Wait, What? Ep. 124: Stare Trek

 photo 8f1e9909-435b-4987-ac38-119da55b05c1_zpsf961aba0.jpgThe return of Vegan Viking! Courtesy of the brilliant Gar Berner

Yes, Vegan Viking (thanks to the supremely talented and kind Gar Berner) is back, and so are Graeme and I, with a close-to-two-hour episode filled with funny book kvetching and show notes right after the jump. Join us, won't you?

0:00-12:21:  Salutations!  Graeme is sick and jet-lagged, having returned from his first visit to Scotland in five years.  Jeff, with his eyes on the prize, presses him for comic book and comic book store-related details.  Names dropped:  Plan B Comics and Forbidden Planet of Glasgow, Comixology as it aids and abets all-ages storytelling, and Grant Morrison. 12:21-27:01:  From there, we get to a discussion of the new Man of Steel trailer, and whether or not All-Star Superman is going to be the best fit for the upcoming movie..which leads to a difference of opinion about Morrison's villains, camp vs. melodrama, etc. All I can say is: look out for that surprise edit! 27:01-33:08:  Which brings around to Batman Inc. #11, by Chris Burnham and Jorge Lucas.  It's fun!  But is it the right time and place in the series to have fun, though? 33:08-49:07: And on the subject of potential Batman-related fun, we ponder the upcoming Batman Inc. Special, the writing talent of Dan Didio, and comics that are fun or "fun."  Jeff's example of how fun can fall short?  Green Team #1…although he's quick to mention how he is not quite in comics' tractor beam recently.  He's underwhelmed by Batman and Robin #20, for instance, although it did lead to an interesting discussion in the Lester/Berton household recounted here. 49:07-57:26:  By contrast, Graeme read Monkeybrain's Subatomic Party Girls by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, and Erica Henderson, and loved it.  (By contrast, El Grumpus merely liked it.)  It certainly was better than Twelve Reasons to Die #1, which Jeff very much wanted to like but very much did not. 57:26-1:20:09:  Hey, everybody!  Graeme has stopped reading Age of Ultron, while Jeff thought he was still reading it so we could moan about it.  So his attempts to get Graeme to talk about it by dragging in the excellent essay by Colin Smith about the issue over at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics (now on sabbatical, which is entirely understandable but also a bit of  bummer).  We do contrast AoU with Flashpoint, Age of Apocalypse, Avengers vs. X-Men, and other events.  All of which leads up to.... 1:20:09-1:21:06: Intermission Two! 1:21:06-1:40:30:  Star Trek Into Darkness!  Spoilers! (Although we tried not to!) Bitchiness! (Although we tried not to be!) Another story involving Jeff's wife! And the curse of…sleep spoilers! 1:40:30-1:47:30: Then as the clock is running out, Jeff talks--all too horribly briefly--about the comic excellence that is Michel Fiffe's Copra (and the Copra Compendium published by the mensches at Bergen Street Comics) and Ant Comic by Michael De Forge (which is currently online and which I cannot recommend highly enough.  (Fun fact/full disclosure: the cartoonist Jeff spends an absurd amount of time trying to remember the full name of, is Rory Hayes.) 1:47:30-end: Running out of time, Graeme and Jeff begin discussing Al Ewing's novel, The Fictional Man.  Sadly, it ends up being a discussion we have to punt to the next podcast but we do drop a toe in about all the many things the book has to offer.

And that's it until next week, when we'll have ep. 125 ready for you along with far less illness and jet-lag.  (Although seeing as I'm writing this while utterly under the weather, and feeling like I have a bubble with a razor blade inside trapped in my throat,  really we can only guarantee a lack of jet lag.)  While the uploading end of the Internet has been very, very slow over at mi casa, the latest ep should be on iTunes very, very shortly.  And of course it's also available for your delectation below:

Wait, What? Ep. 124: Stare Trek

As always, we hope you enjoy and thanks for listening!

Wait, What? Ep. 18.1: Decompressed Podcasting.

Photobucket Late, late, late.  Graeme and I recorded this the day before Thanksgiving and it took me a week to break out the virtual scissors and cut something together.  Sorry 'bout that.

So here we go, with what those in the industry call a "decompressed" first episode. I mean....a failed cold open? Graeme mocking me for complaining about the weather? Me mocking him for throwing out his back? Throw in Luke Cage and you've got an early issue of Bendis' Avengers run, more or less.

