As of December 31, 2013, PictureBox will no longer release any new titles. This was not an easy decision, but the company is no longer feasible for me as a thoroughgoing venture. Change is, as the cliché goes, a good thing, and I am proud of PictureBox the idea and the company, and grateful to the…
Our good friends are shuttering their publishing operations and we wish them well. Look for Dan’s continued co-stewardship over at TCJ.com.
Not great news, but the coldblooded consumer can get 50% off everything on the site. I picked up Frank Santoro’s Pompeii, C.F.’s Mere and Blutch’s So Long, Silver Screen.
I missed seeing Tom Spurgeon’s Five for Friday post a few days ago, but the subject was a really good one and it got my brain looking back over my own personal history, so I thought I’d post my answers here. You can see everyone else’s responses at FFF Results Post #358 — Comics Reading DNA at The Comics Repporter.
Comics Reporter readers were asked to name as specifically as possible:
1) The First Comic Of Any Kind You Remember Reading
I’ve tried to narrow that down, and I think it’s Amazing Spider-Man somewhere right after Gwen Stacy died.
2) A Comic That Got You Back Into Reading A Certain Kind Of Comic After You’d Given Up On That Kind Of Comic
Avengers #1, the Heroes Return era by Busiek and Perez. Superhero comics had completely lost me in the 1990s, but Perez back on Avengers made me curious and the easy professionalism and obvious fun Busiek and Perez were having bought me back. It’s a good bet I might never have gotten so involved in comics again had this book not existed, so blame Busiek and Perez for Comic Book Galaxy and Trouble With Comics even ever existing, if you like.
3) A Comic That Got You Reading A Different Type Of Comic Altogether
Either The First Kingdom or Elfquest led me to what we then called ground-level comics, and FantaCo really opened the floodgates with Hembeck, Smilin’ Ed, Gates of Eden and more.
4) A Comic That Made You Want To Make Comics Even If You Never Made Them
Oh, hell, any good comic makes me feel that way. I did make scores of them in the early ’80s, probably inspired by the black and white alternatives I was reading.
5) A Comic That Represents A Kind Of Comic You Have Yet To Explore
I don’t know that there are any genres or kinds of comics I haven’t explored. But I do know my interest in comics about people who can fly or have bolts shooting out of their hands has never been lower than it is now, due to the shoddy quality of most superhero comics right now and the insipidity of the comics culture overall.
Creator Rights vs. Fan Ignorance: Look Stuff Up and Find Out For Yourself
This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.
The history of the “Big Two,” is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It’s very easy today to say “maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place,” about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it’s far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.
Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC’s contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?
Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it’s what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that’s understandable enough; it’s a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions — look up the “promotional” Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn’t have the courage — which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF).
Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about.
Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of “Copyright,” in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn’t agree with it? I could go on all day.
A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.
Today is the 60th birthday of Northampton’s hometown magician, Alan Moore. Why not spend the day reading or re-reading (or listening to!) some of the Moore-related articles we’ve posted over the years? Enjoy!
Monday is Alan Moore’s 60th birthday, and I wish him every happiness on that (and every) day, both because I respect and admire his wit, talent and politics, and because he has brought me more unbounded joy over the last three decades than probably every other comic book creator combined. Beginning very early on in his Swamp Thing run and continuing through to the current day, a new Alan Moore book means surprise and delight, and sometimes a little bit of controversy.
Moore’s recent Nemo graphic novel with artist Kevin O’Neill shows that Moore’s passion for fun and exciting comic books that are also complex and thought-provoking hasn’t waned at all. Although the very mention of Moore can anger and aggravate aggrieved fanboys over-invested in the importance of corporate comic book culture in their lives, the fact of the matter is that Moore’s work mattered, and continues to matter, for the very reasons they despise him in their thousands: Moore puts his own needs before corporate whims, he gives readers what they need, not what they want (giving readers what they want, or think they want, is the very foundation Moore’s former publisher DC Comics has built its current loathsome line of books on), and most importantly, he uses his unique and brilliant intellect to construct complex and challenging works that demand you exercise your own mind in order to not only enjoy, but even to comprehend. It’s hard to imagine any of the work-for-hire prostitutes who applied their minor gifts to Before Watchmen against all rational, ethical decency being able to even read the first book on this list, never mind write something anywhere near as entertaining, challenging and soul-satisfying.
About this list: Lance Parkin answered this very same question recently in my Five Questions interview with him, and made the terrific point that “at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.” I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. I fully support Moore in his stance against the abuses of corporate comics publishers against creators unable to stem the tide of their perfidy, but I think oftentimes even Affable Al’s most fervent fans get so caught up in the rhetoric and invective (Glycon knows I have been guilty of this myself) that they forget to celebrate just how much fun Moore’s work almost always is. The worst of his work in comics, arguably some of the stuff he did for Image in the 1990s (examined and put in context in Parkin’s wonderful new biography Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore), still contains the structure, humour and narrative left-turns that are trademarks of Moore’s style.
So here are the five Moore works that I find myself coming back to again and again, always entertained, always astonished by how fresh and vital they remain after a dozen reads or more.
Voice of the Fire
This is Moore’s greatest achievement to date, a prose novel that also functions as a collection of short stories and can be read and enjoyed as either. Each chapter is set in its own era, with its own characters, story and themes, but each combines as a whole to tell an alternative history of Moore’s hometown of Northampton and environs that is chilling, hilarious and mind-blowing. Anyone who has never approached this work because it’s “not comics” is denying themselves enjoyment of the most personal and powerful expression of the talent of the greatest writer comics has ever known.
Even though Swamp Thing got to the States first, Miracleman is the book that really showed the power of Moore’s gifts to change the way we think not only about comics, but about entertainment in general. And despite shipping delays, fill-in issues, mediocre art in some issues and an ethical and legal tangle that may never truly be understood, never mind sorted out, Moore’s run on this comic remains revolutionary, thrilling and timeless. I can’t recommend or endorse Marvel’s forthcoming reprints given their history of fucking with Moore and his work, but I do recommend you read these if you can and immerse yourself in probably Moore’s greatest superhero epic. Its impact and influence on entertainment since, in everything from comics to movies to television, cannot be overstated.
Moore’s most complex and greatest work in comics to date, From Hell and Voice of The Fire convinced me that his interest in magic was truly informing his work in positive and unprecedented ways. There are moments in both books that will turn your brain inside out and leave you changed in ways that will last long after you close the cover and move on. There’s more technique and hardcore comics talent at work in From Hell than in 90 percent of every other comic book ever published, and at the same time, it’s also just one hell of a wild story, in comics form. It’s the one work of Moore’s that I recommend without reservation to anyone who wants to know why the man has the reputation that he does. In From Hell, Moore and artist Eddie Campbell prove beyond all doubt that, as Harvey Pekar believed, “You can do anything with words and pictures.” In From Hell, Moore and Campbell do everything.
A bit of a sentimental favourite, because it was the first Moore work I was ever exposed to. Despite Moore’s falling-out with artist Steve Bissette, their work along with John Totleben on Swamp Thing remains one of the greatest works DC ever published, and given how very shabbily the publisher treated Moore during their partnership and ever since, one supposes it’s kind of a miracle that it happened at all. But from the start of this run, I had the sense something different and more adult was happening in comic books, and I was right. Moore brought nuance and complexity to American comics with Swamp Thing, along with horror and dread and subtlety since unmatched. No one would ever again make Swamp Thing as important a title and character as Moore, Bissette and Totleben did, and in a world that makes sense, no one would have even tried. They said and did it all, and the run remains as vital and classic today as we knew it was even when it was shipping monthly to our local comic shops and drug stores.
There’s a bit of proof of concept about Moore’s Wildcats run; Jim Lee had created a cookie-cutter X-Men ripoff for Image and imbued it with absolutely nothing worth talking about. When Moore took over the title, it immediately — immediately — became the wildest and most interesting superhero comic book on the stands. So if you want proof that Moore is the real thing, that he puts his money where his mouth is and delivers the goods virtually every time, then read the issues before Moore took over Wildcats, then read his run. There’s no greater evidence of why Moore is the best writer ever to work in comics. He can take any idea, or even the absence of one, and turn it into something professional, exciting and worth talking about. I re-read this run every few years, and its casual quality and absolute transformation of one of the shittiest comics ever published brings a smile to my face every time. You don’t think Moore is a magician? You need to read his Wildcats, my friend.
Lance Parkin has written the definitive biography of Alan Moore in the thick new hardcover Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, published by Aurum Press. Moore is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of comics, and many good books already exist that explore the man’s life and works. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how much insight and nuance Parkin brings to the subject.
Alan David Doane: Magic Words paints as complete and objective a picture of Alan Moore’s career as I have yet read, and I’ve been fascinated with the man and his work since around the time his Swamp Thing began here in the States. Tell me how immersing yourself so completely in his works, his life and his worldview has affected you as a writer and as a human being.
Lance Parkin: Thank you. I’ve also been following Moore’s work since the dawn of his career. And you’re right to identify that a project like this will affect me as a writer and the way I see the world. Scrutinising his life, I see parallels with mine. He had a very similar upbringing to my father. Moore and I have written a lot of stories set in shared universes. He’s British but married to an American.
Writing a biography makes you think about how your own biography would read, makes you realise that it would be a story, not a life. I’m not summing up the full life of a human being in 400 pages, I’m providing a narrative, one that’s hopefully insightful and sees things from a few interesting angles.
And his career begs interesting questions about any type of professional writing. When do you compromise? What fights are worth having? What’s important? What’s fair? These aren’t questions with easy answers, or necessarily the same answers in all circumstances. Alan Moore has always gone bold. Never accepted laziness or mediocrity in himself or others. Which isn’t to say that everything he’s done is 100% perfect in every way. But he’s never gone ‘oh, people are just buying it for the logo or because they already like the character’. He knows that a certain number of people – enough to make any project viable – will buy anything with his name on it. He’s taken that as licence to produce weird, new things, not cruise along singing his greatest hits.
