Wait, What? Ep. 114: Everything We Could Stand

PhotobucketJaxxon drawing by our very own renaissance man, Graeme McMillan...

Skip week is over so we are back for another episode or two (we will probably skip Valentine's Day, I am betting that right now). Before we get into it, though: look at that Jaxxon! What a great drawing of a very old, obscure Star Wars character that I dearly love! Well done, Mr. Graeme McMillan, well done.  Please email me if you want to be part of the crew that tries to peer pressure Graeme into drawing more comics...

After the jump: Love! Links! Show notes!

So, yes.  Links first, eh?  Long-time listeners should be not at all surprised that we are fans of ol' Jaxxon (the space bunny portrayed above).  And, similarly, you may remember that we both have much love for Mike Russell's Sabretooth Vampire.  So imagine my delight to come across the link for "Jaxxon's 11," a Star Wars fan comic by Russell and David Stroup--it's currently incomplete but, hey!  68 pages of old-school Star Wars nerdery.  For free!

All right.  Let's get our show notes on, shall we?

0:00-3:03: "Previously on Wait, What?"  An introduction/apologia/master plan/what have you with a super-brief discussion of our skip week time off and then moving right into… 3:03-25:33:  issues of Green Lantern's Rise of the Third Army crossover that Graeme has read, and our befuddlement about Geoff Johns and the current state of the Green Lantern franchise generally. 25:33-32:31: Graeme also received a copy of the Batman & Robin Annual and quite liked it! Jeff read Batman Inc. #7 and was squirrelly about it!  Also, thanks to the continuing recommendations of Martin Gray over at Too Dangerous for a Girl, Jeff also read Superman Family Adventures issues #8 and 9 and greatly enjoyed those! Yep, you should think about picking those up. 32:31-38:59:  Speaking of cute, Graeme points out that the Comixology collection of Superboy has gotten up to issue #50 of the '90s run, which means Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett's "Last Boy on Earth" storyline is now easily available for Kirby fans like me who'd missed it the first time around!  Also, currently on sale (at least by the time I initially post this) and verrrry tempting at .99 an issue:  Green Lantern Mosaic. 38:59-39:34: Soulful Intermission #1 39:34-51:48: And we're back: with more Green Lantern talk (for a moment or two).  And with more personal chit-chat, as Jeff tells how he and Edi survived their first sleepover with their three year old niece.  Somewhat longish, very little comic book talk is involved (although there is some chit-chat about Dora The Explorer) and obviously should be considered optional and bonus material.  Will not be covered on the final exam. 51:48-54:34:  Comic book news! There's…not much.  Although we do discuss the terrifying process of WTF certification DC Comics is putting forward. 54:34-59:22: Wonder Woman #16!  Jeff has some words about it. 59:22-1:06:57: By contrast, Jeff has other words that he has to use about the other comic, Flash #16.  Some other chit-chat ensues about the DC New 52 books (specifically, Action).  On a similar-but-different note, Graeme picked up the trade of New Deadwardians after hearing Jeff singing its praises and also quite liked it. That means New Deadwardians is two-for-two on the Wait, What? Approval Meter and you should considering picking it up. 1:06:57-1:14:29: We're just about ready to get to questions (no, really) but we thought it perhaps prudent to talk about Uncanny Avengers #3 first. 1:14:29-1:32:11: Oh, and Avengers issues #3 and #4. Yeah, a lot of talk about Avengers #3 and #4. 1:32:11-1:36:59:  And then there were….Questions!  Kid Showbusiness on December 6th, 2012 at 1:48 pm asked:  What’s your take on this Jonathan Hickman quote: “Most of the talent creating books at Marvel are fairly progressive, so generally we all want diversity in the abstract,” he said. “The problem comes from the fact that the catalog of Marvel (and DC) characters are predominantly straight white male because of the era they were conceived in — and it’s the basic building blocks of what we have to work with. Which begets the question: Well Jonathan, if this is really one of the root causes of the problem, if you really feel that way — if you’re not a fraud — why don’t you just go create some new, more diverse characters? “Which is where things get tricky,” he continued. “In light of numerous historical examples, contractual realities, and the shelf life of creators, is it really in a creator’s best interest to be making brand new IP for the big companies on the cheap? I mean, we still do it sometimes, because, frankly, we can’t not…it’s in our DNA as storytellers and problem solvers — but is it the ‘right’ thing to do? Would it be right for people to ‘expect me’ to do that? I don’t think so. But that’s just one example — There are others (some even more negative, plenty positive).” 1:36:59-1:48:49:  George T on December 6th, 2012 at 1:54 pm asked: 1) I have never read an Avengers comic. If I were to read one issue of the Avengers what should it be? 2) I have never watched or read any Dr Who. What is a good place to pick it up? Other than 1966… 1:48:49-2:06:33:  Mike Loughlin on December 6th, 2012 at 4:41 pm said: 1) Which Marvel and DC characters that headline their own books or are members of a team should be put aside for a year or two? Which Marvel and DC characters have been poorly-written the longest? 2) If the Big 2 super-hero comics were redesigned to be more all-ages- and woman-friendly, do you think sales would increase? Has the new readers ship already sailed? Also mentioned in there somewhere, is Chad Nevett's amazing blog-a-thon over at Graphic Content   and Comics Should Be Good, where you can catch Graeme and Chad talking Peter David's Star Wars books, Chad and I swapping thought on Jim Starlin's Dreadstar, Tucker Stone bringing the pain, and much, much more. 2:06:33-end: Closing comments! Natalie Imbruglia! Our first podcast without any discussion of Misfits in almost a month. And only twenty some-odd questions to go. Wow!

Amazing, eh?  Yes, Graeme and I thought so too, undoubtedly.  As you know, we've got ourselves a little ranch out on the iTunes/RSS frontier, you can stop by any time you like.  But you can also kick up your boots and sample our wares below, if preferred:

Wait, What? Ep. 114: Everything We Could Stand

As always, we hope you enjoy and stop by next week for the next one!

Wait, What? Ep. 110: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

PhotobucketOne of the two delightful pieces of art made for us by the impressively talented Garrett Berner (a.k.a. The Mighty Gar)

It's our last podcast of the year!  Yes, after this two hour and ten minute Whatstravaganza, you get a nice two week vacation from our wee voices nattering on and on, answering your questions, picking apart your comics.  Finally!  Some peace and quiet for your holidays!  Doesn't that sound pleasant?

Anyway...after the jump!  More art!  Lots of links! A hastily assembled and incomplete "Best of" list! And also: Show Notes!

Photobucket Another great piece by Gar. We owe that man an "Eternals" debt of gratitude! (Ha,ha! See, because Kirby did The Eternals and...?)

All right, so as you may recall, last episode we answered four questions and had something like forty-seven questions remaining.  Did we get through them all in one two hour podcast, you may be asking...?

Well, no.  but we did manage to do the following:

0:00-8:03:  We open with a delightful reading from Graeme of a well-loved holiday sketch.  Then we go on to discuss Graeme's emerging status as a Canadian broadcasting superstar, internet deadlines, just about everything but comics.  Because (as you know by now), that's the way we roll.

And you know, as long as I'm posting multimedia links, I wanted to draw your attention to a few things, in case you missed them:  a short but sweet interview from Al Kennedy of the famed House to Astonish podcast over at The Beat!; an all-superhero sketchcast from The Irrelevant Show with most of the sketches written by the brilliant Ian Boothby (his Superman vs. The Parasite sketch struck a special silver-age nerd sweet spot for me); and the two Cheat Sheets Abhay has done to date, featuring voice work from the brilliant Tucker Stone and yours truly, the first on the 1960s

and the second on Rap Music.

Oh, *and* speaking of Tucker Stone, I know I've clued some of you guys in to the great Comic Books Are Burning in Hell podcast, but I should also mention that if you like Wait, What? and you like movie nerdery, you should check out Travis Bickle on the Riviera, a fantastic movie podcast by Tucker and Sean Witzke that is always entertaining and funny and smart.  I really should've hyped it sooner but I am Lay-Zee  (Kryptonian scientist and wastrel).

Whew!  So between this episode and all of the above, you should have enough to keep you busy during our two week absence, right?

8:03-10:35: But here's some comics talk--about Action Comics #15 by Morrison, Morales, and crew.

10:35-12:53: (Graeme also really liked Doctor Who #3 by Brandon Seifert & Philip Bond.)

12:53-17:10: Because it was a free comic on Comixology, we also discuss the first issue of the Star Trek/Dr. Who Assimilation2 comic by Tony Lee and J.K. Woodward.

17:10-44:32:  Question! from Matthew Ishii (and Dave Clarke):  “'Re: Leinil Yu overselling emotion in scenes. I was at a talk by Colleen Doran (comic writer and artist on a bunch of things) who criticized the comics industry as a whole trending towards this, because of the impact of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. You guys are all about Kirby, do you think this is a fair comparison.' I'd be interested to hear you guys talk about that, as a guy who loved manga and hated superheroes his entire childhood." We also talk about the current situation with Gail Simone and DC.  We also bleep ourselves.  (Maybe for the first time ever?) We also talk more about what the hell DC is thinking?  Also, Graeme gives a New52 pitch for Scooter that is, frankly, stellar.  And since he's been rereading the Fourth World Omnibus, we also discuss Kirby (because how can we not?) and his amazing run on Jimmy Olsen.  And also Geoff Johns.  (Oh, god.  I really should've broken all these out into individual time-stamp entries.  Sorry!)

44:32-53:27: Question! from Matthew Ishii:  "Q: What comics are famous and considered classics, when the writing was mediocre but the art elevated it?  Likewise, name some comics where the art was pulled from good to great by the coloring or the inking."

53:27-54:19:  Non-Question! from David Oakes:

"'Waiters' Are Fans, Forgo Long Explanation"

54:19-57:35:  Question! from Dan Billings:  "Why is it so hard to drop books? I am heading into the shop today and realize I am reading 16 books – money-wise, that’s crazy and quality-wise, there are not 16 good books coming out this week. Or is this something I should address with my therapist instead?"

57:35-1:02:56:  Question! from Ian Brill:  "This has nothing to do with comics but I want to ask Graeme something I’m surprised it took me this long to figure out to ask. When you’re writing career started was it difficult to switch to the American spelling of words? Do you sometimes find your original education colouring your spelling choices, leading you to have to apologise to your editors?"

1:02:56-1:03:18: INTERMISSION ONE (of one!)

1:03:18-1:14:43:  And we're back and right into… Question! from moose n squirrel:  "What’s the deal with Alan Moore and rape? […] Somewhat related to this, a second question: if all the horrible sexist shit in comics and comics culture were swapped out with horrible racist shit, do you think comics readers would take the same ho-hum attitude towards it all? Like, if Alan Moore put scenes of, I don’t know, Black people being lynched in all of his comics, would people just shrug and say, “oh well, that’s Alan Moore, when you read an Alan Moore comic you’re bound to get some gratuitous lynching” the way they seem to do with his gratuitous rape, or would they see some line being crossed? Is it the case that comics culture is grossly sexist and racist to boot? Or is there a reason why it’s sexist but not (as) racist?"

1:14:43-1:17:35: Question! from T:  "Also, do you think such a think as “house styles” still exist at the Big 2, either for whole companies (e.g. a “Marvel Style”) or for lines within companies (e.g. the “Vertigo style,” the 90s X-Men Harras house style, the Weisinger Superman house style, the Schwartz Bronze Age Superman House style, the Schwartz Silver Age House style), etc. If there are current house styles at the Big 2, what are they? Are they art-based house styles, like when people used to say there was a “cartoony art” house style in the Berganza Superman books? Is it a writing-based house style, like people claim Ultimates had in the beginning. Is it a comprehensive art/writing house style like the 90s X-books had? If there are no more things as unique house styles at the big 2 anymore, what do you consider to be the last example of a true, unique “house style” in the Big 2?"

1:17:35-1:19:38:  Question! from T:  "Oh, last question: Does the abysmal state of Jeph Loeb’s writing for the past year show that he’s gotten somehow much worse than he used to be, or is it proof that his earlier, praised work was overrated and is now due for critical reappraisal?"

1:19:38-1:25:31:  Question! from T:  "Okay, Marvel or DC promises you they will hand over the reins of your all-time favorite character or concept to a certain writer for a guaranteed 100-issue run, and this run will not only be the only place to read about your favorite character or concept, but no one else will be allowed to write said character or concept during this duration, this 100-issue run will have zero editorial edicts and the writers will have total free rein over the concept and can do whatever they want. Also, if you don’t accept this deal, there will be no comics, adaptations, guest appearances, or anything with your favorite character or concept for a 10 year period. Yes, a 10 year moratorium, even if we’re talking Batman, Justice League, Avengers, or Wolverine. (Okay, so this is a far-fetched, impossible concept I know, but just go with it). Your choices are:

1) Jeph Loeb 2) Brad Meltzer 3) Chuck Austen 4) Mark Millar 5) Brian Bendis

Which one do you trust the most with your favorite character/concept?"

1:25:31-1:32:09: Question! from Ben Lipman:  "What’s the deal with people acting like Alan Moore is the only writer with rape in his works? Isn’t he just working within the tropes/archetypes of the genres he works in? Isn’t it weird to ignore all the acts of violence in his works, to only focus on the sexual violence? Moore has a rep for writing about rape, despite that sex fills his works and is mostly shown shown as a positive life-affirming experience – I would say positive sexual encounters far outweigh the negative one’s in his works. Is it perhaps the fans/commentators who are in fact fixated on rape? Did JG Ballard have to put up with this shit?  What would it take for Jeff to end his financial boycott of Marvel? What steps do they need to take to get him back?"

1:32:09-1:32:56: Question! from Adam Lipkin:  "It seems that the inevitable “Wait, What?” Drinking Game has to have a rule requiring listeners to take a drink every time Jeff talks about editing something out and then never actually doing so.  But after the last episode, there needs to be a rule for times when he talks about editing something out and then actually does so (but still tells us something was cut). Is that a sip, a chug, or some other amount?"

1:32:56-1:37:04:  Question! from gary:  "Graeme, if you had to replace Jeff with another host from world of comics (writers, artists, editors, etc), who would you replace him with and why? Jeff, if you had to replace Graeme with another host from the world of comics (writers, artists, editors, etc), who would you replace him with and why?  And together, if you had to take on a third person on this podcast, who do you think would fit into the rhythms of your podcast?"

1:37:04-1:40:52: Question! from gary:  "If you were given free reign of What If, what would be the titles of your first 3 “What Ifs”? Also, if you were given free reign of Elseworlds, what would be your first 3 genre mash-em ups?"

1:40:52-1:42:32Question! from Tim Rifenburg:  "I was curious if you guys specifically use a pull list for certain books or do most of your buying “off the rack”. Would you be buying less books if you did not have a pull list?"

1:42:32-1:45:12:  Question! from Matthew Murray:  "In light of recent news what are some lost gems of Vertigo? What uncollected series should we be searching back issue bins for?"

1:45:12-1:50:08:  Question! from Brock Landers:  "Also, coming from the generation who entered comics when the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans and Claremont/Byrne X-men were the two biggest books, I had this notion.  Have DC horribly mishandled the Teen Titans franchise since Wolfman/Perez or was it just a product of it’s time and it doesn’t have the same conceptual vitality and depth as the X-men?"

1:50:08-1:52:50:  Question! from gary:  "What comic book by Matt Fraction is most like a Waffle Cone? What Matt Fraction comic book is least like a Waffle Cone? Please elaborate on both."

1:52:50-1:54:13:  Question! from Kag:  "Where should we, as comic readers, be hoping Karen Berger lands? At an existing mid-major (IDW/Dark Horse)? At an existing “art house” (Top Shelf/Koyama)? At a major publishing house (Random House/Penguin)? Or do we want her launching a startup?

1:54:13-2:11:43:  Then, instead of going on to the next question(!), we decide we should turn to Jeff's cobbled together "Best of/Last Minute Comic Book Gift List," cobbled together in part from my introductions.  As mentioned herein, this list is far from exhaustive and there are so many tremendous works out this year I didn't read that I almost didn't put together a list.

Anyway, because I want you to have access to something like a list from me,  here it is:

  • Empowered Vol. 7 by Adam Warren:  Didn't get enough love this year I thought.  The fight scenes in this book are master classes in comic book pacing and storytelling.  Blew my mind.
  • Action Comics #9 by Grant Morrison, Gene Ha & others:  An amazing single-issue comic, a jaw-dropping act of bravado in a work-for-hire context, and a surprisingly persuasive defense of work-for-hire.
  • Double Barrel by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon:  If you have any kind of access to a digital comics reader, you should check out this great serialization/anthology/comic book clubhouse.
  • Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly (issue #3):  Not cheap, but a beautifully illustrated story about a real and recognizable world that is all the more enchanting for it.
  • Saga  & Multiple Warheads:  Two strangely similar-but-different casual sci-fi epics, one from Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, the other from Brandon Graham (whose other title Prophet just missed making this list).
  • Marvel: The Untold Story by Sean Howe:  Not a comic but an amazing (and amazingly ambitious) history of Marvel Comics.
  • New Deadwardians by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard: A spiffy little read and will make a great trade.
  • The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell:  Turns out this left Graeme cold, but I really loved this collection of quasi-dreamlike autobio comics.
  • Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover:  Digital-only, and the three issues to date are gorgeous, funny, and fun.
  • Popeye #3 by Roger Langridge and Tom Neely:  A fantastic single issue where all of the love and craft by Langridge and Neely manages to transcend any of my reservations about work-for-hire being done in the style of the original creator.
  • The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell:  Only $4.99 if you buy it digitally (which is how I read it) and the way Campbell uses various digital tools made the book feel like one of the first real "digital" comics I'd ever read.  Disquieting and fascinating.
  • Gisele issues of Archie (esp. Archie #636 by Gisele):  I love Gisele, and apparently I love gender-flipped Archie and gender-flipped Jughead.  Yikes.
  • American Barbarian and Final Frontier by Tom Scioli:  Read one in print, the other online [link:  ] and I adored them both.  Of course, I'm probably the perfect audience for Scioli's strongly Kirby-influenced style but I really admire how he tries to find a balance with pastiche work that is neither post-ironic nor knowingly arch.   It's super-sophisticated in its primitivism, I think.
  • The End of the Fucking World by Charles Forsman:  An addictively dark mini-comic that uses its format for maximum effect. Forsman's a guy I can't wait to see more of.
  • King City by  Brandon Graham:  Realized the trade of this only got collected this year, so some people may not have discovered it until this year…maybe you haven't discovered it yet?  If so, you should: it's a canny and addictive blend of slice-of-life and sci-fi adventure comics.

Other stuff Jeff dug:  The Valiant reboot; Shonen Jump Alpha; 2000 AD Digital; the digital reprints of Crying Freeman over at Dark Horse Digital; the second and final volume of the Kamandi Omnibus by Jack Kirby; and the amazing graphic novel adaptation of Donald Goines' Daddy Cool by Donald Glut and Alfredo Alcala.

Graeme agrees with some but adds three I didn't mention:

  • Dustin Harbin's Boxes;
  • The Crackle of the Frost by Lorenzo Mattotti and Jorge Zentner; and
  • The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

2:10:45-End:  Closing Comments!  Best wishes for the holidays and the New Year!  Join us in 2013 for more fun, yeah?

Oh, and right--the podcast itself!  That would be helpful to include, right?  I mean, it's on iTunes and everything, but that's not everything, is it?  No, not by half, it's not!  Feel free to warm your Christmas ears below:

Wait, What? Ep. 110: Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

And as always, we hope you enjoy...and thanks for listening!

Quick Notice: Because There Are Reviews, There Will Be No Reviews.

Hibbs is out of town but he emailed me yesterday, breathlessly and with that slipshod sense of punctuation you expect from people on the road (oh how I wish I had that excuse!), to let me know that it was very important that  I tell everyone that, yes, he had written reviews but no, he had not thought to bring his password with him and so, even more so, no, there will be no reviews from him until after 4/3...not because there aren't reviews, mind you! (No, of course not.) So...there's that.  In the interim, please check out John K's excellent review of the Goodwin/Simonson adaptation of Alien and also, Tucker Stone's latest slate of reviews over at The Comics Journal, complete with a most excellent cameo from Abhay.  It is a fine, fine way to start your day, and a healthy part of this complete breakfast.

Carry on!

February 2012: The Month Where I Really Felt The Loss of John Candy

What follows is the second in a series of 12 posts, capturing the official Savage Critics rating for all of the comics that I read but couldn’t find the time (or space) to write about in a more “professional” capacity. The first one is here.

Hotel Harbour View Taniguchi Viz

Weird, wonderful stuff. I first heard about these stories via the Savage’s own Joe McCulloch. The big draw for today's reader is obviously going to be the chance to see Jiro Taniguchi drawing crime, but the curious will probably walk away just as impressed with the script, which is oddly sweet for such a bullet-laden plot. VERY GOOD!

Silence of Our Friends Long, Demonakos, Powell First Second

Hey, did you know this thing existed? Yeah, neither did anybody else. It’s a Nate Powell drawn graphic novel detailing some real life civil rights history in one of the two writer’s past. It’s pretty terrible, although Powell acquits himself well. There's probably an interesting story to be made out of what Mark Long’s family experienced, but it’s pretty clear that neither he nor his co-writer cared to try and find that story. Instead, you’ve got 200 pages detailing social back-and-forths between a white family and their black counterparts in 1968 Texas, most of which revolves around shining a spotlight on the audacious realization that people are often more complicated than pat racial stereotypes might lead one to believe. For example, sometimes a black man will slap his child out of anger. Other times a white man who is normally polite drinks too much. Sometimes the two of them behave in a way that seems racist to onlookers out of a fear of social reprisal. Will these two groups be able to come together over a shared mutual affection for Sam & Dave?

Things pick up later in the book when it depicts a protest gone wrong, but all of that interest evaporates as the book meanders its way through the most boring court trial comics has ever produced. A really cynical reader might think that the people involved in this comic’s production have so little imagination that they honestly believe that "boring" = "intelligent", but it seems more likely that there just wasn’t anything here to get excited by. That’s sort of First Second’s bag, if you’re keeping score--with very few exceptions (George O’Conner’s comics, Gipi, Blaine), they pretty much stick to rushing out middlebrow crap designed by committees, for a fabled "adult" audience that's perfectly content to stick with television. EH, because Powell certainly tries his best.

Fatale #2 Brubaker, Phillips Image

I like this issue. It’s more Ellroy-tinged set-up stuff, with an angry alcoholic (i’m assuming he is one, but I think the ground is safe) twisting lives into violent, confused contortions for the sake of a woman who they already know they’re gonna lose, and there’s a nasty cult thing going on in the background--this comic is sour, it feels irritated, like the actions depicted within the panels are a little pissed off that they’re on display. Brubaker’s best comics are the ones that have a freighted plot moving through them, something that crushes and mangles the lives of the people that populate them. (If you go back and read his Captain America run from the beginning, you’ll see that the absolute best parts are whenever Steve is depicted as being alone, scared, or exhausted. That character has unfortunately been taken over by the incessant need of Marvel, and it’s unlikely that their new publishing style will ever allow for somebody to do the kind of long-range work Brubaker got to do in those first 30-40 issues of Cap, but the current status quo doesn’t render those stories any significant damage.) Fatale: GOOD!

Chopper: Surf’s Up Wagner, Ennis, Artists 2000AD

Decent shit, Douglas has you covered on this one. There’s some fascinating panels in this collection that are worth excavating for examination, but this collection is mostly interesting for the way it drags a shitload of material (most of which is solid) out of a character that internalizes all of his feelings, choosing to express himself by action. He’s a skysurfer who lives with his eyes half-closed. OKAY!

Walt & Skeezix Volume 5 King D&Q

There’s no massive plot driving this collection the way the previous volumes were, and in fact, it reads a bit like a mild reworking of Frank King’s greatest hits--there’s the backdoor conniving regarding Skeezix’ inheritance (bringing with it Walt’s old fears of kidnapping, which means PUNCHING), a bit of romantic bungling with Lora that recalls those sleazeballs who used to pursue Phyllis, and then, of course, there’s a new baby and all the cutesy bits that bring with it. As is always the case with these collections, there’s some random bits of difficulty in tow--Phyllis is often depicted as disturbingly greedy as her past nemesis, Mme. Octave, and it's impossible not to squirm at Rachel. Still a great collection though, one of the best things Drawn & Quarterly publishes. There’s some extra stuff in here too--essays and a DVD--but most of that stuff seems like fetish objects for people who want all comics to be autobiographical. I’m sure it’s quite lovely, but I have a decent enough relationship with my father, and thus have no need to pretend that Frank King would have been a better one. EXCELLENT!

Athos In America Jason Fantagraphics

The “autobio” strip in here is my hands-down full-stop favorite thing Jason has ever done, earning this book the EXCELLENT rating for that reason alone. The rest of the book is totally satisfying, but I can’t pretend I didn’t read all of it with my brain obsessing over all the little beats in “A Cat From Heaven”. There isn’t a dead moment in the thing. “Hey, Fuckface”...so funny, this thing.

Prophet #22 Graham, Roy, Ballerman Image

Dug the first issue, loved the second. One of Graham’s greatest strength is that he’s actually read and watched different stuff, so when he’s resorting to inspiration, it isn’t the same crop of minimalist Wu-Tang covers or Wong-Kar Wai screengrabs as everybody else. In comics, it’s hard to ignore the fact that everybody wants everybody else to have the same line-up of idols as they do, which is why Graham is so interesting: he seems to have escaped all of that and forged a taste all his own. It’s unfortunate for Roy that he’s having to work under such a big shadow--he’s doing good work, and definitely getting better--but I’d imagine he sees this as too good an opportunity to pass up. Comics could use a lot more people like Brandon. We already know what it’s like to have a whole lot of people who aren’t. VERY GOOD!

Batman The Dark Knight #6 Finch, Jenkins DC

This one was pretty weird. It’s just Bane fighting Batman and Batman running away. They talk about Knightfall a bunch. There’s a really bad drawing of Superman. Remember when David Finch was supposed to be a big win for DC? There must have been a bunch of people at Marvel giggling when that announcement was made. This comic isn’t as bad as the Superman one that has a different creative team on every other page, but that doesn’t mean it's any good, either. AWFUL!

Ultimate Spider-Man #7 Bendis, Samnee Marvel

Well, that’s how you waste a date with Chris Samnee. If this guy has an agent, he should fire that person. I’d like to believe that his Daredevil stint is going to be special, and it probably will be...but c’mon, all Marvel does is bean this guy every time he gets up to the plate. AWFUL!

The Flash #6 Manapul DC

Very pretty comic book here. The inclusion of Barry Allen saying things like “girlfriend” and “is that okay” and “I have feelings” will certainly appeal to a type of personality (unfortunately, I very much doubt that type of personality would find much else in super-hero comics worth their time), and I’d overall call this one OKAY! I can’t make myself read this title, but I hope somebody can. Super pretty.

Judge Dredd Complete Case Files 13 Misc Dredd Folks 2000AD

Solid collection of stuff here, if I had notes to refer to, I would do so now. The biggest stand out in my mind is the introduction of Giant, who will become a big part of Necropolis (which is in the 14th Case File), but there’s a whole crop of solid short bits in here. Reading these, I can’t help but wonder what kind of world Wagner would have created if he’d stuck around the Batman franchise. Grant did fine without him, but...that could have been something. Oh well. GOOD!

The Dead Man Ridgway, Wagner 2000AD

Great stuff here, here’s another Douglas Wolk write-up for those who like detail. I wish I could have read this as it was happening without having to live in Britain whenever that was. But even if you the big reveal in advance, it’s still a pretty satisfying read. Call it GOOD!

Voyages Volume 1 Toth, Chaykin, Geary, Vess, Russell, Muth, Robbins, Dowling Nautilus Dreams

There’s a great Alex Toth story in this, a Bravo For Adventure story that I’d never read and which is, contrary to what I’ve always heard, solidly written. It gets really abstract near the end in this really ballsy way, with these grids of jagged lines tracing the movement of excited protagonists. It ends up being so good that it (unfortunately) overshadows everything else you read. That being said, the only things in here that are anywhere near Toth’s level are Rick Geary’s murder standard and a nasty color insert by Howard Chaykin about a guy on his way to serial killing. Everything else is trash. For the Toth alone (which is the longest thing here), call this one VERY GOOD!

The Broken Ear Herge Little, Brown

I find it very easy to get wrapped up in how these comics look, chasing Herge’s lines around to see where they begin and end. I kept forgetting to read the dialog, I just liked watching things move around. I'm mostly interested in reading these Tintin stories to see how they relate to Swarte and Chaland, but I'm also always curious about things that are amazingly popular. I don't know that I learned much here. It’s fun to watch Tintin get wasted with the guy who is supposed to kill him, or to see the general get his feelings hurt when he thinks he’s been betrayed. The actual goal of this one--the location of a stolen curio--seems to get away from Herge a bit eventually, but I can’t say that I really care, or that I think he should have done it differently so that hadn’t happened. It’s just a lot more fun to watch the kid fuck around and do shit than would have been to be all serious about the treasure hunt aspect. VERY GOOD!

Is That All There Is Swarte Fantagraphics

Everything I feel comfortable saying about this book right now already came stumbling out on this Inkstuds podcast I did with Jog, Seneca and the Studster, but it deserves some kind of Savage rating. How about EXCELLENT? There’s stuff in here that I wish was bigger in size, but...so what? I hope every single person who complains about the size of this book gets buried in shit after being murdered by their family, and I hope they get murdered with Lou Gehrig’s disease. If they're a cartoonist, I hope it happens to them twice.

The Blobby Boys Schubert Zine Police

A short, very funny comic featuring what acts like a regular cast of oddly colored humanoid creatures acting like assholes in urban environments. Blobby Boys was oversold to me as someone’s favorite comic at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, so the initial read through was a bit like a confused treasure hunt. Reading it again, I just see it as an extremely funny comic with unusually vivid art. That’s not a bad thing at all. VERY GOOD.

Comics Class Forsythe Koyama

Pseudo autobiographical comic (“mostly untrue”, according to the back cover) about a comics class for 11 year old children, taught by the author. It’s very funny at times, other times it’s trying too hard, but the scale mostly ends up in Forsythe’s favor. The art is pleasant, chunky stuff, there’s just not a whole lot that’s very visually exciting about a guy standing in front of kids, talking. Does anyone talk about the cinematography in Stand and Deliver? Lean On Me? Dangerous Minds? I rest my case, my case is rested. I’d still call this one GOOD.

Night Business #4 Marra Traditional Comics

I love this comic, love all the comics this guy makes. I also have a lot of affection for the movie Cobra and the sex act, so I was pretty much swimming in clover the whole time I read this, because it has all of those things put together all at once. VERY GOOD.

Now that I think about it, it kind of disgusts me that there's comics bloggers out there who sit around reviewing Marra's work all willy-nilly, without having experienced the movie Cobra.

White Whore Funnies #1 Misc Ful-Horne

This is a group of black cartoonists making fun of racist stereotypes. Some of it is very extreme and funny, like the symbol of a black power fist punching its way into a Venus symbol while the text screams “LET US ENTERTAIN YOU”. Some of it is just disconcerting and obnoxious. The art is mostly terrible, with most of the cartoonists delivering weirdly prudish takes on naked women. I’d be disappointed, but I’m convinced the primary point of this project was to entertain the guys who created it. It’s AWFUL otherwise.

Lone Wolf and Cub #26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 34, 35 Kojima, Koike First Comics

I’ve read all of these stories before, but I’d only read about half of the First Comics editions. Not all of Goseki Kojima’s work is “better” in the standard American comic size--some of it just looks unfinished and schizoid--but so much of it is that it still stings that First went out of business before they could finish printing these glorious comics. There’s translation screw-ups, printing errors, ordering mishaps; if you’re an obsessive type, yes, there’s much to be irritated by! But there’s also perfect comics here; a story that grapples and explodes, visual moments of perfection--violence and silence both--and it would have taken serious, nefarious dedication to destroy that. Lone Wolf and Cub is EXCELLENT, and anyone who says different is a huge, huge racist.

Time Twisters #2 Moore, Morrison, Gibbons, Ridgway, Milligan Quality

This is basically the Alan Moore issue, and while the reproduction value still lingers somewhere between “absolute shit” and “also shitty”, the old wizard shines through with a couple of smart Future Shocks. Milligan rips off the Thing--it doesn’t really work--and Morrison rips off Ray Bradbury, which works fine. This is the best issue of this comic I’ve read, in heroic spite of the people who so horribly printed it. GOOD!


How anticlimactic. I should really come up with a conclusion for these. The only thing that comes to mind right now is AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS HUNTA VIRUS, and that's just a meaningless string of words. I'm not even sure that's how you spell Hunta virus. I spent most of the month of February obsessively singing the song "i want to fuck my own father" to my coworkers and wife, but that doesn't conclude anything either. I give these last few sentences the rating of EXCELLENT.

January 2012: Tucker Had To File These At Some Point

What follows is the first in what will become a series of 12 posts, capturing the official Savage Critics rating for all of the comics that I read but couldn't find the time (or space) to write about in a more "professional" capacity. [Note: this post includes comics read in 2011 as well as stuff from January, so you can expect some cursory bits here. Also: I missed you guys. I miss your face, your moist carcass, your buttermilk porpoise, your tender kiss and your sloppy tongues. Joe McCulloch is going to make a great father to what I've got growing inside me right now, and I hear great things are brewing in the Loins of Khosla. This is dedicated to Brian Hibbs, who is a great man, but would be even greater if he threw away all the sandals I feel sure he must own.]

Herbie #1 Ogden Whitney A+ Comics, 1990

This was the first in a short lived series of reprints of the old Herbie comics, most of which are known due to their inclusion in Dan Nadel's Art Out of Time as well as being referred to by Alan Moore as his favorite super-hero comic. It's about a fat kid who solves problems and sometimes wears a costume while doing so. Most of its appeal escaped me, but I greatly enjoyed Herbie's parents, who seem to find him almost as obnoxious as I eventually did. OKAY!

What Makes A Man Dress Up Like A Bat?? Miscelleanous Philly Comix Jam, 2009

A short comics anthology of Batman parodies on newsprint. The strongest entries are the ones that go weird, like one where Batman's biggest emergency is helping liven up a shitty lawn party, but those are few and far between. The majority are just low-rent imitations of Mad magazine, and for whatever reason, many of those are just really obvious gay jokes. EH! (I really think that if you're going to do a superheroes-are-gay-haw-haw comic, it should go all the way--either full on hardcore sex, like that comic Dirk Deppey linked to once where Optimus Prime forced himself upon Megatron (don't look it up, seriously) or full on tortured romance, like that scene in the Ethan Hawke Great Expectations where he's yelling at what he thinks is Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Kramers Ergot 3 Miscelleanous Avodah, 2003

Fun stuff here. Soto, Nilsen and Harkham (especially Harkham) are the big stand outs of the volume, although there's a couple of much longer pieces that probably had some measure of appeal at the time. On the negative side, it proves a pet theory true: most cute indie comics are meaningless exercises best reserved for the portfolios of people trying to get work storyboarding children's cartoons. If it isn't being done for small children, what's the point of these kinds of comics? They're never interesting to anyone, they're so basic in construction that "good drawing" is essentially shorthand for "easy drawing", and it doesn't take but a few years for the creators to invariably fuck off back to whatever their other interests are. Still VERY GOOD! overall.

Garden Yuichi Yokoyama Picturebox, 2011

This is the only one of Yokoyama's books that features characters that should get beaten to death, but considering how quickly he seems to be working these days, he'll probably add to that eventually. Mostly, this book is just not as good as Travel in every way that it can be ranked, even down to the way it's printed. It's a testament to how interesting this guy is that "nowhere near as good as something else" still translates to VERY GOOD! on the Savage Critics scale.

Omelett Menu Reprodukt, 2000

This is one of the most depressing comics about motherhood you're ever going to read. The number of abortions would quadruple overnight if it were more easily available. Makes me wish there was a rating higher than EXCELLENT!

Cabbie Marti Fantagraphics, 2011

The page in here where the cabbie brings his father's sewage covered remains home and puts them in what's left of the coffin and then puts the coffin on top of his mother's recently deceased body tells you everything you need to know. Unless you're a Prince Valiant dude, this is the best reprint of the year. Impregnable would be the best word, EXCELLENT! will have to do.

Judge Dredd Tour of Duty: Mega-City Justice John Wagner, Colin Macneil, Carlos Ezquerra, John Higgins, other british people 2000AD, 2011

A lot of this feels retready--there's a bad Judge who does bad things and makes bad calls, and PJ Maybe is around--but it's Judge Dredd, and there's something kind of gross about the idea of Judge Dredd being a thing that should be constantly reworked and innovated. Look at the way they ruined MILF porn, you know? Don't do that to Dredd. GOOD!

Darkie's Mob The Secret War of Joe Darkie John Wagner, Mike Western Titan, 2011

If you've always wanted to read Bad Company but would rather exchange the alien world setting for the hardcore no-apology racism of 1942-era Burma, then get yourself a copy of Darkie's Mob. Like all the other Titan reprints of British war comics, it's good looking, bound well, and hates you more than anything else you've ever let into your home. Bonus points for the introduction by Garth Ennis, because it's the best thing he's written since Valley Forge, Valley Forge. GOOD!

I Will Bite You and Other Stories Joseph Lambert Secret Acres, 2011

These comics are all pretty great, even though sometimes it feels like Lambert is more invested in fucking with the panel borders and general comic-y shit than he is in doing anything on the story front. At the same time, he's way more interesting than most of the people who do that sort of experimenting, and his usage of color in the cave people story in the back is fascinating. GOOD!

Real Deal #1 By the Real Deal guys, ask Seneca or Marra to explain 'em Real Deal 1989

The main problem with Real Deal is that there aren't enough sexy drawings in it. These kinds of comics--gutter violence, crazy logic rough trade comics--always work best when they have drawings of women with large breasts in them. That's just a fact of life, and if you don't like that, that's totally fine: but honestly, you weren't going to like the part in Real Deal where a prostitute gets her head smashed into the sidewalk with a garbage can either. OKAY!

Punisher War Journal #28 Mike Baron, Tex, Greg Wright Marvel, 1991

A done in one story about Frank Castle checking in on an old flame, who is now dating your standard rich fuck-up. This rich fuck-up is in the meatpacking business, and there's some leftover "let's give a shit" from the 80's about meat-eating, but mostly it's just an opportunity for Frank to kill people in a processing facility, with Texas Chainsaw type implements. Also, the rich guy is a crackhead. Great Michael Golden cover. VERY GOOD!

Cable #1 Fabian Nicieza, Art Thibert, Marie Javins Marvel, 1993

A confusing comic about Cable. There's a shiny print effect on the cover, but it only applies to the future-style bandolier that Cable is wearing. So many 90's super-hero comics have covers that look like the company went straight to print with what they were finding in high school kid's sketchbooks. "I see you like tracing Jim Lee comics, kid. Well, it's time to become a star!" AWFUL!

Grit Bath #1-3 Renee French Fantagraphics, 1993-4

These are the best comics I read in 2011, and I know that to be true, because I fucking read these comics over and over and over again. I read them like they were going to bring Patrice O'Neal back to life. There's a letter in the second issue where Jim Woodring says that the comic scared him, and I can see why. Grit Bath #2 makes Pim & Francie look like an issue of the Tiny Titans. Renee French makes everybody else look like a weak piece of shit. EXCELLENT!

Acme Novelty #5 Chris Ware Fantagraphics, 1995

This has my favorite part of Jimmy Corrigan in it, the part where he smashes his glass into his father's face and says "I brought you a basket of fruit" right before slicing his dad's back wide open. People who prefer graphic novel collections of comics like this don't seem to understand how super-fucking awesome it would have been to have read that sequence in this fashion. It's two pages from the end of the comic. That's so much better than it happening on some random page in the middle of some 400 page thing you're plowing through on the fucking couch while some garbage wallpaper music plays in the background. I feel weaker as a man when I have to bookmark a comic book, and I should. EXCELLENT!

Jimbo #1 Gary Panter Zongo, 1995

This is probably the most read Jimbo comic, I bet. How many of these did Groening print? The nicest thing about those Slings and Arrows guys is the way they just jump right at the meat of the response. Regarding this, their reviewer says "it's almost impossible to explain the quality of his work if you don't see it immediately." Like one of those posters at the mall, I guess. Garloo makes me completely out of proportion angry, it's really unfair. VERY GOOD!

Space Adventures Presents UFO #60 Jim Aparo, Denny O'Neil, Anonymous Charlton, 1967

An early Aparo comic done under a nom de plume. It doesn't look like him yet, although the classic Aparo face does look buried underneath some of the faces on display. For the brevity of the comic, the story is relatively extensive--the first part is ground level espionage shit that gives way to post orbit combat--but it's weirdly cheap, as if the artists (Aparo wasn't alone on the book) didn't have the money to draw cool space shit. I know that doesn't make sense. EH!

Batman #221 Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Dick Giordano DC, 1970

From that great period where Bruce Wayne wore yellow ties and a gigantic hair helmet, this has to be the only Batman comic where the Tales From The Crypt denouement is the bad guy dying in a pit at the choppers of his own bloodthirsty lamb. Batman doesn't give a fuck, because the guy is a Nazi-loving German. The next story is about some firemen, Vietnam, and a fire-starting idol from Vietnam. It seems to be missing a plot, because the comic ends on the page where the setup finishes. It's actually a pretty funny story if you read it as a fireman comic where a crazy person in a Batman outfit jumps through the window and attacks a tiny statue while the firemen are trying to get their job done. Pretty much EH!

Time Twisters #5, 12, 13 Various Quality, Unknown

2000AD shorts, horrible reprint quality. Tge Peter Milligan stuff is alright. There's one story by "K. Gosnell" about a soul collecting devil who forces dead men down to Airbase Hell, and the last page of that comic should have been the first page of a much longer one. Four page comics have to be tough though. These reprints are cherry picked from all over the place, and there's still times when you see the construction seams. Comics wise they probably deserve better, but the reproduction value alone makes for an AWFUL read.

The Shadow #1-7 Denny O'Neil, Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, Len Wein, Frank Robbins DC, 1974

Super good comics. Even when it's just Kaluta that keeps you moving forward--which is about half the time, although O'Neil does knock a few plotlines out of the park--these are really satisfying single issue comics, and the art is just fucking astounding to look at. The Shadow really is a great character--so creepy, an extremely weird holdover that's still just pulpy enough to make super-hero comics seem too weak to contain him--and yet there's something kind of wonderful about the little material we have to judge him by. Gorgeous. VERY GOOD!

Unknown Soldier #219 Frank Miller, Bob Haney, Dick Ayers, Romeo Tanghal, Elliot Maggin DC, 1978

The end of the Bob Haney story is classic Haney weirdness, with three panels of people laughing at the German High Command's attempt to paint a loss as a victory and the last panel being concentration camp inmates laughing while a Nazi guard holds a tommy gun on them while bullwhipping them with the other. It's completely fucking insane. The Frank Miller part is him and another guy drawing a Maggin five pager about an Achaean battle. The comic is pretty terrible. Except for the cover, which is slap-your-mother amazing. Joe Kubert in blue: that really doesn't happen enough. Miller stuff: AWFUL. Haney stuff: GOOD!

Weird War Tales #64 Frank Miller, others DC, 1978

Had to figure out where this was, it wasn't very memorable. The Miller story (again, he's not alone) is so much the sort of thing you'd find in an EC Comic that I'd be surprised to find out it was all original. Again, a great Kubert cover on an EH! comic.

Judge Anderson The PSI Files Volume 1 Grant, Wagner, Ewins, Kitson, Simpson, Ezquerra, others Rebellion, 2009

Heavily front loaded, with almost everything after the half-way mark almost unendurably bad. There's a story in here where Anderson shots a kid she's come to save point blank (she has no choice), and it's surprising how satisfying that little twist on the old song turns out to be. That story and a few others, as well as some pretty great art push this one into the OKAY! category.

Cable #96 Robert Weinberg, Michael Ryan Marvel, 2001

Recommended by David Wolkin, who is something of a connoisseur of weird Cable comics. This is probably going to be the high water mark all stand in fear of, as it features Cable agreeing to an arm wrestling match with an immortal caveman who lived through the pre-Ice Age alien invasion, Biblical times, and now runs a bar? It's also from that time period where Richard Starkings was able to convince everybody on the planet that Comicraft lettering was the best thing since smoking cocaine. EH!

Psycho Comics #1 Daniel Clowes, Rick Altergott, Pete Friedrich, Joe Kerswild Look Mom, 1981

Malicious, weird, amatuerish horror stuff from a surprising cast of creators. None of this is that remarkable, but I'd still call it OKAY!

Tarzan #74 People, for sure Dell, 1955

One of Gary Panter's favorite comics, according to one of those websites that ask about that sort of thing. It's really fucking funny, both because it means to be and because it's a weird old Tarzan comic. There's a back story called "Brothers of the Spear" which seems kind of forward thinking for a 50's comic. VERY GOOD!

Heavy Metal Presents Moebius Moebius, Fellini Heavy Metal, 1981

One of the easiest Moebius collections to find, definitely the cheapest. To some people, this is probably the equivalent of It Takes A Nation of Millions or Giant Steps in terms of just being a thing you own until you die, because it does everything the way everything is supposed to be done. EXCELLENT.

The Phantom Stranger #1 Mignola, Kupperberg, Russell DC, 1987

If I had time to scan in some panels--and I promise to make time for that the next time I do one of these--this would be one of those comics where I just throw my hands up and start ripping the whole thing like we're on Scans Daily in 06. Everything in this comic looks fucking great, from the trash in an alley to the look in Jimmy Olsen's eyes. It's impossible to read, but man: it's a beauty to drink. VERY GOOD!

Wrath of the Spectre #1-4 Aparo, Fleisher DC 1988 (reprinting old material)

I read this a while back, after Darwyn Cooke told me it was his favorite super-hero comic. I don't know if he was being serious, but I'll be goddamned if it hasn't become one of mine. Everything in here--from the unbelievable violence to the brilliant pisstake humiliation the Clark Kent stand-in goes through--is note perfect. EXCELLENT. If you don't get why guys like me live and die by the mere mention of Jim Aparo's name, buy these four comics (they're easily available) and you'll see why.

