Tuesday, May 29, 2007

the Plastic Man/Spirit abstract

About a month ago, I submitted an abstract to a conference that will be held in October in Kansas City. It's organized by the Midwest Popular Culture Association, and the topic I was instructed to focus on is "the postmodern comic book."

My proposal was on the topic of Plastic Man and The Spirit, how in many ways they were "pre-postmoderns" if you will, precursors to postmodernism in approach and style. I chose the topic because it seemed to me to be a little bit different than what typically might be submitted (in other words, treatises on Morrison or Moore). I chose the topic... despite not really knowing too much about early Plastic Man or the Spirit comics. I've read ABOUT them and I've sampled a few stories... but that's about it.

So I found out on Thursday that my abstract was accepted and I will be presenting on this topic.

So now I have 'til October to do my research, and I'm asking for your help.

Firstly, I need advice on particular stories to use as examples. I'm obviously limiting myself to Golden Age stories by the original creators, stuff published in the time from the characters' conception to around the mid-50s.

Definite choices for me will include the origins of both characters, Gerard Schnobble and 10 Minutes for The Spirit, and the first appearance of Woozy Winks. If you know anything about The Spirit or Plastic Man's early days and can suggest other stories to me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Secondly, I need to raise money to buy copies of many of the Archives, which are not cheap by any means. So I will soon be posting a revised list of books I'll have for sale on my livejournal, and if there's anything you're interested in buying, please let me know.

Finally, if you OWN any of the Plastic Man or Spirit Archives and would be willing to part with them, I'd be interesting in buying them from you, or trading some of my books for yours. Please let me know if you can help me out in that regard.

By the way, this, in case you missed it, was my abstract:

Plastic Man and the Spirit: Pre-Postmodern Heroes of the Golden Age

In the modern era of comics, the influence of postmodernism can be felt far and wide. Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, or Kevin Huizenga spring to mind as obvious examples of indie comic artists that delve into the bizarre. More mainstream works inspired by postmodernism can easily be found in Alan Moore’s classic deconstruction of the superhero Watchmen or the metafiction of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.

But postmodernism’s roots in comics stretch back all the way to the medium’s infancy. Even in the Golden Age as the genre of the superhero was still forming, it was already being deconstructed. Plastic Man, with his origins as a reformed criminal and his lighthearted attitude toward fighting crime, defied the conventions of the genre at the time. Meanwhile, The Spirit, a crimefighter whose “costume” consisted solely of a domino mask, seemed to refuse the categorization as a superhero not only in his appearance but in his approach towards his role as well.

Beyond the characters themselves, both comics and their creators were known for pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be. Eisner’s various experiments with form in the Spirit comics are well-documented, from his incorporation of the comics logo in his splash pages to his shifting the comic’s point of view from The Spirit to relatively minor characters. Jack Cole on the other hand experimented with his art style in his Plastic Man stories, coupling very realistic figure work with other characters who looked quite cartoonish.

Both Cole and Eisner then could be seen as the progenitors of postmodernism in comics. These artists paved the way for the experimentation with form prevalent in indie comics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and their creations acted as predecessors and precursors to the eventual acceptance of postmodernism into the mainstream seen in the 1980s.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thoughts On August's Comics

Here is it May and we get a glimpse into August through the solicits for DC and Marvel. Because I'm bored, I'm going to go through them and point out what looks good and what looks like shit.

First up, DC:

* Countdown to Adventure is a surprisingly intriguing title for an unsurprisingly shitty-looking book. With all of this "countdown" stuff going on, is this eight-issue series going to be followed with a book title "Adventure Comics" or something? Oh shit--did I accidentally spoil THAT surprise? (And how is Animal Man showing up in that book when Morrison said that the reason he appeared in 52 was that Vertigo trusted him to write the character, but no one else? Or is the DCU office pulling rank? Inter-office politics is fun!)

* Apparently, the cover to the new Black Adam mini is all non-kid-friendly because we're a society of pussies. It's a dead person--because kids never see dead people. It's not even that weird. Black Adam just comes from a different culture where fucking your dead wife is acceptable. What this cover teaches your kids? CULTURAL TOLERANCE. (Note: I am joking and not suggesting that the culture Black Adam comes from--isn't it Egyptian at its roots?--says having sex with dead people is okay. I wouldn't say that. But, if said culture does, while I find it totally fucking disgusting, I do respect your cultural beliefs and tolerate them like I was taught to by creepy comics as a kid.)

* Batman is apparently choosing the new group of Outsiders and taking five weeks to do it. He's doing in between shit that actually matters because he knows no one gives a flying fuck about the goddamn Outsiders. Seriously, is that book still around? Wasn't it jut an excuse to have Nightwing AND Robin in their own Titans-like group? Lame.

* Wow, a few months after Batman #666, which has a Hellish theme, Superman #666 comes out and has to do with Hell, too. Exciting.

* This Flash cover is pretty cool looking.

* Buy this:
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art and cover by Cliff Chiang
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang join forces to tell the adventures of Dr. Terrence Thirteen, a parapsychologist who disproves reports of supernatural activity. In this story collected from TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1-8, Dr. Thirteen rounds up a group of the world’s magical beings to prevent strange forces from tearing asunder the very fabric of the past, present, and future!
Advance-solicited; on sale September 19 • 144 pg, FC, $14.99 US

I've heard nothing but good things about this little story. That, and the cover is fucking sweet.

* Can anyone honestly look at the current Justice League line-up and claim that it doesn't seem totally shit? I mean, Geo-Force? What is this, the goddamn Outsiders?

