Cakes and Money

Friday, June 27, 2003
 
Truly an Adult

A few thoughts on a couple of recent comic books (two of which I picked up yesterday):

Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth

To tell you the truth, I only really bought this because the artwork (by the always marvellous John Cassaday) looked gorgeous. I�m not normally too big on crossovers, and the previous two Planetary crossovers had left me cold. But, yeah�I had a look at it in the shop and what can I say, I�m weak! So I bought it, despite the fact that it cost over two times what a normal monthly comic book costs.

And it was alright�a fun (and funny) superhero story, but nothing particularly spectacular.

The plot is pretty clunky, involving the Planetary team trying to track down a vague, angsty villain (well, villain�s probably not quite the right term here, but anyway) in the Batman-less version of Gotham city that exists in their reality. But (surprise!) the guy they�re after�John Black�has some kind of crazy thing going on with his mind that causes him to flux through the multiverse, conveniently dragging the Planetary team with him. This stuff isn�t particularly exciting though�there�s nothing to the set-up, and for me, it was just something that had to be gotten out of the way in order for the more entertaining middle section of the story to exist.

And for the most part this is an entertaining book, in a deeply silly way�it�s basically an excuse for Ellis and Cassaday to have fun with all the various versions of Batman that there have been, and so we get a campy 60�s Batman, a hulking Frank Miller Batman straight out of the 80�s, a Neal Adams Batman etc� and it�s good geeky fun basically. There�s not really much commentary on any of these versions just loving piss-take (well, it felt loving to me anyway, despite all of the straight from a box Warren Ellis dialogue �...things like severely beating men dressed as fetish bats are all that keep me sane some days�; �You like him, don�t you? He�s your special Bat-friend�), and so� yeah, this is alright.

The best thing about all this was watching Cassaday handle all the different art styles without ever loosing sight of the kind of openness and simplicity that makes his artwork great, and while I wouldn�t exactly say that it was worth the price tag, it did make for an amusing read.

Hmmmm� actually, come to think of it, this reminds me very heavily of an episode of the Batman animated series, in which a group of kids were walking around telling stories about Batman, with each kid describing him in an entirely different way that referenced one of the previous versions of the character, which was�like this�a good laugh, if I remember correctly.

Anyway�

Superman: Red Son

I�ve not really got too much to say about this one, now that I think about it. It�s an Elseworlds story, really�no more, no less. The core concept��what if Superman had landed in the middle of Soviet Russia instead of the good old US of A��is both obvious and really amusing at the same time, but� there�s not much more to it than this premise suggests. It�s a fun little superhero story that allows writer Mark Millar to play around and recontextualise a lot of the classic DC comic book characters and also have a little bit of fun with world history while he�s at it (America and Chille are the only two capitalist countries on earth at the time of issue #2). So, again, this is good, solid fun.

There are some parts of the comic where it feels like Millar is trying too hard (there were moments where I felt like I was being savagely beaten about the head with the fact that Lex Luthor is a genius), but on the whole it�s as fun and interesting as its concept sounds, which is to say that while Millar doesn�t really do anything unexpected here, he doesn't make a mess of it either.

The one flash of sheer insanity that really amused me, though, comes in the form of the Russian Batman�s costume, which is slightly re-designed in a way that strikes me as being both really dumb and preposterously brilliant. I won�t spoil it for you (and, hell, I daresay that most of you won�t be quite as amused by it as I am), but I�d say it�s well worth a flick through issue #2 just to see this.

Sweatshop #3

Good stuff; it would seem that Peter Bagge is going through his characters one by one, and giving us a better look at what makes them tick, which is definitely a good way for this series to go. So, just as issue two gave us a closer look at Carrie as she went through the trials and tribulations of almost having her autobiographical comic book made into a Cartoon, this issue gives us a bit more of Alfred (as he struggles to get some recognition for his superhero comic �the Peerless Penciller�) and Millie (who both tries to help Alfred in the first story and gets a second story all to herself). Much funny, character/comic book based humour ensues, and I like it. With every issue, I seem to be enjoying this book more, and at this rate, I'd say that it's well on trck to become one of my favourite monthlies.

What was most remarkable about his issue, form my point of view, was that it took me a minute to realise that Bagge himself had drawn none of this issue�he�d did the art for at least one story in the previous two issues, but this time the whole book was draw by Stephen Destefano and S.Gladden, who both do a great job of keeping everything visually amusing in that bizarrely contorted Peter Bagge style.

I�ll write that thing about the Fantastic Four soon, I think� I�ll be busy over the weekend, but I expect I�ll get it written some time early next week if all goes well, so watch out for that.


Thursday, June 26, 2003
 
I Have A History

My archive finally seems to be working again, which is something of a relief, I can tell you. I was starting to get a bit annoyed by the fact that my posts kept dropping off the edge of existence so quickly, but now that�s all sorted itself out, so, erm, yay, basically!


 
And Thusly Exploded

I�m 21 on Saturday�how the hell did that happen?

Heh � in all seriousness though, I�m actually feeling pretty upbeat and young right now. For whatever reasons, I�d been feeling a bit shut-off and, erm, old this year, but I finally feel like I�m starting to relax and enjoy myself a bit again, which is definitely a good thing.


 
Long Day

It�s summertime, and this is what I�ve been listening to:

The Flaming Lips�Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (album)

This whole album just lends itself so naturally to summer listening, I think. There�s something about the texture of the music�in that mix of big, breezy pop-rock and jaunty electronic effects�that suggest to me a brilliant party in the sunshine (perhaps even a giant party with lots of insane robot action), and that�s the key to this album. The songs here pass through all sorts of troubled territory, and Yoshimi� is hardly without its moments of musical sadness. There�s something about the way that �Summertime� starts� the way the acoustic guitar strumming mixes in with the electronic pulse is somehow wonderfully downbeat (almost mesmerisingly sad in fact) and there are several points on the album where Wayne Coyne�s voice struggles amongst the din in an endearingly fragile and human way�just check out how his voice seems lost in the midst of the dramatic, rising chorus of �Are You a Hypnotist?� But there are just so many moments here where they lyrics and the music are filled with a genuine sense of wonder that it just ends up feeling inspiring (all the more so, in fact, for the inclusion of the darker moments). I recently saw someone describe Wayne Coyne�s lyrics as �trite but profound�, and while this is a slightly clunky description, it is pretty close to the mark in some ways. Again, this goes back to the point about the fragility of his voice, which imbues everything he sings with such a strange kind of charm. It sometimes sounds like the tune is going to entirely escape him, but crucially, wonderfully, it never does, and this makes some otherwise goofy sounding sentiments just seem genuinely amazing. Well, it helps that the songs themselves are fantastic too, but hey!

Fountains of Wayne��Stacey�s Mom�

This song is cheesy as all hell. Unsurprisingly, it�s all about how the song�s speaker the hots for Stacey�s Mom, and it�s probably the sonic equivalent of the ultimate sun-drenched teen movie. Which should mean that this is a terrible, terrible song, but oddly it isn�t; it�s brilliant. They really shouldn�t be able to get away with this, they do somehow, with even the �Stacey�s Mom has got it going on� chants sounding oddly glorious her. Largely I think that this is just because it�s such a great hook-filled pop-rock song, but there�s also the fact that, as Eppy pointed out over on Flux�s comment system, the line "Since your dad walked out / Your mom could use a guy like me" adds this weird sadness to the silliness, which is a really neat trick to pull off in such a daft song.

The Cure��Lullaby�

Amused by the fact that Tricky had covered �Love Cats� on his new album, I went on a bit of a Cure kick recently. And hey�in this song (and a few others), I can actually hear a kind of resemblance between the two acts. There�s something of a breathy atmospheric quality here that has much in common with certain areas of Tricky�s work, particularly a lot of the tunes on Maxinquae. I say Maxinquae because there�s a sense of musical playfulness, of lightness, here, and I think that�s something that was more evident on Maxinquae than it has been on any of Tricky�s subsequent releases. But anyway, this is great; there�s a really wonderful kind of textured gloom here�as a song, it doesn�t really �go� anywhere, but it does skulk around wonderfully for a few minutes, and it always leaves a great impression on me. It�s gloomy, but in the right kind of way; dark, ridiculous, vaguely seductive� there�s something hypnotic about the sound that really suits warm weather for me. The way that spidery little guitar line mixes in with the oddly snappy beat while Robert Smith�s quietly theatrical vocals and the strings float through the whole thing is just gorgeous and it all kinda makes me want to lounge around in the sun all day.

Kylie Minogue��Love at First Sight�; Beyonce��Work It Out�, �Crazy In Love� (featuring Jay-Z)

Ah�perfect pop music.

�Love at First Sight� and �Crazy in Love� have what must be two of the most insistent and brilliant choruses ever to grace a pop song, and furthermore, both songs are pretty much perfectly constructed around their glorious central refrains. The little volume drop at the start of the second verse in �Love at First Sight�; �Crazy in Love�s amazingly catchy �uh-oh�s; Jay-Z rapping in a weird rhythm that matches some of Beyonce�s more berserk vocal parts perfectly (a really enat trick, I think); there�s just so much to love about both of these songs. They are huge, dynamic, and utterly irresistible pop songs, and I really don�t think there�s any arguing with either of them. I was out for Kelly�s birthday last night (happy birthday Kelly!), and you have no idea how glad I was to have a good excuse to ineptly shake my ass to these tunes�

I was just thinking about it, and I reckon that I�ve written about �Work it Out� more often than I have any other song, which is kind of funny since I never seem to have much to say about it. Here�s what I came up with last time: �It�s weird how it sounds totally old fashioned and utterly modern at the same time, isn�t it? Yeah, it is. And once more, just for the sake of it; it is absolutley perfect--just really huge and sexy and irresitable and yes!, really.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs��A Date With the Night�

It was �Maps� that sold me on this band, but I have a great deal of love for this song too. The guitar part is really, really simple, but the way it just locks into this hypnotic, sexy groove is just so perfect for this tune. Really, it�s all about the groove; there are a couple of little bits thrown in there for varieties sake, but on the whole it always comes back down to that basic guitar line, played with various degree�s of slinkiness and force. Over and over again.

