Sunday, June 27, 2010

Podcast for the Week of 06/28/10

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

Book Group!

Ode to Kirihito
by Osamu Tezuka

Part 2

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Podcast for the Week of 06/19/10

Not much to say by way of introductory remarks since we seem to have all the preliminaries well and sorted out. Saturday will probably be the day for these for the foreseeable future. I think I'll include links to previous mixes on here as well, since they're still up and still available for download. I can also see how many people are downloading on any given week, which is nice. I'd probably do it regardless of how few listeners there were, but it's nice to see that a decent amount of you are interested - after all, it's free! What more can you ask?

Anyway, here it is!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SIR: Lightning Round

(Note: Part Two of our discussion on Ode To Kirihito will most likely be posted tomorrow because of my poor time management skills.)

Invincible Iron Man #27

Maybe I'm a bit thick but just now as I was reading this is occurred to me that an argument could be made that the primary theme of Matt Fraction's run on the character has been change - or, to be more specific, people either changing in the face of a changing world or being hurt by their inability to adapt. It's an interesting theme for a superhero comic book, considering most of these ongoing adventure serials are predicated on a deep commitment to narrative stasis. I would be interested in going back to the first couple storylines to see how well my theory holds up.

Of course, my enthusiasm at what is otherwise a very well-written and drawn book is tempered considerably by the fact that the villain for this current storyline is yet another iteration of an Evil Iron Man run by competing corporate interests. So, yawn to that.

X-Men: Hellbound #2

Off to the side of the current crossover shenanigans is this little weirdo here. I actually think this is an interesting comic for a few reasons. One, as has been pointed out elsewhere, this story is built on the assumption that a number of secondary and tertiary characters floating around the X-Mythos are aware of their status as, well, secondary and tertiary cannon fodder, and resent being pressganged into a suicide mission in order to save a more "important" character who just might not be worth the trouble. Second, the junior X-Men franchises have developed a tradition in the last decade or so of getting the shit absolutely pummeled out of them every time they go to Limbo, so this is a nice extension of that - only, this time, it's not the generally likable Young X-Men characters but a bunch of not-so-beloved folks like Gambit, Dazzler, Northstar and Cannonball. They show up and within basically half a minute they're all beaten within an inch of their lives, Gambit betrays the team and Pixie makes a deal with the devil. I'm absolutely sure none of this will matter in the larger scheme of the crossover, but it fulfills its writ of telling an engaging story with a group of characters not otherwise entangled. Nice to know they can still do these when the mood strikes.

Daredevil #507

I swear to fucking God if i have to read another Daredevil comic filled with faceless ninjas fighting each other for no discernible reason I'm going to lose my shit. Oh wait, too late.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2

So, tell me again how a brand-new series set in an alternate universe whose most recognizable character is Leonardo da Vinci is supposed to survive it's first year? It doesn't deserve so much as a small fraction of the praise it's received: If there were such a thing as a cliche-o-meter, it would have bust itself by page six. "You haven't been told the truth about your birth." "There's a secret society running the world from the shadows." "I'm back from years of traveling to set right what has gone awry in my absence." "Steampunk = rad." Urrgh.

Ultimate Avengers #2

Mark Millar deserves at this point nearly all the crap flung his way, but I'll give him this: he knows how to write Ghost RIder. The character doesn't always do so well in extended narratives (although the last series was pretty good), but there is one sure-fire default way to use him that always works: he's an unstoppable engine of destruction bent on wreaking holy vengeance, and if you put him up against a pile of super-heroes he will almost surely fuck some shit up. Regardless of how patently stupid the whole "Black Hulk" thing is (seriously, what the fuck?), the promise of the Ghost Rider going buck-wild on a bunch of unlikeable Ultimate Universe analogues of the Punisher and War Machine should keep things fun for at least a few more pages.