* Keith Giffen begins his tenure as writer of Midnighter, which should be interesting.

* New DMZ and Hellblazer trades are good things as well.


Now, Marvel:

* Ghost Rider is still around? Blade isn't. I don't mourn its passing as I gave it a couple of tries to impress me and it didn't.

* Iron Fist versus six other immortal weapons in a tournament to the death? How are more people NOT buying this book?

* Am I the only one who's bothered by the fact that the "Marvel Heroes" section of the solicits is always split into two? Here it's interrupted by "World War Hulk" and "Marvel Adventures." The fuck?

* Hulk's hitlist includes: Black Bolt, Iron Man, Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, the Thing, Cyclops, Spider-Man and Tigra? I almost want to buy this crossover to find out what the hell Tigra did to the Hulk to warrant a spot on his hitlist. Or is she there by mistake, being a target on another sort of "hit list" the Hulk has? No, really, because that's the only thing making sense to me. (Or, is there some other orange woman who looks kind of like Tigra I'm not aware of?)

* Looks like Aaron "Don't call me Machine Man" Stack is showing up in Ms. Marvel. I wonder if Ellis' version of the character will be the norm now (the look is the same).

* Wolverine has transformed into a fatass!

* Am I the only one who partly hopes that The Champions actually WILL be called "Series Title to be Announced"?

* Okay, I'll admit it: I'm looking forward to the new Thor series.

* This month's Wolverine count (not including any reprint material): eleven. At least. That's going by solicits and covers--and assuming in the cases of New Avengers and Astonishing X-Men.

That's it until next month. Not terribly helpful, am I?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I . . . I think I'm killing comics . . . (not really, of course)

So, I'm reading this interview with Dan Slott about She-Hulk and I noticed a couple of things.

Oh, and please note that I'm not trying to single out Slott. I don't think I've read anything of his and, honestly, have no opinion on him. I'm just mentioning him and this interview as an example because, well, I thought of this stuff while reading it.

1. The interview is all about him leaving She-Hulk for some HUGE, can't-say-no-to project . . . but he can't tell us what it is.

2. Nor are we told who the new creative team will be.

So . . . what was the point of the interview? You could argue it's just a friendly little update, but so what? WHY?

I've noticed a lot of these interviews popping up on Newsarama and every single time they do, I end up screaming "What was the fucking point?"

And I've decided what it is: because people like me will read them.

Newsarama needs content and what creator doesn't love free publicity? And, well, I need something to read between refreshing my inbox and waiting for someone interesting to come on MSN.

I mean, I've never read She-Hulk or anything Dan Slott's written, but I read that fucking interview. AND I read the one from yesterday discussing this week's issue of She-Hulk. What the fuck, man?

Newsarama (and sites like it) suffer from the same problem as cable news channels where they're on 24 hours a day, seven days a week really. Now, Newsarama tends to only update during the usual work hours with minimal updates on weekends (not including convention weekends), but there's still the pressure to constantly give idiots like me new content. They know that and so do the publishers.

Let's be honest, 90% of the content on those sites is bullshit--meaningless, non-information that doesn't really deserve it's own story (hell, in the case I'm talking about, why weren't the two Dan Slott interviews just one longer article?). Most of the time, they're glorified press releases dressed up as interviews meant to give me something to read and feed the hype machine. They're an endless stream of "read the next interview and maybe we'll tell you something . . ."

And if I stopped reading, they'd also stop (and I'm, of course, using "I" to mean all of us), but I most likely won't. That's fucked up.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Man V. Superman

Well, I've finished rereading Grant Morrison's JLA run (I skipped over the JLA/WildC.A.T.S. book and the "One Million" storyline--and have yet to reread Earth 2) and a few things jumped out at me.

First of all, this is the book to see how Morrison applies the various hints of a theory in Flex Mentallo. The entire run is all about the tension between regular humans and superheroes with the two bookend stories both ending with regular humans helping to save the day. Hell, the end of "World War III" is right out of the end of Flex Mentallo.

One of the hallmarks of the series was Morrison's treatment of Batman, a regular human who plays in the big leagues (he also focuses quite a bit on Green Lantern throughout, who is also really just a regular guy with no superpowers--is there really a difference between his ring and any of the equipment Batman uses other than power and the fact that Batman actually invented all of his stuff?). In the first story, Batman saves the day and continues to exert a dominance over the team throughout the run.

Hell, nearly every story involves the idea of a human saving the day.

--The white Martians? Batman.
--Tomorrow Girl saves the day by becoming human.
--Zauriel becomes mortal to help save Heaven.
--Green Arrow stops the Key.
--Batman and Lex Luthor square off in "Rock of Ages" while, in the future, Green Arrow and the Atom take down Darkseid.
--Catwoman takes down Prometheus (who is basically a normal human who uses technology and brains to do what he does)
--Starro is defeated because of a human who resists his powers
--The whole Ultramarines story is about the conflict between basic humanity and what superpowers can do to people
--"Crisis Times Five" has, at its core, non-superpower solutions as JJ Thunder commands his genie and Kyle comes up with the way to stop the genies
--"World War III" has humans become superheroes to fight Mageddon

Very rarely does Superman punching something actually solve the problem--not to say that it doesn't help, but the more basic message is that human ingenuity is what saves the day. We all have it within ourselves to be heroes, basically.

Of course, this is an idea that is handled more directly in New X-Men where literally anyone can wake up one morning and find out that they have a superpower and humanity will die out within three generations to a new superpowered race.


