Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I'm Watching: The Wrestler

I don't really think the Academy Awards are anything more than a big Hollywood commercial -- and could this year's show have been any more obvious about that? -- so I don't give the results much thought usually, but Sean Penn has NEVER given a performance as good as Mickey Rourke's in "The Wrestler."

And Sean Penn has given some very good performances.

Whatever it is that makes an actor great, that makes a performance become something more than playing pretend, Mickey Rourke has it, and he's never had it more than in "The Wrestler," which I finally got a chance to see this week. It's not just that he becomes Randy "The Ram," it's that Randy Robinson exists and this is his story. As aware as I was of Rourke's virtuoso performance, it never felt like an acting job. It always felt like a window into this character's life. It felt as real as cinema can get.

"The Wrestler" is not my favorite Darren Aronofsky film. It's too much like a minimalist short story to compete with my fondness for other Aronofky movies. Too simplistic in getting from point A to point B. I prefer the formal experimentation of "The Fountain" or the manic stylishness of "Requiem for a Dream" -- more of the latter than the former. But "The Wrestler" is still a very good film, full of brilliant small moments and an attention to detail that makes almost every other movie seem like a work of pure artifice. When the Ram is working the deli counter, the movie gains a lively, passionate rhythm, and when he's in the ring, "The Wrestler" shows the pleasure and pain of the Ram living the only way he knows how. The whole movie shows that, actually. It's a story about struggle and regret, love and loss, and sadness. But it never wallows in its own pity, and Mickey Rourke never lets the Ram's spirit break totally, even when he's at his most outwardly vulnerable.

"The Wrestler" shows as much of any actor's back as I've ever seen in a full-length motion picture. We are constantly behind the Ram, following him as he prepares for battle, a few steps behind him, but never too far away. It's an angle and a camera move Aronofsky repeats throughout the movie -- our "hero" is always walking away from us, even as he's applauded by thousands -- and Aronofsky echoes it to great ironic effect in the march toward the indignity of working at the deli counter.

It's a good movie, but Rourke's performance makes it something special. And even Sean Penn knows who really deserved to win on Sunday night.

What are YOU watching?

Captain America #47 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Captain America #47, about which I write the following sentences: "What distinguishes this particular issue from the past few, story-wise, is the explicit guilt of Bucky Barnes. Here's a guy -- a former sidekick, yes, but also a former killer, a Soviet assassin -- who stepped into the shoes of Captain America without missing a step. His style is different that Steve Rogers's, sure, but we haven't seen much of Bucky's interior life. Brubaker has been giving us so much action, political intrigue, and relationship-building, that he hasn't really had a chance to show how conflicted Bucky must be. How tormented the former Winter Soldier actually is, even as he wears the garb of the most noble of heroes."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mister X: Condemned #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Mister X: Condemned #1, about which I write the following sentences: "We know things about him, and 'Mister X: Condemned' has reminded us about some of those things, but he's still an enigmatic figure, even when the comic bares his name. Because when you're dealing with a Dean Motter 'Mister X' story, you're dealing with an emphasis that's more about the characters scurrying around inside the maze of Radiant City than about the characters themselves. It's the scurrying that matters, and the maze itself. It's not a literal maze, of course, but it's the peculiar 'psychetecture' of the city that gives the setting its unique flavor. The setting is the character here, and that's not unusual for Motter."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hulk #10 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Hulk #10, about which I write the following sentences: "What we get here is a spiritual sequel to 'Contest of Champions,' but with more gloriously bombastic art and more potential for explosive action. 'Hulk' will never be accused -- at least not in this incarnation -- of being a thinking man's comic, but it doesn't aim to be. It aims for pure comic book energy, for the giggling madness of four-color fantasy, for the epic splendor of titans tussling. I'm starting to sound like Stan Lee myself with all this hyperbole, but that's the kind of mood this comic puts you in. It's all about the visceral thrills of seeing the Defenders vs. the Offenders, the battle we've all been waiting for."

Read the entire review HERE.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When Words Collide: Terror in the Classroom

Spurred to read "Drifting Classroom" by the internet double-threat of Jog and Tucker Stone, I had the first volume sitting on my shelf for a while before I bothered to crack it open.

Before I started reading it, I also picked up Volumes 2-4, just because my son wanted some Pokemon manga thing, and in ordering it through Amazon, I noticed that it was part of the 4-for-3 promotion they run, and figured, "eh, I might as well get three more volumes of 'Drifting' for the price of two," so I added those to the cart.

Then, as I mentioned in a "What I'm Reading" post from a few weeks back, I dove into this series and immediately wanted more.

So now I've read all eleven volumes. And I just had to write something about it. And of course I had to tie it to some postmodernist literary discussion of Donald Barthelme, because that's what I do. Hence, this week's WWC entry: "Terror in the Classroom."

It's probably the greatest thing on Barthelme and Umezu that you'll read this week (if not this month).

