From Journey Into Mystery #90
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Posting is going to be light for the next little bit, at least through the holiday (so what's new, you ask?) - it's coming up on the end of the semester, and that means not just finals but applications and all that jazz. So no in depth blogging for the time being.
However, I wanted to leave you all with a little taste of something I've been thinking about lately, i.e., this comic right here:
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Leonard Part 6 is one of the most underrated films of all time. Of course it's probably terrible for anyone who cares to quantify such things, but consider the fact that the movie features Bill Cosby riding an ostrich while fighting evil vegetarians. It was simply far ahead of its time.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Spider-Man should just shit or get off the put re: pulling the skin off peoples' faces with his super sticky powers.
It's not that Batman needs to get laid, it's that he gets laid too much. He needs to disentangle sex from violence in order to once again enjoy either.
If Superman were a sexual predator, we'd never know.
It's long established that the Hulk's favorite food is beans. What would happen if the Hulk ate so many beans that, upon reverting back to Bruce Banner, his stomach burst?
Hawkman is the most boring character ever, and he is only made worse by the fact that literally every Hawkman story for the last decade has been about his boring-ass origins.
I've got a theory - maybe I've said this before? - that there is a third criteria for being a Green Lantern, besides fearlessness and honesty: average or below average intelligence. Think about it: there's no real officer corps in the Green Lantern Corps, it's all about carrying out orders in the least imaginative way possible. Thinking outside the box makes you Sinestro.
No fight with the Flash should ever last longer than two seconds. They shouldn't even last long enough for the villain to even finish a complete sentence.
The Martian Manhunter is always cooler in theory than in execution.
Hawkeye's only real attribute is being a dick, but dammit if that doesn't get the job done.
People are often incredulous about Wolverine being such a ladies man - he is a smelly slob, after all - but in actuality Wolverine is probably the greatest lover in the Marvel Universe. Think about it.
Deadpool used to be awesome when he wasn't so popular and only showed up very occasionally in other books. Now he's still awesome but you feel guilty for saying so out loud.
Zatanna just isn't very interesting as a headliner, but that might be as much to do with Paul Dini's lackluster scripting on her solo material as anything else.
Ghost Rider is fucking radical.
Cyclops . . . eh. No one cares!
The Silver Surfer is the best superhero ever.
Of all the members of the Justice League, Green Arrow probably masturbates the most. That's probably why he can't keep his relationship with Black Canary intact - he never remembers to erase his browser history.
Here's a good way to make Wonder Woman interesting again: have a story where she smiles. It's such a simple idea!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I'm not going to say that vampires don't work in superhero comics. Superheroes themselves are an extremely flexible genre that can enthusiastically accommodate grafts from just about any other extant form, from mystery and romance to humor and high fantasy. Given that, it's no surprise that there's a similarly deep vein of the macabre in the major superhero universes. Dracula is, after all, one of the best supervillains in the Marvel Universe (just as Crucifer for DC), and when used sparingly his encounters with the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Silver Surfer have been among those characters most memorable match-ups. But the key here is "sparingly:" if you have the X-Men fight Dracula once in a blue moon, it's unusual and therefore interesting. If, on the other hand, you devote a half-year to the X-Men throwing down with thousands upon thousands of vampires, then you've successfully sucked everything interesting and unique out of the vampire in exchange for rendering him just another brand of multitudinous faceless cannon-fodder villain - like HYDRA or the Acolytes with fangs and about as much transparent motivation.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Quick and Dirty Edition
1. GZA - Liquid Swords
Everything weird and spooky about 36 Chambers is amplified and distorted, from the horrific kung-fu movie samples to the genuine religious fervor bubbling under it all. ("B.I.B.L.E." is still one of the all-time greats.) RZA's beats have never been more shambling or crazed. From here to Portishead in one E-Z step.
Monday, November 08, 2010
I know Halloween was last week, but my Halloween movie watching has been a bit staggered recently. So: delayed horror ramblings?
I sat down to watch the first and second episodes of The Walking Dead over the weekend and I have to say that I am impressed. I never particularly cared for the series in comic form - which is not to say that I ever thought it was bad, just that whenever I caught an issue it never grabbed me. I believe from what I've heard other people say, it's one of those series that works better if you have the accumulated story at your fingertips - picking up bits and pieces here and there is bound to disappoint. But even though I admire it as a well-made book every time I read it I've never felt compelled to fill in the gaps of what I've missed, so there is that. I guess the best example of my ambivalence towards the series can best be summed up in the fact that when I read #75 (I have been following the last little storyline because of the book's raised profile) I was genuinely excited when I got to the color section at the end of the book, and believed very briefly that this was a genuine left-turn and that the book was going to switch-gears into sci-fi. I - of course - figured out in a couple pages it was an anniversary issue put-on, but my investment in the series is slight enough that I very briefly entertained the notion of following the book more seriously, and probably would have done so if the genre switch had been permanent. (I am just far more of a sci-fi guy than a horror or crime guy, but you probably know that by now.)
But I think that the series works for me a lot better on TV than it did on the page. People with more investment in the source material will undoubtedly say that it falls short in some way, but for television - even "edgy" basic cable Emmy-baiting drama fare - it's pretty intense. There were some serious white-knuckle moments peppered throughout both episodes. Survival horror has, at this point, some fairly solid conventions as a distinct genre, and even if we're familiar with these conventions from decades of genre films, books and comics, it's still pretty cool to see the genre get put through its paces on national television with good special effects and decent actors. You and I have seen Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later and maybe even Return of the Living Dead 3 - you know, the one with the cute cutter zombie girl - we know how this pans out. But I imagine for anyone only vaguely familiar with the genre, tuning in because it shares a timeslot with Madmen, it's probably something of a revelation.
That goes in general for all kinds of nerd media, though, when it's adapted correctly: stories that are intimately familiar to us because of their dependence on decades of accumulated convention and narrative technique can seem preternaturally efficient when translated into alien mediums, Moviegoers or viewers unfamiliar with the source genre have no idea that the reason these stories work so well is that thousands of people have been woodshedding every possible variation on the theme for decades, and we know what works and what doesn't. So a story like The Walking Dead that profits from Kirkman's deep understanding of the genre - which may seem unavoidably familiar to aficionados - takes on an entirely new life when placed in front of an audience who have never danced that tune before.
Any shortcomings the series may have are wholly contingent on the limitations of its medium. Most of the characters are drawn in broad strokes, but that's to be expected from episodic TV and, I think, fairly convincing as well. Anyone able to survive in this situation would naturally be a more extreme type of personality. So yeah, you've got a scowling redneck racist stereotype, but that makes sense because it's not hard to imagine that an inordinate amount of psychopaths and sociopaths would tend to thrive in any violent survival scenario. Life or death situations tend to efface subtlety very quickly.
If the show sticks to the trajectory of these first two episodes, it should become a pop culture mainstay in no time flat. I think if could do for horror on TV what The Sopranos did for crime - that is, disguise some very old cliches in new enough clothes in such a way as to inspire a number of subsequent, better variations on the theme. The difference is that while The Sopranos* somehow convinced people that it was more than a garden-variety mob show with rare touches of wit, The Walking Dead makes no bones about the fact that's its a gorey horror melodrama and, as such, can be far more effective and ruthless in its execution of genre convention. Madmen is shlock**, but it's worse for the fact that it pretends to be something more than historiploitation that exploits the audience's awareness of dramatic irony for cheap schadenfreude. The Walking Dead is schlock too, but proudly so, and as such is so far much more enjoyable than just about anything else on the tube.
* Not a blind criticism: I sat through every episode of The Sopranos waiting in vain for the vaunted "greatest show in TV history" to appear, only to be disappointed at almost every turn.
** I've watched the show off and on, and I've never been impressed, except for the fact that it hires pretty ladies. After discussing it with my mom I've come to the conclusion that the majority of people who really like Madmen must be people who aren't actually old enough to remember living through the sixties, because no one in their right mind would ever want to revisit that particular cul-de-sac of American history from that ghoulish perspective.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Professor Vicki Vale
It is important for a reporter to always keep their eyes open for stories. Even the smallest detail can be a clue that could provide the key to a big scoop! Intense focus is necessary for any investigative journalist: find a story and sink your teeth into it with the tenacity of a terrier. Let nothing distract your from your story!
Say, just for a random example, that you're following a string of red herrings related to the idea that a noted billionaire playboy industrialist is also a globe-trotting vigilante. Even though you've already amassed material evidence that said playboy is said vigilante, and even if you've also gone so far as to track down the "secret identities" of a number of his known vigilante associates, well, you just can't run that story until you're absolutely, positively sure that you've exhausted every possible source. Just because Drudge or Gawker or the Huffington Post or the Daily Beast or Fox News or the Post would run a huge story without "Woodward & Bernstein" levels of corroborating evidence doesn't mean that a downrent tabloid reporter who somehow nevertheless manages to support herself for long periods of time working on what are essentially unpaid freelance assignments can't hold herself to higher standards. It's all about ethics and integrity!