Batman #700

Is this good? I sure hope people don't think this is good, because it's pretty crappy. Morrison still has some neat ideas - and good on him for actually pulling off the neat trick of returning a large part of Batman's long discarded sci-fi past to the characters current status quo - but the actual story itself reads less like a coherent narrative and more like a set of bullet points where a story should be. I've made this complaint about every Morrison Batman story to date and I'll keep making them as long as the books keep disappointing: it's not that I don't understand them, it's just that the execution is slipshod and the attitude too clever by half. I can even see how writing a comic book like this might seem to be a necessary corrective to the explosive decompression of the early aughts, and how telling five issues worth of story in one beats telling one issue of story in five. But the result is still nothing I'm really jazzed about reading: maybe I'm getting old, but this is weak sauce, and it reads like someone smeared ritalin across the printers' plates. Consider it an extended middle finger raised in the general direction of Bill Jemas and move on.

Madame Xanadu #23

I always wonder why more people don't talk about how good this book is. Despite the fact that it's ostensibly a Vertigo book, it's nevertheless set firmly in the regular mainstream DCU - and not even just the Vertigo-ish magic part either. Past issues have focused on characters like the Golden Age Sandman and the Spectre, but the current storyline features a team-up with the distinctly un-Vertigo Martian Manhunter against an updated version of Kirby's Morgana Le Faye. You have a particularly odd situation when what is arguably the best DCU title currently being published is being published by Vertigo - and really, it is so much more tame than even the most restrained issue of Brightest Day in terms of sex and gore that the comparison is kind of ludicrous. I'd be tempted to say that the book might even be the best shot DC currently has at pulling in that coveted YA female demographic, if they could manage to get the collected editions under the eyes of some Twi-hards. Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder are doing some great, great work here, and it deserves to be outselling almost everything else DC publishes on any given month.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One More Word About the Letter X

In response to your carefully considered responses to my last post regarding the X-Men franchise, I've come to realize that the X-Men we're talking about are really two different - separate if not entirely mutually exclusive - things. Many of you wrote eloquently and persuasively about the underlying metaphor behind the franchise, and how many creators - Grant Morrison in particularly - had managed to tell many interesting stories that involved foregrounding the minority metaphor and dealing with the ramifications of mutants as a significantly large and legitimate subspecies of humanity. Now, I would argue that while Morrison told a few good stories within his own framework, most of his series actually consisted of set-up for ideas that were picked up by later writers and artists. A lot has been said in the last few years about how many of Morrison's ideas were immediately abandoned or reversed once he left the company, but enough were kept that his impact on the series is still immense. It's important to remember that before Morrison Cyclops was hardly the central figure in the X-mythos up to that time - and after Morrison, the books have been all about Cylcops, his responsibilities and his personality. Morrison's decision to kill Jean Grey - a rare death that appears to be sticking, for the time being - was also useful in terms of moving the franchise past decades worth of congested continuity. All good, all different.

But I think that a solid case can be made that one of two things happened in the first part of the last decade: either Morrison misread the franchise or the writers responsible for carrying on in Morrison's wake misunderstood Morrison's run. I tend to think it's a little bit of both. I do think Morrison is still a very smart writer even if his execution these past few years has steadily deteriorated. He put a lot of thought into reimagining the X-Mythos for the new millennium and, at their best, his stories sing with a full complement both of new ideas and new wrinkles on old ideas. The problem is that, at least in part, these ideas took the franchise away from it's true core, which is that it was always just slightly less about creating a metaphor for minority representation than it was for crafting a metaphor for being a teenager. Morrison dismantled a large part of the edifice that Claremont and his various successors had spent decades building, and you can certainly argue that in the short term many good stories resulted, but in the long term it's become increasingly difficult to argue that the franchise hasn't floundered.

