Thursday, September 27, 2007

Meltzer's Justice League of America: Now that we've all calmed down, was the comic any good?

This summer, hot off the fun of my "debate" with Douglas Wolk about New Avengers, I asked Andrew Gardner, comic fan and intelligent British guy, to begin an e-mail discussion with me about Brad Meltzer's Justice League run. I thought it might be worth looking back at the series to see what we thought about it, now that all the hysteria and hype and disappointment had worn off. I proposed that we discuss the entire 12-issue run, and eventually post our conversation maybe on But, due to our busy schedules, we never made it past a discussion of the first story arc, "Tornado's Path." Nevertheless, I think we had some interesting things to say about Meltzer's approach, and, for posterity, here's what we wrote:

Andrew Gardner: I really enjoyed [Justice League of America] #0. It looks lovely, the right artists for each era, with a nod to New Frontier at the start. I thought the yesterday/tomorrow pattern worked well, Meltzer setting his stall out early. The yesterday scenes were respectful of comic book history, and mostly felt like a fresh slant on familiar moments in league history. Rather like the logo, where the old seventies design is slightly updated to ensure the JLA letters run vertically. The tomorrow ones were intriguing, although how many come to pass we'll have to wait and see. There's a nod to the Dark Knight Returns in the Andy Kubert page. I notice Meltzer avoids the Morrison era, though. Howard Porter does draw a page, but the backdrop is from the start of the Mark Waid run.

This is obviously the story of the friendships behind the masks, and I thought Meltzer did a good job of portraying a convincing relationship between the big 3. This may not have been the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman we're used to seeing, but that just added to the feeling that these were the hidden, private moments of great heroes, who can only indulge their friendship in private. Batman in particular feels like he can let loose his emotions in this setting, with the tantrums and tears of the little boy who lost his parents. Wonder Woman, perhaps a little predictably, gets to play mother. Who's Superman? Dependable, trusting, a little po-faced. But that tear of betrayal with the "damn you Bruce", or the sullen look after his death betrays his need for their friendship.

Some of the scenes in #0 worked better than others. Perez is a wonderful artist but struggled with the line "to have a family" (although who wouldn't) whereas Gene Ha does a superlative job conveying the grief on his page, from the fragile rendition of Ma Kent in the first panel to the way Bruce plays with Clark's Basketball trophy in the last panel.

Meltzer obviously got the Justice League of America gig on the back of Identity Crisis's success. I notice in interviews he talks about having planted the seeds of this incarnation of the league in that book, which retrospectively explains the Black Lightning/ Katana scenes in that book, as they seemed incongruous at the time. Meltzer seems comfortable with the pace and stylistic tics in his previous comic work, using a lot of familiar techniques - internal narratives in colour boxes, intercutting of simultaneous events, detailed slow-motion fight scenes, irrelevant subplots and lots.

Of broken.



I don't mind that, although I can sympathise with those who find it hard to take. As long as it services a good story, like I thought it did in Identity Crisis, and then I don't mind. So what happens in "Tornado's Path"?

The set up is ostensibly the Big Three of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman (or Bruce, Diana and Clark if you prefer) choosing a Justice League line -up after their 'missing year'. This doesn't go to plan as the eventual roster of Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Black Lightning, Hawkgirl, Arsenal, Red Tornado and Vixen comes together by chance to foil a plot orchestrated by nattily dressed Solomon Grundy to take over Red Tornado's robot body, which involves John Smith being tricked into a human body by Felix Faust and his robotic body being spliced with Amazo by Professor Ivo. The Parasite and some minor villains controlled by baby Starros are thrown in for luck and nostalgia and it all ends with a sort of status quo, with Grundy dead (again), Amazo destroyed (again) and Red Tornado in his robot body (again). But surprisingly Vixen proves to be the pivotal route to victory, and Arsenal graduates to become Red Arrow. The League hands out shiny new membership plaques and build a new Hall of Justice in D.C. and a new Satellite in orbit, replete with a holodeck of all things. And Geo-Force turns up, although God knows why.