Wolverine Cable: Guts and Glory Casey, Platt Marvel, 1999

I was hoping this would have the same dumpster badass quality of Hearts of Darkness (which still has the best Ghost Rider plot of all time) but it's just a by-the-numbers adventure that feels like Casey was trying to plagiarize a Garth Ennis story from memory, on a dare. Stephen Platt seems like one of those artists who never met a super-hero story they couldn't take way too fucking seriously. The whole thing is AWFUL.

Shaolin Cowboy #3, 7 Darrow Burlyman

I could look at these all day, I can't read them for more than a page at a time. EXCELLENT and AWFUL, all in one.

Wolverine Revolver #1 Gischler, Pastoras Marvel, 2009

I actually had post-it notes stuck in this issue, I so wanted to write a long essay on it, the sort of thing that would shake the comics world to its core and cry out for More Das Pastoras Wolverine comics, and now I'm not even sure I could tell you why that is. I think I read this comic every day for a straight month, and I think I could do that again and not feel like the time was wasted. Jog likes it too? I don't know what to tell you here. I love this fucking thing. EXCELLENT!

Acme Novelty Library #8 Ware Fantagraphics 1996-7

Lovely comic, purchased cover price at a store in the South and given to me as a gift. This is a tougher chapter than the one mentioned above--Jimmy loses his tooth, there's an accident, lots of nature drawings. The stand-out sequences are all about color--the red double pager, the shades of blue when the cane is waved, the blue/red boxes that yell LATER and THEN...it's EXCELLENT, we got a few of those in a row.

The Body of Work Huizenga, 2011

The Fielder stuff and more, hand colored cover--ah, Kevin Huizenga deserves more than the short shrift he's going to get here. Smart, smart stuff. At some point, I'm going to only read Huizenga/Ware/Otomo/Kirby an entire year. I won't come out of that year any smarter, but I'll bet I'll be so happy that my buttons will burst. Body of Work: you're EXCELLENT.

Danger Country #1-2 Levon Jihanian, 2001

Sort of like Dungeon Quest or Mourning Star, but stiffer and with a set of bad guys so intense they're almost out-of-place. It's always sort of a rough start for me with these things, but I'm pretty convinced that's all me: I just can't tell if I'm supposed to take the gigantic cat-man Conan character seriously, you know? It's say this is GOOD, I'm definitely curious to see where it goes.

Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man #28 Frank Miller, Bill Mantlo Marvel, 1978

One of those super-hero comics where the layouts probably looked way more interesting than the finished drawings. There's a panel in here where Spider-Man blows some shit up in a squatting position--or something, I can't really comprehend the writing--and it's hard not to stare at it over and over again. GOOD, sure.

Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files #2 Various Rebellion, 2010

A torturous collection of some of the worst Dredd stories I've ever read, with the only bright spots being random bits of lunacy, like an airbrushed story about a rat who wears his dead rat father's top hat (it's an old Mean Machine story, don't worry about it). It's AWFUL stuff, although the Wolk doesn't share that opinion.

A Few Good Links

Since it was so deep in a grown-tiresome thread, you probably missed this, but I loved loved loved Steve D's post here.  

Tom Spurgeon is back with another fabulous round of Holiday interviews, and while I don't know how many people go here without going thee every day, I wanted to really point out the interview with The Beguiling's Peter Birkemoe. It's super rare to see in depth interviews with retailers, and I wish we had more such interviews and profiles. I used to (when it was still a monthly magazine) beg The Comics Journal to do a few interviews with pioneering retailers before it was too late and we lost that history to second hand stories. There are times when I feel like I'd pay for the plane tickets if we could get Gary Groth to interview Jim Hanely. Anyway, great interview, go read it.


(This piece on the TCJ website recently was very nice as well)


And then, yeah, this week's Must Read is now Spurgeon's interview with sometime Savage Critic Tucker Stone (You can write about comics you like, here, Tucker, with no editorial interference or fear of/for reprisals on my end!) -- which is just astonishing, and all-too accurate about far too many things. I think Tucker's off in a few places, about the audience and what it wants, that's probably borne from me having a two decade long view of retailing, and his considerably less than that, but that's a 40 minute type-a-thon for another day. (Mostly: the audience DOES WANT Better comics, but mostly they want comics, so when Better comics aren't available, they're going to buy what's there.... or give up on the form, like much of the last decade has been.)

Actually, the one place I'll take the most issue I'm not certain that Tucker is using "ethical" correctly -- a lot of the politicing and infighting he describes is, I don't think, either ethical or not; it's simply how groups of humans behave. At the end of the day, I can't say that there's a world of  difference between "being told the 'true story of why Mark Waid was fired'" and discussing being told that in an interview, y'know? I don't think EITHER of those actions have ethical weight. An ethical action would be the suggestion Tucker made about Pondscum (is that really true?)

I don't know, maybe I'm too numbed by comics after a quarter century of it, but I honestly don't think that the Platonic Ideal that Tucker seems to be presenting (eg: that the Image artists didn't, as a rule, create anything substantially NEW or groundbreaking, having won their freedom) is even a fair burden to put on a person -- some cats just want to get paid to draw, y'know, and doing comics is a helluva lot more fun than van wraps and advertising. They don't HAVE to want to do capital-C Comics,

Wanting better and expecting more is wonderful, but people have to take that first step for themselves.


Anyway, I have to run to pick up supplies for the CE eggnog & brandy thingy (not really a "party" per se) on Christmas Eve (starts at 5 if you don't have better plans on a Saturday night Christmas eve!), I swear I want to write reviews, but this time of the year is brutal for time....



Savage Symposium: FEAR ITSELF & FLASHPOINT (Part 3 of 3)

The fiery climax of our roundtable Q&A, in which questions about FLASHPOINT #2 are FINALLY ANSWERED, preconceptions are EXPLODED, homes are INVADED, true love is TESTED, and the hope of ALL will fall into the hands of ONE-- and in a stunning twist ending, it turns out we were all in monogamous relationships with prostitutes this ENTIRE time.  Who saw that coming?  Well, in my case, everybody.  Everybody saw it coming.  Awwwww.

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ABHAY:  So, I enjoyed FLASHPOINT #2.  At least, I thought the final sequence of FLASHPOINT #2 was funny-- Barry Allen electrocuting himself and severely burning himself?  It reminds me of playing with my He-Man toys as a kid, how their lives met a grisly and ignoble end thanks to a free canister of Nikelodeon slime JC Penny gave-away at Halloween-time.  Thinking about Geoff Johns as being like the Sid character from the TOY STORY films-- that seems to work for me.  Anyways, I liked the issue; it seems that other people didn't-- it's gotten some negative reviews from our mutual pal, the internet. To the extent it matters.  It's a DC crossover, so the actual content of those tend to be pretty irrelevant: at some point, all of the late-era DC crossovers became about the DC Universe's relationship with itself.

Given the recent news of an upcoming psuedo-reboot-something-whatever, that certainly seems to be the case with FLASHPOINT.  DC is constantly trying to "fix" its universe, but... Well:  does anyone remember why they're constantly trying to fix their universe anymore?  Can anyone tell me what's broken about it that needs constant fixing?  Does anyone still care about seeing that universe get fixed?  I feel very alienated from DC crossovers because I don't care at all, even a little, about the container that holds the DC characters, certainly not as much as DC expects that I do.

With FLASHPOINT, I think the speculation that Graeme had on one of Jeff & Graeme's GUH WHY? podcasts-- which I, of course, take as gospel-- is FLASHPOINT will end with Barry Allen mis-remembering the DC universe, with his mis-rememberings forming the new continuity.  If I remember correctly, I think that was Graeme's guess.  Which... Is that what they're going to do?  I don't know, but it sounds equally plausible with any other fucking thing we can think of, doesn't it?  "FLASHPOINT will end when fart-leprauchans rebuild the DC Universe from soiled panties found in a Japanese vending machine."  That would mean about as much to me as anything else, at this point.

I mean, I can't say I don't understand the impulse.  I guess I probably have my pet belief of how-I'd-run-DC, in a way that I absolutely do not have with Marvel, in the slightest. I think DC has always seemed so chaotic and pieced together, that it ends up inviting its readers to play Railroad Tycoon: Comics Edition with the company, in a way that maybe Marvel doesn't.  So I can see how it'd be tempting to get your fingerprints on everything if you're running the show. But... I think it's a case of people misjudging their greatest strength: because of the fact that DC is a more chaotic and pieced-together universe than the Marvel universe, almost every single great superhero novel has been done for DC.  After so many years, Marvel has, what, SQUADRON SUPREME and MARVELS.  That’s about all I can think of.  Whereas DC, you have the major Alan Moore superhero comics, all the best Grant Morrison comics from ANIMAL MAN on, ENIGMA, NEW FRONTIER, THE GOLDEN AGE, RONIN, Goodwin-Simonson MANHUNTER, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, BATMAN YEAR ONE, SANDMAN, SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE, BLACK ORCHID, ALL STAR SUPERMAN, the good bits of STARMAN or v4 LSH, and so on.  DC may have cancelled CHASE and MOSAIC, but Marvel never published either, you know?  I would have to attribute some of that difference in the numbers to DC being a far more patchwork universe, that the patchwork quality lead to it being a place that could contain wildly disparate takes, strange voices, rogue editors, whatever, in a way that Marvel has never been able to match, to the present day.  The whole urge to force the DC Universe to “make sense” ... I don't think I can reconcile it with how I'd evaluate DC's strengths...

So:  Is the organizational structure of the DC universe a conceit you still have any interest in?  If this is something that's completely apart from your set of interest, if you're more of a manga/art-comic reader, how do you regard this discussion?  Is it wholly weird & alien to you or is it consistent with what you'd expect mainstream comics to be like?  Also:  what's wrong with DC's characters that I'm missing?  Have you been angry for the last 30 years that Hawkman doesn't "make sense" or something?  Or what do you want to see fixed in this next reboot?  Is there some particular change to the DC universe you've got your fingers crossed and are hoping to see?  One of my all-time favorite Batman comics is an Evan Dorkin one-panel comic from the inside front cover of an old issue of DORK, where the one-panel shows Two-Face flipping a coin and saying to himself something like "Tails!  That decides it-- tonight, Harvey Dent fucks men."  I would like for that comic to be in continuity after the reboot in September.  Can we start a petition?  (Also: I think Lex Luthor should be the world's scariest criminal again, instead of a rogue CEO lame 1980's bullshit character. Also: they should do an Absolute edition of "Luthor Fights for Good" from ACTION COMICS.  Also: in the rebooted DC universe, girls should like me. Awwwww).

BRIAN: I think that the instinct that things must “make sense” is more that they don’t contradict themselves. Clearly, if you invest so much of your time/self in following a fictional universe, you want the various pieces to “add up”

I think some people might have some particular want list of changes -- “Man, I wish Babs Gordon was still Batgirl” or whatever -- but I really do think that most people are just looking for the consistency that “the sun does, in fact, rise in the east”.

The problem with a shared universe is that the what is “east” in one strand of it might be “north east” in another. In a for example, post-Crisis, Wonder Woman wasn’t actually a founding member of the JLA -- she didn’t come to “Man’s World” until several years after the JLA was formed, for whatever reason. But we have the comics where she was there fighting Starro the conqueror or getting turned into a tree, or whatever else alongside J’onn. How do you “fix” that?

Someone (Waid, I think?) thought, “Well we can just replace Diana with Dinah (the Black Canary), and it will all be close enough” - and for most things, it probably is. But Black Canary is actually the daughter of the 1940s BC, and if that’s still true, then what happened to the story where they crossed from Earth-1 to Earth-2, because if that didn’t happen, then....

And so on and so forth -- the “continuity implants” end up having a domino impact on dozens of OTHER characters and events.

The problem with a character like, say, Hawkman, is that it is really hard to reconcile the Reincarnated Egyptian Prince version with the Space Cop From Thanagar version -- mostly because Thanagar has, y’know, invaded earth in INVASION or whatever. Dominoes, tink tink tink thud.

Do those things ACTUALLY matter when you’re talking about a shirtless guy who flies through the air to beat the shit out of people with medieval weaponry? Well, no, probably not, but there’s a jarring discordance that hums in the background and makes it hard to have that all important willing suspension of disbelief.

It’s like.... hm, it’s like have you ever had a dream and you’re totally following along, then something happens in the dream that makes you say “Wait, that fire hydrant is green!” then you know it is a dream, and the whole thing unravels in your mind, and you wake up suddenly feeling just a little askew? Balancing continuity across scores of characters and scores of books and scores of years is just like that. We’re “willing to accept” that, say, Dick Grayson has only aged 12-15 years in the last 75, but that Bruce has only aged maybe 7 or 8, because that’s the kind of cognitive dissonance that doesn’t jar us out of the dream. But Hawkman? “It’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping” is just one step too much.

This is what gets me about the assurances that “It isn’t a reboot! It’s a relaunch!” for NuDC -- if it isn’t a reboot, AND if they’re changing some/many/all details about some/many/all characters, then you’re starting from a cognitively dissonance-filled place. It is almost certain that we’ll have to look at SOME of the bits as “pre- and post-Flashpoint” which means that you’ll have to explain Flashpoint to explain the character, which then means you’ll also have to explain COIE, and how this is the fourth try at having Hawkman “make sense”. If you’re NOT doing a “hard reboot”, then a certain amount of your forward momentum will have to be spent on explaining where you do or do not know the previous versions.  There’s a tiny handful of creators who can thread that needle adequately, but I can not see how on earth this could work across a line of 52 comics.

JEFF: As somebody who used to be really into continuity and no-prizes and what have you, I can safely say I now give less than two shits about that kind of thing, except where the always-difficult-to-gauge “so-and-so is/isn’t acting in character” (also known as the infamous “the real Batman wouldn’t do that” argument my wife finds so hilarious) comes in.

In fact, I think it’s pretty apparent that a consistent comic book universe can only go so far -- thirty years, maybe, at the most? -- before it collapses in on itself due to contradictions and paradoxes.  I’m now more enthralled by the way in which both the Marvel and DC universes have conceptually become analogous to post-first world countries, structures that have to cannibalize past resources in order to continue to function, areas where new buildings are built on top of the old.  Cultural palimpsests.  Have you ever played World of Goo, and had to pull critters out of your tower of critters in order to get it to the right height and had the whole thing collapse?  These days, the two universes remind me of that.

ABHAY: My whole life is a World of Goo.

JEFF: So I really don’t have much interest in the organizational structure of the DCU except in an insider baseball kind of way.  And in that way, as long as it doesn’t destroy the direct market, I find this potential restructuring kind of interesting:  I feel like someone sat down and seriously tried to figure out why people are watching movies and playing videogames featuring these characters but not reading the comics.

Maybe that someone was wondering what moved the needle so visibly and obviously when the trailer for Watchmen came out and suddenly you hundreds of thousands of copies being sold, but you’re lucky to get even a portion of that action after The Dark Knight, a much larger movie?  Of course, we know it has everything to do with Watchmen’s quality and the fact that the trailer called the book “the greatest graphic novel of all time” but maybe someone somewhere actually had to explain to some higher-ups why a negligible success can sell tens of thousands of graphic novels and one of the biggest movies of all time can barely sell any.

In a way, I like the idea of DC sitting down and trying to remove the obstacles keeping a fan of the movies and games from picking up a comic book.  I think they’re making a ton of mistakes, of course -- misunderstanding the role of quality, overestimating the need for synergy, ignoring the deeply entrenched disfunction in their editorial offices -- but I appreciate they’re actually thinking about what to do.  As long as they haven’t decided one of the obstacles to getting new people into comic books are the comic shops, I don’t really care too much what they do or un-do or re-do to make it work. I’ve lived through worse things happening to comic characters I like than what they’re promising now.

ABHAY: It’s kind of fun that DC’s version of the Age of Apocalypse is making way for a new DC headed by Bob Harras where star comic creators like Dan Jurgens, Scott Lobdell, Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza and Ron Marz can work on characters like Voodoo, the stripper-hero from WILDC.A.T.S. (Covert Action Teams).  I don’t want to read any of their comics-- but I do want to watch THE EXPENDABLES with them, so you know-- bittersweet, pretty bittersweet.  I guess people who miss the 90’s are happy-- if MC Hammer or Gerardo read DC comics, they’re both probably thrilled; if I’m Scott Lobdell, I’m waking up every morning praying that Gerardo isn’t dead-- that’s all I know.

JOG: Woah, whoa - OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, the Jonathan Lethem one!  I’d put that up there with the big “superhero novels,” definitely.  Maybe it needs more time to steep?  I got irrationally agitated at the bookstore today flipping through the paperback edition of CHRONIC CITY and noticing that it wasn’t listed among Lethem’s works in the obligatory By the Same Author bit up front.  It couldn’t be that he used a co-writer on the script - KAFKA AMERICANA is noted, in collaboration with Carter Scholz (whom we all know best, of course, as one of the premiere early writers for THE COMICS JOURNAL), so maybe it’s a publishing thing?

But anyway, here’s something I’ve been chewing over - I’m not generally interested in the organizational structure of the DCU, but I actually am in this instance, because I think it syncs well with what I’ve picked up as Johns’ continuing themes as a writer.  I was discussing this with Sean Witzke on Twitter the other day - the final page of FLASHPOINT #2 is like something straight out of RUINS, Warren Ellis’ ultra-sardonic 1995 ‘response’ to MARVELS, positing a realer-real world superhero continuity where radiation gives people cancer instead of superpowers.  And while it functions as mostly a dark joke, there’s something really serious about it too, because it’s not just a ‘ha ha superheroes are so dumb’ kind of thing - it’s a lament, a hyperbolic cautionary tale about adding too much focused ‘realism’ to superhero concepts, because the more you do that the more evident it becomes that actually living among superheroes would completely terrifying and awful.  And I think about this whenever I’m reading superhero comics like FEAR ITSELF, with its global calamities and assaults on population centers, only the latest of so many - I’d fucking riot too!

That effect, I think, is what concerns Johns as a very devoted superhero writer.  Because really, to say all of the ‘big’ recent DC crossovers are concerned with superhero mechanics -- and I’d agree with that -- is to say that Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison are, because they’re the headlining writers.  You don’t get a lot of talk about Morrison as supplicant to the state of the DCU, however, because his invocation of such is hardwired into the broader evolutionary theme that marks so much of his work across media and genre.  Johns is more of a strict company man, and a much more literal writer than Morrison -- was it our David Uzumeri that coined the term “Johnsian Literalism”? -- so it’s perhaps easier to process his own themes as merely the Hand of the Market at work, but think about it: of his big crossovers, INFINITE CRISIS and BLACKEST NIGHT, the threats as I understand them (having only read ‘of’ INFINITE CRISIS via essays and the like, I’m warning you all now) are corporeal avatars for problems facing superhero comics, respectively the desire to return the superhero world by force to a presumed ‘better’ state, and the return of dead characters as atrocious mockeries (an idea not so far away from some of the stuff Garth Ennis got into with THE BOYS).

Given this, with FLASHPOINT #2, I wonder if Johns’ plan is to pit superheroes against the world itself, a shitty state of being where Batman is crazy-violent-in-a-bad-way and ‘royalty’ characters mostly desire blood-soaked conquest and where getting doused in chemicals from an electric blast wins you third-degree burns from head to toe.  The villain of FLASHPOINT -- and hey, I’m speculating!! -- might well be Reality as a potentially wicked factor, and thrashing Reality would be a suitably Geoff!Johns! way of resetting the universal status quo.

I could be entirely wrong, obviously, but that’s the way the DCU fits into my reading of FLASHPOINT, to answer your question - as complimentary to the ongoing themes I’ve sensed as an admittedly none-too-thorough Geoff Johns reader.  I still think the little detours to Wonder Woman and Aquaman in issue #2 are more of a distraction than anything -- particularly in that Johns is going all DEATHMATE with the action, where characters long ago established as awesome fighters are checking out like punks left and right because it’s an alt universe -- and that’s about half the comic right there, so I can’t say it’s fantastically compelling on the whole, but I’m getting a bit more out of it than I’d expected.  Shame it came out on the same day as HELLBOY: THE FURY #1, though, ‘cause that’s how I like my End of Days superheroes to roll.

JEFF: I think that’s a really lovely analysis, Jog, and I’m inclined to agree.  My only problem is that Johns has repeatedly shown himself able to talk the meta-talk but very unwilling to walk his meta-walk:  Johns followed up that commentary in BLACKEST NIGHT with the endless “hey-who-else-can-we-bring-back-from-the-dead?” adventures in BRIGHTEST DAY.  And what looks more like the “return” of DC’s heroes to a better state by force than those 52 new titles awaiting us at the end of FLASHPOINT? I think it makes a lot of sense that Barry Allen will end up ushering a new “age of wonder” at this event’s end, mirroring the way his helped usher in the start of DC’s (and comics’) Silver Age, but I can’t help but suspect what we will see in that new age of wonder will be exactly the same as what we’re seeing now.  Johns may have the capacity to talk about things being different, but he either lacks the commitment or the imagination to actually make it so.  While that probably positions him as the living embodiment of DC in the direct marketplace, it’s still (a) a god-damned shame, and (b) renders FLASHPOINT’s subtext just as meaningless as its text.  It’s just another thing to keep you amused while you’re reading it.

JOG: Ah, but of course!  The heroes zapped away the embodiment of ‘doing it wrong,’ so now revivals can be demonstrably ‘done right!’  In the end it serves the status quo as implicitly correct, although I maintain there’s a special juice to FLASHPOINT in that the extent of what the reboot is even glancing at -- ineffective as it might well prove to be -- gives Johns’ crossover thematics a little extra punch from facilitating something bigger than Johns himself and more superficially drastic than prodding the timeline ahead for a year.

ABHAY: I think what I like so much about your reading is how much I'm inherently rooting for the grim-gritty terminus-of-our sins reality to in fact prevail over boring-ass Barry Allen.   I'm rooting for more shocks, more blood, more gore, more viscera, more splatter-horror.  I want to see Barry Allen get mutilated repeatedly like Kenny from South Park-- because I'm old and bored and it'd be funny to me.  Which I suspect is how a not insubstantial amount of the fanbase actually is receiving these comics, at least if the internet reactions I've seen to Aquaman getting his hand ripped off or whatever, if those things form an accurate sample.  The idea that the audience can be walked through this gauntlet of bloodshed and gore in order to come out the other end in a "better state"-- like all of DC’s recently announced plans, I just think that sounds very, very optimistic.  But only because it’s a mystery to me why FLASHPOINT would possibly serve to lessen or correct the audience's blood-lust rather than to merely temporarily sate it.  A mystery that I hope Grouchy-Batman solves by throwing Barry Allen off that one ledge, or by flying Wonder Woman’s invisible jet all up into his ass or something.

I forgot about OMEGA THE UNKNOWN.  And ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, which isn’t really my book but should probably be on my list.  ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN isn’t going on the list, though!  Exercise of arbitrary power!

JEFF: Considering ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN isn’t in print as of this writing, I don’t think you have to worry about forgetting about it, Abhay.  I mean, since Marvel’s forgotten about it, why shouldn’t you?

For that reason, I’m reluctant to get into the DC and Marvel canon comparison, though, because DC’s continued commitment to (a) their backlist; and (b) a line of creator owned/participation comics has given them a tremendous leg-up to crazy crackhead Marvel in this debate.  Marvel really did a lot of great idiosyncratic stuff in the ‘70s (such as Gerber and Skrenes’ OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, without which there’d be no Lethem book) and even after Shooter came in and cleaned house, you’ve got weird stuff on the fringes like STRIKEFORCE MORITURI  by Peter B. Gillis, or titles from EPIC like MOONSHADOW, MARSHAL LAW, THE ONE by Rick Veitch, two SAM & MAX books, STARSTRUCK, STRAY TOASTERS, etc., etc.  But you wouldn’t know it from talking to the crazy crackhead because they’re too busy trying to sell you this amazing lamp they found on someone’s lawn so they can get their fix.

TUCKER: I sort of dug on the way Thomas Wayne, upon hearing that his son was alive in another version of reality, immediately throws in with this crewcut dickhead whose fingers he just broke. There’s something positively Batmanian about a guy who says “yeah, so how do I annihilate my entire existence, universe, everything et. all so that my son can live to become a psychotically driven vigilante”, especially when the first part of the answer to his question is “make a homemade electric chair and fry Barry Allen like he’s an Alabama fat boy.” Maybe it’s because I grew up reading DC, maybe it’s because the main thing I’ve learned from the last five years of comics is that I fucking loath Barry Allen, maybe it’s because Tim O’Neil is absolutely right, and Death Row Records means more to me than my father’s intermittent affection, but Issue Two of this Comic Book Series was more interesting than Issue One.

CHRIS: I have far too dim a view of Geoff Johns’s abilities of writing and self-reflection to believe that there’s anything deep and meta in FLASHPOINT, so I’ll sidestep that issue. I think the reason fans have such an impulse to Fantasy Edit the DC Universe rather than the Marvel Universe is because DC’s done it so much themselves. I started reading comics around the time of the first Crisis, so my entire reading life has seen DC pull out repeated attempts to edit and retcon their universe into a new shape. In comparison, Marvel’s been pretty steady with having One Universe, occasional One More Days aside. It’s all Fantasy Editing, but making huge reboots/retcons to the DC Universe at least seems like something within the realm of possibility.

I do think you’re shortchanging Marvel in terms of having Great Superhero Stories. The vast majority of the examples for DC fall into the category of them having employed Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Alan Moore at the Right Time. And if you expand the definition out to longer runs (like you did mentioning Starman and the mythological pixie of Good Legion of Super Heroes stories) then Marvel has Simonson’s Thor, Milligan and Allred’s X-Statix, Miller’s Daredevil, BORN AGAIN, Morrison’s New X-Men, the aforementioned OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, Bendis and Maleev’s Daredevil, Simonson’s Fantastic Four, Waid and Weiringo’s Fantastic Four, UNSTABLE MOLECULES, DAMAGE CONTROL, Priest’s Black Panther, Fraction/Brubaker’s IRON FIST, Ennis’s Punisher MAX... I am probably being a fanboy here, but I think Hickman’s FF, and Brubaker’s Captain America will end up on this list too. I realize that few if any of these can stand up to comparisons to the monolithic import of WATCHMEN!!! or SANDMAN!!! and you could throw out [insert big DC run here] to counter half of these examples, and you’d be right to say that the vast majority of my examples come from the last decade or so, meaning Marvel Failed from 1961-2001 to achieve these sort of books, and that they’re all too new to really call Great, and whatever. But come on, Black Orchid? Starman, which I adored at the time but is a sprawling 90+ issue mess that crosses over with fucking UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED and GENESIS? If we’re letting Phil Rizzuto into the Hall of Fame, we might as well throw in Ron Santo and Steve Garvey too.

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ABHAY: There's a saying that flits through the ether every so often-- Mark Waid circulated it recently, but other people have said it and I don't think it's an uncommon expression:  "The audience doesn’t know what it wants. If it knew what it wanted, it wouldn’t be an audience."

Sometimes I see mainstream fans, in comment sections and such, they say things like "I don't want to read crossovers anymore-- I just want to read good stories about the characters I like."  And when I see that kind of talk, I just wonder... do people really still think things can be any other way? I'm a 'sky is falling' type person so I think the ship has sailed.  How do you turn back once you've gotten into this incessant cycle of diminishing-returns crossovers?  Oh, things broke down for a brief moment when Marvel hit the skids, and they had to bring Quesada & Co. on.  For a couple years.  But as soon as they saw a hint of daylight, whippity-woo and yee-hah and damn the consequences-- we were right back in it.  Now, DC is trying to built this fresh start, but how much do sales have to go down on those 52 new titles before someone with an itchy trigger finger puts out that next Crisis?  How can any Crisis be final once you've trained your audience to be on the look-out for the next crisis to upend everything?  SIEGE issue #4 was released in May 2010.  FEAR ITSELF was announced in December 2010-- they waited seven months.  During which time, Marvel released the Shadowland, World War Hulks, Chaos War, and X-Men: Second Coming "mini-crossovers" while their bigger books I think may have been busy teasing the NEXT crossover (they kept teasing some Martian shit...?).  If people don't want to be reading crossovers, then based on all of that, is it safe to say they probably shouldn't be reading mainstream comics?

I see people scoff -- scoff!-- that fans only want to read comics that "matter."  Of course they do-- that's what they've been taught. What do people think that crossovers wouldn't teach fans lessons in how to best spend their money?  The comic audience has been well-trained by comic creators and comic publishers, and yet I feel like the fans are the ones who get blamed when their actions merely reflect that training. "Oh, those horrible old fans who hate change and how they hold us back from creating new things."  How did those fans end up that way? Who chased away everyone else? They just point to the fact that no one bought critically-acclaimed book X or no one bought internet-favorite Y, as if the audience had unlimited funds.  They keep saying fans vote with their dollars, but ignore that the election’s been rigged.

My favorite thing recently: did anybody notice interviews in the promotional campaign for FEAR ITSELF involved Marvel repeatedly telling its fans that there was no such thing as crossover fatigue?!  I feel like every interview that I saw, someone would be sure to say at some point that the only crossovers that people are tired of are The Bad Ones.  Which-- what's that old expression-- who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

So. Final questions.  Are you happy with the current status quo in mainstream comics? Do you think this is all perfectly normal and natural given a more competitive media landscape (i.e. hyping up certain books is simply what is needed to be done given the amount of things competing for readers' attention)? Or are you unhappy but either (a) don't care anymore or (b) never cared really to begin with?  If neither (a) nor (b)-- do you think things can actually be any other way, anymore? Do you think things can reverse course somehow and fix themselves, with the current people in charge?  Or if there have to be crossovers, if there simply must, is there something you'd like to see them do differently with them than what we've seen so far?  Or is Mark Waid right, and you don't even know what you want, and you're waiting for Mark Waid to whisper what you actually want into your ear, late at night, when you were just about to fall asleep?  Wait-- how did Mark Waid get into your house?  Does he have a key to your house?  If he (a) doesn't have a key and (b) the door was locked, did Mark Waid come in through a window?  If (a) he is in your bedroom and (b) he has his shirt off, is Mark Waid going through your drawers?  Why is he breathing like that?  Is he getting ready for a bullfight?  If you think Mark Waid is getting ready for a bullfight, is he playing the part of (a) the matador or (b) the bull?  On a scale of 1 to 10, how many times will Mark Waid “gore” you?  Discuss.

BRIAN: For me, only, I think what the audience “wants” is what we used to have in (say) the 70s or 80s -- smaller lines of books, where “everything counts”, “nothing contradicts other books”, where is issue is (generally) self-contained, giving you at least the feeling of a complete story, but ALSO adds up to “something more” when you read bits of it together, comics that are dense, but not ponderous, and publishing regimes that don’t seem dedicated to thinking “oh, you like that? Well therefore you’ll like three times that THREE TIMES MORE!” Plus, the audience wants to be thrilled and surprised, but not taken drastically out of its comfort zone.

On paper this is very very simple.

I am very much convinced that if the big two superhero universes published roughly half or less of what they do today everything would be much healthier and more focused, and that everything devolves from the insane overproduction we’ve had for many many years now.

I don’t think that the current stewards of the two companies are actually capable of “fixing” things, because I think they’re too beholden to the system that they themselves have created. (dur)

JEFF: “Do people really still think things can be any other way?”

I think the answer is more than likely “no,” of course.  Linewide events are these tumors that keep springing up no matter how much everyone talks about cutting them off. They seem like an inevitable consequence of having a shared universe, in a way.  Take a shared universe, irradiate it with sustained exposure to editorial mandates and intense bursts of profit  and...is it any surprise the fuckers just grow out of control and threaten to take over the entire system?  I don’t know what my metaphor for chemo in this case would be, but....no.  There will be no ridding ourselves of them.

As for the thing about audiences, you know what it makes me think of?  Nirvana.  I don’t really know where to go with the song lyrics, but, many years later, the titles stick with me.  You know, “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” and like that -- I love how Cobain took a bit of shitty radio marketer speak and isolated it.  It’s more than just a meta-joke to me, it’s a phrase put in a new and strange light, a military term, like something you’d read in a Burroughs book.

The last few weeks or so, I keep coming back to another song title, though -- ”Pay To Play” -- another term from the music biz (if I’m remembering correctly) for clubs and other venues that make the bands pay an upfront fee to play that venue. I’m not crazy about the song (or “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” actually) but I still appreciate how resonant it is.  Sometimes, it seems like so much of our culture can be reduced down to that three-word phrase.

The other day, I was talking at the shop with Brian about how typical or atypical a comic book reader I am, and I was of the position that I’m pretty atypical -- I have a strong bond for the characters but don’t care so much for what’s going on with them these days, and I don’t spend a lot of money on them.  But Brian insisted I am in fact a pretty typical reader for the industry these days -- a guy who’s almost entirely lapsed as a mainstream comic reader but someone who still pays attention to what’s going on and is either looking for a new way back in to the industry, or a final way out.  So it’ll be interesting to see how much of what I write now will resonate with other people reading this.

With mainstream comics these days, I feel more and more like I pay to play.  If I want to be able to talk about what others are talking about, I have to read the damn books.  And instead of just torrenting them off the net, I either (a) pay to read ‘em; or (b) read ‘em off the shelf at the store and make it a point to buy something else.  One of the obvious appeals of a linewide event is the feeling that everything is happening in the same universe, but maybe one of the less obvious appeals is the idea that everyone following different titles in the same universe finally have a common ground.  You know, one dude reads Thor, another reads Cap, but theoretically they can both talk about FEAR ITSELF because the same events are unfolding in the shared universe.

It’s the superhero comic equivalent of talking about the weather, I guess.  In fact, that’s exactly how the “red skies” worked in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS—it could be a very minor tie-in (“Hey, look at the sky!”) or it could be something more major—but the idea of giving the fans something to talk about, to “get excited about” was obviously a big deal behind these types of things.

More than anything else, I feel like the pink healthy tissue linewide events metastasize from aren’t the big superhero universes, it’s the desire to talk.  You know, “this is the issue that everyone will be talking about!” “This is the event fans will be discussing for decades!” are used for a reason.  It’s specifically stated there’s a conversation going on about these books and by purchasing them, it’s implied we have a right to engage in that conversation.

Lemme take this a step further -- we talk about the language of comics or comics as a language, but what if superhero comics are a kind of language?  Not like math or something, but...you know how any sufficiently advanced field of knowledge becomes so dense with jargon and specific terminology?  What if superhero comics are now not unlike that?  We have people who are fluent in the language of superheroes -- not the meta-language of superheroes and not the language used to craft comics, but the actual superhero themselves.  By reading superhero comics for a certain period of time, you can become fluent in this language, and then, by reading the characters, you are engaging in a dialogue of sorts with -- I’m not quite sure how to put this, in part because I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m saying -- the superheroes?  The universes?

Sure, it sounds crazy but I think this idea of participants in a dialogue has more relevance to serial entertainment than the concept of “the audience” as mentioned by Waid in that interview.  (And if I was being a smarty-pants, I would point out that the term “audience” derives from words for “hearing and listening,” specifically, but never mind that.)  An audience for a play or an art piece or a book is very different from the audience for a TV show or a comic book because at some point the art piece or the play ends.  A TV show or a comic book continues until not enough people are watching anymore -- otherwise, it runs forever. So it makes sense the longer these things run, the more the audience is trained by them, right?  I mean, that’s just simple -- if not evolution, than at least education, right?  It’s exactly as you say, Abhay:  “That’s what they’ve been taught.”

And I think this is a huge fucking problem facing mainstream comics today -- we’ve whittled down our audience to the point where only a (comparatively) small number of people are having that conversation with superhero comics, but they’ve been having that conversation for a very long time.  For people like me, it’s been a forty year long dialogue (I’m rounding up a little).  There’s an investment in continuing that conversation on the part of the long-time purchaser.

I’m actually okay with that conversation starting over or, you know, having DC or Marvel start another conversation with a new group of people while we continue to have ours over there. But it’s never going to happen that way, is it?  There’s not enough money for the companies or for the retailers to stock those books long enough for them to build up a new audience. And the existing group of purchasers will either have no interest in talking to that new line of books (it would be like talking to children, wouldn’t it?  There might be a certain charm in the way things are perceived or misunderstood but it seems almost impossible that they could tell you anything you didn’t know.) or they want to talk to it at their own level of complexity (“is there a Barbara Gordon?  Is she Batgirl?”).  In a very short order, it becomes Ultimate Universe syndrome all over again -- Dazzler is disco, but Ultimate Dazzler is punk! Ultimate Colossus is gay! Is Ultimate Daredevil really blind?

Even if the mainstream comics companies try to start a sustained conversation with a new audience, our audience tends to barge in and dominate the conversation because our audience is *starved* for conversation.  It wants to listen to what the companies have to say, and then it wants to say what it thinks about what that company just said.

And, really, the companies are a million times more comfortable talking to our audience because the companies can talk superhero comics at our level.  Even if they’re bored by that conversation by now -- really, the only side of our conversation they still care about is the things we tell them with little green slips of paper with dead presidents on them -- it’s easier than teaching the language to a new audience and having to put up with pretty simplistic conversations.  People are willing to teach that conversation to, say, a movie audience because there are hundreds of millions of dollars to gain if you succeed and hundreds of millions of dollars to lose if you fail.  That conversation gets mapped out a little more carefully, to be sure.

So, yeah.  I wasn’t going to buy these comic books but then because I wanted to participate in this conversation, I signed up to talk about them and -- in that weird way I’m doing a terrible job of writing about -- to them?  I thought in doing so, I was being motivated by very different reasons than the majority of the audience but now I’m not so sure.

TUCKER: I generally agree with Waid about business-y type stuff, but this is one where I have to part company: super-hero comics don’t have any comparison, because other forms of this kind of entertainment don’t attempt to keep the same audience in the room for this long a period of time. Television shows get cancelled, new things sprout up, the general appeal of certain genres and styles changes generationally--it’s only super-hero comics that posit “keep ‘em in the room, cradle to grave”, and they’ve only been doing that for a few decades now. I don’t disagree that Marvel is telling people they aren’t sick of cross-overs in the hope that those who are sick of them will be further separated from the pack of people who aren’t, that’s a smart (and wholly cynical, also short-sighted) business method that pops up everytime there’s an election, survey, or new product to sell. It’s how independent cartoonists and independent publishers and independent musicians and anything else gets a certain percentage of their support, by strengthening the boundaries between the audience, because audiences like to feel like they’re special and part of groups, especially when dealing with art, where aesthetic decisions have to be made so constantly that the potentiality for feeling stupid and being wrong is at a fevered pitch, even more so when feelings of persecution and shame are tied into the exchange, which of course, they always will be when you’re dealing with something that appeals to infinitesimal audience numbers, no matter how hard people adopt the character traits of Warren Ellis and present them as their own personalities.

That doesn’t really answer Abhay’s question, but generally speaking, I don’t know that Abhay’s question is something I can answer, because I believer there’s a fundamental implication to the question that I don’t agree with, which is that there’s-someone-at-the-helm-making-a-choice, and I don’t think that’s the case. Super-hero comic companies and creators are RE-active forces, they’re not PRO-active. They don’t come up with ideas a year out, or two, and anyone who says different has been proven over and over again to be lying. They flood the market with shitty tie-ins because the week before they didn’t flood it with shitty tie-ins and the numbers went down, so maybe this will make the numbers go up. They kill the Human Torch and see a spike in their quarterly financials, so the decision gets made that they’ll kill characters before each quarterly financial. I can’t use my third grade understanding of economics and supply and demand and business on companies that change their mind every two weeks, and doing so would drive me up the wall and make me even crankier than I already am.

CHRIS: I lived through the period where Bob Harras was the Editor in Chief of a company putting out almost uniformly bad comics once. I will live through that period again. I still like superheroes, and superhero universes, and have come to accept that they’re going to give characters I’m fond of to creators I can’t stand, have Grant Morrison scripts drawn by lousy artists, have Keith Giffen and Marcos Martin draw lousy scripts, see promising books driven into the ground by crossovers and event blitzes, hear the lamentations of their women, etc. I’m also used to television shows I love being cancelled, bands I love die in obscurity. What I Want -- and I like to think I know What I Want -- just isn’t what the publishers Think I Want, and it’s often not what all of the other fans Think They Want, or even what the other fans Actually Want.

On a day-to-day, grousing with friends about the latest press release level, I think about this, and it annoys me. But I can compartmentalize all that shit long enough to enjoy the superhero comics from the Big Two I enjoy. I don’t really know what else to say, I don’t work in any aspect of the publishing or retail side of Comics so I don’t have a horse in the race like lots of other pundits do.

JOG: It’s funny you should phrase the question like this, in such inevitable terms, although, y’know - you’re probably right. And yet, I think right now we’re on the brink of one of those few points where serious change is a real possibility for one of the prominent superhero publishers.  Like, I don’t think there’s any greater symbolism out there in the genre right now than the cover artwork of all these DC comics getting obscured by a big GREEN LANTERN banner ad and their innards being disrupted by a promotional comic for SUPER 8.  And, you know, not that I’m complaining about Tommy Lee Edwards popping up out of nowhere, but - well...

I saw SUPER 8 this weekend.  At risk of sounding precious, it was an efficient, irregularly effective piece of crowd-pleasing craftsmanship that left me feeling as if Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning were walking me through the subconscious ruins of culture like the angels at the end of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ and nothing good would ever happen again. Because this is J.J. Abrams’ third film as a director, and his first ‘original’ creation in the director’s seat, filling up what’s looking more and more like the obligatory seasonal solo spot for a non-franchise concept in big budget popular genre film-making, and - it actually is essentially a franchise piece.  First there was a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie, then a STAR TREK movie, and now a STEVEN SPIELBERG movie, taking the very notion of paying homage to an influential predecessor and executing it in much the same manner as ‘rebooting’ a past-effective bit of property, specifically the ‘70s/early ‘80s Spielberg through roughly THE GOONIES (which he produced), plus some giant monster suspense mechanics derived from JURASSIC PARK, because who can ignore that, right?

What’s interesting, and I think depressing, is that Abrams’ approach -- abetted by Spielberg himself as producer, mind you -- assiduously avoids any of the especially rough patches of Spielberg-the-brand, knowing instead when to swap in some complimentary Michael Bay-isms with that absurd exploding train and its seventeen consecutive volleys of whooshing debris and erupting fireballs that each and every member of the young cast manages to dodge in nimble order.  Spielberg-as-director-at-the-time had his action, yes, but just the other day my younger brother was telling me about seeing E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL for the first time in a long while and being kind of startled by that weird, aggressive, scary-funny scene where the government people are charging into the house in contamination outfits and covering everything in white - this really vivid, kind of satiric ‘70s-bred don’t-trust-the-government stuff that Spielberg, a father of the summer blockbuster but autodidactic in that way, would typically drop in, and still does - I mean, I do think I recall the guy quoting IRREVERSIBLE(!!) in the early panicked car ride in WAR OF THE WORLDS, and while everyone on the internet seems to hate the invincible fridge in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, it’s still surrounded by this pretty funny and striking sequence with the facade ‘50s town sitting uselessly and melting down under nuclear force.

AH, but wait, wait - RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was a crucial predecessor of this geeky patchwork cinema style, right?  Totally right, but the subtext of RAIDERS was always that Indy was in command of the subtleties of the items he pursues, the dusty matinee serial discoveries that are the basis of his being - that’s how the villains always die in that franchise, they kill themselves fucking around with the magic doodad because they’re not understanding, and Indy is.  This, arguably, is a consistent theme in the Spielberg movies Abrams is invoking: understanding something greater than yourself, be it through physical contact with the aliens in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND or the relationship between the boy and the creature in E.T.

(Uh, SPOILERS for the next paragraph!)

In SUPER 8, there’s none of that.  Quite the opposite!  It’s established that the alien is trapped on Earth from the machinations of the (of course!) sinister and rather under-characterized government goons -- politically unspecified to function most efficiently as blunt trope -- but it’s made equally ‘clear’ (if only through the screenplay’s fuzziness on the point) that the alien’s psychic connection with various humans is tenuous and futile.  Fuck getting to know people - the alien has no qualms against eating random citizens despite its notional mental connection with them as thinking, living beings, much as the movie, in macro, has no qualms about killing assorted standby characters to make the creature seem just a bit more deadly.  It’s a very intentional disconnect - the most emotion Abrams can muster in this area is when the boy speaks to the alien underground, and even there it’s left ambiguous whether the alien even understood his words become a plot point literally clatters to life off-screen.  And in the end the creature just takes off, taking Joel Courtney’s attachment to his dead parent with him, and leaving everybody to their own devices.  There’s no cosmic understanding, no great revelation, no touching of the fingers a la Michelangelo - it’s just a lot of dazed staring at a lens flare receding endlessly to the heavens without you or your memory.

The implications are clear to me - there is no use in understanding what’s greater than you, just navigating in its shadow. You can only ever react to what’s bound to happen. Maybe a pretty girl will hold your hand in the end. Is J.J. Abrams the boy?  Is Stephen Spielberg the alien?  Can I be the girl?  Is Mark Waid the bull, or can he only ever be a matador, dodging out the way of expectations?

And, you know - maybe superhero comics are already like that.  There’s evidence!  Revisiting old concepts, quoting old stories, spinning it all around and around; if we’re bled ‘till we’re dry by movies, we can’t very well fucking say we didn’t invite it, eh?  But GREEN LANTERN - that’s some toxic fucking buzz, man.  I think this might be the designated hate object of the season, it looks weird enough -- like an unholy $300 million variant on Guillermo del Toro’s HELLBOY movies -- and it’s usually the odd-looking ones that get smacked around; the genre-as-movies is maybe too formulaic now for semi-odd-ish stuff not to stick out as undesirable while still being close enough to the mold to attract all the seething resentment superhero movies are building, because I think by and large they’re a pretty conservative thing.

I mean, I’m not saying the DC reboot is necessarily going to turn the place into a license farm for multimedia exploitation, even more so than it already is, to the point where stories are poised mainly to reassemble past elements in as schematic a narrative manner as possible (er, more so than it already does) - speaking pragmatically, I’m not sure how they could foolproof that down through the editorial structure.