Let's approach the question from another angle: what was, historically, the most important factor in the X-Men's popularity? You get the buzzer if you answered anything but soap opera. Everybody loves to mock the 90s but the X-Men sold a lot of comic books during the decade - especially the early part of the decade - and many of the fans who loved the books loved them because they wanted to see if Rogue and Gambit would ever get together or would remain forever "star-crossed." If you go back and reread any representative chunk of the X-Books from the period roughly 1992-1996, you see that very little ever happened in any of the books, except that things kept threatening to happen and in between the flashes of events characters had passionate little affairs and episodes of heartbreak. Secondary and tertiary characters would only be considered viable if they could be spliced into the ongoing soap opera shenanigans. Many more romantic subplots fizzled than burned - remember Bishop and Storm as a couple? What about Cable and Storm? - but the constant churn of even unsuccessful romance was fuel for the franchise's engines.

This is what being a teenager is all about, broadly: you think you're part of a persecuted minority because you can't have what you want and you're constantly being shut down; but in actuality the perception of constant persecution creates an intensity of sensation that, combined with the unceasing surge of hormonal activity that occurs from puberty through young adulthood, makes the teenage years the most acutely felt period of one's life, for good or ill. The X-Men books were all about this, whether it was the hysterical sexual drama of Rogue's inability to be touched or the absurd masculine play-acting of surrogate father figures like Cable or Wolverine. Even the endlessly asinine machinations of all the shadowy supervillains who manipulated our heroes from afar can be seen as a metaphor for the frustrating half-cognizance of adolescence, filled as it is with the paranoid conviction that everyone around you knows more than you do and is plotting against you.

Marvel makes a big deal about how Spider-Man's marriage prematurely aged the character, and how the idea of a hypothetical divorce or widowerhood would even further distance him from his ideal demographic. Any but the most hopeless partisans have to acknowledge that there is some truth to this. But I would posit that they have unwittingly done the same thing with the X-Men. Morrison and later Whedon established the idea of a core group of X-Men - long tacitly acknowledged as Cyclops, Wolverine, the Beast, Jean Grey, and maybe a couple others (Colossus, when he returned, and Emma Frost as well) - responsible as leaders and from that point forward the crux of most of the drama. Now, obviously, anyone who read the books knew which characters were more popular than others, but for the first time the books themselves seemed to acknowledge that most of the rest of the franchise was window dressing arranged around a hard core of half-a-dozen marquee names. (A similar thing happened at DC around the same time, when heroes in the books themselves began to talk about whether or not they were "A" list or "B" list - see Ted Kord's internal monologue in the COuntdown to Infinite Crisis special for a good example of this.) Many of the less popular or less interesting characters were farmed out to secondary and tertiary books like X-Treme X-Men.

So suddenly the books are about a small group of older characters responsible for steering the fate of a large population of mutants. Whoa whoa whoa! Sounds pretty heady to me - where are all the younger characters, the readers' perspective characters, the budding romances and raging hormones? Still there, but shuffled off to manifestly less important books. Even the central interpersonal conflict of Morrison's run was older persons' romance: Cyclops cheating on his wife with another woman, and his wife in turn falling (temporarily, as it turned out) into the arms of an old flame. Nice drama, sure, but isn't the reason Spider-Man signed a deal with the devil to make sure his appeal remained eternally young? Cyclops is hardly Spider-Man and the character serves a different purpose. But the X-Men as a franchise is all about youth and dynamism, and suddenly all the stories were really not very youthful at all, not even in that really exaggerated hyper-serious way that 90s X-Men stories usually were. And as much as many fans liked the last decade's worth of stories, the books have fallen deeper into creative stasis - M-Day was an attempt to break the post-Morrison logjam (because, really, only a handful of writers working for Marvel at the time had either the interest or aptitude necessary to properly follow up on Morrison's ideas), but it failed because the result was to focus the books even more sharply on the minority metaphor, almost completely abjuring the conception of the franchise as a focal point for inchoate teenage angst.