There�s something almost wilfully throwaway about the whole thing� like it�s tossed off, and half formed, but yet it works. It really, really does; it�s just so immediate and trashy and cool and � yeah, I love this one.


Monday, June 23, 2003
 
�Oh, and by the way��

I really like these Genre City postcards by Benjamin Birdie, which are very stylish, I think, and this instalment of Wake Up Screaming, which gave both me and Kenny happy Beckett vibes.

And because I haven�t mentioned it in a while, I feel like I should point out that Benjamin put up another page�s worth of Genre City today. He�s building up a really interesting story here, page by page, and I really do suggest that you check it out, if you haven�t already.


 
There�s Pig Fat In My Milkshake?

A list of things to write about in the near future (posted so I won�t forget to write about most of this stuff):

--Summer listening: in which I write about some of the tunes I�ve been listening to recently�this one will be posted soon, and will replace (or at the very least come before) the previously mentioned post about my favourite songs from Hail to the Thief, as I�ve kind of bounced back to listening to Kid A during the last week or so, and thus haven�t been paying too much attention to the new songs since I last wrote about that album�I�ll possibly give them some more thought later, but we�ll see.

--the Fantastic Four: last week�s big fuss over the fact that Mark Waid had been sacked as the writer has�rather strangely, I�ll admit�put me in the mood for quite a big Fantastic Four reading fest. The fact that Scott and I spent a fair amount of time tonight talking on the phone about Stan Lee has put me even further in the mood for some old Marvel comics, so I�m going to start with the Lee/Kirby FF, before maybe moving on to talk about Grant Morrison�s recent Fantastic Four #1234 mini-series, and maybe Marvel Boy too, as it kinda taps into a lot of the stuff I want to talk about, and plays off #1234 quite nicely.

--Kill Your Boyfriend/Dark Knight Returns: right, bear with me here�I have a theory that, despite the fact that these two comics are entirely dissimilar to each other in almost every imaginable way (tone, subject matter, art style� everything!) they both employ a similar technique to draw the reader in amidst the comedy.

--Igby Goes Down: I should be going to see this film some time this week, so hopefully it�ll give me something to talk about on the film front. Erm� and that�s it so far. Obviously, I have no idea what I�m going to say because I�ve not seen the film yet, but for some reason I feel like I will definitely have something to say about this one, so we�ll see how that goes.

--Dialogue and Character in Pulp Fiction: just a short post I want to write about Tarantino�s hyperstylised dialogue and how it is often much more effective than it seems in terms of character.

--Cartoons!: I love cartoons, but so rarely write about them that I thought I�d make a concerted effort to do so in the near future.

Possible cartoons to write about: Samurai Jack, the Simpsons, Sam & Max, the Powerpuff Girls, Futurama etc�

--Daniel Clowes: it looks like I�m going to half-write about Clowes� comics, and half-write about why I find it so difficult to write about his work. Should be fun, in a muddled kind of way.

-- Gummo: I�ve been trying to work out quite what I make of Harmony Korine�s movies for a while now, and I finally feel like giving it a go, so yeah!


Sunday, June 22, 2003
 
Big Summer Reads/Black Market Potter

So, I survived the coming of the fifth Harry Potter book then.

It�s been a helluva couple of days to work in a bookstore, but not in an overly exhausting way. Truth be told, I�d probably be feeling fine were it not for the fact that I didn�t adjust my already stupid sleeping patterns to fit my Harry Potter schedule.

I�ve not read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix yet myself, and I think it will be some time before I actually get round to it (for reasons that I will elaborate on later on in this post). My friend Graeme is insisting that the characterisation and general standard of writing have improved with this one, so I'll definitely be interested in reading it at some point in the near future. Generally I find Rowling�s plotting to be compelling and highly readable (the lightness of the books�despite the gargantuan size of the last two instalments�definitely appeals to me as a burnt out English student), but her characters and prose seem a bit lacking to me. I just don�t really get a good sense of who anyone really is in these novels, and there are never any lines that really stay with me; no descriptions I find myself being entranced by; no striking turns of phrase; no magic, if you'll forgive the terrible pun. It's good, fun stuff, but not overly amazing. That�s not to say that these are bad books�as I said, the plots are always fun, and for the type of adventure stories that Rowling is telling, these problems aren�t that important, but I'm a grouchy old snob who likes to maon about things, so please forgive my indulgences.

The success of the series is odd though. It�s a phenomenon, really; there's no other way of putting it. I think it was Philip Pullman who said that the difference between his books and Rowling�s was that while he is big within the book market, she is big on the scale of McDonalds. This may be a bit of an exageration, but the general point is strong. I�ve tried to work out exactly why this has caught on with kids quite so much, but I don�t know if I�ll ever really fathom it. There's an element of nostalgia and comfort involved in its sucess in the adult market, I think, but this doesn't explain the way that younger readers have taken to this particular kidw book. I don�t think it�s quality that sets it apart, as I�d say that there are some better written �kids� novels out there, but I guess something about the tone and style of the books has caught on. I wish I could be more insightful here�I�ve tried, but I can�t seem to pin it down. The popularity of these books isn�t in any way a bad thing though: if only a tenth of the kids who love Harry Potter keep on reading and develop a real love of books then Rowling has done a fantastic job! Hell, the fact that she�s got so many kids genuinely excited about books is kinda brilliant in itself*. This is something that I almost forgot in the midst of the media frenzy/all the preparations we had to make in our bookstore: there are a lot of kids who were genuinely champing at the bit for this book, and that�s just great.

The reason I won�t be reading it for a while is this: I have a big bundle of novels to work my way through, having recently discovered that I can finally immerse myself in a novel again, after spending much of the last year either reading in a rather clinical, if appreciative, manner, or merely re-reading book�s I�ve read far too many times before (a process that feels more like remembering than reading). As good as my English Lit course has been in terms of giving me an excuse to read all kinds of old books, it had left me somewhat burnt out on the prose front; I was way too aware of the mechanics of language, structure and storytelling to relax and enjoy my reading for what it was.

But yeah�I read John Irving�s A Widow For One Year a while back and enjoyed it, and since then, I seem to have been getting on a lot better with novels. I can get lost in them again, without thinking about how I'm going to write an essay about them, and that's important to me.

Books I�ll be reading over the next couple of weeks:

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson; The Third Policeman, by Flann O�Brien; Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville; Phillip Pullman�s His Dark Materials trilogy (which this Barbelith thread has inspired me to re-read); and maybe a couple of other things� if I�ve got anything interesting to say about any of this stuff, I�ll definitely post about it here.

*I don�t consider books to be superior to other mediums, by the way, but I would really love to see as many people being open to as many different mediums as possible.


Friday, June 20, 2003
 
Testing

Just testing my new comments system which I'm gonna try out for a while. I'll maybe post some more stuff tomorrow after work, but I'm keeping it short tonight. Harry Potter day is upon us, which means a 7:00 start for me, so I'm off to bed right now.

So... how is my blogging?


 
Better Late Than Never?

Good lord: is there much left to say about the news that Mark Waid has been fired as the writer of the Fantastic Four? Looking at my last post, I�m not really sure there is, but I�ll give it a go anyway�

I must say that the most interesting thing about all of this, from my perspective, has been how surprised many people seemed to be by this news. I can totally understand the fact that many people didn�t see this coming and were shocked by it (especially people who were reading and enjoying the comic); that makes sense. The mainstream comics community likes Mark Waid; he is by all accounts a nice guy whose work many people are quite taken with. For such a big name, he�s had quite a bit of bad luck with the 'big two' in the past (see Captain America and Superman) and it�s very easy to sympathise with him because of this.

But I think that, in a lot of ways, what the sheer shock that many people have expressed really shows is quite how successful Marvel have been at re-branding themselves recently. There�s nothing unusual about the fact that Marvel are getting rid of Waid because he doesn�t fit in with what they want the book to be. As Steven Wintle pointed out, this move is in many ways merely another example of what people like about New Marvel�bold decisions, big changes in direction, taking chances etc. But the thing is that in the midst of all this it has been easy to become confused and to think of Marvel as being a company that is creator-centric. This is definitely something I�ve found myself thinking at various points in the last year or so, and certainly they�ve had a whole bunch of interesting creators working for them: Kyle Baker, James Sturm, Evan Dorkin, Neil Gaiman etc� that's an interesting list, and I've not even mentioned the fact that they�ve had top quality talent like Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mike Allred, Frank Quitely, Paul Pope, Darwyn Cooke and Philip Bond on the X-Books yet.