BUT - I do think the notion of simplifying the superhero genre in a flattened shared-universe space carries with it as much risk for dulling as it does for innovation.  For example: how many creator-owned series are going to exist in the new DC?  That’s been a quiet area of the conversation; I guess the bigger sellers will continue, but it really does look like that anything that can’t efficiently be pounded into the “superhero” brand is no longer even as ‘welcome’ as it might have arguably been before.  I hope I’m misinformed!

Even speaking of the particulars of the superhero genre, the odd stuff, the sometimes-appealing content that crops up, almost on its own volition - the stuff some of us seem to enjoy about FLASHPOINT: that’s not what the movie on the banner obscuring the art is all about.  What superheroes do for movies is provide a ready-made means of applying recognizable and/or ready-to-franchise content applicable to established action movie formulae, basically.  A little more comedy can seep in, a little more romance, but that’s true for most ‘summer’ action pictures.  This isn’t what makes superhero comics interesting to me, albeit to the small extent I still read them.  Maybe I’m guilty of valuing the stuff of specialization - more people are going to see a movie right?  Yet that’s the hazard, because when someone decides that nobody likes superheroes anymore, it’s gonna hurt in the publishing arm, and hurt there is gonna flow into comic book stores, which is still a terrific thing, a great potential for harnessing the breadth of a wonderful art.

Of course, the revolutionaries in the crowd will say that’s the moment of real change, the only one superheroes can even hypothetically provoke anymore.

So, uh...

To answer your question, Abhay - I don’t think things will have to be quite the way they are in the near-future.  And I hope we don’t come to wish they still were.


Savage Symposium: FEAR ITSELF & FLASHPOINT (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2, in which Questions are asked about FLASHPOINT #1 & FEAR ITSELF #3, lessons are learned, truths are revealed, a bloody revenge is discharged and a bloody discharge has its revenge.

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ASKED ON MAY 15, 2011


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ABHAY: After two issues of FEAR ITSELF, I think I enjoyed  FLASHPOINT #1 more than I would have otherwise.  Here's my guess why:  it had recognizable protagonists.  Who is the protagonist for FEAR ITSELF?  Does anyone have any guesses? Thor and Captain America are in it but I don’t really know what they want and haven’t seen them do much of anything yet based on what they want-- they’ve been purely reactive. For me, like SECRET INVASION, like SIEGE, I don't know that FEAR ITSELF has a protagonist that I can identify.  And so to some extent, I don't know if I would even call it a "story”--  my extremely elementary understanding of story is that stories have protagonists, i.e. characters who WANT things and who do things because of the things that they want.  What do any of the heroic characters in FEAR ITSELF want?  To defeat the recession...?  FEAR ITSELF feels, for me, more like a Powerpoint presentation so far than a "story."  Slide 1-- there are hammers falling to the Earth.  Slide 2-- here are the toyetic new versions of such-and-such characters.

FLASHPOINT, I can tell you who the protagonists are.  It's the Flash-- who wants to restore reality back to "normal", with Batman being set up as either a villain of the piece, as an anti-hero or as a tragic hero in the "I'm not the hero of this story" line.  Heck, there's even a brief scene setting up Cyborg as a secondary protagonist-- we know what he wants, as well.  I not only know what they want, but we’ve seen them take actions based on what they want.

"I'm not the hero of this story" is a very DC line.  I always find it completely bizarre, DC's ongoing conversation with itself in its books.  But by the 4th page of the comic, the comic is engaging the reader in a discussion of its own contents-- the FLASHPOINT authors are underlining who the hero of the piece is, as soon as possible.  Yes, the premise of FLASHPOINT is one that we've seen many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many times before.  But it was at least something I could recognize as being a story, and that I understood as being something I could invest in as such.

Were you able to read FLASHPOINT, without being impacted by your reading FEAR ITSELF, or was a compare-contrast unavoidable for you?  Do you see these things as a “competition” or do you take everything on its own terms?  Do you think about "story structure" or whatever when you read crossovers?  Is my rudimentary, caveman definition of story-- "things happening to a protagonist we care about, who is a person that wants something and does things for that reason"-- is that overly narrow for you?  Would you argue that the Marvel crossovers have had their villains as the protagonists-- Green Goblin in SIEGE, say, or the Skrull Queen in SECRET INVASION, maybe Sin for FEAR ITSELF-- and that they are recognizable as stories to you for that reason, one story after another about failed attempts to conquer the Earth?  Am I misapplying the word "protagonist" by limiting it to heroic characters?  Do you think my argument is flawed because it might apply to crossovers which you did like, e.g. INVASION (where I remember being extremely invested in the Snapper Carr character, who kind of went nowhere, nowhere being a Peter David comic named BLASTERS)?  And do you think fans even care if they're reading a story?  For crossovers, is fan investment in the "DC Universe" and "Marvel Universe" as entities enough where it's wildly irrelevant whether these crossovers function according to, you know, the rules according to Aristotle's Poetics, or whatever?  Or do you look at crossovers the same way you look at, like-- like an Altman movie?  If so, which Altman movie, and when do you expect to see Julianne Moore's cooter in FEAR ITSELF?  Can we start a pool? Also: what happened at the end of DR. T AND THE WOMEN?  What was that all about?


JEFF:  You know, Altman is a pretty good filmmaker to invoke here because later-period Altman is a lot like big comics events:  rather than a sense of a story being told, there’s a lot of big recognizable names being paraded before your eyes and a shitload of apologizing going on by defenders for what is some relatively decent atmosphere, a few nice acting turns, and a fucking shambles of a story.  I’ve had my heart broken in movie theaters before--hell, lots of times--but I the especially awful hurting in my heart caused by SHORT CUTS stands out to me.

SHORT CUTS so fucking fundamentally misunderstood Raymond Carver--didn’t understand the importance of the Northern Californian setting, didn’t understand the importance of his characters’ place in the bottom part of the class structure, didn’t understand why the fuck you can’t have every fucking actor just jangle out any fucking thing that comes to mind because Carver’s characters are so very nearly beaten and exhausted and cautious they can barely talk--that I can’t move beyond my frustration and disgust to convey how badly the movie dulled and blunted any of Carver’s story hooks.

You’re not going to mistake Carver for Stan Lee any time soon, but taking the waitress whose husband overhears two guys saying disparaging things about her ass and begins compulsively pressuring her to lose weight, and then making that waitress be the person driving the car that hits the kid whose parents are being bullied by the guy who needs them to pick up the kid’s birthday cake?  By taking those individual story moments, each kind of painful and human and understandable, and chewing them up into a beige flavorless paste?  (After Gordon Lish put in so much hard work on them, ha-ha?)  SHORT CUTS is such a wretched literary adaptation of a work it makes LAWNMOWER MAN look like GONE WITH THE WIND.

All of which is to say--hooray for competence!  There are times when its charms can trump those of genius, and FLASHPOINT #1 is certainly one of those times.  Interestingly, while I don’t think Johns necessarily makes clear all the connections yet--we assume by the end of the issue we know who’s narrating the story but it could be a fake-out, we only see the villain for a panel, if that--there is such a clear sense of where the story is going, what the hook is, that I’m not pissy about having to infer those connections.

In fact, it feels like Johns is having me make those inferences so he can then fuck with them later....which, I guess, is the difference between what is commonly understood as the difference between a story and a good story:  our expectations are set up, then toyed with, then turned upside down, and then are fulfilled in ways beyond our expectation.  [Man, I hate how Robert McKeeified and Syd Fieldish our understandings of stories have become, but they also work when it’s time to lay down some fast, quick generalizations about what things work and why.]

In short, Johns seems to have some chops for this sort of thing in a way Fraction which doesn’t.  And that  isn’t entirely surprising--the guy has written several of DC’s big crossover events and he also wrote and co-wrote a huge number of issues of JSA.  He’s comfortable writing books with lots of characters such that everyone in the rooftop gathering of heroes gets a chance to say a line or two and define who they are and what their conflict is with someone else. Sure, it’s a big ol’ exposition dump and it’s done in that very comic booky way of having Character A reprimand Character B by reminding Character B of a conflict neither of them would have forgotten or bothered to mention in real life...but in doing so, Johns also gets to slip in bits of information about the larger situation they’re in, the nature of their world that’s gone wrong.

Seeing as superhero comics are predicated on the idea of selling you the next issue (or, if you’ve switched to trades, getting you to read the next chapter), I guess the very basic test of this type of story at this stage is, “Sure, I’d like to read more about that.” And there were multiple times during FLASHPOINT #1 where I found myself saying exactly that.  You know, that one panel where the Outsider is talking about hunting a kid whose energy “could keep my homeland lit for years” or making Captain Marvel into a kind of Forever People equivalent using real kids instead of New Gods. And, I should point out, I did kinda like Barry’s plight and his very immediate reaction to it, even though I give less than two shits about alternate world time stories, generally, and stories about Wonder Woman and Aquaman tearing apart the world with their coming fight, even less so.  [I kinda wish Alan Moore’s TWILIGHT pitch had never been written, in a way: it’s like this weird barrel of toxic waste buried under the comic landscape that polluted it ever since. I feel like I see its influence all over the place, but never more than in big DC crossover events like this and ARMAGEDDON 2001.]

Having hit my “sure, I’d like to read more about that” funny bone gives FLASHPOINT a huge edge over FEAR ITSELF where the ideas seem kinda paltry and/or ill-defined, clumsily tied together, and poorly paced. The fanboy part of me wants to infer larger, more inflammatory statements from that--Competence trumps genius! Craft trounces innovation! Alternate realities edge out ambiguous analogues! Johns is better than Fraction!--but the part that’s been around the block a few times more remembers that, again, Johns did a ton of team books and has done a lot more of these things: I haven’t re-read it recently nor will I probably ever bother, but INFINITE CRISIS was a big ol’ sludgy mess that Johns wasn’t able to make work, either.  I kinda think if Fraction really wants to do this kind of thing, he’ll figure out a way to make it work.  (And you know, he might be able to pull it out in the next couple of issues, though I really doubt it.)

Which I guess more or less gives you the answer to the question about whether I read one event and compared it to the other:  I should confess that I’ve only read both events so as to participate in this symposium and therefore I think it would be utterly disingenuous of me to pretend I wasn’t comparing one book to another.  But putting that aside, isn’t that the way we read comic books?  For those of us who still buy the single issues, isn’t there a reason why we so rarely walk out of the store with just one?  Sitting down with a big stack of comic books is something I still do as an adult, and even though I tell myself there are grown-up reasons to do that--it seems more efficient to read a bunch of books in one 45 minute go, than to read each of them in five to ten minutes bites spread thoughout the day--I think we overlook the hidden value in the act.

Italo Calvino once wrote an essay about the hypothetical bookshelf, in which the placement of disparate books side by side create their own improbable connections, “produce electrical shocks, short circuits.” To a much narrower extent, this same frisson is something we are looking for when we sit down with a stack of comics--they battle it out for which one is the best, and we often pre-sort the pile as to whether we’re going to read our likely favorites first or last or spread out among the others we’re undecided about or buy for our weird political inclinations  (favorite character, or title we have always bought, or artist/writer we always support even when we’re not really interested in what they’ve done over the last one-to-twenty years)--and not only can we not help but subconsciously compare and/or merge the books we’re reading all at once, it may be a very important component as to why we read them at all.

The excitement of the stack explains a couple of things about modern comic readers--why we as fans complain about how expensive comic books are (because we don’t buy and read just one, and the people who talk about how few titles they do buy always say so with a very palpable sense of regret), and how we cannot help but ask some endlessly internecine questions:  Who’s stronger, Hulk or Thor? Marvel or DC?  Johns or Fraction?  FLASHPOINT or FEAR ITSELF?

I think we can’t help but compare these things to each other all the time.  The Stack demands it of us, and it is something to which we very happily submit.  The way in which the event-wide crossover both mirrors (who will be stronger, Hulk with a hammer, or Thor with a hammer?) and alleviates (I can’t afford to buy Cap and Iron Man and Spidey and Hulk, but if I buy INFINITY GAUNTLET, I get one book with all of them!) the (Infinite) Crisis of the (Finite) Stack is one I could go on about for a while, but obviously I’ve written more than enough, here.

JOG: Huh, I dunno Abhay, FEAR ITSELF so far seems like the makings of a traditional enough three-act structure to me.  The protagonist would be Captain America, who verbalizes the story’s conflict (as introduced by the opening riot) while up on the roof of Avengers Tower: “It was chaos. People just screaming-- at each other’s throats-- and I couldn’t stop it.”  As a result, Iron Man pitches his ‘rebuild Asgard’ initiative, which frays the relationship of Odin and Thor, the latter of whom is likely the secondary protagonist (naturally Cap ‘n Thor are the two characters who happen to have movies coming out while the series runs, although maybe this presumption of synergy is coloring my reading).  All the stuff going with the various antagonists prompts an already-pissed Odin to withdraw the Gods from humankind -- establishing Thor’s related personal conflict as a desire to aid the humans, thus thematically conjoining him to Cap -- while the big (potential!) end-of-Act I stinger sees everything going REALLY crazy for Earth: nations mobilizing; blood supplies souring - all the news crawl stuff, which aggravates Cap’s initial stated conflict, i.e. preventing everything out on the street from going straight to fucking hell.  Indeed, he’s literally seated in the middle of the chaos, in that the news crawl that covers the end of the chapter diegetically originates from inside Cap’s command center.

Again, I really want to emphasize that this is only a possibility, because I’m writing these things after reading each individual issue, and I don’t really expect to understand everything happening in the broader plot as of issue #2 of 7, but that’s how the it looks to be operating for me.  Whether it’s a successful operation is something else - in addition to Jeff’s criticisms above in particular, I think the series might be laboring a bit under genre expectations, which is to say: of course a ton of villains attacking the world will give rise to international conflict, that’s not unique enough in this story to register all that much as a unique or compelling conflict for Captain America, especially when the supporting political content in issue #1 isn’t all that strong and the various character cutaways in issue #2 don’t have a ton of impact. Because of that, it seems like parts are ‘missing’ from the story, or Cap is difficult to even identify as a substantive protagonist, let alone care for - I personally didn’t have any trouble discerning the story elements, but I can’t say I’ve found the story itself to be compelling.

Now FLASHPOINT - well, to quote Thierry Groensteen, this here’s a damn superhero-y superhero comic. I was pretty taken with Nina Stone’s reaction, where she expresses this utter bafflement at what’s going on, starting with the somewhat ALL STAR SUPERMAN-styled condensed origin opening page, which doesn’t reward the same confidence of brevity, in that the Flash is lacking the necessary cultural cachet.  Although - you wouldn’t know it from paying a lot of attention to superhero comics.  That’s it, right?  Like, there’s an argument to be made that it’s maybe little more than critical shadowboxing to presume that a down-to-the-bone piece of genre mechanics like a superhero event crossover even should try to appeal to anybody outside of the devout.  Or, to (sort of) answer Abhay’s question (for starters), I do think that really intent superhero universe followers care if a traditionally composed “story” is present, definitely -- right now I’m flashing back to the WORLD WAR III mini-event in 52, which I don’t recall anyone liking very much despite being diabolically intent on resolving potential shared universe inconsistencies -- but I think what’s also important is emphasizing the unique qualities of the genre as incarnated via comic books: the ‘window’ factor, the momentary glimpses into a fictional world that’s bigger and older than you, with none of the heavy-distancing artifice of aging actors or discernible mortality.  I think the appeal of that quality can substitute for elegantly primped narrative composition.

The thing is, FLASHPOINT hits a lot harder on this than FEAR ITSELF, to the point where I’m forced in writing about the thing to face down these questions of my engagement with genre particulars, because I think the makeup of the comic forces it.  I did like parts of it - Johns has a knack for leaping deep into this visceral appeal of a big superhero universe, so that the opening origin/motivation page immediately gives way to this big heroic costumed image, and then the next page goes fuck that - ALL THE SPEEDSTERS, and then it expands AGAIN to a double page splash of SOOOO MANY SUPERHEROES, all while this insistent narration chokingly builds up the inspirational quality of just what you’re looking at, soul-searing virtue in effect, AND THEN - BOOM, right to a banal police station with men in shirts and ties discussing Miss Alchemy and the Pied Piper and murder and shootings, this self-evidently absurd smashing of semi-realism and superhero fantasy, proudly so, embracing the nonsense of it.

Yet this unabashed affection also extends well past the point where the enthusiasm is transferable to relative outsider me.  I’m gonna be blunt now - I’m at an absolute loss as to how anyone could find anything -- ANYTHING -- in FEAR ITSELF to be more rhythmically clumsy, narratively illogical, or otherwise dubious-on-a-craft-level than that ridiculous eight-page rooftop sequence where one-third of the fucking alternate DCU allusively discusses their interrelationships **among themselves** like some horrible Earth-2 Jim Shooter deal where the purpose of everyone pausing for introductions is not to clarify anything.  All because Cyborg, plot-wise, has apparently begun his globally critical cross examination of Thomas Wayne without knowing the answers to his questions, thereby prompting a scene-ending ‘lol no’ and Our Hero bowing his head with his fists clenched in the steaming debris of approximately one quarter of an issue at his feet.  And, you know, maybe it’s a lack of imagination on my part for failing to engage in speculation over the potentials of the modified universal scenario, but in terms of on-page execution I’m firmly with Amy Poodle in that the dialogue reads as less credible articulation than script directions indicating how the dialogue should go.  Or, y’know, notes from on high re: how the periphery books could operate.

And still!  That’s a superhero thing!  Totally!  I invoked Jim Shooter, because ostensibly story-stalling periphery character background dumps have enough of a tradition of usage in superhero comics that it can register as “comic booky,” to quote Jeff, rather than uniquely troublesome.  But to me, this inadvertent-or-otherwise traditionalism comes off as both boring and self-defeating; if this is superhero comics qua superhero comics, it primarily reminds me of how distanced I feel from the genre in terms of engagement, if this much of an introductory showpiece is going to leave me conscious to my own breathing while it presupposes my interest in the delineation of variations to the mega-continuity and how maybe -- possibly -- characters might deal with each other in some other purchasable forum.  Some of them by potentially superior creative teams, yes, but that’s frankly not part of the presumption - that I’ll just care, right there, as part of the crossover event experience, the very reading of a very superhero thing.

So, I guess to (further!) answer your question(s): no, I couldn’t not compare the two series, because I felt they embodied different aspects of contemporary superhero concepts, FEAR ITSELF touched by multimedia possibilities and ominous, ‘big,’ ‘00s-born tone, while FLASHPOINT is superheroes-as-superheroes, “a riot of colourful nothing forever, then Armageddon,” to quote the Poodle.  Which might suggest something about why Marvel series of this sort nominally concern themselves with Real Issues while DC events are essentially about, again, Superheroes Themselves.  Or, to tie it in with my FEAR ITSELF comments, the highs for me were a little higher with FLASHPOINT, due to Johns’ immersion in superhero stuff, but the lows didn’t just raise concerns of whether the story isn’t laboring under genre expectations, as they did with Fraction - I really questioned, fundamentally, my interest in what’s going on with comics like this.

I don’t think this needs to be a dichotomy, by the way, in case I’m sounding nihilistic!

BRIAN: I’ll tell you why I think people are seeming to like Flashpoint #1 better than Fear Itself #1, and I think that it is as simple as Geoff Johns not having to do the heavy lifting in selling it to you.

There were two things I admired about Flashpoint #1. The first was that it was a Geoff Johns event comic, but that it didn’t have any gore. The closest I can find is that flashback panel showing the Amazon’s subjugating the UK, where the sword in the foreground has some blood on it -- but there’s no decapitations or limbs getting hacked off or anything. Oh, sure, it will probably change before issue #5, but for now, it was nearly violence free, and I was surprised by that, and enjoyed it.

But the other thing was maybe the most important one -- I felt like I was reading a Grant Morrison comic, with rapid ideas being thrown out just for texture. Like Jeff, I had at least one “Hm, I probably wouldn’t mind reading more about that” moment (S.H.A.Z.A.M. for me, too!) -- but I don’t actually WANT to read just any comic on the subject... it would have to be a handpicked one, y’know?

I thought most of the Alts on display felt fairly fleshed out, and I thought that was a pretty neat trick summarizing a bunch of characters down into a single word balloon, in most cases. But that’s the cool part of it: the ideas are cooler because they’re single snapshots, and don’t have to have an entire comic book written about them.  It’s like... mm, how about that issue of Animal Man where all of the forgotten and never-were superheros came into Buddy’s existence -- one of them never-were’s was a 1960’s counter-cultural Justice League (The “Love Syndicate of America”) with “Magic Lantern” and “Speed Freak” and “Sunshine Superman”. Funny, great idea -- but I don’t actually want to see more than that.

So, Johns gets to just have all of the good lines, without having to show you all of the backstory that gets you there, or to tell a compelling story with those characters on their own. That’s for other creative teams to do.  Meanwhile, Fraction is the one selling the the spine of story on the Marvel side. Fear Itself’s crossovers appear to be magnifying incident, so it lives and dies on Fraction’s ability to sell the story.

To answer Abhay’s question... yeah, I’m pretty weird as a reader, I think. I’m good at compartmentalizing when I’m in the process of reading the actual story, but I’m otherwise incessantly contrasting and comparing things most normal fans probably aren’t considering, like marketing plans and number of tie ins and so far.

(I only ordered one of the 16 Flashpoint spin-offs in a number high enough to qualify for the pins, and decided not to involve myself in this marketing exercise. Logo pins for alternative reality mini-series is not the same as a rainbow of power rings tying into regular monthly concepts)

My absolute guess is that Fear Itself will sell more tie-ins because of the cover branding and the expansion of incident nature of their crossovers, while Flashpoint is going to be very narrow focused -- the only one of the spin-offs I actually see selling is the Batman one, now more than ever, but I see very few readers buying into most of the rest because one presumes that what they’re expanding will be the backstory, not the main story. That is to say, it’s hard to envision a way to split off sixteen threads for the sixteen three-issue mini-series from Flashpoint #2, that won’t have any meaningful weight to them to dovetail back just before the story conclusion in Flashpoint #5 without them being dealt with in #3 & 4. More likely they are to use scenes in #2-4 to either dole out the backstory, or to tell non-Flashpoint related concurrent stories -- not the magnifying-the-incident nature of a Fear Itself tie in.

Oh, there, that’s it -- Fear Itself is likely to have tie-ins, while Flashpoint will have spin-offs. Those are different things, and they change the nature of the main story by their very existence. Johns is able to do something reasonably breezy, while Fraction necessitates something more dense.

TUCKER: I’m kind of taken with reading everybody else on this subject, so I’ll try to respond to the key points, or what I perceive them to be. I also preferred Flashpoint to Fear Itself, in opposition with my wife, which would have caused any number of problems on the homefront if she wasn’t blessed with the ability to absolutely forget every comic book she disliked almost immediately after disliking them. I still didn’t really like Flashpoint--it’s an info dump comic that seems to propose a fantasy world where very little is different, except for a couple of broad “millions are dead” strokes regarding boring ass Aquaman and even more boring ass Wonder Woman, and for the record, let me make it clear that you’re dealing with a Batman > all other DC characters kind of Comics Critic here, and I have no problem sending a telegram that says “WONDER WOMAN IS BORING FULL STOP”, and in no case is that more true than here, a comic where she actually murders a decent percentage of the world and yet still manages to find the most boring looking helmet in the cabinet of the world’s most famous options for helmets, and that’s worth some kind of prize, even if it’s just me nodding at her and saying “You win again, you boring clown”. Thankfully, this comic features a Batman more driven than my Batman, because my Batman settles for just beating up and incarcerating criminals, whereas FlashpointBatman has worked himself into such a lather that he actually herds them like cattle to a specific location for the “beats them up” part, whereas regular Batman just fights wherevs, which is a lot easier to do. I don’t even understand how FlashBats pulls that off. Like--why do the pursesnatchers and spree-rapers that populate DC Comics end up on the roof so often? How does that factor in to the equation? Or is this like that Nighthawk guy in Supreme Power who only attacked white criminals, and Flashbats only goes after people who can go off the roof near Crime Alley?

Regarding whether or not reading Fear Itself impacted me--I don’t know that it did. I don’t really think they have enough in common for me to compare them while reading them, you know? I could probably extrapolate something--obviously, you cats did--but in the heat of the moment, one’s a fantasy type of Elseworlds thing where Deathstroke is a pirate, and one’s a shitty Thor comic with a Captain America villain. I remember thinking that Flashpoint seemed like something more super-hero fans would like than Fear Itself, but isn’t pretty much true all the time when you’re doing a Fraction/Johns comparison? I know guys like Graeme and Jeff think that Iron Man isn’t a piece of shit, but they’ll come around eventually, to it being a total piece of shit.

Remember that music video from Pret-a-Porter? “Here comes the hotstepper”? I’d argue that video has more in common with super-hero comics than Altman movies.

CHRIS: It looks like I am in the minority of enjoying Fear Itself more than Flashpoint, though that's damning Fear Itself with faint praise. While Abhay's right about Flashpoint having more clearly defined protagonists, I don't think it's that hard to see the Avengers Holy Trinity of White Guys as the primary protagonists of Fear Itself either.

The thing that made me recoil from Flashpoint is that's it's basically a Kitchen Sink Elseworlds. There's nothing wrong with Elseworlds -- there have been some enjoyable ones, even if I'm blanking on them right this second -- but the best ones drill down to a handful of characters and explore them in a different light. Doing a story where Barry Allen never got powers and how that affects The Flash and Central City or Keystone City or whatever is a fine idea for a story. Exploring how different Gotham City would look if you had Thomas Wayne as the Punisher instead of Bruce as Batman is a fine idea for a story too. And both of these stories are pretty simple to explain as a writer and grasp as a reader. But the Butterfly Effect of Zoom's Million Little Retcons leads me as a reader to pick everything apart. It's simple enough to look at the Planetary-style interference that affects many of the characters -- a few bullets shifted in Crime Alley, Hal Jordan never gets a ring, the Kents never find a baby in a rocket ship -- but what subtle changes to Wonder Woman and Aquaman's youth turns them into genocidal monsters? Is Wonder Woman forever *this close* to just slaughtering millions of dudes, if she doesn't have the Right Friends keeping an eye on her in the Justice League? Why is Captain Marvel turned into Captain Planet, and why is this a dark turn? And why is Cyborg such a Big Player in the dystopia? Is he being held down by a glass ceiling in the "real" DCU, where he's a meaningless afterthought? And why is America, home of most of the DC heroes, pretty much the same place in Flashpoint, while Europe, Africa and South America are completely decimated by Amazons, Nazis and Gorillas without the proper influence of Barry Allen and friends? Oh, and Alaska has been taken over by zombies if you look at that map they've distributed. That's a shitload of World Building for what's theoretically a five issue series, and assuming Johns is going to touch on one-tenth of this over the course of five issues, it makes me wonder how much time is going to be wasted on explaining "cool Elseworlds ideas" in place of doing anything with his lead characters, like Zoom, the villain of the piece who doesn't actually appear in this first issue.

And I know that moaning about "character development" and "goofy World Building" in a big dumb superhero crossover is overanalysis. I know that I should be able to sit back and just appreciate the idea of Shade the Changing Man running a superhero team, Nazis running a continent, Alaska being overrun with zombies, etc. and not spend time worrying about DC's publishing strategy and blah blah blah blah. I'm probably being some sort of continuity-obsessed partisan fanboy saying "it's okay when Morrison does this in an event, because he's seeding the DC Universe with cool ideas, not just putzing around with ideas that at best will be explored in a three issue series written by a former Assistant Editor and purchased solely by that kid I saw on the bus last week with all of the Flashpoint incentive badges and Blackest Night rings attached to his backpack". But I couldn't disengage with any of that to appreciate the pure joy of people looking ruff and tuff and awesome in an Andy Kubert spread.

* * *




* * *
ABHAY:  And so now the part where someone dies because... because someone dies in crossovers.  That's what happens-- that's what everyone knows fans want to see from these, to justify the money they've spent on crossovers, to justify them as being important. After all, who could forget when the Will Payton STARMAN died in ECLIPSO: THE DARKNESS UNLEASHED, or when the Wasp died in SECRET INVASION, or when Black Goliath died in CIVIL WAR?  Who could forget where they were, what the air tasted like, what the price of gas was when Black Goliath was no longer a part of our lives?

One of the things I like to do when reading crossovers is to read the simultaneous publicity that goes on.  Because the creators always seem to be reading just completely different comics than I am.  And hey, to some extent that fact is understandable because ... things that look very simple and obvious, I suppose it sometimes takes a considerable amount of thought and labor to make things seem "simple."  It's all quite understandable.

So, I read the Newsarama FACING FEAR ITSELF group interview, and I really enjoyed that everyone involved seems convinced that they surprised the readers by killing Bucky.  And... I was curious about that because I had taken it as a given:  FEAR ITSELF, issue #3? Oh, sure sure-- that's the one where Bucky dies. I had thought that was the conventional "wisdom," in fact.  I mean, with OSBORN over, I don't really read any Marvel comics-- I'll pick up a Bendis thing occasionally just to check what he's up to, but that's it.  I don't think I'm too plugged in, though I do listen to Jeff & Graeme's WAIT STOP podcast.  And I'd be surprised-- no, deeply shocked-- if Graeme didn't call this a long, long time ago.  But, I mean-- is it a hard call?  There's a Captain America movie coming out.  They're not going to have two Captain Americas when the movie comes out, so they're going to kill Bucky.  The end. I don't think it took a lot of detective work from the fans.

So:  did anyone not know ahead of time that Bucky was going to die?  Was it a surprise for anyone?  Does anyone care that character is dead?  My favorite thing when a superhero dies used to be that in the letter pages afterwards, someone would always invariably send in a poem, which they'd run, memorializing the dead superhero. I always thought that was ... is it funny or sad or both or neither or...?  In fact, to help spur things along, here's my poem for Bucky-- feel free to contribute your own:

Ode to Dead Bucky: A Poem

Oh, Bucky, with your metal arm, How sad it is you bought the farm. Even though you carried that sweet glock, You met your end in this boring schlock. Remember Rodney Dangerfield reciting "Rage Rage Against the Dying of the Light?" Like you now, that was out of sight. How do you like your blue-eyed boy Mister Death.

JOG: I didn’t know Bucky was going to die because I don’t read his comic and his first spoken lines of the FEAR ITSELF miniseries were in this issue.  As a result I wasn’t surprised either, but I’ll just chalk that up to something that’s meant to register in different ways to readers with different levels of engagement; to me, it’s just something I’d expect to happen in a big battle - and it did!  What’s worrying, however, is that I don’t think the stakes are all that well established in any of the ongoing fight scenarios beyond the broadest “world going crazy” contours, so everything kind of landed with the same weight, no matter what happened, anywhere.  The Choose Your Own Adventure advertising denouement directing you to appropriate tie-ins for the rest of such-and-such a plotline didn’t inspire a lot of confidence on that front either.

ABHAY: Maybe it speaks to how oblivious I am, but I didn’t notice until I read CBR’s review of the issue that they’d spent two pages in issue #2 setting up the “Absorbing Man needs to get his hammer” story that was resolved in one panel of issue #3 that shows the Absorbing Man with a hammer which he got in some spin-off.  Which is also fun because #2 set up that he had to go from South Africa to Dubai, which from what I can tell is about 4,000 miles away-- Dubai to Johannesburg is about an 8 hour flight according to my internet.  I don't know if either of those characters can fly using superpowers, though (do the hammers let these characters fly like Thor? I don’t think they do, right?)(Wait, wait-- why don’t the hammers let those characters fly like Thor?? Wouldn’t that have been cooler?). But-- it sort of plays into Jeff’s theory that these characters were really very, very badly stuck in traffic, if it took Bucky 8 hours to respond to Washington DC being blown up by Nazi robots. So yeah-- spin-offs.   Then again, I thought the end of Final Crisis was impenetrable having not read the spin-offs there either, and that didn’t seem to stop people from loving that.  So, I don’t know.

JOG: I laughed at the part in FLASHPOINT #1 where Barry Allen was stuck in traffic.  Also, I think this fits nicely into Brian’s point above - how FLASHPOINT is differently conceived so that its “spin-offs” needn’t hew to any particular span of time, a la the “tie-ins” of FEAR ITSELF.  And, granted, a resourceful enough writer could probably carve out some space to play with in FEAR ITSELF without the tie-in feeling like a total protrusion from the main plot.  I’m sure some of the books actually will behave like that, although I haven’t seen any that really caught my eye - although query whether the FLASHPOINT spin-offs don’t have an easier time of catching eyes since you can pretty much glance at, say, DEATHSTROKE AND THE CURSE OF THE RAVAGER and think “oh, Jimmy Palmiotti’s writing a pirate comic,” while the FEAR ITSELF tie-ins don’t really have that luxury of detachment (nor, of course, does every FLASHPOINT tie-in, but I’m talking potentials).  I bought the Azzarello/Risso BATMAN - KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE too, and it’s the same thing - a basically straightforward crime comic, by crime comics people, albeit sprinkled with arch-capitalist ultra-aggression pertinent to the Batman concept.

This is the irony of FLASHPOINT - it’s off-puttingly reliant on a reader’s compulsion to fill in the gaps, but the gaps are so big it allows secondary creative teams more leeway to play to their individual strengths.  Personally, I’d rather not have to bounce over so many on the main highway -- unless Jason Todd’s planning to replace my hubcaps gratis -- since I think you can preserve the magnitude of spin-off space without making as big an issue of it in the main series as Johns does.  But I’ll take what I can get with the comic I’ve got in a situation like this.

BRIAN: Oh, was Bucky meant to be dead?  Huh. Yeah, I guess I see that now.

Shame, though -- he’s a generally more interesting character than dull ‘ol Steve Rogers.

If comics like this were honest, Bucky would just be the first of many many dead heroes in a battle against “gods” -- at least he has a supposedly unbreakable shield. What good would Falcon do against the Red Skull’s god-avatar? He can’t do anything other than talk to birds (or is it just the one specific bird? Now there’s a power!)

My favorite part, I think, of that sequence is that Bucky yells “Avengers Assemble!” and charges in, and Falcon and Widow are shown running behind him, then, all of a sudden, they disappear for the next few pages. It’s like: “Yeah, go Bucky, go! We’ll.... uh... we’ll wait back over here”

(My second favorite part is how Valkyrie shows up out of the blue in the last few panels [Seriously, she’s not in the rest of the issue!]... but not to escort ol’ Buck to Valhalla or something, but to put her hand to her face and seem shocked. Um, you’re a VALKYRIE, this should be old hat to you, sister!)

JEFF:  Not only did I not know Bucky was going to die before reading FEAR ITSELF #3, I didn’t know after reading it, either. I think it was only after reading your question, Abhay, that I looked at it again and went, “Ohhhhhh!  Oh, okay.”  I mean, there’s a certain sense of mayyyybe he might be dying? I guess?  But the idea that I just watched him punch his ticket?  I didn’t get that because I was too busy trying to figure out why he was saying a bunch of shit about “the serpent” and how the hell he picked that up by getting punched through the chest.

Remember the days when a comic would have a full page of somebody screaming and there’d be this, like, dramatic montage of the visions appearing in their head?  And usually the writer would throw in a bunch of overwritten captions telling you what the fuck was going on?  FEAR ITSELF #3 really made me miss hackneyed old storytelling tricks like that. People seem very fond of the new fresh storytelling tricks available to us (giving interviews on Newsarama seems to be a big one!) but I dunno...call me a traditionalist.

Anyway, maybe as a result I’m still disinclined to believe he’s either dead now or will still be dead by, I dunno, the end of the event?  I quite like Bucky -- which is this amazing accomplishment considering how old school I was in my pre-Brubaker belief he should stay dead -- and would like him to hang around. At the very least, I would like him to get a death scene deserving of him.

Clear Storytelling

So much depends upon

clear story- telling

glazed with captions

instead of damn tie-ins.

JOG: Huh?  C’mon guys, this is a proper cinematographic action comic of 2011.  We can tell “he’s supposed to be dead now” because the last page is an overhead shot slowly pulling back toward the heavens, accompanied by a fade to white.  I mean, they didn’t throw in anybody falling to their knees and shouting NOOOOOOOO -- a subtler dying-character-reaches-up-toward-the-camera-waving-his-arm-as-his-soul’s-POV-retreats-only-for-the-arm-to-dramatically-fall-upon-the-moment-of-death maneuver is duly substituted -- but this is about as basic a mortality shot as it gets.  Maybe so much that nobody uses it anymore... I attribute any confusion to the lack of a death blip at the end of “gotta save” in panel #3.  Like, the little blip sign that concludes a dying character’s final statement?  Could have helped.  (I’m also partial to the Stan Sakai skull balloon, but that might require an alternate universe to facilitate.)

JEFF:  I can’t even begin to tell you how down I would’ve been with a Stan Sakai skull balloon for that last panel (and if it had turned red as it dissipated, so much the better)?  But although I understand the technique, I just figured it wasn’t being used correctly.  Issue #2 also ended with a pull back shot toward the heavens, remember?  And it wasn’t like anyone was dying there--instead the emphasis was supposed to be (I guess) on the serpentine wave wrapping around the planet Earth.

So second issue in a row with a pull back shot and a wave of variable color, but they mean utterly different things and the first one was vague enough that I just wasn’t able to “go” where the storytellers wanted me to go the second time around. Also, the death just felt cheap, as these things go.  Not “Private Mellish gets shanked while Cpl. Upham weeps on the stairs and there’s nothing heroic there” cheap, but “that made no fucking sense at all” cheap. What exactly are Sin’s powers, other than whatever Fraction needs them to be?  Why does Bucky say, “There’s no tomorrow if we don’t hold the line,” other than that’s what needs to be said to have the fight happen?  If I’m trying to answer certain questions like “who the fuck is getting knocked through the air by the robot arm, because it makes no sense if it’s Bucky?” I think the suspension of disbelief breaks down at the most fundamental level and you get those “wait, is he dead?” moments.

Sorry, man.  I’m not going to take the fall for this one.  I’m certainly not altogether innocent, I’m sure, but an accumulation of unearned and unexplained moments led up to it.

JOG: Oh, I don’t disagree with any of this - it’s what I’m getting at in the very wide umbrella term of “stakes” that haven’t been established.  Or even in the final page’s pullback itself -- weirdly, now that you’ve brought it up, I notice that every issue attempts to begin and end with some type of continuous movement, back, up, down, something, except for the end of issue #1, which is really odd; the end of issue #2 seems to reverse and bookend the start of issue #1, and I think that maybe subconsciously(!) touched my thinking on issue #2 bringing a distinct end to an Act I  -- there’s some confusion in that from the cinema techniques chafing against the comics attributes.  Like, in panel #3, Bucky’s arm drops, which should be commemorating the mighty moment of finality, since that’s where his arm is ‘leading’ in panels #1 and #2, except a comic panel (obviously) can’t depict continuous movement, it’s a frozen image, so you go from panel #2 to panel #3 ‘filling’ the falling arm movement. Except, there’s also dialogue in panel #3 to additionally mark the moment of death, and the two aspects of the page don’t sync correctly because you’re inevitably reading the words in panel #3 as if Bucky is still moving, even though the drawing in the panel depicts his arm as already fallen (if, admittedly, at enough of a distance it’s possible to maybe not even notice the movement).

Add to that the unfortunate choice to have the final word balloon’s lettering ‘fade to white’ by leaving a bunch of blank space, directly below a balloon where there’s plenty of white space left already to indicate weakened speech -- there maybe should have been some dissolving effect on the bottoms of those last words, although that admittedly might jar with the blank balloon space motif established elsewhere in the comic, even if its not too much of a pain in the ass to implement, digitally -- and yeah, even reading the last page for its intended purpose can cross some wires.  I just thought the broad contours of the technique were so blatant it tipped me off anyway.

Seriously though, someone ought to bust out a skull balloon.  Like Jae Lee.

ABHAY:  Someone bust out Jae Lee.  I haven’t seen his comics in forever.  But yeah:  color me surprised by these answers-- I thought people might not have known ahead of time, but not after the fact.  I saw people in the comment section for Graeme’s FEAR ITSELF review also express confusion, too, though. But... Stuart Immonen draws Bucky with a hole in his chest.  Most people don’t survive that...? Well: maybe Super-Dave.

(I went so long without knowing Super-Dave was Albert Brooks’s brother-- imagine my surprise... never put that together until recently...).

JEFF:  Well, yeah but...people also don’t get huge holes punched in their chest and then keep talking either, right?  I mean, my knowledge of what people  do with large holes in their chests is based entirely on pop culture and there’s a wide range of possible responses, I guess but...

As much as I think the art in Fear Itself is mighty pretty, there are a few points in this issue where I think Immonen’s choices might’ve muddied the waters.  Like the scene on page four where Sin suddenly surprises Bucky from behind (I think?), or how Falcon and Black Widow rush alongside Bucky on the Avengers Assemble scene and suddenly they’re...nowhere?  It certainly confused me as to the Serpent stuff you pointed out -- I mean, Black Widow and Falcon are right there when Sin talks about being an avatar of the Serpent, right?  Doesn’t Sin say, “The Serpent is coming. Tell them.  Tell them all.  It won’t help.” to...Black Widow and Falcon?  Or was that scene supposed to be just between Sin & Bucky and Immonen borked it?  I guess the scene plays differently if it’s supposed to be Bucky straining with his last breath to tell Natasha and Sam something they already know, but all I got from it was: (a) Bucky is hurt really bad; and (b) Immonen doesn’t know who else is in the Secret Avengers apart from Valkyrie and Shang-Chi.

Another fun fact about Albert Brooks and Super-Dave?  Their last name is Einstein.  I can see why Albert changed his name, but if Bob had performed as Super-Dave Einstein? I would’ve liked that routine a lot more, I think.

TUCKER: The art on this is crazy fucking weird--look for the Shang-Chi panels, tell me what the hell he’s doing? He’s jump-kicking-what? Each issue has had something like that, and while I don’t think you can put it all on Immonen, I think you have to put some, you know? The guy stares at these pages longer than anybody else does, so he has to know that there’s zero dramatic oomph on that first two-page splash where Steve Rogers is going “whoa” to absolutely no one in the first issue while a bunch of cops stand around, and while I get that Fear Itself is ultimately a Matt Fraction comic, Immonen knows this shit too.

Nobody was surprised Bucky died. I think people might have been surprised that the Marvel creators were on twitter and shit talking like this was a big shocker, but other than that....give me a fucking break. The whole “editorial summit” method of comics, where Bendis and Fraction tweet back and forth to one another while sitting in the same room where they’re having Five Guys burgers and talking about there favorite place to buy black t-shirts will forever exist in my mind as the sideways version of a role playing game and not the Aaron Sorkin toungekisses David Mamet writing room that it gets advertised as, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think it has some potential for working, theoretically. Right now it just seems to be way more interesting at its initial inception, imagining what sort of argument Brubaker might have made to save Bucky’s life, and what sort of response Bendis might have had, and whether or not Fraction is one of those guys who only talks at the very end, in short, quiet sentences that knocks everyone back for a minute into a period of quiet reflection and rumination that only concludes when Axel Alonso says “gentleman, I think we have some shitty event tie-ins to dole out to whatever wanna-bes are currently sitting in those metal folding chairs outside of the Meat Wheelbarrow’s cheese cavern. Get to it.”

CHRIS: I assumed Bucky was going to die during Fear Itself, though I think it’s more of a Steve Rogers/Bruce Wayne/Guy Whose Return Plan is Established Before He Dies death than a Bill Foster We’re Just Going to Kill This Guy for a Story. I know there’s a movie and everything, and it’s easy to just envision every decision made by comic execs as Dumb and So Goddamned Regressive, but Brubaker appears to still have a big Captain America story he wants to tell, and Marvel seems receptive to letting him tell that story, and even on a mercenary level it seems silly to kill off Bucky again after being so successful at making people accept him as a someone who Came Back from the Dead. But what do I know?

I do think Bucky’s line about “who wants to grow old and retire?” line was a bit of a dick move on his part, since he and Black Widow are super-steroided World War II vets that have lived unnaturally long healthy lives, whereas Falcon is just a dude in his early 30s.


End of Part Two; Part Three concludes on Friday.

Savage Symposium: FEAR ITSELF & FLASHPOINT (Part 1 of 3)

As part of the 10th anniversary of The Savage Critics on the internet, and in conjunction with the 4-part discussion of Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT, a more mainstream-oriented "round-table" discussion of Marvel Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FEAR ITSELF and DC Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FLASHPOINT was conducted between April 11, 2011 and June 19, 2011, covering slightly less than the first halves of both series. As each issue of FEAR ITSELF #'s 1-3 & FLASHPOINT #'s 1-2 was released, a single question was posed.

Both FEAR ITSELF and FLASHPOINT represent the major status quo defining series for their respective companies in 2011.  FEAR ITSELF was created by Marvel "Architect" Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen, FLASHPOINT by DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert.  Questions were written by Abhay, who has insisted that he be hereafter referred to as "King Shit of Fuck Mountain."

This first part of the round-table covers the questions asked after the release of FEAR ITSELF issues #1 and 2.  The second part on Wednesday will cover FLASHPOINT #1 and FEAR ITSELF #3, while the final part on Friday will conclude with FLASHPOINT #2 and a "Big Picture" question.  And of course, both crossovers were discussed elsewhere on the site in reviews contributed by Graeme McMillan, as well as in recent installments of the probably-award-winning OH, BEHAVE! podcast from Graeme & Jeff Lester.


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ABHAY:  The promotional materials for Marvel crossovers tend to highlight their "relevance"-- at least, that's certainly been the case with FEAR ITSELF. Here are excerpts from CBR's announcement of the comic:

Quesada acknowledged that the state of the economy was rough, and that a number of television pundits “are telling you what to be afraid of.  … It's a great time to be fearful.  The world has gotten smaller, and fear, above all else, seems to be a great motivator. There are no shortage of frauds, charlatans, and despots looking to fan the fire. ... It's undeniable that there's a certain... something in the air.”

So: how do you feel about the politics of FEAR ITSELF?  Or these crossovers generally?  I feel like they start out well-meaning, but that the "political messages" tend to become completely fucking nuts as these things go along.