Batman R.I.P.: The Deluxe Edition Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Batman R.I.P.: The Deluxe Edition, about which I write the following sentences: "But this is still a book worth reading, largely because what it loses in internet-speculation context, it gains in distance from Morrison's own promises. Many readers were annoyed, even angry, by the lack of clear resolution in the final chapter of 'R.I.P.' Here, in this isolated, hardcover context, the final chapter works much better. It's still not a conclusive finale to the larger question of Dr. Hurt's identity, but such a conclusion isn't promised within the book's pages. What's promised within its pages, implicitly, is a resolution to the Batman-gets-broken-mentally storyline. And that does, indeed, resolve, with a mentally-shattered Batman rising up from his own staged death -- as he literally smashes out of his own coffin -- and turning the tables on his enemies. It's a good Batman story, with betrayals and counter-betrayals, with a bravura performance from the Joker, and with enough unique visual concepts (the garish Zur-En-Arrh costume, Bat-Mite, the Club of Villains) to make the story rise well above the fair-to-middling morass of Batman collected editions."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cronin's Final Crisis FAQ is Good

Brian Cronin posted his "Final Crisis FAQ" at Comics Should Be Good today, and besides being an excellent resource for everyone with any kind of questions about what went on in the series, it's also thought provoking.

(By the way, though I agree with basically everything Cronin says -- and he certainly understands "Final Crisis" fully -- I do think Dax Novu/Mandrakk is supposed to be the Monitor from the original "Crisis." Cronin implies that he might be, but I think the connection is much stronger than just an implication. But that's not really the point of this post, so I'll move on.)

Here are some thoughts provoked by the FAQ:

1) Did people really not understand all this stuff that they're asking questions about? (Like who the black kid in the burger joint was supposed to be? Or who actually attacked John Stewart? I mean, that stuff was an ESSENTIAL PART OF THE STORY and fully explained within its pages.)

2) Did they even bother to read "Final Crisis"? (Because some of those questions imply they read neither the words nor the pictures.)

3) Why do readers in the comments section say stuff like "Unfortunately, just the fact that the series needed something like this to make some sense of it, shows how poorly constructed and produced it actually was"? (Brian Cronin obviously didn't need "something like this to make some sense of it," and neither did I, and neither did almost anyone I've actually talked to about the series. YOU needed it, person-who-left-that-comment, but that doesn't mean the series needed it.)

4) When "P_B" asks for "an attempt at tracing Superman chronologically through the whole thing," why didn't Cronin link to my attempt at tracing Superman chronologically through the whole thing? Do you hate me Brian Cronin? (I know you don't, because you linked to the "Final Crisis Dialogues" in a later post!)

The FAQ is really cool, though, and puts the answers all in one place for readers who couldn't make sense out of the series. (Though they might want to practice reading harder. Too snarky? Too bad! Read HARDER!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kupperberg's Intuition: What Say You?

In his debut essay on, Paul Kupperberg writes about "Thought: The Enemy of Art." It's not a shockingly provocative piece, but Kupperberg emphasizes that art is more about intuition than rationalization, at least on the creative end. In his concluding paragraphs, he contrasts the constrictive hyper-plotting technique of another writer with his own, looser, style:

Plotting is a mechanical structure: One comic book writer friend of mine creates elaborate charts of story direction, individual character arcs, introduction of subplots, how long they played out, secondary and tertiary subplots and how they evolved to become major subplots and then the main plots. He can wipe the floor with me on the down and dirty connect-the-Legos-level of sheer mechanical plotting. My plotting in comics — even ones I wrote over long stretches — was always ad hoc, based on some broad outline that I sort of knew where it was headed — unless I changed my mind and went somewhere else because my free-form plotting allowed me the room to do that. With his plotting, you start pulling on one thread and the whole sweater unraveled.

On sheer writing ability alone, I kick his ass. I’m not bound by the specs of the plot-machine he builds for himself. He has said he envies my ability to write that way, more from the gut and less from the head. The gut is where the passion and the juice come from. The head is where rational thought lies. You want about 25% of the latter and 75% of the former in your work. Know where you’re going, understand the mode of transportation you’ve chosen to take you there, but don’t be bound by some route you’ve laid out on the map before you even left the garage. Take detours, visit interesting roadside attractions, cut across land marked with “No Trespassing” signs, leave the blacktop and explore some dirt roads, and stop every now and then for a couple or four slices of pie at that diner you pass along the way.

Just do it, but whatever else…don’t think!

Old-fashioned seat of your pants, make-it-up-as-you-go along storytelling has driven comic book narrative for years and has reached giddy heights in stuff like "The Drifting Classroom" and "The Walking Dead," just to name two things I've read recently. But I tend to prefer more structured work. I like when things fit together and narrative strands from months or years earlier turn out to be essential to the overall structure.

And, honestly, I've never read anything by Paul Kupperberg that I thought was all that impressive, even though he's been working in the industry for decades. So when he says, "On sheer writing ability alone, I kick his ass," what is he talking about? What are the great Paul Kupperberg works? I really have no idea.

What do you think about his intuition vs. rationalization approach to writing? What do you think about Kupperberg as a writer?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What I'm Reading: Johnny Boo, Fantastic Four

James Kochalka's second "Johnny Boo" children's book arrived at the Geniusboy Firemelon household this week, much to the delight of the local children. We gathered the little ones out on our front porch, roasted mashmallows, made snow angels, carved ice sculptures of our favorite Bible scenes, and read excerpts of "Johnny Boo: Twinkle Power," followed by selections from "American Elf," the first three volumes of "Superf*ckers," and then sang and danced along to James Kochalka Superstar's "Bad Astronaut."

