Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CBR Review: Ultimate Hawkeye #1

I recently reviewed Ultimate Hawkeye #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "While he is the book's title character, Hawkeye is treated like a secondary player, to a degree. He gets to show off his skills a bit and is obviously Fury's proxy in the situation, yet the importance is placed more on the S.E.A.R. metahumans and what they mean to the 'arms race' of super-soldiers. The ending of the issue indicates future issues will focus on Hawkeye and show why he needs to star in this story. This is good, because right now, any anonymous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent would seem to do."

You can read the rest HERE!

Monday, August 29, 2011

CBR Review: Infinite Kung-Fu

I recently reviewed Infinite Kung-Fu for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "There’s been considerable buzz building up to the release of Kagan McLeod’s monster of a book, Infinite Kung-Fu, and with its wide release this past week, it proves that all of that buzz and hype was completely on the money. Expansive, entertaining, and full of pretty much everything you could love about kung-fu stories, Infinite Kung-Fu is a page turner that’s hard to put down. And, when you do put it down, it won’t be for very long."

You can read the rest HERE!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Final Blogathon Total

The final tally for money raised for the Hero Initiative is a stunning $535, boosted by my promise to revive Random Thoughts over on Comics Should be Good. I would like to thank the following people for their donations: p0w, Raymond Conlon, Alec Berry, Dan Billings, Tim Callahan, Sandy Nevett, Andrew Doyle, Mario McKellop, Lee Merowitz, PerfectDru, Eric Newsom, Brendan Wright, Joshua Schroeder, Rainer Hoermann, Greg Schueller, Brian Estep, James Leech, Brian Cronin, and Joseph Macaluso. This is, by far, the most money raised in any of my Blogathons and I'm extremely grateful to those who donated and those who lent their moral support.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sketch Reviews (August 25 2011)

Not much to add this week... let's get to it...

Batman: Gates of Gotham #5: Well, that was underwhelming. A decent ending, but fairly typical. I have no real complaints, no real compliments. [***]

Batman, Incorporated #8: And the new contender for 'worst issue from Morrison's run on Batman' is... My god, this is an ugly comic featuring mediocre writing. [*]

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing #3: Three issues building up to... not a goddamn thing. What was the point of this book besides proving that DC really will publish anything no matter how fucking awful it is? No, really, get me the e-mail addresses of everyone who approved this piece of shit so I can ask them what point it served, because I sure as fuck can't see it... [-****]

Captain America & Bucky #621: The closest thing I have to buying a book primarily for the art. Chris Samnee is wonderful. The writing is okay, but this is a bit of a downgrade from the 'first' issue of this series. Will it actually go anywhere beyond "Bucky: Year One?" Let's see! [***1/2]

Flashpoint: Project Superman #3: This comic wasn't as funny as the second issue, but it was still pretty funny with its visual allusions and the constant look of "I... I think I wet my pants" on Kal's face. I don't know... I just couldn't take it seriously. It had none of the genuine humanity of the Azzarello/Risso Batman mini but all of the superficial crap... it's just a funny comic. I wish they'd gone all out and just did the parody of Action Comics #1 for the cover. [***1/4]

And a special bonus:

A Few Things You May Need to Know from Ultimate Fallout to read The Ultimates #1
* The man in the helmet on the first page is Reed Richards. He's escaped from the Negative Zone with the goal of creating an environment that will create the next generation of superpeople to help remake the world as he wants it. I think. Those people in the white Future Foundation-esque uniforms are his followers and they live by the code 'evolve or die.'
* Captain America quit at some point. It was mentioned briefly in Ultimate Fallout #6 with Steve Rogers last appearing in the second issue at Peter Parker's funeral. He got slapped by Aunt May. We've yet to be told why he quit, but I assume it has to do with Parker's death.
* Nick Fury was ordered to increase S.H.I.E.L.D. operations by 30% only to be told shortly thereafter that the budget is being cut by 30%. That has put him under a little stress.
* The threat in S.E.A.R. is a metahuman of some kind.
* Brian Braddock has cancer, so his brother has replaced him as Captain Britain.
* This may be important later: Tony Stark has been asked to take his brother Gregory's place in an organisation of 50 very wealthy and powerful (mostly self-made) people who are going to try to change the world from behind the scenes. We don't know if he's accepted yet.

And, not that this has anything to do with anything, but look at Quicksilver's face in the final panel of the preview for Ultimate X-Men #1. Isn't that just fucking awful?

If you have any questions, feel free to ask.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CBR Review: The Ultimates #1

I recently reviewed The Ultimates #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Hickman walks a fine balance between jumping right into plots that had their foundation laid in the shorts he contributed to in Ultimate Fallout and making sure that anyone who skipped that mini-series can follow along fine. For the most part, he pulls it off by rehashing the three big global threats that first popped up in Ultimate Fallout #5, albeit progressed by a day so it isn’t a simple retread. At the heart of the issue is a simple plot: the world is falling apart around Nick Fury and he doesn’t know what to do exactly. However, until the end of the issue, that may get a little lost under a lot of details, sadly."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

CBR Review: Daredevil #2

I recently reviewed Daredevil #2 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "In the solicitation for November’s Daredevil #6, the copy reads, 'The most critically acclaimed new series of the year continues!' Given that only one issue of the relaunched series had been released when that sentence was written, that’s a bold statement to make and, yet, one that’s hard to disagree with. The first issue of the new Daredevil was highly acclaimed and rightfully so. It was entertaining, stylistically inventive, able to reconcile the character’s recent past with the desire to push forward, featured a strong, distinctive take on the characters, and was absolutely gorgeous with art from Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. Good news: the second issue is more of the same (minus Martin’s art)."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Ultimate Fallout #6

I recently reviewed Ultimate Fallout #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The weekly Ultimate Fallout series hasn’t exactly flown under the radar given the extensive media exposure to the fourth issue where the new Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales debuted, but it also hasn’t garnered much attention aside from that portion of the fourth issue. It’s been an odd hodgepodge of a comic, pulling in two directions as it provides an epilogue/coda to Peter Parker’s life and looks to the relaunch of the Ultimate line beginning with next week’s Ultimates #1. More an anthology series featuring shorts that looked to the past or the future (rarely the present) than anything else, it’s left many baffled about its point and purpose."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sketch Reviews (August 18 2011)

As you can imagine, one of the last things I really feel like doing this week is writing about more comics. But, I love the stupid things. And CBR pays me to write about comics. Anyway, the Blogathon was fun and the window for sponsoring me/donating to the Hero Initiative is open until 9am Tuesday morning (not that you can't donate after that...). I've even sweetened the pot a but by promising the return of Random Thoughts if the total tops $500. Considering the number when I made that promise was $350, the heavy lifting has been done by the generous donators that did it before the Blogathon itself ended. Now, onto new comics...

Avengers #16: Steve Rogers is James Kirk... also, Captain America is the Spirit of America. A weak tie-in that felt forced and like Bendis was trying to address Bucky dying without stepping on Brubaker's toes. Whatever. [**]

Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker #2: This issue held together better than the first until Butcher got himself tossed out of the marines. That felt rushed and almost like a means to an end. The battle scene was just well done on all fronts. [***1/4]

Captain America #2: Okay, this shit got fucking goofy. And that's pretty awesome. Everything else surrounding this comic felt tedious, but the weird dream world that a little boy can access and the Allies were using as a way to sneak up on Nazis? I can dig that. And, damn, that's some 'all over the map' inking. [***]

Flashpoint: The Outsider #3: Man, you know the Martian Manhunter is a badass, because he wears a leather jacket and leather pants. That's... that's actually pretty fucking weird. I did enjoy how this was basically a story about how the world fucks you up and makes you worse than you would have been otherwise. I'd be surprised if the Outsider doesn't show up in the regular DCU. [***1/2]

Journey into Mystery #626: You know how you know Loki is fucking awesome at what he does? Everyone tells him that they know he's a liar and they won't trust him... and, then, they go ahead and make a deal with him and trust him anyway. He's that damn good. [***3/4]

X-Men: Schism #3: My favourite part: "I don't understand... why are they smiling?" Best line of the whole comic. I do dig a methodical takedown of the bad guys, especially when it's teased with a big hero comeback via Emma. Also, this felt like a more natural cause of the beginning of a Logan/Scott rift than we've seen yet. I'm digging this. I'm not sold on picking up any of the relaunched books yet -- we'll see how the final two issues of this play out. [***1/2]

Also, I picked up Hellblazer: Bloody Carnations, 'Breed II: The Book of Ecclesiastes, and the WE3 hardcover (the new pages suckered me in). Because they all had to come out today, of course...