Consider the last "trilogy" of crossovers-- the “Bush Trilogy.”  In Episode 1, CIVIL WAR, right-wing heroes use the fear of terrorist acts to squelch civil liberties, but... those opposing that squelching ultimately quit fighting once they realize that the American people hate their civil liberties and prefer security over freedom.  In Episode 2, SECRET INVASION, it turns out that we aren’t any more safe because our society was already infiltrated by foreign religious fanatics.  The Marvel heroes then begin the eradication of the foreigners, but in the process of that heroic genocide, an even more extreme right-wing despot (also a religious fundamentalist) becomes a hero to the media, and thus assumes control of the Marvel universe.  So, finally, in Episode 3, THE SIEGE, the Marvel heroes defeat this right-wing media despot (literally, by turning him off using a remote control)... but then realize that it's not enough to merely defeat the religious right’s figurehead.  The Marvel heroes can only create a Heroic Age by murdering the Old Testament God, suggesting to the audience that the only way that a meaningful peace can ever be achieved is the destruction of all religious belief of any kind...?

So, then we arrive on FEAR ITSELF #1, which I thought was just going to be a retread of Jon Stewart’s dopey rally.  But instead, Obama Iron Man’s trying to launch a job program and fix the economy, but is being derailed by violent protests over the Marvel universe version of the Ground Zero mosque.  Which-- it's a crossover where a jobs program is at stake?  I'm really worried that in issue two, the taxation of trade routes will cause the Trade Federation to create a blockade around the planet Naboo, you guys.  But then ... But then as the comic proceeds-- the comic ends with the Gods leaving the United States and then an image of Congress on fire, which-- for me, at least, calls to mind Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, one of those fucking guys who claim that their God has removed its "protection” of the United States in response to our sins...?

On the one hand, the audience is encouraged to think about these comics through a political lens, but on the other hand... am I the only one who gets made to feel like a crazy person when he does?  None of what I just wrote sounded sane!  Is this the kind of stuff you folks think about?  Is this something that gives you any pause?  Or are you just able to enjoy watching Odin yell at the Watcher, and avoid shoving your head up into your own rectum?

JOG: Well first off, let me just say I was more than able to enjoy the stylin’ Marvel Architects photo spread at the issue #1 center.  Like, where they’re all dressed in black and posing in front of a goofy blueprint pattern?

I think it’s got real potential to be a superhero equivalent of the immortal Lit Comics Bad Boys Rooftop Luncheon 2004 shot from days of legend.  In fact, I’m half-convinced Brubaker is actually trying to ‘do’ Chester Brown’s pose, although I guess Marvel wouldn’t allow Fraction a cigarette to complete the mirror effect.

But anyway, it’s interesting that you emphasize the departure of Gods from humankind; to me, issue #1 only showed disparity between the superpowered or superhuman-affiliated characters and the rabble of humanity, i.e. those balding local pride types prone to stargazing with adorable moppets that use Ds instead of THs -- prudently, Fraction declines to double down with the hazardous R-to-W maneuver, which has never worked for anyone besides Osamu Tezuka, and only then with the psychological distance afforded by translation -- or, y’know, participating in riots.  What I found revealing was Cap’s little comments during the latter, insisting that Democracy is in full effect and declining to adopt any specific political position, even though the action makes it very clear that it’s his job (and that of superheroes in general) to take charge in terms of keeping the peace.

In this way, it seems the superhero characters are metaphorically standing in for police officers or the military or something -- in a profoundly idealized state, mind you -- yet their positioning in the story is above humankind.  You need only go a few more pages for tacit confirmation, as we find Cap brooding at the front of this big wide heroic introductory panel, with everyone on top of Avengers Tower, literally looming over the concerns of the common folk. And while further on there’s an attempt made to level the field visually by having both the superheroes and assorted undistinguished non-superpowered onlookers beheld and verily spat upon by Odin before his Fuck Thou exchange with the Watcher, that only follows another wide heroic panel depicting Marvel’s finest assembled at a press conference, tense and sweatless, addressing the nation before a baker’s dozen of mics.

They’re elites, albeit not portrayed through any discernible political/cultural point of view; it seems like this mass characterization was only a result of the genre being the genre, and certain characters pinging off one another to best facilitate logical genre expectations. Like, yeah - it’s totally in character for Cap to get frowny over the state of America, and Iron Man would indeed have the in-story resources to launch a jobs program, but all the superheroes here are ultimately presented fundamentally apart from the shared ‘fear’ of humankind, and, at least in terms of allegory, I think that’s what marks the politics here as sort of decorative. Ultimately, it’s superheroes doing superhero things.  In contrast, you take something like CIVIL WAR, the central issue there -- political divisions in the U.S. post-9/11 ripping the country apart -- was big and broad enough to subsume the superhero characters into the mass of humanity, so that Cap and Iron Man could double for, say, folks in your office going a little more to the left and right, pulling a little harder.  And I think it’s telling that CIVIL WAR was the only one of these things fronted by Mark Millar, who, for whatever his faults, has a real gift for cooking up these pliable concepts.

And that’s a virtue for a tentpole crossover event to have, because they’re the most mechanical fucking things in the genre, they need to accommodate X number of supplements of varying plot importance, they need to officiate the direction of X number of superhero brands for however long a period, they have to feel big and crucial and extinction-level in a manner ideally broader than any of the provincial plot movements building up to them (most of which will have been headed by entirely different writers, or even editors) - it’s really tough.  So when I look at FEAR ITSELF #1, I mostly see superheroes in charge, paternalistically tackling (or, this being a contemporary superhero comic, considering the imminent tackling of) some world-killing threat that just doesn’t sync well with the kitchen table worries of Main Street America, as I think they still say, because the mechanics of superhero crossovers aren’t particularly conductive to much else without some real inspiration firing itself off.

Which isn’t to say I don’t recognize details in the allegory; I’d differ a little from you in that I see the story’s Gods as less religious forces than a separate elite from the superheroes, the inward-looking movers & shakers and ultra-rich of the world vs. the civic-minded leaders and philanthropic entrepreneurs of the spandex set that are gonna get sick with the word’s Fear - but, y’know, the latter are gonna get sick for our good.  This is a Great Men story, and it sure looks like it’s gonna be the “greatest” getting things done less as avatars for our potential as humans and citizens but on our behalf, because we humans can’t do it. Which admittedly is a potential appeal of the superhero concept, but the feint of FEAR ITSELF points us toward a more humanistic objective, even as the structural necessities of the crossover book set superheroes apart from Us, and Our problems.

Because of this, the on-page political stuff seems like a sop to sophistication, or a backdrop, or even just a more roundabout means of squeezing our sympathies for great heroes that suffer so much, which makes them awesome and mythic and cool, and I don’t see that as too many dozens of feet away from narrative captions and/or expository chatter directly alerting us to the soul-searing virtue of Hal Jordan or Barry Allen or whomever is most in the foreground.

JEFF:  I think Jog’s got a really good take on this so I guess all I can really do is come clean: I ignored the politics of CIVIL WAR, then ignored all of Marvel’s big events after I bailed on that mini.  (I’m not sure it’s done me any harm, although my understanding is I missed out on some neat-o stuff in WORLD WAR HULK.)

So, reading the first issue of FEAR ITSELF--the first big event I’ve bothered with in something like five years--my reaction to the political stuff was largely one of bewilderment: like, how closely are we supposed to map these things?  Like that opening scene with people rioting seemed as close to contextless as could be imagined, so how do I interpret it? Are those people freaking out because the God of Fear is manipulating them even though he doesn’t get freed until later on (provided the sickly dude freed by Sin is indeed the God of Fear)?  Or are they just freaking out for the same reason people in our America were, because mainstream news outlets were whipping them into a frenzy?  Then we’re told that they’re freaking out over jobs?  So...why isn’t the riot taking place in front of an unemployment office, or a Wal-Mart?

Are the Asgardians shown abandoning us supposed to represent the Republican Party turning their backs on any kind of deal with the Democrats? Are they supposed to represent the Tea Party, a generation of entitled Baby Boomers who after wrecking their own fucking magical city with a host of bad decisions, refuse to play nice with the rest of us? Or do they represent me, who at this point regards both Democrats and Republicans as two sides of one ugly, rigged piece of political theater that is either robbing us of our rights very slowly or terrifyingly quickly?  Because if you wanted to make a case that I’m a scared and pissed-off Asgardian god with regards to our political situation now, someone who just wants to cut out for a chilly Norwegian clime with good national healthcare and decent housing, rather than hang around to see the whole stupid fucking thing fall apart?  You probably could.

I dunno.  Maybe issue #2 will make the whole situation more clear, but I say: who cares?  Maybe Marvel lost the right to be the political chronicler of our times when it apologized to The Tea Party for offending it?

I mean, sadly, the cleanest way the whole situation maps for me is that Marvel Comics, like a lot of mainstream news organizations, is in the fear-mongering business, and for the same reasons: it’s a reliable way to make a buck. Just as a supposedly moderate organization like CNN makes all kinds of crazy cash by focusing on disaster, Marvel holds its own status quo hostage and floods the comics press with announcements about the coming deaths of its own heroes. Maybe the Asgardians are supposed to represent comics readers, walking away from comics’ biggest titles in droves of one to three percent per month?

Ultimately, I don’t know what to tell you (other than I am clearly turning into a hideous mutant hybrid of Noam Chomsky and Abe Simpson as I age). It seemed kinda dull, FEAR ITSELF #1--lovely art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Laura Martin, to be sure, but kind of a snoozer. Ultimately, the politics were just frosting--hideous, hideous frosting--on a big ol’ heap of snoozy dullcake. I just hope issue #2 has more punching.

BRIAN: I’ve never been a fan of trying to put modern political analogy into superhero comics. If it comes out unintentionally, from the views of the authors, that’s a different thing, but consciously putting it in tends to be fairly embarrassing for all concerned -- everywhere from “you work for the blue skins, but what about the black skins”, to the Englehart era Captain America (I think Jeff and Graeme will hang me for that one), where a decade later it’s all so clunky and self-absorbed reading.

Millar would be, I think, the only one who actually made it work in a crossover, and that’s probably because he isn’t an American.

JEFF: You’re saying Millar made modern political analogies work in superhero comics but Steve Englehart didn’t? Oh, Hibbs...

CHRIS: I agree with everyone that direct political mappings are a fool's errand, both on the part of the creators and the readers. A lot of it stems from taking that whole "realistic Marvel heroes" thing too far: it's great that Hank Pym has an inferiority complex and Spider-Man has girl trouble, but classic Marvel never extended that to have Reed and Sue fighting about Goldwater's campaign platform and Daredevil tussle with tort reform.

Inasmuch as "people worry about their futures" informs Fear Itself, I didn't mind that serving as background flavor. It's understandable that Common Folk would look at the troubles of the Avengers and Asgardians as trifling distractions as best and abuse of power at worst, the same way they might the NFL Lockout or Goldman Sachs bonuses. But that should only be thematic resonance: when the books drill it down to involve the "Ground Zero Mosque" or something equally Ripped from the Headlines it forces readers, consciously or otherwise, to consider Super Heroes in the Real World, which given the relatively ground "world outside your door" status quo both Marvel and DC aspire to, becomes ridiculous. I do think the second issue did a decent job of backing off on that, for what it's worth.

DAVID: Abhay, I was with you on your Bush Trilogy until you got to the Old Testament God, at which point you made my brain explode with frustration. Long story short, I think equating the Sentry with Old Testament angry God outside of anything other than “they were both judgmental dicks” is barking up the wrong World Tree - I doubt that Bendis, the son of a Rabbi, was trying to make any kind of religious statement about the ascension of mankind against false gods who were basically the dude who iced Sodom and Gomorrah. I can’t really think of a way to put this other than that I think it’s so cynical and wrongheaded it makes me cry. I recognize the comparison Bendis makes Dark Avengers #13 regarding Siege and the Plagues of Egypt, but not only was it like two pages long, it’s never been mentioned again.

I don’t think the political relevance scenes in this issue work at all, largely because I think sticking political relevancy into this story was a gigantic mistake. There’s a time that had to come where a Marvel comic had to rely on more than just thinly-veiled metaphors for what’s on CNN, and that was now, and Fear Itself can’t decide whether it’s the future or the past.

It feels like Final Crisis had a really awkward college one-night stand with Civil War and this was the result. There’s an interesting comic about the dissolution of American optimism in here, and there’s also a totally separate, interesting comic about a dark secret at the root of the Asgardian pantheon that threatens to use humans against them. But it’s hard to think of the Asgardian Gods as Gods when they don’t have any worshippers, and it’s hard to equate their presence with any kind of actual religion.

ABHAY: I think you might be giving more weight to intent and the biography of the authors than I do-- though in this case, maybe that’s my fault; maybe that’s something I invited because I was unclear on what I was saying. Namely: by having political themes in the backgrounds of these stories, in a glib way, so that crossovers can be marketed as being “important for our times,” that what tends to result is that those themes tend to not be serviced with the same level of care as the Violent Men with Hammers in the foreground. And as a result, the stories inadvertently tend to seem unintentionally crazy when read in a way that ISN’T the enormously dull, surface-level way they were “intended” to have been read-- but which readings have nevertheless been invited by the marketing (of which, the authors are participants and complicit). Anyways, sometimes, even well-crafted stories have unintended meanings-- I don't put any weight on authorial intent, in general.

Setting aside intent: The Sentry was depicted as being responsible for the Biblical plagues at about the same exact time SIEGE came out, no? One of the two pages you reference from DARK AVENGERS issue #13, you can still find online-- the only words on the page are “there is only one true God” on it, with the art depicting the Sentry/Void about to open a can of Bible-story on some primitive peoples. That scene mirrors the finale of SIEGE-- Sentry/Void laying waste to another city. I don’t know why that scene’s place in continuity-- i.e. that it merely wasn’t mentioned again-- should trump its place in the publication history. I mean, I understand you don’t read that sequence the way I do, but... then how do read it? For me: I liked SIEGE more once I noticed it having that theme to it. Then, at least there was something to it. Otherwise, it was just a series of haphazard, random events. With that theme, it’s at least kind of neat in a weird kind of way. (Well, I still don’t get what was going on with Loki’s character but … Apparently, that’s a thing they’re answering now in Kieron Gillen’s THOR book, which … is helpful... I hope Gillen explains whatever winds up being nonsensical with FEAR ITSELF a year from now, too.)

DAVID: Actually, I’m pretty much with you with regards to Siege having a thematic void at its center (pun intended). It’s just hard for me to attach much actual weight to that original Sentry sequence in Dark Avengers, at least within Siege’s thematic framework, largely because it came off to me less as anything theological and more as Bendis just trying to make something that would look badass. Which was a lot of my problem with Siege, when it was all done - it was almost less a story and more a cathartic process for Marvel readers.

TUCKER: I have to skip to one part of Abhay’s original question here, that being the “kind of stuff you think about” part, to which I say: no, not really. I think it’s interesting in a conversational/bloggy interchange to discuss the broader strokes of what Marvel has tried to do with their event comics (or Fraction’s Israel stuff in Uncanny X-Men, or Millar’s proto-fascism in the Ultimates), but generally speaking, I don’t think about this stuff when I’m reading these because I don’t ever find that sort of thinking to be layered in that well. Like--great art notwithstanding, how horribly put together is that pre-riot scene? Steve and Sharon aren’t anywhere near the two sides of people who will soon be battling back and forth, and half the riot cops are standing around jawing away like it’s a regular day. It’s a crap layout, and while it has some real world relevance in a really earnest n’ dumb high school presentation on legalizing weed kind of way, all I can think about is how silly it is for a super-hero to be in that situation in the first place. Did Steve drive up, walk into the middle of that gigantic construction site, tell Sharon to turn around, and then proceed to speak in a normal tone of voice to a bunch of people on the other side of a barricade that’s far away from him? That’s what I’m thinking about. Why that happened. How that happened. I can’t even start caring when I’ve already been shown the door.

That being said, I get that the politics of these things are what matters to a certain kind of reader, but I feel like that’s a post-Millar type of thing, because Civil War had stuff that was cool to look at in terms of super-hero type of cool, like Captain America fighting a plane and Punisher shooting people in their pumpkin face. Then they went all the way into action and violence with World War Hulk, only to pull back to meandering “politics” and character-killing in Secret Invasion and Siege, because Bendis doesn’t like action comics. Now that it’s Fraction--I don’t know what his shtick is on these things, and that “not knowing” makes Fear Itself compelling in the same way it would be if Brubaker or Aaron wrote one of these things (as opposed to Bendis or Johns or Millar, where you already have an idea of what you’re going to get), although I don’t think Brubaker & Aaron in the same “time to prove it, can’t write Thor guy” as Fraction is. This is it for him, you know? He’s got that architect cred going, he still interviews better than the rest of Marvel, Casanova is good again, but he can’t seem to pull off super-hero comics the way the rest of the crew can. And based off of this issue, which seems to spend a massive amount of time building a concept (the “go make some jobs” idea) only to undercut that and dump it completely as an idea before the issue is over, I’m not sure what to think. Why couldn’t this issue’s content have been handled in the prequel comic? That Watcher confrontation is classic build-up-to-something stuff, and wouldn’t it have been more engaging for an event comic to begin with the bad guy characters IN action instead of being named? Its a truism dating back to elementary school that desperation makes the ugly even uglier, and I sort of wonder if that isn’t the case here, if I’m not looking at a comic that’s trying way too hard to deliver something that the key players involved (both Immonen and Fraction) just don’t have that much interest in, because their current status demands that they do so from time to time.

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ASKED ON MAY 6, 2011


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ABHAY: With FEAR ITSELF #2, what I guess I found myself thinking about is how the big crossovers have so rarely had great villains. CRISIS OF INFINITE EARTHS had the Anti-Monitor-- I don't really remember him much but I guess he was o-kay-ish. CIVIL WAR had Iron Man-- I thought that was pretty neat. Past those two, though...? ZERO HOUR (Extant), SECRET INVASION (the Skrull Queen), SIEGE (The Green Goblin), INVASION (aliens), ARMAGGEDON 2001 (Monarch), INFINITE CRISIS (Superboy)... for me, for my money, that is a lame bunch, right there. Not impressive. (We may have to agree to disagree which bucket you'd put FINAL CRISIS (Darkseid) in...)

So then: are you into the villains in FEAR ITSELF, two issues in? They seemed to be the focus of the second issue: (1) Odin tells us that they're scary, using all of his words; (2) familiar faces are transformed into a villain team called The Worthy; (3) Evil Fear God Guy rants and raves, and uses the word "vermin", and (4) villains blow some monuments up. Oh, also, (5) some weird thing about autism rates rising (?)...

Personally, I don't really understand what's cool about The Worthy. I guess the big news from issue #2 is that Juggernaut and the Hulk are now going to take a break from rampaging through the Marvel Universe to... rampage through the Marvel universe in a brand new set of clothes...? Hulk has Tron-dreadlocks now-- be afraid. "Hulk goes on a rampage" has been the premise of every Hulk comic ever, except for, like, three Peter David issues in the mid-1990's where Gray Hulk was a fluffer on the Bangbus. Why is it special for people now just because he has Tron-dreadlocks? And then at the end of the issue, after this incredibly long and drawn-out introduction of the Worthy, the entire issue ends with "Oh, by the way, Nazis totally have robot-suits now. Fuck you, America!" Where did that come from??  What happened to the guys with hammers?

So, what, all in all, the premise of FEAR ITSELF, if I understand it correctly, is the Marvel Universe takes on some God dude, super-strong villains wearing exciting new fashionz, Nazi mechs, FOX News, autism rates, the Tea Party, the economy, unicorns with herpes, naked old men in gym locker rooms, rich kids from the summer camp across the lake, Andy Dick on PCP, a guy on cocaine who wants to talk about The Who for a couple hours, whoever killed Biggie and Tupac, and Omarosa from the first season of The Apprentice.

Of course, that might be what we should expect, for crossovers to be weak on villains. Assembling all those superheros together-- how hard must it be to think of a threat that Wolverine or Superman can't solve in 5 minutes, let alone one that would take EVERY SINGLE hero assembled to defeat. That must be extremely difficult. Do you care? When it comes to mainstream superhero comics-- would you describe yourself as a sympathetic member of the audience or an unsympathetic member of the audience? What do you make of the villains?


JOG: As a matter of fact, the Bangbus was the villain of FIRE FROM HEAVEN. Alan Moore called it something else, obviously, but all the Wildstorm kids knew what was really cruising through Ideaspace in ‘96, or so I’ve read in my studies of library microfiche. I think Deathblow shot its tires out?

But anyway, now that we’re two issues in, I’m personally thinking less of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and more of its slightly older Marvel counterpart, MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS, which was so ahead of the crossover curve it needed to assess you as to the presence of Marvel Super Heroes as a collective unit in the very title. Especially if you were just popping in from the toy store, since the whole thing was predicated on the development of a line of action figures, and, fittingly, the Beyonder functioned mostly as a means to the end of banging toys together, i.e. getting a whole lot of superheroes to fight a whole lot of villains, with some cool complications continuing into a few ongoing series. It contrasts quite a bit with the fallout from CRISIS -- the ‘model,’ more or less, for huge-ass crossovers to follow -- which had a vast threat that affected the whole of the DC universe, and thus every DC reader, which I think encourages a bit more fixation as to the particulars of the villain/threat, even if not a lot is actually on the page. In contrast, I suspect in the end the personality of the Beyonder wasn’t so much a necessity as the fact that tons of characters were coming together. Novelty!

I get the feeling that’s what FEAR ITSELF might be going for: a more nebulous threat hovering over a lot of character-on-character battles. Granted, I only have a feeling, since this is, again, a contemporary superhero production and I’m not reading any tie-ins, and it’s looking like we’ll be drawing perilously close to the main series’ halfway point before any big fights start up. Issue #2 is mostly about raising the stakes, and I liked parts of it - especially the Bryan Talbot/Chaykinesque news blips that intermittently assess us as to global calamities, or how the similar-looking location titles and introductory labels to the Hammered characters culminate in the BLITZKRIEG U.S.A.: designation for the double-page spread, which could either formally identify the Nazi mech squad or just give a special ‘oh shit’ ID for the image. Or both. That’s pretty cool. I’m a sympathetic reader to stuff like that, less so the specific implications of SKIRN BREAKER OF MEN, since I don’t read a lot of superhero comics, and I suspect I’m meant to fill in some of the space here with my preexisting attitudes toward these characters.

As a result the whole gathering process left the issue feeling both narratively dense and very content-light for me; mostly I wondered if Fraction is planning a long riff on Geoff Johns under the guise of tying elements of the project into a certain motion picture in theaters now, which is totally the toy line of today. I haven’t read a whole lot of GREEN LANTERN, so I might wind up out at sea with that, but it might still be more fruitful subtext than pursuing the political stuff from issue #1, which might be congealing already into a miscellaneous OH FUCK SHIT SHIT SUPERHEROES SAVE US!! Those thankless peons.

Brian: More broadly, I’d say the best antagonist-in-a-crossover would probably be Thanos in INFINITY GAUNTLET. I understood what Thanos wanted, and how he would logically achieve his goal, and that gave the story much greater weight to me than created-for-the-series antagonists like the Anti-Monitor.

To a large extent, I’d say that these kinds of big stories CAN’T work unless the players “have skin in the game”. Oh, sure you can do “well it doesn’t matter, because the entire POINT is to smash the action figures together” kind of stories like MARVEL SUPERHEROES SECRET WARS or, even more prototypically, CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS where the specific antagonist is rather beside the point. On the DC side, INVASION would fall into that bucket, probably, or the not-a-crossover of SUPERMAN VERSUS MUHAMMED ALI (Seriously, can anyone remember anything about the alien race of the McGuffins, except maybe Hunya?) – but I tend to think that the crossovers that really “work” (INFINTY GAUNTLET, CIVIL WAR on the Marvel side; possibly FINAL CRISIS and BLACKEST NIGHT on the DC side) stem from long-standing character’s long standing motivation.

The PROBLEM with doing that, however, is that crossovers tend to remove the antagonist from the Board for a long period of time – sometimes from “after you’ve killed half the universe you can’t rob banks” or just from sheer overexposure (who wants to ever see the Beyonder again, and that was 30 something years ago!). It isn’t entirely impossible to reverse that – Fraction destroyed and rebuilt Tony Stark’s mind in order to make him reasonably palatable again – but Thanos had to “go away” for nigh on 20 years because by the end of the THIRD “Infinity” crossover-thingy, who wanted to see HIM again for awhile?

FEAR ITSELF seems to be trying to walk a thin line here, with making… well do we call her The Red Skull now, or just Sin? godpowered. Presumably, they can un-God her at the end, and still have a viable antagonist (though, dunno, Nazism is pretty played out these days, ain’t it?), but my problem here is more that it took a continuity implant to get her godpowered in the first place.

With regards to The Worthy themselves, there’s something about them that rub me the wrong way. Part of it is the somewhat illogical notion of these magic hammers that need a specific and exact character to wield them (Absorbing Man can’t touch the hammer, but Titania can?), which seems slightly off for a species of gods tens of thousands of years old, and there’s also some weird duplication there. I kind of get “breaker of earth” and “breaker of oceans”, but doesn’t “breaker of worlds” INCLUDE “earth” and “oceans”. We’ll see how the crossovers themselves shake out, but it almost feels like lazy do-what-thou-wilt storytelling, and it wouldn’t shock me if we eventually get a “breaker of [something for plot convenience]” in some book at some point.

I may be wrong, but I think I think that the best crossover stories are ones that have very very specific Big Beats, and every crossover is in specific relationship to those beats – the more specific instances there are, the more the crossover issues themselves can drift into other directions, the less successful the event, as a whole, becomes.

Again, like INFINITY GAUNTLET, maybe – there’s like only one tiny bit of it that takes place “on earth”, and the rest is off and cosmic and not able to be derailed/diluted by other stories.

Take the crossover issue FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT #1, where, if I read it correctly Steve Rogers finds a leader for, and has him recruit a super team made up of characters from ALL FIFTY of the “state-based initiative” teams from the last cycle of crossovers. They appear to accomplish this between the first hammer’s landing, and the attack on DC, which appears to be, dunno, an hour or so max? This weakens the main story, in my mind.

Also: we never ever ever EVER need to see Washington DC being attacked in another comic ever again. Especially in the DC and Marvel universes where you HAVE to assume they have access to KirbyTech or better. The US government can build a helicarrier for Shield, and Life Model Decoys, and they can’t protect the Washington mall from nazi robot rockets? Really?

Anyway, “The Worthy” seem to me less examples of strong antagonists as an attempt to get a few more action figures released somewhere.

TUCKER: Aw shit, I gotta be that guy on this one? I think I gotta be that guy.

Invasion was the way to do it right, no shit. I can tell this is a Marvel room here, so why not become a sympathetic audience member and let me play this out right now: the thing that makes the bad guys in Invasion work is that they’re all a part of one really sudsy melodrama, and that melodrama is put together in a way that’s engaging even if you separate it from the super-hero stuff that surrounds it, which is something I don’t think that a lot of these comics we’re talking about can claim as well. The creative excitement I find in most of these comics isn’t usually tied into what the villains do, it’s in how the super-heroes react to those villains, and in Invasion, that’s all reversed. All the alien species are teamed up in the face of the common enemy, and they’re wiling to ignore some longstanding grudges with one another because they just hate the hell out of Earth, and wish to see it brought low.

There’s a decent bit of palace intrigue, none of which ever gets as boring or convoluted as that sort of thing usually gets, and it ends up dovetailing right into the conclusion of the series, when the agreements fall apart and people start switching sides. Since we’re dealing with a strength-in-numbers type of bad guy, there’s no reason why they can’t show up again and again, although I’m not sure how often they do outside of REBELS or Lobo comics. Dominators and Khunds can still be baddies in one-shots, they can still randomly team up, and while I hope it never happens, they could still conceivably unite and form a world-threat all over again if they wanted to.

CHRIS: At least the Nazis in Fear Itself mostly spent the past seven decades on ice -- I prefer Unfrozen Nazi Menace to People Who Would've Grown Up Watching The Cosby Show and Are Now Nazi Stormtroopers you often get.

Sometimes just having a Dangerous Force is enough. Secret Wars was a perfectly nice Everybody Fights Everybody event where the Beyonder was a disembodied voice commanding everyone to fight. When it came time to flesh his character out, you got Secret Wars II, where God gave himself parachute pants and a Jheri Curl and Spider-Man had to teach him how to poop.

The important thing for Big Crossover Villain is to establish their goals. The Serpent presumably wants to Wreck Shit and Enslave or Exterminate Humanity, which is something he has in common with Darkseid, the Skrulls, the Alien Alliance in Invasion, the demons in Inferno, etc. I'll also accept the motive of Kill Everything Ever, a la Thanos or Nekron in Blackest Night. Where the Big Crossover Villain often fails is when you really don't know what their endgame is. Can anyone explain what Sinestro and his posse was going for in Sinestro Corps War? Was there a scenario where Superboy Prime would just tire himself out killing nobodies and take a nap? What did Norman Osborn think was going to happen after he goes crazy and commits treason and kills a bunch of people on global television?

And two issues in, I'm still not really sure what The Serpent's plan is, beyond Do Bad Things. It's *probably* to take over the world, but why does he need a crew of seven Hammer Guys to do that? Why is he enlisting Nazi Robots, if he's as fantastically powered as he seems to be? Couldn't he just make more hammers? Is he mind-controlling the non-Hammered villains who are shown tearing up cities? It'd be great, even if it was Geoff Johns style Arbitrary Fart Machine Rules, to know what the Big Crossover Villain is working with.

DAVID: I thought this issue was kind of a mess. There just wasn’t any real gravitas to the Worthy - they had some cool designs, sure, but none of them were particularly surprising and the main plot didn’t really move itself in any meaningful way past what we already saw in the teasers at the end of last issue. We knew Thor would get locked up, the Worthy would get their hammers and Washington, D.C. would be attacked; this isn’t even a matter of reading solicitations, this was all shown in the teaser that ended #1. I was expecting the issue to go past those points and give us something more; something to make the Serpent a remotely compelling villain. But so far, not only is he not walking the walk, he barely talks the talk. Fraction seems like he’s going for one of those grand poetic Shakespearean avatars of evil, the Darkseid take, but the Serpent’s threats seem really hollow. Make them fear us, make them pay, bla, bla, bla. He’s got zero charisma, and his design is just an old suit with a fur cape and a cane. He looks like a lost fucking hobo-pimp, not the God of Evil.

I get that he wants to usurp Odin and take his place as the Allfather again (how the fuck does that work, anyway?) but I can’t really care about whether he succeeds or not. There’s nothing really personal here, except against Odin, who’s acting like a gigantic fucking douchebag anyway. And as for Sin, she’s barely gotten any lines in the book so far, and seems considerably less bloodthirsty and well-defined than she was (even though I hated her character) when she was the jailbait half of Nazi Bonnie and Clyde with Crossbones in Brubaker’s Captain America. I realize this is supposed to feel like a huge threat from the pasts of both Cap and Thor, but so far neither major antagonist has really interested me at all. A Loki/Johann Schmidt Red Skull team-up would be even more boring, so kudos to Fraction to trying to create some new characters and add to the mythology, but so far he’s been spending too much time on montages of dudes picking up hammers and taking up mystifying names (is Absorbing Man going to be “Breaker of Women” with a Kirby-circuit dick like Titania’s fallopian tube pattern?). Stop pulling back from the exposition and make me give a shit.

JEFF: I’m gonna punt on this one, in part because I spent wayyyyy too many words on the next question, and also because I think FEAR ITSELF #2 was too crappy for me to want to think about it very much. On the final page when some transmission is caterwauling “Where are the super heroes? Who’s coming to save us--?” and you realize that the super heroes haven’t gone anywhere, they’re just...in transit or something? That’s when you realize how badly shit has been bungled. I mean, really, the only “heroes” whose absences are accounted for in the issue itself are Hulk and Thor (and Red She-Hulk, whatever they’re calling her); I could almost see if all of The Worthy had been heroes whose compulsion to grab those hammers came at crucial moments of the heroes’ response to mecha-Nazis, but....nah, apparently not.

The villains are flat, the heroes have very little to say, the story beats are repetitive and without impact. It’s bad in a very different way from, I dunno, ZERO HOUR (where all the superheroes talk only to introduce one another, and the crisis only appears to be endangering a status quo, and the reader’s hand is held from one boring event to the next) but it’s equally bad, if not worse. FEAR ITSELF #2 seems to me to be such a profound failure of craft, it’s almost impossible to use it to analyze anything other than the importance of not putting a two page ad for Thor Slurpees immediately after the climax of a five page sequence about Thor and the Asgardians. Even Miller and Mazzuchelli’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE wouldn’t have survived that.

End of Part OnePart Two resumes on Wednesday.

Savage Symposium: PAYING FOR IT (Part 4 of 4)

And here's the big wrap-up to this week's discussion of PAYING FOR IT! I hope you relished it as much as I.

Question 5: And then my last question for you is “Did the argument work for you, or change your thinking on this issue whatsoever?” I mention this because that while I really didn’t much like the underlying book, I’m fairly naturally inclined to be on Brown’s side on this. I live in San Francisco, and, of course we’re known for liberal positions on sex, and I’m all for sex work to be very legal, but I also want to be sure that the workers are safe and healthy and well cared for and compensated. And that almost certainly entails some kind of regulation because humans are messy messy creatures. I’ve never seen a prostitute, and really don’t want to (heck, even the one time I was in a strip club [in Portland, to pick up a keg of beer for a party] I thought it was one of the most dehumanizing experiences of my life -- I can’t even imagine what sex would be like in that kind of transactional way), but I certainly support the underlying notion that consenting informed adults should be able to do much of what they want to with their own bodies. Brown didn’t sway me away from my view of “regulation is needed”, however. I don’t know if you’re closer or farther from me, but did this book change your perception, even fractionally?

ABHAY: Do I think that romantic love and marriage are evil institutions which we should replace with widespread prostitution?  No. No, I think he’s fucked in the head. You know, congratulations to the guy for finding something that works for him, but I’m not attending any church that tithes by the half-hour. As for his other, less obviously batshit arguments-- I thought he had a good response for “wouldn’t you-as-a-kid be ashamed of adult-you.”  The rest are a blur already, though.  When I do bad things, I just do bad things and be a bad person, and I say to myself “well, whatever works,” and that’s good enough for me...?  If I take music off the internet (hypothetically), I don’t spend my time trying to make idiotic arguments about the RIAA being evil, in some weird attempt to make myself feel better about being a fucking thief.  I’m too busy listening to free music and enjoying the sweet, sweet fruits of crime. Hypothetically.  Brown really reminded me of those people, the “I’m not stealing-- I’m sticking it to the RIAA” crowd, so shrilly insistent on their nobility, even though no one really cares how noble they are and plus they get to listen to free music.  See also, potheads who say things like “it comes from the Earth.”  So do tarantulas.  Theft, hookers, strippers, drugs, arson-- those things should just be their own rewards.

TUCKER: I do think the way prostitutes and sex workers get treated is fucked, and should be changed. I thought that it should be legalized before I read Paying For It, and I still feel that way after reading it. On the subject of regulation--I just feel like that’s a waste of my time to engage with. Do I think aliens should be allowed to come to Earth? Sure I do. But I’m not going to continue that thought experiment past that “sure I do” and start coming up with a bunch of future magic rules regarding these visits, because it’s a pointless exercise. If Chester Brown cares that much about sex workers and legalization, let him continue on the roads to changing the rules surrounding it, and let him propose various kinds of regulatory or non-regulatory solutions to those legalized prostitutes who live in the future. I’ve got my own pet issues that I worry about and donate money to and wish more people cared about, and I’m content to focus on those.

JEFF: I think trying to argue for the legalization of sex work by talking about a john’s experience is absolutely 100% the wrong way to argue for it, but it seems to be the approach johns go for, time and again.  I’m no expert on the subject, but hasn’t it been pretty definitively established that any culture in which sex work is illegal punishes the workers much harder than they do the customers?  Even in states here in the U.S. where johns have their pictures telecast on late night TV, that’s nothing compared to the women who end up even more openly shamed, charged with crimes, and just generally shat on.  Arguing that sex work is legal because it would make the lives of johns easier is such a fucked up and entitled argument. It sounds like someone arguing for the more humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses because it’ll make the food taste better.

And maybe that’s why Brown assembles everything into PAYING FOR IT in the way he does: he believes any dude will gladly pay for sex if we can just get rid of the social stigma, the restrictive laws, and the lie of romantic love.  Therefore, if he can appeal to men about the benefits of legalized prostitution, the world will change for the better (because men are the ones who run the world and they’re going to be the ones who will make the change, right?), not just for johns,  but for sex workers as well. I dunno.

I do think that by showing sex work from the point of view of a john, he makes some stellar points why people should not engage in sex work. Although he doesn’t dwell on it, Brown goes from a guy who tips at every encounter to a guy who thinks, in mid-coitus, “Unfriendly, not very pretty, no blow job -- no tip for this one.”  He starts as a guy who thinks, “In the future, I’ll try to limit myself to ten minutes of sex in a thirty minute appointment,” and becomes Mr. “That she seems to be in pain is kind of a turn-on for me, but I also feel bad for her.  I’m gonna cut this short and come quickly.” [Emphasis is mine.]   When our encounters with fellow human beings become economic transactions, bit by bit we unlearn what’s important about interacting with other people -- and what’s important is literally, just that, interacting with other people -- and begin making sure the economic transaction is worth our money.

The point of paying for it is to make sure we get what we want, but over time the human interaction in sex work becomes something beside the point, as we slip down the rabbit hole of obsession and fetish. Maybe Brown didn’t continue exploring the path of “hey, I really enjoy hurting women while having sex,” but I think it’s safe to assume there are johns in the same situation who would and have: because the other person’s say in it is already (at least partially) compromised by the money, and your sense of compassion is already that much more eroded by all your transactions -- you’ve already gone from “In the future, I’ll to try limit myself...” to “...and come quickly.”

Another problem with turning human interaction into an economic transaction is it further distorts and complicates human beings’ ability to be honest with one another.  Sex workers will sometimes not want to have sex with you, just as lovers will not always want to have sex at the same time, but a sex worker will not be the lover that pushes your hand away and tells you why it’s not going to happen.  Sex workers have to have sex, because that’s what they do.  It doesn’t stop there, as we all know:  sex workers have to have sex when they don’t want to have sex, and most of them feel pressured by various forces (the money, the view of themselves as good at what they do, the knowledge you will not come as quickly if you don’t think they are enjoying themselves) to convince you they really want to have sex and they want to have it with you.

We pay a price as human beings when we force ourselves to go so heavily against everything we’ve been hardwired to feel. Many soldiers suffer from PTSD when they go, again and again, into the place in themselves that requires them to survive, to act contrary to every instinct that is telling them to flee.  And I think it is the same for many sex workers who force themselves to act contrary to every instinct and become something for you to fuck, again and again, no matter how they really feel about it.

Most of us get depressed when we have to smile at the asshole at the other end of the counter and all he’s doing is saying something incredibly stupid about who’s stronger, Hulk or Thor, or when we have to laugh at something our stupid boss tells us.  That horrible fake smile the check out person at the grocery store gives us when they hand us our change?  The look in their eyes that reveals they dislike you deeply while they’re thanking you for their business?  Brown thinks a future where being greeted by that smile and that look when we open the door to our bedroom is a really good one.  He doesn’t mind a world where we’re depressed about smiling or laughing, because he’s free of the burden of working up the confidence to talk to an attractive woman.  It seems like a spectacularly bad trade to me.

For a guy who insists that he sees sex as a deeply spiritual, Brown apparently doesn’t believe in a spirituality that requires personal sacrifice -- or as he puts it when one of his prostitutes argues for romance, “Yeah, effort.  Romantic love is work.  Call me lazy, but I don’t want to do the work.”  Although I feel sex work should be legalized and regulated, there’s a lot to recommend the world of effort -- where even when we fail to connect, we learn something about ourselves, about other people, about the way the world works.  Otherwise, we all risk becoming whores, not in the “sex for money” way of it, but in the way Henry Miller defined it in Tropic of Cancer, in the way I thought of the term when I saw Chester Brown’s face at the back of his book, his kind and not-unhandsome face which many women wouldn’t require payment to caress (unlike some of the damaged and ugly people who would never know intimacy if they weren’t willing to pay), his satisfied, reptilian face that would rather pay for it than get to know a woman he didn’t find attractive, or work to keep loving a woman he did:

Germaine was a whore all the way through, even down to her good heart, her whore’s heart which is not really a good heart but a lazy one, an indifferent, flaccid heart that can be touched for a moment, a heart without reference to any fixed point within, a big, flaccid whore’s heart that can detach itself for a moment from its true center.  However vile and circumscribed was that world she had created for herself, nevertheless she functioned in it superbly.

Savage Symposium: PAYING FOR IT (part 3 of 4)

Question #4: Question 4: Structure of the argument and choices of presentation.  I don’t know if I would have thought this if it weren’t for the appendixes, but it seems to me that Brown undercuts his own argument pretty deeply. I absolutely believe that the ending of the book really trumps much of what Brown was saying throughout, but that’s not even what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more of “most sex workers aren’t slaves” or “...aren’t on drugs”, yet as I was reading the book I thought “that woman is a sex slave” and “that one is clearly faced on something” -- and this is Brown reinterpreting through comics a recollection he had based on a jotted note on his calendar, presumably intended to support what appears to be a conscious argument. So, like, if I’m getting this feeling at a fourth-hand distance, what must the reality be like? Further, I’m not even sure that Brown picked the best examples to support his own argument -- if you really want to establish that these transactions are healthy and sane, then shouldn’t you be showing all sides of it? Most of the women were maddeningly not-people, and I kind of want them, not the customer, to tell me that they are safe. So, my question becomes: did the choices that were made of what and how to argue work for you? Not “do you buy the argument?”, mind -- more that if the argument is well constructed.

ABHAY: I didn't spend too much time with the appendices.  As a life-long Democrat, I'm rather predictably more favorable towards hearing about prostitution than Libertarianism. My family crest has "Prostitution, not Libertarianism" on it, with pictures of Gary Hart and Ted Kennedy underneath.  I got a big whiff of "the market" off the appendices and ran the other way.  Banging whores I want to hear about, but the elaborate rhetorical edifices that libertarians construct around their orgasms-- no thanks.  That's really not of significant interest of me. Especially not when Brown's "argument" relies in part on Canada's socialist health care system taking care of, e.g., the probably-underage hooker screaming "Ow" over and over while Brown fucked her.  The market and property rights didn't make sure that her pussy was okay after whatever Brown subjected it to; socialist health-care did.

There's one, though-- Appendix 3. Which-- I don't judge Brown for having sex with women for money, at all, in the slightest-- but I judge him for writing Appendix 3 because I think it's some fucking astoundingly silly shit.  I think early reviews have been exceptionally kind maybe to the point of sycophancy with respect to Appendix 3.  Appendix 3 is the one about how Chester Brown thinks the universe might operate when prostitution is "normalized"-- here's just a tiny quote from it:  "The next day, Mary tells her friends about the date.  They all have sex for money too, so none of them are shocked."  It goes on and on about Mary the Hat Clerk who Fucks For Money (Whose Mom is Also a Prostitute ... Because, I guess, Hey, All Women Are, Deep-Down...???).  And it's him describing this enchanted wonderland, Chester Brown's Whoresylvania, this magical gumdrop land where everyone is thrilled to be selling their bodies for money, rainbows sell blowjobs to marshmallows, Snuggles the Dryer-Softener Bear will kick-fuck you to climax for $100 a half-hour, et cetera.  I was not sympathetic to Appendix 3, but I suppose I imagine freedom as being something more than letting poor women decide how much they charge people to fuck them-- I guess I'm a dreamer, that way.

The other one that jumped out at me was Appendix 14 ("Exploitation"), where...Here's a quote:  "Yes, some prostitutes are exploited when most or all of their money is taken by pimps, but not all prostitutes are exploited."  That sounds reasonable-- I'd like to believe that's true, that "not all prostitutes are exploited."  However-- like Brian, I had the same reaction that...  at least a few of the prostitutes Brown actually fucked?  Exploited!  So exploited! I don’t think I agree with Matt Seneca’s argument that ALL of the women in the book are exploited-- but the foreign women raised what I hope are obvious issues. Brown seems oblivious to the fact he's promoting the benefits of being a white guy who has impoverished third world women chauffeured to his country to reduce the cost of his sexual degeneracy.  Maybe someone who worships the market blindly would be okay with the West literally ejaculating onto the faces of the Third World, but I don't know if "some are exploited, some aren't, derpdy-derp" even begins to acknowledge an iota, a sliver, a fucking fraction of the issues of consent that raises...?

Plus: I just think it's ludicrous that Brown removing any indication of the race of the prostitutes, that people are buying this ad copy that he's somehow "protecting the women" rather than himself.  Toronto's maybe the most multi-cultural city on the North American continent-- who the fuck thinks that anyone is out there saying to themselves, "Aah, the fact that Chester Brown drew the girl saying 'No Speak English' with Asian features means that it must be Susy Kwan, and I must punish her!  Your time is nigh, Suzy Kwan!"-?  That city is bursting with minorities-- Chester Brown's not outing any of them with "No Speak English."  For me, removing the women's races spoke to something darker than that.  He's drawing this comic about him running around buttfucking all these whores, but then, like, oh, saints preserve us that anyone might think there are any racial implications to the whores he's selecting.  Heavens forfend!  "Buttfucking the hookers, I applaud, but let's not bring race into this.  That would offend my delicate sensibilities."  I think doing that was a way of closing off any consideration that Brown was not just a heroic participant in the market, stabbing his property rights into dry vaginas with his half-erect penis, but also to prevent the reader from recognizing Brown as being the beneficiary/perpetrator of imperialism.

(Plus, on just a I’m-a-Creep level: I guess I was curious what kind of girls he sought out once given a level of choice that he'd not had in his life previously?  After the Knives Chau character dumped him, did he seek out young Asian girls to obtain a weird sort of revenge that he couldn't admit to himself?  Maybe I was the only one that had that question, but ...)