So, yeah, in many ways it has been a very good time for Marvel comics creatively. But here�s the thing: Marvel doesn�t care about the creators�they care about their franchises, and their film properties, and, above all, they care about Marvel. They make business decisions and creative decisions based on what they feel will be most beneficial for them and theirs, and the writers, artists and other creative types that work for them are merely employees, brought in to do a job. I�m not saying that this is nice, or that the decisions they make are always good or sensible, but that�s all they are; business decisions. Now it�s very clear from the links below that everyone understands this state of affairs, but I think that it is still important to bear in mind that Marvel are not all about the creators or even the fans.

There are many reasons to hate the big comic book companies; this isn�t an industry that has been very good to the people who have made it what it is. After all, there are enough dead comic book creators spinning in their graves right now to power Vegas three times over. After this news story was announced, there was much talk from message board posters of boycotting Marvel. I can think of many fine reasons to boycott Marvel (and DC for that matter)--the way many creators have been treated is shocking--but this latest incident� it's nothing out of the ordinary. I don�t think it�s a good decision, I feel for Mark Waid, and understand why fans of the book are pissed-off, but still� I am not actually shocked or surprised by this at all. Work-for-hire is work-for-hire, and as I see it there are many more important reasons to be angry with these companies than this. I myself am not principled enough to boycott either Marvel or DC, but as I've already said, there are valid reasons to do so, all of which have been elaborated on by people far more articulate than me.

And... that's me done. Off to bed. Up in the morning to go to work. Mmmm... sleep.

[As a footnote, I�d like to add that I�m not claiming that the comic book industry is the only industry with a nasty history: just for the sake of clarity, I do know that there are many other industries with similar bad habits]


 
Waid Watch

Before I start mouthing of about it, I thought I�d collect a wide selection of the comics community�s reaction to the news that Fantastic Four writer Mark Waid had been sacked for my reference and yours (and hey�while I was at it I added some very basic commentary to help me sort my own thoughts out):

Here we go�on Monday, Mark Waid confirmed that he had been fired as the writer on the aforementioned title:

" 'I wish I'd had a longer run, and I'll admit I was surprised at being so abruptly fired,' Waid told Newsarama. 'A few weeks ago, Bill [Jemas] phoned and tried to convince me to jettison our high-adventure approach and everything else we've been doing in favor of making the FF a wacky suburban dramedy where Reed's a nutty professor who creates amazing but impractical inventions, Sue's the office-temp breadwinner, the cranky neighbor is their new arch-enemy, etc. Editor Tom Brevoort and I discussed that option at length; ultimately, I apologized and explained that I didn't feel it was something I could write nor something that played to any of my strengths -- a radical revamp like that was just too much of a departure from what I was originally hired to write. [...]' "
(from Newsarama by way of Journalista!)

For me, the real big quote from this interview was this "� they're not my characters. Ultimately, my job is to sell the publisher something he wants to publish.�

The rumour that Marvel head-honcho Bill Jemas was to take over from Waid was started, and while it was soon dismissed I�m pretty sure it had a big part in making so many people foam at the mouth�Jemas is (quite rightly) regarded as a terrible, terrible writer, and any attempt by him to write a big mainstream comic would only be viewed as gross indulgence of the worst kind.

--Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada and Mark Waid himself both give their perspectives (via Journalista!).

Joe Quesada says: �We had an idea for a new direction we wanted to see the FF go, heck if it didn't work out we could just call it a story arc and move back to what we were doing before. Mark informed us that it was a direction he wasn't comfortable with and he wasn't suitable for his style. He made it clear that if we wanted to move in this new direction then he wouldn't be the guy to write the book. As a creator, I more than anyone understand that that's code for, �I don't care for the idea.��

Responses to this are passionate and varied throughout the comic book community...

--Flat Earth�s Steven Wintle comments and then clarifies his position.

Key quote for me: �One of the things I admire about NuMarvel (and what I admired most about the beginnings of Marvel) is their willingness to take chances and burn a few bridges to make newer, potentially stronger ones. Hey, in some ways I even think Epic is a brilliant idea. So many readers have forgotten that most of the excitement of early Marvel Comics was built on change and the unexpected, even if sometimes their gambles didn't always pay off. Anyone who reads mainstream comics regularly, creator or fan, and who still doesn't understand the perils of work-for-hire or the concept that they aren't the boss, should do some reading.�

--Alan David Doane writes an open letter to marvel big-boss Bill Jemas. He receives a reply of sorts.

--Having previously reported the news Dirk Deppey offer his opinion on Journalista!:

�...I'm siding with Quesada in all of this. Folks, Fantastic Four is Marvel property, dig? It's not Waid's title; he's writing work-for-hire for a series that is ultimately more the editor's responsibility than it is Waid's. Be serious; this isn't even remotely the first time this has happened. Hell, a decade ago Chris Claremont -- the man who turned Uncanny X-Men from a floundering mess of a series into Marvel's flagship title -- was fired over a disagreement in plot development with his editor. Did anyone seriously think things had changed since then? Legally speaking, Marvel Comics is writing the series using Waid's fingers, and no amount of protest is going to change that. This is what work-for-hire is all about. Don't like having a comic book that you read transfered to another set of fingers? Read a comic where the creator has an ownership stake in the property. I thought Evan Dorkin's two-issue run on Agent X was a total hoot, but you don't see me threatening to boycott the company because Gail Simone's taking over, now do you?�

--Neilalien collects together various reactions to the story, and is unimpressed with Journalista!�s response.

--Title Bout kicks the crap out the whole issue in typically comedic style. As usual, there are many nuggets of insight lodged in-between the bursts of brilliant chainsaw comedy, my favourite of which was this absolutely amazing passage:

�I quoted someone above talking about how Marvel�s hurting Jack Kirby�s legacy. HILARIOUS. A legacy is something Kirby could leave royalties for to his kids. His kids ain�t seeing shit. Kirby made up those characters (with Stan Lee -- let�s not get into that). Waid was just trying to rob his grave, and Marvel decided that instead of one graverobber they wanted another. It�s all too pathetic to be funny. Who cares?

"How dare they fuck Waid on the book they fucked Kirby on???" ... wait, that actually sounds like a valid complaint, in some sort of way, doesn't it? Like, for me personally, as not much of a Waid fan, that's actually a VERY valid complaint, like... "They should be fucking Paul Pope on it, not second-rate talent like Waid!!" Ha!

These people, they're not mad something happened to Mark Waid. They're just mad something happened to the Fantastic Four.

And that to me is a crucial distinction. The former seems an essentially a human concern, the latter essentially inhuman. �


Title Bout writer A.K. should also win some kind of prize for the use of the term �Nerd Riot�, which I shall definitely be claiming as my own soon.

--Breakdowns writer Chris Allen chips in with some opinions in his latest column.

--Bill Sherman mentions it (link via Journalista!�I�ll be adding this blog [and many others] to my sidebar soon).

--Franklin Harris can�t make head nor tails of the decision (another link from Journalista! or Neilalien and another link that will shortly be added to my sidebar).

--Comic book writer Peter David speaks from experience (link from half the comics blogosphere*).

There was probably a lot more to it than that (I�ve not even linked to all the message board discussions!), but this is what I�ve been reading about this over the past week� my own thoughts on the matter will follow shortly.

I'd like to stress, by the way, that I'm not trying to impose my meaning on any of these people's thoughts--if I've quoted them above, it is because I wanted to have the quote handy while I was writing my piece, and as I'v already said, the comments are there to serve a similar purpose. If anyone feels that I've misrepresented them then I'm really genuinely very sorry--feel free to e-mail me if you have any concerns.

*This term seemed to be everywhere yesterday�how good am I at being behind the times?


Thursday, June 19, 2003
 
�A Very English Nervous Breakdown�

Filthy thoughts from June 11th�s Title Bout:

�This is Grant Morrison and Chris Weston�s series for DC Vertigo about a lonely, depressed middle-aged man caught in the machinations of a behind-the-scenes organization whose job it is to preserve the status quo.

What�s interesting to me about this series is that Morrison didn�t really write for the trade. He�s capable of writing for a trade -- he did with KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND, say, his original graphic novel, or that other one� MYSTERY PLAY?

I like getting Morrison in issues. I like how he treats an issue as his playground, in a way you couldn�t for a trade.

Like, last issue Morrison talked about those studies where they gave people religious experiences by stimulating parts of their brains, which -- I saw this fascinating documentary on HBO, I think, about people who experienced it and how they reconciled what felt like talking with God with an essentially technological event-- it makes you want to try it, but apparently it doesn�t work on everyone; Morrison wove that with his �biotech will turn us all into superheroes� hippie stuff; threw a twist into the overall plot; played with reader format expectations visa vi word balloons; and had a �superhero� expose himself frontally to a hostage. And that was by page 8.

Would that be as much fun in a trade, when that �what happens next� instinct�s taken over? Who knows?�


This strikes me as being a very good point. I�ve been thinking a lot lately about how The Filth is going to read in collected form. In some ways, I think it will actually read better, with the somewhat disjointed narrative flow working to create a strange story rhythm that suits the fractured mindset of the book�s main character perfectly.

But still, there is something about reading the Filth in it�s serialised form that feels intrinsically right. A big part of the series appeal, as far as I see it, is in all of the big throwaway concepts�the bursts of playful, but disorientating, madness that fill each issue are perhaps best experienced in this form. Nothing wrong with that. Hell, at a time when everyone seems to be writing for trade, it�s good to have comics like this that make good use of the monthly form. And I do like the monthly form; it certainly has its problems (not least of which is the excessive price), but it works for certain story types. It�s a good format for the episodic TV show structure of New X-Men, with its cliff-hangers and constant shifts in tone and focus; the ridiculous soap-opera/media parody of X-Statix works by overplaying it�s own structural design to an absurd level, and is thus perfectly suited to the monthly format; Peter Bagge�s Sweatshop works well in short bursts as a sort of sped-up sit-com; and so on.

