Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lightning Round!

Daredevil #114

Remember how I was just saying how awesome a character Dakota North was, except for the fact that she'd never actually been in a good story? Well, turning her into another in a long line of Matt Murdock's corpse brides isn't going to help matters.

Hulk #9

Jeph Loeb is one of the worst writers currently working in comics. That said, this series succeeds by making a virtue of his shortcomings. It's all big, dumb action, there's no room for political subtext or mumble-brained characterization or just plain flat-out poor plotting. There are two Hulks jumping around fighting people, lots of ass is kicked and the plot is thin enough you could pass it between the cracks of the Wailing Wall. The only downside is that as fun as the book undoubtedly is, Loeb is so very bad at pulling off "mysteries" that the ultimate Rulk revelation will almost certainly be a massive, frustrating cheat of some kind. But still, it's a fun ride, mostly because he's not allowed to do anything but be big, fun and stupid.

Ultimatum #2

Like here, for instance.

In case you were wondering, the Wasp is number #1 on my Underrated, Underutilized characters list. She's my all-time favorite super-heroine. Of all the classic Silver Age Marvel characters, she is the only one who has never really had any kind of solo spotlight, or really any kind of spotlight, aside from the occasional star turn in the perennial ensemble piece that is The Avengers. I fully intend to write about why I think she's such a great character, but for the time being it's important to note the strange coincidence of two incarnation of the Wasp dying within a month of each other. Remember a few years ago when something like three different versions of Northstar died within a couple months of each other? It was enough to make you think someone at Marvel really wanted their only prominent gay superhero dead. Now, however, I just think people are lazy, if the only value they can possibly see for Janet Van Dyne in either the 616 or Ultimate Universe is to have her dead, serving as inspiration for her crazy husband to do something even more crazy.

I mean, seriously, being eaten by the Ultimate Blob has to be the most needlessly gruesome comic book death in quite a while. Are we supposed to think the image of Ultimate Fred J. Dukes chomping down on the Wasp is some kind of sexy titillation? Furthermore, why was the 616 Wasp dispatched with such little consideration that the death scene literally had to be explained a month later by Dan Slott? (When I read the last issue of Secret Invasion, I specifically remember making a comment to myself to the effect that the death-scene was such a botched job Dan Slott was going to need to devote a whole issue of The Initiative to explaining what actually happened. Imagine my surprise when that was more or less what actually happened.)

The death of the Ultimate Wasp is really of no consequence besides the general comment that the whole "Ultimatum" storyline could not be more pathetic, and the knee-jerk return to female death and dismemberment as a shock tactic for mainstream super-comics is massively depressing. (Also: I'm no expert on Ultimate continuity, but isn't it odd that in order to make the story interesting they basically had to make the Ultimate Doom just like the 616 Doom? The Ultimate Fantastic Four was such an uninteresting reconceptualization of the original property that the only surprise is that it took this long for the whole Ultimate Universe to finally start dying.)

Robin #181

Is it my imagination, or do none of these "Batman R.I.P." tie-ins actually jibe with the chronology of the original series? Am I missing something? Reading these books confuses me something awful. As Tucker Stone recently said,

when you're working on the biggest super-hero character of the year, and your job is to do that characters big bestseller of the year, then that isn't the time for you to put out something that any Batman fan, even the dumbest one, calls "confusing."

I'd second that emotion, and also add that if you build your line around a crossover and the crossover very aggressively defies all attempts to make sense of its internal timeline, you've pretty massively screwed the pooch. Say what you will about Civil War, it had a good thru-line, and one of the things that got people excited was the fact that events progressed -- if not logically -- at least chronologically one to another, in such a way that the crossovers were pretty clearly defined and anyone reading the central story could step into the secondary books without fear of internal contradiction. For "Batman R.I.P.", however, it seems as if the creative teams involved in all the secondary Bat-books were simply told to write something on the vague theme of Batman being gone for mysterious reasons. It's almost as bad -- almost -- as the monumentally stupid "Avengers: Disassembled" event, the crossovers for which did not actually in any way influence, effect or even relate to the main storyline of "Avengers: Disassembled." But then, at least the crossovers to that story didn't blatantly contradict the main storyline.