Monday, October 18, 2010
The story goes that Milton Berle never actually pulled the entire length of his penis out of his pants. He only used just as much as was necessary to prove that he was longer than whomever had challenged him to a (literal) dick-measuring contest. This is an interesting idea because it points to a seemingly contradictory exercise of restraint in relation to something that is, in the most basic terms possible, the ultimate assertion of masculinity. Ultimately, it's about confidence: Berle only pulled out as much as he needed because he had no desire to do anything other than prove his supremacy - he was already secure in his position as the biggest wang in Hollywood and needed no conspicuous display in order to solidify his reputation in the matter.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Well, folks, what I feared would would come to pass has finally occurred: I got a C&D courtesy of the DMCA in regards to one of my podcast. To which I say, boo-urns. I'm no lawyer and I have no desire to poke the beast, so the offending post is gone.
I am left with the question of what exactly to do. I really enjoy doing these podcasts! I slipped out the preview of this week's podcast on the Twitter feed two days back, and was just sitting down to code the "official" release when I saw last week's podcast had been Disappeared. If you want it, it's still up, but I don't know if I'll ever put another one up again since the Dime Got Dropped. So . . . don't know. Have to mull. I'd like to continue doing them, but I don't want the hassle.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
It is one of the great creative ironies in superhero comics that those characters with the most distinctive and colorful individual milieus are often less popular than characters with more generalized, which is not to say generic contexts. Superman has Metropolis and Batman has Gotham, but these are both just cross-eyed approximations of New York City; Spider-Man lives in the real New York City. These are all colorful backdrops but they're still situated securely enough in recognizable reality (or its spandex approximation) that the characters themselves can go in many directions. I would even go so far as to say that these characters are more modular as a direct consequence of their open-ended milieus, and this modularity gives them room enough that they can reasonably expand to fill an almost infinite variety of storytelling spaces. All of these characters have in the past anchored long-running team-up anthology books, and their respective popularity has dictated their status as utility players, able to be plugged into almost any different story type or genre simply by virtue of their ubiquity.
Friday, October 01, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
So this is the much-lauded first issue of Matt Fraction's much-hyped run on Thor. And I have to say, for one of the most heavily hyped debut issues in recent memory, this is a big ol' eh.
It's become de rigueur for reviewers, when discussing Thor, to state up-front that they don't really like Thor, or at least that they don't know Thor very well. I don't even need to link, because literally every single review of the new Thor I've seen (that wasn't written by Tucker or Chad Nevett) has featured the sentence: "I haven't read Thor since Walter Simonson," or the variant, "before JMS, I hadn't read Thor since Simonson." And then the reviewer says something along the lines that "Simonson casts a long shadow." Simonson's "long shadow" has become axiomatic. Which leads you to wonder, what the hell happened to Thor between 1987 and 2007? Was the character not published? Was he just pulled out of mothballs by JMS after having lain fallow for two decades?
No, there were a lot of Thor comics published in the intervening years, but most people apparently didn't read them. Regardless of the fact that, with the exception of a couple years in the mid-90s during and immediately after Heroes Reborn, Thor was published on a monthly basis for twenty years following the end of Simonson's run and preceding the beginning of JMS, no one seems to remember those comics at all. And I'm not trying to say that there was some kind of hidden Watchmen somewhere in the back 400s of his first volume or anything like that but . . . you know what? I'm that guy who read every Thor comic between Simonson and JMS. I love Thor. I've never, ever understood why Thor never got the respect I felt he was due. For years he was in the same boat as Captain America and Iron Man: languishing in semi-obscurity despite the fact that their books were still being published for decades; one of Marvel's undisputed heavyweights in terms of character prominence but not in terms of actual publishing priority. No one who worked on Thor ever got poached by Image (well, OK, Erik Larsen's first work was a fill-in issue of Thor, but you know what I mean). next to the "happening" books of the early and mid 90s, it was a creative backwater, old fashioned, staid.
After Simonson left the book, Thor eventually settled into the capable hands of Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. Now, I have never read any articles on the topic, but it's conceivable that DeFalco got the job because no one else wanted it. He was Editor-In-Chief at the time and, given the fact that Simonson's run on the character was so immensely popular, it might have seemed like something of a poisoned chalice. How often does anyone talk about Denny O'Neil's run on Daredevil? But you know what? I loved DeFalco and Frenz's run. It was awesome. Sure, it wasn't SIMONSON, but it wasn't really trying to be. Simonson was all about giving Thor more of a connection to his actual mythic roots; DeFalco was all about pushing Thor back towards his Kirby roots. So yeah, you can definitely say that DeFalco's Thor was a Kirby pastiche - and later on the run, with the increased prominence of Erik Masterson's character, a bit of a Spider-Man pastiche as well - but pointing out that DeFalco does solidly retro-flavored superhero books with a strong Silver Age feel is a bit like pointing out that fish have gills and swim in the water.
But then, you know who else was also awesome on Thor? Roy Thomas! He's hardly fashionable anymore, but Thomas' run on the character, and especially the run of stories leading up to issue #300, was pretty damn cool. Reading those books, in hindsight, it almost seems as if Thomas predicted late-period Grant Morrison - there are so many ideas, such a plot-heavy density of storytelling, that those books are a real feast - three-course meals of stuff happening . Thomas, of course, devoted much of his run to absorbing Kirby's late 70s work - particularly The Eternals - into mainline Marvel continuity. The argument has been made that this was unnecessary, and that Kirby never intended for The Eternals to be anything other than a stand-alone series, but that ship sailed a long time ago. Fact is, Thomas was correct in guessing that the Celestials were perfect antagonists for Thor - insanely powerful Kirby space deities who could squish the most powerful god on Earth into a fine paste, if they could even be bothered to notice him. Thomas' run was one of his best at Marvel, and if you don't believe me just pick up a copy of Thor #300 the next time you see it in a dollar box. Tell me that's not everything you ever wanted in a comic book.
So, no, I'm not being reintroduced to Thor after a long hiatus. I've been around the block with Thor, and I have to say, the first issue of this new era of Asgardian adventure kind of seems - well, it's not bad, but no one should mistake this for anything new, either. The "Asgard is empty, the space has been usurped by dark gods from another pantheon of evil deities" was done back in the first arc of Jurgens and Romitas Jr.'s run in the late nineties.* Pasqual Ferry is a nice draftsman, but his design work is very sterile, and not very inspiring. I know all the double-page spreads and widescreen vistas are supposed to be cool and all, but seriously - how about showing Thor hitting something? You know, fighting some trolls or the Wrecking Crew or - something besides mooning around Asgard with Balder? Anything?
I'm not expecting something novel, but I am expecting something with some life in its bones. It's not hard. But for all his pedigree, much of Fraction's Marvel work has been remarkably staid. I know this is the first issue, he's just setting up dominos for later stories, etc etc. But you know, they said that about his Iron Man work as well, and it took a long time for that to get interesting, and it arguably only got interesting once a crossover intervened and changed Tony Stark's status quo so radically that the book became something else entirely. (And now that Dark Reign is over, Iron Man is settling back into its regularly scheduled naptime.) I'm not hopeful, basically. I just want a good Thor comic, and while this isn't a bad Thor comic, it's nothing new for anyone who's been reading Thor for as long as I have.
* This on the heels of JMS' "the gods are missing, they're hidden on earth in the guise of random mortals" plotline, which was straight out of the late 90s' short-lived Journey Into Mystery revival; plus, that same plotline was lifted by Neil Gaiman for his own Eternals revamp a few years ago. Are they really only so many ideas you can do with Asgardian gods and Eternals?
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Interpol - Interpol
It feels weird to be talking about Interpol in 2010. Hearing a new Interpol album just seems . . . quaint? . . . in a comparable fashion to, say, sitting down to read a new Rob Liefeld comic. For better or for worse, they're so strongly tied to a certain moment in time that the idea of them putting out new music in the here and now feels vaguely anachronistic. I always like to imagine that Interpol were one of the bands Sleater-Kinney had in mind back in 2005 when they wrote "Entertain" and dropped the hammer on all the retro-hipster scenester bands that defined "indie rock" in the early years of the decade. Sure, some of the music was OK, but given just how tumultuous the last decade was, the fact that so many otherwise talented bands retreated into anodyne nostalgia-mongering was disappointing - even if you could tap your toe to Is This It, it left you hungry afterwards, like a plate full of cancerous MSG. You can't tell me it holds up as well as you thought it would Back In The Day.
