Monday, January 31, 2005

The League of Extra-Horny Gentlemen

Hey - it's a new remix - check it out! I'll be honest with you - I think this one has a couple genuinely inspired moments. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but this week it just seemed like I had a load of funny ideas. I hope you agree!

And - whoa! - what's this? Has The Official Rejected Breakfast Cereal Mascot Archive been updated? Oh my, I do believe it has! Check it out!

Man, just because I said I didn't want to read New Frontier, you'd think I clubbed a bunch of baby seals or something. I think anyone who complains that I haven't read the book needs to remember that I wasn't reviewing the book. I was commenting on the book, based simply on the numerous reviews I have read bot honline and off. If I had prefaced a review with "I have no intention of reading this book", then you'd be right to scream bloody murder. But seriously, folks, if someone really feels that strongly that I may have mischaracterized the book, well, I don't know what to tell you. Take it up with the dozen or so folks whose negative reviews influenced my decision not to seek it out. Or send me a free copy.

Someone suggested I borrow a copy, but you know, I don't know anyone else who reads comics here in the "real" world. So, I don't have anyone's shoulder to look over. My opinions at this point are almost solely formed by what folks say on the internet - scary, huh?

All opinions, included those borrowed for the purposes of discussion, are labeled as such.

I am building up to write a defense of Marvels, because if there's one thing related to this subject which I am seriously worried about, its that that book may have come to be tarred with the same brush as books like Kingdom Come, mistakenly mischaracterized as a facile retro-orgy. Marvels is a great book, and definitely a book which holds up to repeated readings. I am doing so now and am reminded of how great it works for me - and how much promise Alex Ross once had as not just a painter but as a cartoonist. But, you know, I guess that's what happens when you have the kind of mentality that could inspire you to the kind of anal-retentive detail in Kingdom Come - you tend to lose sight of the important things, like, oh, telling a story in a storytelling narrative. (Which is not to say that Marvels isn't detail-oriented as well, but they don't get in the way of the narrative like they do in KC, which reads like a book of perfectbound microfiche sheets, and us with no light-table.)

And, oh yeah, I saw the typo in Friday's post and purposefully didn't fix it. Wrap that one around your brain!

Well, I'll be damned if that isn't one skinny lady!

Travels With Larry

The Couriers 3: The Ballad of Johnny Funwrecker

I don't think I can rightly criticize a book for being something that I have absolutely no interest in. I have often spoken on the need for diversity in comics, the need for multiple genres, multiple viewpoints and multiple attitudes. So, from that perspective, the existence of a fairly successful series like Brian Wood and Rob G's The Couriers is definitely a good development for comics.

The Couriers is the comic book equivilent of a modern action film put on paper, with the same prerequisite world-weary cynicism and hyperbolic plot structure. This is the kind of book where millionaire drug lords live in high-rise penthouses, where gangs of motorcycle-riding ninja vixens can emerge from an alleyway at any moment, and where a high speed chase through the Lincoln Tunnel with a vintage Camaro and a military assault helicopter is only a page turn away. If those things sound like fun to you, then I heartily reccomend this book. The storytelling is glib and punchy: I read through the book in about twenty minutes. It's not, perhaps, the best proverbial "bang" for your buck, but aficianados of action storytelling will probably find much to like.

The problem is that I don't like any of the characters in this book, and the situations are plainly facetious without any satirical indicators. Are we supposed to root for one set of murdererous drug dealers over another because they're not quite so evil, and want to unionize or something? Both of the lead characters, Moustafa and Special, are ciphers whose only real motivation seems to be an atavistic desire to survive and thrive in an illegal industry, despite the consequences and without any real driving impetus besides the implication of youthful ennui (which is hardly, the last I looked, justification for murder). In order for me to accept a criminal as a protagonist, the creators have a lot more work to do than they did here. Sure, riding around on rollerblades, selling illegal narcotics and killing people may be someone's idea of fun escapism, but not mine.

I applaud AiT/Planet Lar for their continued commitment to diversity. The fact that they can publish a book like this that doesn't perhaps appeal to me but which holds the potential to find a significant audience outside the halls of comicdom's rank and file is, on the balance, a good development.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Quikc Note From Our Sponser

Hey, like all this new content since I'm back in the saddle? Well, than maybe if you're not one of the folks who have already contributed funds or goods to the continued survival of this blog, maybe you should think of making clickee on one of the many strategically placed Amazon links? Not like I get paid a lot for them, but its nice to know people are paying attention with the only audience that truly matters - their Benjamins, of which it is all about, in case ya didn't know.

If you've a care to do such things, you can check out my review of the new Chemical Brothers album here, and if you are interested there might just be a link on the sidebar to bring you and this marvelous CD together like the lost soul-mates I know you to be...

Tarnished Silver

Now, either I'm smoking crack or this is a Kirby cover. Does anyone know?

Nostalgia is great. I indulge in it myself occasionally, and sometimes it really is amazing how a bit of well-placed infantilism can really clear your mental sinuses. I have often reflected that anyone who never indulges in occasional bouts of nostalgia - or who would never publicly admit it - probably has deep-seated insecurities about the way other people perceive them.

But nostalgia is an inclination, not an aesthetic. When the urge for nostalgia exerts itself most strongly, it can be mistaken for an aesthetic - but the kind of art that the pursuit of pure nostalgia creates is quite often barren and hollow, the mental equivilent of watching someone else crawl back into the womb.

Which is why the ongoing and long-lived fetishization of the so-called "Silver Age" is somewhat fascinating and endearingly baffling to me. It seems enough - to me - to aknowledge that there were some great comics produced, a few not-so-great comics produced, and an ocean's full of crap to clog the drains. As an "era" it's no greater or worse than many others - I wouldn't want to relieve the 80s or the 40s either, even if there were a lot of goood things about both decades that I wouldn't mind revisiting from time to time.

But for those of us "on the outside looking in", feeling slightly bewildered by the undying lure of the Silver, there is good news: this too shall pass. The reason for this is fairly simple, if unpleasant. One day all the people who remember the Silver Age so aggressively will either die or get too old to bother.

