Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blackest Night #6: My Fears Were Unwarranted

I've mentioned this before, but the way the CBR review team selects comics to review is in a kind of "draft" format. We each pick a comic to review, pick another one for round two, and then since some of us review more than others, we pick whatever's left as a "free-for-all," naming the books we'll write about. We try to mix it up so the same people aren't always reviewing the same comics, but a lot of it depends on what's available, whose local shop gets which comics, what's available via preview pdfs, and what people are willing to shell out money for. Because I had to pay for that terrible Scott Ian/Sam Kieth "Lobo" comic, I didn't end up making much money from the review, for example.

I mention all this because even though there was only a single new release this week to "draft," and even though CBR commissioned two reviews for it, I decided to pass on reviewing "Blackest Night" #6.

In the past month or two, I've reviewed a couple of Geoff Johns comics, and I've given them some of the most negative reviews I've ever given a Johns comic. Anyone who reads this blog, or my CBR columns, knows that I'm a supporter of Johns's work. I like his straightforward, forward-thinking plot structures. I like his pacing. I like the way he knows how to bring in the superhero spectacle.

But the last arc in "Adventure Comics" was a disaster. "Flash: Rebirth" has stumbled. And the most recent "Green Lantern" issue was the worst one so far.

And between all of that and my increasing Blackest Night fatigue -- (Really? Just more zombies and more punching of zombies? That's it?) -- I decided that I wouldn't be the right guy to review the newest issue of "Blackest Night." I just wasn't in tune with what Johns was doing lately. It was a case where a review of "Blackest Night" from me at this point would just be setting the comic up for a negative review. I have no interest in continually attacking a comic or a creator.

But I was wrong about this. "Blackest Night" #6 is event comics done right. It wasn't that I was finding Geoff Johns comics annoyingly shallow. It wasn't that I had Blackest Night fatigue, it was that these other comics just weren't very good.

In this issue of "Blackest Night," John Stewart flies up with an entire planet of Black Lanterns chasing after him. That single image by Ivan Reis is much more effective that the entire plot of the recent "Green Lantern" issue where he's fighting them off. And "Blackest Night" #6 doesn't even have a lot of plot, but it has dramatic moments -- the heroes assembling, the "deputies" rising into action, with rainbow spendor.

Yeah, "Blackest Night" is goofy, melodramatic fun. But this issue proves that it is fun. And this is the kind of stuff Geoff Johns does right. Big-time superhero spectacle. Cosmic insanity. Comics.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Splash Page: Comics and Wrestling, Because We Like Tight Pants Part 1

Remember when Chad Nevett and I used to write a weekly column for Sequart.com? That site will return one day, I'm told. Or maybe not. But then we did this Splash Page stuff on our blogs and even at CBR this summer. It's pretty much all I ever post here at Geniusboy Firemelon these days, but I'll make that up to you sometime. I'll buy you a nice present or something. Until then, read this week's installment, which is mostly about how much we hate fans. Makes us seem like a couple of jerks if you ask me. Which is probably true. Jerks who are correct, though.

Chad Nevett:
In this edition of the Splash Page, I'm not exactly sure what to expect since it's a bit more broadly conceived than usual. I want to talk about wrestling and comics. As many who pay attention to what I write know, I'm a big wrestling fan and write for the wrestling section of 411mania.com in a few different ways. Recently, I pissed some people off (while amusing others) by dedicating one of my weekly random thoughts posts at Comics Should be Good to wrestling but paid lip service to comics in the process. Tim, as many probably don't know, recently attended a live WWE event as, apparently, his son has become a fan of wrestling and, like the good dad that he is, Tim has tried to participate in that interest when possible. So, we've got a big fan and a dad who may or may not hate it... and we've got comics. I don't know how this will all fit together, but let's see anyway.

I've never actually understood the disdain or attitude that some comics fans direct toward wrestling since the two don't strike me as that dissimilar, particularly superhero comics. Both revolve around people fighting, often dressed in outlandish or odd attire, there are good guys and bad guys... even the fans are similar in the way they behave and discuss their respective choices of entertainment. Actually, the similarity in fans is where I first made the connection, so it seems really weird for comics fans to be so down on wrestling. What's your take on wrestling so far, Tim? I imagine it's mostly just been WWE programs you've seen. Do you find it to be 'entertainment for morons' as some do?

Tim Callahan: As I read the backlash against your talk of wrestling in your "Random Thoughts" on CSBG, I couldn't help but wonder: would wrestling fans freak out if you spent part of a wrestling column talking about comics? I'm not sure that they would. So that would seem to make wrestling fans more open and accepting than comic book fans. Just throwing that out there. It's all speculation of course, but since you do write a wrestling column, you should try it out and see if comic book fans are the more closed-minded of the two.

With that said, after seeing WWE Live, I'd have to say that I'd rather hang out with comic book fans any day. You know those stereotypical comic book guys? Those ones with the sweatpants and fanny packs and beards who can wax poetic about Englehart's Avengers all day? I'll hang out with them every day for a year before I'll hang out with the wrestling fans at the Times Union Center in Albany. These people -- this mass of kids and adults -- were rude and dumb. Little kids and their parents shouting "you suck" over and over. People paying $10 a pop for glowsticks just so they can hold up an "X" sign for Triple H. "Beat the Shit Out of Him" clarion calls from the crowd.

The guy behind me was the best, though. With his wife and two little boys. He swore constantly, berated his wife when she said that Randy Orton was "just a character," and then told his son to calm down while he, himself, was yelling and screaming at Randy Orton, calling him a "wannabe has-been." Then he insisted on telling the Miz, loudly, that he was not, in fact, awesome. As if this dude was the voice of reason.

To be fair, I didn't get any beer spilled on me, so the crowd was better than the average Fenway Park horde, but this is the level of idiocy I don't understand regarding wrestling: Sheamus got DQ-ed in the main event, giving John Cena the victory in the bout for the World Championship. Now I've only seen like three episodes of Smackdown and/or Raw in my life (all of which in the past two months as my son has grown increasingly obsessed with wrestling), but even I know that a title can't change hands as the result of a disqualification. And is John Cena really going to win the title at an untelevised house show in Albany? Of course not.

Yet the crowd was ecstatic when Cena won, as if they saw something magical. And then when the announcer explained that he couldn't win the title that way, they booed and booed and jumped up and down as if this was shocking news.

So are all these people in the crowd so stupid that they don't actually understand what it is that they're watching? I mean, they have the "You Can't See Me" hats and the DX t-shirts and the glowsticks and yet they don't understand how the shows work? Or are they playing along, like those people who dress up and sing along to Tim Curry in those midnight "Rocky Horror" shows?

Because, from an up close perspective, these wrestling fans -- or the vast majority of them -- seemed mean and dumb.

CN: I've been to a couple of live WWE events (a taping of "Smackdown" and this year's "Royal Rumble") and had a great time at both. The yelling and chants are part of the experience -- like amped up behaviour at a sporting event. Some people can go a bit over-the-top, but the audience's participation is part of the performance. The example you cite, that the title won't be dropped at a house show is good: it won't be, but what fun is it if everyone watches the match with that attitude? Part of the live show is getting into it a bit and putting that energy out there in order to get the best performance out of the wrestlers. It's not fun if you act completely logical. Cena wins, you cheer; he doesn't get the belt, you boo. It's what's expected and the audience should play its role when possible.

I can understand not being into that especially since I'm usually more subdued than the average fan as well. But, you're right, some people do get far too into it and say stupid things or take it too seriously... but, how is that different from comic fans? Having been on both comic and wrestling sites, there's little difference between the two, honestly. Maybe that's an interet thing, but take a trip over to CBR's forums and read the comments to 411mania articles and watch as the rudest, most narrow-minded people come out. It's a fan thing.

