Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Free Ideas

- Someone kidnaps the Kingpin and imprisons him for six months in a hidden cell. They only feed him 500 calories a day, however, and when he finally escapes he's so skinny no one recognizes him.

- It is revealed that Superman has been secretly kidnapping and murdering young women from around the globe for many years. Apparently he has developed a taste for human flesh and, furthermore, gains sexual satisfaction from the act of murder. When he is confronted, he insists that this is nothing more than his due.

- Captain America gets hit on the head and forgets everything that happened to him since the end of WWII. He mistakenly believes it's still 1944 and drives down to the south to enforce resegregation.

- The Thing "accidentally" crushes the Invisible Woman's head, as retaliation for walking around in a skin-tight uniform for forty-five years when she knew good and well he had always had a, um, thing for her.

- Maggie gets born-again and tries to convert Hopey.

- Years of drinking and binge-eating finally catch up to Hopey's metabolism and she gains 100 pounds. Maggie leaves her because she "doesn't like fatties".

- Garfield accidentally opens a portal to hell. In order to save his soul, he sells Jon and Odie to the devil.

- The Punisher sets out to kill God.

- Loady McGee finds the Necronomicon and wipes his ass with the pages.

- The Patterson clan all die in a murder-suicide pact, all except for Mike and Deena's kid, who gets to see everyone die.

- The Savage Dragon gets his nose stolen. For the next year he has no nose, and everyone he meets asks him "what happened to your nose?"

- Alan Moore and Chester Brown team up to do a comic; they eventually release a two-page strip with 150 pages of annotations. Drawn & Quarterly sells out the initial print run of 75,000 copies in less than 24 hours.

- Batman fights Osama bin Laden, at which point Batman discovers that bin Laden is really the Joker. Batman takes the Joker into custody and returns him to Arkham.

- A sequel to Ghost World set ten years after the original book, in which Enid discovers her great-grandfather was a notorious bank-robber who left a secret map to treasure hidden in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Enid must reteam with Rebecca and battle Nazis who are also looking for the treasure.

- Uncle Scrooge and Captain America team-up in a WWII adventure (naturally predating Christmas on Bear Mountain), wherein it is revealed that Flintheart Glumgold made his fortune as an arms manufacturer for the Axis powers. Meanwhile, Donald is trapped behind enemy lines and only Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos can save him.

- Rusty Brown is convicted of manslaughter and goes to prison, wherein he is sexually assaulted by people who thought the joke got really old really fast.

- A sequel to Watchmen wherein Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre have to trick Nite Owl's boss into thinking that Rorschach is still alive. They carry his body around for a weekend, pretending that he is still alive and somehow managing to make it look like he is waterskiing. Hijinks ensue.

- Mat Brinkmann finishes another comic.

- Spider-Man's spider-sense starts going off every time he encounters someone who didn't vote for Bush. He soon starts carrying an assault rifle in order to thin the herd of "Godless liberals". Pat Robertson guest stars, possibly to join the New Avengers at a later date.

- The JLA enter a jai alai tournament.

- Buddy Bradley goes to ITT Tech to become an electrical engineer.

- Fone Bone figures out that Moby Dick is really a portentous slog, decides his new favorite book is Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

- Harvey Pekar finds a dying Abin Sur and is given the ring to become a Green Lantern.

- Art Spiegelman finds a dying Abin Sur and is given the ring to become a Green Lantern, but is later disqualified by the Guardians for being "massively annoying".

- Jeffrey Brown does a comic about all the hookers he's killed.

- Joe Matt does a comic about all the hookers he's killed, but dies of old age before finishing the second issue.

- Cerebus fights Osama bin Laden, only to discover that bin Laden is really the Roach in disguise.

- Calvin gets a Ritalin prescription and has to watch while Hobbes slowly and painfully disintegrates into nothingness.

- Dennis the Menace finds a severed head in his backyard, makes Joey eat the eyeballs.

- Lobo falls through time and meets Groo the Wanderer. They fight, and while neither can defeat the other, they succeed in destroying the entire universe.

- A licensed comic wherein Neko Case decides to become a superhero and fight crime. Her superhero name is The Sultry Siren.

- Batman discovers masturbation, exclaims "How come no one ever told me about this before?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

An Inspirational Message For the Children of the World


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nerd Business II, or
If Mike Can Post About Star Wars Novels, I Can Post About Trek

I've been watching a lot of Star Trek - The Next Generation lately (Don't judge me!) It's on when I eat dinner, so it's perfect for mindless vegetable viewing. I mean, I don't really watch network TV anymore, and while it's certainly not as if Star Trek doesn't insult your intelligence, it's a different caliber of insulting than, say, House (a stupid, stupid show of which a number of otherwise intelligent people seem to have become unusually fond).