It used to be, back in the halcyon days of yore when organized comics fandom was just getting started, that Age of choice was not Silver but Gold. Sure, nowadays most people don't give too much thought to the Golden Age. There were a few highlights, five metric tonnes of crap, and some fair-to-middling stuff in the middle. But back in the days when Roy Thomas really was a boy, and homemade mimeographed newsletters served roughly the same function that a blog does now, the Golden Age (which wasn't even called that yet, because there hadn't been any other ages yet) was the gold standard. Among superhero collectors, you weren't considered a real collector unless you had a complete set of All-Star #3-57 (the original run of the Justice Society in its entirety) -- back before there was ever even a comic book store in existence, let alone eBay and San Diego, this was easier said than done. The conversion of All-Star to All-Star Western with issue #58 is still remembered by these folks as their defining trauma, an eschatological enema in the same way that Fantastic Four #103 would become for the next generation. They may have been enthusiastic about the return of the characters - albeit in oddly transformed incarnations - at the beginning of what they would later term the Silver Age, but the consensus was that everything after the demise of All-Star was somehow inferior - illigitimate - when compared with the comics of yore. If you've ever wondered why Roy Thomas' work on later "Earth-2" books like All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. read so strongly like fan-fiction, that's because for Thomas those books served a very similar purpose. He was playing with the same toys (or at least in the same toy box) that he had enjoyed as a kid, and the results carried a whiff of the same kind of cloistered feverishness which brands most authentic fan-fiction as dynamically insubstantial.

So, these are all I got left over from the yearbook...

The same impulse that held the Golden Age in such high regard for so long is fading. The Golden Age exerts a woefully weak gravity on modern publishing, considering that the number of active readers who remember the Golden Age firsthand must be statistically insignificant at this point, and if there are any old-timers still around they have almost certainly been driven into quietude by the preponderance of the crass Wizard culture throughout superhero fandom. We even have an old-folks home, of sorts, in the form of Thomas' Alter-Ego - which isn't to sell that magazine short, since I read it myself occasionally, but its preoccupations are largely those that would hold little interest to collectors under forty, or even fifty.

And before someone points out the persistently successful JSA revival book, I will point out that that title mostly exploits the continuity and characters of Infinity, Inc. and All-Star Squadron - two titles that were published in the 1980s, well within the bounds of most modern readers' nostalgia zone, placing it right next to The Transformers, GI Joe, Firestorm and Power Pack in the ranks of current nostalgia books.

So, in another twenty years the Silver Age fetishism will have gone the way of the Golden Age fetishism. By then most all of the available Golden Age books will probably be priced out of anything resembling a casual market, so the period will recede into the same kind of haze that holds the so-called Platinum Age - albeit having left behind a few more copious records of its passing than that nebulous and ill-remembered era.

I can appreciate Kingdom Come on its surface as a somewhat well-executed nostalgia trip, and on that level, although I confess I enjoyed it when it came out, it holds precious little interest for me. But if I were to try to read any kind of thematic intent into the narrative, I'm afraid the results would be pretty damned poor. As it is, I'm content to let it be, because its not worth the trouble to tear it down.

The real irony here is that in trying to pay conscious homage to the halcyon eras of their youth, most writers end up unwittingly exposing the worst shortcomings of the sourse material. If you have any knowledge whatsoever about the original Justice Society, you'd know that for the most part the original members were all fairly interchangeable. Sure, the Spectre was a spooky sonofabitch (regardless of the fact that no one at the time ever seemed to really let the implications of the whole "Wrath of God" thing sink in), the Atom was just a pissed-off short guy (seriously, I couldn't make that up if I had to), and Johnny Thunder has always been an infuriatingly useless jerk, but for the most part everyone else was pretty much the same. What we may now think of as being these character's personalities was only developed year's later, oftentimes as a result of guesswork and bald assumptions ("let's see - Mr. Terrific wasn't included in All-Star's 45-49, so during that time he must have had an illegitimate child with a Mexican senator's daughter and had to fight Per Degaton in Peru with a time-travelling Black Lightning! It follows perfectly!")

There have been enough stories written to explain stupid inconsistencies in past stories - hell, the modern DC Universe seems to have been built on them. Thankfully, we don't have to suffer through too mant of the "but what really happened to Green Lantern between pages ten and fifteen of the Silver Age Justice League?" variety anymore. We do seem to be suffering through an unnaccountable spate of origin-retellings, but I think that this has little to do with a nostalgia for origin stories (no-one has nostalgia for origin stories), and a lot to do with the comic industry's current fear of forward momentum and a slavish devotion to the "high concept" pitch as the possible solution to all our woes. "I know!" the Superstar Writer says, "I'll write a new Doctor Strange origin that cribs the worst parts of The Matrix! Hollywood will eat it up - the Doctor Strange movie will save the comics industry forever! We'll get Keanu!!!"

Anyway, there's a book that I think might serve as the perfect balm for anyone fed-up with the constant nostalgic reinvention that sweeps through mainstream superhero comics. Sometime in the early 90s James Robinson wrote a series called The Golden Age, and it had some great art by Paul Smith. Despite the title, it was not a polemic on the virtues of the "Good Old Days". Rather, it took place right at the tail-end of the period we call "the Golden Age", right when all the DC superheroes were getting pressured by the HUAC to hang up their capes and masks. It may sound grim, and it isn't necessarily light hearted. It's got a conspiracy and a few murders and at least one big-ass donnybrook towards the end of it. Basically, the whole point of the book is that nostalgia is never what it's cracked up to be - the past was usually pretty shitty too, albeit sometimes for different reasons than the present.

It's not often remembered these days, and that's a shame, because its a very good book. There was a bit of controversy, as I recall, when the book showed a couple long-time Golden-Agers having an extra-marital affair (and despite the "Elseworlds" logo on the cover, said affair and most of the other events of the series have been mentioned and referenced in "canon" repeatedly). Again, it didn't necessarily strike me as being sensational for no reason - the whole book was essentially a big upraised middle finger to the kind of thinking that consistently exalts the past at the expense of the present. The past was interesting, sure. But if I recall correctly the book leaves off with the pretty clear message that while the past is cool, the future is where it's at (because, as a wise man once said, "the future is where we will spend the rest of our lives"). The future is an unknown quantity, and that is the greatest "Golden Age" of them all.

Lightning Strikes, Not Once But Twice.

Of course, this brings us, somewhat circuitously, to the subject of our latest nostalgia wankfest, Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier. Now, I haven't read New Frontier, and while I do like what I've seen of Cooke's art I don't think I probably will, if for no other reason than the fact that I have no interest in dropping that kind of money on two trades (when I and everyone else knows perfectly well it could have been bound into one and been much cheaper). I must confess to the fact that I was initially slightly interested in the book because it seemed to be similar in form to The Silver Age, the long-ago announced but abandoned and never produced sequel to, duh, The Golden Age. That book was supposed to have had Chaykin art over Robinson's story, but we're just gonna have to assume it would have kicked ass, because we'll never know.

