Wait, What? Ep. 86: Defending Your Life

Photobucket (Visual from Art Spigelman's piece on Maurice Sendak unrelated to this episode, but I adore it too much to ignore it!)

Hail and well met, fellow Whatnauts! Sadly, my M.O. of dashing something off in a state approaching sheer terror continues as I managed to put this together in time to hit all of our deadlines but with unexpected side-effect of stripping my soul down to its most bald-tiredian self. Forgive me, won't you?

But, hey, at least as a result you get to dig into the nougaty goodness that is Wait, What? Ep. 86. Packed with seven essential vitamins and minerals, the latest episode of Graeme and I answering your questions is part of this complete breakfast. [Quick shot of podcast next to two eggs, bacon, a nutritional shake, vitamin c supplements, orange juice, a package of Mark Ruffalo cheesestraws, half a grapefruit, a small Caesar salad, three strips of cooked lean fish, half a pound of spinach and kale, and a small palmful of acai berries and organic cocoa.]

For almost two hours and fifteen minutes, the McMeister and I talk San Diego Comic Con, Joss Whedon, trolling, Radiolab, the nicest people in comics, Scott Morse, Walt Simonson's Orion, The New 52 free comic book day book, Greg Rucka, Books of Magic, Superman's heat vision, Chris Roberson's Memorial, comic book pricing, how we would spend twenty dollars on digital comics, our favorite cheesecake artists, Gail Simone, Brian Woods' The Massive, Jim Shooter and world-class editors, Jim Steranko, 20th Century Boys and Bakuman.

And more? Yes, more.

Some of you have perhaps already booked a seat at this fine feast via the magic of iTunes. But if not, we invite you to tie a napkin around your neck Tex Avery-style and dig right in:

Wait, What? Ep. 85: Defending Your Life

As always, we appreciate your continued patronage and hope you find the meal to your liking!


The Reason We Read Periodical Comics

There are two kinds of special thrills that periodical comics can bring. The first is tied to world-building, in which you get a piece of a story here, and another piece there, and eventually it adds up, building into something much larger than it's parts -- this is much of the thrill of the Marvel or DC universes, and one of the reasons that every other attempt to make a "universe" usually comes crashing down: it is nearly impossible to coordinate in that particular way, and it takes a multi-year dedication to build, with titles come out in a specific way. When you try to "erect" that kind of thing, the scaffolding is usually pretty apparent, and like a magic trick, you don't want to see how it is done.

(Because, of course, DC and Marvel both stumbled into their "universes" nearly by accident -- and they grew organically from there)

Even Marvel and DC have become pretty bad a really mining this special thrill. Look at the way sales figures have flattened as they've tried to geometrically expand the search for that thrill!

But this is something that really only main-veins as a periodical experience -- because that kind of manic soap opera thrill depends AT LEAST as much on sequence and spatial-relationship-in-time as it does about content. That is to say, to create a really lousy example that doesn't actually exist, anyone can team up Spider-Man and Daredevil to fight, but only comics can have Spidey start a swing-punch in SPIDER-MAN #123, and have him finish that arc in DAREDEVIL #213. When the inter-relationships-of-titles get reprinted in book form, you're generally only getting one strand of it, so you miss out on this whole kind of meta-thingy.

I could totally explain this better, I think, but THAT thrill isn't the one I actually want to really talk about today, it's the OTHER one: the cliffhanger.

I remember vividly the first cliffhanger that REALLY stuck with me -- at the end of the first issue of the O'Neill/Cowan QUESTION #1, Vic Sage gets shot in the head at point blank range, and falls into the river, apparently dead.


That was a very long month, I tell you.

In #2 it turned out that because of the caliber of bullet, the angle of the shot and the shockingly cold temperature of the river, the bullet just bounced off Vic's skull, and he was able to survive. O'Neill even told a story in the letter's page of a similar real-life incident that he took as inspiration.

But when you read this in the paperback collection, where one page he plunges down, and the next he is rescued most of the cliffhanger's power is completely abrogated. It's actually a pretty flat sequence.

It's a bit like, say, watching LOST on DVD box set, and just CHEWING through the episodes -- that can be satisfying in it's own way, but losing out on the week-between-airings and the time-to-think that stems from that is missing most of the cultural weight that LOST had on the Broadcast audience.

In fact, in really terrific network-style TV, you can get some awesome impacts of this kind of thing just from commercial breaks, which, again, get often minimized on DVD. The thing TV-on-DVD has going for it (as it were) are the musical cues which can help build suspense or otherwise manipulate your emotional reaction.

Comics don't have THAT particular trick (though they have a few native ones), so it is my firm belief that the cadence of periodical versus book-format is very very different.

