Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Bought Comics: End of January 2009

[Me saying whatever I feel like about some recent comics I got and didn't review for CBR. Not reviews. I do reviews elsewhere where I have to be coherent and nice and civil. Here, I just talk.

Not a whole lot of non-CBR-reviewed books from the past two weeks, but I figured I'd at least give some thoughts.

Dark Avengers #1

Okay, this comic raises the idea of: does having enough of a brain to figure out the contents ahead of time make this a poor read? Because, let's be honest, the contents were pretty easy to figure out. The only question was if Norman Osborn would be the guy inside the Iron Patriot armour, which he is. I kind of dug this comic. It wasn't very good in that literate sense, but it's stupid fun. Absurd and retarded. But in good ways. Like a lot of other people, I wonder where this book really goes and what makes it different from Thunderbolts except now the world is kind of paying attention. Is that all?

But, it's got Noh-Varr, the alternate reality Kree spaceman who was never actually called Marvel Boy, but is now Captain Marvel--which we all knew would happen, except we all figured he would have just done it, not that Osborn would suggest it.

Not sure if I'll pick up the next issue. Probably will, because I've got that weird Noh-Varr obsession going on, but... I do honestly wonder how this book will compare to Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts since does anybody think that Bendis can match Ellis's twisted vision? Sure, these are all characters half a step away from killing tons of people, but... I'm just unsure about Bendis's ability to capture that well. Who knows.

Ghost Rider #31

You know what, fuck shark-riding Ghost Rider. It's a one picture joke. I miss the way this book began. I miss Roland Boschi, who draws five pages here to remind us all that, yeah, the art was better then. I miss the grindhouse insanity. I keep threatening to drop this book and I think next issue, which "concludes" this storyarc, will be the deciding issue. This isn't bad, but it's not good enough. We've yet to see anything about any of the members the League of International Ghost Riders involving personality or character, something that isn't "Hey! Look! CHINESE GHOST RIDER!" Who cares? "Angel trying to take over Heaven!" Again? This run began in a very unique and energetic manner, but has just become a mish-mash of stories I've read before--and didn't care too much then.

Punisher: War Zone #6

This ended pretty much like I'd expect. I'm still thrilled that my idea for each of the CBR reviewers to do an issue actually worked and the series averaged just over 3.5 stars per issue, which considering the variety of tastes and interests between the six of us says "YEAH, READ THIS FUCKING COMIC!" Is it brilliant and life-changing? No, but it's a lot of fun and done with skill. It's Ennis and Dillon, for fuck's sake. If you didn't buy it (nearly) weekly, get the trade.

And that's it. I told you it wasn't much.

Friday, January 30, 2009

CBR Review: New Avengers #49

I recently reviewed New Avengers #49 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Huh. Well, that’s a surprise. Just when you think you have Brian Michael Bendis pegged, he does something unexpected. Normally, he’s known for a decompressed style of storytelling where plots like the whereabouts of Skrull Jarvis and Danielle Cage, or the Dark Avengers usurping the identities of many New Avengers to play out over six (at least) issues. But, here we are, two issues after Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s daughter was abducted and one week after the debut of the Dark Avengers, and both plots get dealt with directly here. Quelle surprise. "

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CBR Review: glamourpuss #5

I recently reviewed glamourpuss #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The real draw here is Sim’s continuing exploration of Alex Raymond’s photorealistic style, which Sim concludes in this issue by reproducing five of his favorite 'Rip Kirby' strips (with a thanks above each to Heritage Auction Galleries for their scans of strips) and discussing what about each makes them his favorite. Here, it may be best to pull out the previous four issues of glamourpuss as Sim references them quite heavily, these analyses acting as a summation of everything he’s discussed so far."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CBR Review: Final Crisis #7

I recently reviewed Final Crisis #7 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Though it endured delays, multiple artists, and some confused reactions, Final Crisis has finally ended, and it has ended well. This final issue may require multiple readings and bit of effort, but that work is rewarded as Grant Morrison trusts his readers to rise to his level, using a fragmented 'channel surfing' technique that jumps around a lot, but does provide all the information necessary for comprehension."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, January 26, 2009

CBR Review: Captain America #46

I recently reviewed Captain America #46 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "When I reviewed last issue of Captain America, I wrote, 'The book is so consistent that it’s difficult to find new and interesting things to say about it. It's almost easy to forget about this title as it is taken for granted that, each month, Captain America will come out and be quite good.' Those words remain true this month and almost make me regret signing up to review the latest issue. The key word there is ‘almost’ as there’s nothing more than pleases me in this gig than having the chance to rave about a great comic, particularly one that’s been so good for nearly four years straight."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Splash Page: Superman Beyond 3D #2

[Welcome to another addition of the Splash Page, the column that I do with Tim Callahan. We're in full Final Crisis mode and are giving you three weeks of discussion on the topic: this week, it's Superman Beyond 3D #2. Here is the first half of our conversation; Tim will post the second bit on his blog at some point. Enjoy.]

Chad Nevett: Week two of our three-week wrap-up of Final Crisis continues with a book that actually falls after issue three and during the same shipping month as issue four (you can tell by the logo and how decomposed it is). Not that matters, but I just wanted to point that out, because I'm weird like that. Now, I reviewed this issue over at CBR, so why not start with your response to that review, Tim, and go from there.

Tim Callahan: I think your review was waaaaaay off base, especially when you categorized it as a "" and said it "makes brains hurt." That's a shallow reading of the comic, and why is making a reader think somehow a negative???

Oh wait, that was CBR's own Hannibal Tabu's review I was reading.

Your review is, not surprisingly, a lot more receptive to the metafictional aspects of the comic. It is indeed a story of competing narratives, and it seems to be a commentary not only on what Morrison has done within the DCU, but a commentary on the DCU itself as a complex meta-narrative. This is a comic about the way in which these kinds of stories have been told before, so we get the recursion of Morrison's ever-popular character-senses-the-presence-of-the-reader trope along with an explanation of the Monitors as cosmic vampires feeding off the lives of fictional characters.

I think my own review would have tended more toward yours than Tabu's.

CN: I think nearly every review of yours would tend more towards mine than Tabu's...

But, yeah, this was a bit more obtuse in its presentation, but it's the same story Morrison has been telling for years. Your latest "When Worlds Collide" named a few precursors to Final Crisis, and you could have easily thrown in a whole bunch of other Morrison tales, but he keeps exploring these same ideas over and over again in different ways. This time, it was through the ultimate superhero fighting for life against a being that is anti-life through the lens of some metafictional commentary. Superman's fight here (and the decision he makes to win) is mirrored in Final Crisis by Batman's choice to shoot Darkseid. Both characters reach beyond their typical morality to "save the world," although, in Superman's case, it's save the... hyperuniverse?

And even if you don't get everything, it all comes down to: Superman fight evil Monitor to obtain magic potion that will save his wife. That's easy. Ignore the captions and look at the pictures then... even on just that level, there's still a lot to appreciate in this comic.

TC: Since this comic is clearly about the art of narrative -- specifically the art of the superhero narrative as embodied in the character of Superman -- what do you make of Morrison's portrayal of the Monitors here? I've seen critics refer to it as a commentary on fandom, feeding off a fictional universe for their own intellectual (and emotional) sustenance. And I've also seen people compare the Monitors to superhero comic book writers, who simultaneously feed off the lives of fictional characters (a writer's gotta get paid and buy food) and also manipulate the destiny of the characters they "monitor."

Do you think such a specific allegorical reading works for this comic?

CN: I'm not sure either really works, because of the use of the "corruption" the Monitors experience. Do readers or writers experience something similar? Especially because it's clear that the "corruption" isn't actually a negative at all, which the Monitors seem to realize because of Superman. I think you can see a broader commentary about feeding off of characters and watching them, but it's far too general to be about a specific group.

TC: What role do you see this story playing within the larger Final Crisis context? On its surface, it seems to have nothing to do with the greater Darkseid plot, and the Monitors see Earth as the "germ-world," a term which implies contamination and insignificance (simultaneously) yet they realize also that it's the keystone to the multiverse (and presumably the keystone to their existence as well). So how does the Monitor plot -- the Mandrakk plot -- echo/relate/reflect the concerns of the overall Final Crisis?

