A Week to Avenge.

*I bet Mike will enjoy this one: two mentions of “Swamp Thing” in the new “Entertainment Weekly” (#795)! The first appears in an illustration to a news story about the lack of female late-night talk show hosts, which is surely the most natural place to expect to find Swamp Thing: the illustration depicts Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Conan O’Brien hanging out in a tree-house with a big read “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign. Conan is reading issue #12 of the first “Swamp Thing”, series, the cover depicting Swampy’s battle with some dinosaur, truly the stuff of which the dreams of adolescent future late night variety program hosts are made of. The book gets a more prominent mention in the “Buried Treasures” feature article, tracking unreleased or suppressed works in pop culture. Among the mentions of Stanley Kubrick’s “Fear and Desire” and Jerry Lewis’ “The Day the Clown Cried”, we get Rick Veitch’s infamous ‘Jesus’ issue of the series’ second run. It’s neat to note that the blurb’s headline screams 'Rick Veitch', not 'Swamp Thing', which was a great touch. Also included in the same article is a mention of that beloved Roger Corman “Fantastic Four” feature, a more immediately obvious choice (given the new film coming out) but not quite as satisfying.

*As a bit of an addendum to yesterday’s Crumb post, I also picked up the latest issue of “The New Yorker” with a lovely Crumb cover. It’s ‘The Cartoon Issue’, prior editions of which didn’t impress me much at all (I think Chris Ware had a good strip in last year’s though) but this issue already has an excellent 6-page fold-out ad for Johnny Walker Black by Seth (!) which has little to do with Scotch but everything to do with that mood of contemplation that I like to pretend I’m in while drinking Johnny Walker and trying not to listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover band that’s playing on the level below me and avoiding folks I sort of knew in high school while pacing in back of the people at the bar. The issue also features a lengthy “Peanuts” appreciation by Jonathan Franzen (which I haven’t read) and the usual expanded comics section.


Fatty Arbuckle & his Funny Friends: Yes! I was hoping we’d see the second volume of this reprint project in the US! Released by Fantagraphics and sporting a spiffy cover by Kim Deitch, this oversized pamphlet will reprint a whole bunch of early 1920’s strips from “The Kinema Comic”, a British publication devoted to comics based on stars of silent comedy. Most of the strips are full-page six-panel affairs with both word balloons within the frame and lengthy text descriptions below each scene. Really, it’s the text that seals the deal for me: “So off went the merry pair, and when the old man did see them - wow! His hat flew off, and he jazzed in his aggravation, so wild was he. 'Toodle-oo, old bean!'” The jolly-ho atmosphere prevents this from being enjoyed in anything more than very small portions, but holy smokes does it make for a nice time-capsule. The focus of these strips will be the infamous Fatty, mentor to Buster Keaton, occasional co-star with Chaplin in their early Keystone days, and one of my personal favorite silent clowns. I’m certain that this release will outsell both “New Avengers” and “The Ultimates 2” combined, so you’d better accost the delivery man as he approaches your store tomorrow and seize your copy right out of the box before the riots begin, The Great Arbuckle Riots of 2004 as they’ll be called on Newsarama before their servers collapse under the weight of the scores of comments that this book will doubtlessly prompt. Celebrate the comics apocalypse with Fatty! Buy this book!

Street Angel #4: Another new issue full of surprises. I was not nearly as dumbfounded by last issue as some readers were; I thought that the tone of gory dark humor was established right in issue one; it just became somewhat more prevalent in issue three. This issue is also expected to provide some jarring twists, but the grain of salt is now firmly positioned on my tongue; not that it matters much, since the level of quality in this book has always been high, and I expect good things on Wednesday, the intensity of the subject matter notwithstanding.

Bipolar #1: Now reprinted by Alternative Comics! Tomar and Assaf Hanuka are the talents behind this well-regarded series, along with writer Etgar Keret, and some of the brighter shops I’ve come across have already stocked up on the other three issues to accompany this new edition of the initial outing. You may recall Tomar’s work from the covers of several DC books like “Hard Time”. I’ve heard only nice things about this material, and now’s a good time to get acquainted.

Lore Vol. 1: Collecting issues #1-3 of writer/artist Ashley Wood and writer T.P. Louise’s multi-generational saga of bitter magicians and mythology gone wild upon the human world. It’s actually a mix of comics and prose (and by issue #4, not collected here, the balance has tipped quite heavily toward the prose) but it’s an entertaining story, and Wood’s art is at its prettiest. I already have all of these issues, but you might want to flip through this one on the stands, and see what you think.

The Intimates #2: The visual presentation was the very essence of ‘trying too hard’, but I still enjoyed the first issue of this superhero preparatory school story from Joe Casey and Guiseppe Camuncoli, with small touches by Jim Lee. Let’s see where the story is going.

New Avengers #1: The story that directly preceded this one didn’t really go anywhere, of course. But it doesn’t matter. This book is pretty much a guaranteed hit, and not just because of that variant cover (which I’m sure will help); rather, it‘s the veto power of the re-launch that‘ll render criticism of the prior arc powerless before the force of new title. All that crap in the last arc? Doesn’t matter whatsoever. It will not affect the resounding sales success of this book. Nothing will! We can bitch until the sun devours the Earth and it’ll do not a shit toward preventing the smash success of this book. You think the last arc was bad? Bendis could have done so much worse! Bendis could have personally farted inside each copy of each Avengers Disassembled tie-in and this book would still be a hit. Bendis could have traveled to each reader’s home and kicked them in the throat and painted their cat blue and left the freezer door open and the toilet seat up and this book would still be a hit. Bendis could have had Captain America light Hawkeye’s gasoline-dipped arrows aflame with a burning US flag while the Scarlet Witch carved up Gwen Stacy and stuffed her into a nearby icebox and Dr. Strange explained it all away by shouting “Whoops!“ at the top of his lungs over and over for twenty fucking pages and this book would still be a hit. Hell, if I was Bendis I’d have filled up every issue of that arc with handwritten shopping lists and reprints of personal notes I passed in high school and vulgar caricatures of my neighbors and then on that last page of “Avengers No Longer in Assembly: The Final Cut” or whatever the fuck it was called I’d have Jarvis flipping the bird to reader whilst wearing a placard screaming “WE’RE ALL FIRED GAME OVER THANK YOU FOR PLAYING”. The multitude of complaints about the run thus far will amount to absolutely nothing, I predict. Make way for Spidey and Wolverine!

But I might be proven wrong. Eh?

The Ultimates 2: That other big Avengers launch of the week. You can identify the ‘hot’ releases this week from the presence of variant covers. I’m sure this will do well too. I suspect that “New Avengers” has a bit more heat behind it and will probably best it in sales, but it’ll be close.


A Weekday Crumb Miscellany

is on tap right after a vigorous perusal of LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Kramer's Ergot 5 (big collection of mostly very good stuff - you really want to consider getting this)

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (really big vintage collection of... er... even more vintage newspaper comics)

Black Widow #3 (of 6)

Frank Ironwine #1 (of 1), Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #12

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol. 1, Adam Strange #3 (of 8) (the famous original comics space opera, and its most current spiritual progeny)

They are all delicious and low in sodium!

*Well, I’m back home again after my Thanksgiving journey of danger and passion. I managed to pick up a copy of pretty much everything I wanted that came out this week except for “The Collected Sequential” (which I couldn’t afford anyway) and the new "Comics Journal" (which was totally absent from every shop I visited around my parents’ home including Borders). I heard the new Journal is a good one so I’ll need to cross my fingers that one of my local shops here still has a copy sitting around…

*For some reason, I picked up a lot of stray Robert Crumb stuff over the Thanksgiving trip.

Best Buy Comics #1

Here’s a (stay with me) Last Gasp reprint of a 1988 re-issue of a 1979 Crumb release that collects material from “Coevolution Quarterly” dating back to 1977. Got it?

All you really need to know is that it’s late-70’s Crumb material, covering many of his favorite areas: autobiography, mature funny animals, historical pieces set in the world of old-time music, strange fetish stuff, darkly humorous allegory, and even comics journalism. It’s a pretty nice sampler of what Crumb can do across a wide range of subject matter, and it’s all material I’ve never seen before (philistine Crumb fan me, who’s never purchased any of Fantagraphics’ “Complete Crumb” books).

I’ve always found Crumb’s autobiographical work to be just a little more compelling than his other styles; the man simply has a knack for anecdote, and his reporting piece in “Space Day Symposium (or what ever the hell it was called…)” is a great little short, with our narrator initially dazzled by the flash of the titular event’s Space Progress, as well as the luxury of his hotel accommodations. Needless to say, Crumb quickly becomes disenchanted with the corporate-controlled atmosphere of the event, leading to several nice caricatures of various symposium speakers, and a climactic bout with total dejection as Crumb slinks off down a dimly-lit street. Fun! There’s also a jam with future wife Aline Kominsky as the pair take in the Whole Earth Jamboree.

The funny animal strips like “The Goose and the Gander were Talking One Night” and “The Nerds” are bit more draggy, focusing heavily on ennui and helplessness before the grand contradictions of the world. A little of that makes its way into a collection of short strips (one and half-page fragments), but are more palatable, often acting as snapshots of their times, dialogues between average folks taking a bath or walking down the street. The same feeling of quietly personal interaction is found in “Pass the Jug”, an incident (perhaps fictional?) from the life of jazz pianist Kansas City Frank Melrose (check out some of his great stuff here). One of Crumb’s more overlooked gifts is his skill with drafting casual conversation, which invests even historical or fantastical characters with immediate relevance, and Crumb’s abilities are on swell display here. And of course, we’re also blessed with “R. Crumb’s Modern Dance Workout”, in which a bevy of muscular, rounded women stretch and writhe as Crumb shouts out wildly pretentious ‘direction’ while seated atop the feet of a particularly powerful dancer, who then juggles him in the air. “This is important! Civilization must go on!” a caption proclaims. Indeed!

This is really a nice overview of breadth of Crumb’s ability, at least as far as subject matter is concerned.

Art & Beauty Magazine #1-2

On the other hand, these two books are devoted to roughly one subject: the beauty of the human form. Obviously a labor of love for Crumb, the first issue was originally published by the late Kitchen Sink in the mid-90‘s, then reissued by Fantagraphics, who also released a second issue in 2003. I got both of them in a sealed two-pack for about $5, which was a nice deal.