Once one has been doing comics enough, it's very possible to make the periodical seams vanish when something gets collceted -- what we usually refer to as "decompressed storytelling", but unless you're very careful or very very good, it's pretty easy to short change the periodical.

I'd say that, consistently, really the only cartoonist who master the comic/book split right has been Dave Sim. Especially from, say, CHURCH & STATE through to MELMOTH or so, there are little jolty cliffhangers every 20 pages in CEREBUS, so that reading the monthly was generally satisfying (and often thrilling), but when you join those together in a book, almost every one of those cliffhangers is nearly invisible within the book as a whole. Things rise and fall differently in a book.

The other guys who have started to really figure out the trick are Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard in WALKING DEAD.

Which brings us to this week's issue of WALKING DEAD #86.

There's a potenitally massive massive game changer here, just one of those moments where your jaw drops and you're all "please god say you didn't!" and "I wantwantwantwant the next issue NOW!!!!", and now you've got to live what what you saw for the next entire month.

I'm not going to spoil it, but I KNOW it is going to read differently in the paperback than it does here. Why? Because similar things in previous issues have as well -- it read one way in serialization, and in a more subdued way in the collection.

And if you're one of the (many!) "I read it in trade" people, well you're missing out on one of the best thrills of WALKING DEAD -- the wait between events, and the suspense that engenders.

(Plus, the Big Thing isn't the ONLY thing that happens this issue -- there's at least one more Pretty Big Thing [and maybe 2] that gets undersold because of the Big Thing)

Anyway, this is really WHY I read comics -- for the suspense BETWEEN issues, and this was a truly EXCELLENT example of that.

What did YOU think? (though, if you comment, any spoilery ones will be deleted by me)


Not a review: Douglas checks out a notebook that's drifted over from Earth-1

I carry a little Moleskine notebook with me everywhere. The obi they come with advertises that they're the notebook used by Bruce Chatwin, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, although that isn't strictly true. To that list, we can now add Renée Montoya. Despite Countdown, I do like it when artifacts that ought to belong to one world end up in another. Yesterday, Greg Rucka dropped off a document that had come into his possession while he was working on the Crime Bible miniseries (of which the second issue comes out Thursday): Montoya's Moleskine, a bulging notebook that reminded me a bit of several Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links volumes. The pocket-sized notebook, besides copious handwritten notes on Montoya's investigation of the Dark Faith, includes a bunch of inserts:

*A 1938 translation of a bit of the Crime Bible, with Montoya's handwritten note about a numerical cipher or code. (Which, I'm guessing, has something to do with the numbers in the border of the first page of Crime Bible #1! I haven't had time to figure out how the cipher works, but I'm guessing that's what the Internet is for.)


*A photo of the cult's Barcelona convent *A security photograph of the Question *A gig poster for a Dark Cult-connected band called Darkseid's Bitch, who it turns out also have their own MySpace page


*A handwritten lyric sheet for "Ashes All Fall Down" by the band's singer/guitarist Serration, with annotations by Montoya, on a piece of letterhead from the Hotel Monarch in Star City *A ticket for their show at the Dirrrty Club *A set list for that show, with more Montoya annotations *The Coast City coroner's report on Serration's death, and his toe-tag from the morgue, along with several bullet casings and a couple of pills *Montoya's boarding pass for her flight to Barcelona (on Ferris Global Airways!)


*A clipping from the international edition of the Gotham Gazette, also annotated by Montoya


*A printed-out screenshot of an IM conversation between Montoya and Tot Rodor *A telegram from Rodor to Montoya


I don't have time to scan the whole notebook, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if bits of it turned up elsewhere too, or even if there were a couple of additional copies of the entire thing--it's one of those little Moleskines that come in multi-packs, and Montoya's old mentor was rather fond of a book in which a character makes a duplicate copy of his entire journal to make sure its content survives.

