Friday, April 28, 2006

In Which The Author Opines

In case you've been wondering why the content was scanty these past few days, the short answer is that I've been on vacation. You may be wondering why I actually get less blogging done when I'm off work than when I'm at work, and the answer to this question is really long and complicated, and involves strange elder snake deities and robot pirates from Earth's far future. Leave it be said that everyone ends up sitting on my couch for extended periods of time, punctuated by trips to the bar on the corner and occasionally going to the supermarket at three in the morning to bug the check-out girl. And interplanetary space war, too.

The amount of interest I actually have in the James Bond franchise is probably so small as to defy measurement by any method of rational deduction. And yet, reading all the crap in recent months about the status of the Bond franchise (triggered by the hiring of a new actor to play the character) put an idea in my head that I might as well inflict upon you.

Keep in mind, when it comes to Bond, I was raised in a strict Orthodox household. That is, James Bond was Sean Connery, and maybe David Niven. Everyone else was a mere pretender. Which is why, to this day, I have not seen a non-Connery (or non Casino Royale) Bond film all the way through. The most I've ever seen of another Bond was maybe twenty minutes of a Timothy Dalton film I saw on TNT one day. That's it. I think my parents and I rented one of the Pierce Brosnan movies on one of my visits home a few years back, but were unable to finish it for the sheer stupidity...

In any event, there seems to be some degree of ennui on the part of the filmgoing public as to the franchise, as well as a notable fatigue on the part of the filmmakers themselves. They like to tout all the numbers about it being the most enduring franchise in film history or whatever, but it's hard to hide the fact that the whole endeavor has rather gone downhill in the view of everyone but the twenty-something males who are the target audience. Which is fine, I suppose, but man, do you really have to aim so low?

The people in charge of Bond have a unique window of opportunity right now during which they could, if they chose, reinvigorate the franchise in a distinctly novel fashion. That is, they should take a page from the Doctor Who playbook.

Remember The Five Doctors? It's been years since I've seen any Doctor Who and yet I still have fond memories of that particular movie. It may not have been the best episode ever shot (just looking around on the internet, the fan consensus seems to be that it was a loose excuse of a plot draped around the sheer fun of seeing all the different Doctors interact), but everyone remembers it because it was fun and pretty much gave the audience exactly what they wanted . . . which is not always a good idea, but can definitely work when executed correctly.

Well, anyway, every actor who has ever plyed Bond (except for David Niven, but for these purposes he doesn't count) is currently still alive. Connery and Roger Moore may be getting up there in age, but both are still fairly active. Everyone knows that different actors have portrayed Bond -- why not use it to the filmmakers' advantage? Say what everyone else has already assumed for years: 007 is an office that is periodically refilled. Once a Bond decides to retire, his death is faked and he's farmed out to some exotic paradise to live the rest of his days in peace and quiet, on Her Majesty's tab.

The movie writes itself: some nefarious villain or organization, say, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., finds the Top Secret files of the 007 project and sets out to kill all Bonds, past and present. Every Bond gets an action setpiece of some sort (best to do it quick before Connery has to do his with a walker and an oxygen tank), every Bond partisan gets a few minutes of "their" Bond in action. They all get together to foil the villainous plot, and the newest Bond gets to play the key role in taking out whatever doomsday weapon is on the boards, cementing him in the public's mind as the current dude. Maybe have Connery die a fittingly heroic death that won't leave a dry eye in the house (you know, just like they didn't do for Captain Kirk). If you want to be really clever you can have George Lazenby play the villain. Cut, print, it's a wrap. You could write it in your sleep and still have a monster hit.

Seriously, why they haven't done this is beyond me. If they did it with a modicum of style it'd be one of those rare "event" movies that actually succeeded in getting people excited.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


It brings joy to my cold, black heart to hear that Pogs are making a comeback. There is a powerful symmetry to this.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Menace II Society

If you're like me you've probably noticed, in the past six months or so, a sharp increase in the surplus giraffe population. Whereas before, due to selective hunting permits and vigorous animal control measures, the giraffes were mainly restricted from encroaching on urban areas; as the giraffe population has exploded, so too have the giraffes become emboldened.

Used to be you could set a few traps for the season and not have to worry any further about the problem. But now it's growing worse. It's especially bad for folks such a myself who use the humane traps. Trapping a giraffe and releasing them in the woods is next to useless -- with those long legs of theirs they can be back in the city -- and knocking over my trash cans -- by suppertime. Just the other week a friend of mine at work totalled their car after swerving to avoid a giraffe running across the road.

This is an unusual problem that calls for unusual solutions. I can't help but thinking that whomever finally manages to concoct a solution to our giraffe problem is going to make a great deal of money.

And once they deal with the giraffes, it'll be time to move on to Public Enemy #2:

Be afraid, America -- be very afraid.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Holy Crap

Hey, I just noticed something.

I know the new Mr. Terrific has been around for a while. I haven't read too many stories with him in it, but he seems to be that rarest of rare specimens, an ethnic character in comics who isn't defined by amorphous connections to drugs or gangs or a poverty-stricken inner city youth (I mean, for all I know he could be, but those cliché don't seem to define him the way they do Luke Cage, the Falcon, Black Lightning, Storm [thief in Cairo, remember?], et al). (I admit that I read JSA for a couple years because it was, in the beginning, partially hyped as a Starman spinoff [does anyone else remember that?], and I loved Starman enough to give the book a try. Fairly standard superheroics but it kept my attention until I basically decided I could live the rest of my life just fine without ever buying another issue.)

But Jesus H. Christ on a pogostick, looking at that Perez cover for the final issue of JSA which I posted the other day, it suddenly hit me that MR. TERRIFIC IS WEARING BLACKFACE. Has no one ever seen that before? I mean, seriously, I guess you could just naturally overlook it if you weren't specifically looking for it, but when I saw it it really struck me. I can't look at the character any other way now, it seems obvious.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt in saying that I seriously doubt they intended to make a blackface character. But dammit, they most certainly did!

EDIT: Check the comments - I was apparently very wrong about the modern Mr. Terrific's origins. I guess it's to DC's credit that they were able to -- >ahem< -- whitewash the character's origins so thoroughly. I didn't even remember that he had first appeared in the Spectre, I recall encountering him in JSA and thinking it must have been his first appearance. Which I guess it was, for all intents and purposes . . .

Anyone who doesn't already pick up the magazine is strongly encouraged to purchase this month's issue of The Atlantic, featuring a cover story on the Desert One debacle (available here, I believe -- you might need to be a subscriber to read it but I can't tell for sure).