But do I think any of that "undercuts his argument?"  Oh, I don't know.  I don't know that I care too much because I'm not especially invested in the argument-side of what Brown was doing. I certainly don't care if guys go to see prostitutes-- I guess based on the foregoing that I’d prefer for people to buy local, though, as it turns out.  And I don't care if it gets decriminalized or regulated-- though I think I'd probably wind up preferring regulated since I live in the actual real world, and not Brown's Whore-Epcot, where we'll all get paid by the Canadian government to draw comics and we can pay the checkout girl at Anthropologie $100 for a half hour of analingus.  The city I live in decriminalized marijuana but failed to regulate it, and that’s had pluses & minuses-- based on that experience though, I suspect I’d prefer some efforts at regulation. There’s something to be said for zoning, at the very least (though I did enjoy when drug dealers converted the KFC in my neighborhood into a “pharmacy”). But besides that, I guess since I didn't need persuading to Brown's point-of-view, the question of whether his arguments do or don't hold up to the reality he's presenting didn't really matter to me, as I viewed this 40-something year old guy's need to even "make arguments" to feel good about the lifestyle he found for himself as maybe being the true tragedy of the piece, far moreso than the peculiarities of how Brown obtained sexual gratification.  It's a comic about a guy who keeps telling himself he doesn't care what other people think and then spends the entire comic proving otherwise.  It succeeds for me maybe despite Brown, not because of him...?

TUCKER: I don’t know how much further I can go down the “I think this book is crap evidence for anything serious” road without seeming like I hate Brian, Chester Brown, comics and myself. I don’t! And yet, the appendixes are curdled with stuff where Chester just says “nah, it ain’t that bad” and then he footnotes some book he read that he introduces by explicitly saying that it agrees with his point of view, and I’m left wondering: what the fuck? Guys like Steve Coll make sure to footnote page numbers and present actual quotes when they’re writing about war and corporate crime, hell, the guys who wrote the Kurt Cobain bios I read in high school even took the time to tell you where the actual words “Kurt really loved shooting up heroin” came from. Chester writes things like “human trafficking: not a big deal” and his footnote says “the best book I read about how human trafficking wasn’t a big deal is called ‘human trafficking is not a big deal’ and you should read it”. Man up, dude. Where’s all this information coming from? Who said it? Why are they right? What page is that line you’re quoting from? Take this appendix and compare it to the backmatter of any serious non-fiction book on anything--the superrunners of Africa, the original Friday Night Lights, a book about the collapse of AT&T--and you’ll see a pretty major difference in terms of what rules you’re supposed to follow when you’re playing the research paper game.

JEFF: Although I feel like I’ve been the designated Brown apologist throughout this discussion, the appendices are indefensible, plain and simple.  Everything Tucker says should be printed on a slip of paper and inserted into every edition of the book.  Unlike in the cartooning section of the book where I think Brown is in control of every choice he makes and presents exactly what he wants, I really can’t imagine Brown wants to present himself as a sloppy researcher truly uninterested in being challenged on what he thinks (or giving people the materials to do so)...and yet that’s precisely how the Brown of the appendices comes off.  They are, to put it lightly, a horrible misfire that undercuts the majority of the book.


Savage Symposium: PAYING FOR IT (Part 2 of 4)

Here's Question #3.  

Question 3: Craft Versus Presentation. PAYING FOR IT has a rigid grid, which is common for Chester Brown’s work, but he’s moved to an eight panel grid for this book, while LOUIS RIEL, for example, was a six panel grid. I personally found this choice (despite the now white bordering) to be incredibly cramped and, because of the smaller panels, “not comic-y”. This isn’t helped, in my mind, by the camera choices, which are a whole lot of middle shots, or repeated shots (virtually every sex scene is staged in the exact same way). Brown also (and stop me if I’m piling on here) simplified his style, to my eye, for the smaller panels -- many faces and figures are barely rendered, and while there is still a fair amount of cross-hatching and whatnot, the overall impression is very different than you’d take from RIEL. Again, purely for this reader, at the end of reading PAYING FOR IT (especially because there’s so much text at the back) I found myself thinking “Just why was this a comic, again?” because I think that I believe that it would have functioned just as well as straight text. I mean, all the way to the point that there’s really only one scene that I can recall as visually interesting, and that involves Brown’s penis. Is my assessment too harsh? Is this “good cartooning”?

ABHAY: I'm not an expert on this kind of thing, but. Like, I don't know if any of this is going to make any sense, but I guess how I think about it: 6-panel grid, you're dealing with square-r panels than an 8-panel, which has composition & storytelling implications, i.e. with the 8-panel, you can do more storytelling via the composition, by putting a character on the left-side or the right-side of a panel.  That's more "meaningful" with a rectangle-- it has more potential storytelling value.  So, as an example on pages 37-41, when Brown's about to go to a prostitute for the first time, he's on the left side of the panel through-out that sequence until he hands the prostitute the money when he "crosses-over" suddenly to the right side of the panel.  Which has a meaning we can read into it, on its own terms.  Is it an intentional choice?  Fuck if I know, but we can think of it as being one as it makes a sort of sense, and write little essays about it, and blah blah blah yay blogs.  I don't know about generally-- like, compositionally, I don't know if there's any difference in applying shit like the rule-of-thirds between the two-- I couldn't tell you that, and just glancing through PAYING FOR IT, I don't see that Brown's a stickler much for rule-of-thirds especially. (Rule of thirds is a camera thing that... you put objects of interests at the intersections of horizontal and vertical 1/3rd marks, and it helps to create a clearer image; I feel like photographers talk about it more though I've overheard comic artists talking about it among themselves, a couple times).

But all that said, I'm not a huge 8-panel fan anymore-- I think it traps artists in "cinematic" language and thinking, solutions.  You know: 6-panel's the language of Kirby and Jeff Smith-- I think it's more of a cartoonist's dialect, than 8-panel which I've always thought writers got off on more, maybe...?  Like, I think you're more likely to hear about Dave Lapham's STRAY BULLETS (which was all 8-panel, of course) from comic writers than comic artists...? Guys who want comics to be movies--  that's what goes through my head when I see an 8; that's the weird prejudice I have. (12-panel-- I couldn't tell you why, but 12 panel seems just really ugly and inelegant to me. I really-- I find those noxious, and I couldn't tell you why. 16's seem like a cartoonist thing and not a writer thing-- I love a 16, but it's ... it's MTV; you look at how Miller used it in DARK KNIGHT and he's just moving constantly-- he's less rigid about his grid than Brown, but the grid still drives him towards this absurd hyperactivity that I'm really fond of. 9 panel... people say the 9's are tough to do-- I can see how that'd be, having to deal with vertical rectangles instead of horizontal rectangles.  So I don't know-- I think this is the kind of shit you need hands-on-paper experience to understand, more than I have).  Anyways, with re: PAYING FOR IT, I think he made the right choice because he needed to linger in scenes, and it seems like he wanted the camera to be more of an objective presence than a subjective one (which I think was a very strong choice, personally); plus, long scenes in limited locations.  6 panel's too dramatic / bombastic for that-- Jack Kirby's WHOREFUCKING DINOSAUR, or whatever, that's what I'm seeing in my head (and it's magical!); 16's too jittery -- imagine watching Chester Brown fucking hookers through one of those Battlestar Galactica cameras, or like it's the D-Day scene of PRIVATE RYAN-- 16's would freak people out too much; 9 panel might have worked but... I just think a 9 would have made it even less visual. I think he'd have lost the benefits of ... a horizontal rectangle is how we actually view the world, so he'd have lost the benefits of peripheral vision...?  Those panels of Brown walking through Toronto, where you can see the setting around him--- I thought those were the best panels in the book...?  I really enjoyed those as drawings.  But I couldn't tell you if it'd have subjectivity/objectivity implications.  I don't think so because... well, one could hardly accuse the "camera" in WATCHMEN of being overly subjective. I don't know.  Maybe I have something against 9's, I don't know.  I don't know.  I always thought the Europeans had the better idea, where if you look at, like, Hugo Pratt, Franquin, Herge-- everything's on 4 tiers, but within any one tier, they'll do 1, 2, 3 panels depending on what they need, so they have the rigidity of a grid and the timing of a grid, but with some flexibility, more sensitivity to story.  It's the difference between classical music and jazz.  But Brown's comics seem like classical music, so him using strict grids makes sense to me.  PAYING FOR IT, it fucking ain't exactly CORTO MALTESE.

I think the sex scenes looking the same was on purpose.  Or should have been on purpose.  Brown has all this anxiety about the act-- he calls it "vaginal intercourse" at one point (I liked that part), but as drawn-- he doesn't draw it as being some crazy big deal.  I liked that choice personally-- I thought it suggested more self-awareness from Brown than the rest of the book.  It's what made the lecture scenes kind-of so sad for me, that he seemed like he had some ability to see what was funny about himself, buried under all that rationalizing. I was more interested in that, his capacity to see himself as a silly person, his humanity than his mere capacity to reason.  But.  Also: I certainly didn't have a problem with repeating panels! Well, actually, those were distracting for me because having an interest in repeating panels, I spent ... I spent more time thinking about how Brown was approaching the repeating panels than I did thinking about the ethics of prostitution.  Brown didn't just copy-paste-- each panel of the "repeating panels" has minute differences-- at least if he repeated, I couldn't catch him (and I would say that I tried unusually hard to).  Which... I guess Brown can't afford a computer or digital art tools-- and has a heightened interset in having original art to sell or display at gallery shows-- but... Those repeating panels are the kind of thing where knowing how to use Photoshop or Manga Studio might have really sped the plow for the guy...

As for whether it "needed to be a comic," or if it took advantage of the form, I think maybe.  I guess some people think it could have just been an essay instead...?  It's not the most visually gratifying comic, no, I'll grant you that.  But I don't think an essay would have been quite as creepy-as-fuck or as clinical in its depiction of the sex work, and the work would have suffered without those things.  He’s trying to “de-mystify” the prostitution experience, and an essay would leave too much to the overactive imaginations of his readers-- and fail for that reason.  Also, with an essay, we’d have been stuck purely with the dreary "I know things" Chester Brown, and ... that wasn't the part of the book I was interested in so...

TUCKER: The only other things I’ve read by Brown are The Playboy, I Never Liked You and Underwater, and I thought all of those ill-prepared me for how uninteresting this book was on a visual level. I think this is a comic because Brown couldn’t have written a book about the same subject and gotten that published. By drawing it--even in this stilted, precious fashion that I freely admit has certainly grabbed the admiration of a wide swath of intelligent readers and critics who I believe are worth paying attention to--he’s able to get away with what struck me as an basic inability to recognize the emotional suffering (potential and/or actual) of the women he encountered throughout the last decade or so that he’s been doing this. I don’t think he would’ve escaped that criticism as thoroughly as he has if he’d been forced to write an actual book.

JEFF: I see your point, Mr. Stone, but I gotta at least partially disagree: Brown is a cartoonist.  It’s all he’s ever done, at least professionally.  Do you really think the reason he’s not gonna do a book of prose is because the graphic novel is easier to slip past the gatekeepers who published and positively reviewed, I dunno, Frey’s A Million Little Pieces?

TUCKER: I don’t think it’s a gatekeeper type situation. I just don’t think there’s anything substantial here that would merit attention if the book were in a purely prose form. Brown isn’t open enough about what’s going on in his life for this to be an impressive (or interesting) memoir, and he hasn’t done enough hard work for this to be a valid political or sociological treatise. This thing only exists because the standards that comics extends towards non-fiction are incredibly low and the field itself is so barren. Basically, if you can spell your own name and draw yourself in a functional, recognizable fashion, you’re going to look impressive alongside the shit that populates most non-fiction comics.

JEFF: I agree mainstream reviewing standards are pretty lax: apart from a genuinely good turn of phrase or two (such as referring to Brown as looking like “a praying mantis with testicles”), Dwight Garner’s review in the NYT was about as softball a review as it gets.  Although maybe I’ve been steadily acclimated by Brown’s (and compatriot Joe Matt’s) willingness to previously discuss their own sexuality in detail:  Garner refers to the book as “squeamish-making” which is pretty much how I felt, say, when encountering “The Man Who Would Not Stop Shitting” in ED THE HAPPY CLOWN or Brown showing us all how to “Do The Chester” (as Peter Bagge called it) in THE PLAYBOY (or I NEVER LIKED YOU, I can’t remember which) but which I didn’t really feel here.

As for the six v. eight panel grid, if I remember correctly, Brown in the past used to draw his panels one at time on a separate sheet of paper, and then connect them on the page later.  Assuming he still does so now, it’s highly possible Brown drew every panel in the book then decided on a grid that hit a page-count that allowed him to tell the story he wanted in a format that was still affordable.

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m giving too much weight to Brown’s previous work (work I’ll gladly confess to not having revisited in a very long time, and I should also cop to never being able to get into UNDERWATER, not even a little) but his work has always seemed to be about neutrality and, for lack of a better word, disengagement.

If you read the first five issues of YUMMY FUR when they were published, I think you’d get the impression Brown was an ironic provocateur, putting a man’s head on the end of Ed’s penis, showing a guy shitting until the toilet overfilled, showing vampire girls from Hell cavorting nude...and placing all of that next to New Testament texts of Jesus.  But if you take Brown’s statements in interviews at face value (which I do), he was in fact engaging in an act of purging:  not only from the stuff he considered disgusting (pissing, shitting, body horror, and other stuff that came up while creating ED in a stream of consciousness way) but from religion. Brown had been raised religiously and, up until a certain stage in his life, had believed in Jesus.

While the impulse is to say his New Testament stories are Brown purging himself of religion, it’s more accurate to say he was trying to purge himself of the results of purging religion, if that makes any sense.  His New Testament work is stripped clean of anything that might suggest the stories are untrue, of any of the knee-jerk reactions of a disappointed believer.

Brown wants, more than anything else I think, to be a rationalist, to present things neutrally and cleanly, without judgment. If the text sections of PAYING FOR IT are unbelievably awkward, I think in no small part that’s because Brown has never argued for anything in his art before.  He has hit the age of fifty without ever trying to espouse anything (except, I suspect, in the aborted UNDERWATER), which makes him relatively unique as a creative artist.

All of which is to say:  I think Brown’s cartooning in PAYING FOR IT is perhaps a perfect distillation of Brown’s work, in which he tries, at every opportunity, to withdraw anything he sees as an emotional manipulation of the reader.  The list of what he decides to leave out is pretty mind-boggling when you think about it:  close-ups, panel variation on the page, fucking facial expressions. So for me, the eight panel grid isn’t as emotionally distancing as Brown’s refusal to move in tighter than a two shot.  Brown, Seth, and Matt are barely even cartoons; they’re schematics in a diagram, a notation that allows you to keep track of who is saying what.

I understand why Brian would reject this but I think it’s both daring and intriguing:  what’s left of cartooning when you take out what most people think of as the cartoony stuff? It’s a question we’ve seen Kevin Huizenga and Chris Ware explore, but nowhere to the degree we see here. (Or to put it more honestly, it’s never resonated with me as much as it does here.)

We are able to recognize what’s going on, certainly, and we are able to come to conclusions.  My point is, is if Brown were a lesser artist, we would never be able to see anything but what he wants us to see.  We could only hypothesize on what was going on by recognizing the work’s internal bias and extrapolating its opposite.

But, here, I do think it’s very easy to see Brown in ways he wouldn’t “want” us to see him, or in ways that aren’t what he would think of as germane to his point, but we’re still able to see those things precisely because he has gone to such great lengths to try and bleach out all bias beforehand.  That’s the work of a pretty great cartoonist to me.

CHRIS: I have very little to add here, save to say that the most interesting thing about the art and layout for me was all the empty space at the end of chapters. Sometimes it worked as a void where all the things Brown is choosing not to discuss are hiding. Other times it punctuated what amounted to a punchline. But as often as not, it really just felt like Brown ran out of panels about that particular bit. From what I remember of Brown’s earlier work -- I believe I’ve read I NEVER LIKED YOU and THE PLAYBOY -- he always did a lot with negative space, and I liked the disconnected, almost dreamlike feel it gave to those works. It’d be a shame if the explanation for it was as prosaic as “he was just pasting shit down to fit a page requirement”, but even if that is the sole motivation, it worked with the varied panel sizes and brushstrokes of those other books far better than it did here.



Savage Symposium: PAYING FOR IT part 1 (of 4)

As part of the 10th anniversary of The Savage Critic on the web, and since we had such a great time last year doing it with WILSON, we've decided to try and do several Savage Symposiums this year, leading with one "mainstream" and one "alternative" title. Abhay is leading the superhero one, which should see print in about two weeks, and I ended up leading this one, for Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT.  

I asked the gang five questions, the first two of which are presented here for your reading pleasure. A question a day will follow through Friday.


Since we didn't know what our reactions would be until after the book (s) were released, I found that I wasn't a huge fan of PFI, and my questions are generally pretty bitchy. That said, I think you'll find this to be fun reading.


I suck REALLY hard because I've got no art for this, and if I have to go find some (or, more likely, scan it myself) this won't get up for another few weeks...


Anyway, enough preamble, let's get to it!


Question 1: Memoir Versus Polemic. PAYING FOR IT is subtitled as “A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John”, but I actually wonder how much you found that to be true? Perhaps this is an issue of definitions, but (to me) a “memoir” doesn’t try to lead one to a point. I think that it is true that memoirs don’t need to be as strictly honest as one expects of an autobiography (or as Will Rogers said, “Memoirs means when you put down the good things you ought to have done and leave out the bad ones you did do”), but PAYING FOR IT strikes me much more as a constructed argument that attempts to use the autobiographical form, than a memoir in and of itself. Plus, it pretty much cuts away right when it gets to what I felt was the most interesting point of the memoir -- how does a monogamous paid relationship actually work? Anyway, am I splitting hairs here? Does it succeed as a memoir? Does it succeed as a polemic?

JEFF: A good set of questions here, Bri, and I think it’s not that you’re splitting hairs with the book so much as trying to [and hopefully this will be my only exasperating pun] find a convenient hole to put it in.

Certainly, Will Rogers’ definition of a memoir doesn’t jibe with the current use of the term and hasn’t for at least a decade, if not longer. In fact, it’s probably more true to define today’s memoir as exactly the inverse:  the memoir is the refuge of drug addicts and alcoholics, adulterers and participants in incestuous relationships, crooked cops, career cheats, wastrels, rakes, and -- worst of all -- writers with literary ambitions.

But just because your definition is outdated doesn’t mean you’re wrong.  One of the many, many problematic aspects of PAYING FOR IT is that it’s neither one or the other.  It’s a memoir and it’s a polemic, and it’s not just an argument for the legalization of unlicensed sex work, but it’s also an argument against monogamy and romantic love, to boot.  (And based on how Chester Brown draws himself, you could also imagine it’s the weirdest Mr. X story ever told, but maybe only I did that.)

PAYING FOR IT  is like Thoreau’s Walden except with blow jobs instead of trees, and Walden generally doesn’t get dinged for mixing its autobiographical elements with its polemic ones.  I think PAYING FOR IT’s failures (and its successes) transcend whether it works as a memoir or a polemic. As you point out below, Brown’s admissions and adherence to his definition of a memoir end up puncturing some of his most crucial arguments.  But what appears to be your take on the book -- “PAYING FOR IT is a polemic, and a bad one because the things Brown shows contradict his points” -- show an impressive lack of generosity toward the creator.  Maybe it’s a bad polemic because it’s not supposed to be a polemic?

But then, that does beg the question -- what the fuck is this book, anyway? Having that question unresolved makes this book absurdly hard to write about in more than the most superficial way. I hope I can get a better take on what it might be and how it functions as we proceed.

I will say this, though:  PAYING FOR IT has given me a lot to think about and I think that makes  it, at the very least, a “not-failure.”

ABHAY: I don’t think I read enough memoirs to have strong “genre expectations” where they’re concerned.  I think it succeeded for me as a memoir-- just maybe not one concerning prostitution. For me, it’s a story about this guy, growing old alone, alone except for some equally, uh, “eccentric” artist friends, and his desperate need to rationalize to them something unusual he finds that makes him happy, however little they seem to care.  He can’t accept just being a quote-unquote “bad person,” or accept that Joe Matt’s stepmother judges him, or simply keep his personal life to himself—the story is his struggle to make what he’s doing not only acceptable, but “right”, morally correct, until at the end, he’s “succeeded” and reasoned & rationalized & pontificated his way to something almost resembling a happy ending.  As a story about prostitution, I’m not sure if it meant much to me.  But as a story about people’s need for acceptance, just to be accepted as you grow older, maybe about friendship—looked at that way, I suppose that I think it succeeds quite a bit.  I think it’s a very sad comic, though. I don’t know that it succeeds in a way that Brown intended, to the extent that matters.

So, I think I differ with most of the reviews I’ve seen in that I think cutting away from the “most interesting point” was the best choice Brown made.  I’m not sure if this is intentional or not by Brown but...  by doing so, he presents this relationship with this woman he “loves” as being secondary to telling Seth about it.  I think it’s a more meaningful and telling detail that we saw THAT instead of him expressing his love directly to his employee.

(I don’t know.  It’s that weird thing with memoirs where… are we supposed to judge his life?  He’s selling his life. But I know people get queasy about that sort of thing, and heck, I suppose I do too…)

As a polemic though, I’d suggest it’s a failure.  But come on:  how many people are really buying this comic with an open mind?  Political art in general for me-- there’s always that thing of “congratulations on blowing the minds of the well-meaning liberals trying to impress one another with how cool & laid back they are.” Still—he’s debating Joe Matt and Seth…?  Clarence Darrow’s not really breaking a sweat with those two, by the looks of things.  To succeed as a polemic, Brown would have had to have engaged with the world around him, and talked to educated, engaged people with differing viewpoints on the issues, instead of beating-up on straw men.  He’d have to have been Joe Sacco, instead of drawing himself lecturing Seth. Plus:  Brown presents himself as being a broken weirdo riding a bicycle.  I don’t think it really challenges reader’s prejudices to find out that broken weirdos bicycle to-and-fro brothels.  (That absurd scene of Seth telling Brown to “get a girlfriend” – sure, sure, there are probably acres of Canadian women, waiting for a hoser with a Schwinn ten-speed to pedal into their lives.)  While it’s perhaps true that odd guys like prostitutes, it’s certainly been my experience that way, way more guys than fit that  description have paid for sex, just thinking of people I’ve known or met, friends of friends, etc. I’ve known a wide range of guy-- most of whom I’d call “decent” and “normal”-- who’ve paid for sexual encounters, and none of them have been like Chester Brown.  Hell, it’s been ALL of our experiences, thanks to Tiger Woods.  Eliot Spitzer.  Hugh Grant. Etc.  I think Chester Brown damaged his case by virtue of being Chester Brown...?  Maybe that’s cruel, though.

TUCKER: I thought it succeeded as a memoir under the most basic “googled a definition of the word” rules. This is some stuff Chester Brown did, some conversations he remembers having, and his personal beliefs on the subject of prostitution. That’s enough for it to be a memoir, in my book. I’m inclined to agree with Abhay in that I think this story ends up being a lot more about the fact that Chester Brown has some unusual and unpopular beliefs that end up making this a memoir more about how Chester might be a pretty unusual person than it does a book about prostitution or any other subject he might have planned on. I’m going to forget about the appendix and remember Seth calling him a robot, basically.

On the question of whether its a polemic or not--I can see where people might say that it is in terms of the way Chester presents his belief system, but I just can’t take it seriously, and I’ll just go ahead and say that I find it absurd that anyone else would do so. The appendix to the book reads like one of those 9/11 truther websites, only this is about why human trafficking isn’t that bad because Chester underlines the word “want” in the phrase “they want to be trafficked”, and the hits go on from there. I wasn’t totally surprised by the junior high school library card essay club nature of the notes half in the back--by the time I’d gotten there, I’d already seen the way Chester “debated” these subjects with his friends--but I was still a bit surprised at how much effort seems to have been put into presenting a dilettante's attempt at rationalizing his behavior as if it were on the same level as a Pulitzer winning investigative team. Early on, Chester shoots down a perfectly good argument from Seth (in the Odysseus/romantic love discussion) by asking if Seth has any stories to back it up. When Seth says “if there is one, I don’t remember it”, Chester chooses to use Seth’s lack of proof AS proof...for the Chester Brown point of view. That’s the kind of “argument” going on here, and while I’ve got zero problems with that as local color for a memoir, and would go so far as to say that re-reading all of the Seth scenes alongside Seth’s own appendix makes it an even better memoir, it’s one of the main reasons that I don’t see any reason why someone would engage with this thing as a political animal. I’d point anyone towards Seth’s own words who argues differently.

CHRIS: I'm going to bypass everyone else's definitions of memoir and look at PAYING FOR IT based on what I assume is the reader's expectation for any memoir, be it a conquering hero's victory lap, the confession of a scandalized figure, or Some Quirky Person's Quirky Story: to get some insight on the subject of the memoir.

On that level, PAYING FOR IT didn't work for me as a memoir. I knew going in that Chester Brown was a Canadian cartoonist that championed the patronization of sex workers over monogamous romance. I knew he was friends with Seth and Joe Matt, and that he used to date that lady from MuchMusic. I think I even knew he was a libertarian. If the reader didn't know any of that, they can read the dust jacket of the book or skim his concise Wikpedia entry.

Brown's decision to minimize any aspects of his life that didn't involve being a john is understandable, if frustrating. Like Abhay, I think his conversations with Matt and Seth were the most illuminating and engaging narrative spine. But to structure the book as essentially a catalog of all his paid orgasms, and then seemingly take pains to genericize all but the Yelp Review-iest portions of said orgasms made large stretches of the book a slog for me. For an act that he posits is so 'sacred', he might as well have written a 'memoir' about all of the times in the past eight years that he's scored cocaine, or shoplifted a book, or shit in someone's hat. Actually, I bet all of those would have more variety in their telling. Unless of course Brown decided that to 'protect' others that he would draw all of the hats as a Seth-style fedora, and change the names of the stolen books.

As a polemic, it succeeded in feeling like a polemic. But I had the same reaction as Tucker to the level of argumentation. It didn't help that a few years ago I read Against Love: A Polemic -- at the behest of a Canadian girl, now that I think of it, what's with Canadians? -- and it covered much of the same ground, except it was written by a college professor who understands how to argue and cite resources. I didn't find it any more compelling than Seth's argument, but I could at least admire the structure.


Question 2: Entertainment Versus Argument. I’m not certain that I’ve read anything much like PAYING FOR IT before, primarily because I think that it mostly functions as an argument above all else. This isn’t why I, as an individual, read comics (or, for that matter, consume most other media) -- it isn’t that all work would need to be fiction, but more that non-fiction work should either be properly objective (like, say, LOUIS RIEL) or “entertaining” (like, say PYONGYANG or even PERSEPOLIS). Even in cases where it’s clear that the author has a clear point of view on what they are discussing (say, MAUS), I expect to be “entertained” by the story. Does this make me a obnoxious reader? Is this expectation fair to the work, and were YOU entertained by it? For me, I really flashed back to CEREBUS #186 more than anything else, and thought “am I supposed to be enjoying spending my time with this?” I can’t ever imagine reading this again, whereas I go back to my first four examples on a fairly regular basis.

JEFF: Aughhhhhh!  Can I just say that for a moment, here?  Aughhhhh!

I think your questions do a fantastic job of laying down a framework for discussing the book, B, but I’m finding myself reacting more to your framework than to the book itself.  Let’s just say that there are three levels of struggle going on with me here:  (1) I’m struggling with whether your very common-sense definitions are inappropriate just for this book, or for art in general;  (2) I’m struggling with how to define PAYING FOR IT, which is great at resisting classification and terrible at accepting it; and (3) I’m struggling with whether I can consider the book a success even if I decide it fails at what I decide it’s trying to do.

Whether or not entertainment was PAYING FOR IT’s intent, I was entertained by this book.  I was entertained by how Chester Brown looked like Mr. X.  I was entertained by how much Joe Matt came off as selfish, insecure, more than a little weaselly, and yet still fully rounded as a character. I was especially entertained by Appendix 3, in which Chester Brown creates the world’s worst argument for prostitution by imagining a future in which everyone has sex with anyone they don’t find abhorrent as long as they are paid -- it was like reading a Jack T. Chick tract from Bizarro Earth!  I was entertained by CB’s drawing of himself in tighty-whities.  I was entertained by the time I spent trying to imagine how Brown might score on tests for mild autism.  I was entertained by the idea Brown thinks he knows the lives of sex workers because he’s been a john, and how that might be similar/dissimilar to the way viewers might think they know the life of a creator because they’ve beheld their art.

Entertainment isn’t the right word in many cases here.  Maybe it’s something like “engagement”?  For example, I’m reluctant to say I was “entertained” by the scene in which Brown admits to being turned on by the woman who keeps saying “ow!” while he has sex with her -- but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was...I dunno, enthralled?  Trying to figure out why Brown would admit such a thing took up a certain amount of active thought, you know what I mean?  Is Brown trying to portray himself in a neutral light?  A positive light?  Is he trying to play “fair” with the reader?  Was he totally unaware of how dehumanizing it is to portray every sex worker as faceless?

For that matter, why does he think someone will recognize a sex worker’s face from a caricature?  Why does he think he can’t create new faces, new names?  Why does he tell us he drew “their bodies accurately, or as accurately as my memory allows”?  If Brown sees sex “as  sacred and potentially spiritual” (as he tells us in Appendix 15), why does he remove every emotional component from his sexual encounters?  Why does Brown have a nimbus of light in many of his panels, but not others?  Why does every sexual encounter have that nimbus?  Is that his definition of the spiritual?  Why does that book end with the picture of Brown?  Why did I shudder when I saw it?

These considerations don’t “entertain” me, but I find them engaging as hell.  And I feel a certain appreciation for Brown for allowing me to consider these things because he stays so true to...whatever the hell he’s staying true to.  Because he stays true to it, I’m able to come to some conclusions I wouldn’t have been able to if Brown had been more willing to manipulate me or prevaricate.

ABHAY: I think I’d classify it as a “personal essay.”  Those are pretty common.

I don’t know if I’d call PAYING FOR IT “entertaining”, but I’m not sure if we all have the same definition of that term.  (Especially as I’m not a PERSEPOLIS fan).  But it’s a provocative piece of work, and maybe that has its place, too.  I think it’s more provocative and suggests more for the reader to think about than a number of the other comic memoirs I’ve read (e.g. FUN HOME, say)-- and so I would think at least some select audiences would find it “entertaining,” by virtue of that fact. There were a few pages where I was creeped-out by what he was showing or the fact he’d made the comic at all, namely page 1 to the final page that I read.  I think I had the same reaction as Jeff to the author photo.  I went “UGH” or “YIKES” a couple times out loud.  Whether that’s “entertaining,” or we need a different word for it, I don’t know, but I have no regrets. (Seth’s line about Brown & Joe Matt was certainly funny).  My reaction to most comics is “What were they even trying to do?  Why did they even bother? Why is this taking place at an AA meeting?” So, I prefer being skeeved-out to feeling nothing. And I definitely got to feel skeeved-out lots and lots, so.

And heck, some of the jokes were funny—I certainly hope that Brown bicycling away from his “conquests” was meant to be humor, at least.  Enough of it was funny to me that I guess I took the non-lecture chunks to be intentional black comedy and not something unintentional.  Though, I thought there was some fine unintentional comedy, too.  You know, part of the comedy of PAYING FOR IT for me is that Brown’s looking at the rest of the world, saying “Look at how crazy all these OTHER assholes are.”  I think that’s fucking hilarious.  It’s funny for me that Brown can’t abandon his need to judge the rest of the world, no matter how shitty his life gets-- the Good Lord knows that’s the road I’m on, so here’s to the good life! Did Brown intend it as a comedy, that the ultimate endpoint of the world-view expressed in alternative comics is a bald man thinking the rest of the world is crazy while he grunts over his imported sex slave hiding her face with her hair so she doesn’t have to see the skeletal rictus he calls an O-Face?  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  Is it technically comedy when you’re the only one laughing?  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Are we supposed to judge his life?  Here we are.

I don’t think I’m interested enough in the subject matter to have sought it out for myself if we weren’t doing this. There’s an old Dennis Miller line, back before he became so awful— something like “The most interesting thing in the world to me is my orgasm, and the least interesting thing in the world to me is your orgasm.”  You know, I bought the Winshluss PINOCCHIO the same week—I’m much more taken by that.  I thought that was significantly, significantly more impressive.

Since I didn’t need persuading on the issue of prostitution-- I’m basically okay with whatever people want to do—for me, it’s nothing I’m especially excited about because the book didn’t add to much more than an exercise in “Look at me.”  Maybe that’s true of all memoirs; I’m just not a memoir guy-- I’m too self-centered. I get my “Look at me” needs filled quite sufficiently by the internet.   This comic would be very impressive if the internet doesn’t exist—but as it does... You can read the diaries of a prostitute at the McSweeneys site, not exactly a hotbed of lasciviousness—discussion of such things is not particularly hidden from view or noteworthy.  And the act of an artist revealing something startling and unseemly about their lifestyles for their commercial gain—shit, I don’t know why anyone would find that very surprising.  I suppose these things are rare for comics but … so is intelligence, wit, craft, not-hating-women-constantly, charm, originality—shit, once we start making that list, we’ll be here all fucking day.  And-- and I don’t know.  I’m rambling.  Sorry.  So, in conclusion, I think Frank Miller said it best when he said, “Whores.”

TUCKER: It’s probably worth mentioning that I only read and decided to participate in this questionnaire after reading Abhay’s above response.

BRIAN: And I just want to jump back in here and second that Winshluss PINOCCHIO recommendation...

TUCKER: Lemme third that one for you. That Pinocchio book is incredible.




Tucker Goes Deep Inside Hal Jordan's War

Green Lantern 64 (Part One of War of The Green Lanterns)

Hal Jordan? Funny you asked. As a result of of the death of his father, he’s refused to acknowledge fear, forever living a life of risk and insubordination. He lacks professionalism and restraint and has never been able to keep his emotions in check. The Green Lantern Corps--a paramilitary police organization whose shield he operates under--was willing to look the other way, until he started hanging out with aliens who have and use colored rings from other spokes of what’s been called “The Emotional Spectrum”. Forming what's been called the Rainbow Squadron, this unofficial team of Jordan's is unacceptable to the Corps, so he must be, and he will be...arrested.

That’s the blurb I wished they’d use for this series. It would look good in a bold white font on an all black background, being read aloud by a Kevin Conroy-type. I didn’t really have to change any of the comic's actual text either, that’s all from the first few pages of this issue.

The rest of this issue's pages follow.

GL Cover

The rainbow squadron--or the Kaledeioscopic Klan O' Kosmic Kops, they don’t seem to have a real name--have just discovered a large black hardcover book, and this book contains the Guardian’s darkest secrets. (The Guardians are the small floating blue people who give out the Green Lantern rings.) This big black book is about the size of a mid-range automobile, and when Hal Jordan decides to close it, he uses his ring to create an old lady wearing the female version of the Col. Sanders tie to close it for him. There is a bit of a hubbub when it is revealed that Atrocitus (he’s the Red Lantern, they’re the ones who vomit blood) already knew the secret that the team came to find, which is about a rogue Guardian named Krona who is responsible for killing everyone in Atrocitus “sector”. (Sectors are like states, but intergalactic. I don’t believe it has ever been explained who came up the borders of the individual sectors, which sounds like an untapped well of historical map-constructing possibility if you ask me, which I am.) Responding to Atrocitus’ betrayal with some of the lack of restraint that’s got him in hot water, Hal Jordan lashes out and smashes our Red Lantern against a wall, which makes cracks in the wall and also squirts the Red Lantern signal out of Atrocitus’s back. Embarrassing? On purpose? It just reminds me of the old Spider-Man light signal that he’d spray out of his belt. I bet they don’t let him use that anymore now that he wears that white suit. It would just be a big flashlight! That’s what cops do, not Spider-Man.

Then, there’s a big surprise that interrupts the fight that was getting ready to go down between Hal (who is a regular human man) and Atrocitus (who is a big tough alien who vomits blood), which is disappointing. The book pops open, and Larfleeze (the Orange Lantern who represents people with large comic book collections) gets tricked into grabbing an actual orange lantern (which is attached to a easy-to-see chain). The chain sucks Larfleeze into the book like a flushed toilet, making way for the reveal of...Lyssa Drak, the Story Vampire! She’s the Keeper of the Book of the Black! See?

Story Vampire

They call that the real deal.


Oa is where the floating smurf people live. They are in their hovering room, talking about themselves and how disappointed they are in Hal Jordan, which I’m pretty sure is the only thing I’ve ever seen them do with their time, except for in Blackest Night, when a bunch of them got their hearts ripped out. They seem really put out that their lantern wielders always go bad, but not so much that they’re actually upset about it, because having emotional reactions would be unacceptable.

Although these sorts of comic book cutaways usually resolve itself by throwing out some kind of cliffhanger line before returning to the previous Hal Jordan-centric action, this one doesn’t. Instead, a big light show goes off, turning the hover dome--that's a dome for hovering--into a massive reverse planeterium, which makes yellow shit squirt out of the noses and ears of the Guardians. yellow shit


There’s this actor guy I know, who has a pretty good career now playing terrorists in Stephen Speiberg movies as well as scientists in Keanu Reeves movies, but when I knew him, all he wanted to do was a scene from Narc where he played the Jason Patric part and me and my old roommate played the Busta Rhymes and other rapper part. In the scene, Busta and the other guy are beat-to-shit and tied to chairs, which seemed pretty boring. To have a bit of fun with it, we both bought massive amounts of the really expensive fake blood, the kind that has a mint flavor and nutritional information, and then we just went to fucking town, making our own capsules and packs and pouring the shit in any manner of things. When we did the scene--which just consisted of us crying and screaming expletives while our very own Jason Patric forgot his lines and fake punched us--we had so much blood pouring out of our mouths and scalp that you could hear people retching while they watched. Later on, I found out the secret: people will tolerate hardcore violence, and they’ll tolerate fake blood coming out of just about anything, including your groin (that was all me son), but the sight of it coming out of the ear? It was made clear to me in no uncertain terms that the average audience member is always going to turn their nose--and quite possibly, their lunch--up when that starts to happen.


The lightshow and yellow bodily fluid are all attributable to the return of Krona, the Guardian that the Crayola Unit are looking for...on the other side of the galaxy! (Actually, the comic just says that Hal's Color Guard is in the Lost Sector, i’m just assuming that means other side of the galaxy because that would be dramatic.) Krona has brought the “entities” with him, they are gigantic alien dragon-looking characters chained to the inside of his ripped up black cape-y outfit, which makes him look like a cross between a Smurf AND Gargamel, with a touch of Doctor Octopus for good measure. The entites each represent one of the different colored rings, and are named as follows:

The Butcher: Entity of Rage Parallax: Entity of Fear Ophidian: Entity of Avarice Proselyte: Entity of Compassion Adara: Entity of Hope Ion: Entity of Will and last, but not least Predator: Entity of Love

Predator is the entity of love? Is that some kind of meta joke designed to make fun of people that hate relationships? Why can’t “Love” have an entity with a goofy, meaningless name like....well, like all of them, except for Rage, who gets a pass because Rage has “The” in its name, which is pretty awesome. When I get a bulldog--and trust me, I'm getting a bulldog someday--it will be named Dumptruck and The Dance Contest, because I really like the idea of having "and" and "The" in the names of animals.

Anyway, after this big reveal--it’s a two-page splash, this twenty-two page comic’s second--the story makes a quick return to Hal Jordan's Planeteers. Sinestro is yelling at the librarian vampire (they used to work together) but she is still mad at him for abandoning her to live inside a book. (Which is fair.) According to  her, the book she was living in has more “tales of the unknown” than a different book has about the Green Lanterns. This seems like an obvious thing to say, but it's ultimately irrelevant, isn't it? Hal and Company pretty much came here for Krona and Krona related information; the book itself and the blue lady who live inside it aren't really important to the story in any concise way, she's just important to these particular pages and the particular beats this issue has to hit. Considering how obvious this is, it's curious why additional attention is being placed on it. Alternatively, maybe this is where they start setting up the next Green Lantern "Event" that will follow this one, as that seems to be the pattern of these Green Lantern comics--constantly postponing actual conclusions.

Anyway: in keeping with the necessities of the plot which dictate that Hal Jordan start hanging out with people again, the Sexy Bondage Librarian freezes some of our least favorite team members inside the giant book, and the comic returns to Oa.

jawing bout it

Back on Oa, Krona is being a bad guy, meaning he is ripping off somebodies lower jaw, which is an old school technique from the Old Testament. It works like a charm, if your ultimate goal is to really hurt somebodies face, and that seems to be Krona's ultimate goal. Awaken the Giant Within and all that. After this one page break for jaw-ripping, we're back to the Lost Sector, where Hal, Sinestro and Hal’s ex-girlfriend are all struggling to escape the giant book, which is eating them. Hal's ex-girlfriend is wearing that kind of bathing suit that has to be glued or taped onto the female body, which is why you’ll only think they are sexy until the first time you see one of them get taken off, and then you'll be a bodysuit man for life. For some reason, these three are being quicksanded into the book instead of frozen like the Hope and Compassion people were , which would have been quicker and not allowed Hal and Sinestro the time to kiss their rings together, which is the Green Lantern version of “crossing the streams”, which is a reference to the movie Ghostbusters. Like in Ghostbusters, this instance of doing something you shouldn’t as a last resort--I'm assuming ring kissing is also totally dangerous--totally works, and Hal is set free, although all of his team disappears and their rings clatter to the floor. To show us how big of a deal this is, Doug Mahnke draws the panel of Hal Jordan reaching towards his team’s rings from a viewpoint INSIDE Sinestro’s ring, which, for a comic supposedly about emotionless justice drones, is pretty clearly geared towards making one feel some kind of emotion. And bang, right then, the other Green Lanterns--the ones from the first part of this comic, who were all worked up about Hal’s Team of Useless Multi-Colored Fucking Assholes--have arrived, and they're ready to do some arresting!

They arrive in a one-page splash, which is great for people who don’t have a lot of time, because it makes this comic take a lot less time to read. After we get this inspired use of the serialized comic book medium out of the way, one of the Green Lanterns who has arrived to arrest Hal Jordan does something totally dickish that endears him to me forever. Here, take a look:

dick move

That part where the long skinny one says “What book?” and then says “It doesn’t matter before Hal can finish answering--that’s such a prick move. In your smug plastic asshole face, Hal Jordan. You just got fucking served, buddy. Oh sure, Hal argues a little bit more, but it’s obviously just time-killing bullshit, because the comic keeps jumping back to Oa and the Krona guy, who is putting the yellow entity of fear (Parallax) inside the gigantic green Coleman lantern all of the smurfs on Vowel Planet pray to. For some reason, this gives all of the non-Hal Jordan Green Lanterns yellow eyes, and then the long-skinny dick one wakes up, freaks out, and starts shooting his own alien version of the Swastika out of his ring. (I thought it might be a specific swastika, but I used google to find this picture of the world’s swastikas, and it seems to be one of his own long n’ skinny alien construction.) Back on Oa, Krona looks to have turned the Guardians into his own version of Hal’s rainbow squadron, which ha ha, I already saw how useless that kind of 90's Benetton ad works out when you plop them into a face off against a gigantic book of secret stories. Like any good hero at the start of a tale, Hal Jordan runs away, thus starting the War of the Green Lantern Corps off on the classic foot of "For a Guy With No Fear, You Sure Are A Big Fucking Coward".

I guess I'd rate this Eh or Okay? The part where the guy got his jaw ripped off was pretty surprising.

At Least Tucker's Got The Day Of Atonement To Look Forward To: Exactly 10,000 Words On 9/1

What follows is an experiment, never to be repeated, wherein I read as many of the last week's new comic books and graphic novels as I could find, and provided ratings on most of them. Brian suggested splitting it into two posts, but after some consideration, I've decided to publish it all at once, because it was stupid, and stupid shouldn't breed. The act of "reviewing" this many comics--quite a few of which are clearly not designed for drop-in readers, even more of which do not (nor should) include me in the target audience--is a fundamentally hideous idea, one that can in no way benefit me as a human being who wishes to do other things with his time. Whether it can benefit anyone else is beyond me to say, but I would strongly recommend never, ever, doing this.Echo #24, Abstract Studios Impressive how Terry Moore keeps pumping these issues out on a pretty regular schedule. Story isn't one I'm really into--evil corporation, sci/fi stuff, government agencies gone rogue--but after reading a couple of these, the comic does seem to have lots of stuff happening in each issue, and it's always competently put together. (This issue isn't the best example of that first statement, unless you get turned on by people shoving flash drives down shirts and disappearing in parking lots.) It's not in the slightest bit funny though, and there's always lots of what seem to be jokes. OKAY for me.

Tom Strong & The Robots of Doom #4, America's Best Comics Chris Sprouse has this thing he does with Tom Strong's jaw, where he just draws small triangles made out of parallel lines to define the curve--it's really pleasant. That's not a very valuable thing to say, neither Savage nor Critical, useless information, i'm mentioning it only because it stuck out. This comic--i liked it. It has a weird choice of focus in it, one of those comics where there's way more time spent on making up science fiction reasons to explain the A-Team style "make a giant drill we can ride on" portion of the comic than there is the part where Tom Strong meets a subterranean race of people who have evolved to the point where they are on fire all of the time. The colors never pop, it's like watching a television that's missing most of the brighter spectrum. But it's still GOOD, a well drawn comic with a pulse.

Mouse Guard: Legends of the The Guard #3, Archaia Guy Davis doing a story about an art critic who goes out and learns a lesson in real life experiences! Still not enough to push it past OKAY.

Betty And Veronica Digest #207, Archie I think these are just reprints, so I'm skipping this one.