Now you've got an unworkable status quo based on a rotating cast of dozens of characters who float in and out according to the needs of the plot, most of whom serve merely as colorful backdrop to the main action of the core team. Are there even any real interpersonal subplots in any of the books anymore? I mean, ones that get any substantial panel time? These types of character interactions aren't and should never be a distraction, they're the whole point of books like X-Men. What happened to all those readers who hung anxiously on every issue of the Gambit / Rogue romance? Maybe they're reading some of the tertiary books that occasionally touch on those types of issues, but the message has been loud and clear for some time that those aren't the types of stories that the X-Men franchise tells anymore.

If you were to ask me what I would do to fix the books if I had carte blanch to reshape the franchise as I saw fit, I would start by getting rid of almost all the supporting cast. Cut the cast down to maybe 7-8 main characters. Get them off the static environment of an isolated island or even a mansion, put them on the Blackbird and send them around the world fighting villains and questing for various MacGuffins. Make sure there's lots of sexual tension and plenty of characters who want to fuck each other but, for whatever reason, can't. it may not look a lot like the X-Men of the past decade and change, but it might just look a bit more like the same franchise that dominated the industry for over two decades, stretching from the tail end of Jimmy Carter right through the first part of George W. Bush. Basically, the X-Men need their own "Brand New Day."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Podcast for the Week of 06/12/10

Now that we've got the basics sorted out, we can get right down to the proper business of doing a podcast! Last week was sort of a test run, a bunch of stuff that was handy while I was learning to use the program. This week, we're actually jumping in with both feet and doing a right and proper theme.

With that in mind, one of the purposes of this week - and the next few weeks - is less to play a number of monstrously obscure songs than to draw a linear progression between a number of important songs. Some of these songs are less well-known than others (the first half dozen should be familiar to anyone over the age of eight with a pulse and a working set of ears, so no obscuro-points there), but hopefully in this context you can listen for some specific unifying concepts that might not otherwise reveal themselves. This may seem overly pedantic, but hopefully even if you think I'm full of shit you can enjoy hearing "Funky Drummer" again.

The tracks are, as always, below the cut - see if you can give it a first listen without spoiling the fun!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Book Group!

Ode to Kirihito
by Osamu Tezuka

Part 1

The image that lingers in my mind after closing the first third of the book is that of Jesus Christ, carrying his monstrous cross through the streets on the way to die on Golgotha. The picture is on page 184 and it comes on the heels of a particularly intense and troubling sequence set in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the apex of Apartheid. Dr. Urabe, attempting to uncover the secret behind an unexpected outbreak of the deforming Monmow disease in the country, has been shot and left for dead in a black quarter of town, along with SIster Helen Friese, the disease's first recorded white victim. Sister Friese wants to die because she has been turned into a strange dog-man hybrid, but Dr. Urabe, a nonbeliever, convinces her to live with these words:
Sister, I'm not a Christian, but I know the story of Christ's life! Jesus said he would suffer for all of humanity! Those were brave words. . . . bearing a crown of thorns and the public's jeers, he made his way to Golgotha Hill, to his own execution site. He persevered and died for his faith. . . . Your life, too, like his, could end amidst ridicule and contempt, unbearable suffering might become your lot. But, Miss Helen, don't you think this might be God's test for you? Don't you want to overcome this and be strong and live on?
Ode to Kirihito can be seen from one perspective as a catalog of suffering, a never-ending pageant of violence, rape, murder, racism, sadism and needless cruelty. The first rape begins on page 28, and it's remarkable just how often rape recurs throughout just the first third of the book. Life in these pages sometimes appears to be nothing but the unfettered exercise of power by the strong against the weak.

Dignity is only found through resistance, but the prominent example of Christ proves that resistance takes many forms. The book's titular hero, Kirihito, contracts Monmow fairly early, and turns into a hideous dog-man, more comfortable running on four feet than two. But he refuses to become a beast: even when he is kidnapped, beaten, forced to perform in captivity, raped by a dog (again with the rape, this time mixed with bestiality), and offered the chance to win his freedom through an act of despicable servility, he refuses to bow or compromise. He remains a man. When he escapes from captivity with the strange concubine Reika - who had previously been made to perform as a naked human tempura, covered in batter and deep fried for the pleasure of perverted oligarchs - she attempts, in turn, to rape him, proving to him that she has been warped by the violence of her captivity, turned feral, less than human and made into a slave of her own grotesque desires.