For those who came in late, the Desert One mission was the Delta Force's ill-fated attempt in April of 1980 to rescue the 53 hostages taken by Iran during the very early days of the Islamic Republic. I had known, obviously that the mission had been a colossal failure but not until I read the article did I realize just how bad of a clusterfuck it was. The article is presented as an excerpt of a forthcoming book on the subject by Black Hawk Down author Mark Bowden. That book became something of a phenomenon, attracting a large audience outside the usual military history geeks, and even inspiring a movie of the same name.

It will be interesting to see if a book on the hostage crisis has the same resonance. The story behind Black Hawk Down was also a major debacle on the part of the US military, but the crucial difference is that while the Battle of Mogadishu was a tactical and strategic disaster at least partially exonerated by the heroism displayed by the troops on the ground, the Desert One operation was only an absolute failure, and the Marines who lost their lives in the Iranian desert did so because of gross stupidity and sheer chance, surely among the most banal and pointless deaths in military history. Watching people burn to death in a DC-13 because a sand-clogged helicopter accidentally brushed its rotor against the fuselage -- that is not the stuff of stirring Hollywood blockbusters.

But I think it makes perfect sense that the Iranian hostage crisis is being brought to public attention again. Obviously, as current events continue to unfold the region remains the focal point of a great deal of anxiety. But perhaps more importantly, the Iranian revolution and subsequent hostage crisis represents a crucial turning point in the history of the last fifty years. It's debatable whether or not Jimmy Carter would have been able to defeat Ronald Reagan under the best of circumstances, but the unmitigated failure of Desert One was an extremely public humiliation for Carter that probably did as much as anything to sink his reputation in the run-up to the election. What would have become of Reagan's subsequent "Conservative revolution" if Carter has won another term? And whereas the American media had spent the last decade focused on the turmoil in Southeast Asia, the Iranian crisis would prove, in hindsight, to be a bellweather for the shift in American foreign policy that followed the end of the cold war -- with a focus on the regrettable aftereffects of colonialism (Iraq, sub-saharan Africa, Israel and Palestine) and the collapse (or instability) of Cold War client states (Iran, Yugoslavia, North Korea, Central and South America) which had previously been held intact or in check by their patrons' detente, if not ignored entirely. So yeah, it makes perfect sense that Iran would want to continue to stick it to us in whatever way possible -- they've all got long memories over there, much longer than most Americans, who find it hard to remember further back than the last election cycle. So I sincerely hope, if Bowden's book is as well-written as The Atlantic's excerpt, that it gains a wide audience, if for no other reason than that the idea of people actually thinking about the root causes and distant origins of our myriad Middle Eastern dilemmas -- instead of merely wringing their hands in bewildered, uninformed frustration -- is a good one.

While we're on the topic of politics I should point out that, despite my best intentions, I am consistently impressed by the level of commentary over at Unqualified Offerings. This is not to say that I agree with all of Jim Henley's take on the world -- oftentimes, left-libertarian / anarchist ideas just seem painfully naive, but I realize that's my realpolitik bias. (To wit: I wish I had the luxury of believing in anarchism as anything more than a fairy-tale; even under the best prognosis we're hundreds of years away from being able to feasibly construct a utopia along either anarchist or communist lines, with lots and lots of capitalist stupidity in the intervening years.) But when it comes to foreign policy he makes more sense more often than almost any commentator I regularly read this side of Seymour Hersh. I honestly can't imagine where he finds the time to amass all the evidence he does -- I barely have time to keep up with all the current affairs publications to which I subscribe (at least four by last count), let alone scour the internet for the requisite alternative viewpoints.

In any event, his posts on the administration's current Iran war drum-beating (including this most recent post) are simply wonderful in their concise encapsulation of what appears to be the most sensible reaction to the current Iranian proto-boondoggle: sheer, unadulterated panic tempered by cynical detachment. I've talked to a few smart people lately who believe there is no way the administration could possibly get away with military action against Iran. Which, honestly, seems little more than specious wistful thinking, considering that off the top of my head I can easily list a few dozen things that I and most sensible people believed the President couldn't possibly get away with but which he very easily did. If they want to go to war with Iran they will do so regardless of the fact that most sane people would long ago have folded; as Henley so eloquently puts it: "George W. Bush . . . [responds] to bad bets by doubling down". He's never met a problem that couldn't be solved by more of the same; whatever didn't work in the past (which only didn't work on account of his critics' lack of faith) will succeed in the future if only it is done with more vigor and energy. If I can't push a square peg into a round hole by pushing hard, maybe this jackhammer will do the trick . . .

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Because YOU Demanded It!

Because you've all been so good, I give you, courtesy of Corporal Plocostimus, the greatest music video in the history of the world. Look upon these works, ye mighty, and despair.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Son 'O' Thots

I think someone should hire me to be a network television executive. I've got a great idea for a television program called "The Hunter".

"The Hunter" would be a weekly show slightly in the vein of the The Fugitive or The Hulk, or perhaps The Pretender (if anyone remembers that), but without any overarching story elements. Basically, we follow our lead character, the titular, unnamed "Hunter" as he travels all across America, coming to a different town and meeting a whole new cast of characters every episode. And killing someone.

Who's it going to be this week? The story possibilities are nearly endless. One week it'll be the kindly old widower who helps the neighborhood children make box kites. The next week, it'll be a lonely, slightly neurotic schoolteacher who lives by herself. The next, a happy-go-lucky mentally challenged man who gofers down at the local garage. Ever week, The Hunter comes to town, insinuates himself into the lives of his prey, and then hatches intricate, infinitely cruel plots to kill them.

I'm envisioning this as a great spotlight for modern day character actors. Every week you need a new victim, so you could conceivably snag some of the best actors in show business to do episodes. The concept is such that, if it was a success, it could last for years and years. And if the actor playing the Hunter ever got tired, well, then they could do a "Very Special Episode" where the Hunter becomes the Hunted, and the mantle is passed to a new actor, sort of like how they get a new Doctor Who every few years.

I think it'd be brilliant.

Why are they cancelling Justice League Unlimited? Is it just because I like it? I suspect so.

Look, people, it's pretty simple: I haven't bought a Justice League comic in years and years, but I never miss the Justice League on TV. They do the superhero action better than most of the people who do the characters for the actual comics. The show has never been less than thoroughly enjoyable. It's almost tempting to say that these are quite possibly the best Justice League stories that have ever been told. They've made the Shining freakin' Knight cool again -- which is something even Grant Morrison was unable to accomplish.

