NO FIWOTTS ALLOWED!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Death Walks With Him

One of the nicest things about American superhero comics is that, in general, they are on the side of life.

After a dodgy start, Superman ended up with an inflexible moral code of no killing that is stronger than his fists. He has been driven mental several times purely by the emotional anguish of causing the death of somebody, even when it comes to mortal foes. This makes him a Good Guy, and the influence of the character has seen his example kept up by the large majority of his peers.

There are, as always, some big fucking exceptions: The American horror and war comics are piled high with corpses, but most of them are bad people or Nazis, so that’s okay. The mainstream superhero comics have had an extraordinary body count ever since Phoenix was killed in the Uncanny X-Men. This body count has only been matched by its profitability, although frequency and nullifcation of earlier deaths ends up in the current state of mainstream comics. Off in the last comic of the 20th century, The Authority always end up saving the day, but millions die along the way.

But in general, life wins. Superman stops the planes that fall from the sky over Metropolis with alarming frequency. Batman saves who he can, depending on who sits in the editor’s chair, while the same back-seat writing also sees Wonder Woman turn into Wonder Warrior every now and again. Spider-Man is surrounded by death and he is sad about it for a while, but gets on with things the best he can, and that’s what life is all about. The Fantastic Four are off meeting new life forms and showing them how to drive fast, while the regular Captain America pounds the fuck out of the Nazis, but doesn’t kill them, leaving them with broken bones and a pitiful feeling of defeat.

However, if all comics were like this, it would get boring pretty fucking quickly. The precarious balance between light fluff and the sheer nastiness of death for the sake of it is maintained by another type of character, another archetype breaking the surface.

They are not always male, but they mostly are. They’re not always big, a huge physical presence often a bonus, but not needed. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, with all sorts of personalities and quirks. They do, however, have one thing in common.

If you fuck with them, they will kill you.

Sometimes there are second chances, more often there isn’t. You can beat these people down, but they’ll just keep getting back up and then they will kill you. If you insult them bad enough, they will kill you. There is honour, but if you fuck with them, they will fucking kill you.

It’s a character not confined to comics. They show up everywhere, in novels, movies and television shows. Clint’s Man With No Names pre-ordering the coffins, Bond’s cold assassinations, Jack Bauer coming back from the fucking dead to kill those dirty terrorists.

In the comic world, this character managed to stay out of the superhero section for the most part. After the superheroes had helped win WW2, the non-killing phase lasted for decades. However, by the seventies, the desperate attempts to create new superheroes that would match the Marvel explosion of the sixties and their DC counterparts 25 years earlier saw experiments that had all sorts of personalities grafted onto fairly traditional heroes. The tough guy in the team becomes the stone-cold killer, real guns with real bullets replacing the fist.

Frank Miller, the Toughest Man in Comics, has given the world some fine examples, and has adjusted the template slightly each time, often by making a female version, Elektra or deadly little Miho more than able to kill without a seconds hesitation or regret.

In the slightly more corporate world of mainstream superheros, two of the most successful, in financial terms more than artistic, appeared from the same company under different circumstances. The Punisher starting out teamed up with one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains - an old insane professor dressed in green latex - before gaining in popularity and even occasionally picking up a bit of depth along the way. Under the hands of Wein and Claremont, Wolverine started out as a shortarse Canadian with a crabby temper and morphed into a cold-hearted killer with an exceptionally strong sense of honour. In the PG Marvel Universe, he slaughters hundreds, with the full effect of those adamantinum claws on human flesh only examined relatively recently.

Both these characters sparked a horde of imitators, especially in Image comics, where superhero names were replaced with basic nouns and personalities ripped off wholesale, that Samauri code occasionally making a brief appearance, only to be overshadowed by some increasingly preposterous firearm. Even the Big Two jumped on the bandwagon, every second book at one time guest-starring Wolverine or the Punisher, the man who carries death in his pocket facing the expected diminishing returns as new writers take a crack, often fundamentally misunderstanding how the character works.

Granted, in the last 20 years, there have been some fine stories by self-proclaimed manly-men like Beau Smith and Chuck Dixon that fit this pattern, often using these Marvel characters or ones with a similar template. However, the finest to emerge in the last decade is a generally agreeable Irishman with a strong pacifistic streak.

Garth Ennis’ first stories in comics were a fairly restrained look at the Irish troubles and a far bloodier story about one teenager’s slight disillusionment with God that ends with him shooting his PE teacher in the face. But while still in his early 20s, Ennis got his hands on Judge Dredd, the most violent man in British comics, a man who has killed billions of people in the name of the law.

Ennis can now dismiss his early 2000ad work as clumsy and a little embarrassing, but his work does have validity, if only for his black sense of humour. His Dredd is a hard, hard man, and Ennis, with the help of Carlos Ezquerra, even managed to team him up with Johnny Alpha, the second most violent man in British comics. This led to the high point of Ennis’ early career, showing the two together, beaten but not broken on the very last page of the Judgement Day epic. Who the hell was going to mess with them?

When he inevitably made the leap across the Atlantic into the American market, Ennis took what he learned in the six-page narrative and applied it to a larger canvas. Many of his stories since have featured the stone-cold killer, from the hapless Kev, who managed to wipe out the Authority in three seconds while still being fairly unlikeable in every other respect, to Tommy Monaghan, who will destroy vampires because they just weren’t very nice, but let a deadly dinosaur go home because it wasn’t its fault some dickhead brought it to the 20th century.

Preacher may have taken 60+ issues to say that even a cowboy can cry and that you shouldn’t bloody hit women, but it also featured the Saint of Killers, the avenging soul elevated to godhood through sheer will and meanness. He spits on an attempt to wipe him off the face of the world with a nuclear weapon and ultimately rests upon the throne of God. While Ennis appeared to have reached the zenith of the archetype with this, he went further. There was more death, much more, to come in various series, until Marvel, in a rare display of sheer fucking brilliance, gave him The Punisher.