It's funny how our judgment becomes clouded by the passage of time - I seem to recall this kind of crap clogging up the whole of pop music for years, but a casual glance at Pitchfork's Top 50 for 2002, for example, proves that this just wasn't the case. There was lots of stuff released in those years that wasn't just skinny jeans & Television / white dress shirts & Joy Division. It just seems like that was the whole story, because that's all anybody ever talked about. And, wow, what the fuck was going on at Pitchfork that they put Yankee Hotel Foxtrot pole-position behind Turn On The Bright Lights? I understand the desire to take a stand against stifling rock critic groupthink - and, it's no secret, YHF was pretty much deified the moment it hit shelves, to say nothing about the long legendary months of record label turmoil that preceded its release. Wilco was never really as "cool" as they were "good," and even back in 2001 they were already suspiciously close to hoary "dad rock" for many peoples' comfort. Subsequent years have proven WIlco's early decade peak to be kind of a fluke, a once-in-a-career confluence of a drug-addicted, clinically depressed songwriter (Jeff Tweedy) finding a production voice (that of Jim O'Rourke) uniquely suited to grinding Tweedy's material into a diamond-hard edge. (Which isn't to say that anyone should resent Tweedy his hard-earned sobriety and domestic equanimity, but we can resent him making complacent-ass records of boring "dad rock" all day long.) But still: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? Still awesome, still played to death; Turn On The Bright Lights? Seriously, when was the last time you listened to it? Be honest with yourself: it's kind of dated.
And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. When Interpol debuted, they really were pretty impressive - sure, they were always more or less derivative, but they had the tunes to back it up. "PDA"? Still gets stuck in your head after all these years. Yeah, it sounds a lot like 2002, with all that implies - maybe what we really needed then was vaguely inconsequential Bauhaus riffs? The problem was that, if their first album was pretty much the epitome of what Interpol should sound like, where the hell could they go from there? Antics was, in some respects, as good a record as their debut, but it was basically just a further refinement of an already clearly defined aesthetic. There didn't seem to be any place to go - no room for improvement or even exploration. Their sound was always sterile - that was the point - but they didn't seem to be the kind of band that would ever be able to pull-off a convincing stylistic 180 or even just a 30. They were what they were, and what that was was black slacks, shiny patent leather shoes, crooning not-quite-Goth-more-like-Weimar Ian Curtis showtunes. It didn't seem likely that they would suddenly decamp to Woodstock and produce an acoustic country album or record a lo-fi garage project with Dave Fridmann, or any of the other typical left-turns rock stars take when they need to freshen up a stale bag of tricks.
Interpol was a very narrow box, and they pretty much shat all over the walls of this narrow box with Our Love To Admire. If you want an example of what happens to a decent band when they sign to a major label and lose their minds, this is Exhibit A: a soggy mess of meandering synth noises and echoey vocals that sounds . . . well, like shit, if you don't mind me going back to the fecal imagery so soon after the first sentence of this paragraph. It was just awful, so much so that the band itself eventually disowned it. I gave up on them at that moment. It was an album awful enough to make you retroactively rethink all their previous music that you had liked, or at least that you remembered liking at some indeterminate point before the bag of memories in your head entitled "Interpol" was burnt with fire.
So what are we doing here, then, bothering with a group about which we had once sworn never to bother with again? Well, a few months back I just happened to hear Turn On The Bright Lights in a record store. I hadn't heard the disc in years - at least three or four. And suddenly I remembered why I had once liked the band: the album sounded good. The hooks were sharp, the sound was clear, and even if it was derivative it was so perfectly conceived that you almost couldn't help but feel that they were making better use of those styles than the people from whom they bit. Let us make no mistake - a good Interpol song is essentially a trifle. Their métier is very limited, and their glowering, self-important attitude can seem relentlessly juvenile. But when they hit inside their range they can really satisfy. They at least know how to tell a joke, which is more than most gloomy bands can manage. (Hint: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" was always intended as a joke, people.)
So - self-titled fourth album, first after having to crawl back to their indie alma mater for forgiveness after being kicked off the corporate teat for - heh - sucking too hard. It's . . . not bad! It sounds pretty much like their third album never happened. That's a good thing for all concerned. If you never cared for them this album is not likely to change your mind, because it's basically still got everything you didn't like about them wrapped up in a nice black bow. But if you do like them, or if you did once like them and then got bored, this is actually a pretty decent comeback. Sometimes the best ambition a band can have is just to recapture the spark of what made them special in the first place. For that, this is Mission Accomplished.
How long they can continue into the future after having lost their bass player / resident fashion plate Carlos D is unknown. But then, Carlos D has been a mortifying hipster cliche for so long that it might even be good for them. In the meantime, we all eagerly await the D-Dawg's appearance on the next Methods of Mayhem album.
Monday, September 27, 2010
Last week we looked back at the life and career of indie-rock institution Pavement, this week we offer something completely different. Because I contain multitudes. And I really do mean "completely different" - what could be more unlike Pavement than straight-up techno? And I don't just mean the generic "techno" that people WHO DON'T KNOW SHIT say when they mean computer music, I mean old-school Detroit-influenced bleeps and bloops. Some of it is straight outta Deutschland, so be warned if that's a Problem.
Download the mix at Sharebee and Sendspace.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
So, yes: let us now discuss Pavement. Or more to the point, let us discuss the band Violet & I saw in Boston on Saturday, on the home stretch of their massive reunion tour cash-in-apalooza. There will be time for a more detailed examination of The Event later in the week, but for now let it suffice to say: pretty spry for some old guys. Alternate snark: Boy, the Jicks sure have let themselves go.
In the meantime, let's enjoy a trip down memory lane, shall we? Not just the hits - in fact, I avoided all but a couple of the "hits" - more a guide for the perplexed who may already be predisposed to the idea that "Cut Your Hair" is an annoying song that sounds unfortunately like Weezer. So here's some deep cuts, b-sides, and other assorted ephemera culled from those massive double-disc reissues they've been releasing the last decade; as well as a couple oddball covers of their songs by other artists (one of which I think is pretty good, the other of which I think is endearingly awful, you guess which one is which), and a couple cameos from their biggest influences, for those playing the rock critic game at home. (Pavement have never made any secret of wearing their influences on their sleeves, and this kind of trainspotting is part of the fun.) The goal is, shall we say, a kind of "secret history" that serves not as a corrective but a corollary to the kind of strange focus that comes from hits-heavy reunion shows and the best-of compilations that inspire them.
Download the mix at Sharebee and Sendspace.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Remember me? You should CARE what I have to say about comics I read because I'm too tired to concentrate on Hegel.
I do not believe that it is necessarily wrong for people to have something in their lives over which they can temporarily suspend their sense of proportion. It is important that, at the end of the day, you can put your feelings about Spider-Man neatly back in the box labeled "Feelings About Spider-Man" and go about your business. But it's nice to be able to spend an afternoon's holiday in a land where Spider-Man is the most important thing.
Some will say that this specific story - this deck-clearing exercise dedicated to cleaning up some cobwebs left over from the end of the Spider-Marriage - is simply a boring mistake. It is either a waste of time that will hold no interest for anyone who is interested in Spider-Man's post-Brand New Day status quo, or it is a futile gesture that will only further incense those fans still smarting over the summary dismissal of the pre-Brand New Day status quo. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who retains fond memories of the married Spider-Man and misses those stories, even though I clearly understand the mercenary necessity of clearing the decks in order to revert the core iteration one of the most popular intellectual properties in the entire world to its most familiar "classic" configuration. Given this, One More Day was the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, even if the story itself is monumentally stupid. (It was probably a mistake to give a character like Spider-Man the "has no problem making deals with the devil" personality trait.)
So what is this comic, besides a belated attempt at actually explaining the precise mechanics of the aforementioned awful plothammer? Surprisingly, a shamefacedly sentimental and very affecting envoy to the Spider-Marriage era, an apology of sorts penned directly by Joe Quesada to all the fans hurt by his decision to erase their childhood memories from existence for the sake of future childhood memories. (It goes without saying that "future childhood memories" translate into cold hard cash on the Intellectual Property futures market, but you're a better man than I if you can begrudge your hypothetical seven-year-old child the right to fall in love with Spider-Man just because he's now owned by Walt Disney.)
If One More Day was a proverbial wet fart, One Moment In Time was the wrap-up that - well, I was going to say the wrap-up that 20-odd years of Spider-Fans deserved, but I want to speak as precisely as possible. These IP farms masquerading as friendly publishing houses don't "owe" us anything in the strictest sense, but it is nevertheless nice on those rare occasions when they acknowledge that - regardless of whatever their bottom line may dictate - they do "owe" their entire continued existence to the often disproportionate emotional connection we fans bestow on these fictional avatars.
