Friday, April 08, 2005

PAUL POPE"S 100% (an appreciation)


So you’re looking for a book about love, fear, greed, sex, art, pugilism, voyeurism, one night stands, and a panty fixation? One that wraps all that up in sublime brushwork and subtle, interwoven tales of heartbreak and happiness? There is such a book. Look for it, filed on the shelf under P for Pope, Paul. Or maybe under T, for Totally Fucking Awesome.

100% is a terrific read; it moves with a Pamplona bull rush intensity of the best manga, and stops here and there to breathe in gorgeous little pit stops of Simple Pleasures. The performances are more real than most actual actors, and certainly more moving. Characters worry, and the anxiety makes you jitter. They fall in love, and your heart beats faster. They look at their toes while reminiscing, and you sigh with total sincerity. This is black and white melodrama in the best possible sense. It’s a big tasty mash-up of Love Comics, Philip K. Dick, RAGING BULL, and late afternoon Winter make-outs on Avenue B, with The Kinks playing on a turn-table and a girl that smells like lavender and tastes like Pad Thai. I can’t think of a recent comic more rife with evocative moments and characters that you want to stay with, long after they’ve wandered out of panel, off the page, and out into the world.

The stories are set in a New York that doesn’t exist, but might as well. It’s a Lower East Side story, filled with strippers and boxers and artists and dishwashers. People fall in love and reconcile, they create and destroy, and they look damn fabulous the whole time. It’s like a music video from a world without television.

Paul Pope’s stuff is always lovely to look at, but when his stories and art syncopate like they do here, it is a rare thing of beauty. It happens infrequently, although he seems to be hitting more than he misses lately. 100% is damn near a masterpiece, and his DC SOLO book was brilliant. (There nothing more exciting than watching an artist grow into himself, and if you get on board now, Paul Pope is on the move, getting better with every project and making kick-ass comics along the way.) Unlike HEAVY LIQUID, the sci-fi elements in 100% just dress the sets, and take a back seat to the human drama. It’s a nice match, as we learn about this strange future world through the eyes of fully realized characters who hurt and want and shut themselves away as much as anyone we know. These are real people, brought to life with line-work that moves like Degas and DeKoonig, all rolled up in sushi. Every page is incredible, and I could probably stare at each one all day. The layouts are suggestive and strange, but also perfectly clear and readable. It’s storytelling by way of elbows and lips and dark corners of dirty rooms. It draws you in and holds you tight, until the third act curtain draws.

While I can see his influences, and the pages bleed with a love of other books and art, the final mix is wholly original. No-one else is making comics quite like this. Truly original voices and styles are few and far between, and the excitement they generate when they do come along is so thick it fills the room. Pope manages to make you think of Rock songs more than Eisner, although both are sewn up with love between these panels. It’s everything that’s cool about being young, horny and in a big city, with weird Kirby-style computers to make it all even better.

Books like 100% are why we have comics. These stories are beautiful, and couldn’t be told any other way.


On the "Other Blog", I wrote two rather scathing reviews of GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. I don’t want to re-post it or repeat myself, but let’s just say that phrases such as "horrible dogshit" and "botched abortion" and "totally fucking unreadable" got tossed around quite a bit. I did not like series. Green Lantern is my favorite superhero, and like a Huge Nerd, I have a ridiculous collection of GL merchandise, sketches, original art, and silver age comics. I am the target audience for this series, and I hated it.

(Later on, after being accused of simply hatin’ on Geoff Johns, I wrote this: "Johns is not a bad writer, he just needs more faith in the stories he can tell, and stop relying on stories already told. I’ve seen him write good books before, and I know he has it in him." So you see, I don’t hate the playa, I hate the game. Especially if the game in question is shitty, shitty comics.)

When REBIRTH #5 hit the shelves, I just ignored it. I didn’t think I had enough room in my brain for all the negative energy it would generate. A friend flipped through it, laughing and mocking, but I said, "No. I will not look. I’ve said my piece, and counted to ten. I will say no more." And that was that.

