Monday, November 23, 2009

Just In Case You Didn't Believe Me About
How Awesome Realm of Kings #1 Is

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There have been a lot of horror mash-ups in comics in recent years - straight on down to the latest DC line-wide crossover, and the latest X-Men event. Not to mention Marvel Zombies, et al. But my favorite horror is and always has been Lovecraftian cosmic horror - you know, of the mind-blasting, cyclopean variety. It doesn't get a lot of play in superhero books outside of mystic stuff like Dr. Strange - and even there, Shuma Gorath has had a hard time rising above the level of an evil cosmic kaiju. But this? This is promising. This is promising indeed. All I need is some Cthulhu mythos and I feel like how Sims must feel every time he sees someone getting kicked in the face. I love space opera, but Lovecraftian space opera? If they can somehow manage to get that peanut butter to taste good with that chocolate, Abnett & Lanning will have worked a modern miracle.

Plus: Quasar.

Well, I'll Be

Maybe this was given away somewhere else in advance and I missed out, but how come no one has said anything about Realm of Kings #1? I love Marvel's cosmic books, which should come as no surprise to anyone. The fact that so much love and respect has been laid out for Mark Gruenwald's Quasar is simply extraordinary, and the fact that Quasar is prominently featured in this next event is really cool. But the really interesting thing, which is what I'm surprised no one has mentioned, is the fact that the next big cosmic event is apparently going to be the Marvel Universe vs. the Lovecraft Mythos. And not in some kind of veiled pseudo-Lovecraft Shuma-Gorath way, either, but the actual Cthulhu Mythos tearing its way through a rip in space-time and coming to eat the 616. Of all the possible directions for the cosmic books after War of Kings, this is pretty much not what I was expecting. But honestly, even though I didn't know I wanted it, this is now the thing I've always wanted more than anything.

Quasar vs. Cthulhu, with Rocket Raccoon and Darkhawk on the sidelines - it's like they're beaming these comics straight from my id into reality.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Old Enough To Drink

Also, old enough to make me feel even older.

(Older than I've ever been, and now I'm even older.)

(Amazingly, could not find a video of "Snowball in Hell." Or at least not in the five minutes it took to type this.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The End of Everything

Just took a few minutes to compile my year-end best-of list for Popmatters. It was surprisingly difficult - there was a lot of good music but it didn't seem like there was much great music. There was a bunch of stuff from high-profile artists which were OK but not awesome, certainly not "top ten" material. It's Blitz! had a handful of really good songs and a whole lot of boring, which is a shame considering just how much of a masterpiece Show Your Bones was. The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective both came out swinging and are to be applauded for both making interesting albums, if not capital "G" Great ones. Dylan's Together Through Life seemed more casual and, dare I say, more fun than his last few heavily lauded but highly sterile discs - but a fun trifle is still a trifle, even if it's Bob Dylan's trifle. Likewise, Moby, the Basement Jaxx, Rammstein, Franz Ferdinand - all hit nice doubles in the High Profile Established Artists category - but no home run action between them.

(The real Dylan action was in the long, long, long overdue remastering job on The Basement Tapes. Still not "one of the greatest albums in the history of American popular music," but a fun disc nonetheless. I'm still wondering why they haven't done a legit release of the five-or-so disc "Genuine" Basement Tapes bootleg that has been floating around for years, except to say that 1) they might be waiting to release it as a big collector's box some Christmas and 2) Dylan awfully resents all the bootleg stuff that was released against his wishes over the years so he may just not want to bother.)

So, here's The List - a lot of good but not too much great. #1 is only #1 because, well, none of these other discs were better. It's a great album, maybe one of their best, but I wouldn't have expected Yo La Tengo to be the best of the year when all the dust had cleared. There are a lot of these albums I wish were better than they actually are - Dan Deacon, the Field, Passion Pit, it seemed like there was something missing that kept them from going over the line separating very good from modern classic status.

The biggest surprise was Girls - a group I had absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever before I heard a song on Pitchfork, bought the album on sale on a whim, and was completely bowled over by how good it is. Definitely the breakout of the year. Some of this new lo-fi is actually pretty good. Now that lo-fi is less a political statement than an aesthetic choice, it seems a lot more fun than it did back in the 90s when people like Sebadoh were sincerely dedicated to being as perversely amateurish as possible. (I mean, really, anyone with a halfway decent computer can make their shoestring indie debut album sound like it was recorded by Jeff Lynne these days, so you're not really sticking it to The Man if you record it on a boombox.)