Writing continuity bandages can be harsh and artless exercises, but this one took the problems inherent in this type of story and turned it into a singular virtue. Spider-Man's great defining trait is that, when the chips are down, he somehow always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He is always torn between doing what is right and what is easiest, or doing what is strictly necessary and what is most desirable. Doing the right thing is always the right thing regardless of whatever negative repercussions it might entail: this is Ditko's greatest thematic contribution, and not even decades of anodyne soap opera and toothless sci-fi shenanigans have been able to efface that cold, hard truth.
At the end of this comic Spider-Men - even though he's finally succeeded in doing the impossible, putting the "Genie back in the bottle" regarding his secret identity and the harm it causes his loved ones - does something so monumentally selfish, a choice predicated on love but in reality so incalculably hurtful, that you can't help gasping in shock. It is, against all odds, a classic Spider-Man moment. Spider-Man, even as he succeeds in accomplishing the impossible, makes a selfish split-second decision that alienates the one person he loves most in all the world. That right there? That's a punch in the gut, in the last place in the world I was expecting to find such a well-executed coup. They could have just erased the continuity and called it a day, but they were smart to realize that, for Spider-Man, there's always a price to be paid, and the price for undoing all the damage done by his own stupid mistakes is almost inconceivably high.
Some will still say this was a story not worth telling, or that didn't need to be told - but good stories justify themselves simply by being good stories. This right here? Regardless of its origins or the ostensibly self-serving motivations of the creative team involved, this is a good story. Credit where it's due.
Paul O'Brien has said, in as many words, that this crossover - the Frankenstein's Monster Punisher in a rematch against Daken - is of only tangential significance to Daken's story, and represents a significant detour for a book that was already victim of multiple significant detours. I must respectfully disagree, and this is the issue that very explicitly illustrates the crossover's significance to Daken's "story."
The main action of the story isn't really the fight between Daken and the Punisher, or between the Punisher and Wolverine, but the conversation that Wolverine and the Punisher have as they deciding what to do about Daken. Wolverine says he has to protect his boy even if he's gone rotten. The Punisher replies, in essence, you're stupid: Daken is completely rotten, he's an opportunistic and invincible murderer without so much as a shred of conscience, and if anyone in the entire world needs to be put down, it's him. Wolverine has no reply to that, and ultimately tacitly agrees with Frank. That right there was worth the whole price of admission: Daken is and has always been less than half a complete character, more a series of "kewl" Poochy-esque traits strung together with the unifying theme of hating his father. He is, frankly, an absurd attempt at franchise building, a regrettable memento from a regrettable era of Wolverine stories (an era which, it should be noted, is already being swept under the rug as quickly as humanly possible).
Many of the people who have written Daken since his initial appearances have either tacitly or overtly recognized his basic absurdity and uselessness, and the few "good" Daken appearances have capitalized on the fact that he's a purposeful cipher whose only traits are his unremitting unlikeability. This crossover crystallizes and punctuates those traits and essentially draws a big neon sign in the direction of all future Daken stories, since they've obviously got high expectations regarding the future economic viability of "Wolverine's son:" the only way forward for Daken as a character is up. He either becomes a complete villain - which he basically already is except for the fact that his name is on top of the marquee - or he begins some sort of arduous and long-winded road to redemption (or, at least, a state of being slightly less annoying). As with One Moment In Time, this crossover was essentially a bog-standard narrative necessity which actually found a useful guise: basically, they needed some sort of pay-off for the whole "Daken is a monstrous douche" arc before they could begin to tell different types of stories with the character. Having the Punisher - a character with whom the audience's sympathies are more likely to rest - beat the little pissant silly was a satisfying resolution for many readers (such as myself) who honestly can't stand the little prick. Now that he's been pulled up short and brought face to face with at least a small smattering of the consequences of his actions, hopefully they have a new direction in mind. Because if they don't, then people will start caring even less than they already do.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
MP Da Last Don, by Pen & Pixel (1998)
Since I began these podcasts earlier in the summer, people have been asking for a No Limit retrospective which - OK, I guess I've never made any real secret of my love for No Limit records. I initially resisted the obvious impulse, not because I didn't want to do it, but because I knew everybody would love it and I didn't want to empty my holster all at once. But it turned out pretty good and it's got a great response, so chances are good that a sequel may just be in the works. There is no shortage of No Limit material to pull from: this is solely stuff I had sitting around at arm's length, I didn't even dig very deep.
I don't usually make a habit of this, but I have decided to provide some selected annotations for this mix, primarily because you can't really do classic No Limit without some kind of nod to the classic Pen & Pixel covers that so perfectly captured this strange era of hip-hop culture, and it looks nice to have a few words accompanying the images. Also, this will be my last post for the next little bit: those who follow my Twitter already know I'm in the process of moving, and as that absorbs all light and energy in a radius of three light-years, I will be busy for much of August. I might post some stuff here and there, but I wouldn't count on any serious initiatives.
Download the mix at Sharebee and Sendspace.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
It's an old argument, true, and not a new one for this corner of the blogosphere, but it seems to have picked up some fresh steam as a new "meme" coming out of the recent Nerdapalooza in San Diego. I'll let you catch up here.
In response to a question posed regarding the relative ages of the various Batmen and Robins in his current series, Grant Morrison stated:
We've already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, 'Let's ground this' or 'Let's make this realistic.' You can't make it realistic because it's not. So basically Batman is 75 years old, and Robin is 74 years old. They don't grow old because they're different from us. They're paper people.I think there are two points that can be made from this quote:
First, Morrison is right to deride a certain strain of contemporary mainstream craftsmanship that consistently seeks to ground even the most seemingly fantastic narrative within mundane and realistically-stylized boundaries. It's not hard to detect some lingering polemical ire towards the architects of "Nu-Marvel," who successfully reoriented the core of the Marvel brand towards a style of hyper-banal studied conversationalism that Morrison found particularly alienating. A book like Brubaker's Captain America or Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man benefits from that kind of grounding, but this approach is temperamentally unsuited to more elaborate modes of fantasy storytelling.
In all fairness, however, that doesn't appear to be the main thrust of Morrison's critique. Earlier in the panel, he said:
Then you've got an adult, and adults can not tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is 'How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?' It's not real. And beyond that, when you're dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They're real in that context.What does Morrison mean by "fantasy?" There are two colloquial meanings of fantasy at use here, seemingly interchangeably: first, fantasy as something that is axiomatically "not real," a usage that could be used to encompass any variety of daydreaming or strictly impossible activity. "I wish that I won the lottery" is a common enough statement, and for most of us it is strictly fantasy - we haven't and we never will win the lottery, but it's OK to fantasize about having done so. In and of itself, notwithstanding its high improbability, there is nothing fantastic about the idea of winning the lottery: it probably won't happen to you or me, but it is a real thing that can and does happen to real people. Just like getting hit by lightning, or having a one-night stand with a gorgeous celebrity - unlikely, but statistically possible.
These daydreams are a type of "fantasy" but they aren't Fantasy. Fantasy is a literary genre, and like all type of storytelling it is dependent on rules. Storytelling can't exist without rules. I can certainly sympathize with the sentiment behind Mark Waid's later comment that "Super-hero stories are not about rules. They're about flying." But it is strictly untrue. A strong argument can be made that the conceptual impetus behind superheroes is directly related to the fantasy impulse mentioned above: instead of winning the lottery, you have power - you can fly, you can lift cars above your head, you can right injustices without any unpleasant consequences, you can effect positive change in the world on your own. But the moment you extract this daydreaming impulse - what we'll call small-f fantasy, fantasizing - and insert it into the narrative structure of capital-F Fantasy, you've already entered the realm of rules. You can't escape rules once you begin any kind of storytelling.