CN: It seems to mirror the plot of Final Crisis with the return of the "dark god" type figure, don't you think? This is the metacrisis that causes all of the various crises that are happening not just on the Earth the heroes we follow inhabit, but, apparently, on all of the others. Because of Mandrakk's return, every Earth is experiencing a crisis... Also, that Mandrakk is basically called the embodiment of "anti-life" surely points to Darkseid, don't you think? It also makes me wonder about the solution to Final Crisis being a combination of "good" and "evil" since it required Superman and Ultraman to coexist to defeat Mandrakk.

[Read Part II at Tim's blog. As well, check out all of our past Splash Pages regarding Final Crisis at The Final Crisis Dialogues!]

Friday, January 23, 2009

John Constantine as Byronic Hero

Last semester I taught British Literature II (which begins at 1800 and goes to the present day). Very early on in the year, we were talking about Byron and how he ushered in a new type of hero. It was a character type based in part on his own persona (he "debuted" this new kind of hero in his semi-autobiographical work Childe Harold's Pilgrimage), but it was one that rang true for a great number of people. Audiences of the time really responded to Childe Harold because the main character felt a bit more real than the heroes of yore. And because it resonated so much with readers, it is an archetype that has been repeated in several varying forms ever since, as it is seen by many as a precursor to the anti-hero, perhaps a slightly more altruistic version of such.

As I was reading the textbook's definition of this character type, a thought struck me. I read the following passage (which comes from page 608 of the most recent edition of The Norton Anthology of British Literature, vol. 2):

"In his developed form ... [the Byronic hero] is an alien, mysterious, and gloomy spirit, superior in his passions and powers to the common run of humanity, whom he regards with disdain. He harbors the torturing memory of an enormous, nameless guilt that drives him toward an inevitable doom. And he exerts an attraction on other characters that is the more compelling because it invokes their terror at his obliviousness to ordinary human concerns and values."

We then started discussing more modern examples of this archetype as seen in British literature, and a perfect example from comics came to me: John Constantine. This might not come as a surprise to some people but it was a revelation to me in that moment, and I had to reign myself in so as to not steer the discussion off-topic too much. But in my mind Constantine, especially as written by Garth Ennis, seemed to tick all the boxes.

Mysterious? Definitely. Few people really know his character deep down because he doesn't really have friends beyond Chas. Superior to the common run of humanity? Yes. He knows more about the secrets of the world than most people and in fact is more than a little arrogant about his superiority. and guilt? Man, he has it in spades. He is haunted by the ghosts of those whose deaths he was indirectly responsible for, and he blames himself for many of those incidents (even when they weren't completely his fault).

If you look at the checklist on Wikipedia of what it takes to be a Byronic Hero, there are even more characteristics that stand out: cunning and able to adapt, disrespect of rank and privilege, a troubled past.

It's unfortunately been too long since I've reread my run of Hellblazer, so I can't think of any particular examples off the top of my head of his exhibiting any of these behaviors. Obviously his guilt can be traced back to the Newcastle incident (detailed in Hellblazer #11), and in Ennis's run his self-criticism is at its highest when Kit leaves him. If anyone would like to chime in with a few more examples, I'm all ears.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CBR Review: X-Files #3

I recently reviewed X-Files #3 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "This issue improves over the last two mostly in the skill and knowledge about writing for comics that Wolfman brings with him. Spotnitz’s issues seemed to suffer mostly because he didn’t know how to write comics yet, while Wolfman has been doing it for years and it shows. His pacing, while brisk, never feels rushed. In fact, he seems to draw upon movies and TV by entering scenes at the last possible moment and leaving before things get boring."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #66

I recently reviewed Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #66 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Now, had this issue actually delivered this plot in a stronger or more effective way than the above sentences, I would be more forgiving, but it doesn’t, it just goes through the motions and moves from point A to point B so that we can move onto Point Frank Castle Kills a Whole Lotta People in the next five issues. Really, this issue is three or four pages of story, at most, drawn out over 22 pages. It’s high concept and, as such, getting to the concept as soon as possible is a must. Reading this issue, the question of when Castle is going to be poisoned always looms and the wait is tedious."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: The Brave and the Bold #21

I recently reviewed The Brave and the Bold #21 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Is it fair to judge a comic by what’s on the cover like I am? Well, when the sole reason for this particular title existing is to offer readers a new team-up in each issue and which characters are teaming up may draw in new readers wanting to see two specific characters have an adventure together, then, yes, it is fair. It’s entirely fair and, as a result, this comic is a lie. No doubt there are people who picked up this book because they’re a fan of team-ups between Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen, two characters with a long history of working together and, thus, having a certain fan following as a pair. That doesn’t happen here and readers would be right to be upset over that."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CBR Review: Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2

I recently reviewed Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Not only is this a fight between good and evil, it’s a battle of stories, of narratives. The Monitors were 'corrupted' by narrative, but they learn here that it wasn’t a corruption, not really. Some may be turned off by Morrison’s descriptions like 'I’m inside a self-assembling hyper story! And it’s trying its best to destroy me,' but that just points to the central truth of the story: Superman, defender of life against the Mandrakk, the anti-life."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CBR Review: The Death-Defying 'Devil #2

I recently reviewed The Death-Defying 'Devil #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I’m having a hard time figuring out the point of this comic. Why does it exist? Of course, that leads to wondering why any comics exist, which leads to wondering about all forms of entertainment and art, but, let’s focus on this comic. Why does The Death-Defying ‘Devil #2 exist? What does this comic bring to the world that is unique and worthwhile that makes it stand out from all of the other comics on the shelves? Why spend your hard-earned $3.50 on this instead of something else?"

You can read the rest HERE!

(Oh, and how about that lovely George Tuska cover? I make it a habit of trying to use the cover that I get for my reviews (Avatar books are more difficult and don't always result in me using the cover I got) and was strangely thrilled when my shop had a copy of the issue with that cover. I saw it previewed in the back of the first issue and really, really like it. Just figured I'd add that.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Splash Page: Final Crisis #6 Part II

[Since Sequart is still down, Tim Callahan and I are cross-posting the latest Splash Page--the first of 2009--where we discuss Final Crisis #6. Read the first part over at Tim's blog and then continue below]

Chad Nevett: The only thing I don't like about the tying in "Batman R.I.P." with Final Crisis is that they didn't bother to tell anyone until after "R.I.P." finished. That was just total douchebag behavior on DC's part. Otherwise, I think it mostly meshes through that scene in Batman #683 that links the two. Final Crisis is just the next adventure Batman goes on after "R.I.P." Morrison uses Final Crisis as a means to really hammer home the purpose of making every Bat-story in continuity, but, other than that, one is the fake death and the other is the real death. There is a doubling there, and Darkseid is the evil god that the Black Glove hints at, the anti-dad as it were, but that's mostly thematic stuff. Plot-wise, they're just two adventures that happen in close proximity.

Timothy Callahan: What do you make of the "Rock of Ages" recursion in Final Crisis? It was Batman vs. Darkseid there too, right? If you remember it better than I do, you should jump in and contradict me now, or you can jump in and tell me more about the connection, because I haven't read that arc since it first came out (in my attempt to re-read all of Morrison's JLA last year, I couldn't get past Howard Porter's terrible artwork and thus I never made it through "Rock of Ages").

CN: Yeah, I looked it up since Batman saying "Gotcha" sounded familiar, but he said something different when Darkseid's Omega Effect killed him there. And I've been saying since the first issue that Final Crisis is a rewriting of "Rock of Ages," but in that good way. The Worlogog was destroyed since then! It was the key to preventing Darkseid's takeover and it's no more! Of course "Rock of Ages" would happen then! Blame Tom Peyer and his not allowing android Hourman to be too powerful and having to learn about humanity like every other android in comics, so he dismantled the Worlogog and now everyone is screwed, "Rock of Ages" style.

