No, seriously - the worst thing about this Disney deal is gonna be the jokes.

*Needless to say, you're perfectly safe here.


Odd Manga (just that; a list of odd manga)

At Bookforum.

*Vital Downloads Dept: It's not every day someone posts a 291-page ebook compilation of interviews with a wide range of comics talents (and talents-about-comics) culled from a full 21st century of work thus far. But today, as luck would have it, is that day: Conversations with ADD: The Comics Interviews of Alan David Doane. Just look at that lineup. Don't hesitate.

*A lot of lookers -


Achewood Vol. 2: Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar: Say, have you heard of Achewood? Of course you have - Chris Onstad's creation is one of maybe half a dozen webcomics that almost everybody has heard of, whether they pay attention to webcomics or not. It simply cannot be ignored, and will probably go down in history as one of the defining alternative comics of the first decade of the 21st century, paper or no paper. And now, here in that most specific twilight, Dark Horse has brought paper, enough to convert what used to be a collection of a particular storyline (2007's vol. 1, The Great Outdoor Fight) into a full-scale comprehensive reprint effort, annotated and pondered, with all alt-texts included. It's a $14.95 hardcover, 136 pages; samples.

Strange Tales #1 (of 3): Finally, Marvel's "indie" anthology shows up. Aside from serializing Peter Bagge's long-buried The Incorrigible Hulk (a zany movie-tie in comic apparently deemed a bit across-the-line zany, in spite of Bagge's well-liked Spider-Man comic of the same type, which preceded it) across all three issues, short stories and gags will basically abound. The crew of this virgin issue should include Paul Pope, Molly Crabapple & John Leavitt, Junko Mizuno, Dash Shaw, James Kochalka, Johnny Ryan, Michael Kupperman, Nick Bertozzi, Nicholas Gurewich and Jason. Yep. A few pages are here; it's $4.99.

Stitches: A Memoir: Your big ol' book publisher literary funnybook item for 9/2/09, a 336-page autobiographical work from magazine illustrator and children's storybook artist David Small that's been picking up some heavy-duty praise, with the likes of Robert Crumb, Françoise Mouly, Jules Feiffer and Stan Lee weighing in (and when's the last time R. Crumb and Smilin' Stan agreed on anything?). I am told it's an intense, heavily visual account of dire illness, medical hubris, bodily confinement and desperate escape. Much more at the official home page; it's a $24.95 hardcover from W.W. Norton.

Cat Burglar Black: Richard Sala, breakin' and enterin'. All I have to say. From First Second; 128 color pages for $16.99. Preview here; revealing essay by the author here.

Dan Brereton's Nocturnals Vol. 2: The Dark Forever and Other Tales: Oooh, some people are gonna put this one right up top, although I suspect others won't have a clue what this thing is. That's not too surprising; the Nocturnals may have been around for 15 years now, but its habit of bouncing from publisher to publisher and the necessarily slow pace of creator Brereton's painted production has probably obscured its status as an eminently likable post-Hellboy genre-bending monster mash, tossing together mystery and adventure and horror and a whole family of misfit creatures of varied forms. It also helps that Brereton is as much a cartoonist as a painter, which livens up those pages nicely. This is the second hardcover collection of the complete works, now from Image (vol. 1, Black Planet and Other Tales was released by Olympian Publishing in 2006), covering what should be the entirely of the title's early 21st century stay at Oni Press, including the side-story miniseries The Gunwitch (written by Brereton with art by Ted Naifeh of Courtney Crumrin) and many goodies. It's $34.99 for 280 pages, or $39.99 for the Previews Exclusive edition, which tosses in another 16 pages of stuff. Introduction by Howard Chaykin (Brereton's writer on the '60s-set Batman Elseworlds Thrillkiller); samples here.

The Lords of Misrule: More horror! More more! I haven't read a page of this project, which started out as a Tundra one-off illustrated by Gary Erskine in the early '90s then spread out into a Peter Snejbjerg-drawn Dark Horse miniseries later on, written by John Tomilson, Dan Abnett and Steve White. Contains urban legends (I think), weird murders (I trust) and many other things (I hope). Just mentioning it since I like the artists and Radical Publishing seems to have allowed for some re-drawing and new coloring on its way to a 264-page hardcover finality. It's $24.95.

Absolute V for Vendetta: Just in case every other edition doesn't seem to fit, here's a somewhat larger one with a slipcase and a $99.00 price tag. And the remastered coloring from the most recent (smaller) editions. Boy, remember when these things had a stack of bonuses with them, like scripts and such? Or was that only ever The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vols. 1 & 2?

Starr the Slayer #1 (of 4): Holy sweet goddamn, a MAX-rated Richard Corben barbarian comic! Is there some kinda four-issue rule in place for these $3.99 'adult' throwback projects at Marvel (see also: Dominic Fortune)? This one seems especially self-reflexive, with Daniel Way's plot concerning a burnt-out hack novelist who returns to the well of musclebound sword-swinging, only to have his greatest creation confront him personally. Absolutely worth flipping through; here's a look.

Marvel Zombies Return: Spider-Man #1: And this one's got Nick Dragotta (of many Mike Allred collaborations). You can probably have a good time at the store this week just paging through the new releases rack. If anyone catches you, just tell them you're pondering the financial implications of the Marvel deal, and only proximity to the undead can clear your mind.

Fall Out Toy Works #1 (of 5): Being the $3.99 Image debut of the Fall Out Boy comic, or at least a comic about a robot developer and his flawed feminine masterwork who learn the secrets of life and shit as inspired by the music of Fall Out Boy, co-created by bassist/vocalist Pete Wentz and miscellaneous designer Darren Romanelli, although the actual scripting looks to be done by no less than Brett Lewis - yes, of The Winter Men (collected softcover coming this November!). That's what'll get me poking through this, at least, having never heard a Fall Out Boy song on purpose. The art is headed by Sam Basri, of the Singapore-based illustration & design house Imaginary Friends Studios, other members of which also look to be providing collective visual support. Preview.

Sweet Tooth #1: New from Vertigo, an ongoing series from writer/artist Jeff Lemire about a part-boy part-deer who wanders a disease-tainted landscape with a questionable hulk of a companion in search of sanctuary. I didn't think all that much of Lemire's last Vertigo project, The Nobody, but this kind of semi-surreal bucolic wander might play better to his strengths. As with many recent Vertigo debuts, the price is $1.00; preview here.

From the Ashes #4 (of 6): More from Bob Fingerman, and the end of the world.

I Am Legion #5 (of 6): Huh, looks like John Cassaday might be finishing up two art projects in English at the same time. This is his French side, brought to you by DDP/Humanoids.

The Boys #34: Concluding the one where the superheroes really start to fight back with the Nazi guy just burning the shit out of everything. First round guest artist Carlos Ezquerra returns to do the honors; take a peek.

Batman Confidential #33: Featuring the talents of Peter Milligan, lest we forget, with some attention-getting art by Andy Clarke. Also this week: Milligan's Greek Street #3.

Rawbone #4 (of 4): Yes, it's a regular old-timey Vertigo writers hoedown this week, with Avatar escorting Jamie Delano and his merry pirate crew. It's exactly like Disney's.

Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #3 (of 5): Hmm, Mike Mignola actually did work on a Disney picture for a while (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, production designer), but now he's got an empire of his own to run. Like so. But if it's Mignola's drawing you're hungry for (and you don't entirely mind if it's presented in an arguably inappropriate context, or, like me, you find it interesting for being so inappropriately placed), DC is totally reprinting Cosmic Odyssey this week.

Walt Disney Presents: Incognito #6 (of 6): Now you see that? Is that funny? No. It's lazy, easy humor, indicative of a writer that needs to go to bed very soon. I mean, who thinks this is comedy? Sheesh. Anyway, this is the final issue Ed Brubaker's & Sean Phillips' supervillain pulp series, after which they return to their earlier, larger ongoing series, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Criminal.

Wednesday Comics #9 (of 12): I liked editor Mark Chiarello's little between-the-lines "yeah, all the art's in, we're bringing it down on time" fist pump the other week. That was cool.

Young Liars #18: In which David Lapham puts this Vertigo series to bed for good. Mourners are directed to the Magic Kingdom annex lobby where Lapham is also writing and drawing this week's Mystic Comics 70th Anniversary Special, with back-up material by Jack Kirby. Isn't it a small world, after all?


Long-Delayed Content: No Longer Delayed

*Sorry about the lack of posting last week, gang; my buyout with the Walt Disney Company took forever to finalize.

So, in the interests of late-in-the-day stuff:

Odd Manga - a "syllabus" now online at Bookforum, a list of books you happen to find interesting and somehow connected. As the title subtly infers, I chose odd manga. Specifically, manga that leads you around the contours of how Japanese comics stand apart.

It's nothing the hardcore won't know already -- they'll be clucking their tongues at my failure to obtain a copy of Jack Seward's semi-legendary 1993 annotated porn anthology/spicy translation guide/novelty paperback Japanese Eroticism: A Language Guide to Current Comics (sorry!) -- but hopefully it'll raise a few happy memories and/or get you thinking. I'll be back with today's regular post shortly.


Okay, this has to be quick.

*I'm way behind.


A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 (of 2) (Jirô Taniguchi, gone back in time)

Inglourious Basterds (wait, this isn't a comic; I mean, it was when it ran in Playboy for a few pages, but this is a family site and shit)


Ponyo (another movie, albeit one by comics artist and animator extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki)

At comiXology.

*Okay, onto the print stuff -


King City #1 (of 12): Being the revival and completion of this much-admired series by Brandon Graham, who debuted it 2007 through Tokyopop and saw it fall into limbo. Now Image brings you the whole story of Joe the Cat Master as he wanders the mysterious, elastic streets of the city, shooting the breeze as trouble surrounds him, in a series of large-format pamphlets perfect for soaking in the detail of Graham's unique blend of international influences. This is a fine-looking comic, let me tell ya, and while issues #1-6 will mainly be reprinting the Tokyopop stuff, various backmatter bonuses are planned. Just $2.99 for 32 b&w pages. Preview here; my original review here.