This is not rocket science, this is not high "Art", this is superhero comics crossovers. It's bad enough that the story itself is a rotten clusterfuck, but the fact that they couldn't even get the crossovers to gel in anything resembling a cohesive manner is just insulting to the poor folks who actually care. I don't really care, but I'm still insulted by the sheer brass balls required to pull off such massive disregard for their audience.

People seriously wonder why Secret Invasion, which could have been written by marmosets, outsold Final Crisis! The former was an almost stunningly simple concept which, while certainly lacking in execution, nevertheless came out on time and presented no unnecessary challenges for the reader picking up, say, Thunderbolts and Deadpool and hoping for clear, easily-digested crossover stories. The latter, well, does anyone actually know why the Rage of the Red Lanterns or Legion of Three Worlds books are Crisis tie-ins? Sure, there is the possibility of some kind of major, paradigm-shifting revelation that causes the whole thing to retroactively cohere. But then again, it's more likely to be another "Avengers: Disassembled", if the scattershot approach to Batman R.I.P. is any indication.

Since I'm plugging other bloggers, I am reminded of Kevin Church's frequent advice to web designers: no matter how great your content is, if your portal is a confusing mess, or overly complicated, or just poorly conceived, you're likely to turn off just as many customers / readers / clients as not. It's really no different for websites than it is for any other kind of widget you can imagine. There's a reason why the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings have numbers on the spine indicating reading order: those numbers aren't just there to coddle the N3WBZ. Right now, as good as some may argue individual titles to be, the company itself is pushing the DC Universe as the major selling point for DC Universe comic books. The DC Universe is a disjointed, uneven mess, and if they can't even make up their minds that Detective Comics and Robin occur on the same planet, why should any potential customer believe them when they say that it's all "counting" towards something? Even something as simple as the return of the triangle numbers for the Superman books can make a world of difference.

Don't confuse your costumers, and don't insult their intelligence. If these seem like contradictory maxims, look again. It is very insulting to be confused by intentionally misleading and byzantine stories and meandering, meaningless crossovers. Costumers spend money to be entertained, and if that entertainment includes challenging, thought-provoking and even frustrating material (as the advocates of Batman R.I.P. would posit), then all the better. But it's all got to hang together at some point or else the trust between seller and customer dissolves. If the customer is led to believe that what was sold as a complex, interlocking, relatively non-contradictory crossover event is actually a half-dozen unrelated titles blindly groping after some broad undefined climax, then you're going to get some pretty pissed-off customers. Secret Invasion may not have been any good, but it delivered exactly what it promised.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Chris Eigeman

Alas poor Jason,
Fastidious friend. The fix
Was in. One season.

Set up for a fall.
God forbid anyone get
In the way of Luke.

Luke: a man of wood,
Cardboard cut-out, fantasy
Lover for the dull.

Jason Stiles we knew
Ye not, an interesting
Man, funny and sad.

Stars Hollow is a
Playground for depressed housewives,
A wish for stasis.

A catalog of
Ignominy for Marxists
Who still watch despite.

Jason Stiles, rose to
Find the toilet and never
Returned, Luke's patsy.

Luke Danes: fated to
Marry Lorelai despite
His stupidity.

Let's see: child of wealth,
Upwardly mobile, chooses
To marry hobo.

Change your damn flannel
Shirt, I don't believe you were
Married to lawyer.

If you were, I can
See why she cheated on you
With SUV dude.

But Lorelai, girl,
Don't turn your back on Jason,
Not illiterate.

He was in movies
Directed by Whit Stillman,

Barcelona, too.
The Last Days of Disco, an
Underrated gem.

Unsung star, shine on
In our hearts forever more,
Your elegance, wit.

In a tuxedo
In my dreams you glide, a man
Refined, supple, smooth.

However, I will
Not watch Maid in Manhattan:
Dignity too cheap.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Crunch From The Captain To You

I got a letter the other day from a fan of the site asking for advice as to what kind of comic would be good as a gift for a twelve-year-old boy with little or no comics experience. This is something that I imagine comes up fairly often, since the average age of the average comic reader long ago shifted from being 12 years old to being someone in the position to give gifts to 12-year-olds. It's not an easy question to answer.

