Never judge a book by its cover.
Especially not Midnight Kiss.
Had I seen this cover in Previews, I would have instantly dismissed it. Had I seen it on the shelves of 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics, I would have instantly dismissed it. Had I seen it on Newsarama, I would have instantly dismissed it.
From the cover, Midnight Kiss looks like every other back-of-Previews sex-n-violence badgirl wankfest, where the art is a sad conflation of Victoria's Secret and Michael Turner. I suppose softcore and weaponry sells to someone, but it simply ensures a quick flip of the page from me. I suppose The Engine has done its job, though, because Tony Lee's posts there got me to notice a title I normally would have ignored. The art gets a lot better once you get past the cover, but still suffers from an overabundance of posing and an underabundance of storytelling. The book starts with a bang: an action sequence that introduces the main characters on the fly in a great "show, don't tell" structure. The problem with "show, don't tell", though, is that if you're "show" isn't working .... then your "tell" isn't, either. Midnight Kiss almost gets derailed in the first few pages, as the visuals just don't set up the characters or tell the story nearly as well as they need to. It's a challenging and ambitious sequence, and Ryan Stegman just can't handle it. Past that difficult sequence, the art manages to hold it's own, and at least doesn't detract from the story.
And it's the story that's the selling point here. Tony Lee brings it fast and furious, starting the story at full speed and seldom stopping for breath. There's a lot of information here, but he never stops for infodump. I love the fact that Lee is writing up to his reader, assuming we're intelligent enough to put the pieces together without someone explaining everything in excruciating detail. And, frankly, exposition is so often overrated: I've got Forces Of Good, Forces of Evil, a complex world filled with history ... and that's about all I need to know. I can learn the rest on the run, and use my imagination to fill in the gaps. I'm a sucker for the style of story here - it's hard-edged fantasy and magic, a combination that appeals to me in some really basic way. This is a Tom Clancy techno-thriller with spells instead of glocks or a Matrix with fairies instead of circuits. I suppose I'm a sucker for fiction that explores "Raymond's Second Law" : "Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable from a technology." The characters are competent and appealing, especially Matt Sable. Sable verges on a roguish bad-boy cliche, but goes past that by simply being such a good example of the cliche. I've been told in many a book that this or that character is "charming" ... Sable actually is.
I missed out preordering this, and issues may be hard to come by. I'll happily track them down, though. Regardless of the cover, I love the story and characters and look forward to seeing where it goes.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Never judge a book by its cover.
Around Halloween, I walk the halls of horror books. I nod toward Clive Barker's Books Of Blood. I tip my hat to The Shining. I give a hearty pat on the back to the mad ramblings of H.P. Lovecraft.
The friend at the end of the hall I embrace, and exclaim to be the life of the party? House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski.
This is a book that should not be spoiled. It is the simple story of a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It is also the story of a film made of those events and a critical masterwork deconstructing that film. The critical book may or may not exist. The film may or may not exist. The house may or may not exist. There are multiple layers of footnotes and multiple narrators impinging on each other's stories. It's a madhouse of typography and page layout. There are footnotes which still chill my blood years and years after reading it. There are indexes and appendices. In a real way, House Of Leaves examines the nature of writing - horror is one of the most emotionally direct kinds of storytelling, and it deconstructs that to see if horror can remain when that directness has disappeared. It's a postmodern wonderland, horror by way of Derrida.
It's chilling and terrifying and haunting. It gets inside the head of madness, and the heart of loneliness. Where it shines so wonderfully, though, is that it uses horror to examine real human feelings of distance and loss. There are many of small family houses where the distances inside seem insurmountable, and many where it's easy to get lost. It's compelling and mind-bending, and among the best that horror has to offer.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
From The Goon 25 Cent Edition comes this fez-rockin' demon that brightens my day. That man obviously knows how to celebrate a Friday.
In so many ways do I say "T.G.I.F. !!!" today.
Work has been unusually cruel, but today I'll head out early to make this week's delayed trip to 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics. There I will find many a comic, and a choice few that I am really looking forward to writing about here. As if that wasn't a good enough cap to a bad week, we're carving pumpkins tonight.
|It is also a happy thing to discover that my little blog here is worth exactly the amount I need to spend on back issues before I can feel caught up! Now if I could just figure out where to cash in ...|
The not-happy thing? The news that the whole "King" initiative is just Stephen King writing a monthly fills me with .... well, not that much. How simultaneously disappointing and unexpected it is ...
In order to postpone the heat-death of the WeboComicsBlogoNet, it's my new ambition to linkblog more. So while I've tried to avoid recurring features ... expect to see "Focused Linkblogging" every so often.
- Though I think the grand relaunch is slated for January, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez is making his presence felt at Buzzscope. Today I was particularly floored by the debut of "What Is A Nubian?", by Glyphs' Rich Watson, and loved the "What A Girl Wants" from earlier in the week. It's damn nice to hear different perspectives that don't play at being a stereotype.
- "The Basement Tapes" over at Comic Book Resources consistently kicks ass ... but you'll find little better to read on the than this week's look at what went wrong on The Intimates. It's so honest, I fear for Joe Casey's career.