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu Vol. 1
: And with a title like that, who could resist? This is a 2003 release from Junko Mizuno, one of the most distinctive mangaka to find real purchase in North America; it concerns a wee puffball alien from space that storms weird contemporary Japan in search of a human bride. I am told that gross and/or sexy things occur. It's a slick 8" x 10" softcover production from Last Gasp, $17.95 for 172 pages. I dunno if the series is finished, but there's two more volumes out in Japan right now, so more may be on the way to us.

The Color of Heaven: A new First Second release, wrapping up a trilogy of truly unique comics by Korean artist Kim Dong Hwa, following a young girl through the many phases of her maturity (it follows The Color of Earth and The Color of Water). More of a narrative poem than a serialized novel, the work is relentless in matching natural images -- flowers, rain, fruits -- with aspects of female sexuality, thus casting the girl's physical and emotional growth (and her mother's own interests) as something as indelibly beautiful as it is primal. It's equal parts curious, mildly comical and genuinely moving; I really can't think of anything else like this series, one of the more sadly overlooked works of 2009. Keep an eye out, huh? It's 320 pages for $16.99; my review of the first book is here.

Jennifer's Body: An all-new $24.99, 112-page Boom! Studios color hardcover, set to tie in with the upcoming Diablo Cody-scripted horror picture. Noteworthy for art by Jim Mahfood, along with Tim Seely, Nikki Cook and Ming Doyle. Written by Rick Spears. Big preview here; also a preview here.

The Muppet Show Comic Book
: Missed out on Roger Langridge's almost startlingly dead-on evocation of that old show tonite? Boom! now has a softcover collection of the first four issues (it's a series of miniseries; the second, The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson saw its first issue released a few weeks ago, and issue #2 is out this very week), priced at only $9.99. Very much worth a flip; preview here.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei Vol. 3
: I like this oddball series by Kōji Kumeta, a blend of social satire and character-driven comedy (expect translation notes, oh yes), fixed on a theatrically depressed teacher and the many strange girls in his class, drawn in an often striking flat, iconographic style. It's up to vol. 18 in Japan, so brisk sales will ensure years more work in English. From Del Rey; $10.99 for 176 pages.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo Vol. 3 (of 3): Wrapping up artist Mahiro Maeda's manga adaptation of the Dumas-in-space anime he directed himself. There's an off-kilter, almost concept drawing-like visual style at work, sometimes erupting into near-abstract collaged vistas. The anime was pretty weird too, actually. Space vampires and crazy textures and stuff. Your $10.99 nets you 240 pages.

Gantz Vol. 6
: Oh Hiroya Oku, this just might last forever. Won't it? Only $12.95 for 228 pages of tender emotions.

Citizen Rex #2 (of 6): Gilbert & Mario Hernandez - of the future! Still only $3.50, which bodes well for the coming times. Peek.

Batman and Robin #3: Yep, the final Frank Quitely issue for at least half a year; Philip Tan is the next penciller set to join writer Grant Morrison.

Detective Comics #856: Woah, Quitely and J.H. Williams III in one week! Must be... aw, actually it's because Quitely's issue is a few weeks late, I won't fuck around with ya. Greg Rucka continues to write, Cully Hamner continues to draw the second feature.

Madame Xanadu #14: And Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta too, gee.

Fantastic Four #570: Starting up writer Jonathan Hickman. Go.

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #3 (of 3): Ending the miniseries from writer Kieron Gillen. Stop.

Herogasm #4 (of 6): Or, The Boys bi-weekly, as I like to call it. I didn't check if it actually comes out bang-on like that, but... you know what I'm saying. Here.

Cerebus Archive #3: More '70s Dave Sim rarities an vintage correspondence, annotated as you like it, all for $3.00.

Wednesday Comics #8 (of 12): I hope the dinosaur doesn't step on the little child. Gotta wait three weeks.

Abhay Khosla's Bram Stoker's Dracula #5 (of 5): All right, this isn't print at all. Actually its the conclusion of a webcomic by one of my sitemates, but let me tell you - some laughs.



*Ponyo? Ponyo! Ponyo column.



Don't you have a column for this?

Inglourious Basterds

A funny thing happened in the theater right before X-Men Origins: Wolverine - a bunch of high school kids went crazy over the trailer to a World War II picture. And this was right at the top of the summer season, sick with upcoming franchise films and fighting robots and lasers and shit. I felt pretty bad for the District 9 preview; there it sat, trying to look all allegorical and relevant (but with aliens and guns!), and all the kids could do was mutter "one hunnred NATZI scalps!" Over and over.

But hey: part and parcel of the power of movies, exhaling archetypes that summarize and invigorate some understanding of the past. That's both the danger and the appeal, as well as the core of this new project by America's most visible motion picture obsessive, Quentin Tarantino. Sure, it's another film about films - do we expect anything else anymore? Yet it's far less a formalistic work than the segmented genre walking tour of Kill Bill (one style per chapter, please) or the gender roles of the grindhouse essay of Death Proof, with a diverse cast of memorable (and sometimes complex) characters, a straight-ahead suspense plot, a dab of genuine melodrama and a polished period setting.

And a million citations to prior movies, of course, starting with the title, a modification of the US release title of a 1978 war picture by spaghetti western noteworthy Enzo G. Castellari. Indeed, Tarantino's Basterds is a war picture, a spaghetti western, a modification, and many other things.

What popped into my mind first, however, was a more recent film, with a prior star turn by Brad Pitt: director Andrew Dominik's 2007 revisionist western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a demanding, sometimes tedious work that nonetheless comes together as a critique of how pop culture filters history, wringing dime novel narrative conflicts from the messy, nuanced stuff of even 'great' men's activities. The whole movie is in that unwieldy title, promising not a shooting or a murder but an Assassination, by a man who can't be anything but a yellah-bellied Coward; it's a film that knows its a portrayal, and acknowledges the potential application of its criticism to itself, right up front.

So, Inglourous Basterds. It's all wrong, isn't it? Not only is it wrong, but it's swiped, in fact from a movie that's by many accounts itself a patent rip-off of The Dirty Dozen, a successful fiction from a real conflict. It's also the name given to the picture's roving gang of American Jew commandos, led by Pitt's war comic Sarge-like Lt. Aldo Raine, who's like every macho, handsome WWII movie leading man rolled into one. But he's also part Apache (as Tarantino is part Cherokee), and so his band of brothers neatly fit into a crucial western role: the marauding injuns, an oft-demonized bunch viewed here with a sort of affected European sensibility, a detachment. It's a spaghetti western, remember - as if those purloined Ennio Morricone samples could ever let you forget.

Even then, Tarantino goes deeper than transposing America's racial conflicts to Jews striking back against famed aggressors. In a cover feature interview from the current issue of Filmmaker magazine, the writer/director notes that while the title does refer to a specific company of Nazi-killers, it really covers all the film's major characters. Frankly, that's true pertaining to both the title's description and misspelling; everyone in this movie-mad construct is a self-evident 'type' going right down national lines, with every man or woman of France either a steely, doomed rebel or a cackling collaborator and each German a charismatic sneak or a cartoon monster. The British boast stuff upper lips all around, and all those Americans might be short on book-larnin' and a mite hot in the head, but brimming with heart, guts and muscle.

Yet it's all wrong, the movie is messed up because nobody gets to ease into the role of hero. Everybody either does something totally awful or acts as a willing accomplice to such. Moreover, everyone is constantly hiding something, pretending to be someone else or benefiting from some legend others have built for them. Everybody is acting, in the midst of a movie chock-full of references to other movies in a well-worn genre; in this way, for once, Tarantino has invited his characters up to his level, to allow them to playact and chat about pop culture -- and yeah, simple as it is, one of the best gags in here is how the writer is now doling out period-appropriate rapid-fire references: mountain movies; Pabst; Max Linder -- in a manner analogous to his own creation-via-curation patchwork designs.

This is the engine of the movie's plot, wherein the dastardly Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, as good as hyped) works his carefully manicured Jew-hunting persona to undo a farmer who's hiding a family, only to have one girl, Shosanna, escape and assume a fake name as a Paris cinema owner, where she catches the eye of a troubled German war hero who's acting in a fictionalized, propaganda movie version of his combat efforts, all while the Basterds -- all of them notorious, one of them believed to be supernatural -- meet up with an enlisted British film critic who's masquerading as a Nazi officer so as to contact a famed German actress turned Allied spy as part of a plot to assassinate the enemy high command at the aforementioned war film's gala premiere, the location of which has been moved, dear reader, by way of blind infatuation, to Shosanna's theater, which she plans to burn down with all these motherfuckers locked in it, unbeknownst to almost everyone else.

The dialogue spans four languages -- sometimes subtitled, sometimes not -- with only Col. Landa in command of all of them. At one point the Col. asks someone if they could possibly switch from French to English, just as your average US audience might be getting sick of reading the movie. Tarantino frequently reminds us of the unreality of what we're seeing, from tossing in ill-fitting electric guitar strumming (and the theme from Cat People, David Bowie vocals included) to having Samuel L. Jackson occasionally offer helpful background tidbits by voiceover.

Often these quasi-Godardian tactics double as quick 'n dirty laffs, like when one Basterd (and only one) is introduced with a ludicrous '70s kitsch title font, leading into an origin vignette (the only one) depicting yet another man pretending to be something he's not, albeit out of urge rather than calculation. It's only when he joins the Basterds that he goes "pro" with it, like everyone else.

Still, good and fitting as all this is, it doesn't necessarily guarantee the execution. And there's two major problems with Inglourious Basterds, which leave it a flawed picture: scope and tone.

Most of you probably know that Tarantino has been working on some version of this project for 10 years, and that the script eventually ballooned to a television miniseries' length. Supposedly only 40 or so minutes of that older material actually made it on screen, with the rest of it being more recent work intended to finish the project as a single feature film, but the 153-minute final product still feels like an abridged version of something far grander, a comprehensive faux-history of deceit in wartime.

