Tuesday, March 31, 2009

War of Kings #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: "War of Kings" #2, about which I write the following sentences: "Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are good at this sort of thing. Unlike the tedious 'X-Men: Kingbreaker' series, which was one perfunctory set piece after another, 'War of Kings' mixes epic drama with engaging character moments. Abnett and Lanning can juggle it all with style, and after a strong first issue they've come back in issue #2 with maybe a bit less grandeur, but an effective progression of story events nonetheless. With such a huge cast of characters, it can be difficult to keep everyone straight -- and determine who wants what from whom -- but Abnett and Lanning pull back and shift from one faction to the next with narrative ease."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tim Callahan's Brendan McCarthy's Foolkiller for New Daredevil Series

For Tucker Stone:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #589 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Amazing Spider-Man #589, about which I write the following sentences: "Fred Van Lente absolutely makes it work by grafting a Punisher-style storyline into a Spider-Man comic and putting the Spot in the Frank Castle role. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that's why this is such a good issue of "Amazing Spider-Man": Van Lente takes a handful of conventional comic book moments and mixes them up into his own unique blender. We get the Russian mob, an innocent child, a supervillian turned vigilante, a guy who can shoot webs from his wrist bands and stick to walls, a Christian Bale impression, and more. All in a single, done-in-one Spider-Man story."

Read the entire review HERE.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Real Problem With Comics Today

Not enough cheap "novelty" stabbing implements for sale. (Advertisement from 1942's "Target Comics" #7, which I'm reading for the Basil Wolverton "Space Hawk" installment because you can never have enough "Space Hawk.)

Why Al T. Tude makes the cover and Space Hawk doesn't is a mystery for the ages. Probably conceived by the same geniuses who think selling knives to little kids is a swell idea!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Top Ten Season Two Special #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Top Ten Season Two Special #1, about which I write the following sentences: "It's fine, even if the ending is not much of a surprise (well, the epilogue on the final page is a bit of a surprise, but that's only because Girl Two's words seem strangely limp for what is set up to be some kind of important character moment), but this comic suffers from something greater than a plot retread from various television shows: the loss of Gene Ha."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Three Questions: JLA and Avengers Edition

So in this week's "Justice League of America" #31, Dwayne McDuffie gives us the fallout of Hal Jordan's decision to form a splinter team, taking some of the best and the brightest away from Black Canary's JLA because, basically, they haven't done a damned thing but help other superheroes out for 30 consecutive issues.

Jordan's new Justice League team has obviously had a huge impact on the DCU, and, oh wait... the part about the Hal Jordan Justice League hasn't actually happened yet.

And it won't for a few months.

So this week's JLA issue gives us a crossover with the James Robinson-written series that was promised when Robinson first returned to DC, except even in this JLA issue, it indicates that the series won't debut until this summer. And how that will mesh with the scheduled Blackest Night event remains to be seen. Though you'd think that whole all-the-dead-DC-guys-coming-back-from-the-dead-with-Evil-Lantern-powers would get in the way of Hal Jordan's ability to hang out with his old pals and make Black Canary feel bad about herself.

So here's Question #1: Do you care about any of this, and if so why? And is it really that hard to schedule comics so they kind of come out somewhere in the same season at least?

This week's "Mighty Avengers" #23 provides a twist ending that I won't spoil, but it's pretty clear that Dan Slott hasn't just cobbled together a random team of Avengers here. It's a team that's analogous to the original Avengers team, basically, and it breaks down something like this:

  • New Team = Old Team
  • Hulk = Hulk (who is around at the inception, then bounds off to smash stuff elsewhere)
  • Hank Pym = Wasp (because that's his new code name and will probably change costumes regularly)
  • Stature = Ant-Man/Giant-Man (she grows and shrinks real good)
  • Hercules = Thor (talk funny, punches hard, god-like)
  • U.S. Agent = Captain America (shield, flag, wings on head)
  • Jocasta + Vision = Iron Man (it takes two metallic characters to match the moustachioed egomania of Tony Stark)
Question #2, then: Do you think there's any reason to build a team based on analogues to the original team? Joe Casey did the same thing with the Last Defenders recently. Is it just cutesy archetypal goofing around, or is there some narrative benefit to filling a superhero team roster with specific, pre-determined "types"?