But really, the critical reaction to The New Frontier makes me kind of glad they never did do The Silver Age. The Golden Age was a great book because it was slightly cynical and just a little bit punch-drunk - it had an over-the-top, pulpy feel that was strongly reminiscent of the slapdash material produced during the Golden Age. It didn't take itself to seriously - which is, I realize, a critical cliche. But look at books like Kingdom Come and, I suspect, New Frontier, and you will see people taking the entertainment of their fondly-remembered childhoods w-a-y too seriously. They're overgrown with nostalgia, until it covers the walls and clogs the buttresses. The Silver Age of the early 60s was a time of relative hope and clarity in both the public and artistic sphere, and those attributes make the era extremely hard to evoke in any sort of critical manner.

In the end, all you have left is Mark Waid wearing a faded wedding dress wandering through a dusty, cobweb filled mansion, pining over his forgotten youth and practicing the cruelties he wishes to inflict on poor old Pip.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Superhero In The Age of Genocide:
The Adventures of Marshall Law - Part Two

Nobody better lay a finger on his Butterfinger!

(The first half of this essay can be found here.)

Despite the persistent and mostly deserved acclaim attached to books such as Watchman, The Dark Knight Returns and (to a lesser but still significant extent) Squadron Supreme and Animal Man, the actual influence of these books was nowhere near as pervasive as their positive press would indicate. Certainly, there were any number of books which could be said to have been superficially influenced by the all of the above, but the creative accomplishments of these books were soon overshadowed by (in at least the first two cases), their overwhelming commercial success.

So, the lesson to be learned from The Dark Knight Returns was not necessarily the fact that if you give top-shelf creators carte blanche they could create work of lasting importance, but that if you wrap a Batman comic book in a $4 "Prestige Format" cardstock cover, the kids will buy it. The reasons why that particular Batman comic was so enduringly popular have probably never been adequately calculated by DC management. Likewise, the lessons learned from Watchmen were not that the comics medium contains the potential for great stylistic and structural innovation, and that perhaps the superhero itself was becoming an exhausted genre. Instead, Watchmen proved that comic book fans would happily accept a coarsening of their medium commensurate with that seen in other mediums during the 1980s and 90s - and that morally reprehensible psychopaths were the hot trend. In a very unfortunate way, the comics industry of the early 90s was very much the logical outcome of these well-intentioned works.

(This is not to say that Rorschach was a morally reprehensible psychopath - that is definitely open to interpretation - but the common interpretation holds Rorschach to be merely a "hard-core" version of the Punished or Wolverine or any of the "grim & gritty" vanguard.)

A lot was made at the time - and not without reason - of that fact that so many of the early Image books were unimaginative ciphers of Marvel concepts. W.I.L.D.Cats and Youngblood were riffs on X-Men and X-Force (respectively), whose memberships were filled with blatant rips of various Marvel and DC superfolk. Both W.I.L.D.Cats and Cyberforce actually featured prominent characters with metal claws coming out of their hands, for God's sake. The Savage Dragon was the only truly interesting concept in the bunch, if you accept the fact that Spawn actually started out with an interesting (if hardly original) premise, but very soon devolved into the crap it remains today. Sure enough, how many of the original Image books are still being published on even a semi-monthly basis?

The lack of creative spark - the void - which animated the zombie-like perambulations of these early Image books was fueled by nothing so sinister as a genuine desire to succeed through mimicry. Nothing succeeds like success, and there's no arguing with the unquestionable success they experienced. In most cases, however, the ideological underpinnings of their creations was as bankrupt as their creators were wealthy, with the most nihilistic characters experiencing the most unalloyed success.

The missing link that connects the "Class of '86" with the Image "Revolution" is Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill's Marshall Law. It is obviously not necessary for art to be prophetic for it to be interesting, but it is uncanny how much of the supposedly dystopian future imagery in Marshall Law came to pass in the pages of American comic books just a few years later.

Superhero comics have, at their root, an idealization of the physical form which often belies the individual characters' recurring and inescapable neuroses. The idea of a physically perfect specimen devoted to the cause of truth and justice - including protection for the weak and the persecuted - was conceived in part as counterpoint to the racial ideals of the Third Reich during World War II. The crucial distinction on which American superhero mythology has always hinged is the conception of overwhelming power yoked to the service of overarching moral authority.

For so long as comics remained a primarily juvenile medium, the moral equation behind the characters' motivations could never be questioned. Even when implications of darker moral depths began to emerge in the 60s and 70s, the characters remained staunchly committed to their Manichean worldviews. The choice presented to superhero characters was rarely one of two opposing and equally valid alternatives, but the rather transparent conflict between inaction that will allow evil to flourish and proactivity that will serve as a bulwark against said evil at great personal cost.

But then things began to change. I've an idea that it might be possible to pinpoint the origins of this ideological breakdown to the advent and extreme popularity of Wolverine. As a fixture of Marvel's best-selling Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine was easily the most popular new character of the late 70s. But the problem with Wolverine, from a practical point of view, is that regardless of the fact that he's a character in a children's comic book, if his major power is a set of razor-sharp adamantium claws, he is a character who possesses the potential to kill. Not that any superhero doesn't have enough power to kill any number of people, but the fantastical nature of most super-powers keep the issue relatively moot. Super-strength is for fighting the Hulk, not for killing thousands of people in downtown London in the space of an hour. But everyone knows what a knife is for: knives cut people. Knives can kill.

So the books took a subtle shift from the juvenile power fantasy with safe and relatively well-defined moral boundaries, to the adolescent power fantasy, with the loose, arbitrary and shifting moral compass that adolescence implies. Considering the audience shift precipitated by the rise of Marvel comics in the 60s and solidified during the 70s, the target audience for most comics had risen a few years on average. Whereas the majority of comics in the 50s and early 60s had been targeted firmly at young children, the relative maturation in subject matter which Stan Lee instigated caused the audience to age, to the point where younger children would probably find most Marvel comics - suspended as they were in a perpetual state of existential adolescent ennui that would seem ineffably foreign to tots - baffling and boring. Why can't they be like Batman, happy to fight the colorful crooks all day? Nice work if you can get it.

So the stage was set in the 1980s for a full-scale reappraisal of the moral standards by which the mainstream superhero industry had come to define itself. The problem is the fact that these developments were never dictated by organic creative concerns - they were dictated by editorial mandates and corporate edicts.