At first the grotesquerie is an affront. Then the reader becomes accustomed. But before long the parade of depravity reaches a point of sheer grand guignol excess that threatens to overwhelm the narrative. The scene where a python eats a live human baby should probably seem far more horrifying than it does, but on the heels of dozens of similar acts of inhumanity both large and small it barely registers. Is this surfeit of filth supposed to instill a deadened response on the part of the reader? Although in most ways the books could not be more dissimilar I am reminded of Ellis' American Psycho - another harrowing, inhumanly cruel reading experience constructed out of a parade of filthy setpieces. The lack of affect in American Psycho is the whole point: after a certain juncture the failure to register tragedy and emotional trauma becomes heartbreaking in itself, the repetition of numbing, gorey detail a sign of the most profound failure of human feeling. But I don't believe that Tezuka's intention is to overwhelm the reader to the point where the catalog of horrors becomes an academic exercise: he wants the reader to feel every moment of senseless cruelty in much the same way that audiences feel every lash of the Roman whips in The Passion of the Christ.

One of the problems with accepting the Christian allegory at its face value is that it forces the reader into a mechanistic appreciation of secondary and tertiary characters. Is the suffering of these dozens of ancillary characters "real" or is it simply a product of the process by which Kirihito himself becomes purified? The Christian metaphor shades into Buddhism: is suffering itself "real," or merely a distraction? There is a point at which anyone who wishes to perfect himself must pierce the veil of Maya and turn away from material reality. Even Nietzsche writes of the process of overcoming one's humanity in order to become more fully human. I am curious, then, as to how exactly Kirihito's life will resolve: will he reach his apotheosis through suffering and eventual renunciation? So far his story is a mythical story: he has set out on an impossible quest, suffered a strange transformation, lost family and been held captive against his will, been tempted at multiple junctures to betray his most cherished ideals. Already I can feel the looming presence of a monstrous, cosmic climax.

Next week: I only planned to read the first third because I didn't know how dense a book it would turn out to be. It's actually a really quick page-turner, so I imagine we'll be able to discuss the conclusion of the book this time next week.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Something New! 

UPDATE! Due to popular demand I have updated to Sendspace, which seems after about two minutes to be a MUCH better file service. The link below has been changed accordingly.

In the spirit of trying new and different things, we are now embarking on another adventure in blogging, something I have been meaning to try for a while but which I haven't had the time to devote towards figuring out. Turns out that when I set about doing it, it was nowhere near as difficult or time consuming as I thought it would be - so chances are good I'll make a regular feature of it.

What is this Brave New World of blogging of which I speak? A podcast! Yes, a genuine podcast for your listening pleasure. Of course, it's not really a "podcast" in the sense of me spending a lot of time talking about this week's comics or whatever - I have little interest in doing that. I think it'll be more like a radio show, devoted solely to music and perhaps the discussion thereof. I don't know if I've ever mentioned it before, but I used to be on the radio. I was actually an honest-to-Gosh radio personality for a few years of the last decade, so this is essentially me trying to get back some of the fun of that.

Because this is still a new enterprise, it may take a little bit to figure out all the technical bugs. Keep in mind my technological illiteracy and bear accordingly.

But first, before you download, a request: call me old fashioned, but I don't like it when people scan the track listing of a mixtape before they listen. I can't stop you from doing so but I will strongly encourage you to resist the temptation to check out the coming attractions before you see the film, so to speak - let yourself be surprised, for better or for worse. The track listing is below the cut.

Here we go!

