SUNDAY BARBECUE: Abhay x Civil War II - The Conclusion

The final part in a short series of write-em-ups written in a panicked rush, for no discernible reason.

By the end, the air really goes out of this balloon.  Look at the colors on this page-- this is a scene taking place outdoors.  The beautiful solid gray outdoors.

I kinda get why they didn't repeat the "curvy line with a gradient fill underneath" move from panels 1 and 3 in panel 2.  Maybe it'd look off if they all had the same color background (?).  But why pick that bland gray?  If you're not going to have any effort on the backgrounds, why not go hot pink or a bright yellow or ... a color that's just purely an emotional color, or that pops more? Would that not have worked? Or is that solid gray an emotional gray for you....?

You know: not every panel needs to have a background. But I really have to think they might want to have turned into the skid a little more than they did here...

The story fades away with a fart, too.  After the Big Status Quo change, a character that was on Carol Danvers's side all along told her that she was right all along ... okay... and then, Carol Danvers says "thanks-- here are some ads for upcoming Marvel comics"; then goes and tells Obama that she wants to talk to him about the future, for some reason.

We live in the future -- Obama ain't around-- American life is A+.  So whatever they talked about -- I guess it wasn't anything all that helpful...

I should probably try some kind of plot synopsis in case you haven't read this thing:

The inhumans find Scott Stapp, a magical douchebag who can kinda tell the future except shitty.  Iron Man keeps going "hey, his future-telling is shitty" but Carol Danvers says no it isn't-- even though she's never proven right anywhere within this series, we're meant to believe she is as equally good as Tony Stark, whose opinions are based on science and experience with alternate futures.  Okay. A bunch of plotlines start but go exactly nowhere-- e.g., She Hulk is angry about something and yells the word "And?" a lot but And Nothing, end of storyline.  The superheros fight because Carol Danvers is depriving a woman of her civil rights (another abandoned storyline).  During the fight, the superheros see a vision of the future where Black Spiderman has killed Captain America.  Black Spiderman and Captain America go to the place where they'll murder each other, but instead of murdering each other, Carol Danvers beats Tony Stark into a coma.  Hawkeye comes to her and tells her that very important things are about to happen, in other comics, sold separately, at some future date, presumably.  Obama tells her he's proud of her.  She says thanks.  The end.  

So.  I guess that's a story you could tell...?

I mean, is it worse than other crossovers?  Not really. But maybe people are harder to satisfy now.  I mean, if you don't like the big Marvel crossover, you can go get your superhero fix from EVERY OTHER PART OF OUR CULTURE now.  So.  What Marvel sells is worth less and costs more.

I wonder what that feels like.

I always get this "We did it-- we won" vibe from comics, but... what does anyone need a Marvel comic book for anymore???  I don't watch Supergirl but I read the young people on that tumblr, Harold, which means I basically end up watching the sexy parts of Supergirl in gif format every week, and... Seems like that means something to people that the comics aren't built to provide.  But maybe it's all translating to fans and new audiences and all that stuff in some way I'm too narrow-minded to appreciate.  I don't know.  It's none of my business, I guess, at the end of the day.

If I walked into Civil War 2 with that as one of my questions-- "What does anyone need a Marvel comic book for anymore?"-- well, I know that question I don't have an answer for after this experience.  But that's a tough one...

Too tough for me!

Cue My Adolescent Sniggering Theme Music.


...I mean, is there a better choice?

There probably isn't.

There's only so many songs.

Best part of Civil War 2:  when the superheros stop and realize that maybe they can have a superhero fuck-fest on the steps of the Capitol.  Maybe they can have a superhero fuck-fest all day, every day.  What's the downside of the superhero fuck-fest?  The dry-cleaning bill...?

Civil War 3: Superhero Fuck-Fest.  Coming to a BBS near you in 2018.

Annnnnd that was the Adolescent Sniggering part of our evening.

I found it kind of interesting that the Obama era political comic ended with a "we have to worry because of the guy after you" speech.  Thanks, Glenn Greenwald, wherever you are, I guess.

We had to worry about all of them, though.  The idea that there are these Responsible People in the world who are Very Serious and deserve our deference... Well, that just seems like its own fantasy, one that lets people keep sleeping through some Same Old Shit, and tell themselves that crap was okay because Their Guy was doing it.  But eh-- it's at least some kind of  tolerable message there, at the end, at least.

Though the comic then ends with a triumphant hug to the Deep State and a celebration of public apathy towards war crimes, et cetera.

So.  I mean, I have three minutes so the contradictions of modern liberalism are probably beyond the scope of discussion here, but there is a sort of weird fog of dysfunction over the ending.  At least for me, just since when I look back over recent history, the "what did people believe" of it all gets a little perplexing.

Not a terribly fun comic. Poor storytelling.  Some occasional cute dialogue bits, but just as many that were just... very strange.  (At one point, Tony Stark yells that young people don't know that hair salons used to be called barbershops, which... how old is Bendis??  He wasn't that old the last I checked.  Did he drink from the wrong Grail cup?  What's going on over there???).

And it's 6.  So, that was me trying to do this Sunday Barbecue thing.  I don't know how it all turned out-- I'll do an edit to fix the images now, but.  Thanks for tuning in if you did.  Hope you have a good rest of the weekend.


SUNDAY BARBECUE: Abhay x Civil War II - Issues Five and Six

There's a lot here to point at and snicker about.  Let me try to have at least one of these be a little more coherent... Let's see how that goes!

Issues 5 and 6 definitely don't work.

The basic storytelling is not involving or exciting.

Check out this bit-- the guy in the top left corner getting hit into the sky (Luke Cage) is being snatched up at the bottom right panel by a giant random Sasquatch...?  It took me a long time to figure that out because the camera is as far from the character in peril as possible for both panels-- you have no sense of Cage ever being at risk, especially because in between are characters rocketing off to outer damn space, making Cage's earth-bound difficulties seem pretty inconsequential by comparison.

The comic wants to utilize Michael Bay/MTV style edits to make the action scenes chaotic (I suppose a person could argue that the Bourne films are a likely point of reference, but this reminds me more of Bay).  Now, I happen to like Michael Bay-- I know, I know--  but his kind of editing (Bayhem, or what have you) works because a pummeling visual assault just bullies you as a viewer into a peculiar kind of submission-- and you might like that, or I know a lot of people don't.  But comics doing that... Comics is never anything but an active experience.  So I don't know that type of technique could possibly work, even under ideal circumstances.

That said, there've been action scenes that have been chaotic in comics.  Certainly manga; some Paul Pope comics come to mind.

But I think a critical difference is the lack of subjectivity to the camera, maybe.  Who is the camera in this fight scene?  The "camera" (for lack of a better term; the reader's POV, point of view) is just ... wherever.  Are we supposed to be worried for Luke Cage?  Which character's experience are we rooted in?  The comic is so committed to this "Which side will you choose" marketing idea, that it can't commit to anything or else half the audience will be alienated; choices haven't been made.

If I think of a fight manga, I usually think there's a clarity in who the reader's identification character is, that doesn't get lost even if the artist might use speed lines, or weird blur smudges to convey speed or confusion...

The bigger problem may be my lack of imagination that... I just seriously can't imagine there were people saying "I'm rooting for Carol Danvers in this comic." Even among people who might support profiling because.. she's just not being presented as a legitimate point of view.

If there were pro-Danvers people, I'd think it was because of work done outside the comic, on Danvers's own series by other creators -- a pre-existing affection that this book relied on to its detriment.  Because the scenes of her arguing her point are so unpersuasive-- it's just her rolling her eyes while other characters make their point.

When given a moment to engender audience sympathy, Danvers is presented as experiencing PTSD-like flashback symptoms, suggesting that even Danvers's ideology is not caused by legitimate beliefs but trauma.  How can you root for trauma symptoms?

There are people who believe that profiling immigrants or others is warranted in order to deter crime and terrorism.  Those people are in charge now, shit-- plenty of people support that ideology. I'm just not sure this comic is ever really making their case, is the thing.  But it'd be hard to present that case without being like, "yeah, the future kid is right-- that black superhero's up to no good."  That'd be a tricky place to go!

There could have been scenes early on where Carol won some arguments -- by actually preventing horrible things.  But I feel like all the early scenes were Carol preventing Maybe Things while Tony Stark stood next to her yelling about how his liberal ideologies were going to be proven right by later events in this comic series.

Taking a step back... in the 4 minutes I have remaining, I think the interesting thing to ask is what were their choices?

They want to feature Carol Danvers as an interesting character.  Does that to some extent require them to break the character?  You know: to put her in a dramatically alive position?

It may not make her "likable" -- having not read any of the Kelly Sue work or whatever, the appeal of this character is totally lost on me right now.  (She just seems like a cop-- who roots for cops??) But you know, they want to make her dramatically interesting enough that she can shoulder her half of a Civil War.  How do you do that without sacrificing likability?

You know, I thought they had a hard time with Tony Stark after Civil War, but at the same time... That character got way more popular after that series, too.

They have this desire to be an exciting company for this new audience of women or whoever they're targeting -- how do you satisfy that while still putting your characters in new places, treating them like characters and not just super-fucking-boring "exemplars of goodness", not treating them like DC characters?  Tricky spot to be in...

* * * 

And it's 5.  One last one and we wrap this up.


SUNDAY BARBECUE: Abhay x Civil War II - Issues Three and Four

Whoever finishes a revolution only halfway, digs his own grave.

-- Georg Buchner

So when we last left off, the Civil War characters were going to go talk to Hulk because Scott Stapp had a vision of Hulk being real mean-like.  So then: it cuts ahead to a Trial of the Century for Hawkeye -- because Hawkeye decided to murder Hulk from a nearby tree, rather than let Hulk get mean-like.  Trials Of the Century usually take (a) months to start and (b) months to finish, but this all took about 24 hours in Marvel time.

(Daredevil is either prosecuting the case or the defense attorney on the case-- it's hard to tell because he's aggressively examining everyone, without any of that fuddy duddy "advocacy" business getting in the way.)

Anyways, the jury lets Hawkeye go because they're like "oh Hawkeye killing the Hulk-- well, that was more like assisted suicide than murder."  Uhm: but assisted suicide last I checked was still illegal.  So.

Anyways: then there's a lenghty part where everyone in the comic turns to Carol Danvers and is like "Carol Danvers, you are a horrible woman who no decent person could ever feel any affection towards."  (But it's okay because Marvel is feminist now).  And then Carol Danvers rolls her eyes, flies through somebody's ceiling, and threatens to rob a woman of her civil rights until finally-- FINALLY-- a bunch of superheros show up to start the Civil War.

Four months seem like a long time to wait for a Civil War to start in a comic book called Civil War 2.  But it's not like I'm in a hurry.  Where do I have to be today?  Well, I have some laundry to do.  My shirts don't smell right.  People are starting to notice.  I can feel their stares.

Let's shift over and do a lame joke... 

Cue my Lame Joke Theme Music!



Goddamn, I need better lame joke theme music.

I'm out of practice!


I remember when I got caught experimenting on myself.  There's no shame to it!


On the "why wasn't this a big crowdpleaser" level... I don't know that the story's especially un-engaging.  It's moving from big moment to big moment. Well, unless you like the Captain Marvel character-- if you like that character, I'd have to think  this would be dismaying because that character's not been presented as a valid character in this, very much.

You can say the same is true of Iron Man in the first Civil War except... Iron Man was kind of in a shambles after Civil War.  Didn't they have to reboot Iron Man's brain a year after Civil War, erase his memories, etc.?  It would seem the "let's make one character a total villain" thing would be something you'd want to course-correct about that first Civil War, but if anything, this seems more extreme because all of the good characters like Tony Stark and none like Danvers.

But besides that... I don't think the art's that exciting.  The rendering is nice but look at this page-- it's a page where Tony's talking about all these exciting things that got prevented thanks to Scott Stapp, but ... It's a drawing of Modok, a drawing of some guys rappelling towards a building (presumably a building where something exciting happened?), and a pinup of some superheros posing.

There's no storytelling going on here, really.

How exciting would that be for fans?

The art has to tell a story-- otherwise, it's not comics.  It's just pin-ups.

Do you think that contributed to fans not getting excited?  Or are modern comic fans so divorced from the art-appreciation part that it doesn't even make a difference anymore?  I couldn't even guess.

Like, what emotions am I supposed to be looking at here?

I don't really quite know...

Determination?  Anger?  Curiosity?

I'm kind of at a loss.

Oh wait, Sasquatch and five characters I can't name are siding with Carol Danvers -- nevermind.

Anyways, politically, this comic continues to be deeply weird, though I can see from the clock I'm running out of time.

But the comic seems to be engaged in an argument that racial profiling is bad even though it's right a lot of the time...?  Which.  That's a weird way of phrasing that argument.  It's sort of reminds me of Zootopia, where that movie was like "we all should want more harmony with minorities, who are fundamentally predators but maybe have the ability to control their predatorial natures."  Uh, that would be a lot cooler without that second half of that sentence!

Isn't the better argument that racial profiling is bad because an evaluation of something's morality sometimes goes beyond statistics and numerical results?  I don't know.  We'll see where this goes.

Favorite dialogue in this stretch:  "And?"  "And?"  "And?"  "And?"  

...He's getting paid by the "And?"  Baby needs that "And?" money.

And it's 4pm.

SUNDAY BARBECUE: Abhay x Civil War II - Issues One and Two

The mental fog after reading this is not clearing up as quickly as I'd like.  Was the premise of this that I'd have interesting things to say?  Oh god.  Oh god no.  Oh god what have I done.

The thing that struck me was how quickly and without hesitation the series announced what it was about.  "Here is the moral dilemma that will be the premise of this series, kids."  I imagine that's sweet relief for people who buy the comics religious-like on a Wednesday, your True Believers, not having to wait for the story to reach the same point as the marketing materials.

But:  it's weird reading all at once after the fact because within 30 seconds of finding out that there's an Inhuman who can see the future, Tony Stark and Captain Marvel are like "well, I guess we have no choice but to have an all-out superhero civil war because of this moral dilemma that each of us is able to carefully articulate."  I can't tie my shoelaces in the morning if I don't have a cup of coffee.  And I can't tie my shoelaces after I have a cup of coffee either.  My point is I never learned how to tie my shoelaces-- all I do is fall down.

I think I also immediately figured out why people hate this crossover though:

It's about the Marvel superheros fighting over which of them loves Scott Stapp from the band Creed more.

Was that what happened?  Did people buy these comics and just go, "Wait, is that Scott Stapp from Creed?  Creed sucks!"  For a multi-zillion dollar publishing outfit, they sure gambled a lot on Marvel Comics fans loving With Arms Wide Open.

Why am I reading about this douchebag??

There's some other music person he looks like more but I can't put my finger on it.  But he looks like he should be singing about how Jesus is going to high-five him for not having sex before he's married, not mixing it up with Spidermen.  That is not really an endearing character design, but maybe I'm just not in touch with the youth of today, their Christian rock, their Dude Perfect youtube videos, etc.

If there's some tremendous political message here, yet, I'm not picking up on it.  So far it's just "what if Minority Report had blackrifice in it?"  I don't ... I don't know what the answer to that is but I'm going to spend four hours today to find out!  Whee!

Well, actually, there is...

I mostly missed the whole Woke Era of Comics at Marvel-- I skipped Thor being a girl, or Captain America being a minority Nazi, or all that stuff.  Judging from these two issues, that stuff is really awkwardly done.

Not just in the dialogue which has some ... odd dialogue choices.  The dialogue I had to stop and scribble down in my notes: "Carol. Just in time for parcheesi." "That line was parcheesi." "True. But I'm in mourning."  ... I don't know what parcheesi is because I'm only a middle-aged man, not Methuselah.  What the hell is being said here???

But there's a scene where Tony Stark is torturing Scott Stapp from Creed-- you know, the sort of "the power to inflict violence = awesome" kinda thing that I'd associate with Marvel comics, but then mid-way through this torture scene, Iron Man (Marvel's #1 hero celebrating the military industrial complex) starts lecturing Scott Stapp about implicit bias...?  And how implicit bias means we all have received racist ideas whether or not we want to cop to them???

It's fucking weird.

Is the Marvel version of being woke just, like, "there are people out there that don't realize gender is a fluid spectrum -- so we're going to shoot rayguns out of our eyes at them until their skin melts off their flesh"?  Like, I don't know how progressive you can be when your entire genre is rooted in a fetishizing an ability to inflict mass violence.

It's nice these people are trying.  The results seem very awkward though.

What else do I have in my notes... "Stan Lee's biggest sin was that everybody after him wants to write wisecracks."  And that's it for my notes.

Let's go to the mailbag!

Well, I haven't read it but I'd hope March...?

Oh wait, that's not a superhero comic.

But isn't it though?


I'd love to edit this but it's 3pm so I have to hit post and get back to ...



Something about the Hulk...

SUNDAY BARBECUE: Abhay x Civil War II -- Prelims

"Sometimes I won. Mostly I lost. But you put the show on speed... I chew all they asses up. All them Grand Masters and them Europeans... with they government subsidies and whatnot to sit on they asses and play all day... they ain't livin'in the world. Put the clock on 'em, put the heat on they backs, they break down. Put 'em in the park fishin' for dollars, and they break. That's Bobby Fisher-- some say he's the greatest player to ever play the game. I never played him. All them patzers sittin' around the park... waitin' for him to go back there, like Jesus. Me, I don't give a shit. Put the clock on that motherfucker... I'll chew his ass up just like the rest of'em. Chew it right up."

-- Samuel L. Jackson in FRESH, written by Boaz Yakin

* * *

CIVIL WAR II, by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Justin Ponsor, Virtual Calligraphy, Clayton Cowles, Axel Alonso, Tom Brevoort, the great Wil Moss, Alanna Smith, and Marko Djurdjevic.

Hi. This is a thing I wanted to try this year:

I'm going to read Civil War II, and after every two issues write something, with the plan being I post up some kind of something every hour. Half hour to read two issues; half hour to write something-- more or less.

I didn't read Civil War II while it was being published-- I am reading the collected edition courtesy of Comixology. I had read issues #0 and #00 -- I thought either #0 or #00 (or FCBD #1) was actually the first issue of the series, but that turned out to be an elaborate ruse. And at the time, I just figured "I can't figure out how to buy the first issue of your comic book" was as good an omen as a person could ask for to avoid a thing.

But I wanted to put the clock on and see how I'd do. I haven't done this in a while-- I feel super-rusty-- and I wanted to see if I'd bite the dust if I tried to think up anything interesting to say in a short window of time. I've felt a little drained of good humor lately-- a little low on the vim and vigor.

Thus and therefore: let's put the clock on. Let's get the heat on the back. Let's fish for some dollars.

(Plus, who hasn't seen that website Twitch and thought, "Hey, what would Twitch look like except for writing angry, inappropriate nonsense overreacting to comic books?"  I know I'm not alone.  The future is mine).

I'll be drinking some white wine that I got as a Christmas gift. I'll also at some point be ordering some fried chicken from Postmates for lunch.  It's Sunday, I got the day from work, and I got a big hit comic book to relax with.

What could go wrong?

* * *

What's interesting about Civil War II besides the fact that it's the Cadillac of comic books?

Well, one, I thought it'd be an easy thing to try this whole idea out on. I'm old and extremely tired of hearing about these characters, but having opinions about Marvel comics is a pretty easy thing for a person to pull off, as tasks go.  The audience "having opinions" is something that has sustained these comics for many years, I would think.

And there were a few other questions that struck me as being ones a person who read Civil War II would want to be asking themselves while they read it (besides "What went wrong with my life?" or "Is this why no one will ever love me?") ... I can't say I'll be answering any of these, on account of time-- this might just be a total car crash-- I'm feeling pretty rusty-- but here's a bunch of questions I thought a person might want to try to ask themselves, while reading Civil War II:

1) What's going on with the characters? What do they want, what are they afraid of, and what is the reader learning about them from the story?

So, for starters: basic meat & potato questions that a person wants to ask themselves when experiencing any kind of story.

Especially for a Brian Michael Bendis (hereinafter referred to as "Bendis") comic-- his orientation is usually more on character than on plot. He doesn't really write "mysteries" a person can solve at home, at least not that I've ever been around for.  Based on every other Bendis comic I've read, I don't think it'll be fun trying to guess the ending of this comic, say.

Todd Alcott (who has shown up at the Beat in the past) has a saying, something like what a character wants is the reason the movie is happening. (When he talks about Jaws, he phrases it as "the path of the protagonist is the meaning of the movie"). I don't know if that's true or not-- but it sounds like a workable enough theory that maybe these are good questions to keep in mind.

I don't really care if someone's being written "in character" though.  At this point, I don't really know who the characters are anymore, probably. They stopped being written any way I understood them a long time ago, I would guess, and status quos have changed enough, that maybe that's nothing a reasonable person can expect.

In the 00 and 0 issues that I read, I remember being confused that Thanos robs banks now. That's what I remember happening in the two issues that I read:  there's an Inhuman who can tell the future named Ulysses or Samson or something like that; Marvel's trying to make the Inhumans happen (which will *never* happen) for business reasons; Thanos showed up to rob a bank or something, carrying machine guns, which is not how I remember that character ever acting, I thought he was more a Space Dictator, but I guess...???; there was a fight; and then a couple weeks later, I was talking with a friend, and they said "oh, James Rhodes got black-rificed in that fight because one of the squiggles in the 00 issue was the minority dying so that the white characters could experience emotions" and I went "I didn't even realize that had happened when I read it-- are you being for serious?", and apparently he was.  So, that's all I remember about those two issues, but I think it's enough where I don't have to revisit them for this re-read.

Also worth noting: for that first Civil War series, the Marvel superheros being written out of character turned out to be a feature, not a bug.

2) Is this fun?  Are the fights cool?  Am I seeing cool shit go down?

It's a superhero civil war-- somebody's probably going to get punched, I'd figure.

Though, once your eyes get old, and you get weary of this world...

For me, most mainstream fight scenes just started to look like ... drawings of characters in "classic fight poses", but with the poses placed close enough to other characters in "Classic fight poses" so as to resemble characters fighting. As opposed to drawings of two characters actually engaged in a struggle, where the artist seems cognizant of both characters having their own weight, gravity, momentum, impact, etc.

Set aside manga.

The fights I remember in mainstream comics, the fun part was watching how characters would use their superpowers against one another -- Riptide spins his body and flings out shurikens, but Colossus uses his metal skin to withstand that long enough to break his neck.

Or if not that, then there'd be a scale to the proceedings-- Wonder Man and Hyperion punching each other into the sun, while an army of dead superheros fights the living to keep the galaxy from exploding.

But cut to modern comics, cut to me being gross and old, without vim or vigor, and I felt like I was just seeing characters drawn with their arms out in punching gestures near other characters drawn in slightly different punching gestures.  

That had become "enough", if there were just enough of those characters drawn onto a page.

But look, is this the only criteria to judge fun?  Of course not.  Other things can make a series like this fun: cliffhangers; character turns; "Everything is different now" status quo changes.

So, let's see what we got!  Shoe money tonight!

3) Is this purely an editorial product or are Bendis's themes discernible in the mix?

At this point, the question of whether or not Bendis has written a "good comic" is especially meaningless. They made a Netflix show of one of his comics that won a fucking Peabody, and he got to go to the Peabody's (!). This life's a game, and that dude's played the game well, man. (And I think he's deserved his success-- he worked very hard for it, anyways.)

So now that he's had this whole career, whether one comic is good or not doesn't seem all that Life-or-Death.  But what strikes me as interesting is you can now see this entire career of him exploring and reexploring particular themes and go "oh how does this fit into that"...

More specifically, Bendis's career-long obsession is characters negotiating situations where the Old Systems don't work anymore-- characters either choosing to redefine themselves because of their exhaustion with the old status quo, or having new status quos thrust upon them.

And from the beginning of his career (Kingpin getting stabbed by his underlings; Ultimate Spiderman confessing his identity to Mary Jane, etc.), that's been his focus, moreso than on plots or fight scenes or anything traditionally "of comics".  He has always made dominant the experience of watching character try to think their way through shifting status quos, usually out loud.

He has a total interest in the chaos and creative possibility of a certain kind of instability (though significantly less interest in the moments after that initial liminal moment, in resolving his changed status quos, which can create a certain frustration with his work).

So, yeah: how does Civil War II fit in that?

Civil War II would seem ideally suited to be in keeping with that theme. "Here's a new status quo, some characters like it, some don't." But we know he has to answer in this same comic to editors, marketing, line-wide publishing plans, machinations perhaps greater and more ridiculous than we are meant to know.

So: who won? Who won the Civilest War of them all?

4) What went wrong? Why is this the "Bad Crossover?"

Spoiler warning:  "Here at ICV2, we've certainly been hearing about significant pull box abandonment by comic store customers over the past few months[.]"

I haven't been following the "Comics News" too closely but the impression I've gotten is this crossover was particularly badly received. This was the "Bad crossover" -- so bad that people started wringing their hands about the future again.


What made this worse than Siege? Fear Itself? The Lanterns of Arbitrary Character Death (I forget what that one was called)? Those were all fucking terrible. All crossovers to an extent stink because of how often the story gets smeared out across multiple books, rather than a team creating a strong dominant title that creates a possibility space for spin-offs (which I thought was the obvious strength of that first Civil War).

I think crossovers and the "creative environment" they result in is noxious and tends towards ripping off fans, plus more troublingly, stunting the growth of other creators. But I've thought that for years and years, and that didn't stop dumb-sounding shit like Avengers vs Xmen from selling.

So, what happened here?? What changed? Why is the bad one?

I'm pretty excited about finding out!

5) What's going on with this comic politically? Intentional messages? Unintentional messages?

The history of these crossovers is pretty fucking gnarly.

Well, the first Civil War at least ended with fascism triumphant because progressivism decided that opening up a meaningful dialogue with Nazis was better than punching them the fuck out. Liberal readers got to enjoy the fantasy of having an unearned smug sense of superiority while avoiding engaging with the world with anything more than empty talk; right wing readers got the fantasy of wielding unchecked power to control their world, even though the brazen stupidity of their ideas should've given them at least some pause; everybody got what they wanted...? Oh, this was all horribly cynical, but "Mark Millar Comic Discovered to be Cynical" -- that's too edgy an insight for a lowly comic critic like me; I haven't earned those stripes yet, not yet.

My memories of Secret Invasion are a little more tinged with anger, one that hasn't gone away. Not so much because of how that comic was about how righteous it'd be to violently suppress an evil religious minority who've infiltrated your society, or how the only downside of doing something as completely warranted as that would be that it could lead to a fascist demagogue seizing control at the end of that conflict. That's not ... not really great stuff, but I get what happened there --  they assumed who their reader was, what the Default Human Experience was, and proceeded accordingly.  I was a brown person reading comics before comics started pretending it wanted brown people to read comics; so, that's just not some surprising thing to me.

No, the part that's never stopped bugging me, all these years later, is there was a one or two page scene of the comic lecturing protesters for being naive, for naively supporting the civil rights of religious minorities. I think protesters are fucking heroic, and responsible for great social achievements (the end of child labor, women having the right to vote, the 40 hour work week, civil rights, etc.), so found it very unsettling for a fiction purportedly about heroism to attack actual heroism.  And that whole scene has really magnified in my mind given the way the world has gone in the last year. Now that the chips are down, superheros ain't coming to save anyone-- Hillary Clinton's too busy cough-fainting in the woods. All you see saving people is each other, massive groups of people responding to calls for help, coming out of their homes, standing with one another because they know nothing changes for the better without them.

So I'm especially uncharitable to the memory of that comic, at the moment, as it has only become more goddamn contrary to the thing keeping me sane anymore, as the years have gone by.

But look, years have certainly gone by: those two crossovers were a while ago-- nearly 10 years ago on Secret Invasion (!). Those were long before Marvel decided to sell itself as a company that panders to woke youths instead of pandering to charisma-free loners. Sales strategies evolve. Maybe people's philosophies evolve, too, maybe-- it'd be awfully nice to think so.

Civil War II should be interesting because it was created on the cusp of a whole mess of shit, changes that I don't think anybody can really lay claim to having their head wrapped all the way around; created by people who at the time were at least selling themselves as liberals since it was advantageous for them to do so -- but at a time when I think a certain kind of liberal was plainly telling themselves fairy tales.

So: I'm curious what all seeps in. If anything!

6) Is there anything-- anything!-- interesting at all about the presentation?

I'm just going to tell you my pet peeve, before we read this thing. It's a thing I noticed and once you notice, you can't stop noticing it. But when comic-drawing dudes and dudettes don't really have chops in laying out pages, they all pull the same move to avoid having their comics be extra-fuck-boring to look at.

They do widesceen panels-- which are the most boring fucking things on earth; how someone with zero imagination whatsoever draws comics-- but then in order to spice up the proceedings, they just have one character vertically take up two widescreen panels.

Here, I'll do a little drawing to show the kind of layout I mean:

I. Hate. This. Kind. of. Layout.

Because once you start noticing people doing it, you can't stop noticing it. Because some people, this is their ONLY MOVE.

I mean, it's a cute move-- I get that it "works." I don't know if Wally Wood put it in 22 Panels that Always Work, but sure, fine, it works, fine. I just hate it anyways. I hate it. I hate it so much. Irrationally? Very well-- irrationally.

But it's become the thing I look for now when I look at comics from this sector of the business-- "do they draw pretty but then hide their lack of storytelling chops behind this one whole move?" I say that out loud. In a comic shop. Scaring children.

I hate it so much.  Have more than one move!

So, I want to see a fun layout.


But we'll see. We'll get what we get!  I got a clock on me, so what gets said is what gets said.  If you got two cents about the issues we're going to be reading, you can toss 'em out.  And let's circle back at 3pm, for ...



Issues 1 and 2 of Civil War 2!

Sunday Barbecue!

Abhay: 2016-- Another Year that I Mindlessly Consumed Oh God Oh God Make It Stop Uncle Uncle

Best-of Lists! Because when I think back on 2016, it's just going to be a highlight reel of movies and comics, and I'm probably going to remember sweet nothing-else. "I sat on a throne of Dirty Grandpa merch and played my fiddle while the world burned. Dance to my fiddle music, Oberon-- let the decadence set your feet alight! Twingly-twang-twang-twang-twang."


I didn't want much to do with comics this year. A few times this year, I heard the old music playing in my head, but mostly, I'm a little exhausted.

I don't want to dilute out a list to get to 10 comics I don't feel strongly about. So: here's the top 5 that survived my apathy/melancholy.

5-- What is Evil by Benjamin Marra

Two pages. Sixteen panels. It's the efficiency of "What Is Evil", that gets me. How the panels and the words don't connect right-- a car comes up to a sign, but in the next panel when a man is walking by the sign, it only comes up to his knees. How the narration shifts tone when it goes from the sanity of the caption boxes at the top of a panel, to the insanity of the free-floating text at the bottom of a panel. How the final panel is this jagged cut to the present, with all the juicy bits of the story left in the gutters.

A descent into sin, and then a slow dawning realization that things have gone too far, a whole technicolor horror story for your head, all in two pages, sixteen panels.

4-- On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

I'm behind on this so maybe the later chapters prove me wrong, but...

A thing I've noticed about The Young People that I think is different from the Way Back When: there's a bunch of the young artists that seem to pay more attention to a kind of experience that is less about classic two-fisted comic-book conflict (good, evil; thrills, chills), drama or what have you, than a kind of serenity when you experience it. I see the indie game kids talk about self-care a lot when talking about their ideal experiences, in particular. I don't entirely know what that's about 100%, but I find it fascinating.

In comics, I find myself thinking about that with On a Sunbeam. There are dramatic events in the plot. If there's any question whether Walden has a drama gear, it would probably be answered by a bit in the 4th chapter where Walden cuts effectively between crescendo-events in two different timelines.

But the overall feeling I get from On a Sunbeam is more a sense of peace. It all sort of drifts through the air, seemingly in no hurry to get to any particular destination, all liminal, almost like a long sigh. The art's just a wisp of a line, delicately exploring science fantasy spaces. And its careful use of color-- Walden doesn't overload a page with color, usually only sticking to a few colors, and applying them only when appropriate, equally satisfied to leave white space on the page. It's relaxing just to look at-- it never feels like it's trying to impose.

Alternative cartoonists some years older than me all shot for this kind of anal-retentive quality in their work-- it was going to look exactly a certain way, and that was going to be true from tip to toe, line by line, panel after panel. On a Sunbeam feels no less deliberate about its choices, but the result is completely different. In a year where I think that other kind of comic would have felt truly suffocating, Walden's work felt like a breath of fresh air.

3-- Pascin by Joann Sfar

Here's a thing I like about Joann Sfar: he has a major part of his career that's been dedicated towards French artists who are super-good at getting laid. Picasso had his blue period? Well, Sfar has has had his French cocksman period. I know which I want to hear more about, so suck it, Pablo.

Pascin is about the painter Jules Pascin, but it's a biography focused a bit on sex. We meet characters that (I think) are the basis of Two Friends, and they're hookers who rush off to watch a Prefect "gobble" down a pot of piss at a whorehouse. Most of the time Pascin's talking about how he'd rather draw girls than have sex with them. The rest of the time, we follow Pascin's friends getting off instead of him-- fucking art models; fucking art mannequins; none of this is pornographic-- it's got stuff on it's mind, about art, violence, perversion, men. But still: it's a hoot, this comic.

Sfar's the star attraction, of course. This was all drawn back in the 90's apparently-- it's just how I like a comic to look. Ink's splashed and slashed onto a page; none of the drawings feel planned out, worried over, ruined by some egotistical desire to fuss over an image too much; it all seemed like it came to life on a drawing table, and they got it out to you with the ink still drying on the pages. It looked like a blast to make.

2-- Four Kids Walk into a Bank by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss, and Thomas Mauer

A comic that's funny still seems like a little miracle to me.

And sure, plenty of comics have been funny -- I hate any kinda review that does that "comics usually aren't __, but this one is!" shit, as if comics haven't been doing every-other-fucking-thing since gee-damn forever.

But it's a grind, comic book comedy: there's no audience to play off of; the physical lizard-brain reaction of watching a person acting foolish or outrageous, you don't get that with a comic; getting the timing on a comic generally is hard-- doing jokes (which are all about timing) on top of that???

I have this Old Man Conversation with folks sometimes, and it goes basically like this:

"Is it us? Maybe it's us. Maybe things are still great and we're just too old now. Maybe it's not them-- maybe it's us. Maybe we've seen it all and we're jaded now, and the comics are as good as they've ever been, and it's us, we're aging like a bowl of spaghetti that's been left out on a porch."

But then a comic comes along like 4 Kids that's funny, that's funny in a character-centric way, funny because it has characters you enjoy seeing interact with one another, funny because it's got dialogue with a voice to it, funny because it has rhythm...?

Here's what that means: IT'S NOT US! It's them!   It was them all along-- in the Hallway, with the lead pipe, I think I just won this game of Clue! If some comic I never heard of from some people I never heard of published by some yahoos whose name I can't remember can still stick the landing on a $4 serial comic-- IT'S THEM. And I'm going to be young forever!

1-- Sir Alfred by Tim Hensley

I've written about this comic a couple times this year. It's a sort of biography of Alfred Hitchcock, or of the legend of Alfred Hitchcock at least. It's hard to say, which is what I like about this comic so much: it's a cartoon about a real-life person ... but a real-life person who had in our collective memory of him already become a sort of cartoon.

What was the "real" Alfred Hitchcock like? I wouldn't pretend to know -- but I know that I do have a fictional Alfred Hitchcock in my head, an amalgamation of biography, anecdotes, rumors, and a mythology that Hitchcock himself purposefully created as part of his marketing. I know that Hitchcock isn't the "real" Hitchcock -- but at some point, does it matter that I "know" that? Does it make a difference if the Alfred Hitchcock that's really "alive" for me is my fake version?

And isn't that process true not just of Hitchcock, but almost every historical figure? Isn't it true of people right now, alive right now-- what's the difference between how people think about celebrities, politicians, our various elites and a cartoon character?

The comic strips featured in Sir Alfred are funny, cute, gag strips of a kind that comics used to truck in more frequently in the way, way back when. But behind that funny surace is a sort of bigger and more troubling concern: how time and speed boil down every human being until they've become two-dimensional, symbols, sketches more than flesh, blood. And consequentially, how little we know about each other or can connect with each other, ultimately.

Hensley's comics, for me, it's how they unpack in my head after I've read them. None of them are inscrutable or mystery boxes -- at the beginning, there's a certain amount of confusion about what he's up to, why he'd bothered, why so much precision is being directed towards recreating a vernacular held in such disregard (and probably correctly so). But by the end, they all make sense for me. There's a point where his work just unfurls, blossoms, and some bigger thematic picture eeks out from its cocoon-- a thematic picture that's thorny and interesting but always presented in a way that's light-hearted, joke-y, tongue firmly in cheek, and deeply of comics.

His work is just about the best thing going.


World War 3, published by Ace Comics in 1953, authors unknown.

The comic I got most tickled by this year, an oldie-but-goodie that I'd just noticed had been floating around the internet for years, not nearly trumpeted enough. More the very first story in the comic, "World War 3 Unleashed", than the follow-ups.

But that first one...

It's just panel after panel of bangers.

Crazy-making sincere. Heartless. Paranoid. Dirty-feeling.

There's something that just feels stupid and wrong about it.

So, yeah: this is the good shit.

Apocalypse-comics fans might also want to check out Sneak Attack from Ace Comics 1952 publication's Atomic War #1:

There is an alternate history of comics where little kids in 1952 and 1953 realized which way was up and got behind Ace Comics in a big way.

Easy money says that history would have been 10,000 times more rad.


I'm looking through my notes of what I read this year. Nothing jumps out as especially bad, as especially upsetting. I didn't care enough to get angry about anything, which makes me sad, but.

Mostly, my notes reflect that reading comics in 2016 for me was mostly a story about an oppressive tedium. Of feeling asleep. Of wanting to read stuff that'd wake me up. Of wondering if there was something wrong with me. And just wading through a whole bunch of yawns, trying to find something to care about.

If I'd read a bunch of Marvel comics, I'd be talking about Marvel comics. But I mostly read a bunch of Image Comics.

So my notes are filled with (and this all very nearly verbatim) "Renato Jones: The One -- that was a pile of shit; just really fucking dumb" and "Seven to Eternity: shitty-- like a grocery-store fantasy novel ... underwhelming" and "Velvet: did something go wrong?" and "Sex Criminals: the creators showed up in-comic ala Grant Morrison's Animal Man except to talk about a tumblr post??" and "The Fix: I was just really bored for 95% of it. It was sort of like 'oh yeah this is what I've been avoiding'" and "Why can't Image publish more comics for 9-11 truthers?"

I'm not sure what the common denominator to all these things are, besides me. I wasn't a good audience this year. I wasn't interested in people telling their little stories.

So: worst thing about reading comics I guess this year was me, the reader...???

Well, not counting all the scumbags at DC and Dark Horse. And not counting that time comic people were full-throated yelling how "Devin Faraci is right -- all you comic fans are scum-- we deserve better than you" and then it IMMEDIATELY turned out Faraci had sexually assaulted a girl -- nice choice of hero bros whooopsie-doopsie. And not counting that time Jack Davis and Richard Thompson died on the same day-- not counting the fucking Grim Reaper. And not counting that time Peter David went gonzo-racist at a convention.

Actually, looking at my list again, maybe the worst thing in comics was just Image Comics full-stop, because man, Renato Jones-- that really was pretty terrible-- that was just stone dumb. I felt pretty embarrassed for the entire mother-loving Planet Earth, reading that sucker. Image Comics could have stopped that from happening.

Image Comics could have done something, said something, told somebody!

Yeah. Yeah, I want to change my answer-- I'm never the problem! I'm going to be young forever!


Never saw: Ex Machina, Midnight Special, Hell or High Water, Always Shine, Moonlight, Silence, Manchester by the Sea, or 20th Century Women.

Here's what I dug:

10. Don't Breathe

This slot was never going to go to Arrival or Toni Erdmann or Nocturnal Animals-- I just wasn't too into any of those movies (Animals, in particular, I had zero use for). It could've gone to 13 Hours or my beloved, beloved Now You See Me 2, but I saw this flick the other night-- and I'm not really a horror guy, but I just thought it was a gas. I just thought it was a fun little horror-thriller flick that hit exactly the mark it had set out to hit-- except for one scene which was too stupid for words.

Sure, probably an easy movie to dismiss, but I particularly liked how it was all visual storytelling, all editing, all about these physical performances, instead of just gore or knife-kills or whatever. It felt more like a kung fu flick or a dance movie that way. Plus, look: the premise just makes me laugh.

9. Circle

This was a movie that turned up on Netflix in 2016. I'd never heard of it. I had no idea what it was about. I just put it on randomly, completely randomly, while I was cooking up some food-- I like to put stuff on for noise because I'm slow at cooking, not being very good at it. It didn't even sound like anything I'd like-- I just remember thinking the Netflix images looked weird.

So this was a memorable movie experience for me. Terrible acting-- I mean, terrible. Right on the nose metaphors. An abject lack of subtlety. A not particularly well executed episode of a Twilight Zone vibe to it all.

But I totally bought in. It got me at the right time. It got me at the right place. I got suckered in. It had a cool idea, and then I laughed when I saw where it took it.

Was Arrival a better movie than this, say? Absolutely. But two-thirds of the way into Arrival, I left my seat to go to the bathroom, and I took my sweet time while I was gone. I wasn't in any hurry to get back. I don't like lists that are like "here's my pronouncement from the mountain tops" -- I just like to rank the experiences...? This was one of my favorite ones.

(Though from an experience standard, I walked out of Now You See Me 2 higher than just about any other fucking thing, but ... I just can't even pretend that's because it's a "Great movie" so much as just how that movie filled me with a great love for humanity, that humanity managed to make a Now You See Me 2, at all. For me, Woody Harrelson playing dual roles as his own evil twin brother whose magical gibberish-powered hypnosis powers somehow rival his own was a small step for man, but a giant leap for mankind...)

8. Shin Godzilla

What is more boring and takes fewer risks than franchise movies?

So, I was so happy how this took this old, storied franchise and repurposed it to make a movie about bureaucracy. Godzilla doesn't fight Megalon-- Godzilla fights a department of office workers.

My favorite shot in action movies is when a camera slowly pans over a table full of guns, that swagger of filmmakers telling the audience they mean business. This movie had those shots-- for photocopiers, staples, file folders.

This movie's directors created a formula when they worked at an anime studio named Gainax:  (a) take a classic science fiction nerd-genre and (b) insert the characters you'd LEAST want handling fantastical threats, the least qualified, the most inept.  Which is clever:  it makes you have to root more for the good guys to win.  Good-looking people don't need you to root for them -- God already rooted for them.  But wastoids?  You better go buy some pom-poms.

Seeing them use that formula here, watching them figure out that the people you'd least want to see fight Godzilla are modern bureaucrats... The results were wildly imperfect, sometimes astonishingly boring, but overall, I just found watching that formula in action for a Godzilla movie invigorating.

Because if you believe it doesn't matter that "it's all been done before," if you believe that things having been "done before" shouldn't stop artists from being creative and finding new places to take things, if you believes those things, well, then these are dark times. And Shin Godzilla's a nice rare sigh of relief.

7. Green Room

I think one of the characters says the word "meatgrinder" out loud, which sort of sums up the whole appeal and aesthetic of this movie. Relentless; unsympathetic; heart of ice.

A pretty-much-all-British cast plays American nazis, and it doesn't matter because the real star is an adorable puppy and the healing power of music. Mr. Holland's Opus finally has the unauthorized-but-equally-uplifting sequel we were all waiting for.

6. High Rise

Kinda feels stupid to say a lot about this movie. It's not really a subtle one. It'd be like writing an essay about that time I got punched in the eye. I got punched in the eye- it felt a certain way-- the end.

5. Nerve

This was my favorite trailer this year-- I laughed and laughed and laughed. So when the movie came out, I went to check it out, expecting to just giggle and shake my heads and go "oh those kids, with their teen romance internet-thrills party movies...".

At some point during this movie, did I stop laughing at it and start going along with it completely? Did it win me over and I had to go "no this isn't something to laugh at-- I care too much about these characters"?

No. No, the reason I like Nerve so much is that by the end, I 100% cared about the characters, but I never ever ever stopped laughing at this movie. It did both those things simultaneously.

4. Hail, Caesar!

My favorite writer-directors on fuck-around gag mode. A lot of people hated this one-- underrate it, I think, though it certainly has its imperfections (I'd have liked more of a resolution for Alden Ehrenreich's character, though it's hard to guess if the Coens knew they'd gotten lucky on that casting). But where I think they lost a lot of people is that it's a gag movie, but they never really spell out the gag for people. You just have to key into this movie's wavelength, on this one.

I think the gag is this: the movie is like one of those Fables shows where fairy tales are all real and talking to one another-- you know, Once Upon A Time, Little Red Riding Hood Except Modern, ABC's What's Bleeding Into My Underwear, etc. But instead of being about old-school fairy tales, it's about the mythology of the Golden Age of Hollywood. What if every myth about that time was true? "The cowboys are the good guys. The studio boss is a tough guy with a heart of gold looking out for his talent. Danny Kaye's got a hairy back. The famous movie actress is a brassy dame who just needs to find a nice, normal boy and settle down. The writers are all stinking commies."

It's a movie about a movie about religion that's actually a movie about the religion of movies. It's the Coens throwing around big silly set pieces (e.g., Channing Tatum tap-dancing) where they tell you flat-out how the set piece hokey, they ain't hiding the hokiness ... but they also know you can't help but like the set piece anyways. Because sure, it's silly, but what's the alternative? In the Coen universe, the alternative always tends to be sitting in a Chinese restaurant looking at a photo of a Bomb.

Plus, the Ralph Fiennes scene is probably the funniest scene all year.