Fact is, as much as we may like to think otherwise - considering we were all, at one point, twelve years old ourselves - it's devilishly tricky to figure out what kids will and won't like. Otherwise, everyone and their mother would be banging out Harry Potter and Twilight level mega-phenomena on their word processor. I still maintain that as much as we may like the "general reader" level comics that companies like Marvel and DC produce, there's still something of a ceiling to their appeal. Kids - at least, I'd say, once they get into the double-digit age range - have a way of sniffing out the ringer in any line-up. Sure, some of DC and Marvel's younger reader books are good - some of them very good - but I remain skeptical about just how much appeal they have past a certain point. (Of course, if you are buying for a kid younger than nine or ten, they're probably perfect.) I may be wrong here - I am speaking primarily from my own experience. But as I've said before, there is an element of luridness that must be present on some level in order to appeal to pre-teens.

What exactly is "lurid"? Well, in relation to kids entertainment it can usually be summed up as the intimation of something just outside the grasp of the target audience. I mean, seriously, most superhero comics are pretty juvenile, but there's a constant stream of signifiers pointing at something more significant under the hood - sub rosa importance that hangs there like a red flag for young minds. Be it the intimation of sex, the intimation of violence, the intimation of love or the intimation of fear, the strange grand guignol world of mainstream comics hooks kids because even if the stories are usually only an inch deep, an inch is still just out of reach for those kids who get hooked young. Sure, Spider-Man and the X-Men are pretty simple mechanisms for older readers to take apart, which is why later incarnations of the properties have become gradually far more elaborate and baroque in complexity. But if you're twelve, the idea of a fantastically stylized world filled with concrete representations of all those confusing emotions and sensations which remain tantalizingly far-off in the adult world is irresistible. When you reach your 20s, there isn't a lot in the basic concept of those types of characters that remains alien to your life experience (or, leastways, there shouldn't be), but when you're ten you don't really understand a whole hell of a lot.

So, with that in mind, I think a good gift for any youngster who might be interested in the world of superhero comics would be a later volume of Marvel's Essential X-Men series. The early Claremont / Byrne and Cockrum material might be a tad mannered by contemporary standards, and as much as some may argue, it isn't really necessary to start at the beginning. Most people didn't: the number of people who read or have read the X-Men who also started chronologically with Giant Sized X-Men #1 has to be minuscule. Everybody started in the middle, just about, considering it was a stable serial continuity that ran for almost two-hundred extraordinarily successful issues before grinding to a screeching halt with Uncanny #281. The whole point is not to have everything spoon-fed from the beginning - you jump in with a whole pile of unfamiliar characters and situations, and your desire to learn more about who these people are and what exactly they're doing pushes you forward, just like many of the other strange and unfamiliar experiences of childhood and adolescence. It's good for a kid to explore something like the X-Men or Harry Potter, where they can conceivably master all they need to know about the subject matter if they just read more - that kind of curiosity is a good counterbalance to the inevitably frustrating experience of growing older and realizing that it's not as easy or even possible for a kid to learn all there is to know about, say, sex or violence or money. All of which means, anyplace is as good to start as any. And if you're going to, why not start when it gets really good?

I may be in the minority here, I don't know for certain, but for my money the best period of X-Men is the period around roughly #200-250 - Claremont had been on the title long enough that he had the confidence and the respect to get away with pretty much anything he wanted. It's pretty awesome that so much of it succeeded as well as it did. The series had already became the most popular series in comics, so Claremont was justified if he betrayed a certain swagger - but at the same time, the subtext of this whole run is very clearly a fight against the kind of calcification and creative death that would be the only rational result of giving in to the temptation to allow the strip to metastasize into merely another static franchise. He fought the good fight to keep the series distinct and different for far longer than anyone could have reasonably expected, and in the end only really failed on account of a series of circumstances he could never have predicted (i.e., the rising popularity of those artists who would soon found Image comics, coupled with the general upswing in comics' popularity of the late 80s). If the last few dozen issues of the run seem to lose their momentum, well, more's the pity - if he had had a clear field he probably could have kept juggling the balls until doomsday. He was done in by the sad fact that the series simply became too popular for him to pretend he had any control over it. In the space of a decade it went from being a popular franchise to the most popular franchise to the most popular franchise that had ever been, at least since the days of Captain Marvel and Superman routinely selling millions of issues. (His later returns to the franchise have seemed to indicate he left exactly when he should have left, but even a sub-par creative vision is better than a first-rate franchise installment - as good a description of Claremont's significance to comics history as I've ever seen.)