That, and it's Grant Morrison writing about Darkseid's invasion of Earth... why would he leave his awesome plot for some future that never happened? Some imaginary story that only a few members of the JLA remember... Why not turn it into a giant event? But, beyond Darkseid taking over, enslaving the minds of humanity, wiping out or brainwashing heroes, and killing Batman with his Omega Effect/Sanction... what are these other similarities that people keep talking about? There aren't too many ways to tell this story without those things popping up aside from the showdown with the Dark Knight. Although, as I discussed on my blog back when issue four came out, I like the difference between the two Darkseids: in "Rock of Ages," Darkseid IS, while, in Final Crisis, Darkseid SAYS. There's a difference/tension worth exploring at some point. I love that "Rock of Ages" exists as something to compare/contrast with, to see how Morrison handles similar material differently... At least we know in Final Crisis that Orion won't destroy/remake the universe sans Darkseid. No, Morrison took that possibility off the table in the first issue god bless him.

TC: Before we move on to talk about what might happen in the finale/future of the DCU, I'd just like to point out that I absolutely loved the Tawky Tawny vs. Kalibak battle and aftermath. Yes, the soldiers bowing to their new "liege" is a cliche, but it's a fun one, and the straightening out the bow tie was a brilliant little moment as he faced his seemingly-inevitable death with dignity. Great stuff.

But moving on...what do you think of the moving-the-DC-Earth-to-a-parallel-dimension plot? It makes me wonder about the synchronicity of Millar's Nu-Earth in Fantastic Four (and is it Morrison undermining/responding to Millar, or vice-versa, or neither). And I wonder what it will all mean for the expected Fifth World. Any theories on any of that?

CN: Not really, but that's more a symptom of my unwillingness to speculate on where plots are going, which we've established previously. I don't think that's where they'll go for various reasons, mostly just the doubt that they'll move the entire population of Earth to an alternate world. It could provide some interesting story ideas, but even the small glimpses of what's going post-Final Crisis indicate against that. I think it's far more likely we'll begin to see humans becoming superhumans ala the end of Flex Mentallo or Morrison's JLA run. "The age of men as gods" and all that good stuff. But even that seems unlikely... or will be done in a limited way that tries its best not to appear a rip-off of Marvel's mutants, but can't quite get the job done, because it's a rip-off of Marvel's mutants. But, really, I dunno.

TC: When Final Crisis started, or when the first rumors started circulating, or somewhere in between, there was speculation that the DC icons would die and ascend to become the "New Gods" of the Fifth World, right? Then, it appeared that DC editorial vetoed that idea, and then it became Batman alone ascending to the status of a new New God. Now Batman just seems dead. So I have no idea where anything's going at this point.

Clearly there will be some kind of showdown with Darkseid's more elemental form, via the Flashes (since killing the Turpin-body couldn't really have killed Darkseid for real, could it?), and by the end of issue #7, NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME AGAIN. Or, it probably will be exactly the same, but Batman will be sort of dead for a while. Maybe the invasion of Earth by alien forces of evil will end with a reign of darkness of some sort. Or as Darkseid's cosmic form disintegrates, it will fall from the sky, a veritable "Dark Rain."

CN: Who knows? Well, I guess Grant Morrison and a bunch of people at DC know, but we only have to wait two weeks to find out, so it's not so bad. For some reason, I have a feeling that Darkseid will seem to win only to have Mister Miracle standing behind him, having escaped once again and then... well, bye bye Darkseid or something, I dunno. I will bet on Metron's weapon playing a role. Oh, and Kamandi. Morrison promised Kamandi at the end, so I'd expect him to show up. But other than that... dunno.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Bought Comics: The End of 2008 and Beginning of 2009

[Thoughts, relfections, impressions, but not reviews. Oh no, these are not reviews. They also cover the last three weeks of new comics that I didn't review for CBR.]

Final Crisis: Secret Files #1

Wow, was this a waste of money or what... Really just the story of Libra, which was fine, but wasn't anything special... Throw in a few sketches and a couple of text pieces and, yeah, not worth it. But, has anyone noticed that DC is beginning to just outright lie in their solicitations? First, they did it with the final two issues of Morrison's Batman run and now this. I don't mind the Batman ones, because I think it helped hide one of the key elements of that story and was a bending of the truth more than a lie. But this book... just a fucking lie, okay? And that's not right. And it wasn't a lie to hide plot details, which I can get behind, it was a lie of who was working on the book and the actual contents... not cool.

Punisher: War Zone #4-5

I have a theory why there was no issue last week and no issue next week in this "weekly" series: last week, Punisher #1 came out and, next week, Punisher: Frank Castle #66 comes out, and both are meant to be big issues and Marvel doesn't want this series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon to overshadow the other books, because, let's be honest, it would. It's Ennis and Dillon doing the Punisher--of course it overshadows anyone else. Garth Ennis will almost certainly go down as the most important (and best) writer of the character ever, his run hailed for decades to come and such. So, yeah, move the schedule around and avoid making your other guys compete with the best you've got. This isn't meant to be a slight to the other creative teams, it's just one of those obvious things.

As to the quality of this series, it's moving along fine, it's nice, it's lovely, it's funny, it doesn't match the MAX stuff, but it's a pretty entertaining book nonetheless.

Doktor Sleepless #11

More establishing of Heavenside and it's very interesting. That Ellis is bringing journalism into this book is also interesting--and will either work well or fail since it raises comparisons to Transmet more than what was already there. We'll see.

Gravel #7

Fantastic conclusion. Gravel is a brutish thug not unlike the other members of the Minor Seven. After all, he kills all of the acolytes along with the final member--why? Because he's better than those fucking idiot children (who are all adults--just to clarify). It's rather harsh. But, good conclusion and then, a new issue this week, too, was a lovely surprise.

No Hero #3

Slow issue that ups the ante, but will read better as part of the whole.

Captain Britain & MI:13 #9

Wow. Harsh and wonderfully executed. Paul Cornell writes one hell of a comic book, I tell ya. Now that this arc has finished, I may go back and reread all nine issues of the series.

Final Crisis #6

Discussing this with Tim via the Splash Page. Not sure I have anything else to add to that.

Young Liars #11

When I hit the final page of this issue, I sat there, holding the comic and stared, mouth open and I didn't do anything for half a minute or so. That's how shocked I was. Fuck you if you don't read this comic.

That's it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

CBR Review: Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1

I recently reviewed Faces of Evil: Prometheus #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s fitting that 'redemption' of Prometheus begins almost eleven years to the month after his debut as part of DC’s 'New Year’s Evil' series of one-shots devoted to villains in another one-shot that’s part of a DC event devoted to villains, 'Faces of Evil.' The decade since his first appearance has not been kind to Prometheus, as he began strong by taking down the entire JLA and forming a new Injustice Gang with Lex Luthor but, since, he’s been treated like a third-class loser instead of the nearly-unstoppable menace Grant Morrison created him to be."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Gravel #8

I recently reviewed Gravel #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s also a fun change of pace to see Wolfer’s art in color, since all of the previous mini-series were black and white with grey tones. The color is utilized particularly well when Gravel meets with the other six members of the Major Seven in a magical place where the sky is a psychedelic mixture of neon greens, pinks, and white. The splash page that has Gravel arrive there is jarring since the book usually has very muted, dark colors."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CBR Review: Deadpool #6

I recently reviewed Deadpool #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Maybe if any of the senseless violence was funny, I would have enjoyed this issue, but it wasn’t. Here I thought Deadpool was supposed to be a funny comic. And my tastes run dark when it comes to humor, so it’s not a case of liking the old, lighter, more breezy Deadpool comedy, it’s a case of this not being funny and, in fact, just being brainless. Not fun, not simple, plain old dumb."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CBR Review: Kick-Ass #5

I recently reviewed Kick-Ass #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "I would have loved this comic ten years ago when I was 15. But, see, here’s the thing: I was a moron then. Swearing was novel and funny, gratuitous violence was synonymous with entertainment, and, hey, if there are some naked breasts that’s fantastic. Kick-Ass seems to embody those tastes, which makes sense to a certain extent since the protagonist is a teenager, but the book itself never rises above that level either. How sad is that?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best of 2008: The Top Ten

Finally, the top ten list. I want to make it quite clear that this is, obviously, based on my personal taste. I will do my best to justify said taste. This is a list featuring the comics I've read this year and came out this year, no reprints of easily obtained material that happened to come out in 2008. As well, I know, I know, I know, I need to broaden my reading habits a bit, but, honestly, money was tighter this year than usual and it's a lot easier to go to the shop each week and buy twenty bucks in singles than it is to buy one twenty buck book, especially with my CBR gig. I didn't always go to the shop weekly, but a couple of things made me begin, which made buying more books easier and, yeah, my "original graphic novel" depth really slid this year (not that it was generally that large), but, hey, if a work that I missed is truly great, I have no doubt that I will, at some point, read it. While I may not have done so right when it came out, I will read it at some point. Hell, I just read Chester Brown's The Little Man! Took me long enough, but I got it. And I will slowly get everything else.