The pace is certainly slow compared to say, Morrison's JLA #1 or the Griffen/DeMatteus Justice League #1, but there's enough to hold the attention, at least in the first few issues. If all superhero comics were like this it would be pretty grim, but as an exception it's not so bad. Meltzer obviously knows how to write a successful thriller and it's admirable that he hasn't made many concessions to the flying cape genre, while remaining respectful of his antecedents.

I particularly liked the undercutting of the Big 3 playing superhero top trumps (as well as being a loving homage) by having all the action happen elsewhere. Life is what happens while we make plans and all that. He maybe pushes it a little. #1 to #6 takes place over only a few hours, and the Big 3 don't even stand up until #4! This is what they mean by decompression, isn't it? It probably doesn't help that 52 was running concurrently, perhaps posterity will reward Meltzer for sticking to his approach against prevailing trends at D.C.

Where the thriller element fell apart for me was at the most important bit, the end. There are two whodunits in this mystery - who's in and who's the villain. As far as the line-up is concerned, I enjoyed Meltzer toying with reader expectation, using the photo choices as decoys as well as revealing insights into the Big 3. The villains were less satisfying, toppling through the narrative like gaudy dominos until we reach the unsatisfying denouement. Red Tornado's back! Grundy's dead again!

Although this incarnation of Grundy gives the impression of Machiavellian intelligence with his sharp suit and Sisyphus references (most cringe worthy dialogue? Arsenal's retort), I thought he came across as the most over emotional Grundy yet; concocting a desperate scheme to maintain his new found intelligence. "What makes you think I have a heart?" is pure bravado interrupting a desperate barrage of punches no less vicious than those of his previous 'mindless' incarnations.

Some of the themes planted in #0 are nicely developed. The tension between Yesterday and Tomorrow appears everywhere. Like Geoff Johns, Meltzer has the grown up fanboy approach, wanting to remain faithful to the comic heritage he's devoured since childhood, but also wanting to carry the torch. "It's time to move on" says Superman at the end of #0, but the Tornado's Path is constantly tripping over the ghosts of JLA's past, with it's pick-and-mix-from-each-era line-up, classic villains, familiar locations, characters discussing heritage and lessons learnt. Grundy in many ways is the perfect villain for this piece, perpetually reincarnated for our reading pleasure. But whereas the heroes can cherish this endless cycle of rebirth where the very universe shifts from Crisis to Infinite Crisis to accommodate their existence, villains like Grundy and Ivo curse their fate and either fruitlessly attempt to become heroes or plead for their death.

I thought the biggest let down of the series was Ed Benes art. I don't necessarily want to criticise the artist himself, but I don't think it's a good match for Meltzer's words. Benes is an experienced superhero artist, comfortable drawing muscular men and women in tight garish outfits beating seven shades of daylight out of everything in sight. Black Canary's demolition of the Red Tornado clone in #3 demonstrates his familiarity from his Birds of Prey days. It's dynamic and exhilarating, and most of the action scenes benefit from his skill in providing clear sharp detail, and Sandra Hope's flowing inks only enhance the effect. But, as a cursory glance at the Ed Benes website shows, this is an artist whose work can sometimes drift into, lets be frank, superhero soft porn. He also, like many superhero artists, draws identical figures and faces for everyone, relying on the costumes to differentiate the characters. The result gives the impression that we're watching the cast of Baywatch in action, and the acting required by Meltzer's script is beyond them.

Arsenal and Green Lantern's relationship, an interesting one not really examined since the old Green Lantern/Green Arrow issues of Brave and The Bold, suffers from Benes inability to lend their dialogue any emotional weight. There's much made by Meltzer about their generational ties, an important theme in the story, and yes, there's an early reference to Hal being technically younger than Roy in #1, but their identical physiques and facial structures completely undermine the impact of their scenes together. The presentation of the Red Arrow costume in #7 and Hal and Dinah's tears are made laughable by a succession of panels where Roy looks more like he's lost his car keys than embracing his heritage and his future. Meltzer was far better served by Rags Morales in Identity Crisis and Geoff Johns gets great work out of Dave Eaglesham on this front.

