Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Podcast Episodes Back Up

We lost all five Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio episodes when the site went down a few weeks ago. I uploaded everything back to their server today, and all five episodes are downloadable once again.



Sunday, October 28, 2007

On Hiatus

Hey! I'm taking a few weeks off to get some stuff done. I'll be back after Thanksgiving, though, so don't worry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Format Wars: Whither Comic Books?

Since my local shop didn't get this week's comics yet, except for the final issue of Aquaman, of all things (which I bought, and I have to say that even though I haven't been reading it regularly, I enjoyed Tad Williams and Shawn McManus's take on the character a lot more than the humorless Busiek/Guice version), I can't talk about new comics much. So, instead I'll discuss which comic book format will thrive in the future marketplace: the floppy, the trade paperback, the hardcover, or the webcomic. Actually, I'll let those formats sort themselves out--I'm impartial myself:

Webcomic: I'll start, I guess since no one else seems to be...

Floppy: No. I'll start. I've been around a lot longer, so...

Hardcover: Wait. But you suck.

Trade Paperback: Yeah. Heh heh. You do suck.

Webcomic: They're right, dude.

Floppy: I know. (pause) But everyone used to love me so much. I once sold millions of copies of myself and wallpapered John Leguizamo's bathroom. What happened? Where did I go wrong?

Hardcover: Maybe it was all those "Tabacco is Whacko!" advertisements. Those really pissed me off, I don't know about you guys.

Trade Paperback: Yeah. Heh heh.

Webcomic: Or maybe it was because I didn't exist yet. Kind of makes it easier to compete with me. My not existing at all. By the way, have you read Perry Bible Fellowship. I am so awesome.

Floppy: What about all those years when I was coming out with great stuff like Daredevil or Watchmen or that Straczynski Strange series? Don't those count for anything?

Hardcover: Did you actually read that Strange comic?

Floppy: Yeah! It was the reimagining of Dr. Strange from the mind that brought us the reimagining of Squadron Supreme and wrote that Deep Space Nine show... Okay, you're right, I didn't read it. I was waiting for the trade.

Trade Paperback: Heh heh.

Webcomic: I'm not sure if I was clear earlier. I am awesome. Did you get that part?

Hardcover: You know what I used to like, Floppy? I used to like when your stories were so good that they made me want to come back for more--I couldn't wait to get the next issue.

Floppy:I still feel that way. I can still do that. Have you been reading Wonder Woman? Readers couldn't wait for the end of that first storyline!

Webcomic: Act-I-Vate. What is that? It's not even a word. What's with the hyphens? Beats me, but it's so freakin' Awesome!

Hardcover: That Wonder Woman story probably was good, but just like everyone else, I'm waiting for the trade.

Webcomic: I like Omnibus Editions! You should do PvP as an Omnibus. It would be so Awesome.

Trade Paperback: Sometimes I hold my breath for a really long time and imagine that I am a really, really fat Floppy.

Webcomic: Dean Trippe? Is that guy for real? Butterfly! That cracks me up.

And with that, Floppy sulked away quietly, Hardcover browsed through my bookshelves, Trade Paperback held his breath for an hour, and Webcomic went on Pirate Bay to try to find the newest Iron Fist issue. We may never resolve this eternal debate, but I think we all learned a little bit about ourselves today.

Monday, October 15, 2007

John Byrne Says Things Aren't What They Seem: Fantastic Four Visionaries Volume Two

I picked up a stack of John Byrne FF comics in trade paperback form. Byrne's work from this era is pretty fascinating. I started looking at the books on Thursday and I continue below:

In Fantastic Four #241-250, John Byrne begins to move away from the Lee/Kirby pastiche of his first half-dozen FF stories as his own ideology presents itself more strongly. The shift is not sudden, or overwhelming, but with the second Visionaries volume, Byrne's own attutudes about art, narrative, and society emerge more tangibly within the stories. He maintains the Silver Age-style trappings of pseudo-science, imaginative plots, and swift pacing, but beneath that (quite entertaining) surface, Byrne turns conventions on their heads and lets the readers know that EVERYTHING THEY KNOW IS WRONG, sort of.

Throughout the ten stories in this volume, Byrne returns again and again to the motif of illusion. Appearances are not only deceiving, but they are often artificially (or supernaturally) generated--sensory-defying holograms, or dreamscapes, or shape-shifted aliens. The sequence of illusions would presumably teach the Fantastic Four, and the reader, not to trust appearances, although the stories would lack conflict if the FF didn't fall for such optical deceptions, at least at first.