Today, another friend called to talk comics. He had been defending this book from my virulent attacks since issue one, saying that it was playing to an audience and I shouldn’t expect more, and for what it was, it wasn’t That Bad. "It is what it is", he would tell me.
With this issue, he gave up. He started listing all his complaints, which lined up exactly with mine. I realized that what I hated about the first two issues was still going strong, and was in fact much, much worse. I realized that my work on this Earth is not done. I realized I had to return, once again, to explain the Full On Suckosity that is GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH.

Let us begin.
(I will be doing this review in the now famous, page by page "Abhay Method", to differentiate from my other REBIRTH reviews, so many thanks and shouts out to the Man Himself.)

The Cover: "Sins of the Past" is the name of the story. Very original that. No major stories have had a similar title recently or anything. But I nitpick. There are worse crimes than trite, over-used titles going on inside.

Page One: Apparently, we are going to be treated to CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION in the first person narration. Lucky for us, Hal can ruminate on how well his costume fits while we sit, bored already, on the second panel. Also surprising, new Green Lanterns are told "Do Not Challenge Those More Powerful Than You." Awesome rule for a Space Policeman with a Magic Ring. Is this rule to keep them safe, or is it just around for Hal to break and seem like a rule-breakin’ bad-ass? (Rule #1 of how to make your character seem like a free-wheelin’ bad-ass: Make up some arbitrary bullshit rule, and have them break it right away. "You want my badge, Captain? Take it! I’m takin’ it to the limit… and playin’ by MY RULES!" I’m in a cold sweat already, the tension is so high!)

Pages Two and Three: Hal is knocked on his ass, and then smiles at us. I know this is supposed to be the hey-I’m-a-tough-guy-and-I’m-back-in-action moment, but he has a bloody nose and a creepy grin and he looks like he’s into rough sex.

Page Four: Within the CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION, Hal’s ring explains that it’s at Power Level 99.4%. Because we, the reader, need magic rings broken down into decimal percentages. Are DC nerds really this obsessed with minutiae and detail? Is simply having a MAGIC RING not cool enough? Also included in Hal’s ongoing monologue is a dig at the Denny O’ Neal/Neal Adams road trip stories. Because it’s important to reference every single fucking event that ever happened to this character. (Seriously. DC Nerds live for this shit.)

Page Five: Again, in the CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION, Hal starts to call his ring a girl, and for he next few pages talks about it like an airplane. BECAUSE HE’S A TEST PILOT, GET IT? Again, simply having MAGIC RING is not enough, not when you can endlessly reference WHO’S WHO style character information.

Page Seven: Just in case you don’t know the history of Sinestro, he lets loose with some CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION to fill you in. Glad to help, no doubt.

Page Eight: Did I mention the CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION? If not, here’s another page full. Then we have a lame, completely unnecessary flashback. You see, Hal was trained by Sinestro, in a stupid bit of Post-Crisis revisionist history. So now we have to reference that. Because that’s what the fans want; non-stop references stories they read ten years ago. (That’s what the fans want, and boy do they get it. If ever a book pandered to fans, THI IS IT. Shit, the whole fucking premise is built on appeasing fans. Not that trying to please an audience is a bad thing. But here it’s the ONLY point, at the cost of a real story.)

Page Twelve: I will say this, for the colorist. Those are some nice planet rings. That is my positive comment about this book.

Page Thirteen: Today’s lesson is Fan Pandering 101. A student raises his hand. "Mr. Johns, what about the Kyle fans? Won’t they want a little sumpin’ sumpin?" "Well, yes. So we’ll have Hal angrily defend him, and demand that Sinestro "respect" Kyle. That will make the make Kyle fans pump their fists in the air and go ‘yes!’ out loud. But only after some CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION, and forced, stilted dialogue." The class takes notes.

Page Fourteen: Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, at this point Hal and Sinestro shout each other’s names, the twelfth in a long series of Action Movies Cliches on full display in this book.

Page Fifteen: The climax of our little conflict, wherein the protagonist and his villain RUB THER RINGS TOGETHER. Actual sexy dialogue: " Reality BENDS. I push HARDER." (I kid you not.)

Page Sixteen: Hey, what’s that? Oh nothin’. Just a little CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION.

Page Seventeen: Let’s make sure we please everyone with this book. Kyle fans, Hal fans; we’re all one big happy family! See! They’re even shaking hands, and consoling one another! They’re both Earth’s Greatest Hero, and they bond…. With some CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION.