As it is, various key players -- Diane Kruger's traitorous actress, half the basterds -- are barely filled in save for when the plot needs them, at which point tension is expected in whether they'll maintain their fake personae. Even poor Shosanna doesn't have all that much to actually do before the big climax besides glower and doomily plot, leaving actress Mélanie Laurent in the lurch along with Jacky Ido as her black French boyfriend, who seems to exist entirely to afford the film an added whiff of racial subtext.

Granted, shit happens when you're making a movie. Big 'name' performers come and go in pre-production, as happened here. But sometimes that does hurt the project, as indeed happens here with Sgt. Donny Donowitz, the baseball bat-wielding "Bear Jew," the nastiest, most spasmodic of the Basterds, and a character that couldn't possibly be more custom-fitted to the performance stylings of Adam Sandler, who couldn't accept the role due to conflicts with Judd Apatow's Funny People. Seriously, can't you just picture a Zohan-ripped Sandler charging out of that tunnel like Bobby Boucher and delivering that big post-beating speech at the top of his lungs? It's like Punch-Drunk Love, a funny-scary variant on the core Sandler character for non-slapstick purposes! In theory.

In practice, we get the film's universally acknowledged weakest link, Eli Roth. And even then there's a little bit of conceptual kick to presenting the auteur of Hostel as a blood-crazed murder machine -- not to mention the actual, out-of-film director of the Nazi propaganda opus at the heart of the climax -- quickly mitigated by the man's (and thus his character's) near-total lack of screen presence. And he just can't act, even in the face of Quentin Tarantino's near-legendary blood-from-stones mutant superpower-like ability to drag performances out of virtually anyone if a crucial character's on the line.

However, these efforts are closely tied to Tarantino's scripts; he's possibly the most literary, even novelistic director in America, a real writer's filmmaker. He and his DP (Robert Richardson) can put some nice-looking shots together, sure, but he has trouble maintaining control when the message sent by his visuals needs to be steady to compliment his words. This is what I mean by tone, which wasn't so much of a problem with Kill Bill or Death Proof, since the very concept of those movies allowed for them to seem like different kinds of movies at different times. Shoot, they had to.

This picture doesn't have that luxury, and as a result seems disjointed even beyond character or story concerns. Tarantino's depictions of violence are especially confused, playing graphic Nazi scalpin' for gross-out comedy then drawing back just minutes later to nag at the horror of a man being beaten to death. The screenwriter assures us that yes, all the characters are somehow awful, yet there's a glee applied inconsistently to their actions that suggests a filmmaker not entirely ready to dismiss the notion of just having a lot of silly fun, but also somehow aware that there's a point to be made by means other than leering at squibs and make-up effects.

Consequently, I'm not surprised that some critics have taken the film to task for wallowing in agony or serving up 'torture porn' or what-the-fuck-ever, even though the writing assures as plain a 'war is terrible, people do terrible things in war' scenario as any Garth Ennis comic. The script alone can't save it. By the time the big climactic propaganda flick starts up, with Nazis roaring at an endless parade of shootings and explosions (not unlike earlier bits of Inglourious Basterds proper), followed by several glossy slow-motion gun fire exchanges and a roaring inferno with crazed-looking Basterds picking off screaming unarmed men and women and then a big suicide bombing -- for that special contemporary touch! -- the film all but drops to the floor in a fit of mixed signals.

A crucial image endures, though, even through that din: the Nazi movie vanishing in a frame to meet with an edited in close-up response by Shosanna, the silver screen burning away but her face remaining, projected onto billows of smoke, stretching and spreading into the air like a ghost.

That's the film's success, the big idea that survives. The power of movies, mythmaking, performance. Not the magic, or the joy, or the wonder - the power, which carries a threat. The notion that Hitler's men could try to broadcast a victory on the screen to turn the tide of low morale. That fictions could spin suffering into triumph, that the Nazis might 'win' more by casting their actions as heroism, for posterity. By burning down the lies, the allies are free to author their own history, as winner.

Yeah, you shouldn't trust movies - especially when they can't even get the title right. Disjointed as it may be, Tarantino does do splendid work of delivering the big picture while warning you against staring at it too hard, by means of everything from the strapping army hero interrogating a woman by dipping a finger sexually into a bullet wound to some very (and by now very well-spoiled) alternative resolutions to history's troubles. Almost everyone dies, in ways that assure that nobody will really know what happened, save for that they died. No medals are awarded, nobody is kissed at the train station. No flags wave. As tends to happen, some will accuse the director of nihilism.

I don't agree. He's a skeptic, his skepticism born from bottomless love. And he does choose a side, finally, in that Waltz's hunter-schemer-detective is revealed as playing the greatest game of all, one that'll assure him a specially edited role in world history. Pitt, of course, must oppose this, by making it so a tiny bit of history can be carved out for a while, no matter what the narrative insists, at least so that its fantasies are harder to swallow. And again, by his action, he assures us that while moral equivalency isn't on the table, there's nonetheless no easy hero here, clean-cut heroism in wartime being a more pertinent target than the Nazis maybe not being seen as obviously horrible possibly someday.

So he makes his masterpiece. Like he said earlier, it's as close to a movie as it gets out there. But it's not, as fortune would have it - it's something that might not last as long as a good myth, but it's personal, succinct; something that he and his director, for once, can't possibly misspell. Lucky bastards.


Another Walking Man

A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1 (of 2)

This is a new Jirô Taniguchi translation from the redoubtable Fanfare/Ponent Mon. It'll be $23.00 for 200 b&w pages upon North American distribution, whenever that is; a small number of early copies apparently slipped out at San Diego, but that appears to be the extent of the release so far.

You're likely to hear more when copies start getting out, if only by virtue of the thing's reputation. Originally hailing from the pages of the venerable seinen magazine Big Comic in 1998, A Distant Neighborhood has since become one of Taniguchi's most praised works, having won an Excellence Prize for Manga at the 1999 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Prize for Scenario at the 2003 Angoulême International Comics Festival. Indeed, the work's renown in Europe is enough that a feature film adaptation by Belgian director Sam Garbarski is currently underway, titled Quartier lointain, after the French translation, with the locale moved to Paris.

And twitchy as that may leave you, seeing an acclaimed Japanese work plunked down into a European setting for cinema airing, it's nonetheless worth noting that Taniguchi has always seemed an especially cosmopolitan mangaka, coming of artistic age in the early '70s at roughly the same time as Akira artist Katsuhiro Otomo; both men flaunt a distinctly western influence in their heavy pages, tight with realistic detail and populated by de-stylized (if still very much cartooned) characters. In later years Taniguchi's French connection would become personalized, as he began to work in collaboration with the likes of Frédéric Boilet (Tokyo Is My Garden, 1997) and Moebius (Icaro, 2000); Boilet, in fact, personally reoriented the present volume's art to a left-to-right reading format, with Taniguchi's consent.

Yet you just can't take the manga out of the man, and I suspect you remove the Japanese from the work at your peril. I'm not just talking about the book's autobiographical elements, although that's certainly pertinent: the protagonist, Hiroshi, is roughly Taniguchi's age as of 1998, and most of the story takes place in Kurayoshi, of the low-population Tottori Prefecture where the artist grew up. And then Hiroshi, by some mysterious means, finds his adult mind warped back in time to control his 14-year old body in 1963, the year his father abandoned his family with no explanation, and Taniguchi too was the age of that father, and his father when he was a kid for real.

But no, I'm really talking about the utterly straightforward manner in which the story plays out, calm with storytelling clarity and poetic insofar as one panel logically follows the next to present another clean, perhaps lovely scene. This is the disposition I pick up from a lot of slice-of-life, non-'genre' mainstream manga, and Taniguchi's realism quiets it even further. It's a story-driven work, this -- one of the main visual metaphors is helpfully explained via narration, in case you were feeling lost -- yet it's still awfully close in tone to The Walking Man, the artist's 1992 saunter through various unadorned locales, your vision as if his.

Frankly, I prefer some of Taniguchi's collaborations over these solo works, at least from what's available in English; his books with writer Natsuo Sekikawa benefit greatly from the restlessness of their writer, coaxing out the cool pathos of the heavily visual Hotel Harbour View or matching the verisimilitude of the vivid period settings of The Times of Botchan with a demanding density of text rarely seen in the 'literary' manga seen around here. In contrast, Taniguchi alone tends toward an on-the-nose directness in his stories that allows for some lovely visuals but a niggling superficiality in the way his words and pictures interact; it's little surprise that the most hailed of Fanfare's releases in North America, the Walking Man, is by far the book with the least to translate.

So it goes with this one too, its writing prize at Angoulême notwithstanding. Hiroshi is almost always explaining things; it's not enough for him to just sit up in his teenage bed, alarmed - he has to muse "Have I... still not woken from this dream?!" after which we get two panels of 1963 in action, subsequently punctuated with "Oh no... nothing's changed!"

Sometimes he fills us in on what he knows about his peers as an adult, the adult's narration acting as counterpoint to the child's visuals, but other times he merely announces his state of mind, as if to close off any possible reader confusion when confronted with a new scene; the exception is the book's early swoon over the old city as Hiroshi first beholds it, where a little ambiguity might be appropriate, for a moment, before its disposed of pages later. Occasionally he even briefly reiterates the book's premise, maybe for the benefit of folks joining the serial late; at least he's got a fantastical enough premise at hand that repeating things doesn't seem all that odd.

Mostly, however, Hiroshi comes to tell us of sensations, as if to vivify Taniguchi's immaculately composed gazes at period scenery. This kid gets to enjoy his youth, running faster from knowing the burden of age and acing his classes with proven adult skills, enough so that an otherwise unapproachable girl takes notice. There's some trouble too: we gradually learn that Hiroshi is either an alcoholic or well on the way, and the absence of his physical dependency doesn't necessarily abrogate his psychological needs. Still, he remains compelled to right the wrongs of the past, striding beneath Taniguchi's frequent visual motif, the mighty sky, constant in contempt of human time.

"Perhaps eternity is what the sky represents," narrates Hiroshi. Of course.