3. Swiss Army Man

Daniels!! I have loved this music video directing team for years and years-- and it was exciting that their big screen debut continued in the themes that had made their music video work so exciting. Namely, Daniels does body horror comedies.

Example: this movie's better known by the internet as "the farting corpse movie."

There aren't a ton of body horror comedies-- there's Splash. There's some Steve Martin movies. There's all the body-flip comedies, or movies where men wake up as women or whatever. But most of the body horror comedies really skimp on the horror bits. Most don't involve a corpse.

Not for everybody. One, farting corpse. Two, it's the kind of thing people who like it will call whimsical and people who hate it will call twee as fuck hipster shit. But Daniels just commits so fully to the body horror, the confusion, this premise, these characters, that they end up with a movie about self-acceptance that I don't think more timid artists could match.

Self-acceptance is some tricky shit to think about; tricky shit to talk about; maybe boldness is required.

2. Hypernormalisation

A three hour Adam Curtis documentary released before the election about the last 40 years of history, with consideration paid especially to Libya, Syria, Trump and Putin. It's just helpful because Curtis tries to focus on, articulate and explain something that people tend to overlook or dismiss or take for granted while treating things like a horse race-- that things have stopped making sense.

The pitch: Hypernormalisation is a term that describes how before the fall of the Soviet Union, people knew that something was wrong with their system, but accepted all the wrong as "normal" anyways-- until it all collapsed. Now, our own system, horrible things happen-- financial crises, wars based on fake intelligence, control slipping away from ordinary people in countless ways-- but nothing changes and no one is held accountable. And we all know there's something wrong with that, but we also just accept it as normal.

The movie tries to explain what happened. I don't know if it succeeds 100%.  But that's a heck of a goal.   As a particularly disorienting example, after you see it, Trump winning feels like it makes sense, at least narratively. I don't know if I'd describe that as comforting...? But the movie takes a stab at a real and sane explanation for what's happening, which seems to be in short supply.

Plus: I just think it's fun as a movie. Curtis puts on some tunes, and shows some Jane Fonda workout videos. The way he makes these isn't some dull lecture or dumbed-down Michael Moore harangue. He just washes footage over the viewer-- sometimes making points or telling smaller stories that don't seem germane to his points (a stretch about a Japanese gambler, say)-- and lets the cumulative effect say what it has to: we're fucking suckers.

1. The Nice Guys

Audiences didn't go. There probably won't be more like this in a while, so I went twice. The audience gasped the same gasps in the same places both times. I feel like this is closer to the kinds of movies I really loved as a kid than that Rogue One, than any of these big noisy movies, but this movie failing, maybe that's the death knell. That's some horn sounding. Time to die.

I don't get it. I just thought there was everything to like about this one.

Shane Black, finally resurrecting a script I'd read years and years ago, "the Lost Shane Black movie."

Shane Black on full-on unapologetic Shane Black mode.

Russel Crowe, finally in an action movie I can get behind -- I wasn't into Gladiator, so I've been waiting for that since LA Confidential.

Ryan Gosling, playing one of Black's damaged hero characters-- throwing all his charm and likability behind a shitty alcoholic dad who'd destroyed his family and his life, someone the audience would have every reason to hate... and pulling it off.

Detectives. Mystery. Girls on the run. Keith David.

Los Angeles.


No one told me about Michael Keaton bravura performance, in a room all by himself in 2014's Need for Speed, playing a street race enthusiast podcast billionaire.

Did he win the Oscar for Need for Speed? Technically no-- he won in 2014 for Birdman, and the Infinite Sadness. But did some Oscar voters see his performance in Need for Speed, and realize that voting for Keaton for that dopey movie was their only way to reward true excellence?

My gut says yes.


Here is Feel the Need for Speed, my loving 12 minute fan-edit of Need for Speed. I made a fan-edit because I don't know how to sculpt marble. Or what a Need for Speed marble sculpture would even look like.

"I look at a giant block of marble and I cut away everything that doesn't feel the Need for Speed." -Michelangelo, sculptor/party dude.


Ghostbusters: Answer the Call.

I had this thing I believed: that people had been programmed by their society with ideas, beliefs, thoughts that were external to them; that this was wrong-- that any meaningful freedom includes being free of any kind of external brainwashing; that this programming included a lot of ideas about men and women that were really pretty silly if you spent any time thinking about them, all gussied up with bullshit psuedo-science-- but ideas that are also unfortunately profitable to some terrible fucking monsters; that if people talked to each other about those silly ideas, and how those silly ideas get taught, reinforced, expressed (including culturally), that this was good because it could get people to question their programming, and more cognizant of how grotesque people are profitting from that programming.

And that sure, sometimes those conversations could get pretty messy, but people were challenging themselves and helping each other realize their programming, and well, that was worth some headaches.

That was what I believed.

But then, this fucking Ghostbusters movie happened.

Yes, yes, yes-- some of the worst people in the world were obnoxious about this movie.  Anime nazis were angry, and it's fun to make fun of them since they're so mentally damaged and unfuckable. And YES, they were obnoxious for stupid-ass reasons-- some made-up nonsense about childhoods they've plainly needed to outgrow for a long, long time.

But this time, a machinery responding to those folks really went into overdrive.  And what it felt like for me at least, was that something broke. Something went totally out of control.

I felt like there were parts of the internet where every day, a few times a day, you would see people sarcastically ranting how anyone-- ANYONE, not just anime nazis, anyone-- who didn't want to see this movie, had any issue with this movie, had any doubt that this movie was a good idea ... was flawed, corrupted, broken, misogynist. All Men Unenthusiastic About Watching Middle Age Women Ghostbust were SCUM. And this machinery that wanted to incessantly parade this unearned sarcasm, they were the ONLY GOOD PEOPLE awake to how the world should really be.

Why, they were going to see Ghostbusters TWICE so that they could drink the tears of All Males Ever.  

It wasn't fun sarcasm -- it wasn't persuasive sarcasm -- it was a grinding, repulsive sarcasm.  And I enjoy sarcasm.  I was sarcastic once, many years ago, and I think it went well, except for the punching and the crying and the running.  But this, it just felt like it was incessant.  And misguided.

"We need more female-lead action-comedy franchises" is worth fighting for. It's weird there aren't more of those. But a Ghostbusters remake? Worth fighting for?  "Big budget special effects-driven remake that is intended to transform preexisting property into a multi-revenue stream franchise that will invariably crowd original ideas out the marketplace" seems self-evidently too tainted at the outset to argue that it has much moral progress to it.

There is a distinction there that I think people started to ignore, that got drowned out, that somehow became "besides the point." And none of this seemed honest after a while. The first trailer looked like shit? The sarcasm grew louder. The second trailer looked like worse shit? The sarcasm grew louder. The movie bombed? "Well, the Democrats will play it on a jumbotron during the inauguration, so take that, patriarchy!"

I remember at one point, every single one of these people on the internet stopped and in unison started screaming at ONE WHOLE RANDOM YAHOO who put out a youtube video saying he didn't want to see the Ghostbusters movie. One guy! One entire guy putting out one entire Youtube video! But a crowd of people: "How dare one entire guy dissent?? EEEEEEEEEE."

How did that level of insecurity and moral panic come to seem healthy and normal to so many people?

This all felt like it stopped being about people questioning their programming, or trying to provoke other people into questioning theirs. And it became something else.  "I'm a feminist who's going to beat all the other men at feminism and win the feminism trophy. You can bet with that mentality, I've always treated all kinds of women with respect!" -- Devin Faraci and an all-star calvacade of the internet's shittiest dudes. (SPOILER WARNING:  No).   Are these My-Brand-Is-Fightin'-for-the-Ladies He-Men Oh-Whoops-They're-Creepos an aberration, or an inevitability in this context?

This would have been a toxic conversation around a good movie.  But the Ghostbusters movie wasn't a good movie, not by a mile, which made it all the worse.

It wasn't funny.  It wasn't fun. The characters mostly weren't memorable. The racial politics were not ideal (which was made pretty unavoidably noticeable considering, you know, everything else).  Some of the biggest gags in the movie were lame and dull and missed any kind of mark (e.g., Hemsworth). The villain stunk-- a complete drag; unnecessary, uninteresting, not compelling. It didn't get at all what made the original work, but replaced that with no new insight or worthy angle on the material.  The story was sluggish and uninvolving. Too many special effects rather than comedy ideas. Too much corporate franchise fan service-- "Here's a scene where the Ghostbusters' logo gets created! Here's a scene where we explain how they get a hearse! Here are cameos, cameos, cameos, instead of spending time taking characters you care about through a meaningful story."

Fans talked up one particular action scene, but it only lasted approximately 10 seconds, 5 of which were in the trailer.

It was a slog to get through-- it was unpleasant and unentertaining to watch.

I hear infant girls like it because it taught them they can someday ghost-bust. That's nice. But that could've happened with a movie with functioning jokes in it. This movie had Debarge references instead.

Would this have been a more palatable movie without this horrible stew that got cooked up around it (and again, yes, a stew that really got fired up because of ludicrous and hideous-souled anime nazis overreacting to Ghostbuster casting)?  Was watching this movie poisoned by the conversation?  I think.  But I don't think I'd have even seen the movie but for that conversation either.  I'd have steered pretty far clear after that second trailer, entirely.

Look, there's no question one side was worse in this-- involuntarily celibate anime fans have all decided to be nazis now; they love something called Rourouni Kenshoo and hate minorities; I don't claim to fully understand it.  But in the long-term, this Ghostbusters "over-correct" didn't feel like it was just a one-off aberration. It felt like a horrible New Normal. Maybe that was just because of the election (where that same sarcasm was undeniably present -- PS another bellyflop, The Good People: 0 for 2 in 2016); but I have doubts that's true. Sure, the implications of all this may not have me as worried as NAZIS-- NAZIS kinda skew things. But it's still not really in the neighborhood of good. It's not desirable.

And it's far, far off from where I'd hoped things would go, which is people waking up to the fact that we've all been victimized, we are all the playthings of sinister people very intent on manipulating us to fight each other so we keep ignoring them, and that we are all letting those sinister folks win when we play the games they've very much programmed us to play.


So that's another possible explanation for why I didn't like seeing Kate McKinnon dance around meaninglessly to Debarge.  Who's to say...


10. Line of Duty-- Final Episode, Season 3

I hadn't seen seasons 1 or 2 of this British crime drama-- I hadn't heard anything too good. But I just skipped to Season 3 after seeing fans react to a moment online-- a bit with a text message.

The rest of the show's got good bits and weak bits-- a little generic overall. But the text message was worth it. And even if that hadn't been there, look, the whole experience was worth it because it brought the dude pictured above into my life, definitely my favorite character of 2016. He's a constantly-disapproving head police-type guy who is frowning and very upset with every other character on this show because they let him down.

I don't know that I've ever seen a dude on TV be better at being disappointed by other people as this guy is.

I don't want to follow this guy's adventures in a TV show. I want more than that. I want this guy to come to a gym with me, and yell at me if I don't work out hard enough. I want an alarm clock app of this guy waking me up, by telling me that my father expected more from me. I want him to be able to push a button that randomly slaps food from out of my mouth at random and unexpected intervals. I want him to show up Max Headroom-style on Pornhub, and set me straight on the birds and the bees.  That's what I'm paying the license fee for, Queen Fancypants, so tell the Beeb to get on it and make that happen!

9. BrainDead -- "Notes Towards a Post-Reagan Theory"

When I've forgotten most of the TV on this list, I think I'm still going to remember the sex scene in this episode. There's an explanation for what's going on but I suspect it's just as good to wath it without that explanation.

8. The Good Place - "Jason Mendoza"

This year a lot of people fell in love with Westworld, a show with slow, long running storylines that gradually moseyed their way to some pretty obvious twists. And I was okay with Westworld, I guess. But for serialized television, I think the better game in town is this NBC sitcom.

Each episode has built on the previous ones, and the twists for me have been more unexpected, more satisfying, especially in this episode where the audience gets to meet Jason Mendoza.

Plus: the thing I got annoyed by sometimes with Parks & Rec was how everyone became such goody goodies over time. But I kinda dig how that's this whole show's schtick. I dig that they turned into the skid, rather than try to be something they're not. They hired Kristen Bell-- almost all the characters by definition are great people-- one character literally starts giving lessons in how to be a good person on this show. And it works. I think it's fun. At least, I want to find out what happens next more on this show than I ever did with the cowboy one, where I mostly just rooted for nudity.


7. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's Election Specials

"I'd rather hear stuff like that than your little foo-foo tag lines that don't make sense."

For me, there was approximately ZERO good televised political comedy this year, besides these Triumph shows.  (Well, and the Eric Andre convention videos).

6. Gilmore Girls - "Summer"

I think this is the fans' least favorite episode because it has a half-hour musical in it about incest and Stars Hollow, but this one is my favorite episode because it has a half-hour musical in it about incest and Stars Hollow.


5. Cunk on Shakespeare

"That's the basic difference between Hamlet and Taken -- Liam Neeson makes up his mind."

4. Black Mirror-- "San Junipero"

A fast, all-thrills episode? No. Predictable? I guess, if that matters.

But I just liked the big technicolor emotions of this one. All the adolescent swooning and the teen ache of it. The Saved by the Bell aesthetics and the way characters's big intellectual stances don't so much change as just sort of erode-- heart vs. brains, brains are going to lose that every time.

I liked that Black Mirror put all of what Mallory Ortberg calls "what if phones, but too much?" of the show aside, and just went for this romance-- and that it made a counter-argument to the other episodes about technology, the way all the dystopias Charlie Brooker has posited might all be worth it because of how technology has let people who've been denied a voice find people and places where they can belong, how the spiritual-emptiness of of technology can sometimes be its biggest blessing, considering what absolute twats "spiritual-minded" people can be.

And I like that it was this frilly love story without for me at least (and mileage varies on this one) being too, too saccharine-- because the episode leaves space for the hard bits. There's other people in that episode who do not seem like happy people-- the long term prospects of those characters seem like they might end up being pretty sinister. It leaves space for the idea that we might be lucky to be leaving the characters at their happiest moment, that there's reason for concern ahead, that nothing's perfect forever.

I like that it's not a perfect ending-- imperfect endings are usually the happiest endings most of us can manage.

3. The Girlfriend Experience-- "Blindsided"

The fun of the Girlfriend Experience: it's a show about watching a woman who 99% of the time is completely opaque about what she's thinking or feeling, insincere, lying, while she has sex, for money, while also working as an intern at a prestigious law firm. The character never tells you what she's thinking -- and if you think she does, she's usually playing you.

Riley Keough plays the woman, and pulls off the bit the show really needed for it to have worked: you have to believe there's something underneath that opaque surface, something dark, something fucking angry. She had to give the viewer some reason to want to keep watching to see if when that surface cracked, what would be underneath. I don't know anything about acting, but it seemed like a pretty impressive trick to me, anyways, Keough's work here.

I don't want to spoil the show, but "Blindsided" is the episode where that surface cracks the most. It doesn't last for very long-- this isn't the final episode of the series by any means, though it definitely feels like it as it's happening. But the most the show gives the viewer usually is just getting to watch as something clicks behind Keough's eyes, some lizard-brain instincts kicking in. And that's not this episode. They give the viewer a little more to watch on this one.

2. Documentary Now -- "Parker Gail's Location is Everything"

This is the only thing on any of these lists I've seen like 4-5 times, that I made it a point to rewatch and rewatch and rewatch and rewatch.

I loved those Spalding Grey movies in college, so a parody as loving and exact and affectionate and critical and dubious as this was +1,000,000 to start out with for me. But even setting that aside, this was just a great half hour of comedy -- peak Bill Hader, John Mulaney work on the script; just that same thing that made the Grey movies so great-- getting to just watch a guy behind a table tell a crazy story, without any clutter, the inherent energy of that. For something so short, there's an awful lot I could point to that makes it great (e.g., the ways they find to blow up the Grey formula).

Documentary Now wasn't my favorite show in the first season. I admire the amount of weird comedy Fred Armisen has put out into the world, but I'm still not fast to sign up as a huge Armisen fan, for different reasons. The jokes tended to be a little too cutesy, and not have much teeth to them, except for maybe the Blue Jeans Committee two-parter. But the second season I thought became more effective -- with this episode; with the season finale, another Hader-Mulaney joke machine, recreating the Kid Stays in the Picture.


1. Fleabag -- Final Episode

I've just talked and talked about this show, but it's my favorite anything this year. I liked this more than any of the movies or comics listed above, anyways. It just ...

It's not one thing. Sometimes it's depressing; sometimes it's funny; sometimes it's kind; sometimes it's cruel. It's dirty; it's silly; it's got real sadness to it. It's sympathetic-- I didn't feel like it was a judgmental show, which is where a lesser version could have so easily gone wrong. None of the supporting characters know they're supporting characters-- all of them seem like they're trying to muddle through, same as the main character, even characters you assume are completely insignificant when you first meet them.

It's all anchored by the show's very likable writer/star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who just always seems to go all out (though in certain respects, maybe not as much as the curry scene from Crashing-- like from a laundry perspective, at least?). And I just like how it just kept poking at the audience. "How do you feel about the main character? Oh. Well, NOW, how do you feel about the main character? Oh. Well, okay, okay, NOW how do you feel about the main character?"

There's never one answer, except by the end, just wanting her to be okay, just wanting her to be okay.


I mostly just watched a lot of Psych this year, though.


John Oliver - The Post-election Episode

What does a comedy show do when life stops being funny?

The team at John Oliver had a brilliant answer to that question: also stop being funny, at all, don't even try to be funny, forget being a comedy show, and instead spend a half hour lecturing viewers like they were stupid children about how they should subscribe to the New York Times, America's leading source for fake news in the run-up to the Iraq War, like that'll do any goddamn thing whatsoever.

Or wait-- tell people to just repeat "this isn't normal" because that's what we need-- more viral content. "Make America Drumf again. Say 'this isn't normal a bunch,' like a braying jackass. Star Wars Kid dancing! Memes!"

It's not that sincerity is the enemy. Stephen Colbert was sincere on election night and watching him react to the news in real time restored a lot of my enthusiasm for that guy that had gotten lost when I was watching him try to be Carson, Letterman, someone he wasn't.  I'm back on board with Colbert because he let himself be a human being, having human being shit happen on his face.

That last Oliver show wasn't vulnerable. It was just more partisan rancor. Which just seems like the opposite of vulnerability.

And the tragedy is how that rancor has ruined the show for me to some extent. When Oliver started, the thing that made it thrilling for me at least was that he wasn't talking about the news of the day -- there were other stories going on, that most people were ignoring, and he could take this platform HBO had given him, and refocus people on something besides the one-issue carnivals of the rest of the media.

There was an episode about chicken farming. Municipal violations. Stadiums. Food waste. Civil asset forfeiture. The world is filled with so many important issues that go ignored, or only get "reported" in the most boring way possible, the easiest way to tune out possible. Oliver felt valuable.

And they threw that all away so they could yell Drumpf over and over into people's silly bubbles. Do you believe the exact same shit all your friends do? Congratulations on John Oliver destroying all right wing people ever-- there aren't any more right wing people anymore, he destroyed half, and Samantha Bee screeched the other half of them into oblivion. You win (warning: side effects of right wing people being "destroyed" may include you losing all power everywhere to right wing people in every possible capacity).

They turned a funny show that I think was doing something genuinely exciting into just more impotent noise. By the end, there weren't any jokes. There wasn't anything to laugh about. People who probably do need to hear about payday loans, public defenders, financial advisers, etc. had a reason to turn off, tune out, dismiss. And not enough people were persuaded for any of it to have been even a little worth it.

Total failure.


I don't really like to talk about the fact I like games, because I'm at an age where it feels like a shameful thing to like. But this has been a pretty damn great year for games. AAA games, Indie games, weird online gag-games-- it's just kind of been an unusual embarrassment of riches. Here were the high-points for me:

10 - Can You Have Sex with the President of the United States?

A Clickhole choose-your-own-adventure novel finally asked the question that I've always wanted to know the answer to.

The answer was yes.

This was all way more fun to imagine before Trump, though. Did Rouropo Kooshi didn't warn you about that, anime nazis?  Did it??

9 - Quadrilateral Cowboy

Brendon Chung's hacking game-- a quick cyberpunk puzzle romp, but one that swerves at the very end away from all those hijinx and lands somewhere very sweet, very gentle. I liked that the hacking cyberpunk puzzle game ended on such a human note.

8 - Dishonored 2.

Playing this now. I never played Dishonored 1, and the game's overarching story seems like some pretty dopey nonsense-- you're playing a character desperate to continue subjugating the poors under some kind of feudal monarchy. That isn't a fantasy I've ever personally gotten much juice out of.

But that's just the game's story-- the player's story is loads better than that. It all takes place in this gorgeous high-budget game world where every inch of it feels fussed over, layered, attended to with fake histories, hidden narratives, incidental world-building. And the game encourages you not to kill, so if you play along, each encounter can become a suspenseful rush with a million things that can go wrong. If you want to play along. Or you can go in guns blazing. Or you can sneak past everybody. And so on-- the game lets the player choose their own story to an impressive degree, and the rest of the game seems remarkably responsive to the choices the player makes.

7 - Oxenfree

Comics' Adam Hines (Duncan the Wonder-Dog) and a small team of gamedevs put out this small adventure game this year. Not everything about the story worked, but ... Other games have tried to focus on dialogue, but usually you kinda just try to skip past the dialogue as fast as possible to get back to the bits where you can play. With Oxenfree, they managed to have the dialogue not be so much at the expense of gameplay. Which made interacting with the characters feel like a reward for a change, or the point, instead of some box to check, a chore to get to the next level.

6 - Hitman--Sapienza

Hitman was sold on an episode-by-episode basis unless you bought a season pass. And when the first episode came out, I remember thinking they were in trouble because there was so many things wrong with how that game felt. Most notably, there were these crippling load times, that made experimenting and trying different things way too hard. It was kind of a bummer.

But then the second Hitman episode came out, Sapienza. All the things wrong with the first one? Still true of the second episode. The load times are horrendous. Except Sapienza is just such a superb level. It's this entire Italian resort town, filled with these little narratives that you can interact with; disrupt. Tourists watch a clown perform. Churchgoers pray quietly at pews. Family yell at each other from their apartments. Buddies have lunch with each other. Cooks stir spaghetti sauce. Fishermen stand at docks, and wait for a tug on their line.

It just feels good to walk around Sapienza.

5 - Firewatch

This game was all about being a lonely fire-lookout employee in 1980's Wyoming, and interacting with another, more senior employee by radio. Pretty to look at thanks to contributions from painter Olly Moss; well acted thanks to a cast that included Mad Men's Rich Sommer. Yes: the story had major issues. But getting to play this "relationship" with the other firewatch employee felt new and the execution on at least the relationship I thought was surprisingly strong.

4 - Stardew Valley

Oh god. This game was the time evaporator. It's a farm simulator. Which is never a genre I thought I would be into. But I just spent hour after hour blissed out, growing imaginary fruit and buying coffee for the lonely people in my imaginary farm town.

I think what got me so invested was just the beginning. The game opens with a character in a cubicle who hates their life, throwing their hands up and moving to the family farm to get away from modern life. So everything in the game is built around that idea that you've escaped something when you play it-- the escapism is just soaked into the premise.

3 - Uncharted 4

Naughty Dog makes my favorite games, and I thought this one was another big step forward. And the last scene landed perfect with me.

2 - Kentucky Route Zero Act 4

Just the most interesting games being built re: writing, themes, world.

1 - Inside

I just thought this was a perfect game.

I like Journey more but that's the only thing I'd even think to compare it to.


No Man's Sky.




5. 110 Year Old Woman Flossie Dickey.

4. The Answers.

3. Donald Trump and Jimmy Fallon are Best Friends.

2. Eric Andre at the RNC.

1. Kenzo World - the New Fragrance.

The Case Against Dan DiDio

Not a comic review.  The following does not represent the views of Brian or John or this website or its affiliates, only the author, who is a broken person who had to get some things typed out after some recent events.


Recently the comics website Bleeding Cool published an article entitled "Why are We Still Complaining about Dan DiDio?", a defense of DC co-publisher Dan DiDio, written by Milestone co-founder and "mentor" Michael Davis.

Why are we still complaining?

For many years, I know I've complained about Dan DiDio, and this has seemed like an especially worthy topic to discuss given recent events. So below is some of my own reasoning that I've had in believing that Mr. DiDio should have been removed many years ago from his position at DC, a belief I only feel more urgently given recent events. In an ideal world, he would be promoted higher in a corporate hierarchy to a position of irrelevancy, to a position that actually utilized whatever strengths Mr. Davis and others might see in him, while removing him far from the day-to-day nuts & bolts of the mainstream comics industry, where I will argue below he is unsuited.

All the Usual Disclaimers:

  • I am not writing from nearly the position of authority as Michael Davis-- I'm not a mentor, by any means. I tried to mentor inner city black children once by telling them that Shakespeare was the first rapper, but none of them would get in my van.
  • My reasoning is not based on a sound understanding of business or finance or even comics -- only my own limited understanding of various facts, colored by my own irritation with a number of matters others may have long forgotten. You are certainly welcome to contest my ignorance as to the following.
  • Nor can I claim this is an exhaustive set of reasons why Mr. DiDio is unsuited for his job, or examples supporting those reasons. There are perhaps others who I would respectfully suggest may have additional reasons to add to this list, people better equipped to make this case who can not given the ordinary politics of mainstream comics. While there are examples where comics' culture of unrelenting silence leads to absurd results, the guy who co-runs DC isn't someone you usually want to piss off, and any silence respect thereto is ultimately understandable.
  • I'm a serious person in my daily life and for that reason, am typically not inclined to be serious when talking about comic books.  I will try to stay on an even path when making this case, given the gravity of what we need to discuss, but can not promise not to slip up occasionally.  My apologies for those who don't enjoy the whole "levity" thing
  • I'm going to talk a lot about "comics" but herein, comics shall be understood to refer to "mainstream comics".  Comics are bigger than that industry, of course, and my apologies as ever, if I inadvertently upset the guy who makes Ziggy when discussing comics.  I promise to love you forever, Ziggy.
  • Everything stated herein is an opinion offered purely for entertainment purposes.  Nothing written below should be understood to be a representation of hard facts -- only opinions.


To begin, we should establish a criteria for judging Mr. DiDio.

How do we determine whether he is doing a good job?

Let's use a neutral third party-- the website Tech Republic lists 10 criteria for a good manager. Some do not seem pertinent here (e.g., "be technically proficient"), whereas others seem redundant ("put your employees' needs first" and "Encourage teamwork"). I will distill their list to at least the following five criteria:

1) Be a Team Leader 2) Be a Visionary in your Industry 3) Be a Good Communicator 4) Put your Employees' Needs First 5) Do Something Special

Based upon this five-factor test, how would Dan DiDio fare?


FACTOR 1 -- Be a Team Leader

To begin, how do we evaluate Mr. DiDio's work with his team of editors, assistant editors, etc., at DC Comics?

First point:

I would argue that the most pressing evidence about Mr. DiDio's handling of his employees is simply not very good, at all.

I refer here to the fact that DC Comics, under his charge, "allegedly" maintained a sexually hostile work environment for many years-- one that not only opted to protect a perpetrator of multiple incidents of sexual harassment, but more importantly, reportedly instituted an unwritten policy to not allow women to work in the high-profile Superman office.

If true, this arguably crippled the career development of DC's female employees. After all, in discussing that unwritten policy, let us acknowledge the career trajectories of others who have worked on Superman properties. For example, Paul Levitz, former editor of Adventure Comics? Future President of DC Comics. Mike Carlin, former Superman group editor? Future executive editor of DC Comics, and present Creative Director of their Animation division. An argument can be made that a trip through the Superman office is a key step in a DC editor's career growth-- one that female employees were "allegedly" deprived of at that company while Mr. DiDio has been in charge. This is without even noting the symbolic value of such decisions, or the unnecessary distress female employees have had to "allegedly" suffer as a result of such an unwritten policy.

There may be details of this story that are not to your liking (i.e., you somehow may believe that DC's knowing retention of a two-time sex-shenanigan thug didn't somehow constitute a "slap on the wrist").  But everyone must admit that in our highly charged times, DC has suffered a public relations disaster as a result of this choice by DC to "allegedly" protect the career of a perpetrator of sexual harassment at the expense of women (which logic requires that we attribute in major part to Mr. DiDio, as one of DC's top managers).  We are now seeing the fall-out of Mr. DiDio's choices being widely reported outside of the four corners of the mainstream comics industry-- consider the following headlines in recent days:

  • Paste Magazine: "How Shelly Bond's Dismissal became a War Cry Against Harassment".
  • Video game website Polygon: "DC Comics responds to outcry about sexual harassment, after dismissing female editor-- After three weeks of silence, DC Comics comments on swelling online discussion".
  • Daily Dot: "DC Entertainment responds to turmoil over sexual harassment claims."
  • Vulture: "DC Entertainment Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegations."

DC has attempted to issue a "statement" about the situation, but (a) their statement was respectfully lacking in either substance or reassurance, (b) many of these articles have agreed, often describing the response as "vague", and (c) in Vulture's words "DC's critics haven't been satisfied."

The situation involving the editor at issue is not an issue just about that editor. These things "allegedly" happened while Mr. DiDio was the proverbial "captain of the ship," one of the supervisors in charge, an individual with an ethical and perhaps legal duty to prevent harassment. Even if you believe, somehow, through some kind of logic, that DC took sufficient action to remedy the situation, the fact remains Mr. DiDio allowed a public relations nightmare to be created on his watch rather than take the remedial efforts at the appropriate time that could have avoided that very same public relations nightmare.

If protecting the public image of your company is not one of your priorities as a manager, where can you even be said to be leading your team?

Second point:

Have there been losses of editorial talent while he has been in charge?

Answer: absolutely yes.

There are any number of names we could mention here, most of whom would probably prefer that they not be drug into my circus-world-- excellent, excellent people who have found work elsewhere, including work at DC's competitors.

Let's at least consider the most recent Image Expos: part of the favorable press that has been obtained for Image Comics has been because they are now working with former high-profile DC editors.

Karen Berger (a DC Employee of such repute that her decision to leave the company was the subject of a New York Times article) is working on Surgeon X at Image with Sara Kenney and the (weirdly underrated in comics) John Watkiss-- and press for that book focused more on Berger, than Kenney or Watkiss!

Similarly, Before Watchmen group editor Will Dennis is now working on an Image Comic with other Before Watchmen "creators". While employed by DC, Dennis had worked on projects like 100 BULLETS and the LOSERS (a property made into a movie of the same name); picked Jason Aaron out of a submission pile; arguably had the kind of success that a comic publisher would ordinarily value.

Indeed, Image can be seen reaping the benefits of these defections in a number of ways. Consider this description from Peter Milligan (formerly a prominent DC creator) as to how his new Image Comic The Discipline came to be conceived: "After a lunch with then-Vertigo Editor Will Dennis, where we talked about doing a sexy, dark project, some of my earlier thoughts came into focus."

In comics, the talent matters, and editorial talent is arguably as much a talent as writing, drawing, etc. In that respect, DC has arguably suffered major losses under Dan DiDio. And Dan DiDio's losses in editorial have generated favorable press and buzz for Image Comics, one of DC's key competitors at the moment.

Dan DiDio joined DC in 2002, and became Vice President - Executive Editor in 2004.

Consider DC and Image Comics in 2004, at the time he became Executive Editor, as compared to the present:

  • DC's market share in 2004 was 30.63% dollar share and 32.23% unit share.
  • Image's market share in Year-End 2004 was 3.90% Dollar Share, and 3.94% Unit Share.

Consider DC and Image Comics today, after Mr. DiDio became a prominent figure at DC:

  • DC's market share in 2016 is 22.16% dollar share, and 24.02% unit share.
  • Image's current market share as of 2016 is 9.67% Dollar Share, and 10.99% Unit Share.

There are various ways we can interpret these numbers, certainly -- there has been a growth of the audience in those years, and market share is obviously less important than gross revenue (where numbers are obviously not as effortless to come by). In other words, no one should mind having a smaller share of a bigger market, if that means more money overall.

But perhaps these numbers merit some consideration when evaluating Mr. DiDio's job performance, given the simple fact that Marvel's numbers were not affected so dramatically.  Marvel has held relatively steady, going in Dollar Share from 36.54% to 44.38%.  Image's gains have not been a loss for Marvel in the way they have been for Mr. DiDio's DC.

Third Point:

How would we describe the editorial culture at DC under Mr. DiDio?

I think there's evidence in support of those who would use the phrase "Editorial Chaos."

Here's one of the most promoted New 52 creators Rob Liefeld talking about why he left DC in 2012: "Massive indecision, last minute and I mean LAST minute changes that alter everything. Editor pissing contests… No thxnjs."

Or there was the time that DC editorial in New York "stepped in" to alter a comic handled by DC Entertainment in California -- after its contents had been promoted in TV Guide, which was reported by Wired.  

Or there was a report in April 2014 of Mr. DiDio stating at a retailer summit that he couldn't tell them about a September event because "only about half the teams have been confirmed" at that late date, adding also that a 3d cover promotion from the year before had lead to DC destroying "125,000 copies due to blurry proofs and some had cover dimples due to heating issues in production." Long-time readers might remember an article written by Brian Hibbs covering that 3d cover situation -- an article entitled "The staggeringly epic incompetence of DC Entertainment."

Or consider this paragraph from an otherwise satirical March 2013 Outhousers article:

"DC Comics has had a rough week. The beleaguered publisher came under fire on Wednesday when news broke that Andy Diggle was walking off the creative team of Action Comics on the same day previews of his run were published in DC's weekly comics. Series artist Tony Daniel was announced as his replacement, but Daniel had to find out via Facebook post. Joshua Hale Fialkov walked off his job as writer of Green Lantern Corps and Red Lantern the same day, and it later came out that he did it because DC was planning to kill prominent black Green Lantern John Stewart. "

That was all in one week!

Want to know the funny thing about that week in March 2013? It was a month after a February 2013 article from Bleeding Cool entitled "Did Dan DiDio apologise to DC Creators?":

"Before the recent top-secret DC creative summit, Bleeding Cool ran a suggestion box, printing suggestions from actual DC comic creators about how they’d like to see things change. Whether it was because of that list, or because of those sentiments also being expressed face-to-face, I don’t know. But I’m told that at the summit, Publisher Dan DiDio apologised to creators gathered around. With President Diane Nelson to his side, DiDio admitted that there had been problems in the editorial chain, apologised for the repeated back-and-forths on people’s scripts and art, and committed to reducing such editorial inputs once an editorial direction has been agreed upon and approved."

All that chaos was after Dan DiDio had quote-unquote "apologized"!

You might know that Mr. DiDio and Ms. Nelson both recently attended another summit quite recently, at least again according to the Outhousers:

"After a widely expressed belief that the company failed to properly handle sexual harassment complaints and instead discouraged victims and witnesses from speaking out, DC Comics has released a short statement to Comic Book Resources. [...] The statement followed an "all staff" meeting Friday led by DC Entertainment head Diane Nelson about sexual harassment."

Question: How many summits does Dan DiDio have to have with the employees he's failed?

Question: How many summits could be avoided with another manager in his place, one actually suited to lead people?

Remember that suggestion box Bleeding Cool mentioned in 2013?  One suggestion stands out:

"It is okay for someone other than Dan DiDio to have an idea. 52 books means 52 writers have been hired to write 52 books every month. That is a huge creative pool to draw from. So why does every idea have to get bottle necked through one man?"

Here, we can see first-hand evidence of DC in 2013: a creative person anonymously observing editorial dysfunction -- editorial dysfunction that Mr. DiDio not only tolerated but was apparently personally responsible for.

FACTOR 2 -- Be a Visionary

First Point:

How do we evaluate whether someone in charge of content is a visionary? I think the answer has to be based upon the talent they work with. If Mr. DiDio is a visionary, one would expect that he would attract to DC the visionary talent that would drive DC into a new era.

So: what about Mr. DiDio's relationship with the creative personnel of comics-- the quote-unquote "star" members of creative teams that arguably can drive audiences to their books by virtue of their names and personal brands?

Here, the first example of Mr. DiDio's reputation that first springs to mind is his work on 52, a weekly series that fans received warmly and indeed, would serve as a model for multiple weekly or "bi-weekly" DC projects thereafter.

Except listen to how 52 co-creator Mark Waid describes Mr. DiDio's involvement on that project in 2009:

"The biggest challenge was actually, wisely, kept from us by Steve. EIC Dan DiDio, who first championed the concept, hated what we were doing. H-A-T-E-D 52. Would storm up and down the halls telling everyone how much he hated it. And Steve, God bless him, kept us out of the loop on that particular drama. Siglain, having less seniority, was less able to do so, and there’s one issue of 52 near the end that was written almost totally by Dan and Keith Giffen because none of the writers could plot it to Dan’s satisfaction. Which was and is his prerogative as EIC, but man, there’s little more demoralizing than taking the ball down to the one-yard line and then being benched by the guy who kept referring to COUNTDOWN as ‘52 done right.’"

Mark Waid currently writes the Avengers for Marvel-- one of its highest profile titles.

Mr. Waid also has 84.1 thousand twitter followers. By comparison, Mr. DiDio has no twitter account because he cancelled his, (perhaps coincidentally) after it became clear DC had "allegedly" maintained a sexually hostile work environment.

Or there was Paul Jenkins in 2013:

"DC is in the toilet right now. [...] Suffice it to say that the fans are not getting the creators in these books – they are getting an unpalatable product, which is destroyed by editorial interference perpetrated by unqualified project managers."

Paul Jenkins was the author of an Inhumans run that would have likely been the model had Marvel gone forward with a planned Inhumans movie.

Here's a key point that I hope is clear: comic creators prefer to be silent when something has gone wrong, and to simply talk among themselves as to that situation.  No one wants to stick their neck out.  So when we see people still manage to say that things have gone wrong at DC-- we are only ever seeing the tip of a very dysfunctional iceberg. We are seeing truly strange weather.  That anything is being said at all is remarkable.

Second Point:

Subsequent to 2004, among fans, my own personal observation as a comic blogging weirdo with some level of communication and observation of the fanbase? It has been that fans have felt like the talent has been more at Marvel than at DC, that Marvel had the "deeper bench," and that Marvel, far more than DC, was a route to being a "Bigger name" in comics for a comics writer than DC.

Who have been the big name authors under Mr. DiDio's regime at DC? Scott Snyder. Grant Morrison. Geoff Johns (though arguably an equal or superior to DiDio in the corporate hierarchy and thus "doesn't count"). Gail Simone. Those four names come to mind first, for me, at least.

By comparison, just going through some of the "big name" writing talent on the Image Comics website-- just writing talent:

  • Robert Kirkman-- also worked with Marvel, arguably most famous writer in mainstream comics right now, god help us;
  • Mark Millar-- also worked with Marvel, poor relationship with DC;
  • Ed Brubaker-- also worked with Marvel;
  • Kieron Gillen-- also worked with Marvel;
  • Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick-- both also worked with Marvel;
  • Ales Kot-- except for a couple issues of Suicide Squad, mostly worked with Marvel;
  • Brian Wood-- sex monster;
  • Marjorie Liu- also worked with Marvel;
  • Rick Remender-- also worked with Marvel
  • Jonathan Hickman-- also worked with Marvel;
  • Warren Ellis-- also worked with Marvel;
  • Nick Spencer-- after a brief stint at DC, has worked with Marvel;
  • Jason Aaron-- picked out of a submission pile at DC, but still mostly worked with Marvel and the guy who picked him out of the submission pile is gone instead of DiDio or the guy who "allegedly" grabs at creator's girlfriends.

That's at least 13 names, not counting Brian Wood-- more than three times as many!

These are just off-the-top-of-my-head names, back of the envelope math. Sure, there are people we could argue over, debate whether or not they are "stars". We can argue over Charles Soule or that Tom King guy, I guess. But I don't think that would result in a significant change in numbers unless you got desperate and started yelling that Jeff Lemire's a "star" to someone somewhere.  (And I think he might be at Marvel now, too...?).

Or yes, there are people hard to classify: Kurt Busiek-- worked for everybody; is beloved. Brian Vaughan-- worked at DC... but at Vertigo, which was run by Karen Berger; his big superhero comics were at Marvel. But I also ignored all the people who just work for Marvel, e.g. Brian Michael Bendis, or, uh, Ta-Nehisi Coates(?). DC does not have talent of their equivalent fame in its line-up.

Look: this is not to say DC didn't work with talented people in recent years. Your pal-in-comics Graeme over at the Wait What podcast has had nice things to say about Rob Williams or Genevieve Valentine or others, say. (I thought Valentine had some moves-- didn't keep working for DC). But DC has arguably not been the route to fortune and glory during Mr. DiDio's tenure, not as compared to a comparable gig at Marvel Comics.

Consider G. Willow Wilson-- worked at DC on a Vixen limited series, a Vertigo series, a smattering of DC titles. But fortune and glory? From the outside at least, it seemed like that's been generated far more off her work for Marvel, and her contributions there reaching their audience far more than was true at DC.

Can we really say that's meaningless? And can we really say Mr. DiDio has no responsibility, zero, zilch over that state of affairs?  Would you actually try to tell me that Marvel just "got lucky"? That would all simply to defy common sense.

And final note on this point: Gail Simone? On at least one occasion, during Mr. DiDio's leadership, Ms. Simone was fired off a Batgirl series that was "performing well" -- by e-mail. Treatment Ms. Simone then described as "baffling and sad." If Baffling and Sad is how DC under Mr. DiDio's supervision has treated its stars, is it surprising he can't attract more of them?

Third Point:

Eagle-eyed readers will notice the one name I have left off that list is Greg Rucka, a writer whose recent return to DC Comics generated significant buzz.

But Rucka present a curious case. Here he is in 2012, edited for your patience:

"I gave seven very good years to DC and they took gross advantage of me. That’s partially my fault, but not entirely. At this point, I see no reason why I should have to put up with that, I can sink or swim on my own. [...]There was at least a period where I felt that the way they wanted to make money was by telling the best story they could; now the quality of the work matters less than that the book comes out. There is far less a desire to see good work be done.

Dan DiDio has gone on record, and this is the same man that said Gotham Central would never be cancelled as long as he was there, telling people what a great book Gotham Central was, but it never made any money. Well, take a look at your trade sales! That book has made nothing but money as a trade. What I’m now being told is, ”lt was never worth anything to us anyway.”So, you know what? They can stop selling the Batwoman: Elegy trade and stop selling the Wonder Woman trades and everything else I’ve done, because clearly I’ve not done anything of service and those guys aren’t making any money off me."

This is DC's highest profile writer, at the moment. 

Fourth Point:

"But wait wait wait," I hear you say-- "Maybe it's not a question of whether DC has failed to attract strong creators.  Maybe Marvel and Image are just doing a very good job at attracting talent, and DC has had to compete but done a good job in light of that competition."

Except: then that raises a pertinent question-- has DC under Mr. DiDio had practices in place that would actively keep star talent from wanting to work there, or impaired its ability to break new talent?

Arguably yes.  

"Even besides allegedly keeping around editors who will thrust their tongues down your girlfriend's throat right in front of you?"

Again, arguably yes.  Actual editorial practices.

Consider Greg Rucka's new role on Wonder Woman-- (1) a job he "allegedly" took on the condition that he not have to work for a perpetrator of sexual harassment whom Mr. DiDio has protected and (2) a job that he "allegedly" got after DC had promised the work to a female writer... and then took it away from her at the last minute.

This is a story we've heard time and again about the modern DC under Dan DiDio. Creative teams simultaneously working on pitches, not knowing that they were competing with other people for jobs. Consider just this recent February 2016 article from Bleeidng Cool, entitled "DC Comics Rebirth: What Happened to the Old DC Comics Pitches?":

It’s a hard time pitching at DC Comics right now. Everyone’s at it, everyone’s in competition with each other – even those who don’t know they’re in competition with anyone.[..] “Tumultuous” is the word I’ve have heard used. And its not just an issue for DC Comics. As a result of the upheaval and unsureity, record numbers of comic book professionals have been contacting editors at Marvel Comics, and publisher of Image Comics Eric Stephenson than ever before…

Or consider writer Warren Ellis in 2011:

"I’m hearing a lot lately about writers being put into foot races on gigs. And not only do they not know who else is running for the job – but many of them seem not to be told they’re in a foot race at all. Writers who assumed they were writing the gig are being told that they never had the gig at all, that other writers have been run parallel to them. Even though they were put through multiple drafts. They didn’t know they were in competition.

[...] They are finding new and interesting ways to piss off more people than they’re hiring. Now, comics has no shortage of resentful people – but do you really want to create exponentially more? People who can identify the exact individuals who fucked them over, and wait?

Commercial comics can be enough of a snakepit even in relatively benign times. But bringing back a process both demeaning and creatively inferior, and just fucking lying to people about it? I don’t like what that says about the next cycle in the field. I guess the Nineties really are coming back.


At relevant times, DC under Mr. DiDio has apparently utilized practices condemned by the top talent in comics. If we ask why DC does not have stronger relationships with the talent in comics, how can we start our blame with anyone other than Mr. DiDio?

Fifth Point:

This one is a little theory I have -- that there's a fun game that I imagine comic creators like to play called "What's it going to be like when I get older?" My theory is that comic creators likely want answers to that question that aren't terrifying-- and for that reason, I imagine they pay close attention to how veteran talent is treated, how loyal DC artists are treated, so as to imagine how they themselves might be treated someday if they work hard for DC.

How'd veterans make out under Mr. DiDio's watch?

Listen to Kevin Maguire-- an artist I've associated with what makes DC Comics great, my entire goddamn life-- in August 2013:

"I think I was just fired. [...] I don't know what there is to get in front of. I don't know what's going on. This morning I had something to work on and now I don't. Right now, my primary concern is to have something to do starting tomorrow that pays the bills."

