Saturday, February 28, 2009

Classicos De Sabado Kazekage #6--Infinite Monkeys With Infinite Typewriters Created This Book

OK, confession time--I really thought Infinite Crisis was a real load of shit. You're shocked by this, I know.

The nadir of the whole awful grinding monument to the Permanent Crossover was Infinite Crisis Secret Files, a distaff dumping ground for plot points couched in the story of Alex Luthor and Superboy Prime wherein any credibility that the villains of the Biggest Crossover of 2005 was hopelessly and irrevocably dashed thanks to an overwrought and deeply silly story that portrayed said villains as whiny little babies.

This was seen at the time by some wags in the critical community as meta-commentary on demanding comic fans who wanted "a return to the way things used to be," or as we say now (with the benefit of hindsight) "Geoff Johns."

The nadir of this story can be seen in the following four pages, which for some reason, seem like the weirdest slashfic ever to me. To protect the sanity of the 3 readers I have, I have re-dialogued the story. Superboy-Prime's dialogue is now the dialogue from an old re-lettered Transformers comic that became something of a meme among Transformers fans. Alexander Luthor's dialogue is from an old promo by hardcore wrestling legend Cactus Jack.

Funnily enough, it makes about as much sense this way as it did originally. It's also funnier, but as I find this comic funny and have found no one else who agrees, my sense of humour is a wild, unpredicatble thing.

I was would tell you to "enjoy" it, but in this case, that would be wrong.

There is no way this ends well

Luthors wanng=NEBULA. I have heard stories of this.

Jumbo Tsuruta is well worth Reading More About!

wHy My ShOuLdErS hUrT?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Well, this is a fine how do you do.

Just to let everyone know I'm not ignoring them or anything--for some reason Firefox is all of a sudden not letting me reply to anything in Blogger no matter how many times I click the damn button.

I have no idea what's causing it--clearing the cache and refreshing doesn't seem to help, either, sooo . . .just don't think I'm purposefully ignoring y'all or anything, all right?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Witless Dictionary #14--Origin Occlusion

It's a double-shot of Witless Dictionary goodness tonight. Think of it as a way to make up for not posting these for awhile and that it hasn't one jot to do with the fact I might be suspicious regarding the number "13." That is totally not it at all.

Origin Occlusion--Term describing an awful tendency among 99.9% of all comics authors wherein they cannot stop themselves from taking a hero's perfectly serviceable origin and adding in a whole bunch of nonsense in the name of "making it more consistent with things that happened afterward," (rubbish, as its inevitably rolled back or further complicated in a way that makes even more things make less sense) "Updated to the present day," (If you hear this, there's every chance the lead character will be sporting an earring and a soul patch.) or "I wanted to expand the character's origin and put a new spin on it in the style of Alan Moore's "Anatomy Lesson" story." (This is the most dangerous of the three, as the person saying it is all too often not Alan Moore.)

Examples of this include--Wolverine fights Satan every time he dies, Wolverine is actually an evolved wolf-person, Wolverine met every single damn Marvel character in his Dark and Murky past and yet no one remembers him immediately , Wolverine has a son named after an 80's hair metal band, pretty much everything that occurs in Wolverine's past is an ideal example of Origin Occlusion.

Witless Dictionary #13--The Secret Origin Of . . .

Continuing after rather a long time off, our series in an effort to try to forge a vocabulary for comics criticism continues with yet another installment!

The Secret Origin Of--Term given to the most creatively bankrupt of stories--the story in which an iconic but ultimately insignificant element of a characters mythology is slowly and painstakingly explained for the sake of allowing a burnt-out writer to fill 22 pages that month.

Examples of this would be "The Secret Origin of the Dinosaur in the Batcave," "The secret origin of the Bat-signal," "The secret origin of Cerebro," and too many others too hideous to mention.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Classicos De Sabado Kazekage #5--The Urban Legend That Is LOMAX! NYPD!

Well, how about this--The features are finally beginning to return.