Last night, I reread my favourite story (aside from Earth 2, but does it count?) from the run: "Crisis Times Five" and loved it again. Probably the most complex and compressed story of the lot as Morrison juggles five plots that seem unconnected, but actually all stem from one. I remember when I first read part one in issue-form, I put it down and went "And what the fuck just happened?" Morrison just throws information at you and it took me a couple of readings of the whole four-part story to actually figure out what happened, because things happened so fast. What's interesting is how Morrison uses elements from the past like Johnny Thunder's genie, Quisp and Triumph to tell a very modern story.

You can see a lot of his narrative tricks show up later in New X-Men where he had more freedom because of the soap opera, never-ending-story nature of the book. Here, things like the two-part future story in the middle of "Rock of Ages" is about as close as we get to him pulling anything big where the seemingly main story takes a back seat to something else. I mean, what else would you call something like "Assault on Weapon Plus"? Not that these little tangents aren't important, but they're also just that: tangents.

The only other times you see that in this run, really, is the fill-in issues (there are eight: six written (or co-written) by Mark Waid, one by Mark Millar and a tie-in to the "Day of Vengeance" line-wide crossover). Waid's first four-issue fill-in doesn't really address any of the lingering threads of the series beyond playing with the line-up Morriso debuted in the previous story. Millar's fill-in issue left me puzzle when it first came out, because it ties in directly to Morrison's stories, referencing Hourman's appearance at the end of the Ultramarines' story and his prediction for "Crisis Times Five." Now, Millar's one-off is actually one of my favourite superheroes stories in that simple way (the ending is genius), but it also left me wondering if it counted. In the story, to fight Amazo, the League ups its ranks and discusses a recruitment drive, but that goes nowhere, really, beyond that issue.

There were also problems throughout the run of Morrison having to work around characters' titles--things like Superman's electric costume, Wonder Woman dying and getting replaced by her mother, the Flash having all sorts of problems, etc. He did totally ignore the whole "No Man's Land" fiasco in the Bat-titles, and I wish he had been able to ignore that shit more, because it really hampers his run, in spots. And it adds a pseudo-element of realism that really isn't there. It appears realistic that because of problems, some heroes would be absent for the first part of an "adventure" and then return mid-way once those issues are resolved. The best example of this is when Wally was replaced as Flash by, what, his future self or alternate reality self or some other stupid-ass-lame idea. Anyway, that meant he was absent for the first four parts of "World War III," but showed up for the final two (really, just the last couple of pages of part five). Now, if you follow the books, it makes sense in that his situation was solved in his book during this storyarc--except, um, the events of the storyarc cover, like, a day. Maybe two. I can understand why Morrison would use the character again, but it just fucked things up. A problem that didn't really happen on New X-Men where he was given carte-blanche almost, even with Wolverine--and sometimes used X-characters from other books.


Overall, a fantastic run with some great stories that walk a very fine line between past and present. I may write up a few thoughts on Earth 2 later after I've reread it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

One, two, three, four, get your woman on the floor!

One of Grant Morrison's "forgotten" works (as pretty much all of his time at Marvel aside from New X-Men is) is actually one of his better ones: Fantastic Four 1234, which also features Jae Lee's excellent art. The four-issue story has Doctor Doom take apart the group until all that remains is Reed Richards who has been locked in his lab, working on something for the first three issues.

In the first issue, the Thing is verbally attacked by emergency services after trashing his neighbourhood while fighting supervillains. Morrison here channels some of the early FF stories as the Thing is back to his self-loathing, hate-the-whole-fucking-world ways. At one point, he threatens to break Johnny's neck. And this is how Doctor Doom finds him and tells him a secret about Reed so horrible, so world-shattering that the Thing actually trusts Doom and allows Doom to "cure" him. Of course, human Ben Grimm gets hit by a car and loses an arm.

Next, Sue Storm is feeling neglected and seems ready (and willing) for the advances of Namor. Johnny fights the Mole Man's monsters and is captured along with Alicia Masters--and it turns out that Namor and the Mole Man are working for Doom.

This all leads up to a giant Doombot storming the FF's HQ and Doom bragging to Reed about all that he has accomplished and asks what has Reed been doing while Doom has destroyed his precious family. Here, Reed gives the best answer I've read in a long while: "Well, Victor . . . I've been thinking."

Not the most groundbreaking or experimental of works, it does tell a good story and gets at many of the characters, often equating their powers with who they are. The Thing is a violent monsters; Sue is the invisible wife; Johnny's flames come on without him noticing most of the time; and Reed's mind is as fluid as his body.

There are also some great artistic techniques used in the series, like using splash pages as the basis for the first issue with panels then laid atop the larger picture, or the larger blank white gutters in the second issue to work with the theme of invisibility (as well as the switch to speech bubbles with no outlines).

It did have that standard "will Sue cheat on Reed with Namor" plot idea that bugs the fuck out of me--one bit made me laugh when Sue talked about why she's attracted to Namor. Basically, she argues that her mother raised her to think that she would someday marry a price or someone of that station and she can't help but be attracted to Namor. Okay, that actually makes some sense. I just can't get over where she talks about how Namor has manners and sophistication. Can someone point me to the comic where Namor displayed anything close to manners, please? (Oh, I'm a nit-picky bastard sometimes.)

At the root of the story is an exploration of what makes Marvel's first family tick as Doom pushes them all in different directions, preying on their weaknesses--but, those weaknesses are also their strengths, which Reed highlights in the final issue--and then turns it around on Victor to point out that his greatest strength is what causes him to lose every single time.

I don't think the series fits into continuity really, it stands more as an "All-Star Fantastic Four" type of story where we have the characters represent the larger ideas of who each is rather than who they are at any one moment. It's meant to be a modern take on the team that stays true to past stories and intentions.