Don't let me give you the impression that the book is without charm, though. The draftsmanship is impeccable, naturally, and some of the situations are pretty funny - there's a good bit with Hiroshi inadvertently wowing the campus tough guys with his desire to smoke a real old-timey heavy-duty cigarette, and a decent running gag concerning Our Man's tendency to spill some of the beans regarding his odd situation to various people, none of whom understand at all.

It's also probably liable to go down as the most polite comic of 2009, rarely less than generous toward the people of decades gone by, even when the adult men are prone to giving an out-of-social-bounds Hiroshi a period-appropriate smack. The boy observes his kid sister in bed, frowning slightly, wisfully recounting how her young dreams will fade, and how her happiness will be in domesticity. A date with the aforementioned popular girl mostly gives the man in Hiroshi a chance to beam over how sweet she is as a girl as he gently prods her to pursue the goals he knows she'll realize. It's telling that the most searing bit of drama comes when Hiroshi envisions what's happening back in the present, where his wife and daughters are -- *gasp* -- speaking disrespectfully of him in his absence!

There's some utility to that, sure: it's how we find out Hiroshi maybe isn't as stellar an adult as he is a second-chance kid, possibly-maybe due to his own soon-to-vanish dad. But its effect, its tragedy in a man realizing his family is hiding things, talking about him - it's the anxiety of a middle-aged man, eased into the '90s status quo, his main problem being he doesn't fit the societal status quo as well as he could, as a family man, as a husband and father.

Indeed, what sets this story apart from similar takes -- Alex Robinson's 2008 Too Cool to Be Forgotten is notably similar, mixing the time warp premise with a physical vice (smoking, not drinking) and the looming father issues -- is the maturity, the age in its telling, the dominant tone of reflection and troubled nostalgia by a middle-aged man, for men of the same age, probably successful in some way, fine with society, but maybe thinking about their own fathers and their family situation, and the trials of their parents, the youth of World War II, in light of their own path as adults and, implicitly, the path of their nation. I wrote about a Howard Chaykin comic the other day, and I mentioned that Japan seems like the only country with a lot of comics aimed squarely at older men; this is clearly one of them.

And that might also account for the work's aesthetic, its sometimes blunt, clumsy rush toward explication. It is not a North American comic, nor a European album, it is Japanese, and thus part of the manga tradition, where comics grew and grew as mass entertainment, spreading to mature with the readership. I wonder if there wasn't much need to 'prove' comics to readers, to become as intense and arty as 'literary' or 'markmaking' resistance, to flaunt the elements of the form like Asterios Polyp does, to exist as 'art' in the twilight of an outmoded pamphlet format; there was Garo, and there is Ax, but I've always been told there aren't many more art comics in Japan than in the United States, regardless of how much more manga there is.

Instead, there's fat pamphlets for mature readers like Big Comic, with stories often as direct as can be, from the ease of an accomplished popular medium. This could be a culture clash, my reservations. It brings to mind a question a reader asked of Grant Morrison during a spotlight panel at the New York Comic Con the other year. The guy didn't think he understood the last (first) issue of The Invisibles.

"Of course you understood it," Morrison replied, "the words were what you read, and the pictures were what you saw."

You can bank on that here, morso than usual, for better or worse.


Ponyo chat in this post.

*In a second.


Prison Pit Book One (upcoming Johnny Ryan; all you've dreamed of)


The Nobody (Jeff Lemire does an Invisible Man thing at Vertigo)

At Bookforum.


Dominic Fortune #1 (of 4) (new Howard Chaykin, old fashioned men's adventure)

At The Factual Opinion.

*Must-Read Dept: I saw Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo last weekend, and I thought it was pretty great. Two days of steady mulling later, I've dropped the "pretty"; this is a great movie, probably my second favorite Miyazaki behind My Neighbor Totoro. Interestingly though, despite the work's positive reception among mainline critics, 'fan'-based reactions, particularly among anime devotees, seem to be split, with some criticizing the work's ambling, loose sense of plot as evidence of a storyteller in decline (anecdotally, this reaction seems to come mainly from viewers who prefer the epic fantasy wing of the Miyazaki library, i.e. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke).

Naturally, I've been looking all over for additional reactions, and this Anime News Network podcast led me to a whopper: a long, absorbing conversation between famed director Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, The Sky Crawlers) and Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, in which the characteristically immodest Oshii absolutely chomps into Ponyo (while still showing respect for its expressive power), decrying its lack of structure to the point where he cannot even consider it a "real" movie. Suzuki counters that this was fully Miyazaki's intent, to remove narrative strictures and animate a series of (to borrow Oshii's own term) "delusions."

Hell, I'll go a step further: Ponyo may be aimed at kids, but it's a children's movie that traffics in bona fide surrealism, which Miyazaki employs as both a means of better communicating his themes -- parental love/failure, respect for life, the determined force of nature -- to his young target audience on a dreamy, illogical terrain, while aiming to prod adults into a state of childlike lucidity by frustrating expectations of rationality and toying with some old-timey archetypes; for heaven's sake, there's a scene where the kids enter a scary dark tunnel and emerge into a scenario of new moral choice! This effort is even displayed in the movie itself, as all the story's adults gradually come to accept the mayhem Ponyo makes of plain living.

Serious frivolity indeed, coming from a director who understands not just animation but cinema; it's odd that Oshii -- a highly literate, Godard & Tarkovsky-loving guy himself -- is so off-handedly dismissive of a work that defies dotting the screenwriting Is and Ts, since he obviously knows there's perfectly meaningful, worthwhile cinematic traditions that don't rely at all on airtight plotting, although I admit they have little influence on feature animation.

But that's what makes Ponyo so valuable. I like Pixar's stuff a lot, for instance, but this is a more adventurous picture than they'd ever release on their own. I'm fascinated that the state of Ponyo is attributed in this conversation to Miyazaki's rejection of Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's moderating influence; I've always thought of Takahata as the more idiosyncratic, risk-taking filmmaker of the pair (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko), but here we suddenly have Miyazaki heading the curious, divisive picture. And it's still a $180 million international blockbuster! He got hordes of young children to sit happily agog through The Little Mermaid by way of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie! THIS MAN IS A GENIUS!!

Anyway, there's a lot more in that Oshii/Suzuki talk, including thoughts on the Sky Crawlers, aging animators, the decline of draftsmanship in anime and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Go read; I'll have more on Ponyo in next week's column.

*Mighty light this time, but at least we've got Bob Levin & Naoki Urasawa, who should totally launch an Ultimate Comics series. Is Daredevil still alive?


The Comics Journal #299: Oh, there's other stuff in here - a few reviews, some columns, Sean T. Collins' interview with Josh Cotter (sample here), a full-length reprint of animator Myron Waldman's 1947 "proto-graphic novel" Eve: A Pictorial Love Story, not to denegrate those efforts, no no. But this time, man, it's all about Journal hall of famer Bob Levin's big ol' cover essay on the big-ticket, never-seen superstar comics anthology The Someday Funnies. I can't wait. It's $11.99, as usual.


A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge: Your high-profile work of comics nonfiction of the month, a $24.95 Pantheon hardcover collecting, revising and expanding artist Josh Neufeld's 2007-08 webcomic, an account of several people getting by before and after Hurricane Katrina. Expect media coverage; praise has already gotten thick. It's 208 color-coded pages. Interview with Tom Spurgeon here.

20th Century Boys Vol. 4 (of 24): If you happen to be in the San Francisco area, the first installment of director Yukihiko Tsutsumi's live-action movie trilogy adapting this Naoki Urasawa manga is currently playing at the New People cultural entertainment center in Japantown. The second and third chapters will follow later this month (the lattermost opening near-simultaneously in Japan), but I think part one only goes up to vol. 5 of the manga, if you're worried about spoilers. Anyway, more from this series is always welcome; it's $12.99.

Ōoku: The Inner Chambers Vol. 1: Admirers of artist Fumi Yoshinaga -- best known for the shōjo comedy-drama Antique Bakery -- have been waiting with bated breath for this one, an alternate history extravaganza seeing a disease wipe out most of the men in feudal Japan, leaving women in most positions of power, the greatest of which allow for a harem of men. Still ongoing in Japan at four volumes of a projected ten, Yoshinaga looks to be making this her magnum opus. Interested parties get 216 pages for $12.99.

Wet Moon Vol. 5 (of 10): Where All Stars Fail to Burn: And proving you don't need manga to have a thick softcover-of-a-series out this week, Ross Campbell brings the latest 168 pages in his punk-styled drama. From Oni; $14.95. Preview here.

Filthy Rich: Oh hey, this week is also the debut of the new Vertigo Crime line of trim hardcover originals, mixing veteran comics writers and prose specialists in longform projects. Brian Azzarello fills the vet role here, working with Spanish artist Victor Santos; it's a 200-page, $19.99 b&w tale of a lowdown ex-football star and current car salesman-cum-part time bodyguard led into trouble by his boss' thrill seeking daughter. Looks like some very straight-up noir from the premise. Preview and info here.

Dark Entries: And as for prose, here's Ian Rankin writing a mystery-flavored John Constantine story about an allegedly haunted house in a reality television show, presumably to emphasize the Vertigo in the line title. Drawn in b&w by Werther Dell'edera; 216 pages for $19.99. Preview here. Hellblazer series writer Peter Milligan also has some material out this week, concluding the love potion storyline with issue #258.

Days Missing #1 (of 5): A new Phil Hester-written pamphlet miniseries for Roddenberry Productions, published by Archaia Studios, concerning a weird being that literally steals crucial days out of the course of human history, and the events he's collecting. Of special note due to art by the always-interesting Frazer Irving, and a special first issue price of 99 cents. Have a look.

Project Superpowers: Meet the Bad Guys #1: I'll cop to mostly staying away from Dynamite's extensive, Alex Ross-fronted Project Superpowers line, tossing public domain Golden Age characters around in booming new adventures, but be aware that Joe Casey sometimes scripts these things from Ross' plots, as we have right here in an all-villains showcase, which might play especially well to the man's strengths. Peek. Casey also writes issue #4 of Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance this week.