Timothy Callahan: So, what's my take on "The Tornado's Path"? I'll add my thoughts by responding to yours, and your main points can be broken down and (over)simplified in this manner:

(1) It's a bit slow and decompressed.
--While the pace felt slow when the story was read in monthly doses, I think it works very well when read as a whole. And you say, "If all superhero comics were like this it would be pretty grim, but as an exception it's not so bad." You seem to be referring to the decompressed pacing, but I would completely agree with your statement if it was relating to the tone of Meltzer's JLA. That was the thing I found to be utterly grim. Perhaps it's Meltzer's attempt to shock us back into an emotional connection with these characters, but I actively disliked the sadistic violence and pain expressed in the "The Tornado's Path." When arms are ripped off and blood spurts across the panel, it's just a big downer for me. To me, it's all part of the unbearably serious, "oh, being a super-hero really hurts!" tone that permeated Identity Crisis. Reading Meltzer's approach to comics is a bit like going to a really cool dentist. No matter how much fun it might seem at times (and Grundy is cool, as are some of Meltzer's pet JLA additions), it still involves discomfort and downright suffering. And, unlike a trip to the dentist, Meltzer's JLA isn't even good for you.

--So I didn't mind the pacing so much as the relentless severity of each moment of the story. Yet, as painful as it was to read, I did appreciate Meltzer knocking me out of my normal, readerly ambivalence. I appreciate any comic book that can do that. I'm certainly fascinated by Melter's JLA, even if the tone turns me off during "The Tornado's Path." It's brutality (of portentious characters along with acts of violence) gives it that edge, and, yes if all superhero comics were like this, it would be grim indeed.

(2) The two main mysteries don't conclude in a satisfying way.
--I thoroughly enjoyed the use of Grundy in this story, so I can't agree that the mysterious villain turned out to be a disappointment. I not only enjoyed Grundy himself, as portrayed by Melzer, but I enjoyed the abject panic of message board posters who declaimed Meltzer for being the worst writer in the history of the universe for daring to give us an intelligent Grundy. It's not such a sin, especially since James Robinson established Grundy's reborn-with-a-different-mind-each-time history in his Starman series. It's a good use of Grundy, and while it may not have played by the rules of a true whodunit (nobody could have guessed a completely revamped Grundy was behind the whole thing), it works as a shocking reveal, and Meltzer plays it out appropriately.

--The other mystery: "Who will be chosen for the new JLA?" is not so much resolved in an unsatisfying way as completely abandoned with almost a footnote to indicate that it was ever important in the first place. I don't mind that the ending turned out to be that they just chose the group based on who helped out with the Grundy battle, since that's the way JLAs have formed in the past, but I do mind how much time Meltzer spends setting up the whole photo-and-discussion-of-strengths-and-weaknesses thing, only to render all of those pages (and pages and pages) of debate irrelevant by saying, "oh, we'll just go with the random bunch." Meltzer didn't have to spend so much time on those discussions if he just wanted to establish the dynamic between the Big Three (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), so the ultimate effect is that "The Tornado's Path" feels like a story that got derailed along the way. I'm fairly certain that Meltzer planned it all out, and he knew the team was going to be "randomly" formed, but it reads as if he changed his mind halfway through writing it. Here's one of those times where authorial intent doesn't help us in the analysis, because whether he intended it exactly the way it turned out or not, the total abandonment of the premise of the first couple of issues (the premise that this would be a team chosen for a reason) just seems sloppy. And what does Geo-Force have to do with anything? Sloppy.

(3) Even if the series is an attempt to move forward, it hinges too much on a convoluted legacy.
--This is the dilemma of the super-hero comic in the 21st Century. Neither Marvel or DC has a continuity that makes any kind of sense (in the big picture), and yet both companies have fans and creators who are obsessed with continuity, but only the continuity that they, themselves, care about. I'm sure there are people who care about every little continuity detail, but everyone I know seems to be willing to ignore the completely ridiculous things that have happened (the Clone Saga in Spider-Man, the relative ages of various heroes, Maxwell Lord) while expecting writers to adhere to the continuity that they, the readers, care about. Continuity should matter, since it's just internal storytelling consistency on a grand scale, but it can't matter in the Marvel and DC universes because the continuity is already corrupt beyond reason.