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogathon 2011 Archive Post

Here is a complete archive of the Blogathon 2011 posts:

Blogathon 01: Good Morning
Blogathon 02: Superheroes
Blogathon 03: Who is Superman? Part One
Blogathon 04: Who is Superman? Part Two
Blogathon 05: Who is Superman? Part Three
Blogathon 06: Who is Superman? Part Four
Blogathon 07: Who is Superman? Part Five
Blogathon 08: Who is Superman? Part Six
Blogathon 09: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #1
Blogathon 10: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #2
Blogathon 11: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #3
Blogathon 12: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #4
Blogathon 13: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #5
Blogathon 14: Joe Casey Comics: Iron Man: The Inevitable #6
Blogathon 15: The Eternal Return Part One
Blogathon 16: The Eternal Return Part Two
Blogathon 17: The Eternal Return Part Three
Blogathon 18: The Eternal Return Part Four
Blogathon 19: Random Thoughts! Part One
Blogathon 20: Random Thoughts! Part Two
Blogathon 21: Random Thoughts! Part Three
Blogathon 22: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part One
Blogathon 23: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Two
Blogathon 24: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Three
Blogathon 25: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Four
Blogathon 26: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Five
Blogathon 27: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Six
Blogathon 28: Put on Your Tights and Give Them Hell Part Seven
Blogathon 29: Dreaming Us Part One
Blogathon 30: Dreaming Us Part Two
Blogathon 31: Dreaming Us Part Three
Blogathon 32: Dreaming Us Part Four
Blogathon 33: Dreaming Us Part Five
Blogathon 34: Raymond Chandler's Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story: New X-Men - Murder at the Mansion (Part One)
Blogathon 35: Raymond Chandler's Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story: New X-Men - Murder at the Mansion (Part Two)
Blogathon 36: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part One
Blogathon 37: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Two
Blogathon 38: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Three
Blogathon 39: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Four
Blogathon 40: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Five
Blogathon 41: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Six
Blogathon 42: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part One
Blogathon 43: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Two
Blogathon 44: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Three
Blogathon 45: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Four
Blogathon 46: From Hell to Heaven Part One
Blogathon 47: From Hell to Heaven Part Two
Blogathon 48: From Hell to Heaven Part Three
Blogathon 49: Good Morning Again

Thank you. Enjoy.

Blogathon 49: Good Morning Again

Well, I made it through. While I had no doubt that I would make it to nine am, I wasn't sure what sort of content I'd be putting over the 24 hours. Not everything was fantastic, but I'm happy with what I wrote.

As for the Hero Initiative, we're sitting at $349.99 raised so far. As always, I'm keeping the sponsorship/donation window open for a week. If you wish to sponsor me, there are a variety of options:

* Direct donations to the Hero Initiative
* Purchasing products from their site, including annual memberships
* Purchasing products from their eBay store

If you do, let me know in the comments section or via e-mail (chevett13[AT]yahoo[DOT]ca) so I can keep track of how much is raised and give proper thanks.

Later today, after I wake up and do whatever I need to do around the house, I'll post an archive of all of the Blogathon posts like I have in the past.

What I'm impressed with is how well the post count worked out. I got through almost all of my prepared topics with the only remaining ones there more as back-ups than anything else. There was a bit of unity with the comics I discussed even though I chose books based solely one what I felt like writing about.

Thanks for all of the support, tweets, comments, donations, and kind words. Now, to bed. Finally. Good morning, good night...

Blogathon 48: From Hell to Heaven Part Three

[Concluding my discussion of the Mark Waid/Howard Porter/Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four stories "Authoritative Action" and "Hereafter."]

With Ben dead and the Fantastic Four branded traitors to the US because of their actions in Latveria, things look pretty down when "Hereafter" begins. One of the most heartbreaking moments I've ever seen in a comic is a scene showing what happened after Ben died: Reed using a giant defibrillator to try and save him and, when he's pulled off, he talks about how they don't have much time only to be told that he's been trying for an hour. He has this look of disbelief of his face in a silent panel; in a repeat of the panel he simply says "What?" The effect of Ben's loss is profound on the group, but Reed sees only one solution: storm the gates of Heaven and get their friend back.

It's such an absurd idea and one that really only works in a comic like Fantastic Four. They've been everywhere else, why not Heaven, too? They push through every obstacle: angels, a broken path, even Ben and his big brother who are waiting for them, because Ben can't actually enter Heaven itself. Reed is keeping a tiny part of his body alive and that's stopping Ben from moving on. Now, that's probably for the best, because what are the odds that you're going to convince someone to come back to Earth once they've actually been to Heaven? There's something incredibly touching and selfish about them even going to get him. When Ben breaks through the door seemingly made by Reed's technology keeping him from crossing over, there's orange rock underneath and Ben realises that he's been keeping himself out. He's not ready to die, he's not ready to leave his family behind.

And, then, the Fantastic Four meet their creator... Jack Kirby.

That moment is why I consider this the high point of the Waid/Wieringo run on the book. You can't top the build of Doom's attack/Reed's response/Ben's death/the trip to Heaven/the team meeting Jack Kirby where he fixes Reed's face, turns Ben back into the Thing, and sends them all home with a drawing of their eventual happy ending as old people. Like I said, I enjoyed what came after, but this may just have been a 'get off the stage' moment. Waid and Wieringo delivered some nice adventures and funny moments, none of which matched the power of these issues. These comics we so steeped in emotion and character, so tied into who the Fantastic Four and what they mean to one another in such a big story that I'm not sure anything on the title could top it. For my money, these two stories (maybe with the actual encounter with Doom) comprise the best Fantastic Four story. The Lee/Kirby stuff was great, but even they could hit the emotional heights that are hit here.

Sure, it's a return to the status quo, but it's an earned return to the status quo. It's the logical end point of the story. And damned if it isn't fantastic (pun intended).

In 30 minutes, I take my bow and get off the stage.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 47: From Hell to Heaven Part Two

[Continuing my discussion of the Mark Waid/Howard Porter/Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four stories "Authoritative Action" and "Hereafter."]

Reed's plan in Latveria is much more extensive than simply disarming Doom's castle: he installs himself as the new leader of the country and sets about doing his best to destroy everything Doom had left: his reputation with his people, his wealth, his weapons, even the portrait of his mother isn't safe from Reed's wrath. And, make no mistake, it's pissed off anger-fuelled revenge that drives Reed here. He's had enough of Doom always coming back and screwing with his family and he's going to make sure that never happens again. In the process, he alienates Sue, Ben, and Johnny, and pisses off the global community who simply can't allow a private citizen to take over a country like that.

It's easy to see why this story appeals to me so much. It's exactly what I want out of a superhero comic: smart writing that breaks out of the usual superhero mould. A hero actually thinking about the patterns he's been locked into and doing something to break free of them. You know it won't last or work entirely, but that's doesn't matter. It's that brief moment of 'enlightenment' that makes it worthwhile. And had Waid stuck with the above, I would have been satisfied. Instead, he pushes things further...

Reed purposefully drove his family away so he could enact the final part of his plan: rescuing Doom from Hell and locking them both in a room with no exit for eternity so he can make sure Doom never threatens his family again. The ultimate sacrifice and, as both men seem willing to recognise, the ultimate act of hatred. I don't know if Reed was even shown to absolutely hate Doom like this before. Doom had gone too far and was stuck in a room with no escape for etern--

Oh shit, the rest of the Fantastic Four just opened the door so they could rescue Reed from his foolish decisions. Doom uses a mental trick to transer his consciousness to Sue and escape. Then, it becomes a fight where one of the FF is always at risk while Doom's consciousness may not be. Ultimately, he takes over Ben and Reed is forced to kill him. Yeah, kill him. Doom managed to hurt Reed and his family even more. How could Waid possibly follow that up?

(Unfortunately, this story was drawn by Howard Porter instead of Mike Wieringo. That will always bug me...)

In 30 minutes, I'll discuss how Waid, teamed back up with Wieringo, manages to follow up on "Authoritative Action" with "Hereafter."