Mr. Maguire ultimately did do something "tomorrow." He started working for Marvel on a high-profile Guardians of the Galaxy comic written by Brian Michael Bendis. "Not good enough" for the DiDio regime turned out to be plenty fine for one of the most high-profile creators in comics at DC's competitor.

Theoretically, I imagine this served as a lesson to others-- loyalty and effort at DC are not rewarded. At least, not under Mr. DiDio. Again, ask yourself: would you expect someone with that on their track record to be able to attract real star talent?

Sixth Point:

Does this argument overstate the importance of the creative people in comics? DC has Batman-- does it matter who writes it? Many charts can be shown suggesting that for the most part, perhaps it doesn't.

I would argue with those charts, however, based upon a movie I saw recently entitled Captain America: Civil War.

Sure, some would say that movie was based upon a crossover, the kind of crossover that Mr. DiDio made comics safe again for; that Civil War was Marvel's response to the Infinite Crisis crossover and side crossovers that Mr. DiDio would point to as one of his big successes in comics.  

But that would ignore what that movie seemed far more to evidence, which is how much the movies have taken inspiration from the contributions of a few key creative people at Marvel, at the right place, at the right time, at a company that understood the value of their contributions. People remember Civil War not because it's a crossover-- no one fondly remembers Secret Invasion or Siege the way they do Civil War. No, Civil War seems to me far more a Mark Millar comic, a Millar comic through and through, thematically, in terms of how he thinks about character, in terms of how he thinks about what appeals to audiences commercially. Hollywood has successfully made movies of a half-dozen Mark Millar comics now, so that hardly seems coincidental. And the Avengers in that movie? Unmistakably inspired by his Ultimates run.

And of course, the movie people didn't stick to Millar's work-- no, they refocused Civil War to address... the Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker's key contribution to the Marvel "lore." The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is impossible to imagine without Ed Brubaker-- a DC writer who left for Marvel, and I will note here the co-creator of Gotham Central.

You can see the other co-creator talking above about how he felt about Mr. DiDio.

Plus, various movie studio's relationship with Brian Michael Bendis is well-settled. Amy Pascal or whoever would consult with him on decisions. Indeed, I would say the casting of Marisa Tomei in Civil War as a foxy Aunt May, one of the more charming aspects of that movie, in all material respects took its cues from his Ultimate Spiderman run.

The Marvel movies and their success have all found some inspiration from "big storylines" from relatively recent comics. Relatively recent comics matter. The people who work on them matter. The argument that comics are a test lab for the movies can actually be seen with these movies, to some extent.  This will especially be true if they actually make a Captain Marvel movie, which would be astonishing-- a multi-million movie that could only be explained because of Kelly Sue Deconnick's work.

But DC Entertainment...?

If DC drew inspiration for its recent Batman vs. Superman movie (which I have not seen)... well, no one seems eager to claim that credit, given the fact that-- like Mr. DiDio's career-- that movie's reception can only be described as "contentious".

What comics under DiDio's watch could be used to make a movie franchise? Final Crisis-- a comic about Superman singing evil away? And: why does DC constantly aim at contentious when Marvel is so profitable when it aims to please its fans?  

If this is the arena modern comics have to be judged in (and let's set aside temporarily our fan horror for that fact), what exactly would anyone point to in order to call Dan DiDio a success? If it's DC's success in television, I suppose you would be referring to Gotham and its relationship to Gotham Central. But even there, again see above re: how one co-creator of Gotham Central previously felt about how his work was handled by Mr. DiDio, and how the other co-creator was allowed to leave the company under Mr. DiDio's watch to go make valuable contributions to DC's competitors.

Seventh Point:

This section has so far focused on DC's relationship with comics' creative community, based upon the premise that creative people are the true drivers of vision in comics, that a strong relationships with those individuals will lead to visionary comics, that a manager's relationships is evidence of his vision, etc.

An important point: we have points of comparison to Mr. DiDio.

Consider Axel Alonso. Consider Eric Stephenson. I've made fun of both individuals in the past, as is my pattern and practice, being a basically shitty person, and I hopefully will again in the future because it's fun, it makes me laugh, and fuck their feelings. But still! Stephenson arguably has a vision of comics that he is able to articulate for others, while Alonso plainly has enjoyed an exceptionally strong relationship with comics' creative community for years, reflecting a degree of taste and an ability to identify talent that should never be underestimated.

Neither has ever even remotely inspired that I write something like this piece about them.

When we compare Dan DiDio to his equivalents at Image or Marvel, I can not imagine a person who would argue he would fare well in that comparison. As set forth above, I do not think he remotely compares to Mr. Alonso where the talent is concerned. As for articulating a vision of comics ala Mr. Stephenson, reasonable minds can differ but for me, at least, the vision Dan DiDio has consistently articulated in comics has always been a profoundly backwards looking one not worth pursuing.

Mr. DiDio's frequent pitch has been that comics are a Wednesday activity, and that he wants going to a comic store on a Wednesday to be the most exciting thing for Wednesday fans -- hence, requiring a top-down editorial approach that constantly excites fans with events, rebirths, reboots, etc.

He has articulated this vision despite (a) the explosive growth of the digital market, (b) the flourishing of the trade market, (c) a historic new potential audience coming into comics thank to an unprecedented level of outside media attention on superhero properties, and (d) social media that more than ever puts fans directly into contact with creative talent. Each of these developments has plainly evidenced for anyone paying attention that there is a future growth potential that exists in addition to the Wednesday crowd.

If you can find a bookstore, if one still exists in your post-apocalyptic vicinity, go look at the comics being sold on the shelves there in the children's section. Title after title for children, few if any from DC-- that space belongs far more to Scholastic. Growth areas for comics have been ignored by DC while Mr. DiDio has seemed to single-mindedly pursue only one small segement of the audience instead -- and now as a result, that space is owned by Ms. Raina Taglemeier instead, who rules it with an iron fist, that she keeps in a dirty bag, filled with rusty nails, that she hits people with, when will someone stop her too.

"Oh, but it's not like Mr. DiDio has ignored that growth area on purpose, has he?"  

No, no, no -- well, not unless you believe Eisner winning creator Paul Pope who stated in 2013:

"Batman did pretty well, so I sat down with the head of DC Comics. I really wanted to do Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth], this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch … and he said, ‘You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don’t publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year-olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do Scooby-Doo. And I thought, ‘I guess we just broke up."

Paul Pope went on to create Battling Boy... a comic quickly optioned by Brad Pitt, who despite being 52 years old, saw more merit in Pope's vision for comics than anything Mr. DiDio had for sale.

Eighth point:

Mr. DiDio's lack of vision for the company can perhaps be seen most starkly in the systematic dismantlement of the Vertigo line under his tenure.

Mr. DiDio's statements on Vertigo, to the New York Times?

"[It's] myopic [to believe] that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead. [...] That’s not what we’re in the business for. We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible."

AMC is about to launch a television show based upon PREACHER-- a series inconceivable if not for Vertigo's prominence in the 1990's, prior to Mr. DiDio's arrival on the scene.  

Mr. DiDio believes that the publishing imprint that lead to that television show was and is "myopic."  How can DC Entertainment expect a person with that worldview to move the company into a future where comics and other media are more related than ever, when he so plainly and astonishingly does not understand the successful properties, imprints and creative relationships under his charge?

Are there other comics being published right now that could someday be turned into a TV show, as PREACHER has been? Sure-- the only problem for Mr. DiDio and for DC Entertainment being that right now, they're all being published by Image Comics.

FACTOR 3 -- Be a Good Communicator

First Point:

Obviously, if comics sites are running articles with headlines like "Why are we still complaining about" a guy, that guy has a PR problem. PR problems he is helpless to address-- it seems as though they got so bad he even had to cancel his twitter account!

Bad PR bespeaks bad communication.

Second Point:

How would we describe Dan DiDio's relationship with fans?

Here, I'm reminded of his antics during the launch of the New 52-- the launch of one of DC's most important and challenging publishing initiatives in decades. One where his communication skills needed to be at their very peak.

But consider his actual conduct, as described by this article from 2011:

In the opening minutes of DC’s very first daily “New 52″ panel at the San Diego Comic-Con last Thursday, when Co-Publisher Dan DiDio turned to the audience and asked what DC would have to do to change the minds of those skittish about the impending relaunch, one man yelled “Hire women!” [..] DiDio’s response was to turn the question back on the questioner and ask him whom he thinks DC should hire. [..] Things sure sound more heated than just a matter of tossing the question back to the audience. DiDio repeatedly asks the audience member what the statistics he cited mean to him, and his call for names of female creators DC should have hired sounds less like a request and more like a challenge, as he says “tell me right now” over the audience member’s seemingly struggling attempts to respond.

You can hear that exchange here yourself-- Dan DiDio plainly and heatedly brow-beating a fan, just for asking about DC's exciting new publishing initiative! A fan asked a basic question that was met with hostility.

(And good lord, if that's how he talks to fans in public, what is he saying to people when audio recordings aren't being done? What is he saying to his co-workers who challenge his thinking behind closed doors? How is he speaking to people who try to report sexual harassment or other HR issues to him?  Our thinking only improves when it is tested-- and here we can hear Mr. DiDio's reaction to the most simple of tests faced by anyone in a sales position: speaking to a consumer).

Mr. DiDio reportedly has a temper-- that Liefeld article above notes his reputation for being "hot-headed". And again, keep in mind-- this is fucking comics. Almost everyone in comics has the exact same public persona which is "Awww, shucks, we just love comics -- we're big fans of Love & Rockets-- here's a superhero comic instead though." The only people who don't have that public persona are, like, people who smoked a marijuana cigarette once and they get to be "The Visionary Drug Shaman of Comics." Those are your two choices in comics for public personae. Not temper! Batman's the angriest superhero in comics and he just punches a clown that keeps getting back up after you punch the clown-- that's literally a toy I had when I was an infant. How the hell do you get a reputation for having a temper in comics??

There is really not much to be all that angry about with comics except, like, oh, geez, I don't know, editors sexually harassing people and ... well, gee, I guess that's a bad example where DC Comics is concerned right now. Because "allegations" would suggest he and DC have never been angry enough about that.

Third point:

It is well-settled that there is a growing female demographic in the comics audience, and that this demographic will become increasingly important to comics publishers in the years ahead.

However, Mr. DiDio seems ill-equipped to have meaningful dialogues with those people given his history. Here, I refer not only to DC's "alleged" protection of editors prone to sexual harassment, but also just his history with the characters themselves.

Consider Dylan Horrocks describing the death of Stephanie Brown, a Batman supporting character killed on a book Mr. DiDio apparently oversaw:

"It was one of the most depressing weeks of my life, because we basically spent the whole week in this horrible office planning how to kill this poor teenage girl who I really liked, I thought she was a great character[.] It was really seedy, and I think about two days into it, I basically said look, I don’t want… because they planned this big long torture scene, I said I don’t want to really have anything to do with that. [..]"

That story decision ended up becoming a multi-year michigas between DC and its fans, too complicated to recount here, but one certainly passionately felt by fans. Marvel has recently had a string of successes capitalizing on female characters that their fanbase flocked to, most notably with Spider-Gwen. DC by comparison, under Mr. DiDio, was given its own chance at a potential fan favorite character with Stephanie Brown, but instead turned that character into one that DiDio's DC would describe in July 2012 as "toxic" -- leading Wired to state "By ignoring these potential new customers, DC is leaving money on the table."

Consider the origin of Identity Crisis, another project that Mr. DiDio would probably point to as one of his success stories -- a project that one of its assistant editors publicized (in articles now removed from the Internet) was spawned by Mr. DiDio stating "We need a rape."

Even if you could argue that Mr. DiDio's decisions were correct ones for the past, is this the person who going forward can deliver comics' growing female fanbase to DC? Would the person responsible for these kinds of decisions be the person who you'd want communicating to the press, etc., on comics intended for women, an increasingly significant demographic in comics? 

Fourth point:

But I hear your counter-argument:  "Why does all this girl stuff matter? Oh no, he bungled a social justice issue-- boo hoo, SJWs.  Take a girl-hate pill and join us on Reddit."

This matters because whatever you may feel about internet activists-- and I am irritated by them myself sometimes-- sometimes things will go wrong enough that it will attract the attention of outside media, and therefore potentially affect the public conversation around the company. That is the nature of our online media at the moment.

In those situations, what kind of person do you want around speaking for your team?

In September 2013, there was a controversy because JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman left the Batwoman comic due to the kinds of editorial interference that we've heard about so much during Mr. DiDio's time at DC:

"DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series; [...], most crushingly, [we were] prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end."

This lead to coverage in the media-- the Huffington Post's headline was "Batwoman Authors Exit, Claim DC Comics Banned Gay Marriage Storyline" while Gizmodo's headline was "DC forbids Batwoman's Gay Marriage, Creative Team Leaves."

This was a time where great communication was called for.

Enter instead: Dan DiDio.

After one retailer noted "It's just another high profile walk off, causing frustration with customers. Was getting texts... within minutes from customers. Added to the 3d cover allocation being way worse than we were told. Rough month," Mr. DiDio's response was "let your sales rep know. They are working to help with allocation problems."

When the same retailer noted that "this is the 5th creative team off a book since you told me they were all stable through the end of the year at the retailer meeting in LA", Mr. DiDio responded "so you're saying we are never allowed to change another team again? Really?"

Mr. DiDio simply sounded and sounds unequipped to address people's concerns.

Even if you think people have illegitimate concerns, is the proper way to respond to be combative or communicative? Once again, consistent with his history, Mr. DiDio chose to be combative.

Or consider Mr. DiDio's most recent public statement-- a eulogy for a DC artist where he stated the following:

"He was both compassionate and combative, approaching everything he did with a tenaciousness and temerity that is now unheard of in a world afraid to offend."

Question: is it really a good idea to talk about how people are "afraid to offend" when you're mired in a sex harassment controversy? When did comics people get "afraid to offend" people -- after Eddie Berganza "allegedly" sexually harassed women culminating in 2010 complaints, or after he "allegedly" "harassed" a woman in front of her boyfriend in 2012? Did DC editors get afraid to offend before or after they "allegedly" tried to date-rape a girl in a hotel room in 2015?

And what in the pluperfect hell would DC look like if they weren't so gosh-darned afraid to offend us-- Sodom or Gomorrah???

I would fail at a job which required people skills-- I obviously have none. And for that reason, I selected a job which keeps me in an office, behind a desk. And except for the part where my soul is a little more dead every day, that's working out so far-- business is booming. But co-publisher of the company that publishes Superman? I could not do that job. That is a job that very obviously and on the brochure requires people skills. A lot of people skills.

That's bad math for Mr. DiDio and it's bad math for anyone advocating on his behalf.

FACTOR 4 -- Put Employee Needs First

The mainstream comics industry relies on its freelancers. It relies on people who like comics so much that they work themselves raw for very little reward. The editors select from those people, the audience reacts to what the talent bring to beloved characters, and adjustments are then made-- if the audience is happy, and the talent is engaged, a book continues; if not, the editor can choose a different creative team.

But there is one thing that I think has long been understood to disrupt this process: when editors gave themselves jobs as writers.

Indeed, my own recollection is that other publishers maybe have even had long-standing rules in place to prevent that from taking place. (Doesn't Marvel have a policy like that?)

Why? Why is it so bad?

Because comics' freelance talent shouldn't be competing with the editorial talent for work!

Imagine just the effect on morale, alone. There are only so many slots open in comics-- so many comics published, so much promotion going around, so many names an audience can remember. When editors seize that limited space, limited attention, limited promotion for themselves, what freelancer could be happy?

Plus, common sense alone just tells you that involving editorial staff in creative work will disrupt the key function of that staff: making adjustments to respond to audience demand. Who does that when the writer is a high-level editor? Who risks their career on behalf of little things like the audience? This too seems like a sound reason to have a policy insuring a wall between editorial and creative.

Has Mr. DiDio respected this common sense "separation of church and state" while working at DC?

Emphatically no! Mr. DiDio has styled himself a writer countless times over, effectively being hired by the company he has run -- seemingly thinking he can do a better job than the talented writers who are being scooped up by his competitors, while he dazzles himself with his meager talents.

Is Mr. DiDio some kind of greater writer? Will the world be deprived if he is kept from writing?

Here is a review from 2010 of one of his comics from fan-site Scans-Daily entitled "DiDio sinks to a New Low???":

"When an internet message board troll who has practically made DiDio-bashing a profession gets written into a DC Comics issue to be beaten and embarrassed, I think the people who published that product should be more ashamed than the target. [...] A shot at a message board poster who obsesses over D-level and lesser characters on the 'net, with the user name of Herald. Who happens to be black just like the character in the book. [...]Sadly, if you remove this thinly veiled shot at a reader from the equation, the writing involved in making this "Harold Winer" character is even worse. But the thought process behind actually using 5 pages (and possibly more to come) to take a shot at a hater is just impossible for me to come to grips with."

Consider Wednesday Comics. A notable artistic effort by DC, utilizing its most prominent talent (some of the most famous creators it has ever worked with) on a special format project that could promote DC characters to comics audiences. What a line-up of talent! Neil Gaiman! Walt Simonson! Dave Gibbons! Paul Pope! Kyle Baker!

And Dan DiDio!  

A slot in a valuable real estate that could have broken new writers, or focused attention on deserving but less prominent DC writers-- that slot was surrendered instead to Mr. DiDio. It's not enough to write comics picking fights with internet trolls.  Mr. Didio needed to equate himself with a lineup of comic all-stars--  he needed to have equal billing on a comic as Neil Gaiman!-- a position he had never earned for himself through his creative work as they had.

How can it be surprising to anyone when the announcement of DC Rebirth's creative teams is described as underwhelming? How can it be surprising to anyone to learn that exciting new talent are consistently more eager to work with DC's competitors? What creative person wants a boss who is a suit that thinks they know how to do their job better than them?  

Editors are extraordinarily valuable members of a comic's creative team. But no one has ever bought a comic because of who the editor is. Mr. DiDio has delusions of grandeur, and this speaks ill of any argument that he has placed the needs of creators before his own.

FACTOR 5 -- Do Something Special

First Point:

It would be a mistake not to acknowledge that there have been commercial successes at DC during Mr. DiDio's tenure there: Geoff Johns's Green Lantern run (and it's various crossovers, e.g. Blackest Night), the hoopla surrounding the Infinite Crisis crossover, that Identity Crisis superhero rape comic moved some copies, New Frontier, All Star Superman (and perhaps Morrison's other projects like 7 Soldiers), Scott Snyder's well-received Batman run, Sandman Overture, or those initial sales numbers on the New 52 books.

(Bizarrely, in 2012, Mr. DiDio ran a list of the top ten highlights of his years at DC on Facebook-- the item he listed first was BATMAN: HUSH-- a comic he acknowledged he didn't initiate: "Work on this incredible run by Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb was started before I joined DC Comics but came out my first year there." His #1 highlight was someone else's project...? Uhhh, but okay, and I guess let's acknowledge Hush).

Even if DC is a broken machine, it is still DC-- the characters are strong.

(Sure: DC's hits can be tracked to a frighteningly small number of people-- i.e., take out Geoff Johns, and that list shrinks considerably, a problem DC will likely soon face going forward given his recent promotion-- but hits are hits.  And: It's hard to say how much of DC's successes can be attributed to Mr. DiDio -- Jim Lee is riding shotgun, and people generally seem to like that guy quite a bit..)

But let's just give some credit to Mr. DiDio so this isn't completely one-sided.  

Second Point:


First, in obtaining his successes in various crossovers (Blackest Night, Infinite Crisis, etc.), Dan DiDio reoriented DC (and arguably mainstream comics) and its fans to an event-based model, rather than the story-based model where Marvel was seeing its big successes in the early 00's (i.e. the years that saw Millar, Brubaker and Bendis's contributions that have proven so valuable to the movie folks).

The problem with an event-based model in comics is it tells fans that certain books "matter", and the rest don't.

Comic fans shop accordingly.

I would further argue this has been exacerbated by how DC has handled its events. Whereas at least prior to its most recent Secret Wars crossover, Marvel engaged in a strategy of reassuring fans that the books they read "mattered", and contributed to a coherent line-wide continuity, DC has confusingly engaged in multiple crossovers with the opposite message: After Infinite Crisis, there would be confusing changes to continuity because Superboy punched some sort of time wall. After Flashpoint, every single comic that fans had ever read before was gone from continuity-- except ones that kind of weren't because they were popular.  Good luck figuring out which those were, or how that worked. Indeed, when DC Rebirth was first rumored to exist, fans could be seen online assuming "here we go again, another reboot."

The Wednesday fans that Mr. DiDio has identified as being so critical to DC's future have been told not just that some of the comics they read don't matter (which sounds like a bad idea), but that ALL of the comics they read potentially don't "matter" (which sounds like a fucking disaster).

Here's a chart from Todd Allen writing for the Comics Beat in 2012-- a year after the new 52 launched-- the chart is a "Sales band":

100K+: 2 80-89K: 2 70-79K: 2 60-69K: 5 50-59K: 8 40-49K: 8 30-39K: 11 20-29K: 12 10-19K: 22

We see a small handful of "important" titles, and then the rest of the line is clustered at the bottom of the chart, with nearly half the comics DC published having little reason to exist.

Retailer Brian Hibbs reacting to that chart in 2012:

"What's needed now are firm hands on the rudder of the "big two" designed to steer their courses away from the shoals of irrelevancy that they are current steaming the truest value of their universes towards." (I like "shoals of irrelevancy").

Here's is Brian in 2014, maybe taken a little out of context:

"I'm genuinely starting to get worried about the extent of how our largest partners are manipulating the solicitation process, and what the ramifications are -- every month I get a little more concerned that we're edging toward another crash of the market."

Here's Brian in March 2015 talking about DC's Convergence event:

"Two months worth of comics, 11 books a week, absolutely zero valid and contemporary sales data on most of it, and the entire thing has to be ordered before we have any idea of how much it could sell. And we don't have any of our normal dependable revenue. [...] Our initial preorders were horrible -- with most of the minis only getting a single- or two-copy commitment from the body of subs, which is just terrible. I ordered most of the first issues at just five copies each as a result of that anemic response, and, since I don't think that I want to have any copies of these in my stores starting on 5/31, as the June solicits don't sound like any of them have any follow-up of any kind."

And here's Brian in December 2015, four years after the launch of the New 52 line that was supposed to re-attract lapsed Wednesday readers back into the DC fold:

[I]t was clear that many customers were getting tired of the "New 52" (DC's line-wide reboot from 2011) -- despite massive initial success with the New 52, large swathes of the audience were already starting to walk away, and "Convergence," the publishing stunt designed to fill that two-month hole, proved to be a great "jumping off" point. DC came back in June with "DC You," an initiative that launched 21 new series, meant to spotlight character and creator diversity and refresh the line, and to embrace a new, younger audience that many retailers can tell you is actually out there. But "DC You" isn't connecting with this new readership. Kind of at all: On the October sales charts, which represents the fifth issues of the initiative, only two of the 21 titles have sales over 30,000 copies (very roughly the sales level where companies with big overhead start cancelling books for lack of sales), and a staggering ten titles are selling under twenty thousand copies, which marks nearly half the initiative as an abject failure. At the same time, the changes to the core titles ("Batman," "Superman," etc.) appear to show the stalwart characters bleeding readers, and even the hail-mary for DC periodicals, the weekly series "Batman and Robin Eternal," is only selling at the end of its first month about where the previous series ended up. DC might be able to steal a bunch of marketshare with "Dark Knight III," but their core product and core market is clearly in big trouble right now.

And here's Brian in March 2016:

"I have to give DC a lot of props for standing up and taking a pretty serious grilling from the ComicsPRO retailers -- Dan DiDio and Jim Lee were as candid as a publisher ever can be to what I would characterize as a mildly unfriendly audience, in the face of the post-"Convergence" crash of DC. [...] [DC's current plans have] mechanical flaws.[...] In 2016, publishers have deeply alienated most of the core collector's market that used to be depended on buying most if not all of their output, while the "new" audience isn't looking to buy a universe of comics. [..] It isn't clear to me that DC has editors any longer who truly "get" the core of the characters, or, for that matter, what it is that the reading public actually wants".

Things never go wrong right away.  Bad decisions take a while to sink in.  When will it sink in with DC Entertainment that it does not have the "firm hand on the rudder" in its comics department that it needed in 2012, and that it continues to desperately, desperately need?   

Third point:

Some things like the New 52 are once in a generation type moves. Moves you can't pull every month because the point of the move is the promotional value, the novelty, how you can sell them. You can't sell "we're blowing up our universe" every year because then you don't have a superhero universe anymore-- you just have a mine shaft.

I would argue that a classic and archetypal example of how Mr. DiDio is not suited for these kinds of events is the Death of Batman.

The Batman's been "killed" before, in numerous old comics. But if your event is killing Batman, you have to do it right. It has to be well-handled. The media attention will be significant. Outside audiences will become curious. The story will create possibilities for other characters to generate buzz around themselves that can be ridden out for years.

Consider the Death of Superman -- massive sales, plus DC managed to launch at least two spin-offs from that event, in Superboy and Steel, both of which lasted a significant time, with Steel leading to a movie.  (I don't remember why they didn't make an Eradicator series-- missed opportunity).

Consider the Death of Captain America-- significant attention; significant sales; a post-death run by Ed Brubaker that I remember being warmly received by fans; further hype around the Winter Soldier character who later had his own spin-off title at various points in time since then; plus, they could then sell the "Return of Captain America" as a separate miniseries.

Then, consider the Death of Batman, under Mr. DiDio.

First of all, how was Batman killed? Superman was killed by Doomsday. Captain America was shot by Sharon Carter. Simple. Clean.  Easy to explain to the potential audience.  But Batman?  Batman was killed after he crashed in a helicopter, survived the crash, swam to shore, went to fight Darkseid, and then got hit by an Omega Beam that sent him back in time, never actually dying.  


Second, consider what we know about sales. Batman #681-- the death of Batman-- had initial orders of 103,151 copies. That same month, it was out-sold (at least in initial orders)  by Ultimatum #1, a comic about a heavy rainstorm in the Ultimate Universe, a spin-off continuity that was later cancelled due to lack of reader interest. The Death of Batman may have gotten outsold by a comic apparently where "the Thing attempts to hold off a blue whale that crashes into [a] building."

Wouldn't that seem to suggest something went sideways?!

Third, what characters came out bolstered by the event? What side benefits were had, ala Steel, ala Winter Soldier, etc.?

Besides the fact it sold at all, generated media interest at all, merely exists at all, how can we call that event a success for Mr. DiDio? Aren't there facts that suggest that money was left on the table?  And if that's true for something as important as the Death of Batman, what else is true for Mr. DiDio's other successes?

Fifth point:

A conversation around Mr. DiDio tends to focus on his hits, but comics aren't just about the hits. At least if your target audience is the Wednesday audience, then what is also also arguably important is the average unit experience. In other words: what's it like on the average Wednesday when fans are just buying whatever?

If we remove the outlier lowpoints (the DC comics where someone's drawn a map of Africa up with "ape controlled" written on it, or whatever), and the outlier highpoints (where giving DC undue credit might ignore luck or an artist happening to have a breakthrough of some kind while Mr. DiDio was merely adjacent thereto), what is the average unit experience of a DC comic while Mr. DiDio has been in charge?

I have my own feelings.  Others may disagree.  But if we're reading that large swathes of the audience are walking away?  If we're seeing DC's market share go down, and its competitors' market share go up?  

That would all seem to suggest that DC's average unit experience has been substandard.

(Footnote: I also ran some numbers based on Comicbookroundup's review aggregation scores (removing a couple outlier numbers) -- keep in mind that comic reviewers give good reviews to everything being simpleminded cretins. Still: DC's median review score was 7.4, Marvel's was 7.8 and Image was 8.15. But again, comic reviewers give good reviews to everything, so none of these numbers seem very trustworthy).


Michael Davis's Conclusion

Based upon the foregoing, however, apparently reasonable minds can differ -- according to "mentor" Michael Davis, perhaps we should disregard all of the foregoing.


Mr. Davis starts by saying "I once loved the comic industry with a passion almost incomprehensible even to myself but the industry I loved so is gone. What remains is a fat out of shape ghost of its former self. A snake oil salesman selling a yearly new everything hoping fans will consider it a glorious new tune."

This is how we're starting a defense of Dan DiDio-- by having to acknowledge that comic industry under his supervision has become a "out of shape ghost of its former self."

Uhm. Okay.  Great argument.

Mr. Davis continues by trying to identify the culprit-- not Mr. DiDio, but of course, comic fans:

What slays me and I fear will destroy us all is how we see, speak and represent ourselves. Character assassination over a creative decision. Damning a company, creator or content because someone wrote or drew something someone took issue with, rumors perceived as news, news handled like press releases were all once virtually repudiated as just being silly."

The problem with comics is the fans are not nice enough to the people who make them.

And the victim of comic fans, according to Mr. Davis?

"Dan DiDio may be the most hated man in comics and for what? Doing his job? [...] Be you a new fan who brought your first comic today or a superstar creator in the industry for 40 years jumping on a bandwagon of hate, bitching about something other than story or art adds nothing and takes away much from an industry already thought of as childish and immature. [...] We’d rather bitch about Dan DiDio still running DC than applaud Eric Stephenson, Publisher at Image Comics."

As set forth above, however, I believe if fans have grievances with Mr. DiDio it is because he has not done his job -- because they have born the brunt of editorial chaos, confusing events, the shredding of the DC continuity, and the failure to replace that continuity with a vision that leads them somewhere new or better. Mr. Davis suggests that fans shouldn't complain about anything but story and art, but this presumes that the disruptions in creative staff, the editorial chaos, and the failure of Dan DiDio to attract top talent to DC hasn't had an effect on story or art. Indeed, the back-story of DC's crossovers have become for fans the story of Dan DiDio's attempts to fix the continuity he has mangled-- how are these things separable?

And then there is the crux of Mr. Davis's argument: that Dan DiDio loves comics.

"Dan, Paul and Bob all love comics, in fact, I know not one single person who got into comics just as a job. Everyone I know who writes and draws comics got into it because they loved comics. [...] I believe, and I could be wrong its love that motivated the modern comic book industry. We live in an age where artists and writers have become publishers and owners; love guided them in, and it’s that love that’s been forgotten."

Loving comics is swell but it doesn't make you or me or Dan DiDio suited to work in them.

I think comics are dandy-- I shouldn't be running one of the biggest publishers in comics. I wouldn't have the vision; I wouldn't have the patience for the artists or the tolerance for the writers to handle the editorial responsibilities; I would know that it's gauche to put my own creative work next to a Neal Gaiman comic in a heavily promoted work, so I would have one on Mr. DiDio in that respect; but I would never take the job because I understand my affection doesn't overcome my limitations.

I love ice cream -- I don't work for Ben & Jerry's. I can't come up with fancy names for Ice Cream, and those guys sound like real hippies-- no thanks. I love having sexual intercourse with your mom, but your mom is still like "can you bring five of your friends?"  I'm bad at lovemaking! Love is nice, but it's not something you put on a resume for most jobs.

Comics treats "loving comics" as the ultimate badge, the only ticket that matters. And it's not. The fundamentals are the fundamentals: strong relationships with creators, projects that energize fans instead of projects that persuade them that their enthusiasm is being wasted, and providing a safe environment for your team members-- preferably, providing a safe environment by doing something smarter than just destroying the careers of the women you work with.

I'd prefer someone who hated comics if they could do those things-- if they understood that this is a business and that business needs strong managers who will satisfy the criteria we have set forth above. The writers have to love comics to write them well; but the editors just need to get them out the door without making themselves the story. Dan DiDio has made himself the story, over and over and over and over again. Why is this still being tolerated?

And again, there are places Mr. DiDio can work for DC that are other than his current position.  If he has valuable skills, let him use those skills in the television department, in the animation department, in merchandise.  Let his career flourish where he's actually suited-- rather than keep him somewhere he does not seem to be effective.  If he runs fast but throws like shit, make him the running back instead of the pitcher!  Sports metaphors!

My Own Conclusion

Some things are just objectively stupid ideas. DC's big idea for DC Rebirth is objectively fucking stupid.

But: people will talk about it and buzz about it; copies will be sold to looky-loos; Mr. DiDio can claim this buzz as further "Successes" because he got people talking. And sure, that's part of the job. It's a circus-- part of the job is trotting out a clown show. They've trotted out a circus there.

But my fear, and one of the reasons I'm writing this, is that people above Mr. DiDio will confuse that buzz (and fan upset) with him doing his job properly. "The fans are upset-- but they're talking. Fans don't like him but that's because fans don't like anything-- they just like to complain. They complained when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, and they complain about Dan DiDio."

But these things are not all equal.

Not all fan complaints are wrong. And not all of them are based on hair-trigger "how dare he go there" fan reactions.

And I think an argument that Dan DiDio is disliked-- strongly disliked-- by comic fans merely because he "upsets the fans, but in a good way that creates buzz" would paper over the serious defects Mr. DiDio has consistently presented as a figurehead for DC. Because fans don't stop to articulate out a list of reasons like this! I'm obviously the person least suited to be writing this-- I run a clown show, and I like to run a clown show, that's how I like to operate; if there aren't little jokes in there when I write, it feels... it feels suffocating to me; I have poor impulse control; and apparently, I'm a little more upset that DC "might" "allegedly" be maintaining a sexually hostile work environment for female employees than other people are.  

But no one else is taking the time to articulate things properly.

And things keeps getting worse.

I could have written this before, but I just settled for making little funny ha-ha's over the years.

And the result was women running from hotel rooms crying because of their interactions with DC editors. 

And so some of that's on me, for not having done this sooner, and ... for purposely not having been the kind of person anyone reasonable would ever listen to, having no interest in being that kind of person.  How much is tolerating this guy making us complicit in nightmares?

Yes, Mr. DiDio has created a new round of buzz. Is there a limit to how far you can push empty, meaningless shocks as a publishing strategy? Maybe; probably not; it's just comic books. Yay, more empty books-- yay more buzz, instead of stories that can excite fans, inspire future movies, connect with audiences, energize the talent -- yay,  more constantly looking backwards rather than building forwards.  

But does that buzz make up for the deficiencies we have discussed concerning Mr. DiDio?

  • The bleeding of editorial talent.
  • The rise of DC's competitors exploiting its weaknesses.
  • Creator after creator openly deriding DC's practices-- comic creators who gain nothing from doing so, who want to operate in silence because they are afraid of losing the precarious livelihoods but who still describe modern DC as essentially a tire fire.
  • The lack of a forward-looking vision.
  • The failure to attract top talent.
  • The alienation of legendary or veteran talent.
  • The failure to capitalize on new rising talent.
  • The open derision of potential growth areas for comics, whether it's children, women, etc.
  • The lack of self-restraint-- attacking fans from a podium at comic conventions??
  • The conflict of interests in him pursuing a "writing career", rather than advancing the careers of the talent he should be scouting for and cultivating.
  • The line-wide confusion of what a DC comic even means and why anyone should buy one that has lost "large swathes of readers", in a marketplace that should not have to sustain the loss of sizable numbers of dedicated fans.
  • And "allegedly" this or that.

Do they make up for any of those??

Perhaps there is a case for Dan DiDio. "Blackest Night sold a bunch." Great.

But there is also a case against Dan DiDio, and who is making that case? Where are those people? And is Diane Nelson talking to them and understanding that they are not just "angry internet nerd people" upset by the frivolities of the day, but people who see a deeper dysfunction at DC Comics, a dysfunction that must be laid at Dan DiDio's door?

I worry that has not been done. I worry not for myself-- given my age and being a remarkably successful person, I'm half out the door with comics; I have investments to manage now-- stocks, bonds, it's all very grown-up, you couldn't possibly understand; I have a closet full of ties.

I worry because there are comic creators who may want to make a case but can't make this case because they want to keep working. I worry because there are comic editors who may want to make a case but can't make this case because they want to keep working. I worry because there are retailers who just want to sell comics because they love them and don't have the time to make this case, or don't want to upset their business partners.

And I worry because there are young people who deserve to have a DC Comics that is providing them with entertainment-- real entertainment, even if they're not 45 years old-- so that they too can someday in the future go up to a DC comic creator at a convention, and tell them, from the heart:  "Sir, your earlier work meant so much to me. But now your work stinks. I like your earlier work more. P.S. fuck your feelings". But, like, without having to worry that one of Mr. DiDio's editors will sexually assault them.

This is not the only case against Mr. DiDio. This isn't probably the best case that can be made against Mr. DiDio. But this is a case against Mr. DiDio that I wouldn't feel right with myself if I didn't take the time to type out.

And I hope it answers in some small way the question that was posed as to why we're still complaining about Dan DiDio.  

The Title of This Blog Post is "Abhay Thinks He Can Write About COPRA Better Than You -- Nowhere to Hide - Nowhere to Cry - I Sunk Your Battleship Edition: 666"

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - !!!

Chapter One: Stephen Probably Could

For the last few years, one of my favorite comics to read has been Michel Fiffe's COPRA.  It's a comic that I really pretty unabashadely love-- one of the few being put out right now where I would talk about it in those terms.

But for the last few years, one of my least favorite comics to read people talk about has been Michel Fiffe's COPRA.

Standard Disclaimer-- Low Self-Esteem: Oh, some people have managed to say decent things about it-- there's always some people.  And I probably won't do any better than anyone else in making a run at it because blah blah blah false humility-- because this is a comic I like more than is reasonable, and will probably just gush about, rather than look at with the critical eye you deserve blabbity bloo. This is going to be me writing about the why of that, which is going to be completely insufferable.

And, in fairness to other people who've written about it: it raises a very old challenge -- COPRA talks about superheros (which folks usually know how to write about), but it doesn't seem to "care about them," at least in the traditional way comics readers are used to (i.e., all the "let me explain at nauseating length why Superman doesn't kill" ways).  It's one of those comics that fall onto the "conversation" at a weird angle -- something always true anytime a comic asking its reader to be on its wavelength has been central to its appeal.

But no, no -- what bugs me is a very specific thing, an unavoidable thing that gets mentioned over and over:  what bugs me is how people talk about COPRA's relationship with its most obvious influence, the John Ostrander, Kim Yale and Luke McDonnell run of SUICIDE SQUAD from the late 1980's.


People who bring up that run in connection with COPRA, they either (a) state the relationship in a very particular "tee-hee" way I find aggravating (discussed below), or (b) mention it in passing, then try to treat the book like John Q. Ordinary Superhero-Comic, no matter how obviously that's fitting a square peg into a round hole.  But in either case, they don't really think about how those two books really relate very intensely, despite COPRA inviting exactly that kind of thought.

The connection obviously can't be denied-- some (though not all) characters plainly rhyme; COPRA homages specific panel sequences, lifts structural ideas; etc.


But as an example of the "(a) tee-hee" school, just picked at near-random, here is the first paragraph from the AV Club's review of COPRA: ROUND ONE:

"Michel Fiffe’s COPRA: Round One (Bergen Street Press) is an inspiring piece for anyone that has ever wanted to work on corporate-owned characters, showing that copyright shouldn’t stand in the way of an artist’s will to create. Fiffe’s love letter to John Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD [...] changes character names and designs to step around legal conflicts, but underneath the superficial changes, this is a story about classic, pre-New 52 Amanda Waller and her team of former supervillains turned soldiers."

And this way of talking about COPRA is hardly limited to the AV Club-- it's the most common way of starting a review of this comic, with legal-buzzword pontificating, by reducing COPRA down to some kind of "legal stunt".  And I sort of hate it-- haaaaate it. I hate that nerd insistence on playing "I know what this is a reference to -- you're not fooling me" to win some argument no one's trying to make.  Categorize. Classify. Regiment.  Bag. Board. Bleh.

I hate how this obsession with phylogeny, this insistence that "ACTUALLY, SUCH AND SUCH IS JUST REHASHED SO-AND-SO TO DODGE LAWYERS" is an unhealthy constant that surrounds superhero comics -- an unhealthy constant that only renforces a crappy status quo.

There are the "true versions of superheros" (the ones owned by DC Comics, overseen DC Comics' crack team of date rapists) and then there are "well-meaning knock-offs", legal loopholes, phonies.   "Actually, COPRA is just the SUICIDE SQUAD.  Actually, THE AUTHORITY's Apollo & Midnighter- that's just a rehash of Batman and Superman. Actually, THE WATCHMEN characters are just the Charlton characters.  Good job dodging lawyers with your little tomfoolery, you fucking children."

I believe Jesus is a reheated Osiris knock-off as much as the next irritating atheist, but I mean geez: Is this healthy thinking?  Has this kind of thinking ever been good for comics?  I think we can all identify a number of occasions where it has been quite damaging:

  • Superman accused Captain Marvel of being a Superman knock-off in a 1941-1952 lawsuit. The result?  The premature death of one of comics' greatest runs of children superhero comics.
  • With the cancellation of the MIDNIGHTER series, it seems as obvious as ever how badly DC bungled THE AUTHORITY brand-- a brand that for at least a short moment in the early 00's had some cache, now all lost. DC couldn't muster any vision for the title-- oh, why should they if it was just knock-off Batman, Superman, etc., after all?
  • How much of the debate about BEFORE WATCHMEN was derailed by comics' D- internet "historians" (and/or craven "creators") insisting that Alan Moore was somehow less-than, somehow not deserving of any respect for his work on WATCHMEN -- just because early in his process of creating that comic, he'd taken some small inspiration from the Charlton characters? "The Comedian is really just an Exact Xerox of the Peacemaker, a character with a bucket on his head that no one sane has ever cared about from comics most of us have never read, which really means that Alan Moore is a hack and any old pimp could have crapped out a Watchmen."

Or consider the opposite: what kind of sorry shape would we all be in, if every time a Batman movie came out, the AV Club was quick to crow that it was just a rehash of The Shadow?  I saw the Shadow movie -- Alec Baldwin couldn't Batdance!  Baldwin no Batdance, sister!

But it's most irritating to me-- most irritating-- because it ignores what for me growing up, and what I know for so many other people my age growing up, was and continues to be a pretty big fucking deal, a touchstone, part of the glue of all things.


Chapter Two: SPOILER WARNING -- The Dog's Name was Indiana


Alan QuartermainDenis Nayland Smith. Commando CodyG-Man Rex Bennett.  1944's Perils of the Darkest JungleLucille Love, the Girl of MysteryProfessor ChallengerCaptain Blood.  Mark Brandon and Valley of the Kings. 

A proud tradition of serial adventurers who ran off into jungles, dangled from zeppelins, leaped from quicksand deathtraps onto moving trains, snatching diamonds from out of the mouths of tigers, stealing used women's underwear from convents, snorting rails of cocaine off erect horse genitalia, etc.


When George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan were creating Indiana Jones, all of these boyhood influences were hardly hidden away-- they were soaked into Indiana Jones from the start.  Listen to George Lucas, from PAGE ONE of the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK STORY CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT (an essential transcript of the January 23-27, 1978 conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Lawrence Kasdan where they created the first and greatest Indiana Jones movie):

"Generally, the concept is a serial idea. Done like the Republic serials. As a thirties serial. Which is where a lot of stuff comes from anyway."

But audiences didn't care.  Was anyone shouting "well, this is just Alan Quartermain with the serial numbers filed off?  This is Alan Quartermain-- alert the lawyers?"  The comparatively tepid box office for 1985's KING SOLOMON'S MINES or 1986's  ALAN QUARTERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD would suggest (as would common sense) that if such people existed, they had no friends.

Were audiences shouting "a rogueish explorer in a leather jacket and a hat?  Nice try, but we all saw Charlton Heston's character Harry Steele race through ruins in THE SECRET OF THE INCAS?" Secret of the Incas [Charlton Heston] (1954) DVDRip Oldies.avi_snapshot_00.08.58_[2016.05.08_21.12.53]

Audiences did not care.

Why not?  I'd like to think part of it is this:

Audiences understand that when they watch RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that they're not watching a careful recreation or rehash of a Republic serial -- they're watching a movie that's very much about what those serials felt like inside Spielberg, Lucas, et al.'s brains, at a Saturday matinee, pre-puberty.  RAIDERS is all about watching the synaptic fireworks of a clever eleven year old-- it's watching Lucas, Spielberg, et al.'s memories of the movies that lived inside their own heads as kids, after seeing Forest Ranger Captain Steve King defy evil, escape peril.

Today, more people are likely to have seen RAIDERS than a Commando Cody serial.  Because arguably-- and this is not the most informed opinion, I haven't spent too many hours watching Republic serials-- but arguably, RAIDERS is a purer, cleaner hit than what came before it.  RAIDERS is almost all a sugar rush of a movie because you can tell they just stole the good parts from whatever was inspiring them.  Nobody remembers the boring parts of movies -- nobody dreams of growing up to recreate the part of STAR WARS where Luke Skywalker wants to go to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters; when they were remaking that STAR WAR last year, they left Tosche Station out.

indiana and monkey

And because RAIDERS is not ripping off all the boring parts no one remembers about those original movies, all that's left are the parts where Lucas and Spielberg have a fanboy glee for-- a fanboy glee that the original material inherently can't have.  And I would suggest to you that even people who've never seen a Republic serial can instinctually recognize that fanboy glee-- can connect with that glee, even after human memory of the underlying thing has faded away, cracked and crumbled.

Anything that gives some undue primacy to earlier work for being "the original", that casts the "original" in a dominant position just by virtue of being the inspiration instead of the inspir-ee, is thus a questionable logic, at best.

Chapter ThreeWhat happened to Her Vial of Billy Bob's Blood?