It was frolicksome.

Okay, maybe all that other stuff didn't happen, but I did read the new "Johnny Boo" book with my son last night, and at one point he laughed so hard that he couldn't read his part out loud. He was convulsed with joy at the hilarity of the Ice Cream Monster's wiggle power.

I don't know how many of you have young kids, but great children's books are surprisingly difficult to come by. Sure, you could probably name a dozen off the top of your head -- the stuff by Maurice Sendak, or Richard MacGuire, and, yeah, Dr. Seuss -- but even if you can name a dozen, or even twenty, that still leaves over 340 bedtimes in which to read some other, lesser, work of children's picture book literature.

James Kochalka's delightfully joyous picture books are much appreciated. Keep 'em coming!

I also finished up my long-delayed reading of all the "Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne" volumes. I had read the first six last summer, and then I just never got around to Volumes 7 or 8. I have to say that Byrne's run does not end well at all. I had actually read the last eight (or so) of his stories when they originally came out -- along with a smattering of earlier issues, whenever our local general store's selection matched my desire to convince my parents to buy me a comic. So I knew that it kind of petered out at the end, although I forgot that Byrne left in the middle of a story arc -- to go off and do "Superman" from what I recall -- and Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway finished up a really terrible twisted-future-inside-a-bubble-tale for him. Maybe Byrne could have nailed the landing on that one, and his first installment was decent enough, but Stern and Ordway just turn it into an overlong, over-wordy lesson on how not to tell interesting comic book stories. And I like Stern and Ordway -- especially their work from the mid-1980s -- but their "Fantastic Four" work was not their best.

But I do still think that John Byrne, in his prime, is basically my Platonic ideal of a superhero artist. I prefer plenty of other artists these days, but when I think of pure superheroics, John Byrne comes to mind. I don't know if it's his clean design sense, his perfectly-paced action, or his deceptively simple character work, OR if it's just because his comics were some of the first I ever saw as a kid (or, more likely, a combination of all those things), but there's something soothing and comforting about Byrne's artwork. It's just plain pleasing.

The stories in Volumes 7 and 8 aren't so hot. Volume 7 is pretty terrible, actually, with the inclusion of an "Avengers Annual" that crosses over with an FF skrull story, and a whole section devoted to the revival of Jean Grey (even "X-Factor" #1 shows up in its entirety, a comic Byrne had absolutely nothing to do with). Volume 8 is an improvement, but ends with the weak Stern/Ordway issues, and then...that's it. Byrne's "Fantastic Four," which had plenty of memorable moments -- most of which involving Dr. Doom, who appears in the last two volumes just as part of a convoluted Beyonder sequence -- fades away in the end, never living up to its potential as an epic saga. The eight volumes (and I know there's a "Volume 0," but I'm ignoring that one) provide a few great individual stories, but nothing that rises above good mid-80s Marvel comics.

Still, John Byrne is one of the great superhero artists of all time, at least at Chateau Geniusboy Firemelon.

What are YOU reading?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What I'm Watching: Day of the Outlaw

Andre de Toth's 1959 snowbound western "Day of the Outlaw" features the incomparable Burl Ives as Captain Jack Bruhn, a military man who leads a pack of roaming outlaws into a small frontier town. Like pretty much everyone from my generation, I only really know Ives as the snowman narrator of "Ruldolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer," so hearing his familiar voice come out of a hardened killer was startling and wonderful.

Startling, because his sweet, soothing voice commands the respect of his men and creates some sympathy from Robert Ryan's Blaise Starrett. Wonderful, because unlike the typical Western villain, Ives seems like a kindly grandfather burdened by difficult choices. He's evil, but it's an evil built upon a series of choices made long ago -- decisions he may regret, but he cannot change the past.

But that spark of redemption drives the film, as Ryan -- a cattleman not without his own dark flaws -- tries to appeal to the best of Ives's morality in an attempt to keep the outlaw gang from destroying the town. The gang wants nothing more than to drink whatever the tavern has to offer and grope whatever women happen by. Ives has more dignity than that -- he forbids whiskey and women -- but he's dying from a bullet wound, and that ticking clock amplifies the tension significantly.

The female lead, so lasciviously shown on the movie poster, is none other than Tina Louise from "Gilligan's Island" fame. She's great in this role (a much more conservative one than the poster would indicate), and she's almost unrecognizable for those of us who grew up on her Marilyn Monroe caricature in reruns. Here, she's fierce and stoic, and she doesn't have enough to do, but what she does, she does well.

"Day of the Outlaw" ends with an anticlimactic showdown in the snow, as Robert Ryan's character leads the outlaws over a mountain pass that doesn't really exist, and one by one, the gang members fall prey to the harsh wintry conditions.

But when Burl Ives is on screen, it's a captivating film, and definitely worth a look.

What are YOU watching?