- Dave's Long Box? F*@% YEAH, Mr. Campbell. F*@% YEAH, indeed.
- Nothing in particular here. Just that Sean Maher is hittin' a groove, and I'm loving it.
- Someone needs to order me up one o' them DC Comics Super Sized Mindwipes. I really need to forget I read this, so I could truly revel in the moment. C'mon ... it's a comic blog. Like I need to explain to y'all the thrill of seeing your name in print in one of your favorite comics?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
It appears much money will be spent when I make it down to 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics on Friday.
A couple of these are "maybes" where I'll need to give a flip in the store (Flash, Wolverine), but even if I don't pick them up, it's a heck of a week. Jack Cross is currently holding the distinction of being the only Warren Ellis I just don't care about (it doesn't seem like Ellis does, either) ... so this is the beginning of the end unless some sparks fly soon. Luckily, Ellis that is good also appears: JLA Classified and Ultimate Secret. Loveless looks very good, though I fear my expectations of Deadwood: The Comic Book will prove it's undoing. JSA Classified should answer some questions about the nature of Inifinite Crisis, and so will JLA ... though JLA won't be half as well-written or a quarter as well-drawn. Two of the best books Marvel's producing these days come out in the same week, and remind me why I don't just cut the company from my pull entirely: Young Justice and Captain America are fine superhero comicstuff, and my comics experience would be lessened without them.
My most anticipated book this week is the Mike Allred issue of Solo, presented with it's originally solicited cover. It's far from the only underappreciated gem that will land, however. Small Gods is a well-crafted book that doesn't deserve it's early demise. Though Straczynski's comics work has often left me cold, Book Of Lost Souls features beauty from the pencil of Coleen Doran and deserves a look. Sunset City has gotten enough buzz that I will gladly try this story set in a retirement community.
I think a new Wizard is coming out. I will be strong.
- Adventures Of Superman #645
- Flash #227
- Jack Cross #3
- JLA #121
- JLA Classified #13
- JSA Classified #4
- Loveless #1
- Silent Dragon #4
- Solo #7
- Teen Titans #28
- Wonder Woman #222
- Small Gods #11
- Fear Agent #1
- Book Of Lost Souls #1
- New Avengers #12
- Sentry #2
- Ultimate Secret #4
- Wolverine #35
- Young Avengers #8
- Captain America #11
- Sunset City
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
We don't bring it flowers. We don't sing it love songs. We hardly talk about it anymore when we blog thru the door at the end of the day.
One of the great things about taking this 6 year break from comics is that I can simultaneously play "new kid on the block" and "crotchety old man who's seen it all". Well the crotchety old man part occasionally waxes nostalgic about what served as the Comics Blogosphere before there was a Comics Blogosphere: rec.arts.comics.*. This was the golden days of USENET, before the proliferation of individual message boards and when blogs were just a glimmer in the eye of the 'net. And back in those halcyon days, the darling of the cognoscenti was Astro City. It was praised constantly, as Busiek and Anderson showed us a superhero world that was deeply human and real. It was the classic "buzz" title that spread by word of mouth and gained praise with each new reader converted.
And now, years later, a major new story arc starts and where's the love? Now after readin' it late at night, when it's good for us and we're feelin' alright .. well, we just roll over and turn out the light.
(And that's the end of the Neil Diamond. I promise.)
Astro City: The Dark Age is a planned 16 issue miniseries, and the first four issues stand as a complete Book One. This is the story of the darkening of Astro City throughout the turbulent Seventies, the time of Nixon and Vietnam and American Doubt. In comics, this is the age of relevancy, of Hard Traveling Heroes and the Secret Empire and the first signs of grim 'n' gritty as The Punisher and Ghost Rider appear.
Kurt Busiek is juggling a lot here: a commentary and history of comics trends through the Seventies, a detailed reconstruction of the history of Astro City itself, and a small human story of two brothers on opposite sides of the law who live through it. It's not an easy balance, and I don't know that Busiek manages at all the time. Sometimes the story sways too much to the intimate tale of the Royal brothers and leaves the heroes behind, sometimes it gets held hostage by the plot demands of the story of the Silver Agent's decline and fall. For years, the secret of what happened to the Silver Agent has been dangled, and while we find out the events in these issues, the Agent himself still remains an enigma. The wonder of Astro City is the characterization, and it's there aplenty in The Dark Age ... but there's just too much going on to get a real sense of who the Agent is, of how he acts. Many other heroes, from Jack-In-The-Box to Rex get character moments, so perhaps it's intentional ... but I hold out hope that we'll see the Silver Agent again, and get a real sense of who he is. I am shown what Astro City did to him and how they feel, but I don't experience that loss with them because I only know him as a plot point, not a person killed by those he tried to save.