I don't understand the economics of childrens' programming. In normal network television, if a show is popular, it continues to be produced for as long as it continues to be profitable. While sitcoms and actor-specific series are retired when the actors get tired or grow old, ensemble shows can continue for decades with a shifting cast. Last I checked ER was still on the air, and that's been on for, what, ten years? Fifteen? Something like that. I'm assuming people still watch it because they still make it.

So why don't they treat cartoons the same way? They don't even have to worry about actors getting older or getting tired. They can replace writers and artists at will to keep the show fresh (ideally, that is). So why do most childrens' shows, even the popular ones, have finite lives? Now it's true that some evergreen properties, like Scooby Doo and the Transformers, have been around in one form or another for decades, but it's not quite the same thing. Why do they have to mess with success?

Is it just because they're pushing that new Batman cartoon on saturday mornings? I don't know how Warner Brothers makes their decisions, but if they paid any attention to how Marvel does things, they would see that having multiple iterations of Spider-Man and Wolverine in the public eye hardly damages those characters' appeal. All I know is that the show used to be a mainstay of the Cartoon Network's schedule and now it keeps getting shifted around and pre-empted for specialty programs, pretty much the classic network code for trying to get rid of something. Do the toys not sell? Are the ratings tanking (which might just be happening with the shifting schedule)? I'm honestly curious, because as rare as it is that I really, really like a show like Justice League, it's a shame to see it go the way of the dodo. It's a much better superhero vehicle than 99% of the books on the shelves today. With the right approach, it could conceivably run for many years to come, focusing on all the different characters introduced over the last couple seasons.

Ah well. Such is life. I'll get over it, I'm sure.

For a long time now, man has debated the existence of the theoretical Most Nerdy Object Ever. Mike has long championed the scale-model Han Solo in Carbonite, which is a hard choice with which to disagree. Despite the fact that I have received independent corroboration that someone I actually know (most certainly not a pimple-faced virgin, either) possesses one of these monstrosities (no, 'tis not my secret to tell), I still must concur that this is a hard candidate to beat.

My own personal nominee was the Composite Superman action figure -- a choice I still think holds considerable merit. True, it's nowhere near as expensive as the Han Solo, but the relative cheapness of a small piece of plastic compared to a giant movie prop is part of the charm. I mean, let's be honest, Han Solo costs, what, four or five thousand dollars? You're not going to be able to drop that kind of money on a movie prop unless you've found some modicum of success in life, or are perhaps independently wealthy. Having that kind of money lying around mitigates the sting of extreme nerdishness a wee bit. I mean, sure, Bill Gates is so painfully nerdy he probably designs Venn Diagrams with which to categorize Neil Peart's live drum drum solos since 1978, but last I checked he was the richest man on earth and also married to a fairly hot chick. There's a definite argument to be made that success mitigates nerdishness, at least in part.

But the Composite Superman? Less than twenty dollars. You can have one of those easily. Anyone living in their dank, dreary, Cheetos-stained, grape soda-stinking basement apartment with soiled Jeri Ryan as "Seven of Nine" posters covering every available wall surface can look to the Composite Superman figure as the ultimate apotheosis of their feeble existence, and gain some sort of spiritual succor from this totem as they wake in the morning to begin another day of pulling double shifts as assistant manager down at the local Kinko's. That, to me, is sadder still than the Han Solo, because you know that anyone dropping five grand on a movie prop might conceivably at some point in time have slept with an actual lady, even if they had to pay for it.

Anyway, all this is simply means of introducing a new challenger to the title. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Weaponeer of Quard.

If you doubt the nerd provenance of this humble figure, I ask you to simply imagine explaining the Weaponeer of Quard's basic premise to an interested bystander and not sounding like a raving psychotic. There's an even chance that even a disinterested normal person might recognize the Han Solo in Carbonite, but the Weaponeer, in addition to being rather freaky to look at, is almost comically obscure. All of which only adds to the tragedy.

Incidentally, just so no one thinks I'm trying to peremptorily elevate myself from the nerdy masses, let me just point out for the record that I had to go through the preceding passage to ensure that I had spelled carbonite correctly, instead of accidentally typing carbomite, which would have been a rather unusual crossover.

Also, did anyone catch this last weekend's Robot Chicken? During a rather unfunny skit that featured Goku (from DragonBall Z) fighting an Akira-fied Phyllis Diller, there was a brief appearance by a character called the "Composite Santa Claus" -- half-Santa, half Frosty the Snowman, split right down the middle. Is there a more obscure nerd reference possible for a television program seen by millions of people across the planet to make? I seriously, seriously doubt it.

Why does everyone discussing the Pixies' Doolittle feel obliged to point out that they hate "Silver"? I swear, I've run across that idea in every article or blogpost I've seen about the album in months. Am I the only one who not only likes "Silver" but thinks it one of the album's highlights? Hello? Anyone? Is this thing on?

Scanning over July's DC covers, it occurs to me that Dorian must be overjoyed to see Wildcat appearing prominently in so many places. It's like he's the new Wolverine, only slightly less homoerotic.

Anyway, I was happy to see this cover, as it features yet another homage to my favorite weird Golden Age cover -- All-Star #3, AKA the Everyone Is Jerking Off Under the Table Except for Hawkman, Because He Likes to Watch cover. They just keep using it, and I laugh every single time.

Gotta give Perez the credit though, he can actually draw characters who look younger or older, depending on their actual age, instead of just slapping a few wrinkles on a stock facial expression. Not that I think the presence of Real Live Old People is probably much in the way of a commercial draw for the prospective buyer, but hey. Who would have thought that a bunch of superheroes pleasuring themselves under the table would prove such an enduring motif?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Lots 'O' Thots

I have never warmed to Paul Pope's art. Whereas almost everyone else seems to think he's the bee's knees, I actively dislike everything of his that I've seen. I couldn't tell you why, it's not like this is a fully formed opinion or anything -- there's just something about his linework that puts me off. Looking at a page of his, for some reason my eyes are drawn away from the art, off the page, anywhere else but actually on the art itself. Without fail. His compositions seem forced and his people always look like big mouth bass. And his linework -- gah! -- how twee. If Belle & Sebastian ever decided to draw a comic book (and not just license their lyrics for an Image anthology), I imagine it would look like a Paul Pope comic book, all fey and curvilinear.

I found myself laughing way more than I probably should have at this week's Twenty Questions over at The Great Curve. The revolving door of death in superhero comics long ago ceased to be in any way effective or convincing, and really, it's not even funny anymore. Now whenever someone dies, I don't think there's a single reader who can possibly react with anything other than a cynical chuckle: no character, regardless of how well-written or convincing their death may be, will ever stay dead. If they brought back God-damned Bucky, they certainly won't hesitate to bring back Superboy or whomever. Hell, they brought back The Ringer. (So why no Justice League of Detroit? I'm not the only one who likes Vibe, so why the fuck not?)

