Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Smell You Later

Babies, I'm gonna take a few months off from writing about comics here, so I can concentrate on the boatload of other projects I've got going. Please be sure to check back as I continue to add to the ever-expanding list of links to your right, and/or check out the links below here for more of my Internet presence.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Just-World Fallacy

As you may or may not know, I've never been much of a fan of The Walking Dead. Could be I tried the first three trades and didn't find it to my liking, could be I've about O.D.'ed on zombie stories, could be I'm just one of those assholes that dislikes things that are popular just because they are popular. Regardless. Lucky for you readers of the ol' AC, my dear friend Matthew C. Funk happens to be not only a fan of said book, but a hell of a writer, too. And as such, I asked him to convince me to give this book another chance, and my friends, I fear he has succeeded. Read his article below and see why exactly.

The Walking Dead

Spoiler alert: Everyone dies at the end.

True fact. Don’t let Stephenie Meyer sell you on wet dreams of sparkly immortality. Everybody’s going to bite the big one sooner or later. That’s life, as they say.

The Walking Dead throws this fact at your face from page one by having the central protagonist, Deputy Rick Grimes, laid out by a near-mortal shotgun blast. Written by Robert Kirkman and with art by Tony Moore and then Charlie Adelard, The Walking Dead is a black-and-white graphic statement that The End isn’t just Nigh—it’s already here and will take you when it damn well pleases. To get the technical tips of the cap out of the way, I’ll point out that Kirkman’s dialogue plays it straight, like a pared-down Bendis, letting his characters wax large in vernacular over their inner thoughts. And Adelard, the main source of ink for the series, has a style straight out of an EC Horror Comics flashback. This is no bite size Tale from the Crypt, though. The Walking Dead goes for epic.

It may be headed for that recognition—now with a 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series under its belt and an AMC TV drama, created by The Mist’s Frank Darrabont, on the way. In The Mist, Darrabont inflicted the most emotional desolate ending in recent cinema history, and so may have the chops to do the kind of damage that The Walking Dead demands.

The first fatality taken in the series is civilization.

For those unfamiliar with the plot or unable to deduce it from the title due to a recent head injury, know that The Walking Dead is a Zombie Apocalypse book. It popped onto shelves under the Image Comics label around the time Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide was getting heat, but the subject couldn’t be less similar. In The Walking Dead, we follow Deputy Rick as he ambles through a world already devoured by the undead, searching for his family and then trying to keep them safe.

This means the dead don’t just roam the Earth—they rule it. Rick has to batten the hatches against an enemy that does not need sleep like he does, does not need food like he does, has no fear of the dark or fatigue or friends to support. He’s forced to try to keep hold of a whole world of problems—disease, cold, starvation, sanity—while death itself, with relentless hunger, bears down on him and his loved ones.

Zombies are simple creatures, while Rick has only more problems. And the everyday nature of those problems drives home the central message of the work: We could all go at any moment. We could starve, suffer aneurysms, slip and break our necks. We could eat one another—figuratively, if not literally, taking bites each other’s success, security and well-being. We persist, living in the face of these threats, fighting them and one another.

In essence, we go through life on borrowed time, and we do so at the expense of others, whether it’s starving sharecroppers in Mexico or our own spouses. We can—and will—die, but we keep moving, keep feeding. We’re the walking dead.

Rick represents the argument that yells back at that void—which is why it’s crucial that he’s a lawman. His shiny Deputy’s star and embrace of ethics are a big middle-finger at oblivion—symbols of how mankind builds and secures and controls in denial that everything can be taken away at any moment. The Walking Dead drives this home by pointing out that the towering monuments to lasting achievement—our cities—would become death traps, stuffed with hungry hordes of flesh-eaters, if social niceties took a nosedive. So Rick hits the road with the wife, kid and some fellow survivors, keeping to the countryside.

This is key to the theme of The Walking Dead: We’re going back to nature here, dear reader—back to humanity without the PDAs and the WWW, to a time where scarcity dictates desire and not the other way around. Rick and his crew live off the land, trying to scrape up four walls and three meals in order to see another day.

If you English Majors can already hear Dueling Banjos playing, you’re hearing right—The Walking Dead’s narrative has a lot in common with James Dickey’s Deliverance. Only in Rick’s case, the foray into the not-so-great outdoors isn’t optional. He craves something to hold onto that won’t bite back or turn into dust. Problem is, just like in Deliverance, shit gets real once you leave the streetlights behind. Other people turn from passers-by into rival predators, and Rick is soon having to battle against nut jobs, dimwits and challengers to his tribe. The zombies play the role of another hostile form of nature, serving mostly to stir up the rival animals or pick off the weak. On an Earth where all rules have been stripped away but Sartre’s, Rick’s real Hell is other people.

He keeps swinging, lifting, walking on despite it. The Walking Dead Compendium, Volume I, covering issues #1-48, sees Rick have to fight off dotty county doctors, suspicious prison inmates and an enemy tribe as nasty as anything from ancient Sumeria or The Stand, run by The Governor. If I tallied Rick’s losses here, this article would double in size. Suffice it to say that the Book of Job has nothing on Rick Grimes. All the same, Rick stands strong—with increasing bitterness and decreasing body parts—that a shiny badge, a sturdy back and a sunny disposition will see things right one day.

They don’t. Everybody dies at the end.

* * *

“Status hominum naturalis antequam in societatem coiretur Bellum fuerit; neque hoc simpliciter, sed bellum omnium in omnes.”
--Thomas Hobbes, Libertas, Leviathan

Just about everybody gets mad about death penalty cases. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes has to play the balancing scales for both sides of the debate: Placate the people who lose sleep over the innocent being punished and soothe the savage breast of those crying for ultimate justice.

Rick doesn’t just want people to be happy. That kind of Machiavellian attitude is reserved for bad-asses like The Governor, who stages hillbilly versions of UFC fights in an octagon lined with chained zombies. No, Rick genuinely wants to do right and to believe it matters. He’s our white hat, our John Wayne—the Duke from The Alamo and The Green Berets. But Kirkman makes it clear that The Governor—and just about all the still-living enemies of Rick’s tribe—is a hero in his own mind too. He’s Wayne in The Searchers, willing to take any life to protect a lifestyle.

The America of Kirkman’s The Walking Dead isn’t America anymore; it’s not even a nation—it’s a place where the rules are being re-written in blood. Cooperation and mutual security are just memories. They’re sweet and solid enough for people to pine nostalgic for them, but when the chips fall, it becomes man-eat-man. Rick goes from deferential Daddy-figure to dictator, driven there by the gruesome consequences that trusting other people brings him. Every step forward Rick takes with his son in his arms and his wife behind him, he’s echoing the plea of the Rodney King riots: “Can’t we all just get along”?

And every step, the abyss where civilization used to be echoes back, “No.”

Read The Walking Dead and it becomes apparent that it’s different from your usual horror comic—even your usual narrative. There is no character whose development is essential to the plot—except perhaps Rick—and there are absolutely no rules to what can’t happen to them. The ‘hero’ of this series is the lack of rules. And that makes for some scary shit.

See, it casts Rick in the role of everybody’s favorite character: The Just-World Fallacy.

Proven through a study by psychologists Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons—and by almost the entire course of human history—the Just-World Fallacy is one of the fundamental glitches in the human brain. It’s a logic trap, and we all stumble into it. The Fallacy is that good deeds must be rewarded and that bad deeds lead to punishment. And yes, on the face of it, it’s easy to sniff at what bullshit the Just-World Fallacy is. We all know murderers go free sometimes and that infants stop breathing for no apparent reason. But it’s more than that—it’s also the notion that there’s any sense of cause-and-effect, of right-and-wrong, that holds ultimate sway. The adage that luck runs out eventually is just as full of shinola as the belief that hard-luck will change.

Still, Rick keeps marching on. He keeps planting his fields, even though they get taken from him at the end of every issue arc. Each time, he loses something more, forever.