Both of these books contain a series of elaborately crosshatched drawings of mostly women, all of whom meet Crumb’s particular standard for what is ‘beautiful’. Some of these drawings appear to be taken from live models, although many of them are based on photographs from books and magazines (source attribution is included whenever possible). It’s mainly one drawing per page for 32 pages each, with often hilariously egotistical comments from Crumb himself, probably indulging in a bit of self-parody (“This study shows a beautiful girl in a frolicsome mood, yet if the artist is not brilliantly skillful, such a pose will result in neither symmetry or grace,” being my favorite). There’s also the occasional nature study and a few shots of aged old-time male musicians, but expect a whole lot of full-figured athletic women, occasionally nude but mostly garbed in casual or sporty wear, all lovingly rendered in pen and ink. It’s far more realistic in style than Crumb’s typical comics, but the look remains undoubtedly his.

Each book is also liberally sprinkled with quotes, often contradictory, from various renowned individuals on the topic of art, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Claude Monet, Harvey Kurtzman, and many others. It’s a nice pair of volumes for the devout Crumb fan, as he has truly poured himself into each book, and the drawings are quite exquisite.


Spend your present Sunday in the past, with Sundays of the future!

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol. 1

Arriving in early 1934, among the wave of adventure and suspense strips that had been storming newspapers across the US at the time, “Flash Gordon” eventually became one of the defining examples of its genre: not merely the science-fiction strip but both the adventure strip in general, and science-fiction in a broader cross-medium sense. As a result of this, the strip is often (from what I’ve observed) remembered for its adaptations and its influence a bit more than for its accomplishments as a singular comic. There have been many reprints of the strip itself throughout the 20th century, though, with Dark Horse perhaps most visibly collecting the Mac Raboy run on the Flash Sunday pages into a recent four-volume set. This book, however, reaches all the way back to the beginning to offer creator Alex Raymond’s own run on the original Sundays.

The book is presented in a hardcover 9 x 12 landscape format, at 96 pages. There appears to be some confusion as to the publication history of the book; from what I can gather, at one point it was slated to be a 200-page softcover, in typical trade-paperback format, which would require some fiddling around with panel arrangements. Before the book’s release it was halved in length and switched over to a more natural layout style, along with the transformation to hardcover. However, even Checker’s site appears to think that the series will collect all of Raymond’s output in three volumes, which seems to be referring to the previous 200-page envisioning of the project. Seeing as how this particular volume covers less than a year and a half of Raymond’s run, it will likely take about six volumes worth of similarly proportioned books to take us to the end of Raymond’s run on his creation, which coincided with his enlistment in the US Marine Corps in 1944.

A then-uncredited Don Moore provided the story for these strips, but “Flash Gordon” is the type of comic that really doesn’t support any sort of serious plot synopsis; it’s enough to send Flash careening from one escapade to another as quickly as possible after his crash-landing on the planet of Mongo with the lovely Dale Arden and the at least partially sane Dr. Zarkov. The niceties of character development are absent from this early volume in the interests of putting Flash into as many tight spots as possible. In the first few months of the strip’s life we’ve already seen Flash face off with adversaries in two separate gladiatorial arenas at the whim of two separate Wicked Despots, most notable among that walking Yellow Peril nightmare figure of Ming the Merciless, his gleaming lemonade skin matched in intensity only by his cruel squinty eyes, permanently locked on the fair form of the beautiful Dale. Of course, one can hardly expect ethnically sensitive outer-space warfare from a strip that begins in its first installment with the caption: “In African jungles tom-toms roll and thunder incessantly as the howling blacks await their doom!” But just as later in that very installment we learn that all of humanity is united in horror under death’s imminent gaze, the strip strains and blends its racially potent imagery into the space-opera batter, until all we can really see are Heroic Rescues and Glorious Warfare and Honorable Respect between sworn foes. Nothing is thought of blasting entire cities of aliens to atoms; to reflect would cause the engine to stall. And besides, there are few civilians in this caffinated an adventure; everybody is a combatant, aching for a physical challenge.

Physicality is the fuel that powers this engine, with lots of wrestling and straining against impossible odds and captions breathlessly tracking the state of perspiration upon Flash’s mostly exposed flesh. The men are just as scantly clad as the ladies on planet Mongo, you see. Even the comparably paunchy Dr. Zarkov spends a good deal of time strutting around shirtless. And by the time the lustfully rebellious Princess Aura clings tightly to Flash, the two hanging precariously above a boiling sea of snapping monsters, she costumed in full harem-girl regalia and he clad in only the finest space-underpants of 1934, well, lets say the subtext won’t require much sleuthing to uncover. But Flash’s eyes are only for dear Dale, and even their own down-time activities are brushed entirely off-panel, with hardly a kiss to be glimpsed; the sexual undercurrents are strong, but they must remain under, as yet another concession made to the optimization of the boys’ adventure.

And it is optimization that sealed the success of “Flash Gordon”. There had been prior sci-fi adventure strips. But Raymond’s conviction brought a new level of lasting impact to the genre, and coupled with the whirligig pacing of the ongoing story the strip became a classic, its travels to the silver screen only feeding its legend and assuring its influence, its hold over a young George Lucas and the ensuing power-grip of the big dazzle movie fantasy spectacular. Look close at those summer blockbusters. The good and the bad, up there on the screen. There’s so much talk today about comics providing a licensing farm for Hollywood. But look there at those CGI struggles, those $200 million time-passers, then look down upon the “Flash Gordon” page.

Do you see it?

Do you see our present in Alex Raymond’s lines?

Adam Strange #3 (of 8)

And speaking of the present, here’s another of this week’s comics. “Adam Strange” is a cool little book, and it looks to be picking up on the bouncing event-to-event pacing of the old “Flash Gordon”. This issue Adam is picked up by an alien race and quickly becomes a pawn in political power-play. Why, there’s even sexual tension between Adam and a forceful alien woman, although we know where Our Hero’s heart really belongs. But as a smooth, contemporary update of several venerable genre tropes, “Adam Strange” continues to succeed better than many books. Go check this series out!


Finally - New Comics Strike Again!

Frank Ironwine #1 (of 1)

The first release in Warren Ellis’ Apparat series of one-shots for Avatar finds Ellis returning to the crime genre, an area explored in several other titles among his Avatar output. As Ellis writes in a short afterward, Apparat is intended as a ‘response’ to projects like Alan Moore’s ABC line of comics at Wildstorm, in that it approaches the same ‘modern pulp’ style from a different angle. “Frank Ironwine” appears to be intended as a simulation of a reaction to a non-existent tradition of modern crime comics, but it’s actually a genuine reaction to a very authentic tradition of modern crime television, which Ellis plainly finds to be unsatisfactory in its preoccupation with technology and forensic analysis. This comic thus intends to bring the crime-solving sleuth back to a humanistic level.

The title character is plainly cut from the classic Ellis cloth: hard-living, difficult, but brilliant (of course), Frank is an eccentric detective on those mean streets of the city, who always gets his (wo)man even when he can’t seem to retain a partner (and you can just bank on ‘Frank’s latest partner’ providing the introductory-exposition/reader-avatar duties). Ah, but who can keep up with such curious methods? Frank crouches on all fours to observe a crime scene, identifies particular scents immediately, makes instant evaluations of patterns and probability, and benefits from a fantastic well of luck. There’s some big coincidences here that conspire to undo the murderous deeds of criminals, and Frank is more than prepared to take full advantage.

But as traditionally molded as Frank seems to be among the Ellis line of protagonists, he’s a bit more immediately kindly, acutely aware of the human element that exists in crime. He cradles admitted killers in his arms and nurtures confessions out of them, which in Ellis’ cop world provides the greatest taboo-buster. It’s a method of extracting information, yes, but Ironwood knows about the patterns of crime and history, and he knows that any measure of kindness can exist as a unique enough element in the grim criminal world (and by extension the dehumanized crime-solving genre as Ellis sees it) that it might provoke all sorts of interesting reactions. It’s this open and immediate embracing of sweetness that sets Frank apart from many Ellis creations, who need to work through several layers of candy attitude to get at their tasty Tootsie Roll core of decency.

So as routine as the crime-solving plot is (and believe me, you’ll feel like you’ve seen almost every aspect of this storyline somewhere before), “Frank Ironwine” is at least interesting to Ellis fans looking for new developments in the traditional Ellis lead. The art is by “Finder” creator Carla Speed McNeil, who provides attractive and simple character designs with just the right touch of cartoon energy (I love the way Frank hunches while entering the room - and keep your eyes on his tie) for this slightly gentle gritty crime story. The visuals thus add a certain level of playfulness to the whole affair, which benefit Ellis’semi-upbeat characterizations. It’s a strange, small story, and one often told, but it worked pretty well for what it set out to do.

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #12

Longtime ABC fans will doubtlessly recall that this second “Tom Strong” title, here on it’s final issue, was originally intended as a repository for ‘darker’ stories (just check out that solemn first issue Moore/Sprouse short). But gradually, Moore’s eight-page contribution for each issue mutated into an opportunity to craft mildly experimental scripts to suit the strengths of a litany of guest artists, seemingly everyone that Moore felt like working with. So we got a silent Peter Kuper short, a peppy cheesecake Bruce Timm story, etc. Moore bids us all farewell this time around with Peter Bagge of “Hate” fame, which also featured a short Moore script late in its much-beloved run. Accordingly, the tone is bawdy and bleak, exploring the secret life of the Strongs in retirement after the cancellation of their book. There’s drugs, voyeurism, prostitution, suicide, accidental death, primate alcoholism, and so much more! It’s mainly reminiscent of Moore’s work on the “Tomorrow Stories” character of “Splash Brannigan”, with bits of industry commentary thrown in with the anarchy. The whole ‘bitter real-world Tom’ angle also curiously reflects Ed Brubaker’s current arc on the main “Tom Strong” book, but with a whole lot more joking, obviously. It’s infectiously dirty fun.

The other farewell piece arrives at the end of the book, and the Steve Moore/Alan Weiss saga of “Young Tom Strong” draws to a close with Tom setting out for the outside world. There’s little hints at future stories (some of which are scattered throughout Alan Moore’s own work on this title and the main book) but it’s basically just a ‘goodbye’ story. Even less can be said for (Steve) Moore’s last script for “Jonni Future”, a pretty standard-issue outing for the character, and this time without co-creator Art Adams’ talent behind the visuals. Chris Weston ably carries the banner, but Adams’ work can only be seen on this final cover for the series. Given how uneven this book has been in the past, though, small frustrations should perhaps be expected, even here at the end.