Page Eighteen: Not enough pandering to they Kyle fans on the previous page? No sweat! Here’s some more!

Page Nineteen: Okay. Seriously. Enough with the Yellow Fucking Fear Monster. It’s a Stupid, Stupid concept, and we all just want to wish it into the cornfield. But no, It has to be referenced again and again, ad nauseam, in the jet stream of CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION.

Page Twenty-One: Alright. The boys are all together and ready to kick some ass. But first, wouldn’t it be AWESOME if they stopped, lifted their fists in the air, and made a lantern of green flame to pose in? Totally! Spawn Rulzzzz!

And then we’re at the end, with shadowy Batman, once again, being written as a one-dimensional lame-ass. There’s a giant monster in the sky, but Batman’s gonna stop everyone for five to talk about feelings and be angry and stuff. Because when you’re a Hack Writer, Batman is all bitchy gloom and doom. It’s easier that way.

This book sucks. It’s gone from really lousy to unbelievably shitty in five short issues. Aside from the CONSTANT, RELENTLESS EXPOSITION, the totally obvious pandering to specific fans, and the lame dialogue and characterizations, this book has a much more serious problem…

Where is the fun?
Having a magic ring and being a space ranger should be a fucking blast. According to this book, it’s grim and filled with gritting teeth and anger. Who wants to read about that? Who enjoys this shit?

Sometimes, I ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge at night. After a few beers, it’s late at night and there are no other cyclists. Racing down the asphalt into Brooklyn, with that cool Atlantic air in my face and the Statue of Liberty behind me; there’s just nothing better. That kind of exhileration is what I feel when I read Darwyn Cooke write about Green Lantern. Or John Broome. Moving fast and enjoying life and breathing deep the salty air. A dude with a magic ring should make you feel like that. It shouldn’t be about what decimal percentage his ring is at, or how many fans can we please, or how to sink referential tendrils into every little nook of history. Aside from all the empirical problems with this book, what kills me is the lack of fun, and excitement, and exhileration. I don’t LIKE these characters, and I don’t give a shit what happens to them. That’s what really sucks.

Luckily, I have a year’s worth of SEVEN SOLDIERS.
(Be still my heart!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Love Hurts

In college, I had a pal named the Captain. He had some traits I considered a bit eccentric. One was, before a night of hard partying, Cap would prepare himself with "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. I prefered "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC. I couldn't understand the appeal of the treacly ballad, but it worked for him.

In related news, Lea Hernandez had a great bit a while ago about hurting comics at the VERY spotty Great Curve. (I mean seriously, on the one hand you've got the very almost as right as I am ADD and on the other, some of these guys coddle even Geoff Johns! What the POOP?) Highlights, for me, included:

When you think "by fans, for fans" is a big old RUN AWAY SCREAMING signal: you're hurting comics.
When you object to tits, ass and crotch on "strong female characters": you're hurting comics.
When you don't think someone is the shit just because their cultists say so: you're hurting comics.
When you dare to criticize: you're hurting comics.

Right on, Lea. Right on.

Monday, April 04, 2005

How to be a Happy Nerd

Today, I was in a good mood.

I dunno if it was the sunshine and warm weather (at long last), the piles of jambalaya I ate (maybe the tastiest batch I've yet cooked), or simply a manic-depressive upswing, but I was downright jolly all day.

My mood only started to sour after a kickass bike ride and a cold beer, when I sat down to check my e-mail and look around online. I was breaking one of my Rules. I was reading people's opinions on a CBR forum and gritting my teeth.

People should have rules, especially those of us that live in a constantly frustrating sub-culture such as Comic Fandom. Rules keep you from banging your head on a while people dismiss a book you dearly love for stupid reasons. Rules keep you sane when your favorite character is mishandled repeatedly, or the star of the worst series you've ever read. Rules, if followed properly, can keep you from total self-loathing visa vi your hobby of choice.

These are mine. I don't always follow them, but I sure try.

1. VALUE THE CRAFT. What's important in a comic is the plot, and the characterization, the art, and the storytelling. What happens inside is not as important as how we are told what happens. If you follow this rule, you will never be upset if Blue Beetle is shot in the head and he-was-your-favorite-character and how-could-they-do-this. You will only be mildly annoyed that you read a dopey comic, and that passes quickly.

