Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Hurting Reliquary

‘Tis a thing of beauty, it ‘tis. 


Howdy, folks. 

Today I’d like to take a moment of your time to tell you about what I’ve been working on for the last month or so. It actually ended up taking up a considerable amount of time more than anticipated, which is par for the course with me. But I am very happy with the finished product.
The Hurting Reliquary is at least putatively the sequel to last year’s Hurting Sampler (still available free for you to download here). I really liked how that book came out, and I also liked the sensation of finally putting some kind of organization into what had been up to thence the a fairly unkempt career. 
The problem is that the Sampler was conceived as an introduction to my work. As such it was fairly easy for me to put together a nicely sized volume of stand-alone essays, along with a few odds and ends that I felt were in some way representative. The Reliquary would require a more exhaustive survey. I had to change a lot of formatting from old blog posts. I had to track down the original text files for a couple dozen old AV Club articles. I had to decide which reviews from a roughly five year period were worth preserving and which were unnecessary.  
The process of tracking down rarities for the next-to-last section of the book entailed going back through basically every text file I had opened for the last decade. It sounds tedious, and it kind of was, but I wouldn’t have found half of that section if I’d relied on my faulty memory. And, oh, surprisingly tracking down those presentation documents was the hardest part, as I apparently used no organizational system whatsoever for anything for the entire period I was in grad school.
So here we are, and the finished product is ready for download from my Patreon. It’s around 183,000 words long, which is significantly longer than I thought it was going to be. I’ve got a collection of A. J. Liebling called Just Enough Liebling, so in my head I’ve taken to calling this one Too Much Tegan. It is certainly far more Tegan than you ever thought possible.
It was my most sincere desire to create a finished product that would make sense as well as appeal to anyone who’s been reading this blog for any amount of time. I made a conscious decision with the Sampler not to include any reviews, which excluded a large part of what I had ever written for the blog. But that restriction no longer applied, and there were some judgement calls about which reviews might be of genuine interest to prospective readers who wouldn’t have read all or any of these books, and which were, er, of less deathless literary merit. I don’t think, ultimately, I left out anything that any reader would miss if I left it by the wayside. 
And if you think I did, remember to check and see if I already put it in the Sampler. There’s zero overlap between the two books. 
There are also completely new introductions to each section, some of them fairly substantial. I intend to run one of those introductions just below here - the introduction to the Selected Comics Writing 2010-2015 section that I suspect might be of most interest to anyone reading these words. 
Under that you will find the table of contents for the whole dang book.
As I said, this book is available right this moment on my Patreon, for the price of a measly $2 subscription. Considering there are, like, eight or nine other books available for download immediately for the same dang price, that really doesn’t seem so unreasonable. New chapters of Hardin will go up periodically for $5 subscribers, as well as hopefully some of the music essays I’ll be writing soon. Putting together the Reliquary was a necessary distraction in a time when real-life concerns. I didn’t necessarily have the wherewithal to focus on extended bouts of typing, but hopefully it will prove a substantial enough meal. 
(I haven’t actually been completely inactive lately - Tucker’s got a big project of mine waiting in the wings over at the Journal right this very second.) 
(How big? Big.)
Sure, I go a long time between updates - but do I ever not make it worth your while? Don’t answer that. 