So yes, the Filth works well in single issues. There is, as I�ve said before, something skittish about it. More specifically, there is a resemblance between the tone of this series and the tone of Chris Morris�s Blue Jam radio sketches. For those of you who haven�t had the, erm, pleasure of hearing Blue Jam, here�s how I described it during a previous blog post: �[Blue Jam] is like some kind of mini-genre unto itself; a thoroughly weird mish-mash of radio sketches and bad-tempered, surreal horror.�

Later on in the same post I elaborated further calling it ��a show full of mundane situations that rapidly spin out of control, bizarre monologues and (weirdest of all) frequent musical interludes.�

And there�s definitely something similar going on in The Filth; something in the mix of ridiculous Gerry Anderson does the Invisibles sci-fi and grinding, middle-aged monotony; in the sense of humour, which is both utterly juvenile and yet somehow genuinely wrong at times; in the feverish, disconnected tone--the way that these issues don't really connect with each other (even though they do). Chris Morris himself once described Blue Jam as having a �Flu-groove�, and I think this is directly comparable to the fractured, feverish quality which emanates from these pages. There�s something to do with fuzzy perception in both of them; a kind of sickly, late-night feeling that isn�t always entirely �fun� per se, but is very effective nonetheless.

The best issues of this series, in my opinion, are always the ones where we get more of Greg Feely; he�s the heart of this story, and I�ve always thought that Morrison is at his best when he draws you into the madness and makes you feel it; it�s what makes something like Kill Your Boyfriend far more compelling than the Mystery Play, for example. The most recent issue (#11) is a good one, and is filled to the brim with great Greg Feely moments. You see, he�s finally starting to figure out what�s going on, and now (in the grand action movie style) he�s pissed off and is beginning to put up a fight against the garishly clad operatives of the Hand. Of course, in the remaining two issues everything could be turned on its head again, and I�m still not sure quite what this is building up to, but these are good things; it�s nice to not know where this comic book is going, even if some elements are very predictable (Grant Morrison writing about an angry gun-wielding bald guy? Who woulda thunk it?).

As well as moving the plot forward, this issue is also full of weird suburban paranoia, moreso than any of the previous issues. The scene in which Feely bugs-out and starts sabotaging the Crononbergh-esque surveillance systems in his house is both slightly daft and oddly disturbing, and the fact that this issue sees the �nosey-neighbour�/paedophile-paranoia theme hit fever pitch before imploding into a bizarro scene in which an angry mob kills a communist chimpanzee assassin is surely recommendation enough in itself.

Artwise, this is one of Chris Weston�s better issues. His big weakness as an artist is the lack of expressiveness in his characters�his faces often gurn more than they emote, and his body language can be very stiff at times. This series plays to his strengths, allowing him to lovingly depict all sorts of ugly, weird stuff in glorious detail, which he does wonderfully, whether he�s drawing the bleak greyness of the �real� world or the hideous day-glo world of the Crack. This issue has some of his better character work�I don�t think he�s ever going to be brilliant at depicting character interaction, but nothing here clunks heavily. Plus, the use of slightly slanted panels in some of the more deranged scenes really adds to the nuttiness of the comic, giving the page a bit more energy than it would otherwise have with Weston�s art-style.

I�ll probably be posting something about the whole Mark Waid getting sacked thing late tonight/early tomorrow morning, so watch out for that if you�re interested�


Wednesday, June 18, 2003
 
"It's Still a Valid Method"

Kenny sums up the genius of Macaroni pie--"It's pasta with an edible bowl."

To which I can only say--YES!


 
Title

From an old Fluxblog post about Radiohead:

"It doesn't really matter what Thom is singing in the song, the sound of his voice hits a very raw nerve with me. I know the feeling even if the words don't match up with my life. I wish it were easier to understand what it is about Yorke's voice that communicates so much to so many people - how his voice is able to get across so much unspoken subtext that his lyrics only vaguely touch on. I think this is why so many people always seem so clumsy when trying to articulate why they like or dislike the man's music."

There are a couple of other really good posts in that section of Flux's archive, including some great thoughts about Jessica Abel's La Perdida and Peter Bagge's Spider-Man comic.


 
�Ice Age Coming��

So it looks like Gemma and I will be going to see Radiohead in December--yay! Rather randomly, we're going to the Aberdeen show rather than one closer to home, but this should be cool, as my friend Alison and her boyfriend Neil will be there on the same night. It�s not often I get to see many of my older friends these days� most of them live all over the place, and I really can�t afford to visit them all that frequently, which is a bit of a shame really.

Anyway�back to Radiohead: I think I�d agree with the seemingly popular opinion that their new album, Hail to the Thief, is a bit of a grower. Initially I felt that it fell between two stools somewhat; that it didn�t have enough shiny/punchy tunes to succeed as a traditional �rock� album, but lacked the overwhelming consistence of mood that made Kid A and Amnesiac such wonderfully isolated listening. I liked most of the tracks just fine (as I believe I noted in an earlier blog post), but when I finally listened to it as a whole it didn�t quite work for me. To tell you the truth, I�m still not sure what I think of a few songs�I change my mind about �There, There� with alarming regularity, and I just don�t seem to be warming to �the Gloaming� at all�but for the most part the album has clicked with me in a big way.

I�m still trying to think about exactly why it works�what its mood is and how it holds together. I want to use the word �tense� to describe it, or maybe �apprehensive", but I�m still not sure what I mean by any of this or whether either of these words are really all that appropriate (Edit: what I think I mean to say here is that I feel like it is an album about overcomming apprehension and engaging with things again--still not entirely sure this works or is important).

I think that my thoughts about this album are maybe a bit too contextual at the moment�I�m thinking about it in a way that over-emphasises the post Kid A/Amnesiac angle. This in itself is somewhat troublesome, as my feelings on the previous two albums are equaly mired in personal and contextual interpretation and memory. Kid A and Amnesiac will always remind me of Fresher�s week and starting University in general. It was a very exciting period in my life, really; I was finally starting to feel confident in myself and to open up to the world in general, and I was so happy because had been going out with my now ex-girlfriend Gillian for what seemed like forever at the time. I wouldn�t be so bold as to claim that Kid A and Amnesiac were all about feeling confused, cut-off and trying to get away from it all (I think there�s a lot more to it than that), but there�s certainly an element of this present in the doomy pianos and fractured electronics of many of the tunes from that period. Something about feeling overwhelmed and wanting to control your environment, perhaps.

I think that, in a lot of ways, the reason that these albums remind me so much of this time in my life is because, while I was listening to this stuff throughout most of first-year at university, the tone of the music contrasted pretty directly with the mood I was in as a person, and because of this it gained a sort of weird anti-resonance in my life.

Anyway, because of my general response to the last two albums, I find myself oddly inclined to think of Hail to the Thief as an album about reconnecting with the outside world. This really isn�t hanging together for me at the moment though (I think I�m trying too hard to give the album an overarching theme instead of just letting it work for me), so I�m going to give it a couple more listens and see what I think then.

I�ll be posting a few of thoughts about a couple of my favourite songs from this album later in the week, and I�ll hopefully get around to writing about a whole load of tunes that are dominating my summer listening at some point over the weekend.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003
 
Festivities Welcome

A few interesting links for your attention:

Scott has written a humongous post about Black Panther, the Crew and other such comic book related things over on his blog. It�s a good�if slightly exhausting�read, and well worth your time.

An interesting sample snippet:

�Funnily enough, I think that automatic pilot is the best way to read Black Panther, and I don�t mean that in the same way that I�d mean it if I said that the best way to carry my mailbag is to carry it empty. Black Panther and Crew writer Christopher Priest is not writing for those with a short attention span. I�d keep buying the Panther, read it and put it to one side �till I hit an issue that had something in it that threw me, casuing me to ask why was I buying this, then I�d go back and read all the parts of that arc together, and it would result in me dying to read the next part, because now I got what was going on. It�s like the way that I�ve been converted to certain TV series by DVD�s, and find that I can�t watch single episodes, and need to have back-to-back parts to enjoy it. It took me to about part 4 (technically part 5, if you count the prologue issue) of Black & White to realise that I was enjoying it because it had all the elements that I had come to love about the book. Instead of the macrocosm of T�Challa�s circle of friends and enemies, the book had a microcosm of cops and robbers.�

In case anyone hasn�t seen it yet, there�s a new pages worth of Get Your War On online now. This time around, GYWO creator David Reese has cooked up a big-old batch of what are possibly the only good knock-knock jokes ever told. One of the best things about Get Your War On is how little there is to say about it; I could talk about how wonderful the DIY aspect of the comic is, or how it�s one of the most direct (and funniest) responses to current world events currently going, or how wonderful Reese�s other comics (My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable and the mighty My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable) are, but in the end, there�s no need�it�s all just so hilarious that it doesn�t really need any explanation. Which begs the question: �why have I bothered typing all this?� To which I say: �Good point!�

The wonderfully whimsical Oddball Comics column on Comic Book Resources is currently appealing for more readers. To be honest with you, I've only just discovered its charms myself (thank you Flat Earth), but as someone who cherishes the crazier side of comics, this place is truly a regular godsend, being as it is a column dedicated to all those insane old comic book concepts that people tend to ignore these days.