Another emergent pattern is Byrne's emphasis on the Fantastic Four as problem solvers rather than fighters. The denoument of each story often arrives not because of physical force but in spite of it. The FF don't use their powers to overwhelm opponents and beat their enemies into submission, but rather use their powers to escape and contain danger until they can find a way to defeat the villain intellectually.

In issue #241, as the male FF members are turned into virtual gladiators for the pleasure of alien/Roman Gaius Tiberius, Sue Storm saves them all by deducing that Tiberius's powers derive from his golden helmet--and by removing his helmet, he will become powerless against the team. The removal of the helm has unexpected circumstances, as she finds that the armor itself has sustained the consciousness of the being, and with its integrity destroyed, the illusory nature of the entire city falls apart. The story balances the Silver Age elements (alien Romans, gladiatorial battles, woman-in-distress) along with the illusion and problem-solving motifs and Byrne's attempt at showing progressive gender roles as the "woman-in-distress" herself, Sue Storm, saves the day with her intellect.

The potential danger of emphasizing the reasoning and problem-solving of the FF instead of the team's powers is that the comic could seem "boring" to some readers if such a pattern were to continue. Byrne, one of the best superhero artists who has ever put pencil to paper, is especially talented at showing the four-color glory of superhero slugfests, and yet he writes this series at times as if he'd rather draw guys in costume standing around discussing philosophical issues. But within each story, he's careful to include plenty of action to make sure that readers know that they are, in fact, reading an American comic book story. The action may not always come where readers have been conditioned to expect; tradition, until the recent trend of decompression, led to stories paced in this way: anticipation-action-pursuit-climactic action-resolution, but Byrne paces his stories like this: anticipation-action-problem solving-resolution. Yet Byrne's narrative model allows him not only to explore the illusory nature of reality (as character uncover the truth or get to the bottom of the deception), but also allows him to deal with the consequences of heroic action, a concern best shown in Fantastic Four #244.

In issue #244, Reed and company save the life of Galactus (after defeating him the issue before). The issue is almost entirely conversation, and although the characters may pose dramatically in the MIGHTY MARVEL STYLE (emphasis mine), the story is about compassion (for Galactus) and loss (of Frankie Ray, Johnny's love who becomes the herald called Nova). There's no slugfests in sight, and the act of saving Galactus have long-term consequences for the FF and the galaxy.

In many ways, Byrne's Fantastic Four seems to fulfill the promise of early Marvel. The combination of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby emphasized both character and action (in theory), but Lee's attempt at character was more akin to caricature, and Kirby's sense of character (as seen in unadulterated form in his 1970s work) was based more on archetypes than individuals. What Byrne does, at least in the stories reprinted in these first two Visionaries volumes, is juggle large-scale plots--Galactus coming to Earth, Dr. Doom's attempt to reclaim his kingdom--with character moments that actually work. Byrne's Johnny Storm struggles with the loss of Frankie Ray, Byrne's Susan Storm finds contentment in her role within the family but slowly develops a more forceful presence on the team, Byrne's Ben Grimm subconsciously fears turning human but loathes being the Thing, and Byrne's Reed Richards is confident but his confidence borders on hubris. Byrne's FF is not a dysfunctional family--it's a functional family struggling with overwhelming odds from within and without. Surrounded by things which are not always what they seem.

As a final note, I'd just like to point out that, as if to contradict any assumptions I've made about Byrne's direction with the series, this volume ends with a two-issue story which is almost 40 pages of one, long fight scene, as the Shi'ar Guardsman known as Gladiator comes to Earth in pursuit of some Skrulls and ends up facing the FF, Avengers, and anybody else Byrne felt like drawing that month. Gladiator, of course, is one of the Marvel analogues of DC's Superman. And in this two-part story, Byrne establishes some of the pseudo-scientific reasoning he'll end up using when he takes over the Superman title years later. He establishes that Gladiator's powers must be telekinetic in nature, since there's no way he can pick up a building by its corner and not have it fall apart under its own weight. Such an approach shows that perhaps Byrne sees himself as an intellectual problem-solver, making sense out of the illusions of the world which would seem to ask us to believe, honestly believe, that a man could pick up a building by a corner!

Luckily, Byrne and the FF are around to dismiss such illogical deceptions. It's all an illusion, or telekinesis.

I mean, how else can you possibly explain something so silly? Geez.

Mental powers. That makes sense.