One of the perils of the kind of work Busiek is tackling here is the analogues. Frankly, I am tired of seeing thinly disguised heroes used as shorthand. From Planetary to Authority to the Maximums, it seems like they crop up more and more. Design a new costume and name, then skip the characterization as you allow the work of other writers do your heavy lifting. Make your metafictional comment, take your shot, and move on. What's always amazed me in Astro City is Busiek's boundless imagination, as he's created characters that fill an archetype without resorting to bald plagiarism. Is Samaritan an Superman analogue? Of course, but he's also a character on his own that is much more than an in-joke. In The Dark Age, it would be terribly easy to use shorthand to let readers fill in the blanks, but Busiek puts enough twist on characters like The Blue Knight and the Maharajah that they work on multiple levels. The Dark Age is wonderful commentary on a decisive age in comics by one of it's great historians, but easily stands on it's own if you don;t know the history and don't care to.
Frankly, it's hard to know what to say about Brent Anderson at this point. His work here is so fluid, so effortless, so subtle that it steps out of the way and simply does it's job: storytelling. He shifts so easily from a conversation between brothers to grand moments if high superhero drama that neither feels out of place, and it all feels part of a single story. In a tale steeped in a specific era, it's important that it look like a period piece, and that's where Anderson really shines. Not only do all the details feel right and remain consistent, but his style has always reminded me of Marvel in the Seventies - Gene Colan in particular. He's the perfect artist to conjure the era. While there are a handful of artists that could capture modern-day Astro City, this arc couldn't be done my anyone other than Anderson. It's a writer and artist playing to each other's strengths, and building a perfect synergy.
Astro City. Bring it some flowers.
(OK. Sue me. One last Neil Diamond.)
Monday, October 24, 2005
And throughout those subsequent chapters, we’ve (thus far) met five lead characters trapped in a state of anxiety in every issue #1. Every issue #2 (thus far) has seen four of them experience some clarifying moment (note the unifying cover motif of facial close-ups), whether it’s the death of a loved one, exposure to a new world, the recovery of lost powers, or a literal light shining down from the heavens and changing someone's costume. There’s always a gap in time at the beginning of every issue #3, during which the characters have sprung into action, and there’s always a segue into issue #4, in which the character emerges transformed, fortified, renewed, revamped. Ready to be a soldier.
-- Jog - The Blog on Seven Soldiers
With each new issue of Seven Soldiers that arrives, I make the same resolution: "I will blog this," I say.
Then I read Jog, and realize that this is the deep end of the pool, and I'm still wearing my floaties. I don't care if the blogosphere is dying ... Jog kicks daily ass with better commentary than I deserve to read.
Friday, October 21, 2005
This little sequence is from the latest Young Avengers, and brightened my day reading it. That's what the T.G.I.F. is all about: brightened days. See ... he's trying to tell his parents he's a superhero, and, well ... click on it to see it full-size.
There's a thought that curbs my enthusiasm: that this trivializes and belittles what was an unspeakably traumatic experience for many. It's the fantasy of coming out, not the reality. But, frankly, shouldn't comics sometimes be about the best in people and what they can offer? And why should that be restricted to the cape-n-tights crowd? Why can't there be super-parents, too?
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
I know I am seven days late, and many monetary units short. But I fear my comic blogging license will be revoked if I do not comment on Infinite Crisis.
Sometimes, you need to review what something is ... not what you wish it was. And you need to review the thing itself, apart from the hype and event. Of all the critiques of Infinite Crisis I've read so far, the one that really seemed to hit the mark for me was Ian's (and, by extension, Dorian's):
Dorian's definition of this stuff I find more apt. That is its all "big dumb super-hero melodrama." Call me crazy, but that makes these books sound much more appealing than what Greg Rucka and Dan DiDio are selling to us in The New York Times. ... can I defend reading this stuff? No. It's "big, dumb super-hero melodrama" done in an entertaining fashion and nothing else.
To attack Infinite Crisis for being a huge, corporate, continuity-driven crossover event is like attacking Harvey Pekar for writing autobiography. Like it or don't .. but if you want to examine it, you really need to ask two questions: "What's it trying to do? Does it execute that well?" I certainly didn't go into Infinite Crisis expecting Optic Nerve. I went in wanting a good, high-stakes, operatic mess of a crossover. One that conjured the same grandeur and excitement that the original Crisis did those many moons ago.
And that's what I got.
It has a grand scope, and Geoff Johns effectively races through the apocalypse. He neatly introduces most of the threads that have been building in the various miniseries, and introduces some new wrinkles. There's definitely some fat that could be trimmed (see Mongul) and some ham-fisted expository dialogue (see the Trinity on the moon). There's also some moments of wonder, where the page opens up and we see the immensity of the situation. I don't know where things are going or what's going to happen, but it feels already like events are afoot that will deliver on the hype. And that's why I'm buying it: the concepts and situations. There's room for a lot of stories in the superhero genre, but one is the Story Of Ideas. It's been said that in true science fiction, it's the idea that's the protagonist, not the character. The same can be said of crossover events, and I don't mind some character missteps or awkward storytelling if the meaty ideas in the center are good.