Sticking with the black humour for the first attempts of the character, Ennis has in recent years, turned Frank Castle into something else entirely. In the MAX series, and most notably in the Born mini-series and the Tyger, Cell and End one-shots, Ennis shows a man who has plunged so far into the world of dealing death that he becomes Death, walking the world and dealing it out as he sees fit. Luckily, Ennis also has a talent for creating truly reprehensible bad guys, people who deserve their fate because nothing else will stop them.

Often put down, this type of story, of somebody killing everybody who has done him wrong, is artistically valid. Often dismissed for genre trappings or excessive violence, it shares the artistic ghetto with Italian zombie films and pulp novels from the dawn of the 20th Century . But while the genre issue is only a problem if you want it to be, the amount of blood and gore and cruelty in these tales are necessary, racking up the intensity level while showing the seriousness of the situation, showing that things have gone too far.

Enjoying stories that see one person cut a swathe of destruction across the face of the universe is not a bad thing. It may be difficult to show that the inherent themes and subtexts of such tales are just as worthy as anything James Joyce shat out, but there is nothing to be embarrassed about here.

Unless you’re reading an early Image bloodfest. There really is no excuse for that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Seven Soldiers Of Victory

Action Over Reaction

In the glorious age of technological marvels, one of the oddest things about receiving comic books long after they are released is that you get to see the reaction to a work long before you get to read it yourself.

Usually, this isn't much of a problem, a little bit of self discipline can keep away the most obvious of spoilers and discussion of a specific comic can often be almost incomprehensible without actually reading it.

So when the final issue of Seven Soldiers came out a while back, it was easy enough to read the huge amount of criticism and analysis that inevitably followed on the internet. Comments about Aurakles and the New Gods were almost nonsensical without having read the issue in question, while the ultimate fate of many of the characters, including the death which was always breathlessly promised at the conclusion of each mini-series, were also surprisingly easy to avoid.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of online writing about the comic and the series as a whole quickly fell into two painfully predictable schools of thought. Obviously, there is always the odd notable exception such as the usual wonderful ramblings from the likes of Jog and Mark Singer, as well as Greg Burgas' current, commendable and almost courageous attempt at posting daily thoughts on every single issue in the project at Comics Should Be Good.

However, much of the discussion sadly soon settled into one of two patterns:

The first is one that Morrison must be incredibly familiar with, one that will always give him credit for his mad, wonderful ideas, but then remains certain that there is nothing more to it than that, usually resorting to the infuriatingly bland assertion that he is being weird for the sake of being weird.

That’s okay, a lot of people want their narratives simple and clean with no hint of anything like subtext or metaphor. But to simply say that Morrison’s work, and Seven Soldiers in particular, doesn’t make any sense is just wrong. There is a bit more substance in criticism that the sheer amount of material in each issue can sometimes overwhelm the story, but this, like everything else on Earth, is more than a little subjective.

Besides, anybody who doesn’t like Morrison’s work because of this is missing out on something wonderful. Shame.

The second pattern is much better, if not half as funny. The analytic approach always has its merits, but how much fun is it? Elaborate decoding of the text, reading a universe into each stray word balloon, a puzzle box just waiting to be open.

That’s all right for some, but you don’t have to decode the crossword in SS#1 if you don’t have to. It doesn’t matter who Aurakles is, you don’t need Wikipedia to get what Morrison is on about. Not if you don’t want to.

It all gets a bit dry, endless analysis, accounting for everything. All well and good, but what happens when you finally solve the puzzle? What then?
It’s no fun doing the same game twice, not until you forget how you solved it.

So what’s left?

Dry, hard facts: Seven Soldiers was a really big story composed of two bookends and seven four-issue limited series. It was written by Grant Morrison and drawn by a whole bunch of people. A lot of the readers liked some series, but didn’t enjoy others so much. Most of the time they gave good reasons for doing so.

The last issue was labelled #1, and was a bit late.

Is that it?

Fuck, no!


OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS, GRANT.

They keep telling us, we need to listen more. Modern media is saturated in it, from the Muppet fuckin’ Babies to the glory of Promethea: Imagination is the key. For everything.

So why not apply it to comics? Look at it this way: If you’ve got no imagination, that’s okay, there are 70 years worth of these four-colour adventures to fill the gaps in your head. Most of them are rubbish, but get them all and you’ll be happy. Just like you were when you solved that puzzle.

But it’s worth it to apply just a little effort. Don’t worry if your favourite sports team is playing the biggest game of the year this weekend, just for a moment. Put a little thought into it and you’re plugged in. It doesn’t matter if you miss an issue here or there, your brain will fill in the gaps. Chances are it will be more impressive than what actually happened. One day you’ll read that issue, and you’ll see for yourself.

Put it under the microscope and you’ve got Seven Soldiers. The first issue was the last and that wonderful geek consensus has it that it if you’ve read the whole mini-series, it’ll still be baffling and will take a long time to figure out. If you haven’t read the mini-series, any of them, than you’ll never understand what is going on.

Fuck that.

Ian Brill conducted a marvellous interview with Morrison for Newsarama, where the big fella made it quite clear why Seven Soldiers #1 was the perfect first issue, not just a high climax, but the place to start. He wanted to create that sensation you felt when you picked up your first comic and realised there was a huge, gigantic backstory.

Unless you were born more than fifty years ago, there has always been a Spider-Man. We are rapidly running out of people who were alive when Superman was first created. The only way to start right at the beginning with any of these comics is to belong to these groups, if they even care at that age what the Penguin’s first appearance in Batman was like.