Anyway, I saw all the Treks many years ago, when they first ran on the TV. I haven't seen any of them since then, so thanks to the wonders of old age, I don't remember any of them! It's pure nostalgic wallowing of the most puerile, and boy is it fun. I am surprised by the amount of continuity between episodes, with different storylines and character arcs being continued from season to season. My memories of the show were that it had been totally episodic and self-contained, so seeing stories continue is kind of cool.

But, also, it points to the show's biggest problem, at least in my eyes: the Borg. Now, don't get me wrong, the Borg were badasses. And it was cool to realize that they had been laying the foundation for the Borg even in the first season (which I of course did not remember), coupled with the return of the Romulans. So, based on the evidence, it would have been easy to assume that any threat that would pose such a menace to the Federation and the Romulans would be a big deal (the first hint of the Borg was in the first season when Federation and Romulan outposts were destroyed by a force we would later learn was the Borg). And then when we first meet the Borg in season two, wow, were they cool. So then everyone's thinking that the Borg are going to be the big baddies from here on in, and the intrigue with the Klingons and Romulans would naturally focus on this new, devastating Alpha Quadrant player, the existence of which would throw any previous balance of power into total upheaval.

And then they ended the third season with "The Best of Both Worlds", and that was indeed good. Very good. Undoubtedly a series highlight, if not the series highlight (although I'm partial to "All Good Things...") But then a weird thing happened. Apparently the Borg only had one cube in the entire galaxy, and it was destroyed at the end of "Best of Both Worlds". Because, you know, they just never bothered to follow up. One cube almost destroyed the entire Alpha Quadrant, you'd think a second cube could have just come in and played clean-up, but no. For some reason the Borg only appeared twice in the show's remaining four years, and both times sucked pretty badly, going as far afield as you could possibly go from the basic concept while still calling the characters "Borg". Next thing you know they're slumming around with Data's brother in a 1978 Subaru Brat, throwing empty beer cans at the season one Ferengei with the animal skin clothing. I remember being confused at the time - and it still wasn't cleared up on a second viewing - as to whether or not the entirety of the Borg were destroyed, off-screen during "Descent" (torn apart by Hugh's corrupting influence). Obviously they weren't, as they showed up relatively intact in later Treks, but just the fact that the issue was handled in such a sloppy manner means that I don't think the Trek writing staff was really putting a lot of effort into things at that point. The early and middle seasons of the show had some real snappy writing, the later seasons . . . not so much.

Of course, the really cool war & politics narrative that they had foreshadowed in TNG finally did materialize in Deep Space Nine, only the Federation and their allies weren't fighting the Borg but the Dominion, who were cool but, let's not kid ourselves, were no Borg. A big disappointment, and I remember thinking at the time (and thinking now, for that matter) that the people in charge of Trek really had (and have) no idea what their fandom - their audience in general - wanted. Less shuttling diplomats around. More blowing shit up. Fewer quiet character studies. More high-stakes action. Absolutely no fucking Dixon Hill. Ever. Not even just a few minutes in the opening scene.
Just don't.

The very thought of the next iteration of Trek being a movie set during Kirk and Spock's academy days just makes my stomach churn. The only real option if they want to make a real go at a new series is just to swallow their pride and admit that the Next Generation template, as well as nostalgia for the original series, has basically been worn into the ground. They set the state of the art for television sci-fi in 1968 and 1990, but now all the shows that have followed in their footsteps (including even the later Trek spin-offs!) have advanced the genre to the point where another Trek series or movie in the same mold would just be infuriating. They need to do what they did in 1987: realize that they can't go back and just go forward. Leap another fifty or seventy-five years into the future of the Federation. Have lots of war and much less of the shuttling diplomats around crap. Assume that the audience that used to watch Trek is now watching and loving Battlestar: Galactica and act accordingly (however, I still refuse to watch the new Battlestar: Galactica on principle). Considering how much money has been sunk into Trek through the years, it's inconceivable to imagine that it will lie dormant forever. Wouldn't it be cool if, when they do bring it back in some form, it's actually worth watching?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nerd Business

