Thursday, September 21, 2006

Joe Rice Media Review 9/21/06

I didn't write one of these last week. Do you know why? It is because I did not buy any comic books last week. I was too tired. This week I was mad but not too tired. Now I am not mad. I am reviewing.

Anthologies are usually a real gamble. The Goon is usually awesome. SO WHAT ABOUT DWIGHT T. ALBATROSS'S THE GOOD NOIR?!? It was pretty good. The Oswalt/Ploog story was a nice one-off with great use of Goonspeak. I liked the start of the Little Unholy Bastards strip. The Bill Morrison comic was just as funny as you would expect: not funny. And the Big Ma was a bit too predictable and didn't go far enough but the Sook art made me drool. Three or two and a half out of four ain't bad for this sort of stuff.

I tried Ultimate Fantastic Four before and it was the boringest boring to ever boring. Whereas Stan and Jack would have like a thousand cool things happen on a page, one retread thing would happen per arc. But Carey is doing an interesting Kirby play here and Pacheco draws real good. Thanks for the recommendation, ED and KO. This is fun comics.

I've been enjoying the dumb action movie blockbuster nature of Civil War. This issue intensified the action and also the dumb. I'm afraid I'm done with this. From stupid character bits to the obvious BLACK GUY DIES FIRST it was just one big "meh." And what the hell is up with Cable, of all folks quitting a battle? Oh, well, it was fun for a while. Now it's just a superhero comic book.

The Escapists isn't, though. And it isn't quite a comic about superhero comics, either. (We really don't need anymore of those). It's about people making a comic and, uh, "finding what heroism is" except much less lame than how I said it. The imitation-Bond art is nice, the storylines are interesting, and the characters are individual and believable, as one would expect from a Vaughn book. I know CBR avoids indie stuff like PAD avoids fashion magazines, but this is Dark Horse, it's Vaughn, and it's nothing to be scared of, you goddam superhero pussies. Try it.

WHAT?!? MORE VAUGHN WORK?!? Ex Machina is still good? Tony Harris is more amazing all the time? The stories are complex, fascinating, and filled with real meaning? And someone has superpowers? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Runaways (completing the two-week Vaughn tri-fecta) is also still good. The art suffered with a fill-in, but not to the point of distraction. The story cooks, and I'm curious as to whether the Whedon that takes over will be the Firefly/Serenity Whedon (yay) or the everything else Whedon (sob).

Why is Nextwave: agents of h.a.t.e. so fun? It's not the nihilism . . .in fact, I don't think it's nihilistic at all. Ellis has always seemed to be a false cynic . . .like his repeated character type, he acts cynical because he's a disappointed idealist. But Nextwave reads like the fun he always wanted to have but was embarrassed to. Of course, critiquing Ellis instead of his work is old hat, but I really do love this book. Smart as it is stupid and silly, it really works.

I got X-Men: First Class because I've enjoyed Parker's work on Agents of Atlas. This was unfortunately blander. It's a nice retelling of the X-Men early days. Well, not a re-telling, a "untold stories set in modern times but the X-Men are young). It'll make continuinerds crap their pants even more than they usually do, but it's not a very weighty comic. The character moments are nice, and the young X-Men finally have actual personalities rather than Lee generalities or Claremont stereotypes. I might try another issue. I dunno.

I've said for ages that DMZ is good. This issue was a fill-in, kinda. We get the background of Zee, the Manhattan med student punk girl, and it's pretty cool. Nice art from Kristian Donaldson. When AIT lost Brian Wood, the world gained a better writer. Check it out.

L' Auberge espagnole
is a shitty movie even though Audrey Tautou is in it. Don't let your wife convince you to stay up late to watch it. It's a self-indulgent "WOW EUROPEANS ARE THE AWESOMEST BECAUSE WE ARE SO DIVERSE" piece of stupidity that made me angry. Wow, yeah, all you well-off Eurocrackers sure are diverse. Congrats on "bucking the system."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We Don't Talk About Love

While the struggle to create well-crafted and entertaining comic books has been an ongoing process for much of the medium’s history, bitching and moaning about them has, in recent years, been raised into a goddamn artform.

The rise of the internet over the last decade has given comic readers the opportunity to complain, grumble, bewail, gripe, lament and whine about them in unprecedented numbers.

(Although it should be noted that complaints about comics are nothing new and have been seen since the first generation of comic readers grew up and discovered that they didn’t make them the way they used to be, so they can’t be any good. This retarded nostalgia for a golden age that never fucking existed in the first place seeps through into the history of comics, peering out from old letters pages and yellowed fanzines.)