Veronica #202, Archie This actually gets very exciting and uncomfortable in a pretty extreme way, because it really does seem like something sexxxy is going to happen when Kevin (he's the cover's "hot new guy", Archie's first out-gay character) takes Jughead back to his house to meet the folks, as the comic up until then has consistently made clear how perfect the two gentleman are for one another. The uncomfortable part is that there's no way for the reader to forget that they're reading an Archie comic, which means that you know, for sure, that Jughead and Kevin will not make out, no matter how much time is spent strongly implying that's the exact thing that is going to happen. So there you sit, pensively waiting on the moment when something tone-deaf (and gay-panicky) happens to tear the two apart. I was surprised then, as nothing actually did, the story just builds and builds and builds to a moment that should happen, doesn't, and then the comic ends. Arguably, that's probably the best way to handle them not kissing--if they aren't going to hook up, why not never give a reason, thus insuring that the reader immediately knows what the real reason is, which is that a corporate publisher is scared of alienating people who shit their pants whenever same-sex fictional characters kiss.

The gay aspect is handled pretty much the same way that previous Archie comics handled interracial dating--they just present it as fact, with little to no comment. Kevin's just gay, that's all, there's no reason for the characters to react to this in any specific dramatic way. It's surprisingly mature, considering it being, you know a fucking Archie comic. If Kevin had a gigantic knife sticking out of his head, it would be aggravating that no one ever says "we should probably take you to the hospital" or at least, "aieeee", but producing a gay character and not making a big deal out of it, choosing instead to immediately incorporate that trait into a classic Archie story--Jughead fucks with Veronica--is my 800th reminder that these comics are successful things because they're produced by professionals, no matter how gross their history is in terms of creator relationships or, of course, how banal I find every single one of them to be. As a comic, these are almost always CRAP, but as an Archie comic, it's probably GOOD.

The Amory Wars: In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 #4, Boom! Studios Didn't realize how popular this was until a few weeks ago, when a bunch of stores were beating the drums to find more copies of one of the collections. Also somebody crying, Beatles in the 60's style, at a Coheed & Cambria signing? The nasty thing to do would be to call this unreadable, but it probably makes a lot of sense to somebody who has read previous issues or listened to the album it's based off of/tied into/in some relationship with. No matter what it is about--i'm still not sure, space and beards is my best guess--I hate it when there's long scenes in a comic where somebody talks to themselves at length to explain the plot. Chris Burnham's art is fine, but this struck me as a total EH.

Cars Adventures of Tow Mater #2, Boom Studios This comic's plot is taken from a storybook for young children. One part is about a tow truck (from the title) involved in a competition to see who can catch the most tires, and the other part is about a fire truck on trial for thievery. At the end of the comic, the fire truck breaks down in tears while on the witness stand. EH.

Disney's Hero Squad #8, Boom Studios Couldn't find this, not sure if its an American comic or another English translation of Italian stuff, which is what most of the Disney books seem to be.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep #something, Boom Studios Couldn't find a copy, never been able to make it through an issue.

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1, Boom Studios Kurt Busiek is behind this one in some kind of Alan Moore Doing The Courtyard kind of fashion, and the comic reads like it has a little more professional thought to it than Boom's Hunter's Fortune or Calling Cthulhu Chronicles, which seem pretty thin on the story front while being overstuffed with lots of sass. But when it comes down to it, ancient vampire lore stuff is better done in short paragraphs in Mignola comics, and crazy corporate uncle types unaware they're Waking Ancient Evil is an old hat full of grandma's ashes. Art's rushed, but it's Boom and that's the case with all their stuff. Another EH.

Incorruptible #9, Boom Studios Horacio Domingues art seems like a weird choice for the book; it's so reminscient of storyboards for an 80's cartoon that it actively works against Waid's dour, super-serious tone. I haven't read enough of this series to be totally confident in any criticism of it, but I'll admit to never buying what seems to its primary engine--an evil supervillain who used to torture innocent women decides to flip sides, cuz, "evil"--but Waid is able to deliver the thing that seems to evade lots of other super-hero writers, which is a real sense of "well, what next?" In a way, it reminds me of Fables--something that I enjoy rarely, and then only for the sense of completion that's attained when certain B-plots resolve themselves. EH, I can't work up a lot of steam for Boom in either direction.

Muppet Show Snow White #4, Boom Studios Real quick, because I'm almost done. (I'm not reading/writing about these comics in order, which I probably should've done, so that you can follow the mental collapse that occurred Friday afternoon when it dawned on me what a monumental asshole I am for even thinking this was a good idea--if you care, this is the last issue I read.) Muppet Snow White: everybody loves the Langridge stuff, and they should, because its really well put together and very unique in its utilization of the variety show format. This isn't by him, but it's funnier than I expected, and it ends with a bunch of gigantic explosions that kill all of the Muppet characters, except for Miss Piggy and a small prawn character I don't remember from when I was a child. She marries the prawn, because Kermit is dead. Also, so is everyone else. I thought this comic was pretty GOOD, and it's definitely one of those things where the context of the massive death I just described should be examined before one assumes that the extinction of all the Muppet Show characters is in any way connected to the death/dismemberment plan style of comics that's been under such frenzied attack as of late.

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects, Dark Horse Probably would've rated the opening story VERY GOOD or EXCELLENT if I'd been not-writing about comics on Savage back when it came out. I think I'll write more about this later. Pretty EXCELLENT though. The black and white art pages in Mignola collections are more interesting than a lot of full length comics, and the new material here (of which there is quite a bit) is all pretty amazing, especially "Prisoner of Mars", which is even funnier than Screw-On Head.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships # 2, Dark Horse Really gorgeous cover on this one. Mignola is a master of big, looming figures, but it's always a reward when he draws something as simple as a bat. (Okay, it's a big bat.) Ben Stenbeck handles the interiors, and the war story pages are probably the best thing he's ever done, the sort of art that makes you cringe when you remember how rushed and cheap Dynamite has gotten on some of those Battlefields issues. Not a lot happens, story wise--at least half the comic is a background story, delivered in mostly silent panels after the main character snaps at a busty girl and says "You want a STORY? I'll TELL you a story." She actually seemed to just want a chit-chat. This was GOOD.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer #36, Dark Horse Hey, a Lost joke. I never made it past the second season of that show. Can I understand this comic anyway? And isn't "vampire rights" from True Blood? WaitSpike talks to Buffy about a space hymen This is ridiculous. I've watched less than 15 minutes of this television show. I don't get this, couldn't begin to tell you if it's a good version of whatever that thing is or not. I rate this NOT APPLICABLE.

Conan something #23, Dark Horse Couldn't find a copy. Probably like the rest of the Conan comics.

Giant Size Little Lulu #2, Dark Horse What seems like an odd delivery system for Little Lulu--gigantic, Tolstoy-sized tomes--starts to make sense when I remember that its not intended for the line-culture clubhouse, but the voracious adolescent reader. Taken in small doses, this stuff is GOOD to VERY, taken all at once, it's an arduous journey into madness I recommend you never take. my favorite part is when lulu tells a story to the little girl or the time she tricked tubby into doing something he doesn't want to aghghghga so many pages

Hellboy The Storm #3, Dark Horse No question here--this is some of the best stuff Duncan Fegredo has ever done, and his panels of ravenous hordes of evil is fighting for pantheon status in the Best Mobs of Anything category. Story wise, this is one of those comics where so many specific story points from previous series--the Baba Yaga, various prophecies, the seven-in-one, and of course, Gruagach, who is breaking hearts on the daily--take some gigantic 90 degree twists, putting the Hellboy series back on the track of being the most exciting version of serialized comics that is currently available. (Fantastically enough, it's only competition was the BPRD.) Visually, Hellboy never slowed down. This was EXCELLENT, for the hell of it, I read it seven times. It was my cookie.

Star Wars Clone Wars Digest Volume 7 Hero Of The Confederacy, Dark Horse Couldn't find it, pretty happy about that.

Batman Cacophony, DC This fucking life... oh, it's so fucking hard. So long. Life ain't short, it's long. It's long, goddamn it. Goddamn. What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? What did I do? CRAP.

Batman Confidential #48, DC Batman Confidential is the dump ground book, my understanding is that DC went a bit too far buying pitches for the series a while ago, so being "all over the place" is part of its DNA. If you remember how bad Legends of the Dark Knight got--which was pretty bad, especially considering how truly great that series once was--Batman Confidential has been even worse. The current storyline, which this is the conclusion of, is actually a sequel to last year's (?) Batman & Superman Versus Aliens & Werewolves. It includes all the characters, the same creative team, plus zombies and voodoo characters. There's a page in the comic that blows the panel construction apart, something wrong on the actual layout level, not the printing. Lots of "you done got the Superman" and "child" from a voodoo priestess stand-in. Batman does kick off a dude's head. Enough. This is CRAP.

Brightest Day #9, DC (Includes mention of current real world environmental problem, should be disregarded as entertainment by those in the "i read comics to escape" demographic.) Some of this is engaging to look at, with the horrible horrors and Green Arrow throwing-arrows-around action. But for the most part, it's like reading an issue of Countdown, or half of one of those Blackest Night one-shots. Pieces of plot are moved incrementally forward, lots of blood is shed, and then it ends, with the promise of more. But nothing is "revealed", it's just bloodletting and doom-saying, laced with some sub-Moore/Claremont/yer favorite purple writer, like this one, which is my favorite or least, depending on what point I'm trying to make: "Holes in souls, souls in holes, Climb Out, Take Hold, Let Go, Wake up, Dream the Dream, Love is Vengeance, Vengeance is Love". Yeah, that's exciting. Maybe next time it'll be a sonnet. AWFUL.

Freedom Fighters #1, DC This is a really violent comic book that opens with some group called the Aryan Brigade killing Native Americans in a casino while talking smack about the Jews (in Arizona, where they believe what they're doing is now legal), and from a purely intellectual viewpoint, I suppose they deserve credit for making actual anti-semitic remarks, because that's something that neo-Nazi's do all the time, unless they're the Red Skull or other comic book characters, whose hate always seems more abstract. It's still a bit strange though. No matter what criticism is made regarding super-hero decadence, and no matter how little impact the bloodshed in Brightest Day has on me, I find myself stiffening up a bit when I read "win the race war against you injuns, the jews and all the other mongrels" and the stiffening doesn't really go away until the comic book gets to a part where the President admits that the Confederacy (from the original Civil War) probably had a weapon of mass destruction that they never used and could Uncle Sam, the Ray, Phantom Lady and some more D-level super-heroes go find it please? Yeah, sorry. This is a comic about Uncle Sam leading a super-hero team on a mission to find the Secret Weapon Of Mass Destruction of the Civil War. Why does it need serious Neo-Nazi villains? EH.

Jonah Hex #59, DC So gorgeous, like all the Bernet issues. Honestly, some of this Hex stuff stands alongside Torpedo and Solo. Bernet just knows when he's got the simple stuff nailed, when he can just leave a panel empty, when he can indicate a mountain range with a single line and leave it at that. The sound effects are the best sound effects any DC comic has had in recent memory, and the set-up for the fight page (where Bernet lays out where everyone is) is actually more powerful than the bloody axe takedown that concludes it. Art alone, this is VERY GOOD.

JSA All-Stars #10, DC This is a serviceable super-hero team comic that stood out to me mostly because the art seems devoid of traced drawings, and although it's buried in some really "shiny" color work (somebody else used that word to describe it, not sure what it means, but it does seem to fit), it's kind of impressive. I didn't really like reading it, but I did think it was funny how a bunch of non-flying super-heroes are abandoned to get-to-the-fight on their own, which means that they had to ride there in the bed of a pick-up truck. That's pretty funny. GOOD, I'm sure, for some, I can't muster up more than an EH.

Our Army At War Sgt Rock # 1, DC Welp, here's your dose of 9/11 porn. This is AWFUL, but not because it opens with 9/11, not because it hinges on a really cheap final twist that goes back to 9/11 from the POV of jumpers, but because its one of those war comics that flat out refuses to spend more than a couple of panels on the actual violence.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #20, DC Pretty much the defacto king of "not that bad" DC comics, this is one long fight issue. Because half of it features Lobo, artist Claude St. Aubin gets to show off, and the other fight--a three way between Braniacs--has a pretty decent twist at the end. You wouldn't rely on something like this as an industry foundation, but it's still GOOD.

Red Hood, Lost Days #4, DC Couldn't find it, can't stop crying about that. How will I find out what happened in between issues of other comics I didn't enjoy reading the first time through? Answer me that, America.

Secret Six #25, DC They spelled the artist's name correctly this time, that seemed to be a problem last month. Otherwise, this is more of the same, which isn't a complaint. Secret Six has gone on longer than anybody probably expected it would, it's more deviant than anyone probably thought it would be (this issue features a lubed-with-sunscreen handy), and while it's never the kind of funny you actually laugh at, there's some okay smirks throughout. Probably GOOD, I'd lean more towards OKAY.

Superman The Last Family of Krypton # 2, DC Sometimes the little kids look like elderly people in little bodies. So cute. Superman gets his name for a central casting ex-hippy. This was supposed to be a graphic novel, right? The art is strange, the comic is long, and it's weird how writers always get the opportunity to do a New Take on Superman and still end up doing the exact same story beats, no matter what. AWFUL.

Tiny Titans The First Rule of Pet Club, DC Some kids really like these, some kids really hate them. Kids are great, they're absolutely nothing like adults, and that's awesome. There's just No Bullshit with kids and comics. Dumb, smart, cute, horrible--they're all the same in one aspect, which is that they look at a comic and immediately know whether they're into it or not. If they're into it, they're all in, as deep as it gets. If they aren't--and they have no filter, they figure it out in a split second--they don't even attempt to tolerate. It's not an argument, it's a choice. Now, I can't stand reading the Tiny Titans, but I respect the choices made in creating them, there's obvious craft in their construction. But they have no value to me beyond that, making them CRAP. But for their intended audience, I think these are probably on the GOOD side to VERY and I'm sure their fans think they're EXCELLENT.

The Wild Kingdom, Drawn & Quarterly Yeah, this is the stuff. It's a hardcover reprint of Or Else #4 with a few color sections, a few new pages and a bit of rearrangement of the original order. Or Else #4 was VERY GOOD/EXCELLENT, this is no different.

The Boys #46, Dynamite Russ Braun certainly seems to have slid right in and done a nice amalgamation of Robertson while getting a chance to draw some prize-winners all on his own. Although the main thrust of the current arc is Hughie discovering that his girlfriend is one of the "supes" his job it is to police, the most interesting portions of late have been the collapsing friendship between Mother's Milk and Butcher--no surprise there, Ennis really puts his heart into platonic friendships between men, even more so when they go south. GOOD.

Green Hornet #7, Dynamite Scripty, one weird portion that concludes an argument (will you keep this a secret? yes i will) only to repeat the argument on the next page (will you keep this a secret? yes, i will). Same rushed art as all these Dynamite books have, but maybe this pencil-to-colors style is some new wave thing. Still pretty AWFUL.

Green Hornet Annual #1, Dynamite Actually worse than the other one, although it is readable. There's some very Warriors-esque character designs, that never fails to make me cringe. AWFUL.

Blackbeard Legend of the Pyrate King #5, Dean Koontz's Frankenstein Prodigal Son #1, Queen Sonja #9, Stargate Vala Mal Doran #3, Dynamite Couldn't find any of these, put the titles down purely because they're a good indication of the taste level at Dynamite.

Amulet Volume 3, the Cloud Searchers, Graphix While I haven't finished this yet, this is probably (in the neighborhood of 99%) the most "important" thing released this week, month, in the contender for year, simply because there's nothing on this list that's got as voracious an audience as Amulet does, and the people waiting for this volume are going to re-read this book to the tune of 20-30 times at least, which is something that almost none of the other books on here are going to experience. (That repetition doesn't make them better, I definitely think Huizenga and Mignola released "better" comics this week on a qualitative scale, but the impact the Amulet series has on "the next generation" of readers vastly outstrips almost everything else--like Bone, this series is crazy fucking popular, and the wait for it has increased the anticipation to a fever pitch. If you think of comics like a cultural organism, Amulet is the blue dye that's going to color entire portions of the body, while something like Brightest Day only captures a finger. My line started at Batman, their line is starting right here, these comics.)

One thing--and this is more political than it is anything else, but you can skip reading it, so I'm not sorry--that I've been thinking about after reading comments section like this, and posts like this, is that the positive side of no-super-heroes-for-young-readers is that the comics that young readers do have are, occasionally and frequently, a lot better than the super-hero comics that I read as a child. Bone, Amulet, those Little Lulu reprints, the Olympians series, Mouse Guard...those are off the top of my head, all easily available (and recognizable) to children, they're much-loved, shared, passed around and ingested, and that's in part because children don't have to bother with the output of super-hero comics publishers. Maybe kids are being deprived of new super-hero comics they can pick up on a regular basis, but they certainly aren't missing out on "great comics" by the loss. The first things I read in this medium that weren't in the newspaper--I love them, still, I read a bunch of them a few weeks back--but they aren't, and weren't, very good comics in the way that Bone and Amulet are very, very good comics. The new kid's comics, these non-superhero things that are so explosively popular, are well made and meaningful in a way that what I read simply wasn't, and they also happen to be the sort of simple on-message positive stories that shine a spotlight on how super-hero comics aren't really about Being A Better Person or Helping Your Friends or Not Judging Books By Their Cover, but mostly about Being Cool and Being Crazy and Being Awesome. (And Being Gross, that too.) Which is fine, I'm not qualified for armchair dictation of creative purpose, those things all work on me at times, I like Awesome, whatever. But I'm not going to pretend that the idea of "more monthly single issues of Batman for 8 year olds" is my dream for a healthy industry, because, honestly, that would just be in the way of them reading something that is on a qualitatively higher plain. There's no new Spider-Man title a child could enjoy? That's not a bad deal! Hell, the only thing a kids super-hero comic would offer a Bone/Amulet fan, at this point, is the chance to master that phrase "If the story's good, I don't care how bad the art is..."

Scarlet #2, Icon If this turns into an actual revolution, which causes an apocalypse, and the book turns into a study of the post- of that apocalypse, I would totally be into that, even with this art, which begs the question why it's so hard to "break into comics", when you can google image this kind of stuff in about 9 seconds. Here I go:is it from scarlet?

That took less than five! Thank god for 2010's dedication to exhibitionism.

I still like the Daredevil stuff Maleev did, but c'mon. This is getting old. AWFUL.

5 Days To Die #1, IDW Couldn't find it, Brian has it covered though.

Angel Barbary Coast, IDW Hey, I remember when this came out. Really hideous covers. Now that IDW lost the Angel stuff, I wonder what television show they'll use to publish six-to-eight one-shot comics almost nobody wants next.  (I couldn't find this trade.)

Bram Stoker's Death Ship The Last Voyage Of The Demeter #4, IDW Conclusion of a four part horror story adaptation: not the best place to start. I liked the linework, there's some real life to it, but the coloring in this comic is so dark that it takes work to find the art underneath. Story is old school vampire on a boat stuff. OKAY.

Classic GI Joe Volume 9, IDW I own a copy of Volume 2, and I refuse to spoil whatever it contains just to twist some more knots into the noose I've created for myself here. I'm want this to be OKAY at least.

GI Joe A Real American Hero #158, IDW Thanks to the success of X-Men Forever, no cancelled comic has to ever really end, hence the existence of this, GI Joe The Real American Hero, which picks up after the conclusion of the old series. The Joe's are rogues, Cobra work for the gub'ment, Snake Eyes gets stabbed in the leg. It's AWFUL, really cheap looking and lacking in the specificity of character that the old Joe stuff delivered. Ignore the outfits, forget the names, and there's no distinction between any of these characters.

GI Joe Hearts & Minds #4, IDW This comic is split into two sections, both of which end with whatever character being focused on saying "My name is ___. I am ___." (The second blank is either "Cobra" or "G.I. Joe".) Basically, you're dealing with two back-up stories mashed together to make a comic. This issue focuses on Dr. Mindbender (by Chaykin) and Doc (by Antonio Fuso). They're OKAY back-up origins, but they seem like the sort of thing that could've stayed on a computer screen, or, you know, as back-ups.

Spike The Devil You Know #3, IDW Pretty standard buddy story set mostly in a casino and a casino parking deck, with Spike acting like somebody who bases their personality off of John Constantine comics, as opposed to someboy who basing theirs off of Andy Capp, which is how I roll. I know even less about Spike than I do Buffy, but this made enough sense to be comprehensible. AWFUL.

Strange Science Fantasy #3, IDW Odd little comic that was supposed to be online and ended up in print first. The style--three rectangular panel pages, with giant captions--ends up separating the action and panel-to-panel plotting so much that the comic is a lot more like a children's picture book than it is a comic. This issue is a one-shot noir story set in a world where some people have film cameras as heads. OKAY.

Transformers Last Stand of the Wreckers, IDW I read an issue of this the first time I tried to do one of these "everything I can find" pieces. (I never finished it.) It was pretty weird.

We Will Bury You, IDW This was sold out when I went looking. I've talked to Zane Grant some, he was part of the reason I finally got a bike. I should've done that when I first moved to New York, but I'm a stupid, stubborn child. He's a good guy, great taste. I'll try to find this. (You have to use the word "try" when you're talking about IDW.)

Wire Hangers #4, IDW Couldn't find it. Title reminded me of Mommie Dearest, but Google says this is a horror comic.

Robert Bloch's Yours Truly Jack The Ripper #4, IDW Huh. Not sure if anything happened in the first three issues, because this seems to make perfect sense even without reading them. Jack the Ripper is some kind of demon tied into a human familiar, the traitor-is-revealed, tragedy strikes, bad guy both wins and loses at the end. CRAP, but I couldn't be the wrong-er audience for this without cameos by Glee characters.

Choker #4, Image Not as Warren Ellis-y as the initial issues. This chapter moves more into large scale slaughter comics, which gives Templesmith the chance to do that thing he does so well, which is large panels of gruesome violence. Cops taking slobberjaw steroids seems like a not-so-unrealistic possibility in our contemporary world, credit for that. OKAY!

Cowboy Ninja Viking #8 I wonder if they'll someday do a director's cut of this comic that removes all the extraneous lines and digital ink splashes that are layered onto all these drawings. Rarely does a comic try so hard to achieve some weird idealization of indie comic authenticity. As with every issue of Cowboy Ninja Viking I've ever read, the story (lets find an atom bomb) takes a back seat to some of the most egregious affectation you can find outside of Seth's innumerable hats. AWFUL.

Hack Slash Vol 3 Friday The 31st, Image Couldn't find, never read this series.

Haunt #9, Image From a letter in the back: "Will we see Haunt ever use any weapons like a rocket propelled grenade, an uzi, or a sniper rifle? That would look so sweet!"

I'm not going to pretend i'm the right guy for this comic, but I'm glad they've found him. Not as bad as the first issue (which was CRAP), but this is still an AWFUL comic.

King City #11, Image VERY GOOD. I've really enjoyed King City, but ever since the eighth issue, I've kind of wanted the comic to abandon all of its characters so it could focus on the ex-soldier suffering from chalk addiction and PTSD. That's some pathos, that guy broke my heart. Great comic though, very violent in the same languid, cool-dude way that the characters eat sandwiches. Cat masters slicing henchmen (and their threats) in two, leaving halved carcasses in causeways. Going to be a heartbreaker when this series ends.

Murderland #2, Image This is about a mercenary team with a super-powered shape-shifting Rapunzel, it has some nice art from David Hahn (although the settings are almost universally kind of bland, another comic where almost all of the panels take place against color backgrounds). It's not the easiest story to understand--the character's behavior and relationships make sense, their purpose for acting like vigilantes and being overly-sensitive about death doesn't--but there's one pretty striking line of dialog during the Afghanistan part near the end that'll stick with me more than some of these comics. OKAY!

Nancy In Hell #2, Image Huge plot dump and a lot fewer panels where the main character points her crotch at the reader. (There were six of those on the first page of the prior issue.) Assuming this is supposed to be a mix of exploitation/black humor/gross-out horror, it pretty much fails on all accounts, is therefore CRAP.

Noble Causes Volume 10 Ever After, Image There's ten volumes of this? I've never seen one. Couldn't find.

Savage Dragon United We Stand, Image Is the next one called Divided We Fall? I would've read this if I had found it.

Amazing Spider-Man Presents Black Cat #3, Marvel Thanks to a printing or lettering error that wasn't caught, this comic doesn't credit the first ten pages as having an artist. There's quite a bit that happens in it plotwise, some of which seemed kind of funny. (Apparently the Kraven family hates noise? Except for drums, one assumes.) This moved along at a brisk pace, and after those IDW & Dynamite books, I was definitely glad for that. GOOD.

Avengers Childrens Crusade #2, Marvel Wolverine really wants to kill one of the members of the Young Avengers as well as the Scarlet Witch. I don't have any feelings for the Scarlet Witch other than being mildly confused by her, but I wouldn't mind seeing a story where Captain America stops and says "wait, are you saying you're down for killing children? We might need to rethink why we keep teaming up with you." This was also GOOD for what it was, although I don't think I'll read future issues.

Avengers Thor & Captain America Official Index To The Marvel Universe #5, Marvel This was one of the two things I completely put my foot down to. I refuse to read these things, and I refuse to believe that they contain any information that isn't easily available in far more depth on a thousand different websites.

Captain America Forever Allies #4, Marvel To steal a word my wife sometimes uses for comics, I though this was pretty charming. It's a set-in-the-old-days story lacking in those contemporary jokes about the future, or at least lacking ones I recognize, and Nick Dragotta draws a pretty great straight-from-Caniff female villain. It's not far removed from those Brubaker Captain America stories that jump back and forth between WW2 and now, but not in an irritating way. I wouldn't have read it if I wasn't trying to do this, but I'm OKAY with having done so.

Deadpool Pulp #1, Marvel This is Deadpool as a Canadian spec ops soldier who went crazy after being tortured for a really long time in a prison camp. It's not funny in the way that Deadpool comics sometimes are--in fact, it's pretty much cover-to-cover nasty--and the art seems purposely off-putting at times, with interchangeable bodies and an addiction to overly shadowed faces that obscure every character's emotional reaction. Pretty EH.

Deadpool Wade Wilson's War #4, Marvel I heard this was good, and maybe it was, but I couldn't find it.

Franken-Castle #20, Marvel I couldn't find this comic in time, but I did get an email last week regarding the monologue that Daken (the Dark Wolverine!!!!) gives about why he hates cops and enjoys killing them. It was a lot more intense then that song by Body Count, but not as catchy.

Gorilla Man #3, Marvel Missed my window, couldn't find a copy.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #4, Marvel It seems like the line "WCA Assemble" should be a bigger deal, but maybe I'm just confused in assuming that "WCA" means "West Coast Avengers", maybe it means something else. I wouldn't say that I liked this very much, but...I don't know. There's a full page of the two main characters kissing, which I think is something that's been put off for a little while, and there's something sort of pleasant about that, that a kiss between two characters is the most important thing in the comic. There's a lot of excitement in the letters page--"how awesome was it to see Hamilton Slade transform"--you know, that kind of thing. From the way Abhay described the series, I suppose this is a total fan-service comic, but it lacks the cynical manipulation that DC's fan-service comics have. Again: OKAY.

Hercules Twilight of a God #4, Marvel I consider myself to be a pretty dumb person whose most marketable skill is remembering useless trivia information, and therefore it upsets me to say that I was horribly confused by this comic. It seems to be about Hercules fighting Galactus or a black hole, or a black hole that ate Galactus, and Hercules has a kid who is older than he is, and his horses bite off people's arms, and he feels a lot of pain when he walks. I'm not even sure if this comic is bad or not, it confused me that much. It's the second to last one I read, after trying to start it three other times and giving up two pages in. I'm going to rate it as I'm Sorry.

Heroic Age 1Month2Live #1, Marvel This feels a lot like it's trying way too hard to be A Grown-Up Comic With Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic, mostly because the main character and his family are so similar in terms of basic attributes to every "suburban middle-aged white guy who hateshateshates the choices" story ever told. This just strikes me as something that fundamentally misunderstands the reasons why people choose to read a Marvel comic, like--this story, these characters--what could adding super-powers to the mix possibly bring to it? What audience is there for this beyond the curiosity seeker? Maybe it's just the influence of certain comics critics, but I no longer think it's that beneficial to bring the spotlight onto Marvel's civilian characters, because, honestly, why would anyone choose to live in Marvel's New York? Why would anyone be happy to see the Avengers, the X-Men, after all the death and destruction their presence brings in its wake? It would be one thing for them to be treated with some fantastic license, but they aren't, it's just this bludgeoning REALISM, this thing that incorporates the depressions of everyday life (CANCER!) and (SACRIFICE!) into stories where everyday life doesn't fit in the first place.

Oh god, shut up, me. EH. This thing's EH.

I Am An Avenger #1, Marvel Pretty insane art line-up here--Chris Samnee, Jason Latour, Tom Fowler--that's crazy, I like all those guys. The first story is about people walking across a front yard and how that proves they are heroes, the second story is about how break ups suck, even if you're the Iron Fist or The Misty Knight, and the last story is two pages long and is about how nice it is to come home. OKAY? Yeah, that works.

Incredible Hulks #612, Marvel Did that World War Hulks thing work for people? I feel like I've never heard anyone mention these comics, excepting those occasional "Jeph Loeb sux" monologues that show up from time to time in comments sections. I didn't read most of them, but I read a couple of the "key issues". Looks like I didn't need to even do that, because the recap page covers pretty much everything. Basically, all of the Hulk's supporting characters are some kind of Gamma-related monster now, but they all seem to have control over themselves when in their monster form. This issue is an aftermath/new storyline issue, so the only real new step it takes is to explain what a loveless marriage Betty and Bruce Banner had (which doesn't gel with what I remember from those old Peter David comics, but that's fine, she's been dead for awhile, people change), and how she's going to run around and do Hulk things like break shit with her Hulk powers. Bruce Banner is basically a cheap Iron Man without a costume when he isn't Hulk-ed out, everybody lives together in a trailer park and has a bar-b-que, it's very sit-comy, this comic. I call it EH.

Iron Man 2 Agents of S.H.I.E.D. #1, Marvel Three stories here, one of them the scintillating tale of how Scarlet Johannson maneuvered herself into the position of delivering papers to Robert Downey Jr when he was boxing with Jon Favreau. This feels like a DVD extra, the kind you'd skip, and no amount of decent art (which it has for 2 of its 3 stories) is going to change that. AWFUL.

Iron Man Legacy #6, Marvel Pretty ugly stuff here, Tony Stark is presented as an arrogant wino who doesn't drink, likes to show up at people's houses and criticize them for how they treat their homeless, mentally unstable relations within seconds of meeting them. This is just too middle road, really: it's either a super-hero comic or it's a humiliation comic, pick one. AWFUL.

Marvel Universe Vs. The Punisher #3, Marvel The nice thing about this Punisher comic is that this is pretty much what he's designed to do: kill things, lots of things. Sure, he's also supposed to occasionally show up in other comics (like Spider-Man, Daredevil, cross-over bullshit) and act as the foil for basement dwelling arguments on the ethics of violence, but those are conversations best reserved for college, amongst people who can't break themselves from the fantasy (instilled by their parents) that they should do something at college besides what you're supposed to do at college, which is to learn about what kind of sex you like. Otherwise, this (tying a buck knife to an arrow and shooting the Hulk in the eye) is what you want the Punisher to do, and if you don't want the Punisher to do them, then you either A) don't like the Punisher or B) don't understand the Punisher. The first response is totally acceptable, the second is too, as long as you don't combine that lack of understanding with reading Punisher comic books, egg on your face and all that. In a nice little twist, this comic's plot also gets to totally tie itself to that Cooke/Kirkman/fingerfuck "controversy" (that's in quotes because I have to live with myself and can't care enough about the subject to pretend it's one worth me having an opinion on), because it's about a bunch of Marvel Zombied type super-heroes getting killed by the Punisher, because he is not sick, and they are, so sick that Mary Jane is pregnant (oh shit, you read REIGN, right?) and Spider-Man ripped out some people's throats at a baseball game. (AMERICA)

It's Goran Parlov though, so who cares? Goran Parlov wasn't put on this Earth so that he could draw the Tiny goddamned Titans. He was put on this Earth because the man was born to draw a knife going into the Hulk's eyeball. And sure, he was probably born to do other things too, people should follow their muse, even if their muse is twittering about bagels and fucking people over, because this is America, and you can build a mosque wherever you want, as long as it isn't on Garth Ennis's nutsack, because that thing is a tongue only zone. GOOD.

Marvelman Family's Finest #3, Marvel Jesus, this is hard to read. There's a vague similarity to CC Beck, but Beck's stuff goes down so damn easy, so readable and funny and interspersed with this brilliant singular images, panels that you want to just yank out and blow up and frame. This is just half-assed and un-fun, it requires such a massive level of commitment just to remember what's happened in one panel so that the next one makes sense. AWFUL.

New Mutants Forever #2, Marvel Seems to be less fetish-y stuff in this one than the X-Men Forever, but that doesn't unset the basic "whywhywhy" factor. "I've returned to the New Mutants to tell the stories I never got to tell, like the one about when a middle-aged woman ran around in the tenements of Brazil while Cannonball got his flesh burned down to the Red Skull core and Warlock accidently burned someone to ash". This is CRAP, dude.

Origins of Marvel Comics X-Men #1, Marvel This is the other thing I'm not reading, no way. When I was a kid and couldn't afford the comics I wanted, I bought Who's Who and whatever else to learn about them, but now: there's no point in something like this unless your job blocks Wikipedia.

Shadowland #3, Marvel Marketed as a street level team-up book, it turns out this is about demonic possession and corny lines like "I can no longer call myself the Master of Kung Fu", (yes you can, Dopey Smurf). It's bad comics, if that makes a difference. There's some old timey tricks that still have bulges left in their muscles--really, the only good thing that comes out of Marvel's heavy-handed Bring Back The Punisher trick is whenever he shows up in the middle of a fight and just shoots people instead of dicking around, Peter Parker style--but if this story isn't desperation, it should stop wearing desperation's mini-dress and rubbing its hand on please-care-about-me's inner thigh. Still, if the goal was to go way off the reservation in terms of "things that Daredevil does" stories, this is sort of that. AWFUL.

Shadowland Elektra #1, Marvel I wouldn't say that this read-em-all project was worthwhile because of this comic, but if I hadn't have done it, I wouldn't have seen it, and it's worth looking at. Not having the anime/manga background of some of my peers, I can only tell you what this reminds me of (Blade of the Immortal and the first Golgo 13 movie) without making clear why that is. It's just a weird, un-Marvel, un-super-hero fight scene that I liked quite a bit, and that's totally in credit to an artist I don't remember seeing before. The comic has a really cheesy ending, but that's the way it usually goes with tie-ins--the part that "matters" always reads like a waste. OKAY.

Sky Doll Lacrima Christi #2, Marvel Yeah, I don't get this comic. I still remember the first time I read an issue--a six dollar comic with 12 pages of actual content shoved in front of 30-odd black and white sketch pages of the same 12 pages, and on the cover, a girl with giant eggs where her breasts should be. EH, because the people involved seem to know what they're doing in terms of drawing eggs-breast-girls.

Taskmaster #1, Marvel Jefte Palo on art, that's usually nice, Fred Van Lente doing his best imitation of Jason Aaron on Ghost Rider, that's okay too. I'm not a huge fan of comics that call out memorable movie lines, but if you're going in that direction, that scene where Gary Oldman screams Ev-eRY-Onnnnnnne is a good choice. This is OKAY.

Thor For Asgard #1, Marvel When this is set or where or whether it "counts", I don't know. It's the comic where Thor pulls the Asgardian version of "we don't negotiate with terrorists", which translates to "we have to kill these innocent women and their children because the Frost Giants are using them as human shields". Then the dude goes home and gets laid. Weird comic, I guess it's OKAY. I'd be able to tell "that doesn't seem right" if Daredevil started punching homeless women or Batman stuck a needle into somebody's eye, but I don't know Thor that way, so maybe this is exactly what Thor comics are supposed to be like.

Wolverine Road To Hell #1, Marvel I heard you're supposed to read this before you read the other Wolverine comic, but I heard that too late in the game and ended up reading it second. Really doesn't seem to matter, as far as I can tell. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Marjorie Liu continue to double the fuck down on making Daken into the most ridiculous caricature of an American Apparel-loving young man--someday, people are going to look at these drawings and react the way we do to Bob Haney's Hep Cat dialog now. The Aaron part is Wolverine falling for a bunch of pages, it's very boring. This was EH.

Wolverine #1, Marvel I didn't read those Supergirl comics that Renato Guedes drew, but I remember thinking that his character designs for her were more interesting than I thought that character deserved. I think that ended badly, and that thought (accurate or no) left me predisposed towards liking what Guedes had to bring here. Unfortunately, this just doesn't seem to work, and Aaron seems to be focused on doing the exact opposite of what he did in Ghost Rider and Weapon X, which is take everything really, really seriously. EH.

X-Men Curse of the Mutants Smoke And Blood #1, Marvel Wow, this is some really unusual art for a Marvel comic, even more so a tie-in event comic. Here:

xmen smoke See what I mean? That's pretty cool. The story is an overlong trapped-with-monsters shindig, seems like mercenary work, a tie-in comic where the writer wasn't given a huge amount of freedom or information. It ends with an argument about magic versus science, one has to hope that wasn't the only thing the reader was supposed to get out of it. Maybe it'll come up later in the main arc that this is tied into, but it seems doubtful. There's so many of these things, and it would be really nice to know if this model (lots of one-shot tie-ins, four issue mini's, the model used for World War Hulks, Shadowland) is actually working. It's great that they're giving so many non-stock artists/writers the work, but it would be a hell of a lot better if it was on something that had a real future to it, and that just doesn't seem likely.

Young Allies #4, Marvel This is very reminiscent of Teen Titans, and I seem to remember that's how it was marketed when it began. Not sure which characters are in love with each other, but that's certainly going to be in the cards. Two non-powered characters seems like one too many, especially since neither have a bow and arrow, but maybe they can make a trade for a hero to be named later.

What a horrible joke. This comic is OKAY.

Stumptown #4, Oni Greg Rucka gets a lot of credit for what he doesn't do--porny shit with girls--and that's deserved, but only to a point. At the end of that line of praise, it always reminds me of that Chris Rock routine where he lambasts people who want credit for not beating their kids or paying the light bill. Like--good job not being gross, but not-being-gross isn't that hard to do, because "not doing something" is an action absolutely every single human being is capable to taking.

Anyway: the issue itself. It's GOOD, a nice, classic conclusion to the Rockford Files/straight genre story that this series has consisted of since the beginning. And yet, no matter how much work Matthew Southworth put into it, and he put in quite a bit, I can't help wondering why this is a comic and not a television show. It's plotted like one, with plenty of build-up-to-break moments, it rarely utilizes anything that's very specifically comic-y about it (the first issue had some moments, but the part in this issue where the main character is knocked unconsious is visually no different than every single time Jim Rockford got knocked out)--there's just not a lot of evidence that this needs the paper and staples, or that there needs to be three months in between the commercial breaks.

Last Days of American Crime #3, Radical Really surprised by this. It's one of the last ones I read, I was kind of putting it off after not having enjoyed much of Radical's output. And while I think the faces in this comic could use some work, the characters and linework in this comic is really, really fluid. I think this is one of those comics that is probably being acknowledged mostly for its crime-y plot--which, to be honest, is a bit generic, futuristic setting or no--when what's actually special about it is what the artist is doing. GOOD, definitely.

Torchwood #2, Titan This is a couple of stories originally published in a Torchwood magazine, one by Paul Grist, the other by Brian Minchin and Steve Yeowell. The Yeowell art seems really rushed, but maybe I'm just remembering Sebastian O too fondly.  The Grist story is well drawn, especially the part where the "Ianto" beats a skeleton to death (?) with a fire extinguisher, but it's the second of a five part story and isn't very interesting. EH, I don't know who these people are or what it is they're supposed to be doing, and I've actually seen an episode of this show.

Angelus #5, Top Cow And then there's this. I try to be as open about liking women, naked women especially, as possible without being all gross about it. I'm into women, let's leave it at that. But this--this reminds me of when I was a kid, and the neighbor had a copy of Juggs magazine, and I saw the reviews for some porno movie that involved thirty or so guys having sex with a pregnant woman in a Florida backyard. Nothing's as creepy as a fetish you don't share, and this--a cornball soft-core sex scene that goes on for multiple pages--isn't in me. CRAP.

Darkness # 84 Lance Briggs C2E2 Variant Cover, Top Cow Not reading this, because the content it contains came out over two months ago. However, I do give the cover--which is a picture of a Chicago Bears linebacker wearing a Darkness t-shirt--an official EXCELLENT, as it will help me the next time I get in an imaginary one-sided argument after reading something about integrity and hard work on a corporate comic executive's twitter feed. If you ever need evidence of how quickly comics are willing to sell themselves out at the first whiff of celebrity endorsement, a variant cover featuring a football player's picture on a back issue is definitely going to be the one to beat.

Magdalena #3, Top Cow Nelson Blake, the artist for this comic, has been known to say "comics is a meritocracy". And hey, maybe he's onto something. EH.

House of Mystery #29, Vertigo Part of this is about three people traveling from Hell to New York City and arriving naked, another part is about some women escaping from a dungeon when an old stuffed bunny arrives and shoots the guard, and those parts seem to be the main story. There is another part, about a goblin army led by a homophobic goblin, and during that part, the comic takes a break to tell a story, which I think they do in every issue of this comic. The story is about a goblin that eats babies. For some reason, they have a Clayton Crain-y type draw that part--since the story is supposed to be funny, it seems like it would've worked better if somebody like Johnny Ryan had drawn it. Instead, it relies on the dialog to make the story funny, which doesn't work out that well. I'm thinking AWFUL on this one.

I Zombie #5, Vertigo I'd stopped giving this a chance after finding the first two issues dull, so it's pleasant to find out that I've missed nothing, as that seems to be the main ambition here. In this issue, the zombie girl makes a possible love connection with a white-suited monster hunter. As this will probably be the conclusion of the first trade paperback, I'd be curious to see if anyone is going to want to read beyond what's on display here. EH, because at least Allred's getting paid.

Sweet Tooth #13, Vertigo This series keeps trucking along, with the big hunter guy slowly making his way towards the redemption that the initial story arcs advertised in the brightest lights that "foreshadowing" would allow. Although I appreciated the brevity it requires to read Sweet Tooth due to the nature of this little assignment I've given myself, I can't imagine this being a very satisfying comic in monthly installments. EH, Vertigo sure can guarantee mediocrity these days.

Astro City Special Silver Agent #2, Wildstorm The word that best describes this is "sincere", and while that's fine and all, it's a little too much. The opening pages barely make any sense--visually or verbally--but after that, its an easy comic to follow. It's similar to that Jack the Ripper comic, in that it's hard to imagine what the first issue of this was about, as the entire story seems to be on display here, even if you skip the recap page. EH, although I do kind of want to push higher just because it's so goddamn passionate.

The Authority #26, Wildstorm Always a surprise this is still being published. No copy available.

Kane & Lynch #2, Wildstorm Okay, let's try writing this before I use google to figure it out. 1) this is a video game comic? yes? 2) this is about two guys with facial hair. 3) kind of like the way that christopher mitten draws the first car wreck. second one isn't as nice, but some of the faces start to fall apart around that part too, so maybe it was rushed. [google break] Jesus, i'm completely blind. Of course it's a video game, there's advertisements on the back of all of these DC comics for it. How embarrassing! This is EH, because of the car crash. Without that, AWFUL.

Jack of Fables #47, Vertigo Jack doesn't seem to be the star of his own comic, but that leaves space for lines like "sheath those udders" in reference to a breastfeeding woman, so...I don't know. Sometimes I stop a take a look at my life for a second and realize: this is kind of my fault, not me specifically, but me as a type of person, because I just don't even have a response to those kinds of lines anymore and don't immediately grasp whether they're offensive or not to women or mothers or comic book characters. Like, who fucking cares about what happens in consumer entertainment, which is all this is, really, but it bugs me, this lack of caring I have, makes me realize I'm part of the problem, because I'm disinterested in other people's feelings. I see people online get heated up about stuff and its just--I should be making up something to care about, shouldn't I? And yet I'm more offended by something like Shuddertown #3, because it was just so blatantly cheap and sleazy, page after page of photoshopped pictures of James Gandolfini talking to photoshopped pictures of Giovanni Ribisi, ending with photoshopped pictures of Julianne Moore. But even that really didn't "offend" me, not as much as that fucking Eat, Pray, Love trailer, which struck me as the most shallow, racist bullshit that Julia Roberts had ever participated in, and she's kind of responsible for a lot of that kind of crap. You have to go to the poorest parts of the world to pray? Really? Because your shitty boyfriend is a shitty boyfriend? Why not skin a Somalian baby and use the interior musculature of its genitals as a wrinkle-reducing pore cleanser, you know, hell, they could make it a law that you have to give the Somalian baby a really good life for six months before you skin it, and since that's six more months of good-eating that the baby wouldn't get in Somalia, it all evens out in the wash, sort of.

Jack of Fables-the cliffhanger with the dragon was okay, the comic itself was EH.


Yeah, nevermind what I said before, I'm sorry about this. I rate me CRAP.

Reaching For Toast Like TV Remotes: Tucker on 7/21

I have nothing to add to your comics news cycle, but I still happen to like comic books enough to purchase them in the face of a fearsome unemployment rate. Here are some of the ones that will someday make a family member of mine hate me for having, because they will have to deal with getting rid of them after I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Hellblazer # 269 (or Shade The Changing Man # 73)

I’m still enjoying this, although the news that John Constantine is going to get married (?) strikes me as a particularly cruel twist in Peter Milligan’s ongoing delivery in the John-Can’t-Win saga he’s constructed. Without going too far into guessing the future, Milligan has consistently depicted the character’s relationship with Epiphany as one that doesn’t feel quite “real”, which isn’t dissimilar to the way Mike Carey ended his run on the title, and it seems unlikely that he’d return to that oft-repeated Hellblazer twist where John does something nice for someone, only to discover that his friend has been replaced by some sort of trickster plotting against him. But the alternative--that Epiphany’s feelings towards John are truthful--is one that just seems mean, considering how much time has been spent showcasing how little John cares about the girl when he doesn’t have something to apologize for. Maybe he’s going to learn to love her? That sounds like a painful thing to read. Out of everything Vertigo currently serializes, Hellblazer has the most history with telling problematic romance stories, and if Milligan is really shooting to cover every aspect of John's abysmal failings as a human being, he has to respond to the Heartland/Kit relationship that Garth Ennis came up with. But if that's the plan here, he's only got a few issues to turn Epiphany from the stock punker girl with a crush into someone a lot more meaningful, and that isn't a whole lot of time.