I Dismember Halloween: Douglas jumps the gun on 10/31

Since I'd thoroughly enjoyed 52, and especially the storyline that involved Renée Montoya and the Question, Greg Rucka was kind enough to pass along some photocopies of the first two issues of 52 AFTERMATH: THE CRIME BIBLE: THE FIVE BOOKS OF BLOOD. (I may have the title wrong: some sources say "Lessons" rather than "Books," and I haven't seen a finished copy yet.) The first one, drawn by Tom Mandrake, comes out today; despite the fact that she's not mentioned anywhere in its tripartite title, this is the new Montoya/Question story, and it's really satisfying to see Rucka writing her again. For those of you who didn't follow 52, one of the odder additions it made to the DC universe was the idea that there's a religion of crime that has its own Bible. We saw fragments of it in that series (where Montoya's investigation of its links to an Apokolips-related scheme began), and it's also quoted in passing in the Keith Giffen-written 52 Aftermath: Four Horsemen miniseries. The venerated figure in this religion is, naturally, the original criminal, Cain, who's referred to as the First. It's worth pointing out that Cain himself is actually a recurring character in the DCU; we haven't seen him lately, but we saw the House of Mystery he maintains in 52. We also saw allusions in 52 to the Book of Moriarty and the Book of Kürten, both of which reappear here, the latter rather prominently; Moriarty was, of course, Sherlock Holmes's nemesis (and is also an in-continuity character in the DCU!), and Kürten was an early-20th-century German serial killer.

A bit of this issue is given over to some necessary exposition: a professorial character, Stanton T. Carlyle, notes that the crime religion is prima facie ridiculous, and also explains that the Crime Bible concludes in four homiletic "Books of Blood," based on the pillars of deceit, lust, greed and murder. (I wonder if Carlyle's first name comes from Question creator Steve Ditko's former studiomate and occasional collaborator Eric Stanton--link potentially NSFW.) This would be the "deceit" issue, hence its twist-ending structure, and if you've noticed that there's a numerical disjunction between the concept in the story and the title of the miniseries, bingo; I'm assuming there's some kind of hermetic-gnostic fifth Book we'll find out about. Mandrake's specialty is establishing a shadowy, uncertain mood--in some ways, he's the closest thing to Gene Colan working regularly in comics now--and that fits nicely with the theme of the issue, too. (The big twist two pages before the end, though, is drawn with a peculiar gimmick that doesn't really work.)

The Question, in the Denny O'Neil incarnation that Rucka's taken after, is a detective whose investigations extend outward and inward: he (and now she) is interested in understanding complicated systems more than solving mysteries, as such, and one of those systems is his (and now her) own inner self. What Charlie kept asking Montoya in 52 was "who are you?"; she's still figuring that out. (Incidentally, if you're interested in this stuff and haven't read Rucka's interviews about the Question at the dedicated fan site vicsage.com, they're pretty fascinating.) As in the O'Neil series, she has neither a real face nor a full identity; nobody ever refers to the Question by that name, except indirectly. Carlyle asks "Are there any questions?"; Montoya steps forward.

The premise of 52A:TCB:T5BOB--and doesn't that sound like a good name for a designer drug?--is that the crime cultists think the new and not-fully-formed Question might in fact have potential as one of them (their religion includes a "parable of the faceless"). One of their leaders, a guy by the name of Flay (which just made me think of the great character with the same name in these books), even suggests that her familiarity with the text of the Crime Bible makes her one of its adherents, and that she's "looked upon the red rock, bathed in the blood that soaks it." She's acquainted with things that can be framed as deceit through her double life, lust through... the same way everybody's acquainted with lust, and murder very very tenuously through her killing of the suicide bomber in Kahndaq--although it was hardly premeditated, and inarguably defensible. Greed? I don't know if she's ever done anything that can even be construed as greed, other than dating somebody from a rich family, but on the other hand we don't know what she's been doing for money since 52 ended. Or even since 52 began.

Now, there's one thing that's still frustratingly opaque about Cainism (does the religion have a name among its adherents? is it the Order of the Stone, as Montoya suggests this issue?): what its adherents believe, and why. There's a pretty strong division between the religious concept of sin and the secular notion of crime, and the crime religion muddles the two. (There's some story I read a few weeks ago in which a religious sect believes in sinning as much as possible in order to better be able to humble themselves before God when they die; if you substitute "committing as many crimes as possible," that no longer scans.) Carlyle's lecture this issue proposes that the attraction of Cainism is somewhere between the freedom of the Nietzschean superman who makes his own morality and the de Sadean utopia in which personal gratification is the only law. But it sure seems regimented for all that it values individualism, and it doesn't offer its faithful any particular justification for their actions. (Actually, it asks them to do things on the grounds that they're not justifiable: its leaders "seek the vilest perfection.") This is the same kind of logic that, over in Justice League of America, gives us Lex Luthor, who was very recently obsessed with maintaining his public image of always being in the right, forming an "Injustice League"; it doesn't wash, because everyone justifies their own actions to themselves. We're also told that there are only three extant copies of the Crime Bible's complete text, but that the religion is trying to disseminate its text as far as possible. Jessica Hagy's index-card taxonomy of two-sin combinations makes more sense.

So a high Good for the first one--although it's worth noting that the second issue is a real step up, the kind of densely packed spy thriller/psychological grilling Rucka's got a particular gift for. But I'll get to that one when it's due.