Enough of this Thanksgiving horseshit; time for a real holiday.

*I’m totally unable to sleep tonight. It might have had something to do with my napping for six hours after the turkey, but mostly it’s just from pure beautiful excitement. It’s time for a real holiday, my friends and readers:


The only holiday left that’s devoid of pretension. Thanksgiving’s almost out the door om the cultural radar, in case you haven’t noticed. Those Christmas decorations and talking robot Santas they’ve got set up inside Major Retaliers have been there since just after Halloween. There used to be at least a lonely paper pilgrim pinned by his cardboard shoulders onto the wall by the cash registers. Maybe a stray Horn of Plenty laid beside the bargain candy sacks. Well no more! Santa has long since landed his sleigh in the middle of that familiar First Thanksgiving scene and Ho Ho Ho he said as he tipped the dinner table over, his sweating Jello bulk scrunching and squishing in the fall afternoon while Rudolph crapped in a pristine nearby river and Dasher and Dancer trampled all of those pointy pilgrim hats into pancakes. Santa is jolly because he knows he’s a hypocrite! He knows he’s all about the money. He knows he’ll counting the box office receipts from that delightful new Tim Allen picture that’s currently screening at a friendly theater near you. It’ll do better than those earlier Christmas flicks. Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks. They failed dear old Santa. There will be only coal in store for them.

But Black Friday! Ah! Nobody pretends that Black Friday stands for anything but the lowest standards, the cheapest deals, the biggest headaches! I love Black Friday! I don’t even like the deals, frankly. Most of them are garbage. But just walking the halls of the shopping centers with thousands of people swarming and hustling about, seeing shoppers of every age sitting on the sidewalk outside the overflowed food court. I’m staying with my parents with the rest of my family so my sister and I took a drive around Wal-Mart’s parking lot earlier, at about 4:15 AM. Nobody was lined up yet, so we were sad and we bought some coffee. Oh, but they’ll be lining up soon! All of the good people of the town. And I’ll be waiting until noonish and then I’ll go up too, and I find that goddamned parking space and I’ll walk those halls and I’ll hear those carols crackling through the public speakers and smile at the Robot Santa and I’ll tell him that I’m happy to be there and he’ll laugh he pre-recorded holly jolly chortle and wish me a Merry Fucking Christmas and it’ll be same to you Robot Santa, same to you old pal, same to you good mechanical saint!

*While I’m here, I think I’ll review that one new comic that made it to my local store yesterday. I bet I’ll find more tomorrow. I managed to fill most of time today (at least when I was awake) playing with a free Playstation 2 sampler that I got in the mail. I just know I’m going to wind up getting “Viewtiful Joe” now; I played part of the sequel on that free disc and the first one is really cheap so I might get it, even though I don’t have any video game systems back at my apartment. The new “Ratchet and Clank” and “Jax and Daxter” sequels are pretty swell too.

I’m sure I’ll find the comics I missed on Black Friday. That’s part of the magic of the season.

Black Widow #3 (of 6)

Oh what to think of this plot? I have to admit that I kind of like where it’s going. We’re halfway through the regulation six-issue storyline and Richard K. Morgan is doing an above average job of keeping the plot revelations rolling out at a consistent clip. Sure we’re getting a little bogged down with that young lady Natasha rescued back in issue #1 (just like I predicted) but she’s good for bouncing exposition off of. Moreover, Morgan seems intent on developing a real live theme here: exploitation of women, by both the wicked villains of the book and society in general. It seems like a mysterious cosmetics company is in on the conspiracy to murder female KGB operatives; meanwhile, the North Institute continues to tail Natasha, and Nick Fury (this is ‘smoldering avatar for secret government idealism Fury’, not ‘vaguely threatening power-play peacekeeper Fury’ of “Astonishing X-Men” or ‘foul-tempered disenfranchised killer Fury’ of the most recent “Punisher MAX” arc) appears briefly to threaten people. I liked the Evil North Operative’s utterly hollow boasts after Fury leaves; that’s the gently smirking hold on characterization that I like from Morgan’s work on this book.

And yet, there’s trouble brewing with the execution. We’ve been told quite a few times about how women are treated in our contemporary society. No less than two times this very issue does Natasha sound off on the cosmetic responsibilities that women are expected to fulfill. So why is this the second issue in a row where Natasha struts around in her underwear? Sure, the cheesecake is surrounded by captions telling us about how uncomfortable and vulnerable Our Heroine feels dressed up in a tiny outfit stalking after her prey, but that can’t quite camouflage the sense of ‘having it both ways’. Greg Land and Matt Ryan’s cover is particularly baffling, depicting Natasha in an action pose in front of a billboard for the sinister cosmetics company. The problem is, with the supermodel face that Land and Ryan give her, Natasha looks virtually identical to the woman on the billboard, although I’m pretty certain she’s supposed to be providing contrast.

But the book remains fun. Thematic burps aside, Natasha is well-characterized and involving. The dialogue is witty. Goran Parlov and Bill Sienkiewicz continue to deliver on the visuals, including a nice hallucination sequence (though rather restrained by Sink standards). It’s much better than a random Marvel supporting character miniseries is generally expected to be, and that’ll keep me reading, probably for the duration.


Give thanks or else Easter Bunny will stuff your turkey with coal.

*Today is a day where we all give thanks for all of the things we're pleased with. A lot of people around these parts like to give thanks a lot; for example, the delivery folk who service my local comics shop were so busy giving preliminary thanks yesterday that they never quite got around to shipping most of this week's comics. So no Comics Journal or Apparat or anything; literally all I found was the new "Black Widow" and that third issue of "Nightjar" that came out a month ago (issue #2 is still MIA of course). Maybe later tonight I'll write those reviews in the spirit of giving thanks for whatever we've been given!

So I hope you all have a good time eating today or whatever it is you've got planned. Since I don't have many new comics to read I think I'll just bring a small selection of my favorite early 90's X-Crossovers to the family table so that I can engage in thanks and comics activism at the same time. If it's anything like last year I'll just lecture my baby cousins on Stryfe for a half-hour until everyone gets upset and makes me sit outside in the street while they throw fists of stuffing and turkey wings at me from the porch.

So Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this, which is what I'm very thankful for. You all be good, and have fun.


Something to look out for:

*Have you ever had a dream where you’re listening to a song (or even better, you’re just going about your business as a song plays like you're a character in an exciting MTV original series) and it’s such a great song and once you wake up you realize that the song doesn’t really exist, or rather, it does exist but entirely inside your head? That happened to me the other night, except I wasn’t hearing an original song; it was some sort of remix of “Hey Nineteen” by Steely Dan. Who knows why valuable cells in my brain are devoting themselves to toying around with Steely Dan numbers in their free time. Or maybe I just find the smooth tones of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to be dreamy...

*I’m not entirely sure how I’ve gotten this far through my life without a copy of “The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics”, that seminal 1977 tome edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams. I recently managed to score a nice hardcover copy of the 1987 sixth printing for less than ten dollars online, and I urge you to seek out a similar deal.

It’s 336 pages long and the dimensions are 1.5 x 10.5 x 14.4 inches; in other words, it’s a very big book. Blackbeard and Williams provide some historical background and general comments at the top of each of the book’s eight chapters, which trace the history of the American newspaper strip from “The Yellow Kid” up until around the time of the book’s publishing. But the true purpose of the book is revealed right at the start: this is a showcase for the best of newspaper comics art, and strips of every sort fill most of the book’s pages. Several full storylines are presented for selected features, like “Thimble Theater” (aka: the one with Popeye), and samples are taken from so many more; I suspect that only the most devout enthusiast of newspaper comics will have heard of all the artists and characters who grace this book with their ghostly presence. Much of the material is in b&w, but there are quite a lot of color pages as well, a vital presentational aspect of those early comics pages.

I’ve only thoroughly read through some of the earlier strips, and the variety of art styles on display is amazing. I’ve never heard of Charles Forbell’s “Naughty Pete”, its simple lines representing a UPA animated short (only more than a quarter-century early), but merely upon glancing at the 1913 installment reproduced in the book I can see all sorts of advancements being made in color (the little boy protagonist is left in b&w while his parents are bathed entirely in red) lettering (the parents’ words are a stately print, the boy’s musings a flowing cursive) page layout (long diagonal panels accompany a slide down a bannister) and more. An obscure 1916 strip titled “Mama’s Angel Child” by Penny Ross sends a dreaming young girl, Little Nemo style, into a cubist nightmare world as the titular Mama struts around in the sharpest and most lovingly detailed then-contemporary garments I’ve ever seen. A goofy student in a 1909 installment of “School Days” sticks out her tongue and holds up a chalkboard reading “Every time you smile a fairy is born,” which makes me laugh every time through its sheer absurdity, something that wouldn’t seem out of place on Adult Swim, but there it is, before World War One.

It can be a depressing book to read, as it can only remind you of how far the newspaper funny pages has fallen. The editors admit, though, that they’ve deliberately selected the best material they could find, to make the case for newspaper comics as a worthy area of study; even during the most vainglorious months of the newspaper comic art the strips themselves were viewed as purely disposable entertainment, but the bar for disposable entertainment has been set far lower today, lower than in 1977 when this book was written but not so much lower that Blackbeard and William’s point cannot be ascertained. Perhaps it took the hindsight of an era with a lower standard to appreciate the pop amusement of a previous era as something worthy of preservation. I would certainly not prefer going through life believing that the newspaper comics section was always as dire as it is now.

This purchase of mine was prompted, by the way, by news that the Smithsonian is preparing a new book on comics, a similarly huge collection of lots of comic (book) art from the latter half of the 20th century, to be titled “The New Smithsonian Book of Comic Book Stories: From Crumb to Clowes”, which still sounds like a limiting designation. Publishers Weekly’s review (as quoted on Amazon) was not kind:

This new volume is neither precise nor witty, and actually performs a disservice to comics readers and historians... neither a definitive anthology nor a helpful resource, this is a haphazard grab bag of some good comics, numerous dubious achievements and some downright mysteries.”

Not much of a rave, but the review does point me to a third Smithsonian comics compilation, “The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics”, a 1982 book that gathers up a lot of nice-sounding Golden Age goodies. I might have to look into it...