But anyway, I had another passing thought on the subject that might be of interest to those who care about such things. If you're going to bring a character back from the dead -- and I guess this goes for any kind of serialized fiction, not just superhero books -- the operative phrase is Keep It Simple, Stupid. However a given character died, find the single easiest way to bring him or her back. Attempting any number of elaborate storytelling contortions just threatens to undermine the whole thing by pointing out how silly the process actually is.

For instance -- the way they brought back Nick Fury was perfect. (As an aside, I remember him getting killed by the Punisher -- I enjoyed buying the $5 chromium covered abomination where he buys the farm straight out of the quarter box -- but I don't recall when he got resurrected. He just showed up again.) Apparently the Punisher just killed a really special LMD that provided a convincing corpse. Sure, it may seem like a cop-out to some, but essentially all resurrections are cop-outs. At least the "special LMD" idea wouldn't take more than, say, two or three panels to properly explain. Best just to get it over with and not dwell on the circumstances.

However, some characters call for more complex resurrections than others simply by nature of their deaths. Doctor Octopus doesn't have a history or using robot doubles, and if I recall the issue where Kaine (>shudder<) killed him, it was pretty explicit in establishing that Doc Ock was very, very dead. So, based on that and the fact that he never had any kind of healing factor or magical associations that could explain a comeback, having the Hand resurrect him made as much sense as anything. We know that the Hand does that, we've seen it before, so seeing it again doesn't strain credulity.

It's a variation on Occam's Razor for superhero stories: the least complex explanation possible is the one that works best. As much as we mocked the whole Hal Jordan resurrection business, putting out a huge story where every single element of Hal Jordan's long and chaotic death and afterlife was brought up, explained away and dismissed was probably necessary if they wanted to restore the character to the previous status quo. They had simply been too thorough, not only showing him going insane, but showing him turn into a mass-murdering cosmic super-villain, killing him and then bringing him back as the Spectre, which is as close to a conclusive death as you can possibly get in comics. So they had their work cut out for them, and I guess it's to their credit that it worked out as well as it apparently did.

But then something like Kevin Smith's resurrection of Green Arrow is just galling. I remember reading the issues where Oliver Queen died -- they had some of Jim Aparo's best late-career work, even if the stories were just so-so. In any event, the mechanism for his resurrection was pretty well sketched out: there was a plane crash. Green Arrow was trapped in the plane. Superman tried to save him but had to abandon the plane for some reason or another before the crash. They never found the body. The simple way to do it would just have Green Arrow showing up alive again, with the explanation that Hal Jordan, then Parralex, saved him in the split second before the plane crash. Instant resurrection, no muss, no fuss. Chuck Dixon, who wrote the issues in question, obviously had little doubt that the character would eventually be brought back, and provided whomever was going to end up doing it with a simple, quick and effective way of doing it. They went to great trouble to ensure that Hal Jordan wouldn't be coming back (which ultimately just made more work for the people who brought him back), but there was little doubt that Oliver Queen was going to return someday.

But then Smith came in and wrote an incredibly convoluted story wherein the scab of the rotating comic book death thing gets picked until it bleeds. Not only does he spend a lot of time needlessly reiterating the problem, but he even sends the heroes of the story to Heaven -- not a metaphorical substitute, but real, honest-to-God Heaven. Which is just stupid. He spent the first ten issues of his fifteen issue run constructing the comic book plot equivalent of a Rube Goldberg machine that had the implicit purpose of calling attention to how stupid comic book resurrections are in the first place, when it could have easily been explained away in five pages. Then they could have moved on to telling a story that wasn't just a conscious rebuttal to a previous story, which is about as nerdy and superfluous as comics get.

Speaking of which, I know this has been mentioned before, but damn, how stupid is it that they established a Judeo-Christian afterlife in the DC Universe? It's OK if they have it in Sandman or Swamp Thing -- even if the characters interact with the regular DCU, it's only intermittent and easily overlooked -- but when you've got Batman going to Heaven and getting proof positive that his parents are relaxing behind the pearly gates, well, you've essentially annihilated your most popular character's raison d'etre in one fell swoop.

I mean, honestly, if Batman knew that Thomas and Martha Wayne had gone to Heaven and were chilling with Jesus, why would he continue to dress like a bat and beat the snot out of criminals? Wouldn't it make more sense for him to hang up his cape and devote the Wayne fortune to evangelizing?

Unless... there is the chance that Batman's paranoia is more deep-seated than anyone has ever suspected. It's an established fact that Batman once concocted contingency plans to help him defeat his fellow Justice Leaguers -- what if Batman actually has a contingency plan to defeat God, should God get out of hand? I imagine if Batman knew God existed, he'd probably be skeptical that God would stay on the side of righteousness forever. He'd probably have a plan, at least if Grant Morrison were writing him. Even if it meant demolishing the entire universe just to get at God, Batman would win, because comic book logic dictates that Batman > God.

Going back a few more years to the Marvel vs. DC thing, it never made sense to me that they didn't have Batman fight Wolverine in their fan-polled bout. In hindsight, all the battles were fairly predictable, and that's probably exactly how the companies wanted it (I remember being mildly surprised that Storm beat Wonder Woman, but that was the only surprise to be had). But still, Wolverine vs. Batman in a straight vote across the fanboy community -- it would have been interesting, had the internet existed then as it does now, to see the fanboys tie themselves into knots trying to figure that one out. Seeing who would win in a straight popularity contest would also have been revealing, even if it would have been a source of apoplexy for the companies involved . . .

Since we're on the subject of Iron Man covers, here's a couple fun ones no one else has highlighted yet:

Shell-Head fights Santa Claus. Of course, that's not exactly what happens in the story, but still, we can dream, right?

Despite the fact that the second Armor Wars was one of the single most depressing stories I've ever read in a comic -- I remember actually quitting the story mid-stream because it was just unrelentingly unpleasant -- it had some great JR Jr art, of which this cover is a great example. There's a reason he gets paid the proverbial big bucks -- don't you just want to open up the book and see why the hell iron Man is carrying another Iron Man in his arms? That's what a good cover should do.