--So I don't think Meltzer's JLA is any better or worse at using or abusing continuity than any other comic book on the shelf. It's probably better just to think of this series as Meltzer's All-Star Justice League of America. Because that's basically what it is. It's his version of the Ultimate JLA story. His favorite characters fighting against really cool villains, with some of his favorite DC characters popping up. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that type of approach. It's apparent that Meltzer is a fan of the 1970s to mid 1980s DC Universe, and that's what he draws upon. Taking these characters and trying to make them more "realistic" by making every moment seem utterly serious and important may not work particularly well, but that's Meltzer's approach to fiction, apparently, and it isn't affected by his acknowledgement of the past.

(4) Ed Benes is the wrong artist for this series.
--Yes. Oh so true. First of all, you say "The result gives the impression that we're watching the cast of Baywatch in action, and the acting required by Meltzer's script is beyond them," and that about sums it up. But I'll add, second of all, it's such a strange choice to put an Image-style artist (and Benes, if anything, is a synthesis of Silvestri, Lee, and Liefeld) on a book which requires some serious emoting. Gritted teeth don't allow for much emotional range. It's like putting David Finch on an Avengers story in which the heroes are shown expressing their deepest feelings as they face their own Disassemble-ment (oh, wait, that did happen). If Meltzer is, as he seems to be, attempting to ground the superheroics in a kind of stylized, grim emotional reality, wouldn't a less glossy, less porntastic artist be more appropriate? (The answer is yes, and the proof is Gene Ha in JLA #11)

So after all of this, what's my overall verdict on "The Tornado's Path"? Well, let me evaluate it according to my Seven Standards of Good Comics:

1. Art which helps to tell the story (and does not detract from it or cause unwanted confusion)
--No. The art detracts, and does not add to the quality of the story.

2. Art which amplifies and accentuates the themes through visual symbolism
--No. The art is all about surface and neglects subtelties of characterization which would have symbolic meaning.

3. Stories which resolve in some way
--Yes. The story resolves!

4. Main characters who have more than one facet to their personality
--Yes, although the multiple facets themselves aren't very complex. (Red Arrow is cocky AND uncertain; Black Canary is tough AND protective, etc.) Meltzer seems interested in TRYING to add depth of characterization.

5. Something to say about one or more of the Essential Human Ideas (aka themes)
--Yes, although Meltzer seems more concerned with plot developments and individual character moments than he does with expressing a cohesive theme. Yet, I would say the dominant theme of "The Tornado's Path" is "maturity," which we see in Red Arrow's subplot, Geo-Force's subplot (such as it is), and even in the Red Tornado who is forced to grow up and accept the reality of his situation.

6. Narrative consistency (in character, plot, setting, and theme–jumps from one setting to another, for example, should be explained or alluded to)
--Yes. With the major exception of the Geo-Force stuff, everything makes sense in sequence.

7. Something new to say (about the medium, the genre, the characters, or the world)
--Yes, Meltzer has something new to say about the role of the JLA in the DC Universe (though he abandons that idea), and he wants to say something new about Red Tornado's search for humanity and Red Arrow's search for adult acceptance.

Five out of seven "Yesses" does not necessarily make a Good Comic, especially since some of the positives were marginal at best. Yet I would say that, with all of its flaws (the wrong artist, and the grim self-importance of the tone) Melter's first eight Justice League of America issues are, as a whole, examples of Good Comics full of Serious Flaws. The result is never dull, even if the whole thing doesn't quite work.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I'm Still Reading Comics

I've been absolutely overwhelmed with work and extra-curricular activities this month (like trying to help out my poor, video game deprived children), but I'm still keeping up with my weekly comics fix. I don't know how much longer I'll keep buying such a massive amount of comics each week, but for now, I'm still getting a ton of stuff each Wednesday. I'm now at the point where each comic I buy is not just a slice of entertainment or a piece of art, but a crucible upon which I test my willingness to keep up with this unbelievably expensive weekly hobby. So how do some of last weeks comics fare? Do they make me want to keep going? Abandon floppies in favor of trades? Give up on the whole medium entirely? Let's see.