Nonetheless, we do get around to talking Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali and Absolute All-Star Superman, and you can totally skip to the 16:55 point if you just want to get the verbal kicking and punching.  It is, or should very shortly be, available on Itunes, and/or you can listen to it here:

Wait, What?, Ep. 18.1: Decompressed Podcasting

(Keep your fingers crossed that I actually uploaded and coded everything properly...)

Thanks for listening and we hope you enjoy!  We should have more for you (much more!) super-shortly.

Favorites: All-Star Superman

All-Star Superman Vols. 1 & 2Grant Morrison, writer Frank Quitely, artist DC, 2008-2010, believe it or not 160 pages each $12.99 each

The cheeky thing to say about the brand-new out-of-continuity world Grant Morrison constructed to house his idea of the ideal Superman story is that it's very much like the DC Universe we already know, but without backgrounds. Like John Cassaday, another all-time great superhero artist currently working, Frank Quitely isn't one for filling in what's going on behind the action. One wonders what he'd do with a manga-style studio set-up, with a team of young, hungry Glaswegians diligently constructing a photo-ref Metropolis for his brawny, beady-eyed men and leggy, lippy women to inhabit.

But, y'know, whatever. So walls and skyscrapers tend to be flat, featureless rectangles. Why not give colorist/digital inker Jamie Grant big, wide-open canvases for his sullen sunset-reds and bubblegum neon-purples and beatific sky-blues? We're not quite in Lynn Varley Dark Knight Strikes Again territory here, but the luminous, futuristic rainbow sheen Grant gives so much of the space of each page--not to mention the outfits of Superman, Leo Quintum, Lex Luthor, Samson & Atlas, Krull, the Kryptonians and Kandorians, Super-Lois, and so on--ends up being a huge part of the book's visual appeal. And thematically resonant to boot! Morrison's Superman all but radiates positivity and peace, from the covers' Buddha smiles on down; a glance at the colors on any given page indicates that whatever else is in store, it's gonna be bright.

Moreover, why not focus on bringing to life the physical business that carries so much of the weight of Morrison's writing? The relative strengths and deficiencies of his various collaborators in this regard (or, if you prefer, of Morrison, in terms of accommodating said collaborators) has been much discussed, so we can probably take it as read. But when I think of this series, I think of those little physical beats first and foremost. Samson's little hop-step as he tosses a killer dino-person into space while saying "Yo-ho, Superman!"...Jimmy Olsen's girlfriend Lucy's bent leg as she sits on the floor watching TV just before propositioning him...clumsy, oafish Clark Kent bumping into an angry dude just to get him out of the way of falling debris...the Black-K-corrupted Superman quietly crunching the corner of his desk with his bare hands...Doomsday-Jimmy literally lifting himself up off the ground to better pound Evil Superman's head into the concrete...the way super-powered Lex Luthor shoulders up against a crunching truck as it crashes into him...the sidelong look on Leo Quintum's face as he warns Superman he could be "the Devil himself"...that wonderful sequence where Superman takes a break to rescue a suicidal goth...Lois Lane's hair at pretty much every instant...You could go whole runs, good runs, of other superhero comics and be sustained only by only one or two such magical moments. (In Superman terms, I'm a big fan of that climactic "I hate you" in the Johns/Busiek/Woods/Guedes Up, Up & Away!) This series has several per issue.

And the story is a fine one. Again, it's common knowledge that rather than retelling Superman's origin (a task it relegates to a single page) or frog-marching us through a souped-up celebration of the Man of Steel's underrated rogues gallery (the weapon of choice for Geoff Johns's equally underrated Action Comics run), All-Star Superman pits its title character, directly or indirectly, against an array of Superman manques. The key is that Superman alternately trounces the bad ones and betters the good ones not through his superior but morally neutral brains or brawn, though he has both in spades, but through his noblest qualities: Creativity, cooperation, kindness, selflessness, optimism, love for his family and friends. I suppose it's no secret that for Morrison, the ultimate superpower of his superheroes is "awesomeness," but Superman's awesomeness here is much different than that of, say, Morrison's Batman. Batman's the guy you wanna be; Superman's the guy you know you ought to be, if only you could. The decency fantasy writ large.