I'll continue looking at John Byrne FF trade paperbacks every Monday until they run out (Byrne FF trades, not Mondays). On Thursday, I want to talk about NEW COMICS.

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Living Benday--Fantastic Four Visionaries Volume 1

Unexpected delays prevented me from posting yesterday, but in keeping with my promised Geek Assignment, here are my initial thoughts on John Byrne's first nine Fantastic Four stories, as reprinted in Visionaries Volume One:

With Fantastic Four # 232, John Byrne plants his flag as the heir to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I'm not overly familiar with the post-Kirby, pre-Byrne Fantastic Four, but I have read a handful of the Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman issues, and other than a few Heralds-of-Galactus-related plot points (Terrax the Tamer, mostly), it doesn't seem like Byrne is very much interested in anything that followed Kirby's exit from the series over one hundred issues earlier.

Byrne launches his long, continuous run with a straightforward superhero smash-em-up, as the FF confront the maniacal alchemist known as Diablo. Actually, they don't so much confront him as defeat his elemental minions through the old superhero switcheroo (with the heroes swapping enemies to more effectively defeat each one--an old trick from Gardner Fox era Justice League comics). It's only at the end of the issue that they capture Diablo, with the deus ex magica help of a suprise guest--Dr. Strange! He shows up out of nowhere to track down Diablo and give the story closure.

With the elemental minions facing the team, Fantastic Four #232 draws attention to the idea that the Fantastic Four members are, themselves, based on the four ancient elements. I seem to recall Stan Lee mentioning somewhere or another (readers, any clue where I may have read this?) that he had the notion of the four elements in mind when creating the FF (not that surprising--he's probably on record somewhere claiming credit for inventing earth, air, fire, and water as well), but I'm not convinced that it was part of the original concept. Sue's initial powers weren't so much air-related as, well, straight invisibility (wouldn't an air-concept hero be able to fly?) and the Thing didn't start out as the loveable pile of rocks we know so well--he was more a pile of hardened dough. So even though the concept of a "family" probably drove Lee and Kirby's initial concept more than the idea of "elementals" did, the characters eventually developed in such a way as to make the elemental parallels more obvious. And that notion is what Byrne plays with in the first story in the reprint volume. Each FF member faces his or her elemental opposite, sort of. Air vs. the Human Torch. Water vs. the Thing. Fire vs. Mister Fantastic. Earth vs. Invisible Girl. Then they do the switcheroo and have some fun.

Even with the silly and all-too-easy wrap up with Dr. Strange, it's a great way for Byrne to begin his run. It clearly demonstrates the powers of the team, establishes their relationships and use of teamwork, and provides all of this at the expense of a lesser Lee/Kirby creation in Diablo. It was originally published in 1981, but Fantastic Four #232 is a Silver Age story through and through.

After that, the stories in the volume become a bit more bizarre.

The Human Torch basically solos in a twist on a wrongly-accused-murderer story. The Torch uncovers evidence which proves a falsely-accused man innocent, but it's too late to save him, and even the victim's mother thinks that her son was a bad apple anyway, and "got what he deserved." It reads almost like a repurposed Daredevil story, with Maggia villain Hammerhead, but Byrne includes enough Human Torch-specific character moments to keep it faithful to the FF. He probably envisioned it as a change of pace story, a street-level tale for the readers before moving to more cosmic altitudes.

In Fantastic Four #234, L. R. "Skip" Collins inexplicably wields the power to alter reality as he wishes. It's like one of those Eisner Spirit tales, the ballad of a pathetic minor character with some deep and powerful secret. Skip Collins's tale leads nowhere, though, and every change he inflicts on the world is reset in the end as he wishes everything back to normal and apparently loses his power forever. The story serves a larger-scale purpose, as it helps to get the FF off planet in a rocket ship. (Collins hadn't been causing most of the disturbances, as Reed tells us, it's being cased by a probe from SPACE!) The idea of a reality-shaping character must have interested Byrne, however, even though he didn't seem interested in pursuing the idea with Skip Collins. In a later volume, Byrne gives very similar powers to Franklin Richards, but that is a discussion for another post.

One the team gets into orbit, they confront none other that Ego, the Living Planet (another Lee and Kirby creation, from the pages of Thor), and handle the cosmic threat in an appropriately fantastical way.