That said, I apologise for nothing. And let's get on with it.

10. Batman by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel and others. While the results weren't always as great as expected or wanted, the journey was very, very engaging. "Batman R.I.P." and the mystery of the Black Glove engrossed readers, especially ones like me. Each issue was an event unto itself as new clues arrived and new discussions were had. Now, does this book rank here probably more for the reaction I had to it and the fondness for the discussion that it produced than its actual quality? Sure, but those effects are part of the book's quality and that's why it makes my top ten. This was the discussion comic of the year and, as I said, one of the few that genuinely made me anticipate each and every issue. Batman was often the first comic I read each week, because, dammit, I wanted more information! I often considered reading it on the bus (I don't read comics on the bus--and, no, not because I'm ashamed, but because I don't find it comfortable because of their size and the manner in which they're put together physically), which I rarely do.

As for the actual story, I find Morrison's take on the character very interesting, although it's not one that I actually agree with. However, Morrison doesn't just use his Super-Batman, he provides reasons why Batman is so unique, so determined, so better than everyone else. In his final two issues, we pretty much discover that Batman's superpower is the ability to deal with more bullshit and craziness than anyone else. He is a human trauma absorber--and said trauma just makes him more determined and stronger. He has been able to live seventy years of experiences in only a decade... and it's, again, just made him better. Interesting ideas.

The duality of the Joker and Batman was a big draw for me here. Morrison's conception of that duality is cool as it's very similar to the duality of Professor X and Cassandra Nova in his New X-Men run, where, for the Joker, there's just him and Batman. When Batman shot him in the face, it didn't matter that it wasn't the "real" Batman, because it was Batman! In the dream world where Bruce Wayne never became Batman, the Joker is executed for his murders, because, without Batman, he cannot survive. Pairing the two in an intimate manner isn't new, but suggesting that they are the only two real people in the world is--especially suggesting that who wears the cowl doesn't matter, the same way that the Joker's personality doesn't matter: if he's in a costume, he's Batman, and if he's got pale skin, green hair and is batshit insane, he's the Joker.

I could continue, but none of this really justifies this spot for the book beyond "I anticipated each issue more than any other comic." If that doesn't tell you why this book deserves a spot here, I don't know what will.

9. glamourpuss by Dave Sim. This is my first real exposure to Dave Sim's work having never read Cerebus (it's on the list and I can easily see myself going on a mad spree at some point and obtaining all of the phone books) and it's quite something. Sim's exploration of Alex Raymond's photorealist art and its evolution is oddly engaging. I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I am. Honestly, I planned to give it a shot, because Sim is a legitimately important figure in modern comics and this was his latest project and who doesn't jump on board something like that? But, it's been a very enjoyable read... for the most part. His "essays" (for lack of a better word) on Raymond are really fun and accessable, even for those of us who don't know a lot about art. Sim's reproductions of Raymond's art are also very beautiful.

Where the book goes off the rails sometimes is in the fashion magazine parodies, which can be funny, but also have those bits of misogyny. Although, I haven't found these elements nearly as problematic as some, which makes me wonder if Sim's past statements on women and his reputation cause some to take this stuff in a harsher light than intended. The only issue that I'm not quite sure about is the one regarding anti-depressents and the amount prescribed to women--some things Sim says there I agree with, while others I don't. But, it's actually pretty easy to look past this stuff when the other parts of the comic are as good as they are.

The one spot where I take issue is the mocking of readers that Sim occasionally engages in over the amount of scantily-clad women featured in issues and that it's wrong to look at them... but he's the one drawing them. I know, it's meant to be in good humour, but a few of the jokes just seem really out there.

Overall, this process/parody book is unlike anything else out there, not just in content but in format, too. It may not cohere together in completely satisfying single issues, but it has yet to let me down.

8. Captain America by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice, Luke Ross and others. I don't honestly know what to say about Captain America. It's a great thriller with action, politics and some solid meditation on the effect our pasts can have on our presents. The art is remarkably consistent, due to actual intelligence and effort put into making sure it's consistent. That's actually something about Captain America I find frustrating only because no one else seems to be learning from it. I hate, hate, hate it when something new and smart comes along and no one bothers to notice and go "Hey, that is a much better way of doing things!" Sure, it brings back memories of house styles, but the style here is an interesting and dynamic one. Fuck, it's just so obvious.

Otherwise, this book continues to be great as this year focused exclusively on James Barnes as Captain America--and it's more interesting than when Steve Rogers wore the costume. Barnes has a girlfriend and passion and inner conflict and, really, is a much more complex character, one I'd rather read about. Brubaker hasn't just made Barnes a plausible Captain America, he's made me dread the idea of Steve Rogers coming back.

7. Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem, Karl Rusnak, Farel Dalrymple and Gary Panter. This is a book that I don't know how to describe. I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing since it was published. Well, that's a lie. I've had dozens of chances, I just haven't. And it's not a secret sign that I don't like it, it's for that same reason I don't reread Crime and Punishment: it's daunting and it's demanding, and I just haven't felt like devoting my mental energies to something I've already read like that just yet. But I will, hopefully soon, because this was a wonder of a book. I still can't believe that Marvel published it, it's such a departure and only works to make most of their output look awful by comparison.

This is a book about loneliness and camaraderie. It's a fun take on concepts like the Green Lanterns, but also very grounded. The final issue is a true work of beauty and art, delivering a conclusion totally unexpected yet totally appropriate. I don't really know what else to say. I've never read the original Omega the Unknown and kind of feel like, when I do, I won't like it nearly as much--sort of like when you see the remake of an old movie and then watch the original to discover that, surprise surprise, the remake actually is better! It doesn't happen often, especially in "mainstream" superhero comics, but I think it may have here.

6. Aetheric Mechanics: A Graphic Novella by Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani. The overall execution of this graphic novella is pretty much perfect. It's expansive yet intimate, focused yet general, and it's got an ending that still blows me away. It's not original in anything other than the combination of ideas and execution. I would be lying if I said that the ending isn't a big reason why this book ranks this high, because it's one hell of an ending. Probably the best ending I've ever seen in a Warren Ellis comic. This book even has a perfect panel. There is a panel near the end of the book that is absolutely perfect in every respect, including the lettering (and how often is lettering considered perfect?).

Aetheric Mechanics is one of Ellis's Apparat books where he explores ideas quickly and without any intention of a follow-up. It began with the Apparat Singles Club, four first issues to comic series that don't exist and now he's in phase two where he tests out the "graphic novella," which falls somewhere between a single floppy issue and a graphic novel, much like a novella is between a short story and a novel. That Ellis is using pulp roots and, here, Sherlock Holmes roots really works with the idea of the format.

This book is much more than Sherlock Holmes homage and much more than just Sherlock Holmes meets science fiction... it falls very much in line with Ellis's other works with Sax Raker fitting in alongside a lot of Ellis's previous creations, especially his detectives. Notice how Raker examines the murder scene and you'll see visual connections with Frank Ironwine and others... Ellis likes his detectives human and his forensic people invisible.

But, really, this book explores a very big idea and how someone would react to it, and the reaction is both startling and completely logical. Plus, some fantastic art.

5. Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. In issue two, "A Wolf Among Wolves," Teeg Lawless blacks out a lot when he's drinking and we get black panels, sometimes several in a row, but here's the thing: they're never the same size. The black-out panels are never the same size. That may not seem like a lot, but that is huge, that is genius, that is demonstrating something unique: what other medium can have multiple scenes blacked out, but signify that the times of each is different without breaking the black-out mood? (And can someone say that better, please?) Granted, none of the other six issues that came out this year could quite match the brilliance of that second issue, but the book is still pretty damn good.