Nearly all of us reading comics today had to start somewhere. Could have been anything. Picking up that Cockrum issue of X-Men with all those crazy aliens in the Imperial Guard, or trying X-Factor in the early nineties because you heard Peter David made it funny. The mythical jumping on point never fucking existed. There is always some backstory.

So bring on Seven Soldiers #1 as the starting point. Even better, give it to little kids. It will be a bit scary and scar them for life, but in a good way. Imprint this vast, colourful world on hungry, growing minds. Then give them an issue of the Frankenstein series when they turn seven. Biff, zam, POW!

Why not? Everybody has to start somewhere and we never really grow out of these sort of things. Nostalgia can be a bitch, choking the present under the weight of the past. But what if Seven Soldiers was your first comic?

Would you wonder who these odd heroes are, what they’re doing here? Imagination kicks in: The Manhattan Guardian is a World War Two soldier, who outlived all his peers on pure spite, while Klarion is off to rumble with Peter Pan. Why the fuck not?

The most obvious connection to all this is in the Zatanna series, where she breaks out of the comic page itself, with the gap between imagination and the reality on the page twisted beyond belief. She reaches out twice to the reader, it’s up to you to make the connection back. This is an old trick which Morrison has had a lot of fun with in the past, and fun is the name of the game!


LIFE AND DEAF

A short while back DC released a six-issue limited series called The Battle For Bludhaven. It was absolute rubbish.

Clumsy stapling of the superhero ideal onto modern politics, events happening for no reason other than they have to, absolutely nothing resembling an ending, a ham-fisted attempt to re-invent old characters for a new century using the same old clichés. The awful interpretation of Seven Soldier’s SHADE as just another black-ops government with no regard for innocent life is a bit much, but even that is not as bad as the relentless carnage.

When there is a pretty crass use of suicide bombers, it’s hard to tell if the fact the bombers are beautiful, scantily-clad girls who are willing to lay down their lives for some drug dealer makes it better or worse. The very first page of the mini-series sees the death of, at the very least, thousands of people, but the loss of these people is barely touched upon. There are no relatives trying to live with their grief, their deaths have almost no impact. Even worse, the Teen goddamn Titans, DC’s occasionally successful super-team composed of kid sidekicks, has a killer who strikes with no mercy working with them. Ravager puts her blade into the back of Lady Liberty (the second to to die in this series) without a thought.

Is this what passes for heroism in the new millennium? Characters like the Punisher have enjoyed huge popularity with their willingness to kill people, but what makes Frank Castle almost morally acceptable is that he only kills really, really bad guys. People who absolutely deserve their fate: murderers, hitmen, rapists, child pornographers, the world will never miss these people. Sad, but true.

But there is absolutely no indication that Ravager’s opponent has done anything worthy of dying in a ruined city like she did. In a somewhat disturbing turn of events in the last few years, death has become the ultimate marketing tool, with Dan DiDio in particular riding the vulgar train with a breathless promise of more death and destruction in the future.

But when it is used in such a clumsy and random way, where is the concern?

Where is the impact?

The most obvious impact is, sadly, in the sales figures. DC have seen a significant number of sales jumps in killing characters ever since the Death of Superman, an event which might have seen the big man return after a few issues on the slab, but had to move on to the death of millions in Coast City to give his return any impact, even if the immediate affects of such a significant tragedy were limited to Green Lantern going mental for a while.

Even a character like Ted Kord has its fans and while they piss and moan about his death kicking off the whole Infinite Crisis bollocks, they still brought the fucking issue it happened in.

Random, meaningless death might seem like the current plan for the DC Universe, but over in the Seven Soldiers corner, the very opposite is happening. Life is celebrated in every aspect of the series, and the death of any person has profound impact.

Would Sally Sonic have gone wrong if she hadn’t lost her parents, or even the King of Teddy Bears? Would Jake permanently take over the Guardian identity if Larry had not died?

And just when this celebration of life gets a bit cloying, there is Mister Miracle, transcending that shit to lift himself up out of the Life Game. He dies with a smile on his lips and is reborn as the Newest God of all. Just next door, Zatanna pushes herself past her own boundaries and gets her own glimpse behind the curtain. These people will never die, even Bulletteer will survive me. It really doesn’t get any cooler than that.

The celebration of life is a recurring theme in Morrison’s work and the aging fan boys glee at their childhood heroes killing their opponents is mocked in the JLA: Classified series that served as a prologue to Seven Soldiers. Superman says death is a simplistic solution that creates more problems than it solves and if you can’t trust Superman, who can you trust?

In SS #1, the Newsboy Army know they’ll beat the bad guy, somehow. There is no doubt there, from the sureties of youth to the wisdom of age, the winning answer is always there, death solves nothing, life wins out. It will always win.

They’re not called the Seven Soldiers of Victory for nuthin’.


PASS THE SAUCE

There is more to it than just that, of course. There always is.

The history of heroism, from the dawn of man to the death of the world, the importance of growing up and leaving childish things behind you, the plasticity of modern consumerism, the eternal dilemma of destiny versus free will, the importance of heritage combined with the shine of the new, bloody top hats and love and death and hate and all that.

So get comfortable and dip in. When you come back up for air, be grateful we live in this modern age where you don’t have to be alone with your thoughts on something. You can go online, follow up on the opinions of others, let them do the decoding if they want and use their own findings to enrich your own experience. It all melts together in the head, new observations mixing with the damned obvious. What difference does it make in the end.

Anyway, even if you just want to leave it all up to yourself, it’s all there in those 30 issues, there for the taking. Seven Soldiers was a really big story composed of two bookends and seven four-issue limited series. It was written by Grant Morrison and drawn by a whole bunch of people.

It was also really fucking good.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stop.