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 46: From Hell to Heaven Part One

[Beginning my discussion of the Mark Waid/Howard Porter/Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four stories "Authoritative Action" and "Hereafter."]

I won the Waid/Wieringo run of Fantastic Four in those three hardcovers that Marvel put out and, for me, the best stuff is the second hardcover if you ignore the final two issues included, which comprise an entertaining Human Torch/Spider-Man story albeit one that's forgettable and doesn't stand up to the two storyarcs included in that hardcover. The third hardcover feels a little more throwaway. Again, nothing gets bad; it's that none of it feels essential and necessary. A horrible word, I know. The first hardcover is a nice build to the Dr. Doom story, particularly the issue focusing on Doom and the love from his youth. I can see why some would see that Doom story as the high point. I liked those comics. I didn't love them and got the second hardcover because that first hardcover was good enough to keep up with it. The second hardcover, though, was when Waid really hit his stride and put his mark on the book for my money.

I'm actually surprised that I even picked up the first hardcover, because I wasn't a fan of the first issue of their run, the nine-cent issue. Like much of the first hardcover, I thought it was fine. It was inoffensive and left me fairly cold. It must have been all of the positive word of mouth. Enough people talk something up and you're bound to check it out. I'm glad I did.

The first hardcover culminated in a story where Doom attacked the Fantastic Four with an emphasis on magic. That alone was a smart idea. The magic of Doom has been around for a long time, but never really played up in his fights against the Fantastic Four. His skin armour was genuinely creepy and more than any other time, Doom came off as a threat. He really seemed like he was a dominant force that may be too much for the Fantastic Four. Although defeated and sent to Hell, he had a lasting effect on the family when he sent Franklin to Hell and left Reed's face scarred. While there were two issues between that story and "Authoritative Action," the kick-off story for the second hardcover is a definite follow-up to Doom's attack.

In "Authoritative Action," Reed Richards takes the Fantastic Four to Latveria seemingly to disarm Doom's castle and make sure if he returns he won't have the same resources that he always has. I love that idea. It's an active way to approach the problem of Doom, something right up my alley. Where the story goes after that, pushing things even further, made me love it even more.

I'll talk more about this in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 45: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Four

[Concluding my discussion of The Programme.]

A lot of The Programme is spent shifting characters around and building to something without getting anywhere. It does eventually, but so much time is taken up with Max struggling against what's required -- so much time is eaten up. I was surprised at how long it took for the Dolls to rescue their creator from the Gulag. I remembered it as happening in, like, issue three when it's much later. They don't hit America until issue seven. The drawn out nature of the pacing isn't as problematic when reading the series as a whole, but when it was first coming out sticking with this series was an act of faith, of trusting Milligan to stick the landing.

Except he doesn't.

The ending isn't a clean one, but it's not dirty enough to really provoke thought. It falls somewhere between the two. Some of the Russians get away and the US is under martial law (which I mentioned previously). What's lacking in the conclusion is an idea of what the larger point of the series was. What was it really about with an ending like that? Max's journey is complete to a degree with him becoming the pawn of the government he was meant to be -- or was going to be before Hinks altered his programming. But, what does this say about America? Or even superhumans? While The Programme reminds me stylistically of Pynchon's writing, that the series never adds up to anything holds it back from that comparison completely.

I've long wanted to discuss The Programme and, getting that chance, I realised I didn't have much to say. I thought when I started to dig in, there would be a lot there. There isn't.

In 30 minutes, I'll begin my last topic: the Mark Waid/Howard Porter/Mike Wieringo Fantastic Four stories "Authoritative Action" and "Hereafter."

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 44: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Three

[Continuing my discussion of The Programme.]

Max is an argument against the validity of free will. First, he's a liberal hippie type despite that being his programmed personality. Yet, that's who he is, it's all he's ever known himself to be. It's what he defends and what he sacrifices when he realises that it's not doing him any good. When he's reprogrammed, it's like that other Max never existed. He becomes everything that the United States government wants him to be and he keeps on being that, doing things he would have never done before and hate anyone else for doing. He perceives nothing wrong with, though. No matter what they program him to be, that's what he is. It's a recognition that an absence of free will would not actually affect a person; as far as he's concerned, he has free will even if he consciously knows he's been programmed to behave a certain way -- because the programming makes him think it's his choice!

Senator Joe, on the other hand, struggles with his programming quite a bit. He breaks free of it in a sense. His struggle with what he should do, who he should be is never finalised. Even when he shows up to back up Max in the fight against the Russians, there's not a feeling that that's his final choice of who he is. He shows up because he thinks it's the right thing to do. That doesn't mean he sides with the US government ultimately. But, his showing up to fight the Russians is his choice. Too bad he dies in the fight.

The Dolls function in the same way. They were programmed to embody specific ideals and some of them do struggle with it or take those ideals to a strange logical conclusion like Stalingrad's insistance on raping an American woman because that's what the Red Army did. Mostly, they are completely loyal to their maker and their ideals.

Everything is politics in The Programme. It's not necessarily a traditional argument about free will, it's simply about ideology and politics with these constructions as pawns. Max was meant to be the German superman, was taken by the Americans at the end of World War 2 before he was grown, meant to make him the American superman, and, instead, some random guy turned him into a liberal pacifist. He never had a chance, honestly. None of them did. They represent the fictional constructs we have that exist to justify and embody specific ideas. Max is basically a character that is written one way by someone and, then, that writer is fired and his personality shifts to suit the new needs.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 43: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part Two

[Continuing my discussion of The Programme.]

The intricate plot of The Programme is one of details that paint a fairly clear picture: when Russian artificial superhumans are discovered, they begin to attack American forces in Talibstan. Really, it's just one, but that leads to the others and they go to find their maker in a Gulag where he lives in constant fear of rape. In response, the Americans decide to bring back to their attempt at creating supersoldiers. Max being their main hope, but his programming was altered by Michael Hinks so he would be a hippie pacifist basically. He doesn't know how to even access his superpowers. There's also another superhuman prototype: a black man that thinks he's Senator Joe McCarthy. When he learns what he is, he runs away, wanting nothing to do with a government that would do things like take his mother and use her to create him. The coming of the Russians gives excuse for some ignorant rednecks to start a race war, basically meaning that, instead of unifying to fight the Russian superhumans, America has decided to tear itself apart. Only Max can save the day... maybe...

This is the stuff of Supergod. Superhumans created to solve problems and fight wars, not treated as gods but programmable tools. One is screwed with to be a bleedingheart and the other is made to think he's Joe fucking McCarthy. On the Russian side, they're full of Marxist and Leninist ideas. One of the strangest moments is when the powerhouse of the group begins to rape a woman, not because he wants but because he's been programmed with the knowledge that the Red Army that defeated the Germans was a rapist army. And, yet, it's perfectly logical.

That sort of twisted logic is apparent through The Programme. Never mind that lives are in danger, Max, worry more about your girlfriend cheating on you. When he finally decides to join the fray, he gets his ass handed to him because he doesn't know how to fight. He has the power but not the knowledge. He actually has to request reprogramming to save America. Whereas Senator Joe is talked into abandoning the cause by the man who created the Russian 'dolls' and eventually helps only because he can't shake his patriotism.

Ultimately, it's a battle of ideals that come off as bad jokes. Old ideas come back to haunt us. Old conflicts, both internationally and locally. That a race war actually starts is one of those moves that complicates the plot further and makes you wonder what the fuck Peter Milligan is doing until it pays off in the end when the Russians and the race war are used as an excuse for the new president to enact martial law, using the newly programmed Max an his enforcer. The man goes from hippie to facist in no time flat... he saves America so it can be everything he used to hate.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 42: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part One

[Beginning my discussion of The Programme.]

When I read The Programme, I'm reminded of Thomas Pynchon's writing. I had that feeling ever since the second issue where Michael Hinks recalls what turned him from a cog in the American military industrial complex to a liberal peaceloving anti-American. He was at a party and met a woman that changed his whole perspective on everything. She introduced him to drugs, free love, and opened his eyes to the facist state he lived in. So, in his duties as a member of the project to build an American superhuman, he reprogrammed Max to be just like him, effectively ruining the program. While not really like Pynchon's story "Entropy" in content, the feel of the two struck me as similar. There was something about the mixing of '60s counterculture, the military, black humour, and a myriad of plots that all weave together in the past and present that seemed to connect the two.