Neko Case gets her spot by inertia as much as anything - a good album, but I can't shake the feeling that she's getting more than a little bit complacent. This feeling was not arrested when I saw her over the summer - a depressingly perfunctory, if very professional show, complete with a fancy video projection show.

I might say more later. In case you haven't noticed, my hiatus is kind of a joke.

10. Passion Pit - Manners
9. Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away
8. Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
7. Jay Reatard - Watch Me Fall
6. Dan Deacon - Bromst
5. The Field - Yesterday & Today
4. Girls - Album
3. REM - Live At the Olympia
2. The Juan Maclean - The Future Will Come
1. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brief Hiatus Thots

Donald Duck Orange Juice is the coelacanth of pop culture detritus: just when you think there is absolutely, positively no way it can have survived into the present day, up it pops again.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I KNOW I said I was on Hiatus, but seriously . . .

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Haitus Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Posting has been light around here, and it's going to be far lighter for the immediate future. I took stock of the current situation (you know, in this crazy thing called life) and realized that it would be the height of irresponsibility for me to be devoting any serious amount of time to this blog right now, for at least the next couple weeks or so. It's not the first time I've gone on hiatus and it won't be the last - hopefully when I do come back I'll have something better up my sleeve than sleepwalking through the week's crappy super pamphlets. Tucker does that better, anyway. Rest assured, things are not bad, just busy, and hopefully when the dust clears I'll have a future career trajectory at one of our country's finest institutions of higher learning. Or, you know, UC Santa Barbara*. Either one.

So: in the meantime, I would like to ask anyone who reads this message to say something stupid in the comments, so as to ward off the inevitable ghost ship analogy. If I post anything in the near future it'll probably be something short and stupid. The proverbial "low-content mode," but given how low-content this blog usually is that probably means heat-death.

* If you went to UCSB, just substitute any other chump state school that people only go to because they can't go anywhere else.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stuff I Read

Fantastic Four #572

It is remarkable to me that people are talking about the supposedly weird way that Dale Eaglesham draws Reed Richards, as if Reed is customarily drawn as some kind of stick figure emaciated Ditko goblin. I've been reading Fantastic Four for decades, historically it's one of my favorite books - I've got a full run of the DeFalco / Ryan run, and I actually like it, which should tell you how much I love the book even at its most questionable. So, to wit, let's look at some pictures of Reed's muscles through the years:

Fantastic Four #10, 1998. Man, I didn't know we were planning to stop by the gun show this weekend.

Fantastic Four #39, 2001. You could grate cheese off those obliques.

Fantastic Four #62, 2002. Is this more along the lines of what most people think Reed Richards looks like? Still pretty muscular.

Fantastic Four #45, 1965. ZOMG - pplz. jakc kirby TOTALLY duz not no how to drawz reed richards. look at those pythons, son!!!11 Byrne is teh BEST.

In other words: find something new to talk about, nerds. Reed can stretch his body to look like any damn thing he wishes. If he wants to be cut this month, well, he'll be cut like a knife. Really, let's just focus on the fact that in just three issues the new FF has already entirely washed away the taste of the promising, brilliant-in-moments-but-ultimately-disappointing Millar / Hitch run. Seriously, what about Star Brand Reed Richards? I'm that one guy in the back whose heart starts palpitating when he sees a Star Brand. More Star Brand!

Detective Comics # 858

You can talk all day about how purty it looks, but damned if this script isn't some thin gruel. Like, oh my god, Batwoman is a twin who lost her sister to terrorists - that's real trauma right there. I cannot wait until Williams III leaves in a couple months time - no matter how good his replacement is, he won't be this good, and I wonder how many people are going to admit that if it weren't for Williams' III art, this would be just one or two steps above Outsiders. The moment we see Batwoman talking about mud on miners' boots, well, I will not be a big enough man not to say I told you so.

X-Factor #50

Even though I've been pulling down irregular paychecks from Fantagraphics for the better part of a decade now, I still like Peter David. As mainstream writers go, he can be one of the best when he wants. Sure, he's got more than his fair share of accumulated tics and storytelling tricks, there's the annoying pop-culture shit that still pops up (but seriously, the pop culture references are nowhere near as annoying as they were twenty years back when he seemingly couldn't go ten pages without a TMBG or Ren & Stimpy reference), there's the occasional winks at Bill Mumy or another sort-of but not really famous pal. Regardless: no more annoying than Claremont's "no quarter asked, none given! / take a swim in my mind!" bullshit. Fact is, David is practically the sole surviving master of a very old storytelling style that used to be pretty much de rigeur all over the comics world: the longform serial no-particular-place-to-go comic book.