But, of course, there's a very obvious counter-argument.  If RAIDERS looted the American movie-going public more than KING SOLOMON'S MINES, maybe that just has no inherent meaning other than that one is simply the better better movie than the other. Maybe audiences thought (correctly) that Karen Allen was foxier Sharon Stone.  Maybe audiences could see which had more craft involved, more star-power both in front of and behind the scenes.  RAIDERS was plainly a movie that came out at the right time for it-- "the hero gets a happy ending, but hoo-boy the government's a bummer" pretty perfectly walks the line in 1981 between the Vietnam-stained Hollywood movies before RAIDERS and the Reagen-stained movies after it.


However, an argument can be made that RAIDERS is a better movie not just because it executed an adventure story better than the alternatives, but because it is actually about something that an Alan Quartermain "Reboot" inherently coud not have been about.  After all, what Lucas, Spielberg, Kasdan, Kaufman, Marcia Lucas, etc., made in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is hard to describe as being a "classical" adventure.

For starters, Indiana Jones is hardly a "square-jawed hero of yesteryear."  The movie begins with Jones an atheist looting foreign cultures of religious idols he thinks nothing of; its most memorable moment is him cheating during a fight; and whatever his relationship with the female lead was, it sure never sounded healthy.


Far from being a character who saves the day, the movie is a catalog of Indiana Jones's failures-- consider this description of the movie by screenwriter Terry Rossio (NATIONAL TREASURE, DEJA VU):

"He loses the golden idol. Marian is kidnapped and he's unable to rescue her. He finds the Ark, but it is immediately taken away. His bluff to destroy the Ark is called, and he gets recaptured. He can't even look upon the Ark when it is opened. And the government ends up with his long sought-after and much suffered-for prize."

Indiana Jones is a loser.  He just loses hard-- he loses in a way you can't help but admire.

By the end of the movie, Indiana Jones is stripped of all the things that make him an Adventure Serial hero, stripped of all his weapons, tied to a stake, made helpless-- and only wins at the end by finally turning to a higher power, a higher power that before he found love he could never believe in.  Indiana Jones never really beats the bad guys himself-- he just survives them thanks to a last-minute conversion.


Or heck: if RAIDERS is not example enough for you, consider KILL BILL, Quentin Tarantino's 2003-2004 "love letter" to kung-fu movies.  But there too, while KILL BILL may seem to occupy a classic kung fu mode, the movie consistently avoids kung fu movie morality.  A promised duel at night between honorable opponents becomes instead the hero of the movie slaughtering a mom with a knife in her own kitchen in front of her daughter -- the movie's samurai duel in the snow is only because the Bride's opponent is a woman adopting racial poses out of insecurity for her half-Japanese heritage. That scene is followed by the Bride disfiguring her samurai opponent's attorney.

All the fake honor and samurai logic gets stripped away from The Bride until the movie has become just a Russ Meyer fantasy of tattered women in a trailer swinging away, tearing each other to shreds.

By the end of that movie, we watch as a pop-culture obsessed filmmaker-- raised by a single mom-- tells a story about a single mom stopping the heart of the guy from TV's Kung Fu in order to (a) save her child from being raised as she was by the toxic masculinity he plainly represents, and (b) get an annoying nerd to stop man-splaining his Grand Philosophy of Superman oh fuck can that happen more how do we get that to happen more...


Yes, these movies are love letters to out-of-fashion genres, distillations and concentrates of the filmmaker's childhood obsessions-- but RAIDERS, KILL BILL, they're also movies about taking those childhood heroes, ignoring the morality they're supposed to have, and seeing what values survive for the filmmakers at childhood's end that allow them to survive a spiritual destruction threatened by their villains.  Both reflect hyper-literate filmmakers ripping away the trappings of genre from their genre super-heroes, because they know that cheap genre thrills must be outgrown for a hero to enter into the world of adulthood (a cultural message otherwise frighteningly absent from your neighborhood multiplex presently)-- their movies end trying to stare at the human values that have to be there when just liking movies isn't enough.

Both are love letters, but not empty-headed "I like to play with the toys" love letters-- love letters that know that what they love is also it own kind of poison.

"What nourishes me, destroys me." -- One of Angelina Jolie's tattoos.  Pretty deep.  (Could I have gotten a whole paragraph out of the fact that she was the Tomb Raider hey metaphors nudge nudge wink wink?  Hell yes, I could have.  I've been doing this for years, son!  *spikes football at home plate*)


But so okay: how 'bout that COPRA?

Consider the key difference between COPRA and SUICIDE SQUAD -- SUICIDE SQUAD is about a team of supervillains, operating in a clandestine fashion to take on the missions that superheros can't perform.  But COPRA?  As far as I can recall, COPRA has never betrayed that superheros exist in its universe.  The COPRA universe is one bereft of any moral alternative to the violence and murders its characters engage in.

From issue 12: "These clubs go deep, beyond reason, kings and even money.  It's the monolith you never address.  It's the little people firmly pressed to the ground, crushed under invisible rule.  No matter what results I was responsible for, we were always fodder..."

One character even explicitly calls COPRA what it is, what all superhero team comics become: a gang.  And its gang-members are mired in violence, imprisoned by their karma, sometimes due to circumstances of growing up in poverty, sometimes worries about being a "coward" (see above, re: toxic masculinity), etc. "Inmates" and "hooligans." As the story proceeds, especially in the latter half of the first year, the team is constantly being dismantled-- its characters flung into other dimensions and abandoned, or turning violently against one another, often just after we've met them.

Indeed, the entire first arc of COPRA is caused by a power from outside of their dimension-- a power that we're told consumes those that wear it.


My favorite issue is #14.  Without spoiling it, issue #14 concerns arguably the most innocent and likable member of the COPRA team.

It goes badly for them.  Or more specifically, it goes bad for the people around that character to know him.

COPRA is a comic that the SUICIDE SQUAD, by virtue of existing in the DC Universe can never be because it is a comic fundamentally suspicious of, derisive of, dismissive of the underlying message of superhero comics: that power can be used responsibily, that our world has space for heroes, that violence can solves problems.  COPRA is so intoxicated by comic's formal properties that perhaps the fact its content isn't so peppy can easily be overlooked, ignored.  COPRA has cheap genre thrills, but plays them like a black comedy-- unburdened by a DC universe context that makes no sense i.e. that the kind of power let loose within COPRA can co-exist with a moral universe.

In other words, and to bring this back to our original thesis, without properly considering the book's relationship to SUICIDE SQUAD in a thoughtful way, some of COPRA's key merits will be overlooked.

Chapter Four: SPOILERS The Greatest American Hero was Actually Your Dad That Entire Time-- Think About It -- It's a Metaphor, You Plebian!

Question: If you were to compare an old Ostrader-Yale issue of SUICIDE SQUAD and an issue of COPRA, would the two really resemble one another?

My answer is no.  Because even besides the differences in their formal qualities, the differences in McDonnell and Fiffe's artistic influences / aspirations... SUICIDE SQUAD is about the SUICIDE SQUAD-- making sure the reader is able to carefully follow the goings-ons of the SUICIDE SQUAD's sordid journey through the dark underbelly of the DC Universe.


But COPRA...?  What is COPRA about?

Pop quiz:  What's the plot of the first 12 issues of COPRA?   Answer: God only knows!  I barely remember and I just reread them before I wrote this.  Some triangle's being an asshole or something-- fuck you, triangle!  It doesn't matter.  Because it's not really about that.

And I think for me, the reason COPRA has meant something to me over these last couple years, is that it's more about a feeling -- a specific feeling that you only used to get from comics, and a specific feeling that comics itself has maybe abandoned -- or at least lost for me.


My favorite issues of Chris Claremont's THE UNCANNY X-MEN when I was a kid were the two issues in San Francisco where the X-Men fought the Marauders-- I talk about them all the goddamn time.  I can still remember a good chunk of those comics-- Dazzler cutting Rogue out from some underwater metal trap; Wolverine fighting Marauders on a bridge until he has to jump off the bridge to save himself; Rogue waking up on a beach next to a guy reading a Wildcards book; Havok trying to kill his wife Polaris at the end because she'd turned evil, been possessed by Malice (metaphor!).  I read those comics to tatters, as a kid.  To tatters.  It's not peak Claremont, but it's peak Claremont-Silvestri.

Here's the part I don't remember:  why the hell were they in San Francisco!  Because who gives a shit?


COPRA, especially in its first year, in the ways that really matter, is about what comics felt like when I was a kid:  superheros who can barely get along with one another on the run from a world that hates them, on the run from themselves; teen self-loathing covering up adolescent realizations that the world wasn't actually built for us, doesn't care about us, is apathetic to our existence; Havok shooting raybeams at a lady because he doesn't know how to talk to girls.

Every superhero comic that mattered was on the run when I was a kid.

The Claremont-Silvestri X-Men were hiding in tunnels, hunted, under constant siege.  Mark Gruenwald's Captain America was fired, replaced by the government with a muscled-up emotionless psycho, lost in his own tunnels with D-Man.  (A lot of tunnels).  Batman, at the beginning of his career, chased by cops, "Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on...none of you are safe".  Batman, at the end of his career, chased by cops: "You were the one who laughed... that scary laugh of yours... 'Sure we're criminals.' You said.  'We've always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'"


Sure, these comics were "power fantasies for alienated kids" -- but back then moreso than today, I think the people who made those comics realized that the key word in that phrase wasn't "power", but "alienated."

Some part of me when I was a kid needed to hear that stuff.  Some part of me figured out early that the world was a shitty and unfair place, and needed to hear outlaw mythologies, not realizing how fucking damaging those were to dumb, schlubby kids like I was back then.  And given how much I salivate when COPRA rang that same bell, given all the stuff I still tend to like, I guess some part of me still likes to hear outlaw mythologies, even 100% fully realizing how fucking damaging they are to dumb, schlubby adults like I am right now.  (Footnote:  I'm not saying it's healthy.  I'm not saying I'm healthy.)

But superhero comics for the most part-- besides COPRA-- they've lost all that for me.

First, if anyone was doing a great and convincing run in that mode pre-COPRA, I suppose that I missed it. The post-Miller generation thought the fascism was the fun part, instead of the sour after-taste.  At least I think that's true for that wide swatch of comics THE AUTHORITY inspired (arguably an awful lot of books).  "Fascists are a bummer, man." -- Pablo Neruda.

But second, for me, it's probably not just a case of "oh hey, I wish the X-Men were on the run again"-- look around.  The people who make those kinds of comics now -- they've bought in.  They bought into gimmicks and "it is the fans who are wrong" and endless crossover scams and ugliness.  They looked at a crowd of date-rapists and said "Sign me up-- boss me around-- I'll be a loyal quiet soldier in your armies of silence."

They could try to write a little outlaw story, but what kind of fucking sucker would believe them?

Chapter FiveI Mean COPRA's Like O-Kay But This is Getting Ridiculous Bro -- Why Don't You Just Marry It?

But okay fine "COPRA is good because I like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK so much that I have somehow deluded myself into some bizarre metaphysical connection between the two things in my head, and also all weak stories were actually 'really about a feeling' this entire time it turns out, thanks genius" -- thesis proven; let's quit wasting your time talking about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Let's instead waste your time talking about an entirely different Harrison Ford movie.  Let's move on to STAR WARS.  Because no one on the internet ever talks about that movie-!  It's weird!

Star Wars strip1

And I didn't really love that last STAR WARS movie-- I find it interesting to think about, but I had issues with a bunch of the plot choices in that movie. Except the complaints that other lonely middle-age failed men-- my brothers in arms!-- usually have with that movie tend to be very different, and ones I care much less about-- the biggest non-racist ones being that it "recycles" the storyline of the NEW HOPE.  That's nerds' biggest complaint in a movie where a guy randomly comes back to life out of nowhere.

But there, I kind of think what the filmmakers have to say makes sense, that their stated intentions are persuasive-- and perhaps somewhat pertinent to pause to consider with what we're talking about here.


Here's JJ Abrams et al. describing what they were doing, to the Hollywood Reporter:

"I can understand that someone might say 'Oh it's a complete rip-off.'  We inherited Star Wars.  The story of history repeating itself was I believe an obvious and intentional thing.  The structure of meeting a character who comes from a nowhere desert and discovers that she has a power within her, where the bad guys have a weapon that is destructive but that ends up being destroyed, those simple tenants, are for me by far the least important aspects of this movie.  They provide bones that were well-proven long before they were used in Star Wars.  What was important for me was introducing a brand new chapter, brand new characters, using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that's new-- to go backwards to go forwards. [..] Yes, the bones of the thing we always knew would be a genre comfort zone-- but what the thing looks like... We all have a skeleton that looks somewhat similar, but none of us look the same. To me the important thing was not what are the bones-- to me, it was about meeting new characters who discover themselves that they are in a universe that is spiritual, that is optimistic, and in a world that you will meet people who will become your family."

I find that more persuasive than the arguments I find his critics making, at least where the "why is it the death star again" criticism is concerned.  Besides "inherited", I think the line in that which gets to me is "to go backwards to go forwards."

But boy, comics really grinds it out of you to believe that's possible.  Comics is usually "to go backwards to go backwards.  Yay, backwards.  Look at all this backwards!"


COPRA's relationship with SUICIDE SQUAD shouldn't be ignored.  But it invites questions deeper than "how does this effect DC's oh-so-important trademark rights?"  Is COPRA about something different than the SUICIDE SQUAD?  Does COPRA use the SUICIDE SQUAD as start pointing in order to explore themes that SUICIDE SQUAD didn't?  Does COPRA question its genre and interrogate its fantasies in a way that SUICIDE SQUAD couldn't?  If content is performance and performance is content, is the fact that COPRA is "performing" the SUICIDE SQUAD's trappings (in addition to DOCTOR STRANGE and X-MEN and all the other ingredients in COPRA's stew) any more significant than if it had performed any other kind of story?

Are we going backwards to go forwards?

Chapter 6I Bet He Put a Carrot at Its Crotch

Final point -- not particularly on-topic -- pure self-indulgence:

The way these reviews always begin by kowtowing to the primacy of the SUICIDE SQUAD-- I think what's interesting about it is how it betrays a sort of anxiety about comics as being a performance medium.  It suggests that those critics think that the audience is looking for Big Ideas, and should not be left surprised to discover this comic has an Idea That's Been Done Before-- oh, that feature needs to be marked out, first and foremost.  They suggest that the authors think the audience has to have their hand held on the elemental idea that serial comics are a performance space-- have their hand held on such a big and basic point about those comics!


Certainly, COPRA more than any other comic in that space right now underlines that point for a reader-- it's a point being made more persuasively by COPRA than any of the story's "messages", that of course serialized comics are performances.

It can be seen in the art-- layouts that stagger between carefully choreographed widescreen action and formalist howls, montage panels, panels of thin-line work next to thick brushwork, lenticular panels and silhouetted action, homages to DC house-style action sequences mixed with art-comic mark-making, color as storytelling, color as ornament, color as punctuation.

Fiffe himself has been open in couching the book about breaking the Kirby Barrier: 

"It's an output thing: churn out those pages, keep moving and odn't you dare think of a rewrite, pal.  The way I see it is not about rushing to produce some slapped together thing, it's about not being so precious that it stalls you, not refining the work until it no longer has any life.  [...]  It's allowed me to unerstand a part of the comics I love, especially the older ones, the less self conscious ones."  

But a fan would have to be pretty thick not to notice this aspect of the comic.

There are other comics out right now that have to be viewed through that performance lens.  There is REVENGER, Charles Forman's action-sleaze beat-em-up comic set in a decayed and deadened American wasteland (a more deadpan A-Team cousin to SEXCASTLE's Roadhouse)(or maybe giggling more over those dopey Andy Vachss books -- I never figured out the appeal of those).  REVENGER's story is plainly overheated, with the fun of the comic not being that story so much as the straight-faced Dateline NBC tone of Forsman's telling of it, how the Stone-Phillips-iness of his delivery makes it all play like a fun inside joke to be in on (though: with Forsman again indulging in a bizarre fascination with big third act twists that I can't say I myself share, but is at least seeming now more like something he's exploring for some kind of  fuzzy reasons, and less like a lack of experience or discipline or whatever).  The performance of REVENGER far more than the content calls attention to (and allows Forsman to focus on) his pacing, atmosphere, the unspoken joke and invisible story of his comic-- arguably, where his strengths seem to lie.

Or, the serialized stories of the ISLAND anthology or 8HOUSE-- I honestly can't make heads or tails of some/most of these comics, the ones I've seen, when I try to "understand" the stories.  I don't really follow what's happening narratively-- a great many ornate ideas but without any narrative structure to hold on to or for the reader to orient themselves with, with the dialogue offering no significant hand-holds.  But I find that many of these comics remain entertaining, provided that I shift my reading speed, speed up, focus less on the "notes" and more on the "melody" -- provided that I respect them as performances, instead of as spoon-fed narratives.  I wouldn't call any of these unqualified successes-- but if you believe that one of the hallmarks of a great comic is that in some way teaches you how to read it, these seem like at least worthy efforts.

And so, among comic creators, the idea of a serialized comic being a performance does not seem like it would be controversial-- the work itself plainly and routinely betrays that understanding, more and more of late.  And yet, when you look at how comics are discussed and particularly sold, the conversation seems strangely oblivious to that fact.

Micronauts 01 07

And here, let's not single out the reviews-- let's not just heap abuse on the poor AV Club.  All the poor AV Club ever wanted to do was tell us every single scene that happened in the latest episode of THE AMERICANS, like an annoying 9 year old.  But no:  consider the Image Expo.

At least as it's reported.  The reports of this Expo are all about high concepts.  Big Story Ideas.  "What if there were dinosaurs ... on the moon?  But: what if the dinosaurs were secretly magicians??  AAIIIIIIEEEEE."

But the weird thing:  people care about these ideas enough to spend years writing and drawing them, one painstaking page at a time, people's adult lives thrown at these concepts.  But you almost never hear why.  Why are people telling these stories, why are they telling them right now instead of other stories, why do they care, who are they, who are they trying to talk to-- you never hear about the performance, at least not in how these Expos are reported.  At best, the very best you can do, if you kind of squint at it, you can kind of tell that Ivan Brandon really saw some crazy shit during the War that he isn't okay with yet and he's trying to work out in his comics -- villages being burned, women throwing their babies onto rocks, men trying to hold their guts in their bodies with their hands, screaming in foreign tongues: "Why did you do this to me, Ivan Brandon?  Why are you so cruel?"

Comics themselves more often than not evidence that people making them plainly understand that they are performing -- but the story that comics tells itself and sells to others never seems to be about performance. And that's enormously strange, if you just think about the history of American comics, and one of the key things that makes that history so great, at least to me.

atari force

Have you ever heard the story (maybe apocryphal) of Michelangelo's Snowman?

In January 1494, a snowstorm hit Florence, Italy-- the home of the young Michelangelo and his patron Piero de' Medici-- who history would remember as Piero the Unfortunate, who centuries later is still described as "feeble, arrogant and undisciplined."  Piero sends for Michelangelo, and tells him to make a snowman in the de' Medici's courtyard.  And so, Michelangelo does -- before he sculpts David, Michelangelo sculpts a snowman, which of course, eventually melts away.  But his biographer Giorgio Vasari describes the snowman as "very beautiful" (though some say Vasari himself never saw it), and that is how it is still remembered today in articles with titles like "Michelangelo's snowman and other great lost works of art."

And for years, that was the the history of comics in the United States-- nobody knew that their work was going to be collected in trades, remembered, filmed, etc.  A comic wasn't supposed to last past the Wednesday it was new on the shelf.  Heck, (and this sounds like an exaggeration now, but at least from how I remember some years), there were times where people weren't sure there'd be a comics in America in 5 years, at least as we understood it.

But plenty of people, more than makes any sense, just said fuck it and danced as hard as they could for their money.  And if you lucked out on the right back issue bin, you could find these bizarre and wonderful things.  Some folks really put on a fucking show, just because that's who they were and at the speed they were working at, they wouldn't have time to think of doing anything less.  For no reward.  For the opposite of a reward-- they had to work in fucking comics.  95% of your favorite artists got date-raped by a DC editorThat's not me talking-- that's just according to science!

But however futile, they did the job anyways, performed their little hearts out anyways, foolishly, pointlessly, and in the absolute stupidest sense of the word, bravely.

And so for reminding readers of comics like that (Fiffe's called SUICIDE SQUAD a "deep cut" in interviews), COPRA links arms with those people, that most honorable comics tradition of "fuck it" through time, and tells that story to readers, a story critics and publishers won't or aren't, a counter-history of comics that for me at least seems infinitely cooler than any alternative.

I mean, who do you think was the hero of the Wile E. Coyote cartoons?  If you rooted for that fucking bird, you probably aren't reading this, you'll die a schmuck, and COPRA's too good for you.  The End, and good night.


Yummy Yummy Abhay!

You probably don't really need me linking to THE COMICS JOURNAL for you, but in case you haven't seen it, Abhay has an epic threefour-part journey through Comics 2015 that is a very worthwhile read -- I laughed out loud at least at four separate occasions, and I am one jaded-ass fucker. Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four: Up tomorrow, dumb Brian.  But.... I bet you might be able to guess the URL....


Go read, and thank me later!



Abhay vs. His To-Read Pile

I haven't bought comics in some months (October? November?), but I have an out-of-control to-read pile, filled with impulse buys that I have not made much progress on for a very long time.  I had a whole night last night, and worked pretty hard today, so I'm staying home tonight, doing laundry, making pasta, having a quiet evening, and thought I'd try to make a dent in the pile.  Thought I should take breaks and ramble around.  So, you know, just hanging out, reading some comics that came out a while ago, spelling errors, paragraphs that go nowhere, "reviews" that add up to nothing, hemming, hawing, a lack of wit, tedium... FRIDAY NIGHT!  WOOOO!

563139998a358 You know: people talk a lot about all the girl-friendly comics right now, but I never see people talk much about the one that I like, which is the Dennis Hopeless-Javier Rodriguez Spiderwoman series...?  It feels weird to admit that I like that one or any of them-- but that's the one I like.

I just bought one last year because some of you folks requested that I write about the other bigger, more popular superheroine comics of the moment, back when I was doing those Q&A's (which I want to get back to, but).  I thought I'd do a whole month that was just those books, all analytic-like-- that was one of my Big Ideas, before the shit hit the fan with me, schedule-wise.  Anyways:  this series was the only one that made any kind of positive impression.

It’s just such a lame character-- pretty much the lamest. The smart move is they recognize that the character sucks and turn into the skid. It surrounds her with an even lamer supporting cast -- her sidekick is the Porcupine...?   (The Porcupine is a supervillain who dresses like a porcupine). Ben Urich is in there, too-- that character's always been pretty underrated, considering he had some of the best scenes in Born Again; that scene with the nurse, at least. But Urich hardly qualifies as a fan favorite, either.

I just like how they’ve made that d-list quality the appeal of the book, how that forces them to be warm towards these loser characters instead of trying to convince me some character that's always sucked is actually really great.  I always really loved that move in superhero comics -- not trying to pretend some shitty thing is great (the "oh yeah Aquaman could drown this city awwww shit Aquaman" move that fans tend to prefer), but just acknowledging that some shitty thing is shitty and that it doesn't fucking matter because the creators love it anyways (one of my favorite comics as a kid was the issue of Secret Origins about the Legion of Substitute Heroes).

The stories are just corny mystery shit (there was an issue about a road-trip that was about as good as it ever got). You know, it's all very unambitious-- it’s not a very deep read, at all-- but it’s landing the tone I think they’re aiming to land at, at least.  It's not trying to be Some Other Thing, like the stuff that gets buzz tends to do-- I like that it's just trying to be a Marvel comic.  The adventures feel like the kinds of adventures Kurt Busiek talks about in Astro City, instead of being, like, the thing-trying-to-be-the-other-thing and just reminding you how much you'd rather be reading the other thing...?

Anyways, blah blah blah: most importantly, Javier Rodriguez just fucking draws better than other folks.   I think that guy’s fucking solid, since forever now. That's the big appeal for me, at least.  His layouts are usually really fun without being intrusive or show-off-y. Plus, he colors himself on this one and every so often, he does some stuff with color that's pretty sweet, at least for a monthly book like this. I really like watching him work.

It’s the only Marvel book I fuck with, at all, but I don't really know too much what else is out there.  And I'm months behind because like I said, I haven't been to a store in ages...

I don’t get why she’s pregnant all of the sudden, though-- is it because of Secret Wars? Did the Beyonder make all the superheros stop using condoms during the Secret Wars? “Beyonder says Raw Dog It” was my favorite Frankie Goes to Hollywood song.  Was it a secret war on birth control, like the ones the Republicans are waging against our sisters??  Got deep on you there.  You thought you were reading a sad pasta-fueled middle-age man type into the night about Spiderwoman, and then no, this turned into a Comics Alliance article. GOTCHA!  Welcome to my social justice war!

"Keeping all you motherfuckers on your toes!" -- Betty Friedan.


Read the James Harvey / Harvey James (?) issue of We are the Robins, uhhh #4.  I've followed James Harvey James's work, since that Mario Brothers comic he did in 2008, so I was checking this out just to see him work.

I'm obviously not the audience for this one.  That said, boy, there was an impressive amount of whiplash to this comic, just in the disparity between how interesting I found some of the choices the art made and how lame and rote the writing was.  That whiplash happens all the time with comics-- ALL THE TIME!-- but this comic really packed a punch in that department...

I'm kinda weird in that I really get antsy when comic artists drop gutters-- I like a nice gutter between my panels.  But besides that, there's a visual-noise to the art (see, e.g., this panel), purposeful imperfections, detail-overload moves, a bunch of  choices that I thought were pretty interesting.  And then the writing could’ve been equally served by stick-figure theater.  It's just by-the-numbers DC junk.  It had nothing to it that the art's choices was actually advancing.  Not even close to being on the same page...

But probably the kids this was aimed at wouldn't mind so much...?  If multicultural Robin gang comic is some kid's jam, this issue probably was just a cool-looking issue of a thing they liked to begin with.  Nothing to get angry about, a pretty normal thing to happen with these kinds of comics, but... Just a pretty glaring example-- they're on such different pages...


Caught up to issue #5 of the Fade Out.  I'd read the first one or two, and then got behind-- it usually takes a while to muster up any energy to read a Brubaker-Phillips comic-- they're not really high-energy cups of coffee.

I think this series just wrapped up the other day?  So far, it's their usual thing-- well executed, but I'm not sure what any of this is adding up to.

I don't know-- it must suck to be doing any kinda historical thing in the wake of Mad Men because I felt like that show, whatever it got wrong, whatever choices they made that I might not have liked, the thing it nailed was I never felt lost what it was about.  With this, I just don't know what it's about yet.

Plus, that time period, people have really worn a groove into that time period-- I've never been that interested in the Hollywood blacklist, as historical topics go... It's not even really my era movie-wise, or fetishizing-LA-wise or anything, except for loving LA Confidential or those terrific articles that formed the basis for that terrible movie Gangster Squad.  All the stuff that the comic fetishizes doesn't really get me off-- we go to different churches.  I was more the audience for the LA stuff in Fatale.  I'd rather hear the B-side stories of De Palma and Spielberg and Margot Kidder on some beach in Malibu; any random paragraph out of Easy Riders Raging Bulls tops it for me any day...

But they know how to keep a thing interesting without ever doing anything splashy or fun or exciting, that team.  Like, pleasure-wise, their comics are  the anti-Akira-- it's just panel after panel; all in that same monotone; there's never any kind of "hey we're making a comic" glee to it all.  But the consistency of aesthetic and tone and style, comic to comic, book to book-- I can't help but admire what they've carved out for themselves, overall...?  Like, judging any one thing particularly just seems sort of besides the point, misses the fun of the entire enterprise, what I think keeps me coming back, of just watching these guys assemble their life's work one brick at a time.  I kind of like that overall "this will be a whole thing, you know, when they're dead" of it all more than I like the bricks...?

If they ever did try to do anything exciting to look at, Brubaker-Phillips' Nth Man the Ultimate Ninja, it'd be the worst thing to ever happen because ... it just wouldn't fit that chunk of bookshelf they're building.  (I didn't see that magazine-sized issue of Criminal though so no idea what they did there...)


Goddamn, this is so good.  It's Frontier #6, the Emily Carroll issue...?  Frontier, I think, it's like an anthology where cartoonists each take an issue and do their thing for an issue...?  I don't see it in the shop I usually go to, so this came out a while ago, 2014, I think, but I only got it mid-to-late last year sometime.

Anyways, it's a Emily Carroll horror comic-- there aren't many times that's gone wrong for me.  I really like how she tells her story in this one, mixing past-tense "documentary" stretches and present-tense fiction scenes.  She just adjusts her visual style so slightly to cue up new scenes-- I never felt lost.  The last page is a little too Goosebumps, but I like the mythology she built for this one.  It's not her in fairy-tale mode-- it's closer to her doing a found footage thing, really.

Carroll really excels at creating a little room for you in your mind to fill up on your own, at letting the reader fill in the space between panels with the terrible bits.  I wonder why it took me a while to get to this-- I like her work very, very much.

I don't know-- I've been listening to the Comic Books are Burning In Hell crowd's 2015 Wrap-Up on my commute-- I guess one of my goals for this year should probably be to get back into shape re: expanding my horizons.  I got pretty flabby with my reading last year, didn't really seek out interesting work very consistently beyond whatever passed through my store, the c-grade stuff.  I didn't have to listen very long to notice that I needed to up my reading game, to the extent I want to actually do that, which I don't know, I could just watch movies instead... Have you ever seen movies?  "Movies are pretty great, though" -- my review of comic books. 20150716_183858

Finally sat down with Island #1.  I have a handful of these Island's lying around, figuring it'd be a kind of thing I would be into.  But never sat and pulled the trigger on one since they're all pretty thick and my attention span's only just starting to come back to me, after the year I had last year...

I got that weird thing where I get a little outside my head when I'm looking a thing like this. Just apart from the immediate experience of it, I go to a "well what about the business part of comics" place that isn't really cool to admit to.  Especially on  a thing like this, where it's so strikingly different in goals and tool-sets from whatever else is out on an ordinary comic shop shelf there that ... my mind goes straight to wondering if there's enough here for Joe Q. Ordinary Regular Comics Reader to latch onto to orient themselves.  Or Anthologies have always been a tough road for comics-- or-- or....

But like, I think I shouldn't care about any of that stuff, or that it's uncool to care about that stuff at least, and I should just talk instead about how ...

I guess the interesting thing with this is just how all the comics are constantly present-tense experiences, more interested in visceral reactions to a panel or a page, moreso than to a sequence or building a story or inhabiting a character.  Which isn't uninteresting-- it's interesting they all went in that direction, how that was a common appeal for artists whose surface qualities are so different.

Like, one part that I really liked was there's a story (by Ludroe?) where a skateboarder does some trick.  A character watching the trick in a big empty panel yells "fucking righteous" (Ludroe separates the character from the word balloon, puts space between the two so it's like those words have risen up into the air).  And then there's just this nice moment where the comic follows that up by having the bottom third of the page just be "FUCKING RIGHTEOUS" written in block letters on an all-black background.  That felt like more of a mission statement of Island #1's aesthetic than anything else-- a sort of dedication to in-the-moment enthusiasm, trumping any other virtue.

It felt like the anthology was trying to speak to one particular experience of what the fun of comics might be... uhm, the kind of experience that's the hardest to articulate where ... where it's just the juxtapositions, the timing of images, transitions between panels. Like, the Emma Rios story and Brandon Graham story are both a lot of fun, but from a "looking at page layouts" perspective, or choices of what to put in panels perspective (though that shade of red Rios chooses is a pretty aggressive choice!).

But if the juice for you for comics are stories and writing, scenes and character arcs and themes... well, I don't know what you'd make of this guy.  I barely understood what happened for most of these stories-- not that I particularly cared because ... there's more reliable things to read for stories than comic anthologies, you know...?  But that's where my "worrying about the business of comics" hat goes right back on and...

(Though I might be exaggerating how confusing the stories were, just in that the last big comics-reading experience I had was reading Ranma 1/2 where it's ... the pleasure of that comic for me was how completely direct and immediate and LOUD the storytelling in that comic is-- that way you can grab a page out of context and show it to someone, and ... And the emotions of it are just immediately clear.  It's just all cymbal crashes, the pages of that thing, so maybe the difference between that and the Island comics is just more jarring for me, as a result.  The transition to Graham, say, is pretty pronounced because his strategies are so very much the opposite-- he tends to like to have the emotional content of his stories accrete very slowly and over much longer spans of time, so the reader doesn't really notice until by the end of a comic, an emotional weight has built up around a thing.  Similarly, I suspect Rios works better in quantity because her work is about shifting readers into a different flow-- bringing readers into her aesthetic universe... Which is completely the opposite of what's going on in Ranma 1/2, which is just a completely and totally unsubtle comedy where you don't have to do any work... So... long paragraph; short version-- "maybe I suck at reading comics").

I kinda want to go back and find how other people received this issue.  I can't help but imagine some folks might've gotten thrown.  But maybe not-- maybe people are open to having this kinda experience... That'd be nice, too...   I did like the ... what do you want to call it, aesthetic coherence.  I like that editorially it seems to evidence an overall aesthetic argument being made, instead of trying to be some kinda free-floating something-for-everybody thing.

Anyways, I've rambled around enough and probably need to give that Emily Carroll comic some space-- nothing's topping that tonight, probably... Plus, my burps have gotten weird.  FYI.  I need to go figure out what's going on there.  The last couple were pretty alarming.

Abhay: 2015-- Another Year that I Mindlessly Consumed Entertainment (almost)

Hello. Sorry it's been a long time since I've had opportunity to visit with you. How was your year? Good, I hope. Mine was busier than expected, maybe the busiest and most stressful I've had professionally since I started the whole occupation-thing in 2002. So, plans I had about what I wanted to write here were delayed. So were my plans to impress Jodie Foster, though, so you know, maybe some things are for the best. You were never out of my thoughts completely though, and I'm referring here both to you and also, to Jodie Foster. And so if you'll indulge me, I did want to do another collection of year-end lists, as I have in previous years.  I just like the doing of it, and I like having like a "personal tradition" to keep up, however silly. But this wasn't a year where I felt like as engaged as other years, with comics especially, but television and movies, as well. I watched more Youtube cooking videos this year than prestige television-- it sort of has been a "rebuilding year", in ways I won't bore you with here, so as a result, this is going to be a pretty uninformed series of lists, maybe embarrassingly so where comics especially are concerned.  Plus, because of timing issues, I'm writing it all in one night, and am very sleepy during the part of the process where I usually fix errors or delete things I shouldn't say murder all the babies in their cribs.  But maybe it'll go well.  Or maybe it'll go as well as the rest of our lives have this year OH NOOOOOOOOOO...


Mad_Max__Fury_Road_-_Official_Main_Trailer__HD__-_YouTube+copy 10. Mad Max

You know, this is the one I don't really want on this list. There are movies I'd probably like more that I didn't see this year-- CREED or SPOTLIGHT. I'd probably like the END OF THE TOUR, but I'm too turned-off by the whole "biography against the wishes of the person's families or loved ones" trend this year, or just have my own relationship with the David Foster Wallace work that means something to me (moreso the non-fiction) that I don't think I'm generous enough to open up to a movie.

There were just certain things I didn't connect with for this one, most of all Tom Hardy's Max, the speed of some of the editing towards the end (especially as compared the more thoughtfully-paced earlier movies), particular images (the masses of people at the city for some reason-- huge turn-off).

That said, it'd be foolish not to say I didn't admire the obvious strengths of it-- that spectacular first action chase, the character work on Charlize Theron's character and her performance of it, the practical effects, the comparative emphasis on visual storytelling as compared to other summer blockbusters, the lack of bullshit. It was the only movie I felt like I needed to see twice in the theaters (though the second time through didn't persuade me any more, like I was hoping it might). I don't think I feel about it the way the rest of the internet feels, so it feels false and disingenuous to be on the list-- I respected it much more than I loved it. But anything else I'd put here would be more embarrassing, by comparison.


9. Clouds of Sils Maria

I'm not sure how to describe this one. This is an Olivier Assayas movie showcasing Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, who are really kind of dynamite together. Binoche is an aging actress undergoing a sort of spiritual destruction during the course of agreeing to this play, and the movie does this thing where over the course of the movie, anything feminine about her just gets shredded away. I find that's the thing about the movie that's stuck with me more than anything, just seeing her at the end, transformed for this part, having lost herself in the process. Stewart plays her assistant, and has one of those roles that sort of comments on the rest of her career while at the same time... not just being some kind of stunt or shtick. Though there's a scene of the two reacting in different ways to an X-Men movie that's sort of a highlight of the movie...? It might not be a lot of people's kind of thing, being a character study and a movie about acting and all that, kind of up its own ass a little, but I was willing to go with it.


8. A Girl Walks Home at Night

Was this a 2014 movie? It was still in a theater when I saw it, but I don't remember when it first came out. I just loved it, though. Not for very subtle reasons-- it's about my very favorite thing for a movie to be about: a remarkably good looking actress, doing whatever the hell, who gives a shit. Nominally, it's some shit about vampires or something-- it's all in black-and-white and intimates that it's taking place somewhere in Iran (though it was actually shot somewhere in California). But the movie just has these moments of swooning -- swooning!-- over the couple in this movie and their romance, that I felt helpless not to agree with, got swept up in. I'd compare it to the Faye Wong stretch of Chungking Express, which just had that same infectious romance enough to power the entire movie.


7. Mission Impossible: Motorcycle Protocol

This movie just hits so many of the big pleasure centers of my brain, where it comes to movies: SPIES! CHASE SCENES! HITCHCOCK! KNIFEFIGHTS!

Plus, the movie has a bonus value which I used to get out of Bond movies, before they ran those movies into the ground for the dour "let's make this fun superhero super-serious" crowd:  that when I watch it, I want my own life to be a little better. Watching Tom Cruise reverse-leap off a pipe makes me want to do sit-ups more than anything else on this planet. I need to do sit-ups! I need the motivation! Or watching a whole gunfight at an opera-house where everyone with guns has a tuxedo on-- I haven't worn a tuxedo in, what, 15-25 years...? I haven't been to an opera house except one time, on a class field trip (it sucked, I was 13 and wanted to be reading New Mutants comics instead, but that's besides the point)(or is it? New Mutants: The Opera-- make it happen, Julie Taymor! Spraypaint some bird feathers onto a halloween mask and make us some money, Taymor!)

You'd probably be correct to sneer at Male Lifestyle Porn, but you know, ridiculous images of male hypercompetence just seems like an overall healthier fantasy subject than the sort of "look at this broken failure creep shithead" that Bond or Batman or these other action movies find so "adult." At least if your ultimate goal is cultivating a positive and productive outlook. Granted, I don't know if that's ever been my goal, ever. But... there's also a part where Tom Cruise is on a motorcycle and it goes really fast...? So. I liked that part, too. VROOM!


6. Cartel Land

Oh, I saw this the other day-- I don't know if it's one that's going to stick with me, but I thought this was a good one. It's a documentary about the violence of Mexican drug cartel, and vigilante groups that arise in the United States and Mexico with the stated goals of fighting the cartels. The movie digs into the vigilante groups, particularly the Mexican vigilantes, with such a penetrating gaze -- they go way deeper than I'd guessed they would, at the outset, at least. I think part of it is that I really enjoyed seeing a good movie about the cartels after seeing that movie Sicario just shit all over the bed, writingwise. The part I expect might stick with me with this movie is the end-- it just ends in such a way that's so ... It'd be wrong to call it cynical, but that seems to be the word people use whenever a thing ends with any kind of despair to it, however well earned. But god, what a mess. What a fucking mess.


5. The Hateful Eight

I'm in the tank for Tarantino at this point, just because he's been making movies, his movies, through my life and they've all been so much their own thing, so off on their own aesthetic universe. And now, standing as a bulwark for that tradition of movies, one that not a lot of people are out there even pretending to care about, not when there's blockbuster money to be made. Oh, there are directors working today that I like more-- I like the Coen Bros. more, I think, just in that they have a thematic consistency and work ethic I admire more, even if they've made inarguably worse movies over their careers; I really dug the Wolf of Wall Street so Scorcese out there, still able to pull of a Scorcese movie after all these years, that still feels like the argument-ender, even if he made boring-ass Hugo or whatever other piece of shit inbetween. But any Tarantino movie, by comparison to any of those other people feels the most like a fulfillment of that core idea of what's so appealing about movies to begin with, how they're the greatest trainset there is.

That's true even in this movie, one of his least "interesting" movies in a number of different respects (besides just being interesting for being entertaining). I just particularly enjoyed with this one how dedicated the movie was to fucking with the people watching in every possible capacity. Did you have the moment in the middle of the movie, counting on your fingers, going "wait, how many people are in this movie?" I really loved that moment, and that moment felt very emblematic of what was fun about the entire thing. A movie you can't trust about people you can't trust, where you root for people for reasons you maybe shouldn't entirely trust, either. Who else could get away with it?


4. It Follows

I'm not a huge horror fan, but I admired this movie. I admired that they didn't let having such a great idea for a monster push them off into doing a movie about the rules of that monster, the mythology of the monster, the shit about the monster no one really would care about besides the filmmakers and the geeks. I admired that they trusted more in the atmosphere and the metaphors of the thing. Plus, the best score, by a million miles.


3. The Big Short

It's such a funny movie, ping-ponging around with such erratic, willfully-imperfect filmmaking, jittery, constantly changing thoughts mid-sentence. But now, weeks later, I don't think about any of that and instead, I just keep thinking about Steve Carrell at the end of this movie, talking about who would get blamed. If that's what I'm thinking about weeks later, I have to figure other people are too, and I have to figure that means they nailed it.


2. Mistress America

I walked out of the theater the happiest from this movie than any other movie this year, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's exuberant screwball comedy about characters who are so frantic and desparate and achingly sad. I don't know how many other people are working the funny-sad vein besides Baumbach, but he's been working it a long time now and I've been a sucker for it more often than I would have ever guessed-- I'm always caught by surprise, liking one of his movies-- they all sound so horrible on paper! Oh, but this movie-- it's just a movie where you'd have to be a schmuck to feel any one thing about the characters, other than to just feel happy about how much the movie fucking loves them, you know? Without being saccharine, sentimental, pointless. I don't know any movie liked its characters nearly as much, or where I felt as much the same way-- just such a warm hug of a movie. Plus, my favorite soundtrack of the year.


1. Wild Tales

This wasn't the "best" movie I saw this year, by any number of criteria, but at some point, I realized this Argentinian anthology movie was the movie I kept judging everything against, anyways.

Just because nothing was ever as just high on movies as this movie. The obvious comparison point is to Pulp Fiction, but that comparison would miss the anger of the movie, how angry it felt, how it didn't feel like it was about nothing even as it went from black-comedy gag to black-comedy gag. Maybe sometimes angry about things that as a non-Argentinian I never really fully understood or appreciated, but it felt so immediate. An often imperfect movie-- not every story is as good as the next one, in this collection of shorts. But just the collective effect of it all-- it's just like watching a rampage! This had my favorite shot of the year in it -- you'll know it right away-- but I wouldn't reduce it down to just that. I can't say I felt uplifted by it or hugged by it or any kind of nonsense talk like that-- it's a long snickering-at-people kind of thing.

If I had to guess, here's what I would guess: It just felt like a movie that came to the party awake, ready to dance and have some fun. I compared everything to that spirit, and I just don't know I can say it ever got beaten in that sole respect.


  • American Harmony -- not a 2015 movie, but this documentary about barbershop quartet would be at, oh, #3 or #4 if it was. Presented by Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster. I don't think anything made me laugh anywhere near as hard.  Constantly jaw-dropping.
  • Paul Walker lying on the ground staring up at the sky after escaping death in Fast 8 -- the rest of the movie was the rest of the movie, but this was one of my top 3 favorite moments in any movie this year.
  • Bing Bong.
  • Colin Firth touching God for a few minutes, in the otherwise so-so Kingsmen movie.
  • The 2-3 minutes of atompunk in the otherwise execrable Tommorowland, which should be avoided except for those 2-3 almost-perfect minutes, at least if that imagery is your bag.
  • Goodnight Mommy had the  best audience reactions. Goddamn, people were losing their shit watching this movie.
  • Malin Akerman's little dance at the end of The Final Girls.


The new James Bond was fucking terrible, but I just have to figure I'm not a huge Sam Mendes fan or a fan of the over-serious direction they've headed in overall. I hated Avengers 2 and disliked Jurassic World, but I didn't expect anything from either, so I can't pretend to be let down.

But the one I kept going "uggghhh" in my head to the most was Sicario, even though it was so beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. It was just such bullshit! So phony!  Such bad plotting -- what was the plot of that movie?  What did anyone want?  Why did that movie hate Emily Blunt so much-- I think she's super and has pretty arms???   Just unbearably-stupid macho nonsense-- who was mentally engaged by this movie, and what was their favorite Frank Miller comic? WHAT WAS THEIR FAVORITE FRANK MILLER COMIC YOU KNOW THEY HAD ONE???  At least Frank Miller can ink a page!  An extremely Islamophobic page!

I enjoyed watching it immensely while I was watching it, thanks to Deakins, but just a movie that sours every day in my memory of it.


10. Private Eye

I was hoping to read more online comics this year-- I kept hearing people I trust talk up Jason Shiga's Demon, especially, or Charles Forsman's Revenger. Time wasn't really on my side. I did make it through this Brian Vaughan - Marcos Martin detective comic, though. It was okay, kind of a generic mystery story enlivened by its future LA setting and Vaughan's world-building...? For Vaughan, better than what I've seen of Paper Girls; less interesting than Saga. The best part with this was seeing Martin getting his head around reorienting his art for computer screens, trying out different things.


I'm just behind on COPRA. It's one of my favorite things going, and I should probably rank it higher for that reason, but I've just been saving up issues for a rainy day. Of what I saw, I can say that I continue to very much enjoy Copra. I keep telling myself I'm going to write about it properly someday, but until then, I don't want to half-ass it, so...