That’s the hero of The Walking Dead—the complete oblivion where cause-and-effect used to be. In that sense, Rick is the enemy of the story, just as much as The Governor. They live in the same world and that means that while they don’t fight by the same rules, there are no universal laws preventing that. That means there are no reasons not to go all out.

This predatory outlook—the idea that we’re only The Walking Dead when you strip away all the make-believe—is nothing new to human understanding. It’s actually the foundation of one of the two primary schools of modern political thought. Thomas Hobbes put the capstone of that foundation in place with his treatise, Leviathan, where he writes of mankind’s natural state:

“Status hominum naturalis antequam in societatem coiretur Bellum fuerit; neque hoc simpliciter, sed bellum omnium in omnes.” In people speak, that means, “The natural state of men, before they were joined in society, was a war, and not simply, but a war of all against all.”

Read that again to believe it. Let it sink in. Because The Walking Dead believes it, no matter what Rick Grimes may like to think. And you’ll get the message soon enough. Rick is at war with everyone, just like everyone else is.

By issue #46, when the scrap with The Governor is about to become a shooting war, Rick has already realized that there are no battle lines. He hasn’t just had to put a bullet in a close friend and father of two. He’s also put a pre-emptive .38 round into a man’s back, beaten another pal into submission and walked away from his pregnant wife into near certain doom on several occasions. If this sounds harsh, it is, but to Rick, it’s what he has to do. It’s for the good of them all. It’s the rules—his rules.

Sound made up? Sound like egotistical bullshit? Good. It is. But it’s all Rick has. In that Hobbes-ian state of nature, Rick’s at war with his wife, with his risk-prone kid, with anybody who second-guesses him. All he’s got, like Nietzsche says about “the war of all against all,” is his own brain and the morality he makes up to be comfortable.

Nietzsche would say to Rick, “Insofar as the individual wants to preserve himself against other individuals, in a natural state of affairs he employs the intellect mostly for simulation alone.” But Rick doesn’t have time to pick apart what that bullshit means. He has his own bullshit to shovel—namely, the bullshit idea that he can keep his family alive and healthy, without having to eat too many lives in the process.

But sorry, Rick. Sorry, Just World. Sorry, folks.

Everyone dies at the end.

* * *

“On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: how does the never to be differ from what never was?”
--Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Why even read this damn thing, then, if it’s going to be such a dick about everything?

My answer would be that I have zombie dreams, too. I have to confess it. And I don’t mean “zombie nightmares,” either. I mean dreams. They’re better than anything I’ve ever seen on Pay-Per-View.

Sometimes, my pineal gland treats me to my own epic horror adventure, where I wake up to find the world overrun by a plague of flesh-eaters. Living by my own resourcefulness and my own rules, I dash across the devastated Southland, fighting off hordes and gathering supplies from places like the Costco on Washington Avenue and The Travel Store off of the 55 Freeway. Then I link up with my best friends and family, and we head to Big Bear. There, in a snow-gartered mountain lodge, we hole up and live with a warmth hearth inside the protective ring of a mine-laden kill zone.

It’s clear what they mean: I’m as crazy as Rick Grimes. My subconscious casts me as the Bigfoot-driving champion. The faceless masses of humanity that get in my way during waking life are, well, the faceless masses of undead humanity who are trying to eat, corrupt and kill my loved ones. It all turns out fine.

Of course, it won’t turn out fine.

I’m going to die. So are you. Not to be a jerk, but it’ll happen. And this article may or may not outlive me. And Rick Grime’s son may or may not outlive him. And it may not matter.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the story of another father and son trying to survive in a world already mortally wounded by apocalypse, has been called a “lyrical epic of horror.” The Walking Dead could just as readily be called a graphical epic of horror. It has the same pulse and just as much punch in its themes. And at its heart, yawns the same void.

In Rick’s countryside, like on McCarthy’s road, there are no godspoke men. There’s no civilization and the Deputy star is just a piece of metal. The world goes on anyway.

That’s the hard bottom-line of The Walking Dead—that whether you, I or Rick Grimes are good, bad, lucky, unlucky or just plain bonkers like The Governor, matters nothing to the never or the never was. They’re going to be the same—lacking us but moving on. We’re not outliving this world. It’s the other way around. We can eat and eat as much as we want, but we get eaten in the end.

Rick is the living stubbornness that insists otherwise. Somehow, he’s going to have a legacy. The more he fights for this cause, the more people and shame and pain it costs him. Rick and we all have that in common—all of us cancer-risking, collision-prone, fragile people. We know we’re starving and we know we might eat one another, but we keep walking anyway.

Rick is us. More than just us. Rick is life itself. He’s the urge that faces Nietzsche’s abyss—faces McCarthy’s never and never was—and tries to fuck that nasty void into giving him a legacy before he snuffs out.

Not because it matters to the void. But because it matters to him. And in a war of all against all, that is all that matters.

We’re dead, but we have to keep walking.

See what I mean? Now, go check out Matt's other writings, beginning here at If you need me, I'll be out drumming up the bread for this Volume I compendium.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lead Me to Your Comics, Gonna Read 'Em Alphabetically

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3 of 5: The only problem I didn't have with Kaare Andrews' Spider-Man: Reign was the art. And even though his art is not as...pronounced (for lack of a better term) here, it's still excellent, although I think the cover to this issue is kinda...I dunno exactly, but Emma's boobs just look weird. It provokes a reaction in me not dissimilar to my friend Lauren's newfound interest in corset and waist-training.

It seems there's been a theme lately in a lotta comics that Africa is kind of a sucky place to be. A lotta super-powered Idi Amins seem to be cropping up lately. You could see this as a disturbing trend, exploiting the vast Otherness of the dark continent for mere thrills and chills. But I think Warren Ellis' script--especially that concerning the villain here, a certain Dr. Crocodile--is less exploitative and more expositional. Like, instead of callously exploiting, it's actually more shining a light on why Africa seems ripe for this sort of treatment in comics today. Or maybe since making Middle Easterners the bad guys is so 1987, western pop culture has turned its sights a little further south.

In any event, this is still a good book, even if it adheres to its strict whenever-we-get-around-to-it publishing schedule.

The Avengers (vol. 4) #5: I know it's been said a million times by now, but how many disasters can the city of New York deal with? While they've got Galactus and a bunhca other anomalies running rampant in this book, New Yorkers are also facing demons and an apparently evil Ancient One in New Avengers. Makes the summer of '77 look like a day at Palisades Park.

That Brian Michael Bendis is more or less in charge of the Marvel Universe nowadays, I wouldn't have it any other way, really. He seems to have an nearly omniscient grasp on continuity, and his dialogue is as cracking as ever. But I think he may be starting to spread himself too thin. Especially if you consider this story-line--Kang, what with all his battles with Ultron and other Marty McFly sports almanac shenanigans, has all but destroyed the space-time continuum. That could be pretty easily read into the Marvel universe as a whole, y'know? The center cannot hold. Of course, it's kinda like the "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie" episode of The Simpsons, where if you're paying attention, you'll see the writers are saying, "Please let us put this show to pasture already. The well has run dry (to mix farm metaphors)!" And of course, that'll never happen.

Oh, well. John Romita Jr. pencils with Klaus Janson inks, anyways.

Avengers Academy #4 Now here's an Avengers book I can sink my teeth into, not unlike its predecessor, Avengers: The Initiative, which writer Christos Gage also worked on. Gage has got a very workman-like writing style, which I mean as the highest of accolades. There's no flash-bang style, y'know, the dialogue is witty without ever being precocious, and it serves to move the plot along at a good clip. This book has introduced several new characters, super-powered teenagers that Norman Osborn had sought to exploit while he was in power. Now, Hank Pym is in charge of them, and they're not entirely sure if he's not really just out to do the same.