Creators, stop boasting about your comic selling out. Maybe they should have printed more of the fuckers in the first place.

Fans, stop complaining that your favourite comic book doesn't come out on time. Yeah, it's shit. But moaning about it won't bring them out any fucking faster.

Nobody cares how you would save comics. Saving is for misers. Stick your plans up your arse, they'll do more use there stopping the shit from leaking out.

No more saying that Grant Morrison is just being weird for weird's sake. Find a new fuckin' cliche. Besides, it's still more interesting than being dull for dullness' sake.

John Byrne: Get off the bloody Internet. You're not doing yourself any favours.

Mark Millar: You can stay, but curb your enthusiasm, mate. It just makes you look stupid.

Bendis: Yes, 70s Marvel was great. It is now the 21st century.

Reading a political subtext into every single funny book ever created is all well and good, but it ain't the only way to read 'em.

Getting excited about a forthcoming comic book because it promises to kill off a character isn't big or clever. It's just fucking morbid.

Super-heroes don't kill. They're smarter and better than that.

The Punisher isn't a super-hero. For that matter, neither is Judge Dredd.

Step AWAY from the caption box, Mr Loeb....

Whoever designs covers and writes solicitations for the big companies: What the fuck are you doing? Are you even trying to sell these books?

If you don't like the direction a comic is taking, don't moan about it on a blog or message board, just stop fucking buying it until you do like it again. So what if you've been buying the title for more than 30 years? That hole won't hurt you.

...

Boy, that feels much better! Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 12/13/06

Ooooooh . . .it’s Wednesday the 13th! Spoooooky! Well-known for being a time of awful, horrible comics! And, while I’m sure there were hell-tons of them, I’m not going to review them. So if you see someone review something that came out this week and I didn’t review it, all you need to know is that that comic was bad and if the reviewer disagrees they smell.

I’ll start with the relative weak point in my stack, Fantastic Four: The End. It is, quite simply, a big “ender” superhero story. It doesn’t seem to be making any point other than “this part is cool . . .so is this . . .” etc. But it does this well. Alan Davis . . .he’s very skilled. He’s very good at what he does, but I must say I’m not exactly drawn to it. It’s a little too straight-forward for me, but he certainly doesn’t distract from the story. And this is the sort of thing he was born to draw. Large, epic battles; crazy sci-fi; larger-than-life personage; and, of course, my absolute favorite FF trope: stubbly Reed. Ever since the Kirby days, when the shit really hit the fan, Reed would stop shaving. Someone should collect an image from every artist that’s done this. I love stubbly Reed. It’s so on when he’s stubbly. The story here doesn’t make much sense, but it’s just a nice action flick, a blockbuster for your eyes.

Most comics these days might have one big twist you didn’t see coming. DMZ had two this issue. I don’t think it’s just because I’m functionally retarded, although I am. Christ, I just realized this is only the second part of this arc. Bryan Wood continues to write a compelling, real-feeling main character in an increasingly desperate situation. The parallels to real life are present, strong, but not preachy. And there’s some action thrown in for the teenage boys still out there. Oh, and sex. Burchielli officially went from (after having gone from tolerable to OK) OK to quite good this issue. The looseness of his line allows for an expressionism that doesn’t detract from the reality of the situation. Strong stuff with one hell of a cliffhanger.

How long do you think Vaughan had the idea for this month’s Ex Machina? The title reveal on the last page? Perfect. A great one-off issue exploring the background of Bradbury. Tony Harris can draw people talking and make it interesting. He can represent life without sacrificing an artistic voice. We learn only bits and pieces about the focus of the issue, but it’s more than enough. Just like that he becomes a real person. That’s good stuff.

Gotta say The Escapists was even better, though. It addressed one of the sneaking doubts I had about the book from the beginning. Sure, it was really well done. Sure, the idea was compelling. Sure it was the perfect mix of superhero and indie. But it wasn’t completely new. It was built upon the backs of others. The ending of this book may be a bit cheesy, but it’s so damn right that you don’t care. Screw the corporate comics that simply parasitcally drain the works of great creators. Start making something new. Pefect, perfect, perfect.

Not that it’s impossible to do great work on the back of someone else. Because I may have enjoyed the first issue of The Spirit even more. Cooke’s writing and art is so dang perfect here. He doesn’t try to imitate Eisner, he tries to do what he does as well as Eisner did what he did. The Spirit is charming, affable, fallible, but awesome. The supporting characters (even Ebony!) are spot-on. The plot works, works quickly, and never lets you down. The women are beautiful. The jokes are funny. The action is exciting. The villains are horrible. This, my friends, this is how you continue old superhero books. You don’t worry about years of who-did-what. You make a really great story and you draw it beautifully. Will this sell to the superhero nerds? I hope so, but they seem to run from this kind of quality like I run from leafy vegetables. However long we have it, it’s going to be a pleasure.

A great week for superheroes, folks. A great week for comics, too, actually. Go out and treat yourself. If you normally wouldn’t get one of these books, get the Spirit. And get the Escapists in trade. If you refuse, you’re more retarded than I am. And that’s really retarded.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 12/06/06

Argh, what a bad day at school. Due mostly to three individuals. It's a sad day when people under the age of 13 can completely ruin your day. But good comics can redeem it. And there were some this week.

American Splendor had what might be its strongest issue under DC, at least artistically. 'Beto, Deano, Geary, and Fingerman headlined the issue. Some good, everyday stuff. Pekar's comics are somewhere between comfort food and art comics. They require a bit more thought than Superman hitting a rock, but they also feel so comfortable and real. The way this blog goes, I'm probably speaking to a hole here, but this is good comics.