But since everyone with an opinion, a keyboard and a few bucks to waste on an internet connection was given access to the rest of the comic reading community, this complaining has reached epidemic proportions, to the point where a genuinely positive review stands apart from the pack of negativity that greets any new release.

Unfortunately, while some of the bitching can be entertaining in its own way, the vast majority looks like nothing more than moaning for the sake of moaning, by people who can’t articulate their dissatisfaction with a particular comic, but don’t let that stop them spewing forth in all their grammatically challenged glory.

“This comic sucks? Why? Because it does! End of discussion!”

But why is this? Do readers really just read comics they know they’re going to hate, so they have something to talk about?

Or is it because it’s so much easier to say why you didn’t like something than it is to say why you did. The enjoyment you get out of a comic may be something you can’t possibly explain. It might trigger fond memories, or excite the mind with the freshness of something you’ve never seen before, but try explaining such things to another person and you’re fucked.

The best art, in any form, is almost by definition impossible to define. The finest pieces of literature or painting succeed because they make the person experiencing them feel something they might have always known was there inside them, even if they couldn’t articulate it.

Try explaining your love of, say, a John Byrne comic before explaining why you think Rob Liefeld’s art is a load of crap. Good luck.

There are, of course, always exceptions, with some bloggers such as Dave Campbell or Chris Sims showing no shame in their love for the good, bad and plain old ugly in the world of comics. But they stand out in their joy.

Who knows? Maybe the negativity that permeates comics criticism rises up out of the adolescent belief that everything is crap, and you look so much smarter by slagging something off, even if in your heart of hearts, you actually do kinda like it a bit.

Or maybe the comic reader’s expectations are just too high and the crushing disappointment that comes with yet another dreary rehash of the same old superhero conflicts is just too much to bear.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s just because comics really are more shit than they used to be.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

In Your Head

Advertisements in comics have always aimed young. Genre movies, videogames and junk food have been staples, but in recent years, another category of advertisement has become more and more ubiquitous: the anti-drug message.

Even the Just Say No generation didn’t have to slog through the anti-drug ads that clog many of the comics from the major publishers. The message has shifted to show that drugs aren’t cool and that you’ll never achieve anything if you use them. Aside from the occasional use of a computer-generated grotesque, there is nothing really wrong with these ads, they are, after all, placed there with the best of intentions.

And yet, comics books are probably one of the worst places to put ads like that, because when it comes to reading material when you’re wasted, nuthin’ beats comics.

Smoke a joint, knock back a few wines, do what you will, but if you don’t have anybody to share it with or anyplace special to go, a comic book can be your best friend.

Much of it is a result of the actual stories, but the format itself also plays a big part. When the brain is swimming in its own juices, reading a big block of text can be nearly impossible. But when you add a page full of pictures, things become a lot easier.

With a comic, you can pause in the middle of a page and let the mind wander where it wants to and when it comes back, you can pick up the flow again with the greatest of ease. You can focus on an idea or phrase, or simply stare at a particularly eye-catching picture. You might be on Cloud Nine, but the comic page isn’t going anywhere.

And then there is the material itself. Although superhero fiction remains the dominant genre, there is an incredible amount of variety to wrap your head around.

Ironically, the more mindbending the comic, the less enjoyable it can actually be with a few chemicals sloshing around in the skull. The more simple the tale and art, the easier it can be processed. Something like Bone or a Donald Duck comic are not only easier to follow, they can hold prove much better at the opening the emotional floodgates.

The inevitable exception to this is, of course, Grant Morrison. Indeed, it is often asserted that for much of his work drugs are an absolute prerequisite, although this mostly comes from the sad belief that the only possible way to follow anything with hints of free association is to be fucked out of your skull.

But still, with short, snappy bits of dialogue and ideas rarely seen in any other form of mainstream media, Morrison’s comics also contain strong narrative threads to keep the attention. Even if those threads are hard to spot on a first reading, a buzzing brain can pick and choose its own themes, whether they exist or not.

Of course, taking drugs or drinking booze and curling up with a comic book is not recommended for everybody. A lot of comic readers are quite capable of reading their books without any chemical enhancement and get just as much out of them. This is to be commended.

But as somebody who has been moved beyond words while reading Love and Rockets through dope-hazed eyes on a sunny Saturday afternoon and saw the shape of the universe in an issue of The Invisibles after drinking four bottles of red wine, only to forget it 10 minutes later when I passed out on the stairs leading to my apartment, I can honestly say it’s always worked out all right for me.

It’s great when you’re straight, but sometimes it can be fucking awesome when you’re wasted.