Showcase of the Vital

Kramer’s Ergot 5

Now that it’s good and late in the day and I’m sort of less tired than I was before, I guess my mind is clear enough to discuss this new monster release, which may or may not be sitting patiently at your local store, waiting to be taken off to a lovely home. “Kramer’s Ergot”, edited by Sammy Harkham, used to be a rather small anthology, 48 pages and presented in typical comic format. That’s how the first two volumes went in 2000 and 2001, featuring Harkham himself with a handful of other assorted cartoonists. In 2002, however, the book suddenly tripled in size, transforming into a book-bound showcase for a growing number of young cartoonists. But perhaps the true breakthrough for “Kramer’s” was 2003’s “Kramer’s Ergot 4”, which saw another, far more massive increase in size, to well over 300 pages of deluxe full-color stories, many of them the length of a full singe-issue. It wasn’t just the book’s girth that captured attention though; contributors formed a veritable who’s who of exciting young talent, walking a fine line between artists just recently breaking though, and artists just about to break through. Harkham also struck a careful balance between storytelling and visual splendor, knowing just when to throw in a multi-page collage of redrawn pop-culture iconography among the more traditional stories, which themselves embraced seemingly every type of visual style, from knowingly primitive to lavishly crafty. The book became one of the more acclaimed projects of the year, and anticipation began to grow for the upcoming fifth volume, which has now just been released.

At 320 pages, “Kramer’s Ergot 5” is about as big as its immediate predecessor, but it’s much bigger in terms of anticipation and expectation. The accolades bestowed upon Vol. 4 have transformed this anthology into ‘the one to watch’. The book tries hard, however, to retain the home-crafted charm of its instant forebear, which drew so much power from the handmade feel of many of its entries as wrapped up in a formidable package. The effect remains; this anthology is pretty much the only lavish full-color $30+ comics phonebook in which a contributor can sign his strip off with a hearty printed-out “Fuck all you careerists and fuck the president,” without sounding totally ridiculous. The stories in “Kramer’s” retain a palpable sense of independent vitality, lovingly hugged by C.F.’s soft bleeding colors all over the flexible cover, even while the quality of the entries sometimes dips into the ponderous or the overlong.

There is even more of a focus on storytelling this time around, and some of the most effective contributions to the book offer the most straightforward plots. My favorite comic within these pages is Kevin Huizenga’s “Jeepers Jacobs”, told in a somewhat similar way to the “Glenn Ganges” story in “Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 1” in that there’s lengthy educational captions offered up (usually a sign of turbulent pacing under many other writers, but Huizenga has managed to pull this off twice now) which work off of the rest of the story in interesting thematic ways. There’s little of the multiple short-story plot structure and none of the overt elements of the fantastic that held court in the D&Q story though. Instead, we have a moving character portrait of a devoutly religious man who dearly wants to believe in ultimate punishment but (perhaps unconsciously) finds the concept incompatible with the everyday living of his kindly life. Along the way, Huizenga gently critiques the concept of ‘saving’ others from damnation as honestly too lofty a struggle to become fully applicable to everyday human interaction (and maybe too metaphysical to provide a challenge to the relative solidity of human memory), leaving the faithful in a curious bind. It’s also the first full-color work I’ve seen from Huizenga and it’s beautifully understated work. Some may find the theological discussion that makes up the story’s center to be too thick, but I thought it was necessary to inform the wistful lyricism of the latter pages of the piece. A fine, moving work.

I have no idea if Chris Ware’s contribution is a reprint or an expansion of a prior story. I know at least some of this story was presented in “The Chicago Reader” as part of a making-of special, and it involves characters from Ware’s irregular “Building” strip. I’ve never seen it before in its entirety, so its as good as new to me. The story is flanked on both ends by Ware’s famous diagram-style layouts, one based largely on words to indicate the dream-state, and one based mainly on image to indicate the passage of time. In between is a seemingly quiet, simple story of the young heroine of “Building” brooding on her lot in life and trying to become more attuned with the natural beauty surrounding her. But really the story is one of pulling back, beginning inside the tortured head of the protagonist, then zooming out to follow her around through her day, then finally stepping backward again to examine the inner workings of nature, and the simple interconnected biological state that many beings participate in, accidentally creating simple beauty and crashing tragedy. And since this is a Chris Ware comic, the whole matter is wrapped up in eight pages. As always, intellectual study of the formal aspects of page layout is mixed with outgoing emotionalism. As always, I am impressed.

There are other good stories in here; Dan Zettwoch offers a sly use of misleading visual effects to draw parallels between the past and present, and demonstrate how close seemingly distant tragedies can get to springing again to life. Paper Rad combine disparate visual styles and initially disconnected vignettes to form a funny and oddly powerful whole. Jordan Crane presents a gorgeous-looking if utterly familiar story of greed in the Old West. And David Heatley decides to cram the entirety of his personal sexual experience into 15 pages of roughly 48 panels each. It’s at first an amazingly frank confession of bodily confusion, and it remains compulsively readable through sheer honesty, but I’d be lying if I said that all of the older Heatley’s girlfriends and liaisons didn’t start to melt into one another by the end.

So the quality of the stories is quite high. I’ll even say that the overall quality is higher than that of Vol. 4; there’s not a clear misfire in the bunch. Perhaps coming closest to that sort of level is Harkham’s own contribution, a ponderous two-page amble. Mat Brinkman’s story was weirdly underwhelming too, with a mutant monster wandering around a blighted landscape looking for work. It’s got a potent Gary Panter vibe, sure, but Brinkman’s lines are drowned in heavy colors by Neil Burke, and there’s little room for the organic architectural noodling that makes Brinkman’s “MultiForce” so much fun; the landscapes look flat and plain, and the piece becomes saturated with a dreary feel. It’s still not really bad, but a bit of a disappointment considering that it’s Brinkman’s first full-length completed story since “Teratoid Heights”.

But even the weaker links in the chain do little to diminish the strength of whole project. I suppose that there’s one thing that the new “Kramer’s” simply cannot provide for me, and that’s the element of surprise. Not that there aren’t surprises in the stories themselves. No, I mean the whole book as a surprise. I was very late to the party as far as Vol. 4 is concerned. I read about it in Best of 2003 issue of “The Comics Journal” and heard many references to it online. And I finally bought the book and it still surprised me; that such a big and beautiful collection of such high-quality work could just appear from nowhere! Like it dropped from the sky! The product of three prior volumes of growth, yes, but so assured and bawdy in its bulk! I think that “Kramer’s Ergot” may still have that particular element of surprise waiting for many readers who’ve only heard of the series in chatting around town. But for many of us, we’ve come to expect things from “Kramer’s”, and simply by meeting such tall expectations the book retains its status as an immediate premiere anthology.

(You can order the book here if you want to have it now; I believe copies have made their way into some of the better shops)


Digest Update Collection.

*Can you believe I almost forgot to present LAST WEEK’S REVIEWS?! Crazy thinking of crazy me.

Ironclad, Sermons #1, The Feathered Ogre: Designs and Sketches, and USS Catastrophe Election 2004 Treasury (a big roundup of recent and older minicomics)

Ex Machina #6, The Punisher MAX #14, Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #4, Ocean #2 (of 6)

Sip from this frosted mug!

*Gah! Trapped by circumstances of curious and devilish origin, my “Kramer’s Ergot 5” review will have to wait until tomorrow morning or afternoon or whatnot. Sorry.

*You may recall a little while ago that I was wondering aloud (since all wonderings on the Internet are aloud) as to how “Spider-Man India” was actually doing in India itself. Well, according to this article from today’s New York Times (registration required I‘m afraid), it’s now not being released until “the middle of next year”. This is quite a far cry from the simultaneous launch that was originally planned for the book alongside the Indian opening of the “Spider-Man 2” movie. I knew there’d been a delay of at least one month, but it seems like the entire thing has been stalled until publisher Gotham Studios has more comics to release at once. Does this make the book’s recent US release something of a try-out? A chance for Marvel to make some immediate cash off of the novelty value of their license? Or is Gotham hoping to make some money off the US prior to an Indian release? Are they getting any money from the US release?

The article also answered some of my questions regarding the status of comics fandom in India, which doesn’t seem to be very strong, at least not from Gotham’s perspective. Of course, Shekar Kapur of Gotham seems to take the presence of toy and film licensing opportunities as a signal of success for comics, perhaps understandably, given that he’s a film director himself. It’s also fascinating that Gotham seems to be approaching comics primarily as a children’s market, which is certainly a far cry from current trends in the US. But perhaps the most peculiar part of the story is the mention of training Indian talent; it seems that Gotham is going to spend much of their investment “grooming” Indian artists to produce comics; given the super-powered/supernatural bend of much of Gotham’s planned output, I have to wonder if American or Japanese styles will provide the model for the Indian artist’s training. And if so, which style will become predominant? How will it become localized? This experiment in cross-cultural artistic pollination may well be a good one to keep track of, provided that more delays don’t stall the whole endeavor before it can accomplish anything. (original article found at Tom's)


The Collected Sequential: Thanks for putting this out on a week when I’m really short of cash, Adhouse! This big 256-page hardcover collects Paul Hornschemeier’s experimental solo series, which began as a series of Xeroxed minicomics and ended with issue #7, a 128-page deluxe book with slick paper and dandy production design. I’m guessing that the completed chapters of the serials Hornschemeier began in these pages will be presented without conclusion, but that’s what happens sometimes with experimental self-published work. Obviously a mandatory purchase for fans (considering that those early “Sequential” issues are impossible to find) and worth a flip for everyone else, just to see how swiftly Hornschemeier’s design sense matures over a short period of time.

Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #12: The final issue of ABC’s second “Tom Strong” title, with Peter Bagge doing the art honors on Moore’s final lead-off short. Also featuring the conclusions of the Jonni Future and Young Tom Strong storylines; I get the feeling that Young Tom will reject the science-hero life and become an imperialist rubber baron. I’m not sure what might become of Jonni (certainly nothing drastic since she shows up in later issues of “Promethea”) but I’m sure cheesecake will be involved. By which I mean she’ll become a renowned intergalactic dessert chef.

Adam Strange #3 (of 8): More good-looking space-fairing pulpy action. I expect attractive fun.

Black Widow #3 (of 6): More Sienkiewicz-looking super-spy pulpy action. I expect attractive shootings.