I was less bothered by the coloring on The Other Side this issue. I dunno if it was that improved or I just had that much alcohol. But the Asian folk seemed less 1950s racist superhero comic and more naturalistic. Stewart's art is typically beautiful, and the two stories are aligning interestingly. Some great stuff. This would be a good book to buy your war-movie-fan friend/relative. Too bad there's no trade for Christmas or whatever excuse you use to give people stuff.

Cronin not liking Superman Confidential is almost as dumb as him letting me type on the blog again. It's finally that 40s repartee Lois done well with a side of Superman Byrne only dreamed of showing. The neophyte, unsure Superman done realistically but heroically. His ignorance of his limits isn't played brashly, but hesitantly, as most folks trying to figure out "Well, just how invulnerable am I?" would be. (Thanks to Lisa for the spelling help for boozed-up Joe there.) Nice, cartoonish art that goes a long way to telling the story and the mood. I may become a Sale fan yet, now that he's not working with Liefeld's writer.

I'm glad that Salvador Larroca seems to have gotten over his X-Men/Claremon boob + butt phase. And Ellis seems to be writing a possibly interesting story for newuniversal. But (and, yes, this is not technical) OH MY GOD I DO NOT CARE. You know what's boring and lamely-written? That show "Heroes." You know what's better written but no more interesting? YET ANOTHER COMIC BOOK ABOUT REAL FOLKS GETTING SUPERPOWERS. Christ in Heaven. I know that superbooks sell, but can we put a moratorium on superbooks that aren't frakkin brilliant for a few decades? This might even end up being good, but I'm so tired of this idea that I can't even give it a chance. You want to write about real folks, do it. Screw the superpowers and the twists on archetypes. Write something real. That's not really the point for this, I know. And this is good, for what it is. But screw it. Spend your money on the Huizenga collection or something else that's truly great.

Agents of Atlas dealt with the "evil within" subplot very succintly and originally, I feel. This is still a very good, pulpy book. I know I just yelled about the plethora of crap superbooks out there, but that doesn't mean there aren't worthwhile ones out there. One of the most appealing parts of this book is the fact that it's going to end. It will be a story and not just a marketing device. The characters are interesting and varied, the story is moving somewhere neat, and it's just a kick to read. I dunno what the nerds are doing for this sales-wise, but I'm enjoying it.

And some superhero books are just really good superhero books. Doctor Strange: The Oath is one. The Martin art is frakkin gorgeous. I kissed it a few times, especially when the Dr.'s being all flirty. Some good twists, and an antagonistic organization that seems really evil but also seems natural for the setting. Kung fu Wong is also pretty great. What's up with the great sideline Strange books this past couple of years? Milligan and Vaughn? Meanwhile Spider-man is stuck with PAD and the legions of Civil War tie-ins. Still, good comics are good comics, and this certainly is one.

You know something that makes Chris Sprouse awesome? In Midnighter, he draws a young Hitler and it looks like a young Hitler. I'm sorry, Jeffrey from Project Runway, but that is mad skills. The story takes unexpected twists and remains fun but interesting the whole way. I feel like Ennis found the happy medium between "Important Ennis" and "outlined on bar napkins" Ennis here. It's good fun. Involving killing Hitler.

Can't wait to read the Showcase: Shazam, AKA, the last time DC did a Captain Marvel that at all understood the appeal of the character. Sunny Sparkles is like a Chris Ware character sans irony. I'm going to cut this review bit short so I can dive in.

As for other media, Casino Royale is challenging Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service as my favorite Bond film. The direction is crisp, the acting is strong and tight all around, and it seems to actually mean something. Daniel Craig is great as Bond, and his wardrobe gives me crazy envy. That short-sleeved linen shirt with the grey suit when he goes to the Bahamas? The fashion nerd in me went NUTS.

"Put Your Quarter Up" is an amazing song. You've got the Molemen, Slug, Aesop Rock, and frakkin MF Doom rapping, mostly about video games. You get a line rhyming Slobodan and Robotron? Yeah. Download that stuff immediately. Thank you, itunes.

And it's time for a confession. I mostly admit to only watching very few TV shows. There's the Office and Battlestar Galactica, the two best-written shows on TV for my money. Cosby and Andy Griffith re-runs. Daily Show and Colbert when I can. And a bunch of awful crap my wife watches. But I now must publically admit I like one of those shows. I like Grey's Anatomy. Mind you, I hate Grey, and I hate every plot she's in. But the rest of the cast is damn TIGHT. It's a soap that I actually got into, and I'm not (as) ashamed anymore. I just wish it was more Karev's Anatomy instead. That's a damn interesting character.

Enjoy your week.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Big Fat Rocketship Party

So the Big Fat Little Lit party was at Rocketship last night. It was a really good time. The guests were all pleasant, talkative, and, of course, fun. And the book itself I recommend quite highly to anyone from 5 to 105 (except for people that are 76, they won't like it). Anyway, you want to see photos.

The backyard is slowly being turned into a gallery. Ms. Kelly, AWOL, and AWOLette strike a suitable gallery pose.
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Sitting with the girls, pre-party.
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Folks started to arrive early, despite TORRENTIAL DOWNPOURS.
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Mr. David Mazzucchelli.
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Funibashis and my tongue.
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Children frolicked.
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Grown-ass men frolicked.
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Ms. Francoise Mouly (w/ T'challa)
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From r-l: Ms. Kelly, Ms. Li'l Sis, and Boy Reeling in Pain
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Li'l sister! That's not me!
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Mr. Art Spiegelman signing for a student of mine's Christmas present.
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Li'l Sister decided there weren't enough pictures with her in it last time. Here she is with Mary.
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Mini-comic for mini-person.
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Examining the work.
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Mr. Dean Haspiel talks with Mr. Spiegelman.
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Mary after eating a big bowl of sassafrass.
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I was sad to go, but Dino consoled me.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 11/29/06

I bet you wish you had a job that you could start and then the very next time you're supposed to do it, you don't. It was Thanksgiving, man. My wife and her sister were running around the kitchen for, like two days straight. Though I knew I was useless until mashed-potatoes-making-time, sitting in a room typing about comic books could very easily have lead to pain for me. So you people had to wait a week. Stop crying. Now you get two weeks' worth of comics reviews. I even picked up a couple of things I normally wouldn't just to give you MORE. I think of you.