And let's be clear, we're not talking about rules that a creator should or should not feel beholden to obey, continuity or power charts or whatnot, we're talking about something deeper, something hardwired into the nature of the human mind as a function of being a creature who exists to make sense of his environment. (For those with an interest, Daniel Dennet's Breaking the Spell is a great, jargon-light introduction to this kind of basic cognitive theory.) In Narratology, Mieke Bal offers a great description of the processes that our minds experience when we're confronted with a narrative of any kind:
A structural correspondence was assumed to exist between the fabulas of narratives and 'real' fabulas, that is between what people do and what actors do in fabulas that have been invented, between what people experience and what actors experience. It makes sense if one realizes that if no homology were to exist at all, no correspondence however abstract, then people would not be able to understand narratives. Two arguments have been introduced against this homology. Firstly, it has been argued that the difference between literature or art and reality has been ignored. Scholars accused French structuralist CLaude Bremond, for example, of this error on the basis of the latter's 'logic of events.' However, it is not a question of concrete identity but rather of structural similarity. Pointing out correspondences does not imply that absolute equality is being suggested. Another objection to postulating the 'real-life' homology is that, in certain types of narrative texts - for example, fantastic, absurd, or experimental - such a homology is absent; in fact, these texts are characterized by their denial or distortion of the logic of reality. This objection can be addressed in two ways again. The denial, distortion, or, as is now often said, 'deconstruction' of a realistic story-line is something altogether different from its absence. On the contrary, there is clearly something worth denying. This objection can also be countered with the argument that readers, intentionally or not, search for a logical line in such a text. They spend a great amount of energy in this search, and, if necessary, they introduce such a line themselves. Emotional involvement, aesthetic pleasure, suspense, and humor depend on it. No matter how absurd, tangled, or unreal a text may be, readers will tend to regard what they consider 'normal' as a criterion by which they can give meaning to the text, even if that meaning can only be articulated in opposition to that normality.[Emphases mine.] Bal, Mieke. Narratology. Second Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2004.Readers will always seek a thru-line throughout whatever text is presented them, and their desire to create consistency and stability in even the most abstruse or seemingly unreal narratives will increase in direct proportion to their investment in said narratives. If someone likes a story, they've already invested a great deal into making that story "work" on some level; if someone likes a story a lot, they've got a lot riding on whether or not that story "pans out," and are likely to expend a great deal of effort to make the various moving parts move in a satisfactory manner.
To a large degree the reader creates his or her own rules as they read - interact with - the text. Artists can be as helpful or unhelpful as they desire, but an invested reader will work hard - consciously or no - to define the parameters of the fictional world in which they've become invested. To follow the metaphor: readers want a return on their investment. If a reader becomes really, really invested, they'll work hard to provide their own authentication, much in the same way a motivated investor with 10,000 shares in GM would refuse to buy any car but a Chevy. At a certain point the logic of the investment takes on a life of its own, and the premise becomes infinitely self-replenishing. Deriding this commitment seems, at best, petty, and at worst positively mean-spirited.
Every text provides its own authenticating devices - something as seemingly small as "Once upon a time" at the beginning of a fairy tale, or as big as the Official Handbook of the marvel Universe Deluxe Edition authenticating the parameters for an entire ongoing fictional construct like the Marvel Universe. Most authenticating happens in the area of setting, but a clever fantasy story unravels the "rules" of its setting as it goes along, allowing the reader to experience them as if they were an active participant in their creation - which, in the strictest sense, they are, because the rules of a fantasy world only work if the reader agrees to participate. To understand this principle, imagine the inverse. We've all had the experience of watching a sci-fi or fantasy movie with someone who has very little interest or understanding of the genre, and who keeps asking questions like, Why are they doing that? Why does that person look like that? Why does the monster want to eat people? Etc, etc. It's not a fun experience because your companion hasn't agreed to participate, they're a "hostile collaborator" whose refusal to understand the premise of the operative fantasy rules hobbles their ability to understand the most basic features of the narrative .
There's a tacit agreement between the audience and the author that both parties have entered into their transaction with good faith. The author, for their part, has almost infinite power to bend and shape the rules of reality to their pleasure. Especially in terms of explicitly fantasy narratives, the reader will extend their suspension of disbelief to the breaking point and beyond, if their investment is strong enough. How many deflating season-ending cliffhangers have Doctor Who fans endured these past few years, buoyed almost solely by the strength of their affection for the idea of Doctor Who and all the wonderful characters and ideas his particular fictional universe has to offer? As bad as New Who has occasionally been, I've rarely felt as if the creators weren't playing fair with me.
Rules in fiction are like spandrels in architecture: regardless of the author's intentions, they appear in the most inconvenient places. When you're dealing with superheroes you're dealing most importantly with narrative conventions that appear in many instances to actually be rules. The "idea" of the superhero may be pure fantasy, but superhero stories are themselves products of decades worth of laborious genre-building, the product of thousands of creators and IP harvesters working to define the whys and whyfors of this strange hybrid corner of the pulp universe. You can argue all you want about whether or not these rules and conventions are good or bad, but at the end of the day they simply are. Most creators figure out at some point that very good stories can be told through the selective circumventing of these rules: the "deconstructionist" superhero stories of the eighties and nineties made their mark precisely because those creators got the knack for building whole stories out of the act of selectively breaking rules. Writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Morrison himself used the amassed corpus of established conventions as their "text," and their stories as the "readings" which dismantled certain established one or another of the myriad rules surrounding the genre. (Deconstruction is, most importantly, an act of reading which acknowledges the textuality of the object being deconstructed.)
Readers will always work to "ground" their fiction, because that's what readers do. For a creator to argue against this natural grounding activity is to argue against an active engagement with their own works, because it naturally follows that any involved reader will want to extend the benefit of the doubt to any text in which they become invested. You can't have it both ways: Fantasy literature is based on small-f fantasy, yes, but once you acknowledge the connective tissue between reader and text that creates the suspension of disbelief that creates emotional investment, you can't wave your hands willy-nilly and simply disregard whatever you like. Because disregarding out of hand the audience's strong tendency towards rationalizing their investment is, to put it bluntly, insulting.
(And this is, of course, where the line between real-world authors and the idea of the "Author" as a construct begins to blur - how fortunate for Homer that he died before he had to answer questions from fanboys. As much as we like to think we can keep our understanding of the two kinds of authors separate, it's increasingly hard for an invested reader to do just that - if an author like Grant Morrison is going to make sweeping generalizations, it's hard for me not to ascribe certain prejudices to the theoretical Author construct known as "Grant Morrison.")
Fiction is not just fiction, fiction is a set of rules by which the author and audience agree to cooperate. Audiences can be remarkably forgiving: in these long-term superhero universe constructs we have wacky things like "sliding timescales" and "retcons" and "reboots" which, while technically egregious violations of The Rules, exist to enable the stories to perpetuate themselves relatively free from noxious hinderance. Every once in a great while creators are faced with the unpleasant necessity of writing a story like "One More Day" - a story which can best be compared to the act of ripping off a Band-Aid as quickly as possible in order merely to get it over with. It might sting but eventually the red marks go away. As much as fans might dislike that particular retcon and its troublesome ramifications, it was - strictly speaking - a fair play. There was a large degree of hand-waving involved, but if fans ultimately judge that the benefits outweigh the cost - the immediate aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths was ugly and confusing, but few would argue at this late date that it wasn't a story worth telling for a goal worth achieving. It may have seemed ugly and mercenary, the definition of "checkbook storytelling," telling a story solely out of a desire to balance the books - but sometimes those are necessary stories to tell for the long-term health of a franchise.
So yeah, rules are important. Sometimes in these conversations it's hard not to detect a whiff of a straw-man here, as if there is a hypothetical nerd sitting over the creators' shoulder waving their precious copy of OHOTMU in the air and screaming about whether or not the Hulk is stronger than Thor. And it goes without saying that that hypothetical nerd isn't really very hypothetical, and all you need to do to prove that is to spend five minutes reading Tom Brevoort's Formespring account. But there's established practices in comics that involve a certain obeisance to mutually established guidelines - let's call them rules. Rules can and are broken, and you could even argue that without the ability to bend and break genre-specific expectations the genre - any genre - would wither and die. But you can't just say "Anything can happen in fiction and paper" and expect people to take your stories seriously.
People care about these stories, people become invested, precisely because there is a sense of expectation that the writers are going to play fair, and that when rules are broken they will be broken fairly. Animal Man is a great example because although it breaks a few huge and obvious cardinal rules of fiction - like, you know, the whole breaking-the-fourth-wall and meeting the author thing - it actually lays out the means by which it does so in a very methodical and satisfying fashion. If you read all 26 issues of Morrison's initial run, you see a very well-told story that is very conscious of how and why it's breaking the rules it's breaking, and how exactly the breaking of these rules allows the story to achieve its desired effect. The final confrontation between Buddy and Morrison is so effective precisely because we know that Superman never got to meet Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. But it's all there, from the beginning, that this was the story Morrison was telling and these were the parameters by which he was abiding - you may have been surprised when Buddy started talking to the reader, but it wasn't a cheat unless you were an unusually thick or literal-minded reader. A lot of Morrison's later work feels like a cheat, however - many of his latter-day stories feel, at best, sketched-out, and they leave a lot of room for interpretation. Denying the necessity of the reader's active interpretation, arguing against the readers' desire to make sense of their fictional surroundings to the best of their ability - that seems counter-intuitive. You can certainly say that "Fiction can do anything," and to a degree you'll even be right. But fiction can't undermine itself without ostracizing a large part of its readership. Morrison is a very popular writer, and I can't help but think that on some level - despite his protestations - he doesn't need me to tell him this.