COUNTDOWN TO MYSTERY #1 is surprisingly good. I've been on a bit of a Steve Gerber kick lately, and if I had some more free time, I might be inclined to write about two other Gerber series I recently read: Omega the Unknown and Foolkiller. Both series are fascinating portrayals of New York as a corrupt urban jungle, and both series rise above their mainstream Marvel setting to ponder serious questions about violence and justice (in their own basically goofy but oh-so-serious ways). Gerber's Doctor Fate story in Countdown to Mysery has shades of such philosophy--it feels in many ways like a Bronze Age comic--and the artwork nicely matches the tone of the story. I don't really care about the hellspawn demons which propel the cliffhanger, but I'm going to stick around to see what Gerber does with this flawed Doctor Fate in an urban landscape. The back-up Eclipso story is also better than expected, and I'm curious to see how Darkseid fits into everything. I'll keep buying this one.

ARMY @ LOVE #7 continues Rick Veitch's satirical hijinx, and the characters continue to be completely incompetent and/or completely devoid of ethics. All of which is the point, but this book does not read well in monthly installments. (Although you have to respect Veitch's ability to both write and draw this comic on a monthly basis--how many creators can do that anymore?) This will probably read better in the trade--I'm positive it will, but I buy it to keep the series alive. That's possibly a stupid reason to keep buying it, but if we all stopped buying it, we wouldn't see what Veitch has planned for this series. Then again, he might not have much of a plan. It might just be the same satirical idea (America is a sex-obsessed, selfish, idiotic country--imagine if the military acted that way too) over and over. I think there's more to it than that. Then again (and I may have referenced this before) Vladimir Nabokov, as a professor, railed against satire, saying that if it's a good book, it doesn't matter if there's satire in it, and if it's not good, then it doesn't matter if there's satire in it either. Satire itself isn't enough to make a good book bad or a bad book good. I'm horribly paraphrasing his point, but I think my point here is that Army @ Love needs more than just its satirical foundation to sustain itself, and after seven issues, I'm not convinced that it has anything more. But I trust Rick Veitch enough to keep paying a few bucks a month to let him play around in this particular sandbox.

LEGION OF SUPER HEROES IN THE 31ST CENTURY #6 is by far the best issue of the short-lived series. It not only features a massive amount of Legionnaries, but it's got page after page of futuristic Green Lanterns, plus Starro the freakin Conqueror. This is honestly one of my favorite comics, and because DC releases collections of these Johnny DC titles in the smaller digest form (which makes the lettering and the artwork way too small for my tastes---that size is great for Manga, because it was created for that format, but shrinking standard American comics down to that size absolutely ruins the impact of the artwork), I will definitely keep buying it monthly. I wonder, though, if the comic will shift to mirror the "more mature" tone of the second season of the cartoon. Perhaps it will serve to fill in the gaps between Season One and Season Two, but then I'm not sure that it makes sense as a television tie-in anymore. (Viewers will pick up a comic with characters that look quite different than their cartoon counterparts this year.) We'll see.

The demise of IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN with issue #12 saddens me. I've been telling everyone how great the book is since the very beginning, but I guess I just don't have enough friends. It's Robert Kirkman's best Marvel work yet, and its demise is enough to make me doubt the current direction of mainstream comics. It was definitely different than anything else on the Marvel shelf, and that means it was a GOOD THING. Different is good, people. Don't hate.