For my money you could do worse than starting with volume #6, featuring the entirety of the still-disturbing "Mutant Massacre" storyline. This is significant as it was really the first - or one of the first - franchise-wide crossovers not related to some sort of overarching macro-series, like Secret Wars or the original Crisis. It basically grew organically out of the X-books, with a few other titles like Thor, Power Pack and Daredevil joining in for good measure. The point of this series, which set the tone for the next five or so years on the title, was to begin the long process of taking the X-Men apart piece by piece, a sequence which began in issue #200 with the beginning of Professor Xavier's long absence and Magneto's stewardship of Xavier's school.

The Mutant Massacre put half the team out of commission for a long time - Nightcrawler and Shadowcat were written out of the book permanently, and Colossus was gone for over a year. A bunch of rookies showed up, folks like Dazzler, Longshot, the still-Caucasian Psylocke and rusty old-school 60s X-Man Havok (whose Neal Adams-designed black bodysuit and concentric circles is still one of the coolest costumes ever). Wolverine was thrown into the unexpected role of being the team's elder statesman and Storm dealt with the continuing loss of her powers - a subplot that continued for around fifty issues, an unimaginably long time by today's standards. These threads came to a head with volume #7, in which all of these subplots culminate in the still very good "Fall of the Mutants" storyline. At the climax, the team sacrifices their lives in battle against the (somewhat purposefully generic) Adversary, only to be resurrected and dispatched to Australia.

The Australian period gets a lot of flack from certain segments of the fan population, but it remains a favorite of mine - the stories building from the team's fake death got progressively more desperate as it became obvious that the team was falling apart in ways that didn't seem so easily remedied. (The Australian sequence runs through most of volume #8.) It's all completely overblown and melodramatic, filled with Claremontian excess and stylized action - melancholy, depressed and positively Gothic in places - but it's nevertheless extremely well-constructed in a way that most contemporary superhero books can't even begin to approach. Marc Silvestri provides the art for the majority of volumes 7 & 8, and his work is pretty damn great - it's not hard to see why he had the reputation of being the best of the original Image artists. His action sequences are clean and easy to follow, his backgrounds are imaginative, his body and facial types varied and expressive, and - of course! - his women, very sexy without being slutty, in a way that surely thrilled hundreds of thousands of adolescent boys at the time of initial release. Basically, everything good about getting addicted to long-term superhero adventure continuity can be found in these pages, and just about every title that has achieved any degree of success in the past couple decades has cribbed more or less from Claremont's X-Men. Regardless of their generally overlooked status, these later runs are no less influential in their way than the earlier iconic material like the Dark Phoenix saga and "Days of Future Past".

But if you're not kindly predisposed to the X-Men, there are other books Junior might like:

Longtime aficionados can pick nits all day long, but Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man was a dramatic success in terms of accomplishing exactly what it set out to do - i.e., updating the character of Spider-Man to fit securely in a modern milieu. It's not perfect - I think it was a mistake to tie the Green Goblin so strongly to Spider-Man's origin, and the reconceptualization of the Goblin as a Hulk wannabe was pretty badly misconceived - but put that kind of fanboy crap aside and it's easy to love the one thing the series does so eerily and consistently well. It's the characters, stupid - here's Peter Parker and Aunt May and Mary Jane and Norman Osborne and Doctor Octopus, all maybe changed a bit but only cosmetically, and only in the service of communicating what is most essential to each character's appeal. I don't follow the series regularly but so far as I can tell Bendis has never wavered from his ability to deliver a Peter Parker so consistently spot-on that it borders on archetypal. The first story arc is presented here, but considering the series' sometimes-glacial pacing, it might be better to start with a bigger book, featuring the first two storylines for only six dollars more.