It�s been a good month for intelligent comics-blogging:

Dirk Deppey spent much of last week writing a fascinating, intelligent article about Marvel, the bookstore market and Mark Millar�s forthcoming Trouble series which has been handily collected here. As I said, it's a great essay, but not everyone has been entirely convinced by its main argument, with both Unqualified Offerings and Neilalien contributing very sharp counter-pieces that raise many good points about this whole situation.

According to today�s Journalista!, Deppey will probably write a counter-argument later this week, which should be interesting to see.

More soon about the new Radiohead album, The Filth and Superman: Red Son


Sunday, June 15, 2003
 
Possessions

Argh!

Looks like I�ll be working full time this week. Big argument at work this morning about when I was supposed to be starting�I had originally been told that I was starting full-time work on the 26th of June. More recently, my manageress had asked me if the 20th would be ok. Yeah, sure, why not?

Today I get in and find that I�m down to work tomorrow, and Tuesday and� I'm in most of the week, basically. This is at least partly my fault�I really should have checked the rota sooner�and it doesn�t really make THAT much of a difference as I would have been starting on Friday anyway. But as a weekend staff-member I rarely, if ever, check the schedule. There�s simply no need�I know exactly when I�m working unless I�ve agreed to work extra shifts. And, y�know, I kinda assumed that when they said that the 20th was my first day of full-time work, they meant it.

But I�m going to stop moaning now. It�s not a big deal, and I�m sure that I just sound a bit immature and uppity here (plus, as I�ve already said, I should really have checked). It�s just that this last week was important to me is all� there was a lot of stuff to be done, and� well, all I�m saying is thank god I decided to get most of my Uni work wrapped up early!

But hey�on the plus side we finally seem to have worked out a decent system for handling all the Harry Potter pre-orders! Thank god for that� it makes the whole thing seem somewhat less nightmarish than it could have been.

Anyways, I�m not sure how much time I�m going to have to post here on Monday or Tuesday, but I'll definitely give it a go.

Stay tuned�


Friday, June 13, 2003
 
Get Up

So - La Perdida by Jessica Abel then.

When I first thought about this book I wanted to use the word "raw" to describe it, but it quickly occurred to me that this was entirely the wrong word to use to describe any aspect of this particular comic. Rawness denotes a certain lack of thought and craft, a certain spontaneous quality that really isn't present here. When I thought about it a bit more, I realised that the word I was looking for was "evocative". This is a very evocative comic book, putting the reader very much with the character of Carla as she relates to us her experiences of moving to Mexico.

The artwork here reminds me of Dylan Horrocks in some ways (or perhaps David Lapham, though I'll admit that this comparison is somewhat stretched); there's certainly a similarity there in terms of how robust the artwork is and also in the very specific, paired down set of facial expressions and body gestures that both artists use. This may sound limited, but it's not - both Horrocks and Abel are incredibly effective in their communication of human body language, but are good enough to be economic with it. There's a certain quality to the linework and shading here that brilliantly conveys a sense of environment and experience - these pages don't look smudgy, or scratchy, but there's a liveliness to them that really conveys a great sense of being there. My favourite example of this so far comes on page 21 of the third issue; there's a big panel there that takes up more than half of the page, and shows the city as Carla sees it while she's at a party. It's really minimal in a lot of ways, just a wonderfully realised collection of white scratches and blobs on a big, inky landscape, but it's just so..."gorgeous and endless" to steal a turn of phrase from the accompanying caption. It suggests so much life and vibrancy, as does everything else in this comic.

The writing is well observed and engaging throughout - this is slice of life stuff, but that doesn't mean that it is in any way unexciting (just check out the ominous note that the third--and most recent--issue ends on). Characters weave in and out; her ex-boyfriend Harry, her younger brother Rod (a skater who is currently making big money off the internet), her friend memo, her boyfriend Oscar etc, all of whom seem fully formed and interesting. You get a good sense of who everyone is here and there's a loose but mesmerising rhythm to this comic book--it's both relaxed and dramatic at once, and I like that combination.

But all this talk of "experiencing" what the character of Carla experiences misses one of the key things about La Perdida; the fact that it is also examines Carla's experiences in a well thought out and fairly unflinching way. There's a lot of intelligent thought here about what it means to be an American who chooses to live in Mexico, and also a little bit about figures such as Frida Kahlo and William Burroughs who people associate with the country in one way or another. The thing about this aspect of La Perdida is how organic it feels - all of this is expressed in a really unforced style, comming out of the characters and instead of feeling heavy-handed and tacked-on. It's both well crafted enough to intoxicate the reader and smart enough to not overly romanticise any of this; to not shy away from showing the good and bad of the decisions and motives of Carla and the other characters.

As I'm writing this in a hurry I don't really feel that I'm doing this book justice but trust me when I say that it is a very smart, wonderfully drawn comic book that works as both a vivid encapsulation of a very personal experience and a sharp examination of this experience simultaneously.

It's a million times better than I've made it sound and... it's brilliant basically: go read it!


Thursday, June 12, 2003
 
There Is No Need To Restate and Simplify

Looks like that post about Jessica Abel's La Perdida might have to wait until tommorow--I'm on a run with a couple of other writing things that should hopefully tie up my academic work for this year, and I don't want to break my own concentration at the moment, so tomorrow, basically...


 
Unsettled Endings

I downloaded �Jessica�, by Adam Green from Fluxblog yesterday and I have to say that I find myself oddly fascinated by it.

Here�s what Flux had to say about the song:

�This is Adam "Moldy Peaches" Green, who has suddenly become a much better singer on this Scott Walker-style ballad which imagines a pathetic, washed up older version of minor pop star Jessica Simpson. It's more than a little mean spirited, but it's somehow vaguely sympathetic, too.�

Which is all very true, and I find myself trying to work out exactly why this works. It�s very deadpan and the nastiness of it seems to come somewhat out of the blue (Jessica Simpson is, in many ways, an odd target), but I think that, in some way it�s like� has anyone ever known someone who can get away with casual bursts of cruelty? Someone who can almost make it seem endearing to be randomly mean spirited? I�ve known quite a few people who could do that, and I think something similar is going on here on some level� the oddness of the lyrics and the smoothness of the delivery just somehow combine to make it � not quite charming, but� something not too far from it. I dunno; maybe I�m talking rubbish here, I�ll give it some more thought later�


 
�For The Ninth Time Nosferatu��

I just figured out the exact moment that now cancelled sci-fi TV show Farscape went right for me.

It happens near the end of the first season, in an episode called �A Bug�s Life�. Up until this point, I was fairly ambivalent towards the show�it had its moments, but was mostly just a fairly middling sci-fi program (albeit a middling sci-fi program with Muppets�always a good thing in my book). The transcendent moment occurs early on in the episode, when Crichton swaggers onscreen wearing a Peacekeeper uniform and putting on his best little space-Nazi act. At that moment, I think the show finds its feet. There�s something about the leering cockiness of that moment that just� I think it�s the moment where the show finds its style, its spark. Of course, there are other elements introduced in the last couple of episodes that ensured that the next three seasons of the show were more ambitious and interesting than the first (the character of Scorpius and the idea that Crichton�s head has been stuffed full of information about wormhole technology being two of the more notable ideas that these episodes churn up), but the whole thing with Crichton in that uniform, putting on that accent� it�s just kind of weirdly sexy and I think that that�s when this particular space-opera finally starts to fire on all cylinders; the moment when the bonkers sexiness and ambition really kicks in; the moment where it all goes wonderfully right.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003
 
Holiday

As I mentioned on Monday, I�ve recently discovered that I can finally listen to �Wake Up Boo� by the Boo Radleys again without feeling like it has been played to death. It�s by no means their best song, but it�s still bloody great�a neat slice of premium quality pop-rock built on a snappy, pounding drumbeat and embellished wonderfully with horns and gorgeous backing vocals. This description probably makes it sound more than a little bit dull, but it�s not�it�s just really light and poppy and fun. The way that the guitars crash in after the �And you can�t blame me/ Not for the death of summer� bit only to melt back into another chorus is just brilliant, and utterly astounding dynamically and�yes! basically.


 
Further Exploits Follow

Over the course of the last couple of days, I seem to have embarked on some kind of superhero mini-marathon. Weird, but what the hell--It�s been fun.

The strangest thing about this has been the prevalence of Evan Dorkin penned material in this micro-binge. Dorkin is best known for his insane humour comics such as Dork and Milk & Cheese (violent dairy products!), but he also does a fair bit of work-for-hire on the side, two examples of which�the last part of a two issue stint on Agent X and the first issues of a four part mini series about the Thing from the Fantastic Four�came out this week.

I have to admit that I have a certain fondness for Joe Kelly�s run on Deadpool (the book which recently evolved into Agent X). Sure, the character may have been created the reviled Rob Liefield*, and nothing about the basic concept sounds particularly appealing (�he�s a quippy, if somewhat deformed, assassin with a healing factor and a mysterious past��yawn!), but while I haven�t been impressed with any of Kelly�s other work I still really like the wacky angst of those Deadpool stories.