It's also a good read.

guest lecture on audio

I've got my guest lecture on audio, and I want to put it online, make it available for people to listen to, but... I have no idea how to do that.


Friday, May 18, 2007

No Love Lost for Loveless

Yesterday, I also picked up the second Loveless collection, Thicker than Blackwater. I can't say that I'm that impressed, honestly.

The series tells the story of a small, Southern town, Blackwater, shortly after the end of the Civil War and how it's dealing with the fallout--namely, being on the side that lost and having Union soldiers occupying their town and the surrounding area. As well, Wes Cutter, a Confederate soldier thought dead has returned, pissed off a bunch of people and become sheriff. There's other stuff going on, too, but I honestly can't tell you what because










I've now read twelve issues of the series and I don't know that much more than when I began. I know Brian Azzarello is a big-picture writer and if you want any sort of payoff, you have to be in for the long haul, but this is much worse than other work of his that I've read. At least those other works had the occasional mini-payoff. This series, though, spends twelve issues on set-up pretty much and it's tedious--and, at times, boring.

Now, because I do trust Azzarello, I'll probably pick up the next collection in the hopes that an idea of the bigger picture emerges, but I'd recommend that anyone interested in this series wait until four or five of the books are out before picking them up.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We can drive it home with one headlight . . .

New comics. Let's dive right in.

Batman #665

Batman is afraid of ghosts. Seriously. Grant Morrison? Lost his fucking mind BECAUSE HE'S WRITING A BATMAN WHO'S AFRAID OF FUCKING GHOSTS.

But, it also starts with the best first-person narration of a Batman book in a while:

"Face down in my own blood and vomit in the pouring rain.


"Must be

"Must be a better way

"To strike terror

"into the hearts of criminals."

Still. Batman freaked out of his mind about a trio of ghosts.

The Ultimates 2 #13

I'll actually be buying the second volume in one of those deluxe Marvel hardcovers, but figured I'd grab this issue and judge it. It was just about what I expected: pretty art, some action, half-decent dialogue, a few nice character moments, total action flick.

Except, it was surprisingly light on the action. Sure, an eight-page spread is nice and all, but when compared to the fights I saw in the previous volume, this little war between Norse gods and trolls and giants and shit was over pretty damn quickly.

I'll reserve my final judgement for the hardcover.

New Avengers #30

So, Clint Barton is Ronin. *shrugs* Good enough for me.

I'm liking this Luke Cage. He's all paranoid and fucked up and acting exactly like a guy would in that situation. Everyone else is way too fucking calm and it plays well. Of course, I've been watching The Venture Bros. this week with a friend who'd never seen the show before and I can't take Dr. Strange seriously anymore. When he was doing his whole "magic spell that shows purity" I nearly pissed myself laughing because I imagined him saying it like Dr. Orpheus.

Otherwise, great issue.

Mighty Avengers #3

Okay, am I the only one who finds Tigra kind of creepy in that having sex with her is like fucking a giant lady-shaped cat? Same thing with Beast. Except I'm confused: is Tigra all hairy or is her skin just orange with black stripes? And why is Hank Pym such a dork here? He's been having sex with the Wasp on-and-off since the '60s-I think he can handle himself a little better than that.

Oh, and Ultron is kicking ass.

Still loving Bendis' use of thought balloons and the story is engaging with a final page that is just fantastic. I'm really glad I decided to buy the two Avengers books.

Thunderbolts #114

Well, isn't it great how the Thunderbolts squad totally sucks ass at capturing rogue superhumans? And so far, they've been up against GOOD GUYS. Imagine what would happen if they had to take on a villain willing to kill them.

Why the fuck didn't Penance do anything?

Lovely moment with the Swordsman and a TV.

This is a really entertaining book that shows just how well Ellis can do superhero action, even within the context of the larger Marvel universe--and proves, as I've argued for many years, who gives a fuck about a creator loving the characters as long as he/she is a professional?

The Immortal Iron Fist #5

So, it all comes down to Randall not wanting to fight against six other immortal weapons in some weird tournament and now Danny is totally fucked.

Past issues have moved a little slow, but this one picks up the pace, delivers the missing pieces of the puzzle and sets up the next issue's final showdown well. Although, I am confused about why Luke Cage is there with Misty and the other Hero for Hire since I thought they were on the other side, working for the government or registered or whatever. Maybe it's a case of putting friendship first, I dunno.

I still have Loveless: Thicker than Blackwater, but it will have to wait.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I reviewed the first part of the recent Teen Titans storyarc where the group faced the Teen Titans East, a collection of villains that match up against the heroes, almost member for member. I thought the issue was kind of shit and I realised a few days later, it was because I consider the whole evil version of the superhero team to be really fucking stupid and I blame Grant Morrison for bringing it back.

Now, of course, Morrison didn't invent the idea, but he made it popular with the first incarnation of the Injustice Gang in his JLA run where Lex Luthor gathered the Joker, Dr. Light, the Mirror Master, Circe, the Ocean Master and Jemm--all enemies of the Big Seven. Of course, if you read the story, you'll realise quickly that the Injustice Gang gets its ass handed to it. Seriously, they barely do anything--and most of the stuff they actually accomplish was faked by the JLA when Batman realised Luthor's methodology.

The fact of the matter is, you can't take a group like the first Injustice Gang seriously as a threat because it's a group of losers. None of these guys can take their respective hero one-on-one, so we're to assume by teaming up to take on all of them (plus, in this case, Green Arrow and Aztek--later, Plastic Man) that they'll somehow succeed?

