New York Times Book Review? Feh. (Jeff's Reviews of the 6/14 Books)

Dog-sitting, sleep deprivation, GTA: LCS for the PS2, dog-barfing, writing deadlines, co-worker frustration, dog-farting, exhaustion, dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across the kitchen floor, father's day, furniture moving, carpet cleaning, neighbor hating, muscle pulling, vicodin. It's been a week.

52 WEEK #6: This+Checkmate #3= mild confusion. So the world is almost pushed to war because of China's superhero program, but nobody really looks at it in any detail until Checkmate, one year later? Hmmm. I thought this week's Moment of Melodrama was more than a little shrill (I love how "It's All His Fault!" is written eleven million times and then there's a picture with Booster circled and a "Him! This guy! His Fault!" notation--like Rip (or whomever) wrote "It's All His Fault!" eleven million times, then reread it and thought, "Hmmm. Yeah, that's not really as clear as it could be, is it?") but it was fun read. OK but it would be nice if we were getting payoffs as well as set-ups.

ANNIHILATION SUPER SKRULL #3: Pacing mistakes made in issue #1 come back to swamp the mini this issue as we get the lifestory of female-alien-we-don't-care-about jammed into the front of the book in the hopes of emotional identification from the reader when previous emtional center turns traitor. Were I prone to nitpicking, I'd also point to aforementioned female alien's backstory centering on several months of torture post-Annihilation Day despite the fact that the current story is quite clearly dated as less than two months after Annihilation Day. Awful overall, and clearly the worst of the four Annihilation minis.

CANT GET NO: I'm a fan of Veitch's work, particularly when he works in either elliptical (Volumes 2 and 3 of Rarebit Fiends is some of my favorite comics stuff, ever) or super-formalist formats (those keen issues of Swamp Thing). So you'd think I'd really dig this, his elliptical, super-formalist summary of a man whose life unravels at the same time 9/11 hits.

Alas, no.

Can't Get No has amibition by the buttload but Veitch chooses to tell his story with no dialogue and captions that only elliptically comment on the action. That's all fine and good but it puts a tremendous weight on the writing which is precisely where Can't Get No is weakest. Jim Woodring is able to use this technique to powerful effect, but Woodring's prose is exquisite and evocative on its own right with an ear for original language and organic imagery that keeps it taut. By contrast, Veitch's prose here reads like overly florid automatic writing with an injudicious use of free association: at one point, there's a series of captions of something like, "the indelicate ambergris of desire stirring at the core of the leviathan until you're green in the gills," which is just--yuck. (Whale ambergris to the archetypal conception of the Leviathan, okay, fine, but considering whales are mammals and do not have gills, the whole thing comes off as bad beatnik poetry.)

Pictorially, there's images here that I loved--the abandoned park with the giant President heads, the Family-Circus style path taken by an eyeless dog, those frail and tiny people looking out the windows of the WTC at the deathly snout of the passenger plane one second before impact--and CAN'T GET NO is absolutely a noble failure. But, wow, failure it is. Tragically Eh.

CIVIL WAR #2: Okay. I'm assuming you know by now the big "shock ending" of Civil War #2. If not, don't read this (or Graeme's review or most of the comics blogosphere) because I want to whinge just a teeny tad about it.

First, as far as the rest of the issue goes without the ending factored in, it's more or less OK. It suffers from what Graeme has nailed down as Millar's biggest weakness as a writer--it's a given that every character is a self-centered prick to some degree--and from some weirdo pacing problems (unregistered superheroes are hunted like dogs by professional SHIELD teams 24 hours after the Act passes?) but also looks cool and has some really neat moments (although, like 52, some of those really neat moments feel like they were cribbed from Watchmen). Unlike House of M, this fucker moves, even if it's just from one fanboy cockpunch to the next.

As for Spidey....they did a very good job building up the personal justifications for the unmasking in ASM but I was sure they'd pull the ol' "rampaging villain and/or Captain America rescue squad crushes press conference just at crucial moment" thing because, hmm, how do I put this? Because Peter Parker's secret identity is the second most archetypal thing about Spider-Man (the first being, of course, the spider powers) and stripping him of that bones the character's appeal far worse than any sort of marriage.

If you ask me, what makes Spider-Man work in the first place is how Stan and team approached the whole Pete/Spidey duality. Unlike the relatively binary set-up of secret identities for superheroes (usually hero is lauded, secret identity is dumped on--the Superman/Clark Kent blueprint) which makes them such satisfyingly simple ego-fantasies, Stan made that duality more complex: the happier Peter Parker would be in his personal life, the more fucked up things would get for Spidey, and vice-versa.