Again, it's not a series that gets a lot of love from the cognoscenti - it's certainly not my favorite - but I have a hard time coming up with a better Batman story for a young adolescent than Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb's Hush. All of the elements that might seem like weaknesses to older audiences - Lee's reliance on flashy pin-up style storytelling; the straight-forward and consciously repetitive plot; the downright-cynical means by which Loeb cherry-picks all of the character's "greatest hits" from the last thirty-odd years of his adventures - will probably be perfect for a younger reader with nothing more than a vague idea of just who the Caped Crusader actually is. You want to see Batman wailing on Superman? Being pushed to the limit of endurance by the Joker? Fighting a moonlight duel in the desert against Ra's al Ghul? Finally confessing his feelings towards the rarely-more-zaftig Catwoman? We've seen all these beats played before and better, but for those with no prior Batman experience this story would probably play like the proverbial hypodermic needle full of adrenaline stabbed straight into the heart. (Note: Lee's art is a bit more explicit even than Silvestri's work on X-Men, with some very sexy females and a particularly demoniac Joker, so it'd probably be a good idea to make sure it's on the kid's level, rather than risk pissing off their parents. Nothing more explicit than you'd get in some PG-13 movies, but putting it all on the pages of a static medium makes it seem a bit more menacing than it would if it were onscreen or in a video game.) Unfortunately, the series is still only available split up into two parts, but you can get both for about twenty bucks. The first part is here, the second here.

If seeing a bunch of superheroes all in one place and kicking the living shit out of some bad guys is all you require, the first volume of Grant Morrison's run on JLA is probably just what the doctor ordered. The best Hulk story of recent years is probably Planet Hulk, an unusual fantasy-tinged sci-fi adventure in space that features a planet-full of gruesome monsters, fearsome warriors and - of course - the Hulk smashing the tar out of everyone he meets. For anyone fascinated by Iron Man after seeing his successful film, it's actually rather difficult to find good done-in-one Iron Man volumes that might appeal to younger readers, but the best bet may just be this volume featuring two of Iron Man's most famous adventures with Doctor Doom. If it's something more in the vein of straight sci-fi you're looking for, the second volume of the Essential Silver Surfer might be the solution (the first volume reprints all of the Surfer's 60s series, and as such is probably a bit too dated in execution to appeal to younger readers.)

And then, of course, you have my personal favorite new series of the last decade or so, Marvel's Runaways. It's the only series I actually own entirely in swanky hardcovers, and I love it so much I still haven't read the third volume because I know in advance that something bad happens to my favorite character. The hardcovers are probably a bit much for a blind gift item, but the series is also available in stocking-stuffer sized digests, the first of which is available here. Inexplicably the second book of the digests appears to be out of print, but if the first is a hit you can probably find the second volume through a local retailer or used.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's The Only Thing That Would Make Any Sense

(Actually, Not So Much of A Placeholder)

Criminally Underused / Misused / Forgotten Marvel Characters

5. Unus the Untouchable - OK, it's a guy with an impermeable force-field. But the thing is, the field's involuntary, which means he can't touch and can't be touched. This guy was a villain back in the original-run 1960s X-Men book, but never made any kind of impression in the years since. He may have died at some point? Still: even though my first exposure to the dude was in a Handbook entry, he always struck me as a goldmine of untapped potential - sort of like how Madrox was a bad joke for decade and a half following his first appearance, until Peter David refitted the character in the 1990s. There's a lot of existential angst to be mined from the concept.

4. Firebird - OK, Kurt Busiek actually managed to wedge some nice character moments with her into the tail-end of his Avengers run, but aside from a part in Dwayne McDuffie's great Beyond! series, she's been M.I.A. Her shtick is pretty neat: she has pretty generic fire-powers, but she's also mysteriously immortal and invincible. No explanation why, but a couple decades back when the Silver Surfer and the Avengers (East and West) all guzzled a bottle of super-poison to travel to Death's realm for some reason or another, she was left standing unharmed. I repeat: a Catholic social worker mutant and part-time Avenger was left alive after drinking a mouthful of a poison that killed the Silver Surfer and Thor. Tell me there aren't some fun ideas there.

3. Dakota North - She's actually popped up again recently as a hanger-on and love interest for Daredevil, which means she'll probably be dead in six months. It took me a long time to track down a run of her extremely short-lived series: it wasn't very good. It reminded me a bit of that old show The Equalizer, in some vague way. And the printing was so horrible - real authentic late 80s Marvel flexographic printing. I maintain that even given these facts, there has never been a Dakota North comic published that came close to matching the promise of these initial ads, which still remain seared into my memory decades after the fact. Essentially: a Patrick Nagel painting come to life and sent gallivanting across the Marvel Universe, a Bret Easton Ellis-inspired funhouse of strange fashion and abrupt violence. And that chick, that smirking chick: that's not the kind of smirk you could imagine any other female crimefighter or private detective ever flashing. Dakota North has been one of my favorite characters for decades, even if the Dakota North that lives in my brain has never actually existed on the printed page.