One of those things was Immortal Iron Fist. I'm a sucker for good kung-fu movies, but has anyone done really good kung fu comics outside of Kagan? Shang Hi doesn't count, it was a straight action thing with kung fu for flavor. I have to say I liked the prelude art better than the Aja art . . .which was nice, but just not AS good. The kung fu action didn't work here. The intrigue didn't really intrigue me. Oddly, afterward subplot about the early 20th century Iron Fist was also more interesting. Basically, the focus of the book and modern time stuff just didn't work for me. It's not bad by any means, really. I'd just rather either watch a good kung fu flick or read a better comic.

Jesus, Garth Ennis! I know that The Punisher is often unpredictable, but there wasn't much at all that went like I thought it would in this issue. Fine, fine pulp writing with some actual emotional content and some larger meaning as well. Punisher comics are still very good.

Unless they're not written by Garth Ennis. Punisher War Journal? I couldn't get through it. The art was stiff and weird (I thought I remembered liking Olivetti at some time in the past, but maybe not). I'm not opposed completly to the idea of this book, I just think the execution is pretty horribly lacking. I don't believe it at all. Bad action movie quips, silly bits, I dunno. I'm sure this will please the dorks that whine that Ennis' Punisher isn't about superheroes. This was the worst book I read this week. I regret the time spent trying to finish it.

Not that Garth Ennis can do no wrong. 7 Brothers went from being "possibly interesting premise" to "OK, I'm done with this." I guess it might make a good b movie but it's just not worth its space on a comic shelf. Too much stuff out there's better.

Someone said Grant Morrison wrote this issue of 52 by himself. This is like the third time I convinced myself to buy the damn thing. There were two good pages in the entire thing. The Ten-Eyed Men stuff was amazing and practically a blink of the comic. Jesus, what a dull, plodding thing 52 is. Why the hell are we supposed to care about any of it? Are we? Or are "we" just collecting it?

Darwyn Cooke? Yay! Jeph Loeb? Uhhhh . . .tough one. Well, Batman/The Spirit is no Cooke masterpiece, but it's pretty and it's fun. I'm sure Cooke's solo Spirit work will be better, but this was a fun little adventure. I especially like Cooke's Joker for some reason.

Wow, so far one good and one OK comic and some losers. The things I read for you people. You should pay me reparations for my eyes having to look at Punisher War Journal. Did you know I was at the dentist today? Getting a root canal started? This is dedication.

Fortunately Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. was pure pleasure. A fun and funny Marvel superhero comic with Paul Pope, Dan Clowes, and Mike Mignola pastiches? Really, really good ones? (By the way, what was the Captain Universe one? Can't figure it out.) Hot damn. Those bits made me giggle with happiness. The Captain Marvel one is better than any Captain Marvel comic book that Marvel has ever put out. (Or DC since the seventies.) And the action/straight bits? Frakkin exciting. This is fun comics.

Runaways, too. How often can you say that you really, really don't know what's going to happen next? I actually don't know if Chase is going to do it! Good to have Alphona back. What a development over the course of this book. Oh, a 6th grade girl at my school has gotten obsessed with the manga-sized collections. She comes up to me and talks about how Lucy in the Sky is her favorite, and (she's on book 2) how shocked she was that Alex was so mad about the vampire boy when he pushed her away, etc. So cute. Great book, and it that's just a testament to that.

Now to the meat of my comics-buying this week. These three were what really excited me today, and I, of course, left then until last. First off, Angry Youth Comix. I love you Johnny Ryan. I love you and your holocaust juice and your breast cancer odd couple and your Ku Klux Klan corpse jet. I'd love to see his creative process. Is it spur-of-the-moment vulgarity or is it crafted? Either way it's pure awful hilarity. I kiss it now.

It's been a while since the last Big Questions so it took me a second to remember what was going on exactly, but once I did the love washed over me again. The deceptively simple illustrations and script create a comfortable, homey next for your brain to wander around in. This simultaneously makes the disturbing bits palatable and more disturbing. Simple conversations mean much more. Anders Nilson is really making something here and it's awesome to see it happen.

YAY! New Acme Novelty Library! Comics' current great formalist continues his new epic. I could go on and on about his formal work and how frickin AMAZING it is here, but Ware here actually exposes more emotion than he'd have you believe. In Chalky White and his sister we may have his first completely sympathetic characters. Of course, Rusty himself is just a magnificent train wreck filled with pains so familiar you can't help but appreciate it. It's not fair to call this the comic of the week, as it's just working on a higher level than anything else. Brad, I love you to death, but to say that Casanova is a comic you must read or you hate comics is like saying rubbing your own tummy is the king of orgasms. I'm sure Casanova's fine for what it is, but this, this this . . .I lose words. It's the sort of comic I almost have to get a little buzz on before I can really wax about its pleasures. That looseness of tongue, the breaking down of the barriers of communication. It's too big for me to talk about otherwise. Anyway, buy it, you saps. It's worth the sacrifice of six stupid Moon Knights or whatever. Do it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 11/15/06

Hey. Weird to be back. I bought some comic books. Most of them were good. In the next paragraphs I will attempt to describe why they were or were not good. I will also attempt to do so better than the other lame-asses at this blog. I mean, seriously, Cronin. What were you thinking? I know the loss of me, Alex, Teel, and the Grammar Police was tough on you. But, really? These guys? It's like Mayberry RFD, or, more topically, the Detroit League. Here's hoping I can class this place up a bit again.