Today's classic are three Photoshop-buggered covers from one of the many Atlas/Seaboard comics of the 70's. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, imagine a new comics company launched with top talent, concepts that were little more than ripoffs, and editorial directions that changed from issue to issue. Suffice it to say, the end results were bizarre at best, schizophrenic at worst.

The Atlas comic under assault here was Police Action, featuring Lomax: NYPD, who was supposed to be a knockoff of Kojak, but because the head of Atlas wasn't going to licence the actual comic and wasn't about to get sued for it, it was changed in such a way as that it didn't resemble Kojak at all.

I should also mention that Police Action features Lomax eating a hot dog in side view in one long panel that is absolutely terrifying in terms of the potential Freudian implications of the image. I'll have to post it someday, I reckon. For now, enjoy these covers!

C'mon--it seems like Ralphie is destined to do something like this.

I've always found ventriloquists to be the seamy underbelly of showbiz--how about you?

Marksmanship provided by the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Prefix "Post" In Front of Anything Usually Makes Me Worry

More from Steven Grant, excerpted below:

"A few years back, I coined the term "post-superhero" to represent a sea change in American superhero comics underway at the time, mostly at the hands of British writers. It was the first real shift in paradigm since Stan Lee introduced the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man – then commonly labeled "anti-heroes" – forty years ago.

These were superhero comics stripped of many familiar trappings, from costumes and unexamined kneejerk morality to subplots, though few stripped out everything at once. They often focused more on mood and character than action. (It's likely no coincidence that many who produced "post-superhero" comics cut their teeth on Britain's 2000 AD and short-form strips like "Judge Dredd.") Some (Warren Ellis on THE AUTHORITY; Joe Casey on WILDCATS 3.0) operated out of boredom with the superhero concept, some (Alan Moore on the ABC books, Grant Morrison on JLA and NEW X-MEN) were genuinely fond of superheroes but wanted to restore a sense of wonder to the genre and make it speak better to modern audiences."

I'm not entirely sure you can lump both styles of writing under the same movement, really--Ellis and his ilk slash and burn without leaving anything interesting behind that might potentially inspire people who come after them to find something in the genre worth regenerating. Morrison seems more obsessed with finding new ways to look at the underlying concepts of superheroes, which, while occasionally deconstructive turns up so many new ways to look at familiar concepts within the genre that it opens more possibilities than it closes off.

Still, even if I don't agree with all of it, it's a rather fascinating read.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Apparently it's "Complain About The Retrograde" Week Here . . .

You know, I realise that Chris Claremont probably deserves a job for life, as he basically created superhero comics as we know them today (with all the good and bad that entails) but there's something about the recently-announced X-Men Forever--wherein the publishers, readers, writers, and artists play an elaborate game of Let's Pretend and roll the clock back to 1991--that strikes me as . . .well, sad.

Much of Claremont's post-1991 work has had the awful sting of someone who stayed onstage far too long and had the awful fortune to degenerate into a parody of himself in full view of everyone.

I guess I wasn't expecting that particular metaphor to become so concrete . . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Mort Weisinger Expansion Pack

So, I ran across this recently, and well, it's a doozy. This is the long-rumoured "Superman 2000" proposall from Mark Waid, Mark Millar, Tom Peyer, and Grant Morrison. Like Twilight of the Superheroes, it's gotten a reputation as being this lost work of genius, mostly from those on the blogosphere who've read it an analyzed it.

Also, like Twilight of the Superheroes, it's the most brilliant thing you've ever seen until you actually read it. Once you have, the absolute utter wrong-headedness of it will turn you off with so much force you will spin into the Earth like a drill.

I know the standard line on Grant Morrison is that everything he touches erupts in rainbows and turns to gold, but . . .not this. This proposal is completely retrogressive and seems designed to deliberately turn off everything but the most die-hard Superman obsessives. It's staggering to me just how much wrong there is in this thing.

I won't go into it in detail on this--it's linked above if you want to read the whole thing. And there are a number of things I rather liked in the proposal. But, rather than dwell on that I will just cover the big things that stick out at me as wrong:

"Superman is an alien and should act as such"--Around the time of Man of Steel, the fashion among Superman writers seemed to be an inversion of the conventional wisdom about Batman. As Batman was the "real" persona and Bruce Wayne was the facade, Superman was the facade--Clark Kent was the "real" person.