(My favourite live experience was at the "Royal Rumble," by the way, where one of the matches was fan-favourite face (good guy) Jeff Hardy against Edge, a heel (bad guy), for the WWE Championship. Now, Edge is Canadian and we Canadians are notorious for cheering our countrymen no matter what their status is (face/heel) and I'm a big fan of Edge, not a fan of Jeff Hardy, in addition to that face. So, I freaked this little kid in front of us out by cheering for Edge and booing Jeff Hardy. He could NOT believe that someone could like Edge and hate Hardy. We had fun with it as he cheered louder for Hardy in response to my booing...)

Then again, there are different 'levels' of wrestling fandom, usually separated by the terms 'marks' and 'smart marks/smarks' (though, 'marks' isn't used really except in cases like this too much). Marks are the people who buy into it, while smarks are the people who see it for the fiction that it is, but appreciate it for who gets pushed, how good a match is, and stuff like that. I know that I tend to watch wrestling in an oddly metafictional way where I'm usually commenting on how well something is done, if a storyline makes sense, why one wrestler is getting pushed with a lot of victories, while another is being buried... Watching it the way that I tend to read more than anything.

To Be Continued at GraphiContent!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Splash Page: "Dark Reign" and Stuff I Don't Care to Talk About

Here's what happened: Chad Nevett bet me a dollar that I couldn't keep the conversation to just plot and character. And he won that bet pretty handily. Who they hell can just talk about the characters and the plot all the time? These things aren't really happening. These characters are not real people.

I will never pay him that dollar, though.

Oh yeah, the discussion started on Chad's blog, and continues below:

CN: In "Dark Reign," I pretty much only saw what happened in the Bendis titles, "Secret Warriors," and "Dark Reign: Zodiac" with random issues of other titles thrown in for reviewing purposes, but you got a wider view, I assume. How do you think the event played out beyond the stuff I read?

TC: I don't really know. I read "Punisher" and that used "Dark Reign" to brilliant effect, I thought. (Even to the point of Norman Osborn getting so annoyed at Frank Castle that he had him chopped to bits.)

But besides the stuff that you cite above, I don't know how it's really affected anything. "Thunderbolts" was interesting for a little while, as we had double and triple agents in play, but I dropped that series once it crossed over with "Deadpool" and became terrible. "Amazing Spider-Man" has barely been impacted, beyond the "American Son" storyline, which was decent enough. Obviously the space stuff with "Nova" and "War of Kings" hasn't been impacted at all. Neither has the X-Men stuff, really. I mean, there was the Utopia crossover, and I guess that could have been sparked by the Osborn-in-power plot, but it could have happened without it.

Let's step back, though, and look at the bigger picture. "Dark Reign" has given us plenty of comics with Norman Osborn and company flying in and stirring up trouble, but what has Osborn and his crew actually accomplished so far? They haven't really accomplished anything, have they? Are they just the mechanism through which Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man can again be best buddies? Is that all this has been about for the past year? Because that's clearly what it's building towards.

CN: He had the Punisher killed. And... yeah, he didn't really do much. He had some good talks with the Sentry. For all of the talk about how things got worse with him in charge, Osborn didn't really abuse his power in any extreme ways. He acted like a jerk at times and made deals with some bad people, but other than that... Though, "Uncanny X-Men" did cross over with "Dark Avengers" and was a big part of "Dark Reign" during the summer. His impact on the mutant community is probably the biggest thing that came out of "Dark Reign" aside from setting up the Holy Trinity of Avengers to reunite. It's almost likes Osborn was a means to an end rather than a driving force.

For all of the talk about there being too much Norman Osborn, do you think that was the case? As you pointed out, a good chunk of the Marvel universe barely interacted with him. He was mostly confined to the Avengers family of titles -- or are the Avengers the same as the Marvel universe at this point?

TC: I don't think there was too much Norman Osborn in the end. There was just enough. I mean, he's the big bad of the entire universe right now, so his presence should be felt almost everywhere, even if he's not doing anything or showing up at all.

Maybe his ineffectual "Reign" is a commentary on all positions in government. That even a really bad guy can't get anything done with all the hoops and red tape.

What do you think about "Dark Reign" coming to an end? Are you looking forward to this big Asgardian climax to the whole thing?

CN: The Asgardian plot (and the way the story apparently begins) doesn't have me too enthused, but I am looking forward to another Bendis-driven story. He's been the driving force behind "Dark Reign," so I like that there will be a consistent tone and voice and the characters will continue to sound and act like they have this past year. Nothing would be more annoying for "Dark Reign" to have characters acting one way and "Siege" having them act another. Also, I'm still holding out hope that Noh-Varr will show up and do something that proves me wrong for being so disappointed/frustrated. I am such a sucker.

One big thing I'm looking forward to is the promised revelation regarding the Sentry where Bendis has promised to lay all of his cards on the table and tell us the whole truth about the character. I've rather liked his work with the character (despite it not matching up entirely with the original mini-series) and am glad that we're finally going to get the whole story. A lot of people don't like the character and I don't understand why. He's a terrifying character and one that fits well into the Marvel universe, a universe of horribly flawed gods where the more power someone has, the crazier they seem to be. I think his power level would probably suit him better in the cosmic setting where he would fit in better, but, otherwise, I dig him a lot. Mentioning the cosmic thing just made me realise that the most obvious 'past Sentry story that we all forgot happened' is to do a Jim Starlin-esque bit where the Sentry travels the universe (as Superman has a few times) and goes through some trippy mindscape stuff by teaming up with Adam Warlock or something. Hot damn, I love that idea. Screw it, bring back Jim Starlin and have him write the Sentry. I'd like that, I think.

TC: The Sentry is widely hated because he only ever does two things: (1) shows up as a deus ex machina, or (2) runs off crying. So if Bendis can make the character more than that, then, yeah, that's some kind of victory.

I liked the Jae Lee art on the Sentry's original series, but that's about it. I would have preferred the Rick Veitch version. Too bad that never got off the ground.

And, hell yeah, let's see the character do some space trippy stuff with Adam Warlock. I'd be all about that action. (I don't think that's going to happen, though. I think the "lay all the cards on the table" will be something far more mundane.)

I am curious to see what Marvel does post-"Asgard Attacks." Quesada wants the company to take a breather and just tell classic stories set in the Marvel Universe, with no major events. That sounds good to me, but it's been so long since the comics have been that way, that I wonder which series will thrive and which series will falter because of it. Seems like Bendis needs these kinds of uber-plots in his Marvel stuff, even if he's designing them, but he has shown in "Ultimate Spider-Man" that he's much better when he doesn't have to worry about event-thinking. And clearly Brubaker has kept "Captain America" churning along quite nicely without paying any attention to the events in the mainstream Marvel U once Cap died. His only stumbling block has been the release schedule of "Reborn," and how it doesn't line up with the return of Steve Rogers elsewhere. That's annoying, but hardly his fault.

What writers and series do you think will thrive in a no-more-events-for-a-while kind of status quo?

CN: Bendis's Avengers book(s) should thrive, I hope. I'm really looking forward to Matt Fraction on "Thor." I know, I've been down on Fraction a bit lately, but his work on the character previously has me convinced that this run will be nothing but solid gold. Honestly, I'm still struggling to think of what titles are heavily affected by "Siege" (or any events) that a lack of events will make them a lot better. Maybe a freer status quo will lend itself to a general feeling of creative freedom throughout the company where writers won't worry about what's going on anywhere else and just go wild. Maybe we'll get a return to an earlier-in-the-decade-Marvel level of quality. Wouldn't that be something?

TC: I'm sure the plots and characters will be improved all around.

That was my pathetic attempt to circle around to the beginning. Let's never talk about just plot and character again, okay? (Ever.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on James Cameron and "Avatar"

So we all went to see "Avatar 3D" today (and by all, I mean Television's Ryan Callahan (@TheTVRC), my wife, my son, and I -- my daughter didn't want to see it, and she would have been bored and restless anyway). Here are some thoughts.