You go to great lengths to explore Moore’s interest in and practice of magic, starting with his announcement that he was becoming a magician and then looking at how Moore’s magical worldview has informed his work ever since. How do you view the impact this development had on Moore’s writing?
I’m going to be honest, I’m not in any sense a spiritual or mystically-minded person myself. That’s not to say I dismiss or mock anyone who is, least of all Alan Moore, but writing that chapter was more like a mapping expedition than me preaching the gospel. My instinct is to dismiss it, to note that if you take hallucinogenics, you’re going to hallucinate. My ultra-rationalist interpretation says more about me than Alan Moore, though.
When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen.
I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that.
At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working.
Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.
Moore’s iconoclastic personality and powerful ethical philosophy has led to his falling out with some publishers and colleagues, and yet other relationships creatively and business-wise have continued for many years. What do you believe is ultimately the deciding factor in whether a creator or publisher is able to stay simpatico with Moore and work with him again and again over time?
Trust him, and - for the love of all that’s holy - hope that he doesn’t lose trust in you.
Personally, I believe in editors. I’ve been lucky to have a handful of great editors, starting with my first, Rebecca Levene at Virgin Books and including Sam Harrison who edited Magic Words, who understood my books better than I did, who could read a manuscript and find things already in there I hadn’t seen, to help me draw those things out and polish them up. I see editors as being a cox or a boxing coach. Their job – at the creative stage, this is, which is the bit I see - is to make my book the best possible expression of my vision. Not to help throw the punches, but to get me to direct my punches more forcefully and accurately.
I think Moore sees editors completely differently. This isn’t an analogy he’s ever used, but I think he sees them as more like gallery owners, something like that. He’ll bring the completed work, their job is to provide a great space to display it to best advantage and to sell the tickets. He’ll do the art, they’ll do the business. And if a painter shows up to a gallery and discovers that the owner has altered one of the pictures even slightly or is selling postcards of it when the painter asked him not to, then that painter would be perfectly within their rights to never put on a show at that gallery again and to loudly and frequently express his displeasure. Particularly if the gallery never gave him his paintings back, like they said they would.
The way to reconcile those two models is just thinking of it in terms of a good editor being someone who has respect for the artist, and an understanding that a writer has made artistic choices and made those specific choices for a reason.
I was delighted to see you used a quote from my own 2004 interview with Alan Moore (available in Avatar’s Yuggoth Cultures
trade paperback or download the MP3 version here) as part of what had to be an exhaustive research process. As I said earlier, I’ve been following Moore and his work since the early 1980s, and feel a great appreciation for his body of work and admiration for the ethical stances he’s taken over the years. I will say that as a writer about comics, seeing Moore’s side on ethical issues has often led to disagreements between myself and members of what I’ll politely call “comics fandom.” The acceptance of Before Watchmen by comics as a business and a culture for me was a real breaking point, in that I felt the utter wrongness of DC and the creators who worked on the project should have been roundly rejected and reviled by every thinking human being, and the fact that didn’t happen really made me want to distance myself from comics as a whole. While you present the issue fairly, I have to ask, what are your thoughts as far as what the existence of Before Watchmen mean for comics as an industry and a culture?
Yeah, there are a number of distinct issues and perspectives, there. Deep breath …
Alan Moore is hardly the greatest victim the comics industry has seen. I’m a freelance writer, and the idea of having a book in print for twenty five years, selling two million plus copies, on a 4% royalty, with a big movie version … I’d take that deal. (That said, when I interviewed him for Magic Words, Moore told me he wasn’t entitled to anything from Before Watchmen). I think in his specific case, the issue is that Watchmen started life as a creator-owned, self-contained thing. It makes it different from Superman or Iron Man – which were not stories, they were characters, designed to have a tale that grows in the telling. What’s a fair way to treat creators and their estates when it’s fifty or seventy five years later and those characters are global multimedia brands in their own right? It’s an interesting question, but not quite the same question raised by Watchmen.
Was Before Watchmen a conscious attempt to shift Watchmen from an authored work to being a much more nebulous ‘brand’, like Batman and Superman? Was the plan to be able to say ‘oh, there’s more to Watchmen than Alan Moore, he’s just one of the writers’? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Before Watchmen seemed to miss the main selling point of the original series, which was that you could just buy one book and read it, and that was that. And that it mattered who wrote and drew it.
I didn’t read Before Watchmen beyond a couple of preview pages, but I really don’t think ill of the writers and artists for taking a high profile gig. They made some comics, it’s not like they played Sun City.
I admit I felt the same way you felt there, though, that it was a step too far. ‘Breaking point’ is about right. It wasn’t the first blow. I’m a DC man through and through, but the New 52 is just too monotone and po-faced for me. Raising the prices and cutting the pages just means comics are terrible value for money. The other day I was reading a comic with my headphones on and got through a comic in less time than it took to listen to one song. It worked out at about $1.50 a minute. And, sorry, but as entertainment products go, that’s more than the going rate for a Pink Floyd concert. And, you know, I’m 42 years old, perhaps it’s healthy that I’m not all that bothered who the Joker’s Daughter is or about the final fate of the Blue Lanterns. I’m quite prepared to concede it’s my problem, not DC’s. At the same time, I love Mind Mgmt, East of West is great, I found Battling Boy utterly thrilling (and can’t wait to re-read THB next year). I love what David Liss is doing with The Spider. I can go back and endlessly re-read the Wolfman/Perez Titans or Nemesis the Warlock or Luther Arkwright and it’s not purely because of nostalgia. I still like good comics.
Eight Before Watchmen series, or whatever it was, a dollar more than regular comics, one a week for six months, just seemed like an unusually blunt cash grab. It felt like something the marketing department came up with. Yes, all comics are designed to entice me to part with my money. They’re usually a little more subtle than that, though. I don’t want to be fed an endless supply of Watchmen, I want to be fed an endless supply of challenging, well-made comics.
The ‘fandom’ reaction baffled me. I mean, obviously, it’s a subset of fans, it’s not all comics readers speaking with one voice. And internet debate polarises and exaggerates. There was a strain of fan almost gleeful that Alan Moore didn’t want it to happen. Is that tribal loyalty to DC? If pressed, I’d say I had tribal loyalty to DC. But there were people who were going ‘yeah, right, this’ll stick it to Alan Moore’. And … stick what? Again, I can’t speak for him, but he didn’t seem angry about it, it was more that he thought Before Watchmen was a little sad.
I think it comes down to ownership – I think fans believe they have some sort of stake. You see that around V for Vendetta a lot. A lot of readers have taken the politics of the book and the (different!) politics of the movie to heart. So when Alan Moore says the movie script sucked and he doesn’t have the graphic novel in the house any more, to those fans it sounds like he’s saying he rejects them as human beings. I don’t know. I think it’s common across a lot of fandoms. I think ‘Star Trek fan’, ‘Star Wars fan’, ‘Doctor Who fan’, these are functionally the equivalent of ethnicities at this point, in the sense that it can be at the core of how some people identify. I’m 3/8ths Scottish. I don’t feel Scottish, I don’t feel the urge to return to the Highlands every seven years to mate. I am a Doctor Who fan. I would be a very different person, with a different career and social circle if I’d never been one. And it sounds silly to say that, it sounds like I’m trivialising, but something like comics demands an investment of time, of money, of intellectual energy, you need somewhere to store all those boxes. But it provides a common culture, and a community. When Alan Moore ‘rejects comics’, there will be people who take it personally.
What are your five favourite Alan Moore works, and why?
Thank you for this question, because I think at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.
THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES still does it for me. It has energy, it’s clearly had so much thought put into it, but equally clearly it was written week-by-week so a lot of the time it’s just finding ways the move the story along. It was originally meant as a counterpoint in a very male, very violent anthology comic, so it’s almost a different thing as a standalone. You can see Moore straining against the limits of the form, and Ian Gibson’s art just rather effortlessly keeping it all together.
BIG NUMBERS is the great ‘what if’? Only the first three parts of it have (or will) ever appear, we also have Moore’s giant chart plotting out what would have happened and a couple of long interviews about it. I think it’s the one point where Moore bites off more than he can chew. It’s this entirely new kind of thing, but wrapped up in a story that looks entirely mundane. And we only have the beginning of the story. So it’s something that’s very hard to grasp. It feels like an example of what Iain M Banks called an ‘excession’ – something that appears one day that just shatters all your assumptions, but is so big and weird and advanced there’s not much you can do about it.
The performance piece the BIRTH CAUL is available (kind of, it’s hard to find) on CD and much more readily as a comic strip adaptation by Eddie Campbell. What I like about Moore is that he can take visceral, hindbrain stuff and connect it up to an almost Vulcan, crystalline structure and you can’t ever see the join. Birth Caul is Alan Moore at his most personal and intense.
Controversial one, here, but WATCHMEN’s good. I’d read it countless times in the past, I read it three times during the course of writing Magic Words. Every time, I’ve seen something new or something’s taken on a new resonance for me. And it’s funny, which I spend a chapter trying to convince people of in Magic Words.
If I had to pick one thing, again, it would be something very obvious – the Valerie chapter of V. That, to me, should be required reading for … well, I was going to say anyone making comics, but any human being, really. The subject matter and the moral … yes, they’re weighty and important, and emotionally affecting. It’s self-explanatory, which is good, it’s always nice to just hand something to someone and say ‘just read this’. But just look at the way Moore and Lloyd compose it. Look at what they convey and how. It matters who wrote and drew it. It works because of them.