Punisher: Noir #1 (of 4): Or shit, maybe Urasawa can draw Spider-Ham: Noir; it can't be far off from Billy Bat. Back in reality, though, why not enjoy another one of these gritty yarns, with even less necessity for an alternate universe than ever! However, artist Paul Azaceta & colorist Nick Filardi have done some nice work before, and look to continue. Written by Frank Tieri; $3.99.

Viking #3: More oversized color sacking for $2.99.

Wednesday Comics #7 (of 12): More over-oversized color sequence for $3.99.



Two reviews, one post, two links.

*That's right, I've totally saved you money here. You've been paying the cover, right?

1. Review of Jeff Lemire's new Vertigo hardcover The Nobody at Bookforum. Can't say it did much for me, I'm afraid.

2. Review of issue #1 of Howard Chaykin's new Dominic Fortune at The Factual Opinion, where many several writers have chipped in to help Tucker Stone enjoy his vacation in peace. Enjoy.



*Yeah, I made a mistake last Monday, no getting around it. In the mess of IDW releases hitting stores, some of which I've been waiting on for months, I totally forgot their release of Hero Comics, a $3.99 benefit book for The Hero Initiative that boasts a rare and exciting sight indeed: an all-new five-page American Flagg! story by Howard Chaykin and frequent colorist Edgar Delgado. Arriving the same week as Chaykin's revived Dominic Fortune at Marvel, no less!

I'll be getting into Fortune later this weekend (spoiler: I liked it), although folks eager for discussion are commended to Professor Fury's fine recent spread of Howard Chaykin posting, covering many topics from all over the artist's personal timeline. But for now I just want to draw some attention to that new Flagg! piece, which stands apart from the expected benefit book testimonials and metaphors and politicking as an interesting piece of introspection on the part of the artist, taking his use of an old, beloved character as an opportunity to assess his legacy, or at least his feelings on the idea of one.

Put briefly, the story sees Reuben Flagg enjoying a lively discussion of Chicago political corruption when he's accosted by a remote talk show broadcast hellbent on discovering whatever happened to the once-popular star of Mark Thrust, whose career has doubtlessly gone to hell. In contrast, Thrust is still going strong, apparently from the efforts of two-time Give 'Em What They Want Award-winning executive producer Mallory Sands. Flagg dismisses the show as "silly junk," prompting a good dressing down from Sands on the beauty and uniqueness of the medium, even though it still looks to Flagg like "a retread of something I did in season one."

It's a cute piece, but prickly too, positioning Flagg's work in television as a metaphor for Chaykin's work in comics (while amusingly playing off Chaykin's own days in the tv field), and thereby evidencing a certain self-defensive irreverence toward the idea of legacy or importance in this hard-hitting genre works. Mr. Sands, meanwhile, playfully lampoons a certain vocal, popular artist of Chaykin's generation, clad in a motion capture suit and stalking around alone on an empty virtual set, tee hee. And oh how he's aged, while Flagg remains young!

That's not a direct quote (at least not one I'm aware of), but an evocation of some familiar Frank Miller rhetoric. Take this selection from Eisner/Miller, p. 168:

"The sickness is self-contempt. I am the young puppy of a certain generation that started becoming a force in comics in the seventies and eighties, but I still see the industry of comics hobbled by this sense of worthlessness that thinks of the medium as a genre that'll be shaken off over time. It still amazes me how deep-rooted that is."

Chaykin teases at the disconnect between these sentiments and the man's work on a show about a guy who fights crime above the belt and screw around below it, "frequently at the same time," taking the property back to its dark and edgy roots, which is really a bit of a canard at this point - the joke is that Sands is taking things too seriously, even though the recent likes of All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder have abandoned heavy-handed grit for a type of manic, brutal hi-jinx that actually does neatly evoke the off-balance nature of early superheroes, at least as presented in books like Greg Sadowski's Supermen!

But then, it's not so much a one-to-one Miller-to-Sands comparison anyway, as a general weariness with the corporate pop comics game; Chaykin is a player, as a prolific visualist, but it's telling that his writer/artist works have been restricted to his own creations or the usage of superhero characters (Captain America, Guy Gardner) as political beings. And that's still not the whole point: Flagg may complain, but that image up top makes clear that he's more passive-aggressive about being remembered for his work than anything perfectly flippant.

An endearing bit of autobiography, that, yet well-suited to this benefit for cartoonists in need. For every anxious-yet-successful Reuben Flagg, there's plenty more innovative, powerful talents who got much less, by more immediate means than the evaporation of acknowledged influence. These debates are small, in the end, compared to the good that can be done - and if we're gonna ponder this stuff, we might as well raise some money in the process. Not a bad deal; glad I caught on eventually.


Jesus Fucking Christ

Prison Pit Book One

This is the best comic Johnny Ryan has ever drawn. And I'm the guy that ranked the last Angry Youth Comix in his Best of 2008. It's coming soon from Fantagraphics, a 120-page softcover for $12.99. I'll tell you when it's out, so you can buy it.

Funny thing about Ryan: his reputation as a relentless gross out gag man tends to obscure how versatile his art can be, and how catholic he is with format. He's got his Angry Youth pamphlet comic; his Blecky Yuckarella strip styled like a newspaper daily; comics and illustrations in magazines; limited edition minicomics collected into small books - and all of them are different in how they approach the comedy. Hell, Angry Youth has been pushing itself harder into shock horror-in-comedy-form with every new issue, with corresponding advances in Ryan's control of pace; pit that against the unabashed dirty sketchbook glee of his minicomics, and you can see the ease with which he switches modes while remaining entirely himself.

Well here's the next step: the bookshelf-ready original series. It goes places even longtime readers might not expect.

The first thing you'll notice about Prison Pit is that it's as tightly controlled as recent Angry Youths issues, but much airier; most pages are four-panel grids, with splashes sometimes interrupting to emphasize massive landscapes. It's also oddly quiet - the first 17 pages have just over half a dozen panels with any dialogue at all, and what's there is curt chit-chat and shit-talking; no exposition.

I say 'oddly' quiet because this is a (sometimes literally) balls-out fight comic, three chapters long with one major fight in each, seeing a nameless, shirtless outer space barbarian antihero damned to the titular wasteland, a vast space beneath the crust of a barren planet, populated by the worst of the worst, where violence is the only law and weird creatures roam free. It's not a parody, as diabolically emphatic as the artist's take on the material can get - nearly every line is either some curt, profane tough guy invitation to pain or an exclamation of agony or surprise, as if Ryan somehow distilled all the badass chest-thumping moments from three months of superhero comics and action manga and used only that stuff for his characterization.

And it works! This super-blunt take on the concept meshes perfectly with Ryan's visual style, which tears out the slickness of Angry Youth's characters to focus on visceral combat action and reaction -- he's switched from brush to pen -- with near-whimsical designs accumulating scratches and gashes and rips and tears until they're nearly in the state of notebook scribbles. No fancy acrobatics here: Ryan's art is less about sweeping movement than studied gesture, close-range impact, guys almost systematically taking each other to pieces across those steady panel beats. Which isn't to say there's no sophistication:

Check out how the first tier keeps Our Man steady, scratched down in panel 1 then punched off guard in panel 2. Then our point of view slowly draws closer in the bottom tier, as if pulling him in from panel 3 to the mass confusion of rips and bites in panel 4. I love the quiet of the latter scratches, the noise of blood left to speak for itself while a tiny "BITE" marks the only action we haven't yet seen.

Other pages are less polite, wrapping characters in so much physical activity the storytelling borders on the surreal. Here's three pages from early on, in which the fighter tangles with a man's living entrails:

By that last page you wonder if the printer didn't get its files mixed up with Abstract Comics: The Anthology. Yet Ryan simply knows to leave nothing off the table in pressing the action, from bodily distortion to old-school manga effects - note the final panel's ultra-rare English usage of Osamu Tezuka's famous "SILENCE" sound effect.

Manga strikes me as crucial to this work. While Ryan has cited contemporary alternative fantasy comics like Powr Mastrs and The Mourning Star (and the works of Benjamin Marra) as influences, he also highlights Kentarō Miura's Berserk, the manic ferocity of which seems a more immediate inspiration. Hell, I was reminded most of Takayuki Yamaguchi's infamously excessive shōnen battle manga Apocalypse Zero, wherein the driven boy hero and his super-suit took on a huge monster woman using human faces as pasties and an old man firing deadly semen darts while swinging his mighty balls.

Prison Pit has the same spirit, a sense of sheer imagination missing from so many North American action comics. You've seen the living guts, but how about a guy with a sub-body popping out when his head gets severed? Or the dude who squirts his chest acne to release a stream of razor-sharp goo capable of taking off a man's arm? Or a naked man that prepares for battle by jerking off and spurting out a bio-organic power suit? By that point the nameless 'hero' is barely more than a mass of ink scrapes, and you half-expect his body to change, if only because Ryan's fascination with bodies coming apart and re-forming seems to demand it as part of the book's ecosystem.

But then, that's another thing. Prison Pit is absolutely obsessed with bodily functions; maybe you'd expect that from Ryan, but its never been blown up to this extent. Where Ryan's jokes often run on piss, shit, farts, cum and puke, his action comic posits an entire world totally ruled by biological function. It's not just guys hitting each other - almost every special attack in this thing is a manifestation of some bodily mechanism, captured so carefully by Ryan's flesh-on-flesh approach to fighting.

And then there's the landscapes, the SILENCE. Among the first images of the book is a none-too-subtle glimpse of a prison spaceship's long elevator shaft probing into a hole in the planetary surface; the pit is thus fertilized with action. At times Ryan's panels veer in to examine ooze dripping from a cactus, critters feasting on goop, little worms slurping up blood; if the pithy conversations of Ryan's characters evokes a Fist of the North Star spin on C.F., his places are sheer Teratoid Heights, with a touch of Jim Woodring's holy-obscure cartoon iconography.

None of this seems out of place. It's a breathing, crapping world, one fluent in multiple comics traditions and wholly appropriate for the gross clashes of Ryan's fighters, deepening everything with no time wasted on explanation. I mean, who the fuck wants to watch people stand around and talk in a fight comic?