Three self-contained-yet-linked stories and one four-part one, all centred on crime in a great noir tradition, all told by two people at the height of their craft and using every trick they can think up. This year (and in 2007, too), I'd read other people's thoughts about this book and a lot of people would say that, yeah, Brubaker and Phillips go really good noir, but so what? I know that wasn't meant as genre snobbery, but I always find that shit funny. No one thought Raymond Chandler was all that literate or grand at the time, either (and I know, two different things), but, hey, whatever.

The three self-contained-yet-linked stories set a high standard that I don't think "Bad Night" quite reached. It was a very good story no doubt about it, but those first three were better. I did love the end of "Bad Night," but I love my metafiction. But, "Bad Night" also played that trick where everything that came before suddenly seemed different and you just wanted to go back and read the whole thing over again. That's a very good trick, one that Brubaker and Phillips use very well here.

Honestly, I think Phillips is the better comic book creator (as I can't think of a better term) on this book and Brubaker does his damndest to keep up. Phillips may be the best artist working in "mainstream" comics right now and he's producing his best work ever on this book. His art alone may have secured a spot in the top ten (certainly the top twenty), but along with Brubaker's writing, Criminal is a must read.

4. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, and Davide Furno. If I begin reading a comic in trades, I don't usually begin buying it monthly. I hate having my books in multiple formats like that and, honestly, Vertigo books tend to get trade-waited no matter what. But, I got the first two collections of Scalped this year after reading about how fantastic a comic it is and then I put the book on my pull list, because everyone was right. The hype was no lie, the expectations were not raised beyond the ability of the creators, Scalped is a brilliant fucking comic and not buying it monthly would mean that I don't actually like comics. I'll say that right now: not reading Scalped month in, month out means that you don't like comics. Okay, strong words, because it may not be to everyone's taste, but that's not much of an excuse.

And, hey, I didn't think it would be to my tastes either. A comic about an Indian reservation. "Fuck that shit." I think I thought that sentence at one point. I really couldn't care less about a book set on an Indian reservation. Coming from Canada, I've had my share of literature about Native Americans/Canadians, mostly because 99% of it was awful, lots of cultural revisionism that promotes their culture as superior to the Western European one that I happen to fall into (and, trust me, the last thing I ever want to read is something that says that because I'm a white heterosexual male of Western European descent, I'm somehow an evil fucker--and, trust me, there's enough of that shit going around to make me wary of anything that may involve those ideas). But, you know, Scalped isn't about that. It's a crime comic. It could easily be set in a city, but it's set on a rez and it takes advantage of that to explore crime and its effect on people in different ways than an urban setting would allow. It's got bad guys that may be good guys and good guys that may be bad guys. It's heartbreaking in nearly every issue. It's slow, it's methodical, it's nasty and mean and cruel.

RM Guéra's art is a great fit for Jason Aaron's scripts. Guéra's art kind of reminds me of a crude Darick Robertson in that it can make you believe everything you see, but also does the grotesque well. Everyone looks real and unreal. It's really quite something.

You should read Scalped. I nearly didn't and, shit, what a mistake that would have been.

3. ACME Novelty Library #19 by Chris Ware. I relate to Chris Ware's books like those of no other cartoonist. That's probably not a good thing, is it? I'm sure I'm not the only one (I'm certain of it, actually), but it's still not something that is all that great. "Hey, I really relate to the people in Ware's horribly depressing meditations on loneliness and isolation! YAY ME!" You know? But, if there is one thing that attracts me to Ware's work it's that I relate to it quite a bit. But, I relate to it because he's so good at what he does. People focus a lot on his art, which is integral, but I think I pick up his books for the writing--not that the two are easily separated. I'm always amazed when so talented an artist is also so talented a writer. The writing here is some of the best I've read all year and, had someone else drawn Ware's script (assuming that was possible), I'm sure this book would still find a place on this list.

But, we also get the special treat of Ware's art, which is continually evolving to find new ways to express his ideas and to present pages. In every book, I see a good dozen page layouts that I have never seen before. In every book. How does he do that? I don't know why, but I tend to focus on page layouts and why certain artists pick specific layouts. For the first half of this book, Ware works in variations of eight panels by six panels, which he continues into the second part, but he then expands it into sixteen by twelve... it's really something to see how he uses all these different panel sizes to impact the story and the emotion of each panel. And his actual drawings, which wouldn't look out of place in a children's cartoon, but drawing these incredibly real and harsh stories of people who are lonely and selfish and awful in many ways... Remarkable.

What surprised me most was, in the first half, how well Ware does sci-fi and horror... I'm not familiar with a lot of his work pre-volume 16 aside from Jimmy Corrigan, so this is a big departure from his regular work for me. And it's just so damn good. Shockingly good.

2. Young Liars by David Lapham. I'm not sure I can write about this comic better than I did in my description for CBR: "Twisted, unpredictable, complex, layered, insane, manic, musical, and totally messed up, Young Liars is everything I always wanted in a comic book but never thought to ask for. David Lapham is producing career-best work in an already stunning career. Each issue brings about new shocking revelations and makes me want the next even more." I can try to say more about this wonderful book, but I'm rather content with that description. Besides, we're honestly in the territory where what makes one book rank higher than another is so intangible and difficult to describe that I don't know I can properly explain why I like this book more than everything else except for my number one pick. I can describe its positive qualities, maybe deliver a personal anecdote or two, try and describe that indescribable something something, but it won't happen. So read the above description and understand that I loved reading this comic book in 2008 more than every other comic book but one.

1. Casanova by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon. And this is the one. What makes Casanova better (if I'm going to use a word...) than everything else? Like I said with Young Liars, it's hard to put into words, because we're at a point where the high level of quality has evened for everything. Just like Batman was a book I read right away, Casanova was always saved for last. I like to read my books with the best at each end (usually the "lighter" stuff at the front and the "heavier" stuff at the back--Young Liars, glamourpuss and Scalped get saved for last, too) and this book was always the last of the last.

In sixteen pages (more for issue 14), Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon packed in more story, more emotion, more drama that most books do in their six-issue story arcs. This title was my number one book in 2007, too, and it continued to be amazing in 2008. Issue 14 was a triumph in concluding a story, but issue 13 was so emotionally charged, so full of small moments that I may have liked it more--until I think about issue 14 and the way that the narration doubled for Casanova and Fraction, the way that the world became so real in so many ways, Kubarck's reaction to Casanova, the desire to die, the desire to live, the assurance that it will turn out okay in the end even though you don't quite believe it... I don't know. How do you put into words why something like this is so brilliant, how it affected you so much?

I reread the second year of Casanova the other day without reading Fraction's backmatter essays and it was brilliant, an absolute masterpiece of storytelling and story construction. Seriously, that final issue... my god.

So, Casanova is my favourite comic of 2008 and, you know what, when it returns in 2009, I'm pretty sure it will have a good chance of being my favourite comic of 2009. Because it is, because in ten years, people will still be talking about what Fraction and the Evil Twins accomplished here, trying to figure out how it all worked and what made it so great--and, come on, if they'll still be trying then, what hopes do I have now?

And those were my top ten books of 2008.

Friday, January 09, 2009

CBR Review: Anna Mercury #5

I recently reviewed Anna Mercury #5 (and actively went out of my way not to spoil the reveal at the end of the first issue, you're welcome, Warren Ellis) and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "There actually isn’t much else to this comic beyond Anna Mercury fighting some soldiers before fighting a giant laser cannon. And there’s something rather fun and brilliant about that. A real simplicity is in the idea of a hero fighting a giant laser cannon that you don’t often see much these days."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

CBR Review: Eternals #7

I recently reviewed Eternals #7 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "After previous events, the Eternals have found themselves no longer immortal because their reincarnation machine (called "reactivation chambers") is broken and it’s very sad, because they’ve been immortal for a long, long time and now they can die. That sound you hear, of course, is the world’s smallest violin playing just for the Not-Quite-So-Eternals."

You can read the rest HERE!

(Also, on Tuesday, I read both trades collecting Jack Kirby's The Eternals, which actively made me hate this issue more than the review suggests. I don't blame the Knaufs for that hatred, because it's more directed at Marvel for treating what was basically a creator-owned comic like anything else, which has resulted in such a nothing comic like this--which I judged on its own merits, not in comparison to Kirby's work. Maybe I'll write more on that later.)