This is a terrific piece by Heidi. Sometimes, anger can cause one to write at too high a pitch, causing the reader to pay attention but miss the finer details, kind of like blaring a speaker in their ear, but this one is nicely controlled. A couple things it makes me realize is that never once in the thousands of reviews and columns I wrote did I try to really focus on female cartoonists, which I think is a failing. I could rationalize that some relatively well-known ones like Hope Larson and Lilli Carre I find pretty overrated, but honestly, I find most cartoonists overrated these days. It’s hard to name any work that arrives without flaws or deficiencies, regardless of gender. Lisa Hanawalt’s book was one of my favorites this year, a laff riot but also honest and uniquely weird. I do think comics criticism is barely into adolescence, at best, and the relatively small impact comics as a medium has on the culture means appreciation for female cartoonists will be slow-going. Even in the huge film industry, there are few female directors getting their shot, but no doubt the likes of Kathryn Bigelow has inspired many young women to make their own films. In a sense, I’m more worried about the comics industry and comics medium themselves first, the state of criticism second. At the same time as I’m acknowledging my own foibles, I have to say, in this context Marc Sobel’s line about a “distinctive female perspective” seems awfully patronizing. It sort of reminds me of a comment I read last week on Facebook where a guy took issue with my use of “African-American” just because Morgan Freeman on The Today Show said he prefers to be called “black.” I guess Mr. Freeman provided the distinctive black perspective and there are no others.
As far as the Santoro/Collins piece, I had a very different reaction, more about why criticism has stagnated a bit and what factors drove me to mostly abandon writing about comics in favor of writing about other media at my own blog, even if it’s a much larger pool. I wrote to Santoro about this and he replied that he wanted to get back to me on some of it, so I’m waiting for that response before I publish that rant.
For most of the first four decades of my life comics and graphic novels gave me a great deal of pleasure. From the ages of 6 to around 14 or 15, nothing occupied my time more happily than running off somewhere quiet (usually my bedroom) with a stack of new comics, in the pages of which I would lose myself in the imaginations of writers and artists far more creative than I was, or likely ever would be.
Since the ascension of celebrity fan-fiction writers like Geoff Johns, Mark Millar and others, superhero comics have become an imagination-free zone of ever-escalating violence with no thought, theme or theory in evidence anywhere. The apotheosis of this dire state of affairs was the publication of Before Watchmen. Wretched in intent and criminal in execution, its existence, and worse, acceptance in the marketplace, definitively ended my interest in superhero comics as an ongoing enterprise. The disgrace of it prompted some badly-timed comments about one of its creators at a time when all of fandom was in grief over his passing, and I regret the incident, but do not deny the truth behind my foolish utterance. The people who worked on Before Watchmen, from the writers and artists to the editors, publishers, even the “journalists” who “covered” it — all are complicit in a betrayal of whatever ideals superhero comics might once have laid claim to. The existence and acceptance of the books — now sickeningly available in hardcover, like bronzing a momentous bowel movement for posterity — is a scorched-earth moment in comics history from which there is no going back. And it killed my interest in superhero comics as if that had been its very intent. Perhaps, in broad strokes, it was. After all, the industry has little use for independent thinkers who question authority and call bullshit when appropriate. I was just one little comics blogger, but I’m sure I’m not the only one driven away by the horror implicit in the publication of Before Watchmen.
The thousands of dollars a year I once spent on comics will now be spent on other things. Rent. Groceries. Maybe the occasional movie. I still crave works that fire my imagination. I am as fascinated by the process of creating art as I am the art itself. Moreso, really. The mysteries of imagination seem like a puzzle too complex for human minds to ever fully decode. I can’t just watch a movie or TV show and lose myself in it, I am constantly pondering the process of its creation. There aren’t any superhero comics anymore that beg that question the way Kirby’s did, or Ditko’s, or whatever genius you think of when you think of the gods of comics creation. I do know that few walk the earth anymore. Fewer still seem to aspire to the heights those gods once reached.
SPX Presents HEIDI MACDONALD at the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!
OK, as you may or may not know, Heidi, the Goddess of The Beat and other realms of the comic world, graciously donated her entire mini-comics collection to the SPX Collection at the Library of Congress.
As part of of this act of deified munificence, she is going to give a lecture there this Friday September 13 at Noon.
Seriously, here are a few sale prices that strike me as absolutely bonkers; as in, you would have to be nuts not to buy these great comics and graphic novels at these prices:
* ALL of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, each volume is five bucks, so the whole awesome story for 15 dollars.
* Alan Moore’s Unearthing softcover — normally $29.95, just $3.00. That’s 90% off for Moore’s latest work!
* The Surrogates Owners Manual is $10.00. This was originally published at $75.00 if I recall correctly, and provides hours of intense science-fiction entertainment (and also inspired a movie).
* Eddie Campbell’s excellent The Playwright is just a buck!
There are many, many more prices, so low it’s nuts. Buy some for friends, get some great reading for yourself. Top Shelf is an advertiser on this site (and I’m grateful for that!), but I’m telling you about this sale because it’s your one chance to sample some of the greatest graphic novels of the past 15 years or so without having to worry about how you’ll make the rent or pay for groceries. Click on over, get yourself some awesome graphic novels, and sleep well knowing you’re helping one of the best publishers in the industry keep doing what they do so well. And sure, if you like, tell ‘em Trouble With Comics sent you.
So last week, there were two different DC Comics-related news items that received instant scorn and outrage. First, Batwoman writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman quit the series as of issue #26, citing DC’s decision not to allow the long-planned wedding of Batwoman Kathy Kane and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. It was seen by many as an anti-gay marriage stance. Since then, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has explained, at a comics convention, that DC is very committed to the character of Batwoman (and challenged the audience to name a publisher who has shown more commitment to a character, before he quickly answered his own challenge that there was none), but that superheroes should not have happy personal lives, so it’s more of a general policy against marriage for superheroes in the New 52. As with most things DC, there are inconsistencies, as Aquaman is currently married, but if this is now their stated policy I suppose it’s fair to accept this as true for the moment and see if they live up to it. Personally, I think their superheroes would be a lot more interesting if they were more diverse, and I don’t just mean having more ethnicities represented. How about a married superhero, a superhero with an adopted kid with M.S., a superhero with a deaf boyfriend, a superhero in couples counseling? Of course, superheroes can’t have endlessly joyous lives and still be fun to read (although on second thought, DC sold its most comics back when that was the case, but I know there were other factors), but aren’t the traditional personal life problems of the single superhero (girlfriend in distress, girlfriend suspects you’re a superhero, no time for romance because crime fighting) pretty well played out by now?
The other item was a kind of tryout to be in an upcoming Harley Quinn comic, where prospective artists would illustrate four seemingly unrelated panels, most consisting of Harley in suicidal situations, the fourth panel also describing her as nude. So people complained that it was exploitation, sexist, and hey, since when has Harley been suicidal? Psychopathic and murderous, yes. Suicidal, not so much.
Co-publisher Jim Lee had damage control duty on this one, tweeting examples of how panels taken out of context can appear very different than their intent, and that this wasn’t exploitive and the writers were actually poking fun at themselves, or something. Fair enough. But both of these stories illustrate how poor DC’s PR department is doing at anticipating negative reaction and getting in front of a story. Obviously a big name like Williams III quitting a book over an editorial decision is going to get out—why wasn’t DC letting people know about their anti-marriage thing, and pointing to their, um, one other gay superhero character as proof of their LGBT friendliness? Why announce a contest that makes drawing a female super villain naked a requirement? That seems like a case where they mentioned the nudity precisely to get a reaction, but it wasn’t the reaction they wanted. After all, they certainly aren’t really going to show Harley Quinn naked in one of their comics; it might be suggestive, but undoubtedly most of her naughty bits will be submerged in bathwater. So even if the original intent was tongue-in-cheek, the announcement ends up being skeevy. And note that in neither case does anyone at DC apologize. No, it’s the fans who misunderstood what they’re doing. For his part, at least Lee acknowledges his writers, though when he talked about the Batwoman debacle, he basically said the talent has to follow the editorial direction laid out for them, no matter how late in the game, tough shit, creators. He said it in his affable Jim Lee way, though.
It’s a bad situation for fans of DC’s characters these days. There’s still some talent there and despite everything, some good stories will make it through relatively unscathed. But look, I’m currently reading nothing from DC, and I tried over 90% of the initial New 52 titles, and several that debuted after that first wave. With Before Watchmen and their treatment of many other creators, and retrograde decisions like this anti-marriage thing, how can anyone feel good about buying these books? I feel bad for someone like Marc Andreyko, a decent writer (I really liked his Manhunter in the pre-New 52 days not long ago) who is stepping in as the new writer on Batwoman. It should be noted that Williams III, a co-creator of the character, started writing her when original writer and co-creator Greg Rucka abandoned DC and their interference. Andreyko is inheriting maybe the only interesting, well-designed character in DC’s stable in the past decade, and yet she’s been sullied and abused, an important part of her cored out. I was joking (bitterly) to a friend the other day that it was “about time she (Batwoman) got back to her roots as a superhero not in a loving, committed relationship.” Sounds fun, huh?
Here’s a handy list of all the comics makers who participated in Before Watchmen. I refuse to buy or read anything by these folks: Neal Adams, Rafael Albuquerque, Michael Allred, Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, Jordi Bernet, Tim Bradstreet, Massimo Carnevale, Cliff Chiang, Michael Cho, Amanda…
ADD Reviews Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series
Neither comics nor art, Abrams ComicArts has nonetheless done a spectacular job compiling Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series into a delightful, compact hardcover. I can remember seeing these trading card packages in my childhood. I was ten the year they were originally issued, in 1976. That was ten years after the original series debuted, seven years after it was canceled and three years before its second life began in earnest with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But I don’t remember for certain if I ever owned any of them; I suspect I did, because some of the individual cards seem familiar to me, but certainly I never had a complete set. So the nostalgic and historic value of this book to me, as someone with an enormous interest in Star Trek (especially the original series) is huge.