When the art team was announced, I had some hesitation. I like Jimenez a lot and felt that it was completely appropriate that George Perez' spiritual heir was producing the sequel to one of his signature works. Andy Lanning's another favorite, who always does great work. I just couldn't imagine how their styles would mesh. It turned out to be a got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter kind of thing. One of the few flaws I find in Jimenez is that his work is so composed, so graphic, it seldom feels truly alive. Like Erté or Klimt, it exists on the page only, and these images have no life beyond pencil, ink, and color. It's always beautiful, but is sometimes lacking in emotion because the characters are so set as graphic elements, they fall apart as figures of empathy. There's a roughness to Lanning's inks that really serves to counteract that, imbuing emotion and vibrancy without losing the layouts that set the epic tone of the book. It's a great match that manages to keep the story both immense and intimate.
At the end, the first issue of Infinite Crisis is what it is. I came into the issue with high hopes, but an even higher readiness to be disappointed. I wanted a companion to Crisis On Infinite Earths, and it's a hard measure when you are up against nostalgia. The repercussions can wait, and can be judged when they arrive. For today, Infinite Crisis delivered in it's promise, and that's about all I can ask for.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
First, a word on the closing of Fanboy Rampage: Suck.
I make no secret I'm new to the WeboComicsBlogoNet, so I shan't trip the light fandango down Graeme's Memory Lane. I didn't read the comments much at all, and contributed to them even less. I certainly don't feel it was a "disgusting display of humanity's darkside", though I also have a hard time imagining Dorothy Parker would have been amused, viciousness notwithstanding. Why I hit the Rampage on a daily basis had nothing to do with snark, and everything to do with taking the pulse of the community. Heidi might be The Beat, and we may already have a Pulse ... but Graeme was the Stethoscope. He kept his ear to the hairless chest of the fanboys, and reported the zeitgeist. It was the essential comic fandom news source for those looking beyond breathless press releases. Graeme's posts never felt mean spirited to me, and I always felt even the comment snark didn't descend to vitriol. Coming from the twin fandoms of sports and videogames, I have a whole different definition of "venom and bile". It's a site I'll miss. 'Nuff said.
I'll celebrate Graeme's ascension into the stuff of blogging legend by buying some comics at 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics. It is the way of my people.
It's an odd little week, with a lot of "good" but not much "great". The last sighting of Frazer Irving's wonderful Klarion is the epitome of mixed blessings ... more Seven Soldiers is good, but I'll miss that world terribly. Dan Slott's has newly entered himself onto the lift of "Writers I Follow", so She-Hulk's a no-brainer ... though I wish I had read the first volume. I don't know I'll find it on the shelves, but Midnight Kiss sure sounds interesting. Justice gets a second issue to prove to me I should be picking this up in monthly format, instead of tradewaiting. I'll give Captain Atom: Armageddon a flip in the store, though my interest is mainly for the build-up to the Wildstorm relaunch with the Morrison/Lee WildC.A.T.S. and the Simone/Caldwell Gen 13. Millar's Ultimate Fantastic Four has been a treat so far, and the Ultimate Namor concept sounds suitably high-concept.Astro City continues to build well, and it's double the Busiek fun when Conan also drops. It seems Busiek always wins ... can't remember where I heard that.
- Astro City: The Dark Age #4
- Captain Atom:Armageddon #1
- Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #2
- Justice #2
- Seven Soldiers Klarion The Witch Boy #4
- Superman #222
- Marvel 1602 New World #4
- She-Hulk 2 #1
- Ultimate Fantastic Four #24
- Conan #21
- Giant Monster #1
- Midnight Kiss #1
Friday, October 14, 2005
I received Mushashi #9 thanks to the lovely and palindromic TangognaT and her manga giveaway. I don't know I would have picked it up otherwise, so I really appreciated getting a taste of something I would not normally try. Thanks again, TangognaT.
I really wonder, after reading Mushashi #9, if this is more representative of manga as a whole. I've been continually getting deeper in the manga pool, and finding the water to be quite warm indeed. But I'm like the new comics reader who starts in by reading Watchmen, Sandman, and Morrison's New X-Men ... only to find that they are the exceptions to the rule, and utterly unrepresentative of the whole. It's easy to fall in love with the classics of a particular genre: I can obsessively follow John le Carré without reading another spy story in my life, and Lyle Lovett remains my only real foray into country music. There's a gap between the best and the rest, and it can be huge. There's nothing really wrong with Mushashi #9. It's certainly as good or better than most of the superhero comics I buy. There's just nothing special about it, and it may be where I start to draw the line in my manga fandom. My lines are not being sketched around a shonen/shojo division, but around "exceptional" and "pedestrian". I could see the book being quite enjoyable if manga is your main source of comics, but it's a sideline for me ... and I can't see reading less than stellar works of manga.
The art is fine - it gets the job done, but has no particularly creative touches that make it stand out. It's fairly generic, but capable. The writing is much the same. This is the manga equivalent of your average TV show: competent, but not possessed of art. The TV analogy really comes to mind because of the very structured nature of each episode of Mushashi #9. Some shows have used repeated structures and concepts to great advantage: Six Feet Under's top-of-show deaths, the return home for the detectives in NYPD Blue, or the McCoy/Spock trash talk at the end of each Star Trek. It provides a framework and reliability that ensures the show remains recognizable, wherever else it may stray. In each episode of Mushashi #9 some schoolkids get in trouble, enigmatic superspy Mushashi gets the assignment and clears it up, and at the end of the episode someone is surprised to find out that Mushashi is actually a girl, and the kids learn a little lesson about life. The bolts and seams holding the structure together are so visible, I was already predicting the beats ahead of time by the third episode. Structure is good, and a little predictability goes a long way. But when you can call out the beats ahead of time after two episodes ... well, that's just not very fun.