CBR Review: Secret Six #5

I recently reviewed Secret Six #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Although, I kind of wish the cover sported the antagonist of this issue, Junior, a hooded psycho who throws bricks and leans on a crutch while repeatedly yelling about how many bricks remain in his pile of bricks. Now, there’s a villain that the kids will love! He actually spends most of the issue throwing his bricks at a chained-up Bane, demanding that Bane sell out his teammates in the Secret Six. When Bane refuses, Junior hurls brick after brick, while his henchmen, Tig and Aaron, show up the scar from when they were separated as conjoined twins and openly root for Bane."

You can read the rest HERE!

The Cycle of Violence in Punisher: Widowmaker

I recently read volume 8 of Garth Ennis's run on the MAX Punisher series, which is subtitled Widowmaker, and it surprised me the hidden depth of theme in the book. Generally Marvel's MAX books have not been mature in the same sense as Vertigo's books have been; they have typically been more graphically violent than mature in subject matter. And the Punisher as a character is not one you usually expect depth from, because he is rather singularly driven. So I was not expecting this book to be very serious (in the sense of it having a message) and I suppose I was selling Ennis a bit short in that regard.

To explain: the plot of the book centers on a group of five women who have all been the victims of violence. Normally a Punisher plot would involve Frank Castle meeting these women and seeking vengeance on their behalf, but the twist in this story is that the source of their hatred is the Punisher himself. These five women were all members of mob families who have had their husbands (and for the ringleader of these five women -- a woman named Annabella -- her grandfather, father, brothers, and cousins as well, all in one fell swoop) killed by Frank Castle. So these widows band together to seek the Punisher out and avenge the death of their loved ones.

It makes for an interesting parallel then to the life of Frank Castle himself. Their families have been ripped from them, just as Frank's was all those years ago. Just as Frank believes his family to be innocent victims, so do these women. They fully acknowledge their loved ones were involved in criminal activities, but as one of the widows points out those crimes had nothing to do with Frank Castle's family getting killed. So what are they to him that he would seek out their deaths? No they see no justification in Frank's action, especially the level of violence with which he exacts his brand of justice.

This story then explores the idea of the collateral damage left in Frank's wake, the unseen consequences of his actions. One of the widows (I think it was Annabella but I forget) talks about the horror of the day Frank killed her family. She was present, inside the house while he was murdering her loved ones outside, and she speaks of hiding under a table, trying to keep her children from running outside into the barrage of bullets. The simple fact, from her point of view, is that he is creating victims just as much as those who killed his family, making widows (and orphans), shattering lives.

Thus Ennis subtly raises the question if these women are justified in their desire for vengeance against Frank for what he did. Do they deserve their revenge?

Generally a question like this is presented to readers in such a way that it really depends on where our sympathies lie. It's an issue I point out when I teach my students the Andre Dubus short story "Killings" in my classes. In that story, because it is told in the first person, we generally feel sympathy for the main character and narrator Matt Fowler. We hear his description of the pain he felt at the death of his son Frank at the hands of Richard Strout. So when Matt kills Richard in turn, we understand his motivations (even if we do not condone his actions), because we too can feel the loss of his son.

But, as I point out to my students, it is all a matter of point of view. Matt premeditates his murder of Richard, whereas Richard killing Frank was in a moment of passion. Thus, objectively, under the eyes of the law, Matt's crime is worse. Also, Richard acknowledges his guilt and gives himself up to police. He is only out on bail while he awaits trial, and he fully expects to go to prison for many years, has come to terms with paying for the consequences of his actions. Meanwhile, Matt covers up his crime (by hiding the body and making it appear as if Richard skipped out on bail and fled the country) in order to avoid punishment and get away with it. Finally, if we look at things from Richard's perspective, we can understand the anger he acted out of when he killed Frank, for Frank was sleeping with Richard's wife and keeping him from seeing his children.

My point in this digression is again that it is all a matter of perspective. In a revenge-driven series like this one, our point of view frequently coincides with that of the Punisher himself, so we do not have sympathy for those he kills and give little thought to their families. But Ennis deliberately turns that around in this story arc, makes us think about Frank's own "victims" for once.

So we come back to the question as to whether the widows deserve to get their revenge, and we realize that it really is a question of how much we feel for these women and what kind of people they are. Now the first part of that question, Ennis handles with aplomb. In the opening issue of the story the women gather to relate their stories to one another, and clearly Frank is portrayed as almost a force out of hell. He seems to relish in violence, death, and destruction, and he brings these raining down on all who cross his path in excessive amounts. The artwork depicts his killings as bloody and gory, and the dialogue displays the pain the women feel at their losses. (This is particularly true in Annabella's description, which is illustrated with images of bodies strewn about the ground with their heads half missing and Frank in the center of the blood, still firing two machine guns wildly, his sinister lust for destruction seemingly unquenchable.) So we definitely feel their pain, their fear, their loss.

But the second aspect of the question is what kind of people these women are. If they are "good" people it will be easier for readers to commiserate with them. But that question raises in itself another question of levels of guilt. Are these women just as guilty as their husbands by benefiting from their criminal lifestyle and turning a blind eye to it? Ennis plays with this idea a bit in the story by showing us that the women enjoy the spoils of the lifestyle their husbands provided for them through their lives of crime. So are they just as guilty as their husbands were for having that knowledge of their husbands' criminal activites and not repenting? Do they deserve their punishment? It is an interesting moral question that Ennis hints at.

Sadly, however, it is a question that the plot makes moot pretty quickly. First of all, all of these women are pretty despicable characters generally. Not one of them is likable, showing us from their first appearance how manipulative, ignorant, or racist they all are, so it is very hard for them to earn our sympathies. One woman is introduced when we see her giving oral sex to a cab driver in order to avoid paying a fare, a regular practice we're told, while another is eventually revealed to be unapologetically illiterate.

Also these women turn out to be even more guilty than they would be if they were simply turning a blind eye to some felonious acts. A plot development reveals that they all are in reality a bit too depraved to make the matter a worthwhile debate. Annabella and three of the other widows colluded to convince her sister Jenny to marry a man they all knew to be an abusive masochist and sexual deviant, because he was a valued member of the mob family. Then they all worked to keep her with him once she was married to him and bearing the brunt of his horrific behavior, his repeated abuse of her both sexually and physically, because keeping him happy was good for the family business.

(Later it ends up that Jenny's husband gets killed by the Punisher and she is happy to be set free. But she then expresses remorse to her sister about the life of luxury she has had which was built off of the pain and suffering of others, and she reveals that she's going to go to the police. So Annabella brings in the fifth widow Shauna to help them "take care of" Jenny.)

In the end then whether or not these women deserve their revenge too is a bit of a straw man argument, because these widows are equally as criminal as their husbands (or in Jenny's case are actually grateful at being "rescued" by Frank). It would have been interesting to have seen a real conflict here instead, for Ennis to have Frank come in contact with someone who is wholly innocent, a widow he made who is a good person but hates him for killing her family. Would she be justified in wanting to kill him? Would Frank fight back? Good questions worth exploring, I think. Instead, however, these women are all awful human beings, particularly Annabella who is willing to submit her own sister to rape and torture at the hands of her husband in order to keep the family business going.

But even without that, the idea of the cycle of violence, that violence begets more violence especially when revenge is involved, is brought to the surface very well in the story, not only in the overall story but in several smaller moments as well. Early in the story Frank is on the trail of some people who produce child pornography using their own children, and Frank kills them quietly and out of the eyes of their children in order to spare them the horror of witnessing their parents' deaths. He seems to know the cost of violence, the effect it can have, and actively seeks to shield them from it. Yet he also knows that one or two of those boys might grow up having felt the pain of their sexual abuse and become abusers themselves, and he wonders if he might be "punishing" them in another fifteen years time. It's a rare moment of introspection for Frank, and quite an insightful one, I felt.

There is also an entire subplot with a cop named Budiansky who has recently killed a perpetrator in the line of duty and who is harboring worries about what his lack of remorse says about him. He wonders if he might not be capable of the kind of violence the Punisher is. Later in the story, when violence hits home for him, he is pushed to his limits and tested a great deal, putting him on the verge of snapping much like Frank has and again illustrating the psychological damage violence can have on someone.