Abrams has some fun with the presentation; the dustjacket of this little hardcover (by Paula Block and Terry Erdmann) is made of wax paper, the same kind the cards were wrapped in. So there’s a tactile thrill from the first time you pick up the book. They also include four new cards in a packet inserted into the book, in the style of the original cards, both as added-value and to remedy the strange fact that George Takei’s Mister Sulu is not featured on any of the original cards, only the back of his head in one shot of the Bridge’s viewscreen from the Captain’s perspective. The back of Billy Blackburn’s head makes it into that shot too, Trek Trivia lovers. If you don’t know who Billy Blackburn is, you’re probably not a Trek Trivia lover, but that’s okay. You might still find it amusing that Blackburn is found on two of the cards, unless of course you’re George Takei.
The book presents the front and back of all 88 of the original Topps Star Trek cards, featuring a little over half of the 79 episodes of the original series; an interesting introductory essay explains a lot of the history behind the set, including the fact that a second set would likely have covered the remaining episodes, but no second set was ever issued. An explanatory paragraph discusses some aspect of each card, providing background, insight or trivia.
The cards are featured warts and all, so typos like a misspelling of Walter Koenig’s last name or including Lt. Uhura on a list of “The Men of the Enterprise” remain charmingly in evidence. If you love the original Star Trek, whether you have any interest in trading cards or not (put me in the “not” category), Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series is a fascinating piece of history, educational and fun, brilliantly packaged in such a way as to authentically evoke the era and the artifacts. The only thing missing is the gum. (Actually, they thought of that too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
If you don’t know, Jim Rugg is a fantastic artist who happened to make one of the best graphic novels of the past decade, Street Angel. The thing is, that was in 2005, and quite frankly, he hasn’t done a lot since as far as comics. I doubt it was for lack of effort. He did a book called The Plain Janes targeted at a tween audience that had no way of hearing about it, shortly before the economy collapsed and DC canceled the imprint. Afrodisiac was a lot of fun, but a blaxploitation parody seemed to be treading water a little creatively.
Now, there’s Supermag. Like his Notebook Drawings, it’s a showcase for Rugg’s immense illustrative talent, along with a number of short comics strips and stories. Rugg shows how much he’s learned from adventure comics of the ’30s and ’40s, the EC horror and crime comics of the ’50s, funny animal strips and cartoons of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as the influence of cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Jaime Hernandez. Rugg has a dazzling command of his craft and is skilled at all manner of styles.
He’s a good writer, too. There’s a voice here, only partially obscured by the spoofs and genre mimicry, and it’s one of dread and fear and helplessness about the dark forces that churn the world. It’s a noir voice, a horror voice, but here we only get brief glimpses of either genre.
On rare occasions, critics can be a buoy to a creator, give them that lift when they need it to keep going. A lot of times, though, we can be perceived as terrible people for our demands. I mean, I recognize that the market is not the same as what it was when Rugg started. The days when a Dan Clowes or Chester Brown could work through things in a serial comic book are largely over. One is expected to come out with fully-formed graphic novels nowadays. Adrian Tomine continuing with Optic Nerve is a cute gesture, and we look at it with varying degrees of admiration and condescension, like a band issuing a single only in vinyl. This is an astonishingly impressive calling card for Jim Rugg, Jack of All Genres, but it’s also a stopgap measure. An unreflective survey. His superhero ape strips are fun, but you wouldn’t want a whole book of it. His short horror and suspense pieces are great, but it’s not terribly difficult to create nameless dread in one page. They’re exercises, a dipping of toes into genre waters, but there’s a lack of commitment here. As a critic, one has to set aside the likely realities that this is a not-very-well-known illustrator presenting a collection of bits of some of his best material from the past few years and ask whether it’s a great collection of comics. As great an artist as he is, the answer is no, it’s not. It’s impressive, but it’s more tantalizing than satisfying, small plates and spoonfuls of what could turn out to be a number of good to great meals. I recommend it on that score, as a sampling of a very talented guy giving indications of doing a lot of things really well, but one is still left wanting at least one really good story.
I’m told there’s a Kickstarter for Sabre, an ancient, creaking sci-fi bloatfest that was also a trailblazer in the era in which independent comics were first gaining a toehold in the market.
I’m sure it makes me a terrible, terrible person, but I see Kickstarter as a real negative for comics, as counter-intuitive as that is. It encourages projects that the marketplace should really decide the value of based on the actual work, not on PR, past work by the same creators, or fanboy delusions of patronage.
Kickstarter is a nice idea in the abstract, empowering creators and readers and adding further irrelevancy to the most venal, malingering publishers. In reality (I’ve see no evidence otherwise, years now down Kickstarter Road) it devalues the idea of patronage by making quality and worthiness secondary ideals to noise and hubbub. Instead we find a mediocrity-empowering dynamic of 10,000 entitled fanboys with five bucks each burning a hole in their Paypal accounts’ pockets, and the biggest unknown not being whether the work will be any damn good at all, but whether it ever even gets created in the first place.
Good article on The King’s collage work in the ’60s and ’70s, with his famous Fantastic Four pages and a few unpublished pieces. I love when great artists also do other art aside from what they’re known for/expert at.
I’ll be honest; as much as comics have meant to me in my 43 years on Earth, I don’t read that many new ones these days. The landscape is such a minefield. Too many crossovers and stretched-out arcs. Good creative teams either move on from a title too fast, or the writer gets so inundated with work that the quality of the work suffers. Way too much editorial interference without actual constructed, educated editing. But I try to keep my eyes and ears open for the good stuff.
Matt Fraction is an interesting case. The world of genre comics (superhero, crime, horror, fantasy—basically anything but art comics) is filled with bland voices and poor craft, and so anyone with a hint of freshness can be “called up to the majors” before they’re ready. Somehow the initially overpraised Fraction, despite smug tweets and the unironic wearing of a cowboy hat, has developed into a champion writer under the dubious auspices of Marvel Comics, navigating the event-driven, continuity-resetting, crossover-driven waters quite admirably. He reminds me a little of Mark Waid in that he’s able to find a take on a character that’s a little different than anything that’s been done before, while not being so drastic that it’s a new character. And like Waid, usually humor is a key ingredient, which is why Fraction’s Iron Man run reads as more deeply felt, deeply thought-out, and just plain more fun than his run on Thor.
Hawkeye, like Tony Stark, is historically kind of a wiseass, and that’s one of the characteristics that Fraction can work with here, but he goes a lot deeper. We meet a Clint Barton who’s the world-saving Avenger Hawkeye in his day job, but is more comfortable living in a New York apartment with regular folks. He’s got no quit in him, to an obnoxious extent at times, but basically, he’s just a guy who’s really good with a prehistoric weapon. In the first, three issue arc, Fraction and Aja scale things down so it’s a hero book, not a superhero book, with Hawkeye mixing it up with Russian mobsters when one of them, the landlord, wants to sell the building and evict Clint and his neighbors. Action is slowed down, with inserts of types of arrows to get the reader into the nuts and bolts of what he does, humorously. Matt Hollingsworth’s use of violets and earth tones gives the book a unique look, which I appreciate and think is important, especially for a solo title. Most of his offbeat ideas—giving the villains matching Mini Coopers, giving Clint a Dodge muscle car, having Clint try to buy rather than beat his way out of a problem, making his lack of labels for his arrows a running gag—work quite well, and some choices are terrific, like Clint’s no-quit attitude reflected in his saving of a massively injured stray dog. Yes, the dog-saving superhero may be a shameless bid for sympathy, but it works. I also really liked the dynamic he develops between Clint and Kate, the young woman who became Hawkeye during a questionable period where Hawkeye was (secretly at first) a sword-slinging hero named Ronin. It goes beyond typical meet-cute, sarcastic-banter-covering-growing-attraction stuff. Clint has made a lot of mistakes with women and is mature enough at this point to realize it, plus Kate is much younger and he’s her mentor. So he’s set up mental barriers for himself that for the most part he’s honoring, even if it means he’s unwittingly hurting Kate’s feelings in the process of keeping this distance.
The fourth and fifth issues of the series find Pulido as the artist in an arc with more of an international flavor, with Clint attempting to buy back a videotape of him apparently assassinating someone on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s orders. It’s mainly got a lighthearted tone, appropriate for a caper story, and there are some fun lines and moments of derring-do, but there’s also a sobering question running through it: is Hawkeye a murderer? Fraction balances the tones very well, while also continuing to develop the Clint/Kate relationship. We get even more of this in a flashback story drawn by Alan Davis from Young Avengers Presents #6 (which I didn’t even know was a thing), where we see the genesis of their relationship is with Clint being a protector and mentor, someone who wants Kate to learn from his mistakes, as she will eventually take his place. It also establishes that Kate is a pretty impulsive, romantic girl, so Clint would be wise to tread carefully in regards to her feelings.
A very enjoyable collection that, unlike most comics today, is good enough that I’ve read it a few times now, out of pleasure. I don’t want to go on a rant here, but one of the big reasons comics don’t sell the way they used to is that comics of this level are harder and harder to find. Comics with tight story arcs, fresh storytelling strategies, wit, layered characterization, emotional engagement, and high quality draftsmanship. When you find it, support it.
A giant in comics publishing and editing, a fine translator and interviewer, and a wickedly funny man, Kim Thompson has died from the lung cancer the public was informed of just a few months ago. Working alongside copublisher Gary Groth, Thompson exposed me, quite simply, to some of the most important artists and art of my life. We’ll miss you, Kim.
“[Geoff] Johns built his career and set the mold for contemporary DC Comics with the way he took Green Lantern’s entire stupid, shitty history and turned it into one long nasty, blood soaked epic laced with heavy dollops of Joseph Campbell and wish fulfillment audience worship, turning an obnoxious and unpleasant comic book into an obnoxious and unpleasant Saga of Graphic Novels, and now, for the final bow of a nearly ten-year run, the best the guy can muster is an eight-dollar comic that resolves almost nothing but includes a page where his personal assistant and his boss tell him he’s special? That’s awesome.”— Tucker Stone
The Albany Comic Con returns to the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road in Colonie, New York this Sunday, June 16th from 10 AM to 4 PM. The show has grown larger and attracted a more impressive list of comics professionals with each passing year. This year’s lineup includes J.M. DeMatteis, Todd Dezago, Fred Hembeck, Joe Jusko, Rick Leonardi, Ron Marz, Matthew Dow Smith, Joe Sinnott, Joe Staton, and others.