Stylistically, CP Smith draws The Programme the way I imagine Pynchon's novels would be illustrated. They reflect the sometimes obtuse nature of his writing. You can see what's happening, but it's not entirely clear. Some things are obscured. Things don't exist in realist terms. Colours are skewed to match the mood and tone of the scene. A panel in the first issue where Max, our failed superman who doesn't know he's superman, is telling his therapist about his failure to get an erection and his girlfriend's reaction is absolutely how I'd picture something in Pynchon's work: a shot of her coloured in a pinkish red with pale green cucumbers on her eyes as she says, "MAX, YOU ARE ONE WASHED-UP IMPOTENT OLD FART! BOY, YOU MIGHT JUST AS WELL BE A EUNICH ALL THE GOOD YOU ARE TO ME!"

It makes sense that, if there was an influence on The Programme it would be Pynchon. Of all the writers to look to if you were doing a comic book about the consequences of superhumans created during the Cold War now active and looking to live out the reason they were created, and the various bits of black humour that come out of a complicated plot like that, Pynchon is your man. The absurd comedy of Gravity's Rainbow is set against the backdrop of World War 2, offering a mixture of reality and surreality that's both remarkably touching and slightly offputting.

The Programme isn't as grand as Pynchon's work. It isn't as big or as deep or as funny, but the influence is there. After all, where else would you expect to find a hippie superman, a black superman who thinks he's Joe McCarthy, and a group of four Russian superhumans whose existence causes a race war in America?

To be continued in 30 minutes...

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Blogathon 41: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Six

[Concluding my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

The most interesting superhuman in Supergod is Dajjal, a creature that forms a humanoid shape but seems to be made out of pieces of purple metal with glass goggle eyes. He has 'tactical perception,' the ability to see time. He can see time and decide which path to take, knowing where it will lead. It's like perceiving the timeline as a road map. Except it's a map that is constantly changing because the territory is always changing. It's a more advanced version of the Midnighter's ability to play out every possible scenario in his head. There, it's still theoretical and limited by his knowledge of the situation. With Dajjal, there are no limitations. And what that means for his mind is that he is without sanity: "It is said that human sanity is the best set of reactions to the structure of the perceived world." With no set structure since time is fluid and changing, how could he be sane? It's not insanity either, which is almost like a faulty set of reactions; there are no set reactions in his case. In the end, he decides that the only path he wants to take is one of destruction and his death. Again, not considering what a superpower would mean: if you can see every outcome, every scenario, would life offer any excitement or meaning?

The questions of what these powers and altered perceptions would entail is something that I have a hard time letting go of. To me, that's more interesting and worthwhile that symbolic meaning or escapism or any of those other things that superhero comics tend to embody. If anything, there's a progression from one book to the next in this trilogy: a rising awareness of what superhuman powers entail and the characters' acceptance of that awareness. John Horus lives in ignorance, clinging to his humanity and ideas of justice and unwilling to embrace his power; Carick Masterson doesn't recognise that living forever and not aging means that he has to look at the world in a different way that just as a means to comfort; and the superhumans in Supergod think differently and perceive humanity as truly beneath them, willing to kill and destroy if it suits their goals. But, there's something they have in common: all roads lead to death. At least for humanity. Contact with superhumanity means contact with the next step in human evolution, whether natural or unnatural, and that means the first step towards extinction. That's the unseen danger of superhumans, one addressed only in specific superhero comics often. They are the inevitable and our destruction is also inevitable. You can't fight the future.

In 30 minutes, I'll begin discussing The Programme...

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Blogathon 40: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Five

[Continuing my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

Ultimately, the question comes down to what does being superhuman mean. What is the proper use of power? I've already said that, for humanity, the perfect amount is where you're the Powers That Be's bitch. Do the dirty work, don't ask questions, and don't rock the boat. Be Superman (er, most of the time). But, even then, Marvel and DC have implied conceptions of what being a superhuman means. Black Summer is a Marvel conception twisted, while No Hero is DC twisted. Marvel features superhumans that are too human; DC features superhumans that are inhuman often -- near lifeless icons. That's where Supergod stands out. There is no natural conception of the superhuman as non-human, as something completely divorced from all human thought and inner life. And, yet, it seems so natural and obvious when you stop and think about it. I mostly wonder if it would be possible to establish a shared universe populated by superhumans that are non-human.

Then again, to relate this to an earlier conversation: would Superman actually qualify under these conditions? Does, for example, Grant Morrison's Superman actually think like a human? His viewpoint of the world is skewed and different from most humans. Ellis applies the conception of non-human superhumans to the idea that they would be destructive or consider humanity irrelevant. That's not guaranteed, though. Isn't it possible that non-human thinking could lead to the view that all life is sacred and worth protecting? That every life is irreplaceable and all important? That even those who try to destroy you are worthwhile and should be treated with kindness and meant to be reformed? After all, I made the joke about that version of Superman basically being SuperJesus and wasn't Jesus meant to be God? Ellis draws heavily on the Old Testament conception of God but ignores the New Testament. Must a God be destructive?

Superman doesn't fullfil the role, honestly, because he chooses not to occupy it. He's much more like Carick Masterson: superhuman in nature, but human in his brain and heart. He's limited by his humanity, which is why he occupies a state of inhumanity. He is above and equal. I said that Clark Kent is the balance and that's his limitation.Whereas, a hero like Spider-Man is rooted in humanity. If both were to take their ideals too far, Superman would conquer the world, while Spider-Man would take down figures of authority. It's not simply a matter of the scope of power, it's a matter of perspective. No Hero is almost a remix of Squadron Supreme, a book with a group based on the Justice League, you'll recall. Those characters are so powerful and shiny and perfect that they're stuck in that inhuman position, not human and human. No wonder Marvel is the company that people 'relate' to: it's heroes are so rooted in humanity.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

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Blogathon 39: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Four

[Continuing my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

Krishna is created by the Indians to help solve its problems. Embued with radical powers, it looks at the population problem in India and begins killing people. It allows a nuclear weapon to be detonated because nuclear winter will cool the planet down. To save India, it will tear it down and rebuild it. Three astronauts return to Britain fused as a spore alien god that people have to take medication when near because fungi will grow in them. Scientists worship the three-headed fungus god. It's not a simple matter of these things being gods, it's that we turn them into gods. When the Indians built Krishna, they designed him to be their god. In an extended speech in issue three, the three-headed god delivers a speech about his role, summing up an argument that there's a genetic need in humans to create gods, something that activates a pleasure centre in our brains that will bring us together and help us to work as a community. He summarises the argument as such: "I am your stash." It's a disturbing idea.

That superhumans would be seen as or treated as gods is nothing new. That they would think differently isn't new either. What sets Supergod apart is the degree to which Ellis applies these ideas. They seem inescapable: there is no situation where we would not treat superhumans as gods and no situation where they would not think radically different from us. Even someone like Jerry Craven, the American super-soldier, is something that's alien. He's eventually sent to kill Krishna, but looks around, decides that Krishna has done right and that he wants to stay with Krishna. He was a man treated as a god and, as such, he didn't react or act as expected.

I've been struggling to figure out exactly how the ideas of Supergod could be applied ever since it came out. Ellis presents a fairly direct story that leads to the end of the world because superhumans think so differently. But, where else could this sort of story lead? If superhumans are so alien, so different in thought and deed, what story could possibly be told featuring this conception of them? In a similar limitation to Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen. His apathy and distance is what makes that story work to a degree. If he took a more active interest in the events unfolding, the story would fall apart.

Then again, one can rarely apply radically or new ideas to mainstream superhero comics. That doesn't mean that other comics can't benefit from the lessons of these three comics.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

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Blogathon 38: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Three

[Continuing my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

Carver, while appearing to be everything Masterson would want in his group, is really a severely damaged person whose parents were killed by a serial killer. Raised by the same serial killer, he's since become property of the FBI and is kept in a box until it's time to send him out and kill people. He's an expert at adapting to stay alive, to fit in, and it's only when he takes FX7, the drug that gives people superpowers, that we see him for what he really is: a freakish, twisted monster. The drug makes his skin fall off, his penis fall off, his teeth fall out, and he's left this blue, scabby thing that is the stuff of nightmares. You expect him, by Ellis's description of No Hero to be the inhuman one, and, to an extent, he is. However, by the end, the way he kills Masterson (or, rather, sticks in space) and himself, there's something sad and human about him. He's just happy to finally be able to choose something. It may be his own death, but he's lived in a world ruled by a man who fucked the wounds of people he killed, a world ruled by the FBI, and a world ruled by Carick Masterson. He never had a choice before. Masterson says that Josh is the villain of the story when he's just a pawn caught between two bad guys. Masterson is a selfish prick, while the governments working together to elimate Masterson and the Frontline are fools. They didn't know how essential the superhumans were, how much control they had, and the series ends with snippets of news reports about various global disasters that the Frontline stopped from happening before. Things from the stock market crashing to keeping countries disarmed to tectonic plates shifting. It's a chilling ending that offers little in the way of comfort or answers.