1. TheTVRC pointed out that James Cameron's movies tend to age poorly because he's always right on the cutting edge of new cinema technology. That is true. And it will surely be true for "Avatar" as well, though it looks pretty damn good for a movie that's so CGI-heavy.

2. TheTVRC also pointed out that the movie (SPOILER, of sorts) features a literal deus ex machina, so there's that.

3. My son gave a thumbs up during the movie and an even bigger one at the end. His verdict: it's the best movie he's EVER seen. (He's 8, but he's seen a lot of movies.)

4. My wife had a headache afterward.

5. As the aliens-as-American-Indian thing became more and more clear (and I joked about this being "Pocahontas in Space" based on the trailer, but I didn't realize how James Cameron didn't even try to make up an alien culture, except superficially), I thought to myself, "if Wes Studi shows up as the tribal chief, that would be perfect." Wes Studi IS the tribal chief, and it's perfect. I mean that sarcastically. Because it's dumb as hell to be so on-the-nose.

6. "Unobtainium" is what the bad corporate guys are trying to obtain. On. The. Nose.

7. Giovanni Ribisi plays the Paul Riser role, though his future fashion sense is slightly better than Paul Riser's future fashion sense.

8. If we did not watch the movie in 3D, I'm not sure I would have sat through the whole movie. The first hour is just setting the scene, over and over and over. It's a Disney 3D attraction of "Alien Landscape." Minus the 3D, what is the appeal of hour one?

9. The final battle is pretty damn awesome, though. Really awesome.

10. The movie's pretty clearly about the insurgents slaughtering American soldiers, which is shocking for a big Christmas release. The audience literally clapped at the end.

11. There is not one twist or turn in this entire movie. The plot line is straight.

12. But that final battle IS awesome, as I said. The last 30 minutes makes up for the first two hours of Mr. Jimbo's not-so-wild 3D ride.

Here's Where I Scoff at Others

Brian Cronin's democratically-created list of the Best Comic Book Storylines Ever has fully revealed itself. And now I have to scoff at some entries, because they deserve it:

"Age of Apocalypse" at #12? Yeah, this was a great storyline, at making me stop reading about the X-Men.

"Under Seige" at #17? A bunch of bad guys attack Avengers mansion? Oh, it was a whole lot of bad guys? Well, then I guess it does deserve to be in the top twenty.

"Civil War" at #18? If you've been following me on Twitter, you know my son has just started reading this series because of his interest in the "Ultimate Alliance 2" game. The jury's out on whether he likes it or not. But as one of the best storylines of all time? Even if he thinks so, he is wrong.

Millar's "Ultimates" and Meltzer's "Identity Crisis" tie at #26? It's appropriate that they tie, because they both make superheroes sexed up and trashy. But they aren't very good.

"Infinity Gauntlet"? Even Chad Nevett didn't vote for it.

"Secret Wars"? "Hush"? "The Death of Superman"?

I know this was based on votes for unabashedly favorite storylines of all time, so there's no reason to scoff. But I do.

When readers hold comics like this junk up as the best ever, well, I think we can do better.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Daughter is Famouser than I Am

You may have seen some of my pull quotes on such collected editions as "Spider-Man Noir" and "Fantastic Four: Some Stuff By Millar and Hitch that Didn't End Well," but I have yet to be credited for my fancy praise on the FRONT of any comic book.

Someone else in my house has beaten me to it (click to see the cover in all of its Callahan-esque glory):

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Splash Page: Are Mainstream Comics Increasingly Lame, or is it Just Us? (Part 1 of 2)

You know the routine by now, Chad talks, I talk, we all talk. This week's topic: What's going on in mainstream comics these days, and why is the overall feeling one of funkiness, but not in a good way?

Chad Nevett:
In our column discussing Warren Ellis and Geoff Johns, Tim made a rather bold statement that I will quote now for those who are too lazy to go back and find it: "...the mass of mainstream superhero comics is floundering in the second half of 2009." Now, Tim is a bold man and is taken to making bold statements that he then backs up. It's something we share and bond over (our collective boldness). At the time, I let it slide since we'd talked a lot and this seemed a perfect topic for another column. Well, that column is this one. Tim, expand upon and defend what we said a while ago, quite possibly just because it sounded big and exciting and cool without thinking it through entirely (as those are the funnest things to say, I must admit).

TC: Okay, that was a few weeks ago, so let me get back into that mindset. Wait for it. There. Got it. Maybe.

I was talking about the general feeling I have that if you created a line graph of the overall quality of superhero comics from 2008 through 2009, you'd see a pretty high standard of quality for a while, and then it would start to dip in maybe February or March of 2009, and continue its downward slide through the summer and fall of this year. I base that not just on the amount of comics I just plain stopped buying this year (and while I was easily reading 25-30 comics a week in 2008, I'm down to 8-10 a week right now), but also the distinct lack of chatter about these superhero comics from the internet intelligentsia.


(The above graph has been peer-reviewed and independently confirmed by at least seventeen comic book scientists.)

Whether it's David Brothers or Douglas Wolk, Geoff Klock or Jog, the guys that had been commenting on mainstream comics have seriously cut back on their own discussions, and even when those critics weren't buying that much stuff to begin with -- Klock, even in 2008, had cut back to only a few titles -- they were part of some larger conversations about superhero comics.

It seems like that spirit of enthusiasm has died down across the board as this year has plodded along, month by month.

Maybe it's the Morrison lull that I'm feeling -- or we're all feeling -- with the giddiness of "Final Crisis" and "Batman" being replaced in recent months with the atrocity of the most recent "Batman and Robin" arc. I'll take Tony Daniel over Philip Tan any day, if I were forced to make such a choice. Or maybe it's the kind of events we're seeing now compared to last year. I don't think "Blackest Night" is aesthetically worse than "Secret Invasion," but Bendis's event comic at least sparked plenty of discussion. With "Blackest Night," the conversation amounts to, "who's going to come back as a zombie next?" And even though you may or may not enjoy the series -- I do, and you don't -- nobody seems to care about the answer to that question. And justifiably so.

Even the good-but-not-great stuff like "Immortal Iron Fist" and "Ghost Rider" has disappeared, or barely comes out, this year. And what has it been replaced with? Not much. Not many new voices in comics this year, really.

And we don't even have "Wednesday Comics" to look forward to anymore, as 2009 draws to a close.

What's your take on all of this?

CN: As I said at the time of your statement, I don't necessarily disagree. I'm buying the same amount of books, if not one or two more, but the increase in the books I'm buying hasn't come from the superhero genre, but from Vertigo, which keeps hooking me with their one dollar first issues, or from mini-series that won't be around in a few months. Then again, this week, I've reviewed four comics for CBR, all superhero books, and three of them were given four stars... Granted, one of them is "The Boys," which is a superhero book technically and may not factor into the above. I wonder if the actual quality has decreased or if it's just that there was a certain energy, a buzz in the air, last year that just isn't here now -- which has nothing to do with quality necessarily. I think people are just tired. It's been a long few years and "Secret Invasion" and "Final Crisis" looked like the end of the big events... the points both companies had been working toward and neither paid off in the way that anyone expected/wanted. Both events left people feeling let down and I think the mood shifted then. There have been a few high points since, like the day "Batman and Robin" #1 came out, but, really, no one cares as much.

But, there are still plenty of books with good quality. I mean, there's "Detective Comics"! JH Williams III! And there's also... yeah, I don't know. "Captain America" has been replaced with the lesser "Reborn" mini-series. The Avengers books are at the same level of quality as always (which is good-but-not-great). "Thor" sort of fizzled out as "Siege" had JMS leave the book with a whimper, not a bang. And... dammit, you're right. I can't really defend things. Why are we reading these books still, then, Tim? Please help me out...

TC: Exactly. Though you may have given a few four-star reviews in recent weeks, and certainly I have as well, the really great superhero books are few and far between. Maybe the average quality has stayed the same, but there's less excitement about a few key books. Brubaker's "Captain America" feels like a generation ago, because this "Reborn" stuff is coming out too slowly, and though it's in keeping with what's been done with the character before, it just feels, I don't know, a bit too stale. Bucky-Cap was interesting on his own, and it seems like Brubaker could have kept him going by himself for a while. Disappointment is a good word, and it fits for the anticipation-and-then-release of the event books last year, too.