Monday, July 26, 2010
(Scene from Robert Parrish's 1963 movie In A French Style)
This week we have a very special treat - our first-ever GUEST PODCAST, curated and chosen by none other than Violet. This week we're plunging into the heart of war-torn 1960s France, for a look at the strange phenomenon of yé-yé and the cute girls that sung it. Those unfamiliar with yé-yé might be interested in Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 film Masculin, féminin, the protagonist of which is Chantale Goya, a yé-yé singer in the movie as in real life.
Download the mix at Sharebee and Sendspace.
One track which did not make the cut for this week's podcast was "Le Vampire" by Stella, a good copy MP3 of which could not be located. But you can enjoy it anyway:
Stella Le Vampire
Uploaded by Leroidukitch. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.
Monday, July 19, 2010
X-Men: Second Coming #2
Has enough time passed for eveyone who cared to read the story and see what happened? Last thing i want to do is piss anyone off by spoiling the dramatic death of Forbush Man . . .
Much to my surprise, I actually didn't mind this whole Second Coming foofaraw. I think, as someone who has spent way too much time thinking and writing about the X-Men, the story did a number of very necessary things in order to begin putting the franchise back on the tracks. Whether or not it succeeded is another matter which we probably won't be able to judge for a while - and perhaps most importantly, we won't be able to judge until we have the sales figures from the core books' imminent soft reboots.
One of the most fascinating bits of subtext for the last couple years' X-Men stories is the idea that the X-Men aren't the center of the comics universe anymore. Marvel as a whole hasn't really seemed to mind since the Avengers books are as ubiquitous now as the X-Men were at their height. (Of course, at its height Uncanny X-Men was selling three-quarters of a million copies a month whereas Bendis' Avengers sells an eighth of that and still manages to be #1 in an emaciated marketplace - but that's neither here nor there.) Considering how long the X-Books had coasted on their preeminence and sheer institutional mass, falling out of the #1 spot resulted in years and years of flop-sweat panic under the guise of odd storylines and off-kilter crossovers. Allow me to use one of my very rare sports metaphors: the Yankees have, historically, often been at or near the top of the MLB. Because of their eminence, they take their success for granted, and when the natural success evaporates they get pissy and downright sullen. So to did the X-franchise flounder terribly when it was no longer automatically #1.
The good news is that Second Coming actually, finally, does what everyone has wanted to see since House of M: undoes the more penurious effects of M-Day while still acknowledging the overall necessity of the deck-clearing exercise. I've said all along that M-Day was a great idea in theory, on the principle that what the books needed was a Scourge-level massacre to clear away the tons of dead weight clogging up the franchise since the early 90s. (A few other people in my comments mentioned Scourge the last time I discussed the X-Books, and they were right to do so: that should have been the model all along.) If the books were no longer the #1 franchise in comics, they needed to be leaner in order to accommodate this reality. I think, over the course of this crossover, we've seen a solid picture of just what the leaner status quo should look like: a somewhat pared-down cast, action-centered plotlines, more actual soap-opera. I could still do without every story being a referendum on the books' central metaphor - when was the last time the X-Men fought Moses Magnum, for goodness' sake? - but now that Bastion is out of the way and there are no major existential threats on the immediate horizon, I think the books should be a tad lighter from here on out. If they just manage to lighten the tone coming out of this era, than I think we can call Second Coming a success purely on those grounds.
As for the story itself? Pretty good, if you can manage to avoid a few potholes. Pothole #1: the X-Men have a healer with pretty miraculous abilities named Elixir. People lost hands and legs and got impaled left and right - where the hell was Elixir when all this was happening? For that matter, where is he now? He's been portrayed as sufficiently powerful enough in the past that regrowing Xian's leg shouldn't be too difficult. Now, obviously, having Elixir in the storyline robs it of a great deal of potential impact, but if you're going to have a character like Elixir, you need to give us a damn good reason why he's not healing everyone left and right. For that matter, it would have been nice if he had been able to heal Magneto's exhaustion and get him out of the sick bay.
Pothole #2: You pretty much knew that X-Force was going to come back through Bastion's portal from the future even -especially - after they took the effort to make sure we knew that organic matter couldn't pass through it. So . . . Cable sacrificed himself how, exactly? Letting the techno-organic virus take over his body somehow made him a bridge for the other members of the X-Force team who were regular organic? Hunh. I guess when it comes to these things, "comic book science" is all the hand-waving we should need. But still! How exactly does that work?
One thing that bugs me is Cable's death: I admit, I like Cable. He is such a pure and unadulterated product of early 90s superhero culture, a total reflection of the power fantasies of late 80s adolescence, that as a character he remains strikingly pure. His contrived, contorted origins, his enigmatic and constantly shifting motivations, his unimpeachable authority as a CLint Eastwood-esque fantasy father-figure for a generation of latchkey nerds - it's so much of a piece with a certain era of comics history that now, in the early 2010s, he's like a living coelacanth. But I also know he won't be dead for long. Resurrection is one of Cable's powers just as much as telekinesis: off the top of my head he's probably had more on-screen deaths than any other X-character, ever. (Magneto has maybe had more, I'm not sure, but do villainous, "I suspect we haven't seen the last of him!" deaths count in this derby?)
Pothole #3: Not so much a pothole as a pretty obvious and annoying "TO BE CONTINUED." What exactly is Hope? If you read the last battle at the Golden Gate bridge carefully, she is actually just copying a number of other mutants' powers - Armor's armor, Colossus's steel arms, Cyclops' eye blasts, Iceman's ice. Only at the end of her battle with Bastion does she appear to actually go "full Phoenix" - and then again at the very end of Second Coming #2, she manifests as Phoenix very briefly for Emma Frost. (Although Hope herself seems blissfully unaware of any of this.) I have no idea if the people currently writing the books read Alan Davis' run on Excalibur - which pretty definitively answered many questions regarding the Phoenix - but it seems as if the Phoenix as it is currently conceived is primarily concerned with ensuring the continuation of the X-gene after it was expunged from the human genome by the Scarlet Witch. (It will be interesting to see - if they ever get around to writing the story - what will happen when Rachel Summers finally returns from space to find that the Phoenix has taken up with a new host after abandoning her in the run-up to War of Kings.) Whether or not this means that Hope is actually the reincarnation of Jean Grey remains to be seen, and it is somewhat annoying that these questions were not resolved at all by the end of this storyline. This just means we know what the next big X-over is going to be about, and it's somewhat annoying when these things are so darn predictable. (They usually are, but that's part of "the fun.") Are you ready for War of the Phoenix? Or how about The Return of the Phoenix? Coming Summer 2011!
"Don't think I'm not keeping score. Don't think I'm not going to make someone pay that tab."
"They're rogue cops, Dinah. They shoot to kill."
"What's happening is we're finishing this. . . . We're done playing."
"I always thought there were few problems of this nature that a bullet couldn't cure."
"Your families? I will void my bladder on their broken corpses!"
This is a really good book and I hope it lasts for years and years.
I like the way they've established two different levels of plot: you've got the actual kids in the Academy, a group of dysfunctional powder kegs adopted by the Avengers because of their potential to become dangerous super-villains, and then you've got their tutors, Avengers with checkered pasts like Hank Pym, Quicksilver, Tigra and Justice, all of whom are themselves potential loose-cannons with plenty in their pasts to regret. I like these books that focus on the also-rans and never-weres - they seem to crop up a lot now, books comprised of secondary and tertiary characters that appear to be designed specifically to rehabilitate and refurbish these old properties by attaching them - however peripherally - to a recent event or popular crossover. When the bigger books rewrite and ignore continuity with impunity, it's nice to have these smaller corners of the mainstream superhero universes where us old-timers' can appreciate the pleasurable interplay of decades' worth of continuity and accumulated characterization without having to worry about it being ignored or underplayed for no discernable reason.