Anyways, to get back to what I�m actually supposed to be talking about here, Evan Dorkin uses his brief run on this book to bring back a character that he apparently created for a one-shot comic in the early nineties, Fight Man. Much silly violence ensues. And that�s about it. This may not sound appealing, but if you like Dorkin�s brand of slapstick brutality and don�t mind the idea of this taking place in a superheroic setting then you�ll probably like this. It�s not his funniest material, but it�s good, throwaway fun. The artwork, by Juan Bobilla, is fairly unspectacular, but it gets the job done, conveying the sheer preposterousness and fun of Dorkin�s script well.

Heh - the first issue has the words �READ THIS OR WE�LL KICK YOUR GUTS OUT� printed on its cover�that alone makes this book worthwhile for me (yes, I know, I get far too excited about the most random things). It�s bonehead stuff, but in a good way. There aren�t enough good bonehead comic books out there, and this is both smart and funny enough to work as good old fashioned dumb-ass fun. Hmmm� come to think of it, Dorkin in bonehead mode kinda reminds me of the Ramones; they�re both artful in their nutty simplicity.

The Thing: Night Falls on Yancy Street is similarly goofy, if less insanely violent. It�s a weird mix of full-on superhero silliness (this first issue features the Red Ghost and his communist supermonkeys) and noir moodiness. This may not sound like a good combination, but it seems oddly natural in execution, and I suppose it makes a great deal of sense when you think about the parts of the old Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four stories that involved the Thing stomping around feeling sorry for himself in the rain. Initially, I wasn�t sure about the colouring on this� something about it bounced my eyes off the page a little, but looking at it right now it seems quite fitting, with lots of very strong colours playing off the earthier elements of the comic (such as the thing himself). The art (by Dean Haspiel) is fine�it�s blocky, simple stuff, but it has just enough expressiveness and character too it to make the ever-grumbling Thing seem endearing. So, yeah�nothing unexpected goes on here, but it's a fun little story with an oddly old-fashioned feel to it that I quite like.

I�m always amused when I hear people talking about how �realistic� Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch�s the Ultimates is. I can only assume that these people are talking about Hollywood realism, as that�s exactly what is on display here. What Millar and Hitch have done is to take the basic Marvel superhero template (flawed heroes, basically) and give it an action-movie gloss. The characterisation is basic, but defined, and the only huge difference between this and your standard Marvel comic book is in the tone and aesthetic of the book (well, that and the fact that at the moment the Ultimate Universe is slightly less drenched in back story). By this I mean that the set-up of the team is presented in a more militaristic style, and that the characters are written in a more modern (and somewhat nastier) style; hence we have a horny Hulk, a Captain America who will fight dirty and an unpleasant scene of spousal abuse in issue #6.

The book�s biggest strong point is its artwork�Hitch locks into a big, blocky rhythm with Millar that allows him to show off time and time again quite how good he is at creating a sense of scale and grandeur without ever loosing the basic flow of the story.

Unfortunately, the book�s biggest failing�the lack of anything even vaguely resembling a consistent monthly schedule�can also be put down to how good the art looks. This wouldn�t be so much of a problem if Millar wasn�t so clearly writing for the collected editions�the pace on these issues is just too slow to take at the rate it is being released. Compare this to New X-Men at the moment, which is obviously being written very episodically and has been on schedule for quite some time now (hell�it even comes out bi-weekly half the time). This really adds to the sense of excitement and expectation that comes with each issue by giving you a comic that is easily digestible and exciting in single issue lumps, but also comes out frequently enough for you not to get bored waiting to see what happens next. Now, obviously the good thing about the approach that is being taken with the Ultimates is that it has artwork of a consistently high quality (something that couldn�t be said about the patchy first year or so of New X-Men) and as this book is very obviously meant to look nice in trade paperback form, this makes a lot of sense, but it does make it very frustrating in its allegedly monthly form.

Anyway, the latest issue (#9) continues the (goofy as all hell) aliens among us story-arc, and it�s good fun, in a David Icke kinda way. Hell, this issue even throws a couple of nice spanners into the works for the good guys, setting the reader up for the next issue nicely. Lets hope it comes out some time soon�

Finally, I just realised that I didn�t write anything about the first part of the Wolverine/Doop mini-series. Largely I think that this is because there�s simply not much to say about it: it�s a tongue in cheek team-up book/buddy story (in the Han Solo/Chewbacca mould)/psychedelic crime story that is quite good fun, but not much else. There are a few fun one-liners (�For an amorphous green blob of dubious sexual and moral proclivity, ya�ve got quite a sense of humour��), and I like the randomness of the whole thing, but for me the biggest draw is Darwyn Cooke�s art, which is utterly gorgeous. It manages to be both cute and oddly atmospheric, and (in my opinion) the gorgeous visuals alone are worth the cover-price.

Heh � that�s me all superheroed out. I�ll probably post something about Jessica Abel�s La Perdida tomorrow if all goes well, so keep look out for that if you�re interested.

*Who I was going to describe as a �human punch line� before I decided that this was perhaps a tad too cruel. Somehow, in my head, the fact that I am mentioning this as a footnote makes it less nasty. I know there�s no logic to this, but hey!


 
Preset EQ

Going back to something I said at the end of one of Monday�s posts:

�It�s not easy to make superhero stories feel unpredictable�

I got to thinking about this quote this morning, and whether it was true or not. Why shouldn�t it be easy to make superhero stories unpredictable? I guess it isn�t� you could just string together some kind of utterly nonsensical gibberish (humus offensives and such), but what I meant was that it is hard to create genuinely surprising plots that work within their context.

There are quite a few reasons why this is probably true to some extent. For one, the genre has a lot of conventions and clich�s that dictate how the story will play out. Many of these are avoidable, but this rarely seems to be the done thing within the genre. There�s an inherent dramatic problem presented by the fact that�whatever the situation�there can never be much doubt that the heroes are going to win. This is only further complicated by the fact that (nine times out of ten) you can�t take the idea of death in superhero comics seriously. Largely this is because superhero comics (or at least, the majority of superhero comics) feature corporate owned characters, most of whom you can be quite sure are not going to die. Hell, even if they do die, they have an annoying tendency to come back.

All of these factors can be overcome, of course, and this is the key thing. The clich�s and conventions can be ignored or played with, or embraced in a fun-filled manner. I think Grant Morrison has noted that, while the outcome of superhero fiction is predictable, it is very easy to make the journey from point A to point B exciting if you just fill it with imaginative, unexpected things. And this is what it comes down to here�all it takes to make superhero stories unexpected and interesting is a bit of imagination and an awareness of the conventions of the genre. That�s not too much to ask, and the fact that I seem to think it is probably says more about the standard of superhero comics than anything else. Low expectations�that�s the issue.

I�m not deprecating New X-Men here; by and large, it�s a very smart, imaginative book that I genuinely find exciting and sufficiently surprising on a regular basis. All I�m saying is that it�s a shame that this is in itself unusual.

This brings to mind something from Steven Grant�s latest Permanent Damage column:

�But that's BATMAN today: a good book. An entertaining book. And the minimum we should be expecting from all comics. All comics should be well-written, well-drawn, entertaining. At minimum.

Especially superhero comics, if we're going to obsess on them. BATMAN, Geoff Johns' & Scot Kolins FLASH, Mark Waid & Mike Weiringo's FANTASTIC 4 - these should be the baseline for our expectations, and that they're not isn't something to celebrate. Let me reiterate I'm not complaining about any of these books. They're good. The problem's that all the books they're far better than aren't at least as good.�


He�s right you know.

I�ll probably post some more superhero-centric stuff later today. As mentioned yesterday, I seem to be in the mood for superhero comics this week.


Tuesday, June 10, 2003
 
It�s Your Birthday

So, after helping move all that furniture into my house, I sit down and have a wee browse on the Internet. Just as I find out that Fantagraphics seem to have weathered their immediate financial crisis, the postman arrives with a nice bundle of Fantagraphics comics for me. Good timing there, I think.

Due to my currently limited funds, I couldn�t really afford to buy that much, but there�s a nice wee selection of comics there for me to read, including parts two and three of Jessica Abel�s La Perdida, which I�ve been looking forward to reading for quite some time now.

It goes without saying that I�m overjoyed that Fantagraphics seem to be doing ok (though sales, I believe, are still very much appreciated round their way). If they had went down then the world of comics would have seemed like a much less vital place, so it�s good to know that they�re hanging in there.

This reminds me: I�ve still got to write something about the comics of Daniel Clowes soon.

I had every intention of writing about his work last week, but I�ve just not been in the mood for his comics recently. I seem to have been on something of a superhero kick of late, which I�ll probably talk about later in some capacity.

But anyway, I will definitely write about some of Clowes� comics soon, and I'll probably get around to writing something about La Perdida too, whenever the mood takes me.


 
"But I'm Already In My Pyjamas..."

Out last night--had fun, though the venue of choice was really not my scene.

Got in quite late, and was up at 9:00am to let people bring office furniture into my house.

Yes, that's right kids: after two years of waiting, my Dad is finally going to get to work from home! This is a good thing for him (and the rest of us) on so many levels. It must be over three years since my Dad's MS stopped him from going to work, so it'll be very good for him to get back into the swing of having something to do. He looked well chuffed this morning when they started bringing stuff in, and I think this is definitely going to make him feel a lot better about a lot of things.

Life is good.


Monday, June 09, 2003
 
�I Think It Might Be My Mutant Power�

So, New X-Men #142 then: that was rather brilliant, wasn�t it?

After the somewhat barmy (though still very enjoyable) whodunit style of the last couple of issues, it was nice to get back to (relative) normality. The murder-mystery style of the last two issues were written was a nice change of pace, but this issue is far more satisfying to me, being as it is a fun character piece that focuses on Cyclops trying to drown his sorrows in the Hellfire Club.