Ojo #3 (of 5): More wacky-looking… um… little kid and pet monster… stuff. I expect whatever it is I’m expecting.

Warren Ellis’ Frank Ironwine #1: The first of Avatar’s Warren Ellis one-shot Apparat project; this is the one with art by Carla Speed McNeil of “Finder”. For some reason I thought that all four of these Ellis one-shots were being released on the same day, but I’m sure it’s a bit wiser to spread them out. Anyway, it’s certain to look different from the typical Avatar release, and Ellis tends to be more effective the closer to straight science-fiction he gets, so I’m looking forward to this.

The Will Eisner Companion: Hmm. Here’s DC releasing a 176-page hardcover collection of ‘critical and historical essays’ pertaining to the comics legend, obviously intended as a supplement to their ongoing series of Eisner releases, like “The Spirit Archives”. This might be worth a glance.


Brief News Brief:

*Tom Spurgeon has just posted an extended appreciation of the late Highwater Books (though not quite so late that you can't still order some fine books and minis from their store), but it seems that as soon as one company fades away, another rises to carry on the comics banner. On the Comics Journal Message Board Alvin Buenaventura has mantioned that Buenaventura Press, which has largely been releasing prints and comics-art pieces up until now, will be branching out into original books and collections soon, including "Vanessa Davis' Spaniel Rage comic, a full color, art/comics/sketchbook by Ron Regé Jr., a north american printing of Helge Reumann and Xavier Robel's Elvis Road (a sampling in Kramer's Ergot 5 ) and others..."

Buenaventura press has also been involved in the release of "Kramer's Ergot 5", releasing it for online sale before the book's arrival in shops. I'm already anxious for that Ron Rege Jr. book, and Reumann and Robel's stuff in "Kramer's" was pretty interesting, so I'm looking forward to the output of this expanding publisher!

*And speaking of "Kramer's", I'll have my overall thoughts up tomorrow.


February looks to be quite a zinger.

*Boy, cookies ‘n cream flavored waffles sounded like such a great idea at the grocery store, but my toaster just proved to me that sometimes two great tastes don‘t taste very good together at all. Crazy, reckless, beautiful Eggo people.

*New comics of February from the Big Two. Not a lot of action.


- “Seven Soldiers”. Looking good.

- “Bizarro World”. Also looking good (and expensive).

- “Solo” issue #3 by Paul Pope. Looking best of all!

- There’s also a new printing of Alan Moore’s “Skizz”, one of the three major stories he serialized in “2000 AD” in the early stages of his career (for the record, “D.R. & Quinch” and “The Ballad of Halo Jones” are the others, along with assorted shorts and Future Shocks). I already have the Titan edition of this collection, which I suspect will be nearly identical to this new release. The story is decent, heavily steeped in working-class England with laid-off workers and a punkish young girl encountering a lost alien interpreter. It’s sweet if mostly predictable, with one of the least shaded villains in the Moore library, a wicked government official who’s obsessed with military security (if he had a moustache he’d be twirling it in every second panel), providing only the easiest symbol for the disconnect between the then-current English government and the hardscrabble common folk. Still, as a grittier alternative to the affluent suburban-set “E.T.” it gets the job done, and Moore fans who’ve missed out on the Titan edition will want to act. Nice art by Jim Baikie, who most recently collaborated with Moore in ABC’s “Tomorrow Stories”.

- Moore also provides dialogue work on one of the stories collected in “The Maxx Book 4”. Issues #21-27 are represented, kicking off the venerable Image series’ second (and final) major storyline. At this rate Book 5 will wrap up the whole series, leaving Sam Kieth’s magnum opus in bookshelf-ready form. It was always one of my very favorite of the Image books, and out of all of them it’s probably held up the best over the years. Kudos to Wildstorm for pressing forward with this project.

- On the Vertigo front we’ve got Morrison’s third three-issue miniseries “Vimanarama!” which will hopefully maintain the high level of quality we’ve seen from prior recent work. And 40-pages for three dollars; it’s even keeping up with the value of “We3”!


- What's this heading for some of the new books... Marvel Next, eh? I guess what’s ‘next’ is a spin-off of an established title, a new issue #1 of a recently ended title, and a new version of an old concept: the standard-issue black ops superhero team. Hmm. Maybe that is a decent prediction of the sort of thing I've come to expect from Marvel though, so big points for honesty!

- A whole new era begins for the Marvel Universe in issue #10 of “Excalibur”. Just in case you missed that; you should write it down or something.

- God, what a boring month. The solicitation for that “Combat Zone” thing is wisely playing up the tactical aspects of the story; I get the feeling that Pulse-Pounding Authentic Military Action might be enough to overcome a light sprinkling of politics, provided that advance buzz doesn’t sink interest in the project beforehand.

- Hey! New “Shatterstar” mini from Brandon Thomas and Marat Mychaels! The same team who were supposed to have a new “Brigade” series ready in 2003 for Rob Liefeld’s Arcade Comics! Has the siren’s song of the X-Franchise truly captured the best and brightest of “Youngblood” and related titles?! Stay seated, True Believers…


Back to the New Comics.

*There’s some good stories in that there “Kramer’s Ergot 5”. David Heatley, Chris Ware, and Kevin Huizenga all have really good stuff, even if Heatley’s kind of overstays its welcome. Some people might not like the theological density (or perhaps simple wordiness) of Huizenga’s either, but found those words to be interesting, as well as necessary to inform later scenes in the story (a full-length 26 pages). His is probably my favorite so far. Ware’s uses characters from his ongoing “Building” saga, which pops up in “Nest” and “The Chicago Reader”. I know (thanks to Dan Raeburn’s recent “Chris Ware” book) that a ‘making-of’ special about this story appeared in the Reader at some point, but I don’t know if the whole thing’s a reprint. It was new to me.

*A very quiet week at the store, and the few books I got were mainly mid-arc. It’s a relief on my wallet, that’s for sure, but there was nothing to get me totally fired up about reviewing. At least now I’m back on blogging schedule after a long week of things to do. Sorry if the old writing has been skimpy for the last few days!

Ex Machina #6

I was strongly considering dropping this book after last issue, the conclusion of the most recent arc. But it’s amazing what a slow week can do to a reader, and with only two other comics in my hand I decided to give Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ book another try. I recall enjoying the beginning of the last arc a bit, and here we have another decent start for the next five-part saga, though it’s not free of problems.

I think the most niggling fault of all is the fact that “Ex Machina” wants so much to be ‘more’ than a superhero book, but the superhero content is by far the most polished and effective portion of the work. Here we get another lengthy flashback to Hundred’s career as The Great Machine, with plenty of suggestions made about secrets that lie in between the conclusion of Hundred’s superhero career and the beginning of his political one. Hundred’s merrily ridiculous powers continue to provide me with perhaps unreasonable (dare I say unintentional?) amusement. And the present-day plot we’re given seems to tie directly in with the source of Hundred’s powers, which may provide some interesting stuff for the future.

But these fantastical elements, mainly well-handled, only underline the relative stiffness of the book’s political content. There’s a wholly generic (as of now) investigative reporter/love interest whom the Mayor is hesitant to pursue (there’s also an unwelcome reminder of one of the series’ more head-slapping scenes, with the Mayor of New York City’s security detail allowing a plucky reporter to slip into his getaway car directly following an assassination attempt). There’s an arbitrary two-page debate on school vouchers, complete with lines like “These are children, not a goddamn highway overpass!” I will admit though, Hundred’s shit-eating grin on the final page as he gears up to tackle a Very Hot Issue was pretty neat. I hope the arc’s handling of the topic will prove less contrived than the unfortunate Controversial Art subplot of issues past.

It often feels bad complaining about “Ex Machina”. It’s clearly trying to do something fresh with superheroes, to provide a new spin on typical Big Two comics. But the book just doesn’t seem comfortable with its own ambitions; the more traditional bits are easily outshining the attempts at innovation. But maybe it’s just the relative seriousness that the book spreads over its ‘realistic’ portions. Maybe the same sense of play that powers the superheroics should go into the politics. I look into Hundred’s smile on the last page and I know it might be possible, and I hope that the book’s execution will soon catch up with its ambition.

The Punisher MAX #14

In which old Frank plays a little live-action “Metal Gear Solid” across the snowy tundra of Mother Russia. It’s not a street-level crook-shooting Punisher yarn here; Frank’s character does have a bit more potential than that, despite his resolute lack of emotional dynamism. So we get an infiltration issue, with the old military training coming in handy. There’s even a secret weapon, and shadowy superiors, and largery conspiracies. Sure, it makes the events of last issue seem like a somewhat contrived attempt to plug Frank into a spy plot in retrospect, but the title character can work his way into almost anything without creating a total ill-fit. At least when there’s a competent enough writer like Garth Ennis at the helm. And if “Born” can infuse a traditional Vietnam saga with what I’ll call the ‘Punisher spirit’ then maybe this arc will do the same with international gunfire intrigue.

This issue there’s bar brawling and disguises and maybe a tad too much exposition. Frank even gets a sad-eyed partner, who’s amusingly depressed with Our Hero’s brutality. Dougie Braithwaite and Bill Reinhold’s art is sufficiently grim. This sort of story hinges on how Ennis decides to develop it, and its too early to really pull the trigger on that.

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #4

Why yes Mike, I did think this issue flew by. Maybe because it’s just biding time? That’s normally boring, though, and I can’t say that about this issue. I guess with the latest time-twist attack and the return of co-plotter Alan Moore’s personal favorite page-eating device (the period-art flashback) it just felt kind of similar to other issues of this book, and even other issues of other Moore books.

Scripter Peter Hogan does manage to keep it moving, and there’s a cool World’s Finest gone awry vibe coming from the overall plot. The crazed puritan Batman figure continues to provide a cute little comment on the current fixation many comics seem to have: indulging nostalgia through acts of violence. The final page even threatens to do something with the parallel reality implications Tom/Pantha relationship. So we may yet see some real movement from interesting concepts and ideas that still seem to be mostly shuffling around albeit in a quick-reading way.

Ocean #2 (of 6)

Wait a minute! This came out last week! Hell, I bought it last week!