Justice League of America #30 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Justice League of America #30, about which I write the following sentences: "If this Milestone crossover arc was meant to introduce the characters to the readers of the DCU, it's not very successful. McDuffie gives black Superman analogue Icon a few lines of dialogue and a little bit more characterization than the others, but the rest of the Milestone characters leave no impression at all. Except the dude made out of clouds and sky -- Twilight, I believe he's called. He has a strong visual presence at least. The rest of the Milestone characters look like little more than rejects from the 1990s school of ugly costume design. When Icon's partner, Rocket appears, her dramatic entrance is diminished by her ridiculous appearance. I'm sure the hoop earring, headgear, metal leg straps, plus jacket-over-the-costume look was pretty cool in 1993 -- actually, I remember 1993, and it wasn't even cool back then -- but it's 2009, and next to the classic costumes of the JLA, it just doesn't work. Her costume makes Zatanna look classy by comparison."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, February 20, 2009

X-Men: Legacy #221 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: X-Men: Legacy #221, about which I write the following sentences: "Mike Carey has found various ways to tell that kind of highlight-reel story, from bringing in Mr. Sinister to play with memories or, in this arc, showing physical manifestations of Rogue's fragmented psyche while simultaneously getting the now-sentient Danger Room to replay events from the past. No matter how he frames it, all Carey gets to do with this series is linger in the past. And that makes this series pretty useless."

Read the entire review HERE.

(Boy is that a hideous cover!)

Grant Morrison's Superman Saga: Part III

After nearly 10,000 words, my tour through Grant Morrison's Superman Saga comes to an end with the release of Part III on CBR.

All the pieces don't fit together perfectly, but there's little doubt that Morrison's Superman increases in strength -- both moral and physical -- as he progresses, and there's an overall character arc that culminates in "All-Star Superman" and gets an epilogue in "DC One Million."

Morrison spends far more time on Superman's later years than his earlier ones, perhaps not surprisingly, since Superman was around for over 20 years before Morrison was even born. But I think it's worth pointing out that when most writers step up to "redefine" a character -- to really make their mark -- they tend to give us a new origin story. Morrison doesn't do that with Superman. Make of that what you will.

Now, where did I put all those Morrison Batman comics?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Moon Knight #27 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Moon Knight #27, about which I write the following sentences: "It's a step up from the brooding, grotesque mockery that this comic became during the last two years, but this new, sparser, direction isn't as tight or evocative as it needs to be to work. Let me put it this way: 'Moon Knight' #27 wants desperately to be Sam Peckinpah, but it just ends up being Robert Rodriguez."

Read the entire review HERE.

Grant Morrison's Superman Saga: Part II

Part II of my exploration of "Grant Morrison's Superman Saga" is now posted at CBR. This one's pretty much all "JLA," all the time, as I put Superman's "middle years" into context and tell you what happens along the way.

Check it out -- it's a big entry.

(And the finale, in which I explore "Final Crisis" and "All-Star Superman" is even longer.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WWC: Tales from New Troy

I'd never even heard of Lanfeust a month ago, but at the New York Comic Con I had a chance to meet prolific French comic book writer Christophe Arleston and Soleil Managing Editor Olivier Jalabert and learn about their attempts to bring Arleston's extensive fantasy series to American audiences.

I usually spend my "When Words Collide" columns on analysis or celebration, but sometimes I spend it doing interviews. This is one of those times.

Even though there was a bit of a language barrier, Arleston had a lot to say about his favorite kinds of comics and how he goes about creating his own "World of Troy." Read all about it in this week's WWC!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Grant Morrison's Superman Saga: Part I

Ever since I wrote my CBR column on the finale of "All-Star Superman," Andy Khouri has been chanting in my ear, "Morrison's Superman Timeline. Morrison's Superman Timeline." So rather than just list the stories, in order of continuity, that would make up an exclusively Morrison version of the Superman Saga, I'm taking everyone through a tour of Morrison's Superman Universe.

Basically, it works like this: If every Morrison Superman story counts, and it's all part of one larger story, what is that story?

I take you through it step-by-step this week in a three part series running at CBR. The first part was posted today, as I explore the events of "All-Star Superman" #6 through Morrison's work on the UK "Superman Annual" and onward through "Animal Man" and "Doom Patrol."

Check it out, and look for Part II later this week, with my focus on Superman's role in Morrison's "JLA" stories (tomorrow, maybe?).

Dark Avengers #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Dark Avengers #2, about which I write the following sentences: "And though Bendis may enjoy writing these characters, he doesn't seem to like any of them, which frees him up to put them into motion more rapidly. He doesn't linger with the excessive banter or the decompressed character moments here. He just sets up the dogfight, pulls off the leash, and says 'go!' And they do, indeed, go. All the way to Latveria, where the team is called in to provide back up for a downtrodden Doctor Doom."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jeff Smith's Bone in 3D!!!

My son had to do a "shadowbox" project for his 2nd grade class based on a "winter themed" book he read. We used to call them "dioramas" in my day, but he chose to do it on Jeff Smith's "Bone," and I think it came out really well. I gave him the idea for how to use construction paper for the background, but the work is all his, and his sculptures look pretty cool, I think.

"Bone" in glorious old-school 3D! Comics in the classroom!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What I'm Watching: Dollhouse, Lost, Doctor Who

Did anyone else see "The TV Set," written and directed by Jake Kasdan. It was a pretty good little movie about pilot season, and it starred, among others, Fran Kranz as an aggressively terrible actor. Young Mr. Kranz is now in Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" as a fidgety scientist guy, and I think someone forgot to tell him that he doesn't have to pretend to be a bad actor for this particular role. Or maybe that's just the best he can do.