No. Which Morrison seemed to recognise, which is why the second version of the Injustice Gang seemed much more threatening. Instead of villains that fight individual heroes, he used villains that almost beat the entire League by themselves. Now, we didn't get to see the true outcome of that fight because it was also taking place as the whole Mageddon/World War III (the first World War III) thing was happening. But, still. The lesson was there.

Too bad no one seemed to notice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives and every wife had seven sacks and every sack had seven cats and every cat had seven kits

In my quest to look at Morrison's post-Flex Mentallo superhero work, I read the entire Seven Soldiers story yesterday (with the three-part JLA Classified prologue the night before).

But, before I no doubt write the shortest blog post on the entire thing in the history of the web, I'll direct you to a few places that discuss the entire series in far more intelligent ways:

Jog's reviews
Greg Burgas' 31 Days of Seven Soldiers
Barbelith's Seven Solders Wiki

Now then, my overall impression of the entire saga was a somewhat lacklustre, apathetic one. At least with regards to what each character does to fight the Sheeda. It's rather interesting, but most of them seem to do little minor things. Mister Miracle, for example, does nothing to fight the Sheeda. Sure, he frees Aurackles, but how does that fight the Sheeda? Jog speculates that he's not even one of the Seven Soldiers really, which makes sense. The Manhattan Guardian does some fighting of Sheeda warriors at the end, but his only other contribution (that I can see) is being on the train that runs over the Horrigal and lets Klarion escape.

Now, I actually like that some of the characters don't seem to do much--or, the things they do to help are only minor elements of their stories. The Bulleteer is the key to killing Glorianna, but beyond that, she does nothing (except not show up in Seven Soldiers #0). Except everything she does leads her to driving that car in Seven Soldiers #1.

In a way, the whole series is about coincidence and how seemingly meaningless moments build to create meaningful actions.

Another theme that I picked out (and was slightly touched on, sort of, by Burgas, mostly in his child/adult theme) was one that I saw in Flex Mentallo (and can see in almost everything else Morrison does): the tension between past and future. Now, I'm leaving the present out of it, because the present is, ultimately, transient and meaningless. Here, the conflict is between the past (now) and the future (the Sheeda)--both are the present depending on the perspective.

Justin(a) struggles between the past and future as (s)he acclimates to our time.
The Guardian struggles between his past of killing an innocent teen and his future as a hero.
Zatana struggles between her past as a fuck-up and her future as a confident hero.
Klarion struggles between the past his people are trapped in and the future of our world.
Mister Miracle struggles between the New Gods' past and future.
Bulleteer struggles between her past and future lives.
Frankenstein doesn't actually struggle, he just acts the same no matter what time it is despite being from a past time.

And, of course, all of these series have a tension between old characters and new, same with the name Seven Soldiers. There's even a tension between the first group we see in issue 0 and the seven we follow in their series.

Stylistically, Morrison walks the fine line between the past creators/styles of these books and making them modern. The best example of this is in Mister Miracle where Morrison updates Kirby's New Gods. Or in some of the narration found in The Manhattan Guaradian (very bombastic) or Frankenstein (pulpy). Each of the series has its own unique take on the superhero genre itself, creating a tension between what he's doing with it and what's come before.

Now, the finale of the saga, issue one. It falls victim to the typical Morrison ending in that it isn't actually that satisfying. I've discussed this briefly before, arguing that Morrison doesn't give conclusive endings because of the superhero comic's nature. The nature of the medium/genre is serial, meaning the story never ends. You'll notice this sort of ending in most of his work: Animal Man, JLA, New X-Men, etc. The ending never feels like an ENDING, because it's not. These characters keep going and will have new adventures. The same thing happens here. We see a few of the characters have endings, of sorts, to their adventure (Klarion becomes leader of the Sheeda, Justina is put in a superhero school, Mister Miracle comes back from the dead, and--uh--that's it), but always with an eye toward the future.

That's where the tension between past and future usually shows up in a way that readers don't like, because it's not a satisyfing way to end stories. Morrison recognises that once he's finished the comic, it's continuity past and is always mindful of the future stories that WILL be told. Hell, that was the whole point of the "Planet X" storyarc basically.

And that's what I took from the series. Oh, and might I once again state how mindblowing J.H. Williams III's art on issue one is? Seriously, he does, what, eleven different styles? Sometimes three or four styles on a single page. And you'll note no Eisner nomination. The fuck? Show me art that is more impressive and well done in the past year. You can't.

Next up in my journey through Morrison's post-Flex Mentallo work (which I've dubbed "The Next Age" for easy reference) is Seaguy. I'm not doing these in any real order, just whatever I feel like. After that, some thoughts on Fantastic Four 1234. By then, I should be finished his JLA run (just began "Rock of Ages").

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Abstract--Fostering Critical Thinking with Comics

The National Countcil for Teachers of English has a suborganization called Two-Year College Association, and I'm submitting an abstract for their midwest conference in October. The abstract was required to be 100 words, and 100 words is exactly what they get from me, after at least six drafts:

Students first writing about literature frequently have difficulty thinking beyond superficial details such as plot to explore deeper concepts like theme. I engage my students and teach them to read in a new way by presenting a story to them that is told in a medium they don’t think of as literary, comics, and challenging them to find meaning in it. My presentation will focus on the success I’ve had with two particular comic stories, “The Soul of a New Machine” and “Shoot,” utilizing group work and in-class discussion to foster higher-level thinking about the stories, specifically application and analysis.