Who knows why I never got around to writing about it? It’s not that it’s boring or poorly done. Chris Sprouse and Karl Story’s art looks really pretty, and Warren Ellis has a strong grip on the concept. It’s just that this is an info issue, and there’s not much to say but: we get info about the book’s concept and world. That’s all. I like many of the ideas here. I particularly enjoyed the presence of a Microsoft-like corporation possibly activating ancient weapons of mass destruction simply by trying to stay ahead of the technological curve. It’ll whet the appetite for future complications and confrontations, I’m sure.

But there’s not a lot more to say. Info! Get it here!


Swift Hits!

*Yay! "Kramer's Ergot 5" got here! The cover feels so neat!

*Tom is right to be saddened with the closing of Highwater Books. Their output was small, but the quality was often very high. And since the online store is closing at the end of the year, it seems, I urge you to visit their page and order up some "Shrimpy and Paul and Friends" and "Teratoid Heights" and "Yeast Hoist: Does Music Make You Cry?", three great books that I've found much enjoyment in. Books like "Maggots" and "SMB3" that I've been waiting for may never come out now, and the books that do exist might become very hard to find. You should act now to obtain some great reading, before you are left to the tender mercies of eBay. Farewell, Highwater. You did some good.

*Hmmm. So Kmart has bought Sears... third largest retail store now.

Oh my GOD!

Does that make them... S-MART?!

"Army of Darkness" has fortold the future!

And this means that the S-Mart ending must be the one true ending...


Er, better late than never... right?

*Well, it's new comics day (pretty late on new comics day too; thanks work and Blogger - you two make a great team!) and new solicitations are coming out all over. That can only mean it's time for one thing:


All of the below books were purchased from the USS Catastrophe shop, a nice online source for some good books.


Already we’re going to have to challenge the ‘mini’ part of the term. “Ironclad” is a quite a lavish production, with a thick pastel paper cover stock enveloping the entire book, its colors a gleaming gray and orange. You must open a flap at the back of book to access the contents, a 26-page letter-sized historical comic, dramatizing the famous Civil War clash between the Merrimac and the Monitor, rival ships that nonetheless led the charge of progress together, eventually transforming the wooden Navy of the US into a fleet of metal. The story, written and drawn by Dan Zettwoch, is presented in an interesting format, with typical single comics pages providing exposition and incidental action, but the bulk of the ship-to-ship warfare presented in two four-page foldouts, one for each of the book’s two acts. It’s an ambitious structure for about 21 pages worth of comics, with the remainder of the book’s space devoted to historical notes, bonus technical specs on both featured vessels, and other assorted drawings and maps.

Zettwoch is a veteran contributor to a wide variety of anthology titles. I actually own two of them, the generally excellent “SPX 2001” and the middling “Hi-Horse Omnibus”, and I’ll soon own a third, “Kramer’s Ergot 5” (oh do hurry media mail!); it’s always a pleasure to read a good comic by an unfamiliar talent and then discover (on Zettwoch’s website in this case) that you’ve seen this artist in several places before, and you smile as you pour over those older volumes. And “Ironclad” is certainly a good comic, exactly the thing to send you out looking for more of the artist’s work. I recall hearing about it in “The Comics Journal” at some point, which is maybe why it stuck in my head; historical drama is kind of a unique topic for a standard-length minicomic, unless I’ve been missing out on some corner of that particular comics world. But Zettwoch makes a good case for further short-form explorations of US history; noted figures can be given only brief roles, yes, and some compression of events is inevitable, but this is a fast-paced, authentic-feeling work, a satisfying story.

Zettwoch’s art is tight and sharp, his characters rendered in a stylized form, all dots and tiny circles for eyes, and long arms flailing around with cartoon sweat drops pouring off of rounded brows. There’s even ‘comics-cussing’, with @$&% standing in for profanity, although there are some moments of gut-spilling violence; the creative symbols are there for that added comics iconography feel, rather than a squeamishness regarding content. But those mighty ships are drawn with love, huge splashes of maritime behemoths crashing into puny wooden bathtub boats, with often tiny panels surrounding the action and detailing the inner workings of each crew, the stories sometimes running right along side each other. Even if the story serves mostly as a quick visual primer on a complex historical event (Zettwoch is candid regarding the simplifications and contrivances he’s made for the sake of good comics in the back of the book), it’s an attractive visual primer, a fine-reading comic.

For only two dollars, the book is really a steal. Both production-wise and in terms of visual appeal it’s a nice example of the high level of quality attainable by ambitious artists working in minicomics.

Sermons #1 and The Feathered Ogre: Designs and Sketches

These two books, however, are a bit more in line with the typical picture of ‘minicomics’ that I suspect many readers already hold. Cannily labeled KH Books #1 and 2 respectively, with the Drawn and Quarterly release “Or Else #1” holding down the #3 spot, these books are simple small-sized Xeroxed pamphlets on white paper, both by Kevin Huizenga, one of my favorite new(ish) artists.

The first, “Sermons”, is essentially a sketchbook release, filled with drawings Huizenga made in his handy spiral-bound notepad during church services from 2001-2002. Many of the sketches have a religious theme with a few interesting diagrams illustrating Huizenga’s constant musings on faith. The simple symbols and arrows and descriptive words reminded a bit of Steve Ditko’s one-page comics ‘essays’, though obviously Huizenga’s sketches are simpler and more hastily crafted. Still, there’s evidence of a natural grasp of eye-flow and page space, making many of these particular entries compulsively readable. There are many more sheets of faces and scenery and a few text-only bits. It’s 48-pages for one dollar, and I think fans of the artist will find it interesting.

Somewhat less intriguing, surprisingly, is “The Feathered Ogre: Designs and Sketches”, a 14-page collection of design sketches for the title beastie, as seen in his “Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 1” story. It’s pretty much exactly what the title says it is, with even a few bits of reference material tossed in, but I guess I was expecting a little more on the influences behind the story. But no, it’s just designs and sketches. Having cost me a whopping fifty cents I can’t complain too much, though; if you’re picking up a bunch of books from the Catastrophe shop this might make a neat little addition for big fans of that D&Q story.

USS Catastrophe Election 2004 Treasury

This, however, is quite a neat little book, 36-pages with a blue cardboard cover, featuring a fold-out center and the inside back cover sporting a Mad-style fold-in, masterminded by Huizenga, Zettwoch, and Ted May. It’s the result of a Kerry Campaign fundraiser (or, “an original art bake sale” as Zettwoch put it on his site); the trio offered drawings of pretty much anything in exchange for $25 (later $35) which would then be donated to Kerry. The project eventually raised $1600, and some of the best drawings are presented here, with their accompanying descriptions (provided by the people who ordered them) listed on the inside front cover. It’s a fun, attractive little book, and many of the drawings are quite elaborate and detailed; no hustled sketching here. Huizenga displays an amusing tendency to work his signature Glen Ganges character into virtually any description, ranging from ‘time’ to ‘irate message board guy’. There’s recreations of famous superhero comics covers, kittens from outer space, old-time hockey, and more than a little recognition of Huizenga’s recently expanded profile due to that Drawn and Quarterly piece, which is referenced by requesters more than once, though Zettwoch also gets a specific “Ironclad” request. At three dollars it never feels overpriced; it’s an impressive collection of fun illustration by some talented fellows.


Many cunning stunts ahead!

*Before we start, I just have to jump ahead into DC’s February solicitations for a few seconds. I’ll be doing a full breakdown when Marvel’s show up, or maybe even earlier than that, but really there’s one item of interest that needs to be covered right now:

The “Promethea” wrap-party do-it-yourself art spectacular!

So now the last issue of the famously twisty visual treat by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III is literally a bit of a puzzle. You can read it straight through, like a comic. Then it seems you can rip all of the pages out and glue them together and it’ll form a pair of secret bonus images (I suppose it’ll be laid out in the book with piece 1A on one side of the sheet, then piece 1B on the other side, so both images will be simultaneously created, one on each side). The last ‘destroy part of your comic for added pleasure’ trick I recall was that old “Shadowhawk” gimmick where you’d tear off part of the cover along an indentation, thus removing Shadowhawk’s helmet and revealing his secret identity; like many clumsy lads, I managed to tear the cover right off (in case you haven’t noticed, much like Rome in ancient times, all roads eventually lead to “Shadowhawk“ on this blog). But "Promethea" goes a little further: now you have to physically destroy your comic in order to fully enjoy it, which is a sweet thought, kind of a final chortle of defiance as the industry spirals further back in time to days when comics were sometimes bagged and not read at all. But then, I suspect many people are just going to buy two copies of “Promethea” #32 anyway, so it can most certainly be argued that this is a bit of a cash-in too (although at this point every regular reader of “Promethea” buying two copies of the book still isn’t going to send sales exploding into outer space). I’m just getting one copy myself. I never tried any of the cut-out art projects in "Acme Novelty Library" either.

Oooh! And don’t forget the 1000-piece limited edition poster variant! All of the pages of issue #32 pre-assembled into a lovely single-sheet, with a special bonus 48-page cover gallery book signed by Moore and Williams. A mere $50! But I have to confess, I’m tempted. Apparently, the cover collection will eventually be available separately. I loved “Promethea”, and sometimes I can’t quite believe the whole thing actually got published, so it’s ok if everybody wants to make a little extra coin before they leave. At least they’re doing it in an amusing way (as far as variants and multiple-purchase suggestions go).

Hey, whatever happened to inker Mick Gray? His credit disappeared from the book in the last few issues, even after William’s art calmed down a bit.


*Um. It’s very light. Very very slow week.

Spider-Man India #1: Well, here’s something that‘s at least interesting in concept. I’d really like to see how well this does in India, where the supposed target audience is. How can we discover how well it sells? I know that Gotham Entertainment Group (whose website I cannot locate) is handling the overseas distribution, but I’d like a means of gathering sales figures. Of course, any such figures will have to be taken in the context of the general sales atmosphere of Indian comics, with appropriate attention paid to typical release schedules and formats, not to mention audience size. I think the first four-issue arc is already out in India, initially intended to coincide with the “Spider-Man 2” movie’s Indian release date, which was back on July 23 according to Box Office Mojo, but delayed for a month according to Cinescape. So does anyone have any info on how well the book actually did? An article I found in the online English version of The Hindu dated July 29 had some mixed reactions among university students to the announcement of the comic‘s publication:

College students from Manipal College Ashfaq Umar and Susannah Macwana can't stop laughing. "I would read it if I wanted to read trash," Ashfaq says. Elaborating a bit, Susannah adds: "I don't think it would be a success. It doesn't really go with Spider-Man. Since India's such a growing place and there are so many different cultures and so many students from different countries, I don't think people will accept it…” Telling people about the desi version of Spider-Man (umm, Makdi Manav?) brings a uniform pattern of reaction: first surprise, then wonder, and finally, a doubtful frown.