For the first time in a long time I actually bought a Batman comic. More than one, in fact -- with the advent of the new creative teams of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert on Batman and Paul Dini and Joe Benitez on Detective, my interest was piqued enough to inspire a trip down to the local Nerd Emporium.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out so well. My hopes for Batman were not especially high. I can't think of another person in the entire blogosphere with less of a tolerance for Morrison than myself -- my interest in his work basically flatlined with We3 and the first couple Seven Soldiers books, which I read before realizing that I was very viscerally not enjoying myself. I have bought a few things of his since then, but mostly out of a vestigial interest, as well as a no-doubt misguided desire to keep up with the general discussion, however limply. All-Star Superman is OK, but hardly a revelation. I have never warmed to Frank Quitely's art on anything but a grudging basis -- he's certainly got an eye for design and interesting page layouts, but other than an extremely antiseptic appreciation for these aspects of his work, I am left unmoved. My hopes in picking up Batman were simple: maybe Morrison could set aside his metatextual, formally-expansive ambitions long enough to write a good adventure comic book.

Well, with only two issues on the shelves the jury is still out . . . but Morrison's run has hit an unexpected snag, in that Andy Kubert does not know how to draw. Or rather, let me put it another way: he surely does know how to draw nice pins-ups of Batman scowling or kicking things, but any attempt at actually drawing two panels in a row containing clear, concise storytelling that easily communicates the action on the page fails miserably. Formally ambitious sequences featuring Batman fighting flying ninjas in an art gallery surrounded by pop art paintings that give sly commentary on the story's action are simply too much for Kubert, and attempts at deciphering the action in a coherent fashion have proven only partially successful. Both Kubert brothers' work has always possessed superficial similarities with that of their father, but in terms of storytelling sense -- you know, the actual nuts-and-bolts of cartooning -- the apple could not have fallen further from the tree. So much so that based on the evidence of these books I'm halfway tempted to suspect that Rob Liefeld built a time machine to go back and seduce Mrs. Kubert way back when.

I must admit that while I bought Batman out of sheer morbid curiosity, I was honestly looking forward to Dini's Detective. As has been very copiously documented, I don't care for Batman, but I do quite like Batman The Animated Series, quite possibly the best cartooning-to-animation transfer in the history of the medium (yes, even better than Fritz the Cat). As the man partially responsible for arguably the best and most coherent interpretation of Batman in the character's history, it was not perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine that Dini would bring a similar sensibility to Detective. Maybe that's a tall order for any creator to have to fulfill, but dammit, there's only one reason why anyone would ever consider Dini to write a Batman book in the first place.

However, these first two issues of Detective just aren't that impressive, not compared to any number of Batman stories written throughout the years by any number of firmly competent but completely uninspired creators. Everyone is excited that Batman is actually using his detective skills again -- apparently this is rare? -- but the stories themselves just aren't that great. The problem with the Poison Ivy issue (#823) was not the cheesecake pictures of Poison Ivy or the tentacle rape, but the fact that the story itself was pretty dull and lazy -- a series of pin-ups, some sloppy exposition and then a deus ex machina on literally the next-to-last page. Now, sure, you can't say it was a cheat because he telegraphed the herbicide's potency halfway through the story, but damn, that was just lazy -- pull a lever and kill the villainous monster, story over. Benitez's work is competent but completely uninspired -- I can only wonder how he got such a high-profile assignment in the first place.

Although I am unimpressed, I'll probably pick up the next couple issues of each run to see if they improve. My affection for Dini's Batman is such that I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt in assuming he might be having growing pains stemming from never having written a monthly comic before (or at least I'm pretty certain he's never written a monthly before -- I could easily be proven wrong). The story in Morrison's Batman seems fairly interesting, as long as he's given a free hand to follow through with all the logical consequences of his big reveal. Kubert's art is . . . problematic, but perhaps he will improve under Morrison's tutelage. Say what you will about Morrison, but he does tend to bring out the best in his collaborators.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Quick Questions

Yeah, not a whole lot this week... I am in the process of finalyl getting my computer fixed - my real computer, the desktop - and as that moment nears my patience for using my awkward and unwieldy laptop grow thin. I mean, it's a good machine, but it's a five-plue year old iBook that wheezes like an old man climbing a hill in August whenever I have more than two windows open at the same time.

Anyway, I have a couple questions to occupy your time:

1) Gemstone has been ramping up their TPB program recently, with a pair of pretty tempting Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge volumes and some handsome Ducktales-themed Barks reprints. (Just in case you were wondering, I do have most all of the stories in question, so I'm not totally ig'nint - but having them in a squarebound trade format would be extremely nice.) My question is - every time I pick up a book in the store to peruse, it seems like the binding is of very poor quality, like the kind that would fall apart after being handled for any period of time. Does anyone know whether or not this is the case?