Friday, May 11, 2007

The Next Age

It's taken quite a while, but, today, Flex Mentallo arrived. I'd been checking eBay auctions for well over a year and bidding quite often, but hadn't won until a couple of weeks ago. This is mostly because I was never willing to pay more than $50 US for the complete series (and even that seems a bit high, eh?). Sure, I could probably have read it online, but fuck that. I like the physical objects because I obviously have some sort of fetish over comics, books, CDs, DVDs, etc. Best not to explore it too far, though, eh?

(As well, I knew that my getting the actual issues would somehow cause DC to announce a trade of the series, because that's what happens when I get stuff. I avoided buying up the Beatles CDs I didn't have because I read they were working on the remasters--and what happened after I caved and bought the ones I needed? Rolling Stone announced rumours that the remasters were done and soon to be released. Of course, those rumours have yet to come true, but still. I have some sort of ancient curse. This time, I've tried to use it for the good of all of you, okay? So, if DC announces a Flex Mentallo trade within the next six months, you're welcome.)

Anyway . . .

The four-issue mini came today, so I sat down and read it. Well, really, I read the first three issues, ate lunch while watching Newsradio and then read the fourth issue. The verdict? Was Flex Mentallo all that it's made out to be? Was it worth however much I winded up paying for it (adding the $12 COD charge that came with, I probably ended up paying somewhere between $70 and $80 Canadian)?

Yeah, sure, why not.

It's a lovely little meditation on the history of the superhero comic book and its evolution over time, ending with a possible future "age," one Morrison himself has said he tried to move toward with his JLA run. The relationship between the creator and the creation is interesting.

Ultimately, it is a commentary, of sorts, on what happens when fucked up geeks are the ones who end up writing the adventures of Superman, Spider-Man and the rest of your favourite heroes. "Who needs girls when you've got comics?" is my favourite line from the series, because it seems to work well.

I think what makes Flex Mentallo interesting is looking at the last issue almost eleven years later. Did it happen? Did the paradigm shift in the direction Morrison said it should/predicted it would? Hell, has Morrison's own writing went in that direction?

Of course, to determine that, we have to understand what Morrison seems to want. From what I can gather, he wants a return to innocence, but also that, somehow, anyone can be a superhero. Not the pessimistic realism of the so-called "dark age," but a realism, of sorts. I'm having a hard time grasping it, because I'm not entirely convinced Morrison knows what he wants. He seems to obviously not want a direct return to the past, but he also doesn't want realism.

Does he want magic realism? Does he want realistic superheroes that don't automatically mean sex, drugs and a little bit of the ultra-violence?

What the fuck does Grant Morrison want?

I suppose the answer to that is his JLA run. Or would it be his New X-Men? Or Marvel Boy? Or Seaguy? Or Seven Soldiers? Or All-Star Superman? Or Batman?

See, that's where I'm having a problem pinning down Morrison and what he suggests in the final issue of Flex Mentallo--his own superhero work shows no clear direction. The best I can come up with is "respect the past, but always look to the future." So, we're going to use that as our definition of what Morrison wants superhero comics to be/see where they're going.

In the decade since Flex Mentallo have superhero comics gone in that direction?

I have to say yes. Everything we see in superhero comics right now is about the tensions between past and future, of respecting what came before but making it new. We have an entire generation of creators trying to recreate the stories of their childhood with modern sensibilities. Hell, what was Civil War except a return to the early days of the Marvel universe where heroes fought heroes and everything wasn't so certain? Look at the ending to 52: a return to the multiverse, but a different sort of multiverse built to tell self-contained stories (if we're to believe Morrison).

There was the period of unmasking heroes (mostly at Marvel) that put heroes and the average person on more equal footing. Even the unmasking of Spider-Man falls into the tradition of "look how Peter Parker fucked up his life!" in a new and different way (one that has upset longtime fans).

This does raise the issue of whether or not this is how Morrison actually wanted this next age to unfold. That's hard to say, because, as I said, the path he lays out is rather nuanced and vague. I could see someone argue that superhero comics haven't gone down it at all because of its lack of clarity.

Flex Mentallo raises some interesting ideas, ones worth exploring. I'll no doubt do more of that when I reread it sometime within the next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion

What's the use of a comic blog if not to shill for stuff I do?

So, yeah, go buy Futurius: Tales from the Plex Vol. 2, which contains a 22-page comic written by me and drawn by Brice Hall called "Murder from Beyond the Stars."

If you want to learn more, click on the picture below as it will take you to a super-lame interview with me that also has some preview pages.

And while you're at it, you may as well buy the first Futurius: Tales from the Plex as it has a couple of things by me. "Down by the River" with art by Pedro Santos and a script called "The Death of All the Romance."

So, yeah, go do that. Please?

Monday, May 07, 2007

"All you need is fuck."

At some point during this semester, I was reading something and thought "Hey, I wonder if this where Grant Morrison got the 'World of Anders Klimacks' idea in The Filth from?" Except I can't remember what I was reading when I thought that. I flipped through the anthology for my modern drama class, skimming various avant-garde plays for anything that seemed to relate and nothing jumped out at me. I'm thinking now that maybe it was The Incal, thinking that John Difool and Anders Klimacks look alike and that may have been the connection.

Ah well.

In my search, I decided to reread The Filth for the third or fourth time. For those who don't know or haven't read it, The Filth is a 13-part series by Grant Morrison and Chris Weston about Greg Feely, an English man with a cat named Tony and a love of porn who discovers that he is not, in fact, Greg Feely but Ned Slade, an agent for a secret group called the Hand. The Hand is the world's garbage collectors, eliminating various elements of society that make us, as a whole, dirty--usually what are called "anti-persons." Except when the fake personality (Greg) is taken over by the real personality (Ned), it doesn't seem to work. Ned Slade isn't coming back the way he should be and maybe Greg Feely isn't as fictional as everyone says.