Meanwhile, bubbling along in the background are the usual Morrisonian mysteries. Pick this thing apart (mostly by focusing on, again, Quitely's work with character design and body language) and you can maybe tease out the secret identity of Leo Quintum, the future of both Superman and Lex Luthor, assorted connections to Morrison's other DC work, and so on. But the nice thing is that you don't have to do any of that. Morrison's work tends to reward repeat readings because it doesn't beat you about the head and neck with everything it has to offer the first time around. You can tune in for the upbeat, exciting adventure comic--a clever, contemporary update on the old puzzle/game/make-believe '60s mode of Superman storytelling in lieu of today's ultraviolence, but with enough punching to keep it entertaining (sorry, Bryan Singer). But you can come back to peer at the meticulous construction of the thing, or Morrison's deft pointillist scripting, or the clues, or any other single element, like the way that when I listen to "Once in a Lifetime" I'll focus on just the rhythm guitar, or just the drums. Pretty much no matter what you choose to concentrate on, it's just a wonderfully pleasurable comic to read.

I am I am I am Superman and I know what's happening: Graeme gushes about 4/11.

So, I read Tom Spurgeon describe All-Star Superman as "one of the best superhero comics of the last 30 years" this week and thought, wow, that's pretty high praise. And then I read ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #7, and re-read the first six issues (released in collected form this week as ALL-STAR SUPERMAN VOLUME 1 HC) and thought, you know, maybe he's not giving them enough credit. As much fun as the series is in single issue sittings, there's a lot to be gained from reading the first half of the series in one go. You catch the running themes (multiple identities, mortality, the multiplicity of the Superman character type) much more clearly when you can sit there and connect the dots. Although the series is constructed so that even though every issue is a story in and of itself, each issue is structured to play off what has come before and set up what comes after - the fifth issue, for example, ends with Lex Luthor embracing death because he's murdered Superman before the sixth shows the first time that Superman had to deal with mortality experienced from three different periods of Clark Kent's life (with the third perspective an Easter Egg for longtime Grant Morrison fans, who've read DC One Million and know that Superman Prime is our Superman in the far, far future); even the cliffhanger ending of issue 7, the first real two-parter of the series (Even though #2 and 3 were kind of a two-parter), manages to provide a conclusion for the main plotline with the defeat of the Bizarro World before branching out into the two-page set-up for the next issue. It's not that the series is being written for the trade, as the kids say, but just another illustration of how much thought and care has been put into its creation.

This is, without a doubt, a labor of love for Grant Morrison. You can see that, more than anything, he believes in Superman; this is a book, first and foremost, about Superman as a force for good and not something that worries about deconstructing the character or making him relevant for modern times. That's not to say that it's dated or retro, however... As much as the book's focus on Superman as not only perfect but almost unrelatably so may bring to mind the Silver Age take on the character, this is timeless instead of old-fashioned. Morrison's talked in the past about approaching super-heroes on a mythic level, but this is the first time for me where he's actually achieved that, perhaps because of the lack of the self-consciousness that shines through on the rest of his mainstream superhero work (Compare an issue of this with his Batman, for example, or his Wildcats - in those books, he's almost trying too hard to live up to his reputation, where here everything just works. There's a calmness and focus, instead of "Grant Morrison, he's so crazy"). Which isn't to say that there isn't imagination on show here, but it's imagination used in service of the story - and imagination where the ideas come slower but are more followed through, as opposed to his other work - which makes all the difference.

A lot of the calm that the book exudes - fittingly, considering the unflappable, serene nature of its star - comes from the art, which shows off Frank Quitely's very personal sense of design, pacing and space better than anything else he's done; We3 may have been more formally inventive, but All-Star Superman gives him the ability to compose a page and control your eye without the need for hyperactive bullet-dodging cyber-rabbits. It's widescreen art, but not in the traditional comic sense of the term - the panels stretch across the page to show surroundings, movement and the characters in a beautifully cinematic way, gracefully and allowing the reader to feel that everything is real, or at least, exists outside of the confines of that particular panel. There's a sense of life in the work, if that makes sense. "Digital inker" and colorist Jamie Grant's work helps dramatically in that, it has to be said - especially in the sixth issue - subtly reinforcing Quitely's linework while giving it more depth and weight, and completely earning his name being on the cover.

So, I'm reading these seven comics last night, and realizing that there's not a wrong step in any of them. The tone is perfect for Superman stories, the plots the right mix of adventure and overwrought emotion, the execution an ideal balance of humor and grace. It's so stunning a series that delays between issues don't seem to matter, because you know that the wait will be worth it, and when taken along with Jeff Smith's Shazam series, a successful one-two punch for DC of superhero comics that make you feel like you did when reading comics as a kid, even though you're an adult. Excellent, and then some.

No reviews for me tomorrow (or Sunday, for that matter) - It's Kate's and my wedding anniversary today, and we're celebrating five years of Kate not coming to her senses and dumping my comic-readin' ass by heading out of town for the weekend. Expect to see me recharged and full of snark in a couple of days, though.