"Detective Comics" is probably the only superhero monthly I really and truly love right now, but that lasts for exactly as long as Williams III draws the pages. "Punisher" is second -- and I know you hate that one -- and "Batman and Robin" is third, just because the most recent arc killed me. It was a weak sixth issue, to be sure. I think it will rebound with Cam Stewart on art. Strike that. I know it will rebound with Cam Stewart and become a #1 comic in my heart and mind again. But for now, I can still taste the Tan.

And even when we do give some of the superhero comics 4 stars or more this fall, how much of that is based on the overall weakness of the comics? I mean, would "Dark Avengers Annual" have been a four-star comic if it came out in the same time period as a "Captain Britain," and "Iron Fist," a "Final Crisis"? Those were four-star books a year ago. The scale slides. It has to. Otherwise you'd have to compare every comic to "Swamp Thing" #21 and "Animal Man" #5 and whatever else lands in the "greatness" range, and most of the stuff we praise in a given week would be, from a long-term perspective, completely average. Everything would get 2.5 stars except one or two things a year.

I may be overstating that, but that's the general feeling I get about this season of comics. Not that they're bad. Just that something's missing.

To be continued at GraphiContent!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Splash Page: Almost the Best of the '00s (Part 2)

You can read Part One over at Chad Nevett's blog, but here's part two of our discussion of why Chad refuses to make a Best Comics of the Decade list, and what might have been on it if he had broken down and compiled such a thing. Also, I say stuff.

TC:
Now, getting back to things I know you have read, would Brubaker's "Captain America" make your list for the decade? Would anything by Brubaker make it? And how about Bendis? His influence on the the superhero comics over the past decade is hard to ignore.

CN: Considering "Captain America" has placed on my top ten lists for the past two years (and may make 2009's list for all I know... having not made that list yet), I think it would have a good shot at making the best of the decade. "Point Blank," "Sleeper," and "Criminal" would probably beat it out, though. So, actually, "Captain America" probably wouldn't make the list... particularly one limited to 20 works, if only because Brubaker has done better work elsewhere. Not a slight against "Captain America" at all, just that the three series I mentioned are better.

Brian Michael Bendis is an oddity for me. I did a blogathon this past year centered around his Avengers work and enjoy those titles quite a bit, but not much of what I've read of his output stands out as 'best of the decade' material. Then again, I haven't read his two most critically acclaimed works of the past decade: "Daredevil" and "Powers." Again, a case of not having enough money to get everything or titles beginning at a time when I didn't have the money. Of the Bendis stuff I've read, he wouldn't make the list. But, I think if I did a top ten writer of the decade, he would, if only because while no single work of his stands out, he is consistently good. There isn't a lot of his output that I've read that I've actually disliked.

Why not turn our eyes to some of the younger, newer writers? I don't think it's a secret that "Casanova" will make your list and would make mine, but what about the rest of Matt Fraction's output? I have a fondness for his earlier work pre-"Invincible Iron Man," I guess you could call it, while you've stayed a pretty staunch supporter. What's Fraction's presence like? Then, there's Jason Aaron who you've gushed over for the fantastic "Scalped" and the (in my opinion) inconsistent "Ghost Rider"... there's also Brian Wood with "Demo," "Local," "Northlanders," "DMZ," and other works. Do these newer, younger writers make their impact on your list much? I'm sure the best from each would be in contention on my list, but I'm not sure they would really be represented as fully as more established guys like Ellis, Ennis, Casey, and Morrison.

TC: "Ghost Rider" has been a pretty great ride with Jason Aaron powering across the Marvel landscape, but, no, it wouldn't make my Best of the Decade list. As you can imagine, "Scalped" is on there -- though you'll have to wait and see how high it ended up -- but nothing else from Aaron made the list, though he's probably my second favorite writer over the past year. He's coming on strong at the end of the Aughts.

Fraction is represented twice -- or one and a half times, depending how you divvy up the "Immortal Iron Fist" credits -- and, yeah, "Casanova." Man, that's a great comic. But nothing else from Fraction even makes my preliminary list. His "Invincible Iron Man" and "Uncanny X-Men" are good versions of those characters, but I have problems with the art on both titles, and they haven't even come close to "great comics" yet. Put a Ba or a Moon on either of those series and I might change my mind.

Brian Wood has done some very good work as well. I'd say I'd rank "Local," "Northlanders," "Demo," and "DMZ" in that order, but even "Local" wouldn't make my Top 20. He was certainly represented a few times in my preliminary list. But I haven't liked a couple of the recent "Northlanders" arcs as much as the first few, and I've completely dropped "DMZ" from my pull list this fall.

Neither Ennis nor Casey even made my preliminary list, though Ellis did. And Morrison, certainly.

As for my take on Bendis, I'd say that his best stuff is actually "Powers" and "Ultimate Spider-Man," though the former suffers from weak endings to story arcs and the latter had thousands of Mark Bagley pages. Both made my preliminary list.

How about non-mainstream comics? Anything from the indy comic world that might have made your list? I have a couple in my Top 20. And this was the decade of the original graphic novel explosion into the bookstore market. Did any of that stuff crack into Top 20 territory for you?

CN: I've only read the first three hardcovers of "Ultimate Spider-Man," but I'd rank it below his Avengers work (if you take all of his Avengers work as a whole) if only because of my own hang-ups with teenage superhero stories.

"ACME Novelty Library" by Chris Ware would probably be top five material. I'd even guess top three at least. There are simply not enough good things that I can say about his work. As I said last year, while many focus on his art, I am drawn strongly to his writing, his ability to capture the loneliness and despair that people face, the inability to communicate, and the pure self-centered nature that we all have to varying degrees. But, honestly, Chris Ware is a given -- or should be. (And I know he'll be near the top of your list...)

I think Eddie Campbell would have a decent shot with "The Fate of the Artist." Chester Brown's "Louis Riel" would also have a shot. Not sure about something like "Parker: The Hunter," by Darwyn Cooke, which seems to have a very good chance of making my 'best of 2009' list, but it's too new to really judge for the decade. Some books have earned their place after years of love and it's hard to tell how things will hold up. I don't doubt this will, but you never know.
This area of comics is where I feel like I haven't read enough... because I haven't. Money, distribution, immediate interest... it works against me giving this area of comics as much attention as I should.

One book I see mentioned that I really question making the list, I must admit, is "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," a title I enjoy a lot, but... in that harmless entertainment sort of way. How does it stand in your eyes?

TC: Right now, I have "League" in my Top 5, actually. Though I think the first series actually came out in 1999 (or at least that's when it started), so I don't know if that means that only Vol. 2 and "Black Dossier" and the first "Century" book qualify. Screw it, I say it all counts because its a 21st century comic, mostly. I know what you mean about "harmless entertainment," but everything on my list could be described that way. Except maybe the Clowes and Ware and Mazzucchelli stuff. That's hardcore entertainment.

But if "League" is harmless because it's just basically a fiction game -- a kind of All-Star Squadron for literary types -- I'm fine with that. And, you know what, I bet it would crack my Top 10 for the decade if it was just the "Black Dossier" alone. That thing is ambitious, even if it is just part of Alan Moore's playful scheme to romp through the various literary eras and styles. I think the Dossier is going to get a critical reappraisal any day now. It's better than anyone gave it credit for when it came out.

I think Cooke's "Parker" book is his weakest work to date. It looks great, but the story is as cold as a wet polar bear in winter. (I'm trying out some folksy sayings all of a sudden.) And Eddie Campbell's work is sloppier than a mule at dinner time. (I don't know what that means, but "Fate of the Artist" didn't crack my Top 40. Maybe I need to reread it and remember why.)