2. IGNORE ONLINE FUEDS. Rich Johnston and Bendis? What the fuck? Who cares? Who's Rich Johnston? Ahhh, contentment.

3. MESSAGE BOARDS ARE THE DEVIL. A collection of nerds arguing. Or worse, agreeing with each other. Most horrible of all are the creator boards. Watching mediocre talents surround themselves with ranting sycophants is disturbing at best. Watching these guys believe the rants of their sycophants is chilling. Like watching that Powers Booth movie about Jim Jones, without the awesome sunglasses.

4. SHARE THE LOVE. If you find a comic that blows out your ass with awesome-osity, give it to a friend that will appreciate it. I've given away countless comics over the years, and as a result, I am never without a fellow comic fan. All of my friends are fans of at least ONE book. I can talk comics with everyone I know. It rules.

5. READ WHAT YOU LOVE. I love SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY. It makes me happy. That is what I will read, and that is that. It sounds easy, but I see so many people reading things they hate. Sure, I read the first few issues of REBIRTH, but that was morbid curiousity. (And then bad judgement. And then I was blatantly breaking a rule. I then I stabbed my eyes out because it sucks so fucking bad.) If you keep your weekly stack down to just the books that make you smile, all comics seem like masterpieces. Simple enough.

6. MAKE FUN OF THE DUMB STUFF. Blow out other candles to make yours seem brighter, as the old saying goes. It really works! People may accuse you of being a smug elitist or insecure or some other bullshit, but there's just nothing funner than laughing out loud at shitty comics.

Those are just a few. The truth is, I'll probably be depressed about something by the end of the week, and the Rules will be out the window. But as simple as they are, they work for me. Like a day at the beach, or an easy bowel movement, these Rules can keep you warm inside.

Growing Up

"I want my characters to grow up with me." I've read that a lot and heard it a couple times from people trying to explain how they can like DC's current crop of superhero stuff. The rationale is, I suppose, if you read and like characters as a child, and now you're an adult, then it follows that they should become adult, too. Time has passed, after all. You've matured (supposedly), so why can't your characters?

Um, because they're not yours.

You don't see non comic nerds going around saying, "I grew up with Scooby Do. It's about time those stories got more mature." Why? What's the logic there? Most people, when they get older, don't try to drag everything from their childhood with them. But we've got a generation (or two) of comic fans doing so. They can't leave their Superman behind. They want Superman to reflect the world they live in and the way their life is going.

This is silly!

Nobody's making Popeye cartoons where Olive Oyl gets raped. Because that would be dumb. But hear me out: I'm not saying adults can't enjoy superhero comics, Popeye, or even Scooby Do. But you've got to come to the art, it shouldn't have to come to you. When I eat a kiddie cereal, I don't expect it to be sushi. It is what it is and I yam what I yam and I can appreciate it as such.

If you want to tell (or read) "dark" stories about rape and betrayal and such, perhaps you should pick a better milieu. Perhaps you should make up your own damn characters, or use characters already made for adults. But the spandex-wearing types invented before the 1980s were mostly made for kids. Kids that have little access to the comics now because the previous generation doesn't want to share its toys.

It's even possible to make a really good, adult story featuring children's characters. But that's pretty hard to do, and the folks aiming towards it seem to be missing the mark. Stories ring hollow because it's hard to take tragedy seriously when everyone wears circus tights and has ray guns. At the same time, it's hard to have fun with the stories because they're all linked together by this depressing, self-loathing miasma.

The best part about it is that while these folks are demanding that the stuff they read as children mature, the stories they hold in high regard aren't mature at all. They're adolescent. They're spiteful and still childish, trying to give off an air of maturity. It's all quite silly, really. I'll leave you with a quote from the best comic ever, Flex Mentallo.

"Only a bitter little adolescent boy could confuse realism with pessimism."

War is At Hand

This is tangentially related to comics, so bear with me. This weekend a friend and I tried a [completely legal (so far)] psychoactive agent called salvia. It's a Mexican shamanic thing originally. Quickly after using it, you have a five-to-ten minute vision experience. But I'm not posting to talk about drugs or anything. You should have seen us, trying to figure out the pipe. Geeks are pathetic sometimes.