This entry could easily also be Stray Bullets too-- I'm behind on that series, but I thought that last run, Killers, was very strong work, and the issues I saw of it this year were also very likable.  I'm just too behind on both of these comics because I'm waiting until my focus is really back where it needs to be to sit with them. I don't want to be looking at these things when I'm not ready to appreciate them, you know? I don't want to treat them like potato chips...

8. Kevin Czap's Futchi Perf 

Sure, this comic had room for improvement, on the writing side just in telling clearer, cleaner A-to-B stories, at least if you believe in the virtue of that kind of thing. But that having been said, it really caught me in a good place when I cracked it open. It was one I got through the mail, and I remember that day, I was just having one of those moments of, you know, gratitude or whatever, just in a good mood, feeling pretty groovy. Getting this comic dropped into my life unexpectedly really fit that overall vibe that day. Because it's very handcrafted-- it's got a texure to it that's just pleasant to hold in your hands, that comic-- I forget what Brian calls it, "good hold"...? The way the colors work, the way they look on the paper, and just the generous spirit especially that it starts with of setting its stories in this ultra-optimistic culturally harmonious version of Cleveland... You know, if your buzz from comics is that they're the most personal and one-on-one of all the visual storytelling media, and if you're having a good day, this comic can be pretty good times. This is a fond comics memory for this year for me.

7. Ronald Wimberly's #LIGHTEN UP

It seems like not a lot of comics "went viral" this year besides this one, or if they did, I don't remember them much-- but this one definitely did and it was a pretty good one. Obviously, there's the politics of the thing -- but I'm tired tonight and don't feel like belaboring any of that here. But even setting all that aside, I thought it was just an effective comic in how it's laid out, how gracefully he made his point. It's just an engaging comic to look at, the choices he makes for what to draw, how he mixes showing him reacting to things in the more narrative panels with panels more graphically laying out his internal thought processes. Or I like the different approaches to lettering-- white letters on black backgrounds, black letters on all white panels, white letters on flat colors, etc.-- the way those different choices kind of effected the "tone" of his voice. You know, probably still room for improvement-- the panel of the pin going towards the donkey's ass-- that whole panel, I wasn't so into, a little too cutesy on that one, not my favorite one. But after that, the last two panels are killers. Stone-cold killers. The reaction it got was well deserved because he was saying interesting things-- but he also saying those things in interesting ways, and it just feels... I don't know, it feels dumb in a way that's hard to articulate not to mention that, too.

6. Prez

I'm behind on this Vertigo series, but I thought the first two were pretty funny. Jokes that are funny? In a DC comic? That is a rare skill. Plus, it's sort of in that genre of wacky satirical-future comics that ... I feel like that used to be more of a thing in comics, and just went away...? Is that just in my head? It feels like not a lot of people have worked that vein in the last little while...

5. Kaptara

Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod teaming up for a He-Man/Krull-Universe nervous breakdown. The first issue of this-- not so great, but past that, I thought it was a fun adventure-comedy.  There's a balancing act to the book that I find likable, steering between loving childish shit while at the same time being horrified at the idea of grown-ups loving childish shit, adults tainting childish shit by sticking around it too long-- I'm not sure how much of that's intentional or in my head, though.  Mostly, I'd really dug Prison Funnies and Infinite Kung Fu back in the long time ago, and it was always kinda crazy-making that people weren't really paying more attention to those guys back then. So it's just kind of nice seeing those two having a big hit Image series. It proves that X number of years ago, I was right, and that's all I really care about, ever, ever, just being right, just want to be right.  I hope people rediscover the Judgment Night soundtrack next because that soundtrack had some strong ideas about how we could combine rap music and rock music that are worth revisiting.

4. Casanova: Something or Another #1

I loved the first two volumes of Casanova, give or take an issue here or there, but the last series had been really hard to connect with, at least for me-- and I think purposefully on the book's end of things. I haven't really heard other people express that frustration so maybe it was just me, but that third volume was a comic very much about dismantling all the things that I liked about Casanova to begin with, and had reacted so favorably to Casanova to begin with... I had a rough time with that. I think it had to go to that place-- the pop culture armors around Casanova had to be ripped away and destroyed. But it made for a hard book to feel any great affection for.  That having been said, the first issue of this fourth volume really hit me hard because it felt like what all that other stuff had been cleared away to make room for...? Especially there's a moment in this comic of a girl at a party by a pool that's just so ... present-tense, and just ... Casanova at its best just feels drunk on comics, and for me, that pool scene had that quality as much as any of the peak moments in that book's run. And the rest-- LA apocalyptic cult shit? I mentioned in talking about that Mission Impossible movie how some genre things are just pleasure centers for me, and ... yeah... LA apocalyptic cults? That shit landed like bombs for me.  The rest of the series? You know, highs and lows. I didn't have much use for that latest issue, but the one before it, I thought that one had some groovy stuff in it. Strikes and gutters. But what a start...

3. Lumberjanes

This had gotten by me until this year. You've probably heard about this one before -- I don't really have much interesting to add about it. It lived up to the hype.

2. Exquisite Corpse

This is an extremely light and frothy romantic comedy by Penelope Bagieu, who is more famous in France for being a blogger-cartoonist. I'd heard of her work for years so it was nice to finally see some of it in action. This isn't a very deep or sophisticated comic-- it's a very lightweight piece of work; I wouldn't expect it to be on too many Top 10 lists probably let alone this high.  But just a book whose merits I particularly appreciated when I read it, I guess-- the character acting, especially. And you know... look at this list! Holy crap I did not care about comics this year! Not enough to have a really cool list!  This is a terrible list! Oh man...

1. Sacred Heart 

Liz Suburbia's unsupervised-teens epic. I'd seen some of it online before, though it was all redrawn for this Fantagraphics re-release. Sacred Heart's very much a big sprawling ensemble piece -- when those are done well, that's just something to see for a comic, I think. The underlying mystery of what's going on in that comic is a little on the fuzzy side, but I enjoyed watching this graphic novel prowl through this small town, seeing Suburbia draw out the characters' lives...


If you're interested in interviews about manga, what a year. The translated discussion between Naoki Urasawa & Hisashi Eguchi would ordinarily be the highpoint, especially their talking about pre-Akira Katsuhiro Otomo. I know that section lead me to track down Family, from 1979's Highway Star (which was actually the best comic I read this year, though it felt awkward to mention on a top 10 list, being (a) from 1979 and (b) a fan scanlation-- it felt like you're not supposed to put a comic like that on a top 10 list).


But that was just the warm-up to the Naoki Urasawa television show, where he follows different manga artists and talks with them as a camera-rig he specially designed for his show films them drawing their comic pages. I don't know if you're a process junkie, but if you are, this is the motherload, Shangri-La, the philosopher's stone, the end of the rainbow. It's a multi-episode show about drawing comics, starring one of my favorite comic creators in the world talking with a cast of killers, absolute killers (there's an episode untranslated online of Golgo 13 artist Takao Saito but I haven't seen a translated copy of that episode around yet). There has never been anything equivalent to this.


I made it until December before a comic actually angered me. I kept hearing about this guy Tom King...? He's the Latest Guy, by the sound of it. And hey, congratulations to him on being the Latest Guy. That's a swell thing to be, I hope, for however long that lasts.  But anyways, I heard about this guy, so while I was at a shop for the first time in, oh, 3-4 months (?)(More?), I picked up one of his comics.  There's a new Vision comic from Marvel, #1 issue, him and Gabriel Hernandez Walta-- I think I'd even heard people specifically talking up these Vision comics as being, like, a big deal, the latest "hey even though it's a Marvel comic it's actually blah blah blah" buzz comic.

Seventeen pages.

Seventeen pages before I'm looking at a full-page splash of a woman getting a sword shoved through her torso.


I know there's a tradition to it. I'm not saying that Tom King hasn't joined a long and proud lineage before him...


But do you think after the aliens murder us all, when they're picking through the rubble, they'll pick up a comic and be like "why did the nerdy male humans fantasize so much about the torsos of the female humans being stabbed so much?" I don't think that'll happen because I don't believe the aliens will speak English-- also, I think the aliens will use high-powered laser weapons which will incinerate all of the comic books, good and bad alike.


And I get that other people don't share my aversion to seeing women getting constantly skewered in comic books. Other people are, like, whatever about that. Heck, maybe I'm the weird one. Sure. I kind of will admit that I have issues about-- about all sorts of stuff, where I react extra-negatively to this kind of imagery. I just ... I don't get why no one even notices, why it's not even mentioned, "oh by the way Tom King shares comic's bizarre insistence that women's torsos be constantly stabbed." Why don't people warn each other?  Would the butchering of women be a spoiler to you people?


At this point if a fucking superhero comic didn't have a woman's torso being decimated, I would be more surprised. I'd want a spoiler warning. "Spoiler warning-- no violence against women."

Is it... is it like some kind of Satanic or Freemason rite that all comics writers have to go through if they want to be Famous at comics? Do they have to destroy a woman's torso before they'll be accepted as a "Real comics writer" at one of those fucking Marvel retreats, when they're all licking goat-blood from off a pentagram? Is it all Lovecraftian?


... When did I ever sign up for this, is what I keep asking myself? I remember being a little kid -- I just wanted to read about Captain America throwing a metal disc at people's heads, resulting in their permanent brain damage -- you know, like a normal person! I never signed up for hating women's torsos! (I kinda think women's torsos are fun to look at and/or touch-- GASP!  Does that make me unclean???). When did that become part of the whole nerd-thing? Why is this a thing with you people?


So you know, I'm sure Tom King's great and all, when it comes to entertaining you people, with your weird anti-torso issues, and your generally-speaking being fucked in the head. Congratulations to the guy-- if I know comics, he really picked a surefire route to success -- no one in comics ever went broke making comics where women get butchered like cattle.  Congratulations to him.  But uhhhh, just... you know... After a year kind of not being all that invested mentally in comics, this ... This just didn't fucking help.




10-- Rick & Morty -- Total Rickall

The one with Mr. Poopybuthole. I don't really know what else I can say about that. Seems self-explanatory.

Programme Name: Doctor Who - TX: 12/08/2015 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Doctor Who Series 9 trail - 12.08.15 - (C) BBC - Photographer: N/A

9-- Doctor Who -- Heaven Sent

I'd counted this show out, I suppose, but this episode of Peter Capaldi trapped in a prison is just a hall-of-fame episode. I just really like that the core of it is so strong, they could have done this episode any year they've been making Doctor Who. JJ Abrams has talked a lot about mystery boxes over the years, but this puzzle of an episode just seemed to deliver on that idea more than he's ever managed to. Hell, it just seemed to deliver on the entire idea of Doctor Who more than so many episodes manage, especially in the last few years. I know they can't all be like this one. But goddamn, why can't they all be like this one??


8-- Inside No. 9 -- Cold Comfort

The "villain" of this piece-- politically, very uncool and offensive. That having been said, this was a pretty memorable half-hour of TV. Inside No. 9 is a Twilight Zone / Tales from the Darkside anthology show over in the UK, usually a show with dark gag-endings, but no other episode has been as unsettling or effective as this one, about volunteers at a suicide hotline crisis-center. Because even if it had a thriller plot on the surace, scrape all that away and what do you have? A suicide crisis hotline-center. That's a lot to think about, even before you start talking story or characters.



  • Daily Show -- Finale of the Jon Stewart Era
  • Mad Men -- The Second-to-Last Episode
  • Justified -- The Last Episode
  • Late Night with David Letterman -- the Last Episode
  • Parks & Recreation -- Final Episode

It seems silly to even put these in any order. I don't know there's any TV show I'm nearly as invested in as any one of these left standing.  (Maybe SNL...?) (There was also the final episode of Community in 2015, though that show had ended so many times previously, it was hard to get as broken up over it.) Whereas: Jon Stewart's someone I've been following since Talk Show Jon, Parks & Recreation had a particularly excellent final season,  Justified had always been an underrated show and stuck its landing just perfectly -- and landed it with an ending that felt like an Elmore Leonard ending, Mad Men was the best drama on TV while it was on (including Breaking Bad -- suck it), and David Letterman had been there and represented something in my head, my entire life, since early memories.


I don't know-- I kind of want to get off the "Golden Age of Television" train and all of these shows ending this year felt like ... I want to take it as a sign. We'll see, I guess.

Mad Men, I'd just put the second-to-last over the final, final episode, in that the second-to-last episode had the best moment of the final season and maybe the best single moment of the year in television-- Peggy Olsen carrying Japanese pornography down a hallway, wearing sunglasses.  Sometimes people attack that show and sometimes they pull it off, but usually I don't even know what the hell they were watching...


2-- Three Days in Hell

Andy Samberg's tennis comedy. There has needed to be a great tennis comedy for a very, very long time, and this one had about a million things in it that made me laugh. There was some good comedy in the "incredibly stupid" school of comedy this year-- the Wet Hot American Summer show had plenty. But this felt pretty obviously like the winner of that particular competition, for David Copperfield alone.


1-- Master of None -- Mornings

Oh man, I'm getting pretty tired and bored of my own voice. This show just meant the most to me, and this was the best episode of the show, the one where they put away jokes or making sociopolitical statements or sucking up to Indian parents, and just went all-in on the relationship story. I've been playing that Arthur Russell song on my commute lately since watching this episode. I've been rolling out my own pasta lately, too-- some of that's this episode, probably.

The Golden Age of TV used to be shows that were really struggling with Right Now, whats going on Right Now. And then the geeks swarmed in, and now it's shows about dragons and zombies and the Rapture and Marvel superheros-- who gives a fuck? This show felt like it was about things I actually care about right now, every which way, from the relationship talk, to the show's constant emphasis on empathy, to over-reading Yelp, to the pasta (the tough part's getting the flour-to-egg ratio right-- I still haven't gotten that part down).

And just the filmmaking, the location shooting, the soundtrack (the Pete Rock & CL Smooth drop is one of the best music drops like that I've ever seen in a TV show)-- it all just felt like people who were very present in what they were doing, with so much of the bullshit that's usually inbetween stripped away.

I just loved it very much.


At some point this year, I realized that I was going to be working on a very exhausting schedule, and I came up with this idea-- my idea was that I would eliminate choice in what TV show I would watch so that when I came home from a long day of work, I could put on a show, and not have to spend time thinking about what I'd want to watch. That would mean I'd need a show with a lot of episodes, and some reason to want to watch more than one-- you know, some kind of soap opera element.


I chose a show called Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty Little Liars is one of the most popular shows in the country. Provided, that is, that you're a 15-25 year old woman. Outside of that demographic, not quite as wildly popular. And so I found that very intriguing because I'm sick of being in someone's target demographic. I'm sick of being marketed to, sick of things built for me by people who think I'm a moron, that I'm someone they can put in some well-defined box of market research. And I think in choosing this show, I wanted to break away from this programming that has all of us staying in our lanes. Why should we stay in our lanes? The whole point of art is to get out of our lanes. So why not watch a show meant for teenage girls? Right? Pretty good theory, I thought.

One small twist: it turns out this show is a little on the fucking insane side, and less a window into what life's like for modern teenagers, and more a window into ... ludicrousness...? Supposedly, it's a show about 4-to-5 girls who have to confront a villain who is blackmailing them with their teen secrets. So that sounds like a pretty straightforward teen thriller, right? But in practice... I really honestly don't even know where to start. There's the part where they're on a Halloween train, and Draculas start singing. The part where there's a fight in a sawmill against identical girls wearing red Don't Look Now jackets. There's a part where they leave town and go to another town where a lady has Dune eyes and then they meet ghosts. The teen blackmailer has an underground bunker and access to Star Trek equipment. At one point, there was a part involving human teeth that ... I don't know what I could type here to describe this moment that would actually sound like Human English. Or- or- oh god there was a part with a horseshoe that... The Horseshoe! (Begins wildly gesticulating having lost all ability to type words)


I did not expect what I got when I chose this show. They solved the multi-season long caper of "Who is the Blackmailer" over the summer (and their solution was incomprehensible and deeply offensive, like unquestionably sociopolitically offensive, indefensible in multiple ways).  But for me, the journey to get to that was so often... just inexplicable and unique and wonderful that I am ... filled with a gratitude, but also a genuine and very unshakable befuddlement as to ... like... why? Why did they make any of the choices that they made when they made this show? Why?

And now, basically, the long and short of it is regular television shows are no longer interesting to me, in so far as they are merely sane, and all the food I eat tastes like ashes. Basically.


Daredevil-- Episode 8 -- Shadows in the Glass

I tried watching that Daredevil show, but quit after watching this episode. I hadn't realized I had made it that far-- I think I fast-forwarded a lot. But then I hit this moment in this episode that was so fucking infuriating...

Cast your memory back-- this is a show that when it came out, people online started to pretend it was a "Crime epic", or a "Real crime show", or "not fucking bullshit." So that was the context I was watching it, assuming I was watching something that was trying to be a real television crime show instead of just junky dweeby nonsense. And the show kinda pretends along for a little while, especially with the Kingpin parts, where they build up this mystery-- who is the Kingpin? Who is this mysterious figure that no one in the city knows, no one in the city has met, but runs all of the crime in the city from the shadows?

This episode answers that question by having KINGPIN HOLD A PRESS CONFERENCE! Which Daredevil "sees" when it is broadcast live.

But why would TV news stations broadcast a man's press conference if they don't know who he is???  The whole rest of the show is that no one in the city knows who the Kingpin of crime is, that a Kingpin of crime even exists! So, to the people in the world of this show-- some random man is like "I'm throwing a press conference" and rather than, you know, videotape it, review the footage, edit it, and then report on it if it's actually newsworthy, TV news stations on this show instead just put whatever-the-fuck on live TV...? "People need to see this! We don't know who this is or what he's going to say or whether he might take out his penis, but let's roll the dice and put him out on live Television."

And then what does he say in this press conference that is inexplicably getting broadcast throughout the city's airwaves?

1 2


He tells people his name. Because they don't know who the fuck the strange man inexplicably spouting inane gibberish at them is!  They're watching a press conference from a person whose name they don't know!  And that's the best written part of that entire scene-- every other bit of dialogue in that scene is just the rankest shit. He's just someone TV stations have randomly put on TV to introduce himself to people, like some kind of weird dating video...

What the fuck was this bullshit and why were people pretending they were watching an epic crime show when one of the most pivotal scenes in the show is that fucking terribly written??? When the Pretty Litle Liars flush human teeth down a toilet, I at least don't have to hear nitwits pretend they're watching some Golden Age of TV when the toilet flushes! I stopped watching all these Marvel shows after that-- the internet's just not to be trusted -- too many people are too desperate to fool themselves into thinking they're watching an Achievement in Television Sciences while they jerk off to dimestore junk-- only teenage girls understand what I want to watch on television anymore!


5.  Inside Amy Schumer- "Last Fuckable Day"

4.  Saturday Night Live-- "Meet Your Second Wife"

3. Hell's Club

2.  The Theatrical Trailer for ROAR

1.  Key & Peele- "Negrotown"


Abhay: Quickly on Two Recent Superhero Comics

(Work on getting back to this year's Inquisition series is proceeding slowly.  Sorry for the delays.  I just woke up and started to write a little brief thing about two superhero comics that I'd read the other night, to get my fingers moving for work-- I thought I'd write one or two paragraphs. Anyways, it started running long, so I'll just put it here rather.  Just a quick pointless little note:)


Read Mastermen and the last issue of Supreme: Blue Rose — both by dudes who made their names (less so with Ellis) in a mode of superhero comics that seem to have fallen out of fashion.  The "superhero genre interrogation" comic.

Mastermen’s part of Morrison’s Multiversity project of DC one-shots.  I have a hard time with those, how little the stories in the issues seem to add up to anything, all the cliffhangers.  I like the part where it all feels like watching a guy happily rolling around in filth, you know?  The good bits, at least for me, have been where it's felt like he's trying to create one definitive catalog of all the images in that genre that he likes.  But my least favorite thing about superhero comics is that unresolved nature of them, and I guess Morison doesn't feel the same way, probably sees that as a cornerstone of their appeal.  I understand the necessity of the cliffhangers, the logic of them--  I just don't find it particularly entertaining, the way this project just stutters.

Plus: I just don’t think he’s going to stick the landing; he didn’t on Final Crisis; he didn’t on Seven Soldiers; the Invisibles was a long time ago.  Being pleasantly surprised would be nice, but.

This Mastermen thing was probably my least favorite of the project so far in that it’s him playing with my least favorite type of that story, the “dark everything went wrong alternate universe” story.  First off, it’s almost always the same exact story— “what if there was a dar—” “all of the superheros would kill each other single tear rolls down cheek. NEXT!”  Why can’t anyone just cook a nice dinner in a dark alternate universe?  I made meatballs last night -- they came out pretty good; our actual universe is extraordinarily dark; we actually exist within a really bleak horseshit universe, all the time, but the meatballs are still tasty; I think that's got to mean something, right?

Second, I grew up a Marvel kid where there was a continuity and things were set in this analogue of our world, for the most part.  So even though they had their dark alternate universes, the Sentinels or what have you, anytime that kind of superhero story would pop up, I remember greeting them with an enormous impatience, being irritated about having to wait around to get back to the "real" story, the "real" universe where what happened mattered.  The stuff with consequences, dammit!

Even though I'm old enough to see the illogic of that... I think I still have that a little.  I don't think I've shaken that.  Which is pathetic, but hopefully in a slightly adorable way, at least.  Makes me laugh, at least.

Third, I didn't find it a very good instance of that type of story in that it felt like it tried to have its cake and eat it too.  "What if the Nazis found Superman?"  "Oh, he'd still be a nice guy-- the entirety of the Holocaust would've happened in the three months he was away from Germany.  But he'd still be a super-great guy."

I don't know if this Mastermen universe is a homage to a specific DC comic -- with Morrison lately, there's always some annotation out there ready to assure me that it is, I suppose.  But setting aside how "Nazi Superman" might've been portrayed in some 1967 comic, that just seems like a fucking dumb idea.  (I've heard of that comic where Superman gets raised by commies but skipped that one, too, for the same reason.)  Super-baby only becomes Superman because he was raised by cool Smallville middle-American people with Midwestern bourgeois small-town provincial values -- to me, that's part of the core schtick of that character, and it's one of the better features of that character, I would even say.

Having other folks raise a super-baby and he stills ends up as Superman...?  Maybe I'm nuts, but I don't think the math quite works there.

Also: the Freedom Fighters?  Really?  No.  Nope.  No no.

In addition, boy, Jim Lee sure seemed especially uninspired.  He had to draw a splash page of a rocketship at one point, and the most interesting thing in the splash wasn't the rocketship -- it was the detail on the girders in the warehouse that the Nazis kept the rocketship in.  Like, I'm looking at this splash of the most amazing thing I'd ever see in my life, if I were in that room, and instead saying to myself, "that's some nice detail work on those girders."

The rocketship's just this dildo shape with speed lines on it for no reason.  Alien rocketship made of extraterrestrial metals hurtled from an exploded planet  ... yawn...?

I’d actually been enjoying that Supreme Blue Rose comic more, even though its title was "Blue Rose", which sounds like the name of an album by an earnest young singer-songwriter, crooning about blind dates she went on in the pouring rain, stuff like that.

Even if the investigation frame or specific moments didn't feel entirely fresh (e.g., the "weird priest" scene), I did like that it was built on a concept that felt a little fresher -- watching characters flail around in a deformed aborted-reboot universe.  (I wonder a little if it'd have been better or worse if I hadn't have read the Alan Moore run).  Sure, it was another “dark everything went wrong alternate universe” story, but I like that it didn't stop at defining "everything went wrong" as just being that "Superhero fiction never happened."  I like that it was instead "Superhero fiction never happened ... but the broken fragments of that fiction are trying to reemerge into the fringes of this deformed reality anyways."

I'm sure there are superhero comics that've played a similar card, but I like how this one was executed as almost a horror thing (though the horror quality never felt fully realized). Actually, I'm not sure if any quality of that comic ever felt fully realized, though I might chalk that up as part of the appeal, the indeterminate state this comic existed in.  Not so much a full-on ghost story as a sort of barely-there exorcism of the genre.

I guess I liked that Supreme book overall more, though, of the two projects,though it's certainly the less ambitious.  I just felt like it was more committed to at least pretend to investing some novelty into the genre.

A bland ending, though.  Or more time spent on the Dax-Ethan meeting just would’ve been nice at least.  I felt like that meeting was the promise that had been made to the reader, at the outset, and that just never paid off.  Seven issues build to a two-page scene...?  Look: based on other Ellis work, I went in not expecting much character work, not expecting any drama or emotion.  So I can't pretend to be too upset -- I was never that invested.  But seven issues is a lot of road to travel for two pages of nothing-but-plot.

I understand the logic of the underwhelming ending to the deformed, aborted reboot universe; I don't entirely understand the "entertainment" part.

I just especially like Tula Lotay's work -- she was very much the star of that Supreme comic, more than anything else about it.  I liked how Lotay always made every panel feel very liminal, without going for obvious tricks.  Plus, the character designs always just seemed really fashionable and stylish without losing a certain superhero-adjacent appeal; really swell fashion choices in this comic. Sure, Multiversity had Quitely and Cameron Stewart, at the top of their games.  But even if both drew better, had better storytelling, made fewer "bad choices" (there's a sound effect "No" in #7 that's really pretty ghastly), neither felt as entertainingly alien; as new; I'd seen their moves before.

What was most striking about the two comics, though, was just how out of step they both feel now.  Besides Astro City (which has been around since the 90's), I don't think "the clever superhero comic that questions how the superhero comic works in some way" is a very populated genre at the moment.

I grew up with folks playing around with superhero comics in weird, interesting ways.  For a long time, that was 100% the kind of comic I constantly wanted to read.  Heck, I still like the idea of that kind of comic.  It's just such a weird genre, superheros, the most comics-y genres that the idea of watching someone take a scalpel to it in any way has such an appeal for me.  I like that genre because it’s the imagination’s trash heap— every dumb fantasy idea anyone’s ever had could fit into a superhero comic somewhere, if you just slap a mask on it, which makes stuff that’s more in an analytic mode fun to me, going back to Watchmen or The Enigma or what have you, that so much geography of the imagination could potentially be interrogated in some way.

But boy, it doesn’t feel like a very “hip move” in 2015. Which is kind of interesting.  Because superhero stories have only become more ubiquitous in the overall culture, and yet "statements about the superhero genre" just seem more unnecessary than ever within comics. Both of these comics felt like relics.  Supreme Blue Rose still had some wriggle to it, but Multiversity very much feels like an "old folks play their hits" act.  There's a disconnect there, maybe, though I don't think I can explain it.

It feels exhausted.  It all feels like such exhausted, fallow terrain, at the moment, notwithstanding their cultural ascendancy, notwithstanding being at the peak of this rather massive fad.  Even setting aside my own exhaustion of hearing about dumb casting announcements and dumb projected schedules and dumb spinoffs of spinoffs of TV projects, even setting aside my own feelings of being very tired and wanting a nap, just look at the stands and those comics aren't really there, except Astro City, still plugging along, after all these years.  (And maybe some people might count Powers, though reasonable minds could differ as to that book's intentions).

Why did people have more interesting things to say about superhero comics in their dead-est years?  Wouldn't you expect the opposite?  Or is there some quality of a thing being culturally ascendant that makes people who would be inclined to think about those things just throw their arms up and surrender?  Maybe, it just feels more imperative for creative people to find something, anything else to do with their time, just to distinguish themselves if nothing else.

I don't think it's a bad thing-- if Multiversity is any indication, I wouldn't enjoy reading those kinds of comics very much at the moment; it's not the part of the store I really go to first.

It just seemed like a curious thing, maybe worth a brief note.

Abhay: Inquisition- Detective Comics #35 & #36

Intro text!  I love it! This is the 5th in a series of question-and-answer sessions about recent comics.  The same 10 questions get asked in each installment of this series; the answers are sometimes different, except when I get sleepy, then I just copy-paste and hope no one notices.

Past installments have been about The Valiant #1, Bitch Planet #1, Rumble #1, and The Names #1.  This week breaks from the all #1 issue motif that had been going before, so that I could try out a complete two-part story.  How exciting!  INTRO TEXT!

10 Questions about DETECTIVE COMICS #35 & #36 by Benjamin Percy, John Paul Leon, Dave Stewart, Jared K. Fletcher, Dave Wielgosz, Rachel Gluckstern, and associates.

A basic description of this comic, so that everyone's on the same page.

Writer Benjamin Percy describes his fiction as typically concerning "bigfoot and bearded ladies, horse ranches, marijuana colonies and elk-hunting resorts." This two-part story features none of these things -- instead, Batman tries to survive a disease outbreak that erupts at an airport after a mysterious plane crash.

The Batman fights a cold. With his bat-fists.

I couldn't find an interview about these comics, so here's Percy taking to Guernica about his work as a journalist:

"One of my assignments was to check out 'what was really happening' in the nightlife of this city. So I went to an S&M club where people were dancing in cages and there was this giant medieval-looking wheel you could get strapped on for a whipping. I hit a lot of locations like this, one of which was an underground thrash metal club. It was full of dudes with shaved heads that revealed the tats on their scalps. When I walked in, the band was raging and the mosh pit extended across the entire dance floor. The ceiling was low with exposed pipes and timbers—one guy with a massive mohawk was hanging upside down and punching people while they punched and kicked him."


Is this comic about anything besides its plot?

The first part is a spectacle-driven set of reveals, all plot hooks. But in the second issue, there's some small divergences from that plot:  a little essay about airports as metaphors for life; a (extremely ill-timed24-style War on Terror torture bit; a little sentimental essay about death, near the end; arguably, an extended detour to a S&M club (which has a plot function, but is so wedged-in and amusingly out-of-nowhere that it seems almost churlish not to mention here).

It doesn't quite cohere into being a whole piece.  It doesn't quite manage to have a point. The writing definitely face-plants when it tries to pretend that the story was about something, a badly misfired attempt to tack on a gooey Hallmark ending onto a story about bioterrorism.


 Tangent: Speaking of Batman, the ones I grew up on and remember most fondly that weren't by Frank Miller, they were all by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle, so I should probably mention here the fundraising efforts that are underway for Mr. Breyfogle who's suffered health issues recently, in case news of that got by you and you have similarly warm feelings towards that run.  I especially like the issue where Batman pointlessly fights a white tiger for no reason, and it very nearly ties into my next point, sort of.

It succeeds more when it's an empty exercise in style. That's probably true of all of the Batman comics I bother remembering. Style is that character's greatest virtue -- that character has invited a range of styles that just isn't true of other characters in industrial comics; that isn't true of all that many characters outside of such comics, either.  It doesn't make me want to read comics regularly about that character any more because holy shit am I ever bored of hearing about the Batman.  But when it's a creator whose work I enjoy enough to not even care what they're working on, just to see them work (here, John Paul Leon), when they want to get paid, and put out a Batman comic?  I can least ask myself "what will they bring to that character" in a way that I don't think is true of any of the other paycheck characters in comics (e.g., Wolverine, Spider-man; who else?  Hellboy?).

Anyways, Simonson-Goodwin Manhunter is a style exercise, but it's a stone-cold killer, as good as it gets. Who even remembers the plot to Manhunter? There'd be no point to -- I remember that fight at the cathedral, instead.  There's worse things to be in the world than stylish.  This comic, when it tries in its last page to convince the reader it told them some sappy story about a grizzled war-vet Airport Cop, it's not so hot.  But that out-of-nowhere bit set at a S&M club? It wasn't enough, but I thought that was a nice try, at least.  I wish they'd gone further in that direction.  (For example: spanking and blindfolds...? #notmyChristian)


Did the creative team make any interesting choices in the visual presentation of the story?

(The bit where I gush about John Paul Leon: Let me just get this bit out of the way, but man, That Fucking Guy. He understand light; he gets a lot of ink on a page without pages being drowned in the blacks, without it becoming murky, without the action ever becoming unclear. He can draw with a thin line and detail the hell out of a moment, then in the next panel go full-blown noir and tell the story in only slices of light. But his lighting choices, there's usually a storytelling reason-- he's not just showboating. His stuff is detailed without feeling like any linework is there for no reason. There's always a feeling of a human hand with his work, some other person in the world who put ink on paper just for you. In these comics in particular, he goes from massive early-00's-comics spectacle to more classical the-Batman-lurks-in-the-shadows moments, and it's still all somehow a consistent experience. I mean, shitShit, I just think that dude's good at his job.)


A design-heavy page from the second of the two issues.

Here, while many of the pages are dominated by standard Batman adventures, the comic still gives the authors plenty of opportunity to show off visually: a page where the panels are set within the negative space of a biohazard symbol (with the head of the character who has imposed that quarantine superimposed above the symbol's center, with the panels showing the results of his action orbiting him, conveying the hierarchy of the situation both through narrative panels and through a recognized symbol); an early page with a "procedural" quality, depicting airport security locking the doors for a quarantine; a page of Nightwing stalking through a fenced-splash page of the S&M club (particularly, the momentum that they create by placing a tiny figure of Nightwing at the bottom of each of the three panels of the fenced-splash).


A one-panel flashback to Airport Cop's war experience. For only this panel, Leon breaks from the visual style of the rest of the comic, and gets closer to something like a Daniel Zezelj panel. I like how you can feel that texture of Leon drawing a razor blade across the ink for those small white lines (wild guess).  What's most notable are those black abstract shapes that suggest chaos, violence, ruined buildings, but are just abstract black shapes on which narration can be stated without the clunkiness of word baloons. It's a shame they only pull that move out for the one panel.

Environments are somewhat color-coded to help the reader locate themselves: the airport is bathed in a dull yellow-grey-brown mix; Gotham outside of the airport, just after sunset, in oranges and purples; that S&M club in red and purple; air-traffic control and a diseased airplane, in green. Basically, out-of-the-airport? Vivid colors. In the airport? Institutional colors. I imagine the colors help readers want to get out of that airport, just like the Batman.


Use of color as detail, in this bit -- air traffic control displays lighting a face. Note the arm tattoos: this isn't even a major character in the comic, but he is nevertheless visually interesting.


How is the comic structured?

One story over two issues. If you wanted to break it up into a three-act structure, I'd figure issue one is Act One (a diseased plane infects an airport), while the second issue is Acts Two (things get worse as an uncaring bureacracy takes over), and Act Three (the Batman beats the shit out of somebody, Batman-style).

I don't know that's how I think of the story, though, as there's no noticeable character arc or theme at play here, no catharsis either aimed for or really expected.  I just think of a comic like this more as being structured like a joke, setup-&-punchline.  Setup: Batman gets sick because of a bad guy (issue one).  Punchline: Batman hurts the bad guy until Batman feels better about himself (issue two).

Not much of a cliffhanger inbetween issues: the story break upon the reveal that there is a villain responsible for the virus attack, some white guy with a beard.  This information is conveyed by a television broadcast.  Usually people will ground their last page cliffhangers on a character the reader cares about reacting to information, either verbally or through a reaction shot or both; Naoki Urasawa is particularly fond of throwing in reaction shots on his cliffhanger pages, say; Brian Vaughan likes a "Shit just got worse" final splash page; there's the often-ripped-off Mark Millar splash on a line promising a future issue filled with Big Action.  Here, the issue break dialogue is just a television broadcast of Mumford & Sons speaking in an undisclosed location saying "I don't represent the Middle East. I represent the Earth.  America has become the enemy of the Earth, has declared war with the Earth, and so I have declared war with America."


A little underwhelming.

It's a question how much Batman actually motivates the story or its conclusion.  Batman doesn't really do anything in issue one other than just provide exposition.  In issue two, the Batman just calls up Nightwing, and Nightwing runs around beating / kissing information out of people.  The bad guys aren't uncovered by Batman -- after hearing the Batman's around, they just decide to reveal themselves, at which point, the Batman magically appears and damages them.

If you picked up the Batman comic in order to see the Batman be cool or effective, I don't know that you actually got that from this story.

Another choice the authors make is that the story doesn't stick to the point of view of those in the airport. Rather than attempt to be a claustrophobic story about Batman trapped in a quarantined airport, a sizable chunk of part two instead takes place in Belarus...? Batman calls up a torture-happy post-911 post-24 version of Nightwing (really??), and several pages are from his perspective.  For a survival horror comic (which is the kind of comic a story about a bioterror-attack calls to mind), it seems unusual to break point of view so drastically.

Since it's two issues, counting pages doesn't make much sense and isn't worth the time, probably. That said, issue one has noticeably longer scenes: most prominently, a plane crash sequence that lasts about 6 pages (and really seems to have been this comic's true raison d'etre, more than anything else). Issue two is much more to the point, broken up mostly into 1 page units, with a couple bits lasting 2 pages. I think the longest chunk of issue 2 is the three-page chunk of Nightwing infiltrating the S&M club...


Is there anything noteworthy about the cover, logo, lettering, or design?

We'd noted above how the narration for the war flashback was put on top of abstract shapes that served a storytelling function. With Leon, the letterers often lay down narration in negative space. When they do use caption boxes, the caption boxes seem more planned than is often the case -- they keep the caption boxes taught against the panel border. I really wish people would do that more, if they could: there's less the sense of the caption box being the writer intruding upon the comic, more of a sense of the writer being invited into the comic by the artist.

Also noteworthy: the cover to the second issue spoils the ending of the comic...? Say whaaaaaaaat?


From the lengthy plane crash sequence in the first of the two issues.

There's few sound effects in this comic, but I especially liked this panel where Leon diverges from the cinematic mode of the rest of the airplane crash sequence and just draws a more abstract image of glass shattering, presented in black and white.  I like how that panel acts as a sort of sound effect for the sequence -- it's almost like a cymbal crash.  It's a drawing purely of the sensation of the moment, rather than the moment itself. Very effective.


Is anything about this comic interesting politically, socially, or from some other frame of reference?

The torture-as-entertainment bit, but I can't pretend to be too angry about it.  That kind of shit was just past its expiration date before that CIA torture-report came out.  It wasn't upsetting -- it's just dull now.  Which is probably the more upsetting thing, having something so awful become so normalized.

I was more struck by that scene of Nightwing having to seduce information out of a dominatrix.  


Nightwing having ladies force themselves on him -- wasn't that a thing...?  Also: uhhhh, why was that a thing?

It's a pretty cornball scene -- I grew up with Chris Claremont X-Men comics so S&M in a superhero comic was old news to me when I was 12. Deviant sexuality in a DC Comic -- that's all DC Comics do anymore; I'd be more shocked if Superman talked about liking the plain-old missionary position, at this point. If you told me that the New 52 version of Superman asks whoever he dates to wear a strap on and force him to fellate it, I'd still be more upset that he's dating Wonder Woman instead of Lois Lane.  (Because that's just gross. #notmyChristian.)

But anyways, Nightwing has to get information out of a dominatrix; she makes him kiss it out of her; he reluctantly agrees, but as soon as he gets the information, he's like "fuck you, lady" and leaves.  So, she throws a knife at him because she's so worked up by her lady hormones, and he laughs at her because she's a silly girl and he's a heroic man.


Romance Comic.

Nightwing then runs away from a girl who likes kissing so he can go back to inflicting pain onto the testicles and nipples of other men, which is completely not sexual, nope, not sexual at all, get your mind out of the gutter.


BEEP = Sound effect of Nightwing getting a CBT-boner.

What's striking about this scene isn't that it's unusual for a Batman comic. What's striking is that this is pure, classic Batman. That scene I just described? That's every Batman-Catwoman scene ever.  That's their entire relationship, as depicted in roughly 12 billion comics.

"Silly woman, trying to give me an erection. The ejaculation of violence is the only release I need." -- All Batman Comics Ever Made.

Why the hell is that such a Batman thing?  Do you know why people like that stuff?  I have no earthly idea, but you know:  I'm kind of weird in that I kind of like kissing...?  I like the part where you're all kissing a lady, and she says, "You don't know what you're doing, do you?" and I say, "Actually, I do:  I'm pleasuring you."  I find those moments in life very erotic, like Max After Dark erotic, and I don't know why the Nightwing character can't get on my level.

I think that I understand that people like Batman for the same reasons I like James Bond movies: getting to jerk off to a cartoon of male hyper-competence. But James Bond, that hyper-competence manifests in the fact he regularly sexes up ladies...? James Bond will kiss a girl and not act all shitty about it.  If you're a spy lady named Candy MadeOfDogshit, there's a 100% chance that James Bond will walk right up to your face and be like, "You've got a weird last name-- check out my boner.  Take a photo of my boner with your spy camera." James Bond creates a hostile work environment based on gender for his female colleagues in the spy industry, and we love him for it.

But not Batman. Why is the ultimate definition of male hyper-competence where comic books are concerned so ... not just incompatible with sexual desire, but so weirdly dismissive or hostile to it? And why is that such a big part of the appeal of these comics? It's a more enduring quality of a Batman comic than the fucking Utility Belt, at this point!

(Granted, there's Iron Man, but Iron Man is a guy who basically fights evil in a technologically advanced body-condom, if you think about it, so it's not like we're out of the woods there, either)(haha, "wood").

The comic is also sort of suffused with... you know, if you subscribe to the idea that masculinity is a basically ridiculous performance, just this kabuki we're all trying to pull off... Well, I think that I'd place a small wager that the people who made these issues don't really subscribe to that idea...? There's this fog of fake-ish machismo hanging over everything, though that may just be in my head. All that stuff with a war vet telling Batman How to Be a Real Man, though. But two issues isn't a lot to go on, maybe too few to judge that way.


Where did I put my car keys?

Your "car keys" are Man.  In the morning, you can not find your keys, just as you can not find a baby that is hiding.  So then, great, you're late to work -- just like an insolent teenager is "late" to school.  When you find your keys, you think "I'm going to buy a bowl and keep these in a bowl".  But then you don't ever buy a bowl because you have other things on your mind -- that's adulthood.  And finally, you shove your keys into a metal slot.  That's just like being an elderly person, the part where you get buried in a metal coffin by your ungrateful children -- but used to start the "engine", the engine on the Next Generation.

Your "car keys" are a fucking Man, dude!  Riddle solved!  Pay me!


What was the best bit of dialogue in the comic?

 The Batman: "What's happened?"

Alfred: "At least finish your coffee, first."


"Fuck you and fuck your coffee, Alfred!!!"  -- signed, The Batman.


What is the most interesting page in the comic and how does it work?

The plane crash in the first issue includes a double-page splash of a plane crashing into an airport, with three inset panels.  But before we consider that double-page splash, we should briefly note the two panels that take place beforehand.


In the first panel, "Where the hell's he going?" is stated in the foreground, the plane is drawn in the mid-ground, and the airport is in the background. The panel's composition answers the question posed by the dialogue in the panel.

In the second panel, the viewpoint then changes as the situation has worsened.  At least, we know it's worsened because the creative team has exchanged the foreground and the background. Now, the reader's POV is the airport and the airplane is coming towards it.

Even though the plane is located in the dead center of both panels, that shift in POV makes the plane feels "closer".  The plane feels fast even though the plane hasn't actually moved on the page. (P.S. comics are magic).

But then, the double page splash.



It's not just the spectacle of the plane crash but that the creative team does not rely on that spectacle. The authors create small mini-dramas within it, using the three inset panels.


A kid eating an ice cream cone?

That kid's got to run.

A nameless lady getting a latte?

That lady is in harm's way.

(We even continue her story on the next page even though once again, she is not a "character" in any other respect in this comic).

Little Kid

The little kid.  Plus, the lady behind him, over by the coffee kiosk.  Uhhhh, the black guy probably just dies first -- I don't see him again. Sucks to be you, Black Guy Featured in Any Story Ever.

The point is the action isn't just happening -- it's happening to people, and the creative team makes the minimal effort to care about those people. So when the Batman is trying to save the airport later, we know he's trying to save human beings -- not just objects or architecture.

As for the splash itself, the Rule of Thirds perhaps bears mentioning.  Wikipedia:

The rule of thirds is a "rule of thumb" or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

Splash - Copy

Not an exact measurement, but.  Just go along.  For your poor father.

Here, the plane crash is roughly at the top-right intersection of Rule of Thirds guidelines.  Note that the woman ordering a latte is roughly both at the top-left and bottom-left intersections, i.e. the reader's eyes are in some small way guided to these two locations, and this progression not just a pure game of playing Where's Waldo.

Usually, I want to complain about double-page splashes.  Usually, they're just empty spectacles, and I have a very "am I supposed to be impressed by this" jaded and bored reaction to them.  This splash, it's spectacle, but it doesn't achieve its spectacle by wholly sacrificing the power of comics.  The authors could've just relied on an illustration -- it could've just been the airplane crash and no reader would have ever asked for more --  but they did more than that, went further than that; these are still comic pages. Plus, it's the climax of action and momentum created in prior pages -- it's not just a splash as a cheap way to create excitement that wouldn't have been there otherwise; it's a splash to payoff on excitement that's been built, like the fulfillment of a promise.

(There's a second double-page splash later in the issue that's not half as interesting, a more gratuitous splash that comes without much build-up.  So you can see what distinguishes this splash in my mind within the issue itself, if you're, like, some kind of weirdo).


Did you experience any noteworthy emotion reading the comic?

Not so much.  Percy's new to the medium (I'm guessing?) and there are kinks to work out, but he supposedly has a reputation as a promising writer.  And John Paul Leon is certainly no slouch -- I'm always happy to look at his work, especially in collaboration with a strong colorist like Dave Stewart.

It just didn't seem like either really had their heart in it on The Batman Part.

Leon's best pages involve men in containment suits, airplane's crashing, quarantines being imposed, biohazard symbols; most of the detective work is done by Nightwing; most of the philosophizing is done by Airport Cop; as mentioned before, the bad guy doesn't even get caught by some move made by the Batman -- Mumford & Sons just decides to fight Batman, and it quite predictably goes very badly for him.