It made a certain amount of sense. As one of the big complaints about the pre-Crisis Superman was that his ridiculous power-level made him impossible to relate to at any level and there was no inherent jeopardy in the stories--Superman was so ridiculously powerful the only question about him winning was "how, exactly?"

That's not exactly what the S200 guys propose--they want to make Superman a figure to aspire to but remote from the people he rescues. It's one way to do it, I suppose, but there's a rather large problem that would probably result in them ending up in the exact same place.

It's very hard to write "alien" perceptions. It usually involves so much textual heavy lifting the mere act of describing unusual perception usually ends up dominating the story. That's not to say it should be off the table, but I can't see that in trying to push that as the new status quo you're not left with an utterly aloof protagonist who the writers are falling all over themselves trying to hammer home just how different he is and did we mention that as an alien, he perceives the world in a different way than you do?

I could see that getting real old, real fast. And FYI--to mention the "Superman/Christ parallels" at all is to be heavy-handed about it. It's really something that should be set aside on the scrapheap of really pompous and dopey notions that end up in comics because they weren't purged in English Comp 101 like the rest of us.

"Superman should be a vegetarian because he grew up on a farm and is aware and attuned to all life"--Uhm, "No," and "who cares, really?" If he's attuned to all life, why would he eat plants, then? Aren't plants alive?

Never mind that even they don't seem all that wedded to it as a story-point. Really, if one of your Big Ideas is the Secret Origin of Superman's Sunday Lunch, everyone's better off that you didn't get a shot and bored the living hell out of a bunch of readers with pompous didacticism.

I'm not anti-vegan or anti-vegetarian, mind . . .I just don't see how this necessarily gets us a better Superman. Like . . .at all.

"Clark Kent Goes Back To Being The Daily Planet's Butt Monkey"--It doesn't necessarily fill me with confidence in your Big Ideas if you say "Man, you know what I miss from the old Superman stories? Steve Lombard trying to prank Clark Kent and it backfiring on him."

I always thought that was really stupid actually. I didn't miss it when they stopped doing it, and I wasn't eager to see it again. I find it amusing that creators seem to think a superheroic alter ego is only relatable if he's a complete loser and a figure of ridicule.

It may be, guys--just consider this, OK?--that this sort of thing worked fine when comics had a much less regular audience who only picked up the book intermittently. Now that the audience consist almost entirely of asexual readers in their mid-30s who read every issue even if they hate it and view social interactions the way Frankenstein's Monster viewed fire, they've probably well and truly burnt out on that now.

It's just not the mid-60's anymore guys. If a return the the Daily Planet is what you want, rather than dredging embarrassing artifacts from the past, maybe you could craft a somewhat more plausible office culture? I mean, most of us have actually worked in them, now . . .

And finally . . .

"Superman Isn't As Relatable To Me Now That He's Married To A Girl And Thus, This Must Be Immediately Rescinded."--Hoo boy.

OK, the people who say, as they did with Spider-Man, that marrying the characters off changes the status quo dramatically have a point. That they say it ages the characters also has a point. That they say that a divorce would age the characters even more also have a point.

That this then validates extreme measures to roll things back to the status quo ante is absolutely, positively, wrong. If marriage is such a terrible thing, then the answer is not to let the characters marry, ever.

Because there's no getting the toothpaste back in the tube that isn't annoying, off-putting, and immediately suspect.The S2000 guys do go into a lot of lip service about "we have to give the marriage our best shot before we reverse it," but it's clear that's pretty much a lie--writers who had an open mind about playing the hand they're dealt wouldn't have an intricate (I would say "tortured") plot to undo the marriage ready to go if they didn't want it gone.

Their rationale for this, of course, is "we need to bring back the Clark/Superman/Lois" love triangle, probably because it's "another cornerstone of the Superman mythos."

Well, maybe back then, but like Steve Lombard, what works with an irregular readership doesn't necessarily work with a rather committed readership. The triangle works as a gimmick in a film, or a TV series, but in an ongoing series, the following question will inevitably turn up:

"How can she be the world's most brilliant reporter and yet be too stupid to figure out he's the same guy, he's just not wearing glasses now?"