Please feel free to give me your opinions and suggestions for improvement. I had a lot of fun doing this and I think it might very well become a regularly feature.

Friday, June 04, 2010


Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal #3

What makes a man start fires?

Why is the sky blue?

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? The last thing you think of when you go to sleep?

Are you unhappy?

Do you like your life, are you comfortable with the choices you have made?

Why do you read comic books?

Do you have any other hobbies that require such a large time commitment?

Do you only read comics you enjoy, or do you regularly read comics you do not enjoy?

Do you have any children? If so, how many and how old are they?

Do your children ask you questions about the comic books you read?

Do your parents ask you questions about the comic books you read?

Do you ever ask yourself about the comic books you read?

Is it OK to read a bad comic book as long as you are clear to project an attitude of condescending superiority towards the idea of reading genre material?

What about a bad comic book that isn't "genre material"?

Do you hold bad superhero comics to a higher or lower standard than bad non-superhero books?

Have you ever read a comic book so bad it made you question your commitment to your hobby?

Have you ever felt the need to broadcast your opinions on a bad comic book?

Do you ever ask yourself why people make bad comic books?

Do you think its a question of intelligence or a question of commerce?

Is it possible for an intelligent person to make a bad comic book whose badness can be wholly blamed on editorial dictation, or does the blame for a bad comic book at some point devolve irreducibly onto the creator?

Does a bad comic book matter?

Does it mean anything beyond the fact of its own badness?

Can a particularly wretched comic book surpass the circumstances of its own badness in order to become a symbol of a larger malaise?

Do you think it's appropriate to judge all superhero comics on the basis of their level of appropriateness for a hypothetical audience of pre-teen children?

If yes, do you actually know any children who read superhero comics?

If no, do you know anyone above the mental age of twelve who would be entertained by most superhero comics?

Do you feel guilty for still reading superhero comics?

If yes, do you feel the need to periodically and ritualistically molest the open sore of your own festering guilt?

Do you think you are a more morally righteous person for castigating bad art?

Do you think anyone cares? Do you read this question as rhetorical or substantive?

If you do not feel guilty for still reading superhero comics, then why do you waste time reading bad ones?

Do you believe that people read bad comics to make themselves feel better?

Do you believe that people like to feel superior to escapism because they don't like feeling inferior to art?

Does it frustrate you that iTunes is often much less user-friendly than advertised?

Does it offend you when comic book artists either forget or are never told that certain characters are Asian?

Do you think that people of Asian descent are often ignored, either tacitly or explicitly, in American society?

Why are there so few prominent Asian-Americans in national politics?

Why are so many Asians in comic books inscrutable and ruthless martial arts masters?

Why is it OK to fuck a multinational terrorist with a body count in the millions? Would it be OK to fuck Osama bin Laden if he were a hot Asian chick and not a grody old man?

If you were Robert Smith of the Cure would you have sex with your makeup on?

Would you become upset if your lover could not get aroused if you didn't wear your makeup?

What's your favorite Cure album?

Do you think that Roy Harper listens to the Cure? Do you think his favorite Cure album would be Pornography or Head on the Door?

Have you ever suffered severe depression?

Have you ever suffered severe depression as a direct result of tragedy?

Do you believe that popular entertainment trivializes tragedy?

Do you believe that it is ethically suspect to create art that uses the Holocaust as a setting?

Do you believe that it is ethically suspect to create art that uses the terrorist attacks of September 11 as a backdrop?

Do you believe that it is wrong to create art that uses the audience's familiarity with the September 11 attacks as a trope while also displaying a seemingly blithe disregard for the actual experience of having lived through a massive terrorist attack?

What if you wrote a story wherein a super villain demolished a major American city and killed thousands of people, and yet all the characters expressed a marked emotional detachment totally unlike what millions of real people really felt during a real tragedy that persists in the living memory of anyone old enough to read these words?

Shouldn't 9/11 have made it harder, rather than easier, for superhero comics writers to casually murder thousands of civilians in order to get their villains over?