Well! That target audience sounds really stoked! Granted, we probably ought to be looking at the reaction of Indian comics readers, not college students in general. But I can’t find a damn thing on any of that. I can’t even find anything on the Indian release of the book dated after summer of this year. Any comics news reporting messiahs want to step up to the plate and dig up some info?

Ex Machina #6: Really unsure about this; despite the huge acclaim, this book just hasn’t been doing it for me. We’ll take a peek on the stands.

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #4 (of 6): Nice regularly released superhero stuff. “Terra Obscura” has become an old reliable; I know I’ll mostly enjoy it, and it shows up just when I expect it to. This also means there’s often little to say about it, although I liked last issue’s play on the contemporary Batman personality, and there’s some fun little juggling of 'returning to the past' themes that certainly resonate with comics today.

The Punisher MAX #14: Yes, that’s right, the last issue of this just came out two weeks ago. Not that I’m complaining; this new arc is already 109% better than “Kitchen Irish” so now we won’t all have to wait to see if the quality level takes a serious drop. Convenience! That last arc had a half-decent first issue too…

Hardy Boys #1: Sorry, until someone brings back Encyclopedia Brown I’m just not gonna bite. It’s a neat experiment NBM is doing here, releasing this as floppies and its companion “Nancy Drew” title as a digest-only series. Maybe kids will like it. This stuff just doesn’t hit the nostalgia buttons with me through. But Bugs Meany, rendered in manga style? Like crack cocaine.

Space Ghost #1 (of 6): Oh dear. Looking into the future, I see that Zorak is indeed among the villains participating in this new ‘serious’ “Space Ghost” book. You know, I understand that maybe a few people think the whole talk show comedy angle is insulting to the Space Ghost character. But did even the original cartoons seem very serious to you? Not me. They were goofy action cartoons, utterly featherweight fun. How is revamping “Space Ghost” into some dank, stolid space opera being any more faithful to the spirit of the original than the talk show is? Is it just automatically a better option because it’s ‘dark’? Gah. I'll take Adult Swim if given a choice.


Not a lot to see today...

*But you can always check out LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Cryptic Wit (not totally a review here, more of an appreciation; but damn it's unlike anything else I've seen)

Iron Man #1, Wild Girl #1 (of 6)

Challengers of the Unknown #6 (of 6)

Paper Rodeo #18 (just trying to wrap my head around this well-regarded newsprint anthology)

I hope for a result of delight!

*A very busy day today, and it's going to go on until well after sundown. I'll be back late tonight/tomorrow, so check out this very neat orientation on Internet Comics Piracy. It's good learning!


Nobody can ever have fun while I'm writing a blog.

The Incredibles


Really the first thing I need to say about this movie is that if this thing had come out when I was 12, oh boy, I’d have been walking on air. I still left the theater kind of buzzed and I’m 23 now. It’s really full of stuff that I know I’d have positively flipped over (and I’m sure many kids today are currently flipping over). I mean, the little Incredible kids fucking kill people; I’d have gone entirely apeshit in the theater and declared it Greatest Film in History without hesitation based on that alone. It was really a fine balancing act between appealing to kids and adults, and never in a lazy pop-culture jokes sort of way. It was a truly successful all-ages film. Great soundtrack, lots of swell lounge-style tunes. Excellent action; the whole sequence with Elasti-Girl trying to sneak into the base was beautifully handled, with great attention paid to the subtle ways in which an elastic person would have to move.

But you’ve heard all of this before, from a thousand other reviews, so I think I’ll just address things about the film that sort of bothered me, or annoyed me a bit, since that’ll be a good deal easier (and perhaps more informative) than sentence after sentence of praise:

*It’s pretty obvious that the film is supposed to have some sort of theme about individuality or ‘being special’ or something, but I don’t think it ever came across as clear as it should have. Looking around online I can find all sorts of differing philosophic or (wheeeeee) political readings of the film, and I honestly don’t think that the story was intended to be that divisive. I just don’t believe the implications of some of the film’s ideas were totally thought through. Like, the Incredibles have to maintain a secret identity. There’s the cute bit with the ridiculous tiny masks successfully serving to hide their true selves. So they have to expect some sort of level of conformity in their lives; merely having a secret identity suggests that totally enjoying your special abilities all the time is impossible. There’s always going to be a level of pretend. So it seems to me that a lot of the grousing about school graduations reinforcing mediocrity and the whole thing with little Incredible Boy (sorry, can’t remember his name) not being able to use his powers to participate in track meets is kind of forced, even nonsensical. At the end of the movie the kid still has to hold himself back, he still has to deny his true potential to prevent blowing his family’s secret, so really he’s only won the opportunity to compromise himself and his ‘specialness’ in a different way, and yet everyone‘s utterly delighted with the outcome. I guess you can say that it’s better that now they’re deciding whether to hold themselves back rather than the anti-superhero climate of society, and that they'll no longer go to jail and stuff if they're found out. But won't they have to pick up and move at the end of the film if they're found out anyway? Uprooting his family seems to be Mr. Incredible's concern throughout much of the film, and nothing has been done by the end to really change that. It’s like the mutants/homosexuals thing. It sounds nice at first, until you realize that yeah, people who can explode skyscrapers with their thoughts and halt the Earth’s rotation with amazing powers are frankly a vastly more understandable area of public concern than people who have sex with persons of the same gender. There’s just a whole lot more implications on the superhero side of the comparison that complicate everything.

*While I’m on the topic of society’s climate, I found the set-up of the film to be kind of unbelievable, and that’s after granting my belief in the basics of superpowers, etc. I mean, if Mr. Incredible’s wall at home is totally covered with all of these validations and he’s saved all of these lives, I‘m not sure that public opinion could so drastically turn against all superheroes that anti-superhero legislation would be hustled through Congress at such speed. We hear a little about Superhero rights lawyers and stuff, but really the movie just characterizes most of the people Mr. Incredible saves as thankless assholes at worst and image-driven sheep at best. A whole nation of waffling swing-voters if you will. I guess I’d buy all of this more easily if all the superheroes were fighting was common human crooks, but supervillains (or at least science-villains) appear to be inside the equation, and since they’re all criminals anyway and probably wouldn’t adhere to government regulation, wouldn’t a whole lot of the public get kind of nervous that they’re being left open to super-attack? Even the cops in the opening sequence seem heavily reliant on Mr. Incredible helping them out with their jobs. Of course, by the end of the film public opinion swings back into super-favor because they save the world and all, but it was awfully considerate of the world’s supervillains to not try anything for the whole five years when superheroes wouldn’t be any problem. But hey, they’re dumb supervillains (I loved the running gag about monologues). It’s the sort of set-up you can stomach and still enjoy the film; you just can’t really think about it. Hell, while I’m on a roll, don’t most states have statutes protecting ‘rescuers’ from legal action if they reasonably believe a person is in danger and cause injury while saving them? And isn’t throwing yourself off a building a pretty solid instance of ‘contributory’ negligence, which would greatly limit your recovery in a lawsuit? I’m sensing a oncoming wave of Incredibles-themed exam questions in first-year Torts classes around the country…

*The movie clearly doesn’t have anything against science per se. But it plainly prefers science as augmented with natural superior ability. But one thing I couldn’t get out of my head: why the hell isn’t the evil fanboy kid’s intelligence a superpower? I mean, he’s plainly better at creating gadgets than anyone else on the planet; all of these nations will doubtlessly line up to buy his stuff. The implication is that eventually everyone will have artificial technological-enhanced superpowers, which I’m sure is bad because it would result in chaos and destruction. Yet how is the evil fanboy kid artificially boosting himself by inventing a shitload of things that nobody else could? It seems to me that the movie considers obvious physical superiority to be a superpower deserving of freedom while mental superiority is just a means of ‘cheating’, of fooling the good people (whom we don’t like anyway, however, because they’re thankless mediocre sheep) through dirty cunning! But hey, the costume designer person seems to be wildly intelligent too, and she’s suffered just like the rest of the superheroes, so I’m sure much of this isn’t intentional on the part of the filmmakers. But still, I get that the fanboy kid is evil because he killed a lot of people, but the movie seems to think he’s a super-poseur too, and I don’t really buy that.

*Honestly, Incredible Boy was annoying. Little brat. Sorry, no analysis here. He just got kind of grating. He got punched in the face a lot near the end, which is something you almost never see in these movies (not even kids being put in danger), so that was ok.

I really really had fun with “The Incredibles” though, even if some parts of it don’t hold much water upon later analysis. It was a fun, energetic movie, with excellent superhero action.

The trailers were awful though, as much as I enjoyed hearing a Spin Doctors song in the new Winnie the Poo preview. Do the Spin Doctors still possess kid appeal? I got the new Star Wars teaser too, and the big scary shot of what’s-his-name turning around with the Evil Contact Lenses in his eyes made me giggle, the most powerful emotion evoked. Some awful-looking Tim Allen Christmas movie. Already a trailer for Pixar’s new one, “Cars”, which doesn’t hold a lot of appeal for me.

The pre-movie short was pretty decent though, a very old-school song-and-dance thing, even if the message seems to be about blissfully accepting the abuse of others without struggle… NO! I’M… DOING IT… AGAIN…


All sorts of Paper.

*So I’ve already spent far too much time playing around on Paper Rad’s website, and I thought I should throw it up here, in case anyone hasn’t heard of it. Paper Rad is an art collective composed of Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci and Ben Jones; Jones has been all over the place in various anthologies like “Blood Orange” and “Kramer’s Ergot”, and I usually find his humor delightful, particularly when his slightly awkward, smirking characters are displayed in painful color. I guess ‘neo-primitive’ is a semi-decent title to apply to Paper Rad’s work, at least ‘primitive’ in terms of conscious web design aesthetic. But there’s something a little too coherent about the structure of the site, and the retina-razing neon shit impulse is a little too calculated for me to really call it truly basic or anything (I‘m not sure if the ‘no design is new design’ theory really applies here); there‘s an obvious pulse of intelligence behind this that sets it apart from the sort of thing you‘d find linked at the bottom of Something Awful front-page update. With all of the 80’s videogame music and old cartoon characters, I’d call it ‘nostalgia plus’ or something, a celebration of youth’s garbage presented with all of the chaos of the fallible mind intact, and maybe a knowing acceptance of the impossibility of replication given limited personal resources (or at least given a reliance on limited resources, MS Paint and the like). It’s a palatable means of utilizing nostalgia in design, at least for me; I picked up on the same feel running through “Kramer’s Ergot 4”, although that particular anthology was varied enough in tone that it only seemed like an undercurrent.