Ultimate Fantastic Four is, for once, good. Instead of issues dedicated to extrapolations of one panel of Lee and Kirby's work, we get actual OK LET'S GO FULL FORCE storytelling. The Ferry art helps. I think I missed an issue somehow . . .in fact I'm rather certain of it. But this is good writing so it doesn't matter (other than a pang of regret for missing what was most likely another good issue). Carey comes out and admits that Thanos is nothing but a crappy Darkseid rip, but, in doing so, frees him to be an INTERESTING Darkseid rip. It's really tough doing Kirby work. Kirby was a creator, not a revamper. So revisiting his work usually seems false. That isn't what he'd do, after all. You've got books out there like Godland that just make you wish that the real Kirby was doing something more interesting. But this story and Morrison's Seven Soldiers finally seem to be taking the torch from the King and doing more than a measly tribute. Good stuff.

A Paul Pope cover is enough to get me to buy most things, including, Joe Rice Is Stupid And Ugly (forthcoming from Peter David and Ethan Van Scriver). But on a great comics like The Escapists? With a Wolfmother allusion? DING DING DING! Vaughn's story continues to really interestingly straddle the divide between indie comics, superhero comics, and even romance comics, taking the best from each and somehow making the bizarre hybrid work. And work really well. Comics-within-comics usually suck even more than most comics do. But the damnedest thing I realized reading this: I not only care about the actual characters of this book, but I care about the fictional characters they're writing and drawing. Outstanding. That last page? Ugh! It hurts! Good stuff.

Sometimes I think to myself, Hey, extremely handsome, charming guy, remember how great Jack Staff was? And then I'll reply, Yeah, it was pretty awesome--just like your ass. Then I'll go on, Maybe the new color version isn't as good . . .sometimes I put off reading it. And just as I'm about to agree with myself the comic comes out and is all, "Shut up, you nitwit! I frakkin ROCK!" And it's right. Where else do you see Alan Moore eating a demon and getting high off it? Where else do Nazi superheroes get bittersweet respect? Where else is Paul damn Grist working these days? Remember how great it was in the black and white days? It's just as good--maybe better.

For some reason, I got White Tiger. I guess I wondered what this supposed great children's author would do. Well, she's not Lemony Snicket, so I'm not exactly familiar with her work. But if it's anything like this, I won't be reading it to any of my students. Jesus Christ, what a lame comic. OK, you've got this Latina former FBI agent who inherits her uncles magic kung fu medallions. She's fighting a Cobra dude, some Yakuza and Russian mafia. And she's got a pretty good costume. This should be easy. It isn't. We get forced jokes, a photo-realistic tribute to one of Manhattan's crappier diners, uninteresting flashbacks, and I'm really left wondering who this book is written for. It isn't for Pierce's audience or for "fresh female readers" as its too drenched in nerd puzzle pieces. It isn't for superhero nerds (other than completists) because it's doing nothing that a hundred other crappy superhero books haven't done. It's a nice David Mack cover, yeah . . .but everything else from the hum-drum beginning to the weird appearance of Spider-man just reeks with "second-rate hackery." That three dollars could have fed some homeless dude, or at least helped him buy some hooch.

I also got the first Popeye trade from Fantagraphics. God, it's beautiful. When corporate comics are dominated by utter hack artists (check out crossovers and 52s and miniseries and just about anything not drawn by Frank Quitely for examples), it's almost painful to look at how EASY it can be to be great. Segar frakking KILLED. Can't wait to get into this.

I'd like to conclude this re-introductory edition of the Joe Rice Media Review with a letter.

Dear Absolute New Frontier,

Baby, have I told you how beautiful you are? I mean, I know I have. I know a lot of people have. But I want to say it again. You're beautiful. God, you really are. When I hold you in my arms, I know parts of me that are asleep without you. You make me forget the troubles of my day . . .or, even better, enjoy them. You remind me what life is really about. I love you baby. I love you so much. Tonight, I'm going to cover the bed with rose petals--I know you like rose petals. I'm going to rub some oil on your beautiful casing. I'll rub it in deep, baby. Maybe I'll nibble at your corners. I know you like that. I do, too. We'll lay there together, exploring each other as only two in love can. I'll kiss you. I'll make gentle, caring love to you. You'll tweak my anus a bit. Just a bit. It will be beautiful, baby. But not as beautiful as you are. I love you. Come to me.

Yours,

Joe Rice

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cookies, Ice Cream, Girls and Comics

Who says kids, women, and any combination thereof don't read comics? I'll tell you who: liars and fools. Don't be either one! Check out the latest Rocketship Party with Raina Telgemeier and Abby Denson!

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Just TRY and deal with this cuteness.
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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 11/9/06

Couple weeks' worth of comics, and some damn fine stuff in there. Gotta meet the old lady in a bit and I feel like I'm coming down with something. So forgive me if I'm brief. Or if I ramble. We'll see what the Emergen-C/Airborne combo cocktail does to me.

I think I missed an issue of Apocalypse Nerd. Not much made sense this issue, and that doesn't feel like Bagge. Dunno if that was the reason, but I didn't enjoy it at all. I'd much rather have more Hate.

I swear to almighty Kirby and Shulz, if you're not doing everything you can do to get your hands on Mouse Guard immediately, then you hate comics and should go read the backs of baseball cards or something. The penultimate issue frakkin ROCKED. Full of action and adventure, and the old-style book-thing in the middle was awesome. These are the baddest mice ever. You folks ARE reading this, right? It's not even indie snob stuff for you to hate. It's frakkin beauty.