And what does that do, except pull down the whole triangle? If she's too stupid to bother with, her credibility's shot, so why should Superman bother with her? Or Superman's a sadist who just enjoys screwing with her mind, and what the hell is that about?

And how is any of that better or more "daring" that what we get now? That's not to say current Superman comics are any good (they aren't) but I don't really see that the solution is to roll everything back to the Mort Weisinger era is the solution.

What I do see it as is yet another group of creators who, displeased that the status quo they remember has been supplanted by another one that doesn't sit as well with them, and rather than do what they would expect others to do ("Just pretend the stupid marriage didn't happen!")--accept things As They Would Have Them--the wanted to ramrod through what amounts to retrograde motion.

It all sounds terribly familiar.

It's been my position since I started this blog, that ultimately, every generation should be allowed to form their own relationship with these now-iconic characters with as little influence and pressure from previous generations as possible. Needless to say, forcing things back into a tiny little box from the past isn't exactly in keeping with my overall thesis.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Going Meta(series)

So I was finishing up watching Gundam 00 a couple weeks ago, and, while I worked out whether it was an intriguing return to form after 2 absolutely terrible previous fanservice-obsessed series or so convoluted that it finally collapsed on itself, I began to think about a few things, specifically how Japan handles franchises vs. how we do across the pond, and the pros and cons of different approaches.

For those of you who aren't up to speed, let me explain it to you like this. By and large, TV series, like manga and other things, tend to have a finite run--the stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and once they're done, that's pretty much it. There are some exceptions, but usually, even if it has a long run, when the door's closed on it, it's closed for good.

Mind you, "over" doesn't necessarily mean "over." The story might pick up, but in Gundam's case it usually involves a several year leap with a new cast and if the older characters are referenced at all, it's either with substantial changes or they're little more than cameos.

Gundam's other trick is to start another story (the "alternate universe" continuities) which take the surface elements and a few plot points (maybe) from the original and goes its own way. Usually these will have the fingerprint of their producer all over them and the general effect is a little bit peculiar--sort of like seeing something very common with a nevertheless very familiar voice.

I should add, continuations don't always happen--thankfully some shows are such individual statements (FLCL and Cowboy Bebop come to mind) that repeating them would be pointless, insulting, and pretty much a fool's errand--some things are a non-recurrent phenomena, and that's all there is to it.

But back to Gundam, or more specifically, Gundam's example. I began to think, what with the common formula of popular producer/creator coming on to a corporate property, cherry picking what he does and doesn't want to use out of the property's vast mythology, getting their bang out and then leaving and doing something else . . .what if comics were like that.

Then I realised comics are pretty much like that already.

Because I've just described, more or less, the mechanics of a "run."

Ever notice, especially in this day and age that runs by creators tend to be these isolated things that exist independently of the ongoing "story" of a character in continuous publication? I mean stuff like Morrison's New X-Men, or Lee and Loeb's "Hush" storyline in Batman, or Morrison (again) in All-Star Superman--over and over again, especially lately, there's a tendency to create these kinds of runs wherein they're less an Ongoing Installment In A Continuing Narrative and more an island and law unto itself. Continuity as it relates to the story they're trying to tell isn't a problem, but continuity as it fits in to the larger ongoing soap-opera is.

Some of this, of course, is simply Ambition Collision, but I find myself wondering if some of it's just the birth struggles of the next evolution of the superhero comic. If the tendency of creators now is to ignore the idea that they're custodians of a larger narrative belonging to a character several generations old and all too often forcing them into either dead-end plots cooked up in their fevered brains or arresting the characters in neat little boxes from days gone by, maybe finally the idea of superhero comics as this big, long never-ending soap opera is winding itself down.

Maybe the future's full of stories that start and stop by their own rhythms and end on their own rhythms. The long continuous take on a character is replaced by shorter, self-contained takes on the character and his history that bear a more individual stamp to them since the creators in question would ideally consider themselves capital-C creative types rather than small-c custodians of enduring characters.