This is why Marvel's comics continue to strike a chord with so many. Spider-Man, the X-Men, all of these are pretty much just kids becoming adults, and they're trying to find their way in a fucked-up world. There's still the backdrop of action and adventure like in the Golden Age, but there's no overstating how vital it is to the story-telling process to have relatable characters. Even guys like The Punisher, The Thing, Wolverine, the Hulk--they're all pretty much broken people, trying to put things back together in some way that makes sense to them, and really, most of the time, failing miserably. It's so depressing sometimes it makes me want to do cartwheels, I'm not even kidding.

Black Widow #6: I grabbed this up because Duane Swierczynski wrote it, but I dunno. For one thing, the spy genre has never really done it for me. Gadgets and subterfuge are neat and all, but they're most often set into these world-spanning crises that are mostly political (as opposed to the Devourer-of-Worlds-type crises), and almost anything political puts me to sleep. The art in this book is passable, but nothing to write home about. Just kinda meh, all around.

CBGB OMFUG #3 of 4: I was re-reading those Instant Piano stories that Evan Dorkin
and Kyle Baker did back in the early '90s where they would review shows they'd gone to, and every time they went to CB's, they would totally trash it, calling it overrated and overhyped and overpriced and over-whatever. Now, I never got to go there at all, but like most know-nothing punk rockers, I still revere the Bowery club that birthed such bands as the Ramones. At the same time, I'm a grown-up, and I realize that most things/people/places that are held reverent are usually done so for no real reason. In other words, they're overrated, overhyped, etc., etc. Especially for punk, this is a real dumb attitude, despite its ubiquitousness.

The first couple of issues of this mini-series, though, have managed to devote more energy to what CBGB represented, especially in its early days. The club, for better or worse, has come to not only represent punk rock in the minds of many, but also that weird cultural evolutionary period of the late '70s/early '80s, when a lot of the hippies' children were coming of age and realizing how full of shit their parents were, however "groovy" they may have been at one time. And this is obviously an attitude that transcends generations, not to speak of cultures and geography. So this mini is a real neat tribute to one of the places where all of these artists, etc., crossed paths and led onward into the murky gray of the latter decades of the 20th century.

Just this issue kinda blows, is all.

Fantastic Four #583: A lot of people, myself included, were excited to see the return of the letters page to many favorite titles. But at this point, I think we should go back to not giving the average reader a venue to voice his opinion. Not to sound superior, but these people are fucking idiots and should be soundly ignored.

All right, that's a little harsh. But it can be extremely frustrating to give this wide-reaching forum to the same old crybaby fanboy-types who all basically like things as they were, never as they are or might be. Personally, I'm a big fan of where writer Jonathan Hickman has been taking this title, but that doesn't mean I won't listen to contrary opinions. I only ask that these be (heaven forfend!) well thought out and sensible opinions, not varying degrees of "I don't like it, wah." Simple whining never solves anything and is just embarrassing for all involved. Why you'd want that published in a high-circulation comic periodical is beyond me.

G.I. Combat featuring the Haunted Tank #1: This fifth-week series from DC is pretty good times all around. Well, actually, I passed on the first issue because I was buying a ton of other books that week and, frankly, it just looked pretty bad. But the subsequent one-shots have been pretty good, this one being no exception. Even for a guy like me who's pretty much O.D.'ed on World War II stories, this book has got a solid story, good art, just an all-around smart purchase.

Hit Monkey #3 of 3: If you told me, "Hey, Marvel's coming out with a book about a monkey who becomes a hitman," I'd go, "Hey, quit trying to keep me from buying Marvel." But then if you said, "Hey, Daniel Way created and is writing it," I'd say, "Well, of course." Only Way could take an idea as dumb as this and make it work. And sure enough he did. Would you expect pathos and emotion from a book with the synopsis above? That would be a big no, but there it is, plain as day. Also, Way writes Bullseye into this story, which hearkens me back to Way's earliest comics, and is just good times all around.

Hulk #25: I woulda thought for sure this book would be aced after the World War Hulks storyline, but I guess the Red Hulk has proved to be a pretty popular character. I'm grateful because it gives Jeff Parker yet another monthly to write, and I'm liking his stuff more and more all the time. He's teamed up again with artist Gabriel Hardman in this issue, and it's a very well done transition from that tumultuous story-arc mentioned above. There's plenty of scenes between General Ross and Bruce Banner, and their on-going hatred for each other is now taken to new levels, which is good since that rivalry's been going on for almost fifty years now.

There's a little back-up story featuring Rick Jones which was kind of a let-down. I mean, the story is good and all, and the art's fine, but it takes place in San Diego. As a resident of that fair metropolis, I always get a little excited when my hometown makes it into a movie or a comic or something. But then when the city is pretty much represented as a harbor and a couple of palm trees, it's a bummer. I mean, for one thing, it'd be nice to see where I live depicted in a funny book, and then I can somehow rationalize that I myself am in a Marvel comic. But also, it cuts my suspension of disbelief. I know I'm in the minority here, y'know, not everybody who reads this book is gonna know what San Diego looks like for reals and isn't gonna think much of how it's drawn here. But even so, once I see that this is just a couple buildings on a waterfront, I'm reminded that I'm just reading a comic, and it just yanks me out of the story. And who wants that?

Nemesis #3: There seem to be almost as many reasons to hate writer Mark Millar as there are people who do hate him. Me, I couldn't care less, really. The guy does seem something of a tool, but it's not like I have to hang out with him or anything. It does get up my back sometimes that he doesn't seem to really give a shit about comics, that they're just a springboard into Hollywood for him. But first of all, again, what do I care? He's not gonna destroy comics single-handedly with this attitude, and I sure as hell am not required to see the god-awful flicks his comics properties have spawned.

But also, the guy continues to put out comics, unlike others who seemed to have jumped ship completely at this point (i.e. Brian K. Vaughan, J. Michael Straczynski), and they also continue to be high quality books. He works with artists like Steve McNiven, whose talents speak for themselves, and to judge by the sample script pages in the back of this issue, he sure seems to give these guys free reign to do what they want creatively. He also effectively deconstructs the superhero genre, which I theorize is exactly why a lot of hard-core comics fans hate him. I love superheroes as much as the next dork, but you can slaughter my sacred cows all you want. In fact, I insist on it most of the time, if my fealty to Garth Ennis is any sign. Anytime a creative team depicts superheroes fucking or swearing or doing anything else that'd make Kal-El blush, I know I hear a lotta grumbling down at the comic shop. And say what you wanna about Millar, at least he's not as big a pussy as those guys.

Secret Avengers #5: Ugh. Seriously, I'm on espionage overload. I've been a huge fan of Ed Brubaker's for years now, and I still really like that I always get a sense of glee from his scripts because he's writing Captain America stories. But this fuckin' evil twin shit is getting boring. I think I'm junking this book.

Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #2 of 3: Colleen Wing has always been pretty much a C-list character, so it's nice to see her getting more of the spotlight here. This group of lady ninjas is pretty fun to read, even though I still find it hard to believe that bad-ass Japanese girls always wear little school-girl outfits, despite Quentin Tarantino as well as my raging libido insisting otherwise. Also, this is a good twist on this crossover, where Daredevil has pretty much become the villain. In this series, we see Colleen's point of view, which is that DD's new martial law in Hell's Kitchen may have some really positive points. Overall, you pretty much know those aren't gonna outweigh his fascistic leanings by the end of the story. But it's refreshing to see a little more of this viewpoint than I think you normally would.

Shadowland: Moon Knight #2 of 3: I think Shadowland is the first major Marvel crossover wherein I've purchased every single title since the goddamn Infinity War. And so far that hasn't been a bad thing, but this book is definitely the weak link. For one thing, I was never the hugest Moon Knight fan. And Gregg Hurwitz is a good writer and normally I'd say the character is in capable hands, but I dunno. See, it's like this: these characters tend to go through some very screwy changes over the course of their existence. About fifteen years ago, The Punisher became possessed by a pony-tail wearing demon, and nowadays he's a Frankenstein monster, of all things. And he's one of Marvel's bigger guns. When you get down to the more low-rent heroes, like Moon Knight, they get all kindsa re-writes and re-boots and re-what-have-you.