So, now that you've thrown out a dozen worthy titles for a possible Best of the Decade list, have you reconsidered doing one? Because all the cool kids are doing it.

CN: Nope. This will have to do for all those who want one from me. Take all of the titles I mentioned, put them in a random number generator and BAM! best of the decade list for you to marvel at and admire and disagree with.

TC: I did that. And "All-Star Batman and Robin" at #1? Nevett, you're crazy!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Johns vs. Ellis: The Final Stats

If I had to combine my Top 10.25 Geoff Johns list and my Top 10 Warren Ellis list from various recent "When Words Collide" columns, it would look like this, with Ellis in bold:

20.25. 52

20. Blackest Night

19. Infinite Crisis

18. Legion of 3 Worlds

17. Avengers

16. Ultimate Galactus Trilogy

15. JSA

14. Flash

13. Action Comics

12. Teen Titans

11. Desolation Jones

10. Crecy

9. Astonishing X-Men

8. Aetheric Mechanics

7. Adventure Comics

6. Global Frequency

5. Thunderbolts

4. Green Lantern

3. Nextwave

2. Planetary

1. Stormwatch/Authority


Yes, Ellis "wins" handily. But what does he win, besides my adoration?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Final Crisis Aftermath Aftermath Hits THE SPLASH PAGE: Part 1 of 2

Chad Nevett and I are back with another installment of THE SPLASH PAGE, this time on the finale of the "Final Crisis Aftermath" comics. Our last discussion prompted some heated debate, plenty of comments, a couple of follow-ups from Chad and I, and several responses from angry fans. Will this week's SPLASH PAGE provoke such reactions? Maybe I should interject something about Geoff Johns's awesomeness...

Chad Nevett:
Five months ago, Tim and I discussed the first issues of each of the four "Final Crisis Aftermath" mini-series that DC put out, each launching out of an idea or character featured in "Final Crisis," and we said that we'd check back in on the books when they finished. Well, the two that we both stuck with, "Escape" and "Dance" finished, so here we are. When I suggested the topic to you, Tim, you weren't sure there was anything to discuss. Why? What did you eventually think of "Dance" and "Escape"? Also, you buy everything... no "Run!" or "Ink"?

Tim Callahan: I stopped buying "Run" and "Ink" along with a dozen other comics that I no longer had any time to read. I found them just piling up in the "to read" pile, along with stuff like "Amazing Spider-Man," "Mighty Avengers," "Batman: Streets of Gotham," and some other mid-level comics. As my "to read" pile grew, and my time was filled up with more any more work-related and family-related activities, I just had to stop the bleeding somewhere. I did really enjoy the middle couple of issues of "Run" -- it turned into a crazy z-list supervillain romp pretty quickly, and I might finish the series eventually. "Ink" I just don't care about at all.

And, honestly, I ended up not caring about "Escape" by the end, either. I didn't think Marco Rudy was an amazing artist or anything, but I lost interest in the issues he wasn't drawing, and I don't even know what that series was even about in the end. What was it about, really?

"Dance" was the best of the bunch, but it faltered in the middle (because of the change in artists, probably), though it did finish pretty strongly. For me, it followed an inverse pattern compared to Joe Casey's other fall project: "Dark Reign: Zodiac." I liked the first issue of "Zodiac," LOVED the second issue, but thought the final issue was a bit disappointing. With "Dance," it was strong in the beginning, weak in the middle, and good at the end. I don't know if that means anything, but I found the contrast interesting. Though Nathan Fox's art trumps any page of "Dance."

Part of my lack of engagement in these "Final Crisis Aftermath" comics is that all my comics are in storage right now, awaiting our move to the new house (which should have happened by the time this "Splash Page" hits the interwaves), so I can't go back and read either "Dance" or "Escape" from start to finish. Maybe they are better than I remember them being. Maybe worse. What say you?

CN: What was "Escape" about? A lot of promise that doesn't really turn into anything that great. I know what you mean about the lack of Marco Rudy. His replacement, Cliff Richards, is on the same level when it comes to actual drawing skills -- their figures aren't that far apart -- but, man, Rudy was doing some fantastic layouts. Very inventive stuff that worked with whatever the idea/theme of that issue was. I loved the idea of having a page in the shape of a pawn from chess near the beginning of the issue and, then, an upside-down pawn at the end when things had gone south. That willingness to do a little more work made "Escape" a visually interesting series until he left. After, it wasn't as much. Although, Richards did some great work in the final issue.
Storywise, it was weird for the sake of weird it seems. All tests to prepare Nemesis (and everyone else) to be a member of the Global Peace Agency... except we never really learn that the GPA is about. I think Ivan Brandon set himself up to fail with those obtuse, surreal first issues that didn't really lead to anything. It was actually a very mundane story in the end, one that didn't approach the broad themes and ideas of Morrison's work as we thought it would. Maybe it will read better as a whole, I haven't had a chance to reread the whole series yet.

"Dance" also suffered from art changes, as you said, but was the best of the bunch. Joe Casey exploring the tropes and make-up of superhero teams, young superheroes, capitalist superheroes, and whatever else is always going to be worth three bucks each month. The end was stronger than I think most people realise since it was a subtle point about how wanting wealth and fame isn't the opposite of being a hero as many seem to think, that the Super Young Team can have both. Except Casey doesn't hit you over the head with that idea, he just hints at the question: what's the difference between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tony Stark/Iron Man and the Super Young Team except that the Super Young Team doesn't take off the costumes? Not only that, it was a book that discussed these ideas and concepts while having an interesting 'coming of age' story as the main plot.

Now that the books have finished, do you think any of them are worthy follow-ups to "Final Crisis"?

TC:
Here's an anecdote for you: As I was cleaning up some loose comics and throwing them in boxes, I came across "Dance" #5, flipped though it, and realized I had somehow never even read that issue. So I stopped my packing and read the sucker. It was really good, and it made issue #6 even better now that I know the lead-in. Duh. Amazing how that works! But I just assumed that I'd forgotten the previous installment in the haze of getting ready to move and the general overflow of too many comics in my brain. No. I just hadn't read the penultimate issue.

So to answer your question, I would say YES, "Dance" is a worthy follow-up to "Final Crisis." Is it better than "Final Crisis"? Hell, no, but it's at least about something. And though "Run" might have turned into a fun romp, and it did -- though I don't know how it ended -- and though "Escape" may have begun as something cool and different, only "Dance" actually said anything interesting about the role of the superhero.

Maybe it's just that Super Young Team is the best concept coming out of "Final Crisis." Maybe it was hard to screw it up. (I know it would have been easy to screw it up, though, because I've read comics inspired by Grant Morrison concepts that have been pretty terrible. I won't name any names, but, well, they all have tended to be terrible if Morrison thought them up and someone else wrote them. Except "Dance.") I just love Most Excellent Superbat's mask and partial Superman "S" shapes on his costume that become pure abstraction when removed from the "S" shield context (so much so that the cover artist paints them as triangular shapes instead of parts of the Superman insignia). And I love how the whole team is just an analogue for the original JLA but so they represent the essence of a classic superhero team while being totally wired into the now. I love the exaggerated pathos and the playfulness.

"Dance" was good. Even if the art was annoyingly inconsistent.

What about you, do you think "Dance" or "Escape" were worthy follow-ups? Do you think they even work as follow-ups at all? Because the "Escape" tie-in seems less than essential.

To be continued at GraphiContent!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Warren Ellis vs. Geoff Johns HITS THE SPLASH PAGE (Part 2 of 2!)

I'm back! And with me, as usual, is Chad Nevett. We kicked off a discussion about "Cynicism vs. Sincerity" that turned into "Warren Ellis vs. Geoff Johns," and you can find the first part of that discussion over at Chad's blog. Read that, then come back here for the rest of the debate (as posted below)!