The Albany Comic Con always features benefits for local charities, and this year there are two to raise funds for the Albany Ronald McDonald House. The first is a charity art auction that takes place at the convention, as artwork created by the pros attending the con will be auctioned to bidders during the show. All of this year’s pieces are based on Marvel’s Avengers movie. The second fundraiser is the Albany Comic Con sponsoring the Tri-City ValleyCats (the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros) game Saturday, July 6th, at Joe Bruno Stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Albany Comic Con will honor legendary comics artist Joe Sinnott. Dubbed “Meet Joe at the Joe,” the event will give fans a chance to meet Sinnott, receive an exclusive baseball card, and get autographs from Joe and other local comic professionals. Albany Comic Con will be selling tickets to the July 6th baseball game during this Sunday’s convention. Tickets are also available at Excellent Adventures Comics in Ballston Spa, Comics Depot in Saratoga Springs, and other local comic shops around the Albany area. Game tickets are $5, and come with the Joe Sinnott baseball card. Proceeds from the tickets will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Albany.
In this edition of the Five Questions, Albany Comic Con organizer John Belskis weighs in with his thoughts about what has become an annual Albany tradition.
1. What is your overarching philosophy or vision of the Albany Comic Con?
To provide the regional area with a convention based on comic books and comic book art, that can be affordable and family-friendly. I think most of the larger shows have become major media events that have left comics a distant second. They can also be tremendously expensive to attend, especially for a family. Our show is more intimate, and even though smaller, is well-attended enough to give it a real sense of what a bigger convention is like. We also have kept our prices affordable which allows for a more family-friendly environment.
2. What have you learned from the past few years of holding conventions in the Albany area?
How talent-rich this area is. I’m amazed at how many professional comic book creators live within a short drive of Albany, and how willing they are to attend and always contribute to the convention. I’m also grateful to all of the local stores who help promote, and attend the convention. Many shows use the city’s name they are located in, but have many vendors from outside the city, and little support from the local shops. Our show is truly Albany Comic Con, with a local following that’s hard to match, anywhere else.
3. What one thing would you like someone to know, if they’re considering coming but have never been?
If you’re a comic fan, then this show is for you, but even if you’re not a comic fan, this is six hours of fun and nostalgia, and it’s all for only $5.00. It may also inspire your kids to want to read. What parent wouldn’t feel good about their children wanting something to read. People who have never explored comics would be amazed at the variety and complexity this hobby has to offer, for kids, and adults.
4. What is the most fulfilling thing about organizing this show year after year?
Seeing kids loving the comics, and the convention. Comics today sorely lack a next generation to continue reading and loving them. There is so much competition for the attention of kids these days. Our show in its small way gets the word out that comics are still alive. Hopefully we are inspiring another generation that will want to keep buying, reading and collecting them, for many years to come.
5. How would you like to see the show evolve in future years?
I’m happy with the slow and steady growth the show has had. I like the idea of more smaller events throughout the year, than just one large event once a year. I don’t know if we will ever grow into a major multi-day convention, but if we get there, it will happen when the time is right. I would be happier, if in 20 years, the Albany Comic Con is still going strong, with two or three shows a year, that everyone can still attend and enjoy.
Total female creators credits for Forever Evil announced to date:
Total female credits for writers:
Ann Nocenti (Justice League Dark #23.1: The Creeper and Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1: Joker’s Daughter)
Gail Simone (Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1:The Ventriloquist)
Marguerite Bennett (Justice League #23.2: Lobo)
Total female credits for art:
That’s right 0. With 52 different covers and 52 books to be drawn, the total number of female artists with credits (that have been announced) is 0.
That gendercrunching guy has his own take on the numbers—I don’t usually quote these because I find comparing a female assistant editor to a female artist misleading but the metric is constant.
Is this concerning? Well, in the abstract, of course it is. With women drawing more comics, more bestselling comics and getting more acclaim everywhere in the mainstream world, its troubling that they’ve made so little headway at DC. In a larger sense, I find it far less remarkable. When the New 52 launched it was supposed to be “new” and female artists at DC were a new concept and thus part of the freshening up mode, so leaving them out seemed like a giant step backwards.
Two years later we kind of see where this is going, and getting new voices is not as much of a priority for DC as character management.
Still, meet the new boss, etc.
(Aside: I’ve heard people going “where is Amanda Conner??!!??” which is understandable because she’s an amazing artist but she is always working and FUN FACT there are scores of women artists around the world working on comics right this minute besides Amanda Conner. Women in Comics does not begin and end with Conner, Thompson and Doran.)
§ Where are the great female comics journalists? On a somewhat similar note, while I’m super thrilled to see Comics Alliance back, this Reservoir Dogs-style staff pic did make me sad.
Can you guess why?
I’ve always been baffled why a site that has contributed so much to the notions of diversity and gender equality in comics hasn’t been able to develop more female writers. When I ask this kind of question I’m usually told, it’s because none have come forward, and I’m sure it’s true. You see a site where 95% of the posts are written by men and you might suspect it isn’t a welcoming place, even if it isn’t true.
At The Beat I’ve assembled about equal numbers of male and female contributors. (I should note that ComicsMix also has a lot of female writers.) I didn’t set out to do it that way, I just noticed writers I liked or who came to me. Over at PW Comics World, Publisher’s Weekly’s comics newsletter, we had way more female reporters than male. In recent years, with the internet allowing women to be more vocal about their interests, and the (mostly male) gatekeepers who decided women didn’t belong at the big table neutralized, I’ve had no problem finding competent, insightful women to write about comics and other nerd topics. (To be fair, at the Beat I don’t have to answer to corporate goals for traffic, so I have far fewer concerns about content than a blog like Comics Alliance.)
That said, I do notice that women, even online, tend to segregate themselves into places where they feel more welcome or safer like Tumblr. Maybe it is time for women themselves to reach out more? And also not just write about gender issues. It’s important to jump on the outrage of the day, but if all you write about is gender, that’s how you will be branded, and only women “have gender” in the eyes of men. It’s a Catch 22 and a losing scenario.
Is it worth pointing out that none of the books are written by a woman, and, in fact, there’s only one female artist who has work on that list—Y: The Last Man’s Pia Guerra—although Lynn Varley’s Dark Knight colors and Karen Berger’s editing of some of the best books on that list are a good reminder that this list isn’t quite as male as it may appear simply by looking at the writers, pencil artists and inkers (Any suggestions for something written or drawn by a woman that DC has done that belongs on this list? The down side of not hiring many women to write or draw for you means that few classic or essential comics have been generated by them in the past. The few women in DC’s employ at the moment—Christie Marx, Gail Simone, Nicola Scott—are just working on continuity-heavy, unexceptional work).
So yeah, on DC’s list of 25 essential graphic novels—a list that represents an incredible body of lasting work—there is only one female writer or artist. And you know why there is ONE? Because I hired her. When I was an editor at Vertigo, I saw Pia’s samples, loved them, showed them to writers who loved them, BKV won the lottery to use her on a pitch and the rest is history. (And yeah, I’m sure BKV has a little to do with Y the Last Man being considered a classic than anything I ever did.) I don’t believe in quotas or affirmative action, but I do believe to live in a more diverse and interesting world you have to actually do something about diversity.
§ Behind every woman…: There was also this this week. It’s so stupid that I hesitate to bring it up, but basically some idiot thinks Kelly Sue DeConnick only gets writing work because she’s marred to Matt Fraction. I can testify that when I met them (separately, before they even started dating) Kelly Sue was better known in comics than Fraction was, and sometime you marry someone who has common interests that you are both pursuing and it’s a lot of fun.
But the reason I brought this up because it made me flash back to about 25 years ago when a still-very prominent and much loved comics publisher told me “All the women in comics get work because they’re dating a guy in comics.” And then this guy laughed because it was all a joke and I shouldn’t be offended. Maybe this was stupid of me, but that moment was part of the reason that I resisted having a serious relationship in the comics industry for years. I knew the minute I was part of a “couple,” everything I did would no longer be my success but because of the “couple’s” success.
Now that I’m in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man who is also in comics (and I’m also a little wiser) I see that being with someone who really understands what you love is one of the best situations you can be in. But idiots will take it as nepotism no matter what. Keep fighting, Kelly Sue, keep fighting.
Why do you think there’s a lack of female superheroes in film?
Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift. It’s frustrating to me that I don’t see anybody developing one of these movies. It actually pisses me off. My daughter watched The Avengers and was like, “My favorite characters were the Black Widow and Maria Hill,” and I thought, Yeah, of course they were. I read a beautiful thing Junot Diaz wrote: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”
§ Women in Hollywood gain a scrap of influence: AND WHILE WE’RE FINISHING THIS UP: here is what I consider a must read, The Hollywood Reporter’s Revenge of the Over 40 Actresses. The bottom line for this story is “The audience is aging and so are the stars” as the Baby Boom generation continues it chicken-in-the-snake ripple through demographics. But there are some surprising stats in the piece:
Even so, the industry still reacts with surprise whenever a female star demonstrates box-office clout. On March 15, The Call, an otherwise routine thriller, opened as that weekend’s top new wide release thanks to the presence of Halle Berry, 46. The TriStar film bowed to $17.1 million, trouncing the heavily promoted Steve Carell-Jim Carrey comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (in which Carell, 50, was paired romantically with Olivia Wilde, 29). Female moviegoers made up 56 percent of Call’s audience, and 48 percent of the overall audience cited Berry as the reason for turning out.