This is an example of creative types taking advantage of a seeming bug and turning it into an effective feature: everyone knows that new books are always spun out of crossovers, so you might as well use the phenomenon to put lesser-known characters in the spotlight instead of just the umpteenth Wolverine spin-off. When the creative teams actually appear to have some interesting ideas with which to play - as is the case of this, the new Thunderbolts, Secret Avengers - the results are gratifying and can be far more interesting than the usual stock shenanigans of the top-tier books. Two issues in I actually like these characters and am interested in seeing where they go. I've read enough Avengers stories that even the most charitable part of me can't get too worked up over Bendis' umpteenth variation on a theme. (Seriously, it doesn't help that I just reread Avengers Forever last month - Avengers time travel stories have a pretty big bar to leap, and the new Avengers relaunch just ain't cutting it.) But this? This is a nice little curveball of a book that slipped in under the door when everyone was paying attention to the far higher-profile relaunches, so it can afford to be a bit more interesting. Everybody should go read this right now.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
My best friend from high school is getting married today. This has provoked some pondering on my part over the last few days. Longtime readers of this blog probably remember that I've been married - was married for quite a while actually. I'm uncomfortable around other peoples' weddings because my own ended poorly. I eloped the first time I got married and when I get married again it will undoubtedly be another radically small affair: my family has never been big on ceremony in any way shape or form. But my friend is going the whole nine yards, sending out RSVP cards and online gift registries and everything. It seems almost impossibly idyllic, at least in theory. Kind of alien, I confess, to my own experience and preferences, which is probably the major reason I feel out of place in these situations. I guess I should wish them well but I don't really need to, I think they're going to be just fine.
Oh well, I'm babbling. Here's the mix in Sharebee as well as Sendspace, since I have received complaints that neither site works 100% for all computers.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Amazing Spider-Man #637
Oh my god it's been so fucking hot for weeks now, I haven't been able to concentrate enough to do jack or shit, let alone both jack and shit at the same time. But there's always comics - dear, sweet, slutty comics, always good for a jerk off in the back of a sweltering Oldsmobile, even when you can barely focus your thoughts through the haze of red heat enough to remember to drink enough fluids to keep from dying.
What's this, again? The culmination of a years' worth of stories and subplots? Really, Marvel? This is your "final answer"? You go to all the trouble of bringing back Kaine - pleasing those folks with misguided fond memories of all things clone - only to fake us out with a really gorey on-panel death. It has all built - towards what? A Julia Carpenter relaunch? OK, I don't mind, I always liked her when she was a West Coast Avenger, even though she hasn't done shit all since then. Maybe someone has an idea for her? Where was the Shroud when all this was happening, or did they break up off-panel?
Here's the deal, it's an old rule from improv class, you should never say "no." Saying "no" closes off possibilities, saying "yes" leads you in unexpected and potentially fruitful directions. Sometimes it reads as if the people who write these comics have a hard time saying "yes" to anything, because every plot ultimately leads towards something much smaller and more banal than anyone expected. It's like, how many story possibilities did they leave on the table by the time Dark Reign wrapped up in Siege? You don't say "no," you say "yes." The Gauntlet seemed at the outset like it was going to be a classic epic slobberknocker - but ultimately, it fizzled out without any real through-line, just a bunch of soft reboots of old villains, all of which were only as good as the responsible creators. There was that pretty great Mysterio story by Dan Slott, a poor Electro story by Mark Waid, an unbelievably crass and sleazy Lizard story by someone I can't even remember. In between somewhere there was a pretty awesome Juggernaut story that they didn't even bother to tie into the Gauntlet even though there was really no reason it was any more or less connected to the overarching "theme" than any of the other pieces. All building up a big wet fart of an anti-climax, where Spider-Man almost CROSSES THE LINE and stabs the man who killed a bunch of people and almost killed him a number of times - but boy, if you cross the line and kill a horrible mass-murderer, it's only one step away from become an outcast pariah murderer so awful that even famed serial murderer Wolverine will personally point the accusing finger of morality at you as they kick you out of the Avengers. Because it's not like Thor hasn't killed probably thousands of people over the centuries just because, you know, he got drunk in Svartalfheim that one time and decided to flood Denmark or something. Point being, all these comics know how to do is to paint themselves into corners and just scream "NO NO NO NO" as loud as they possibly can.
Speaking of moral hypocrisy, there's this big fat piece of shit. Pardon my french.
I guess the Heroic Age means that superheroes get to be moral coward hypocrites, now that they're not living in the shadows and being hunted by the government anymore. Has no one at Marvel or DC ever read Lord Jim? I don't mean to harp on this same note, but Jesus H. Christ they keep strumming this same tune over and over again long past the point of it making any sense whatsoever: if you ever find yourself in the position of being able to kill a mass-murderer - even a mass-murderer in the process of carrying out another act of mass-murder - you can't actually kill him without becoming no better than a mass-murderer yourself. Those are The Rules. All of which is just - well, the problem is that the moment they started having villains kill indiscriminately, they kept the heroes arms' tied to the Hoyle's Rulebook. Simple solution: don't have villains kill so much anymore. Be creative. When was the last time a superhero had to bust his ass to stop a jewel heist? Or how abotu kidnapping a foreign dignitary? All good ideas. But no: it's all ninjas and dark murder cults, no wonder the kids don't give a shit. I can barely give a shit and I get off on bad comics for a living.
But this isn't bad fun, like The Room by American Auteur Tommy Wiseau, this is bad boring, like watching some late-night Cinemax original movie - not one of the porn ones that are at least slightly interesting because, hey, is he performing cunnilungus on her belly button, because that angle is really not right - but one of those movies where Tom Berenger's second cousin plays a former cop out for revenge because the mob framed his kid brother for selling dope to crippled Eskimaux. You've seen all the bits before, only this time they don't even bother to try and mask it with something besides frank contempt for their audience. First of all, Daredevil building an Evil Dojo in the heart of Manhattan - OK, I think I already see a problem in your story. Second, and here's the clincher, we're supposed to think that Daredevil has finally CROSSED THE LINE by shanking Bullseye. Come on, I'm sorry - if you had Daredevil killing, I don't know, the Matador or Stilt-Man or something, that would be CROSSING THE LINE. But Bullseye? The same Bullseye who's got a body count somewhere in four or five digits? I'm sorry, folks: if I came across a mass-murderer with that kind of body count walking free on the streets, and I had a sai in my hand . . . look, let's not beat around the bush, let's go right to the heart of the matter. Someone like Bullseye, in these comics, has a body count somewhere in the vicinity of Osama Bin Laden. If you saw Osama walking around downtown New York and you had the opportunity to stab that fucker, wouldn't you? I mean, really - I'm a goddamn pacifist, never thrown a punch in anger in my whole life, but if you had the shot for Osama and you didn't take it, you'd never be able to look yourself in the eye again for the rest of your life. But Daredevil, nope, he can't possibly ever kill someone who up-close-and-personal murdered not one but two "loves of his life." I'm sorry, this is just moronic - if they can't write a story that doesn't insult my common sense so aggressively, then they don't deserve my money, and I'll be damned if being able to buy and read this turd SAME DAY AND DATE on my iPad will make this turd seem any less stinky. (Note: I do not have an iPad.)
One of the problems with living in the internet age is that pretty much every whim can be satisfied immediately. Like, years ago I remember hearing about how the RZA's instrumental soundtrack to the movie Ghost Dog was released only in Japan, and was entirely different from the rap tie-in soundtrack they released in the states. I tucked this info into a distant corner of my brain, thinking I might see the Japanese version used somewhere at some random point in the future, but unable to bring myself to pay who knows what kind of ungodly tariff to order the disc new from across the Pacific Ocean. Fast forward to earlier this week: I've been going through a mini-Wu Tang phase since I rediscovered how awesome Liquid Swords is, so I remembered about that RZA disc I never got the chance to hear back in the day. Short story short, I went online, found a torrent and the complete album was on my hard drive within five minutes. What's the moral? Basically, the album is OK but it's not as great as my mind had imagined for all those years. If I had found a used copy in a dusty record store somewhere in the last decade, would I appreciate it more than now, when I was able to easily find the music for free with no effort whatsoever?
That's a question I can't answer. I can say, however, with no small degree of confidence, that you are unlikely this year or the next to see anything cooler than a giant Lovecraftian centipede starship built out of Galactus' skull. That is exactly what this comic has to offer, it's beautiful, I didn't know I even wanted it but now that I have it I know for certain I've never wanted anything more.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Monday, July 05, 2010
Huh, one-two one-two one-two
That one fronts
Braggin' on the stunts
Cream in your cake
Eat up your yellow cake
That one fronts
Braggin' on your stunts
Cream in ya cake
Eat up your yellow cake
Here comes a Chocodile
Look good in that magazine
They look after I
Ding Dongs and Ho Hos
Got me like Jesus
Ding Dongs and Ho Hos
Got me like jesus
Sno Balls and Zingers
Those'd be my first sins
Chewing on this creamy filling
It's a Hostess page
It's a new age
As long as you're tasty
Let you be all fat and pasty
We eat everything
Always and ever
Has been has been
Heard there's fruit pies and donuts
With tiny holes
Same as it ever was
Tell me what the filling is
They're not real
I put them on my mouth and chew
They used to call me Twinkie Kid
I had the cream inside me hid
I had the cream, and golden cake
Now they call me superstar
Tell'm where you at baby ahhhh!