Artwise, I continue to think that Giuseppe Camuncoli is a good fit for this book, and I mourn the day when he signs an exclusive to DC and they stop using him, as that seems to be part of their business model. Either way, he's not going to get a lot of opportunities to draw weird shit like this on that Daken ongoing, unless they do one of those Character-Takes-Hallucinogen stories.Hellblazer_269 Nothing much to add, other than this still being GOOD.

Thunderbolts # 144-146

I was looking forward to reading this when I first read about the line-up that Jeff Parker had planned for the book, but after reading the first issue, which closed on a cliffhanger ending that seemed to call back to earlier Thunderbolts stories I know nothing about, I assumed that it wasn’t going to be the sort of experience I was after. I liked the fact that Kev Walker drew the Ghost character with a bunch of Pigpen-style flies circling him at all times, and I really liked the part where Marv showed up wearing Juggernaut’s costume, but that last page of Baron Zemo saying “I’m back, bitches” rang like an alarm bell: it's another Marvel comic written in that "getcher long box" fashion, where there’s an expectation of nostalgic familiarity with previous stories. Like Guardians of the Galaxy/Nova/most DC Comics, one can understand what’s going on in the stories just fine, but if you really want to get your buttons pushed, you need to be able to respond to the return of the Sphinx on an emotional level. (If I could go back and tell my younger self to read the “right” super-hero comics, the one’s that guys like Johns and Morrison and Slott remember...well, I wouldn’t, I’d actually just tell my younger self to invest in Apple and then I'd go ahead and cheat on Mandy because she was already way ahead of me on that front. Okay, maybe I'd find the time to swap Legend of the Shield out for Mutant Massacre.)

Thunderbolts 144 Panel Sin City I came around to Thunderbolts though, in part because it turned out that I was wrong (Baron Zemo’s appearance was a fake-out), in part because I wanted to see Marv-ernaut again, but mostly because it just seems like Jeff Parker is one of those writers who still likes writing comic books, which is really the only way I enjoy reading super-hero stories. I like them to be beaten into a brief experience, one that vomits out abbreviated portions of story while striving for the tempo of a damn good song before cutting out like a disconnected radio. I get that most people prefer trade collections these days, the writers seem to like them as well: I don’t have a complaint with that. My preferred delivery system for the super-hero genre is the snapshot, that’s all. You want them on a shelf, with a spine, I say god bless. You’ve won, I’m already looking into dying sooner.

The most recent issue of Thunderbolts has all of the same nuts and bolts that made up the previous two issues, but it puts them into play in way that’s a lot more satisfying. Having dispensed with the mildly unnecessary team-building issue (don't explain! just do it!) as well as their first adventure (which provided them with what one assumes will be their first created-by-Parker teammate, whenever she wakes up and recovers from the dart that Crossbones fired into her ear canal), 146 gets to be mission-focused stuff. The team--Juggernaut, Crossbones, Mach V, Moonstone, Man-Thing and Luke Cage--are sent to go check out one of those dark caves that non-descript spec-ops teams always disappear into, there’s a big fight with Hellboy/Dune style worm-monsters, and there’s very little attempts at that quippy dialog that entertains no one but Marvel editors. The team is stuck in the cave, the two people with a moral compass have been taken off the drawing board, and there, on the last page, you get this little squadron of the characters that are now shoved into the position of saving the day:

Thunderbolts 146 Panel

Man-Thing's presence on the team has been described as "Transport", and his willingness to participate in a knuckles up role is a new twist that Parker may or may not explain. That's part of the entertainment with the character, actually: there's been no attempt to get into why Man-Thing is helping out at all, he's still a cipher. During their first big fight, he just stood around and watched everybody get the shit beaten out of them. He doesn't talk, his facial design doesn't allow for much emotional storytelling, and his behavior has yet to showcase any discernible patterns. While it isn't unique for a team-up comic to have a mystery man, his participation in the comic doesn't feel at all like Parker's gearing up for some impossible-to-satisfy "What's Up With Man-Thing" one-shot. It's the Man-Thing. He's just there. Eventually, he'll probably wander off and do something else for awhile, he might burn somebody who knows some fear, or the book will just get rebooted into another Warren Ellis redux and he'll get abandoned back at the Marvel MAX offices.

That last page also goes a long way towards a visual explanation of what’s interesting about this comic (to me, at least.) Walker’s art is a groovy callback to his 2000AD roots whenever he’s doing facial close-ups, but when it’s time for people to stand around and proclaim shit, it’s most reminiscent of Joe Quesada’s I Made These People Out Of Boxes style from the Sword of Azarel. There’s always somebody (usually Luke Cage) that serves like a giant anchor for the other members of the team to squat their fat little bodies around. When they move, they cluster like a walking set of bowling pins, seen from angles. Glorious. Walker’s lucked out too -- Frank Martin is the man responsible for coloring these issues, and yet Martin seems unaware that the general rule of thumb with super-hero coloring these days is to overdo everything, to fill every portion of the backgrounds with hideous gradations of glaring, contradictory colors. His simple choices work well for Walker heavy-on-the-negative-space layouts that surround his character drawings. There’s no pretense towards realism in the art, and Martin doesn’t attempt to force one in with his choices. This panel isn't a great example of the guy's subtlety or curiousness (it being a story set mostly in a cave, after all) but these three issues alone showcase a guy with a much larger range than any of what was on display in Frank D'Armata's three-options-only run on Captain America. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect -- about half of the Luke Cage close-ups appear to be that of a 70 year old man’s face -- but it’s the most visually engaging of any of Marvel's current shelf of team-books. I’m not about to join in on this whole “Read Awesome Comics” meme, as it’s already become the 900th iteration of the “why don’t you like the shit I like” nonsense, but from out here on Sensitive Princess Island, I’m naming this one GOOD.

No Sacrificing, Strike Like Lightning: Tucker on 6/16

Hey, I'm into single issues of things that come out on a weekly basis in a paper format that I can purchase with American currency. Here's a few of them.

Amazing Spider-Man # 633
I’ve enjoyed quite a few of these short story arcs that Amazing has been doing since “The Gauntlet” started, but Shed was the first one where I felt like what I was reading was living up to what I was seeing. The Marcos Martin issues, that Javier Pulido Rhino short, Paul Azaceta’s Electro, cosmic Lee Weeks--all of those were really beautifully drawn comics. But behind the art, I could tell they were supposed to be building towards a broken down Spidey (ala Knightfall), and it never seemed to get there. (Here's some advice: steal Jim Aparo's old "draw some stubble" trick. That's how we knew Batman wasn't at his best.) That might be more tied into the way the comics constructed (the ever-changing writer) than any specific creative failure. Being the last chunk of pain before the big finale, Shed was able to push the point further than the rest, but it’s probably selling Zeb Wells short to imply that his spot in the rotation is responsible for the stories quality. 

More than any of the rest of the stories leading up to Grim Hunt, Shed was sad, a dark story that concluded with Spider-Man rejecting self-preservation when it demanded that he hurt innocent people. (He survived, blah blah blah, the drama of that moment had nothing to do with “how’s he going to get out of this”, it was a showcase for determination, a flipped version of the standard Spidey “whatever it takes” moment.) Visually, 633 suffers from the same Bachalo-didn’t-draw-it-all problems that hampered 632, and the only real arguments that can be made in defense of that is that 1) the work that is here is incredible, and 2) it’s not as hard to stomach as that Sinister Spider-Man mini-series where he only drew the fight scenes. (Did anybody else read those comics? Not-Bachalo draws Venom jumping off of a building, and Bachalo draws the landing? Not-Bachalo draws Venom walk through a door, Bachalo draws what’s inside? That didn’t work.)

The most memorable moments in Amazing in the last few months have all been visual--Azaceta’s catching-the-ceiling moment, Marcos Martin’s Family Circus casino fight and his inset square of a Ghost World style Carlie, Javier Pulido’s repetition of the seated Rhino while a jailbreak goes down--and Shed had at least two more, the first being when Curt Connors “died” in 631 and the second being when Spidey got buried at the bottom of a pile of crazies in this issue and chose not to fight his way out. Problems? Yeah, 633 has some. VERY GOOD nonetheless.

Ultimate Comics X # 3

I don’t think anybody was expecting Jeph Loeb to come riding in on a white horse with a new African-American super-hero right when Heidi Macdonald needed one most, but hey, here he went, and look what he brung. Art’s art is EXCELLENT.

Hellblazer # 268

This is the second part of “Sectioned”, which is probably the scariest Hellblazer story since that Warren Ellis issue about a room that made people commit suicide. It’s got a similarity of tone to one of the earlier Milligan stories, the one that achieved all of its drama by behaving exactly like one of those “i’m going to save the girl” soap operas right up until the point where it ended by saying that no, you dummy, the girl is dead and will always be dead and you’re as dumb as John for thinking that dead doesn’t mean dead forever. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that most of the tension right now in Sectioned is wrapped up in wondering whether or not John Constantine actually did beat a woman so badly that he chipped her teeth, split her lips and broke her nose. I’ll admit, it’s pretty fucked up to have the primary importance in a story that involves a woman being beaten to be about ensuring that the male hero of the story isn’t responsible for doing it, but I'm hoping that’s an accidental casualty of the serialization of the story more than it is a reflection of what “Sectioned” is really about. I hope it is. This guy wrote Enigma, you know? I can’t see him busting up ladyfaces as window dressing.

What’s unsettling about "Sectioned" is how its taken John and turned him into one of those crazy/doomed side-characters in a Shade The Changing Man storyline, and now Milligan’s bringing the actual Shade on board as fellow protagonist. It’s scary because the story--like all of Milligan’s so far, except for the India arc--is about breaking John down, about attacking every aspect of the character’s historical behavior. What’s John done since Milligan took over? Failed, consistently. He hasn't saved most of the people he was trying to save, he very nearly raped a girl who didn’t want to date him anymore--get somebody else to explain that--and now Milligan’s bringing the story closer to Delano’s old threat (mental collapse) than any writer has since Ennis.

Not to encroach on Brian’s territory, but most Hellblazer readers have to be aware that the comic has a shitty trade program and low single issue sales, that its continued existence stands in stark opposition to the business model that every other Vertigo comic follows. Hellblazer is the one nostalgia hold-out that Vertigo publishes, and Vertigo’s gotten pretty merciless in the last few years. (Regardless of their quality, Air was a comic that they wrote about in Elle fucking magazine, and Unknown Soldier got a sales-jump write-up in the New York Times, and those comics still got shut down.) So when somebody like Peter Milligan comes along and starts writing Hellblazer stories that keep slamming against what-Hellblazer-is-usually-like, and then he starts doing thematic callbacks to the way the series began (with John’s fearing a return to straitjackets and suicide attempts), and when all of that is coming after two failed Hellblazer graphic novels (Dark Entries and Pandemonium), there’s an added measure of “this could be for real” attached. I’m not trying to imply that “Sectioned” is scary because “oh shit they might cancel Hellblazer”, but the fact that they very well might cancel Hellblazer gives Peter Milligan--one of the original writers that helped establish Vertigo in the first place--a gravity of consequence that the series hasn’t had since Azzarello figured out how freaked out he could make readers by making John into the factual bisexual Delano probably always intended him to be.

Anyway. “Sectioned”. It’s a GOOD story right now, Camuncoli’s still draws some of the most fluid bodies-in-motion panels of anybody right now, Vertigo’s gotten over their early decade fear of non-rust coloring, and Simon Bisley’s covers are goofy perfect. Blah blah blah, I like this one.

20th Century Boys Volume 9, VERY GOOD

This relates, but it's still tangential and you have to guess why.

I had to go to this mega-life-important meeting at this out-of-my-income-bracket hotel recently, one of those kind of meetings that you show up an hour early for because being late for it is a non-option. Being early fucks me up though, because that means I spend an hour milling around in the nearby vicinity getting myself more worked up until I’m as nervous as I get, which is a decent amount, although not as much as some. I was listening to “Chase Scene”, which is the only song on the new Broken Social Scene album that I’ve fallen in love with as much as I fell in love with that song “Atlas”, which was what I used to listen to when I’m nervous and needed to pump myself up a bit. Anyway, I walk towards the hotel, take a deep breath, walk inside the hotel, hit the marble staircase, and right then, at the height of my anxiety, I look up and see this totally-out-of-place guy standing at the top of the marble staircase: he’s wearing a brown t-shirt, one in that  bleach-washed style that Old Navy probably has a patent on, and it says something about “always being in a Florida Keys state of mind”, and its tucked into his jeans, which are stone-washed, lycra-tight with hand-rolled cuffs (!), and yes, because he’s a real person who lives like a cartoon character, he’s wearing a gigantic fuck-you-heroes fannypack right over his junk. Rocking some glasses like they came from mail order. He’s looking past me as I hit the marble stairs, and there’s somebody behind me that he knows, because he straightens up, claps his hands and goes Bang Bang with his finger guns, and then he--i’m not making any of this up--he spins on his the ball of his right foot and starts walking toward the front desk.

He immediately tripped, hit the ground.

He hopped up real quick, didn’t need help from the bellhop or his friend, both of whom came running. I silently thanked him over and over again while I was waiting for the elevator to take me to the 18th floor. That guy saved my life.


Dan Clowes is the cartoonist and author of a considerable number of the most celebrated comics of the past 20 years, including GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING, ICE HAVEN and THE DEATH RAY, all of which originated in his EIGHTBALL anthology series.  His most recent publication is WILSON, his first original graphic novel published by DRAWN & QUARTERLY and released on April 28, 2010.

WILSON prompted the following Savage Critic round-table discussion, which took place via the internet between May 2 and May 9, 2010.

ABHAY:  Let's start with the premise.  WILSON is a series of one-page comics (mostly, gag comics) documenting the life of an abrasive Clowes-character, between late-middle-age and old age. Wilson is a hyper-critical blowhard with a persistent need to expound at length upon his opinions to total strangers, whose relentless judgments on everything around him-- none really earned by a life of any notable accomplishment-- leaves him increasingly isolated and pathetic.  So, question #1: Is Dan Clowes making fun of me?  What did I ever do to Dan Clowes??  We all fall under the category of "internet loudmouths", as far as St. Peter is concerned, so: did you relate to the Wilson character?  I'm curious to know how much your sympathy for the main character, and/or recognition of yourself in the main character, impacted your enjoyment of the book. That seemed to be the thesis of Mr. Glen Weldon's WILSON review for NPR.  Weldon's review suggested the pleasure of WILSON was recognizing the worst parts of yourself in the main character.  And I think I had the opposite experience, where-- I read it on a night where I was having a little struggle with the ol' self-esteem, and WILSON provided the precise opposite of relief.  I had a "Why did I just do THAT to myself" reaction to it, a wrong-night-to-read-Clowes reaction, on a pure human level, separate and apart from any admiration of craft or what have you.  How did it find you?

JOG: Speaking from my personal experience, Wilson is a nearly-to-a-T reminder of one of my uncles, since passed; we weren't super-close, but I liked him a good deal, we got along well, I think.  He carried himself in much the same way, albeit without Wilson's incessant, possibly fake nostalgia for a time when people really connected to others.  Or his prolonged unemployment, or his failed marriage; like, this guy I knew was a consistent worker, very pragmatic, who essentially understood the disconnects between people - then again, maybe Wilson himself is like that, just not on the page?  In that his sputtering seems characterized as only half self-aware?  I'm thinking of the various bits where Clowes has Wilson going off and yammering toward the end of a page, while his unwitting target just sits there resigned to their fate - it got so that sometimes I wondered if Wilson was even actually talking or if several of his rants are simply occurring in his imagination.  I don't know if that's correct as in-story happenings -- a bunch of the time people WILL react to Wilson, so that would render the technique odd and irregular, not that Clowes might not be interested in that anyway -- but it does isolate Wilson as a real oddball purely by his impolitic nature, rather than for his yearning for a more pressed-flesh kinda existence.  Obviously one of the big running gags is that Wilson is a "people person" who completely fucking hates people, because they don't meet his standard of how people should interact, which naturally implies (to me) that Wilson doesn't understand his own outlook all that well.

As for the effect it had on my reading, I'd say I found it more difficult to process the book as 'pure' humor, which I know is how some people took it, in that it struck me as more of a painful, seriocomic character study.  And it's not just personal recognition feeding into that -- most of the comedy-of-awkwardness Clowes is dishing out is very similar to the humor in Chris Ware's work, where I think it comes off better (just done better, better timed, written; funnier), and anyway some of the page ending 'gags' are straightforward, pretty cheesy dramatic beats (I'm thinking of the part where he asks his dad on the phone if he's been to see the doctor, that'd be the earliest manifestation of that) -- but I do wonder if the farcical aspect of the character would be clearer to someone who might interpret it all as some distillation of the worst part of themselves, rather than a fairly recognizable personality type?  I mean, I agree that parts of Wilson's struggle are supposed to be taken as a variation on universal human longing, judging from his cliché attempts to divine meaning from water and weather patterns, which are acknowledged by the character as being a silly banality, but of course Wilson is a silly character, so in the end it's raindrops beating rhapsodically on the windowpane that leaves him touching something he believes to be divine, so it's more of a look-how-true-and-lovely-these-well-worn-poetic-devices-really-are.  This is immediately preceded by a defiant howl of existence against the uncaring universe, again ironically positioned because it's really an empty cafe, ha ha, not the universe (and the one other guy in there would probably like to leave since Wilson is really annoying), but - it's a lot like a genre comic acknowledging an overused trope before using it.  That doesn't make the writing deeper, it just indicates the writer knows better and did it anyway.

Er, to sum up, it strikes me as a fairly natural impulse on a reader's part to want to identify with a nasty character by recognizing said nasty parts in their own personality, but I don't think that's entirely the point here; I saw Wilson as a pretty specific, wholly-formed character in his own right.  Moreover, my idea of the book's visual concept is that Wilson is a singular character -- "100% Wilsonesque" as the back cover puts it -- that perseveres within and according to himself, while the reader's observational position is aggravated by ever-changing visual styles that I think inevitably color our reading of the action.

TUCKER: Near the end, Wilson refers to Thomas The Tank Engine as Thomas the Train Engine, and I did that once too.

SEAN: I don't think I recognized myself in Wilson any more or less than I recognize myself in any character I read about. You can't help but pivot off of shared experience, and so to the extent that I've ever thought "Jesus Christ what a miserable fucking shithole this world is" then yes, Wilson and I have that in common. But at the same time I can't imagine being abusively rude to total strangers I met on the street or in a cab or coffee house or whatever. (The Internet, on the other hand? Game on, assholes!)

DOUGLAS: Wilson came off as a blowhard and a dick every step of the way to me--an absolute jerk who likes to pretend he wants to connect with other people but can't begin to manage it. He's always a caricature, and I never really believed in him because of it (I can't imagine, for instance, why Pippi got married to him in the first place). The routine of his trying to find meaning in nature had its moments, though--I like pg. 58, "Icicle," although it reminded me a little of Jaime Hernandez's story in Kramers Ergot 7 ("I still don't see it").

SEAN: Douglas--well, Pippi was clearly a mess herself, right? Compared to a situation where getting a tattoo that reads "PROPERTY OF SIR D.A.D.D.Y. BIG-DICK" is the right choice, marrying Wilson doesn't seem so bad. Of course, if you don't buy Wilson, you might not buy Pippi either.

BRIAN: There wasn't anything in Wilson himself that I saw or didn't see in myself, I wouldn't say -- but that's generally true for Clowes' characters for me. I tend to think that Clowes most vivid characters, in general, are obsessed with being right, even when they're clearly wrong. Hm, actually, on reflection, that does sound a bit like me after all...

DAVID: I really didn't feel any degree of association with Wilson - as Douglas said, he's a dick through and through, and basically every incident of showing concern still comes from a deep well of selfishness. He doesn't mourn his dad's death because he's sad he's gone, he mourns it because it's the proper thing to do. I think everyone's known someone KIND OF like Wilson, someone totally involved in other people's behavior, and intensely critical of it, while being a gigantic douche himself. So no, certainly none of myself in Wilson.

DOUGLAS: Note the Washington City Paper interview with Clowes: "Likable characters are for weak-minded narcissists. I much prefer the Rupert Pupkins and Larry Davids and Scotty Fergusons as my leading men." Fair enough; but if you've got a totally abrasive deadbeat as your lead, it's hard to justify claiming that he can function in society without showing us how.

CHRIS: Wilson definitely fit the Larry David archetype for me: a protagonist in a story in which you more readily identify with his many victims. Still, like with most unlikable characters in fiction, I found myself cringing with brief flashes of identification. Then again, I'm the type of person who will suddenly remember a shitty thing I did to another kid in sixth grade, and spend the rest of the walk home feeling like the world's biggest jerk. I don't think that identification or lack thereof affected my enjoyment of the book, for better or worse.

ABHAY:  Like Clowes' DEATH RAY, WILSON leaves a lot of information off-panel, and on re-reading it for this, I was struck by what he chose to leave off-panel.  Namely:  Wilson has friends.  Page 30's Long Distance, possibly Page 67's Housemates, and Page 70's Caller I.D. all involve Wilson on a phone or receiving phone calls from other people in his life that we never see.  By leaving them off-panel, has Clowes inherently made a statement about friendship, that "friendship is meaningless compared to family"?  Such a statement would strike me as notable.  Statistics and demographics will tell you that people are marrying later in life, starting families later in life, relying on having friends more.  On the other hand, I know I can be pretty cynical about "friendship"-- there's a lot of dull comics about how "being friends means something, dammit!" What do you make of it?

JOG: Ha, I took page 67 just as Wilson describes it: that's he's managed to harangue some hapless insurance salesman into a conversation about his life, which is perfectly in keeping with his characterization throughout the book, although I guess he could just be taking a preventative measure against Shelley talking to him.  It's all much more humiliating if it really is a random stranger, though, and anyway the joke seems to be that Wilson isn't very intimate with his housemate, no doubt due in part to his unconsciously abrasive nature as demonstrated for us.

I think the idea of family becomes more pronounced than friendship because the story is in large part about Wilson's mostly crappy attempts to communicate with people -- it's stated on the first page, and it's the engine of most of the gags, Wilson attempting to chat with folks and failing horribly -- and he seems to value this face-to-face ideal of human understanding that flatters the notion of family.  Those are people you should always be able to talk to, and extract wisdom from, as Wilson understands it, given his remarks about wanting to record his father's story, so the story of Wilson pivots dramatically around his even-worse failings regarding family.  I also take the absence of Wilson's acquaintances as another means of keeping the reader in a particularly observational state, really peering at Wilson so that we only ever see him and his purportedly bottomless appetite for the most profound communication, generally failing, so that "friends" and accidental encounters are pretty much the same in terms of demeanor.  I liked how the prostitute gets more than one page, since she's at least getting paid to hang around with this oaf, and I guess sex mandates a little more attention than average.

The big irony of the book is that Wilson is an egoist, and, through the dozens of refracted impressions that are Clowes' ever-shifting art, the book forces the reader to examine Wilson from all sorts of angles, even though he can't know or benefit from that, and the final impact is that he remains the same as a character.  We never discover what he realizes about life in the end - the book makes it a point to conclude right there, so we're not being placed in the position of God, let's not get cocky.  That's only Dan Clowes.

SEAN: Well, Wilson's family relationships are pretty meaningless, too. He starts off estranged from his ex-wife, with a daughter he's never met, and a father he barely speaks to. He ends up estranged from his ex-wife, with a grandchild he's never met, a daughter who notifies him of this grandchild's existence essentially out of a sense of obligation, and a dead father. In between, he goes to prison for his forced rapprochement with his ex and daughter. I see his sudden seizure on the concept of THE FAMILY as part of his generalized fallen-world lionization of various hoary old conceptions of how society is supposed to work, but he's no more able to actualize this than he is to carry on a normal conversation with anyone. Seen in that light, whether he has or doesn't have friends doesn't matter much.

DOUGLAS: Also, this is coming from Dan Clowes, whose Ghost World is one of the great American comics about friendship (among other things). But I think showing Wilson and his friends on-panel together would have required him to make more of a case for the kinds of meaningful connections Wilson is capable of forming with people, which wouldn't make a lot of sense in the context of this story.

BRIAN: Nah, I think you're over thinking it, Abhay. I mean Wilson is about Wilson -- even when he's trying to engage with family, he's never concerned with anything that isn't about him. Hell, look at "Fatherhood" or "Grandfather" or even more so, "The Trail". The few places where Wilson engages with other people outside of his family ("friends" or not) his behavior doesn't change. I think Clowes showed all he needed to of friendship to make the point.

CHRIS: Wilson seemingly tries to befriend everyone he meets, in his own broken way. The fact that "friendship" to him is someone who will listen to him monologue about himself and how everyone else is an asshole, which is presumably why he has so few friends, and why the interactions we do see end so poorly. I'm sure he's met some people who will put up with repeat performances for whatever reason -- maybe because in Clowes's words he's the sort of guy who is "fun to hang out with in short and finite increments", though none of us seemed to have that experience in our short finite increments of interaction with him. Perhaps there was once a less-Wilsonesque Wilson, the same man that somehow managed to court Pippi and (presumably) have some sort of childhood to look back fondly on. Or maybe not, maybe Wilson has always been a terrible person and his friends are equally terrible.  I don't know that Wilson cares any more about "family" than he does about "friends" -- if anything, "family" is just a subgroup of friends who he thinks should feel more obligated to put up with all his bullshit. That doesn't lionize or impugn "friends" or "family" as concepts external to Wilson, just for him. And what else matters, he might ask.

DAVID: The thing about leaving things "off-panel" in Wilson is that the book doesn't just have gutters between the panels, it has gutters between the pages - supergutters. Wilson's structure as a series of discrete one-page comic-strip vignettes leads to Clowes having the ability to, by reordering the pages (something he's said he's done), change the pacing of the story. The best example I can think of this is once Wilson goes on what seems to be a totally blissful family trip with Pippi and his daughter, and then, a few pages later, there's a strip revealing the fact that both Pippi and his daughter were straight-up kidnapped. Clowes doesn't show this moment, and this makes those initial vacation strips that much funnier: "How the hell did this asshole get an actual family vacation?" I imagine he uses the same sort of tactics on whatever friends he has, likely trapping them in his orbit by inducing guilt.

ABHAY:  Jog, in his review over at Comics Comics, refers to WILSON being a "a worthwhile experiment, and sometimes a trying, tedious one, particularly as the comedy [...] gives way to a wholly expected whiff of fleeting redemption."  Did you find the ending predictable?  Or do you find the comic thematically, I don't know-- too simple?  Is the comic saying more for you than "live a decent life, otherwise you'll be sad you don't know your grandchildren"?  I know some of you are pretty punk rock-- is that too bourgeois for you punkers?  What are you even rebelling against, punkers?  Is all the formatting Clowes does tarting up 5-cent middle-class values?  Or do you think it's a more honest comedy about a misanthrope than is normally the case, e.g., the end of AS GOOD AS IT GETS where the Jack Nicholson misanthrope ends up with Helen Hunt.  (As comedies about chubby misanthropes go, I like the BANK DICK more...)  I don't know.  I'm a quiet person, an introvert, a bookworm, quote-unquote "sexual dynamite", so as a quiet person, a story about how a loudmouth suffers in life... That doesn't really conform to how I view the world, I guess.  What do you think of WILSON's themes?

TUCKER: Actually, I didn't find the ending predictable at all, which is a nice way of saying that I didn't like the ending very much. Part of it comes down to me still not being sure if I was supposed to buy the "Daddy Daddy" panel--having Wilson "get" staring at water made me reassess my initial reaction to that earlier scene. The first time through, I took Wilson laying down in the baseball field as a variation on what he'd been doing when he stared at the ocean--imitating the physical act of grief and/or emotional connection in a way to access some bit of true emotion that was beyond him. But at the end, having his "fake it til I make it" trick work made me think that Clowes actually meant the "Daddy Daddy" scene as a sincere one, which I just couldn't buy into. That last page made the book feel like the stock comedy that (I think?) you're criticizing it for being, whereas having him learn nothing was what I hoped was coming.

I disagree with your description of him as well. He's a loudmouth, maybe, but he's very much a quiet person, he's an introvert, he's a classic bookworm, he's all those things. There's very few scenes in there where he's dealing with more than one person at a time, and there's never a lot of stuff where he's doing more than throwing out verbal shitbombs, he rarely actually responds to being corrected or told he's wrong. Part of that is the punchline-dependent delivery, the way Clowes doesn't ever play the scenes out after the final cymbal crash, but I don't see Wilson as a truly confrontational misanthrope, mostly because I don't see the evidence for him being one. He can throw a punch, I don't disagree, but he reads like someone who just throws one and then hurry off to be alone and continue the conversation in his head, where he's certain to win.

JOG: Interestingly, the two-page side-story Clowes did in the New Yorker was, in fact, one scene over two pages, making it twice as long as any sustained scene in the book proper, and it does feature Wilson dealing with multiple parties at once.  He comes off much more clearly as a loudmouth in those pages, if only because Clowes lets the scene play a little while longer, apocryphal as it might be in the grand Wilson narrative.  I prefer the elusive quality of the one-page-only concept, which I think bolsters the flux status of the art.

I'm hesitant to break the 'story' and 'art' portions of the work too far apart, because their interrelation is so necessary to the whole experiment; I totally agree that the themes inherent to Wilson's characterization are simple, but there is more going on than Clowes running through these routines in the form of a comic, he's seeking to optimize them in comics form, i.e. using the miscellany of diverse visual impacts to emphasize the subjectivity of observation.  Here we see reflective Wilson, in a lamp-lit world of silhouette.  Now he's a big-nosed cartoon blithely revealing his fantasies about his ex-wife falling into ruin.  Now he's a realist human figure, reflecting while his lover is sleeping, eventually discovering the chill shade of SIR D.A.D.D.Y. BIG-DICK.  Sometimes this approach is facilitative of whatever narrative the current page is trying to deliver, but it primarily underlines the structure of Wilson's life -- as in, the thing he denies on the book's penultimate page -- even if it's only a structure we can see, as observers.  Wilson remains inside himself, forever oblivious; this is the most universally-keyed impact in all of the work, because none of us can glimpse that structure as it pertains to ourselves.  All of us are therefore Wilson, in addition to Wilson being Wilson and ourselves being everyone else - the blend of elements that forms a comic is what assures us.

The problem is, while Clowes' usage is very present, it's not especially rich.  Page by page, the 'gag' setup facilitates a simplistic pace, a boom-boom-boom of similar beats at the end of most of the book's vignettes, which leaves the serious parts feeling mawkish from repetition.  It compares poorly to Clowes' more varied use of the multi-strip technique in Ice Haven, which encompasses a plurality of narrative modes along with the shifting visuals, or something like Jason's Hey, Wait..., which relies on an even more rigid six-panel grid format, one vignette per page, yet doesn't feel the need to emphasize some particular beat on every page.  (I mean, I suppose the approach inevitably forces discreet focus on every page, but Clowes really seems to push the impact of each section, to the point where I found myself thinking "ooh, here comes a serious part" a few panels ahead of the story, which isn't a helpful thing when you're dealing with so simple a plot.)

SEAN: I don't see any redemption here, fleeting or otherwise.

JOG: Oh, he's not entirely redeemed in the eyes of any of his fellow characters, although his daughter is certainly willing to humor his desire for familial connection through the internet, and Shelley appears prepared to put up with his shit for a while; her last page in the book sees one of her hands momentarily touching Wilson's shoulder as he begins to weep, though (of course!) he doesn't notice.  But, importantly, the narrative affords him climax - his Thomas the Train Engine tears lead right into his shout of existence leading directly to his critical epiphany of raindrops.  Then: whiteness.  Clowes cuts off the narrative, so that Wilson is left in a state of grace.  Obviously it could change in the very next second, as it could for any character experiencing any concluding epiphany, but what we're left with is a more (I dare say) romantic character who finally Understands Things.  That's the redemption, via structure.  Again, the very thing Wilson denies existing on the penultimate page.

DOUGLAS: I found the ending pretty irritating too, but I also can't think of a way to wrap up the story that might have been more dramatically satisfying. (Thought experiment #1: what if the last page before the whiteout/"death" were Wilson looking at the rain and saying "I still don't see it," a la that Jaime H. story? That wouldn't really work either.) I agree with Jog that the multiplicity of perspectives/techniques doesn't amount to much, because we never get a look at Wilson that makes us see him particularly differently. (Somehow I keep thinking of the Christmas special of the British version of The Office, where we see David Brent hitting it off with Carol and it's suddenly evident that exactly the same traits that make him the unbearable boss we've seen for the rest of the series could potentially make him a fun boyfriend.) Maybe that lack of redemption, or of the possibility of redemption, or of any particular kind of change in the protagonist, is a systemic problem here--it's a story about how Wilson stays exactly the same, and that means it has to be a series of events strung together until the clock/number of heartbeats/page count runs out. (Because every single comic book has to be exactly like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, that's why!)

SEAN: The ending reminded me of a cross between the ending of The Godfather Part II and that episode in the final season of The Sopranos when Tony does mushrooms in the desert outside Vegas and yells "I get it! I get it!" to the rising sun, then changes absolutely nothing about his life. I don't see sitting by yourself having some sort of revelation about life but sharing it only with yourself and perhaps the rain on the windowpane as any kind of state of grace. What's weird to me here is that Jog and Douglas seem to agree that the ending is lackluster, but don't actually agree about what the ending constitutes, unless I'm misreading something...

BRIAN: As a technical piece of work, I thought the format worked beautifully -- at first it seems as though you're just reading a series of one-page gags, but then it turns to where you see that they're actually adding up to something. As a reader, I was feeling pretty "OK, I get it, I get it!", then there is the shift around page 19 or so where it suddenly clicked for me that he was, in fact, telling a story, and not just a series of vignettes, and the work really "unlocked" for me.

RE: the ending, Clowes has always had a wobbly relationship with ending his stories, but I think that's more a function of his characters than anything having to do with plot, per se -- people really don't change all that much, even when confronted with something "life changing". My problem with the end is that I think Clowes felt like he needed to have an "end", and that "epiphany" is the best way to do it, but it seemed very OOC for what we were shown up to that point. That is to say that I tend to think that Clowes himself may be an optimist, and he really doesn't want Wilson to end on a bummer note -- but the characters dictate something else entirely...

CHRIS: Wilson seems self-centered and self-deceiving enough that I don't even buy he had any 11th Hour epiphany -- he'd just hit a point where all the other things he thought might validate him have failed, so he opts for the one avenue no one else can take away from him. Then again, maybe I'm just recoiling away from what is on the face of it, a cliché happy, undeserved redemption. But the entire book (save for the Daddy Daddy scene, which I read as primal pre-Wilson emotion overtaking him) struck me as an exercise in performative self-deception, so I don't know why it'd stop at the last moment. At the same time, the book seems like an effort to empathize with, or at least understand where the Loudmouth/Asshole/Sociopath/Wilson type is coming from. So maybe after all that empathizing, Clowes did want to provide a happy ending. I don't know if this addresses any themes other than trying to determine exactly how unreliable Wilson/Clowes are as narrators, but as a book it struck me as far more of a character study/formal exercise than anything with a Theme per se, though those aren't mutually exclusive and maybe I'm not trying hard enough.

DAVID: Honestly, I didn't buy any epiphany Wilson may or may not make at the end either. Nor did I buy the "Daddy daddy" scene, which seemed to me less like Wilson feeling grief and more like Wilson attempting to emulate grief - by that same token, I feel like the ending was just Wilson emulating an epiphany. This is a character where 90% of what he says is total bullshit and self-deception - the guy is, as Chris has said, basically an enhanced version of Larry David, and his first piece of dialogue in the book is "I Love People!". It's obvious he has absolutely zero sense of self-awareness. He's essentially an "honest" loudmouth whose public honesty is really just lying to himself in public.

I also still don't feel that Wilson was intended to be in any way sympathetic - he's pretty much utterly contemptible, a (as the back cover says!) sociopath who isn't feeling things, he's emulating feeling them because he feels like it's the right thing to do. He's perfectly self-centered, and any identification I can have with Wilson speaks badly on me as a human being. That's why the book was funny to me - it was easy to feel nothing but schadenfreude for such a complete piece of shit.

ABHAYI want to quote gentleman and scholar Mr. Marc Singer's description of Clowes: "arid work: unremarkable character-based 'nongenre' fiction, distinguished only because its genre, highly respected in literary circles, was at one point fairly uncommon in comics."  Is WILSON just the sort of "quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story" that Michael Chabon famously bemoaned as being overly abundant in literary fiction, years ago?  Do you think the story in WILSON would be remarkable if it were contained in a short story or novel?  Do you think that's even a thing that matters, if it takes advantage of visual strengths peculiar to comics? 

JOG: Well, I think your last question there answers the one before it: no, it might not be remarkable if it was prose, but it's not.  It's a comic.  Like I mentioned above, a lot of the worth of this book for me came from its interplay between mightily shifting observational perspectives and the "Wilsonesque" consistency of the title character.  I don't think it's been done in comics to this focused a degree, and I don't think it can be so smoothly executed in prose; you'd need a totally bravura and potentially confusing ever-shifting omniscient narrative approach or a whole bunch of observing characters planted in-story and narrating chorally.  Fuck that.  This is comics needling its effect right into your brain, icepick style.  An arctic shit-knife, if you will.

But yeah, Marc's essay on the early volumes of MOME came to mind as I was writing the Comics Comics thing: "just as not all autobiography is solipsistic, not all solipsism is autobiographical."  That's not to say that Clowes is falling into quite the trap Marc declares sprung on most of the debut MOME crew -- a general failure to interface artistically with a world more than a city block or two outside their discreet zones of experience, or even all that curiously as per their experience, if I'm getting it right -- but in the tiny epiphany school, we're not exactly venturing off-campus.

TUCKER: The best Clowes is funny, critical, Clowes. This was funny. It wasn't as funny as the funniest thing he ever did, which is that one or two panel riff on "felix", who spells his name in lowercase letters, but it was pretty damn funny nonetheless.

SEAN: Ugh.

JOG: Heh, is this one of those moments where you identify with Wilson?  Please expand!

SEAN: Hahaha! I've just always found Singer's writing on alternative comics self-evidently ughworthy is all. Did it look like I was "ugh"ing you or Abhay or Tucker? Shit, sorry! No ugh intended. However, look for "Ughing Tucker Stone" in theaters this August.

ABHAY:  I don't know.  Even if Clowes is utilizing something special to comics by shifting visual styles-- well, isn't there a line at which that becomes meaningless?  Say you took the movie BRIDE WARS-- Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, brides warring, good times-- and you edited it, with those Hollywood computers they have, so that the scene where Anne Hathaway initiates the Bride War looks all SIN CITY, or the scene where Kate Hudson escalates the Bride War is under a blue filter, Candice Bergen is on that crappy Avatar planet, and so forth.  That wouldn't be the same movie, no-- it might be more interesting than what they released.  But you're still basically watching a movie that's inherently about bride warriors, no?  The formatting might add a layer of interest to WILSON, and I can see enjoying it just for having that layer-- but isn't there still something under and independent of that layer that invites a separate reaction?  Maybe I've badly misunderstood what you're saying (Jog, that is) though, or aguing a point no one cares about, as nobody seems to be defending WILSON as a "story."

DOUGLAS: Sure, and the big non-visual formal device Clowes is using here--organizing the story as a series of one-page blackout sketches that imitate the tone and pacing of single-page gag strips--is also a technique that's innate to comics (you don't really think of prose fiction as being organized on the page level). I don't think you really could turn WILSON into prose without losing basically everything about it other than the rudiments of its plot. And it's definitely not plotless or quotidian, exactly; it just focuses on the quotidian elements of the story.

On the subject of solipsism-into-autobiography: mighty clever of Clowes to have Wilson, on the last two pages of the story, consistently facing to the right and having his gray hair thinning out and getting shorter, and then bam, on the last page, there's the artist's self-portrait, which might even be another style of drawing Wilson.

JOG: Plus, setting aside that Wilson is a tightly-controlled work of vignettes, I don't think a movie could ever really have the same effect, in that cinema is for the most part (and definitely in the case of Bride Wars) a photographic medium, running continuously from one temporal point to another, which implicates the viewer's idea of realism at every turn.  Like Walter Kerr theorized in The Silent Clowns, pre-talkie dramatic pictures are inevitably distanced affairs to contemporary audiences, because technology has gotten so much more efficient at depicting or analogizing realism (via well-established tenants of film grammar) that silent drama no longer looks 'right.'  Silent comedy, in contrast, feeds off of realism being upset to surprising effect, which allows today's audiences to interface with it on a more direct level.  The point is, a movie has to contend with the viewer's perception of reality, and somehow flatter or subvert or cope with it; shifting visual perspectives would upset this, a la the blockbuster smash Natural Born Killers, to which I believe Bride Wars was a crypto-sequel.

With a comic, 'reality' can be instantly accepted as whatever the artist can establish; while there's always going to be some readers who'll complain if the art isn't figuratively tight, there's nonetheless a lot more leeway in accepting a comic's drawn, cartooned, scribbled world as bona fied.  From there, an artist can shift to guide or provoke reactions, although with Clowes here it's more like veering.  But I don't think the same situation is applicable outside of comics.  (And anyway, I do think the technique fits in with the story's theme of attempted communication, as detailed above.)

SEAN: Re: crypto-sequels to Natural Born Killers--I believe you're thinking of Zombieland, Joe.

JOG: And then, y'know, Clowes himself weighed in on the topic with his interview in the (now-)current issue of The Believer (Vol. 8 No. 4, May 2010, conducted by my Comics Comics sitemate Nicole Rudick, full disclosure), which is behind a pay wall online, but I bought a hard copy - "I really was exploring the idea of trying to construct a joke out of every scene in a life in a way that would piece together into a narrative."  (Pg. 66)  There was initially "hundreds of pages" of Wilson jokes in his sketchbook, (Pg. 67), and a terrific influence was Peanuts, and the suggestion from reading a lot of it that an underlying plot might be present.  (Pgs. 65-66)  If you look at his DCist interview, he adds that no one style made sense when it came time to draw the book proper: "It would have to be this kind of mosaic approach where you're seeing kind of different facets of this guy on different days, and kind of separating each strip into its own different universe that's not necessarily related to the others in sequence."  I wonder if there wasn't a strongly facilitative component too - that the book's drawn this way 'cause that's how the book got drawn.

BRIAN: I can't add a lot to the formalism debate you bright minds are having, but to answer the last question of Abhay's, no I don't think it matters all that much -- this is a comics story that could really only be a comics story, and I think it engages you with each page-unit, something that can't be done in film, and would probably be insanely difficult in prose.

DAVID: Yeah, I can't imagine this as anything else. It's totally a work in comics, using the stylistic tendencies therein - the humor is heavily dependent on the juxtaposition of the subject material and art style. It could MAYBE work as animation, but without that contrast it just wouldn't be the same narrative. Wilson is heavily reliant on form for its function.

ABHAY:  Like last year's ASTERIOS POLYP, reactions to WILSON might end up being more focused on the formal choices than the actual content. And I don't think that's a comparison WILSON benefits by-- what I found exciting about POLYP's formal choices was how it added a layer of information to the story, something I don't know that I can say is true for WILSON.  Let's back up.  With WILSON, Clowes is working in a similar vein as ICE HAVEN: each page is a complete comic, and the art style and/or color palette varies from page to page, including how the main characters are drawn.  Which I think raises the question:  to what end? Is it contributing information, for you? And that seems to have been answered a number of different ways so far.  The great Mr. Paul Gravett began his fine review with the following:  "Nothing is left to chance in a Daniel Clowes book."  Jog in his Comics Comics review (and sorry if I've misunderstood) suggests that the different art styles reflect how others see Wilson (others sometime being the reader...?).  The always-worthwhile Blog Flume blog, on the other hand, suggest a number of possibilities, including that the styles might not mean anything: "As Mr. Ames from Clowes's Ice Haven might argue, 'There is no translatable content contained within each style: it is simply an aesthetic mood, and therefore is beyond the ability of words to characterize it.' Perhaps the styles are not about anything -- rather they create a visual rhythm, a kind of plot that overlaps and diverges from the narrative plot."  Where do you come out?

TUCKER: I've been listening to Das Racist a lot, and that's probably ruined me for certain things, and one of those things is that I don't really buy the idea that this "stuff", these choices and varied styles, are being left up to chance. My immediate response to them is that I thought that Clowes was commenting on other comics, on his contemporaries--that he's drawing certain pages similar to Ivan Brunetti on purpose, that his "daddy is dying" side journey is a Chris Ware thing, the little boys in prison page is Peanuts--after I started responding that way, I went looking for it, and now I'm trying to find the Darwyn Cooke's Parker page (blue tones? bedside noir?), and I'm wondering which relationship discussion is supposed to be from Optic Nerve. Whether I'm on any sort of right track or not doesn't particularly interest me, as this obsession has effectively determined how I'm interpreting Wilson for the time being, but right or not, I'm firmly in the camp that Gravett is right, and none of the choices are left up to chance.

JOG: I think I've pretty much said my peace already on this, although I guess I should add that the multiplicity of perspectives on Wilson doesn't represent in-story observing characters, but the reader as forced into the position of different, biased, tilt-headed straining faux-observers, like you're becoming a new 'reader' on every page.  I totally agree that there's multiple interpretations, sure; I think the book benefits even less from Ken Parille's intuitive-shades-of-mood-beyond-description/pure-visual-rhythm option(s) than pairing it up with Mazzucchelli, since that I think that interpretation brings to mind no particular substantive interaction with the writing save for putting the scene breaks after punchlines or those goofy dramatic beats.  That's just one possibility suggested in that post, I know, and anyway I'm not too far from intuitive shades of mood myself, since I'm not convinced that each 'style' as a consistent, coded meaning.  But I don't think intuition's all there is.