This really needs to be experienced on its own. It's rich, clever, energetic, funny - I don't think I've purely in-my-guts enjoyed another comic so much in 2009. It builds and builds on Ryan's body comedy and body horror, into a total body world, action comics as pure function. It's climax dives into what appears to be a straight homage to another popular manga I daren't name, and then pushes it past fighting, past violence and all the way into the realm of goddamned erotic idyll.

Fuck it. You've gotta see it to believe it. That final scene might as well last forever and end the story for good -- it works perfectly -- though the title says there's sequels. I hope there's a dozen.


They all rise again this week.

*And I'm not talking Blackest Night #2.


The Events of 2005 (a never-published essay from three and a half years ago, trying to lay out just what the superhero 'event' crossover is, and how its market presence seem to override the necessity of, y'know, reading things)


Dark Reign: Zodiac #2 (of 3), The Boys #33 and Absolution #1 (of 6) (three cuts of superhero decadence, all different, fresh this week)

At The Savage Critics!


G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (the recent film, with other stuff)

At comiXology!

*Obligatory Readin' Dept: Dan Nadel offers up a double rarity: (1) a firmly negative review of Darwyn Cooke's The Hunter that (2) focuses squarely on Cooke's visual approach as both an instrument of adaptation and a means of storytelling. Many illustrations. Go look.

*It's not on Diamond's list or anything, but if you happen to run into The Comics Journal #299, remember: new Bob Levin.

Otherwise -


Starstruck #1 (of 13): Being the gala return to print of the Elaine Lee/Michael Wm. Kaluta classic, one of the most ambitious sci-fi comics projects to come screaming into early '80s being out of Heavy Metal, then the Marvel Graphic Novels, and then Epic Comics. It all sort of defies synopsis, so let's just call it a massively detailed feat of universe building, following scores of characters -- the luckless! the abandoned! the forsaken! -- across 'decades' (so to speak) of interstellar experience as a whirligig saga of power, exploitation and human comedy thunders around them, equal parts illusion and allusion, and so much more. I've gone into much more detail elsewhere, if you're interested, but it's probably best you just flip through this issue and soak in the dense imagination of the thing.

Fair warning, though: the story never actually finished, and this IDW pamphlet incarnation isn't quite going any further than before; I think the going estimate at this rate would see a proper ending around a prospective issue #40. So rather, the miniseries is taking the latter day, super-dense expanded content Dark Horse editions of the material (1990-91) and adding all-new colors by Lee Moyer, while Kaluta opens up the pages with expanded art -- including new drawing added to pre-existing panels! -- so as to give the stuff a grander feel. Each issue will also include new introductions, back-up humor stories from here and there (inked by Charles Vess, re-colored by Moyer, many previously unpublished), and a helpful ongoing glossary of terms. I have all this stuff already, and you bet I'll buy it again. It's $3.99 per issue, and it'll last ya longer than all the rest. For yet more education, with creator comments and preview images, consult Newsarama's three-part feature.

(And hey, if you're in Big Sur, CA this Saturday: live reading of the original play, to benefit Gene Colan.)

Dominic Fortune #1 (of 4): What the hell? This does indeed seem to be Underground Bridge Era Marvel/Epic revival week in the Direct Market, so buckle up for a MAX-rated outing for creator/writer/artist Howard Chaykin's acrobatic rogue of the 1930s, native to Marvel's non-Code, Warren-like b&w magazines of the mid-70s -- Marvel Preview, Marvel Super Action -- but really an offshoot of an earlier, pulp-influenced Chaykin period adventure hero, the Scorpion (published by the ex-Marvel, ex-Warren klatch of Atlas/Seaboard Comics, ironically enough). This new story promises old-timey Hollywood debauchery and Southern-fried intrigue, with the fate of a nation in Depression on the like; fitting that Fortune should return in a modern Mature Readers venue, still set apart from the superhero norm. Have a peek.

GrimJack: The Manx Cat #1 (of 6): Ok IDW, now it's just getting weird. John Ostrander & Timothy Truman return, for a $3.99 print edition of some 2007-08 material initially presented online at ComicMix.

The Marquis: Inferno: Guy Davis, where are you?! Aw, he'll be back to B.P.R.D. before you know it, but right now he's cooking up some new material for this b&w solo series about an 18th century inquisitor who becomes possessed with the power to gaze into the souls of the damned and conduct a little masked purification of the wild demons that spring forth. It's basically a vivid historical fantasy with lots of monster fighting, and now Dark Horse has seen fit to collect essentially all extant material -- including the two Oni trades, Danse Macabre and Intermezzo -- into a 336-page omnibus adorned with guest art, a 56-page sketch section and an introduction by Mike Mignola. It's $24.95; here's some samples.

The Big Kahn: A new original softcover from writer Neil Kleid and artist Nicolas Cinquegrani, exploring the familial fallout that occurs when a longtime rabbi is revealed to have never been a Jew; call it this week's literary comic possibility. From NBM, 176 b&w pages for $13.95; preview.

Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales: The Xeric Grant for self-publishing rides again as artist J.T. Yost (as Birdcage Bottom Books) presents a 56-page, $6.95 collection of monochrome stories, funny and downcast at once, I understand. Lots of samples here; worth taking a look.

Charlatan Ball: Book 1: Collecting Joe Casey's & Andy Suriano's surreal series-so-far into 160 color pages of swirling magical world-hopping. Look at this. From Image, $16.99.

Eerie Archives Vol. 2: Hm? You want your reprints from further back? Ok, how about a $49.95 hardcover with 240 pages of b&w horror comics from 1966-67? Features: Gray Morrow, Frank Frazetta, Steve Ditko, Johnny Craig, Neal Adams, John Severin, Reed Crandall, Gene Colan, Angelo Torres, Joe Orlando, and writing by Archie Goodwin. You know the drill.

The Sandman by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby: Further! Further! All the way back to the '40s likes of World's Finest Comics and Adventure Comics for 304 pages' worth of gold-hued fisticuffs in and out of dreams, which wiped away the gas mask and suit for a brighter brand of action. Also includes 1974's Sandman #1, a Bronze Age revamp and the very last Simon & Kirby collaboration. From DC, in their usual hardcover Kirby reprint format; $39.99.

Ultimate Comics Avengers #1: I have it on good authority that some kind of plate-cracking world Event recently went down in Marvel's Ultimate line, resulting in people's heads getting shot open and/or squished like a can of tuna in the path an all-terrain vehicle, thus causing series to start over at issue #1 from the stress. I can't imagine this particular re-launch won't do pretty well in sales, since writer Mark Millar probably still has some goodwill stored up from his work on its prior incarnation (more or less), The Ultimates. Your $3.99 will get you the first of six parts in the opening storyline, with art by Carlos Pacheco. Preview. Also launching this week is writer Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, with art by David Lafuente of Patsy Walker: Hellcat.

Red Herring #1 (of 6): One of those random Wildstorm miniseries that crop up these days. David Tischman's story features aliens and corporate interests and politics and a pretty girl, but readers of this site will want to be on notice of art by the very fine Philip Bond. Hey, only $2.99. Preview.

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle - Preview: Another one of Avatar's less-expensive ($1.99) sampler pamphlets related to an upcoming project, this one the third in writer Garth Ennis' series of works about a friendly Antichrist just looking to get by on Earth with his talking rabbit and his brain-damaged pal the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The first of these things (a miniseries) was decent enough, basically a reaffirmation of Ennis' feelings on how humankind needs to fend for itself in the world. The second, The Last Enemy (a one-shot) was hopelessly unnecessary. I dunno how six more issues of this stuff will go, although there's some added interest in the presence of artist Oscar Jimenez, a popular superhero guy from the late '90s who's been doing some irregular stuff for the publisher (like a few issues of Gravel); I think this is set to be his first longform work in a while. Expect preview pages in here, along with some sketchbook samples.

Punisher: War Zone: Also - a $19.99 collection of Ennis' & Steve Dillon's recent Marvel series, antic and such.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5 (of 8): That's right, back from hiatus. Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo. This. And don't miss special guest Gary Gianni on a MonsterMen backup.

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2 (of 5): Oh, this too. Mignola, Dysart, Moon & Bá. Yeah.

From the Ashes #3 (of 6): After the fall, with Bob Fingerman. In this issue, religion pokes its head into the post-cataclysm landscape. Big week for IDW, eh? As usual, $3.99.

Abhay Khosla's Bram Stoker's Dracula #3 (of 5): Carried not by Diamond, but by the United States of the Internet. The action heats up, as Our Heroes face difficult choices: "Our final exam was on pain, and I wrote my answer in cold, hard semen." Weekly comics, man.

Wednesday Comics #6 (of 12): Man.

Mushi-shi: The Movie: This isn't a comic at all, no, but I think it's worth mentioning since big box retailers aren't getting it in for another two weeks - a $24.98 R1 dvd release of Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo's 2006 live-action movie adaptation of Yuki Urushibara's excellent Mushishi manga series, concerning a doctor/shaman who knows the secrets of primal, seemingly mystic organisms that affect humans in strange/wonderful/terrible ways. A FUNimation release; a larger, misleading horror movie trailer (from another company) is here. Seriously, Katsuhiro Otomo?



*This week's comiXology column is an odd one, I admit. It's ostensibly a review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, with added thoughts on Blackest Night, but conceived as a tribute to the late John Hughes, hence the youthful angst, Beethoven jokes, bonding between unlikely friends and (sorry!) a rather sentimental denouement.

And yeah, you'll see what I mean, but let's not forget this lil' critter:

Rest in peace you beautiful son of a bitch.



DM, 2005

What follows is time travel.

The past few days have seen some considered posting on the decline of the Direct Market. So, in the spirit of commemoration, here's an essay I wrote in late 2005 about one of the native Direct Market species: the superhero Event crossover. It was originally composed for a print venue, so as to introduce and explain the contours and implications of the thing to an audience not necessarily common law wedded to DC/Marvel storytelling-marketing schemes. The idea is that you can choose not to read these stories, but you nonetheless have to cope with them, so you'd better know what you're getting into, what kind of tent to bring, how to repel bears, etc.