CN:
One thing I wanted to bring up is the recent idea that Geoff Johns is both mocking people who read his books while, at the same time, capitalizing on them. The end of "Legion of 3 Worlds" springs to mind immediately -- aka the end of "Wanted." Now, Ellis has an interesting relationship with his fans that can be combative in a friendly way (I think), but I can't think of an instance that shows such open disdain for his readers either. What do you think?

Tim Callahan: Wow, is that a way for me to segue into another "good readers vs. bad readers" rant? No? Well, then I'll keep it simple: The Superboy Prime stuff isn't about mocking the readers, it's about mocking ridiculous fanboy whining. That can't be wrong, can it? Sure, some of the readers are ridiculous fanboy whiners, but they deserve the mockery they get. Or maybe they don't but I find it funny enough to let it slide. That's probably more true.

And, as I have pointed out, Superman's rogues gallery has always been a critique of the reader! It's part of the tradition!

Here's my problem with most Ellis comics, and it's a critique I've heard about Grant Morrison's work, but I don't think it applies in that case -- I do think it applies to Ellis, though. His comics are more about the idea than the execution. His stuff tends to fizzle out because it's not usually tightly plotted and the initial idea, or burst of ideas, might be exhilarating, but the stories aren't capable of sustaining the ideas in any meaningful way. I'm thinking of the fizzle in the last third of "Planetary," the last half of "Global Frequency" (which was, at best, sustained by the variety of artists, not the writing), his "Astonishing X-Men" run, the "Ultimate Galactus" Trilogy. They all get worse as they go on.

I'm making it sound as if I don't like any of those comics, when I like them (in some cases) very much, but I do think his weakness is in his pacing and plot structure and character development -- aka the storytelling basics. And Johns is really good at those things, even if his concepts and ideas begin from a weaker starting point.

And, for me, it's that cynicism again. A cynicism that appears on a structural level in Ellis's work. You might say that "Ellis wrote a comic book where things were saved by love," but it didn't feel like such a comic when I actually read it. It felt like an intellectual exercise. A comic about emotion that was itself emotionless.

I can't believe I've put myself in a position to argue on behalf of an emotional reaction to a comic when I have spent much of my critical career arguing against such things. Crazy!

Chad Nevett: Ellis's stories often are about ideas. He's a very idea-heavy writer, one that researches things extensively and works that into his fiction. I disagree that it's more about the idea than the execution (at least in the general sense since that would vary work to work). Let's take a very recent example: "Planetary" #27 where people focused on the pages of technobabble and ignored that the issue was about Elijah Snow possibly ending the world to save his friend. It was character driven completely, fuelled by passion (as evidenced in numerous arguments characters had), and, yes, filtered through a lot of theoretical physics... but that's not Ellis's problem. What I keep getting the sense from people (not just you) is that they choose to read Ellis's work in a specific way, much like people go into Morrison's comics assuming they won't get it. They assume Ellis is the cynical idea-heavy guy with no heart and that's what they get, partly, because he is that in some ways and, partly, because he doesn't hit you over the head with the emotional stuff. It's not that it isn't there, it's just there in a way that doesn't scream "Okay, now you people out there should go 'Awww!' and feel warm and fuzzy inside!"

But, addressing your argument that his pacing, etc. is weaker, again, I disagree. I'm not even sure I accept your premise that Johns is good at those technical matters from the work I've read. Ellis's pacing is a lot clearer and straight-forward. His string of three-issue minis from Wildstorm show this off quite well. "Fell" is very tightly-paced and structured -- and I connect with the main character. From the work I've read from Johns, it's very choppy and all over the place -- as I said before, Johns tries to cram too much in, most of it unnecessary to the story in the hopes of hitting those 'character moments' except they don't add to the story. He reminds me of a more verbose, continuity-obsessed Mark Millar, obsessed with making fanboys cream their jeans instead of telling a cohesive, well-plotted story with interesting, engaging ideas.

TC: But in "Planetary," how was that supposed friendship established? We're told that they're friends, we're shown it a bit, but it's not earned. It's Elijah Snow saving his friend only because Warren Ellis says it is. I certainly didn't sense any real friendship between the characters. Johns, on the other hand, goes for the heartstrings. When Tim Drake and Conner Kent talk, their friendship is obvious on every page in their dialogue, their reactions to one another. It's palpable. With Ellis, it's just words. It's the concept of friendship without the hard work of establishing the friendship.

And, yes, Johns is taking advantage of years and years of continuity to bolster the friendship, but I haven't actually read those "Young Justice" or "Superboy" comics involving Tim and Conner. He sells their friendship in just a few scenes much better than Ellis does in a few issues.

And I wonder about the "verbose" concern. Surely Ellis is, on average, as verbose as Johns, if not moreso. We should pull out some random Johns and Ellis comics and do a word-per-page count and see. The difference, of course, is that Ellis's verbosity is usually spent with his characters explaining something he read in some culture or science article, and Johns's verbosity is usually spent describing aspects of the hermetically sealed DC Universe. (So you may not care as much about Johns's words, and therefore they seem more oppressive.) Also, I don't think "Blackest Night" #1 is representative of Johns's other work. I like "Blackest Night" -- I like its ridiculous conceit and the bombast -- but the first issue was more verbose and stilted in a Brad Meltzer kind of way than what we normally see from Johns.

What have you actually read of his work, by the way? Because if you're basing it primarily on "Green Lantern: Rebirth," "Infinite Crisis," and the opening of "Blackest Night," then I can see where the "choppy" and "continuity-obsessed Mark Millar" comments come in. But his "Flash" run was different. So was "Teen Titans." So is "Adventure Comics."

CN: The 'verbose' comment of yours is right. I guess the difference, then, is that when Ellis has characters talk a lot, I don't mind, whereas I do with Johns. It could be that I like Ellis's dialogue more.

I have read "Infinite Crisis," the opening of "Blackest Night," and then issues of "Green Lantern," "Teen Titans," "Justice Society of America," and bits and pieces from other places. Not nearly as extensive as your reading of Ellis, but that's because I've yet to read a Johns-penned comic that's made me want to read another. Honestly, what it comes down to is that I can see the man has talent, I just find him boring. Because I don't feel a strong connection to these characters, none of his work has any impact on me.

I also don't like his approach to superhero comics whereas I love Ellis's. Johns bases stories very much on what characters he likes, which ones he wants to push and place front and center. Ellis bases his stories on what will make for a better story. The lack of fondness he has for superheroes that people often decry makes for stories where the characters that you read about are there because they serve the story, not nostalgia or fan-obsession. I mentioned this elsewhere, but I've often considered Ellis as the example in mainstream superhero comics of the 'Professional Writer' who takes a job and does the best job he can because he's a writer -- Johns represents the much larger group in mainstream superhero comics, the 'Fan Writer.' And I don't want anyone to think that I'm calling that group unprofessional, it's just that their first goal, often, seems (key word right there) like it's 'honoring' these characters and the history rather than serving the story. That can sometimes lead to better stories, ones that build on the past and come off fantastic... or they can not. The same can happen to the 'Professional Writer,' of course, but that's the approach that I find clicks with me more often than not.

TC: Well since this basically evolved (or devolved) into Ellis vs. Johns, and because this all started with my response to one of your lists, let's end it with some lists, since I'm obviously not going to convince you to read any more Geoff Johns comics anytime soon, but you can always convince me to read more Warren Ellis.

But I'll list the Top 5 Geoff Johns comics, and you list the Top 5 Warren Ellis comics, and we'll let our readers decide who's the best!