So when Alan Moore and Frank Miller and Mark Gruenwald set out to introduce a new dialectic into the mainstream discourse, they were met with baffled shrugs of indifference. Wisely, Moore soon realized that the superhero mainstream, dominated as it was by corporate interests and self-serving fanboy mentalities, was incapable of sustaining the kind of thematic dialogue works like Watchmen demanded, and soon left for greener pastures. Similarly, Miller soon decided that he was more interesting in developing his own ideas, ideas involving neither spandex or stilted moral discussion, while still leaving room for the occasional holiday in the superhero universes (stuff like Elektra Lives Again). Mark Gruenwald seemed to be happy just to be allowed to write Captain America for what would be the rest of his natural life.

Marshall Law is the ultimate counterpoint to these relatively utopian conceptions of superhero morality. Despite whatever dystopian scenarios they depicted, Watchmen, Dark Knight and Squadron Supreme all end with the heroes chastened but relatively unscathed, and fully recommitted to the cause of heroism. On the contrary, Marshall Law begins at the exact point where heroism is rendered obsolete - there will be no great moral epiphanies, no triumphant battles against the forces of darkness. The forces of darkness, represented by nihilistic genocidal destruction, have already won.

If the superhero was at least partially conceived as a bulwark against European fascism, it must still be acknowledged that the genre's idealized foundations are sometimes uncomfortably similar to those of Nazism. This is an uncomfortable idea which was recently explored in the excellent Truth: Red, White & Black limited series. By seeking to subvert and stymie the Axis menace, Jewish kids chose to create strikingly Aryan models of the physical ideal.

The creation of physical perfection through artificial means was explored extensively by the Nazis, taking the idea of eugenics and selected breeding which was woefully championed by Gage, and following in the footsteps of other Western countries - among them the United States - in the implementation of their selective breeding and sterilization programs. Ultimately, its not hard to draw a direct connection between the rise of the industrial mindset in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the application of industrial techniques to humanity.

If God is "dead", and the moral prohibitions which once guided the race have fallen away, then it naturally follows that the human body would become just another province for science to conquer. Therefore, the human body would become just another assortment of parts, to be changed and altered and disposed of as the scientists saw fit.

And of course, the free exchange of these attitudes and ideas led to the most massive tragedy in the history of the human race.

In Marshall Law, the once-implicit connection between morality and the exercise of power has long since ceased to carry any currency. The gangs of murderous super-heroes who roam the streets of San Futuro are products of wholesale Government experiments, genetic and biological aberrations designed for the express purpose of fighting secret wars in Central America. There bodies are grossly misshapen and hideously exaggerated with enormous, muscular torsos, massive biceps and tiny, almost delicate legs. Their faces are pulled into perpetual grimaces, their thoughts insane and incoherent. They have been created by the government, in the government's image, for the sole purpose of wielding power indiscriminately.

There is no moral equivocacy here: the super-heroes in Marshall Law are conceived as soldiers. Soldiers, like superheroes, possess inordinate power over their fellow man (i.e., the license and encouragement to kill other people in certain situations), but none of the moral angst, because the ideal soldier is merely a physical vessel for the will of his commanders. Let loose from the military hierarchy, a soldier can easily become a dangerous empty vessel - the ultimate expression of nihilism.

Watchmen and Dark Knight took away what had previously been the automatic implication of the easy moral equivocacy in superhero comics. But in the absence of any great overarching dialogue, this new conceptual territory was merely exploited in the service of commerce. When the Image founders breathed life into their endless rampaging hoards of post-apocalyptic para-military cyborg warriors, the absence of even the most inadequate moral definition was, by definition, the epitome of nihilism. Strange monsters fighting other strange monsters for vague and indeterminate reasons - a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing much at all. A pile of empty vessels crashing into another pile of empty vessels, only with nicer printing.

Kevin O'Neill's distended and distorted anatomy was meant to convey a willful corruption of the natural world - an amplification and subversion of the superhero's traditional physicality, and by extension the implication that his moral compass has inextricably dissolved. The evocations of Nazi biological engineering and the quest for a fascist ideal are unmistakable. However, just a few years after the first Marshall Law series was published, Rob Liefeld was pencilling X-Force and then publishing Youngblood - offering what had been O'Neill's deadpan satire as sincere escapism.

On the count of three - jazz hands!

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Hurting's Weekly Out-Of-Context Mark Trail Panel

For the Week of 01/26/05

Barracuda is a taxidermist of men.

For the Week of 01/19/05
For the Week of 01/12/05

Remember, kids, Prince Charles sez:

I can't decide whether I want to be a tampon or a Nazi today. Don't we royals enlighten the world?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nothing Much

Just because you guys are all swell, here's the new remix.

Blogging's been a bit light lately, and this is regrettable - but expect that to change in a big way very shortly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Hurting's Weekly Out-Of-Context Mark Trail Panel

For the Week of 01/19/05

Or maybe they just don't want to talk to you.

For the Week of 01/12/05

Remember, kids, Morrissey sez:

There is a light that never goes out, and its in my fridge and I'll be damned if I know how it stays on all night...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


After yesterday's discussion of the ill-fated Elektra movie, it occurred ot me in passing that they made a huge mistake. Honestly, I know everyone likes Elektra, but her good stories were told so long ago that they've been cribbed mercilessly ever since, to the point where you'd be hard pressed to find any sort of mystical ninja thing that didn't have Frank Miller's faint fingerprints on it, like a copy of a copy of a copy.

No, there is only one Elektra movie that anyone in their right mind has any desire to see:

Have Shinya Tsukamoto direct a straight adaption of Elektra: Assassin. Give him as much money as he wants. Let him make it an NC-17. I guarantee you it will be the most unbelievably, awesomely, unwatchably violent movie ever made.

I really admire Elektra: Assassin, even if it is quite a bad book. It's just so gleefully, unrepentantly, joyfully bad that it approaches a kind of crap-Nirvana. I believe the phrase "retarded masterpiece" could have been coined specifically for it. This is the apex of Western art as conceived by stoned sixteen year olds hanging around behind the metal shop and listening to Slipknot. Awesome.

But seriously, the fact that I have a nice and thick bound copy of Elektra: Assassin sitting on my bookshelf but no Big Numbers makes me weep bitter tears of sadness.

Monday, January 17, 2005

News Of The World

Well, the power of this blog never ceases to amaze me. Last week you might recall I posted a desperate plea for anyone out there who might be willing to sell me an old laptop for a fairly reasonable price. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting much – it was a proverbial “Hail Mary” pass. Laptops aren’t cheap, and I sure need one.

Anyway, much to my surprise, someone actually answered the call. It’s not the best machine, but it sounds like it’ll suit my limited purposes (i.e., word processing) just fine. Hopefully it should arrive sometime soon and then I’ll tell you all about it.