And, sadly, Kranz isn't the worst part of "Dollhouse."

Maybe "Dollhouse" could work, or could have worked thirty years ago -- it has kind of a vapid, 1970s air about it -- but the premiere episode certainly doesn't give me much faith. Ah, Faith. I guess I could make a "Buffy" joke or something, but that would be more wit than "Dollhouse" displayed in the entire first episode. It doesn't have to be witty to be good, of course, but it isn't good either. Eliza Dushku absolutely fails to carry the weight of this show, and she -- along with so many other cast members -- seem as if they're playing dress up. Even with the darkness of the subject matter, and the violence and murder on display, this is a strangely naive show. It feels as if it's written and directed by someone with no contact with the way humans actually interact with one another. It's all play-acting. All phony as hell.

And maybe that fits the theme of the show, ultimately, but I'm not going to come back next week to find out, because the first episode was shockingly bad.

I also got caught up with the two most recent episodes of "Lost," and while it's fun to see the writers play the game of "hey, look how THESE pieces of the puzzle fit together," some of the apparent explanations are not actually explanations at all. Like the smoke monster, which is "explained" as "oh, it's not a smoke monster, it's the temple's defense mechanism." Those words don't actually explain anything, though. It's still a smoke monster, even when you call it by another name.

Still, it's better than "Dollhouse" by a factor of about three million. Mostly because the actors in "Lost" give weight to even the most ridiculous sci-fi contrivances. I know some critics rank this current season as the best one ever, but I don't think it's quite as good as last season -- the threat is too vaguely defined now, and the time jumps have gotten old fast. Still, it's a well-crafted show, and I have to admire how great every episode looks and sounds, even if it's all slow builds and teases. "Lost" has trained us to expect nothing more, though, so I can stick with it week in and week out.

I really have no emotional investment in the show. And I still sincerely doubt a satisfying wrap-up to years and years of mysteries.

You know what I have developed an emotional investment in? "Doctor Who"! No surprise, there, for anyone who's been reading my writing over the past month. My son and I watched three episodes from Series Two this week: "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Rise of the Cybermen," and "The Age of Steel" and there's more raw emotion and passion and narrative enthusiasm in any one of those episodes than in "Dollhouse" and "Lost" put together. "The Girl in the Fireplace," in particular, was genuinely frightening and full of love and loss. It was a great little episode, perfectly satisfying as a part of a whole, but working astonishingly well as just a stand-alone. And the Cybermen two-parter had a strong emotional core as well, even though the story took place on a parallel world (which could have made it "not matter" in the way that DC's "Trinity" sure the hell does not matter one bit).

Maybe I can't enjoy "Dollhouse" and even "Lost" quite as much because "Doctor Who" has shown that thrilling and funny television shows can feature moral dilemmas without being bogged down in slow storytelling and ponderous mysteries.

If so, it's a lesson I'm glad to learn. Very glad.

What are YOU watching?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What I'm Reading: Scott Pilgrim, Transhuman, Drifting Classroom

The New York Comic Con sucked up most of the past week, but I did read a few non-floppies since the last time I did one of these "What I've Been Reading" installments. The most important -- and the best -- book I read recently was "Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe." I wrote about how it was the book of the show, and maybe the book of the year, in my WWC con report, but I didn't talk about the book specifically.

Here's the deal: not only has Bryan Lee O'Malley developed into a phenomenal stylist (not that he was a slouch in "Scott Pilgrim" Vol.1, but his art has become a lot more dynamic and consistently well-designed from page to page), but he has also matured as a storyteller. Or maybe he always had that mature storytelling thing going on (he did create the excellent "Lost at Sea"), but he's now at the point in the "Scott Pilgrim" narrative when the maturity can move to the foreground and the fisticuffs and the frivolity can move to the background. That literally happens in Volume 5, as O'Malley presents the physical conflict (Robots! Evil Twins!) and then doesn't spend much time lingering on the video-game-style battles. Instead, the loss -- the devastating, empty, void-inducing absence of Ramona Flowers -- is one based not on juvenile violence, but on the complexity of romantic entanglements. Juvenile violence is good times -- "Scott Pilgrim" is based on it to some degree, and it's such an inherent part of its DNA that O'Malley cannot abandon it -- but if "Scott Pilgrim" is about growing up, and moving from innocence to experience, then "Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe" is the book in which that shift occurs.

I tore through it at the hotel on Friday night before my family rolled into town, and it was great.

I also read Jonathan Hickman and J. M. Ringuet's "Transhuman" trade. I didn't think it was very good. It's like a pitch for a longer, better series. It's like a prologue for something else, except the prologue jumps through time to tell, instead of show. It's not a story, it's an outline for a story -- an illustrated outline. I'm glad that Hickman is trying to tell stories that are different from other things on the shelf, but it's still just all about the telling. I wouldn't even call it compressed, I would just call it an essay on genetic engineering and the role of the corporation. Which is fine, if that's what you're into. But the danger with Hickman's approach is that his themes are too obvious, his attitude too obvious, and the characters are mere puppets in the service of social commentary. It's the 21st century equivalent of the "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" impulse, but without the revolutionary Neal Adams artwork.