Selected Comics Writing 2010-2015 

And here we arrive at the precipice of history, AKA Tegan’s Wilderness Years. 
     I kid, but not really. This period of my life roughy corresponds to the first two-thirds of my grad school career. As such most of my writing time was spent at work as a teacher or for school. My output for the blog was produced furtively and with conscious awareness of how little spare time I had. 
     Still and all, this is a healthy pile of stuff, especially considering I already skimmed much of the cream for the Sampler. Combined with the rest of the present volume, it’s hard for me to justify the belief that I was actually all that unproductive even through a relatively fallow period in my public output. 
     Ten years is a long time. I don’t remember my thought process for many of these. In hindsight it can be fun to retrace my path. I was a different person, figuratively and literally, and was going through a particularly weird patch of my life. Not entirely unrelated, those things. Some of this - OK, a lot of this stuff is harsher than I would be comfortable with today. Invective has a time and a place and that place is your early thirties. There are more subtle ways of sticking the knife, you learn. 
     The first piece in this collection still makes me laugh. I wrote a poem about Cable. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. My recollection is that the idea lingered for months before I made good on it. I’m happy it leads off this section.
     The next pair of pieces may take a bit of explaining. Almost ten years ago DC put out a really, really bad event called Cry for Justice. It’s on the Universe app if you really feel like reliving one of the worst Justice League adventures since Snapper sold out the team to the Joker. These comics were offensively bad in a way I couldn’t at the time and still cannot fathom. It makes sense only if you trace a straight line back to Identity Crisis and forward to Heroes in Crisis, and in doing so can see how the company always learns the wrong lessons from misguided attempts at tragedy porn. It never works. Never.  
     These two pieces are an attempt at coming to terms with the existence of bad comics. But that’s what a lot of these are about, actually? 
     The next two pieces are significantly more serious, albeit in completely different registers. “The Hole in the Center of the World” is about fascism, Jack Kirby, and Grant Morrison. “The Best of Us” is about the passing of the great Dwayne McDuffie, and I teared up again rereading it just the other day. Both of these made me very proud of the person I was eight years ago, which is a good feeling. 
     I’m maybe not so proud of the person who wrote the Fear Itself / Flashpoint review. It’s a Hunter S. Thompson pastiche, with passing glances at Joan Didion. I actually censored a couple jokes in here that I was sincerely surprised at having written. The first one is a line about handlebars which could be very neatly excised. It still made me laugh but it was perhaps a bit too much.
     There follow three short essays about Superman. I don’t think I thought much of these when I put them up originally, but I’ve had people quote me back things I wrote in them, so I take that as a sign that they hit a chord. Superman is honestly one of my favorite characters and it is disconcerting both how many people misunderstand him and how much it matters whether or not his creators understand him. 
     A few shorter reviews are interspersed here. I didn’t include every review from this period, not by a long shot. Sometimes reviews are just quick responses, or pithy jokes, and they don’t have to have an eternal shelf life. I included a few of my shorter reviews here as examples of more substantial shorter pieces, perhaps similar in some instances to what I ended up writing for the AV Club just a year or two later. 
     I really, really loved Red Lanterns, it was one of my favorite series of the decade, and I hope I did a good job of explaining its strange appeal. I didn’t have a lot of love for either the Punisher or Winter Soldier books, and I think even back then I was already really sick of the basic cable crime and/or espionage program aesthetic in which Rucka and Brubaker both excelled. My review of Battle Scars, significantly longer, was one of my periodic therapy session slash screaming matches with my favorite corporate antagonist, Marvel Comics. 
     “Nineteen Thoughts About Avengers” was my honest reaction to the strange and intense sensation of seeing that first Avengers movie. I still think it’s a good movie, especially so considering it was stuck using some of the least interesting iterations of these characters. An odd and portentous film for the decade that followed.
     From here on out there’s a lot of yelling at Marvel. In hindsight I can say that the last twenty years have seen a profound transformation on the part of that company. It was a distressing transformation to see, and a calamitous one for the quality and endurance of their line. I don’t necessarily remember a lot about the contours of stories like AvX or Age of Ultron at this later date, but I enjoyed reading my spleen about them. 
     Somewhere in there is a brief essay on the subject of motivation which honestly puzzles me. I don’t know if I agree with all of it anymore. It’s succinct, however, which remains a virtue. 
     The sequence climaxes with twin jeremiads against Marvel’s Age of Ultron and DC’s Trinity War. Somewhere along the line both companies lost me and this is where I think I kind of snapped. Everything from roughly here was just me coming to terms with the loss of everything the companies had been, even when they were terrible. 
      The last review actually requires an explanation. For what it’s worth, no one to my knowledge ever got the joke, which means it was a terrible joke. 
     One of my biggest pet peeves, and one which I find so enduringly frustrating because of its ubiquity and acceptance, is “deconstruction” as applied to a certain mode of superhero comics. Everyone knows what books I’m talking about. It’s become accepted critical shorthand in comics for both a timeframe and a microgenre. 
     The problem is that this definition of deconstruction has very little to do with actual deconstruction, as practiced by Derrida. Of course, he almost never actually referred to deconstruction as a mode of criticism, but more as an exercise in critical thought. (He did in one interview with a translator, once, describe it as a method.) Now, it is worth pointing out that even in the circles of academia and philosophy, there’s not really a lot of agreement on just what deconstruction actually is or was. There’s a lot of confusion, some of it intentionally pejorative on the part of people who don’t care for his writing. 
     But I quite like Derrida. I think he had important things to say, and its unfortunate for his accessibility that part of his literary project was involved in purposefully obscuring his own concepts. The journey is part of the goal, in his case. However there are certain surface aspects of his work that can be readily parodied, and that is what I have done here, with complete affection. 
     The easiest way to understand how a writer thinks is to figure out how they wrote what they wrote. This is no less true for Derrida. I remember I learned more about him from writing these few pages in his “voice” than I had for the first years I read him. 
     Anyway. Deconstructionist superheroes aren’t a thing, except for this one essay. The term has been misused.
     There’s good writing here, even if still journeyman work. I spent my twenties learning how to write reviews, and then in my thirties I got sick of the conventions and spent half a decade blowing them up. I’m glad I eventually settled on a more comfortable rhythm, but these pieces - with all their spleen and invective - were a necessary step to getting there. 
     Despite my initial worries as to whether or not there would be enough good material for a healthy chunk of a book, I had no problem at all filling a significant stack of pages. There were still a few pieces I left by the wayside which could have been included. 
     The first of these is a longer piece on Dave Sim and Cerebus that I spent a while somewhere in the last five or six years trying to hammer into a cohesive finished project. It was based on a series of blog posts around 2012 or 13. Looking back over it briefly in the preparation of this volume I remembered why it had never seen the light of day. It took too long to make points that possibly weren’t worth making, much like Cerebus itself. I spent a lot of it dancing around the fact - which maybe wasn’t quite so obvious then as now - that Sim’s reactionary turn was an ideological journey made by many in and around his age cohort over the last couple decades. He was a forerunner there, and in the fullness of time that is less interesting than just sad.
     I don’t have any interest in discussing Cerebus in 2019.
     On a far lighter note, I would have liked to include a section specifically devoted to my Secret Wars posts. There were two distinct series, one looking at goofy Secret Wars II crossovers and another later run devoted to explicating the roots of Jonathon Hickman’s Secret Wars. I love these pieces but they were conceived as blog posts, meaning that they rely a great deal on illustrations from the comics themselves (tho it should be noted many of those pictures have themselves disappeared from the blog over time due to linkrot). The same can be said for my Legends of the Dork Knight series. These would all need to be substantially rewritten before being collected. 
     I’m not opposed in principle to doing that someday, if it were something I thought people might actually want, but it ain’t happening anytime soon.
     I’m also not breaking my back searching for typos. This is the text I had on the blog, so enjoy every mistak