I’ll just say this: Retro-Computing is a craze that has not yet hit, but will soon be huge. One of these days at one of these crazy MacWorld expos, Steve Jobs is going to announce the return of the Apple II. If they can make money by repackaging old Nintendo Entertainment System “classics” like Metroid and Zelda for modern editions of the Game boy, its only a matter of time before Retro-Computing sweeps the nation. Remember, you heard it here first.

You know I fill you with illicit desires.

New remix is up here, featuring Superman/Batman #16. If you can tell that I was kinda grasping this week, good for you. I at least managed to get in a reference to MVP: Most Valuable Primate and a really odd MST3K/Tony Millionnaire joke that maybe three people will get. You can tell whenever I get hard up for ideas, because I try to make up for it with the proverbial “chicken fat”.

But seriously, what the hell could I possibly do to follow up last week’s “Peanuts Disassembled”?

So, I suppose the water-cooler topic of choice in the comics world is going to be the incredible, mind-blowing historical success of the Elektra movie.

I can’t really say I didn’t see it coming, considering the fact that it was an action movie opening in the dead of January. On the one hand, the previews didn’t really look that bad (at least not what I saw of them), and it couldn’t really help but be an improvement on the Daredevil movie.

(Which, in hindsight, wasn’t terrible, and featured some good performances, but suffered from the fact that they tried to encapsulate about four years worth of story into less than two hours – definitely an instance when they should have got someone who wasn’t a raging fanboy to approach the material. They were fans, they wanted to touch every possible base for a Daredevil movie . . . and they ended up leaving the whole thing rushed and incoherent.)

But apparently audiences have spoken, and they don’t want none of that warmed-over mystical ninja chick mumbo-jumbo. They would much rather have a lame Samuel L. Jackson Hoosiers/Stand And Deliver hybrid, an unthinkably crass Ben Stiller vehicle, a talking racehorse movie, and some odd romantic dramedy with Dennis Quaid, in that order, before they got to Jennifer Garner chopping people up in a red ninja bikini. They say it even made less money in the first weekend than Catwoman.

Which means . . . I don’t know, does it mean anything? I think you can probably be safe in assuming that this has much more to do with Jennifer Garner’s lack of appeal outside of the nerd contingent than any failure of the source material. It’s almost impossible to sell a movie based on a solo female action hero. Maybe there’ve been one or two, but that’s not a lot. Also, there were a lot of rumors about whether or not Disney (which owns ABC, which owns Alias, which was also going through a promotions blitz around the Alias season premiere) actively stymied Fox’s attempts to promote their own Garner vehicle.

All of which goes to show, as if we needed another reminder, that comic book movies are vulnerable to the same vicissitudes that befall the rest of the entertainment world. The Marvel logo does not guarantee cinematic invulnerability. But, it’s worth pointing out, despite the lack of raging success movies like The Punisher, Blade Trinity and Elektra may or may not enjoy, its getting harder and harder for these type of movies to lose money these days, when you factor in foreign box office, DVD sales (always huge for sci-fi/fantasy/action films), and video game licensing (the Punisher video game is apparently a lot better than the movie was, and is hardly suffering from comparison). These more “mature” (for lack of a better word) films don’t have the same kind of toy tie-ins that more kid-friendly franchises like Spider-Man and X-Men can fall back on, however, which is probably a point against them.

I have to ask, is there anyone who went to see the movie solely because of the fact that the teaser for Fantastic Four was included? I know that chances are that any Marvel fan who would have wanted to see the FF trailer enough to go to the theater specifically for that reason would probably have wanted to see Elektra as well, but there’s no law that says Fantastic Four fans have to be Daredevil fans. I personally know people who went to see Kevin Costner’s Thirteen Days back in 2001 simply because there was a Lord of the Rings teaser in front of it, so it’s not as if it’s totally inconceivable. But then again, to my way of looking at things, the Fantastic Four is a lot cooler than the Lord of the Rings – but I have also been reported as saying that the Howard the Duck movie “wasn’t bad”, so I’m probably quite insane.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit Of That

Got a couple random pieces of business today.

First, I'd like to welcome a new member into the sacred order of the 'ol Comics Blogosphere: Mr. Brad Reed proudly brings us The Filing Cabinet of the Damned. I have to say he looks like a well-educated, thoughtful and witty commentator, which makes him only one of, oh, a few hundred thousand other blogs worth checking out on a daily basis.

(Which does not imply that I actually check them all out - some of them aren't my cup of tea, and some of them seem to be broadcasting from an entirely different plane of reality than myself.)

Anyway, it looks like Brad is off to a great start, but I have to take issue with one of his postings on Marvel's excellent Essentials line (which you can read here). It's not that I take issue of the fact that many of the Essentials are gleeful repositories of cut-rate crap - no, I agree with him there. But the comparison of Lee/Kirby to Lennon/McCartney is what stuck in my craw. Not in the way you might be thinking - no, I take issue with the assumption that John Lennon was somehow the stronger force in the partnership, a la Jack Kirby's arguable dominance over Stan Lee. I'm not going to sit here and defend Wings (which probably could be done by someone with more of an interest in the matter), but rather, I must point out that John Lennon's solo body of work is quite possibly the most overrated chunk of crap in the entirety of the rock canon. Come on, why does everyone love "Imagine"? It's trite, simplistic, cloying and treacly in the most grating proportions. "Beautiful Boy"? "Jealous Guy"? Everytime I have the misfortune of hearing any of these horrid tracks over the speaker in the CVS I want to plunge chopsticks into my eardrums. I'm serious: whatever John Lennon had in the Beatles, he almost certainly lost it soon after the band dissolved. There were a few flashes of competency throughout the 70s, but man, the overwhelming tredn was precipitous decline. You can say whatever you like about Paul, but Wings and his later solo stuff was, if not great, at least consistently competent. Solo Lennon was just embarrassingly bad, and I think the only conceivable reason he is regarded so highly has to be some sort of sinister conspiracy among aging rock critics.

Also, Dara Naraghi's Ferret Press weblog is having a neato-keen contest to win a copy of the Strangehaven TPB - check it out here. I know I'm not usually one to mention contests, but Dara wrote me an especially nice note asking me to help out - and you guys know how much of a sucker I am.

On that note, time for bed.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A New Beginning

Today I'm starting something I've been wanting to do for quite some time. It's going to be a new ongoing weekly feature, and I hope you agree that it is destined to become the brightest light in the blogosphere firmament:

The Hurting's Weekly Out-Of-Context Mark Trail Panel

For the Week of 01/12/05

He wants to see the lady's snook.

Tell all your friends!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Well, Golly!