So it seems like Hurwitz is trying to pull a judo move on all that and cram all the past character changes into Marc Spector's head as a multiple-personality disorder. And while I still think that's a really good idea, it doesn't come off that well in the execution. It just comes off as vague and confused. A valiant effort, but not quite there. There's only one issue left, so I'll stick it out, especially with the neat stuff Hurwitz is doing with the god Khonshu. But over all, an A for effort.

Ultimate Spider-Man (vol. 2) #14: (I know this isn't technically alphabetical, but in my filing system, this goes under Spider-Man, Ultimate. Take it up with my OCD if you don't like it.)

Back when Marvel started up the Ultimate line (basically, a full re-boot of the Marvel Universe, for those of you not in the know), people flipped their lids. A lotta guys did not want their precious characters messed with. This is silly for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that none of these books at all replaced the ones that had been going on for years. They're just kind of a sidebar, and they really open up the possibilities for the characters. Writers are able to re-tell some of their favorite parts of Marvel lore and add any twists they see fit. It's like a really, really good cover band.

Ultimate Spider-Man under the helm of Brian Michael Bendis has pretty much always been the best of the line, and one of the few to survive the mass cancellation of various Ultimate titles last year. Hell, it may be the only one, I think. Anyways, I wouldn't have thought he'd missed a trick, that Bendis, until this arc when he introduces The Chameleon. Man, how did I not notice his absence before? He was Spider-Man's first super-villain, for chrissakes. And not only that, but in this universe, good ol' Ruby Thursday is his sister. What a great idea. This is why I like the Ultimate line: in regular continuity, Ruby Thursday is just kind of a re-hash of The Chameleon, a female version of the evil shape-shifter. So in the Ultimate line, we can kinda correct that, and just make them related. Makes perfect sense, don't it?

Well, it does to me, anyways.

Thor #615: I didn't realize how much I'd missed this book or character until they finally brought him back a couple of years ago. And it also seems like these Marvel guys have really been reading up on their Norse mythology, introducing aspects of the pantheon that I'd never heard of before. And since Marvel Comics is about as close as I'm ever going to get to religion, I can use all the additional info I can get.

This is also Matt Fraction's first issue as writer, and I've been enjoying his stuff since his indie book tribute to Charley Varrick on AiT called Last of the Independents. Right away, Fraction brings a kind of younger, more hep sensibility to the book than Kieron Gillen preceding him, or even J. Michael Straczynski before him (although both of those guys parted quite a bit from the old "thee, thine and thou" characterizations that Stan Lee and Larry Lieber set down way back in the day and which nobody moved from for the next forty years). This is not a bad thing at all. Also, Fraction likes to take time with the sub-plots, opting for point-of-view characters who are fairly insignificant to the over-all story, but which provide a pretty unique take. That sorta Citizen Kane thing is fairly standard in a lotta regular literature, but I sure don't see enough of it in the funny pages, I can tell you that.

Ultimate Mystery #3: So, like I was saying, the Ultimate universe is pretty much over with. In case you missed it, Magneto went nuts for good and killed millions of people, and a buncha other characters bit the big one, like Wolverine
and Nightcrawler and Daredevil. Normally, that would be that, y'know, we'd all move on to the fiftieth or sixtieth Avengers title and forget all about that other imprint, like New Universe, 2099, or Heavy Hitters.

But I kinda like that this title seeks to cross all the t's and dot all the i's of the aftermath of Ultimatum. Ultimate Fantastic Four may have been nixed, but let's check in on the characters and, oh what the hell, throw a few curveballs their way. So now these parallel characters have really changed. This isn't a book I couldn't live without, but it's interesting to see how these books are getting on in the line's afterlife.

Uncanny X-Men #528: Uh-oh, Africa's at it again.

Hope, the first mutant born since M-Day, is now no longer the only mutant to have been born since M-Day. Mutant children are cropping up all over the place, and this issue finds a new X-recruit in deepest, darkest Africa. Of course, the backwards militaristic junta is convinced she is a witch and is trying to kill her. So Storm has to go in and hand them their asses. Again, I don't really have a problem with this set-up or anything. Wherever you go in the world, there are gonna be shitheels with guns. But it just seems to be cropping up a lot lately (or maybe I'm just harboring some residual resentment over the cancellation of Unknown Soldier). And then, call me nuts here, but to have Storm handle things just seems too easy. I know she was born in Africa, but for all intents and purposes, she was raised as a westerner. Maybe back in the Claremont/Byrne days, she was more of an outsider, but she's all acclimated now, I'd say. And yes, she's queen of Wakanda now, but if anything, that puts her even further out of touch with the indigenous peoples, no? Having Storm go clean up the mess in Africa just smacks too much of white guilt, that's all. Or maybe it's my own white guilt that makes me feel that way.

On the other hand, there's more Kitty Pryde in this issue, which makes me glad. She begins to get into it a bit with the White Queen as well, which is great because I've been getting kinda bored with her, so having her interact more with Kitten piques my interest.

I'm still not sure I like Namor being considered a mutant these days. I know he's technically been considered Marvel's first mutant for some time and all, but isn't he more of like a halfling or something? Also, and I dunno why this never occurred to me before, the guy has a real thing for blondes, don't he? Namora, Susan Richards, Emma Frost. I'm surprised he hasn't put the moves on Magick yet. Probably because Colossus would fuck him up.

Man, I think about this stuff way too much sometimes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Detour Down Memory Lane

Hello, out there. Peabody here. And this is my boy, Sherman.

-Hi, everybody!

Put a sock in it, four-eyes. And then set the WABAC Machine for the summer of 1994.

-Which direction are we headed, Mr. Peabody?

The small, rural suburb of Alpine, California, where that mediocre writer, Jimmy Callaway, was raised.

-Sounds like a real Dullsville, Mr. Peabody.

Sherman, I've told you before, don't bring that nonsensical jive-talk into my laboratory, or it'll be the rack for you again.

-Yes, my liege.

In any event, we will witness the creation of Mr. Callaway's one comic-book-related, self-published magazine, or "fanzine," as they were known then. It was called
Spa Fon, and fortunately for all involved, it lasted merely one issue before dying an unremarkable death.

-Sorta like
Pink Lady and Jeff, huh, Mr. Peabody?

Oh, just shut up, boy.

Obviously, I was pretty heavy into EC Comics at the time. And yes, that is a self-portrait in the "Dorks!" circle.

You'll notice the staff list on the left-hand side. That was all bullshit. Matt and I were the only real guys, and he only did one strip. The other two names were just a couple of the clever little noms de plume I'd make up for myself, so it wouldn't seem like it was just me in my bedroom by myself writing all this crap and laying it out. Why I didn't want it to seem like that, I don't know. I was an idiot. I also can't remember what the newspaper article was from which I cut out that little chunk in the middle there, but I really wish I could remember.

The intro there was written by me on my old Brother word-processor, the apparent offspring of a Smith-Corona and an Apple IIe. I used that thing all the way through college, believe it or don't.

That "Notes" page was torn out of the instruction booklet for Excitebike. Nothing made for space filler like those booklets.

The "What Is A Comic Dork?" article is easily the most embarrassing thing I have ever written, barring my mash notes and rap lyrics. At the age of 17, I was trying to assert myself as a mature young adult, who pooh-poohed such infantile fantasies of power like superhero comics. That could not have been farther from the truth, but that virginity of mine had been hanging around all my life, and I was convinced this stand would help me get rid of it (I was wrong, of course).