Mushashi #9 is decent entertainment, and it certainly is as good as any random issue of New Avengers or Superman. But it's not better just because it's manga, and it really becomes a matter of personal taste after that. How do you like your predictable action-adventure popcorn entertainment? Bulging muscles or big eyes? Androgynous or with overly-defined gender roles? With a side of fries or a side of soba noodles?
Seth Fisher's art in Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan just puts a big, slack-jawed grin on my face. It's fun. It's cool. It has giant monsters. 'Nuff said, true believers ...
The other thing that makes me happy? That makes me glad I didn't "pull an Oeddie", as the kids say? Love Manga, that's what. An animated Yotsuba&! makes me smile even more than Seth Fisher.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
As I mentioned, I can't get to 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics until Friday.
Infinite Crisis came out yesterday.
My RSS reader has now become a spoileriffic minefield of spoilerosity. I think the big reveal has already been spoiled for me, and that's only from being unable to avert my eyes fast enough when a post does not indicate that there are spoilers, or that Infinite Crisis is the topic of discussion.
I need to either avoid Bloglines entirely, or pull an Oedipus.
In the interests of non-hypocrisy, I should warn you that link contains spoilers. But if you haven't read Oedipus Rex, or know the basic outline .... what are you doing reading this? Read thee some Sophocles, post haste.
Spoil it in the comments section here, and I will be using those brooches on you.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I got the sizzle but not the steak
I got the boat but not the lake
I got the sheets but not the bed
I got the jam but not the bread
But heh I'm big in Japan I'm big in Japan I'm big in Japan
-Tom Waits, "Big In Japan", Mule Variations
I know that Tom Waits' song has little or nothing to do with the similarly named Marvel miniseries by Zeb Wells and Seth Fisher. I don't care. It's my party and I'll free-associate if I want to.
How's this for an awkward tie-in to excuse my gratuitous quotage? "Big In Japan definitely has the sizzle, and I don't even know if I care that there ain't much steak."
Since I'm all about the coloring lately, let me fix Marvel's cover-credit error by giving full props to Chris Chuckry. There's not a doubt in my mind that his playful palette is a good part of what makes Fisher's art pop off the page so much. Every page is a delight for the eyes, a riot of color and form. Fisher's been allowed to go hog-wild in this book, running the Fantastic Four through a variety of deformations from bulging eyes to manga minimizing to .... well, whatever the heck is happening to Reed in the above panel. It's a book like this, I suppose, that delivers on the promise of NuMarvel: let continuity and uniformity slide in favor of letting creators create. This is not the Fantastic Four that's over in the main franchise title, and makes to attempt to be anything other than a fun story. It's over-the-top, existing in a whole different universe of giant monsters and superhero otakus that bears little resemblance to the rest of Marvel, and no apologies are made.
The only problem with the beautiful pages that Fisher and Chuckry produce is that I kept forgetting to actually read. When I did remember, I didn't really find much there. It's a lightweight story that sets up just enough plot to let the art take center stage. Having never read anything by Zeb Wells before, I really can't tell is he's a lightweight or a genius. Though there's not much to the script, there doesn't need to be. It's as if Wells knew that he was just playing in the rhythm section, and that Fisher was on vocals with Chuckry on lead guitar. I'm not sure if the writing can sustain another three issues - it seems like the "steak" needs to show eventually - but I like that Wells is serving a nice fat pitch here for the art team to knock out of the park.
Big In Japan is expensive and ad-heavy, but a complete delight. It'll make for a wonderful trade, and I think I'll keep buying the monthlies just to get a dose of this every 30 days. It's a treat for the eyes, if not the brain, and a great example of what Marvel's more relaxed continuity can produce at it's best.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
I won't be hitting 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics until Friday this week, which is disappointing when it's the week that Infinite Crisis hits the stands. I'm not sure how I'll avoid spoilers - maybe I'll just unplug my DSL for two days, or play World Of Warcraft for 72 hours straight (though it could get spoiled in Ironforge General Chat).
It's a week light on the debit card, but rich in chewy capes-n-tights fun. I write a lot about indy and manga on the blog here, but I am still a superhero fan at heart. The DCU is really what spins my rotors, and this week sees a lot that should make the "Big Picture" come into focus: Firestorm, JLA, Villains United, and Infinite Crisis itself. House Of M feels slight in comparison, but I'll finish up the series before making any decisions about how much longer I support Marvel. Gødland will be a nice treat after my Big Two pig-out, and I'm looking forward to sampling The Goon with their quarter comic. Since it's such a light week, I may rectify my idiocy of last week and get The Push Man ... or I may hit Hoarse And Buggy and order the original issues of Elk's Run: with extra cash comes extra responsibility, and I must use my dollars for good.