Paul Ryan may be one of the least flashy artists in comic book history, but he's also one of the most unsung craftsmen in recent years. Especially when everyone and their brother was trying to ape the Image guys (with horrible results), his work stood out for its unfailing commitment to the basics of craft and storytelling. Nothing flashy or visionary, but compared to most of the crap that was on the stands at the time, pretty damn good. He also knew how to craft a pretty striking cover. I still can't figure out if Fin Fang Foom's alien origin was good or bad, but having Iron Man fight a giant green dragon is pretty much a recipe for fun regardless of the circumstances.

Iron Man is the only superhero besides the Wasp who has an actual good reason to be changing his costume all the time. Although he kept his initial red and gold armor for many years, it's always been fun to see him change it periodically, especially back when the writers used to, you know, put some effort into thinking up good reasons why he needed a new set of duds. If I recall correctly (the stories weren't particularly memorable in and of themselves) he had a similarly good reason for building the extremely imposing War Machine armor. The armor itself is striking, with its black and silver color scheme, and even if the story inside wasn't that good (which it wasn't) the cover itself would stick in your memory.

And no look at Iron Man would be complete without a representative cover from the most popular, most well-received, best written and brilliantly conceived Iron Man story of the last twenty years -- Teen Tony. The story so popular that it only took seven issues before it was written out of continuity forever. Here's a great example of my previous thoughts on character resurrection: when they decided they had to bring back the regular Tony Stark, they didn't write some complex tale about his return. They basically just did it, sneaking the character back in during the whole "Heroes Reborn / Return" nonsense and letting it go at that. Like, whoops, he's alive again, let's just get on with the show, shall we? If they had still had No Prizes at the time, Classic Tony's resurrection would have been a great opportunity for them to elicit a fan-made solution. I seem to recall Busiek ended up concocting some jury-rigged retroactive solution in an Annual back-up or something like that, but essentially the how was unimportant. All that mattered was that the character was back, and once he was back they could move on to telling the real stories that people wanted to see without spending all their time poking the wound and calling attention to the original mistake.

Anyway, I'm sure whoever painted this cover (there's no credit on the GCD listing) is a wonderful person, but the last thing the world needed was an over-rendered neo-Impressionist portrait of Teen Tony. Talk about bringing a gun to a knife fight . . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Because I'm Bored

And can't think of anything better to post. And there's at least three people who might be intersted.

Random Shuffle Playlist for 04-13-06
(Driving to work and around Worcester)

1. Wilco - How To Fight Loneliness
2. Interpol - Public Pervert (Carlos D Remix)
3. Duran Duran - The Reflex (7" Version)
4. The Doves - Ambition
5. David Bowie - Future Legends
6. Orbital - Old Style
7. A Guy Called Gerald - Final Call
8. Sleater-Kinney - Buy Her Candy
9. Pavement - Two States
10. Sleater-Kinney - The Fox
11. The Chemical Brothers - If You Kling To Me, I'll Klong To You
12. Pulp - Bar Italia
13. Speedy J - Pure Energy (Remix)
14. CAN - Soul Desert
15. Spiritualized - Cop Shoot Cop
16. Ladytron - The Reason Why
17. The Replacement - I Will Dare
18. Gorillaz - O Green World
19. R.E.M. - Wendell Gee
20. Sons & Daughters - La Lune
21. Pavement - Summer Babe (7"Version)
22. Annie - Always Too Late
23. Daft Punk - High Fidelity
24. Meat Puppets - Walking Boss
25. David Bowie - Moonage Daydream (Live fromDavid Live)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Things I Wonder

What the hell was up with the Ghostbusters cartoon from the 80s? Not the Real Ghostbusters, the one that came out first and made the other one have to be the "Real" deal. It was, like, Abbot & Costello and a monkey, and they had a car that travelled through time. Or something like that, I'm not really sure exactly how it went.

Why is Wolverine so popular? I mean, he's got the ugliest costume in comics history. At least when John Romita Sr. sketched it out originally, all the markings had sort of a basis in design: the black streaks were clawmarks, his ear-thingies sort of looked like ear thingies a real wolverine might have. But through the years it's just become this abstract thing with black shapes on a yellow field. And the weirdo buccaneer boots and the Batman ears - it's all just so weird and stylized, like a Mexican wrestler uniform crossed with a hyper-defined Kabuki costume. If someone wore it in the real world, they would look unmistakably ... fey, I guess. But in comics bright blue buccaneer boots and skintight leotards are the absolute epitome of masculinity. I'd pop some old chestnut about nerds being at the vanguard of sexual virility, but really, I think we all know that old song and dance by now...

Wolvie sad. Wolvie also looks like a Tom of Finland drawing.

Speaking of which, that reminds me of a rather amusing story.

Back when I was still married, I remember I was looking at something -- probably a web page or maybe a book -- that had a picture of the old-school Mr. Terrific in it. Well, of course my wife zeroed in on that pic while looking over my shoulder, and immediately quipped: "He's gay." Which she didn't mean at all in the pejorative, merely that, anyone who would wear that costume must, by definition, be gay. She's hung out around gay people a lot, I guess you get a feel for these things.

But really, is it true? I mean, outside of the Pride Parades most gay people dress, well, maybe a little bit more natty than us hetero schlubs, but not like Broadway performers at any rate. In this day and age, I think you can safely say that wearing a costume like Mister Terrific doesn't make you gay, it merely makes you a moron.

Once Upon A Time In The West : Westerns ::
2001: A Space Odyssey : Science-fiction


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I begin to think that perhaps I've oversold the Byrne era in the Superman books. Or perhaps that isn't the right phrase -- I still get a kick out of them myself. But as Superman stories, I fear, they make good Byrne stories; that is to say, Byrne is as much a presence in the stories as Superman himself.

It's fashionable to slag Byrne these days for any number of reasons. Certainly, a great deal of the flack is deserved. The catty attitude towards fellow creators, the lackluster runs on forgotten books, the many downright bizarre proclamations -- well, it's become about as popular to mock Byrne now as it used to be to idolize him. And I'm not going to try to defend any of that. But the fact remains that for a long time he was about as popular in the industry as is possible to be, and furthermore, he created some good comics through the years. Most everyone reading comics today who's older than, say, twenty probably read a lot of Byrne when they were growing up or getting old. He was popular enough to influence the house style for both Marvel and DC at a time when both companies were shaking off the influences of the 50s and 60s and casting about for new forms (or rather, new stylistic permutations of the old forms), those same new forms that would eventually culminate in the 90s Image era. There's no love lost between Byrne and the Image crew, but anyone with two brain cells can see that every one of the first-wave of Image artists, without exception, owed an enormous debt to Byrne. To this day Erik Larsen (the only one who stills produces work on a semi-regular basis) still carries a few sublimated Byrne-isms in his work.