Making sure older female moviegoers — in Hollywood’s marketing lingo, “older” means those over 25 — have someone to root for in a movie even can factor into the casting of tentpoles looking to attract all four quadrants. And so, Gwyneth Paltrow, 40, became a key marketing hook for this year’s top-performing film to date, Iron Man 3. (It’s worth noting that when Marvel and director Jon Favreauwere assembling the first Iron Man, they sought McAdams, then 29, for the role of Pepper Potts, which Paltrow eventually made her own.) “Ever since I’ve turned 40, I feel younger than ever and more energetic,” announced Paltrow at the Iron Man 3 premiere in Hollywood. “I’m ready. I’m ready for action now.”
There’s also advice that mirrors what I was saying a few graphs ago — you gotta make your own opportunities.
“I advise any actor to take control of your career,” says Feig. “Start doing stand-up. Start writing roles for yourself. When you’re sitting around waiting for the town to have an epiphany, you’re going to sit forever. Look for the parts, chase the parts, but at the same time, seize control.”
Kristen Wiig did just that when she co-wrote and starred in Feig’s Bridesmaids. She finds herself among the town’s most in-demand despite being on the precipice of 40 (she turns 40 this summer). “She’s definitely someone who can get a movie made on her name alone,” notes Gabler.
Of course, all this positive thinking gets rebuffed when you really dig down into the numbers:
But not all the news is encouraging. A recent USC study tracked characters appearing in the 500 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2012 and found that the percentage of females between the ages of 40 and 64 has not changed meaningfully over time. The majority of all female characters onscreen in the 100 most popular films in 2012 were between ages 21 and 39. And, among characters in the 40- to 64-year-old range, males outnumbered female characters by nearly 4-to-1.
§ The politics of cosplay: Now here’s where I get into trouble. I’ve avoiding talking much about cosplay here because a) it’s not my major field of study and b) I think my opinions differ from those of many on the cosplay scene. Anyway there was a long and very smart article by Emily Finke called Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture about a woman who went to a con wearing a mini skirted Star Fleet uniform and was castigated for it:
Dragon*Con isn’t perfect, and in most ways, is a much less safe convention for a woman. However, at Dragon*Con, I am accepted as a costumer. At a con like Balticon, I’m celebrated as eye candy. I felt like I was placed in the role of Convention Booth Babe, receiving both the objectified interest from the men and the scorn of the women.
While I don’t think anyone should be abused, touched or treated like an object no matter how they are dressed as a con—even the guys in tights with no underwear—I’m far more fired up about other gender related issues than I am about the right to wear costumes that were designed by men specifically to objectify women. Those Star Trek costumes were stupid and meant to make women look sexy not to make a statement about empowerment—even if wearing a mini skirt was considered a form of empowerment by women in the 60s. Finke says a lot of women told her her skirt was too short and ascribes the motives to jealousy (probably true) and bringing her down a peg (also true.) We do live live in a society where wearing a skirt that’s too short—or wearing tights with no underwear and your franks ‘n’ beans showing—means you aren’t taken seriously and that’s hurtful.
Unfortunately, the default assumption of convention space is “male space” The really annoying thing about this whole discussion? Convention space has never been a space that was solely the domain of men. From the very beginning of the fandom that I chose to represent at Balticon — Star Trek — conventions had women. Women creating costumes, dressing as Klingons. Women discussing gender and racial politics in the series. Women participating in collaborative remixing of the canon. There have always been women objecting to “warrior women” on the covers of books and magazines and protesting the misogynistic habits of male writers who enjoy pinching and groping. There have always been women using science fiction to rewrite gender assumptions. They were there. They are there. They’ve always been there. The history of geekdom is not a history of men, it’s a history of invisible women.
The “invisible woman” syndrome is really what I’ve been writing about in each and every item in this list: not getting hired, not being noticed, not getting credit.
Being attractive and wearing costumes that enhance that is a good way to get attention—you’re certainly not invisible. While I support the right of every women to show off her confidence and lore by wearing whatever costume she wants—and not to be quizzed and questioned, let alone harassed and abused. But it only goes part of the way, and it’s only part of the struggle.
Okay out of time and room. Next time: why a female Doctor Who would destroy society as we know it.
Good stuff here from Heidi Macdonald. DC Comics is always worth discussing because of their prominence in North American comics, but as Heidi points out, there are a lot of women doing comics for other publishers, self-published, as illustrators and animators, or doing comics in other countries. When it comes to minority representation, one must always keep in mind that old publishers like Marvel and DC created most of their characters (for the purpose of this point, I’m calling them the creators) in times when they were targeting young, usually white, males, with minimal effort over the years to be more diverse, both with the characters and stories and the talent hired to make them. It echoes the Diaz quote by Whedon; when women or other minorities don’t see themselves truly reflected in the comics, the comics don’t take hold in their hearts, and they move on to other things. This is not to say there aren’t many female artists, writers and editors who could do great work for DC, but I do think there is a smaller percentage than the guys who grew up with 40-50 male heroic role models or analogues every month. I think with some of these eligible women, not having drunk that superhero Kool-Aid when they were young, they see through a lot of the bullshit at these publishers and don’t think it’s worth it to try to fit within these restrictive systems that seem more and more to be chewing up talented people. And you know, if Amanda Conner’s begets project in 2012 is Before Watchmen, I’d rather she go elsewhere, anyway.
Excellent interview with veteran comics scribe Jenkins on his choice to work for BOOM!, describing the culture at Marvel as too event-driven, continuity-shackled and inconsequential, and DC as much worse, with bullying, uncommunicative and incompetent editing. Jenkins is a guy who’s had his ups and downs, more downs of late, and this perhaps puts some of that in perspective. I should note that when I say, “excellent interview,” this is mainly to Jenkins’ credit, as he’s able to reasonably and thoughtfully navigate through Rich Johnston’s caustic, accusatory style of questioning. Johnston seems not to recognize the appreciably different ways Jenkins describes Marvel and DC (he’s much more measured about Marvel and isn’t saying farewell forever), delighting in his perception of Jenkins’ possible burning of bridges, and at one point he challenges Jenkins to “present evidence” that his detailed, lengthy and reasonable accounting of conditions at DC aren’t just “sour grapes”. He does ask intelligent questions about BOOM!, though, which does have some business practices worth questioning even if the creative environment seems healthier.
Jim Rugg’s Supermag (published by AdHouse Books) is kind of like the AdBusters of comics magazines — it takes a familiar format and recontextualizes it to display Rugg’s many and varied illustrative modes. There’s no single narrative; short stories and random pages from hypothetical comics co-exist within Supermag’s pages. Readers of Rugg’s Afrodisiac graphic novel will be comfortable with the approach, although Supermag lacks the laser focus of that book. Rather, Supermag seems to be a summation of everything Rugg has learned about creating art and comics, a “Where Is He Now?” moment that begs the question, “What comes next?”
I loved Rugg’s work on Street Angel a few years back, a five-issue alternative superhero comic that was strong on story and featured bold cartooning and some early hints of the various styles that Rugg often utilizes, from ballpoint ketches to fully-realized paintings. There’s a lot of pastiche and homage at work in the pages of Supermag, as well as some one-off illustrations and Photoshop wizardry. The comics content shows a lot of Dan Clowes and Charles Burns inspiration, but if you’re going to be inspired, you could do far worse than Clowes and Burns.
The magazine’s visual virtuosity suggests a budget-friendly coffee-table art book, something Rugg’s art has earned and probably would have achieved by now if the economy hadn’t taken the turn it did five years ago. The non-superhero comics industry has adjusted to our new reality in a number of ways since then, and if Supermag is an answer to the question “How can we affordably present a dazzling array of Jim Rugg artwork and remind people of just how powerful and witty a cartoonist he is?” then, I am glad someone asked. At a smidge under ten bucks, you get a lot of stunning design and memorable eye pops for about what you’d pay for a crappy lunch at Wendy’s.
Me, I’ve quietly been waiting for more Street Angel for a long time now, but Supermag indicates that Rugg has a lot of other interests (although Jesse Sanchez, and Afrodisiac do both pop up in the pages of Supermag), and its implicit promise seems to be that whatever Rugg does next, it should be fun and beautiful to look at. I hope it happens soon.
Somebody Said Marvel's "Secret Invasion" Was A Story
It isn’t a story, it’s the bare bones of an idea for a plot that a story could have been built on (but was not). What you describe (“shape-shifting aliens invaded years ago”) is what Gaines and Feldstein called “springboards,” and they kept them on 3x5 cards at EC Comics so they had a place to start. (Pro tip: a story doesn’t fit on a 3x5 card — not a multi-issue epic story, anyway.) That’s the problem with Bendis and many corporate superhero comic book “writers,” these days — they consider the job done when they have a nugget of an idea, rather than blowing it up and exploring it and revising it and making it into something well-written, professional and occasionally even memorable, like Moore, like Morrison used to do, like Gaiman and Ennis and Ellis are sometimes capable of, like Millar and Straczynski had the potential to do before they disappeared up their own asses, like Hickman and Snyder might be capable of in another five or ten years if they don’t get better-paying jobs writing even worse-reading material outside of comics. Story is what the original Image creators thought either didn’t matter or they could fake on their own. Erik Larsen faked it until he made it, the rest hired other writers, some of whom knew what they were doing, some of whom were Jeph Loeb.
A story by definition has a beginning, middle and end, with structure and character arcs and theme and other stuff that someone who didn’t drop out of high school and then college (like me), would be better capable of mapping out.
Story isn’t that fucking Robert McKee book, and it isn’t something you can do just because you READ that fucking book. Storytelling is a skill and an art; it’s something you can learn, but the passion to do it is something you’re born with or at least is evident very early on. It’s something, honestly, that I personally don’t have in me, but I fucking well recognize it when I see it, and Secret Invasion ain’t it. A missed opportunity? Yeah. A huge disappointment? You bet. A story? Hell, no.