But do I find myself wishing Percy/Leon had gotten a chance to do a longer and more considered version of a comic about a grizzled old Airport Cop fighting a terrorist attack, without the Batman...?  Well, no. Because I've seen that -- it's called Die Hard 2.  (And it sucks.)

They needed to publish issues 35 and 36 of Detective Comics in whichever months these issues were released.  So, here are issues 35 and 36.  Because that's how it works; that's the business. That's it.


What do we hope that younger cartoonists learn from this comic?

So, what am I saying this week?  "If you throw enough pyrotechnics and craft and visual doo-dads at the reader, you don't have to care as much about story or character or theme or having a point!"

[Single balloon falls from ceiling]

Craft has its pleasure.  Style has its pleasure.  Maybe smart doesn't come along every month, and you still have to eat.  "If you don't have a good personality, you might as well at least dress well." -- Your Shallow Grandma (Who Then Also Says Something Racist Probably).

Anyways, a Batman comic is a Batman comic is a Batman comic; if folks wanted story or character or theme or whatever, they probably wouldn't be reading Batman comics.  There's no harm to comics like these.  Folks get paid while being creative; folks who wants to read more Batman get more Batman; everybody wins, at least from a practical perspective.

But what do we want for younger cartoonists?  If you're still young, while you still have some fire in your belly, while you've still got some Awesome Years left in you, maybe try for a little more substance.  Probably you'll fail and dishonor your ancestors.  But a whole world of Cold Practical Shit's not going anywhere; they're going to need to publish an issue of Detective Comics, that month you give up; there's no hurry. So you might as well give doing something a little more meaningful to you a shot, while/if you can.


Taking a few weeks off, to plan the next round of these and work on some other things.  I think the next batch should only be 4 installments -- five in a round feels like too many.  I had an idea for the next four, that they'll all be in the exact same genre (I've read at least 4 comics recently that all happened to be in the same genre).  If that same genre thing works out, then the round after the next one will hopefully be more of a mix of things -- there's been one suggestion for a Lady Thor comic, so if this goes to a third round, that's coming up.  But plans are fluid and we'll see.

Thanks for the kind words on these last five.  And Happy Valentine's Day.  Be Mine.

Abhay: Inquisition - The Names #1

This is a series of reviews, answering (too many!) questions about recent comics. Previous installments have been about The Valiant #1, Bitch Planet #1, and Rumble #1.  This week is about The Names #1, from DC Vertigo.

Spoiler Opportunity: Have I ever spoiled a comic for you?  Now's your chance to get me back because I have only read the first issue of this comic so far, but a bunch have come out since.  If you've read this comic (and statistically-speaking, you haven't), now is your time for revenge.  "Now is our time for revenge" -- I think that was a line from the Phantom Menace.  Oh wait, did I just spoil the Phantom Menace for you??  If so, revenge can be yours for, like... well, a lot of money; comics aren't cheap; nobody said life would be easy.  "Nobody said life's going to be all easy, bro" -- the Theme Song to that show Friends.  Ha, spoiled you again!!!  <lights sparklers; drives off into sunset>

10 Questions about THE NAMES #1 by Peter Milligan, Leandro Fernandez, Cris Peter, Carlos M. Mangual, Celia Calle, Greg Lockard, and Will Dennis.

A basic description of this comic, so that everyone's on the same page.

The powerful global 1% types who "control the world"? They murder a rich guy, and his trophy wife swears revenge. Whoops.  A standard-format Vertigo miniseries ensues.  Double whoops.

Co-author Peter Milligan, talking to Comics Alliance:

"But the more I read and talked to people about the reality of the high-finance world, the more it became apparent that it’s a pretty dull place to witness: long gone are the days of Alpha Males with erections reading ticker tape. Now it’s all cyber space and flash buys. Fascinating, scary, possibly insane, possibly destined to be our downfall, but less dramatic.  So I’ve used some of the settings, and some of the reality of how I see the financial world to be, to create a system that’s powerful, creating uncontrollable Frankenstein’s monsters, full of internecine trouble, and dominated by psychopaths.  In other worlds, probably not unlike the financial system that rules our world."


Is this comic about anything besides its plot?

The first issue primarily sets up the book as an exploitation revenge piece, just one where the heroine battles financial villains rather than gangsters or drug dealers or horny vice-principals. It feels like it's in a genre of television show I don't watch:  I don't watch Revenge or Scandal, but this is what I imagine those shows feel like.

In the book's brief glimpse of the baddies, the super-rich cabal "really in charge", there's some timely bits: a splash page of riot police charging towards protestors; references to currency implosions and high-frequency trading software (which the book seems to present in a science-fictional mode, i.e. what if finance software became self-aware instead of Skynet?).


It doesn't take a lot to make a book feels of the times, I guess: just draw cops in riot gear.

But nothing in the first issue rises to the level of "thoughtful" or "critique." Nothing in the first issue is any deeper than the enormously silly splash pages of superheros frowning at banks or religious people from the terrible mainstream crossovers published earlier in this decade. But it's a comic from a corporate publisher aimed at an audience of television executives -- so, how much can one reasonably expect?  The Names has at least some recognizable observation of the world intersecting with the story, and even that can be sometimes a rare thing.  But in the first issue, the world's seemingly-increasing quantity of chaos is only background music, comic book muzak.

(An Aside: There is the question whether stories about "the evil 1%" are a helpful fiction in understanding how money or power works.  I'm not sure whether that's true, especially as this comic's descriptions of the 1%'s decadence all feel so tired.  Example dialogue: "I must rush.  I'm supposed to be screwing the Mayor of London tonight."  Oooooooh saucy.

Tales of the oh so sexually decadent rich were sold by the dime by Vanity Fair magazine to middle-aged house-fraus since before I was born, and the income inequality gap has only gone in one direction that entire time.  The Great Gatsby was published in '25, but get-rich-quick huckster websites on the internet still overflow with admiration for Bill Gates or Whoever Invented Some Dumb App.  It just seems like a go-nowhere fiction, especially if the mythology that's being sold constantly is that income inequality is bad because the rich are "undeserving" on account of their sexual decadence.  That just becomes less believable now with the internet, now that we can see, you know, everybody everywhere is pretty darn sexually decadent, if they can be, given half a chance. (Shout-out to my bonobo monkeys, out there!  What up, bonobos?)  I'm not saying "let rich people off the hook cause Hannity says they're job-creators AMERICA!" or anything.  Just: if rich people were really worried about these kinds of stories, they probably wouldn't let us tell them...)


Did the creative team make any interesting choices in the visual presentation of the story?

It's been a while since I've seen Leo Fernandez's art, as he's spent a while drawing comics not really aimed at me as a reader. But he seems to be pushing his figure drawings to a more stylized place on this book than at least his recent work...? (See, for comparison). The characters seem more elemental, more shape-driven and angular.

Also: Fernandez often lets extremes in the lighting render out details, rather than risk unnecessary linework.  While that may just be a hallmark of his style / school generally, it seems like he's pushing further in that direction here than in his mainstream work.


One notable weak-point: the two villains are extremely similar in dress and shape. It's difficult to tell them apart.  But they're only in the comic for two pages, so it's not a big deal.

An abundance of the color brown in the second half, but it's a Vertigo comic-- what did you expect? Expect brown!




A quick note to Vertigo colorists: If you are working for Vertigo, there is a belief that both Vertigo and you get a gross, throbbing weiner-boner everytime you get to make a page all brown. People believe that because it's 100% true, and the only possible explanation for why all Vertigo comics ever published have been so drenched in the color brown. Nothing else makes sense; no other solution to that equation. Please consider defying your brown-obsessed masters. Look into your hearts. You know what you see? If you see the color brown, something has gone horribly wrong. I'm not a doctor, but that probably means someone has shit into your heart and you have feces pumping through your arteries. At the very least, it just sounds unhealthy from a cardiac-perspective.


How is the comic structured?

Comic begins in media res.  First scene is a two page inciting event, namely the murder that the main character will want revenge for.

Three pages then introduce the main character.

Three pages then introduce the villains.

Three pages then introduce the duteragonist -- the dead man's son. Some hint at Oedipal themes here which may be of interest considering that Milligan's recent Vertigo work was about processing an obsession with Greek dramas.

Three pages then setup the book's central mystery.

Three pages then set-up a mini-mission that the main character has to go on.

Three page action sequence.

Then two one-pagers conclude the comic-- (1) one page of the heroine after the action sequence declaring the mission that will presumably motivate her for the remainder of the series (sort of a classic bit of comic book business-- I think that's how the first X-Men or Doom Patrol ended, too, no?); and (2) a one-page tag for the issue overall that just reiterates the mystery of the book overall for the reader.

Does Milligan do the Three-page thing in all of his books? Never really noticed before if that's the case.

There's math why you might want to write a comic that way, though, at least if you're looking for a roadmap for structure: Three-page sequences give you at least 7 scenes and a one-page splash on a 22 page comic, say. Plus, it gives you a little helpful hint for how those sequences should be organized if you want to maximize the value of your page-turn moments. (Milligan's not entirely consistent with the Three-page units, but on the other hand, he's got the Vertigo house-ads to work around, so maybe that's on purpose).

So here, it's nine scenes: 2-3-3-3-3-3-3-1-1. (Some people, argumentative people, they might argue that it actually ends 4-1, but that second-to-last page sure seems like a different beat to me).

  • The only other Peter Milligan comic I have handy is 1993's The Enigma. The first issue of that goes 13 scenes: 2-2-1-1-1-2-2-1-1-6-1-3-1. So maybe this Three-page thing was just all a fun little coincidence -- it's hard to say without a bigger sample size, which includes more recent work from Milligan.


Is there anything noteworthy about the cover, logo, lettering, or design?


It's taken me four weeks to figure out to show the cover for this question.  FOUR WEEKS!

The cover features the African-American heroine taking off her dress, and stock information flooding out from her ass-crack. Presumably, earlier that day, she had farted into a skin-tight dress, after eating some stock ticker tape, and this is that fart's chance to finally be free.

The dead husband Walker, who plunges to his death from a skyscraper, is referenced on the cover both by his name being featured in red letters next to a securities industry down-arrow and a little Mad Men doodle. Here, Don Draper's falling to death next to a Big Ass. Jealous, Matthew Weiner?  The last season hasn't started yet -- not too late to make some changes.

The logo -- I think the idea is that the bottom half of the logo is being interfered with by a mechanical process. Which is a decent idea.  But putting the names of the creative team (and the publishing imprint) in a redacted stock-exchange symbolic code...?  I don't know if that really works. Just seems busy. The cover overall-- just seems very busy.

Which may be intentional, to be fair: if the idea was to convey signal being drowned in noise, well, they pulled that off, at least. But... seeing as "signal drowned in noise" is how a comic shop rack operates on a good day, I just don't know if that's really the most advisable design goal for a comic cover.


Is anything about this comic interesting politically, socially, or from some other frame of reference?

The lead character being a black lady may be of some interest to readers, I guess. Another "tough no-nonsense" type character, which is a cliche, but there's at least some hint at her having an inner life in the comic, which is the essential thing. She's not presented as Just One Thing.

Except the comic has her topless by the end of the issue.


They saved the labia majora for issue two.


Does my gut tell me that's what the target audience of an ABC Drama is really looking for...? It does not.

And I don't want to be a prude because there might be all sorts of ladies who might want her to be topless by the end of the issue: girls who like girls; heterosexual girls who are just into titty; Girl Scouts trying to collect some secret merit badge they don't tell square society about; I don't even know who; I don't know all the different kinds of girls out there.

But my gut would say it's undermining the power of that character to reduce her in that way at the moment of her victory over the man attacking her:  the heroine might be able to defeat the power of an Evil Man, but can never defeat the Male Gaze!  Put it another way: maybe it's a "have your cake and eat it too" problem to make the heroine a sexual object for the reader even while standing over the dying body of the bad guy who tried to treat her like a sexual object.

Also: because the scene follows her trying to seduce information out of the man attacking her, the nudity underlines that the heroine's power comes exclusively from her sexuality, and not from, like, competence or, uh, knowing things...?

And race being some tricky shit, my gut says that complicates it, too, in all kinds of messy ways that I don't even think I'm the right dude to try to articulate.

Your gut might say otherwise. But my gut says there's something pretty skeezy about that choice. That'd be my gut feeling. It's certainly a choice, anyways.


Riddle me this: What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?

The solution could be "an adorable puppy that is being physically abused" -- riddles aren't so fun anymore, now, are they?  Read the papers, though: a psychopath who tortures puppies would be pretty much unbeatable at solving riddles in creative and unexpected ways. "Riddles were all a breeze after I tortured a puppy and ignored its howls of pain.  It's called thinking outside the box, specifically the box I shove a puppy into after I'm tired of it trying to lick my face.  AMERICA."  -- Dick Cheney, actual quotation.


What was the best bit of dialogue in the comic?

Cop A (Guzman): "Your husband fell fifty-one floors. The bones around the impact area will be shattered. His organs will have hemorrhaged and leaked from every cavity. If he fell on his head, he'll likely be unrecognizable."

Cop B: "Why don't you just tell it like it is, Guzman?"


What is the most interesting page in the comic and how does it work?


The Names, Issue 1, Page 14.

This page takes place immediately after the Mystery has been presented to the main character, who is as the scene opens, now struggling to understand the clues she has been given.

I think it's a notable page just because of how the comic shifts to a subjective mode, more than the execution of the drawings themselves.


Top Half.

Panel 1 presents the main character in a down-shot, small and isolated in a panel filled with murky shadows, as she is overwhelmed by the mystery she's been presented.

But being the heroine of the piece, by Panel 2, she is beginning to focus on the mystery -- focus so much that the background has now dropped away completely.  Blank space of the "no panel borders" variety, that can mean a lot of different things in comics -- I think Will Eisner in one of his books talks explicitly about how he liked to use that kind of blank space to convey that scenes are taking place outside, for example. Here, a far more common application of that bit of language: nothing else in the world matters to her as much as her reaction to the clues, as much as what she's thinking about.

Indeed, her head is breaking apart even from panel borders themselves as some understanding is beginning to dawn upon her.


Bottom half.  You into the bottom half, bro?  Yeah, you are.

However, the backgrounds return as her spell is broken in Panels 3 and 4:  she is sucked back to reality by some (crappy) sound-effects, someone at the door named Marco.  Note: she received a cryptic warning about Marco earlier in the comic.

In Panel 5, upon hearing Marco's name, emotions flood the main character, such that her face now fills the panel, such that she can now only barely be contained within the boundaries of the panel.  Put another way, the panel borders struggle to contain her, just as she struggles to control her emotions.

In Panel 6, we see a flashback to the warning the heroine had been given earlier.  This flashback panel slightly overlaps panel 5 -- it's on top of her face, on top of her concerns, this flashback, suggesting that it is being seen not only by the reader but in the mind's eye of the heroine herself.

Just basic storytelling, this page, of the "you can remove the dialogue and still understand what's going on" variety.

Sure, not a particularly interesting page on a technical level, and certainly one with room for improvement (the body language in panels 3 and 4 isn't so hot; panel 1 doesn't really lay out the geography as much as it could; panel 3's not fun to look at; a brown blanket on a couch sitting next to brown walls???).

But it's one of the few pages that really achieve a unity between the character's emotions and the visual storytelling.

Some people get off on rigid panel grids (the 9 panel grid of Watchmen, the 8 panel grid of Stray Bullets, the 6 panel grid of Louis Riel).  Grids tend to be catnip to younger comic writers, especially, flailing around for rules.  But I tend to like a page where the size and shapes of panels derive in some way from the emotions of their contents, authors who see that as another way of relaying information to the reader and a really direct way of connecting with them, at that.  Grids aren't uninteresting -- if you're fascinated with the subject matter of time, Watchmen and Stray Bullets both suggest a grid might be handy in exploring that theme, in particular. But the way that the size and shape of a panel can reflect the emotional heft of the panel is just a more interesting thing to see in action to me...

There's an old Paul Pope quote that I always go back to, about manga (where I think what we're talking about is most often true).  From Pulp magazine:

"When I was working for Kodansha, the joke was always, "A bad comic is where you have a panel where Superman jumps through a window, and the caption says "Superman jumps through a window," and he's saying, "I'm jumping through the window," and there's a sound effect that says, "JUMP." Or you can imagine three panels: 1.) he's jumping through the window, 2.) he's landing on the ground, 3.) he says, "I've done it"--or something like that. I really have a sense from what I learned from manga, is that, rather than try to tell and directly tell the story where Superman is jumping through the window, that the best manga will try to give you the experience of jumping through the window--the tactile sensations, the speed of it, the rush of it--catch all the different moments in-between the three panels that an American comic might use to tell the story."


Of possible interest is that the only other page in the comic with a subjective quality, page 11, is the page featuring the deuteragonist. One could perhaps argue that this is grammatically significant, I suppose, a way of linking the two characters, but for me, that would be pretty, pretty high-falooting talk for this comic.


Did you experience any noteworthy emotion reading the comic?

Once the main character and the dead character's son emerge more as characters, there's a certain pulpiness to the first issue that's enjoyable. It's mediocre, but at least not unpleasant.

But I started the comic thinking more about the how's and why's that Vertigo keeps backing Peter Milligan, after a pretty good number of duds-- Greek Street? The Minx? (Not Vertigo, but:) The Programme? I wouldn't fuck with any of those comics with your mom's dick.  This is a miniseries though so the more apt comparison is, what, Girl?  Pop: London?  Who could forget Pop: London?  Answer: nobody because probably nobody besides me read that one, to begin with.

Milligan's a pretty erratic creator-- some great work obvously for many years, but also lots of misses.  I made a decent effort to try nearly all of those books at some point, I think he's usually an interesting writer, so I'm glad they keep putting them out.  And I had an okay time with some of this first issue.  Still, it just seemed interesting to me that there's still space for him at Vertigo, given their announced focus on "big hits."  Dan Didio (who really should be fired and we should all mention that more) talking to the New York Times about Vertigo:

"Mr. DiDio said it would be “myopic” to believe 'that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead. [..] That’s not what we’re in the business for . 'We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.'."

So, a Peter Milligan comic about a topless black woman stabbing finance executives in the throat, while they talk about HFT software...?  Keep reaching for those stars!

It's like the color brown though -- some things about Vertigo are just part of the culture now, no matter how much business-speak bullshit cliches you toss at it, I guess.

There's also the fact this comic is plainly designed to pitch a television show.  I think I've written about the "comic as movie or television show pitch" and the many negative feelings that those engender before many, many times, as that has been the case with so many, many comics. It's nothing I want to type out again, and bore everybody with, especially if some people are somehow able to ignore that kind of thing.  This comic? It wouldn't be a TV show I'd watch, or that I'd even guess would last a full season.  But Fernandez's work is at least stylized enough and occasionally subjective enough where there's some cause to not be entirely dismissive.


What do we hope that younger cartoonists learn to do and not to do from this comic?

Jesus, I don't know.  There's probably all kinds of lessons to learn from Milligan about career longevity but I'm not really sure what those lessons are, let alone how to receive them.  Guy's danced around a pretty bureaucratic company for many years now -- kept a presence with the audience for a long time, in a way many of his contemporaries haven't.  This comic?  No way this comic was ever going to be a hit, but he sure fucking talked them into it anyways, somehow

How did that happen?  Beats me.  That's probably the thing to learn here, but I'm no help to anyone there.  Your sexy guess is as good as mine, beautiful.

Sometimes you see comic creators, when they get asked questions by young folks, they play a "We're all Princes of fucking New England" card, and spin some shit that's like... "I don't even experience your frail human feelings of competition or envy anymore.  I'm only encouraged by the success of others, no matter how undeserving that success is because encouragement is the only emotion I allow myself.  I've grown beyond all negative emotions -- get on my level!!"

And it's ... this is probably a good-enough kind of thing to say to young folks, in that it's mostly harmless, plus a nice way of avoiding the whole "you probably don't have shit to say that's worth hearing anyways -- to a grown adult, you're pretty much an adorable talking fetus" conversation.  (That conversation probably won't get as many Likes on social media.)

But a comic like this ... I know when I read this comic, there was a moment I stepped outside myself, and imagined a young snot-nosed kid in their 20's assessing the situation, saying to themselves... "It's a comic that they could afford someone as good as Leo Fernandez to draw it; it got a big publisher behind it for sales and reviews, who paid for a decent print run in full color; all the creators involved will have a presence on comic shelves and in front of comic audiences for the next eight months; the publisher has historically not cared especially about losing money on comics publishing; everyone got a page rate;  and all of those opportunities are being used on a writer / concept / whatever that, best case scenario, is just commercially going to be More Mixed Results, and you're telling me I'm not supposed to feel any kind of fucking envy about any of that??"  I don't know.  I think some things in comics actually are a competition, and, uh, Peter Milligan just kinda won that shit.  So.  Keep your head up...?

I think the good news, though, and maybe the bigger take away is ... If you're a younger person, however inexplicable you might find Vertigo putting these books out, year after year, forgotten comic after forgotten comic (did you even notice I forgot to mention that comic Egypt?), it's something you should actually be encouraged by.  You want comics to be a place you can age with, and have a whole career with.  And if you stick around a even a little while, not even long, you see plenty of evidence the opposite way -- a lot of names that are on a dozen books one year, and on pretty much no book of any significance a year later.  Comics has a rough turnover, so you want there to be guys who are just sticking in there.  Otherwise what the hell are you even signing up for?  The Carrousel ritual from Logan's Run???

The characters in Logan's Run all seemed psyched about Carrousel, sure, but I think the message of that movie was don't be psyched about the Carrousel.  And that's really the note I want to end this one on:  just say no to Carrousel, kids, even if that means you'll be labeled a Runner.  (This is a metaphor.)(A metaphor for me not knowing what to put here this week, and just vamping). (Vamps was also the name of a Vertigo comic that lots of people remember probably!  A lot of American Virgins, though, am I right?  Sandman).


Abhay: Inquisition - Rumble #1

Here is the 3rd attempt at answering a series of questions about a comic, this attempt concerning the recent Image debut of Rumble. Part 1 was about The Valiant #1, and Part 2 was about Bitch Planet #1.

10 Questions about RUMBLE #1 by John Arcudi, James Harren, Dave Stewart, Chris and Eliopoulos.

A basic description of this comic, so that everyone's on the same page.

Rumble is a comic by a creative team that had gotten some notice years back, at least in action comics circles, for their work together on Mike Mignola's BPRD series.  Their BPRD issues had noticably visceral fight scenes, which had garnered a very enthusiastic reaction upon their publication (at least online). This is the Image debut of their new series.

It is about ... some guy ... with a sword, I guess... or something...?

That's as good a description as I can do.

Co-author John Arcudi, talking to Multiversity:

"Rumble is a concept I’ve been working with for years. It’s gone through a few different iterations, but it wasn’t until James and I talked about it that it felt like it would really work as this larger, more complex storyline that had “legs.” Part of that, of course, was having lots of time to think about it, getting older, getting better, but having the right artist — well, you can’t do it without that."


Is this comic about anything besides its plot?


It's barely even about it's plot.


Did the creative team make any interesting choices in the visual presentation of the story?

Even though the authors had built a reputation for fight scenes, there's only about two-to-three pages of fighting featured in this comic. The visual focus of this issue lies instead more in the world-building, in setting up the book's City setting.

City shot

"Three-legged Dog" is my favorite cut on the new Tim Allen album.  He's really got us Men pegged.

The streets are littered.  Characters stand at pay phones next to rats and trash. Everything is run-down.  Three-legged dogs run wild, urinating on a parking meter. Televisions buzz late-show monster movies in the distant background. One of the best panels in the book features a hulking, shirtless figure with a "Does this tattoo make me look tough" tattoo across his chest, sleeping with a bag of "Bunyans" potato chips at his side; behind him, a stuffed moose head; nuncucks, hanging on his wall. The more impressionistic backgrounds are often hazy, abstract, not just conveying a city but a specific city, a polluted one, a dirty one, neon-drenched and filthy.

The authors at least seems intent on constantly finding ways to invest his world with a sort of humorous detail or life, though unfortunately an instinct that they abandoned when it came time to the create the actual story. The book's sense of visual humor is exceeding common for comics, a "look at how grody all this is!" type humor, but without it, this comic would have been completely grueling.

White roof

I like that bucket over on the left, but that booth does not look so comfortable.

Another smaller technique perhaps worth noting is how the artists sometimes use negative space. An early panel uses negative space to establish the industrial texture of a bar ceiling. Another early panel uses negative space to suggest sparks coming off a sword being drug along a road.

White schmutz

Really glad there are word balloons of unintelligible gibberish needlessly covering up that pesky comic art.  Capital choice.  A+.  (I'm referring here to every word balloon in this comic).

The authors are also fond of adding a sort of minuscule amount of textural detail digitally, though to what effect is unclear. As an example, the smoke rising from the streets in third panel of page 3 has a texture on it that you really have to press your face against the page to grok the detail of. There’s something similar going on with the detailing of brick walls throughout the comic, a sort of ink splatter effect, but rendered ultra-finely.


How is the comic structured?

The first issue has no discernible structure whatsoever.

The first page is a page of someone walking towards a mountain. The word balloon "humph" is spoken by an indiscernible figure who is never identified in this comic. All of the panels are "widescreen" because of course they are.  No other scene in this comic takes place on a mountain.

Where this is happening or what this means is never identified in this comic.

This is followed by a page of a Paul Bunyan statue lying broken on the ground in a decrepit amusement park (symbolism!). This page has narration in caption boxes, spoken from an unidentified source.  This is unlike every single other page of this comic, none of which feature narration.  No other scene in this comic takes place at this amusement park.

Where this is happening or what this means is never identified in this comic.

This is followed by a three page sequence set at a bar, that establishes that the main character of this comic is a weakboy that girls don't like.

The two characters from that bar sequence are then embroigled in a four-page action sequence, upon being attacked out-of-nowhere by a "mysterious" figure.

Why the four-page action sequence is happening is never explained in this comic.

There are then two pages about an old woman and a cat. Something sure seems funky about that cat. (Confusing storytelling here involving a window).

Where this is happening or what this means is never identified in this comic.

There are then three pages of the weakboy character and two police characters reflecting on the action scene we'd seen previously.

The plot does not advance significantly and almost no new information is presented to the reader.

There are then two pages about something or another happening to two random hicks in a swamp, one of those generic "oh no, bad things are happening to men while they fish" scenes that you see in movies, provided you primarily watch terrible, badly-written movies.

Where this is happening or what this means is never identified in this comic.

A six page scene of the weakboy main character being threatened by two monsters then follows. (It begins with a generic scene of the main character calling someone from a payphone, but leaving an answering machine message since the person they're calling is sleeping through the message. This technology was outdated sometime around when Seinfeld stopped being broadcast, so I guess the comic is a period piece...?)

Want to guess what the last page is?

If you guessed that the last page is a splash page cliffhanger of a superhero character muttering some bland sentence, and that this is somehow meant to entice readers to come back for more next month... Well, don't get that impressed with yourself.  That's how all bad comics end their first issues now. It's really not that impressive you'd be able to guess that.  You learned how to rip off lukewarm Mark Millar comics the same as everybody else.

8 "scenes": 1-1-3-4-2-3-2-6.

First issues are monsters.  There are so many challenges. How do you sell readers on what your comic's about?  Have you given readers a way of selling their friends on the comic, some easy hook that won't just hook readers for one issue but that they can tell their friends and hook them, too?  Have you set up both an immediate story but also enough material for a long-running series?  With Rumble #1, we see a creative team deciding to ignore addressing any of the challenges of a first issue, and instead do nothing more than try to establish a "mood".

Perhaps this team's audience is used to consuming their work on a trade-paperback basis, and that negates the importance of any single issue.  But as a single issue experience... Well, it's only ever going to be a single issue experience for me, as this comic wasted my time, completely, and I won't allow that to happen again.


Is there anything noteworthy about the cover, logo, lettering, or design?

The copy I purchased has a James Harren cover, but according to the inside cover, there is a variant cover available from Jamie McKelvie.  Which... really? Jamie McKelvie draws fine, some of his comics look entirely decent to me, no offense to the guy, but this seems like a very, very odd comic for a reader to crave having a Jamie McKelvie cover.

"It's a fight comic about a giant monster-man with a massive sword, and some swamp hicks."

"I know just the man for that job...  Jamie McKelvie."

...?  That's an interesting choice.

There's a bit where Chris Eliopoulos takes a character yelling for help, and rather than put the word in a word balloon, he sets out HELP in block letters, and has a word balloons coil out from the H block.  If I've seen that move done before, it's nothing I've ever stopped and made specific note of.

Eight pages of house ads for Image comics.  Comic ads, I don't really get how anyone expects those to work.  It's always a splash image and some dopey tagline, like a bad movie poster.  But who goes to see movies based on a poster?  Reyn: "Myth, Sorcery and an Unlikely Pair on a Quest to Discover their Destinies."  Oh good I love unlikely pairs e.g. my balls.  Graveyard Shift: "Crime-solving sucks."  I'm sure this is unfair to say, I'm sure it's a fun comic, but I don't know if I'd recommend putting the word "sucks" on the ad for your comic...? That's something I should be putting on the ads for your comic, using MS Paint, not you.  The Dying and the Dead: "This January, Image Comics proudly presents the last story of the Greatest Generation."  Oh good they're proud about this one, they just didn't pull this one out of a toilet like those other comics.  I don't know.  Why don't these ads ever say what the comic is about...?  I can't really guess how much bang anybody really got out of these eight pages.  But I just don't understand advertising or selling things, either.


Is anything about this comic interesting politically, socially, or from some other frame of reference?

Well, it's another comic about a weakboy who learns that his world blah blah blah.

I really hate weakboys in comics.

What percentage of comics do you figure are about weakboys? 105? 108?  I'd put the percentage at somewhere between 105 and 119% of comics are about weakboys.

Movies?  Last year, there were movies about a single dad under a mountain of debt whose struggles to raise his rambunctious daughter are complicated by finding Optimus Prime, a monkey king who wants peace but has to fend off his more hawkish monkey-advisors, a single dad forced to give up raising his kids in order to fly to other planets and listen to Anne Hathaway babble about love incoherently, a widowed Keanu Reeves shooting people in the fucking face, two guys disappointed by adulthood who pretend to be cops, etc., etc., etc.  Even without thinking of serious dramas, there was a range of character types, character motivations.

Comics, though? I know I'm exaggerating, but some days it just really feels like a nonstop parade of weakboys.  "I don't understand why girls don't like me even though my only personality trait is complaining that girls don't like me.  Oh look now I have superpowers / a big sword / a friend who's an alien robot / blah blah blah.  Now I'm totally on the road to Getting Crazy Laid.  AMERICA!"  I just wrote ALL OF THE COMICS-- weeee!

I'm just so fucking exhausted of that character-type.  Shonen manga, adolescent American comics, it's all just weakboy after weakboy.  It just seems unhealthy, for people to consume that kind of mythology over and over.

There's less male self-pity on fucking Reddit.


Riddle Me This: A man goes into a restaurant and orders the albatross. He takes a single bite, pulls out a gun, and shoots himself. Why does he do this?

He's Pagliacci, the famous clown.  This is part of his act.  After he shoots himself, the other people in the restaurant laugh for days.  Except the waiter, who has to clean up Pagliacci's brains.  Days later, Pagliacci's doctor would fire his nurse-- it was her job to find out the names of new patients, take down their health information, look at a copy of their driver's license, get a blood pressure reading.  She had really fallen down on the job.  The doctor didn't know that she had once eaten her husband on a deserted island, though, having mistaken him for a delicious albatross.  Of course, after she returned home, she ordered another albatross at the restaurant, and realized her mistake.  She became severely depressed.  Everyone told her to go see Pagliacci.  She did, but that night, Pagliacci phoned it in.  So, who's laughing now, clown?  Answer: The restaurant owner.  He's laughing all the way to the bank.  You can't buy advertising like this riddle.


What was the best bit of dialogue in the comic?

Weakboy: "See, now if my life was a movie, THAT's what would happen?"

Some guy?: "If your life were a movie it would be over in an hour and a half."


What is the most interesting page in the comic and how does it work?


Rumble, Issue One, Page 8.

I bought this comic for fight scenes, so might as well talk about one of those, even though as referenced above, there are only about two-maybe-three pages of fights in this comic. So if you're just into it for the fights, this is spoiling 33% of the comic for you. Whoops.


Fur is murder.

Panel 1, Harren goes with a full-bleed panel, at least to the top of the page. He doesn't do full-bleed that often. Except for that last page cliffhanger, he usually uses it for establishing shots where he's trying to imply height. Harren mostly sticks to pages with proper white gutters otherwise. This is the only place in the comic where he really uses a bleed as punctuation. I think it helps to imply the height of the Action Scarecrow character (we never learn his name) as compared to the other characters on the page, as a way of conveying how much he towers over the others.

The most noteworthy thing here is the character design. While Harren's fond of speed-lines, he doesn't rely on those. The main character's design is a figure nestled in a set of furs, such that in action scenes, the furs flouncing around create a sort of secondary set of linework conveying motion. Well, not just motion. It conveys the enormous bulk of Action Scarecrow, while still drawing that character as a mass of speed. Action Scarecrow has both heft and velocity. It makes for an intimidating presence in a fight scene.

Panel1 - Copy

Wearing flip-flops to a bar, tho?  Kind of asking for it, that guy.

Note also how Action Scarecrow's legs and arms create a helpful frame for the more abstract shape of Weakboy in the distance. I like the lack of detail on Weakboy: he's surprised by this action scene erupting, so he's not all there mentally; he's an abstract detail in his own life. Been there!

The gesture of the sword superimposing over the WHOOSH sound effect is also a nice touch, I suppose. The sound effect suggests the sound of the sword, while the sword cleaving the sound effect implies the sharpness of the sword, sharp enough to cut sound.

One detail easy to miss: look how Harren draws the character being attacked, Trucker Hat, his sandal. Trucker Hat's sandal is twisting a way no sandal should. The distortion of the figures in motion extends down to the smallest of details.

Panel1 - Copy (2)

I once got stuck on a ride at Epcot for a while.  It felt a lot like looking at this fucking panel over and over.  I still remember hearing the animatronic robots repeat themselves to us:  "Mommy!  Mommy!  Look-- Timmy's flying!"  I must've heard that 20 times. I never thought I would hate a robot dog, but Epcot had so much to teach me that day.

It is a drastic understatement to say that I'm not great with understanding perspective, but Trucker Hat seems to be falling away from what I think is kind of the vanishing point, which maybe contributes to the overall feeling of speed to this panel...? (There's some curving going on, making it trickier, but).  In action scenes, my impression is that a good action page is usually using vanishing points to boost the action, to imply speed. But that kind of talk is a little beyond me since perspective-talk always makes my nose bleed.

  • Perspective for Dummies by a Perspective Dummy:  perspective's a way of fooling the eye so that the viewer thinks they're seeing a 3-d scene, a drawing with depth rather than just a flat 2-d drawing like in some kind of Egyptian heiroglyphic.  Or some kind of nonsense like that.  It involves lines converging at vanishing points, which are on horizon lines or ... stuff like that, basically.  There can be more than one vanishing point (though I remember reading that some comic artists are really into trying to stick to one vanishing point; fetishize that).  I couldn't even begin to tell you the Why of any of it-- it's just some stupid shit that some Renaissance guys figured out, inbetween feces-baths and dying of the plague.  If you look at the old How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way book, most of the examples they use to convey the importance perspective are drawings of cities. Or this one weird downshot of a bunch of couches...? John Buscema really strongly felt like drawing comics the Marvel way involved couches.  Or if you look at old Andy Loomis books, there are all these messy diagrams about how to draw two characters on a set of different level stairs, so that the heights of the characters are consistent.     Understanding some perspective apparently can help with comic storytelling, too, but I don't really know what you'd read if you're interesting in hearing more about that; most comic art books just focus on the city and/or couch drawings.  Perspective is just this gross headache, but it's stuff people who draw know about, so if you want to draw yourself, what else can you do but, you know, get out a ruler and draw some couches?   Couch it up!  My favorite John Buscema couches were the couches in Madripoor.  Those couches had eyepatches.

Trucker Hat is being framed for the eye by the blacks on the page, the black ink-mass of Action Scarecrow to his right and the inks of the table above him to his upper-left. (Plus, he's got the excited word balloon from the midst of the sword swing pointing at him, which probably doesn't hurt to draw the reader's attention to him).

I like this panel because action is transpiring in the foreground (Trucker Hat yelling), midground (Action Scarecrow swingin' away), and background (Weakboy, gawping). I always think that's a pretty neat thing for a comic to shoot for.

And of course, for eyeflow purposes, the bar area and sword puts in sharp diagonal lines drawing us to where the Action Scarecrow rests in the next panel.


I really think if I pushed myself, my next caption for that first panel would've been the best one.  I wish I were looking at that first panel again.  I miss it.

Well, "rests" is not the best word. Again, note how Harren's character design pluses the speed lines. And again, talking out of my ass, it would appear we have Trucker Hat falling away from where I would guesstimate the vanishining point sits, and framed by the black of the table to his right, and his crotch to his left.

For eyeflow purposes, the table and chair both point to the third panel.



Weakboy is now framed by the bar, while the hilt of a baseball bat in the foreground points the way to panel four. Though with panel configurations like this, I always feel like panels four and five are kind of happening simultaneously (though panel four does lead the eye down using the background drawings of the bar, while panel five pushes to the next page using that smudged lightning bolt Z that Stewart paints into the background).

Panels four through six emphasize something Dave Stewart did in panels one and two, namely the more excited the action panels, the brighter the background colors. The action heated up the world around the action; the intensity of the action didn't just take place within an environment, but are reflected by that environment. When things calm down, they go back to red. (Or maybe I have that backwards from a color temperature perspective...? Put "color temperature" down as another thing I don't really have any kind of grasp on. It works, however you want to phrase it; plus, more functionally, let's the red of the bleeding Trucker Hat's severed arm stand out more).

Small thing, but worth noting: I like that Harren hand-draws his panel borders (if that's what's happening here). The way the nubs of lines protrude out. I find leaving that kind of discordant detail very comforting, even if I know these pages have been worked over digitally thereafter, even if it's just an affectation.


Did you experience any noteworthy emotion reading the comic?

I started texting halfway through the comic.  That is not a joke.

I experienced no emotion other than an utter disregard for the hard work this creative team had done preparing this comic.

Nothing about this comic engaged in me in any respect.

It is a shambles.


What do we hope that younger cartoonists learn to do and not to do from this comic?

To do / Not To Do:

Well.  This would be a very easy one to dance on top of, in that it's a comic that I thought was pretty terrible, a nice drawing here or there aside.  It's the kind of terrible it'd be fun to rip up because this comic is bad in a way that suggests a kind of laziness in thinking.  Comic creators soft enough to waste pages on the Mystery of Why a Fucking Cat has Glowing Eyes at an Undetermined Location for Unknown Reasons, in their very first issue, rather than create a single character worth listening to, or a story of any substance?  Creators who'd make that kind of choice, a guy like me, with my kind of dysfunctions, would have plenty of cause to think them soft and flabby, and to think the kind of self-satisfied and smug culture that allowed that kind of flabbiness needs to be decapitated. Ripping apart that kind of work is a matter of no small satisfaction.  It would be fun and it'd feel good, at least if you're my kind of sinister.

But I find myself a little philosophical tonight, here at the end of this (too long!) set of questions, that... I find myself thinking about something instead of mean-guy talk, which is...

If you're the kind of person who needs to put stuff out into the world, it's very likely that the reaction you get from that experience, that it's never going to be good enough.  People might like what you put out, but unless you have a very particular kind of talent and your talent luckily gets expressed in particularly lucrative and sex-generating endeavors (guitarist for a band that actually makes money, A-list actor, etc.), it's not likely that the reaction to what you put out will be "enough", however it is you may define "enough".

People liking what you do is not going to heal you. All that broken stuff that makes your work interesting, that shit's not getting fixed cause someone clicked the like icon on your creative output.  Heck, if you're a certain kind of person, you're not even going to believe the nice bits people say; you're going to go looking for the bad bits, the really nasty bits.  You'll trust those more because they sound closer to what you hear inside your own head everyday.

This is a comic made by seasoned professionals with a track record of praise behind them.  And for me at least, it's a mess, a fucking pointless mess of a first issue.  They just did not create anything even remotely interesting to experience, just white noise.  A complete waste of my time.  But when they were making it, when they were making it, there must have been a moment where none of that matters:  "Oh we've really got something here.  A scarecrow!  That's big!  With a sword!  We are fucking geniuses with rock hard boners!"

So, I think the "thing to learn"  from this kind of failure is this:  learn to appreciate the moments where you feel excited about what you're doing, that early rush where the potential of what you're about to do is buzzing all around, where you can't wait to get started.  There's no telling what happens after that.  You try your best and sometimes you just miss.  Or you try your best and you get stuck with a co-creator who's not bringing the fire, or a collaboration that's not firing on all cylinders, or a million other things.  Or even if you hit, even if you hit, even then, it still probably will not be enough.  So, at least, try to stop and appreciate that one moment.

How does that Kurt Vonnegut quote go?

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

NEXT WEEK: THE NAMES #1 from DC-Vertigo.

Abhay: Inquisition - Bitch Planet #1

This is part of a series of write-em-ups answering a series of questions about recent comics.  As an initial matter, please be advised that this will likely discuss details of the plot in the comic being discussed, and so here is a spoiler warning. Also, sponge warning: be careful of sponges that you use to wash your dishes.  According to no less scientific a news source than the Daily Mail, a "kitchen sponge is 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat - and could even lead to PARALYSIS."

10 Questions about BITCH PLANET #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Cris Peter, Clayton Cowles, Rian Hughes, Laurenn McCubbin, and Lauren Sankovitch.

A basic description of this comic, so that everyone's on the same page.

The first issue of a new series  about women trapped in a science-fiction prison run by an oppressive male-dominated society.

The first issue focuses on the arrival of a small group of women to a prison located on what we're told is another planet, and the immediate violence that ensues upon their arrival, some of which is caused by a bit of intrigue involving an older woman sent to this prison and her ex-husband back on Earth.

Co-author Kelly Sue DeConnick, talking to the LA Times:

"This is born of a deep and abiding love for exploitation and women in prison movies of the ’60s and ’70s.  I like this stuff so much, and it’s so terrible, it’s so deeply awful and delicious, like those candies that are bad for you. So I wanted to see if there was a way that I could play with the things about it that I love and also the things about it that make me wildly uncomfortable."


Is this comic about anything besides its plot?

This is a first issue but the book's themes seem baked-in from the get-go. Women are put in prison for the crime of being "non-compliant" with a male society that, in brief background glimpses, we can see is fascistically obsessed with controlling women's bodies.  The prison and society are run by a violent patriarchy termed the "Council of Fathers".

This is all kind of a big, chunky metaphor that feels really ideal for a comic book: easy to grasp, angsty in a sort of adolescent way that serial comics seem to benefit by (I mean that in a complimentary way), a little goofy, lots of possible visual hooks.

But beyond establishing the premise, the first issue also works in a small plot about a husband discarding his first wife into this Prison of Misogyny because he found a "more compliant" younger woman. What makes this such an effective first issue, I think, isn't that it just presents this big chunky metaphor, but that it then immediately has a little example that fits entirely within the first issue, a little exemplar of hetero-lady anxiety / anger that's more bite-sized. It's not just relying on the big metaphor to win the day.

First issues are monsters.  So many choices to make, so many obligations to service, so many ways things can go wrong for a creative team trying to sell readers on whatever the appeal of their comic is supposed to be.  In the first issue of Bitch Planet, you can see comic authors trying to address those challenges by minimally setting up the series premise, but instead focusing moreso on providing a complete, discreet unit of thematic and emotional content for readers.


Did the creative team make any interesting choices in the visual presentation of the story?

The way the color green is used jumps out.

The authors color-code the first issue. Red/pink is established quickly as the color of women in the early pages: the introduction to the women is bathed in pink light, the prison jumpers are red, etc. Green is the color of men: green-lit wardens, the patriarchy's representatives  back on planet Earth working in a green office, etc.


48-1230 is the combination I have on my luggage.

Once they're in prison, the women have to put on clothes in front of green stalls.  As soon as one of these women insects with the color green, however, there are disastrous consequences, and a riot ensues.


Krakk is whack.

In that riot, two panels feature women being struck from behind.  In both panels where we see women being harmed, the background colors of those panels go green. Violence in this comic is depicted as the women characters being engulfed by the green color of men.

It's a small bit of narrative-through-color, but one that at least reflects a creative team engaged with the visual primacy of comics.

  • (Wild Guess Dept.: The color-coding may also be a spoiler to the mystery set-up by the cliffhanger, if you check the color-coding on the characters in play (?), but we'll see on that point in future issues).


How is the comic structured?

A high-tempo opening page (discussed further below in detail) sets-up a dueling dialogue scene in the next two pages, where (a) information presented visually comments on dialogue taking place at a different time/location, while (b) other characters are presented simultaneously, themselves commenting upon the visual information, i.e. three layers of information are conveyed to the reader and those layers all meaningfully comment upon at least one of the other layers. (This is easier to understand when seen, than it is to describe in prose, which I again mean as a compliment).

The first issue does this a couple times-- intercutting between moments in different places (and times?), leaving it to a reader to follow color-cues and page layouts to fully process the space-time "geography" of various moments.

Anyways: first scene's about five pages, including a two-page title credit splash.

The double-page splash is a bit of a weak point here. The comic presumably takes place on another planet (?) but nothing about the planet depicted in the splash seems particularly alien (presuming the "it's all another planet" bit isn't just a fake-out).  If anything, the double-page splash seems to depict a space station in the foreground, which at least for a moment, lead me to believe the prison was on a space station. (I guess the tip-off for me should've been the comic being called Bitch PLANET but I'm not so smart sometimes...?). The creative team seemed interested in the wallop of a big double-page splash with their logo, but I don't know if that splash really carries its water narratively.