I've had the first five volumes of "Drifting Classroom" by Kazuo Umezu sitting on my shelf for months, and I finally had a chance to read the first two books. Tucker Stone has mentioned the series a few times, and I've always had good intentions about reading it. But now that I've started, I really can't wait to read more. There's the addictive-serialization quality that plenty of good manga has (and most American comics lack, sadly -- how many of them really compel you to race to the comic shop to find out what happens next?), and there's also a pervasive dread from three angles: (1) the horrible idea of being a student trapped in school with a bunch of teachers, (2) the horrible idea of being a teacher trapped in a school with a bunch of students, (3) the horrible idea of being a parent who has lost contact with his or her child. And the interplay between those three layers of anxiety. It's surreal and haunting and it makes "Lost" feel like you're waiting in line at the DMV.

What are YOU reading?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Incognito #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Incognito #2, about which I write the following sentences: "Zack may yet prove to be more noble than his current behavior might indicate -- this is a comic that isn't afraid to surprise the reader -- but it doesn't really matter. Zack isn't some sympathetic character that we need to root for. The rooting interest here is the quality of Ed Brubaker's writing and the chiseled beauty of Sean Phillips's artwork (and let's not forget the evocative Val Staples, who colors this book with subtle neon dreams of purple, red, and blue). This is a tightly packed comic, filled to the brim with dread and anxiety and the power of hope railing against inevitable hopelessness. It's a violent, dirty-sexy, noir superhero comic -- one that works brilliantly, especially when placed next to the other 'Marvel Noir' books that have started hitting the stands in recent months. "

Read the entire review HERE.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: R.E.B.E.L.S. #1, about which I write the following sentences: "Dox is stalked by some bounty hunter types, including Tribulus whose presence seems to imply that Bedard subscribes to the same Legion philosophy I do: 'When in doubt, throw in Validus -- he has a brain that shoots lightning -- or at least someone who looks like him.' And there's some silliness with Supergirl burning a dvd with her heat vision. (Brainiac 5 sent Supergirl back into the past with hypnotically-imbedded blueprints that she could burn in PC format? Would they even know about dvds in the 31st century?) But as Legion-logic, it's good enough, and it's a surprising moment that works for the benefit of the story."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coloring is to Comics as a Musical Score is to Movies

This is a half-formed thought, but I want to throw it out into the blogosphere and see what everyone else thinks about it: the coloring in a comic book basically acts as its musical score.

This may be blatantly obvious to some people (I'm sure this isn't the first time anyone's mentioned such a thing), and it may seem completely deranged to others, but hear me out. First, this coloring=musical score notion struck me this week for two reasons: (1) Because Dean Trippe mentioned that he and I are the only two reviewers who talk consistently about colorists (which isn't exactly true, but he's a coloring damned expert, and I sure do gripe about bad coloring whenever I feel the need), and (2) Because I was showing "The Departed" in my cinema class this week, and that Dropkick Murphys' music is oppressive as hell (in a good way).

Since comics don't have musical accompaniment (and though I've had friends who listen to music while reading comics, I've never been able to do that without getting annoyed), what do they use to establish a strong emotional impact? What do they do to cue the reader on how he or she is supposed to feel?


Obviously, this notion doesn't make sense for black and white comics, but the spotting of blacks does provide a rhythm, a beat, around which the narrative whirls.

So when the coloring is wrong for the comic -- like David Curiel on the Atlas arc in "Superman" or Frank D'Armata on "Captain America" or all of the "painted" color on the "Project: Superpowers" nonsense -- then it's like taking out the Dropkick Murphys and replacing it with late career Billy Idol. It's like taking John Williams's "Star Wars" score and putting in Queen. It changes everything.

Thus, color is to comics as musical score is to movies, and if it doesn't fit, then the whole thing is ruined.

Am I wrong?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When Words Collide: NYCC vs. The Universe

If the pics and bullet points aren't enough -- and, clearly, they're not -- then you need to check out this week's "When Words Collide," in which I run through my various weekend adventures at the New York Comic Con.

Read about "Osamu Tezuka's Depression Funnies," marvel at "The Invisible Lounge," and learn how "The Doctor is In." And more.

Aw, yeah!