Apparently there are a couple of rough edges to this issue in terms of continuity (regarding the status of the Hellfire Club as an actual club and Shaw being a telepath). It�s been a while since I read the Chris Claremont comics that feature these characters, and I�m totally un-familiar with everything that has happened to them since then, but, yeah, the Shaw thing seems a bit unnecessary and clumsy. I do however, really like this incarnation of the Hellfire Club as a kind of neutral ground for mutants with money to spend. It works really well within the context of this book as Morrison has set it up.

A few months ago, when Morrison first mentioned this New X-Men story arc on his website, he came out with this bizarre little soundbite:

�I�m on issue 142 right now and getting ready for the ASSAULT ON WEAPON PLUS: THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL storyline wherein all the X-boys get together for three issues of full-on uber-destruction, violent action and tough-love style man-to-man counselling.�

And, oddly, this does seem to be the way this story arc is going. When I say that, I mean it in a good way, as this issue was top notch, and it�ll be nice to see some action in this title, as it�s been a while since we really had any (though the third part of �Riot at Xavier�s� did have some wonderfully choreographed stuff in it�that Frank Quitely is a class act, really, he is).

Additionally, if the rest of the �tough-love style man-to-man counselling� is as good as the stuff in this issue was then we�re in for a treat. Every line that came out of Cyclops mouth in this issue is pure gold and it�s great to see things really start to come to a head for this character�the storyline about him and Emma having an affair has been ticking along for as long as Morrison has been writing the book, and it�s good to see everything finally come to a head in the Scott/Jean/Emma love triangle. Morrison has handled the repression and emotional instability of Cyclops really well throughout his run on the title, and this issue gives us our most in depth look yet at what makes him tick. There�s nothing here that hasn�t been suggested by his actions in previous issues, but nonetheless it�s nice to finally see all this stuff explored on-panel.

While I doubt I�ll ever be particularly interested in the character of Wolverine, Morrison�s take on him has always been pretty good (in a swgering hard-man kind of way) and his interplay with Cyclops has always been fun, so this storyline bodes well. As Scott pointed out to me, there�s always been something that looks great about the redesigned version of these characters when they�re together. This has mostly been true when Frank Quitely has drawn them, but it looks pretty great here too, so I think there might just be something to the way the two of them have been designed that works when they�re grouped together. Realistically, it is probably just the fact that the Quitely designed uniforms (when drawn well) just make the whole team look great together, but either way the fact remains that it's a nice visual. Scott�s favourite example of this (and possibly mine, come to think of it) comes from the silent issue: he really loved all those shots of the two of them waiting outside, reading and listening to their music while the big psychic adventure went on next door. That looked inexplicably neat, didn�t it? And I don�t just say that because I�m a big Quitely fan� I really do think there was something intrinsically good about those panels, but I�m going to shut up about this now, as I�ve just realised that I�ve expended a scary amount of time and space on the subject already.

The big surprise that this issue delivered, for me anyway, was on the art front. Don�t get me wrong: I like a lot of Chris Bachalo�s earlier work, but his more recent stuff has largely been a bit too muddled for me. He has a very busy style that has�in recent times�has tended to overwhelm his previously strong storytelling skills. Here, however, everything works out OK. Nothing is hard to follow, and most pages flow very nicely from panel to panel. His characters are all very stylised, but they work�his Fantomex looks silly and mysterious; his Cyclops looks perfectly washed out and� not quite hunched, but� well, I guess hunched is going have to do for now; his Wolverine looks like a swaggering little midget with silly hair etc� it�s all just right, which is a nice surprise. The colouring is great too, adding a suitable red haze to the (already seedy) environment of the Hellfire Club.

As a side note: one thing that the previous story arc did hammer home for me was quite how much I love the character of Beak. He�s just so endearing, in an odd, nervously excitable sort of way. I like the fact that he has no useful powers at all: it�s just so perfect for his character. It would be harder to take his lack of confidence so seriously if he could fire ninja stars out of his nose or something. I think that, alongside Emma Frost, Beast and Cyclops, Beak is one of my favourite characters in this book.

Do you know what the best thing about this series is at the moment? I have no idea where all this is going. The �Murder at the Mansion� story arc raised far more questions than it answered, and this stuff, combined with the Weapon Plus stuff should make for an interesting couple of months round these parts. There�s plenty of room for speculation, but I�d be hard pressed to say how I think this is all going to turn out. It�s not easy to make superhero stories feel unpredictable, but this title manages it on a regular basis, and I appreciate that.


 
A Thought...

More essay--less blog. Less blog--more essay.

More essay now [equals] less essay later.

More essay.

(Still, I've got no doubt that there'll be a post about the last couple of issues of New X-Men up shortly).


 
�Why do I have to grow a spine? I�ll have you know that my spine is pretty fucking bling-bling you scrawny little chicken-farmer!�

Comic book link-burst:

Paul O�Brien has written an interesting little article about Team Fantagraphics, Team Comics and the idea of community in comic books that went up on Ninth Art today. It�s a good read, with some interesting thoughts about Tom Spurgeon's anti-Team Comics essay and how it relates (or perhaps doesn't relate) to Fantagraphics recent appeal for financial help.

Also on Ninth Art at the moment: an excellent article by Scott Holland about how comic stores CAN reach the real mainstream, if they get their act together. Only in the world of comic books would an article so sensible seem so utterly necessary. Ok, maybe that's not entirely true, but since when did reality get in the way of a good soundbite?

There are some interesting thoughts about Marvel Comics, the bookstore market and Marvel�s upcoming �romance comic� Trouble over on Monday's Journalista.

The following snippet, in particular, strikes me as being very sharp:

� Think about it for a moment. The whole reason that the oh-so-controversial cover was considered "pornographic" when first released was that those making the charge were used to thinking about comics from a Direct-Market point of view; there, the primary purpose of women on comic-book covers is to sexually arouse male readers enough to convince them to buy the comic. In this context, a cover featuring two barely-pubescent girls in bikini tops with sly expressions isn't "pornographic", but rather pedophilic.

In a bookstore market, it's another matter. As Millar notes, the cover is entirely unexceptional if your target audience is twelve-year-old girls. Of course, such girls by and large don't shop in comic-book shops to begin with, which is I suspect why the whole "Peter Parker" meme was raised at the press conference -- to distract retailers from Trouble's purpose. Early on, Marvel CEO Bill Jemas stated that he didn't expect retailers to order this book in huge quantities. I suspect he has entirely different hopes for the bookstore market. Likewise for the new Mary Jane book.�


If anyone�s interested, there�s a preview of Trouble #1 up here (you have to scroll down the page a wee bit to get to it). Hmmm� I'm still not sure whether or not I�m looking forward to this series. I reckon it could go either way, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


 
The Plot Thickens

Scott chips in with some helpful feedback re: my bizarre burst of purple prose last November (as mentioned in yesterday's post):

�Re, the Learned. I dunno what the he'll it's about, but the only mention I could find was in an e-mail dated April 4th, 2003:

[Behold the lost world of the learned. They knew all, saw all, were all, are we. They hold the key to the end times. The reformation rests.]

And that was at the top of an e-mail, before you launched into talking about how you got your overdraft sorted.

Any help? All I can think was that it was maybe something to do with an essay or Lovecraft.�


April you say?

Hmmm� that�s quite random, not to mention shockingly recent. But yes: Lovecraft� that�s probably it. I think this whole thing might just be my body�s natural reaction to Lovecraft�s magnificently creaky prose and tales of unknowable horror. That seems to fit. It would certainly explain both the nutty prose style and all that stuff about �the learned�, wouldn�t it? Elder races and all that. Good, fun stuff, all told.

Hmmm� what this also made me think of was something that China Mieville said in a recent interview� where was it now?

I'm sure it was an online thing...

Ah, here we go:

China Mieville: I'm currently very interested in Lovecraft, the pope of horror pulp: by all reasonable standards his prose style is terrible. But you can't put it down. There's something compelling about it. This neurotic fascination with language and what I like in fiction -- in any form -- is fiction that is conscious of its own use of language. Some pulp, and some non-pulp, uses language basically just to pass on information, which is a bit boring. What Lovecraft ironically shares with the Modernists like Joyce is the absolute physical awareness of the shape of the language itself. They do it in very different ways.

Interviewer: All those words with CHTH�

China Mieville: Absolutely. Absolutely. And he never uses five words when he can use twenty! It creates this absolute hypnogogic rhythm. I love all that.�


Which may sound a little bit mental, but is oddly on the money when you think about it.


 
Wake Up It�s a Beautiful Morning

Do you ever just wake up feeling inexplicably brilliant sometimes?

I just have, and I�m loving it�

I managed to get out of bed much earlier than I�d planned to and still feel brilliant. This is a nice change of pace for me, as I�ve been having a great deal of difficulty getting up at all for the last week or two. Sleep is good, yes? But still: I�m up, and I feel great. The weather has been ridiculously changeable around here of late, but its bloody glorious this morning, and I have every intention of enjoying it while I can.

I�ll hopefully be finishing off my first Shakespeare essay this afternoon, before going out in Glasgow with Graeme tonight. It�s kind of amusing, cos over the last couple of months Graeme has turned into the dancefloor king of Glasgow. Well, that�s a slight exaggeration, but the point is that he didn�t used to go out at all, and now he�s out all the friggen time, which is cool, cos he really seems to be enjoying himself.