Top 5 Geoff Johns comics, counting down:

5. Flash
4. Action Comics
3. Teen Titans
2. Adventure Comics
1. Green Lantern

Honorable Mention: JSA (pre-One Year Later)

CN: Yeah, I've given Johns plenty of chances to impress me and he hasn't (aside from "Infinite Crisis" #2 with the basis of the crossover being the previous decade of DC's output has sucked, I dug that idea -- and I enjoyed talking with him once for an interview, which makes disliking his writing always a little annoying/depressing/guilt-inducing). But, my Top 5 Warren Ellis comics:
5. Red
4. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
3. Planetary
2. Transmetropolitan
1. Stormwatch/The Authority (as that's one run/larger story, of course)

Honorable Mention: Strange Kiss/Stranger Kisses/Strange Killings/Gravel (again, really one series divided up into numerous minis)
I want to end it on one final thought: if we were to make this a top ten list... who would have the easier time coming up with a complete list without feeling like they're throwing works in to fill spots? I know the answer, of course, but had to get that little dig in there. That said, we haven't gotten to the truly epic column: where you call me out on calling Ellis a better writer than Morrison.

TC: Ha! and double Ha! I could easily do a Top 10 list on Johns without skipping a beat, and do another one for Ellis just as quickly (and "Red" sure as hell wouldn't be in there). Maybe we'll save that for a special Top 10 Showdown! Right after you try to justify your sleep-induced declaration that Ellis is in any way better than Morrison.

CN: It was lack of sleep... and I stand by it.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The TVRC's Tarantino 24-Hour Film Festival Line-Up

This past week, in celebration of the recent release of "Inglorious Basterds," Television's Ryan Callahan hosted an ambitious film festival in the mean back alleys of Los Angeles. Though the line-up was an industry secret before, during, and after the event, my spies in the greater Koreatown area were able to intercept a memo about the clandestine screening schedule, complete with The TVRC's personal notations:

Pre-festival viewing:
Inglorious Bastards (Not any better the second time)
Manaja: A Man Called Blade (The last great Spaghetti Western)
Man Hunt (A must-see. A perfect companion for Inglorious Basterds)
Pan's Labyrinth (Not sure if you've heard of this film, but it's actually pretty good.)
Memories of Murder (Fantastic Korean police procedural. Same star director of the host)
Repulsion (One of the better crazy person films I've ever seen.)
The Big, Red One (Less erotic than expected. Great war film.)
Breaking News (From PTU director Johnnie To. Much better than PTU. Open shooting worth price of admission alone and since I watched it on my couch that price was only 3 dollars.)
Le Doulos (Yeah, this movie's great)

Actual Marathon Card (Card subject to change)
12 - Jackie Brown
2:35 - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
5:35 - Man Hunt
7:20 - Black Sabbath
8:50 - Blow Out
10:40 - His Girl Friday
12:15 - Battle Royale
2:15 - Used Cars
4:15 - Coffy
5:35 - All Monsters Attack
6:45 - The Killers
8:15 - Magnificent Obsession
10:00 - Pulp Fiction

Just missing the cut:
City on Fire
Lady Snowblade
The Great Silence
They All Laughed
Vanishing Point
Seven Men From Now
Kiss Me Deadly
The Killing

Now you, too, can pretend you were hanging out with The TVRC, drinking Mexican Coke and eating melted candy bars. If you're man enough.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chad Continues to Roll Out the Bendis

He's still got 12 1/2 hours of blogging, and already Chad Nevett has something like 17,000 words written about the Avengers comics of Brian Michael Bendis and the various spin-offs.

You should be over there reading his posts and entering the fray that is the comment section.

Last time I wrote 20,000 words over the course of a weekend, my wrists and fingers were numb for a week. Chad's probably a lot tougher than me, though. But he looks like he'll be way over the 20,000-word mark by the time he's done.

Bendis! Nevett!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Factual Opinion All-Star Junior Varsity

With Tucker Stone off spelunking in the Andes, the Factual Opinion HQ assembled an all-star partial replacement squad to address the big question of the week: which comics are good, which are not, and how can they all be mocked with elegance and sophistication?

The Factual Opinion All-Star Junior Varsity:

Jog
Tim O'Neil
David Brothers
Sean Witzke
Noah Berlatsky
Chris Mautner
and playing right field: Me

Watch and learn, internet.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

SPOILER Alert

Bet you didn't expect this guy to show up in a Marvel comic this week, did you?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

CBR LOVES X-Factor

Remember my one-star review of "X-Factor" that Marvel ended up using as a press release? Now they're using it as a house ad!


X-Factor: It deserves credit!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

I Write for CBR, But I Dance Harder

After making a promise to link to my CBR writing and, in general, update this blog a bit more, I have just simply failed to do anything. Twitter has abducted my blogging impulses and spit them out into short bursts of the clever. Or the not-so-clever but-merely-obvious. I suspect I'm not the only one who has fallen into its clutches and lost the will to blog. (Geoff Klock, do you feel the stare of kinship?)

Yet I've written so much for CBR over the past couple of months, and I have brought barely any of it to your attention. And you tell me that you sometimes don't even READ my columns or reviews unless I link to them here. I feel you on that. I don't read everything at CBR either (shhhhh, that's supposed to be a secret, because I tell everyone that I read all of their stuff all the time). I mean, I read my own stuff, because I always know that I'll find a typo that slipped by me the first time, and because I forget what I've written about ten seconds after I submit it (does anyone else have this problem, or is my memory just old and full of crusty bits?).

Really, it's about time I linked you to my recent stuff. So: I wrote a bunch of stuff about Captain America, way back in June. Remember Cap? Remember June? And an early review of/reflection on "Asterios Polyp" that I must have linked to already, but now everyone and their mother is all like "blah blah, it's the best graphic novel, blah blah" and basically just repeating the kinds of things I said way before they even saw the book. Try to keep up, okay everyone else?


What else? Oh, I had a bit of fun talking about the behind-the-scenes of the comic review and riled up Peter David in the process. I didn't do it on purpose, but it ended up stirring the pot o' X-fans nonetheless. Good times, I suppose, and it happened to coincide with something similar Roger Ebert talked about. Synchronicity? Or am I just a crotchety old guy too? Or maybe he was reading CBR and thought that he could steal my column topic and run with it? Maybe all of the above.

Then I talked up an obscure little title called, I think, "Wednesday Comics"? I don't know what happened to that series, but a couple of dudes keep trying to talk about it each and every week, even when one of them has no internet.

I dabbled in the world of cats and romance with Ethan Young, and then I celebrated my one year "When Words Collide" Anniversary the only way I know how: alone. I already told you about the New Awesomeness of SDCC 2009, so I won't bother linking to it here.

And I reviewed a TON OF STUFF. Like this comic about a guy who's really sad. And one about another guy who's kinda sad, but really, really fast. Nobody sad here, is there? And, oh, this review didn't get me any dates with the Shatterstar cosplay crowd. I don't even remember this one, but this one was Gruenwaldy! This one was disappointing, and this one made Joe Casey send me an e-mail, but now we're best buds so it's all good. This one was the best Daniel Way comic I've ever read, and this one was like that novel and TV show but TOTALLY different from what happened to Batman at the end of "Final Crisis" as someone pointed out to me vehemently in San Diego. This one has less ass hair than the first issue. This one features too little Bryan Hitch, and this one is pretty epic for a comic about two disfigured cowpersons. This one's rural noir, while this one is pretty good but not good enough for Andy Khouri. This one is like a tv show I wouldn't bother watching regularly, but isn't bad. This one has an Asgardian frog. This one: tends to piss people off unless they love it. This one I wouldn't take home to Mama. Dad, sure! This one's in space. This one's foldy. This one has big teeth. This one is too much splort and not enough anything good. This one was sent to me by an editor, but I suspect he wishes he didn't send it to me now that he's read the review.

Okay, now comment on all that stuff!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Advent of the New Awesome: San Diego Comic-Con 2009

This week's "When Words Collide" recounts my five days of adventure at SDCC 2009 (or CCI 2009, if you want to be accurate). Thrill to my breaking and entering exploits, my reckless convention floor non-buying behavior, and my celebration of all things awesome.

Read it, comment upon it, live it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Comic Con 2009 Pics

Brian Michael Bendis showed up in disguise so as not to attract attention:



Geoff Johns ruminated on the greatness of Grant Morrison, on camera, for all the world to (eventually) see:



They trotted out Castle Grayskull last year, too. I wonder what happens to it between Comic Cons:



Jeff Lemire and Josh Dysart read this blog every day and beg me to include more photos of them. So I do:


Special feature on the blu-ray "Watchmen" two-disc set. These three show up at your house and punch you in the face:


The Prez:


Penny!