2. Frankenstein's Monster - This is such an unbelievable oversight that I have to believe the majority of people currently working at Marvel don't even know this character exists within the Marvel Universe. Because, really, is there any reason why Frankenstein's Monster isn't a major player? Seriously: this isn't some watered-down Universal Studios / Munsters pseudo-Frankenstein, this is Mary Shelley's Monster of Frankenstein - the very same cruel, calculating, incredibly powerful and eternally tormented figure who has haunted the romantic imagination of Western culture for almost two centuries.

He's popped up here and there over the years, but since the 70s he's never had a starring or even recurring role. If you care about superhero comics and superhero universes at all, a large part of the appeal for these things is the Brownian motion of so many characters in a contained superhero universe as they collide and interact in strange, unexpected, sometimes lame and sometimes awesome ways. Dracula is still a fan-favorite Marvel villain even though he's been under-utilized and mistreated for two-decades running - because of the fact that he's an actual literary and cinematic celebrity, there's still that little extra bit of frisson which comes from seeing Drac interact with folks like Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. The Monster has been used so rarely since his original run that you can't even properly say he's been misused, to my recollection - just forgotten. Now, imagine how awesome it would be if Frankenstein's Monster just showed up one day and started whipping the shit out of Wolverine or Moon Knight or something. You cannot tell me you would not buy a series called Frankenstein's Monster Goes Buck-Wild In Marvel's Manhattan, because you would be a God-damned liar. Or, reintroduce him as a truly disturbing, scheming behind-the-scenes manipulator, just like he was in the original book - a smart, implacable foe with nothing but resentment towards the human race and the circumstances of his "birth", but filled with a hollow loneliness stemming from his solitary fate.

Anyway, this supposed "placeholder" post has metastasized. So, I'll leave #1 for tomorrow or the next day. Hint: it's not Quasar.

Monday, December 08, 2008


So yeah, I know I had a good rhythm going there, with lots of content and lots of posts - and then I ran into the end of the semester, which cut off the momentum at its knees. I know, I know, bad for business. But take heart! my 90s ramblings will soon return, for certain, as I have gotten some interesting nibbles from certain third parties interested publishing the series in a more substantial form. So - when I have the time, the 90s series will continue, with more in the way of real research and actual insight, not just bald assertions about crap I vaguely remember from those years of yore when the Clintonosaurus roamed Washington and LFO was just a hardcore techno band and not yet a synonym for low-rent pedo-bait.

So, anyway, to keep you amused:

Things I Admit To Being Unable To Dig

1. Bone - Yeah, I know. Every couple years I try again - I've got scattered issues of the original run, the Image run, and the first of the Scholastic color editions. But then I start to actually read the damn thing and I jusssxxxxzzzzzzzzzz . . . I'm sorry, I think I fell asleep. Are they still talking about cow races?

2. The Fall - Has there ever been a band more perfectly designed to appeal to anal-retentive music nerds and pop critics? (Besides Stereolab, that is.) Hey, I just happen to be both of those things, so I should love the Fall . . . well, I actually do own a couple Fall CDs. And I listen to them periodically to see if I've changed my mind. Nope.

3. James Bond - I know every red-blood male secretly (or not so secretly) wants to be James Bond, but not me. The whole milieu, and everything that goes along with it, could not be more uninteresting - international intrigue, espionage, organized crime, martinis and gambling - yawn. I can appreciate the first couple Sean Connery films in an academic sense, and the first, best version of Casino Royale, but I don't think I've ever succeeded in making it through a Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan Bond film without getting bored and changing the channel. Just really bland, and all the knock-offs of the last half-century have been even blander. if he's got a license to kill, he sure used it to knock off my interest.

4. Cole Porter - I've got a double CD set of Ella Fitzgerald singing the Cole Porter songbook. If Ella Fitzgerald can't make Cole Porter seem interesting, I don't think it can be done.