Black Summer ended in a similar fashion with the voice of Tom Black talking about his friend John Horus and the crimes of those that he killed. Whereas No Hero ends in a chilling way where you can't help but think everyone gets what's coming to them, Black Summer's ending is simply sad. Horus is dead, Black is dead, and the world is worse off. It's not doomed, it's simply worse off and it could have been prevented if these men actually thought a little bigger. Black wallowed in self-pity; he retired after he lost a leg and his lover was killed. But, had he stayed in the Seven Guns, what could have changed? Would he have kept Horus in line? Would he have come up with a better plan of action? Where No Hero is a story of the corrupt, Black Summer is a story of the stupid.

In that respect, Black Summer and Supergod have something in common. Supergod is filled with narrow-minded stupidity as people fail to consider the consequences of their actions. The people who create superhumans never consider that what they make won't think like them, that those powers will offer more expedient methods than available for humanity. It's like they read a bunch of comics and assume that building a superhuman would mean some nice guy in a tight costume that rescues cats from trees. Instead, they got gods that they couldn't help but worship and couldn't help but fear. Alien presences that immediately don't feel right. Alien minds that we can't fully comprehend.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 37: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part Two

[Continuing my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

That fundamental difference between the two groups and their central leader figures, John Horus and Carick Masterson, leads to the problem in each respective series. Masterson doesn't age and can't die. What would that do to a person? Would it make him cold and devoted to controlling his environment completely? So, he took over the world secretly, controlling things from behind the scenes in ways that no one knew. That a collection of nations target him and his group alone shows how well protected his position is. He's no longer human and maintains his basic humanity to the degree that he still thinks like a human; meaning, he thinks himself as something more than human without actually progressing to the point where he's not actually human anymore. That's where the idea of ruling the world so he can live in comfort comes from. Granted, it also allows him and his group to keep things under control, it's mostly about the power and the profit. As he puts it: "[...] THE MORE PEOPLE ALIVE THERE ARE, THE MORE PEOPLE THERE ARE TO EARN MONEY THAT WILL EVENTUALLY BE GIVEN TO ME. / ALSO, THE MORE PEOPLE THERE ARE TO BREED GIRLS WHOM I WILL EVENTUALLY FUCK." It a callous attitude, one that is contemptable, but rooted in the idea of a man who will not age nor die. In a sense, he's trapped somewhere between humanity and true superhumanity. Physically, he's a superhuman, but, mentally, he's a human. Together, they make him inhuman.

By contrast, John Horus operates within the system to a degree. It doesn't occur to him to secretly take over the world and make things right that way. It just occurs to him to kill the president and his advisors for arranging an illegal war. Basically, what if a superhuman killed Bush for Iraq? He wants to serve his fellow man and that means working within established systems. He doesn't see himself as something better than human; John Horus is a human who happens to have the best tool to fight injustice. He does what he thinks anyone in his position would (or should) do. That's his failing: he is better than humanity. He's developed such sophisticated weaponry that that technology actually raises him to another level. He had other means of enacting change than just killing someone. It's something so narrow-minded and focused that it ignores how people tend to react to that sort of thing.

Of course, with these two men on either side, what's the proper middle ground? Considering yourself above humanity and deciding to take on what you think is best is inhuman, but considering yourself just another person is being too human. Where should these two have landed? The failing of these books is that Ellis offers criticism but no solutions. Where is the proper place to land? Supergod shows that being truly different from huamanity leads to death and destruction, so that's not the answer either.

There is no answer beyond the most obvious one: superhumanity cannot function alongside humanity unless it is willing to bow to the wishes of humanity. That's how superheroes like Superman operate: they colour inside the lines and stick to the laws established by man and don't rock the boat. The minute you do that, you almost need to be willing to kill anyone that gets in your way and utterly debase humanity, making sure they're under your thumb completely. Secretly ruling the world isn't enough -- it needs to be explicit. And things need to be made better. Part of being better than humanity is acting better than humanity. That means not falling prey to the same vices and faults as humanity. Wanting power for the sake of money and sex? That should be beneath someone above humanity. Just killing the people at the top of a corrupt system and expecting everyone to applaud you? Hopelessly naive.

The roles of Tom Black and Joshua Carver fill the same roles in their respective books: the men who take down John Horus and Carrick Masterson. Both do it out of recognition of where things went wrong. How they go about is interesting. Black does it because he's disappointed. Horus failed to live up to his expectations. Carver does it because it's his job, because he's crazy, and because the idea of someone controlling everything offends him.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 36: Of Humanity and Superhumanity Part One

[Beginning my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar Press (Black Summer, No Hero, and Supergod).]

Note: I've written about these books before and two posts are worth checking out before continuing: Black Summer #7 and No Hero #6.
Black Summer was about superhumans who were too human. No Hero was about superhumans who were inhuman. Supergod is about superhumans who are no longer human at all, but something else.

--Warren Ellis

These comics make up a thematic trilogy, not a plot trilogy. Each story stands on its own and function on a larger scale when placed next to one another. Even then, Black Summer and No Hero offer the best chance for direct comparison, both structured the same with seven proper issue and a shortened 'zero issue' that begins their respective stories. Both are drawn by Juan Jose Ryp and both begin with a group of superhumans that began with the simple goal of cleaning up their corrupt city. Where they diverge is interesting. Supergod, on the other hand, has Garrie Gastonny on art, is five issues, and deals with superhumans on a global scale, specifically built and directed by nations. Whereas the first two series begin extremely locally and expand, Supergod begins on that level. But, Ellis provides a framework of sort for understanding these three stories and how they relate to one another.

In the most basic terms: John Horus, the superhuman in Black Summer that starts everything by killing the president, his advisors, and whoever tried to stop him, is too human. He steps over the line many have of how far would you go to see justice done, because he cares that much. And because he's so human, he can't see that there are better ways to accomplish his goals. In No Hero, it comes down to control. Carrick Masterson created superhumans with a drug and used that power to secretly take over the world. He's brought down by an insane man sent in to destroy the Frontline on behalf of a multinational group. Masterson's casualness about ruling the world is meant to be inhuman, but so is Joshua Carver's ability to infiltrate the group and slaughter them when presented the chance. In Supergod, superhumans are created and think nothing like humans. They are different and those differences cause death and destruction.

Black Summer and No Hero are two sides of the same coin, and Supergod is something else entirely. I think the first two are good superhero stories, while the third is a genuinely important and worthwhile work that's been ignored at the detriment of future superhero fiction. So, of course, I'll start with the two books that are closely related.

The starting place in these fictional universes for superhumans is the same: a group of people that want to clean up a corrupt city. How they go about creating superhumans is one of the key differences. In Black Summer, the Seven Guns use technological enhancements that maintain their basic humanity and augment their physical abilities; in No Hero, the Levellers/Frontline take a drug that alters their bodies and, possibly, their minds. On one side, you have Iron Man and every other basically human 'superhumans' who use their wits to make themselves more, but in a manner that's apart from them. On the other, you have mutants or Spider-Man, the types that are changed forever and are no longer human anymore. That disconnect is the thing that separates the Levellers/Frontline from the Seven Guns. While the Seven Guns can choose to see themselves above humanity, there's always something that holds them back and keeps them grounded to a degree. They're still humans. Disarm their guns and they're no different than you or I. The Levellers/Frontline are superhumans always.

To be continued in 30 minutes...

We're also up to $349.99!

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 35: Raymond Chandler's Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story: New X-Men - Murder at the Mansion (Part Two)

[Concluding my application of Raymond Chandler's "Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story" to the New X-Men story "Murder at the Mansion."]