"The Fanboy" and all the jokes therein were mostly observations Matt and I shared about comics fandom. Reading this now, aside from the sheer buffoonery of it all, what's really terrible is this attitude of "If I make fun of it, then I am exempt from it." Never mind the fact that just two years previous, I myself had lined up for two hours to meet the whole starting line-up of Image Comics, and had nearly shat myself when Todd McFarlane singled me (me!) out as exemplary of the kind of audience he was trying to reach. Yeah, too cool for school, that's Callaway, all right.

"The Comic Snob" was not only how I saw myself, but moreso, how I hoped guys I knew who collected comics and were in their early to mid-20s saw me. These were the guys I sought to impress the most. Yes, it was a sad childhood. Those cartoons on the bottom there were drawn by my buddy, Greg Bass, while we were stuck in Career & Family class that summer.

Shannon Wheeler, as I mentioned last month, was one of the many cartoonists cool enough to let me interview them, and himself a very cool guy indeed. Still is, even. I still think this interview came out pretty well, and I remember showing a very uncharacteristic tendency to edit it down to where it was readable, as opposed to some of the other interviews I ran in other zines, which just went on and on and on and on. And on. I dunno why I didn't capitalize all the "I"s either. I'd say I was being cutesy, but it's more likely I was just being lazy.

I'm still really proud of myself for using this as the centerfold. In fact, I think I'll print this up and hang it in my work station. Also, if you can remind me which issue of Weird Science this was in, I will give you a hug.

The top strip there was by Matt Swain, my best friend in high school and probably the most talented cartoonist I've ever known personally. We did a lot of zine stuff together, as well as just pretty much hang out all the time. We had a falling out when I was 19 and didn't speak for years, sadly. Fortunately, I pulled my head out of my ass and gave him a call up in Portland where he's been living for a while, and we shall be working together again, sooner rather than later, it is hoped.

The "Quarter-Bin Comics" was a favorite of mine, and I had a bunch more of these written. Sadly, the quarter-bin is all but extinct, replaced by the more expensive and less-fun-to-root-through dollar-bin. If I'm nostalgic for anything from my halcyon days of youth, the quarter-bin is probably it.

More of Shannon Wheeler. Fun fact: I dated a girl named Shannon Wheeler for about a year. No relation.

Jeff Levine, in his own much better and more well distributed comics zine, Destroy All Comics, actually took issue with that last comment Shannon made there about comics being easy. He wrote an editorial about how comics wouldn't ever be taken seriously if people just crapped 'em out like they were disposable. He put it better than that, and he had a point, but I don't think that's what Shannon was getting at, really. Y'know, it was so long ago, I really shouldn't be trying to even quote Jeff here (another super-cool guy who I also interviewed that summer. Does anybody know if that guy is still doing stuff anymore?). I mostly bring it up now because I was fucking elated that something I had published had gotten mentioned in a mag like Destroy All Comics. Too bad I didn't roll with that momentum when I could. Ah, well.

I stole this picture from a Gilbert Shelton comic, I can't remember which one. I have that quote written in Sharpie on my short boxes at home. I don't remember what a comic dork starter kit was. Probably something I thought might get people to write in. They didn't.

-Gee, Mr. Peabody, that was kind of a filler blog entry, wasn't it?

Yes, well, Sherman, you must recall that our Mr. Callaway doesn't have a WABAC machine in order to extend deadlines or such like that.

-He doesn't have much talent either, does he, Mr. Peabody?

Oh, you're a fine one to talk. Have you even finished my laundry yet?
Schnell! Schnell! Mach schnell!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Panels, Schmanels, Gimme Some Comics.

Nearly every year for the last ten years, I've almost dreaded the Con (that's San Diego Comic-Con International for all you G4 viewers out there). No longer was summer a time of anticipatory delights, but more worries about where I was gonna park. And nearly every year for the last ten years, my low expectations have been delightfully exceeded. This year was no different.

Because we're young ones! Bachelor boys!...oh, and girls.

I've been single for a good chunk of the year of Our Lord, 2010. And one thing that's been driven home for me more than ever before is that I suck at dating. Like, out loud. I'm not a hopeless case, mind; in fact, I've dated more women than the average bear, especially an average bear that collects comics and lives at his mom's. But for some reason, this year, it's really been driven home for me that Ted Bundy is a far more successful paramour than I've been lately.

As usual, comics save the day again. This time in the form of Amy Martin's self-published Bachelor Girl. Ms. Martin has a delightful style that was able to interrupt a rant I was giving to John, y'know, one of those things where you're all het up about something, but then you trail off because you see a kitten playing with an old sandwich sword or something.

I've been racking my brain all day for a comparison for her comics, and the best I can do is "If Peter Bagge had set out years ago to draw for The New Yorker." Not only does that not do Ms. Martin's stuff justice, it also overcomplicates a deceptively simple style that will throw you off a bit when she uses swear words (but throw you off in a good way). Whenever artists can pull a switcheroo like that, it's always good times--dig Sherry Flenniken's stuff if you don't believe me. Anyways, I hope I've been able to convey how much I like this book. Go to Amy Martin's website here and heap large amounts of praise on her. A quick glance in her Etsy store as of this writing reveals nothing to be found(!), but hopefully that will soon be remedied. Had I more cash to hand, I woulda bought more than just the one book.

Oh, speaking of which: Bachelor Girl #2 has a few strips and one-panel gags, but most of the book is taken up by the story "Kitchen Wares," in which our intrepid heroine attempts to purchase all of that tomfoolery that girls seem to like (here was my only typical dude reaction. It never interfered with my enjoyment of the story, but I've never even shelled out money for an actual dinner plate, so I dunno even know what a salad spreader is. Hell, I barely know what a fork is. Digression). Just when it seems like the ugly spectre of mid-nineties autobio comics is gonna rear its ugly head, the story takes a turn for the satirical. I don't wanna give too much away here; I'm just saying confessionals are boring, but when you can twine that into a fictional narrative that gets all silly but never loses sight of the story's reality, then you are banging on all cylinders. Again, I'm overcomplicating things. It was my minor in college.

Yeah, me and him go way back...

In 1994, I was still heavily enamored of superhero comics, but was beginning to really broaden my horizons with more of the indie stuff, which also blended nicely with the punk-rock ethos I was beginning to manifest as a young snot-nose. I was already pretty thick in the zinester scene at this point, and I decided I'd do a comics zine. It only ended up going for one issue, but it was still the precursor for this little bloggy before you. To me, the big-time Marvel and DC guys were rock stars, largely unapproachable. Plus, they had huge marketing machines behind them, so I couldn't see where they'd really need me on their press list. But not only were the indie guys more accessible, they were also putting out some great stuff that I was proud to spread the word about, even if it was pretty much only to my tiny little corner of the world. Anyways, that year, I wrote to a ton of artists and asked 'em if I could interview them for my zine. Not a one of them refused, unless they weren't gonna be there. And even then, those guys wrote me nice little notes thanking me for my interest, even Zippy the Pinhead's Bill Griffith. Bill Griffith! Each and every one of them were super-nice and really, really interesting to interview, including but not limited to Greg Hyland, Steve Remen, Daniel Clowes, Jeff Levine (where is that guy now?), and Sam Hurt. And it was very much a thrill for me at the tender age of seventeen to be hanging around these creative-type dudes who weren't much older than me, but were creating comics and had probably done things to girls, two things I could not yet lay claim to.

Of all of those interviews, the Evan Dorkin one made it into my punk zine, Frontal Lobotomy, but the main draw of the only issue of Spa Fon was the creator of Too Much Coffee Man, Shannon Wheeler.

I'm pretty sure I talked to Shannon a lot more than any of those other guys, the year before, and the years after, until my attention kinda wandered away from comics for a little while. I did see him at the Con in like '02 or '03, somewhere in there, but we only talked briefly. This year, I made sure to chat him up, and he did remember me after I reminded him how I used to go by "Jimmy the Callaway" back then (remember how clever we all thought we were in high school? If only we could remain that deluded...). The guy's stuff continues to be top-notch, and I really wish I woulda bought the preview of the condensed Bible he's working on, but I'll be sure not to miss it when it comes out (another digression: I also discoverd that Basil Wolverton has done a version of the Old Testament, and along with Crumb's Book of Genesis, there really seems to be a trend for comics Bibles these days, and as an avowed Satanist, I am pleased no end by this. My only regret is that Don Martin died before he could take on a project like this. If that's not proof of the non-existence of God, then I dunno what is).