Did you take the picture yet, I ask? No he did not, apparently.


Jonah may have won the Eisner for CBR, but Dean Trippe and I take all the credit whether we deserve it or not. You can't stop us. (Jessi Awesome's legs can't even get between us and our coveted Eisner.)


Jason Aaron wears his limited edition Morrison tribute glasses while talking about how his favorite comics are ones called "X" and "Men" and written by Chris Claremont:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My San Diego Schedule

I don't have a San Diego schedule, suckers! I'm on vacation, going to the convention with Television's Ryan Callahan for pleasure, not profit. Though I'll thrill you with tales of my adventures in Monday's "When Words Collide" column.

And I'm interviewing Matt Fraction for a documentary.

And I'm being interviewed for a different documentary.

And I'm meeting with an editor who is interested in having me join a new publishing line.

Other than that -- no plans! I'll see you all in San Diego. And for those of you who can't make it, follow my Twitter feed for constant updates from the floor. As I have fun all week long.

(This is photo was taken in a quiet little corner of Television Ryan Callahan's new pad. Check out that Michael V. Bennett "Army Men" artwork!)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Guy, I Like!



I'll be stalking Kevin all weekend, and I hope you will be too.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kirby, Steranko, Pope and More: My eBay Action

As part of my Great Comic Book Reorganization efforts, I'm selling some comics on eBay!

You want some classic Jack Kirby Silver Age action? You can get it.

Jim Steranko? Yup.

Paul Pope? Absolutely.

Jerry Ordway and Todd McFarlane? Um, yes, but this list gets less impressive as it goes along, doesn't it. Yes!

Jim Aparo's pretty great, though, right? Jim? Aparo? "Batman and the Outsiders? No? YES!

Anyway, I offer a link to my aBay auctions because I want to sell this stuff to people I love and admire. Bid away, my friends, and if you're a Geniusboy Firemelon regular and you end up winning any of these auctions, let me know, and I'll throw in some other free comics as a bonus!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Alan Moore? File under "H" for "Has-Been"?

The title of this post doesn't make any sense, but I couldn't think of anything else to use, so I figured I'd come up with something to start a blood feud between CBR's George Khoury and myself.

It's on, George Khoury. Bring the pain!

Okay, what this post is about is something much more mundane than Alan Moore's current relevance or my imaginary war with George Khoury: it's about sorting comics.

I'm literally in the midst of thousands of comics. They surround me, here in my geek lair, as I try to somehow make more space by putting all of them in unwieldy longboxes. I don't know how the physics on this kind of thing works, but I somehow think that if I take these piles and piles of comics that have been building up and slip them into my already alphabetically-organized collection of comics, I'll somehow have space to walk around and, I don't know, own other things besides comics. It's doomed to failure, I know, but I just can't leave these piles all over the place. One false move and I could lose a child in this mess.

So, here's my question for my faithful readers. How do you organize your comics? Specifically, do you organize them by title or by creator? Because what I've found is that I have my gigantic stacks of alphabetized long boxes (by title), a couple of Grant-Morrison-only boxes (that I separated when I was writing the book, and then just kept separate for convenience), three "Legion of Super-Heroes"-only boxes (same reason), and then piles and piles of comics I've purchased over the past two or three years (some of those "piles" have ended up in random longboxes, but completely unsorted, just to get them out of the way).

But my new system this time is to create more creator-specific boxes (or parts of boxes), because I find myself referring to some comics far more than others. Alan Moore's an obvious example, and it really doesn't make sense to have my copies of "Top 10" and "Miracleman" mixed in with incomplete runs of "Tailgunner Jo" and "Monsters on the Prowl." So, that would give me easier-to access Alan Moore comics. I've done the same with Matt Fraction, rounding up my scattered "Uncanny X-Men" issues just so I could write things that would make Ultimate Matt mad, and I've done the same with my Jason Aaron comics , pulling all the "Scalped" issues and "Ghost Rider" issues (and other sundries) into a single box.

Who else would you isolate and box separately? I'm doing it for Ed Brubaker, too, I think. Well, I guess I AM doing it, since I've kept his comics in a separate pile as I sort and alphabetize everything else. Garth Ennis gets his own box, basically on account of "Preacher" alone, but it will be nice to have his war comics and "The Boys" all in one place. Warren Ellis gets a box. So does Joe Casey. Mark Millar does too, as frustrating a writer as he is, because I can imagine doing some kind of retrospective on his work or referring to specific runs more than once.

Who else might you separate? Would you give Bendis a box or ten? Azzarello? Gaiman (even though I sold my "Sandman" comics years ago and have his good stuff in collected editions)? Kirkman? Giffen? Would you do it by artist? The more refined you get with a creator-based division, the more runs you break up and then it's hard to find that issue of "Jonah Hex" you were looking for because you can't remember which artists drew it without looking it up online and cross-referencing it with your collection.

What's your system, if you have one?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Cry For Justice: The Remixes

Believe it or not, I don't exactly agree with Doug Zawisza's baffling five-star review of "Justice League: Cry for Justice" #1.

But I do agree with THIS.

And THIS.

"Cry for Justice," indeed. James Robinson may not live this one down.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bagley and Williams III Fistfight in Heaven

Since my last WWC column, I've been getting plenty of e-mails and Tweets from people defending Mark Bagley's work and saying stuff like "while it's true that Bagley couldn't have drawn 'Promethea,' Williams III couldn't have drawn 'Ultimate Spider-Man.'" Yeah, that's just plain wrong.

Why is it hard for people to accept that drawing is a skill and some people are better at it than others? Sure, there are plenty of fuzzy areas, and I would have trouble saying that J. H. Williams III is better than Dan Clowes, for example, but Williams III vs. Bagley? Really, there's no contest.

Williams III:


Bagley:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Plans Derailed. New Plans Taking Shape.

As you can tell, after over a year of near-daily updates, I've fallen into a rut of inconsistency over the past couple of months. I had planned to come back from my blogging break re-energized and ready to write like crazy. Then I'd planned to come back from my family trip to Disney re-energized and ready to write like crazy. Then I planned to come back from my conference last week and, well, you get the idea.

But I just can't seem to get back to the daily update schedule anymore. For two reasons:

1) I'm not overly excited about any Marvel and DC comics right now. I have been writing about mainstream superhero-ish stuff for years, and even though I'm enjoying Grant Morrison's return to Batman and Geoff Johns's Green Lantern super-epic and Rick Remender's crazy riff on Punisher and Jason Aaron's greatness on Scalped, I don't know that I have anything new to say about that stuff. It's the same good stuff I've been raving about for a while and the same bad stuff that I've been railing against for a while. And CBR pays me to do those things, so it's difficult to do them for free when it's just more of the same.

2) I have a brand-new job. Two of them, actually. I've become English department head, and I've become Dean of Curriculum and Instruction at my school. My teaching load has lessened considerably, but now I have tons o' administrative responsibilities. With the school preparing for a very different composition of students and faculty next year, and with curricular changes to accomodate the new composition, I have a lot to do right now and all summer long. And then after that, forever and ever. It's an exciting time, it's a time to solve problems and lay the solid groundwork for a new year (and beyond), so it's a little bit tricky to find time to immerse myself in comics like I could, oh, a couple of months back. Also, do I have it in me to care what Domino is up to or what case Manhunter needs to solve next? Not so much these days.

I'll still be reviewing comics and writing columns for CBR (probably less reviews per week than normal, though), and I'll still be posting here occasionally, but I'll need to change the promise of "updated daily" on the masthead. I've got other priorities right now, and they're good ones.

As you're waiting for my next update, go ahead and read some "Asterios Polyp," if you were lucky enough to get an early copy. It's a great comic!