Finally there is the subtle implication Ennis makes that Frank knows his quest will never end, because revenge is by its very nature unjust and thus can never truly be satisfying. This theme is dramatized by Ennis in the persona of Jenny. After the widows tried to have her killed (and almost succeeded), she was left with her own revenge quest, wanting to hunt these five women down and destroy them. She meets Frank in the middle of that quest and while she does express gratitude to him for being her savior and releasing her from the life of suffering she had at the hands of her husband, she also sees him as a kindred spirit. He has suffered pain and loss when his family was murdered, just as she has at suffered at the hands of the widows.

At the end of her quest, however, after she has exacted her revenge upon those who had wronged her, she graphically kills herself in front of Frank. And it is implied that part of her reason for committing suicide is because that revenge she has sought has not been satisfying. She lived for revenge, and now what is left for her? She can only live with the pain of what was done to her and in return have to struggle with the demons that she has conjured up within herself to pay back that pain. Like Budiansky she fears she will end up like Frank, driven to continuously punish those who do wrong simply because her desire for revenge will never be sated, and having already taken steps down that path it is too late for her to turn back. The only way to end it is to end her own life.

As the story stands many of these questions really must be teased out of the plot, which in and of itself is very mediocre. It could even be said that I am perhaps reading a lot of subtext into what is actually a rather bland revenge story, and that's a fair point. But I think Ennis did have these questions about the effects of violence in mind as he put together the framework of his story, and these concepts make Widowmaker at the very least thought-provoking if not wholly satisfying.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CBR Review: The Boys #26

I recently reviewed The Boys #26 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The most noticeable thing about The Boys #26 is John Higgins handling the art instead of Darick Robertson. Thankfully, a better fill-in artist would not be possible as Higgins manages to stick to the artistic tone set by Robertson perfectly. It’s rare that an issue with a fill-in artist will feel the same, even with a strong authorial voice like that of Garth Ennis, but nothing feels any different. While Higgins’ details may differ from Robertson’s, both are coming at the material in much the same way."

You can read the rest HERE!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best of 2008: Me and Writing about Comics Online

I just wanted to do a quick, short post recognising that this year has been pretty great regarding me and writing about comics. I did a lot of stuff here as well as began the year (well, in February) by starting The Splash Page weekly column with Tim Callahan*. Tim is more known and regarded than I am and could have chose a lot of different people to do a column with, and I appreciate that he picked me. Then, later in the year, the man came through again in a bigger way by getting me a reviewing gig over at Comic Book Resources. I thanked Tim in private, but wanted to do so again here--and to just recognise that this year has been pretty decent for me writing about comics online. Not a big thing in the larger scope of things, but worth noting. (As well, on a personal note, 2008 was rather decent with me completing a novel and my Master's, and meeting a fantastic woman named Michelle who I'm crazy about--and who happens to be crazy about me for reasons beyond my understanding.)

(*The site that hosts the column is/was switching servers, which is why it's been down. Tim and I planned/plan to do a year-end column and cross-post it on our blogs like we did for our columns on Secret Invasion #8 and Final Crisis #5, but just haven't gotten around to writing it yet. Come on, it's been the holidays and we've had things to do...)

Best of 2008: Joe Casey Comics

I want to discuss Joe Casey's work in 2008 since I have a strong interest in his work, as anyone who's read this blog before probably already knows. I will admit that I did miss out on two works by Casey, Nixon's Pals, Krash Bastards and that Youngblood remix hardcover that he scripted, which makes this post a little incomplete. But, let's not dwell on such details and press ahead.

The Last Defenders with Jim Muniz and Keith Giffen. I want to begin with Casey's non-creator-owned work since it doesn't reflect upon him as directly, especially in the long view where his creator-owned work obviously speaks more volumes about him. Not that this title doesn't tell us a lot as it was one of the more successful books Casey did this year, creatively. I don't have a huge amount to add having recently done an issue-by-issue analysis of the title. This book was probably Casey's most high-profile project this year and it worked fairly well. I think it's one of the rare books he's done for a company where he's managed to balance the plot and the subtext, commenting on the superhero team book, the relationship between writer and editor/publisher, and the relationship between fans and non-fans. How it will fare in the longterm may rely on if there is ever a follow-up to Casey's Last Defenders group. There hasn't been one since, but that could be because Casey hasn't been able to do one, or maybe it will just be ignored.

Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin with Eric Canete. His other Marvel work and his fifth "Fill in Stan Lee's Plot Holes" book for the company. This was also a very well done book with longtime collaborator Eric Canete on board with a more fluid and cartoony art style. Casey manages to turn isolated events in early Iron Man stories into a coherent plot and, really, just churns out a very solid superhero adventure. This book lacks in subtextual commentary, but his other works like this tend to. I'm not sure how effective it was as a tie-in to the Iron Man movie, but for a nostalgia project, it probably ranks quite high. It also demonstrates how to tie together old stories effectively, which is something Marvel is on a bit of a kick--old stories constantly mined for new material or retconning new revelations and characters into old stories. Casey manages to do that, but only to the point where these initial encounters with the Manadarin read a cohesive whole and actually add to each story's power, leaving the present unaffected or altered for the most part.

Youngblood with Derec Donovan. This book continues to disappoint with some good ideas, but lacklustre execution. When Casey took on this new Youngblood series, he talked a lot about how the original book was a forerunner for titles like The Authority, The Ultimates and X-Force/X-Statix as it was centred on the idea of "superhero as celebrity," and while that may be true, I've always wondered "So what?" The execution on those early Youngblood issues was awful, so that great idea was forgotten until done with skill. Now, here's Casey trying to do it again and it seems like a bad copy of X-Force/X-Statix since the concept was done very well in that book. Little that Casey presents here is new or original anymore and none of it is done with the same intelligence and wit that Peter Milligan had. Casey does push things further by making a superhero/supervillain fight openly a fixed gig for television, almost like pro wrestling, which would be an interesting idea if he pushed it further and made it more like wrestling where everyone really does work together. As it is, the heroes and villains actually do hate one another and it seems like a representation of the way people thought wrestling was: a bunch of guys who hated one another but, somehow, worked for the same company.

Recent issues have focused on the Televillain who simply spouts cheap cliches about television, offering little insight. The Youngblood team has split in two: one for TV and one real that couldn't stand the TV bullshit any longer. Now, that is a good idea and one that could be mined for material, but hasn't really been used yet in any meaningful way. Really, this book is a mediocre expression of some great ideas.

Gødland with Tom Scioli. I discussed Gødland a little bit already, but want to deal with what happens in the book a little bit more. I ranked this as the best Joe Casey comic in 2008 just above The Last Defenders as it continues to be one of the most pure doses of "Casey" that we get. This book is part ode to cosmic comics and part a continuing exploration of Casey's obsession with family. If there is one defining theme/idea to Casey's work, it's family (biological or otherwise). This is one of the rare books where an actual biological family is at the centre as Casey has usually explored the idea through created families, often arguing that they are stronger and closer because the members have chosen one another. And there's definitely an element of that here as Adam Archer and his sister Neela are at odds in some of the issues, her spurned on by jealousy to the point where she remakes reality to cast herself as the hero with Adam as the loser who lives in his sibling's shadow. My god, has there ever been such a direct demonstration of sibling rivalry? (Okay, yes, there has, but this one was still pretty damn good.) Beyond that, this book showcases the wild and "trippy" elements of Casey's writing that have shown up before. Since he and Scioli use the "Marvel method" of putting this book together with Casey writing a plot, Scioli drawing the comic and then Casey scripting, the dialogue tends to be a bit more free-wheeling and random than books where Casey writes in full script. Gødland is still the best "download" of what's in Casey's head since Automatic Kafka.

Charlatan Ball with Andy Suriano. Oh, what a failure this book has been. Very much the little brother to Gødland, the art style is in a similar Kirby-influenced vein and I don't think it would be wrong to guess that Casey and Suriano also use the "Marvel method" here. But, where those things work well in Gødland, they just don't cohere well in Charlatan Ball. I've said before that using Kirby as a major influence in this magic-based book doesn't work as well as using Kirby for a cosmic-based book, because you don't associate Kirby with magic the way you associate him with cosmic. You associate Steve Ditko with magic thanks to his work on Strange Tales with Dr. Strange. I really do believe that if Casey and Suriano had looked to Ditko, this book would be ten times better and work very well as a companion to Gødland. But, let's be honest, which artist's influence is blatant doesn't impact the book all that much.