I'm not sure that's a good thing by any means--while you'd never know it by amount of people who try it, not everyone is a big huge Creator with Important Things To Say on a title--it does seem to be the way things are going. The real question is, will the corporations who hold the rights to these characters actually allow a clean break from the never-ending soap opera?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In answer to "why?"

Sometimes people ask me "why do you care so much about superhero comics, Lewis? I mean, you yourself say that people your age should long have outgrown them, so really, why are you, on your birthday, not only pontificating about them yet again. You have a whole blog dedicated to it . . .so, why?"

I shrink, usually, from posting big "mission statements," partially because I don't think in those terms (I'm not a Leader of Men by any means) and partly because mission statements are by and large a load of crap. So, owing to those two facts and the fact that I'm still suffering through a particularly brutal bout of the flu as I type this, I'm going to do my best to spell it all out and then, if it seems like a bad idea, I'm going to blame it all on being sick and obviously delirious.

I may not be a leader of men, but I have moments of cleverness, you see.

When I do have the occasional moment of wanting to get up on my K-Box, I try to put it in perspective thus--with any luck, the stuff I can't stand is absolutely adored by some 12-year old (all too often it seems to be exactly the stuff 49-year-olds seem to love) coming up after me and his love and enthusiasm will carry things forward and free me up to start caring about something else. Ideally, as I've said about creators many a time, fans also need to be good stewards and know when to let it go and pass into the hands of the next generation.

Give it to them, let them develop their own relationship with it, and hopefully they'll pass it down to the generation that follows them. That's how things endure, after all.

But more than that, it was comics--or my love of the possibilities of them, that started me down the road I'm on now.

I remember it as clearly as if it were a flashback--It was the early 90's and I and a whole bunch of kids in the most poorly-stocked art class run by the most unmotivated art teacher who was ever unleashed on the student body of NCHS-West.

His lack of motivation, however, was fertile ground for us. Coming up as we were in the times we were, excitedly passing around copies of the latest Image comics and whatever else struck us as exciting and we read them until the damn covers fell off. Studied them, took them apart, tried as best we could to draw like that (not having any art training--unmotivated teacher, remember?--we didn't know we shouldn't be doing that) but generally soaking in the energy of it, reveling in that adolescent rush of stuff that you and all your buddies think is the most awesome thing ever.

And so, we made out own superhero comics. They were the most limited edition comics it's possible to have, having a print run of 1 and all. And for the most part they were just us aping what was going on in what we'd read, but more often than not, some originality got through.

Looking back, I see what it was. If the comics I wanted to read didn't exist, I at least understood the possibility was there for me to make them myself.

And that was a pretty exciting prospect for me--I could make the stuff I wanted to see and read if it didn't exist, and it was an actual valid means of expression. God, the power I felt at knowing that--that ideas really do have power, and there's value in doing what you're passionate about.

That, I think, is why I still have a fondness for comics--it's a kind of gratitude.

And I'd like it to stay extant long enough for someone else to maybe learn that, too.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Classicos De Sabado Kazekage #4--Sicker Than Usual



This is gonna be a short one this week . . .I seem to have come down with the plague and the mere act of sitting up takes too much energy and oh lord I feel so terrible and tend to be something of a girl's blouse when I'm this sick.

Anyway. Here's one from the vaults. Classic comic covers + Photoshop=comedy (hopefully)

Friday, February 6, 2009

MAN TRUE

And now, a bit of wisdom overheard on a discussion board I frequent in which the subject of the utterly brilliant Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon, which is worth paraphrasing here:

"I like DC Characters in any form except DC comics."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Witless Dictionary #12--Johns Bendising

Continuing on because it's the only way to keep warm on a 19-degree February night, we continue to strive, seek, find, and never to yield some terms crisp and accurate to better capture the shapes and forms that make up comics criticism.

Is that enough of an intro?

I think it is.

Johns Bendising--Term used to describe a mindset among editors in chief of major comics companies that if one writer's style is popular with readers, then that writer must either write every new book that is launched or every other writer on the roster must write in the style of that writer.