1. The perfect detective story cannot be written. The type of mind which can evolve the perfect problem is not the type of mind that can produce the artistic job of writing. It would be nice to have Dashiell Hammett and Austin Freeman in the same book, but it just isn't possible. Hammett couldn't have the plodding patience and Freeman couldn't have the verve for narrative. They don't go together. Even a fair compromise such as Dorothy Sayers is less satisfying than the two types taken separately.

This is not a perfect mystery. There's the big hole of motivation. It's also rather compressed, done in only two issues and solved with relative ease. While enjoyable, it's not the type of story to set the world on fire either.

2. The most effective way to conceal a simple mystery is behind another mystery. This is litrary legerdemain. You do not fool the reader by hiding clues or faking character [ala] Christie but by making him solve the wrong problem.

If anything, in the larger scope of Morrison's run on New X-Men, this mystery is the mystery that conceals another. Who attacked Sage? That's the larger mystery of the entire run in a way. Since this mystery is but a part of the whole, it functions a little differently than most mysteries.

3. It has been said that "nobody cares about the corpse." This is bunk. It is throwing away a valuable element. It is like saying the murder of your aunt means no more to you than the murder of an unknown man in an unknown part of a city you never visited.

Emma Frost was a central character until this point. In the issue that ends with her being shot, we get a detailed window into her past. We care. We care a lot.

4. Flip dialogue is not wit.

Unless it's in character to be overly flip, that's not the type of dialogue Morrison writes.

5. A mystery serial does not make a good mystery novel. The "curtains" depend for their effect on your not having the next chapter to read at once. In book form these curtains give the effect of a false suspense and tend to be merely irritating. The magazines have begun to find that out.

Since this mystery is told over two issues (with the 'death' in the previous issue), there's only one cliffhanger and not really any 'curtains.' It's a smooth read between chapters.

6. Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery story because it creates a type of suspense that is antagonistic and not complementary to the detective's struggle to solve the problem. The kind of love interest that works is the one that complicates the problem by adding to the detective's troubles but which at the same time you instinctively feel will not survive the story. A really good detective never gets married. He would lose his detachment, and this detachment is part of his charm.

There's no love interest.

7. The fact that love interest is played up in the big magazines and on the screen doesn't make it artistic. Women are supposed to be the target of magazine fiction and movies. The magazines are not interested in mystery writing as an art. They are not interested in any kind of writing as an art.

Uh, yeah... let's move on...

8. The hero of the mystery story is the detective. Everything hangs on his personality. If he hasn't one, you have very little. And you have very few really good mystery stories. Naturally.

Bishop is hard-nosed, but also has a softer edge. He's a bit of a badass. He's mostly about the business. His personality isn't overwhelming, but I wouldn't call him the 'hero' of the story either. He's part of the team of heroes, so he doesn't carry the burden of the story alone.

9. The criminal cannot be the detective. This is an old rule and has once in a while been violated successfully, but it is sound as it ever was. For this reason: the detective by tradition and definition is the seeker of truth. He can't be that if he already knows the truth. There is an implied guarantee to the reader that the detective is on the level.

The criminal is not the detective.

10. The same remark applies to the story where the first-person narrator is the criminal. I should personally have to qualify this by saying that for me the first-person narration can always be accused of subtle dishonesty because of its appearance of candor and its ability to suppress the detective's ratiocination while giving a clear account of his words and acts. Which opens up the much larger question of what honesty really is in this context; is it not a matter of degree rather an absolute? I think it is and always will be. Regardless of the candor of the first-person narrative there comes a time when the detective has made up his mind and yet does not communicate this to the reader. He holds some of his thinking for the denouement or explanation. He tells the facts but not the reaction in his mind to those facts. Is this a permissible convention of deceit? It must be; otherwise the detective telling his own story could not have solved the problem in advance of the technical denouement. Once in a lifetime a story such as The Big Sleep holds almost nothing back; the denouement is an action which the reader meets as soon as the detective. The theorizing from that action follows immediately. There is only a momentary concealment of the fact that Marlowe loaded the gun with blanks when he gave it to Carmen down by the oil sump. But even this is tipped off to the reader when he says, "If she missed the can, which she was certain to do, she would probably hit the wheel. That would stop a small slug completely. However she wasn't going to hit even that." He doesn't say why, but the action follows so quickly that you don't feel any real concealment.

This isn't a story told in the first-person. There are no narrative captions. Everything is told through dialogue.

11. The murderer must not be a loony. The murderer is not a murderer unless he commits murder in the legal sense.

Esme is misguided, but not crazy.

12. There is, as has been said, no real possibility of absolute perfection [in writing a mystery story]. Why? For two main reasons, of which has been stated aboved in Addenda Note 1. The second is the attitude of the reader himself. Readers are of too many kinds and too many levels of culture. The puzzle addict, for instance, regards the story as a contest of wits between himself and the writer; if he guesses the solution, he has won, even though he could not document his guess or justify it by solid reasoning. There is something of this competitive spirit in all readers, but the reader in whom it predominates sees no value beyond the game of guessing the solution. There is the reader, again, whose whole interest is in sensation, sadism, cruelty, blood, and the element of death. Again there is some in all of us, but the reader in whom it predominates will care nothing for the so-called deductive story, however meticulous. A third class of reader is the worrier-about-the-characters; this reader doesn't care so much about the solution; what really gets her upset is the chance that the silly little heroine will get her neck twisted on the spiral staircase. Fourth, and most important, there is the intellectual literate reader who reads mysteries because they are almost the only kind of fiction that does not get too big for its boots. This reader savors style, characterization, plot twists, all the virtuosities of the writing much more than he bothers about the solution. You cannot satisfy all these readers completely. To do so involves contradictory elements. I, in the role of reader, almost never try to guess the solution to a mystery. I simply don't regard the contest between the writer and myself as important. To be frank I regard it as the amusement of an inferior type of mind.

This story definitely caters to the inner mystery nut, but also those that simply enjoy the writing of Grant Morrison. More than the rest of his run, the emphasis here is on the mystery, so it leans towards that direction more than other stories in the run.

13. As has been suggested above, all fiction depends on some form of suspense. But the study of the mechanics of that extreme type called menace reveals the curious psychological duality of the mind of a reader or audience which makes it possible on the one hand to be terrified about what is hiding behind the door and at the same time to know that the heroine or leading lady is not going to be murdered once she is established as the heroine or leading lady. If the character played by Claudette Colbert is in awful danger, we also know absolutely that Miss Colbert is not going to be hurt for the simple reason that she is Miss Colbert. How does the audience's mind get upset by menace in view of this clear knowledge? Of the many possible reasons I suggest two. The reaction to visual images and sounds, or their evocation in descriptive writing, is independent of reasonableness. The primitive element of fear is never far from the surface of our thoughts; anything that calls to it can defeat reason for the time being. Hence menace makes its appeal to a very ancient and very irrational emotion. Few men are beyond its influence. The other reason I suggest is that in any intense kind of literary or other projection the part is greater than the whole. The scene before the eyes dominates the thought of the audience; the normal individual makes no attempt to reconcile it with the pattern of the story. He is swayed by what is in the actual scene. When you have finished the book, it may, not necessarily will, fall into focus as a whole and be remembered by its merit so considered; but for the time of reading, the chapter is the dominating factor. The vision of the emotional imagination is very short but also very intense.

There's no guarantee that every character is walking away. While Emma Frost is brought back, it's not beyond reason that when we see Sage with a gun pointed at her that she'll get shot. She's a character that hasn't shown up in Morrison's run yet and it's possible that he has permission to kill her off. As well, with many characters created by him, there's less holding him back from killing them than most Marvel characters.

All in all, "Murder at the Mansion" mostly fulfills Chandler's criteria; the lack of a motive for Esme's actions given in the story itself is the most glaring flaw, but it's one explained away by this being a part of a larger story.

In 30 minutes, I'll begin my discussion of Warren Ellis's superhuman trilogy from Avatar.

Also, the donations have hit $345! That's the most money I've raised in any Blogathon. But, don't let that stop you from donating.

[Don't forget to donate what you can to the Hero Initiative! (Details in this post.) After you do, let me know via comment or e-mail (found at the righthand side) so I can keep track of donations -- and who to thank.]

Blogathon 34: Raymond Chandler's Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story: New X-Men - Murder at the Mansion (Part One)

[The first of two posts where I'll apply Raymond Chandler's "Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story" to the New X-Men storyarc "Murder at the Mansion."]

Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story (Revised April 18, 1948)

1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the denouement; it must consist of the plausible actions of plausible people in plausible circumstances, it being remembered that plausibility is largely a matter of style. This requirement rules out most trick endings and a great many "closed circle" stories in which the least likely character is forcibly made over into the criminal, without convincing anybody. It also rules out such elaborate mises-en-scene as Christie's Murder in a Calais Coach, where the whole setup for the crime requires such a fluky set of happenings that it could never seem real.

In this respect, the story fails. We get an explanation from Esme as to why she telepathically controlled Angel into shooting Emma Frost: Emma wanted her to be like her and she's not, not at all. That Angel pulled the trigger under the mental control of someone else is a good motivation, but we don't get Esme's true motive here. The mystery is solved except for 'why.'

2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection. No fantastic poisons or improper effects from poison such as death from nonfatal doses, etc. No use of silencers on revolvers (they won't work) or snakes climbing bellropes ("The Speckled Band"). Such things at once destroy the foundation of the story. If the detective is a trained policeman, he must act like one, and have the mental and physical equipment that go with the job. If he is a private investigator or amateur, he must at least know enough about police methods not to make an ass of himself. When a policeman is made out to be a fool, as he always was on the Sherlock Holmes stories, this not only depreciates the accomplishment of the detective but it makes the reader doubt the author's knowledge of his own field. Conan Doyle and Poe were primitives in this art and stand in relation to the best modern writers as Giotto does to da Vinci. They did things which are no longer permissible and exposed ignorances that are no longer tolerated. Also, police art, itself, was rudimentary in their time. "The Purloined Letter" would not fool a modern cop for four minutes. Conan Doyle showed no knowledge whatever of the organization of Scotland Yard's men. Christie commits the same stupidities in our time, but that doesn't make them right. Contrast Austin Freeman, who wrote a story about a forged fingerprint ten years before police method realized such things could be done.

It's not a complicated mystery to figure out and the people doing the investigating, Bishop and Sage, do a credible job. They interview possible witnesses, lock down the mansion, and solve the mystery in relative short order.

3. It must be honest with the reader. This is always said, but the implications are not realized. Important facts not only must not be concealed, they must not be distorted by false emphasis. Unimportant facts must not be projected in such a way as to make them portentous. (This creation of red herrings and false menace out of trick camera work and mood shots if the typical Hollywood mystery picture cheat.) Inferences from the facts are the detective's stock in trade; but he should disclose enough to keep the reader's mind working. It is arguable, although not certain, that inferences arising from special knowledge (e.g., Dr. Thorndyke) are a bit of a cheat, because the basic theory of all good mystery writing is that at some stage not too late in the story the reader did have the materials to solve the problem. If specal scientific knowledge was necessary to interpret the facts, the reader did not have the solution unless he had the special knowledge. It may have been Austin Freeman's feeling about this that led him to the invention of the inverted detective story, in which the reader knows the solution from the beginning and takes his pleasure from watching the detective trace it out a step at a time.

Within the confines of this story, I don't think it's entirely honest with the reader. Key facts are hidden, like who points a gun at Sage and then erases her memory. There's a big clue in her first spoken words "Sun in a box!" but that's it. It's a key part of the mystery and to Esme's motives, but it's left out. Otherwise, we learn everything basically at the same time as Bishop and Sage. The only big leap is to Esme, but that can be explained by telepathic traces or something like that. The time jump between them learning it and us learning it when they confront Esme is standard in mystery stories.

4. It must be realistic as to character, setting, and atmosphere. It must be about real people in the real world. Very few mystery writers have any talent for character work, but that doesn't mean it is not necessary. It makes the difference between the story you reread and remember and the one you skim through and almost instantly forget. Those like Valentine Williams who say the problem overrides everything are merely trying to cover up their own inability to create character.

There are plenty of 'real' characters here. Beak confessing to protect the mother of his weird little hatchlings. The role of the Kick drugs and Esme's anger at Emma Frost are true to that character as the 'black sheep' of the Stepford Cuckoos. Bishop and Sage are professional, a little cold, but definitely true to how they've usually been presented. So much of this mystery is rooted in the characters and their weird little problems. In fact, less character would make it a whole lot simpler.

5. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element; i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.

It's a Grant Morrison comic. "Does it have value beyond the basic plot and solution to the mystery?" Yes. Yes, it does. It's an entertaining little read where he used a couple of characters he hadn't yet and planted seeds for the upcoming bigger stories to conclude his run on the book.

6. To achieve this it must have some form of suspense, even if only intellectual. This does not mean menace and especially it does not mean that the detective must be menaced by grave personal danger. This last is a trend and like all trends will exhaust itself by overimitation. Nor need the reader be kept hanging on the edge of his chair. The overplotted story can be dull too; too much shock may result in numbness to shock. But there must be conflict, physical, ethical or emotional, and there must be some element of danger in the broadest sense of the word.

There's suspense in whether or not Emma will stay dead; suspense in the idea that someone at the school would shoot a teacher; suspense in the myster surrounding the drug Kick; suspense surrounding Beak's false confession. And, of course, suspense when someone points a gun at one of the detectives.

7. It must have color, lift, and a reasonable amount of dash. It takes an awful lot of technical adroitness to compensate for a dull style, although it has been done, especially in England.

Morrison is anything but dull.

8. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes. (This is possibly the most often violated of all the rules). The ideal denouement is one in which everything is revealed in a flash of action. This is rare because ideas that good are always rare. The explanation need not be very short (except on the screen), and often it cannot be short; but it must be interesting in itself, it must be something the reader is anxious to hear, and not a new story with a new set of characters, dragged in to justify an overcomplicated plot. Above all the explanation must not be merely a long-winded assembling of minute circumstances which no ordinary reader could possibly be expected to remember. To make the solution dependent on this is a kind of unfairness, since here again the reader did not have the solution within his grasp, in any practical sense. To expect him to remember a thousand trivialities and from them to select that three that are decisive is as unfair as to expect him to have a profound knowledge of chemistry, metallurgy, or the mating habits of the Patagonian anteater.

Because we don't get Esme's complete motive, this doesn't work entirely. It falls apart until that point: Esme telepathically controlled Angel into shooting Emma Frost because [no reason]. How we get this information is almost in a comedy of errors and then a more traditional confrontation, all of it interesting with a dash of suspense.

9. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader. This opens up a very difficult question. Some of the best detective stories ever written (those of Austin Freeman, for example) seldom baffle an intelligent reader to the end. But the reader does not guess the complete solution and could not himself have made a logical demonstration of it. Since readers are of many minds, some will guess a cleverly hidden murder and some will be fooled by the most transparent plot. (Could the "Red-Headed League" ever really fool a modern reader?) It is not necessary or even possible to fool to the hilt the real aficionado of mystery fiction. A mystery story that consistently did that and was honest would be unintelligible to the average fan; he simply would not know what the story was all about. But there must be some important elements of the story that elude the most penetrating reader.

Did anyone guess 'Esme with the pistol in Angel's brain?' No? Okay, it fooled people.

10. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed. This is the least often emphasized element of a good mystery, but it is one of the important elements of all fiction. It is not enough merely to fool or elude or sidestep the reader; you must make him feel that he ought not to have been fooled and that the fooling was honorable.

I'm not sure it satisfies this requirement. With the motive missing, there's nothing inevitable about the solution. While simple to explain, it's also too convoluted to fit this criteria even if we knew the motive.

11. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance. An atmosphere of terror destroys logical thinking; if the story is about the intricate psychological pressures that lead apparently ordinary people to commit murder, it cannot then switch to the cool analysis of the police investigator. The detective cannot be hero and menace at the same time; the murderer cannot be a tormented victim of circumstance and also a heavy.

I think this is straight forward enough: a variation on the locked room mystery with a straight ahead investigation. Esme, though, tries to play the victim and the heavy, but that works. She tries one tact until it doesn't work and, then, switches to the other.

12. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law. Contrary to popular (and Johnston Office) belief, this requirement has nothing much to do with morality. It is a part of the logic of detection. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.

There is no punishment here.

To be continued with Chandler's addenda in 30 minutes...

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Blogathon 33: Dreaming Us Part Five

[Concluding my discussion of Omega the Unknown.]