Anyways, go to Shannon's site here and throw money at him. It was really good to see the guy again, even if I do suck for not seeing the Too Much Coffee Man opera while it was in town this week.

Stop me if you've heard this, wait, I mean, don't...

Another guy I unfortunately did not give any money to (yet) is José Cabrera, writer and artist of the web-strip Crying Macho Man. Even though I'm a deadbeat sad sack, Mr. Cabrera was a consummate gentlemen, probably the friendliest guy at the Con. He gave me and John a couple'a freebies, and I think John even bought a postcard off him. Crying Macho Man has a very similar humor to Robot Chicken, except that every annoying hipster douchebag you know hasn't discovered it yet (unless you count me), so they haven't ruined it for you. Get in on the ground floor, kids; another tip from your Uncle Jimmy.

Crying Macho Man is also great because it acts as a depository of jokes for its creator. Mr. Cabrera was telling us that he has trouble remembering jokes people tell him, so he draws them in order to do so. And it's really something seeing your favorite dirty jokes come to life on the printed page. On a personal level, I was also delighted to hear this, because a lot of my fiction comes about in a pretty similar way. So it's always refreshing to know others are in the same boat with you, creatively speaking. Not that that's all Crying Macho Man is, just reworkings of dirty jokes, but if that's not enough to rope you in, I'll also say it's the funniest web-strip since A Softer World. If that doesn't convince to swing by the site and drop something in the tip jar, then I have no use for you.

Uncle Sam and Uncle Ho

A lot of guys I know have a war they're into. World War II and the Civil War are fairly popular, but I've always been a Vietnam guy. So I've done a lot of reading up, not to where I'd consider myself a buff, but I have more than a passing interest. And the strangest thing I've learned is how dopey I am when it's come to this particular intellectual pursuit of mine. That is to say, it never occurred to me to explore the Vietnamese side of things until just a few years ago. I guess it's not a major surprise that I got kinda swept up in the whole video-game pyrotechnics and huge amounts of swearing that comes from the American side of things. But I am glad--relieved, even--that I've finally branched out some.

The very first purchase I made at the Con this year was from artist GB Tran. He had some really nice eye-catching artwork on display, and I was immediately enamored of the pro-NVA propaganda posters he had up. I asked if they were based on actual ones from the war, and he told me that they were in fact from his upcoming graphic novel, Vietnamerica, the story of his family's experience during the Vietnam War. He told me he's the youngest of his family and was born stateside, but his parents refused to discuss their experiences with him when he was younger. I told him I had a fairly similar situation with my dad, who did two tours in the 'Nam. My dad would abide my questions, but I don't think you could describe him as being candid about that time in his life. Unless I'm overreaching here, from talking with Mr. Tran, I gathered that we were about the same age and both had trouble relating to our parents in this regard because they would not open up this understandably uncomfortable chapter of their pasts. Mr. Tran told me, though, that by the time he got to be in his thirties, his parents began taking his questions more seriously, and this fed the fuel that lead to his forthcoming comic. I am very excited to read the book when it comes out early next year, as I am to frame and display the two prints I bought (for only fifteen bucks! A steal at any price!). Go check out GB Tran's site here and drink in the art that should make Joe Sacco slaver.

Man, crime really doesn't pay.

The last of my major finds this year is the work of Mr. Benton Jew, whom I embarrassed myself in front of by not recognizing his name immediately from his superior work on Marvel's Agents of Atlas, one of my favorites of the last couple years. Among other goodies, Mr. Jew had for sale a mini-comic called Art of Crime. Of course, I am a major sucker for all things crime (except I draw the line at my house being burgled), so I snatched it up. Lemme tell you: when a guy uses the old EC LeRoy lettering just for the indicia on the inside front cover, you're in good fucking hands. Continuing with that, the first story, "They're After Me!" feels like it was originally published in Crime SuspenStories. The second story is based on a script by the always top-shelf Scott Hampton, and then there are some lovely wanted poster pin-ups, which, as it turns out, also tell a story. Mr. Jew really shows off a breadth of material here within the same genre, which is really hard to for anybody to do well.

While I was busy going nuts over crime comics, Mr. Jew told me something quite provocative: apparently, editors are having trouble with crime comics. Everybody says they love 'em, but the sales numbers tell a different story. Or so it would seem. I mean, I know I buy a lot of 'em, and most of my no-account friends do as well. But I guess it doesn't really matter, because you should own Art of Crime anyways, whether or not the dopes at the Big Two (or is it the Big Five by now?) are hip to it. Go to Benton Jew's blog here and see if you can't buy a copy off him.

FLASH!--Jesus Christ, now I'm even more embarrassed: Benton Jew drew the cover to Screeching Weasel's goddamn Bark Like a Dog record, you guys! Fuck! If I had it together, I woulda brought it down for him to sign. Man! I knew I knew that guy's stuff. I suck.

So again, I am glad to be proven wrong: the Con is not just a big fat sell-out of a Hollywood ass-kissing marathon. I mean, there's no denying that it's largely become that. But again, comics rule over all. It continues to be the superior art form of modern civilized man, and no amount of middle-aged women swooning over the cast of Twilight is gonna change that. So do your part for the art form that loves us all so dearly and pile cash and adoration upon the creators listed above. And I'll see you all down at the Scottish Rite Center once this Comic-Con fad blows over.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Squared Away

My waist-high to-read stack of single issues has finally been whittled down to shin-height, right in the stratum of The Uncanny X-Men. So lately, I've renewed the attack on my to-read stack of trades with vigor. Let's discuss, won't we?

Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid (Jewish Lights): The Jews are funny. This is an irrefutable fact. Jerry Seinfeld, Milton Berle, Red Auerbach, and the Three Stooges are all firm proof of this predilection of the Hasidim for comedy. So when I came across this little book, the third in a series, and saw also that it was a western, another favorite genre of mine, I was immediately intrigued.

And I was far from disappointed. Artist and writer Steve Sheinkin spins a familiar western fable, only instead of a draw-down at high noon, we get the wisdom of the Torah. I infer that this book's main purpose is to make Hebrew school less boring for the kids, so that they're not tempted to steal their Uncle Max's toupée and glue it on their faces to portray Moses. But this certainly doesn't mean that the goyim can't enjoy it as well. Even though it's geared towards kids, it's genuinely funny and the ancient Jewish wisdom abounds, if you're into that sort of thing. I wouldn't say I couldn't live without this book, but it pleasantly killed a half hour or so.

Ghostopolis (Scholastic): For those of you not in the know, I pay the bills by being a warehouse schlep for a joint that deals largely in kids' books. The company gets a lot of advanced reader copies of kiddie-lit, and a good chunka that includes the funny books, and an even gooder chunka them end up in the Free Box in the breakroom. Most of 'em aren't even worth the (non-)price, and most of the good ones are stuff I already have (like the Scholastic reprints of Bone). But when I saw this title in there about a year ago, I think it was, I recognized Doug TenNapel's name from his Iron West, which I enjoyed but didn't bother to hold on to. So I grabbed it up and it sat and collected dust for months on end.

Well, imagine how sheepish I felt when I finally cracked this bad boy open and found it to be one of the finest comics I'd read in years. It reminds me greatly of the aforementioned Bone: a very Campbell-esque quest story, very kid-friendly but never pandering, and just very enjoyable on all levels. I don't remember noticing what a huge Chuck Jones influence TenNapel shows in his artwork before, but here it is very clear indeed. My only regret other than not reading this sooner is that, since this is an ARC, only the first few pages are in color, and the contrast is far too noticeable for me to justify not shelling out the bread for this when it is officially released this here July.