Fantagraphics co-publisher Kim Thompson has just released a statement that he’s been diagnosed with lung cancer. I’m sure I speak for my partner in crime, Alan David Doane, in saying that Kim is a huge inspiration and influence, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Lots of people are congratulating Chris Sprouse for asking DC to replace him on hatemonger Orson Scott Card’s upcoming (or not) online Superman story. And yes, he did the right thing. But when you read his statement, which even in this headline is misconstrued, Sprouse says nothing about DC’s decision to hire Card, nothing about gay marriage or gay rights. He is merely uncomfortable with the negative attention. He just wants to draw comics that are discussed for the comics themselves rather than the creators’ beliefs, and that’s fine, though it’s a little weird to me he goes out of his way to make clear he’s cool with DC Comics and will continue to work with them. So he’s fine with them hiring Card, just not with people who don’t like Card now not liking him if he works with the guy. It’s a career-based decision. Understandable, especially in a tough comics industry that isn’t growing but continues to have new talent coming in, competing for work. But let’s not call the guy a hero.
My name’s Michael Hartney. I’m as big a Superman fan as you’ll ever meet. I have bought Superman comics every Wednesday since I learned to read, which was nearly 30 years ago. Superman was the subject of my blog and my one-man show. My name is tattooed on my arm in Kryptonian, for Zod’s…
“What makes [Superman] interesting other than that he’s really, really strong? That question led me to want to redefine Clark in ways that made him more interesting and more flawed as a person. Not in a dark, mean, cynical way, because that’s way too easy. But as a true outsider whose heart is vulnerable. I wanted to emphasize the loneliness of a kid growing up knowing just how different he was from everyone else, who had to keep his distance for their protection and his own.”—
To quote Orson Welles, “the right reading is the one I’m giving (and not David Brothers’)”. The “feeling like an outsider” part is, yes, typical of all children and indeed, many adults. But that’s not all the quote is about. Superman is a “true” outsider, as opposed to just feeling like one. He’s an alien, and he has to keep his distance to protect others from his powers. The trick is to mix the relatable aspect (we all feel out-of-place) with the different (real alien with powers).
Since we’re on the topic of creative changes, one of the things that was a big discussion point for a while was Gail Simone being on and off “Batgirl.” With Gail now reinstated on the title, I have to ask — how much was fan outcry and fan support part of that creative editorial decision?
Harras: What we had was Ray [Fawkes] coming on for two months to help out, schedule-wise. We’re very happy Gail is back; she’s on the book moving forward, so to me, that was a moment in time where we were just looking for Gail’s next plot to come in and we’re moving forward.
Follow-up question: “When the news broke, Simone herself said that she was informed she was no longer the new writer. That doesn’t sound as temporary as simply waiting on her next plot. Can you expand on what happened here? Was there a miscommunication?”
Don’t let these people rewrite history and use your platform to do it.
Such patent nonsense, so obviously false and easily disproven. There are good journalists covering comics, for sure, but so many are clowns who accept crap like this and post it without confrontation. Is Bob Harras now considered a forthright, truthful guy? It’s insulting to both Simone and the fans to present this farcical version of whatever the real truth is. Simone doesn’t have a reputation for being late, but even if she was, the standard procedure would have been to schedule someone, Fawkes or whoever, to do a little fill-in arc to help her get back on schedule. She announced she was removed from the book. There was no benefit to her saying that, so we can assume that as far as she knew, it was true.
Comics writer Peter A. David suffered a stroke while on vacation with his wife. He cannot move much of the right side of his body and is experiencing vision problems. Please consider sending him your best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Grant Morrison's Eroding Significance Apparently Bothers Him Very, Very Much
I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.
I think this is Vol. 6 of this comic, right? I’ll be brief. Kieron Gillen has written books I’ve liked, and Greg Land has done some art I’ve liked, but as he’s a Photoshop artist that is to be expected. Oddly enough, the scenes I imagine to be more “drawn” than posed, the stuff with Iron Man flying around in his new black and gold armor, is the most appealing. When Gillen switches to talking head scenes, the book screeches to a halt.
One problem is that I just finished reading Matt Fraction’s run as writer of Invincible Iron Man a couple days ago. Fraction pretty much returned the toys to the box, with Tony Stark wrapping up his Stane/Hammer/Mandarin conflict and heading to space in modified turd-recycling armor to clear his head and get some fresh ideas. So why doesn’t Gillen spend even a moment with this great premise? Marvel’s supposed to be more seamless, editorially. No, instead, Stark’s back on Earth, in different armor, and instead of seeking inspiration he’s only looking to bang another blonde bimbo with big ’90s hair in a club (I think?) while Pepper Potts tags along morosely, trying to untingle any vagina that falls for Tony’s rap.
I had to take a quick look again to remember just what this issue’s main story was about. Somebody selling an old version of Tony’s Extremis armor, which he’s already surpassed and beaten, so there’s no drama. Speaking of turd-recycling…maybe Gillen needs to go to space for inspiration, because we’ve seen all this before, and better. A year or two ago, I’d have closed with something like, “I’ll give this another issue or two to see if it finds its feet,” but life’s too short for comics that are just okay, you know? NEXT.
David Brothers on Cerebus: High Society Digital Edition
Excellent, detailed, and (unlike the product itself, clear) piece on the Kickstarter-funded digital edition of one of the more highly regarded stories in Dave Sim’s Cerebus epic. Unlike David, I didn’t fund this project, but like him, I’ve read very little Cerebus and was curious whether this would be a good place to start. This sounds like too much information, or at least a ton of ephemera presented in such a way that it distracts from reading the story. Add to that that you’re only getting one issue’s worth of story so far, rather than the entire story, and it sounds like a drag for all but the hardest-core fan. I don’t know Dave Sim enough to lecture, but it does kind of sound like one of those cases where, when an artist is used to listening only to his own inner voice, he can end up really closing himself off from his existing fanbase as well as possible new fans.
Brian Michael Bendis has taken his share of knocks as a writer over the years. Those distinctive stylistic tics that marked him as fresh over a decade ago have settled into formula, some might say self-parody, not unlike other distinctive writers like Chris Claremont or Frank Miller. I’ve taken my shots, too, and honestly am looking forward to his departure from the Avengers books. But I think his Daredevil run, while flawed, like anything, is still a pretty impressive accomplishment. And as with Claremont’s return to X-Men books or Miller going back to Batman, there is incredible risk in returning to past triumphs. Do you really have something left to say, or can’t you really go home again?
I was really worried with the first few pages here, an ugly fight between Bullseye and Daredevil that results in D.D.’s death, captured on cameraphone. It’s meant to be brutal, sure, but the combination of Janson and Sienkiewicz is surprisingly off-putting. As great an inker as Janson is, he’s often a stiff penciler, and finds in Sienkiewicz a finisher so eager to add pizzazz to the page that he ends up cluttering it with too many blood spatters and tendons and wrinkles and speed lines that it’s a mess. Try as he might, the opening splash page just doesn’t actually convey the feeling of a punch being thrown, because no matter how much he slops on or whites out, the angle of the pose is just wrong. Janson defeated him before he started.
On page 3, it’s a different story, a well-composed Janson page undone by excessive detail and shading that makes Matt Murdock look like he’s in blackface, not just bleeding and bruised. It’s not all bad, but there are several pages of fights in this issue, and Janson is hit-or-miss in dynamic action, and so, something like the last battle with the Kingpin, which leaves him dead and Daredevil disgraced, is actually anticlimactic and draggy.
I’m not really for superheroes killing, except in extreme circumstances, but I would have to admit that the final Daredevil story is one of those circumstances. And yet, Bendis does really set himself up for disappointment here, challenging the reader to recall the old, pure-hearted, non-murderous Daredevil to make us accept this new one. There are no scenes of that old Daredevil in the book, which I think was a mistake. We need to be reminded of what Daredevil was, so we can accept and understand what he becomes. As it is, storming into a restaurant and ordering the Kingpin to leave town forever or he’ll kill him, is unacceptable. That the Kingpin chooses to fight instead of run doesn’t justify Daredevil beating him to death with his billy club, and Daredevil shouting to the horrified onlookers that he’d “tried everything else” just feels hollow. He came there and made a death threat that he knew he would likely carry out.
What Bendis and Mack get right is Ben Urich. Ben had been the custodian of Matt Murdock’s secret identity as Daredevil, knew him as well as any man, and so is the only one to tell of his final days. And of course, it’s the last thing he wants to do, because it makes him feel even worse and he doesn’t want to engage with it. But J. Jonah Jameson is not going to see the end of print media by putting out a half-assed paper, and so he’s damn well sure the right writer is on the story. This is all good stuff, and Bendis/Mack write Urich as well as anyone has. It reminds me of their first Daredevil collaboration a decade ago, in that that story also found Urich as the protagonist, an investigative reporter hunting down leads. It seems the video shows Murdock uttering a mysterious name before he dies, and it’s not Bullseye’s real name or anyone we’ve ever heard of before. So that’s what we’re in for, a murder mystery—or is it? There’s some suggestion that maybe Daredevil is still alive somehow.
Later in the issue, Janson and Sienkiewicz seem to get a little more in sync, though it’s still uneven, with some pages looking much more like Sienkiewicz and others mostly Janson. Again, both terrific artists, but very different styles.
So is it any good? It has some parts I liked, some I didn’t like at all, but I’m interested in seeing it develop. When you review first issues, it’s hard to walk that line between condemnation and faith. The fact is, Bendis is an old pro and is good enough at his craft that there should be enough going right in a first issue for it to basically work. At the same time, when was the last time he wrote a gritty mystery that was light on conversation and absolutely absent of humor? There might be some rust there; for me, it’s most apparent in the fight scenes, where it feels like his brain kind of shuts off. There’s nothing in those scenes that’s unusual or containing important information; you get the idea those script pages are very basic, allowing the artist to figure out the staging. It’s in the Urich stuff where he feels engaged, and so far it’s not bad.