I'm posting because of one of the visions I had. I was in a place that I somehow knew to be Cartoon Land. I was led their in a previous vision by a cartoon elf, like out of a commercial. But while I was there I met a puppet named King William. He had a puppet army and I was helping them march through a forest. At the time it was all fun and innocent.

Upon reflection, some things began to trouble me. I eventually realized that King William was the King from the Land of Make-Believe. He is not a cartoon, nor is his army. But they were in Cartoon Land, marching. It appears that the Land of Make-Believe is invading Cartoon Land. As King William always seemed a just king, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Perhaps imagination is about to overtake crass commercialism in the realm of cartooning. This is my hope for the vision.

Nobody seemed angry. I hope imagination is merely taking control over what was once theirs and has later fallen into disrepair, like the Seven Unnamed Men setting up a team to make sure the universe Qwewq (clearly meant to be the real world) from overtaking the DCU.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Ode to the Geek Girl

From age eleven to present, the type of female I am most likely to have a crush on/be sexually fascinated with are chronologically, as follows: The Hippie Girl, The Punk Rock Girl, and the Geek Girl. I’ve been lucky enough to date a wide variety of ladies, satisfying my adolescent needs as opportunities presented themselves. I lost my virginity to a Hippie Girl in a sun-dress and sandals, reeking of patchouli. Punk Girls made up the better part of loves throughout high school and early college. I’ve dated hipsters and preppies, Art Girls and athletes. Hell, once I even dated a Republican. (Once.) But the Geek Girl has ever eluded me.

Having been raised, as I was, in the redneck-ed mountains of Middle Tennessee, my pubescent interests were shaped mostly by the fleeting encounters with anything but the frizzy haired football fans that typically surrounded me. Luckily, there was a hippie-dippie granola college nearby, complete with prep school attached. I convinced my parents to let me forego the hell of Tennessee public education, and soon enough I was indulging my early infatuations with the fair creature known as the Hippie Girl. Shortly thereafter, I discovered punk rock, and along with he Minor Threat cassettes and Misfits stickers came a deep appreciation for girls in fish-nets and Doc Martens. If she wore ripped t-shirts and spiky bracelets, I was in love. But I am ever the nerd, and the one affair I have to enjoy is the Geek Girl.

Mind you, my current girlfriend is a beautiful blonde fashion Girl, and I would not trade her for all the doubloons on the Spanish Main. She is smart and funny and talented and sexy as hell. But a little part of me will always miss the Geek Girl I never knew.

And what is a Geek Girl? She wears glasses (but of course), and her hair is cute in a doesn’t-quite-work kinda way. She has a crush on Dan Clowes and there are vinyl Dave Cooper dolls on her shelves. She wears sneakers, but not because she’s athletic. Just the opposite in fact. Underneath a set of mismatched (possibly vintage) clothes, she is either too skinny (lanky and awkward with perfect little A-cup breasts), or slightly pudgy, with a soft round belly barely peeking out over the waistband of red corduroys. (Both types are enormously sexy, mostly because they have no idea just how sexy they are.) The Geek Girl wears silly socks. She has big eyes, from a lifetime of reading fantasy novels. She has experimented with Dungeons & Dragons, but not drugs. At least not until she reads the INVISIBLES, and becomes Grant Morrison Geek Girl.

You see her at conventions, primarily Small Press events. She waits in line to have Craig Thompson sign her copy of BLANKETS, and everyone watching can tell she is totally in love. It’s like the time she met Neil Gaiman, but without all the Goth kids getting in the way. Sometimes she makes ‘zines or her own comics, and when she has ideas she jots them down in a Sanrio notebook. Often the Hipster Girl gets confused with Geek Girl, as she has stolen so much of Geek Girl’s look. Geek Girl doesn’t even know how fashionable she has become.

Every time I see a Geek Girl, I sigh and wonder what might have been. Would we have agreed in our love of SEAGUY? Would she be too heavily into Manga, slowly breaking my heart? Would she like sci-fi television? Would it all be over when she admitted to loving FARSCAPE?

Ahhh, the Geek Girl. Unrequited love in cat-eye glasses.