I was talking to Cameron about this book, and from what he'd seen, he was surprised that I dug on it. But when I threw down the Bone comparison, he seemed convinced, as should you be. And I don't mind telling you that the last couple pages brought tears to my eyes. I may be a big pussy, but that sorta thing doesn't happen as often these days now that they got me jacked full of the anti-depressants. So do yourself a favor and buy two copies: one for yourself, and one for your ten-year-old nephew who always gets picked last for kickball.

Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise (DC): One of the few really good things about Hollywood adaptations of comics is, in the case of a character like Jonah Hex, the publisher will try to take advantage of the renewed interest in the character by reprinting some of his earlier adventures. This movie may bomb like the Enola Gay, but I've already got this nice little trade, so my troubles are over. The second volume of the Jonah Hex Showcase is permanently in publication limbo it would seem, even though it was solicited a handful of years ago. And even though this volume is a lot more slender and contains a good chunk of stuff from the first Showcase, the color reproduction is well worth the price of admission alone.

Though I feel the current monthly Jonah Hex by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray is by far the best rendition of this character, there is much to be said for the original. As I've said before, DC's westerns had it all over Marvel's back in the '70s, in much the same way that the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s kick the living shit out of the oaters of yesteryear. Like the films of Sergio Leone and his ilk, DC's westerns like Weird Western Tales portray a heavily de-romanticized version of the Old West, where morality is not worth more than what's printed on a wanted poster. Particularly striking in this collection are three stories by long-time Hex scribe Michael Fleisher, who is often also remembered for his losing lawsuit against Harlan Ellison and The Comics Journal, which he filed after Harlan playfully (according to Harlan) called him "bugfuck" among other things in an interview in that mag (having read the interview myself, I'd say Fleisher was pretty much misinterpreting things, and really only cemented anything negative Harlan may have had to say by going so far off the deep end).

But really, none of that has any bearing on the man's comics output, and if shitheads like me would focus on that instead of interdisciplinary gossip like this, we'd all be better off. In "Face-off with the Gallagher Boys!" we meet the title gang, who are largely folk heroes for their war of crime against the big-shot railroad companies. But during their encounter with Hex, they're revealed to their supporters to be just as much a buncha greedy capitalistic opportunists as their antagonists. It's a lovely bit of a cautionary tale about the underdog and what a rat he can often be.

The next two stories are pretty much one narrative which finally puts to bed the sub-plot of the mysterious Mr. Turnbull who'd been trying to have Hex killed almost since the beginning of the character's run. It also fills in the blanks as to Hex's reputation as a coward and a traitor to the Confederate States of America. Seems that young Lieutenant Hex could no longer fight a war to keep a race of people enslaved. Although he dearly loved his southern home, he surrendered himself honorably to the Yanks, pledging to never betray his homeland. But due to the manipulations of the petty Union captain, Hex is framed as just that: a traitor who not only gave up the location of his unit, but who then lead them to slaughter during an escape attempt.

It is this story which can be pointed to as mostly deftly characterizing the bounty hunter known as Jonah Hex. It's from this point on that Hex becomes a country unto himself, polarizing himself from society by not only continuing to wear the uniform of a Confederate, but by becoming a hunter of men, a profession largely looked down upon back then (as opposed to now, when it gets you a TV show despite how stupid your haircut might be). The reader is often witness to Hex acting in the interests of justice, but that is always despite himself. His deeply abiding hatred for humanity is well reflected on himself, especially in a beautiful sequence in "The Trial." Hex stops in a saloon in Virginia, and is soon recognized as the traitor of the 4th Calvary. Every single patron leaves in disgust, as does the proprietor, leaving Hex there alone to ruminate. Staring at his disfigured face in the big picture mirror, Hex smashes it into shards. The loathing of one man for his kind as well as for himself practically slaps the reader in the face.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Jonah fuckin' Hex.

FreakAngels, vols. 3 & 4 (Avatar): Look, either you're already reading this series for free on-line or buying the trades like me and the rest of the suckers or you're not gonna bother. So instead of telling you that this is more Warren Ellis goodness with more of Paul Duffield's excellent art, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about on-line comics.

Way back when, when I first read the preview of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics in the back of Cerebus, I had only an inkling of how indispensable this book would be to the study of comics literature. By the time the follow-up, Reinventing Comics was released in 2000, I was all primed to have my mind blown further as to the possibilities within the greatest medium known to man.

Well, I'm still waiting on that mind-blowing. The furor that this book caused, with its intensive focus on on-line comics as the future of the medium, lead McCloud himself to consider the book "dangerous." I'd say the most dangerous thing about the book is how much it insults my intelligence. At one point, he even says something to the effect of, "I drew this whole book using a computer and nary a pencil or piece of paper, and you couldn't even tell, could you?" What am I, a fucking moron, McCloud?

But that was ten years ago. As should be obvious, I've become far more accustomed to our futuristic on-line society, with its rocket-packs and space-pets. But I still hedge at considering the on-line world the next logical step for comics. I mean, really, if comics become (or as they may already have become) as interactive as McCloud predicted a decade ago, well, then they're hardly comics anymore, are they? I mean, I know McCloud technically considers Egyptian hieroglyphics and medieval French tapestries to be forms of comics, but I ain't bagging and boarding them big clunky things. And the same goes for the future: on-line comics are more likely poised to become some blend of sequential art, video games and viral video, deserving of a terminology a little more specific than "on-line comics." I mean, otherwise, we'd still be referring to movies as kinetoscopes.

In the meantime, your more traditional on-line comics, which are pretty much static, Internet-only versions of the things stacked in my closet, are fine as far as comics goes. Some are good (read LaMorté Sisters now, if you aren't already. If I recommend a vampire story to you, you can be reassured that it's worthwhile, since I find vampires more boring than I do your girlfriend), some are for sucks (oddly, I find LaMorté Sisters' creators Johnny Zito and Tony Trov's The Black Cherry Bombshells to fall more under this category), just like any print comics. Personally, I spend plenty of time as it is on this computer machine, so I generally prefer to read my comics the old-fashioned way, and yeah, I'll pony up good money to do so rather than reading it for free on this contraption. But that's just me.

This is all to say, read FreakAngels.

Blankets (Top Shelf): I'm as surprised as you are that it's taken me this long to read this book. I remember hearing a lot about it, but I dunno. For one thing, I'd never heard of this Craig Thompson guy, and since I buy so many books, I usually don't have the money to roll the dice on stuff like this like I did when I was in high school and was a non-smoker. But John let me borrow it, and I am plenty glad he did.

Thompson is a very talented cartoonist as well as a top-notch story-teller. Really, even given my above comments, I should just buy everything Top Shelf puts out from now on, because even if I don't keep it all, it's all still very worthwhile.

All that being said, I do have a few...well, not problems, or even criticisms. I dunno what you'd call 'em, but here goes: first, I think I still have a major hang-over from the indie autobiographical comics boom of the '90s. Seth, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown formed this confessional Canadian troika back then, and even though they put out some good comics, I really got fed up with reading about sensitive guys and their sensitive up-bringings. And if I'm really being honest here, a lot of the embarrassing crap these guys go through tends to strike pretty close to home as well, and I just wanna shove it away. Not the most mature attitude to take, I know, but when you consider how much time and effort I dedicate to the adventures of grown men in spandex, this attitude shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Another feeling that is a little difficult to pin down is the notion of child molestation. It's gross, to say the very least, and I should hope that I don't have to point that out to anybody here. Since Blankets is autobiographical and since the episodes with child molestation relate directly to the narrative, they're not only disturbing and powerful, but they play an important part in the story. I can get around my own personal discomfort with the subject enough to read it (hell, I've been reading Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn this week, so I oughtta be practiced enough at reading icky and gross stuff), but I guess my problem comes from the over-use of this sort of thing in modern story-telling. Not to say that Thompson is pulling this at all, but it seems that including child sexual abuse is a short-cut for writers to a volatile emotional reaction. And like any short-cut, if it's used too often, it defeats its own purpose. The reaction in the audience is in danger of becoming dulled. The possibility that this may extend to reactions to actual child abuse is for somebody else to worry about, like the argument that violent movies and video games desensitize people to the real thing. But what I am more concerned about is when a book like Blankets comes along and deftly depicts a horrible action like this, and my first reaction was almost an eye roll: "Here we go again." That's fucked up, and rather than take responsibility for my own reactions, I'm gonna blame lazy writers and generally worthless shows like Law & Order: SVU for such a saturation of this particular market.