You may be asking, but Tim, what about Brubaker's Cap, with it's multi-year story arcs, or Way's Wolverine: Origins, which isn't that great but is nonetheless a pretty impressive example of a single writer sticking to an overarching macro-story for a long time? The problem with these examples is that they aren't the same thing at all, although you can trick yourself into thinking they are if you're not careful. Both these stories - and just about every long-form serial running now (maybe not Incredible Hercules) - are structured. You get the idea that somewhere Brubaker has a thick binder full of character notes and a master outline regarding exactly where his story is going. You almost get the idea that, even if some of the details changed along the way, he generally knew where he was going to be in issue #50 before he sat down to write issue #1. (I dunno where Cap's death fits into this, whether it was planned from the beginning of Brubaker's first story arc, but I would not at all be surprised if he hadn't had the idea all along, with Civil War merely a fortuitous coincidence in timing.)

What David's doing is different, and admirable: he's telling stories from month to month, with little or no care given to how they fit into the eventual trade paperback collection or Omnibus. Sometimes the results are shaggy - few people would argue that the time travel storyline from the book's past year hasn't gone on a bit too long, and that the last few issues were rather blatantly biding time for the anniversary number. But still: long term plots and long term payoffs. And if it doesn't come off as perfectly planned or exquisitely structured - if at times it feels more than a little like a long-running shaggy-dog story - there's something here, a freewheeling elasticity, that feels nice. Superhero comics used to be about just this thing - open-ended storytelling that sometimes germinated into payoff, and sometimes failed to launch altogether, but could nonetheless be interesting along the way. More importantly, David knows these characters well and has their voices down. It almost makes up for the fact that the art has been so iffy in places that, at times, "big reveals" have been flattened by the fact that we're obviously supposed to recognize a charactwr who really just looks like half-a-dozen other brown haired fellows in the same comic.

Still: not great, but good stuff, and it holds my interest precisely because it holds up far better on a month-to-month basis than it ever will in collected form. Not many people know how to do that anymore.

(One nit-picky question, however, for which I really would like an answer: if Layla Miller's origin and power set have finally been explained, then how the hell was she able to restore everyone's memory in House of M? I distinctly recall her being able to make people remember things that otherwise they would not remember, which is why she was important, and why it took more than just Wolverine [who, you recall, was the first person to realize it was all an illusion] to restore the other hero's memories. This applied not merely to the heroes who had been brainwashed in the HoM pocket universe, but also to Wolverine, whose meeting with Layla left him in possession of all his memories, even the ones that had been wiped or washed away. I suspect the answer might be something like "she can resurrect dead memories" or what not, but still, it's one of those niggling continuity questions that leaves me scratching my head late at night when I should be reading something else.)

Dark Reign: The List: The Punisher

There is something inescapably sexual here. Frank and Logan did this dance a few times, never able to consummate their suppressed desires, always left frustrated by their inability to seal the deal. (Garth Ennis had Frank blow Wolverine in half, and then a couple months later in Wolverine, Wolverine found some gay porn mags in Frank's satchel, which I've always seen as a rather gratuitous unveiling of obvious subtext, not to mention just massively homophobic.) Still, finally, Frank Castle gets to have sex with a clawed man: only it's not the father. The father wasn't man enough to seal the deal. Only Daken is man enough to finally penetrate the Punisher. (Note: that last link, probably not safe for work unless you work somewhere more interesting than I do.) I imagine when Daken and Logan meet up next, Logan will have some choice words for his son regarding his ex-lover. It's sort of like how Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd could never fuck on moonlighting, it would ruin the chemistry - Wolverine knew he and Frank could only ever dance around each other. Daken is a philistine, there is no romance in his mohawked soul.

(But really, Franken-Castle? Does no one remember Angel Punisher? Even if the story looks promising, it's just a general good rule that the Punisher and the supernatural do not mix well. Although, I will admit, the preview pages here with the Man-Thing [actually being cool and menacing for a change] and his new friends are pretty cool, and promise some interesting stuff to come. And did anyone read that last arc of Punisher? The one with the Hood? No one, it seems, was paying attention, but that last issue [#10, I believe] had the Punisher doing just about the coldest thing I've ever seen him do, Garth Ennis not excepted. I mean, really, if you haven't read it I won't give it away, but that's some unbelievably cold shit right there.)