Man, I get a kick out of Larry Young. I reviewed his new book, Proof of Concept yesterday, and while I said a number of good things about Larry and his writing ability, I also said that I thought that Proof of Concept was not the best example of said writing ability, and that I hoped he would devote his energies towards something besides what seemed to me to be rather bloodless, if amusing, exercises in conceptual acrobatics. If only everyone took criticism with such splendid aplomb!

One of the best and worst things about AiT/Planet Lar is their willingness to transparently represent the inner workings of their creative processes. On the one hand, you have wonderful books like True Facts and Come in Alone, engrossing pieces of comics history and commentary that you just can’t imagine anyone else having the patience or resources to publish. This tendency can also be seen as an indulgence: I have yet to encounter a scriptbook that I felt any desire to read or purchase. I don’t even see the point in reading Alan Moore’s scripts, and those are more interesting than many of the comics themselves. Someone’s buying them, so there’s obviously no harm in publishing them, but I can’t help but feel that scriptbooks are the comics equivalent of that bonus disc of demos and rarities that only the hardcore fans will ever listen to twice.

Something like Proof of Concept seems to me to be comfortably situated somewhere between fascinating discourse and self-indulgence, and I have a funny feeling that this is just how Young likes it. Even moreso than making a few good comics, he seems obsessed with destroying the mystery which surrounds comics publishing: he’s hardly a Sim-like Messiah, he’s much more down-to-earth, and absolutely dedicated to putting the “means of production” squarely in the hands of his readers. Seen in that light, Proof of Concept has an almost loosey-goosey, “Look Ma! No hands!” feel to it. The idea – and it’s a good one – is that thinking up good ideas really isn’t that hard, at least not as hard as some awful pretentious folks have made it out to be.

Coming up with ideas isn’t hard, and really, most people can do it, even if they don’t know it. Taking ideas and turning them into compelling narratives is the hard part: it’s the equivalent of taking a half-ton block of iron ore and turning it into a GTO. Anyone can work in a mine, but how many people can design and manufacture an automobile? Kudos to Larry Young for doing such a good job of illuminating the creative process, but this will probably be of more interest as an exegesis of the critical process than as a distinctly defined work of its own.

Proof of Concept is a great piece of work for anyone interested in the inner workings of the mine, but there’s a world of difference between a snappy concept and a fully-fleshed story. Of course, as any writer will be happy to corroborate, “therein lies the rub” . . .

Does anyone out there in the great wide world have a used laptop that they want to sell me? I regret not being able to post as often as I would like lately, but I have a very simple reason why I haven’t been able to do so: I don’t have any time when I’m at home. But my new job requires me to basically sit in a chair for eight hours at a stretch. I’ve been catching up on my reading, but you know, I need to get a laptop one of these days so I can get my work done while I’m at work (yeah, I know that sounds odd).

I know there are certain of you out there who could be qualified as “geeks”, and I know that “geeks” usually have to have the best machine available. I am not a geek in this matter. All I need is something that can do simple word processing. I am certain that there is someone out there with an old laptop that has been put out to pasture because of technology’s mad rush towards futurity – hook a brother up, why doncha?

Oni Love Can Break Your Heart

No Dead Time

The gradual success of Office Space has been one of the more gratifying underdog stories of the past few years. When Mike Judge’s satire of life in the trenches of corporate America was first released in 1999, practically no-one paid any attention. And yet here we are, six years later, and the film has succeeded in becoming one of the defining cult objects of the generation. Why? Because it had something interesting to say in an intelligent and witty manner, and because it had the chutzpah to avoid a demeaning or condescending attitude toward its intended audience (which is a skill most Hollywood comedies, mired either in crudeness or maliciousness, seem to have forgotten). So now, if you walk into Best Buy, chances are Office Space will be one of those perennial best-sellers placed next to the check-out lines. Chances are you know someone who has half the movie memorized, and if you don’t it might be because that person is you.

I think I can go out on a limb and say that Brian McLachlan and Tom Williams have seen Office Space, because their take on corporate America seems well-informed by that movie’s genially biting tone. The difference is that the deadenders in No Dead Time seem to have just a little bit more motivation than the hapless drones in Office Space: there is a clear sense that these people are overqualified and underpaid for the jobs they perform, and that they would be much happier if their places in the capitalistic superstructure could allow more room for them to follow their artistic or creative impulses. Of course, the authors are smart enough to avoid the cliché of anyone being a misunderstood genius brutally repressed by his environment. More to the point, the characters in No Dead Time are just looking for some way to express their apathy towards the aimless direction of their lives and antipathy towards the mega-capitalistic society in which they have unwittingly been born.

The art presents a rather interesting view into the characters’ heads. Certain characters are represented as metaphorical visualizations of their nature: the two-faced boss is drawn with two parallel mouths, the oafish frat boys are represented as looming gorillas, the callow jokester is a bandy-legged scarecrow. Its an effective device, even if it is used rather indiscriminately: certain characters are represented metaphorically, while some are depicted in a realistic fashion.

This is a book that would probably benefit from a larger page size as well: Williams’ layouts are almost maddeningly crowded, and his fondness for exotic angles and extreme close-ups sometimes make the visual flow extremely cluttered. This is a very dense book. There’s a lot of information on every page and in every panel, but sometimes Williams’ loose style overcomes the page’s communicative flow. There’s a slight Farel Dalrymple influence here, but Williams need to examine the sparseness of Dalrymple’s page designs in order to let his own pages breath a bit more easily.

No Dead Time is a fun book. The characters are recognizable and sympathetic: as with Office Space, you probably know people like this, who talk like this and do these things. I especially appreciate the fact that the book refused to give us the requisite happy ending: it ends on a positive note, but there’s ambiguity as well. I think this is a strong work that will appeal to anyone looking for further insight on the admittedly well-trod ground of aimless twenty-somethings. It reads true, and the characters’ authenticity is ample restitutions for a few lapses in narrative clarity.

Monday, January 10, 2005


Hopefully the contest entries should be judged sometime soon. The importance of finally closing this chapter of The Hurting’s history has been duly impressed upon the judge. Your patience is appreciated.

I case you missed the weekend post, the new remix is here.

Does anyone out there in the great wide world have a used laptop that they want to sell me? I regret not being able to post as often as I would like lately, but I have a very simple reason why I haven’t been able to do so: I don’t have any time when I’m at home. But my new job requires me to basically sit in a chair for eight hours at a stretch. I’ve been catching up on my reading, but you know, I need to get a laptop one of these days so I can get my work done while I’m at work (yeah, I know that sounds odd).