5. Beer / Wine / Liquor - I have friends who love good liquor, friends who want to devote their life to the science of brewing beer. I have drank good liquor and drank good beer - not so much of the good wine, but some not-so-bad wine. And it's not like I don't occasionally have a glass of something, I'm no teetotaler. But on the whole there is no appeal. It all tastes like a dog's ass - I know there are folks who will swear up and down that beer tastes good, but even the most expensive beer I've ever drank still tastes like what my mouth tastes like in the morning when I forget to brush my teeth the nigh before. Alcohol is distilled and fermented into beverages for one purpose: intoxication. I can respect alcoholics because they at least admit that the purpose of liquor is to create temporary dissonance between reality and perception; they don't erect an incredibly baroque pseudo-academic edifice of crumbling bullshit in a vain attempt to try and convince me that something which obviously tastes like a big bag of baby diarrhea does not in fact taste like a big bag of baby diarrhea. I'd much rather have a nice glass of ice-cold pop, or maybe if I'm feeling frisky, some Ovaltine in soy milk.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding

In 1992 all the elements were in place for the Death of Superman to be a monster hit. The market had been primed to accept event comics that regularly sold in multiples of millions. The beating DC took in the early 1990s made the company hungry for a hit and willing to do anything possible to get some attention. The instability of both Marvel and Image in the immediate wake of the latter's initial success made both companies far more vulnerable than their sales dominance might have led observers to believe. To put it bluntly, Marvel had the hot characters but were forced to fall back on the back bench in order to staff the titles in the wake of the Image exodus, and their back bench was not very deep. Image had the hot creators but were pathologically unable to keep shipping dates. (The lack of lasting properties - while certainly a factor in many fans rejection of the creators' post-Marvel output - would prove to be more deleterious to the company's long term health than their short-term fortunes - the people buying up hundreds of copies of Youngblood and Cyberforce undoubtedly believed those characters would be the next X-Men, or at least the next Teen TItans. If the creators had been smarter and more consistent, the characters may well have been; but they weren't and - with the possible exceptions of Spawn and the Savage Dragon - they aren't.)

But for all their demerits in the "cool" department, DC had a decided advantage in the logistical realm. The cover triangles were a concrete example of this: the triangles were a promise that the Superman books would not merely offer an ongoing, serial continuity, but that it would be consistent in both form and content. Considering how many superhero comics and superhero comic companies have floundered for the lack of these basic ingredients, it's something of a wonder they were ever so thoroughly disregarded as they were in the 1990s. It wasn't simply that a story begun in Superman would continue in Adventures of Superman. The situation was essentially such that all the monthly books became a single weekly series. This had its problems, as I have mentioned previously. As the 90s progressed the straitjacket continuity lost its appeal as the stories became less endearing and the titles' lack of individuality became more glaring. But at the time, it was positively fresh. Jim Lee could take two months to put out WildC.A.Ts #2, but if you bought Superman #74 the week it came out then by Crikey Adventures of Superman #497 was going to be in the store next week. There was no "or your money back" promise, but there might as well have been. (I cannot recall if any chapters in the Death / Funeral / Reign sequence shipped late, besides the still-unbelievable and on-purpose three month hiatus between Superman #77 and Adventures #500 - perhaps Mike or another retailer with long memory can verify.)

And, let's be frank: if you were reading comics in the early 90s and you don't have fond memories of breathless anticipation for every week's new installment of the five-month-long Reign of the Supermen serial, then you're a liar. I can't say how well it has held up - I knew even at the time it was little more than extremely frothy pulp fun. But man, they knew exactly what they were doing: everyone I knew wanted to know who the "real" Superman was, who these pretenders were, and how it was all going to shake out. Even by the standards of superhero comics it was preposterous, convoluted, riddled with plot-holes . . . but it was sure a fun ride while it lasted.

I specifically remember driving around to different comic shops in Portland, OR (on a vacation trip, if memory serves me well) trying to track down Superman #82 and Batman #500, which had shipped right next to each other. Both were culminations of year-long storylines, and both were subsequently sold out everywhere I went. Moreover, I remember missing out on Green Lantern #47 when it hit shops and having to track it down by hand over the course of the next couple months. There was no eBay back then: if you missed an issue, best bet was to drive to the next store, and the next store after that.

These stories, more than simply big-selling events, were also uniquely designed as overt criticism of the very comics with which Batman and Superman were now forced to compete. The "new" breed of heroes, folks like X-Force, Youngblood and Spawn, were the target of a concerted attempt on DC's part to prove the continuing relevance of their blue-chip properties. Both Superman and Batman fell in battle, only to be replaced by "better" versions who couldn't cut the mustard. More on this, as you can probably guess, later.