NYCC 09: Just a Couple of Comic Geeks on the Convention Floor

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

NYCC 09 Random Bits

This week's WWC column will have a more coherent essay on my weekend experience at the New York Comic Con, but here are some random moments that I didn't include:
  • Jeff Kinney, author of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," had a gigantic crowd of fans at his speech/book signing. My son is in love with the Wimpy Kid books, and he waited patiently to get his book signed, even though the coordinator of the signing decided to announce that they would call up the kids row by row, and almost everyone RUSHED to the front rows when she said that. That is a bullshit move, parents. And you know it.
  • Jeff Kinney gave a really inspirational speech, by the way, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy. Good for him, and I hope he enjoys continued success.
  • Sterling Gates showed me a preview of the next issue of Supergirl, but he wouldn't let me see pages 15-18. Wonder what that was about. Oh, Sterling, you rascal.
  • I gave Rick Remender some advice on how to end his first Punisher arc: with a high five between Punisher and the Sentry. He thought a Punisher/Hood high five would be better, and then they could team up as an odd couple for the rest of the series. The look on his face indicated that he was seriously considering it. He definitely should.
  • Brian Azzarello gave me a lot of shit for my CBR review of "Joker," in which I said that the book seems informed by the Heath Ledger performance. He was just messing with me, though, and I knew it. Or was he? Yes, he was. But he is definitely not a fan of that "were you inspired by Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight?" question.
  • I ran into Keith Dallas of "The Flash Companion" and Comics Bulletin fame like a dozen times. He is awesome.
  • I also ran into most of the Funnybook Babylon guys (except David U.), along with bloggers David Brothers, and my bitter nemesis Tucker Stone. All of those guys are awesome, too. Also, Tucker is in no way my nemesis, and he was full of compliments. (Just not toward Jim Lee. Seriously, Jim Lee, don't mess with Tucker Stone.)
  • Jock has never eaten french toast or maple syrup, and can't imagine why anyone would want to. I would personally prefer that every meal involve maple syrup somehow, but I'm from New England and he's clearly not.
More Pics from Saturday and Sunday -- First, Mo Willems rocks the Kid's Zone stage:

Then Mario strikes a pose:

Elektra yucks it up:

And a Tiny Titans fan loves every second:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3, about which I write the following sentences: "And it's also about introducing the Legion of Super-Heroes to a generation of readers who may never have understood why a group of teenagers from the future with silly names has such a loyal fanbase. It's about making the Legion cool again, but not by adding cybernetic arms (Lightning Lad sported one of those before Cable was even in diapers, anyway) or tough guy language ('sprock' is about as hardcore as it gets) or ultra-violence (death and dismemberment has been part of this seemingly innocent team since the early days, too). Geoff Johns makes the Legion cool again by embracing the Legion concept, and then putting George Perez to work drawing it all in eye-popping detail."

Read the entire review HERE.

Back from New York!

We got back home late last night, and I'll be doing my "Adventures at NYCC '09" thing as this week's "When Words Collide." Posting should return to normal this week, maybe, if I can get out from under this massive pile of work.

For now, I will say that it was great to meet all of you in New York! Thanks for tracking me down to say hi!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Adventure Comics Speculation

This is the just-released cover image from "Adventure Comics" #1, by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul. Let the speculation on the blacked-out characters begin!

My educated guess -- and it seems VERY likely to me -- is that the bottom left shows Superboy-Prime, and the center character is a resurrected Conner Kent, Superboy.

"Adventure Comics" needs a Superboy, so why not two?

New York Comic-Con 2009: Day One Pics

Julian and Mike taking a brief pause from setting up the Sequart booth to make handsome faces for the camera:

Dean Trippe respectfully worshipping at the altar of Geoff Johns. Ivan Reis, in the background, indicates how much better he is than anyone else drawing comics today:

Is there some kind of "Watchmen" resurgence for some reason? The DC booth slamdance jubilee:

Rick Remender writes comics in between moments of cosplay appreciation. He wishes he could be Slave Leia for just one day:

"Look at my package!" declared Captain Champion, referring, one supposes, to the Champions Online monthly subscription deal, and not, you know, the other thing:

Punisher #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Punisher #2, about which I write the following sentences: "But that’s not what Rick Remender and Jerome Opena are doing here, anyway. What they’re doing is answering the question: What would the Punisher do in a world run by Norman Osborn? It’s a fundamentally different scenario for the Punisher to be in -- he isn’t a rogue vigilante in a world populated with mobsters and drug-runners and slave traders. He's a vicious hero in a world that has been taken over by the supervillain military-industrial complex. It opens narrative possibilities that Matt Fraction didn't have in 'Punisher War Journal.' It allows the Punisher to play a more important role in the Marvel Universe proper, instead of being relegated to the back-alleys and blackened rooftops. "

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Immortal Iron Fist #22 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Immortal Iron Fist #22, about which I write the following sentences: "Telling a story about monotony could lead to, well, a bit of monotony in the comic, but Swierczynski moves the comic back and forth through time, giving us a non-chronological structure to break up the hellishness. This isn't a comic in which a whole lot happens -- it's mostly a mood-setter for what's to come, but it does a nice job putting the characters in a seemingly impossible situation and then providing a twist at the end. A twist which is either a glimmer of hope or a dreadful revelation, depending on what happens next issue."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Battlefields: Dear Billy #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Battlefields: Dear Billy #1, about which I write the following sentences: "But this isn't Ernest Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms,' and the couple doesn't fall in love and run off to Switzerland together. Ennis focuses on a different aspect of their relationship, as both Sutton and Wedgewood carry emotional wounds far deeper than anything they can express to each other. They've each been violated, physically, by their enemies. They are broken characters, but they maintain a sense of decorum around others, and they don't flaunt their weaknesses. They do the best they can and keep moving forward through a world filled with pain and suffering. The stiff upper lip and all that."

Read the entire review HERE.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Final Crisis Dialogues: Final Crisis #7

What was once the "Splash Page," the internet's #1 source for comic book chit-chat by Tim and Chad, has transformed into "The Final Crisis Dialogues" mostly because (a) is temporarily inactive, and (b) Chad and I have been talking "Final Crisis" for three weeks straight!