Is it odd that, in hindsight, Civil War seems positively classy in its portrayal of massive tragedy and its immediate aftermath?

Isn't it odd to structure a series explicitly around rehabilitating an oft-maligned villain, only to end said series with the grisly murder of said villain?

Is it good or bad that more comic book writers do not possess direct familiarity with narcotics use?

Don't you think, if you're going to do a story about heroin use, it might be helpful to watch Trainspotting first? Or at least listen to this? Or this? Or this?

Do you think Roy Harper is more or less hardcore for smoking heroin, as opposed to the more commonly portrayed intravenous usage?

Do you think heroin causes uncontrollable violent rage? Have you ever actually read a book describing the effects of heroin addiction?

Do you think a comic book that manages to trivialize terrorism, drug addiction and the death of children is reprehensible or hilarious?

Do you think that Roy Harper should feel bad that he can't get his penis hard in order to have sex with his mass murdering inscrutable and ruthless Asian martial arts master ex-girlfriend?

Is that the most improbably sentence I have ever written?

Do you think that a person's favorite David Bowie album says something deep about their character?

Do you think that Grant Morrison gets a free ride from fawning critics or a bad rap from philistine proles?

Do you think that certain scenes in The Rise of Arsenal are specifically intended to recall parallel scenes in Batman R.I.P.?

Did you expect to see Red Arrow screaming "Zur-En-Arrh" as he crouched in his dingy alleyway?

Do you recall that Bat Mite came to Batman whilst he was under the influence of crystal meth in much the same manner that Red Arrow's ex-pusher and dead daughter appeared whilst he was under the influence of heroin?

If Grant Morrison had written The Rise of Arsenal, would it be praised or condemned?

If a man named J.T. Krul rewrote certain scenes from Batman R.I.P. using a much less popular character, would the results be praised or condemned?

Do you think you're better than J.T. Krul because he wrote a bad comic book, or do you think he's in on the joke?

Did you know that J.T. Krul has a number of production credits on Seinfeld?

Do you find that to be an inexplicable statistic?

Do you feel bad when you see reviews devolve into ad hominem attacks on creators?

Do you believe that crass escapism deserves to be judged more harshly than unsuccessful art?

Do you believe that the distinction between escapism and art is meaningful?

If no, do you believe that people who do make such a distinction are making insupportable and condescending qualitative judgments that betray a snobbish insecurity?

If yes, do you think you possess a sure fire way to discriminate between the two categories in all cases?

Do you think that the mercenary motivation behind most or all superhero comics precludes honest creative expression within the genre?

Do you think the inability of academia to properly contextualize the implications of the previous question results in an attitude of benign condescension towards the medium on the part of even the most well-meaning academics?

How do you believe scholars of the future will judge a cultural artifact such as The Rise of Arsenal?

WIll the book be dismissed as aesthetic trash or embraced as an accurate retroactive bellwether of mainstream comics culture trends circa 2010?

Step back from the realm of the hypothetical: do you think you should judge mainstream comics culture on the basis of its worst book or its best?

Should America be judged on the basis of 300 years of slavery or the Declaration of Independence?

Does a bad comic deserve to be so relentlessly vilified, or is it merely the herd instinct in practice, the coppery smell of spilled blood inflaming the nostrils of a hungry pack of ravenous animals?

Are all the critics dogpiling on The Rise of Arsenal just lining up to take a swing at this week's whipping boy out of a sense of friendly competition with one another, in order to see who can summon the wittiest bon mots?

Is it just one big dick measuring contest between the biggest pissants on the internet?

Is there something vaguely pitiful about seeing so many grown men wet themselves with the sheer pleasure of writing mean things about a bad comic book?

Should the word "vaguely" in the previous question be changed to "extremely"?

Is it upsetting when comic book artists don't know how to differentiate the textures of flesh, leather, metal and plastic? Does it bother you when all the people look roughly plasticine?