Seriously. Check out the first hundred or so issues of Amazing Spider-Man. What makes the title work isn't that Peter is a miserable bastard, or that Spidey is a shat-upon superhero, it's that the two rarely happened at the same time. As Pete gets a girlfriend and a life, Spider-Man becomes a hounded superhero (and when Pete was more miserable in high school, Spider-Man actually had a stronger public following). Part of that--the miserable super-hero--is what we think of as "Spider-Man," but it's really that distance that's so archetypal, because it taps into the universal frustation about how the distance between one's fantasy life and one's real life always stays constant. (Which is why "Spider-Man No More" is so potent--despite what we'd like to believe, people give up on trying to fulfill their fantasy lives all the time.) Anyone who's struggled between, say, spending time with one's significant other and making time for one's hobby or art can understand it.

So, for me, the more that distance closes--as Peter's life and Spider-Man's life becomes the same--the less archetypal Spider-Man is. It doesn't matter if (for example) because of Peter's unmasking, Mary Jane gets killed and Peter becomes miserable again and the "And it's all my fault!" anguish is put back into the Pete/Spidey dynamic. Short of a big ol' reset button, a huge part of the Spider-Man mystique is toast. The only draw now is seeing if it's gonna be as big a mess as I think.

FUN HOME: The last in today's triptych of mouthiness (I forgot to mention I barely read any comics since I helped Hibbs re-organize the back issues on Friday) is a book I read about a month ago and absolutely loved. I wish I'd written about it then but I was caught short after discussing it with Bri. Fun Home is Allison Bechdel's memoir about growing up in a funeral home in a small town and the complex feelings she has for her deceased father.

I think it's brilliant, an astonishingly assured memoir that winds together reminescence, imagination and exquisite literary allusion to show the quietly devastating effects the father's closeted homosexuality had on his family.

Hibbs thought it was dull. To paraphrase (and badly): "It just said the same thing over and over, showing us the same stuff over and over. Autobio comix is supposed to show us what happens, how it affects the cartoonist, and moves on. It tells a story. This just showed the father dying, and then built up to it, then returned to it, again and again." As a result, we had a long talk about the difference between "autobio" and "memoir," and I found myself really unable to nail down why I thought Hibbs was wrong--or at least fixated on the wrong things. The trick lies at least in large part in the difference between autobio comix and literary memoirs. Fun Home is not Persepolis, where lots of little events happen and a picture of a time and place and family emerges, nor is Fun Home a Crumbian recounting that pushes the narrator front and center. Fun Home is a lot more like Mary Karr's The Liar Club or Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss where events crucial to the development of the narrator are recounted as part of an attempt is made by the narrator to understand a parent and a parent's influence, and in the end, the reader has the sense the parent is fully rendered, if not fully understood.

Because Bechdel points out the intensely literary nature of her father and her household, the rich literary allusions (opening with Daedelus and closing, of course, with Joyce) are not only a way of understanding her father's life the way he himself did, it's a commentary on the aloofness his self-loathing has engendered. (At one point, Bechdel mentions that the closest she feels to her parents is when she understands them as literary characters.) (And, if you want, compare and contrast this with Mary Karr's description of her mother's face in terms of punctuation in The Liar's Club.)

In the end, Fun Home works with levels of allusion Can't Get No can do little more than aspire toward. My worry is that, in the end, Fun Home will be overlooked in the direct market anyway, as the current genre expectations of "autobio comix" hobble reader enjoyment of more subdued affairs. As it is, yesterday's review of the New York Times Book Review suggests that the mainstream literary establishment may not know how to treat such a work, either: the reviewer gives Fun Home a thumb's up and then, with no interest in dissembling its complexity, talks about how accurate the drawings in the book are and how you can use the illustrated map of the small town as an actual map if you visit. Fortunately, the reviewer hit their word count before talking about how the book tasted, or what color curtains would like nice if the book is placed nearby. (I keep hearing this recurring rapping noise in the distance since early yesterday morning, and kinda assume it's Bechdel banging her head repeatedly against a wall in frustration.)

Anyway, If you like a rich narrative voice and tasty thematic musing, Fun Home is for you. Between it, The Fate of the Artist and the upcoming Curses, 2006 has at least three intensely literary graphic novels under its belt. I couldn't be happier.

PICK OF THE WEEK/TRADE PICK: Yeah, it's all about Fun Home this week.

PICK OF THE WEAK: Going by sheer inept and flat reading experiences, Annihilation: Super Skrull. Going by deeply cynical money-chasing and potential character wrecking, Civil War #2.

Next week: More books! Less words! No dog!