- Action Comics #832
- Firestorm #18
- Infinite Crisis #1
- JLA #120
- Villains United #6
- Gødland #4
- House Of M #7
- Goon 25-Cent Comic
Monday, October 10, 2005
I have to churn out 1500-2000 words on NBA 2K6 today for Operation Sports ... so no posting of note. But there are a few thoughts rattling around that I can't work up into whole posts, and I might as well dump them here to make space for a discussion of jumpshot tendencies and fastbreak defense.
- Pull me off your blogroll, and deny any memory of my existence. I need to be shot, then beaten, then boiled in oil. I will admit my sin now, in the hopes that a public shaming will help me mend my ways: I bought Wizard. Not only that, but I spent six bucks on that nonsense while putting The Push Man back on the shelf due to lack of funds. I am trying to make better decisions with my limited comics budget, and Wizard must go. What sparse news there actually is in it's pages is on the WeboComicBlogoNet within minutes, and the preview pages (like the ones here from Ed Brubaker's X-Men project) will eventually show on Newsarama. I have been making a point since Diamond's policy shift to drop Big Two titles from my pull list, and to add indy books that might not make the cut without preorders, but old Wizard habits die hard. I'll keep y'all updated on my "12-Step Wizard Recovery Program" throughout the coming months.
- I really I really don't get the OEL distinction. There have been excellent discussions defining the term, and I understand the concept ... I just don't understand it's borders, it's geography. If someone could explain to me why Steady Beat is OEL and Peng isn't, maybe we'd be getting somewhere. At this point, it seems like a marketing term, not an artistic one. Seems like you're OEL if your publisher says you are. If that sells more copies, great. Otherwise it seems like another arbitrary distinction in an artistic community that doesn't need any more balkanizing.
- Am I a complete and utter whore for admitting that stuff like this and this puts a bounce in my step that lasts all weekend long? .... Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with whoredom, I suppose.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Expectations are a bitch. So often, you'll hear something praised to the skies, only to find it can't possibly inhabit those lofty heights. A band, a book, a comic: it's always an undiscovered gem that will change your life ... and it seldom does. Many times, it's the expectation itself that's to blame: Few works of art can support the crushing weight of "the best thing you're not reading/playing/watching". Buzz is all well and good, but can easily bite the hand that feeds it.
However, there are some books that do live up to the hype. Elk's Run is one of them. In fact, the breathless buzz that's circulated around this criminally underselling gem doesn't come close to describing it's greatness. The first three issues came and went with intense critical fanfare and slim sales. Even a highly-graded pimp from Entertainment Weekly couldn't get the book onto and off of comic shop shelves throughout the nation. Now the book has moved to a new publisher, Speakeasy, and has released the "story so far" in a trade edition with a Darwyn Cooke cover to try and get some sales mojo workin'. And if ever a book deserved some sales mojo, it's Elk's Run.
Joshua Hale Fialkov has taken a concept so well-tread that it practically deserves it's own genre: "The Town With A Secret". From The Lottery to In The Hills, The Cities to Twin Peaks, it's been done often and done well. Especially in the modern era, as our sense of community withers with the advent of Big Box Stores and the Internet, these stories have a strange attraction. We find the concept of "community" at once both comforting and terrifying, safe and stifling. Fialkov feels these vibrations in the zeitgeist, and has crafted a worthy entry in the genre. Elk's Ridge, West Virginia is a small mining town that the 21st Century has left behind. It's not a bucolic Smallville, but it is the sort of close-knit community that's slowly dying away in the USA. Everyone knows each other's business, and no one ever leaves ... but neither of these is necessarily by choice. This town harbors dark secrets and family problems quickly escalate into political problems that the community must deal with as a whole. It's gripping stuff, and the tale is strewn with dense foreboding. Since each chapter is told through a different characters' viewpoint, we get a whole new take on the town with each issue. While there are definitely heroes and villains, as viewpoints change each character feels fully justified in their actions. Everyone is trying desperately to do the right thing: they just don't agree on what that is. Too often, stories about a secret can become more frustrating that enticing, as the reader is stonewalled in order to stretch out the tale. Fialkov has enough confidence in his strong characterization and plotting that he can afford to hand out enough information to prevent that feeling of frustration ... he has more hooks into the reader that just that secret knowledge.
Noel Tuazon's art is a revelation, if only because you can't believe that an artist this freakishly talented isn't playing in the "big leagues". His bio in the back of the book says he's working a non-art related 9-to-5, and that's completely insane. It's like Bono waiting tables between gigs. His storytelling eye is sharp, his page layouts graceful, and his linework is stunning. It's a looser style than most mainstream comics art, but is gestural and expressive. Smartly, there's no inker here "tightening it up", because that would destroy the wonderful freedom of the work. Although it's highly cartoony when you look at the individual figures, it feels intensely realistic and filled with humanity. The characters all come vividly to life, as does the major character of the town itself. It's really a two-man show here, though, as Scott Keating provides the best coloring I think I've seen. Period. Keating provides the necessary structure for the pencils to shine, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty by making the colors tell the story as much as the pencils do. He uses color as a percussive element, establishing rhythm and beat through abrupt shifts in full-color vs. monochrome. It's thrilling to me when usually underappreciated parts of comics - like lettering or coloring - really come to the forefront and establish the possibilities of their art. When I say to myself: "Wow. That is some fine coloring. Coloring is cool." Suddenly, it's like you realize you've forgotten rooms in your house, and see there's more space available that you could have imagined.