But the real gem of Visionaries Volume One is the story from Fantastic Four #236, "Terror in a Tiny Town." The team members find themselves powerless, havig strange dreams about powers they can't quite remember. What is reality? The Puppet Master's lurking around, but nothing seems to make sense. Sue even has her old, mountainous hairdo. The truth is finally revealed, however, as they learn that the world they inhabit is not a virtual reality simulation, it's not a dream. Instead, they find that they are living in a miniature scale model town, their psyches inhabiting tiny little dolls. Their bodies are hooked up, via Kirbyesque machinery, to some contraption that keeps them physically in stasis while their minds inhabit these teeny, tiny little versions of themselves. Talk about a brilliant supervillain death trap! And to make it even cooler, Victor von Doom is not only behind the whole scheme, but he is playing along, having inserted his own psyche into Tiny Town as well, just to prove how AWESOME he is compared to the FF. He's living out his ultimate teenage revenge fantasy. "I'll make them very tiny, and make myself wicked cool so I can mock them," he probably thought. It's what I would have done when I was 13 (if I had a maniacally genius mind, an armored facemask, and a green hoodie).

Nicely done, John Byrne.

It's really a fun story--a tale that captures the mixture of scientific brilliance, egotism, and stunted maturity that makes up the core of Dr. Doom. Byrne's portrayal of Doom in later stories is more noble, more haughtily tyrannical, but I like this cruel sadistic Doom-with-the-goofy-plan so much more.

By the way, the FF defeat Doom's Tiny Town scheme by RECREATING THE COSMIC RAY EVENT (or an approximation of it), thereby giving their teeny, tiny little bodies FF powers, which they use to fly up out of the little model town and kick some normal size bad guy butt. And, they trap Doom in his own creation, which serves him right, the bully!

Great, great stuff. Once again, Byrne seems to be at his best doing these inspired Silver Age-style comics.

He does a few other things in the stories that follow--he estabishes Frankie Ray's flame powers, he returns the Thing to his lumpy form, he gives us a Twilight Zoneish story about a weird little town and a cute little girl with a secret, and he brings in Lee and Kirby's Inhumans for a story in which the FF just kind of stand around and watch how cool the Inhumans are.

But it's really "Terror in a Tiny Town" that makes this first collection worth picking up.

I haven't finished Byrne's entire run yet, but I'm working my way through the rest of the volumes, and I know that it doesn't get much better then "Terror in Tiny Town," at least not in any self-contained issue. What Byrne perhaps does best, once he gets rolling on the series, is develop a consistent, slow progression of a long-term narrative. We see the beginning of it here, as he sets up a few things with Doom and Frankie Ray and threats from outer space, but nothing can really beat itty bitty Ben Grimm tearing open a full-size computer panel with the words, "I majored in destruction."

Join me on Monday as I look at Byrne's second Visionaries volume (which, unfortunatly, has no tiny little Ben Grimms at all).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Geniusboy Live On Demand Radio--Episode 5

Episode 5 is here and it's wicked awesome! In this episode, Tim and Ryan discover a long-lost cassette recording from 1987 and listen to its amazing contents. You may think you know the Geniusboy Live crew, but wait until you hear their Top 5 picks from twenty years ago.

As always, you can visit our podcast site at to listen to the newest episode (or to check out our glorious back catalogue or even SUBSCRIBE to receive regular doses of Geniusboy goodness). If you like what you hear (or hate it passionately), leave us a comment here or at the podomatic site. We may or may not care what you think.

If you're too lazy to visit our podcast page, you can click on the title of this blog entry to listen directly to Episode 5.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Geek Assignment: John Byrne's Fantastic Four

I'm sure many (or perhaps all) of you can relate to this idea: You give yourself some kind of reading task, saying, "I'm going to read (or reread) all of X this Y," with X being some comic book title or novelist or whatever and Y being a finite amount of time (like "this week"). Just to see what happens. Maybe it's some OCD thing we have, but if you're like me, you do it all the time.

I call it the Geek Assignment. It's not something we're forced to do, and we sometimes abandon it before completion, but I know I give myself Geek Assignments all the time. Recently, some of my Geek Assignments have turned into projects. Several years ago, I decided to read every Grant Morrison comic, and I ended up getting a book out of just the first part of that task. Last year, I decided to read every Legion of Super-Heroes story, starting with the Archives and working through to the present, and I'm editing a book about the Legion now.

Most of my Geek Assignments are just for pure pleasure, though, and I never "do" anything with what I read. Sometimes it's reading the collected works of Kurt Vonnegut (one of my earliest, high school-age Geek Assignments), other times it's rereading the entire run of All-Star Squadron (a Geek Assignment that I've set aside for a while as I track down the final two missing issues). Vladimir Nabokov is a perpetual Geek Assignment, but since I started with the best stuff first: Lolita, Pnin, The Collected Stories, and then worked backwards from there, I'm finding myself less and less inclined to finish them all.