Here is where I'd put in a link to a short, punchy explanation of what I was talking about, but given that this trend has been going since 2004 and Marvel and DC . . .lord, we'd be here all night.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Just Sayin'--Final Crisis

Hi,

Yes, Internet, I have heard of a book called Final Crisis.

Yes, Internet, I have read the resulting furor about it and how it's sifted out into those who think it's brilliant vs. those who think it's incoherent rubbish.

No, Internet, I bloody well haven't read it. I have heard it would be best to wait until it's all in one nice, neat collected edition before I try to comprehend what's there, be it genius or insanity.

As such Internet, I do not have an opinion on the relative merits of Final Crisis, Grant Morrison, or saving the DC universe with the power of karaoke.

It is one of the great fallacies of comics fans on the Internet that everyone who comments on things falls into a nice, neat, Manichean choice, and we must all line up accordingly, just like at the DMV.

For instance, the assumption is either "you wholeheartedly think everything going on in comics is awesome or you're an old fuddy-duddy who longs for a Silver Age that never actually existed (Or, put simply, "Alex Ross") and your opinion is worthless.

Those of us who might want to take a little more time to make up their minds, or have no opinion, or are just waiting for it all to be over and done with, already, are, it is assumed, expected to wait out in the hall.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Witless Dictionary #11--Legacy Disenfranchisement

Once again, bringing you another installment in our continuing series of attempts to create terms for things specific to comics that don't yet exist, but should. Oh, and for those who asked, this is totally not me being snarky via professorial and/or literary aspirations.

Honest.

Legacy Disenfranchisement--Term given to a specific tendency when fans become creators to roll back continuity and/or character development to where they remembered it was 20-30 years ago, thereby alienating the fans who grew up reading about said character after that point.

The justification usually given for Legacy Disenfranchisement is that running the clock back will make the character more accessible to a younger generation, which is perfectly valid if you assume that child development has not changed one whit since 1975 or so.

Or, to boil this down to a one-sentence definition: "Thanks for keeping my seat warm, Wally West!"

(Special thanks to the good people at House to Astonish for inspiring this Witless Dictionary)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Not Written By Santayana, But It Might As Well Have Been

I'm not that much of a Spider-Man fan by any means, and yet (assuming you haven't already) The Life of Reilly is required reading. Not just for being an incisive, blow-by-blow account of the Clone Saga, that high-water mark for comics than destroyed the credibility of the character all the way to 2001 (maybe) but for being a warning about trying to force regressive change on a character that has progressed past the point of being able to be rolled back to an earlier point without screwing up a lot of stuff.

Thrill as a well-intentioned Age of Apocalypse style self-contained event that would have pivoted the Spider-books in a new and interesting direction for a bit, then returned to normal (Despite what most writers in comics would have you beleive, as Stan Lee once said superhero comics don't peddle actual change so much as the illusion of it. As this is not strictly true, he will probably be sued for this) was perverted by pressure from the marketing department to milk the momentum the book had to death and pressure from various creative teams to go this way and that and you end up something that lasted far past its moment, full of so many changes in plans and direction that the end result near the end was a confusing mess.

But the main lesson to be gleaned is perhaps this--the plan with the Ben Reilly stuff was to create a status quo for Spider-Man in a way that he could be comfortably returned to a younger, unmarried status quo and therefore "be more identifiable to younger readers" (or, if you're a cynic, "Stay locked in the same status quo from 30 years ago that the people writing it remember and are therefore comfortable with.") and look at the goddamn mess.

Boy, I sure am glad Marvel learned its lesson about undoing the marriage and the accumulated continuity associated with it and never again tried to roll back Spider-Man's continuity with some ridiculous plot justification that totally screwed everything up and made enjoying the potential "good stories" resulting from it because the road getting there was soobnoxiously ill-conceived.

Yeah, they'd never do that again, bad as the Clone Saga went down.

On a random personal note, the Ben Reilly suit (not the Scarlet Spider) one was actually some pretty sharp design work, I thought (at least compared to Quesada's Iron Spider suit)

That has nothing to do with anything--I just thought I'd mention it.