So join us for our lengthy dialogue on "Final Crisis" #7 and see some of the greatest pseudo-Splash Page moments ever: See me point out the flaws in "Final Crisis." See Chad deflect them with his mental Akido. See Chad mock the "Final Crisis" as poetry conceit, and see me take him on with prosaic fury. See us both talk "Seven Soldiers" with the wisdom of hermetic scholars. See all this and more!

And, really, if you haven't already, you should probably just read ALL of our "Final Crisis" dialogues, and see how right we were about everything, and how wrong we were about everything else.

When Words Collide: Good Readers and Good Comics

Ever wonder what literary great Vladimir Nabokov might have to say about what it takes to be a good comic book reader? Ever want to see me take a Nabokov lecture completely out of context and sort of arbitrarily apply it to a different medium?

Well, your wish is granted my friend!

In this week's "When Words Collide," I explore Nabokov's introductory lecture to his Cornell students and see how it works as advice for comic book readers. And, indeed, it works well!

If we all read as Nabokov suggests, we might end up demanding better comics. We'd never find out how "Trinity" ended, though, and what a tragedy that would be!

Note: "Trinity" is bad. That was me being ironic.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

NYCC 09: Who's Going?

I'll be at the NYCC all weekend, hanging out at the Sequart booth and generally just wandering around. Who else is going? Are YOU?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3, about which I write the following sentences: "It's too early to say for sure, since we're only up to issue #3, but this second 'Umbrella Academy' series feels a bit more expansive, a bit more improvisational. I don't mean to imply that Way is making it up as he goes along -- and with time travel as a plot point, it had to be well-constructed ahead of time -- but it feels less rigid and uptight than the first series. I know 'uptight' seems like a strange way to describe a comic in which a superhero named Spaceboy had the body of a gorilla and the head of a man, but the first series felt very tightly-controlled. Like a Tim Burton film, it was all fine-tuned and hyper-meticulous, as if it were competing in the World's Most Specific Diorama Competition. As great as the first 'Umbrella Academy' series was -- and I absolutely loved it -- it's one fault was that it felt a little too boxed in."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What I'm Reading: Black Jack, Crisis, Legion

Taking a break from "Dororo," which I like a lot after one volume, I've been delving into another Osamu Tezuka classic: "Black Jack." I've finished Volume 1 and Volume 2 of this series -- about a mysterious super-surgeon who demands exorbitant fees, but takes jobs no one else can handle -- and I have a few thoughts:

1. It's very good overall, but some of the individual stories don't work at all, and others are quite profound given the short space.

2. That's really the charm of the series -- it's the accumulation of rapid-fire stories of great tragedy and moral dilemmas. Each story is super-simplistic really. The complexity comes from the bigger picture, the stories stacked one on top of another.

3. There should be more (any!) American medical genre comics. It's a big genre on television, but when was the last time you read a comic about a world-class surgeon saving a life? Black Jack is basically a superhero -- he's the Six-Million Dollar Man of surgery, with more than a dash of the Man with No Name -- but it doesn't have to be a Doc Midnite comic (although I would totally read that). How about a Vertigo series?

4. Tezuka's style is very different here than in "Dororo," and since I'm not an expert on his work, I'll leave it at that. But I wonder how much it has to do with the era -- "Black Jack" is from the 1970s, if I'm not mistaken, and "Dororo" is from the 1960s, I think -- and how much it has to do with adapting his style for a different genre. (I guess I didn't leave it at that.)

5. I'm interested in reading more "Black Jack," but I'm not particularly compelled to. I expect it to be more of the same. Anyone know if it get radically more complex or less formulaic?

Moving on...

I also reread "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Infinite Crisis" for my big buildup to "Final Crisis" #7. I don't have much to say about the former two, and I've already said a lot about the latter (with more to come maybe by Monday), so moving on again...

I didn't read anything else substantial this week, besides the usual stack of floppies (too much "Doctor Who" to watch!), but I just have to point out HOW TERRIBLE THE FINAL ISSUE OF "LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES" WAS.

Just to recap: Jim Shooter took over as writer of the Legion with issue #37, and as much as I complained about his writing, at least he was setting up a complex plotline that was building to something big. He may have overdone the future slang, and his characterizations may have been a bit odd, but his plotting was decent and the last few issues -- leading into #50 -- had been the best in his run. But then it was announced that the series was canceled. And then Shooter mentioned that his plan to wrap everything up by issue #54 had to be condensed to wrap up in issue #50. And, then, issue #50 actually comes out, and it's not written by Shooter.

It's written by someone under the ha-ha-it's-so-funny pseudonym of "Justin Thyme." I could go into an analysis of why it's obvious based on character dialogue that it's not Shooter writing under that pseudonym, but the issue isn't worth any more time than I've already given it. As published, "Legion of Super-Heroes" #50 is a disgraceful conclusion to the Threeboot, and a work of hackery far more egregious than even "Countdown." Greg McElhatton gave the issue a half star review on CBR, and I think he was being generous. The comic is really a giant "screw you" to everyone who's been reading this incarnation of the Legion.

What an inglorious way to go out.

What are YOU reading?