Recently, after reading Casanova, I've assigned myself all of Matt Fraction's work (completed), and after the Grove multi-volume Samuel Beckett collection was published, I decided to become a Beckett expert (failed--I've only read a few plays and some of his essays). I'm still in the midst of a war comic Geek Assignment, working my way through Sgt. Rock Archives and Showcase reprints of The Haunted Tank and The Unknown Soldier. I have, stacked on my nightstand, the (almost) entire collection of Moebius Blueberry graphic novels, but I haven't read past the first volume yet--another Geek Assignment on hold (largely due to coloring issues in the books, NOT because of the quality of the stories or Moebius's amazing artwork).

So, in the midst of these ongoing (and often delayed) Geek Assignments, I've decided to give myself another: reread all of John Byrne's Fantastic Four issues. "Reread" is probably not accurate--I would guess that I've only read about 30% of his run on the title, mostly from the Trial of Galactus collection and the last dozen single issues around the time of Secret Wars II. I don't know what I'll find. I may find that the comics are absolute trash, failures on every level. I might find that they are works of a singular genius at the top of his game. I'll probably find something in between.

Nevertheless, the Visionaries trades have been ordered. Byrne's entire Fantastic Four run is zooming across the country to my doorstep. And, to keep myself on task, I'll share my findings with you as I read each volume. Anyone want to play along?

(Also, post your past and present Geek Assignments in the comments--I want to see what everyone else is up to.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Jonathan Hickman's Propaganda: The Nightly News

Let's get one thing straight: Jonathan Hickman's The Nightly News, is a major work of contemporary graphic fiction. But it also embraces the techniques of propaganda. Which raises the question: Can a work of propaganda validly attack the propaganda disseminated by others? Perhaps the answer is simple: Yes--you have to fight fire with fire.

Hickman's graphic novel has been called a "polemic" by some, but it's more like a call to arms. It's also an exceedingly self-aware piece of fiction that mocks its own pretensions while embracing its cause passionately. It's a bundle of contradictions, wrapped in a comic book package which, like all works of literature, carries on a dialogue with the past while looking forward to the future.

Most comic book narratives rely heavily on the past. Whether they're superhero melodrama, revisionist westerns, or zombie ninja assassins, comics rely on the tropes of past stories to frame their own narrative. Each story either comments upon its predecessors by continuing the tradition (more of the same, every issue--Daredevil's love interest is in jeopardy, will he save her in time?), or openly rejecting what came before (Batman is not, contrary to the implications of a thousand other stories, a father figure to Robin--he's a sadist who makes Robin eat rodents in the bowels of a cave). The Nightly News is no different. What makes it stand out is the way in which it chooses to react to its precursors, and the types of ancestors it selects. It's not a superhero narrative or any of the more traditional comic book genres. It's a Social Protest book, and it's damn proud of it.

Protest fiction doesn't age well, as the revived-from-the-dead Upton Sinclair can attest (read Chris Bachelder's U.S.! immediately), unless it stands as a significant literary work above and beyond the aspect of contemporary society it rails against. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man comes to mind as an exemplar of that. Originally interpreted as a work of protest, it is now most often read as an American Ulysses (at least in my house)--a proto-postmodern bildungsroman that embraces the techniques of the Western canon while smashing their ideological foundations with the beauty of a Jazz-drenched hammer. The comparisons between Invisible Man and The Nightly News are numerous, but I'm not sure that Hickman's work will have the same lasting impact.

The other thing about protest fiction, though, is that while it doesn't tend to have much lasting resonance as literature, it can sometimes change the world. Uncle Tom's Cabin probably did. And so did The Jungle, and I'm sure Hickman would much rather see that kind of impact anyway. (He's pissed as heck, and he just won't take it.)

Getting back to the question of literary merit--How does The Nighly News engage in a dialogue with the past, and what does it seem to say? (Other than the obvious: "hey past, you suck! I'm gonna shoot you and blow up your stuff.")