I know there are certain of you out there who could be qualified as “geeks”, and I know that “geeks” usually have to have the best machine available. I am not a geek in this matter. All I need is something that can do simple word processing. I am certain that there is someone out there with an old laptop that has been put out to pasture because of technology’s mad rush towards futurity – hook a brother up, why doncha?

Travels With Larry

Proof of Concept

Reading this book, I was reminded of a recent post by Mr. Franklin Harris (based in part on certain ideas posited by Mr. Warren Ellis) on the subject of comic book publishing. Certainly, if you look at Harris’ list, most of those items seem almost like no-brainers. Pretty much everyone who composes the current “New Mainstream” in comics - which I would define as anyone who wants to make their living publishing intelligent but not overly cerebral entertainment in comics format, with the idea of exploiting the vast market of everyday readers who have been abandoned by “Mainstream” comics – is already following all or most of the suggestions on this list. Certainly Larry Young, as the movement’s ostensible figurehead, has proven that it is very possible to make a living by reaching out the casual readers who – in a healthy industry – would compose the bulk of comics readership.

Proof of Concept offers convincing evidence for both the best and worst aspects of this approach. There is no doubt in my mind that Larry Young is a much smarter writer than most of his peers probably give him credit for. Planet of the Capes is one of last year’s most misunderstood books, and it’s a shame because I think Young was maybe a bit too subtle for many in his audience. Young’s style is consciously subdued. It rejects the overt, almost preening stylistic intricacies of the “British invasion” vanguard of the 80s and early 90s. Moore, Morrison, and Gaiman are all very strongly invested in multiple thematic and conceptual layers in whatever they write, but in most cases these layers are fairly well indicated by the surface markings. I’m not going to say that Young is in the company of these august persons – he doesn’t write near enough, for one, and he’s still deeply indebted to a certain number of genre clichés which perhaps exert a deleterious influence on his style – but he is certainly a lot more sly than most give him credit for. Whereas anyone who reads something by Alan Moore can probably, without too much effort, make some good guesses as to the thematic undercurrents and conceptual sleight-of-hand at work, Larry Young insists on keeping his subtext very tightly embedded in his storytelling. Like an iceberg, only about ten percent of Planet of the Capes is above the water. His work demands a lot of work from the reader, more work than many of the folks who would be tempted to pick up an action-adventure book are probably willing to invest.

Given Young’s proclivity towards understatement, Proof of Concept finds him in an interesting, if slightly awkward, position. This book, as you may have gathered from the title, is something of a “how-to” manual on the concept of writing for a high-concept. There’s no doubt that Young has an ear for high-concept: even a casual acquaintance with his backlist illustrates the fact that he is drawn to easily defined scenarios which can be easily explained in the short paragraph of a press release or a back-cover blurb. As a publisher, he makes one hell of a marketing man – the question is whether or not his knack for marketing is something that can or should be applied to the creative side of his brain.

Based on the evidence herein, I am slightly ambivalent. There are six features here, all based on a different concept. The stories are presented in the context of a fictional conversation between Young and his agent, a conversation which involves Young trying to get said agent to bite on a story idea. This is interesting for anyone who wants to understand how, at its very basic level, stories are conceived: it all starts with an idea. At some point, someone has to sell that idea to someone else – even if he’s a self-publisher, he has to find an audience who wants to buy his comic, or he’ll quickly go out of business. Its gotten to be something of a cliché that Hollywood does business by isolating a quick, one or two sentence “concept” that can be sold from everyone to studio heads to happy-meal vendors. For better or for worse, this is how the lion’s share of all entertainment and art is produced. Most successful ideas are, at their heart, very simple ideas which have been tweaked or elaborated in original ways.

So, in a very primal way, coming up with new and different high concepts can be extraordinarily simple. Certainly, Proof of Concept presents the reader with half a dozen perfectly feasible and eminently saleable ideas from which to pick and choose. I doubt Young really spent too much time on the niceties of any of these concepts, and the stories included are no more than the proverbial hooks on which to rest his broad ideas.

But of course, depending too heavily on the high concept is a problem in and of itself. For one, as Harris points out, with a few exceptions the most popular concepts have a tendency to be character-driven. Popular characters have a tendency to lodge themselves into the minds of their audience in a way that even the best concept-driven properties do not. I suspect that as good as it is, Astronauts in Trouble would be a lot more popular than it is if there was a main character throughout the whole series, some sort of identifiable icon who can be put on a t-shirt or a lunch-box or who a popular celebrity can be convinced to play on the silver screen. The Crow is almost a perfect example of this: there was a concept that was almost instantly identifiable, combined with an indelible character. I’ve known a few people who couldn’t care less for comics as a whole but who loved the Crow, and I’ve also known people who’s only comics purchase ever was Graphiti’s expensive Crow hardcover. AiT/Planet Lar hasn’t had their Crow yet, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time before something hits a nerve with the public at large – and then the sky will truly be the limit.

In any event, although each of these stories is interesting and potentially lucrative, you don’t get the idea that Young is as invested in any of these springboards as he could be. If he had immediately fallen in love with any of these ideas, you have to assume he would have found a way to put them on the schedule. Young is a busy man, as well as a smart one. I think he probably knows better than to go chasing after random high-concepts in search of a chimerical “big payoff” book. I think he knows very well that the most successful books are often the most surprisingly idiosyncratic. On the face of it, who would have thought that the two most popular self-publishing success stories of the 90s would be a Tolkein-esque homage to Carl Barks and a sexually ambiguous soap-opera melodrama with thriller overtones? Certainly, on the face of it these are both vaguely palatable ideas, but there’s no ignoring the fact that both Bone and Strangers in Paradise have sold a boatload of comics between them, in addition to making inroads among the type of readers who would not, perhaps, otherwise have much use for comics. Like The Crow, Cerebus and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, these are books that hit a nerve with large groups of people not because of the strength of the basic concept, but because of the way their creators developed unique ways of approaching their concepts and their audiences.

Larry Young already knows more about making and selling comics in America than just about anyone else alive. There’s a reason why AiT/Planet Lar has been able to become a modest success during one of the worst periods of market uncertainty in the industry’s history – and considering the state of the market, a modest success has to count as a massive success. But as smart as he is, he still hasn’t quite found the key to unlocking the massive success that lies just across the threshold for any publisher able to produce the next great conceptual “must-have”. Books like Proof of Concept prove that he has no intention of quitting until he hits paydirt. But I also have a feeling that said paydirt is going to be more idiosyncratic and specific than any of these. None of these ideas, at least in their bare-bones states, have the kind of intimacy that the best comics can exploit into massively broad appeal. It’s obvious that Young has “high concept” down: let’s see him take a page from Demo and try to give us some characters to feel for, and a uniquely Larry Young way of feeling for them. Then he’ll have something special.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Hey Punks

New remix.