“Grant Morrison’s latest creator-owned series is already in motion as a feature film and rapper/director RZA is set to direct, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Happy! debuted at Image Comics late last month, and was reported Tuesday as in development with RZA as director, Morrison writing the script and Reginald Hudlin — who’s worked on comics including Black Panther and Marvel Knights Spider-Man — producing with RZA. The plan, as reported, is to develop the film and then take it to a studio or financier. With one issue out thus far, Happy! tells the story of a down-on-his-luck hitman who receives inspirational advice from a blue horse. RZA’s directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists, is out on Nov. 2.”—
Newsarama has always been terrible, the movie will be terrible, Reginald Hudlin is over, and David Brothers is physically unable to resist making a passive aggressive or aggressive diss against Grant Morrison. Now you have context.
And so Marvel’s latest carnival ride grinds to a halt, creaking with metal fatigue, bolts scattered across the fairgrounds. I don’t know if it’s the long or short straw, but Aaron draws the one making him wrap it up.
In full disclosure, I haven’t technically read all of this series. That is, I’ve read the bulk of every issue, but as of #7, I’ve been skipping pages, and it turns out it doesn’t really make much difference. The reason is that, like so many pamphlets these days, there’s not enough story to justify its length. We get some of that even in this ultimate issue, with several pages of unimportant heroes flying around to no purpose, without dialogue. Early in the series, you could kind of get away with this kind of thing, but by now we all know that anything Nova or Avengers Academy do will contribute fuck-all to stopping Dark Cyclops.
Speaking of whom, when Cyclops ends up as a visorless, enflamed figure with what appears to be a glowing toilet seat around his neck, you just know that mistakes were made. I had been wondering for years why nobody seemed to “get” Cyclops, such a potentially interesting character. Had anyone got right what a self-righteous prig marrying a former villain might be like? Did Cyclops ever try to be a better brother? A better son to Xavier? No, for the past few years, he’s just been the dictator of his own island, arguably a worse leader than Magneto was for Genosha. A guy who never considered that he might be wrong, that other methods might work better. And now he’s just a big bunch of power in human shape.
Much of a film’s success has to do with its editing. We don’t think about it in terms of comics that much, except in cases like this, where the scenes are sequenced in such a way as to make several pages les interesting than they should have been. That is, we see Hope turn on Scarlet Witch, and the next thing we see, they’re going up against Cyclops. THEN, we get several pages of them fighting and then learning to work together, and nobody cares by then. Add to that that, let’s face it, it’s a little late in the game to explore the very understandable conflict between the last hope of mutantkind and the mutant who made her necessary. I can’t entirely blame Aaron, since several Marvel writers plotted this whole thing, but there’s more thought put into nonsense like Hope mimicking Scarlet Witch’s hex ability and combining it into the Iron Fist, than in exploring how any of these characters might feel about all this crazy stuff going on.
The denouement has elements of a good scene between Captain America and the now-incarcerated Cyclops, where Cyclops at first expresses some remorse over killing Professor Xavier, but then rationalizes his actions as a win for mutant kind, since Cap is going to form a new, mutant-heavy Avengers and do more to forward the cause for peace and understanding. Perhaps due to crosscutting between panels of other developments in the superhero world, Aaron never pulls together the scene coherently. It’s just crap banged into publishable shape quickly. Andy Kubert has never been and never will be an A-list artist, but at least starts off okay in this one, with a polish that’s probably more to do with whoever inked those pages, before obviously grinding it out at the end. If this was a baseball game, you’re supposed to put in your closer in the 9th, not the 6th inning journeyman reliever. Well, what was a basically sound story at its core was botched and stretched and padded until it lost all meaning and momentum. But maybe down the road, a movie or cartoon will use this, cut the fat, and make it actually work.
Vertigo Comics, from The Invisible Omnibus $150 USD
I have to hand it to Morrison: only half a year into the series and he spends a issue on Sadeian cruelty and depravity, challenging material for a publishing imprint very early in its lifetime, its “edgy” material thus far mostly to do with extreme but not overtly sexualized violence. The title is an English pun on the Marquis de Sade’s famous, unfinished novel, 120 Days of Sodom, in which four rich noblemen in an inaccessible castle commit unspeakable acts of depravity on teen girls and boys, with the assistance of brothel keepers and studs, servants and others. The book was only found in 1904 and almost destroyed by the French government in 1955, though it has come to be respected by some as a satire on the lofty goals of The Enlightenment.
King Mob, Boy and de Sade himself, who we saw plucked from his timeline and plunged into their time machine, find themselves observing this fiction, which, while not part of the plan, is according to Mob unavoidable. They just have to get through it until they find the exit, or the next stage on their journey. And yes, I’ve already forgotten just what the journey is about, but I think it had to do with getting away from the murderous Orlando, who had appeared in their time. They’re only metaphysically successful, as Orlando has found their corporeal forms, and has cut off the pinkie of the awakened Jack Frost. His protestations awaken Lord Fanny, who fights Orlando to no avail. He seems beyond physical pain, a malevolent force. Again, he appears like a dark half of King Mob, also bald and fashionably dressed.
We also find Ragged Robin on her own, meeting a man at Rennes-le-Chateau who tells her of the church’s history, explored in 2003 in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code but long before then legendary for various conspiracy theories relating to treasure and certain odd features of the church, such as the Devil figure supporting the holy water stoup (rare but not unique) and a Latin inscription Morrison translates as “This place is terrible,” but is more accurately, “This is a place of awe.” As I’ve written before, I find Morrison’s knowledge dumps pretty entertaining, and I like his enthusiasm to try to tie whatever he’s been reading into this work, though he is starting to build up enough of a Jenga of famous people and places that it seems in danger of falling apart if he can’t pull it off.
We catch up with Lord Byron and The Shelleys, Percy mourning the death by dysentery of his daughter and speculating that Byron should be proud to be proved right, his cynicism trumping Shelley’s idealism and naivete. But Byron takes no pleasure in this, and attempts to take Mary Shelley’s mind off her grief with talk of his new romantic poem, Mazeppa. an interesting choice, as the poem is a transitional one for Byron, marking an uneasy end of his romantic period and the start towards the irony of Don Juan. It will be interesting to see where Morrison’s sympathies lie most, as so far, The Invisibles has been mostly earnest, with humor not generally of the ironic type.
Mary is here made of sterner stuff than Percy, but at the same time a staunch defender of the right of the poet to suffering (essentially, navel-gazing and obsessing), as, “They steal the power of creation from the gods. They remake the world with words and in the image of their dreams.” Through Mary, Morrison is giving himself license to embroider his growing tapestry of conspiracy, philosophy and sexuality as much as he wants, as it’s nigh unto a holy calling. And, you know, what writer wouldn’t agree?
The degradations of Castle Silling take up a large portion of this issue, and they’re about as unpleasant as intended, though it’s still probably PG-13 or a soft R. There’s an interesting decision, presumably by colorist Daniel Vozzo, to render most of these scenes in browns and tans, thus muting the impact of the cruelties performed. That is, it’s all still there, not obscured, but the coloring fits Morrison’s idea that these noblemen, trying to push the limits of Reason, reach a creative dead-end. Perverting or willfully disintegrating their humanity, they lack the necessary tools (love, compassion, imagination) to reach true Enlightenment. Their stagnancy is represented in rather simple visuals as a harsh winter giving way to the Spring flowers emerging from the snow, the true Enlightenment that The Invisibles represent.
We end with Robin seeing the mole-like Ciphermen again, who, while ostensibly enemies when we first met them, nonetheless lead her to something they believe she wanted to find: the head of John the Baptist, lost treasure of the Templars.
There are parts of this issue I loved. Those would be pages 1-3. We seem to be seeing the story of a Swamp Thing prior to Alec Holland, a skinnier one who lived in a cabin in Manitoba and helped grow the crops after the spring thaw. I would’ve been quite happy learning more about this guy and seeing how Kano drew him.
But then Snyder goes for what I don’t think is absolutely a mistake, but for me, an unnecessary and less interesting choice, which is to show that Anton Arcane is not just this bad wizard who continues to haunt the life of Alec Holland and those he cares about, but that he’s this agent of Rot, the forces of decay and entropy always at war with the Green (plant life) and the Red (animal life). I don’t have a problem with the whole Red/Green/Rot thing, though I think it’s occupied too much of both Swamp Thing and Animal Man, and it’s not that I have a strong attachment to an earlier characterization of Arcane. It’s not even that I’m against a fatalist approach. But man, it’s just gotten so overdone. I remember back, about ten years ago, when John Byrne did it in Spider-Man: Chapter One, rewriting history so that Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn was tied to Spider-Man’s origin and retroactively his primary nemesis. It wasn’t the primary failing of that series, but it just seemed kind of an easy, uninteresting idea. And since then, lots of comics have done the same thing when they rebooted. It’s completely unfashionable to just have bad guys show up and screw with your life because they feel like it and you’re in the way. No, it has to be destiny, some connection that goes back to primal forces beyond your control. So now we have an Arcane who seems to live for nothing but killing Swamp Things or future Swamp Things (in fact, he really enjoys killing them in the neonatal ward). He’s not a brilliant antagonist now; he’s just a monster who takes pleasure in what he does but doesn’t seem to have a choice in doing it. He’s just the biggest cog in a machine, just another agent in another shadowy group like the ones that made a decent show like True Blood into an embarrassment in a few seasons. Or, to bring it back to not only comics but Scott Snyder comics, why The Court of Owls are boring as shit. They’re just shapes and costumes and vague, sinister plans. Not a character in them. Characters are more interesting when they’re self-directed and unique and pursuing individual goals or compulsions. Anton Arcane is basically mold that talks out loud about how much he’s enjoying ruining your bread.