They used to call me Twinkie Kid
I had the cream inside me hid
I had the cream, and golden cake
Now they call me superstar
Are you disturbed? I'll be with . . .
Everybody wants to know where my cream is
I'll tell you everything
Tell your life
Look deep into my creamy fill
Tell me what you see
Tell me what you see
Tell me what you see
When you look into this creamy fill
Fuck it the deal
Everybody wants to be yellow and creamy
Yellow and creamy
And everybody wants to be yellow and creamy
Yellow and creamy
And everybody wants to be just like me
The Twinkie Kid
They used to call me Twinkie Kid
I had the cream inside me hid
I had the cream, and golden cake
Now they call me superstar
Are you disturbed? i'm on with . . .
Everybody wants to know where my cream is
I'll tell you everything
I tell you lies
Look deep into my creamy fill
Tell me what you see
What do you see?
If you chew and swallow the cake
We're gonna get cream filling
And we're starting to unwrap your wrapper
And everybody who got a Hostess deal
And everybody wants to be yellow and creamy
Everybody's got a Hostess deal
And everybody wants to be yellow and creamy
Yellow and creamy
Everybody wants to be just like me
The Twinkie kid
And everybody wants a Hostess deal
And everybody just wants to be like me
I'm the kid
Saturday, July 03, 2010
No complaints about Sharebee, so we'll continue with them for the time being. No real preamble this week - here's the mix!
EDIT: Due to popular demand I've also went back and will continue to offer Sendspace downloads for those whose machines can't do Sharebee. Here's this week on Sendspace.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
OK, we're running a couple days late on this one - which is kind of sad, since it's been done for a week, just waiting for me to do the fifteen minutes worth of errands necessary to put the link up. You know how that goes. But it's a special mix this week - we interrupt our regularly scheduled podcast for a special tribute to the best band in the world that also had a new album released last Tuesday. (Sorry, the Roots.) I tried to steer clear of "the hits" with one major and obvious exception, and even if you're already a big fan there should hopefully be at least a couple tracks on there you've never heard before.
Also: I liked Sendspace OK, but I've received complaints that it still isn't working as well as it could. (Which, you know, makes sense considering that I get what I pay for, that is: nothing.) David Brothers suggested a site called Sharebee which looks to be, on first glance, at least simpler than either of the sites I've used thus far. So we'll go with this from now on, but the older podcasts will probably still remain available on Sendspace unless I get a huge groundswell of support for going back and changing them all. (It probably wouldn't take a groundswell, I'd probably do it if anyone expressed the desire.)
Amyway, as always, track listing and Amazon links are under the cut, as will be (from this week forward) links to previous podcasts. Check out this week's podcast here!
EDIT: Due to popular demand I've also went back and will continue to offer Sendspace downloads for those whose machines can't do Sharebee. Here's this week on Sendspace.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Ode to Kirihito
by Osamu Tezuka
One of the reasons the second part of our discussion has come so late is that, while finishing the book, I realized that it would be an almost impossible book to sum up in only a few paragraphs. Even just a few paragraphs devoted to spurring discussion or providing a brief outline of ideas - I don't know where to begin.
The plain fact is that I've started and stopped a dozen different reviews for the second half of Ode to Kirihito as I've sat here, and I can't even begin to sum up the whole of what i just experienced. Is it reductive simply to say that it's a masterpiece? Does it reflect poorly on me if I free admit I am bested by the experience of reading this book? I can't speak for anyone but myself, but one thing I've noticed about reading literature on a semi-professional and academic basis for an extended period of time is that is instills within you strong feeling of contempt for literature. That sounds awful, but if you've ever spent any time trolling the review archives at Robert Christgau's website you probably know the sensation I'm describing even if you've never before bothered to articulate it, exactly. There's this feeling you get after you've started reading books or listening to music less as an avocation than a vocation where you start to secretly detest the thought of sitting down to crack the envelope or tear the plastic on your next purchase. You know you've got to think of something, anything interesting to actually say about whatever the hell it is you've got in your hands, and after a while it just seems so redundant. No matter how much you love minimal German techno, your feelings for the genre will be sorely tested the fiftieth tim you've had to conjure up 600+ words about the latest fascinating platter spun from the fine folks at Kompakt. You begin to think that Christgau has the right idea: none but the most spectacular CDs deserve more than fifty words, tops, and most probably only deserve two.
So you develop a congenital squint like a hypothetical gunslinger into a technicolor sun, and every time I new book steps into the middle of the street you've got its number, you've seen its kind before, you know just what to do and how to deal with it. Art is a known quantity, surprise is a forgotten word plucked from a foreign dictionary, you see your book and even if there's a part of you that keeps thinking to yourself "shouldn't I be enjoying this?" - well, you can't help it that even the best reminds you of something else that was better. But you keep plugging away because even after you've grown to hate the thing you love, it still beats digging ditches (even if you know you'd make a lot more money digging ditches).
But the problem with being a gunslinger is that even the fastest gun knows there's always somebody faster, and even the faster gun knows that he won't stay young forever. Sometimes you're just a picosecond to slow on the draw and you take a hot one right in the gut. I feel like that after reading Ode to Kirihito: the book is far better than my meager descriptive abilities. It may actually be one of the best comics I've ever read: is it an abdication of my critical responsibilities to heap these kind of empty plaudits on a forty year old magnum opus whose critical pedigree certainly needs no bolster from the likes of me? The series was originally serialized from April 1966 to May of 1967 - for context, that's a couple months after the first appearance of the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four #48, a full year before the publication of Zap #1. Why do these random dates matter? I dunno - perhaps because, for someone whose knowledge of manga tops out at the level of "general familiarity," the idea that this book started serialization before the Beatles had released Revolver is pretty much the definition of a "mind fuck."
If I can be forgiven a possibly specious comparison, reading Ode to Kirihito reminded me of nothing so much as reading a really strong run from the middle third of Cerebus. Dave Sim is a cartoonist whose work bears a great deal of resemblance to Tezuka's (even if I'm almost certain that Sim couldn't have encountered his work until long after Cerebus was under way, if even then): for starters, the both have no compunction about making their characters as silly and cartoony as possible, even in the midst of deathly-serious goings-on. Part of how they pull this off is through the conscious juxtaposition of crazy caricature and incredibly detailed backgrounds. You feel at every moment as if you are in the presence of a living and breathing world, a world of sweeping vistas and painstakingly detailed scenery - from the high arid plains of Afghanistan to the slums of rural Japan. There's something really bracing and positively electrifying about this technique, placing at times even crude caricatures and elastic, cartoony movement against photorealistic scenery and architecture. It's not a technique you see a lot in Western comics, although admittedly it has cropped up more since the late 90s when manga really made its presence known in mainstream comics.
If I can be allowed to generalize for a moment, there's a really strong tendency in the West to keep every element of the storytelling mise-en-scène perfectly balanced - you use the same type of lines and the same type of shapes for all the elements of your composition. Hergé's wholeness of style seems positively inhuman in some respects: a perfect control over every line and every element of the design. The lines used to illustrate the curves of cloth over Tintin's limbs were the same lines used to draw a banister or automobile. This is style: every line a cartoonist draws, on some level, looks like every other line they draw, and this consistency of effect is what gives an artist distinction. Tezuka, however, isn't afraid to employ multiple styles to create multiple different effects within the context of a single work. I don't know anything about the division of labor at Tezuka's studio, but the result is nevertheless striking in its uniformity of tone and style. The really amazing part is how that singular style could encompass so many different types of narrative and employ so many different types of narrative tricks. Tezuka's eye for minimal caricature at times seems Hirschfeld-eque in its economy (I would be extremely surprised if Tezuka hadn't seen Hirschfeld's work at some point), but within the space of a page he can switch gears and render an exquisitely detailed cross-hatched portrait of the same character. I offer the Sim comparison because I think Sim is the closest touchstone to that kind of polyglot technique as we have in the West. It enables Tezuka to pull off so much with such narrative economy that, even at 800-odd pages, the book seems positively packed.
Also, Tezuka shares with Sim an occasionally haphazard but never uninteresting willingness to throw ideas at his story, even when the narrative threatens to buckle under the weight of so much conceptual and thematic heft. And it must be noted that both mens' attitude towards women is problematic as well. But as it is I've already written more than my allotment for this sitting and not even scratched the surface, so I think I'll post once more on Ode before moving on to our next selection. I'll aim for this Wednesday for our last discussion on this book, and announce the pick for next week's discussion at that time as well.