Did you, like me, just now realize that Red Arrow is essentially a nickname for your cock? And that having a guy walk around calling himself Red Arrow in the light of day is like unironically calling yourself Big Johnson?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Has It Come To This?

For the past few months I've been working on an idea for this blog. I haven't tried it before now because the last few months have been very busy, but now that the summer is here and my schedule has opened up, I think it's time to give it a go.

There have been a lot of roundtable discussions lately, they seem to be the current hot format for "serious" discussions of comics on this here blogosphere (probably owing to the recent profusion of group blogs). I don't think I'm alone in thinking that some of these discussions - the Wilson roundtable over at Savage Critics, for instance - haven't quite lived up to their potential. It's sort of like hearing a collaboration between two of your favorite bands: in your head you expect all parties to go in swinging, give their all and come up with something truly intense, greater than the sum of its already-excellent parts . . . but in reality, the products of these types of collaborations are usually disposable, laid-back jams of the kind that are recorded on an afternoon's break from touring. No offense to any of the folks who regularly participate in these types of discussions, but I don't believe that dialogue is the best format available for this type of criticism: no one brings their A-game to pickup ball. It may be fun to shoot the shit with friends and peers, but more often than not it seems as if the resulting transcripts are just that - shit-shooting, rough drafts of ideas best developed later in solitude.

But with that said, I have been (hypocritically?) thinking for quite some time about how to incorporate more of that type of interactive discussion into this blog. I really liked the dynamics of the recent Frank Miller "roundtable" David Brothers hosted from 4th Letter: instead of a group discussion, he sent out an e-mail to writers he liked and respected and ask them to write something on the subject, as much or as little as they wanted, and in whatever format they wished. It was loose and friendly, but each writer was able to work to his or her strengths. Seeing how that worked got my mind to wondering further.

A final piece of the puzzle slid into place in recent weeks since my new commenting system went up. It may seem like a relatively small advancement, but bear in mind my absolute technical unsavvy - just being able to respond to specific posts within the comment threads seems to produce a noticeable uptick in the depth of discussion, with each individual thought given the space to elicit commentary and response of its own. Like I say, it's hardly the Next Generation in Web 2.0 Interactivity, but it's the little things that make all the difference. Also, it must be said that I really like my commenters: people who read this site and comment on a regular basis tend to do so in a thoughtful, well-reasoned and respectful manner - even if we disagree, I don't attract many trolls.

So with that said, here's what we're doing - or rather, what I will be doing and what I hope you will be joining me in doing. We're starting a Book Club - or Reading Group, whatever you want to call it. We'll come up with a snappy name later, if this works. If you're reading this you're invited to participate - read the book and think some thoughts. If you want to post something on your own site I'll link to you. If you want to respond in the comments, you'll (hopefully!) have a decent sized group of friends with whom to spark discussion. I will be posting some thoughts, but maybe in a more open-ended manner than my usual long-winded diatribes - I haven't decided. There'll be time to fine-tune as we go.

Basically, the animating idea is simple: I want to give myself a prod to talk about something more substantive than I might normally do if left to my own (very lazy) devices. I am also interested in eliciting comments and reactions from as wide a variety of bloggers and readers as possible. I want to have a good conversation, hopefully avoiding some of the pitfalls of a more informal roundtable while inviting everyone to participate as their own level of comfort or interest dictates.

So now that the ground rules are set, there's probably only one thing you're still wondering: what the heck are we actually gonna read, those of us who resolve to do this thing?

I'm glad you asked, because the answer is:

One week from today - Wednesday, June 9 - I will begin a discussion of Osamu Tezuka's Ode to Kirihito, chapters 1-7 (up to page 277 in Vertical's one-volume edition). According to Amazon, the one-volume edition is out of print. If you can't find the book in your library, it's also available in two smaller volumes. Please join me, hopefully it will be fun and not a dismal trainwreck. It's all in your hands!