2) Has anyone else been having trouble finding the second issue of Beyond? I picked it up on a total lark based on (undoubtedly misguided) nostalgia for the first two Secret Wars and actually quite enjoyed it. And of course I haven't been able to find issue #2 anywhere.

3) Who would win in a fight between Joe Matt (as depicted in Peepshow), and Bueno Excelente from Hitman?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Best Answer Wins A Kewpie Doll

So what the hell is this Naruto crap that all the kids are into?

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Great Comic Book Covers

I have always maintained that Todd McFarlane had the makings of a really great cartoonist. The problem has always been that he had almost no interest in being a cartoonist, choosing instead to devote the whole of his energies to being an entrepreneur, and furthermore, choosing the most cynical and degraded vehicles with which to make this a reality. No one has ever accused McFarlane of overestimating his audience's intelligence.

His early work on Incredible Hulk and especially Amazing Spider-Man stood out for a number of reasons. Although it may be fashionable to retroactively downplay his success, he was incredibly popular, the first "superstar" artist of the Image generation, and probably the biggest as well. Jim Lee still nabs headlines whenever he announces a run on something or other, and even Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld retain quite a cache in the fanboy imagination, but if McFarlane were ever to return to comics (actually drawing them for a sustained period of time, and not just plotting them or producing an odd Anniversary story), well, that would be a mainstream event of almost unprecedented explosiveness. Given McFarlane's well-established business acumen, it's surprising he has yet to figure this out - either he's holding it up his sleeve (considering how far the Spawn franchise has already fallen that seem unlikely), or he just doesn't like drawing very much.

But if you look back at his early work, it still holds up. Sure, he suffered from a great deal of the first Image generation's failings - sometimes storytelling sense was sacrificed for bombast, sometimes the endless stylistic filigrees overwhelmed good drawing, sometimes anatomy was questionable. But more than almost any artist up to that time, he also seemed to really understand Steve Ditko's peculiar contributions to the mainstream storytelling vocabulary. Ditko specialized in a sense of mood and atmosphere that stood at a stark contrast to Kirby's clearly-delineated action sequences. He may not have been anywhere near as hatch-crazy as McFarlane, but when Ditko inked his own material there was a similar sense of foreboding in his splotchy feathered blacks, a cultivated awkwardness that made his figures seem consummately human even in the midst of high-flying superhuman adventure. The fact that Ditko often took pains to establish light sources in his panels made the use of shadows to accentuate noirish mood stand out all the more against his peers. Later on, when didactic preoccupations became more prominent in his work, the emphasis on shadows and awkward gesture made his exploration of moral absolutes all the more convincing. It has almost seeemed as if there was something corrupting in the very nature of his physical universe on display that could otherwise catch an unsuspecting, upright citizen off-guard with its perfidy.

Looking at McFarlane's journeyman work, it's clear he had a firm understanding of what had made Ditko's work stand out. But unfortunately, the advent of Spawn pretty much dictated the end of McFarlane's aesthetic evolution. It's not even that Spawn itself started off with a bad idea - it's basically Faust with a cape, hardly a bad start for any potential franchise. But as the series progressed, all early promise was abandoned in favor of an increasingly repetitive and insulting focus on murk, mire and consistently puerile morality -- all of which added up to quite possibly the most unbelievably pandering achievement in comics history. To his credit, he was able to figure out exactly what would sell: faux-Satanism, big guns, half-naked women and reprehensible attitudes all around. But it must be noted that as soon as people figured out that they knew exactly what could be found in every issue of Spawn, sales took a dive and have never recovered. He may have known what people wanted, but he never really learned that giving the fans exactly what they want in excess is also a really good way to render yourself obsolete. Why bother picking up a new issue of Spawn if you can just reread an issue from last year or ten years ago and get pretty much the same thing?

Anyway, the early Image stuff also stood out for the fact that they were among the very first creators and publishers to take advantage of advances in publishing technology. For how little they've held up (not that they were great to begin with), early issues of Spawn really jumped out from a crowded field. This cover in particular has always stood out in my mind: I remember nothing of the story inside, but man, that's some nice color work. It may seem elementary now that everything is colored by computers as a matter of routine, but back in 1993 it really was new. I am not ashamed to say I bought Spawn for a while simply because it was a damn fine looking book. Almost nothing else about it stands out today, but in terms of how modern comics are produced and printed, Spawn is probably the most important book of the 1990s.