The Hurting Reliquary 


“You Are the Person You Are Becoming”
“What He Taught Me”

The Journey of Balthasar Foeman
Dan Magic (Chapters 1-3)
The Continuing Adventures of John Wesley Hardin (Chapter 1)

Selected Comics Writing 2010-2015
“The Ballad Of Nathan Christopher Charles Summers Dayspring Askani’son”
Justice League Shitburgers 
Justice League: The Rise Of Arsenal #3
“The Hole in the Center of the World”
“The Best of Us”
Fear Itself #3 / Flashpoint #2
“Superman Returns”
The Punisher #1
“The Superman Nobody Knows”
Battle Scars #2
Red Lanterns #6
Winter Soldier #2
“Nineteen Thoughts About The Avengers”
“Motivation “
Avengers #30
Thanos Rising #1
Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron #10 / Age of Ultron Book 10AI
Trinity War
Convergence #8

The Complete For Our Considerations 
Jim Starlin’s Warlock
Jules Feiffer 
Marvel’s New Secret Wars
DC Comics’ New 24
Bad Presidents 
Warp’s Artificial Intelligence 
The Death of Pinhead 
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Marvel’s Star Wars
The X-Men 
Batman vs Superman 
Civil War 
Batman Forever: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture 
Suicide Squad 

Selected Music Writing 2011-2016
“That Was It” - I & II
“Random Notes “
“Around the World”
“Send All Those Villains After Me”
“Who’s Afraid of Fleetwood Mac?”
Daft Punk - Homework 
The Beatles - “Real Love”
Nine Inch Nails - “The Hand That Feeds”
Pavement - “Unfair”
Kanye West - “Slow Jams (feat. Twista & Jamie Foxx)”
On the Floor of the Boutique Vol. 1

“Listening to the Chemical Brothers” 
Story Fragment - I
Story Fragment - II
Gary Panter 
“A Startling Look at the World That’s Coming!”
“After Eä”
“The Last Desperado”

Two More for the Road 
“When they kick down your front door, how you gonna come?”
Prospective Plots for Season 7 of Mad Men