Next scene is four pages set in the prison. This is followed by two pages set back on Earth, setting up the issue's mini-story, and then again, a four page scene at the prison.

In the next two pages, the comic intercuts between the prison and Earth.  The intercutting is on almost a panel-by-panel basis for the first page, but on a more interesting "space to the left, Earth to the right" configuration on the second page which relies on color and page-geography for clarity.

There then ensues two more pages on the prison, one page wrapping up the Earth storyline, and then four pages in space-- three of which rap up the issue's mini-storyline in space, one of which is a cliffhanger page. (Thankfully, not a splash page cliffhanger! I do not dig those much at all-- way too played out, especially with first issues).

Eight scenes total: 5, 4, 2, 4, 2, 2, 1, 4.

Put another way, the comic goes Earth, Prison, Earth, prison, Earth and prison simultaneously, Prison, Earth, Prison.   If you squint at that, I think you vaguely see a symmetry to the issue.  But maybe that's just me squinting.


Is there anything noteworthy about the cover, logo, lettering, or design?

Rian Hughes logo. He makes the letter C in the word BITCH into the planet Saturn, using a little bit of shading.  The logo looks better in the comic than on the cover-- on the cover, he uses a undefined blocky drop-shadow-y thing, like on the old X-Men logo. (I don't know what the terminology is-- I don't know logo lingo). It just looks a little more cornball on the cover.

On the cover, it seems in service of an overall aesthetic that I don't quite know that I understand.

The cover and the book itself seem intent on asserting to the reader that it's a pop culture artifact, via "this sure is a comic!"-type moves that I'm not sure I dig. Besides the blocky drop-shadow-y thing, the book's colors often have a Photoshop texture, a faux Benday-dot effect, i.e. "lots of little dots". The cover aims more for an exploitation movie poster, with exploitation-trailer style text blurbs on the cover, an insincere "Rated M Mature" logo in the corner that's almost smaller than Rian Hughes's signature.

I don't know. I think those moves are supposed to be fun, but I think there's a little insecurity to them which doesn't really make much sense to me, given the strengths of the content otherwise. It seems a little weirdly defensive, for a book that doesn't need to be defensive -- trying to preempt arguments that aren't worth entertaining to begin with (e.g., "you can't dismiss this in any way as not being a comic!  Look how much of a comic I'm being with these benday-dots"...?).

Or even setting that aside, aesthetically, it's just not very fully-formed. The faux Benday dots in particular don't really add a lot. I'm just not really into those dots, generally, so maybe that's just me. Photoshop-created dot-textures just never look right to me. (See, for comparison, Hip Hop Famly Tree pages from Ed Piskor, who actually took the time to scan in old comic pages, to a noticeably different and, I think, superior effect). I have "Annoying Music Fan Talking about Vinyl" type opinions that there's a warmth to actual old coloring and the mechanical processes and mishaps that created old coloring that you just can't recreate by slapping a computerized dot texture on top of some colors. Photoshop-dots, it just looks like a schtick to me: it's not recreating a thing, it's signifying a thing, which is just less interesting; it makes the colors intrude into the experience; for me at least, it's just too schtick-y.


I thought that word had three U's.

The single worst part about the comic overall is the sound-effect lettering. The THWUUCKK font should be erased from human existence. But not many people will care about that, and that's a little kink they can smooth out as the book proceeds.


Is anything about this comic interesting politically, socially, or from some other frame of reference?

Ha-- well, this one is an easy yes.

Let's be more honest than is probably advisable, and let me cop to something I noticed about myself reading this issue:

For starters, let's establish that I'm a big old piece-of-shit guy, with a lot of dumb-ass-guy opinions.  (I think it's a little unavoidable. You know, you live in a weird crappy society, some weird crappy stuff can't help but rub off on you. The question becomes whether you admit it or or you lie and pretend like you're some special-y special exception. Me, I got nothing telling me I'm any kind of exception in life, and a whole lot going on telling me the opposite, so.)

And so... And so, the issues raised by the issue's mini-story, in particular, is really designed around pushing emotional buttons that while I imagine I might have if I were a woman, and while I can understand them intellectually (I think), I just don't have those buttons. I can appreciate on an intellectual level, at least, that the mini-story about the discarded first wife would be appealing, for example, to a woman angry about her value being defined exclusively by a short window of male sexual attention, and being discarded after that window closes.

But I'm a Shitty Guy so my immediate gut-level reaction was more, you know, "I sure wouldn't want to be trapped in a loveless (and definitely sexless) marriage, and don't blame anybody who gets out of one of those #notallmen.  P.S. some science stuff about bonobo monkeys I heard once third-hand."

Then I caught myself and realized the more Horrible and Pressing Truth:  I live in my head with the piece of crap who starts creating excuses for fictional men...! Haha, oh nooooooo.

So, I think I had an interesting experience with this issue just in that... I imagine if I was a lady, I'd have to constantly identify with male protagonists because they'd be given to me so ridiculously often.  And so it turned out to be a little bummer (though an interesting one) knowing that as a Shitty Guy, the comparative muscles for me are so atrophied from non-use.  Little bit of a bummer!

In my limited defense, they haven't assigned me a reddit account yet (they assign you a reddit account and it's just all over for you; all over).  I don't know.  In my limited defense, I can at least spot the issue with my Default Settings.  I don't know how much control we have over our Default Settings, but probably no control at all if we're not even aware of them...?

(Also: bonobo monkeys really are actually pretty interesting creatures, if you look into them!!  Blame me; don't blame the bonobos!)

Besides gender, there's also race. Race is just some tricky shit. It's more fun than not to see black female lead characters, and the book seems to promise those will be more prominent in future issues. On the other hand, the tricky bit is that those characters not all be tough fight-y fighters (which is all the first issue seems to promise), as that would kinda make them into the Other or be in a way capitalizing on cultural baggage that's uncool...? It'd make race into, like, a signifier, which is ... kinda not so great.  I've known pretty tough black ladies, sure. But I've also known black ladies who are made pretty much out of expensive cupcakes. You know?

The cast hasn't really been fleshed out yet so too early to say whether that should be a concern. Still, the first issue has black ladies beating folks up, but the characters with emotion-driven back stories, whose inner lives are of interest, those are all white-- the black characters are just engines of cool violence in issue one.

(But look, it's pretty unlikely to think that's going to be what this comic is like by the end of issue 4...? It just doesn't seem very likely that the creative team's going to have a blind spot that glaring past the jump-off.)


Take away my first letter; take away my second letter; take away all my letters, and I would remain the same. What am I?

You're a fucking weakling.  Why don't you learn how to fight, you spineless bag of cotton candy?  A couple weeks of Krav Maga and no one's taking anything from you.  Someone takes your first letter, you just yell "Krav Maga!" at the top of your lungs and then kick them in their fun-parts as hard as you can.  Nobody's going to take a second letter after that.  Unless they have a gun.  Okay, actually, be careful, in case they have a gun. Nowadays, the way this country's going, they're probably packing some heat, the letter bandits.  Damn.  Well, I mean, if you don't need all those letters, and you're the same without them, then you should just give that shit away before some jabroni with a gun shows up and it even becomes an issue! What are you keeping the letters for anyways?  What, you want to end up on that Hoarders show?

Gun, no gun, just get your life together!


What was the best bit of dialogue in the comic?

One of the Bitch-Planeteers (yelling): "Where'm I s'posed to put my tits?!"

The first prison fight featured in the comic is caused by men's failure to manufacture adequate bras or to appreciate the variety in the shapes of women's bodies...?  Sponge warning: it's not a very subtle comic.  Not so subtle with its themes.  No one's going to criticize the comic called BITCH PLANET for being TOO subtle, as it turns out-- surprise!


What is the most interesting page in the comic and how does it work?

Page 1

Bitch Planet, page one.

The first page was the one that struck me as most noteworthy.

As you can see, Page one is a 12-panel grid, 4x3, with three interstitial panels cutting into the right-most two panels of each tier.

Tier 1

Tier 1 of Bitch Planet #1, Page 1. "Eat less poop more."

The top tier is a Woman advancing geographically across three panels. The panel borders establish an urgent staccato "musical beat" from the get-go, with the three interstitial panels acting as grace notes.

The Woman is racing towards panel 4-- a drawing of a Man sitting in a chair, complaining about her.

Tier 2

Tier 2 of Bitch Planet #1, Page 1.  Really wish that sign said "No more posers."  So that the posers would finally know how we felt about them.

Tier two, the Woman is again depicted as racing to her right, but now only in two panels. Where the Man once took up a single panel, he now takes up two panels.

While the first tier featured a generic science-fiction city-scape in the background, with John Carpenter They Live headlines like "OBEY" blaring in the distant background on various neon signs, the second tier becomes more whimsical.  The Woman has to squeeze through a crowd of three men surrounding an ape holding an "Evolve" sign.  We can see that her progression through her world is becoming more surreal and the propaganda only more oppressive, closer, unavoidable to notice.  The space she has to move in more cramped.  Meanwhile, the Man's world is expanding and stable-- he has plenty of space to work.

In his two panels, the Man begins a countdown, like the kind that would be sung out before a song starts properly.  This further adds to the high-tempo musical quality of this first page.

Tier 3

Tier 3 of Bitch Planet #1, Page 1.  Into that "Whoop!" but couldn't tell you why.  People who talk about comics being like music usually sound like self-satisfied windbags but I guess they wouldn't be wrong saying there's a musicality to this page, to that "Whoop!"

Tier three, final tier, the Woman is now stumbling to the right, with only one panel dedicated to her-- any confidence in her body language is now gone. The cityscape now seems violent and threatening, with some kind of police robots hovering above her, and her journey now pushing her past what we would presume are violent men breaking the law.

The remaining three panels are now dominated by the Man, who is prominent in the foreground while the Woman enters, small and diminished into his background.

What's interesting about this page is that as early as page 1 of issue one, there is a narrative visually presented to the reader: a competent woman has to struggle through a ever-more-hostile world, but her story, that progression?  It is increasingly diminished and subjugated to the story of a comparatively more dull male character.  It is his background, separated from him by a plane of safety glass.  And that male character is dismissive of her struggles despite having none of his own.

Page 1 - Copy

I think you're too lazy to scroll up and look at the page again.  I think that about you, and I'm not sorry.

Without resorting to dialogue, within a page, the comic is making a thematic statement, establishing everything we need to know about the world without exposition, with minimal clunkiness, and within a grid structure that immediately starts the comic at a brisk and exciting tempo.

Jeez Louse

Further bit of possible interest: in the first panel of page 2, we have a close-up of the Woman finally, as she begins her job for the Man character. The creative team presents her purely in silhouette. She had been drawn with some minimal detail before working for the Man. But now, working for the Man, her very identity has been visually obliterated.


Did you experience any noteworthy emotion reading the comic?

I'm not a big fan of women in prison movies particularly.  As exploitation genres go, that one never really did anything for me; those movies are pretty sleazy, and not really the kinds of reprehensible gross sleaze I'm super-super-into, boner-style.  So, my reactions to the comic were more analytic than emotional or gut-level.  As mentioned above, I was just more struck by what I think I was supposed to have an emotional reaction to, but didn't. For me, that was the most noteworthy experience with the comic, beyond an appreciation of craft.


What do we hope that younger cartoonists learn to do and not to do from this comic?

Not to do:

Maaaan, be careful of that Ben-Day schtick. Not a lot of comics I can think of where a Photoshop filter has really plus-ed a comic. It's the kind of choice that once you make, it's a tough one to back away from.

The iconography of comics is fun but may not fit every project.

To do:

Layout is storytellingColor is storytelling.  Everything within a comic's four corners can be storytelling, if you want it to be.  A comic doesn't just have to be a vehicle for telling a story.  A comic can be the manifestation of the story.

Comics.  Try to think comics.

NEXT WEEK: RUMBLE #1 from Image Comics.

Abhay: Inquisition-- The Valiant #1

For the last couple of years, I've been trying to write a certain kind of essay-- one that always kind of remained a little out of my reach but was fun to chase after. But lately, maybe for longer than I actually knew myself, it's been time to pivot, and try something a little different. I want to pivot to something a little closer to what one of the bad guys in that movie Dead Poets Society would write. Start running more of a J. Evans Pritchard fan-club.

So, this is what I'm going to be doing for a little while (at least for the next five whole weeks since I've written five of these, but I quit real easy so who knows). My apologies if it's of no interest-- hopefully, we reconnect later down the road.

In tribute to Roman god Janus

The Romans had Janus...

10 Questions about THE VALIANT #1 by Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, Dave Lanphear, Kyle Andrukiewicz, and Warren Simons.

A basic description of this comic, so that everyone's on the same page.

This was heavily promoted as being a self-contained "event miniseries" by Valiant Comics (which has come back to life yet again for the umpeenth time, like the Hammer Films version of Dracula).

The series looks like it's about a bunch of heroes uniting to face down a personality-less threat. The villain is a smaller-scale version of the bad guys as from the Mass Effect video-games, if you know those, the Reapers; a recurring civilization-killer that attacks throughout time, but has no real character or points of interest beyond that barebones "it kills people" function in order to keep the viewer's attention focused exclusively on the heroic characters.

Co-author Jeff Lemire, talking to Comic Book Resources:

"The Valiant really is a story that puts a stake into the ground and really changes the flow of the Valiant Universe moving forward and really shakes up the status quo of a number of character, and sets the stage for the next couple years' worth of stories. It's something I'm really honored to be a part of, coming on fresh and working with guys like Matt who have been working in the universe for a while."


Is this comic about anything besides its plot?



Did the creative team make any interesting choices in the visual presentation of the story?

There are two panels where Bloodshot uses his superpowers to mind-control a machine.

Do you think this is what Bloodshot sees when he masturbates? I'm going to say yes. Also, I'm going to say that he says "That's it" before he does it, out loud.

Rivera presents those by drawing the machine's console with an orange line on top of an otherwise all-black panel, detailing the console with a grid-pattern that resembles the "wireframe" effect one sees in CGI modelling. I would assume that look has science-fiction "cyber" connotations for readers, but I'm not sure why, where it originated. (From Tron? From early computer games?)

Rivera notes in the back matter that it's a similar technique to the "Radar" vision seen in his Daredevil work "but both scripts were asking for basically the same thing. Either that, or I'm a one-trick pony."  Thin color lines on top of all-black panels-- I like those; I like how they jump out, have a sort of sinister, neon-y city--at-night energy. And panels from a subjective viewpoint-- those can be pretty fun. Oh, it'd be nice to see it being put to some other use than just illustrating superpowers, constantly, but.

Nothing else really jumps out as to the presentation.


How is the comic structured?

The comic opens with a page of widescreen panels, a camera untethered to any point of view, wandering an environment while nothing much happens. At some point in recent history, that kind of page took over as how all of these kinds of comics seem to start, the numbingly-slow crawl into a comic rather than a classic old-fashioned splash pages getting you excited about what was to come. Why? Splash pages are better.

The widescreen thankfully gets dropped for the remainder of the comic. Rivera mostly sticks to either two or three tier pages.

The comic is structured in four scenes:

1) The comic spends 9 pages setting up the Threat to the Eternal Warrior character (including a double-page splash). This first scene is repetitive-- three nearly-identical sub-scenes making the same exact narrative point, over and over. The authors couldn't find a graphic solution to convey to the readers that the Threat is as eternal as the Eternal Warrior, other than to just repeat the same exact scene three times in three different time-periods.

The problem is the authors burn nine pages of this comic in the process for repetitive scenework. And burn a lot of goodwill-- the comic builds no momentum. Reading this stretch is drudgery.

2) A three page scene follows-- thin characterization of a lady who is apparently the latest "Geomancer" on Earth. She's in conversation with the Eternal Warrior's brother Armstrong, from the Archer & Armstrong comics.

Despite them talking for three pages about what life is like as a Geomancer, the term Geomancer is never really explained to the reader.

"Listen. I couldn't keep a houseplant alive. For real. And now I'm supposed to be the guardian of the earth somehow?" Luckily, they bold-face the words houseplant and guardian-- otherwise, this might've been boring to read!

3) That's followed by six pages of Bloodshot beating up a robot in some nondescript jungle region, for some unclear reason. (Two of those pages are a double-page splash of a robot shooting at Bloodshot, with an inset panel).

4) The comic then concludes with a five-page scene that set-ups the cliffhanger: the Threat from the beginning of the comic is going to attack the Geomancer lady.

(This scene is mildly disrupted by a random one-panel conversation between Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar -- who apparently is also in this comic, out of nowhere. The one-panel conversation features Eternal Warrior stating some information, specifically the exact same information we had already been told three times in the first scene. Holy shit! How stupid does the creative team think that people who read these comics are, that they need to be told a simple concept FOUR fucking times in one issue? X-O Manowar's response is literally "Why are you telling me this now?" So. Once again, as is true in life, as is true in love, I agree 100% with X-O Manowar.)

Four scenes total: 9-3-6-5.

None of the scenes motivate one another, particularly. The comic is mostly just stuff happening, without any compelling through-line to hold the reader's attention, more a series of events, than a story, all set-up for future issues.

Nothing presented is pleasurable in and of itself.


Is there anything noteworthy about the cover, logo, lettering, or design?

The comic opens with an all-black inside cover, and then an all black first page with "Book One" written on it (despite there being a #1 on the cover), then another all-black page before commencing the comic on page three. The last two pages of the comics? Also, all black pages.

I didn't really understand all the black paper in this comic. Am I supposed to be impressed? "Oooooh, the paper's all black-- that's the same color as the shirts Steve Jobs used to wear. Maybe these people are visionaries, too. RIP Steve Jobs." Design seems pompous.

Rivera hand-draws the sound-effects, I think. Rivera's inconsistent with the sound effects though-- gunfire makes "Bam Bam" sound effects, but Bloodshot punching his hand through a Robot's windshield? No sound. Robots taking off into the air on rockets? No sound. What do you think about that? I let stuff like that slide, and I imagine 99% of readers do too, but is it weird we all are like ... so uncommitted to the sound effect conceit...? Maybe that's weird.


Is anything about this comic interesting politically, socially, or from some other frame of reference?

The comic begins with a black character (an Incan) being violently murdered in order to inspire the white male protagonist.

I'd totally try to get that guy's face if it were offered to me. Just to keep the bad guy from crapping or ejaculating into my buddy's severed face. I'm a good friend that way.

So, black-rifice: check.

The next two pages feature a woman being violently murdered in order to inspire the white male protagonist.  Note that she is wearing a blouse but her breasts are hanging out of that blouse, all exposed to nature-- and yet her breasts are still hidden from the reader by a conveniently placed hand.  The bizarrely-common sexless titillation of comics-- drawings of murdered women presented as senseless sex objects, but for an audience of men disinterested in any of the actual specifics of sex.

Anita Sarkeesian did a video about how cheap imagery like this trivializes violence against women-- she calls it the Damsel in Distress trope. Leigh Alexander wrote about a variation on the topic last year, with respect to video games-- here's the key bit: "It seems that when you want to make a woman into a hero, you hurt her first. When you want to make a man into a hero, you hurt... also a woman first."

So, woman in a refrigerator: check.

The third scene features a little kid being murdered to inspire the white male protagonist. If only the little kid had been a gay character, it'd have been a kill-the-minorities-to-inspire-a-white-guy hat-trick.

The first four pages of this comic evidence a creative team oblivious to the kinds of imagery they are slopping around, and one making boring / stupid assumptions about who the audience for their work is.

Also: it's a little strange, people who will only believe in "heros" that need a bodycount to want to do the right thing. "All this bloodshed makes me want to make the world a decent place, as opposed to, you know, ethics." That's just odd.


You are in a dark room with a candle, a wood stove and a gas lamp.  You only have one match. What do you light first?

Oh damn, I'm bad at riddles.  I would first light that ass on fire...?  Heeeey-o.

The internet says the right answer is "The match" but man-- if that's my only match, that's too valuable to light on fire, just from a supply and demand perspective. I would just leave that room-- it sounds like that room sucks; get the fuck out of colonial Williamsburg!  I'd rent a room at the Four Seasons Hotel.  The rooms at the Four Seasons come with electric lamps-- you don't need a stupid match.

Put that match on eBay-- sell it some riddle-solver-- use the eBay money to pay for the hotel room.


What was the best bit of dialogue in the comic?

Geomancer: "Apparently, I'm the great-granddaughter of Buck McHenry."

I don't really like this line for sincere reasons. Something about it just made me giggle when I read it, just in that I don't feel like any human being has ever said that combination of words before this was typed out, and no human being ever will or would. Does that make it "good dialogue"? I don't know, but it at least makes it at least amusing the way I don't mind comics being amusing.

Anyways, that's as good as the dialogue ever got-- the rest is just lifeless.


What is the most interesting page in the comic and how does it work?

Page 19. Bloodshot versus the robots.

Very classical eye-flow, this page.

First panel uses the outstretched arm to push the eyes to the right. Second panel pushes the eye in a sweeping move down to the console.

Drawing arrows with a mouse in MS Paint was hard.

The console uses the grid-line to redirect the reader's eyes to the climactic robot battle. And the climactic robot-battle point the way to the next page.

I don't know why Bloodshot needed "nanites" to figure out how to use a trigger-- but at that point, I didn't care.

Nothing too sophisticated but simple, classical flow.

Note also how the Bloodshot chest-tattoo shows up in the last panel as a dot. Nice touch.


Did you experience any noteworthy emotion reading the comic?

Disdain for the bit with the topless woman.

I didn't notice the blackrifice until I was typing this out (which probably means some stuff about me, but). I didn't experience that disdain in real-time, though, so I don't know if that counts.

Besides all that, no. Absolutely nothing happens in this comic to provoke any kind of emotional or intellectual reaction. It's a completely inert product. Mentally and emotionally dead. Nothing a person could hate because it's so unmistakably a comic that will be forgotten in a week's time, if even that long. It will be like it never happened, before you even knew it. Just a comic with no point in even existing. It's just nothing.


What do we hope that younger cartoonists learn to do and not to do from this comic?

To do:

Good artists care how a reader's eyes flow during action scenes, and I'd like to think that readers will appreciate a page with good flow even if they can't articulate that it's happening.

Not to do:

Don't repeat the same exact information three times in a span of pages that take up a significant chunk of real estate in your book. Maybe try to find a graphic solution to storytelling challenges, rather than waste pages conveying simple pulp ideas. Try anything because the beginning of a comic isn't really the ideal place to be boring and super-redundant.

Also: maybe have "write at least one line of dialogue that's interesting or lively" on a to-do list, so you remember to do that. Tie a string around your finger so you don't forget.

The essence of comics is that they are built out of images.  Images mean things.  Understand what different kinds of images mean to different kinds of people.  You would have to be pretty goddamn oblivious not to realize that comics are constantly featuring images of violence against women, in particular, and if you are a decent human being, I would imagine you would not want to add another example to that very long list without a better reason than you can see on display here.  Chances are you can make whatever point you're trying to make without adding to the world's storehouse of dumb, offensive, tiresome images. There's no rewards for being a good person, not in this world and certainly not in comics-- nobody fucking cares.  But maybe try to be one anyways just because it's the right thing to do.

NEXT WEEK: BITCH PLANET #1 from Image Comics.

Abhay: 2014– Another Year that I Mindlessly Consumed Entertainment

Best-Of lists!  Do those deserve an exclamation mark?  Probably not!


10. "Casual fridays arent allowed in the office after last weeks ‘incident’"

I sought out comics the least this year than any year I can remember. There were definitely times when I'd put down a book I hadn't connected with and just think, "Am I done? Maybe I'm done. Maybe it's been a good run but now's the time to just be finished with all this."

I'm getting old, and historically, comics are aimed at mediocre folks in their early-to-mid 20's. Any illusions I had about what comics could be like if it "got its act together", those got themselves pretty dead-- there's a Dorothy Parker quote I love more than anything: "Nobody on earth writes down. Garbage though they turn out, Hollwood writers aren't writing down. That is their best. If you're going to write , don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you." Comics: this is just the best they can do, the poor things. That narrative that powered me there for a couple years of "I'm watching a great medium rise up from shackles that were wrongly put on it historically" I don't think I believe anymore-- it wasn't "shackles" making faces at Marv Wolfman while he was on the witness stand at his trial to try to reclaim his ownership of Blade, trying to distract him from giving potentially life-altering testimony; it was John Byrne. Most folks want to believe he's some exception to the rule, but you know... Why?  Why believe that?

Plus: I got insulted some this year by folks-- most of that I brought on myself for forgetting how the game works for a moment; some of that was pretty deserved and reasonable; I'm pretty good at letting shit roll-off. But there were a couple moments that gave me pause, a couple times where just the low quality of the people I irritated just made me tired.  Batman's the most popular superhero because he's got the best rogue's gallery; you don't get stronger lifting the lightest weights; there were a couple times this year where I felt like I could have spent my time irritating a much better class of person.

All that shit's starting to wear off though these last couple months; fuck it, comics are rad and having stone-cold dummies dislike you is brilliant; but even at the low-point, here's the thing-- I was still coming across great comics routinely. There's no avoiding them now with social media, with the internet, with everyone being interconnnected. Comics are everywhere; comics are unavoidable; it's incredible what we've all built with each other. This comic-- I don't know how I found it, and I don't know anything about who made it or why or for what, but I just think it's great.

I like how it constantly heightens the emotional deadness of airline safety cards to increasingly bizarre new levels, the speed of it, how quickly everything goes fucking haywire in it. It's not enough that nudity immediately descends to casual fucking-- it's that in the next panel, they're making vases like Patrick Swaye in Ghost. The comic's also a fun example of the audience plusing a joke, adding a perfect punchline the creators hadn't gotten to. For that to have happened, this comic had to have found its perfect audience, and so knowing that happened was a great encouragement, in many different respects.

  • You might also want to check out: Godendeemster, by Theo van den Boogaard and Wim T. Schippers.

9. Prophet #42 by Ron Wimberly / Brandon Graham / Giannis Milonogiannis / Joseph Bergin III.

Aaah, shallow pleasures. This comic just looked fucking dope. Which maybe doesn't sound like a lot to you, but (a) it's comics, stupid-- that's pretty, pretty important, and (b) 12 months later, it's still in my memory of this year, which is the biggest shock. How difficult is that? I forget everything I look at anymore-- comics, people, places; this stuck; it's got to mean something, right?

  • You might also want to check out: I thought that issue of Sex Criminals where the guy was depressed was a pretty solid comic, if you're shopping at that end of the store. I still run pretty hot-cold with that comic overall. I went into that issue (#6?? around there) thinking that guy character was a pile of hot garbage (was that just me? I never see people talk about that, but man-- that dude gave me a pile of hot garbage vibe from the get-go)-- it didn't get me to like him anymore, but it at least made him interesting.

8. Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Fischer, Dustin Harbin, and Nathan Fairbairn

This was a weird experience, how people wrote about this book when it was about to come out as compared to actually reading it. I felt like everyone who wrote about it focused on Seconds as a hijinx-y Scott Pilgrim follow-up, or a book about coping with life after your Hollywood movie comes out.

But then the book itself? I only read it the one time, but it felt like that book was a real raw nerve. Characters trying desparately to fix everything to make a relationship perfect and constantly failing-- wanting a thing and fucking it all up by wanting it so much. Characters feeling lost in their homes, alienated by their own homes that they'd spent years building. Infidelity and regret, and all the hopes pinned to dream homes slowly crumbling in the distance. That book felt like a heartbreak album, but all the writing I saw about the book beforehand were about mushrooms and zippy happy super-fun times; it just seemed fucking crazy. Comic people like to be polite and "why not just be positive" all the time, but with this book, that attitude really just seemed indiscernible from being functionally illiterate.

Besides thematically, while the narration occasionally felt a little unnecessary, I really liked the character designs, especially the main character who's like a cross between Sonic the Hedgehog and Lina Inverse from Slayers but I still feel like I've met people who have looked like her; neat trick.

  • You might also want to check out: Written in Bones, by Christopher M. Jones & Carey Pietsch.

7. Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Abel Lanzac, Christophe Blain, & Edward Gauvin 

Wrote about Weapons of Mass Diplomacy here; still haven't seen the movie version but it's on Netflix.

  • You might also want to check out: Jules Feiffer's Kill Your Mother. Not a political book, but another hefty graphic novel-- the first one? not really, but we're all pretending-- focused primarily on the foibles and neuroses of its characters, this one by an artist who manages to be both a widely-celebrated legend and still somehow underrated. Unwieldy sometimes-confusing execution-- Feiffer could have used more of a helping editorial hand on some of his page layouts, but enough of Feiffer's strengths shine through to have made for an entirely pleasant time.

6. The Short Con by Aleks Sennwald and Pete Toms

It's difficult to imagine the kind of person who'd read this and not find some charm to it, or some value in the jokes. One of those rare all-ages comics that actually live up to that description-- and genuinely pretty funny, which is the rarest thing of all. I would like this as much as a little kid as I do now-- not oodles of things that can be said of. One of the few comics where I want to see it adapted into other media-- I want to see the Pixar version; I want to buy a DNA Profiling Kit for my nephews.

5. Eleanor Davis-- Cartoonist Diary

Smarter people than me are all focusing on Davis's book How to Be Happy. Happy's a collection of short evocative pieces concerning characters for whom some numinous moment is slightly just out of reach, comics more concerned with capturing a feeling of yearning than any particularly narrative. It's a strong showcase for Davis's different styles.

But look, I only got that book because Eleanor Davis's Cartoonist Diary over at the Comics Journal was so great. Is any comic artist as perfect for a long scroll webcomic as Davis? Most webcomics, year after year, are just not readable because the people who've made them are so tied to the conventions of print comics, so what a pleasure Davis's work by comparison. While her diary comics don't feature any of her facility with color-- obviously a big selling point for Happy-- I love the immediacy of her figures. They have a little more volume to them than other cartoonists give their characters. Combined with the mostly thick line Davis uses for these, there's a confidence to those figure-drawings, such that it's hard not to feel like I'm in safe hands as a reader immediately upon looking at them. All of the details feel essential, rather than decorative-- there's so little waste to these, but still such lively drawings. And then the contents themselves, despite the limitations of the project, sill manage moments that are striking or portentous, especially in Day Four which I would think is the highlight of those diaries. I think they're pretty fucking rad.

  • You might also want to check out:  Leslie Stein's diary comics.  I just think they're so fun to look at. I don't know that any one installment towers over the others, but following these comics has been a highlight of the year.

4. Copra by Michel Fiffe.

This has been on my year end lists for a couple years now, probably, but I've never really written about it. I've been wanting to do that, but I don't want to just slop something out here. Uhm: I will say that it shifted to a higher gear this year with the single-issue stories, though. The pleasures of Copra have always been the single-issue experience of it, more than some overall narrative, and so this year, it felt like Copra really honed in on its biggest strength.

There were some o-kay serialized comics this year-- the resumption of Stray Bullets and Astro City; I thought the Fade Out's started promisingly; that first issue of Bitch Planet's pretty well-executed if you want something pretty recent.  But Copra's still the only thing I really get excited about when it shows up, the one I'm not on autopilot for.

  • You might also want to check out:  If you're in the mood for action comics, I think Wes Craig's art on Deadly Class are worth a look. That comic is pretty-whatever overall-- there are interesting bits but then, like, also other stuff. Mainstream comic book self-pity weak-boy stuff you've probably seen enough of before.  (The "it's a 1980's period piece" bit hasn't paid off much at all). But Craig's action pages are usually worth a look.

3. Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple

There was a book last year that I really was not into called Hair Shirts by Patrick Mceown. This book had a similarity but just succeeded where Hair Shirts didn't connect for me. It's a book about abuse, the imprecision of memory, and pop culture as a hiding place and defense mechanism-- but one spoken purely in a vernacular somewhere between a Liefeld-era New Mutants comic, Marc Laidlaw's forgotten cyberpunk short story "400 Boys", the "Explore an environment" fantasy experiments of mid-00's art comics, and obviously, Jonathan Lethem's Brooklyn novels (with whom author Farel Dalrymple had notably worked with before on Omega the Unknown). Sometimes a slippery comic to connect with emotionally-- I'd commend to your attention the lengthy discussion of the book by the Wait What guys, as they really dug into it-- but not a book that skimps on the surface pleasures of comics, even if suspicious or perhaps disenchanted with them.

Anyone who has insight into one of the book's final mysteries is invited to speak up because that's still bugging me.

  • You might also want to check out: I'd suggest looking into Roman Muradov's work; if you can track down his zine The Yellow Zine-- there's not a lot of similarity with Wrenchies content-wise, but there's an intensity to the art that I would wildly guess you'd be sympatico with if you were into Wrenchies.

2. SEXCASTLE by Kyle Starks

Sexcastle is the only comic on this list that I immediately do-not-pass-go drew (lousy) fan-art for after I finished reading it. #1 on a list of Top 10 Comics that Are Awesome, written by me, age 13, Sexcastle is a daydream of the greatest 1980's action movie ever made ... that somehow doesn't suck; my god, there are so many ways this could've sucked. Kyle Starks may not be in the running for that Russ Manning Award, but this was the most purely-fun comic I've read in a long, long time. I got it off Kickstarter, following a random recommendation on an impulse-- I'm not sure where else it's sold, but a new edition is coming from Image next year. If The Tick or Giffen-era Lobo or (I'm too old for Deadpool but whatever the good Deadpool is?) all happened at the same time, were all published in the same year, this comic would just piss all over those. Fall in love.

  • You might also want to check out: Ryan Cecil Smith's S.F., another handmade love-letter, this one to an era of manga/anime most often associated with Leiji Matsumoto. While much more oriented towards younger audiences than Stark's book, this might be a good fit for you if you over-idealize one-man bands trying to put on a big show. I do.

1. Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët, and Helge Dascher.

I wrote about it here. Never in question; always obviously the very best book of the year.

  • You might also want to check out: Kerascoët had another book out this year, through NBM's Comic Lit imprint, written and colored by Hubert, entitled Beauty. It's not quite the triumph that Beautiful Darkness is-- pleasant visually, like all of their work, but a little too on-the-nose with how it's using the medium; doesn't have the same subtlety. But it's still a fun time, a sort of kissing cousin to one of those fantastic Fractured Fairy Tales cartoons that they used to have on the old Bullwinkle cartoons, though little more than that. Doesn't really stick the landing.


"Bottle of Wine" by Russ Heath.

Let me start by noting that Russ Heath is by any formulation a comics legend. A Russ Heath comic worth tracking down? I really think the work he did with Dave Sim on Creepy, Shadow of the Axe, is as beautiful a comic as that magazine ever featured. The internet calls it a "forgotten masterpiece" and I have no great disagreement with that.  Even this comic, made by Heath at the age of 84, still shows a facility with the craft of comics that is admirable..

And so when I say I hated the discussion around this comic, the way people received it and discussed it, let me be 100% clear that my problem lies not with Russ Heath or his work or the specifics of the comic itself.

But goddamn.  Hearing dumbasses talk about this comic was like having all my nose hairs plucked out one after another. Comic book people and their multi-decade war with Roy Lichtenstein's art is the dopiest, most exhausting bullshit that... It's never going to stop! Lichtenstein's become a Dick Tracy grotesque villain to comic book dopes, whose intellectual incuriosity and constant unfounded sense of victimization both intersect in a perfect marriage where Lichtenstein is concerned. There's Fredric Wertham, then there's Lichtenstein, then there's some high school gym teacher that wasn't nice enough to you weaklings. It is never going to stop. It's exhausting. You're exhausting.

Here's what Larry Marder had to say in a two-page letter to the Comics Buyer Guide in 1989, when comic people were bitching and moaning about Lichtenstein -- a letter Marder reprinted in 2011 because people were still bitching and moaning about Lichtenstein twenty-two years later: "Over the years, I've met and had conversations with many famous gallery artists (but not Lichtenstein). Quite a few knew and appreciated the art of comic books. But I've never yet had a conversation with a comic book artist who had anything less than a sneer for almost all modern artists. It's a pity."

There are people for whom the only "true" writing is fiction, who are quick to sneer about any kind of criticism as being somehow inherently less-than. But with criticism, an author can express themselves, can craft interesting phrases or sentences, can effect an audience emotionally or intellectually. It's all writing. Criticism is just writing about writing. That's it.  That's all it is. Pop Art? It's still paintings-- it's just paintings of images, instead of a bowl of fruit or Jesus's creepy virgin-momma. Not only is there not anything inherently less than about that, in the context of the time Pop Art was a major movement, that was arguably an interesting thing to question-- what did art mean once images had become mechanized, industrialized, corporatized, constant and anonymous?

It's not Roy Lichtenstein's fault that comic art was anonymous industrial product; comics itself wouldn't print the fucking names of the people who made them in the books for decades.

Is Roy Lichtenstein a "thief"?  Well, to believe that you have to ignore that DC Comics had stolen all the rights to Russ Heath's life work for themselves before Lichtenstein had ever shown up. DC Comics were the only people who could've made a legal issue of Lichtenstein's appropriations because DC Comics is the true and exclusive "author" of those comics in any Court in this country-- not Russ Heath. Is that right? No, it's not-- it sucks; it sucks; but that's not Roy Lichtenstein's fault either.  P.S. when there was litigation to question whether that's how we want society to work, how many comic creators did you see side with the creators of Superman?  Long list...?  Shya'right.

And hey, incidentally, how much did DC Comics share what it made off Russ Heath's art with him? How much does it do that now? DC, through its sponsorship of the Hero Initiative, I guess helped chip in to buy a bottle of $2 Buck Chuck for the guy, and I'm supposed to be grossed out by Lichtentsein and think about what heroes DC are...?

And incidentally, the painting that Heath is complaining of, Whaam!...? Per Wikipedia at least, it's based on an Irv Novick panel, with elements taken not only from Heath but also from a Jerry Grandenetti panel potentially...? Which is just weird. It's "weird" that the people who should be educating the audience as to that point so that the audience can contextualize what Heath is saying failed to even so much as look at the Wikipedia for Whaam!  But that weirdness isn't Lichtenstein's fault either-- none of Lichtenstein's paintings are called "hey, comics journalists, don't bother to do any more than the bare minimum every single time" (though, if any were, he'd probably have stolen the art from Nick Cardy, so... the whole vicious cycle would've just started back up again).

There is a difference between looking at a panel of a comic in a comic book, and standing before paintings the size of a Lichtenstein. There is a difference between getting a flood of noise and someone stopping and saying "No, stop and have a visual experience with just this one moment, with just this one image, divorced of any commercial context." There is a difference between preferring one experience to another, which is entirely valid, and claiming that the latter experience is fraudulent, which is the nonsense of fanboys.

Would it have been a more moral world if Lichstenstein had shared generously with Heath and Novick and others he took from during the extremely-brief period of time where Lichtenstein was doing comic-based paintings (which p.s. not even remotely his whole career... if only someone had invented a google where you could google basic information necessary to reach an informed opinion)? Yes. Absolutely.  That would have been the more moral choice and I wish he had made it. Could Lichtenstein have questioned the manufactured image without appropriating specific instances of comic art?  Maybe; maybe not; I think that something essential would have been lost if he had used his own images, but I can understand the argument.  Is Russ Heath's expression of his frustrations a legitimate way for him to feel? Absolutely. Again, Russ Heath is a great artist who deserved better, and certainly has everybody's respect and admiration; that he ended up in a rough spot is fucking terrible and far too common. Could and should Lichtenstein have done a better job promoting the artists he took from?  Okay.  I don't think that's really his job, actually, but that'd have been nice of him, too, if we're making up our Dream Boyfriend.  Is Lichtenstein a plagiarist? Sure, yeah-- I also heard Quentin Tarantino ripped off a Hong Kong movie one time, and that the Beastie Boys didn't make all the noises on Paul's Boutique themselves, if you want to go get angry about that too, heroes. But sure, is this the best of all possible worlds? It is not. Do Lichtenstein's recreations suffer in comparison to the original work? I think so-- I think there are things about the comics source drawing that Lichtenstein's work loses in their recreations, to their detriment, though I do think I feel why he made those choices when I've look at his paintings.  I'm not saying that there aren't valid criticisms of the guy to be made, with a reasonable temperament-- though I don't think any of those criticisms remotely rise to the level of "interesting".

But if we're going to have hear about this asshole for the next 22 years, can you just at least try to have a better conversation about it than this last round? Pop Art artists weren't just pirates with a xerox machine. Art museums aren't in a conspiracy against comics.  And the Hero Initiative is a band-aid on a gushing wound that wasn't the fault of Roy Lichtenstein.


10. Calvary

For most interesting bit of acting to watch this year, there's a strong argument to be made for Jake Gylenhaal in Nightcrawler. But me, I'd go with Brendan Gleeson in this little-seen Martin McDonagh movie about the state of the scandal-ridden Catholic Church in Ireland. Nightcrawler's very much my kind of movie, a sinister LA crime thing, and Gylenhaal's pretty fun to watch in it. But Calvary? Calvary's not at all my kind of movie. It's a movie about Gleeson playing a priest in a small surfing town under attack by members of his community who have run amuck in no small part because of the Church's moral decline. I could give a shit about the Catholic Church or Ireland or faith or morality or any of that, but I still didn't want to stop watching Brendan Gleeson for a second.

Just the warmth, disappointment, sadness, and intelligence he has-- I don't know how acting works, how a person does that, but whatever that thing is, this is the movie where I was like the most impressed by it.

  • (Tangent: Top 10 lists from movie critics this year more often have the Polish nun movie Ida, but I just really don't think that was as interesting. That one felt like a much safer movie than Calvary, a movie with easier villains to condemn (hint: it's set after World War 2), a much easier conception of "evil" or human frailty to draw a smaller circle around. Nothing in Ida was as blistering or charged as the scene with the little girl in Calvary, at least to me. Ida was just in black and white).

9. Coherence

There's better movies that could and should take this spot-- Nightcrawler, We are the Best, Force Majeure; I think this was a pretty great year for movies, actually. But I'm going with this movie because when I saw it, unlike those other movies, it had been largely unheralded so it caught me much more by surprise, and was a more exciting experience, as such. I think I'm going to remember the experience of this movie surprising me after the memory of those movies fade away. (I'm only going to remember one shot in Force Majeure, though dang, it's a really, really good one).

It wasn't a movie a lot of people were into, very understandably-- it's a largely improvised puzzle-movie about alternate realities whose biggest star is Nicholas Brendan (Xander from the old Buffy the Vampire Slayer show), made for no money. It's a gimmick movie. Force Majeure had the best premise of a year; We are the Best had one of the best endings; Nightcrawler will probably be far most obsessed over by film geeks in future years. I imagine most folks will find Coherence annoying. But I just felt like I watched this movie more actively than almost anything else I saw this year-- it's the movie I most often tried to guess what was going to happen, and most often guessed wrong. I enjoyed playing along at home.

Also, I just like that this year was a pretty cool little year for science fiction movies. Coherence, The One I Love, Interstellar and The Edge of Tomorrow were all imperfect, but taken together, it felt like an unusually interesting year for what's usually a severely disappointing genre. I want there to be more independent science fiction movies like this-- that genre being left in the hands of big Hollywood studios would be the worst of all possible worlds.


8. Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson-- plus Nazis! Go figure.

7. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

My first draft of this bit was an apology for featuring a dumb comedy on a list like this. Since writing that, though, dumb comedies are under attack, again, with plenty of people all too eager to say "Well, but I don't care this time because dumb comedies are worthless".

And I just emphatically don't agree with those people.

This was co-written by Armando Iannucci who also made In the Loop, the Thick of It, and Veep. Steve Coogan made it around the same time he made Philomena, a movie nominated for Best Picture at last year's Academy Awards. Some pretty clever people got together and made a movie about a character who is sublimely dumb -- clever people sat at a table, thinking up completely ridiculous ways for a character to stupidly bumble and fail his way through a situation, like a complete idiot.

And I think that is true because there is something of value to the dumb comedy. I think that people are basically ridiculous and stupid and absurd. I think people who don't believe that or forget that are draining and miserable and sometimes-dangerous. I think dumb comedies are valuable and worth defending for reminding people that life is a dumb, stupid mess, and that they're taking themselves too seriously. And I think what the kind of person who says something like "oh who cares if there's one less dumb comedy in the world" fundamentally doesn't understand is that I will always want to see a dumb comedy if the alternative is listening to them, know-it-all chucklefucks and their dumbass sub-Blart-ian opinions.

6. The Rover

I think about society falling apart a bunch, and I think when that happens, it's basically going to look a lot like this movie. It's an Australian post-apocalypse movie but nobody dresses up in football cosplay or spikey Ayatollah-of-rock-n-rolla costumes because the movie keys in on the key bit about the whole apocalypse thing: nobody's going to give a shit about anything anymore. Folks not caring is enough to make it all feel like the apocalypse, to begin with. Just look around!

5. Inherent Vice

Here's what an angry review of the movie sounds like: "How long will you remain engaged with a work that seems to purposely challenge the viewer to understand what the filmmaker’s getting at?"

Where things lie, at the end of 2014:  people who write about movies now openly get angry at a movie for "challenging" them.

4. The Raid 2

The best audience experience.

3. Top Five

Another very imperfect movie. And boy, Chris Rock doing a "one-crazy day" movie on paper should not have been a fun thing-- this time, last year, that would have been something to avoid. But I love how it just felt like everything on his mind made it into the movie somewhere, how it felt like it was overflowing with topics he wanted to talk about. There's a romantic comedy story in there, and there's a Sullivan's Travel story in there (the equivalent of the Mickey Mouse scene in Top Five was definitely the biggest movie laugh I had this year), but there were parts of the movie where it was neither of those things, flashbacks in neither of those worlds especially. Even if that made for a mess sometimes, I just appreciated how it just had so much life to it.