At the moment I�m listening to a mix-tape with lots of Wu-Tang Clan and Boo Radleys on it, which is an interesting combination, and one that�s actually working really well for me this morning. And hey�I can finally listen to �Wake Up Boo� again without feeling like it�s been overplayed to death!

Yes!

More soon.


 
Logistics

My favourite silly Ottakars staff/customer exchange of the year so far:

Customer: Excuse me, are you with someone at the moment?

Staff (serious, if slightly bemused): What, as in a relationship?

Customer: [pause] � No, I just need help finding a book.

(Scott--is this more fodder for the audio thing? I think we can use it, in a silly kind of way....)


Sunday, June 08, 2003
 
Old Age

I was just skimming through my own archives for a variety of reasons when I stumbled on to this random piece of gibberish from last November:

"Dedication

The power of the learned is absolute. The learned have never been, and will never be. The learned are eternal. Every alternate has it�s own myths about the book of the learned, but no one has ever been able to prove the existence of this most sacred of texts. In the final days of the great construct the book of the learned will be the Key.

This book was written by, and is dedicated to, the learned."

If anyone can tell me what the hell I was talking about when I wrote this, then I'll be most grateful to them!

I think I might have been taking the piss out of something that I was trying to write at the time, but I�m not sure� it's possible that I was just in the mood to write some nonsensical purple prose that day... I seem to get that way every now and then...

Anyways, I've been having difficulty actually accessing my blog from my house for the last couple of days, which is why I haven't been posting much. If all goes well, I'll put up a post about the last couple of issues of New X-Men tomorrow. I might write a couple of other things too, if I can get my head together enough to write cohesively about anything other than Shakespeare (as you may be able to tell, I'm struggling to achieve this tonight--bloody essays!).

Heh - I always feel funny complaining about the academic work I have to do, because it's not like it's that bad or anything. Essay writing just puts me off sitting at the PC for any longer than I have to really. I hate spending the whole day typing stuff up, it kinda makes me go a little crazy, especially when I could be out messing around with my friends instead.


Thursday, June 05, 2003
 
�What's with the Quasimodo imitation Mom?�

Right�I�m going to have to quote myself here because the links to the last couple of months worth of archives don�t seem to be working at the moment, and I want to refer back to some earlier comments of mine about Peter Bagge�s Sweatshop series, the second issue of which came out last week.

Here�s what I said about the first issue:

�I like Peter Bagge�his crazy, expressive artwork alone makes me chuckle, and I�m quite a big fan of his scuzzy slacker comedy Hate, but I�m not entirely sure how I feel about this, the first issue of his new ongoing series. Certainly, it�s nice to see DC comics put out a book like this, which, let�s face it, with it�s sit-com style and fairly grounded setting is about a million miles away from their standard output. It�s all about an old hack cartoonist called Mel Bowling and the team of artists who help him put out (i.e. do all the work on) his comic strip, and is essentially a sit-com with a small cast of characters.

Like Bagge�s art itself, this issue feels very cluttered, but in a good way. There are two short stories in here alongside a couple of excerpts from the comic strips which some of the book�s characters draw on the side. The first story (the only one which is both written and drawn by Bagge) is a bit disappointing as a whole. It does a fair job of introducing us to the characters and their situation, but the actual story (involving a cartooning award ceremony) is pretty dull. The second story is better, providing us with a viewpoint character in the form of new gag writer Elliot, but isn�t that impressive either. The main problem here, in my opinion, is that the jokes are really obvious and much less cutting than they seem to be intended to be. There are a lot of jokes that grow out of the political views and stereotypical nature of the characters of Mel (who turns out to be something of a clich�d right-winger) and Elliot (who writes bad �right on� cartoons in which characters call each other �G� and �Holmes� etc) and while I admire the fact that the humour cuts both ways, it�s so simple and clich�d on both fronts that it feels formulaic and, crucially, unfunny in execution.

There�s still quite a bit of potential here, if Bagge sets his sights on developing the characters and letting the humour grow from them. Bagge is a very talented man, and I do enjoy the look of the book (all the other artists who contribute to this do a very good job of keeping everything very energetic and visually interesting), so I�ll probably check out a couple more issues of this title before giving up on it completely.�


Which seems a tiny bit mean spirited to me at the moment, even though I don't entirely disagree with what I said.

But still�the truth is that I enjoyed the second issue quite a bit more than the first one, and I�m now feeling better about this series as a whole. The characters and humour are still pretty broad at the moment, but it�s effective nonetheless. It�s not Hate, but then again, what does that have to do with anything? Despite my wee quip about this series being �unfunny in execution�, I found myself chuckling away as I read through the second issue, which is surely proof that, when it comes down to it, this comic book works. It�s a light, funny read, and I have a feeling that I�m going to enjoy having something like this to pick up on a regular (monthly) basis.


Wednesday, June 04, 2003
 
Cornflake Blues

Well, I finally got round to seeing Secretary with a bunch of friends yesterday, at the most unusual time of 11:40am. I have rarely, if ever, been to the cinema before 12:00, so this was a bit of a curious experience for me. Amusingly, this pre-afternoon timeslot ensured that the audience for the movie basically consisted of myself, four friends and a handful of people who seemed to be over 50 years old, which was interesting to say the least.

Anyway, lets get on to the movie itself: the first thing that struck me about it was that it was a very tightly focused movie. There are few, if any, subplots here; almost all of the movie focuses on the Holloway/Grey romance, with only a couple of threads concerning Lee�s family and boyfriend weaving in and out of the movie, and even then these sections are somewhat minimal and exist to give her character more of a context. Gyllenhaal�s character (Lee Holloway) is fragile, lacks confidence and cuts herself. She ends up working�as a secretary, naturally�for a lawyer (E.E. Grey�played by James Spader) with whom she strikes up an interesting S&M relationship. It�s a premise that could go desperately wrong by either mocking its characters, but for the most part the movie avoids this pitfall, only stumbling brielfy towards the end. For the most part though, the S&M element is shown to be something which both of them enjoy in their own way (yay!) and a part of Holloway�s growth as a person�an extension of/instigator of her finding a mode in which she can feel confident.

The best thing about this movie is the acting, which is wonderful throughout. Maggie Gyllenhaal does a marvellous job of bringing her character�s uncertainty and growing confidence to life, while Spader conveys just the right amount of isolation and sadness to make his character seem real. There are sexy scenes, awkward moments and burst of genuine humour in here, and given that the last movie I saw in the cinema was the second Matrix movie, it was particularly exciting to be reminded that yes, it is possible to convey some of the difficulty, tenderness and dynamism of human relationships on film. Which isn't to say that the character interaction in Secretary only looks good in comparisson to the Matrix; it's very convincing and interesting in it's own right, but I'm still trying to process the relationship hole that is Neo/Trinity in the Matrix movies. Anyway, back on topic: as I was saying, there's generally a lot to be said for Secretary. It even manages to be quite genuinly uplifting without feeling too cheesy, which is something that few movies seem to be able to maintain.

The one part of the film that doesn�t seem too well considered is the segment near the end that plays on the �will they/wont they overcome it all in the end� convention of the romantic comedy genre. As Todd writes in this Barbelith thread:

�Through 3/4s of the movie its good story, and then it suddenly goes off the deep end starting with (spoilers ahoy) a runaway bride sequence - Now initially the sequence of Lee's vigil at Grey's office, waiting for permission to move from her chair (from him), with a TV newscaster and her parents, etc. visiting her just seemed stupid to me. A huge mistake. Then, I got the idea that what the director was trying to do was play against the common rom/com scene where the hero, after messing up somehow, makes some huge, public declaration of love to win back his girl. Only, haha, she's peeing on herself and it's an S&M relationship. This gambit, aside from being stupid, fails because to make fun of the idea of conventional rom/com we have to consider Lee's love for Grey (and vice versa) to be somehow ridiculous, pathetic, or sick, which we don't, as the filmmaking in the first part of the movie is nimble enough to avoid making their fetish seem freakish.�

While this section of the movie didn�t jar with me quite as much as it did with Todd, it did seem oddly out of place with what had come before, with the tone of the movie changing to become something of a parody or inversion of scenes from other movies rather than a movie unto itself. This is a shame, as it does mean that the film seems to laugh at its characters fetishes, something that it had been blissfully and refreshingly free of up until the last section of the movie.

Perhaps it would have been better if the movie had ended after Lee gets sacked, or perhaps the filmmakers could have found another, less problematic route to a happy ending, I don�t know� In a lot of ways, they could have just tinged the ending with sadness as to the fact that Grey is still relatively isolated and alone, while still showing that Holloway has gained some confidence in herself (have her ditching the boyfriend etc). I don�t know� the actual happy ending didn�t bother me that much (I�m kind of a sucker for happy endings, even if they don�t quite fit sometimes� yeah, I know, I know�), just the route they took to get there. I�m still thinking about how the balance of vanilla/non-vanilla sex was handled in the scenes after the �will they/won�t they� stuff, and since I�ve not really thought of anything intelligent to say about it yet I think I�ll keep quiet on that front.

On the whole though, I think that Secretary is a very good, if slightly flawed, movie, and I admire its intentions despite that burst of clumsiness towards the end. It�s definitely a film that I�d urge everyone to go see, and I look forward to seeing Maggie Gyllenhaal in similarly prominent roles in the future, as her performance here is really top notch.