Maybe I just have format on the brain lately, but that's my only complaint with the "Bumper Edition" of Elk's Run. The square binding means that double-page spreads like the stunning establishing shot in the first issue can't lay flat to be enjoyed in their full glory. Though I have no idea what the practicality of it is, I would have preferred to see this as a stapled floppy, like the "Marvel Must-Haves". It's a testament to the power of Tuazon's craft that, after paying eight bucks for the collection, I now feel a burning desire to track down the monthlies - so I can enjoy the art as originally intended.
As if all the buzz in the world isn't enough, you can read the whole first issue for free. If you can read that and not be interested in seeing where the story goes from there ... you may need professional help. It's certainly beyond what I can provide as an amateur.
OK. I guess this is a spoiler. And I should have warned you.
It's your fault. You should have bought Peng already.
All of Peng made me happy, but a new Scott Pilgrim appearance - even if just for one joke panel - made me smile. And that's what the T.G.I.F. is all about here at Focused Totality: The Smile.
I'm smiling anyways, though. It's been a good blogging week, as my writer's block seems to have been loosened by reading some fine comic art. I had a slight hiccup in the Comic Weblog-A-Tron 3000, so if you missed them, please do check out my posts on Steady Beat and Peng, and check back a bit later for the good news on the wildly good Elk's Run. Not because you should necessarily be reading my posts ... but because you should be reading these books.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
There's a lot of talk these days about formats. About "floppys" and "digests", about the tankobon format all the kids are dancin' to versus the standard monthly 32 pager. It's an interesting discussion for both publishers and consumers. A pocket-sized "slab of culture" that's hefty in page count but easy on the debit card is a great way to enjoy comics. But are there artistic implications as well? Does everything work better in tankobon?
I had heard a lot about Sharknife by Corey Lewis, and it was always mentioned in the same breath as Scott Pilgrim. Both were black-and-white tankobon from Oni Press, both were poster children for "game logic comix", both were pimped by Warren Ellis in the same "Bad Signal" post. So after gushing over Scott Pilgrim, I picked up Sharknife and was ... lukewarm. Not through much fault of Sharknife itself, mind you. It's a whole different beast than Scott Pilgrim, and talking about them as cojoined twins does a disservice to them both. They use some similar techniques and conceits, but to completely different ends. Scott Pilgrim borrows some game metaphors at heighten what is, at heart, a subtle and realistic story. Sharknife is an action movie, telling the story of life inside a videogame. It was one of those situations where hype created false expectations - Sharknife is not Scott Pilgrim, nor is it trying to be. Beyond those expectations, the biggest issue I had with Sharknife, though, was the art itself. With no color to help break down the images, I got lost in each panel at times. I was having trouble reading the flow of each page, and deciphering the gonzo action packed in each panel. It just felt too dense, too much visual information packed into too small a size ... like a white dwarf, the gravity was just too immense.
Now along comes Peng, Lewis' "Martial-Arts Encrusted Sports Fable". It's a 72-page one-shot from Oni Press, and published in standard comic size. All my reservations about Lewis' work based off Sharknife were instantly washed away by this manic story of an Advanced Kickball tournament. This is one of those cases where format makes all the difference. In the tankobon format, Lewis' art seemed cramped and confusing. There was too much linework in each small panel, and his frequent use of double-page spreads was a problem when the middle of the spread was swallowed by the spine of the book. In Peng's standard comic format, his art has room to breathe, and the splash pages can be enjoyed in their full glory. Peng leaps off the page like a kickball off a foot, full of kinetic energy. One of the conceits of the books is that Advanced Kickball is so fast, spectators need to take SLO-MOZ drugs in order to slow down time. Lewis fully immerses the reader in that time distortion, as moments throughout the tournament become stretched and packed with information and emotion. Though you see very little of these characters outside the game itself, you get a great sense of them as people as each mement is broken down and examined.
Part of the incredible density of the action scenes is that "game logic" that keeps cropping up. Peng fully immerses it's characters in a videogame world complete with menus. Lewis is using visual shortcuts that are not all that dissimilar from such familiar comic concepts as thought balloons or captions ... he's just borrowing them from another medium. For someone steeped in the visual language of videogames from sports gaming to Final Fantasy, a simple menu conveys both information and the passage of time. In the reader's head, they can instantly interpret the series of actions the character is taking, a process that might have taken multiple panels using traditional sequential art. It's a shorthand that communicates story by relying on the fact that many readers will be familiar with the concepts.
I'm really glad I got a chance to see Lewis' work in a bigger format, as I don't know if I would have had the same reaction to Peng in a tankobon . It's like a rich chocolate torte, that doesn't need to be made any more dense. Peng is a joy, and a completely different take on a new visual language for comics that starts to shatter the ol' Understanding Comics paradigm by using some fantastic new storytelling techniques.