JLA HITMAN #1 featured the best characterization of the Justice League that I've seen in years. This comic is a bit of a strange beast though. It's deeply linked to continuity, and nearly every two pages contains a footnote referring to a past issue of the Hitman series, but I don't see how it fits into JLA continuity. The Hitman actually tried out for membership during Grant Morrison's JLA series, and the characters didn't seem to know him back then, but in this comic they don't refer to the fact that he ever tried out. Normally, I wouldn't care so much about the inconsistency, but when the comic keep bringing up the past meeting between the characters, it becomes an annoying omission. I really, really liked this issue otherwise. It even makes the horrible Bloodlines event cool in retrospect (mostly by making fun of it).

UMBRELLA ACADEMY APOCALYPSE SUITE #1 is very good, by the way. I don't know much about My Chemical Romance, other than that song "Welcome to the Black Parade" or whatever it was called was pretty much my favorite pop song of last spring. I couldn't get enough of that sucker. I don't really seem to like the rest of the songs on that album, but many of my students do, and they mock me when I actually say the entire name of the band, instead of the hip abbreviation "MCR." Like I'm supposed to know that. I am ever so old. Yet, Gerard Way can write a playful comic, and Gabriel Ba's art is even more stunning here than in (the much greater) Casanova. This comic does feel like a mix of other influences, but since those influences are things I like, I don't mind AT ALL. Many others have pointed out the Mike Mignola, steampunk, Matt Fraction, Grant Morrison, european design, zany feel of the comic, and I know exactly what they're talking about, but to me, especially by the end of issue #1, the comic feels most like Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums, but with aliens and superheroes. And that sounds just about right to me. I'll keep buying it if this quality keeps up, and then I'll probably pick up the hardcover collection too.

I've read a lot of other comics this week, but just based on what I've written about here, you can probably tell that I'm not giving up the weekly habit anytime soon. Luckily, I am so freakin' wealthy that I can keep up this insane fixation. As long as I'm willing to sell everything else I own on Ebay.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ebay Action

My son and daughter want a Nintendo Wii, and to be honest, I would love to play it too. So we've decided to pool our resources and sell a bunch of stuff on Ebay to raise money. My son's getting rid of some good Playstation 2 games really cheaply, and I've got some quality stuff for sale: Kirby hardcovers, the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, a Moebius western, Marvel Masterworks books, Justice League toys, and even a really ugly Hulk t-shirt that's waaaay too big for me. If you want to contribute to the Wii fund and pick up some awesome merch while you're at it, check out the items HERE!

Bid away, my friends. Bid away.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Seduction of the Innocent with EIGHTBALL!

You must have heard, by now, about the high school teacher forced to resign after assigning Eightball #22 to a freshman. If you haven't read about this fiasco, Heidi covers it pretty well over at The Beat.

The case concerns me on quite a few levels, not the least of which are that I am (a) a high school teacher, (b) heavily involved in a "comics in the classroom" movement, and (c) of the mind that Eightball #22, reformatted in hardcover as Ice Haven is not only Dan Clowes's most accomplished work, but it's by far one of the best graphic novels of the past decade. So my initial reaction to a dude losing his job (and possibly his career) over it is: yeesh!

But here's something that concerns me: the teacher assigned it to a 9th grade girl, independently of the rest of the class. Eightball #22 is a masterpiece, but it's a strange choice to give to a Freshman, and a strange choice to give to a single student as a make-up assignment for missed summer reading. The work is a sophisticated tapestry of shifting narrative perspectives and graphic styles. It's as much about comic book history as it is about the characters or the town represented in the story. It's not an ideal entry into the world of graphic narrative for someone who is unfamiliar with the techniques of the medium.

I think it's too "adult" for that grade level, but not because of the supposed sexual content, but because of the narrative fanciness. It's most salient virtue is its style, and stylistic analysis is not what Freshmen are known for. So it seems like a weird choice in that regard.

Yet I could see myself, in my younger and more clueless days, possibly recommending Ice Haven to a 9th grader who I thought was interested in the medium. Hell, I actually have an Eightball promotional poster hanging on the wall of my classroom (it's the one featuring Clowes's "Death Ray" character, from the cover of issue #23). So although I have never actually given out a copy of Eightball to a student, I might have made that choice once upon a time. I might have been the guy pressured into resigning.