So, really, my fondness for the Byrne-era Superman says as much about me as about the comics themselves. I can look back now and see that the majority of the books were very much of their time, but I still have a fondness for them. Not quite as interesting as, say, the first year of Byrne's Namor (which, I think, holds up as an interesting, distinctively moody book) or the best of his Fantastic Four, but they hold my interest. In my post last week when I discussed the odd atmosphere of certain 80s DC books, I have to say that the post-Crisis Superman was also at the forefront of my thoughts. Not necessarily because Supes dealt with a lot of "ripped from the headlines" junk, but because the revamped Superman books, as the flagship franchise for the entire line, set a great deal of the company's tone.

Perhaps some of the books' momentum was flagged due to the exertion of setting the tone -- too much expository detail, not enough actual slam-bang action? But I still maintain that this atmosphere, notwithstanding the regrettable attempts at 80s relevancy, was pretty interesting. They were at least trying something moderately different -- setting different rules, trying to give the line-up of super-characters more of a grounding in a rational universe more closely resembling our own. Of course, as it turned out, this was a futile gesture, and within a few years the planet-hopping, high-stakes cosmic shenanigans would resume in full. But hey, let's at least give them credit for trying, eh?

Which brings me to the ostensible subject of today's rant, Superman #2. This is a Luthor-centric issue, and much like similar issues dedicated to Galactus and Dr. Doom in Byrne's Fantastic Four run, it plays to Byrne's own strengths -- that is, a great deal of mustache-twirling and scenery-chewing on the part of the villain. This issue is as great a summation of the post-Crisis Lex as anything else, but it also showcases one of the weaknesses of character revamps in general. Whereas most characters that have survived any length of time were created over the course of decades by many different creators each contributing to different aspects of the mythos, a revamp is usually just one creative team trying to redo the work of the ages. We don't get to pick, a la carte, what we would like to see, so we have to take the bad with the good -- the emaciated-seeming, constantly depressed and nigh-useless Lana Lang with the plutocratic evil Lex Luthor. Basically, Lana Lang only exists in the post-Crisis universe to give Superman someone to worry about, because otherwise Lana has done nothing but get beat on, figuratively and literally, since 1986.

This issue in particular sees her getting kidnapped, drugged, tortured and dragged into a broom closet, all as part of Luthor's fiendish scheme to learn Superman's identity. That's what I love about this book, even above and beyond the silliness: this is where Byrne gets to thumb his nose at the stupid parts of the Superman mythos, and I'll be damned if it doesn't provide one of the best "gotcha!" moments in Superman history.

Basically, at the end of the issue, Luthor's minions take every scrap of info on Superman they have, including all of his known associates and confidants, and feed it into a giant room-sized Kirby-tech computer the likes of which only really exist in old comic books (because the computing power on display could easily fit in a laptop nowadays). Anyway, after click-ing and whirr-ing for a few panels, the machine pops out with the obvious answer: Clark Kent is Superman. Well, duhhhh.

But then Luthor squints his eyes real hard and throws away the evidence:
"Yes . . . a soulless machine might make that deduction. But not Lex Luthor! I know better! I know that no man with the power of Superman would ever pretend to be a mere human! Such power is to be constantly exploited! Such power is to be used!

And that is why post-Crisis Luthor is the bee's knees. If that isn't the greatest bit of loopy, self-serving villain logic I've ever read, well, I'll eat my hat. Not only does is rather neatly sidestep one of the worst clichés of the old pre-Crisis Superman status quo, but it rather elegantly gives Luthor a motivation for his distrust / loathing of Superman as well as a nearly psychotic worldview that places him squarely in philosophical opposition to every hero he is fated to meet. Post-Crisis Luthor would have made a good Fascist, which says a lot about how we as a society see capitalism, dunnit?

But, alas, Byrne threw the baby out with the bathwater, and the best parts of the revamp were soon being undone along with the worst. Byrne's problem at his peak was that he didn't seem to be able to tell the difference between a really good idea (like the Sub-Mariner being bi-polar, a wonderfully efficient idea that exactly no-one has ever followed-up) and a horrid idea (like summarily dismantling the Vision and Scarlet Witch, therefore rendering the emotional core of the previous twenty five years' worth of Avengers' stories null and void). I remember from my time doing improv that one of the only rules of improv was that you never say "No" - you have to keep the momentum going, even if things go in odd directions, you have to keep moving. Some revamps create room for more stories to be told, others are simply destructive -- which is more valuable?

You could argue about which was a good idea and what was a bad idea all day. Perhaps the problem came to be that he was simply so strongly associated with revamps that he felt obligated to tear things down, even when nothing was actually wrong to begin with -- who knows? I can't read his mind so I won't try to impugn his motivations, except to say that the mania to wreak change for the sake of simply wreaking change has become almost a joke in and of itself, a problem not just with a single creator or company but the whole superhero industry. The constant churn of corporate totems, mandated by reader attrition and market inertia, is slowly but surely strip-mining the best parts of the genre of their potency. You have to rotate your crops or the soil gets worn out.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Serious Things

A long time ago I posed this question to my friends: who would win in a fight between Cthulhu and Godzilla?

OK, it's a given that this is a nerd question par excellence, and the first person in the comments to point out that Goku with a lightsaber powered by a shard of Kryptonite would beat both of them gets a kick in the jimmy.

But seriously - I thought about it for a while and came to my decision. Surprisingly, all the friends whom I asked answered in the opposite manner.

To be brief: they posited that Cthulhu, being a terrible member of the race of Great Old Ones, is endowed with cosmic power incarnate, and would thus have no trouble dispatching a mere nuclear dinosaur such as our pal Gojira. Which is, of course, wrong.

The reason it is wrong is that the very nature of the question frames the answer. Look at it this way: if you ask who is more powerful, Superman or Batman, the answer is obvious. But ask most nerds, raised on a steady diet of Frank Miller, who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman, and most will say Batman. Because, obviously, Superman could twist Batman's head off at superspeed, shit in his neck and deposit the corpse on the dark side of the moon in the time it took Batman to sneeze, but that's not the way the DC Universe works.

Similarly, I'm not asking whether or not Cthulhu is more powerful than Gojira, I'm asking who would win in a fight. And if Cthulhu woke from his terrible slumber and decided to walk towards Japan to begin his plans for universal desolation, he'd run into Godzilla. Undoubtedly the first half hour of the movie would be spent with boring exposition - there'd be an old archeologist with a copy of the Necronomicon explaining all the bits of the Cthulhu mythos. He'd probably have a scrappy nephew or neice who was a lot more interested in reading about Gojira in the Japanese tabloids. There'd be a Gojira sighting somewhere off Tokyo Bay or something and some various other subplots, none of which would have any impact on anything.