SEAN: I say this in my review, but I think the gag is that amid all the varied styles, amid all the mastery of the craft of drawing and coloring that Clowes brings to bear here, Wilson's still the same.

DOUGLAS: The "different style on every page" thing seems like a display of mastery on Clowes' part rather than particularly like an additional layer of meaning added to specific scenes. It's also worth noting that all the stylistic choices Clowes makes here are within a distinct, limited range of visual style.

SEAN: Yes. Every single one is recognizably Clowes--in fact, I'm reasonably sure he's used every single one before, perhaps in Ice Haven alone. This isn't some chameleonic tour-de-force of mimickry or experimentation. That's not a complaint, mind you, just an observation.

BRIAN: What Douglas said.

DAVID: I largely agree with these - I don't think the styles were part of any grand pattern, or that they're express homages or map out some sort of thematic unity between the similarly-drawn strips. I think it's just Clowes using the style he thinks is funnier or more effective for that particular gag or emotional punch.

JOG: Tucker, I'd be interested in hearing you expand on your idea up above.  Like, over at my Comics Comics thing where I wondered if Clowes was "fucking with us," part of that was wondering if he wasn't mixing in aspects of stereotypical sad, tortured, obsessive lit comics characters as a means of making Wilson-the-character even more abrasive to acclimated readers, not so much as critique but as a rotten Easter egg to stink up the reading for jaded nerds - Clowes knows his comics, so I don't think it'd be out of his reach to play that kind of game as a character thing, knowing that it might not register to casual bookstore browsers.  But are you saying it's a broader, comics-on-comics criticism at work?  What's your theory on how that plays out across the book?

TUCKER: Joe, I know I initially mentioned it to you as a "criticism of comics as comic" kind of feeling I was having, but no, I don't think that's what Wilson is going for. I do think that misanthropic main characters, self-loathing--these are the sort of things that Clowes would know are a well-trod area of comics, especially when he's dealing with readers like us, who have put some time into the Fanta/D&Q strands. Part of the humor in the book is that the guy is a hate-the-world stereotype, and when the jokes don't work (I'm looking at Abhay's "least favorite page" section), often it's because we've seen them before, whether it was in comics themselves or in the conversations surrounding those comics. (Douglas saying he's had enough "Fat chicks" jokes in his time, Abhay being bored with another "fuck super-heroes" riff coming from an alt-cartoonist.) I do think you're right to assume that Clowes is "fucking with us", and he's making sure to deliver the information in a way that riffs on what one might stereotypically expect from the work, and one of the most direct ways to do that is visually. Douglas is right to say that it's "within a distinct, limited range of visual style"--Clowes has said that himself--but I think that might be sidestepping how influential his influences are (Peanuts, for one) and how influential Clowes already is to the last 15 years of comics. He's not operating in a vacuum, and he can trick out what he's doing already and call upon something that strikes a chord with other cartoonists, particularly those "of his generation". And when he tosses in a bit of narrative snark in, it can, and does, read to me as if he's trying to make another statement on top of the one that your "casual bookstore browser" might not grasp. That Boggie page, for example--it's funny, but it's even funnier because it can be made to be a churlish sneer at the characters in Clyde Fans, that is, if you read Clyde Fans. I don't think any of these things are full-on pastiche/satire, but I do think the extra touches are in there to make it a little bit zing-ier, tuned up for the extra-sensitive.

CHRIS: Even before he started doing formal exercises in "shifting style" like Ice Haven and Wilson, I feel like Clowes has been far more of a chameleon than nearly any of his contemporaries: guys like Ware and Tomine may have played with a variety of styles back in the day, but both have gradually whittled down their work to a singular style. Charles Burns, Peter Bagge, Los Bros, pretty much anyone who falls alongside Clowes in the pool of Men of a Certain Age Who Do Comics Michael Chabon Might Have Been Bitching About In The Above-Mentioned Quotation -- they've all chosen to work almost exclusively in a singular trademark style. Clowes has played around with styles enough over the years that he can pull something like Wilson off and still have every page look like a "Clowes Style" as opposed to a pastiche to a foreign style, and you could try to map the pages to "Yellow Streak, Ghost World, David Boring, Pussey, 20th Century Eightball Intro" paths too. I'm willing to believe there's an element of "fucking with us" involved with some of the choices, but I don't think that was a primary goal. I don't think there was any primary agenda to the shifting styles, though I also agree nothing was "left to chance". Going back to the previous question (which I didn't have anything insightful to add to) I do wonder if the direct showiness of this specific creative decision is giving it more attention than other deliberate choice that any creator makes.

ABHAY:  Oh, to be clear, Chabon wasn't complaining about comics or comics creators, but about serious prose short fiction.  Okay.  Let me get bold-faced because it's time for the next question. Setting aside the "what does it all mean" question-- did you LIKE the format choice Clowes made?  Did you think it made the WILSON experience better than it would have been had Clowes maintained a single style throughout?  Do you think "serious scenes look serious, funny scenes look funny" robbed you as a reader of your own authorship, of being able to create your own interpretation / conclusion of events presented?  (To the extent that description is even true-- Page 62's Last Time and Page 49's Polly's House might suggest otherwise).  By insisting to us how we should see Wilson at any given moment, is Clowes in essence doing the same thing Wilson himself is supposedly guilty of, bleating on and ignoring our own possible contributions to the conversation?

SEAN: I don't think that's what's going on, so I have no problem with this. By all means let a thousand flowers of Dan Clowes drawing style bloom.

JOG: No, I don't believe it's coded that way.  A bunch of the really blatantly 'funny' bits are closer to the realism end of the scale, like where he asks the prostitute for a blowjob, or confesses his role in sending the box of shit.  In contrast, the big breakthrough final page is among the more cartoony.  And while the visuals force us into a bunch of different perspectives, I think there's still a lot of leeway for a reader to determine how the style interacts with the text.  Like, is the monochrome look wistful or funny or depressive?  That's up to the reader - what matters is that they're faced with differing situations on almost every successive page.

ABHAY:  Do you have a favorite page?  Mine is Page 39's Boggie, just because it feels transplanted from an entirely different comic.  The comedy in the rest of the book is a sort of one joke over and over-- the joke being, "Oh, Wilson, you lunkhead" or whatever. But in the middle of it is Boggie, where there's this random, baroque joke about a mustachioed antique-collecting detective having his name mispronounced-- it seems a little sillier and more absurd to me than the comedy featured in the rest of the book. Plus, I like how the detective's frustration is just conveyed with the word "Boggie" being underlined in a word balloon.  I'm also partial to the art on Page 31's Taxi Cab-- Clowes's colors just seems especially lush there.

TUCKER: Boggie, shit. That's weird. I'm in your house, Abhay. I'm eating your almonds, I'm kissing your quilts.

JOG: Probably the first prison page (54, "Hard Time"), which I thought was the funniest part by far - that's the one where Wilson launches into a typical, I'd say deliberately-lame-on-Clowes'-part rant, and in the last panel his scary cellmate threatens to rape him.  And yeah, I know: oooooh, Mr. Middle Class Hetero laughed at the gay prison rape joke!  But, it's great in so many ways: (A) how the very setting is an extra punchline for the off-panel confrontation on the previous page; (B) how it's a long-game punchline to the parade of saps across  the entire first half of the book sitting quietly while Wilson goes on and on and on, because here's a dude who's completely not going to sit in a cell with that and he's gonna communicate his position in an admirably succinct manner; and (C) how the dangerous cellmate speaks in this horrible, cartoonish regional dialect, while Clowes draws him in the stiffest, most serious manner imaginable.  It's a lot funnier now that I've explained my feelings.  Also, "so many" meant three.

SEAN: I like the Dark Knight page for its ability to provoke precisely the reaction Abhay has below. Getting pissed off about superheroes was maybe boring like a decade ago when that was still the prevailing sentiment among alternative-comics readers and creators, and, like, the Comics Journal message board was the only game in town. But in this the Every Knee Shall Bow Era of nerd-culture dominance, SOMEONE'S gotta kick people who worship the movie with the second-best movie Joker in the balls. At any rate he's making a point specific to superheroes that doesn't have anything to do with film or screenwriting in general. I also liked the page about fucking hating all religion, because word up.

DOUGLAS: My favorite is pg. 51, "Pure Bliss"--that's the one that cracked me up on my first re-read, because the punch line there is the first time Clowes lets on that he hasn't quite been telling us everything about what's been happening in the sequence leading up to it.

BRIAN: My two favorite pages are probably "FL. 1282" and especially "Agent of Change", because those seem like universal annoyances to me.

DAVID: "Taxi Cab," without a question. It cracks me up every time I look at it - the awkwardness of the entire exchange, the goggle/cross-eyed look on Wilson's face in that fourth panel juxtaposed with that dialogue snippet ("I want the actual kind you can fuck. For money.") -- trying to explain it ruins it, but I find almost every panel of it amusing, and overall it's one of the funniest single-page gag strips I've seen. I love it.

CHRIS: Nearly all the previously shouted-out pages are worthy choices, but to avoid repetition I'm going with "Frankenstein" -- I don't think it's actually supposed to be the same guy as "Table Sharing", but the pair of pages are a cute and concise reminder of just how utterly inessential Wilson's conversational partners are to him, and how memorably unpleasant a lowgrade jerk like Wilson can be. I suppose it's a gentler companion to "Hard Time", but I gently fist-pumped for Frankenstein's gentle rebuff.

ABHAY:  Least favorite page?  I think mine was Page 32's The Dark Knight, the one where a cab driver tries to engage Wilson in a conversation about a Batman movie, and Wilson began to rant about superheroes-- all of which struck me as disagreeable for two reasons.  One, it seemed like a relic from some earlier age of art-comic, where being adversarial with mainstream comics was often (and arguably, incorrectly) seen as necessary.  It again conformed to Mr. Singer's complaints, namely his complaint that "Clowes's work also seems to be susceptible to a problem that has undermined many an alternative comic. He can't escape the superhero comics he so disdains because he never stops telling us how much he disdains them; nor are his criticisms particularly novel."  But also: two, it reminded me of Clowes's own failures as a filmmaker.  I didn't care much for THE DARK KNIGHT, but ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is as much a piece of shit as any I've ever seen.  And that, in turn, reminded me that... Clowes is a Hollywood screenwriter (with wife and child and beagle according to his bio) seeking to profit here from a story about a possibly mentally ill character.  At what point, is there something cruel about that?  Or just dishonest?  If the vision of life Clowes is advancing is life as tragic-- he's traveled the world, thanks to a life spent drawing pictures of chubby near-sighted girls! Isn't his own biography proof that life is actually more bizarre and weird and hilarious than any "life is tragic" summation can capture?  Rationally, I know what I'm saying is probably too hyperbolic, and that Clowes' extremely limited fame & minor success doesn't mean he somehow surrendered the right to talk about how he perceives life is for other people.  But I know my own weird class resentment is an issue I have with this "genre" of comics, nevertheless.

JOG: Huh, brings to mind Gravett's point that "Wilson" is a partial anagram of Clowes' name.  My initial impression was that you're misinterpreting the scene, since Wilson's a total goon and his speech is therefore meant to be annoying, but then I noticed a little 'out' in the punchline, which doesn't suggest that Wilson is so much wrong as equally guilty in buying in to the evidently idiotic chest-thumping babyman horseshit of superheroes.  Or maybe Wilson just realizes his breach of conduct, given that he needs to get a ride from this guy, and immediately compromises himself in asking about Iron Man.  Same result.  Anyway, it doesn't really bother me, particularly in that The Death Ray exhibited a pretty keen-eyed take on the superhero genre, wherein Clowes lays out his particular interests - it's not a sneering blanket dismissal of the genre, it's a sneering informed dismissal of unfavorable generic aspects.  And while I've never seen Art School Confidential, I don't think Clowes' own screenwriting acumen or lack thereof affects Wilson's commentary, which is focused on broad social-philosophical matters that implicitly acknowledge that a film can be 'good' in a technical/whiz-bang entertainment sense while still being repulsive.  Like, it's not a good commentary, or one I particularly agree with, but I don't feel the same annoyance you do.

SEAN: Haha, I thought he brought up Iron Man just to be a dick!

TUCKER: I took it that his question about Iron Man was actually sincere, that for all of his gooniness, he genuinely wants to know what happened in these things that he's sure are stupid, for stupid people, etc. Sort of a parallel to the way you describe the character above, he's above poppy entertainment but still wants to engage with it. Then again, it would help my case if he'd actually seen Dark Knight in the first place.

ABHAY:  Huh.  I read it as Sean did, that Wilson was being patronizing. I'm not sure how often we were supposed to be laughing AT Wilson and how often we were supposed to be WITH Wilson laughing at the "absurdity" of his world and its numerous nail salons, etc.  I have a harder time with the latter kind of comedy than the former, in general, maybe-- which has always been an issue with Clowes for me since his more comedic pieces have been on that line somewhat often. Late in the book, there's a scene where Wilson complains how much the future sucks, because he doesn't get to read Ellery Queen mysteries anymore, and I wasn't sure if we were supposed to feel sympathetic to the opinions he was expressing or pity the pathetic old man (neither of which I was really willing to do in that case).

BRIAN: "Dark Knight" made me think of, for some reason, "Feldman"

JOG: I also don't agree the Clowes' vision boils down to tragedy; surely he relents in the end that even a dolt like Wilson is capable of momentary peace, which would then allude to his own contented life, if indeed we're hitting on Wilson-as-solipsism.

ABHAY: He seems to surrender his ego for a brief moment, sure, but only "immediately" prior to the total spiritual annihilation of  those white pages.  Maybe it's unhealthy to view death as a "tragedy", instead of a beautiful process of nature, like pollination, but ... guilty!  "This will all end with total spiritual annihilation"-- best Valentine's Day card ever.

JOG: Ah!  You see, I didn't take the white pages as signifying Wilson's death - it was more like a television cutting broadcast to white noise, like: story's over!  You can't see any more than that!  Our POV ventures away from Wilson as he sits and enjoys his revelation on the last page: we have to leave now.  I guess he could die, my uncle sure did, but -- and I realize I'm getting really really really subjective now -- I don't see it as cruel so much as relenting to give the character something nice to have planted in his mind for his last image.

ABHAY: Well, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I just thought if what we saw in the preceding pages was not Wilson's "body" but his essence, then the total absence of that essence on the white pages was the total vaporization of his soul basically-- the heaven-less afterlife Wilson had been predicting throughout the book, quite accurately.  I can see how "fictional characters all have their souls obliterated when you cease observing them; Merry Christmas" might sound a bit severe, though.

JOG: As for my personal least favorite - um, I guess the one on the phone with his dad I mentioned before (19, "Bad News"), since that's the first and worst of the gag-swapped-out-with-a-honking-dramatic-beat pages.

DOUGLAS: Maybe pg. 17, "Fat Chicks," which is the most egregious example here of Clowes doing Brunetti doing Clowes, isn't particularly funny on its own, and doesn't add anything to our understanding of Wilson--it's just repeating the same gag we've already seen a bunch of times.

BRIAN: "Hard Time" didn't work for me, but that's more from the "look a lot of time passed, and even more stuff happened off camera" aspect of than anything else.

DOUGLAS: See, I liked that one for the reason you didn't!

CHRIS: Wilson and Pippi end up going to see some sort of movie with big explosions and falling buildings in "11 O'Clock Show", so there's definitely a level of hypocrisy to his dismissal of Dark Knight, unless the page was supposed to be a super-meta-critique of comics enthusiasts who think that Superheroes Are For Children but get really excited for cartoonish male power fantasy books if they involve, like vampires or super spies or futuristic journalists or chainsmoking cyborg barbarians or something, like spandex is a mystical talisman that separates the Childish from the Mature. I'm almost certain this was not Clowes's intention.

ABHAY:  Do you think WILSON is a step forward or step backwards for Clowes?  I've seen some reactions online that have suggested many see it as the latter.  How do you figure it in the context of his overall career? Is this a thing you think about?  If Jog will allow me to quote him again "I think the wider critical/(sub-)cultural conversation has packed lit comics stereotypes into a firm enough state by 2010 to wonder freely if Daniel Clowes isn’t on some level fucking with us[.]"  On the other end of the spectrum, you have this quote from the goodly Mr. Timothy Hodler from the comment section: "Clowes is definitely getting more and more Nabokovian (more the authorial puppetmaster, the magician who lets the audience pierce the veil, but only rarely and briefly) as time goes on, and some find breathing that particular kind of rarefied air stifling. (Not me! I love it!)"  What do you think?  Where do you come out on a Jog-Hodler continuum?  Physically aroused? Me, too.

JOG: That's it, Abhay - you'll be hearing from my lawyer.  Fair use?  More like fair I'm suing you.

SEAN: It's not on the level of his back-to-back masterpieces in Eightball #22 and #23, but that's fine. It is what it is. People can step sideways or diagonally or whatever.

DOUGLAS: Yeah, I'm with Sean. I'm not as crazy about Clowes the formalist who makes his characters and plots secondary to Cartooning with a capital C as I am about Clowes the satirist or Clowes the observational character-builder; WILSON is pretty much a misfire for me (so were "David Boring" and to a lesser extent "Ice Haven," but I agree that #23 was a masterpiece, if that helps you calibrate where I stand on him). But the last piece I read of his was that super-compressed story in Kramers Ergot #7, which I really enjoyed; forcing himself to do something new gave it a lot of energy, I thought.

SEAN: Wow, Douglas, you may be the first anti-David Boring/Ice Haven Clowes reader I've ever heard of!

CHRIS: I wonder if Wilson is suffering from how it's generally being framed as "the first graphic novel from Daniel Clowes after how-ever-many-years since the last issue of Eightball" as opposed to "something that Dan Clowes did". I'm reminded of Evan Dorkin's tear-down of Seth pre-apologizing for Wimbledon Green as a "minor" and "sketchbook quality". If anyone walks into Wilson thinking it is going to be Clowes's Asterios Polyp or Jimmy Corrigan they're going to be disappointed. I don't have a flowchart of Dan Clowes's evolution as an artist -- what Pokemon will he turn into?? -- but as "something that Dan Clowes did" I enjoyed it. It's not his best, but nor does it make me fear he's going to slide into dotage.

TUCKER: There's no location to put this, but Chris is reminding me of it, so I'll put it out there: that whole "first original graphic novel from Daniel Clowes" thing is obnoxious, and I'm starting to wonder whether any of the creators who are getting this badge thrown on them are actually willfully reaching for it. See: Asterios Polyp, first graphic novel. See: Crumb's Genesis, first graphic novel. I could wrap my brain around it more if it made sense to Joe's "casual audience", but it really doesn't when they're casually picking Wilson off the shelf, where it sits right next to things like Ghost World & Velvet Glove, or at least it doesn't whenever those things are in print, which seems to be "occasionally". It's not a label for any of us, as far as I can tell, it's not for the casual browser, it seems wholly created for author blurbs, press releases & pissing off Eddie Campbell. On the continuum question, your real one, the one I can't really be accused of hijacking since I'm adding this at the absolute last minute: it's different enough from his previous works that I can't help but call it a step forward, because I sincerely believe that's the only thing that matters when it comes to comics, etc, anything. A step backwards for me would've been D. Boring Pt. 2, Return to Ice Haven, so on. This wasn't totally my bag of hammers, but I think I'm probably happy enough with it that you'll find me lurking on the Tim Hodler end of the pool. I'm a power bottom.

ABHAY:  One thing noteworthy about WILSON is its publication in a single volume from Drawn & Quarterly, without prior serialization in EIGHTBALL.  Is this the first time since, what, 1986 that he's not being published by Fantagraphics, not counting the Times or McSweeneys or such...?  Does WILSON signal the end of EIGHTBALL?  With LOVE & ROCKETS now an annual graphic novel release, do you see WILSON as just further evidence of a sea change in how we consume comics?  I know one of Brian's recurring themes in his Tilting at the Windmall columns (and I apologize if I've misunderstood or this is me putting words in your mouth) is how direct-to-trade situations are sometimes at the expense of sales that can be generated by serialization.  Is that worth discussing?  Do you feel like some key quality of WILSON would have been destroyed had it been serialized?  If there's been a sea change-- do you like the sea change?  As a comic book fan, I fear and hate all change to anything, ever.

TUCKER: I think it's a good thing, generally, for cartoonists of any stripe to be able to deliver work in whatever format they most prefer. Not having the benefit of facts to draw from, I can only assume that Clowes released Wilson the way he wanted to release it--as a stand-alone, non-serialized work--because I'm of the opinion that Clowes is in a position where he can choose his method freely, due to his previous successes. If that's not true--if he wanted to serialize Wilson, and was convinced otherwise due to financial reasons or publisher prodding--than I'd feel negatively towards the method. As far as I'm concerned, and this is where I might disagree with Brian, I think the artist is the one who should make that decision, and the feelings of a publisher, retailer or reader shouldn't be given much consideration, if any at all. That doesn't mean I think their opinions on the final product are meaningless, but I don't think that sort of stuff should come into play on the creative end of the table when the work is actually being generated. Having comics in multiple formats--annual books, monthlies, web weeklies, archival bricks--doesn't strike me as something that has a lot of negative aspects. I don't believe for a second that limiting creators to the current whims of the audience is in the best interest of creating any type of art. The contradiction to all this pro-art talk is that, as always, it certainly helps to have the things I like be profitable enough that the people involved can make more things that I like, and from that perspective, Brian's general concept--that selling an Eightball version of Wilson 1-10 means Clowes and everybody else might end up with more money when it comes time to release the Wilson hardcover--might have some truth to it. I don't think that's the case with this specific work--the kinda dopey ending aside, Wilson doesn't really lend itself to satisfactory serialization. (Am I wrong on this? Eightball issues would've been purchased and read by me, certainly, but i'm a fucking lifer whose opinion on these things often runs contradictory to normal human beings. Would people have wanted to read one-page Wilson strips every weekday for the two odd years it would've taken for the story to finish? Would any of you wanted to read this over the course of a few years in 20-30 page chunks so that Abhay could fill up his precious longbox?) I'm enough of a selfish prick that I would be totally happy if Chris Ware's current ongoing stories came out in more frequent chunks, but that's because his chunks always read like they're designed to be read that way, that the final brick style collection of Jimmy Corrigan is a pain in the ass to read in a way that the individual Acme chapters aren't.

BRIAN: I don't think that Wilson would have worked as "Three issues of Eightball", or whatever, but I could see it working extremely well as interstitial material between other stories in a periodical -- say, over 10-12 "issues". Particularly because of the narrative shift around page 19 that I noted before. I like work that reads one way in serialization, but then takes a totally different tone when bound together. I think that, too, is something that is really unique and special to comics.

TUCKER: I do like the fact that Clowes bailed on Fantagraphics for D&Q. I think it's high time that the Criterion publishers started openly fighting for each others stables.

SEAN: Chris Ware decamped from Fanta to D&Q too, don't forget. Brain drain! I, I remember Ware and Clowes standing by the wall; the guards shot above their heads and they kissed as though nothing could fall. Anyway, I've actually never read Clowes in serialized fashion. The only Eightballs I've read contained the stand-alone stories Ice Haven and The Death-Ray, I read all his older material in collected form, and I read Mister Wonderful in one sitting over two years after it wrapped up. So this isn't that big a change for me. In general, I tend to think that it's younger artists who'd most benefit from an economic model that still permitted serialization, since in theory at least it would afford them more of an opportunity to experiment, work at a rapid pace, get feedback, and so on. An artist in Clowes's position doesn't seem to have much to gain from it.

JOG: I should note that Clowes himself addressed the publisher issue in the Washington City Paper interview Douglas linked to above - basically he finished the book without a publication deal and decided it should go with D&Q, to which he'd promised a book years ago.

BRIAN: This is me with my retailer hat on now, but I can say that when Eightball was a 3-ish-times-a-year periodical, in the first month we'd sell roughly 200% of it than we would whatever the best-selling ongoing hero book was (Uncanny X-Men then, probably Avengers now), then we'd selling that same number again over the course of the next year. Based on current velocity I'm guessing I'll sell something like 75% of Wilson-as-book compared to Avengers (ugh, what a comparison!) in the first month, then maybe 125% of that in the next twelve months. So the question somewhat becomes "how much does the numerical size of the audience matter to a creator?" I'm of the opinion that the "book market" is going to sell whatever they're going to sell of a work whether or not it was serialized in the first place (from an established creator like Clowes)

For this book, in particular, I think that the $21.95 price tag is just over the $19.95-psychological-barrier that people have for GNs, and that a second revenue stream in the form of serialization could have potentially gotten that price down below that magic number, which would probably end up shifting more units over the course of time, as well.

Of course, I tend to suspect that a number of the members of this round table got review copies of this book, so you're maybe not thinking about the arcane business of pricing whatsoever! (Which, of course, is how it should be; just saying)

The other factor, of course, is that Clowes' last solo work, Ice Haven, was released in June of 2005, which means Clowes has been "off the market" for some five years. Clowes is established enough that this is probably not a dire thing for his career, but for new or emerging creators it is really hard (not impossible) to build an audience if that much time passes between releases.

TUCKER: I didn't think of it when I was responding, but I totally agree that 21.95 is a weird price that hits a certain psychological barrier. I don't think that Clowes is in a position where he needs to get his name out there anymore, so I'm not too concerned about the five year gap.

ABHAY: I don't know if this adds anything, but here is a quote from a recent Clowes interview with Time Out New York that might be of interest here:  "I felt like the whole comic book thing is over. Like we can’t go back to that anymore. Now that you have to charge six dollars or whatever for a comic book it’s not the same thing as it was. It just seems like an affectation at this point in time.  [...] That whole world we were in, it seems so, so lost. The whole world of zine culture and doing your own little comic pamphlets and that stuff. It’s very hard to explain to someone who was born in 1990 what that’s all about."

DOUGLAS: Wow. That's a little disturbing--maybe the problem for Clowes is that the class of 1990 is no longer making zines and little comic pamphlets (or, to be fair, that there's not really a single publisher right now in the particular position Fantagraphics occupied in 1990 with regard to serialized art comics), but I came home from both MoCCA and Stumptown in the last few weeks with enormous piles of homemade comics by people born around 1990 or a little earlier. I don't think WILSON would have been particularly effective serialized a page at a time (I'm imagining it as a web-comic, and I bet I would've thought "get to the point" very quickly); I can't see it working a chunk at a time any more than Asterios Polyp would have. But D&Q is certainly not unwilling to publish eighty-page hardcovers as "issues of ongoing series" (looks like both Acme Novelty Library #20 and Palookaville #20 will take that form this fall. Thought experiment #2: would we be thinking about this differently if its cover said Eightball #24? It'd sure be harder to sell to a bookstore audience, I'd bet.

TUCKER: Yeah, that line from Clowes isn't too far removed from other cartoonists "of his generation" in assuming that zine and mini culture is dead simply because Fanta & DQ barely participate in it beyond a couple of annual floppies. Plenty of new stuff on that front, it's just not something he's bumping into.

SEAN: The folks with more history on this list can correct me if I'm wrong, though, but as best I can tell mini/zine culture now, at least in its most potent and fecund form, treats minis like art objects, not like the "bang 'em out at Kinkos" direct line to the cartoonist that they used to be...and Clowes's use of "zine culture and doing your own little comic pamphlets" aside, the full-fledged alternative comic book from an independent publisher is pretty much dead but for quixotic projects like Alvin Buenaventura's thumbed-nose-at-Diamond line, right? That strikes me as fairly uncontroversial.

BRIAN: This may be one of those "chicken-and-egg" things, but "alt comics" "don't sell" because no one is producing them in critical-mass-enough numbers any longer. The shift, particularly with the "fathers" like Clowes and Bagge and Tomine and Crumb and Los Bros to "annual or less" output means people are no longer walking into stores looking for that kind of material, on a regular basis, any longer. And that drastically reduces the chances that the next, emerging artist can succeed "on the coat tails" (as it were) with periodical releases. What we need is 20-30 cartoonists each committing to 2-3 releases a year, so that "every week you walk in there might be something that tickles your fancy".

The beauty of the periodical is that it encourages sampling, in a way that GN-formats very pointedly don't. The alt-comics reader (to the extent you can pigeon-hole readers, which is, actually, very low) isn't coming into the store weekly any longer, or even monthly. They're making 2-3 trips a year, at best, which further reduces the hard number of readers supporting that work at retail...

But, to get back to the initial question: is there "some key quality of WILSON would have been destroyed had it been serialized?", no, I wouldn't say that at all.

SEAN: It occurs to me now that Wilson could have been doled out a page at a time online as a webcomic in a way that would have worked rather well for the material.

DOUGLAS: Clowes from that same City Paper interview: "I think I’ll go down with the sinking ship that is the publishing business before I re-emerge as a desperate and apologetic Web cartoonist (”C’mon guys—buy some mugs and t-shirts!”)." I don't think we'll be seeing him taking the webcomic approach any time soon. (See also the Berkeley Breathed interview in PW Comics Week, explaining why he's quit cartooning and isn't interested in webcomics: "If you just had to draw every day and you didn't mind not being paid, I suppose you could go back into it... It's atomization personified. There's going to be millions of people doing millions of things for very few readers. And I guess that's democratic, sort of.") There doesn't seem to be much pleasure in making comics or connecting with readers in what either of them are saying about format, and that's fine, there doesn't have to be; wanting to be paid for what he understands as the work itself rather than related ephemera is absolutely fair. (Also, Clowes talks about wanting "the surface to be comforting, inviting and pleasant": it's not like he's sneering at his readers or anything.) But there's a difference between the "I made this for you, my audience, the people who hate the same things as I do" tone of early Eightball and the kind of "well, here it is"--whap--"that'll be $21.95" vibe that comes off of Wilson.

SEAN: Where are you getting a mercenary vibe from this project, Douglas? I'm really not seeing that in the book. I also don't see why poo-pooing the webcomics financial model means he's not enjoying himself doing what he's doing now. If anything, couldn't you infer the opposite? If the argument is just that, well, he sounds dour in an interview--this IS Dan Clowes we're talking about.

DOUGLAS: Oh, I don't think it's mercenary, I just think it's dourer than a lot of his work has seemed to be in the past.

SEAN: Ha, I think my "this IS Dan Clowes we're talking about" still stands.

CHRIS: When Clowes was talking with David Hadju at Strand last week, there was a prepared slideshow of images, and one was a group shot taken at some comic shop in the mid-1980s. Through the haze of three decades I couldn't really hash out the "point" he was making when he said words to the effect of "this was all we had for comics culture back then" -- those mustaches and haircuts and ring tees wouldn't have looked out of place at MoCCA at all -- but I do understand what he was talking about when he described how early issues of Eightball (and Cerebus and Love & Rockets etc.) were shoved in the back of the store in an "Adults Only" box. The whole 'zine/indy comix culture was very much based on on that connection to a far-flung audience that felt a secret bond, like Douglas described. Nowadays, through a combination of the Internet existing and a legitimization of comics and many other 'zine-y topics, the impulse to bang it out at Kinko's isn't really there, unless you're doing it for some sort of artistic reason. Clowes's generation have all gentrified into having book deals and the ability to put out nice looking Books, so it's understandable that very few people (John Porcellino? Anyone else?) go to all that hassle. If you don't have any attachment to the trappings of the 'zine culture, you're much more likely to focus your energies on blogs and webcomics and the like. Do any of us write for APAs? I'm just (barely) old enough to have an affection for the 'zine era, even though it was more my hypothetical-older-sibling's bag that I peeked into before I was really old enough. Still, that sort of thing catches my eye at MoCCA or anywhere else I happen to see it, but these days they often come with silk-screen covers and prices at $5 or more, something that makes me recoil even more than an over-twenty-dollar slight graphic novel does.

Rationally, I agree with Tucker's assessment that it should be the prerogative of the creator. I see Brian's point coming from the publisher/retailer perspective, but personally I am grateful for the proliferation of original graphic novels, as it helps me conserve the space and money that otherwise gets doubly eaten up by my compulsive re-purchasing of things once they're put out in collected editions. This runs directly counter to what Brian and D&Q probably want to hear -- they could've had my money twice! -- but I'm selfish.

ABHAY:  Final thoughts?  Ratings, if you prefer?  Lessons learned?  I learned how art can bring an array of very different people together to discuss, to debate, and even to celebrate -- of course, I'm referring here again to the movie BRIDE WARS.  I learned that internet people can even disagree violently about the meaning of one-page gag comics, that really we're all just one ZIGGY away from an all-out knife-fight.  I learned, based upon the responses to the first question, that apparently, I'm the only one who has enough self-esteem issues and personality defects to relate to schlubby Dan Clowes characters... and that made me feel pretty great about myself. And sometimes, I didn't learn anything, but was instead embroiled in an erotic game of cat & mouse.  But who was predator, and who was prey?  That is one sexy question that may have to go unanswered.

BRIAN: Savage Critic-style, I thought in the end, that the book was VERY GOOD. I'll opt not to discuss your sexiness.

SEAN: I learned that I would very much like to do this sort of thing with y'all again...

BRIAN: I think we should do this at least once a month, each time with a different person moderating and coming up with questions, maybe? Or maybe that's insane...

DOUGLAS: Hey, Brian, is INTERESTING TO WRESTLE WITH one of the official SavCrit ratings? I always forget.

JOG: True.  I'm hesitant to say 'it sparked discussion,' because that's a crummy, overused defense -- I can stand up at Sunday Mass and fart in the collections basket, and that'll spark discussion too -- and I also think there's a hazard in crediting a 'literary' comic with formal investigation on its face, since I think that inquiry is arguably a base component of comics aspiring to a literary quality, if not necessarily to as deliberate a degree as found here.  But - there's a worth in how this book's visual mechanics compliment its themes, even if it only presides over what I thought were pretty facile anxious man insights and not-that-funny jokes.  Still liked that prison page, though.

SEAN: I laughed hard at this thing, man!

DAVID: Yeah, I stand on the VERY GOOD side of this fence myself. I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun reading it, and it's a great Art Object to have around - I can pretty much open it up at any time and enjoy any given string of pages, and sometimes find some narrative hooks between the pages that I hadn't noticed before. It's also wonderfully made by D&Q, and it's nice to buy a $23 hardcover that isn't bound with glue and hollow cardboard.

TUCKER: I'm comfortable with GOOD on this one.

CHRIS: We're in this Low Self-Esteem battle together, brother -- I was self-conscious enough to make a point of wearing my contacts the day I went to see Clowes for fear someone would think I was cosplaying as [slightly] Younger Wilson. I was surprised at how little I found myself thinking about Wilson after I finished it, and how little I had to say about it to my circle of Comic Friends. I still think it was GOOD, but at a certain point I wonder if that reaction isn't just because I like getting more Daniel Clowes comics.

Tucker Has No Experience With Which To Gauge These Comics Properly

This is a bit too long and overly friendly, so it's buried under the cut where Chris and Sean won't have to read it. It's about this X-Men Second Coming shindig. And me. It's too long. Also spoilers. "Second Coming" is the overall title for the current X-Men cross-over mini-event story arc. It's operating on a weekly basis, delivering one chapter a week. (Last week saw the release of the first unnecessary and terrible tie-in issue, called "X-Factor: Second Coming: Revelations.) It has another nine chapters left to go. The basic plot of the story is that "Hope", the only new mutant to have been born since "M-Day" has returned to the current X-Men timeline, and she is being targeted for execution by a hybrid group of mutant-haters, who are apparently led by a cyborg character named Bastion. That's not a very easy sentence to swallow, but it contains the minimum amount of pertinent information required to keep up with the story. (Whether or not that is enough to enjoy the story is, of course, your personal call.)

Each of the chapters has, so far, depicted a very short amount of time--the fourth installment is the only one that may stretch beyond an hour--and each issue has consisted primarily of fighting between the soldiers of the two groups. As of the most recent installment, Nightcrawler is dead, and a lesser-known character named Ariel died last week. The bad guys have seen a much higher rate of loss, but it's difficult to tell how high their body count actually is--they have a lot of cannon fodder, and lots of them die each issue.

I don't read X-Men comics on a regular basis, and I never have for a consistent period of time. (I did read the Grant Morrison stories in collections, but they've always struck me as Grant Morrison comics more than they were X-Men comics, and according to the Internet, Marvel felt exactly the same way.) But for the past five years or so, I've been taking a chance whenever the X-Men comics do their big X-Men crossover events. It wasn't until I thought about writing about Second Coming for this site that I realized something, which is I have no idea why I've been doing that. I've picked up and read the first issues of Messiah Complex, Messiah War, Utopia, House of M, that Brubaker thing about space, those Whedon things where he put Buffy on the team, that Chuck Austen thing that I guess caused swine flu?, and whatever that one was where Cyclops didn't trust his judgment and Nightcrawler kept yammering about somebody named "Gott"-and yet, I couldn't tell you what the impulse was. There were a couple of times where it was the creator's involved that pulled me in, but otherwise, this was just blindly buying something out of an undefined desire for...what? It wasn't because I was writing blog posts about them, because I didn't have a blog for most of them. It wasn't because I wanted to be able to talk to X-Men superfans, because the only one I know is this guy, and we have more fun talking about horrible things that people say.

And yet, here I am again, and I've found myself looking forward to the new chapters of this thing, this beastly, 14 part weekly story. There's yet to be an issue featuring an artist I care for, I harbor no nostalgic memory for any of the characters or their relationships with one another, and while four out of the five issues have been written by different people, all of the issues have featured the exact same re-arranged story beats. (Fighting, military style orders, short Jack Bauer one-liners followed by murder, some measure of tragedy). For whatever reason, this--the most simplistic example of an X-Men story as I could imagine--works for me in a way that absolutely none of their comics ever have before.

Part of my interest certainly began when I discovered the last two years of Cable comic books. If you didn't read it, Cable was the sort of horrible writing assignment one would expect dictated from someone like Dan Didio, a comic where a writer was hired to keep two characters occupied until the time was reached when rest of the X-Men books were prepared for these two characters to return. The book wasn't particularly interesting on an individual issue basis, but taken as a whole, it's weirdly fascinating stuff. Within its 24 issues, Duane Swierczynski was seemingly allowed to do whatever he wanted, as long as what he wanted involved Cable, the aforementioned Hope, and Bishop. The setting for the book changed throughout, but the basic plot never did--like some kind of long-form Krazy Kat story, Bishop ran after Cable and Hope while trying to kill them, and Hope and Cable tried not to die. (There was a brief X-cross-over break early on, but all of the visiting characters were incorporated into Duane's "run after Cable and Hope" format.) My interest in the book was born solely out of the desire to see Paul Gulacy draw Cable, but the constant repetition of the same plot device drew me to seek out as many of the issues as I could find without a lot of work. (Which was most of them.) Secretly, I hoped to find an issue that consisted of actual scenes where Hope and Cable looked over their shoulder while running away from Bishop, and in issue #22, I found that exact thing.

It would be giving Swierczynski too much credit to claim that this was the best possible creative choice for his Cable assignment, but compared to the way so many recent editorial fiat types of stories turned out, he achieved a weird bit of wizardry with this task. Hope aged (but never became that interesting of a character), Bishop killed millions of people (but his bloodthirsty psychopathy never made a lot of sense), and all the while, the rest of the comic just incorporated a boatload of random window dressing while never notably changing its format. Cable and Hope ran. Bishop ran after them. An artist put different backdrops up behind them. Repeat, 24 times.

In a way, Second Coming hasn't added a whole lot to that general idea. It's added the marquee characters into the mix, sure, and the primary villain has changed, but it's still a book about one thing: people want to kill this girl. The good guys don't want that to happen.

Just past the horizon of the evening, I can hear various extrapolations of overly-considered essays about these comics bubbling up. Maybe something about race, and how it's kind of fucked up that Marvel published a story for two years about how a strong, virile black man wasn't able to catch a sick old white dude and a little girl despite being--you know, not old, sick, or a little girl. Maybe you could even take some of Matt Fraction's past remarks about Utopia--the island/survivalist compound the X-Men now live on--seriously, and you could pretend that M-Day has a parallel to the Holocaust, and that the X-Force team is a vaguely considered stand-in for the Mossad.

Somebody could totally do that. Hell, it's tasteless enough that it might even be me. Considering that today's chapter of Second Coming ended with Hope's arrival at the X-Men's private compound, the story might now slow down and become another insufferable attempt to incorporate lots of talking into an action story while the main characters keep their knife hands pensively closed.

For now though, I'm not that guy. I'm just going to call these fuckers GOOD, and leave it at that.

Oh, wait, one last thing.

I guess Nightcrawler died because he didn't have one what it takes?

He wasn't much of a team player, if you ask me.

Tucker Can’t Get Enough Of Waxing Babies

Mommy got me an exclusive.


This is Deathlok, part of a squadron. Along with some Deathlok pals, he/it has come back in time to kill various superpowered types before they can grow up and do all those various things that Deathloks don’t like. They don’t like babies, cops, wanna-be super-heroes, people on first dates, and, according to the end of the comic, they don’t like Steve Rogers either.


This is the Red Skull, chucking a baby boy out of a window. He’d given the kids mother a choice: she kills her husband “with a pair of old scissors”, or Skull kills the baby. The line, “the Skull is hardly a man of his word”, refers to the fact that the lady went ahead and killed her husband, but the kid still went out the window.

Although it has nothing to do with Brian Azzarello, these story points are part of Marvel’s secret “First Wave” initiative, which was accidently announced at one of Gareb Shamus’ Wizard conventions, either the Topeka one or Chesapeake Mountain. As Ed Brubaker described “First Wave” at that convention, during a video interview with the lovely ladies of the Samoan Pop Culture Explosion, “Let’s be honest, all of us at Marvel were caught a bit flat footed when DC revealed that they were going to follow up slaughtering homosexual characters in Cry For Justice with the death of an eight-year-old girl, also in Cry For Justice”, he said. “So we scrambled a team, and we gave them an assignment,” he added. Mopping his brow, he continued, “And that assignment was to kill some fucking babies.” Rubbing his lips with a copy of Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, he then screamed, “We’ve assembled a fantastic teeeeeeeeem!”

As of this writing, it’s still unclear how soon DC got wind of their competitor’s plans–Brubaker’s interview disappeared within a scant few hours–but DC found out somehow, which is what pushed them to demand J.T. Krul insert a malicious baby slaughter into his script for the Blackest Night Titans miniseries. (Krul’s embarrassment over having to include a scene where Donna Troy pops her zombie son’s skull with her palms is well known across the industry, he’s turned it into a veritable barroom drama. As Heidi Macdonald so aptly described it to Dirk Deppey in last month’s three hour “Blogging: You’ll Need A Computer?” livechat, “No convention is complete until you’ve seen J.T. act out his Moment of Shame at the after-party. He has a whole box of props, you might even call it his second career.”)

It’s not difficult to understand why this explosive information hasn’t circulated before–both Marvel and DC have long embraced the strategy of burying their most controversial decisions in a sea of superfluous information, relying on their audiences natural tendency toward human exhaustion to hide the dirty laundry. (The Brubaker quotes came from Matt Fraction’s audio interview with the Comics Buyer’s Guide, but only after Fraction had spent four hours describing his preferred strategies for beating Desktop Tower Defense, and Macdonald’s remarks don’t appear until Deppey’s finished reading the names of every single professional wrestler he believes is a closeted homosexual, which, because it’s Deppey, is all of them.)

Of course, following yesterday’s release of the three comics, New York’s corporate comics scene exploded into a sea of tautly wrought terrorscapes. It’s a well-known fact that Dan Didio took a morning gig working the bagel cart outside of Joe Quesada’s apartment building sometime in 2008, after it was revealed that Quesada is incapable of walking by a bagel cart without stopping to purchase a Mountain Dew and six packs of sugar. "Pappy calls this my medicine!" This morning’s Marvel Vs. DCmeet-up was expected to be more of the same, plucky disagreements over how many people really care about Arsenal, but things have taking a horrible turn for the baroque. When Joe decided to show up for his morning fix carrying a plastic doll made up to appear like the dead body of Liam, the eight year old girl who died in yesterday’s Cry For Justice, he undoubtedly expected Didio to take it in good fun–after all, Blackest Night is still outselling Siege, and if the internet’s reaction was any indication, Marvel’s attempt to steal the spotlight from Cry For Justice by painting cartoon x's over the eyes of nature's greatest miracles haven’t worked.

Initial police reports, leaked to CNN by a policeman who kept calling CNN on his first generation iPhone while videotaping the crime with his second generation iPhone, which are both totally unlocked because only lame-o’s that don’t matter still use locked iPhones, describe a tableau of grindhouse carnage. Didio was enraged, failing to realize that Quesada was carrying a plastic doll. Grabbing a sixty cup coffee urn, he ran out into the early morning New York traffic and grabbed the first pansexual Canadian infant he could find, screaming “I’ll fucking show you decadence, you goddamned immigrant.” Apparently perplexed as to how to remove the top of the coffee urn–”You have to unscrew the top part, and that thing can get pretty hot”, Geoff Johns goofily explained–Didio began trying to situate the child underneath the urn’s spigot, planning to show up Quesada’s jibe by scalding a baby with hot coffee. Luckily, Dwayne McDuffie was there, and utilizing his well known forearm strength, beat Didio into the pavement with that stack of unpublished Justice League scripts he’s always carrying around with him. At the time of this publication, Didio’s bail hearing has reached its sixth ridiculous hour, following the man’s bizarrely inappropriate decision to hire Grant Morrison to represent him. (While not a trained lawyer, Morrison’s claims towards having a “spectral understanding of the law” whenever he overdoses on muscle relaxants have always impressed Dan.)

While Quesada has refused all direct questions regarding the incident, he did release the following statement, represented in full:

We at Marvel have always worked to support the trend towards ultraviolence–our readers like it, we like it, and you’d have to be fucking terrified of money to put a leash on Mark Millar. But we’ve always tried to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re making a product, a bit of fun, and that if we take it too seriously, if we try to make some kind of philosophical statement about justice or heroism, we’re going to end up with a dour, boring slice of poorly written shit. You’re going to see plenty more children die in Marvel comics over the next few years, right up until it stops being a financially successful thing to do, but I can promise you this: unlike James Robinson, we’re never going to do it so we can teach you a moral lesson. We’ll leave that shit to the Huffington Post.”