are included to accompany each comics segment, so comparison is a snap) that little in the way of storytelling can actually be struck from slavish devotion, at least not geared toward the artist’s purposes; the poem concerns a description of a metaphorical play put on by heavenly beings to illustrate the circular helplessness of human life, and the futility behind grasping at spiritual mysteries. Only death (the ‘conquering’ worms of the grave that feast upon the departed) is certain, an ultimate victor. It could make for a decent piece, I guess, if Poe’s sure-to-be replicative words (entirely descriptive already) were torn out and the work mounted on purely visual terms, but Corben is more interested in story. And those who’ve read his issue of Solo (#2) know that it’s a particular type of story he often pursues, caught between quick ‘n dirty vintage pre-code horror and underground rebellious verve.

Thus, the comic concerns a society clinging to survival following a barely-successful campaign against literal conquering worms from outer space. Campy, yes, but remember that this is nominally a revival of Marvel’s old The Haunt of Horror digest and magazine series, which sort of invites such play; and the work remains oddly true to the spirit of Poe regardless, emphasizing the circular nature of human struggle (humans kill humans, old dangers becoming new weapons) and the inevitability of death, Corben’s scary worms from space no less effective a symbol as the shambling red atrocity of Poe’s earlier work. The Sleeper, a particularly obscure bit of atmospheric conjuring under the pen of the original author, transmogrifies into a vampire-hunting epic through the efforts of Corben and Margopoulos, the artist unveiling some of his most evocative inks as monstrous characters shimmer in the night air and spring across the landscape in romantic arcs. Here, snatches of Poe’s verse are provided via caption, sometimes directly corresponding to the panel art, sometimes ironically commenting upon it, and sometimes only relating via ephemeral mood duly evoked. The story itself is no model of originality, but the fun is in seeing the contemporary creators’ pulpy instincts compliment and encircle the original work.

The only relatively weak portion of this issue is The Raven (written by Corben alone), which is less effective at interfacing with Poe’s work - it’s more of a straight adaptation, though Corben dispenses almost entirely with the original language, leaving everything converted into modern vernacular. There’s also some plot augmenting done to fill in speculative gaps left in the original action, converting the whole thing to yet another gruesome morality play, but it’s less deft in its effort. Nice use of Corben’s molded, three-dimensional style, though. It’s just that the best of this stuff engages in a little dance with Poe - the stuff of good inspiration. It’s well worth buying.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #4

Reasons why the big splash gambit found here worked better in Shaolin Cowboy:

1. Shaolin Cowboy pulled this trick at the tail-end of a lengthy (some might say interminable) discussion on the use and merits of decompressed storytelling. Seeing ten pages of a book suddenly eaten up by a single splash was thus almost shocking in its out-of-the-blue prodding of the decompression impulse then on many readers’ minds, and also made for a good gag. In contrast, there doesn’t appear to be any particular resonance behind this six-page splash; thus, the technique at best makes the reader think ‘oooh, pretty,’ at worst ‘oooh... wait, was that over a quarter of the book?’ without the benefit of laffs and/or shocks.

2. Nobody knew anything about Shaolin Cowboy when it came out, and it busted out this technique in issue #1. It made readers wonder what the hell else the book might be capable of, or maybe made some of them wonder why they’d wasted their money on such nonsense. Either way, it was a solid jolt. Meanwhile, there’s few books more thoroughly discussed than this, and they even announced the splash via press release. Therefore, nobody jumps. They only witness.

3. When Shaolin Cowboy did this, it left the whole thing wander off largely without words, letting the effect build and build as pages turn and turn, face after face left staring to an undeniably striking degree. In this book, writer Frank Miller tethers his ongoing narration to the whole thing, rendering the (already shorter) sequence less effective, yet ironically more of an obvious devouring of space by drawing attention to how little is done with it. The jokes were cute, but the sequence would have been stronger without drawing caption-based attention to itself.

4. Geof Darrow is simply better than Jim Lee at doing this sort of thing. Darrow imbues his insanely detailed human vista with total individuality for every character, despite the absence of words, slipping in dozens of neat details and a general sense of an artist going absolutely go-for-broke bonkers with his work. Lee’s rendering of the Batcave (inked by Scott Williams) is handsome, but also chilly, not really pushing itself beyond being a decadent establishing view - admirability is the chief emotion raised.

Although I’ll gave DC this - I liked what they did with the ads on the opposite side of the fold-out.

Pin-up Batcaves aside, this is one of the weaker issues of this series, though I suspect it might prove more palatable to readers who’d previously been alarmed by the book’s taste for gratuitous cheeseball indulgence and parodic cackling (and note that a story can contain parodic elements without being a ‘parody’ - I disagree with the idea that the whole thing’s a joke, though there are jokes in it). Here, writer Miller steers the affair back toward more familiar Bat-elements, the parallels between Bruce and Dick, the pain of the past, etc. It’s dryer, more traditional, and not at all what I like about this book. Or maybe these parts stick out more due to the sudden constraints on space.

Luckily there’s some good bits too, like Batman’s yanking around of Superman like a dog on a leash, Bruce utterly delighted to exploit the fact that he’s unraveled the mystery of Clark’s identity (neat that the ultimate detective skills of Batman bring him right up to the reader’s level in sorting out that most basic of DC puzzles) - the repeated refrain of “Damn!” as Superman zips back and forth past a luxury ship at sea provides some nice mirth, Lee’s utterly carved-from-granite visual depiction of the character made all the more amusing. The thought of young Bruce Wayne scampering around the Batcave for rats to eat, all in the service of making him stronger, is a nice extension of the young Caped Crusader’s general mania. Alfred keeps his shirt on this issue, but remains proactive and sassy. I still chuckle at the awkward, forced banter between Bruce and Dick, which is kind of supposed to be awkward in terms of plot, though that could be conveyed better. And I can only imagine how the constant repeating of information via caption is going to read in collected form.

But gosh, there could have been a lot more room for neat fun if that big old splash had been absent - it does look pretty, I’ll say again, but some ideas just don’t benefit from being seen more than once in too close a proximity from one another. But hey, there's a ton of readers of this book who've possibly never even heard of Shaolin Cowboy, so their milage will likely vary.