And it has talking puke. And Advanced Kickball. And Canada jokes. And a special appearance by another Oni superstar.
I did mention the talking puke, right?
Victory Puke, indeed.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Centuries from now, when scholars and scribes begin to decipher my critical oeuvre, one of the hot topics will be shojo manga. While I've tried different genres of manga, I keep gravitating towards books like Fruits Basket and Yotsuba. Dissertations will be written and careers made by plotting the exact cartography of my shojo leanings, and where the outer borders lie. Academics of the future, I speak to you now: you can plot the border right around the outside edge of Steady Beat. Any farther than that, the map becomes fuzzy with warnings that "there be monsters".
I vacillated for some time in Borders this weekend over Steady Beat. The story of a high school girl that discovers her too-perfect sister is receiving love letters from someone named "Jessica" while simultaneously dealing with her own love life ... well, I didn't quite know if I could go there. "There be monsters", after all. I would take a lot of art and craft (as in Me and Edith Head) to get me involved in what promised to be a Very Special Episode of some WB Teen Drama. Steady Beat creator Rivkah's made some waves in the comics community for daring to talk about things like "Passion" and "Art" and "Dedication"... but this is where the rubber would meet the proverbial road. I've enjoyed her take on the industry, and it was for the sake of Rivkah, for the sake of supporting a new voice, and for the sake of seeing if her money and mouth were co-located that I picked up Steady Beat.
I'm very glad I did. Very. Not because it's an unqualified success. In fact, I would hesitate to call it a qualified success. The main plot is set up nicely in the first few pages, but doesn't then progress past that initial setup. By the end of 160 pages, I had expected we'd have gotten somewhere, but we're stuck firmly in neutral. The same notes of teenage indecision and angst-y-ness get played again and again in all the plotlines, and the introduction of the love interest is so odd and extreme that it doesn't really hit true emotional notes. The characters all have the same general wispy-manga bodytypes, and it's often difficult to keep track of all the similar-looking people. In many ways, it's the eminently dismissable teen drama it appears to be on the surface.
But then there's the "Special Rivkah Factor", and it makes all the difference. The "Passion" that got her in trouble with seasoned comics pros is on full display, and it's wonderful. In discussing Fruits Basket, I talked about finally feeling in manga the real presence of the creator ... and Rivkah delivers that in spades. From silly IM conversations between her and the characters to the text boxes that read like Pop-Up Video to the wildly expressionistic art, Steady Beat reeks of "Passion" and "Art" and "Love". Rivkah's not just talking a big game, she's bringing it. This is like that first disc from a band you'll grow to love ... full of energy and promise, but not necessarily polish. Her art shines as characters and situations constantly distort to give you a view inside their emotional lives, ranging from standard manga deformations to surreal quirks like exquisitely rendered elephants as a symbol for the huge issues being left undiscussed. It's a very personal view of the world that's certainly influenced by manga, but not a slavish imitation of it. Rivkah's clearly her own person with her own artistic agenda, regardless of any OEL label.
It doesn't all quite work. Not yet. The jumps in style are abrupt and staccato, and you never have the feeling that this undercurrent of passion is there at all times. It leaps out irregularly, and often seems more like a set piece than a natural extension of the story. But a career is a work in progress, and I'm confident Rivkah's no one-hit wonder. She's immensely talented and has a unique artistic vision - now it'll be a question of harnessing that and marrying it with craft. I'll be following her through the continuation of Steady Beat, and on into future projects ... even if "there be monsters", because a vision like this is worth it.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Between my real job, the fall sports game release season (my NHL 06 review just posted, and NBA 2K6 is in progress), an increasing World of Warcraft addiction, and various home redecorating projects ... I've been derelict in my comics blogging. I was hoping to have some actual content today, but that's just not going to happen. I have posts on Steady Beat and Peng in the works, though, and hope to have them up in the next day or two.
Last week was a cornucopia of riches, this week ... not so much a cornucopia, no. There's still some stuff I'm looking forward to on tomorrow's trip to 2005 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award Winning Night Flight Comics, though.
My most anticipated book this week is definitely the Elk's Run collection, as I've hears so much good buzz about the series without being able to get my hands on a copy. A new Fell is a good thing, as the last issue was a real gem, and seeing the series take shape in this format should be fascinating. Big In Japan is just gorgeous. The new Supergirl printing has me very interested, but I don't usually do the alternate cover thing, and the series itself leaves me somewhat cold. Rann Thanagar War is a real disaster, but simple inertia will get me to buy the last issue. While I won't be buying it this week, the release of the Watchmen: Absolute Edition certainly deserves mention. It's one of my most anticipated releases, but I don't see how I can swing the purchase anytime soon.
- Gotham Central #36
- JSA #78
- Outsiders #29
- Rann Thanagar War #6
- Supergirl #1 3rd Ptg
- Superman Shazam First Thunder #2
- Wonder Woman #221
- Fell #2
- Fantastic Four Iron Man Big In Japan #1
- Marvel Monsters Devil Dinosaur
- Elks Run Collected Edition