In the second third of the movie Cthulhu would show up and start tearing shit up. He'd eat a few thousand people, make a giant throne of their bones, and just generally do everything possible to lower property values in Tokyo. If we're really going for broke, we can have the Japanese government sic Mechagodzilla on him or have Rodan (my favorite) show up to get bitchslapped. But the real fun doesn't start until Gojira shows up. They fight for a minute, Gojira gets in a fews good licks, but then Cthulhu pumps up and delivers a mighty pounding to the green guy, blasting him with cosmic energy and throwing him in the ocean or something to die. Round One goes to Cthulhu, at which point he forgets all about Gojira and goes back to summoning Nyarlathotep so he can fight Yog-Sothoth or something. There's probably a few scenes of the Japanese army getting stepped on or something to kill time in the film.

But then at about the time it looks like Cthulhu's about to destory all of civilization, that plucky young kid(s) from the first reel reappears and cries after Gojira gets beaten. Gojira is, of course, the world's biggest softy and he rises up from the ashes of his stunning defeat and brushes the proverbial dust off at this; it's on. He marches back to Tokyo and then he and Cthulhu get it on for the last twenty minutes of the film, totally demolishing the entire city. Maybe there's a couple other monsters involved, maybe not, it doesn't really matter.

But at the end of the day, there is only one possible victor: Gojira. As soon as the question became "who would win in a fight", the answer is obviously Gojira, because Gojira always wins. Cthulhu may be a being of immeasurably vast cosmic power and ancient evil, but once he steps into the ring with Gojira he's just another kaiju. He's a man in a rubber suit with an octopus head who shows up in the second reel, beats Gojira about 2/3 into the pic, and then gets defeated in a stunning turnabout. If he would just stay in R'lyeh, he would undoubtedly be able to destroy the world without much effort at all. But in choosing to step into Gojira's neighborhood, the meta-textual gods of storytelling demand that he get his ass handed to him. Because there ain't never been a guy in a rubber suit who the Big G couldn't take down if you give him 90 minutes and a plucky kids sidekick.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"there's a norman mailer story in this issue of Well Hung Men"

So, rumors have reached me from distant lands about those strange things which men call "video games". Apparently they are still made and consumed in certain circles, among people unlike you or I.

As I have often said, I will not discuss these so-called "video games" unless there is some sort of Italian plumber involved, preferably in the act of jumping on shelled reptiles or possibly amassing gold coins. You kids with your "Grand Theft Autos" and your "Final Fantsies" -- how can you make a sequel to a game which has the word "Final" in the title? It seems rather to preclude the possibility of a sequel. Either that or someone is lying.

In any event, word has reached me, travelling through my various underworld contacts, of strange and wonderful news. Apparently, scientists theorize that one day there shall be a game system known as the "DS" -- some sort of latter-day interactive entertainment device. And on this system there shall be a game called New Super Mario Bros. And it shall be good.

You had me at "Lakitu".

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Realer Than Real

I've got a fondness for the comics produced by DC in the few years immediately following the Crisis. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my rather foolhardy championing of the post-Crisis Superman. But I think the rest of the line was also producing some interesting stuff as well.

But I don't think, for the most part, that "interesting" in this instance necessarily translates to "good". What it means is that for a number of reasons the books produced by DC in the mid-to-late 80s had a peculiar texture and consistency. Not necessarily unique, because I think the consensus is that DC in the 80s was very much influenced by what had been popular at Marvel in the late 70s and early 80s -- lots of Chris Claremont and Frank Miller pastiche. Lots of it not very good. Furthermore, the most popular DC book in the period immediately preceding Crisis was the Marv Wolfman and George Perez Teen Titans revamp -- which, as has been pointed out many times by many, many people -- was essentially a Marvel book with DC characters. There are a few blogs who spend quite a bit of time cataloging the stylistic differences between Marvel and DC, and I'm not really interested in that particular field. What I am interested in is the point at which 80s DC became obsessed with the "real" world.

Superhero comics are fantasies. What's more, there's something eminently fascinating about watching fantasy characters interact with reality, or probably more accurately, a perception of reality influenced by the writer's own preoccupations and prejudices. This was part of the basis and appeal behind the series that defined the 80s for superhero books: Watchmen and Dark Knight, of course, but also Miller's Daredevil, Squadron Supreme, and one of my personal faves, Marshall Law (which was essentially Chinatown with super perverts, a great post-Reagan fairy tale for us powerless bleeding-hearts). We remember these books because, despite their flaws, they were pretty good and worth remembering. But the vast majority of the books that were influenced by these same forces -- and, incidentally, influenced as well by the success of Watchmen and Dark Knight -- were neither memorable or very good, but they're just as interesting. If you are OK with putting "interesting" in scare quotes, that is.

Let's take A Death In The Family. Everyone always talks about this story because it was the death of Jason Todd, who got brained on the head with a crowbar and blown up by the mass indifference of comic fans. Not a great story by any measure, and despite some nice Jim Aparo art, probably not a creative highpoint for anyone involved. But what no one ever mentions is the fact that this was a really weird story for another reason entirely: the villain was the Ayatollah Khomeini. Not, mind you, some stand in or proxy, as is usually typical -- like, Ayatollah Jihadi from Evilstan or something stupid like that. No, the crux of the story was that the Joker was trying to sell WMDs to the Iranians, and after that scheme got busted (which involved Todd meeting his maker) he got picked by Khomeini to be the Islamic Republic of Iran's new UN Ambassador. At which point we learn that the Joker is going to try to kill the entire general assembly of the United Nations under the auspices of Iran. (Superman stops him, of course, with one of the most memorable uses of super-breath on record.)

Now, that struck me as odd when I first read the story and it still strikes me as odd today, but this was hardly an isolated incident of the company injecting "Reality" into their line. One of the Giffen / DeMatteis Justice League's first adventures involved, if memory serves me, a nuclear crisis with the Soviet Union (not exactly "bwa-ha-ha" material). I've got an issue of Blue Beetle somewhere where the Beetle spends half the issue infiltrating Iran for some reason or another. Millennium was a horrible, horrible crossover built on the premise that a large percentage of background and supporting characters in the DC Universe were actually spies -- double agents! -- for the Manhunters. (Commissioner Gordon and Lana Lang were both Manhunter agents, which isn't one of those plot points that gets brought up a lot these days.) The whole structure of the post-Crisis DC line was steeped in late Cold War paranoia. It's all of a piece with the same kind of sublimated jingoism that brought us cinematic classics like Red Dawn and Commando.