It ultimately wasn't accepted for publication, no doubt owing in part to my cheery insistence on talking about comics I readily admitted to not having read, to say nothing of my tone and structure, which in retrospect seems intermittently evocative of a James Quall-like celebrity impersonation of David Foster Wallace. I had footnotes, oh yes, which I've now either worked into the text proper, converted to hyperlinks or just plain deleted if nothing of even subatomic value was lost. Obviously the images are new, and the format is switched up a little, but it remains something I wrote three and a half years ago.

Still, even though all of the information and commentary is entirely specific to that period in time, I think it retains a certain snapshot quality today, hence my retaining even the bits that all but beg for editing, like the Terra Obscura stuff. These basic mechanisms still endure, and even individual aspects sometimes recur - I'd totally forgotten that the issue of Batman's identity had been hyped up as an aspect of the Infinite Crisis fallout too. Something to keep in mind as the eulogies are given, and the retailers stand around like Tom Sawyer. That's life in the funnies.


Ruminations On the Topic of the Contemporary Superhero Event Comic, Having Barely Read Infinite Crisis and/or the Rest of It.

I. Comics Series Begun In 2005 That I Have Not Read

A. Day of Vengeance.

B. The OMAC Project.

C. Rann-Thanagar War.

D. Villains United.

E. House of M.

F. Infinite Crisis. (Well, not as closely as I could read, at least.)

Now, why would a fellow be moved to write a bunch of things about books he hasn’t even read?

Let me tell you, then, about a book I have read.

II. The Unfortunate Defeat of Adam Strange

Adam Strange was an eight issue miniseries, published by DC Comics in 2004 and 2005. As one might expect from the title, it was a revival of the classic protagonist of Mystery in Space, who’d made the occasional guest appearance here and there in recent years. There was a two-part 1998 storyline in JLA, issues #20 and #21, written by Mark Waid with pencils by Arnie Jorgensen and inks by David Meikis, and the 2004 Julius Schwartz tribute book DC Comics Presents Mystery in Space, with one story by Grant Morrison and Jerry Ordway/Mark McKenna, and another by Elliot S! Maggin and J.H. Williams III.

The latter book was additionally noteworthy as by far the strongest of an octet of similarly-branded Schwartz tributes, with the Maggin/Williams story providing sleek, effective entertainment, and Morrison/Ordway story standing out as one of the few to vigorously engage with the subject of the banner's toasting and applauding, mixing sci-fi adventure with political comment in the art and dialogue, with a caption-fueled line of musings on the contrast between Schwartz’s editorial approach as a comics futurist and the social realities of his era laid atop - thus, the story’s very form is ‘torn between two worlds,’ as is the historical positioning of the work under examination, and Adam himself in the story proper.

And with Adam Strange the series, writer Andy Diggle, for the first few issues at least, did maintain a crisp action storytelling beat, the title character careening all over the place on a quest to find out what happened to his beloved Rann, as artist Pasqual Ferry provided plenty of energetic pulp poses and postures, assisted mightily by the candied colors and spackled sheen of colorist Dave McCaig. I got to the book a little late, I confess, but good word-of-mouth turned my attention, and I was fairly compelled. Again, at first.

In retrospect, problems were evident with the book from about the halfway point. There was far too much attention paid to reintroducing seemingly every outer-space character crowding up the DC back catalog, and the pursuant characterizations were not compelling enough to make it seem like more than an exercise in nominal refurbishment. But - at least the book sped forward, and at least a sweet, junky sense could be made of it all.

Diggle, in an interview with Comic Foundry [NOW OFFLINE -Ed], would later make a reference to how the book taught him “...to always agree to the ending before you start. Having the goalposts move mid-game is never a good idea.”

The finale to Adam Strange read to me as significantly compromised, rushed in a certain unnatural direction. The resolution of a fight with the series’ main heavy is, oddly, shunted off to the side. Previously unseen characters appear suddenly to offer painfully abrupt aid at crucial moments. Logic contorts in order to send the planet of Rann zipping straight into the proximity of Thanagar, home of many a winged entity, with no immediate means of escape. There is no finale, no resolution, not even the moment’s rest afforded the gallant heroes and bold crews of the silver screen serials the series occasionally evoked with its bombastic cliffhanger endings.

No, there would be war between Rann and Thanagar. And it would have its own miniseries. And there would be a totally different creative team. And it would be one of several simultaneous miniseries. And they would feed into another miniseries. And there would be tie-ins and relations and impact, all over the map, tendrils of gelatinous continuity snaking outward to embrace wide swathes of the shared DC Universe.

It would be, in short, an Event.

And if such things are going to impose themselves on my reading experience, regardless of whether I'm reading them or not, then I find I can’t help but study them, or at least how they appear, what they’re made of, what they seem to be and how they seem to work.

III. Numbers Don’t Lie - They Watch Their Words

Infinite Crisis is the current DC Universe Event.

Infinite Crisis is a seven-issue miniseries.

Infinite Crisis is a sequel of sorts to the nostalgia-charged yesteryear line reorganization Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Infinite Crisis inspires a number of tie-in issues of continuing titles.

Infinite Crisis follows directly from a quartet of lead-in miniseries, along with their own tie-in issues of other continuing titles.

Infinite Crisis feeds off of a character tone accrued from months of disparate storylines and motivations for its thematic weight.

Infinite Crisis is the instrument by which the directions of several continuing titles will be altered; in fact, it will be setting off yet another line-wide relaunch among DC superhero books.

Infinite Crisis is also a big seller. According to sales charts posted at ICv2.com, tracking sales from Diamond US to comic specialty stores, Infinite Crisis #1 sold an estimated 249,265 copies in October of 2005, the month of its initial release. In second place, dropping down to an estimated 134,429 copies, was issue #7 of House of M, an eight-issue miniseries from Marvel. House of M is Marvel’s latest Event.

There’s a lot of considerations to take into account when reading these numbers - for one thing, they only represent sales from Diamond to comics stores, not from comics stores to readers. Also, the numbers on Infinite Crisis have doubtlessly been goosed by the presence of a variant cover, which, without fail, guarantees that some stores will be beefing up their orders to supply their customers with additional collectable material. Plus, one ought to take into account the price tags of each individual issue ($3.99 for Infinite Crisis, $2.99 for House of M) to grasp the true sales impact of each title.

After all of this, one gets the sense that they’re reading entrails more than anything, but fortunately the message is the same - titles like Infinite Crisis and House of M are worth big money, and sell big numbers.

They’re not alone, mind you - also in the top five that month are issue #12 of the high-profile Brian Michael Bendis relaunch New Avengers, the second issue of the Alex Ross-powered alternate universe project Justice, and issue #1 of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, both a new Spider-Man title and the kick-off of a big Spider-Man family crossover. Of course, with the above slew of caveats in mind, you ought to note that by that fifth place slot the sales numbers are down to 85,761. By fiftieth place, the numbers plunge to 36,450. There’s a grand total of one book not released by a Marvel or DC-owned label in that top fifty - Spawn #150, at number 45, from Image.

But Infinite Crisis’ numbers in particular are inordinately large, second only to those of issue #1 of the Frank Miller/Jim Lee book All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder from July 2005 (261,046 in its initial month of release), which logged the highest numbers of its sort since ICv2 began tracking sales in 2001. (Yes, there was a variant cover on that one too.)

And the big trick is that Events like Infinite Crisis and House of M (which debuted at 233,000 in June of 2005, no potatoes and onions itself) don’t just score big sales for themselves - they lift up affiliated books, boosting sales of ongoing titles that tie in, and even supporting supplementary miniseries, lead-ins and epilogues. Thus, their influence extends beyond the reach of their covers, a trick that can’t be as easily managed by plain old New Avengers.

Part of the appeal of Events to their target audiences, after all, is precisely that they are not confined to a mere miniseries and an inevitable collected edition. If you are a reader of Batman, for instance, the story will affect Batman, and you ought to read it. If you are a fan of Wonder Woman, or Superman, or Hawkman, or Birds of Prey, or the Demon - same thing. The universe itself will be shaken by these occurrences, as that is part of their appeal, the necessity that brings in their increased sales both within and without the contours of the primary Event series itself.

As I’m sure you’re muttering to yourself right now, yes, this does seem to cater solely to an extremely devout audience. Yes, this does appear to erect a difficult-to-surmount barrier for new readers, especially when calamitous Event fallout suffuses a large number of books, occasionally upsetting seemingly unrelated storylines (see: Adam Strange). This can act as an annoyance to constant readers who are otherwise uninterested in the overarching megastory. But I posit that it’s virtually impossible to be reading superhero comic books from Marvel or DC today without feeling the grip of the Event surrounding you. One is occurring, or one is on the way.

This inspires certain thoughts in the reader - even if one is not predisposed toward interest in such stories, perhaps they’ll want to look at how these things work, and ponder their mechanics, their most naked appeal. And all Events don’t proceed in the same manner.

IV. The Anatomy Syllabus

Infinite Crisis is, if nothing else, encompassing. For one thing, it feeds off of a tone that’s been established for months and months throughout DC superhero books, one that can most simply be traced back to Identity Crisis, a prior, less swelled Event that began in August of 2004.

It was a somewhat simpler thing, a seven-issue miniseries centered around the mysterious murder of the Elongated Man’s wife - it had some tie-ins in ongoing titles, it purported to reveal the secret truth behind pieces of DC back-continuity, the hidden poisons of the Silver Age, and it set up future clash between the iconic DC superhero characters, stemming from lies and arguable immorality among the lead characters.

The seeds of discord thus sewn, May of 2005 brought Countdown to Infinite Crisis, a one dollar, 80-page book, created by a slew of writers and artists, essentially devoted to setting up the quartet of miniseries that would feed into Infinite Crisis, climaxing with the attention-grabbing execution-style shooting death of the Blue Beetle, just to drive home the sheer import of the occurrences therein.