Let's start with the Invisible Man connections, since I already brought it up, and it seems like a fruitful place to start. While Hickman's Brother John doesn't go through the same progression as Ellison's unnamed narrator, some of the steps are similar. Both are brainwashed by the society in which they were raised, then conditioned by a cult to behave in radical ways. Both are asked to convert others to their cause, and both ultimately gain a true awareness of the hypocrisy of their "brotherhood." Structurally, both works rely on the motif of blindness, visually demonstrated by Hickman on the comic book page in the form of black, featureless eyes (not all characters lack pupils and irises, but most of them do--they just have black shadow where their eyes should be). The final image of Hickman's work displays a close-up of the ringleader, the "Voice" himself, half of his face engulfed in shadow, the other eye peering out at us--a literal embodiment of the phrase, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Both Invisible Man and The Nightly News exist in a state somewhere between absurdity and nihilism, and although Ellison's narrator is ready to re-engage with the world now that he has gained his new perspective, Hickman's characters are bastards through and through. Their revolution isn't over yet, and it never will be.

Hickman has mentioned that his high-concept pitch for the book was "Network meets Reservoir Dogs," but it's probably closer to "Bamboozled meets Targets." I can see why he didn't say that in the pitch, though. He did want people to actually buy it. But Spike Lee's underappreciated satire of the American media and racial identity is closer in tone to what Hickman's going for in The Nightly News. Both works seep with indignation, and rightfully so, as they demonstrate, each in their own way (Lee with racist artifacts and film clips, Hickman with charts and graphs) what's so wrong with the world. And Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, capturing the fear of the "sniper with a gun" and the corrupt society which can drive humans to such actions, has more in common with Hickman's style and content than the genre-conscious whimsy-mixed-with-brutality of Tarantino's work.

Hickman's style, by the way, seems to overwhelm the content of his narrative, at least on first glance. The static images (and, yes, all comic book images are static, but the American superhero tradition of Dynamic Anatomy and Perspective is so pervasive in even non-superhero narratives that Hickman's frozen figures seem suspicious in their inactivity) and the use of boxy word balloons and typography show a distinct rejection of comic book traditions, as do the page layouts, which are designed around the figures and typography instead of broken into typical panel to panel sequences. Such a technique is more than just a way for Hickman to hide any deficiencies in his drawing ability--the style complements the narrative. The content deals with characters who have a rigid mindset as the media (and overbearing technology swirls around them). The art visually represents this.

The art, with its mechanical feel, captures the inhumanity of these characters, trapped in a mechanical, industrial, corrupt-beyond-belief corporate world. Nature barely exists in the world Hickman creates--a shadow of a tree here, a small hint of a decorative plant there--and even the humans seem far from organic and whole. At it's core, in dialogue with its antecedents, The Nightly News is a classic Romantic tale. A rebellious shout for truth and freedom in a world drenched with machines, in a world designed to turn us all into machines. It's the same stuff Byron and Shelley and Wordsworth wrote about 200 years ago, only now the poets have sniper rifles.

Finally, Hickman claims in the Notes section, that no character undergoes the heroic journey of the Joseph Campbell variety, as if to deny his book's dialogue with the past. He might be correct to say that no character COMPLETES the journey, but EVERYONE (in the comic and in life, including Hickman himself in the making of the book) undergoes the heroic journey. The heroic journey is the story of life, and the cycle repeats itself not just throughout the ages but throughout our years as well, as we complete one phase of our journey to begin a new one. Just to use an example from The Nightly News, Brother John indeed undertakes an archetypal heroic journey. His call to adventure is to join the revolution; his mentor is the Voice; his tests and trials are the assassinations and the recruitment of others; his helpers are the Brothers and Sisters; his elixir of life is the deprogramming he undergoes; his guided return is in the back of a limo sent by the Voice; and his final battle is him vs. the police at the end. Only the final stage of the journey is missing, since he dies during the battle, but the last stage, rebirth is what the comic is for. Brother John will complete his heroic quest when we, the readers, respond to his experiences by taking action of our own.

But what kind of action? Hickman doesn't say, yet he shows the peril of the violent approach. He shows characters, all of whom become compromised, taking action and failing to change anything. Except the Voice. He wins, really. But even when I say The Nightly News is a call to arms, I'm speaking metaphorically, right? Hickman doesn't want us to kill to make the media more honest. Yet he doesn't give us any other answers. Because The Nightly News is a work of literature--a satire which describes the world in which we live and tells us what's wrong with it. It's up to us to find a way to change it.

Then again, he's chosen to engage us in these thoughts with a work which, as ambiguous as it is at its core, employs the techniques of propaganda. Propaganda to counter the prevailing propaganda. Fighting fire with fire, as I said at the beginning of this piece. Maybe it's the only way reach the people.

But if you fight fire with fire, everything burns.

Read The Nightly News. It will make you think. And that's a good thing.