Honestly, this book often reads as Gødland-Lite. Take "The Gang of Four Gods" that showed up in recent issues: they look and act like the sort of cosmic beings you'd find in Gødland, except with less depth and character. Chuck Amock is a cowardly and whiny protagonist, which could work, but doesn't. Caesar the Rabbit is a very funny/strong character, very much in that gruff Ben Grimm mode of Kirby character. Demon Empty is the only main character that references a Kirby creation (The Demon) really and, again, works alright.

Another place where the book fails is the on-again, off-again metafictional references that have popped up in, what, two or three panels? What is the purpose of those? Hell, one was just outright weird where it seemed that Casey and Suriano were discussing the comic while on the set of a porn film (which may be based in real life for all I know). The haphazard use of these moments signifies in the micro what's wrong with the book: it doesn't know what it wants to be. The tone is wildly uneven, the plot seems to get going only to be derailed and then get back on track to get derailed again... Sometimes, Chuck seems to be aware of what's going on and, then, he's a moron. I've only seen an issue or two solicited for 2009 so far, so maybe this book won't last much longer--which is unsurprising as I imagine the sales aren't large and I've yet to read any strong, praising review of an issue.

"Flip Falcon in the Fourth Dimension" (in Fantastic Comics #24) with Bill Sienkiewicz. A short story in Fantastic Comics #24, which is the first (and, so far, only) release of Erik Larson's "Next Issue Project" where they do the next issue of a Golden Age comic book. Casey teamed with Bill Sienkiewicz for an odd, trippy story about a scientist who must undergo a transformation to stop his assistant/lover from destroying the space-time continuum through time travel. This is definitely one of Casey's strongest works this year as he's forced to distill a lot of ideas into a few pages, helped greatly by Sienkiewicz (whose participation is great if only because it's cool to see Casey working with the biggest obvious influence on Ashley Wood, Casey's partner on Automatic Kafka). I may have to do a longer write-up of this issue as part of my "Lesser Known Joe Casey Comics" series.

The Death-Defying 'Devil with Alex Ross and Edgar Salazar. Another Golden Age throwback, but, here, Casey is working with Alex Ross, co-plotting the book and then scripting it. Only one issue came out in 2008 and it wasn't that strong. I don't have anything to add that wasn't in my review of the issue.

And that does it for Joe Casey's 2008 aside from the trio of graphic novels I didn't get. An off year with only a few really strong books and a few really weak books. However, what I want to stress is that even the weak books are still interesting and show potential--of course, continued unrealised potential gets very annoying over time. We'll have to see what 2009 holds for Casey.

As well, I know I promised my top ten books today (and this post yesterday), but things got delayed and I'd rather take my time and make sure my top ten post is really well done. So, I don't know when it will go up, but sometime during the weekend at the latest (I hope).

Monday, January 05, 2009

Best of 2008: Not Quite Top Ten

In this post, I want to briefly discuss/praise some books that didn't make my top ten, but still made this year very enjoyable. Here, the actual quality isn't necessarily as important as just making an impact on me in one way or another. Hell, three of the books represented here fall in that 30-20 range in my rankings.

Thor by J. Michael Straczynski, Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic; Thor: Ages of Thunder specials by Matt Fraction, Patrick Zircher and many other artists; and Secret Invasion: Thor by Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite. Thor is one of the few characters who I will admit I'm a bit of a "fanboy" about. While I don't blindly follow the character, I always give whatever book he has coming out a shot. In this case, that means J. Michael Straczysnki's run, which began slow and had me convinced I would be dropping the title after issue six--my cut-off point for the book. However, Straczynski's slow-build has really paid off, especially with revelations like Balder's true father and the most recent issue where Loki showed himself to be a true mastermind. In January, issue 600 hits the stands and I can't wait.

But, if that wasn't enough, Matt Fraction delivered four specials and a three-issue series starring Thor that I rather enjoyed. Okay, it took until the final issue of Secret Invasion: Thor for me to really enjoy it, but that final issue was pretty damn good. The specials, though, showed a new side to Fraction's writing as he used little dialogue and relied mostly on a narrative voice that leant a certain mythic weight to the stories told, each engrossing and based in real myths. While I'm enjoying Straczynski's run on the main title, Fraction proved this year that when JMS steps down, there's a natural successor already in place (hopefully).

The Programme by Peter Milligan and CP Smith. I love abitious failures and this certainly was one. The story of old Cold War Russian superpeople being awoken and the chain of events that sets off always seemed one step away from brilliance and one step away from utter disaster. In the end, it was neither, managing to fall somewhere in between. Milligan's writing is sharp, but very busy as he seems to cram too much in at times. CP Smith's art began muddled and unclear, similar to that of Ashley Wood, but cleared up enough to work quite well by the end. While this book barely made my top thirty, it was one of my favourite books to read this year, because it was so ambitious and really tried to do something different--but ultimately didn't do much. The end of the series is an odd one, both cynical and optimistic... Really, this book wasn't that good, but it was very interesting.

Gravel by Warren Ellis, Mike Wolfer, Raulo Caceres and Oscar Jiminez. Really, I should throw in the various Strange Killings minis that came before since I got all four of them this year, too (I already had Strange Kiss and Stranger Kisses). I rather enjoy stories about William Gravel, combat magician. They're not terribly complex, but they have Warren Ellis's trademark English wit and bile. As well, Mike Wolfer does a fantastic job of turning Ellis's script treatments into full issues--to the point where Wolfer's involvement is invisible. The ongoing series has Gravel tearing through the Minor Seven, a group of magicians he belongs to--or did until someone said he was dead and they brought in a new member. Gravel's gimmick is that he pretty much fucks up everyone he comes across and it's got a very "mindless entertainment" vibe to it--and that works well. Oscar Jiminez came on board the book after a few issues and put it back in a decent schedule, although his depiction of Gravel is quite different from Wolfer's and took some getting used to.

Doktor Sleeples by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez. I've actually been amazed at how little discussion this books gets online considering its position as the thematc sequel to Transmetropolitan. Now, it would be easy to dismiss this book as Ellis doing the same thing again, but this series is quite different from its forerunner. While still ostensibly about "the future" and a man returning to the city and stirring shit up, Doktor Sleepless is not about the truth, not about making the world better--it's about a broken, bitter monster of a man who is determined to tear everything down... and those who seem opposed aren't actually much better. It's funny and told in eight-issue stories. The first was about setting up the main idea of the book, while the second seems more about exploring the world that is Heavenside--and the impact that the good Doktor has had upon it. While I'm the first one to say that this book isn't as good as Transmet, it's still very worthy of notice.

Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman. I almost included this book in yesterday's post since it's Hickman's written/drawn/lettered/everything book for 2008 in the same way that The Nightly News was his 2007 book. This four-issue series tells the story of a group of time travellers who make it their business to make sure humanity evolves quicker, both in political and social terms. It's a book of ideas as Hickman explores politics and sociology, as well as religion. His art is very design-oriented and doesn't tell the story in a typical manner. Hell, each issue had two pages of text transcribing a conversation! It's very unique and Hickman has said that this is just the first book set in this world.

Captain Britain and MI:13 by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk. This is the book that got bumped out of the top ten between my first list, which I gave CBR and my final list, which I did on January 1. I actually feel bad that this book got bumped, because it's a damn good superhero book. I know the phrase "gets better with each issue" is thrown around a lot, but this book does. Paul Cornell's comic writing ability grows by leaps and bounds in these issues and I have no doubt that the book will continue to get better in 2009. It's a very low key sort of book that does contain a lot of out there concepts and isn't afraid to do anything. Every issue ends with a cliffhanger that is legitimately shocking and leaves me wanting more--an art in and of itself. Also, Leonard Kirk's art is a great fit with Cornell's writing, because he is a very solid, very capable artist who, at first, helped make Cornell look better and, now, expertly depicts the crazy shit Cornell throws out there. If you're a fan of superhero comics and aren't reading this book, you are making a big mistake.

Later today, I'll discuss Joe Casey's 2008 comics.