Local had a nice one-off story. It's about Megan's younger male cousin in Arizona. You learn a lot about him with very little said . . .it's pretty impressive character work. Especially as he's hardly a cardboard cutout. Three dimensions in one issue. Makes it all look easy. Even though I'd be annoyed by the kid in real life, the book made me feel for him. That's even more impressive, as I hate all children.

I have a gripe about Other Side. If you're (Dave McCraig in specific) going to go for a semi-realistic, washed color scheme, then why can't we have Vietnamese people that don't look (coloring-wise) like the damn Yellow Claw in a 50s book? It was honestly distracting from the beautiful Cameron Stewart art. Anyway, always a sucker for a good war story, and this one's got more to say than most. And that art! Woo. Just fix the coloring guys.

The excitement of a good heist movie is pretty tricky to pull off. Most heist movies blow. And translating it to another medium is even harder. The pacing, the beats, they have to work just so. But Ed Brubaker is doing it in Criminal. This might be his tightest work since Sleeper. It's always a pleasure to see a creator work on something that's very clearly "his." Good character moments, and the unsurprising double-cross was handled surprisingly, which is nice. Good comics.

I never want to know how much X-Men outsells American Splendor. It is the number of stupid. One book with Pekar writing and illustrated by Dean, Ty the Guy, Rick Geary and more. Goddam is it good reading, too. Satisfying shorts, interesting thoughts, good commentary, and, yes, as the cover blurb from Publisher's Weekly says, Pekar finding "exceptional in the everyday" in a very mature way. Are any of you internet folks buying this? Sigh.

Alex put Stan Lee Meets Doctor Strange with my books and it was cute, I guess.

I wasn't expecting much out of Fantastic Four: The End. None of the End books have been very interesting outside of The Punisher. And although there's no doubt Davis is an amazing artist, I've just never cared about his work all that much. See, it's good even though I don't like it. But this was interesting. It's way-out sci-fi FF, which is how they work best. With this and the Godwar stuff in Ultimate FF (have I missed an issue of that?) it's a good FF time.

January's employer in Ex Machina shouldn't have been as surprising to me as it was. But it worked very well. The pot threads and the firefighter threads come together nicely in a book full of people, rather than the types that fill most rags with superpowers. And, boy, does Tony Harris keep getting better. Wow.

Agents of Atlas is a fun book. I think we've solidly established that. This issue was a bit less so, but still a great adventure book. Servicable, clear art and a fast-paced story full of fun and ideas. The craft of comic making is taken seriously, even when the subjects aren't so much. I like.

I've never been a Tim Sale admirer. Er, of his work, I mean. But I do love me some Darwyn Cooke. I dunno if it was this pairing or what, but I really enjoyed Superman Confidential. And who cares about continuity when you get a good story? Danger, nice character work, new ideas, and a thankfully unByrned Clark Kent. It hits all the bases and makes me want more. Now there's two good Superman books.

Where's Chris Sprouse been? I loved him on the Bierbaums Legionaires. He was amazing on Tom Strong. And he's been poofed for a while. But lo and behold, we get him AND Ennis on a kickass Midnighter book. It hits some beats you expect it to, and then some more you don't. It's super-violent, but it feels right. And that last page is a helluva twist. (Clearly, sensitive nerds, Ennis doesn't hate superheroes, he just hates terrible writing.)

Tales Designed to Thrizzle is a masterpiece on every page. If you don't agree you're stupid. Sorry. Next time don't be retarded.

whew gasp gasp that was last week gasp gasp moving on gasp gasp

I got Bullet Points. Mostly for the Edwards art. The old nerd in me likes what-if stories like this. It's kinda cool. The art isn't as good as Edwards' Question. Not yet, at least. Fun to see Parker as a delinquint. I dunno. It's OK.

DMZ took more turns I didn't expect. God bless you Brian Wood. Every time I think I have this book figured out, I don't. Matt goes undercover working for a company, Trustwell, contracted to rebuild parts of Manhattan. Terrorists, corruption, and even some boobies for the dopes among us. Good stuff. Getting used to Burchielli's work slowly but surely.

Speaking of unexpected twists, Eternals had a few. And I liked them. Romita's art is beautiful, of course, and Gaiman's having good fun here. Honestly, I can enjoy this more than a lot of his Sandman, even though the latter is clearly better. Some twists on the mythology here and I'm excited for the end. Got no idea how it's going to go and who exactly is in the right here.

Wonderful art, witty writing, a cracking story . . .Vaughn's Dr. Strange is top notch. Everyone gets great moments. Everyone gets to be a person (again, Vaughn's good at that). There's no reason anyone can give me that they're not buying this book. Is there?

I got Stormwatch for the Mahnke art. I won't be getting it again. A cliched "get a team together" issue with a few nice moments, but not enough to drown out the sheer averageness of the rest. A great big "eh" is a horrible sign.

You always know that Ennis' Punisher is going to pull it off in the end, but the beauty is in the telling. That's why I never get the upset-over-spoilers thing. You KNOW what's going to happen. The what is never important. The how is. The craft, the art of the storytelling. That's why I read. Not the silly plot details. Interchangable. It's the telling. And Ennis is telling it well.

Goddam you Grant Morrison. I can't deal with this rollercoaster of your Batman run. I love an issue and "eh" an issue. Back and forth. This was a great one. Maybe it's like Star Trek movies, only the even numbers are good. I read somewhere that the fill-ins start next issue. I'll be gone for those, I believe. But this was a hell of a capper for the first arc. I know more is coming, and I can't wait. (Ooops, just saw that it's a guest artist, not writer. That's extremely welcome.) This still isn't Seven Soldiers good, but it's fun superhero comics. Very fun. SO CONFOUNDING!