Those miniseries -- the OMAC Project, Villains United, Day of Vengeance, and Rann-Thanagar War -- each stretched in premise to cover different aspects of the DC Universe, from heroes and villains on the ground to technology and magic to the far reaches of outer space. These series essentially led into Infinite Crisis, although their own action sometimes spilled out into tie-ins of varying import, of which there were over twenty total; the most immediately noticeable example of this is when a major plot point in the OMAC Project wound up actually appearing in a tie-in issue of Wonder Woman, scripted by OMAC writer Greg Rucka, rather than the series proper.

Rucka later apologized for the situation in an interview with Newsarama: “I want to say, before anything else that we tried very hard to build OMAC so that you weren’t obligated to buy anything else, and we failed.”

As suggested above, I’ve not read any of these ‘feeder’ miniseries. I can’t speak for their quality as stories. What I can speak for is their volume, their grasp - if nothing else, there is the appearance of touching nearly everything, and that is perhaps the key: before it even began, Infinite Crisis had its fingerprints all over the DC Universe, whether through mere reference or storyline disruption or the conveyance of the major plot points of one book in another book.

Messy, but it gave the appearance of permanence, of a swaggering force rumbling across the landscape - it’s thus easier to see the actual Infinite Crisis series as something of sweep and might, capable of upsetting universes, which is just the suggestion left by the storyline itself, or at least the two issues published as of this writing. After all - it’s already wiped out stories, and it’ll wipe out more before it’s through. Put into a few words, it has the air of permanence.

In contrast, House of M was from the beginning set up with a sense of restraint about it. Spilling out of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ attention-grabbing run on The Avengers -- which eventually led to the relaunch of the book as the aforementioned New Avengers; see how these things tie together? -- the story involved something of an alternate universe being created, with assorted Marvel characters taking on new roles, with the obligatory shattering changes awaiting upon the restoration of the original world. In accordance, various ongoing books temporarily changed to reflect the new realities of the House of M universe.

House of M is an Event, much like Infinite Crisis - it shares many of the same traits: it has a single miniseries core (eight issues here), it reaches beyond the bounds of that core into tie-ins, and it purports to shake up the applicable superhero universe at large, promising much for the future. But the very whiff of ‘alternate universe’ surrounding House of M perhaps leaves it grasping for what Infinite Crisis holds firmly in its fist - having set up a plainly removable alternate world for the action of the story, House of M perhaps makes itself too transparent in concept. It is evident that some things will be kept, and some will be left behind upon the inevitable dissolving of the alternate world. All tie-ins are carefully secured within the confines of this fantasy; anything can happen, but anything can be thrown to the side at the Event’s conclusion.

(Let’s keep things in perspective, though - none of this prevented the Chris Claremont-scripted House of M epilogue one-shot Decimation: House of M - The Day After from selling 96,734 copies in November.)

This is frankly true of most world-shaking superhero storylines; even minor bits of history and character are up for erasing by a subsequent editorial mandate or creative team. But from my perspective, House of M seems almost self-referential in this way, as far as concept goes. The ‘alternate universe’ story is hardly new, but when paired with the invasive, arguably sloppier Infinite Crisis, it seems coy, withdrawn in its promises for the future, and those are important things for any Event - once you’ve purported to shake up a continuing world, readers will obviously want to read about that world post-shaking. Taken on such terms, House of M seems curiously (if honestly) uncertain about itself. DC might well triumph through force of excitement, and the feeling that things are really happening in their line, that there’s no going back for anyone.

The superhero-acclimated observer can sense the appeal, and perhaps begin to understand how the march has continued to such financial success for this year and one half.

V. Seeing Things

I can sense it, at least. I find myself inadvertently overlaying the blueprint of the Event over largely unrelated books.

For example, I recently re-read the first volume of Terra Obscura, a six-issue miniseries begun in August of 2003, released by the DC-owned America’s Best Comics, plot by Alan Moore and Peter Hogan, script by Hogan, and art by Yanick Paquette and Karl Story. It’s a spin-off featuring characters ‘introduced’ in issues #11 and #12 of the Moore-written Tom Strong, though they’re actually public domain superheroes originally presented in books by Golden Age publisher Nedor Comics.

The plot of the initial Terra Obscura storyline involves seemingly every superhero in its particular universe joining up to battle a terrifying common threat that threatens to undo their world by unraveling time itself. And moving through, parsing the book’s large cast, I began to feel that the story was in fact simulating a world-changing Event, except it was necessarily only providing the core miniseries.

Relationships between characters are alluded to throughout the story, there’s abrupt guest appearances and references to earlier adventures, all of which remain unknown to the reader, since no other material beyond the original Tom Strong appearances exists - it feels very much as if its intentionally leaving things out for fantasy supplementary texts, forcing the reader to fill in the tie-ins with their own imaginations. It almost mocks the set-up of a world-changing story, but remains quite successful in retaining coherency whilst offering a gentle sense of missing things, evoking a type of loss in the reader, a desire to search out more than cannot be fulfilled. I realized this upon my initial reading, but now it seems especially canny in its construction, almost prescient in its toying with Event concerns.

(There is also currently a second Terra Obscura available; it was also a six-issue miniseries, dealing mainly with the type of World’s Finest relationship riffs that one presumes Moore can do in his sleep at this point. Still, a sequence in which a sociopathic puritan Batman figure keeps himself alive by literally implanting his brain in the head of his kid sidekick offers some pleasant revamp-minded kick of critique. Both series are now collected into trades.)

More contemporary is the quite excellent Grant Morrison-written Seven Soldiers project, which kicked off in April of 2005; a thirty-book mass of releases, this project can be seen in the context of current Events as an experiment in nearly all tie-ins, with very little in the way of a core story. Seven Soldiers consists of a pair of bookending one-shots, with seven four-issue miniseries inserted in between. Part of the premise of the project is that the title heroes of the seven miniseries never actually meet one another, though their actions go a ways toward defeating yet another world-menacing threat.

It’s a bit of a ship-in-a-bottle spin on the Event, with the spotlight thrown on characters caught up in events that they rarely comprehend in full - some of the miniseries are (as of now) barely connected to the ‘main’ plat, whole some are tightly connected. The rub is, there’s hardly any core to speak of here, allowing for Morrison to riff on endless variations of the theme of transformation, while commenting upon such metafictional concerns as the nature of the superhero revamp, and the role of the hero in an increasingly dark universe.

In this way, the project often seems like something of a response to the often gloomy subject matter of DC’s main continuum of Events - actually, it is strongly suggested from the content of Infinite Crisis’ two extant issues that the Event itself means to engage with the nature of 'dark' superheroics through the appearance of an earlier continuity's Superman-family cast. Such decadence is not within the scope of this particular piece, but it’s an interesting thing to consider as both projects move forward.

The trick with Seven Soldiers is that it probably succeeds better in this way than in the manner suggested through its writer’s own promises about its modular setup - Morrison had noted in September, in an interview with Comicon.com [NOW OFFLINE -Ed] that "If you choose to buy only Klarion: the Witch Boy, say or The Manhattan Guardian you'll still get a complete and satisfying four-issue mini-series which sets up the characters and establishes them for future adventure." That prior March, a more ambitious Morrison told Daniel Robert Epstein of Suicide Girls: “Each of the four issues are also self-contained reads because I wanted to try a completely modular story.” This theory was pretty much dead in the water in my mind as early as the first (cliffhanger) ending of the first issue of the first miniseries.

Yet the element of 'spillover' present in actual Events (and duly simulated in Terra Obscura) also isn’t quite present, as is perhaps necessary given the resolutely self-contained nature of the affair. The most enjoyment of the project can probably be extracted by viewing it as a thirty-issue maxiseries, cross-cutting from happening to happening and providing a mosaic of forgotten characters being made better in a worsening universe. But we can always see the edges, the contours of the universe in this book. Part of the appeal of the Event, I think, is that it stretches onward and farther.

Does that make for worse storytelling on the whole? Likely. But perhaps direct 'telling of a story' is no longer the only concern of such comics.

VI. Infinity

Back in the world of the huge-sellers, the earth-shakers, we continue to rumble forward. Both Marvel and DC have announced their 2006 plans.

Following Infinite Crisis, the countless relaunched, revamped DC superhero books will be leaping forward one year into the future with new creative teams (I’m especially looking forward to Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin’s Hawkman revamp, Hawkgirl), with a weekly omnibus series titled 52 set to fill in the continuity gaps.

Marvel has launched a number of post-House of M miniseries under the banner of Decimation; later this year, a cosmic-centered storyline titled Annihilation, consisting of its own prologue one-shot, quartet of feeder miniseries, and climactic self-titled miniseries. And, most pertinently, it’s prepping a more line-wide Event titled Civil War, to begin in a Bendis-scripted one-shot titled New Avengers: The Illuminati and later spin out into a multitude of yet unannounced miniseries and tie-ins, many featuring the involvement of writer Mark Millar. It will also tie into House of M. The world of Marvel superheroes will change. Etc.

And if it strikes you as odd that so many major things seem to be happening on such a regular basis, well, first of all you have lots of sales figures to read, and plenty of short-term benefits and long-term detriments to infer, or maybe it’s the other way around if you so choose to see it that way. What is clear is that the mechanics of the Event will remain relatively constant, throughout all of the change - the story will spread, it will span a continuum, it will promise permanence and other things for the future.

The future.

Thinking back on the recent reactions to the conclusion of House of M, one recurring sentiment really struck me. It was the attitude that the story itself wasn’t all that good - too spread out, a little bloated, the tie-ins were kind of weak. But: the plot points it hit, the new set-up it created from the ashes of the old - it held a lot of promise for future stories, the potential for interesting things to come.

And aren’t all of these things looking toward the future? Isn’t forward momentum a vital component of all of this galaxy-quaking? Maybe the mechanics of the affair transform the stories of these Events themselves to something of secondary importance, something beneath what is promised. After all, these superhero universes - they’re never going to end, right?

In dealing with such potentials, maybe I’m in a safe place, having read so little. Maybe I just need to look forward to things as well, things that look good, and keep my money in my pocket. Just keep thinking.

What happened in that lost DC year?

How will those few remaining mutants get by?

Who will be Batman? Who will be Catwoman?

How will Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin handle Hawkgirl?

Ah! To be one of the engines of the current market, and so very nearly beside the point!