I remember when the first issue came out and there was the typical "What the fuck? I don't understand!" bullshit that accompanies almost everything Morrison writes (except for the odd superhero book--and even then, there's a good chance people will say the same thing). Warren Ellis did a really good Bad Signal on the first issue where he pointed out how fucking simple it is.

And the entire series is rather simple and straight-forward. It gets a little tricky at the end, but, for the most part, this is some of Morrison's easiest to understand work. Sure, there are some "trippy" (oh, how I hate that word) elements, but they're window-dressing. It's all about Greg and his attempt to hang onto his life while being told by people that he's crazy for thinking he's a normal person and not a member of some secret police force. How fucking funny is that? I love that inversion of ideas!

The series is also broken up into little mini-stories like the two-part Anders Klimacks porn story where a porn producer creates giant hyper-fertile sperm that impergnate women to death, satirizing the more misogynistic elements of the porn industry. Or, the stand-alone story about Max Thunderstone, the world's first superhero. Each story fits into the overall arc of the series, but also hint at the true scope of the world depicted here. But, in a weird way, seeing these various missions doesn't give me the desire to see more of this series, because each mission is just so fucking ridiculous.

The Filth is patently absurd in nature. The Hand dresses in weird day-glo uniforms (complete with bright-coloured wigs), have Nazi-dolphins, and steal their technology from the pages of a comic book. How can you take this book too seriously?

And that's where the brilliance lies: the best part of the book is Greg Feely's attempt to simply live his life. In a way, the conflict is between real life and fiction. Yeah, comics are cool and all, but they're just stories--what matters is your relationships with others.

In that way, The Filth is a strangely positive book dressed up in funny colours just so you'll read it. It says you can't just say you're helping the world by keeping things the same, by eliminating the bad elements of society, you need to also help out people, make lives better. Basically, all you need is love.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Be on my side or be on your side

Two issues of Ashley Wood's D'Airain Adventure have been released to date. I want to actually call it what it says on the cover: D'Airain Adventure Magasin Comique because that is much cooler. If I were publishing a comic, I would so steal "Magasin Comique" as the subtitle.

I've been a fan of Wood's work since Automatic Kafka with Joe Casey. I missed out on the Popbot stuff, but was buying Lore (which ended? What the fuck happened to Lore anyway? I've got, what, five issues--I know a second trade was released, but I can't find any info actually telling me what it contains).

In each of these issues, we're treated to three stories plus the odd piece of stand-alone art. The three stories are serials: "Les Mort 13," "Black Magick" and "Zombies Versus Robots."

"Les Mort 13" is all about a circus performer who cheats death has invaded a small town where everyone disappeared in an effort to take revenge on someone. And it may all be in his head. Or it may not be.

In "Black Magick" there's this little cul-du-sac with all but one lot developed. The empty lot has been empty for years and then, in the middle of the night, a house appears. The adults all shrug it off, thinking they didn't notice construction, while the teenagers are all "ZOMG!" And there's this guy in sunglasses who seems to know what's going on, but may just kill everyone.

"Zombies Versus Robots" has a trio of scientists who seem to hate each other working on some interdimensional portal that winds up killing one, so another gets in a giant robot suit and goes through the portal. Oh, and all three scientists hate one another.

Of the three, "Black Magick" has the most straight-forward, easy to follow art--followed quickly by "Zombies Versus Robots." Wood's art, for the most part, is quite restrained here. "ZVR" does start off with a manic two-page splash in each issue that has . . . well, zombies versus robots.

Robots pop up quite a bit in the stories and pin-ups. In issue two, there's even a two-page story called "The Robot War" or the promise at the end of issue one that coming soon is a feature called "World's Best Robots." Actually, if there are two constants in each issue (besides the serials), it's robots and women.

And why shouldn't there be? D'Airain Adventure could be title "Ashley Wood Does What the Fuck He Wants Monthly" without any change in content. Which isn't a bad thing as long as you like Wood's work--and if you don't, why the fuck are you buying this book?

My main problem is with the writing, which Wood is assisted on by TP Louise and Chris Ryall (who is also the editor of the book--which should send up flags, honestly). The serials aren't written as serials--or, not well enough to work each month. Now, I can ignore that because I know I'm going to buy every issue and have no problem waiting until each story has been fully told and then reading them that way. I imagine most buying this book are the same way, but that's sad. I'd much rather see one full story per issue or more non-serial work. Since it IS Ashley Wood doing what he wants, I'd like to see a bit more freedom. Three ongoing serials just seems to be the wrong way to put the book together.

But, that is a minor quibble.

Oh, there's also some kid who wears a hoodie, shoots at robots and is named Bambalad that shows up on the covers (well, the covers I have since there are severall per issue) and on the odd filler page/inside cover. He's kind of weird.

Fans of Ashley Wood are no doubt already buying this series, but it may be worth flipping through in the store for others. It's a fun little book where I can honestly say I'm buying it for the art.

Friday, May 04, 2007

I had the Hypertime of my life

While reading over the various bits on Newsarama about 52 (interview with Mark Waid, interview with Geoff Johns, interview with Keith Giffen and the last week of those questions about the series--although, seriously, if your comic REQUIRES an online Q&A after, your comic isn't doing its job--and 52 isn't the only title to do that, so I'm not picking on it), it occurred to me that the whole ending of 52 seemed familiar, sort of.

And then I remembered a little thing called Hypertime.