2. Housebound

Most movies diminish when I remember them, but my affection for this one has really just grown and grown since seeing it. It's just such a well-crafted piece of entertainment, just the zip of it, how it constantly changes shape, outraces the audience, but still ultimately fits together. There's an old saw about endings, that what makes endings so difficult to write is that a great ending have to be both completely surprising as you're watching but at the same time, after they've happened, completely inevitable. This movie, to me, was one of those rare movies that lived up to that. Hollywood summer movies now all have an identical ending-- "then, they prevent the end of the world". Hollywood summer movies have found an audience so undiscerning, that so doesn't give a shit, that they'll watch a movie that ends with Captain America pushing a candy-red "turn off the evil machine so end of world doesn't happen" button as long as there are enough special effects there. A good movie makes it all look so effortless, in comparison.

Plus, it's hard to think of characters I had as much affection for this year as the characters in this movie-- one character I think I held my breath everytime he was on screen past a certain point, I was so worried for him.

It's rare not to see younger filmmakers try to process their influences-- part of the fun of Attack the Block, say, was watching the filmmakers process a John Carpenter influence. Housebound felt very inspired by early Zemeckis, early Raimi, and the early Peter Jackson that hadn't discovered computers graphics yet and whose work was still possible to enjoy and respect. (The point of those books was not to succumb to the lure of technology, you CGI doofus!) Usually the folks who take from those guys? They take the wrong stuff. They miss what made those filmmakers' early work feel special.

Housebound, it just felt like it got it right.

1. Gone Girl

David Fincher's version of the First Wives Club or Kill Bill. The most fun movie to see people react to, both in a theater and definitely out of a theater.

In the theater itself, for me, the joy of that movie was in how much it got me to root for the so-called "villain" of the piece to rampage through that movie. There is a part of this movie where the villain is about to do something horrible to another human being, and I don't know... I don't know the last time I rooted to see something so horrible happen as much as I did then and there, before that moment ensued. Getting to watch other people experience that, to feel an audience around me having those same emotions, that was a distinct pleasure.

Out of the theater, in terms of living with a movie afterwards, and hearing people have really vigorous opinions about a movie, nothing came close to this movie. And usually the movies that do that are, like, shitty Star Wars movies or whatever because we have to listen to nerds complain that Michael Bay raped their childhood when Spock didn't shoot first, or somesuch stupid bullshit. "What did you think the end of The Dark Knight Rises meant?" "It meant that you wasted a lot of money on college-- might as well have burnt it in a bonfire." Hearing people talking about this movie, though-- it was always something interesting to me, however much it may have revealed how polarized and/or maybe-cartoonish some folks' gender politics can be, or how complicated those questions get for even the most well-meaning people after they see a half-second of Ben Afflecks cock.

I don't know the answers to those questions myself. Does art reinforce people's toxic worldviews? If so, does art have a responsibility to avoid certain topics-- even if those topics are things that actually do happen in reality? Or does the topic get rendered radioactive if the "things that happen in reality" are statistically more rare than toxic people's prejudices would predict? Are people confusing statistics with science, and how much weight should we give to statistics-- which are inherently endlessly debatable-- when thinking about what kinds of stories should be told? Doesn't even thinking about that confuse art with vitamins? Is any kind of high-minded discussion of "art" just the luxury of those not under assault to discuss, or is that kind of argument just a debate-ender that makes the person making it feel good at the expense of actually persuading anyone of anything? Is this kind of discussion all a circus to distract people from "real issues" or are creating circuses like this actually an important function for popular entertainment? There are people for whom these questions are easy-- they have pretty rad tumblr blogs-- but I have days where I'm not all that sure.

My favorite reactions were the people who talked about the movie like it was a grocery-store paperback thriller that stumbled into the questions, stumbled into themes it didn't even know it had-- that A-List filmmakers spent years working on a project and never spent any time thinking about what they were working on actually meant-- sure, sure, left that to some no-name schmoes on twitter to explain Life to the rest of us. Sometimes I think that does happen-- you look at what happened with that Batgirl comic the other day; sometimes, people guess and miss. But I took Gone Girl differently-- I took it to be a deliberate provocation, and so I took seeing people provoked and talking out the issues raised by that story as a sign of the movie's success, as a part of the design of the piece and not some corrective, not as the Internet filling in some cracks in that sidewalk.

Believing that something good comes out of people talking about their experiences-- well, that wasn't an easy thing to believe in 2014; 2014 wasn't exactly The Year the Internet had Worthwhile Conversations. But everybody needs some comforting fairy tales to make it through the day, and as comforting fairy tales go, I guess that's the one I'm going with.

Honorary Mention: Detention

Not a 2014 movie, but it came to Netflix in 2014. This was the movie I felt compelled to see 3 times in a week, just to try to get my head around it. This was the movie I had to read every interview with the director to find out what he was thinking. The movie that's the hardest to talk about coherently, without question.

I haven't read Pax Americana yet, but I saw a page of Grant Morrison arguing that deconstruction somehow murders the pleasure of a thing under examination. Maybe Pax Americana makes the point more persuasively as a whole, though those sorts of reductive readings of Watchmen have never found much purchase with me and seem especially uninteresting to me all the way in 2014; I just think that's a load of malarky, personally. Detention rips to sheds every youth-oriented movie in sight, but from those parts assembles something strange and invigorating and endlessly surprising, a more persuasive and joyous love-letter to the scuzzy weirdo pleasures of teen exploitation sub-genres than any umpteenth John Hughes-ripoff could ever hope to be. It's a pixie-stick of a movie, all rush, all teen hormones-- even after three times, it made my head spin.  Rip everything to shreds; find out how things work; don't listen to company stooges who tell you not to think-- I'm on Detention's side.

Also: the most accurate villain.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: I just had the worst reaction to this movie. I can't remember a movie I was as physically unhappy sitting in a theater watching this year. I just don't like watching special effects act. I don't give a shit about Andy Serkis under almost any circumstances. It constantly felt sloppy-- especially in the zero-dimensional human characters who flitted in and out of the movie meaninglessly-- nice job playing "Some Useless Random-ass Woman," Keri Russell! And I just couldn't guess what I was supposed to find entertaining about its story of unsympathetic aboriginal savages facing the violent consequences of not being sufficiently nice to occasionally-misguided-but-fundamentally-well-meaning white invaders; p.s., yikes. Basically, I was on Koba's side, at least before the movie devolved into watching special effects punch other special effects while the guy from Zero Dark Thirty stood around and contributed nothing meaningful to the story whatsoever. A physically unpleasant movie to watch for me-- I basically wanted to run for it.

Most Overrated: Birdman

Interesting to look at, interesting performances, some spectacular bits here and there-- fun while watching it, but a movie that's soured in my memory of it, for just being too phony at its core. Phony about art, phony about the theater, phony about Broadway, phony about critics, phony about "authenticity", phony.

Did the movie have anything interesting to say about anything? I'm not sure that it did, or that if it did, it was anything I care about much, let alone agree with. Yeah-- "there are too many superhero movies"; I'm 100% sympathetic with that, though the movie barely made even that point in an especially interesting way; but if the only alternative the movie can posit is a completely dopey idea of high art (name-dropping Raymond Carver), then who cares about the entire enterprise at all? Just stay home and read books.

Nothing in that movie felt like it really stuck a point-- oh okay, maybe Emma Stone's speech if you're generous enough to believe that speech wasn't carefully crafted to tweak the middle-aged upper-middle-class audience the movie's designed to appease with its Vanity-Fair-magazine-middlebrow bromides about New York Theater. Maybe that. At least for the 10 seconds where Emma Stone got to be an interesting character before becoming Ed Norton's boner-muse. At least for the 10 seconds where he got to be an interesting character before inexplicably disappearing from the movie altogether.

Not a bad movie-- Michael Keaton rushing through Times Square in his underwear's too memorable to call it a bad movie. But a movie that seems exactingly designed to end up winning Most Overrated for 2014.


I had as many great episodes of television that got left off this list as made it on-- Mad Men, Broad City, etc.  Plus, supposedly great television still in the hopper for me (Happy Valley, Fargo, etc.).  I've been really exhausted from work all year; watching television has been good to me in 2014; this list was a tough one.

10. The League- "When Rafi Met Randy"

9- A Trip to Italy- "Da Giovanni, San Fruttuoso" - Episode Two

The ridiculous immaturity, temporary pleasures and lasting sadness of middle-age. Matt Singer wrote that he was more invested in Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon taking melancholic Trips places as a franchise than Star Wars or Harry Potter. He's not wrong.

8- Person of Interest - "Prophets" 

The best comic book TV show or movie going, though a distillation of the frantic pleasures of serial comics rather than a cheap knock-off of any one property. This episode went the furthest the show has ever gotten in what can only be described as superhero angst and superhero spectacle, all within the narrow confines of a CBS Dad Show! Like reading the X-Men as a 13-year old boy.

7- Friday Night Dinner - S03E03

Friday Night Dinner is so goddamn beautifully made. It's a family show, and because it's a family show, every episode is exactly the same. The jokes are even mostly the same, in a way I haven't seen since Married with Children. Most of the stories don't even leave the one setting, of the house. There's rarely any guest actors. There's something about that consistency, and the characters stuck in that consistency, that make for something extremely special.

The dad who refuses to wear his shirt at home isn't funny because he's got his shirt off and he looks kind of gross; he's hilarious because every goddamn episode, he has his shirt off and it's driving everybody crazy but he's going to have his shirt off this episode, next episode and the episode after that. And ultimately you love that character doesn't have his shirt on because, look, that's who he is and what, you want him to change-- well, he's not going to change so what choice do you have, let him have his shirt off?

There's something about how that show is buit that seems more deeply and honestly funny about the annoyances and weirdness of families that I just don't know what I would even compare it to. I just think that show's remarkable and weirdly beautiful over the long term, despite being somehow completely and resolutely ordinary episode by episode...?

There is one very big exception to the no guest actor rule, and that is horrible Mr. Morris, who might be one of my favorite sitcom characters of all time. Goddamn, that character makes me laugh.

6. You're the Worst- "What Normal People Do"

The best new comedy show in a long time. A Los Angeles show. A dirty-minded romantic comedy. Misanthropic and weird and sexy and funny. This episode was the one where you see Aya Cash's apartment-- it just always seem so specific that show. They're not trying to tell a story about generic people who live anywhere and work in non-descript offices, under some mistaken belief that making a show more generic will make it more relatable to a greater number of people. They're telling a story about these two particular characters who live in these particular places having their own particular romance-- it's just really fun thanks to cable, getting to watch shows that understand why that is so much better.

5. Rick & Morty- "Something Ricked This Way Comes"

The last scene.  Perfect.

4. Hannibal - "Mizumono"

Weird and uneven season, but an apeshit finale. Too apeshit not to admire deeply.

3. Inside Amy Schumer- "A Chick Who Can Hang"

Hello, M'Lady. The Aaron Sorkin Foodroom parody. I haven't been this excited to see a sketch show since Dave Chappelle.

Youtube comment to the Hello, M'Lady sketch: "There are enough tears in this comment section to fill a whole fedora."

2. Review - "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes"

1. John Oliver - The Net Neutrality Episode

Honorary Mentions

Conan O'Brien-- The Scrapisode: a deep dive into comedy nerdery, but one I wish they'd do every year; and...

Black Mirror-- White Christmas. A TV movie by the Black Mirror team, starring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, and Oona Chaplin-- who was in Inside No. 9's best episode (though maybe a little transphobic, that episode? I'm no expert on that kind of thing)-- A Quiet Night In.  Black Mirror's regular episodes are now on Netflix where I understand it's finally gone viral-- it's worth a look, especially if you like the Twilight Zone or being really sad about people.


True Detective - "Form and Void"

Man, do you really want to hear anybody say one more thing about that show? I sure don't! Shut the fuck up! The best thing I can say is that when people started telling me about Serial, I could at least say, "I remember you fuckers from True Detective. Fuuuuuuuuuccckkkk thhaaaaaaat." Thanks, Nic Pizzolatto!


5. "Interesting Ball (12 min) - dir. DANIELS"

4. "Let’s All Watch Mika Brzezinski Learn What a Furry Is"

3. ‘SNL' - Blue River Dog Food

The best comedic performances of the year.  (EDITED: I just realized that items 3 and 4 aren't actually online videos!  They're just TV on youtube!  I'm a moron.  Anyways, imagine I said ... uh, You Are Not a Storyteller and  Skateboard Cop Episode 7 instead.  Also: imagine that I'm wearing a ski mask, and no pants.  I think that's a pretty hot look.  So.  Yeah.  I blew it.)

2. "Unedited Footage of a Bear"

Too Many Cooks was more popular and probably more entertaining, but as discombobulating horror movies go, this one jangled my nerves a little more.  (EDITED AGAIN: Wait, was this... does this count as tv or... AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! Okay, imagine I titled this section "Best Short Little Videos You Can Watch on Youtube or Vimeo or a Site Like That, but Whose Origins may or May not Come from Television..."?  Saved it!)

1. "Our Robocop Remake - Scene 27 on Vimeo" by Fatal Farm


5. "8 Questions About This News Story About Cormac McCarthy’s Ex-Wife Pulling a Gun Out of Her Vagina During a Fight About Aliens"

4. "The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats"

I don't know that I agreed with everything this guy had to say but I thought it was a fun polemic.

3. "Ghost ship full of cannibal rats could be about to crash into Devon coast"

2. "Girls Fight Out"

1. "Grandmaster Clash: One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed"

And that was 2014.

Abhay: The Finale of FATALE

FATALE, a comic series by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Elizabeth Breitweiser (published by Image Comics), wrapped up the other day. I'd enjoyed the first five issues well enough; then gotten busy at life during the next 5 and fell off; ended up catching up in trades before the last issue came out. Thought it'd be fun to chat about how it all wrapped up. Spoiler Warning, but chitter-chatter under the jump.



So I just wanted to chat about it, now that it's wrapped up. Just chat it up. When a well-regarded long-running series wraps up, there's never as much "what did we all read and what did it all mean?" talk as I'd expect. Fans seem to prefer just to be in this mode of "Aaaah I appreciate this exists what next???" rather than to reflect on what the Whole of it amounted to for them.

Then, the next series comes out and it's like, "By the comic book legends that made FATALE." Or whatever. And I find it a little odd, that presumption of greatness when it's a comic I haven't seen people really engage with...? At least not the way comics used to be argued over when I was a kid, where it was normal to hear people with Boring Ass Opinions spout off about the end of WATCHMEN. "The end of Watchmen this, the end of Watchmen that. I am the most boring human being alive!  GRRRRAAAWR."  Why isn't anyone like that with FATALE? FATALE had octopus monsters, too! We're all still boring people! What happened? Why did that go away?


So, right: the end of FATALE. Was everything "explained"? There's always that nagging feeling with a mystery-driven series, that some key thing didn't get explained. This manifested itself most famously after the finale of LOST-- there was a video of "Unanswered Questions" that went around, highlighting for many people how little had been resolved (though I remember feeling that the video was often nit-picking things an attentive viewer could answer perfectly well for themselves).

I'm just not sure I'm really the best audience for mystery-driven series.  I keep diving into them, mindlessly, but I just know with television shows, especially, shows where the action is driven by "watch this episode to find out what all the other episodes you've watched meant"... That model hasn't worked out for me as a viewer so far. Not as much as shows driven by a more classical "this is a show about a character who is driven by urges x, y and z-- watch his behavior when put under stresses a, b, and c" format.

If anything, I felt like a lot of time in FATALE was spent answering questions I didn't really have. The book spent time near the end establishing that so-and-so was the son of a Native American shaman who we saw in issue such-and-such, in order to explain why Fatale Girl had male henchmen who weren't beholden to her. This was very ornate, and just felt sort of unnecessary when earlier issues showed her with an old lady henchmen and it worked just fine, without undue explanation where that old lady had come from (at least that I remember).  Plus: I just always get a little nervous around magical minority characters...

A lot of time got spent with the FATALE characters chasing around a mysterious book. But once we find out the significance of the mysterious book, well... It doesn't make that story feel richer retroactively.

It's the old problem: the answers can never be as satisfying as the mysteries. It's a storytelling model that just has a certain amount of "oh okay, ho-hum" built into it.


So, plotwise, did you like it?  Did you think it had a cool plot?

I think I was on board for the first 10 issues-- I think the highpoint was definitely that Los Angeles arc. The cult, the actor addicted to heroin, Fatale Girl on her own hidden out in some mansion like a forgotten celebrity, the drug-abusing movie producer-- there was a real liveliness and detail to that arc that I don't think the book ever quite matched.

But after that arc, for me, the book started spinning its wheels a little, some of the air got out of that balloon.

Some of single issue stories in particular just didn't feel very urgent. A story about a creepy guy having a ghost mom, or the Old West cowboy issue-- some of those issues just felt like they had no point other than to make the scope of the book bigger...?  Which isn't nothing, but the Mystery of the book just didn't feel interesting enough to justify it. "Here's a lady controlling men in the Old West. Here's a lady controlling men in medieval times. Here's a lady controlling men at a K-Mart sale on toasters. Here's a lady controlling men at a nose-picking competition."

Her powers were creepy enough for 10 issues, but 20 issues? I'm not 100% sure. I think a repetition set in. The book could only present her powers as creepy and strange for so long-- at a certain point, it became a little "This again?"

Plus: in a world where PREACHER already got made, maybe there was only so much juice with me to Involuntary Lady Preacher to begin with... I don't know anyone would ever put "Patience with Comic Books" high on my list of virtues, even under the best of circumstances, though.  I don't think I can fool myself that I'm anyone's Ideal Target Reader, at this point...

But this sounds too negative and I did quite enjoy that LA Arc-- I was never bored by the rest.  It was more a question of momentum, where I felt like when the last arc started, it became noticeable that it had regained a momentum that had gone missing.


Things reached a low point for me with the Seattle arc. The San Fran detective arc and the LA Hollywood Cult Crime arc both felt like worlds where Brubaker-Phillips were powered by a certain lust for the aesthetics. Those felt like worlds they really wanted to bring to life as creators. Whereas post-grunge era Seattle-- it didn't feel like they had the same romance for that time, not the same way.

Ed Brubaker's mentioned in interviews having been there during that time, described that arc as a "bit like going home" and I think maybe that created a very different dynamic-- a different feeling to things underneath the surface action...?  It just didn't feel like there was an equivalent playfulness as what was present for the LA arc-- and it's weird because that Seattle arc, the "woman who ruins a band" manifestation of the femme fatale, should have really worked well, maybe better than the rest of it. On paper, that's really great stuff to play with thematically.

I don't know; I just didn't love the Seattle stretch. One of my favorite movies is a documentary called HYPE! which is about what the mainstream media's "discovery" of grunge, and how that ruined the Seattle music scene. And it's got, you know, the Fastbacks and Tad and all these bands talking about how everything changed once the money became an issue, once people started thinking about money. It's a movie I've thought about a lot since, just watching what's happened in comics in the last 10 years. And so that may just be that I have a very, very particular set of interests about that particular era (as an outsider, as someone who didn't live in Seattle) that fucked up my ability to appreciate what they were aiming for. Or that might be the arc where Brubaker's interests in the time period just most sharply diverged from my own....?

(Plus: the grunge section of Peter Bagge's HATE, where it's about managing the rock band-- that's tough competition for me. That's my favorite part of Peter Bagge's HATE, the first part I think about whenever that book comes up... Well, the second part-- the first part is when Buddy has sex with the girl in the hospital bed, for some goddamn reason... But that's a strong second place...)


Thematically, I'd say the book's ... interesting, with some caveats...?

Uhm, it's about different kinds of dysfunctional artists-- writers, filmmakers, musicians-- and how these femme fatales emerge at their darkest moments-- how that archetype is all about the self-destructive lives of men getting projected onto women, how women get wrongly blamed for the dysfunctions of these broken, shitty men (regardless of the women's actual inner lives).

This thematic exploration culminates in kind of an interesting way, too, which is that the true origin of Fatale Girl (if you look past the contortions of the plot, the cult sacrifice nonsense) is a boy's shame at his own incestuous feelings towards his mother...? I found it interesting, the book embracing that kind of imagery.

I enjoyed what it had to say about the femme fatale.  I just had a harder time, though, with how it presented the femme fatale idea, to begin with.

For example, I think that's where the Seattle music arc should've worked better for me because "some woman broke up the band" is such a classic and obviously sexist story.  People blamed Yoko Ono for a LOT of shit that wasn't her fault, which was just silly-- the Beatles split up because of the Beatles. John Lennon beat women-- people just don't like to talk about that. And people still tell those kinds of "Temptress" stories-- you know, if you remember how people used to talk about Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie, back when all that happened. People blame women for things that men decided to do, all the time.

Did Fatale interrogate any of that in a meaty way? The actual "here is the horrible shit that people actually do" of it all...?  Well. I'm not sure...

Yes, it's saying "stories about femme fatales are a way of men blaming women for the bad things in them, their own anxieties about lacking any control over their sexual desires, etc." All of which I think is an interesting topic to discuss.  But because the stories were wrapped in these supernatural genre adventures, I don't know that the specific examples we saw in the book are as interesting as the specific examples we could talk about just from the life happening around us...? Because it's a crime-horror hybrid, it made FATALE feel more like a comic discussing genre tropes (especially with its recurring focus on the femme fatale myth slamming into frustrated artists), more engaged in a sort of literary criticism, than talking about how men & women tell stories about each other in, like, society...? I felt encouraged to think more about the Wild West than, you know, life...

(Here, again, the value of single-issue stories was a little confusing.  On a purely genre level, I'm not sure how prevalent the femme fatale character has been outside the crime genre. I associate that character with old crime movies-- but cowboy movies? Medieval fairy tales?  Haunted house stories?  I'm not an expert on any of those things, not by any means, but all of them seemed like strange areas to explore the femme fatale character in.  I'm not a huge cowboy movie fan, and the ones I do like... It's hard to remember that character having been an especially prominent part of them.  (Am I forgetting a good one?).  The issue that flirts with Anthony Perkins PSYCHO is the most successful, having at its core another weird boy-mom relationship, but that resolved itself to be a haunted house story and I just don't associate femme fatales with haunted house stories.  So I'm not sure I ever felt like I understood that choice completely...)

Plus, even though I liked the LA arc, I was kind of mystified how the femme fatale idea tied in to the Manson murders or that post-hippie cult-anxiety era of LA crime. Yeah, there were all those women in the Manson Family, but... do people think of them as "femme fatales"?  The word I've always heard associated with the Manson Family is "svengali" which is sort of a different thing (and I think referenced to some degree in the LA arc itself with how the occult asshole is presented).  I think that stretch worked in a fun way as a cult-horror / cult-crime crossover, but thematically, I found that confusing about it...

But: an interesting thing to think about, that sort of recurring Evil Sex Woman character in tabloid history.  I suppose FATALE at least brought up an interesting topic... And there is something to be said for talking about the sort of real life anxieties I'm referencing through a fantasy lens, I suppose.  Maybe for many readers, that distance between subject matter and their area of interest probably wouldn't pose much of a problem...


What made everything a bit weird with FATALE is that usually the femme fatale is an interesting character.  Actresses got to play something besides Supportive Girlfriend! But here,  Fatale Girl character never really, for me, became very interesting because she's always kept at arm's length.  We usually see her from the point-of-view of the different male narrators, which limits finding much about her very interesting separate from the plot mechanics of the moment, separate from the bigger Mystery Story going on.

This culminated in the thing I felt the most confusion about which is the series' ending.

The ending is that Fatale Girl engineers her escape. But her escape is that instead of manipulating men to their doom for the benefit of Evil Patriarchal Demon People, she engineers men to their doom on her own behalf.

But because the story's being presented through the POV of various male characters... how much agency can we say that Fatale Girl is given at the end?

Yes, she's arguably gained "control" over her sexuality, however temporarily. But if it's still bad men doing things to worse men, the same story we've seen play out about 5 or 50 times by that point in the book, how much of an improvement is the Win Scenario to what we've seen before?

Isn't it at some level being communicated that Men are the true actors in various scenarios, that true results are yielded by Men?

Why does the happy ending still involve men doing all the saving?  Is it enough for you that men are doing all the saving but there's a caption box next to the Man-Saving saying "it was her idea"...?

Plus: Fatale Girl learns how to save the day not on her own accord or through her own ingenuity, but through her friend and psuedo-butler, some Old White Guy.  Some Old White Guy has the ability to read mystic books, i.e. Fatale Girl wins the day thanks to ancient wisdoms that are shown as being the sole and exclusive possession of and apparently residing in, uh, old white guys (???)(is it better if the old white guy is the descendant of magical minorities?  Uh, not for me).

Why didn't Fatale Girl discover how to save herself?  Why did Fatale Girl need an Old White Guy, if the book is about Fatale Girl attaining a sexual autonomy from Old White Guys?  Doesn't that suggest that sexual autonomy is theirs to give and not hers to claim?  Or am I just overstating the role of the friendly Old White Guy at the end?

EDITED TO ADD: There's the super-obvious reading I should mention-- that it's about a woman being a character in the stories these men author for themselves, and at the end it's about her wresting authorship away from them-- she "steals their book", tells her own story finally to the writer, and in becoming an author herself is able to feed her would-be other authors to the hungry evil audience instead of her.  And the book ends with her 'freed of male narratives.'  That's the most obvious reading, of what goes on, I suppose, but also just seems... I don't think it really resolves what makes that ending so odd for me at least because it glosses over the "She learns to be an author thanks to a helpful male librarian" part or the "But she writes a story about having men save her" part that makes things just... just a little more weird, I think.  Maybe for other readers, that just wasn't a big deal though.


The finale is preceded by a stretch where we're told that the Fatale Girl character has revealed her weaknesses to Boring Doomed Man and thus become a "real person" to the Boring Doomed Man.

This happens while Fatale Girl and Boring Doomed Man are fucking.

After that, Fatale Girl wins and saves the day, and finally has attained a victory.  After which, she's transformed into a withered crone and the reader is explicitly shown that men no longer sexually desire her.  In other words, FATALE posits victory for Fatale Girl not as a permanent sexual autonomy but as an utter loss of sexual appeal...?  Huh?

-- It felt weird that the book doesn't end with Fatale Girl still in control over her sexuality, after having fought to attain that control.

--  It felt weird that the book's happy ending was her becoming safe only once she lost her sexual appeal altogether.

-- It felt weird that Fatale Girl only could gain control over her sexuality by taking off her clothes and giving her vagina over to the boring-ass boring, super-boring white male main character.

I just found the end of FATALE fucking confusing thematically, confusing as to how I should receive any of this. Or at least... I just thought FATALE ended much darker than I expected.  Because the idea of "loss of sexual appeal as the only possible victory" struck me as very cynical.  That loss of appeal is preceded by an elaborate fairy tale sequence in which fairy tale creatures discuss how evil (the evil of the patriarchy) can't ever be truly defeated.  Which... wait, what??

One of the last comics I talked about, Beautiful Darkness, and talked about glowingly was itself an exceedingly cynical book where it came to human nature. And so maybe I'm being hypocritical.  But Beautiful Darkness was cynical about features of human nature that feel timeless-- our greed, our cruelty, our capacity to pick on outsiders, our capacity for violence.

Whereas FATALE feels cynical about stuff that ... I want to believe (maybe naively!) isn't quite so set in stone. The book sort of just throws its hands in the air and goes "Welp, that's just how it is"-- but about men terrorizing women. Which... is an area of humanity where you can see some amount of progress or at least changes in attitude over time-- not as much as we would like certainly, but some.

(Sure, things may not have improved *throughout the world*, some parts of the planet are still quite backwards.  And look, all human progress is tenuous-- the economy goes one way, human health goes another and fuck it, anything goes, right?  But FATALE feels cynical even within those parameters).

By equating patriarchal violence towards women as an unkillable monster outside of space and time, how much does that obviate our responsibility to actually, uh, think about it or you know, ask that people not be so shitty about things?

Granted, it's a horror comic so the ending maybe is appropriate to the genre. I don't think a happy ending would've worked for FATALE, of course.  But when I ask myself whether women being horribly mistreated is some unfixable thing... I don't know, man. That just seems kind of fucking extreme.

This sort of cynicism feels very par for the course for comics.  It's an industry that just threw its hands up for years and said "Well, women just don't want to read comics." We all used to hear that all the fucking time! All the time! Do you even think about how much we used to hear that?  It was CRAZY!  And even now, it's an industry that throws its hands up in the air and says "well, we'd love to hire more women but there aren't enough that are ready for the Big Leagues. Ooooooh, the BIG LEAGUES."

And not just where it comes to minorities-- I feel like a lot of comics operate in this mode of "Well, this is how it is, and there's no changing it", on a host of topics.

It's all sort of a fucking bummer, man.

But maybe that's a lot to lay on FATALE's doorstep. Like I mentioned above, you know, it's a horror comic.  I just don't know. I just thought that ending was super fucking weird. What'd you make of it? I couldn't fucking get my head around it.


I don't really have a lot in my tank to say about the art...? They try things that I don't feel like I've seen them do-- most notably a PROMETHEA-ish stretch near the end.  But... I can't say I was hugely impressed with results in that stretch-- their version of PROMETHEA is just drawing naked bodies on top of Hubble photos or some shit...?  Uhhhhh.  But they at least try things I haven't seen from them.

Uhm, I think the colors were more fun than in earlier projects, a little more adventurous there-- Elizabeth Breitweiser's colors are usually just an A+ for me.  But I don't think I really have the words to articulate what she's doing that makes it so much better-- I don't know how to talk color temperatures or whatever.  It's more just a gut thing...

I think the interesting thing for me about FATALE from an art perspective, more than anything, is how they made no effort to present Fatale Girl as anything all that special. She just looked like some regular ol' Sean-Phillips-drawn girl. She was drawn a little more attractive than the other ladies in the book perhaps-- but certainly not considerably more attractive. Not "throw away your life" attractive. There was no color cues or anything else marking her as otherworldly.

But I can't imagine any way of presenting that which wouldn't have been cheese-ball or inconsistent with the visual universes they tend to create. Plus, I also don't know that it's something the book suffered from, necessarily, not finding some way to distinguish her. It's hard to imagine a solution that wouldn't have just been ... just cheesy. Or that wouldn't have undercut their efforts to give that character an inner life.  Or that wouldn't have had some unintended meaning at a certain point-- you probably can't put a glowing-ass white lady in a comic and not have it get fucking weird after a while...

So, I don't know...

Was there any part that really struck you, in how they approached things visually?  Or where you thought they broke from how they usually approach things especially successfully?


Let's wrap this up with a big picture question: If FATALE is some kind of big deal-- and I think there's a certain segment of comics that wants to believe that's true or have pretended that's true-- what are some things we hope other cartoonist and comic creators learn from it?  What are the big take-aways for the Young People?

I think a big one for me is how having a comic set in a specific time and specific place adds something. Even if I had a contentious relationship with the book's presentation of 90's Seattle, I got a big enough charge out of the arc set in 70's LA that I think in the final calculation, it's worth advocating for.  If I remember FATALE two years from now, within two years, what I'm going to remember about that comic is the stretch in 70's LA.  That's going to be that book for me.

The book was never super-specific with its references-- it never felt like it was flinging information from Google at the reader about 70's Los Angeles. But I think just letting the reader fill in the gutters of the pages with what they themselves know about that time and place was a smart move, added something to the experience.

So I think there's a teachable lesson there.

From a negative perspective, I think younger creators could learn from FATALE how ... FATALE's an interesting case of more issues not necessarily adding up to a better book.

It's hard to say exactly how or what they should've cut but ... But I think it's a possibly educational book to look at if you want to think about the cost-benefit between fleshing out minor details and preserving momentum. I get the sense from glancing at FATALE fan-talk online that more hard-core fans were really into finding out how the Native American guy was kissing cousins with so-and-so's accountants, and the lineage of all the horses, and whatever else. But me, I think I'd have dug that book more had it gotten to the finale quicker...

That may not line up with the economics, though.  The economics may be that with a series received as well as FATALE and as enthusiastically as FATALE was, it may have been better for them that they have those extra trades out there for sale.

But from a momentum perspective, I think there was a cost that younger creators would want to consider and judge for themselves.


Overall impressions?

Sometimes interesting comic, sometimes dull; not a comic experience I regret by any means, but not one I thought was perfect by any means.

An ending I definitely feel very confused about, but at least not for plot reasons I don't think (though I don't really know why the grunge guy was there at the end-- no idea what he added) but confused more because... because the book was attempting to discuss themes of a certain... of a loaded nature-- these aren't easy themes to discuss, and so, you know, I don't feel any great upset at the points I'm confused by (and feel like it's probably pretty open to other, more amicable readings-- or perhaps answers to my question would be resolved by appreciating some details I failed to consider).  At least a comic with something of some interest on its mind as it turns out, but maybe felt a little muddled in its presentation.

Another book that presents a sort of visual universe that ... You know, right this second, I just listened to that Rob Liefeld Inkstuds interview podcast this weekend so I feel myself really wanting to look at loud, crazy action comics.  But if you prefer to look at comics as a delivery system for visual aesthetics (as opposed to purely narrative experiences), it's another Brubaker-Phillips work that presents a visual universe that ... I think I find pretty appealing and respectable and coherent, even if occasionally or at the moment, I find myself longing for a certain comics vulgarity that would not work in their aesthetic universe.  More successful visually as a crime comic than a horror comic, but...

Yeah, I don't know.  Positive feelings, mixed feelings, I'm all over the map with it, I guess.  But a series people spent years working on and crafting, so... you know, worth at least a moment to think about.

Abhay: WEAPONS OF MASS DIPLOMACY - No Whammies, No Whammies

This one's about WEAPONS OF MASS DIPLOMACY, a 2014 release of the hit French graphic novel by "Abel Lanzac" and Christophe Blain, English-Language Edition Published by SelfMadeHero, Translated by Edward Gauvin.  It's about a young speechwriter who has to draft France's responses to a "growing international crisis in the Middle East," based on true events, from the run-up to the Iraq War. So, hopefully, crazy people don't leave crazy person comments...?  Fingers crossed?  I tried to pare down expressing my own political beliefs some, to hopefully avoid that.  For example, I took out the part where I compared Richard Perle's soul to photographs of advance-stage STD sores.  I took out an extremely graphic and intensely erotic description of what I think sex and chocolate will be like the day Dick Cheney dies (spoiler warning: better than usual).  Uhm, you know, I tried my somewhat-est, so... fingers crossed...

After the jump, it's the after-jump, and after the after-jump, it's the hotel jump, and something something brand name of champagne!

In March 2003, during the run-up to the U.S. conquest of Iraq, the makers of French's Mustard felt it necessary to issue a press release to remind the public that "The only thing French about French's Mustard is the name. For the record, French's would like to say there is nothing more American than French's Mustard."

"The anti-France fervor that the Republican party had whipped up in 2003 was such that even a mustard company feared that our great hot-dog loving country would turn against it, kids."

-- Mustard-Obsessed Grandpa, the hilarious new character I'm workshopping.

* * *

For a time machine back to that time, from the French perspective, we now have translated for North American audiences Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, a roman a clef by Antonin Baudry (under the pen-name Abel Lanzac), a former writer for the Foreign Minister (and future Prime Minister of France) Dominique de Villepin and famed cartoonist Christophe Blain, author of Gus & His Gang and most recently, a pleasurable nonfiction profile of Michelin-starred French chef, Alain Passard, entitled In the Kitchen with Alain Passard.  A hit in France, the book has already been adapted into a Cesar-award winning film entitled The French Minister. You know: another comic book movie; I don't know if the trailer has that "Ooga Chakka" song on it, but for all our sakes, I certainly hope to God it does!  For the sake of the children.  Our children love who love to Ooga Chakka.  

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy doesn't seem so concerned with score-settling, or indulging in any sort of "I told you so" business that would certainly be well-deserved. I think I'd have to describe it as a very kind work, considering the history involved.

But the Iraq War itself doesn't really seem to be the book's primary concern-- it's more the backdrop for the book's true goal, making light of the foibles, egos, petty feuds and personality quirks of the diplomats caught up in those historical circumstances, in the hopes of celebrating, mocking and demystifying their work.  Various historic details are lightly hidden under obvious pseudonyms or kept purposefully vague, though it's hard to imagine a present-day reader not filling in many blanks themselves.

The first half of the book is more focused on comedy than history, at least, crafting a sustained comedic performance for the de Villepin-analogue "Alexander Taillard de Vorms" in particular-- a performance in the fullest sense of the word, combining both dialogue and body language to create a complete character. "de Vorms" crackles with nervous energy, lets loose monologues, has good days, bad days; showers; eats; babbles; inspires.  It's a pretty goddamn lively performance...

To pull it off, Blain utilizes a range of techniques, most notably a particular favorite pioneered perhaps most famously by Jules Feiffer in his Village Voice comics: cutting away the background and allowing the characters to exist in empty space, so as to focus the reader on the physical tics of the comedic character's performance. Dance-B

That technique, in the right hands, can be particularly effective not only because it foregrounds the speaker's physical presence, but also subtly indicates how the speaker has dominated the attention of whomever they're speaking to. I like how it thrusts the reader into that other character's point-of-view, how the reader is reduced, like the other characters in the room, to being the speaker's helpless audience. Blain utilized the technique often in the Passard book, as well, but there was approaching his subject with a more respectful tone, whereas in Weapons, he is often operating in a lampoon mode that allows him a wilder degree of expression with his performance.


"From the time I was a kid and I would ask for explanations from my mother and she said, “because.” That world of people who could say “because” and get away with it -- starting with my mother and ending with George W. Bush -- has driven me crazy. [...]. If my work is about anything at the beginning it is this counter-attack on mindless authority."

-- Jules Feiffer

The book overall?

Results vary.

There's certainly a pleasure to the de Vorms performance "Lanzac" and Blain have crafted-- it's difficult to remember another comic that so acutely captures what it's like to have someone you're able to observe acting ridiculous nevertheless speaking down to you like you're a fucking idiot, down to the very body language involved. The character is a warts and all portrayl-- often difficult or exasperating, but it's also conveyed why he has the job that he has, how he's suited for it. One is left with the sense of having met a fully realized character, which seems a worthwhile goal (and perhaps an underrated goal). That the "character" is a real person of some modern historic significance adds a certain interest, as well, though this is probably far moreso the case for French audiences than those in the U.S.

And the gentle mockery of the de Villepin character and his team does give some weight to the ending. de Villepin's speech to the UN rejecting military intervention in Iraq comes short pages depicting ministers sneezing on his character, their bodies crammed into tiny planes. On page 198, de Villepin's speech is delivered; on page 178, he's being sneezed on. It's not full-on end of Caddyshack, but it makes it a little more sweet.

On the other hand?

Lanzac-Blain sometimes misjudge what's interesting about the story, and in the moments the book resembles a Devil Wears Prada for international diplomacy, an "education of a boy as to what working a hard job entails" story, well, that just doesn't feel as worthwhile as the parts of the book observing the ecosystem of that office. This is nowhere more true than in their insistence on focusing on the Lanzac character's relationship with his girlfriend. Being made by Frenchmen, a sizable portion of the comic concerns the most pressing questions of our time for Frenchmen: "can a French guy still get decently laid by his girlfriend while he's busy writing speeches and diplomatic visits to the UN?"

Indeed, the comic even bizarrely ends on a hopeful note-- not about the future of international diplomacy or the future of the Middle East, of course, but a hopeful note that this random French guy is going to soon be having some of that sweet, sweet French sex with his lady-love.

Spoiler warning: after the conclusion of the narrative presented in the book, international diplomacy and the Middle East are about to get more thoroughly fucked by the United States than "Lanzac" or his poor girlfriend could ever hope to be.


"If he weren’t as he was, France wouldn’t have said, Non, we won’t participate in the Iraq War. The process leading up to that was chaotic and very strange, but the decisions, and the results, were rational. That’s what I wanted to show in the book and in the film—how irrational processes can lead to rational results. ... In France, everybody pretends now that we were against this war, but it’s not true at all. The vast majority of the French elite, including the left-wing intellectuals, were trying to convince Villepin to follow Bush. When I heard him deliver his speech, I cried. I knew it was important. But I also knew that it wouldn’t stop the war. Those are the limits of speeches, the limits of debate, the limits of the pursuit of truth."

-- Antonin Baudry aka Abel Lanzac aka Arthur Vlaminck aka The Mighty Specialist (according to the Wu-Tang Name Generator)

The book concludes with de Villepin's February 2003 speech to the UN, that followed various lies told to the U.N. by Colin Powell. de Villepin knows that Powell's intelligence is horseshit; everyone knows. It doesn't fucking matter.  According to the Downing Street Memo, as of July 2002, Bush had already "made up his mind" to conquer Iraq even though "the case was thin". It didn't matter if the case was thin: "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."  Everything the U.S. does in this book is a farce, just bad theater.

The French get to have popular comics and movies about how they weren't stupid enough to go along with the U.S.'s decision to conquer Iraq.  I can't say I didn't feel a jealousy reading it...

It's interesting, being raised in the United States, we've gotten to cast the Bad Guys of History as someone else-- usually either the Germans or if the movie's set in the future or in outer space, upper-class British people. Both of whom have sucked in the past, to be fair, but.  Reading Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, it's another opportunity to see how after our empire has finally gotten done with the crumblin', we're totes going to be pretty awesome bad guys in all the movies, at least. We're going to make Darth Vader look like a puppy crapping solid gold statuettes of Tina Turner  over at the local rainbow factory (people like Tina Turner statuettes, right?  It's late at night and I can't remember Stuff I Like, which is probably ... probably not a good sign). "Colin Powell" is going to be the name of some moustachiod villain jumping up and down on babies in some future Balinese Spielberg's robo-movies.

(Calling it now: Bali is the throne island of the next great empire of Earth, and also movies get replaced by robo-movies which are like movies that clean your home. CALLING IT!).


"What was insidious about the ’00s view of the world was that it assumed certain cynical things as a given: that the fashion world is and always will be corrupt, that the molestation of young women by older and more powerful men is tradition, that people can be manipulated through fear. It assumed that what was in the interest of a few powerful men was naturally what was right for the masses. The decade kicked off with Bush’s victory over Al Gore, in which the general public will was overridden on a technicality, and went right into a misguided response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, which established a general atmosphere of fear and sparked a depressing wave of American anti-Islamic sentiment the Bush presidency rode into an unnecessary war. The ’00s were a bully. The whole decade revolved around the public and private erasure of consent."

-- Molly Lambert

"The aide [to President Bush] said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

-- Ron Suskind.

"Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence."

-- Mustard-Obsessed Grandpa.

It's strange to even remember, that year.

2003 wasn't a great year personally; historically, not so fun, either. After what had happened during the election, I just never felt like it was in doubt that those jag-offs were going into that country. Not really.  It was just, like, watching this car wreck.  I would read all of these foreign policy people or journalists who specialized in the region, and they'd all say the exact same thing, about how after the invasion would be a mess and a civil war and ethnic cleansing and repercussions in the region and blah blah blah.  If you ever hear bullshit about how "we didn't see it coming" what the consequences would be if we went in-- utter horseshit; people just didn't care; they didn't want to hear it; they wanted to hear we'd be "greeted as liberators" and the whole "Create a Democracy" thing would only take a couple weeks.  The information was out there-- nobody cared.  At least if you knew where to look.  You'd turn on the TV or read some American newspaper and it would just be this uncut gibberish.

And the people who spewed that gibberish are still around.  They're going to end up being the people who write the histories of it. And I was a younger person so I didn't realize that... What makes it shitty isn't that history's written by the winners.  It's that history's written by the assholes, by the yes men, by the fucking toadies.

That's the other thing that I thought about while reading Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, while watching Colin Powell spread false intelligence to the United Nations, his great legacy to world history. Just how hardening all of that was to watch, everything that lead up to the war. I was probably pretty cynical before that, but afterwards? Fucking forget it!  I mean, with me, it was always going to be one thing or another, but...

I'm more a comedy nerd than a politics / history nerd, so for me, when I think of speeches, I don't think of Powell or de Villepin, though. I think about Conan O'Brien's speech during the last Tonight Show.

"All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.""

And I was thrilled when he said it-- it was some goddamn thrilling television. And when I watch it again on Youtube, I still feel something.

But obviously the "be kind" part is a fucking challenge for me-- that part never really fucking sunk in, I guess. Never really got the hang of that motherfucker. Whoops.

And the actual "don't be cynical" part? Ooh, shit, I don't know-- that's always sounded like a tough nut, just when you start thinking about that war, those assholes, the corruption, journalist after journalist disgracing themselves; after what people did to each other during Katrina, after Catholic church scandals, after I don't know how many "car companies don't mind if they murder you" scandals now, after seeing how veterans get mistreated, after prison scandals and I don't know how many police scandals, and food-- oh god, what we're being fed and... I'd have a harder time listing American institutions that I think are in even remotely decent shape, that I think "Oh okay, I guess that's not completely fucked." Uh, those creme-filled cookies at 7-11 are pretty good...? Besides those, uh... fuck!

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy isn't a book about diplomacy saving the day-- it can't be. That's not how it went; it went shitty. But the world is always breaking shitty-- that's just how people like it to be, I guess, because it kinda keeps doing that and HA HA no one seems to mind oh fuck!

No, what's pleasant about Weapons isn't that it's about saving the day, saving the world-- it's that it's about standing for values, standing for the values of diplomacy even when diplomacy itself has not worked. There's a poetry to that, and I think it's the same reason that Conan O'Brien speech will always mean something to me even if I'm not great at actually doing anything he's recommending:  that it's fundamentally about the heroism of continuing to believe in simple, basically decent values even when you've lost.

I think that's a pretty nice kind of story to read, even if the work itself is an imperfect one. And it's just a little sad when you think about it, that Americans don't tell those stories more often.

Hopefully our future Balinese warlords know better.