So anyway, I think the site is a lot of fun. Once you find the cartoons, the first Gumby one is the best.

*On that note, I also finally got around to ordering the latest “Paper Rodeo”, issue #18. “Paper Rodeo”, for those who’ve not heard, is an intermittently released b&w newsprint comics anthology out of Providence, RI, resembling a free weekly newspaper at first glance, and it is indeed free to locals. It’s largely maintained by members of the Fort Thunder artistic community, who first came to my attention through Tom Spurgeon’s exhaustive overview in the Comics Journal #256. The publication features mostly comics, most of them unsigned and uncredited, with hand-drawn or roughly assembled ads for local bars and music stores and things relegated to the second and next-to-last pages. I sort of enjoy these ads more than many of the comics; I have a really weird and positive reaction to handcrafted (or maybe handcopied) ads for places that I’m certain almost nobody who’s not living in the immediate environs has heard of.

The cover’s by Ron Rege Jr., one of his rougher, looser pieces, but still as rigorously symmetrical as many of the artist‘s other single-page layouts. Inside we get some continuing features, like Mat Brinkman’s “MultiForce”, an amusing and imaginative fantasy thing with weird monsters (not wholly unlike those of Brinkman’s “Teratoid Heights”, just more talkative) fighting and journeying around. There’s another continuing feature by Brian Chippendale (of the forthcoming "Maggots" collection) which I’m not even sure has a title, but I picked up on returning characters from the other “Paper Rodeo” I have (#16) and I certainly recognized the little set of reading instructions included off to the side which accompany many of Chippendale‘s works. There’s quite a bit of adventurous fantasy and action moving through “Paper Rodeo”, actually, and both of these serials have surprisingly straightforward plots and characterizations, but coupled with Brinkman’s uniquely organic character and environment designs, and Chippendale’s sharp, inky, breathless style.

I picked up a few more recognizable styles here and there (like the aforementioned Mr. Jones’), but the lack of credit for most of the work only encourages looking at “Paper Rodeo” as a single entity rather than a collection of individual stories, sometimes a difficult prospect for someone with an urge to compartmentalize anthology entries, like myself. Many of the comics included within don’t have traditional stories, or at least traditional story development (the entries by some of the more immediately recognizable artists providing an interesting contrast). I sometimes find myself losing concentration as I read through all of these comics, the level of quality varying even more wildly than in the average anthology. One can only enjoy so many collages of archetypical comics/pop culture figures or stories presented entirely as photocopied pages from a spiral notebook or groupings of words and drawings forming human heads before you sort of burn out on the whole thing. It’s strange; I feel like I should be experiencing the work in small doses, but the ephemeral nature of the publication seems to invite quick reading, and swift decay.

But I also think it’s impossible to not at least admire the very existence of “Paper Rodeo”, a 22-page publication of new comics by a wide variety of established and young talent released a couple times per year at a very low price. Again, it's free if you happen to live around Providence, and the rest of the US can order a copy themselves for only the cost of shipping. It was only $1 when the Journal covered it, but postal charges have gone up, so you should send $1.50 or something to Paper Rodeo headquarters at:

Paper Rodeo
P.O. Box 321
Providence, RI 02901

It’s the kind of thing that’s worth at least a sample.


City of Litigation!

*Well, obviously we know what the hot news of the day is. I’ve gotta say I’m fascinated by the implications of the suit, particularly a theory forwarded by Tom Spurgeon that Marvel may be inching toward defending their rights to their characters as based on collections of unique attributes, rather than proper names and instant visual characteristics. I’m not sure if that will come out in this case, as much of what I’ve read (very little) on the matter indicates that Marvel is angry that the potential exists for the creation and display of characters indistinguishable from Marvel properties. I suppose from first glance that Marvel’s arguments won’t be so broad as to really push the ‘collective characteristics’ angle, leaving the potential of ‘virtual copies’, a narrower argument, to be carried forward. And given the unique status of the online gaming technology at issue here, I would think that this case, if decided in Marvel’s favor at a level high enough to become persuasive (or even binding) precedent across a wide area, would be distinguishable should certain ‘collective characteristics’ arguments be offered in a comics-centric controversy, particularly given that Marvel is complaining of limitations on their own video gaming licensing. But hey, wide rulings and generous affirmations by courts in semi-related matters are always a possibility.

I think the matter will have a far more immediate effect on the extent of tolerable customization in online community gaming; I wonder if companies will become far more conservative in determining which sort of characters will be allowed. Actually I wonder if this will result in stricter supervision over online gaming communities in general. It’s different now than it was when those Star Wars maps came out for “Doom”, with a wider potential audience and a formal community located on company-owned servers, which is why I‘d say that this matter is not like suing Kinko‘s or pencil manufacturers for providing the tools of infringement, because the results of the character creation are broadcast on a server maintained by (I think) the same company providing the tools, which is furthermore involved in a business which the complaining company feels its interests is limited in. The question of exactly how much moderation of online communities will be necessary in the future may well be engaged with this case. Should this go to trial, it’ll be fascinating to see exactly what the verdict is made on, as all sorts of potential limitations are possible. Is it just the matter of the game itself providing the character alteration tools? Is it the moderation of the community? Is it limited to online communities? There are many ways this may go.

But I’m not a lawyer, so take all of that with a grain of salt. I get the feeling that the impact this will have on comics is only potential, and a mild potential at that, and particularly dim in regards to the possible impact this could well have on online gaming.

Challengers of the Unknown #6 (of 6)

I laughed out loud twice during this final installment of Howard Chaykin’s flawed but compelling miniseries, and that’s more than I usually do with proper humor books. Taken as the whole, the series looks to me like a particularly vigorous integration of style and theme, with Chaykin’s layouts and character designs broadcasting and commenting upon his message of a humanity made indistinguishable before immense wealth. The comedy doesn't get lost underneath the technical skill though, which is no small feat considering the breadth of that skill.

It sort of started to get to me, midway through the series, how the heroes sound and look so similar. I suspected that this may have been at least partially intentional, and now I’m sure of it. Hegemony, that ultra-conspiratorial congregation of financial elites, only see average persons as toys, entertainment. In one potent bit of narration early in the issue, we’re told of wealthy captains of industry mocking the moon landing of the late-60’s from their top-secret moon base, “In a real life, real time, real world version of Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and hey, why not if you’ve already surpassed any concern for the unsuccessful? The wicked Mae Nash Price, queen of the Moon, gloats that she can always just grow more bodyguards, more human incubators for her heirs. Earlier in the series, Ms. Price crowed about Hegemony’s interest in utilizing racial matters to maintain control; Ms. Price might be personally a monster bigot but there’s no real need to segregate the workforce when the non-elite is simply a mass to be manipulated. Manipulated by television and pop culture and politics. Just more sheep to herd. And it thus also no surprise that Chaykin’s heroes dress alike, speak similarly, and even share similar head shapes, because they are indistinguishable under the watch of those whom the fight. Interestingly, in earlier issues, we’ve even seen a former Hegemony operative turned amoral terrorist who looks remarkably like one of our current heroes, the very one who’s struck from the classic Chaykin hero mold, giving us two alternate typical Chaykin protagonists, one who gloats of bringing down a Center, and one who hasen’t had the chance yet, and maybe won’t in the future.

Repeating layouts have been used throughout the book to further emphasize the shared experience of this mass proletariat (the true bourgeois having mostly left the planet itself). Sure the pictures filling the panels are different, but the beat, the placement, and the thrust of the content repeat, to establish and maintain the unconscious community inhabited by the heroic cast. The repeating layouts return in this final issue, and I honestly felt a leap in my belly as I realized that this cross-racial cross-gender cross-sexuality joining would now be used to effectuate an awakening. And directly after that awakening, literally on the next two pages, Chaykin uses exactly the same layouts again, only with both of the core villains made the focus rather than the surviving heroes, and the decision made to either betray or fight in the place of the panels that once offered support from beyond eternity. And then on the next page after that, we have all of the remaining heroes pictured in panels running across the top, all eyes of the faithful turned toward a betrayer. It’s really a superb use of panel breakdowns, some of the best work of the type I’ve seen in recent comics, and it deserves and rewards attention and study. Oh, speaking of study, did you catch the secret spoiler on the cover? Very cute.

But what of the satire, you ask? That’s a little more questionable. The story’s recurring Ann Coulter caricature gets what initially appears to be a hilariously absurd role in the plot, but it comes to a fizzling, tired end (although we do get a great line out of it; ’unfit mother’ indeed). There’s not a lot of immediate political engagement anyway, at least not on a party level. Chaykin really wants to talk about the cultural domination of the wealthiest one or two percent, who in Chaykin’s world have attained a higher level of power than mere total political control anyway. Sure, the story could be read as ‘don’t trust what the current government says’ but I think the crux of the theme lies in how much Chaykin sees the current cultural climate as being tinkered with by those moneyed people of privilege. Consolidation of media, funding of politics, selection of trends and release of backlash. Chaykin just takes this to the nth degree, with the jolly staging of genocide and international conflict, all pieces ultimately held by the same parties, of course, with the only things broken being the toys: us. But Chaykin doen't really propose any long lasting solution, no overthrow or perfect government or anything. He only wants to situation to be properly read; it is now necessary to merely establish the need for a solution, not the solution itself, hence the 'waking up' aspect.

So even when Chaykin awkwardly mixes a parody of “The Reagans” across party lines, or becomes somewhat repetitious in his desire to clearly explain everything when mere visuals will do (though this might just be a useful means of padding out that necessary six-issue length), or loses clarity at the very end (I got the feeling that the explosion at the end was set off from within, since the secrets have now been compromised and certain parties seemed to be hustling away to somewhere at final glance), it’s not too distracting for me. Because what’s really asked by the book is for the people to see how close they all really are, and question how so much is held my so few. Then, presumably, as the people always do in the early works of Eisenstein, we challenge the unknown.