Way to go, assholes.

The Killer, vol. 1 (Archaia): Again, I'll just briefly say this is a very fun read, written by Matz and drawn by Luc Jacamon, originally released in France ten years ago, about a bad-ass hitman and his bad-ass hitman adventures. And now I'll go on a tangent.

Pulp and noir fiction is some of my favorite stuff, as you should know by now. Not only do I enjoy reading it, but it also a big part of my own creative output. Out of the Gutter is one of today's premiere print rags of hard-boiled lit, and when one goes to submit something to them, they have a list of stuff to avoid, clichés that the genre is already full of. And yes, hitmen hold a firm place on that list.

Hey, who doesn't like to read about guys who kill guys? I sure as hell do. But I think one of the reasons the hitman has become such a boring crime archetype is unfortunately one of the most noticeable things about this first volume of The Killer. I already think that narration in comics is largely unnecessary: if you can't convey what you wanna through dialogue and pictures, then I'd say you're not using the medium to its utmost. Of course, there are a million counter-examples to that, but to me, it's a pretty good rule of thumb. But if you insist on using narration, especially first-person, please do not front-load all the motivation there. Especially with a hitman character. It seems to me that a lot of writers feel a need to make it clear why these guys are hitmen, why they would partake in such a detestable occupation. Is this trip really necessary? Why wouldn't I just buy that these guys are sociopaths? Hell, I'm a bad week away from becoming one myself. So all this tired nonsense of "Hey, it's just my job, and if I didn't do it, someone else would, and the people I kill are generally scumbags" and blah blah blah. Max Allan Collins is the only guy I've seen pull it off, and maybe Lawrence Block, and even then, I tend to skim over those parts, quick as. And those guys are legends in the field. Chances are, you ain't.

So stop it already. The guy kills people for money. If you feel the need to explain that further, watch Grosse Pointe Blank again and see what you're doing wrong.

West Coast Blues (Fantagraphics): As if predicting my reaction to The Killer, Jacques Tardi shows up with this adaptation of a Jean-Patrick Manchette novel and proves them frogs really do know what they're doing over there. One of my first thoughts on this book was how much it reminded me of Jean-Luc Godard's movies. And while that may be true, I'm suspicious of my own ability to make that call, since Godard is pretty much the only French pop culture I've had any interaction with.

But regardless, this book is loaded with more existenialism than you can shake being and nothingness at. And it's fucking awesome. I really can't get enough of this sorta stuff, not since I read The Stranger in high school and pretended to understand it, even though at the time, the only understanding it gave me was of The Cure's "Killing an Arab." The main character, average le schmuck George Gerfaut, has an attempt made on his life by two guys he's never seen before. So naturally, he bails on his wife and kids and goes to live in the mountains for a year. The narration in this book is largely expository, but only in real general terms, and it certainly doesn't allow us an open window into Gerfaut's mindset. That's for us to figure out, and I'm glad these boys left it that way. It makes for a much more staisfying read if I have to fill in my own blanks. Plus there are lots of drawing of penises.

Tardi is widely known in Europe and has been for years, so it only makes sense that I've only just become aware of his stuff. Apparently, Fantagraphics is gonna be reprinting a buncha his stuff, even the stuff that Dark Horse already put out a few years ago. So you have no excuse to grab this up and look real impressive down at the coffee house.

All right, kids, that's it for this month. See you next time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Intercontinental Ballistic Miscellany

Speaking of intercontinental: my buddy Evan Quiring, up in the great white north, just released his latest self-published comics effort, and kids, it's worth the wait. Los Luchadores Mysteriosos features the action-packed adventures of Rey Diablo, the cigar-chompin' North American champion o' Mexican wrasslin' back in the mid-'60s. With more zombies from space than you can shake a Tor Johnson at, this bad boy is like reading a Cramps record in four colors. Do yourself a favor and visit to order yourself up a copy for a measly half a sawbuck.

Speaking of buddies of mine: international sex object and fellow PopMatters alum Kevin Brettauer is officially one of Earth's mightiest heroes. Marvel recently had this deal where you could upload a picture of yourself and then they would consider it for inclusion in a photo collage entitled "I Am an Avenger." Naturally, I submitted a picture of myself, but as is obvious upon seeing the finished product, they clearly had plenty of pictures of bespectacled white guys. So mad props to Kevvy--get your hands on a Quinjet and let's go pick up chicks.

Speaking of picking up chicks: Even though I bought Marvel Illustrated: the Swimsuit Issue back when it came out, I'd never really considered myself one of these weirdoes who has an unhealthy sexual obsession with super-heroines or their villainous counterparts. My sexuality was already well a-brew thanks to such TV icons as Elvira, Suzanne Somers, and Phylicia Rashad. So by the time I discovered comics in the late '80s--coincidentally enough, around the time when more and more female characters were beginning to be drawn wearing less and less--I found it a little weird that so many of my peers seemed to get off on, say, Psylocke's ninja costume (or lack thereof). All that being said, the recent revelation that Rogue and the Sentry, y'know...did it, I dunno, I think it's kinda hot. Am I a weirdo now, too? Or have I not just been getting laid enough lately? Either way, I need to find me a 1967-era Marvel Girl costume and a cute redhead to fill it, ASAFP.

Speaking of PopMatters: I know I've mentioned this site more than once here, but if you have yet to check it out, you really oughtta. I haven't paid much attention to comics journalism since high school, but the vast majority of it that I glance at still seems to be sodden in that Wizard-y fanboy-ish, gosh-wow-neat vibe, which is just embarrassing for all. You've got stuff like The Comics Journal, but even that isn't available in a print format anymore. So as long as you're looking at smarty-pants criticism about comical books on the internet machines, you might as well see what we've got cooking in the PopMatters kitchen. There's me, Kev-Kev, my buddy Oliver Ho (and both of these cats will also soon be found on our sister site, Let's Kill Everybody!), and a buncha others, including our editor, the inimitable if obscurely-named shathely Q, who is the hardest working man in comics journalism. So g'wan over there already and let us know how you feel. Hell, submit something if you wanna; seems they're always on the look-out for writers about whatever goofy shit you might be into.

Speaking of computer machines: I've been a huge fan of Peter Bagge's stuff from when I discovered his "Vomit Glossary" poster at the age of 11, all they way up to and beyond the age of 32 when I taped up his "Esas Locas Ex-Novias" poster in my station at work. When Vertigo solicited orders for his first original full-length hardcover, I hesitated not a moment in ordering it. Frank and John decided to wait until
the softcover edition, a move I can get behind normally, but in this case, I had no patience. And my impatience was well rewarded. Other Lives is the story of four people and the way computers and the Internet have allowed them and/or cursed them to undergo extensive identity changes. It's really a masterful piece of story-telling in this regard and, like all of Bagge's stuff, it is fucking hilarious. Surely by this point you've read Hate, and this is without a doubt his best stuff since that beloved title ended. Get it now, softcover be damned.

Speaking of being damned: Obviously, I'm running a little low on ideas around here. Anybody got a topic they want me to cover, a book or several books they wanna see reviewed, what have you? I'd sure appreciate it. You can get a hold of me here, or down at the laundromat, riffling through the dryer lint.