But I'm not sure I understand why he resigned. I'm sure he had excellent reasons, but I can't imagine that I would resign if I were in that position, because I don't assign a damn thing to my students unless I know exactly why I'm doing so. If I assigned Eightball #22, which, in theory, could have happened, then I would have plenty of reasons for it, most of which having to do with the national standards for English Language Arts. If I didn't have a good reason for assigning it, then I would not assign it! I don't know why, exactly, this teacher assigned the comic, but he resigned abruptly, so that automatically makes him seem like he's afraid of any further investigation. It then makes the whole situation seem more creepy, and that begins to corrupt the whole situation. If this case draws national media attention, and it may have (or it may soon), then for the whole country, we'll end up with a really bad equation: "comics=perversion," or more specifically, maybe, "comics in the classroom=lock your doors and hide your daughters."

It's just a bad situation for everyone involved.

Yet here's something else I can't help but consider: What are these parents protecting their kids from by labelling Eightball as "pornography"? Do they live in the same world I live in? Because let me tell you something about my world: In my ten years of teaching, this is the FIRST YEAR that I don't have a 9th grade student who is either pregnant or a mother. That's right. Every other year, I've had at least one (if not more) 13 or 14 year-old student who was already a parent (or a mom to be) in my class. In a world like that, it's dangerously naive to think that Eightball #22 is a corrupting influence. That isn't to say that kids shouldn't be protected. That isn't to say that we shouldn't help to prolong innocence as long as we can. But in the world I live it, Eightball #22 isn't the problem.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio--Episode 4

Episode 4 is finally here! Listen as Ryan and I provide some quick comic book reviews, recommend great Western films, discuss my mastery of the game Stratego, and talk about what we will not be watching this fall on television.

Go to our Geniusboy Live website at to download the newest episode (or subscribe!). Or, if you prefer, just click on the title of this blog post to listen to Episode 4 directly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Answer!

The "Guess This Artist" contest from Monday? Not a lot of people tried to figure it out, but the answer is: DARWYN COOKE!

It's almost impossible to recognize this early work (his first published comic book work actually, from DC's New Talent Showcase), but it is indeed the same guy who now writes and draws The Spirit.

The winner of the contest was the Geniusboy Live podcast's #1 super-fan, Elliot. I'm sending him an original crayon drawing of Animal Man as his well-deserved reward.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Guess This Artist!

Still no new comics (my shop isn't getting last week's stuff until this week, ugh) so instead of talking about comics, I've decided to show you some. And play a little game.

Here's some lesser-known work by a major talent in the comic book industry. Take a guess and leave a comment below. These five pages are the ENTIRE story, by the way. Can you guess who (wrote and) drew this story???

First person to guess it correctly wins an awesome drawing done by me. I'll draw any character you want, on typing paper, using crayons, and then I'll mail it to you. I'll even sign it.

So, go ahead, guess away!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Comics Snafu

I had planned on reviewing Infinity Inc. #1 this week, but my local shop didn't receive any of their new comics today. So, I'll be back Monday with that review instead.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The New Plan

Since I return to my teaching duties tomorrow, I won't be able to maintain the furious pace of one-post-per-day anymore. My new plan is as follows:

Every Monday, you'll get a new post where I write about comic book and pop culture stuff that's been on my mind.

Every Thursday, you'll get a new post where I review something released that week.

I'll also continue to produce Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio--The Podcast every two weeks or so, and I'll use that medium to talk about the stuff I normally would have blogged about over the summer.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back on Thursday with a review of Infinity Inc. #1.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Burnout--Or Just End Of Summer Blues?

I've been reading various blogs and comics sites where people have been complaining about (or at least discussing) "event fatigue" and "comic book burnout" lately.