Remember, in the 80s street crime was a national epidemic and drugs were going to turn us into a nation of addicts and fiends (The Punisher); the world was being run into the ground by evil plutocrats like Gordon Gekko (fictional) and Michael Milken (actual) (post-Crisis Lex Luthor); and we were at any moment only a hairs' breadth away from total war with the Russians. Well, it goes without saying that by the time Reagan got elected the Soviet Union was hardly the threat generations of Americans had been led to believe (we wouldn't know how badly-off the Russians were until after 1991, of course) -- but man, back in the 80s everyone thought the end of the world was nigh. Superhero comics responded to this attitude just like any other media, and boy were the results wacky.

Looking at post-Crisis DC it seems as if these stories were the result of line-wide decisions to make the books "relevant", influenced by books like Dark Knight as well as the general cultural climate. Well, "Relevancy" -- with a capitol R and scare quotes in full effect -- is a horrible thing for comics to aspire. Everyone remembers the "My Ward Is A Junky!" issue of Green Lantern / Green Arrow, and despite it's questionable "significance", O'Neill and Adams' run is not remembered for it's subtle treatment of political and social issues. (I've always had a soft spot for the story where the old black dude asks Green Lantern why he saves "the blue people and the green people but not the black people" or something similar.) It's all so ham-fisted and well-meaning you can't help but smile, even after you realize that it's essentially little more than middle-class white liberal guilt at work. Similarly with the "political" comics of the 80s -- the country as a whole took a turn to the Right, so the popular media reflected the fears and anxieties of heightened Cold War tension and the perception of lawlessness in America itself. Having the Blue Beetle travel to Iran to kick the shit out of some Islamists is about as effectual as Green Arrow taking a stand against heroin addiction -- i.e., it makes a very powerless person feel like they're doing something important by putting a fictional surrogate up against a straw man. But the hazards of Cold War realpolitik were ultimately too big a target for fictional heroes. You can only see Batman go up against the KGBeast so many times before the readers get depressed at the implication of their own powerlessness in the face of vast international malfeasance. So after a couple years the heroes went back to fighting space warlords and shit like that, and relative normalcy returned.

But man, in the meantime there were some really weird comics.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The King

by Rich Koslowski

I am torn by my reaction to The King. On the one hand, it's hard not to admire the evolution of Koslowski's style. Three Fingers was a cute book that seemed slightly attenuated in the full-length format. The King is far more assured and substantial narrative. Although the art is noticeably less intricate and detail-rich than what we saw in Three Fingers, I think this was a conscious decision made for the book's readability and pacing. The King is a solid chunk of book, over two hundred pages, and it is to Koslowski's credit that the story occupies exactly as much space as it needs, no more or less, and every narrative beat is laid out with perfect aplomb.

The basic plot details the career of a mysterious and charismatic Elvis impersonator who surfaces in Las Vegas, wearing a golden helmet to insure his anonymity. Within weeks of his appearance the faithful flock to the seeming resurrection of their idol, as word of his electrifying sold-out performances spreads across the country -- is it really him, back from the dead after all these years? Finally, Time magazine sends a reporter to investigate, a man with every reason to want to uncover whatever sordid truth lies behind the seemingly impossible reappearance of Elvis Presley.

But as I said, I'm torn. On the one hand, we have a well-constructed pseudo-mystery that explores the nature of faith. But on the other hand, we have a two-hundred page book about Elvis impersonators. My problem with The King is essentially identical to another problem I had with Three Fingers: Koslowski has obviously spent a great deal of effort constructing a well-reasoned and extremely clever thematic undercarriage for what is in actuality a very silly story. Three Fingers was a story about race and the politics of entertainment in America throughout the twentieth century, and the ways that "authentic" ethnic identities are co-opted and twisted by history and money -- but all these ideas were wrapped around a too-clever-by-half Roger Rabbit pastiche that was just too silly to support the weight of "real world" ideas for any length of time. Similarly, with The King Koslowski has wrapped an extremely thought-provoking kernel of an idea within the unbelievably goofy context of Elvis fandom.

To Koslowski's credit, the overriding ideas come through fairly well despite the "Blue Suede Shoe" trappings. Faith is a prickly subject. The King is probably the best Elvis-themed exploration of Kierkegaard's "Leap of Faith" extant (although I could always be wrong). As the plot unfolds and the details of the faux-Elvis' background are teasingly unveiled, the book's central questions take shape: If faith is dependent on mystery, can incontrovertible proof destroy faith? If faith is a positive force in society, should self-proclaimed rationalists have the right to challenge faith on the grounds of empiricism?

The reporter at the heart of the book faces the dilemma of exposing the King's (probably) true and sordid past, or letting the legend itself live and inspire those who choose to believe. This is a conflict that cuts to the core of modern society's worse divisions. I am not entirely sure wether or not The King comes down on the right side of this divide, from my perspective. I'm very much a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist. I don't believe that faith for faith's sake is a positive virtue. I believe that all the Christian existentialists' arguments for the acceptance of supernatural providence, which must by definition exist independent of reason or evidence, are, at best, sheer sophistry. But regardless of whether or not I agree with the book's ending, great pains are taken to build up a rational framework for the final decisions. At the very least, Koslowski doesn't try to sugar-coat the gravity of the dilemma, even if it comes garbed in questionable clothes. (And to his credit, he also places a few scattered hints that the whole thing is just a P.T. Barnum-esque ploy on the part of a mischievous and manipulative Elvis. This seed of doubt is enough to keep the book's ending appropriately ambiguous.) The book is built around a mystery but the only conclusions we are offered are themselves inconclusive, so even those who wish to accept the most rational explanation must exercise a bit of faith in the matter.

As much as I wish I could dismiss the book based simply on the silly trappings of Elvis kitsch, The King is simply too richly-constructed a work to ignore. I will say that, as with Three Fingers, the goofy window-dressing makes appreciating the book's virtues a more difficult proposition than it should be. A good book should require work on the reader's part, but it shouldn't be a matter of great exertion merely to overlook the premise (see Cerebus for the best example of this principle). However -- The King shows enough of a marked improvement over Three Fingers as to make me believe that Koslowski's next project may be even better. He's come a long way since the modest virtues of The 3 Geeks / Geeksville, and has taken to the full-length graphic novel format with a surprising confidence. I think, based on the evidence of this book, he's close to making the final step that'll demarcate his juvenalia from the fully-formed work whose outlines we can faintly see already taking shape in the pages of The King.