Don't say I never did anything for you.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Quick Question

Why is it that some people insist on maintaining that those of us who don't consider superhero books to be the be-all and end-all of comics goodness must automatically be pining for the medium to adopt fine art/high literature's somewhat condescending aesthetic standards?

It seems to me a woefully specious argument, and says more about the persons making said argument than the people (like myself) who merely want to distance themselves from the rather benighted critical inflation of the superhero genre. I don't care about "respectability" or anything like that on any terms other than whatever terms the comics medium may or may not make for itself. If it comes, great - more people get to experience the wonderful world of comics. If not - well, no biggie. Our medium does not live and breath according to the whims of North American book consumers.
In Defense of Copyright

There is little doubt in the minds of most reasonable people that current copyright safeguards are unnecessarily long and stringent. Even though the Supreme Court has upheld the recent copyright extension acts as strictly constitutional, a few of the justices have expressed opinions to the effect that these extensions cannot continue to be extended indefinitely, even vaguely promising to revisit the matter at some future date if the Constitution’s “limited Times” copyright clause is not eventually satisfied.

Still, by the time anyone gets around to standing up to Disney and their ilk, the main damage will already have been done: characters such as Tarzan, Mickey Mouse and Jay Gatsby will have passed the point of cultural relevancy, and into the annals of historical curiosity. Certainly, this is not to say that there will not be interesting things to be done with these characters and concepts once they do reach public domain, but in terms of any actual impact to the broader spectrum of culture, 100-year-old icons are rarely a going concern.

To wit: when I write the name Heathcliff, how many people’s first thought is of a rowdy orange cat?

But in the shadow of this indefensible and unfortunate turn of events, some people have turned to radical solutions, in some instances calling for the eradication of the very concept of copyright. As deleterious as the perpetual extension of modern copyright is, the eradication of copyright would produce far harsher results. If copyright were abolished, art itself would soon cease to exist in the present tense.

The revolution in digital music downloading that began with the advent of Napster, and which has never really stopped, placed certain of these issues near the center of the political debate. Few could argue convincingly that the mass distribution of copyrighted music was anything but theft, but many also argued persuasively that the thieves acting on a moral imperative, on account of the music industry’s continued condescension towards both artists and costumers. This is not an unattractive argument, but it fairly reeks somewhat speciously of an excuse adopted after the fact.
One strange effect of the digital music debate was the somewhat paradoxical reaffirmation of artists’ rights which followed soon thereafter. If, as the logic went, stealing from major corporations who abused their power over consumers and the marketplace was acceptable, then stealing from the artist themselves was not. This slight shift in consumer attitudes led to a slight shift in moral attitudes. The rights and privileges of the corporations who printed and distributed the music was permanently defaced in the public consciousness, in favor of the artists’ inalienable ability to create his art. This was a welcome development insomuch as any erosion of the music industry’s status quo was long overdue.

But the problems are bigger than that, and certain current laissez faire attitudes towards copyright threaten to send the course of meaningful art down the slippery slope towards extinction.

The abolishment of copyright would effectively place the means of making a living – in fact, receiving any meaningful remuneration – out the grasp of the artist forever. To be fair, copyright laws have not always existed – they were first created at the dawn of the 18th century. But the means to create instantaneous and perfect digital reproductions of any work of art did not exist either. If you wanted to create a bootleg Shakespeare folio at the dawn of the 17th century, there was a considerable amount of work involved in such an endeavor. Not so now, where with two clicks of a keyboard anyone could theoretically erase the name of “William Shakespeare” from across a mass market publication of Hamlet, and replace the Bard’s name with their own.

That may be an absurd example, because everyone knows who wrote Hamlet. But if you write a new novel that promises to be a lucrative and popular piece of fiction, and there are no copyright protections, there is no way to disseminate this book that will enable you to make a profit. No publisher will publish a book that can be instantaneously copied and pawned off anonymously, which is what the abnegation of copyright would result in. No one could profit off their own work when any popular property could merely be copied and sold without any remuneration. Book companies make money off of publishing classic works that have fallen into public domain partly because of the fact that there are no royalties to be paid and there are few up-front costs to be tendered (leastwise, none comparable to the ritual of advances and modern royalties). If all publishing was essentially public domain, no-one could afford to pay any author for anything.

And as much as we all wish that art existed as some pure and shining ideal, the fact is that if there was no possibility of ever making a living, many fewer people would do it. And the fact that any popular works could essentially be rendered anonymous by the vicissitudes of legal bootlegs would probably do in the rest. Oh, there would probably still be people who wrote, but they would only share their work with a few people. Art as a going, public concern would be effectively dead.

There would be no new television or cinema produced. Musicians and actors could probably continue to make a living by performing the vast repertory catalog of extant work in live settings, but the fiscal and moral prohibitions against making and disseminating any new art would be forbidding.

In the absence of copyright laws, and with the existence of instantaneous perfect reproduction of digital properties, there is no way to protect even an author’s basic moral right to the intangible proprietorship of their work. The only alternative to copyright laws are those offered by the Soviet system, in which all notions of private property and copyright are controlled by the state, but the artist’s moral proprietorship of their work is granted through the state’s gratuity. But there has never been a planned economy in the history of the world that has not devolved into abject totalitarianism.

Modern western socialism, as it exists to a limited degree in certain parts of western and northern Europe, does not represent the obliteration of capitalism, so much as merely the establishment of boundaries beyond which capitalism has no dominion. It is based, at least partly, on the notion that there are certain facets of life which are inalienable rights which cannot be left to potentially fail, and must be preserved through governmental fiat, at the risk of incurring greater societal instability.

There are some on the left whom would argue that copyright is not an inalienable right, and it is certainly not. It is a right granted by a government to men. But it does represent a necessary compromise between the untrammeled rights of the masses and the rights of the individual. If said individual has no right to profit from his own work, either fiscally or through recognition, than there is absolutely reason for said individual to do anything at all.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


It is the year 2005, and UNICRON is coming! We better hide!!!

Arbilus, Look! It's Unicron!

It is the year 2005.

The trecherous Decepticons have conquered the Autobot's homeworld of Cybertron.

But, from secret staging grounds on two of Cybertron's moons,

the valiant Autobots prepare for their retaking of their homeworld.

For a time, I had considered sparing your wretched little planet. But now you shall witness its dismemberment.

(This is undoubtedly the geekiest post I've ever made, so feel free to lambaste me in the comments. Images courtesy of these guys.)