You know, the concept pioneered by Grant Morrison and Mark Waid back in the late '90s as a way to cicumvent the lack of a multiverse and drive the DCU back into the lunacy of the Silver Age. Looking at this Wikipedia article on Hypertime, I see that it has been mentioned during 52 despite pretty much being cast aside years earlier.

I'm left wondering what's the point of the ending of 52. Why create a new multiverse (yeah, yeah, yeah, I just spoiled it--if you're reading THIS blog then you would have HAD to have encountered the end of the series) when one already existed--one that was much more vast and presented far more possibilities?

I'm sure there are numerous answers (the most logical one I've thought of being that 52 Earths is easier to understand than the mess-that-Hypertime-was), but it strikes me as odd that the big reveal was really a solution to a problem that was (theoretically) already solved--or a problem that was solved, recreated by Geoff Johns in Infinite Crisis and then solved again for the hell of it, a year later.

I am looking forward to the interview with Grant Morrison about the series, because I haven't seen much said by him about it.

In an interstellar burst, I'm back to save the universe!

Wow, I have not posted in a long time. This past week, I've been without internet access, so there's an almost good excuse. For now, just some reviews.

52 #52

I read bits and pieces of this series since my dad was buying it. I think I fully read the first few weeks and then began skimming every issue. That skimming became much more prominant when I moved to Windsor and would only see issues on visits home. But, following a few comic sites kept me in touch enough. That said, OBVIOUSLY, the final issue of the series isn't aimed at me, someone who BARELY read the previous 51 issues. I saw it in the shop and figured what the hell, I'll give it a look, see how the whole thing ends.

And it ends kind of blahly.

Am I the only one who found it funny that for a series where each issue takes place over a week, barely any of this issue actually took place over week 52? 90% of the thing was outside of the time stream or back on week 1. Not a major problem or anything, but something I found funny.

There's also the big reveal that had me going "Oh wait, that wasn't the way it was already?" Seriously. I'm just ignorant of the DCU to have the big reveal fall totally flat because I thought that was the way things automatically were post-Infinite Crisis.

All in all, I ended up skimming the issue after fifteen pages because I just didn't give a fuck. My main problem with every issue of 52 that I read was that it read like it was written by committee. I couldn't pick out any real style or anything that made me actually take notice. It was all so mediocre after passing through so many hands. But, that's me.

They did it and that's good enough, I suppose.

Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1

Matt Fraction's the writer, so I bought it. It was a pretty good read. It does what an annual does best these days: tells a decent, complete story within the confines of the current status quo. Fraction does that here with a nice little love story about Mary Jane and Peter. My favourite part is the telling of an incident back when they were dating from both perspectives.

Is it the best thing you'll read this year? No. But, if you want a nice little Spider-Man story that will warm your heart a bit, check it out.

Mighty Avengers #2

You know, it wasn't until the very end of this issue that I realised that these people didn't know that the weird woman is Ultron. We all knew it was because of solicits and the cover and all, but they didn't. Wow, way to take the punch out of that last page, eh?

After the first issue wowing me so much, this one didn't do as much. It moved far too slowly for what I expected of the title and had a few moments that made me go "What the fuck?" Like Ms. Marvel thinking that after this, Ares was off the team despite the fact that she was the one who lobbied for him in the previous issue. Maybe she would think that, but it made me think she's a flighty, two-faced person who probably shouldn't be leading the Avengers if her first reaction is "Fuck you, get off my team!"

An entertaining read, but




Omega Flight #1-2

"Ohmygod, you're Canadian, so you must love Alpha Flight, right?"

Actually, I've never gotten that. No one has ever said anything like that to me. Good thing, too, because I've always thought Alpha Flight was kind of shit. I don't give a fuck if it's Canadian--a shitty book is a shitty book. Hell, the fact that it's a Canadian team always made me pissed off that it was so shitty. I've always been one of those people who is tougher on stuff I like/identify with than stuff I don't. Like, I'm harder on the leader of the political party I vote for than any other political leader simply because if that's the person I'm with, I want that person to be the best.

I would have loved it if Alpha Flight was ever near the best, but it wasn't. And neither is Omega Flight.

The book has a good concept: American superhuman registration causes supervillains to cross the border and fuck with Canada . . . a country that's had superhuman registration for years, apparently. Oh wait, that doesn't actually make sense.

This book also proves that Iron Man is an asshole. Say you're the director of SHIELD and you're working with the Canadian government to help put together a Canadian superhero team to fight American supervillains, does it seem like a good idea to send the most pig-headed, nearly-racist, bigoted hero you can find? Iron Man thinks so and that's why he sends USAgent, the most obnoxious hero since Quicksilver. I can see why Oeming did this, because it creates conflict and drama and blah blah blah, but it makes no sense logically. Well, except if you think Iron Man is an asshole.

The only part of these issues I liked was when one of the characters (Talisman, maybe?) was holier-thant-thou about Canada have a superhero registration for years without a Civil War-type blow-out, proving once again that Canada is better than the US. Because a Canadian would SO do that. Because we are better than Americans. Totally.

Civil War: Captain America

Hey, look at that! Another over-priced Marvel trade! $19 for four issues! Fucking assholes.

I actually skipped over the two Red Menace trades, but that's okay, I'll get them eventually. The issues here are the three Civil War tie-in Captain Americas and the Winter Soldier one-shot. All solid reads that focus more on the supporting characters of that title than Cap himself, presumably since he takes centre stage in the main mini-series. No real problems here.

I also got the second D'Airain Adventure, but want to discuss both issues at once, so I'll do that soon.