In the final issue of Omega the Unknown, only two word balloons appear. Otherwise, it's a silent issue (some words on TV screens also show up). Mostly, it's a wrap-up issue that relies exlusively on Farel Dalrymple's art to tell the story. In some ways, it's reminiscent of those 'Nuff Said issues Marvel did back in the early 2000s that were completely silent (though plenty of writers found a way around that). For the most part, the issue shows how, after 'Omega' blew up most of the robots, leaving an omega-shaped crater, the good guys spread the salt via foodcarts and the robots try to deliver objects that will infect new people. The war isn't totally over, but there's enough salt out there to give humanity a chance. All of our characters get their little moment, their kind of happy ending. Alex is left with his robots, two of which look like the copies of his parents. He also throws his costume and Omega book into the river. He doesn't need to be the hero, because he already was and it worked.

What I'm left with are the final pages where we see 'Omega' skinnier than ever, disheveled, homeless, and in a wheelchair. Ultimately, he's taken underground where the homeless people have created their own version of the Mink's gameshow with a former classmate of his who was homeless, then a pawn of the robots, and now free takes on the role of the Mink. The set is like Hollywood Squares and the wheelchair-bound 'Omega' is put in a square. We zoom in on his eye and eventually see the Nowhere Man with his jar that leads to the Nowh-Area, which we enter to see the words 'the end.'

What the fuck?

His place in the 'squares' is to the right hand of the 'Mink,' the remembered and celebrated hero. 'Omega' is simply an unknown, a man that people have some vague awareness of -- or thought has died. So, he sits at the right hand of the real hero... or his stand-in. To live out the rest of his sad existence in obscurity -- in nowhere. He began as an unknown and he winds up as 'Omega the Unknown.' Except, of course, no words are spoken and he doesn't even warrant that name. In the end, life goes on and the hero is forgotten...

In 30 minutes, the first of two posts where I'll apply Raymond Chandler's "Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story" to Grant Morrison's New X-Men story "Murder at the Mansion."

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Blogathon 32: Dreaming Us Part Four

[Continuing my discussion of Omega the Unknown.]

So, the Gary Panter issue...

He draws the cover and five pages of the seventh issue. The pages he draws are meant to be a comic drawn by 'Omega' that tells the story of the struggle: innocent happy creatures live on a planet, spaceships come and kill them and use giant robots; the same thing happens on another world; and another; another world's populace observe what's happened and create the Omega warrior to defend the planet; after he's succeeded, he shakes a politician's hand and nanorobots enter his body and kill him; an entire group of different aliens wear the Omega costumes and fire beams out of their hands at a big ball of robots. It's a neat little five pages that stand out and serve a function. If anything, I think they're more notable than anything for being an example of Panter working for Marvel. That alone is enough to make certain people shit themselves with surprise/shock/glee/horror/other emotions. The final panel of the fourth page, of the first Omega, his face melting from the nanorobots as he looks up is the one that sticks with me. It's so striking and heartbreaking. He sends out his powers to the universe to fight the robots with his dying breath...

The idea of an 'Omega Corps' at war with the robots is an interesting one, especially when they introduce Sillman Renfrew, Earth's previous Omega before Alex. We see an overweight, bearded man in a tube whose story is sung to us by Verth the Overthinker (the sometimes narrator and sentient statue in the park across the street from Alex's new apartment). He's a man who rejected his powers and heritage, drifting around, eventually winding up part of a small crew of conmen, eventually taken to the Mink's labyrynth, made into his sidekick and killed in a mission. Because of his rejection of the Omega's role on Earth, Alex was a last ditch effort to make sure Earth wasn't left unprotected. Now, to me, this supports the idea that the unknown 'Omega' is Alex from the future. Without him, there's no way Alex would have discovered his true self in time to stop the robots. He obviously comes from a future where the robots won and his traveling back in time is a last-ditch effort to save humanity. That's kind of weird.

The use of song by the Overthinker is one of the technical tricks used in the series. Like Panter's pages, the Overthink often comes with little tricks. Like closing the curtains on the issue or guiding us through the events. The song is one of the odder ones and it doesn't entirely work for me. Then again, I find songs in fiction with no music hard to get into. Without the tune, what's the point?

In 30 mintues, I'll conclude my discussion of Omega the Unknown with some thoughts on the final issue.

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Blogathon 31: Dreaming Us Part Three

[Continuing my discussion of Omega the Unknown.]

If 'Omega the Unknown' is the selfless hero, the Unparalleled Mink is the selfish hero. Self-centred, corrupt, more concerned about public image than getting the job done, and oddly focused on finding things to put in the labyrynth he had built in his headquarters. We've seen heroes in it for the fame and fortune before, but none have ever seemed quite so skeevy, quite so talented at making themselves look good despite being bad at it. His banter during fights is laughable with bon mots like "Note to self: the harder they fall, etcetera, full stop." He travels from mission to mission in a van with a support crew that seems to focus mostly on making sure there's media present to see the Mink in action. The first time we see him, he sticks Alex's robot mom's head on a car engine, hoping to use the battery to make it work and simply fries it. He begins dating the nurse who's taken in Alex so he can keep a closer eye on him. Issue five has him take Alex to a baseball game in an attempt to talk to him and he's such a jerk. Total jerk. Just a person who talks shit. Everything that comes out of his mouth is shit.

So, he's a pretty fun character.

But, he's not entirely selfish. He loses his hand to the robots (a hand that then grows big enough to grow legs and command the robots) and, in the end, dies to subdue it. That veering between heroics and selfishness make the character interesting. He has the desire to help people. There are a lot easier ways to make money and get fame than becoming a superhero. That underlying nobility is there somewhere; it's just buried under shit. Piles and piles of shit. He's a douchebag bully that's grown up to become a bully for justice and money. His best friend is a city councilman that works with him to make sure they both get paid and laid.

His role in the book, besides entertainment, is to represent the capitalist side of society. This is partly a war between mass produced products and homemade, locally owned products. There's a discussion about brands in one issue that's key. The robots' nanovirus is spread through a burger chain, while it's food carts that spread the antedote with a food truck/minister leading the way with 'Omega' at his side. It's greed that allows the robots to spread so easily. They get Fonzie (the Mink's best friend) through a gold chain and the Mink through a statue/action figure of himself (he cuts off his hand to prevent the spread). The Mink is the hero that enables the takeover in a way. His mentality is the disease -- greed that makes everyone the same. All of his henchmen dress like him, all submerging their identities to the Mink. He's not dissimilar from the robots.

But, he redeems himself in the end. He actually goes out a hero.

In 30 minutes, I'll continue my discussion of Omega the Unknown.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogathon 30: Dreaming Us Part Two

[Continuing my discussion of Omega the Unknown.]

Who is 'Omega the Unknown?' Drawing upon the original series, the version by Jonathan Letehm, Karl Rusnak, and Farel Dalrymple never explains who he is. He looks human, but doesn't speak. He goes about his business and refuses to eat anything he didn't kill himself, preferably a bird of some kind. He has some sort of connection to Alex that we assume later is that they're both Omegas. In the first issue we see that his ship has crashed on Earth... but does that make him an alien? The first narration caption of the comic says "You've been here before, however much you might like to pretend otherwise."

Is this Omega Alex from the future come back in time to save the world? That's what makes sense to me. Is that a spaceship or a time machine? Who built the robots? Are these the robots that Alex builds at the end of the series and they follow him back in time -- or maybe go back in time themselves? There's probably no right answer. It reminds me of the theory someone came up with that Woody Allen's character in Anything Else is actually Jason Biggs's character come back in time to make sure his younger self moves to Los Angeles and gets away from the soul-crushing people that destroyed his own youth. Is this Alex from the future come back to change the past? To give his younger self and his friends the tools they need to defeat the robots? The two look incredibly similar.

If that theory is correct, how much of a bummer is the ending to the series? It's already a bit of a bummer with the broken down Omega homeless and suffering flashbacks, but to end up in a wheelchair as part of an underground homeless version of a game show all because you came to the past to save the world?

Then again, look at the title: he's the unknown Omega. We don't know who he is. He's the hero the world needs and the inspiration Alex needs. He sacrifices himself and his mind for the world and, given the choice, would do so again. He's pretty much the definition of a selfless hero. He asks for nothing except the means to fight the good fight. Who he is doesn't really matter, because he's just the job as far as we see. (But, he's totally future Alex...)

In 30 minutes, I'll look at at the polar opposite of a selfless hero...

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