I can totally sympathize. I've been an avid comic book reader for over 20 years, and except for a one-month stretch in my late teenage years, I've been going to my local comics shop (depending on where I lived at the time) every Wednesday or Thursday to get my latest comic book fix. It seemed that everytime I started to drift out of comics, something new pulled me back in:

In the mid to late 1980s, Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Crisis and the reboot of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman (I'm going to count Year: One as a reboot--you may disagree), as well as the plethora of mythology-rich Marvel Handbooks and Who's Who issues, got me hooked on comics, deeply, but when the monthly stuff--Byrne leaving Superman, Perez shifting to just a writer on Wonder Woman, the stuff like Batman: Year Three and everything that followed for a while, seemingly everything at Marvel--became more and more bland, I became more interested in stuff like Grendel, Nexus, back-issues of Starslayer, Grimjack, and American Flagg. I read many of the Fantagraphics line, and whatever else the Comics Journal deemed worthy of a look.

The early 1990s brought Image, of course, and I was all for it. Even back then, I had eclectic taste, and I loved Hate and Eightball and Mister X and Puma Blues, but I also loved Liefeld's New Mutants, McFarlane's Spider-Man, and Lee's X-Men. So, like everyone else, I followed them happily and bought everything Image came out with during that first year or so. Just when I got sick of that stuff, which didn't take long, Vertigo came along with great stuff like Enigma, The Invisibles, and, my favorite at the time: Sandman. I didn't realize how much I had abandoned mainstream superhero comics, post-early-Image, but as I'm rereading Morrison's JLA run, I look at the house ads and I don't have ANY of those issues. "Millenium Giants"? No clue what that was about. And the same goes for Marvel. I don't really know anything about the Clone Saga, for example, except what I've read on Wikipedia, which seems to be more than enough. But Vertigo, and an occasional Tundra or Slave Labor comic (Madman! The Jam!) along with a Dark Horse issue or twenty (Concrete! Sin City! Hellboy!) sustained me throughout the decade. People often complain about the awfuless of...ugh...90s comics. They always say "ugh," right before "90s," and I'm sure they're right, in their own way, but I didn't read that stuff. My 90s was full of great comics by amazing creators.

In the 2000s, the mainstream superheroes sucked me back in. Hard. It's probably all Quesada's fault. I started picking up the Marvel Knights titles. Then I started getting more and more of the "regular" Marvel books and more DC titles besides just the Vertigo and Morrison or Millar stuff. Then, with Infinite Crisis looming and a Civil War on the horizon, I started buying almost everything from both companies. I wasn't interested in the crossover ideas necessarily, but both companies were bringing in more and more interesting talent to work on the titles. They both seemed to value the writer more and more, and say what you will about Bendis, or Johns, or Millar, or Ellis, or Morrison, or Brubaker, but they bring a strong personal style to their work, and I devoured it. And I've stuck with them for the past half a decade. I've read all the big events, and all the small spin-offs. I've read Veitch and Edwards Question and Smith and Dodson's Spider-Man/Black Cat and Morrison and Quitely's All-Star Superman and Bendis and Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man. And everything in between. And as disappointing as some of those series were, I've loved a lot of the comics each and every week.

But now, as we head toward the fourth quarter of 2007, I'm getting kind of sick of it all. Maybe it's the weak crop of titles last week, maybe it's the relentless mediocrity (at best) of Countdown. Maybe it's the long wait for the next comic book with art by Frank Quitely. Maybe it's too many weeks in a row with the volume set to 11. Maybe it's the end of summer and time for me to get back to my real job.

I don't know. But "comics burnout"? Yeah, I feel it. "Event Fatigue"? Yup. I'm nowhere near ready to "quit" comics, or stop my weekly trips to the store. But I'm a bit less enthusiastic. A bit more hesitant to shell out money on the single issues.

I wonder what's going to come along and save me this time.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Superhero Death Trap #9,923,501

Even with the mass-media saturation of superheroes these days, there's a general feeling among non-comic book readers that comics are filled with repetitive stories in which a hero is trapped by a villain, the villain spouts his or her evil plan, and the hero escapes at the last minute to save the day.

While this type of plot may be very common in James Bond movies, it's not prevalent in comics at all. I can't even remember the last time I read a story which featured any kind of superhero death trap.

So that's my question of the day:

What was the last comic book you read which featured a hero caught in a wonderfully elaborate death trap (or a death trap of any kind)?