Also out this week, "New Avengers" #51, mostly drawn by Billy Tan, but with nine Chris Bachalo pages featuring the where-is-he-now of the CSBG upset hero of the year: Dr. Strange.

Question #3: Don't Billy Tan's pages look really bad when put next to Chris Bachalo's? I actually don't dislike Tan at all -- unlike my colleagues like Chad Nevett, who think that Billy Tan is the reason the world economy is in such disarray -- but putting him next to Bachalo? That's like sprinkling Bacos on your delicious ice cream sundae, right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When Words Collide: The Invisibles

What's that now? You're SHOCKED to find that I've written about a Grant Morrison comic? I know, it's hard to believe.

Anyway, the Morrison series that broke my will to write the sequel to "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" is now up for discussion in this week's "When Words Collide."

Thrill to my idiotic attempts to read everything that influenced Morrison.

Marvel at my ability to give up and move on to Lightning Lad and Triplicate Girl.

Speculate on everything I got wrong in my overly simplistic explanation of what "The Invisibles" means to me.

Check it out: Me on "The Invisibles."

Immortal Iron Fist #24 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Immortal Iron Fist #24, about which I write the following sentences: "When a plague hits K'un Lun, leaving only two students unaffected by the sickness -- Li Park and his younger brother, a boy who is much more pugnacious than his sibling -- the Thunderer has no choice but to call on the reluctant weapon to accept the ultimate challenge. It's time to face the dragon Shou-Lao. As we know from our Iron Fist lore, a man gains the title of the 'Iron Fist' by claiming power from the heart of the dragon, and you can probably imagine what happens to Li Park. But how it happens gives a new spin on the Iron Fist archetype, as the pacifist Li Park is unlike any challenger before or since."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dark Reign: Elektra #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Dark Reign: Elektra #1, about which I write the following sentences: "And none of this is helped by Clay Mann's artwork, which alternates between post-Michael Lark gritty realism and thin backgrounds and awkward character work that looks like it came from an issue of Malibu's 'The Ferret,' circa 1993. It doesn't really matter why the art looks this way -- perhaps he completed some pages in more of a hurry than others, or maybe he used reference for some panels and not for others -- but it does matter that the art is jarringly inconsistent and often ineffective at giving this story any kind of visual weight."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jack Kirby's The Losers Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Jack Kirby's The Losers, about which I write the following sentences: "A Robert Kanigher creation from a 1970 issue of 'Our Fighting Forces' (well, the characters had appeared in various war comics over the years, but they didn't star in their own series until then), the Losers were a special forces team that served all around the world. Like some kind of WWII version of the Village People, they had representatives from each of the branches of the armed forces, and their bad luck always put their fat in the fire. Or so the internet tells me. If I had to go by the contents of 'Jack Kirby's The Losers' alone, then I would just think this series was about four generic soldiers and their insane wartime adventures. But because it's Bronze Age Jack Kirby, the insanity is at a glorious peak."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The True Origin of Batman and the Watchmen Legacy

My five-year-old daughter, a big "Tiny Titans" fan, was explaining superhero origins to me today. She told me that Wonder Woman was "a woman. And she has a crown. So she's Wonder Woman."

And then she explained that Batman's first name is "Bat" and his last name is "Bat" and he's a man, so he's "Bat Man." And when I asked about Robin, she said, "well, robins eat bats right? Or, wait, do bats eat robins? They both have wings!"

In unrelated news, I've been thinking about the fallout from "Watchmen" not being a blockbuster, and I'm just totally baffled why any members of the audience would want it to be a blockbuster. Wouldn't it just help usher in that "dark" era of superhero movies that the monstrous success of "The Dark Knight" seemed to make inevitable? Maybe the relative failure of "Watchmen" will dissuade studios from wasting kazillions of dollars on movies where Superman has a mullet and dies. Or where Max Lord guns down Blue Beetle before getting his neck snapped by Wonder Woman.

The "Watchmen" experiment of the R-rated superhero film failed (and when students of mine asked me what I thought of the movie, they always said, "my friends said it's like a porno," so that's what the general public of teens and young adults seems to think of it as), and there won't be any more R-rated super heroes in the cinema anytime soon. Isn't that a good thing?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Supergirl #39 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Supergirl #39, about which I write the following sentences: "Sterling Gates has done an excellent job on 'Supergirl' so far, bringing the character's all-over-the-map behavior into something resembling a clear focus and integrating Kara Zor-El into the Geoff Johns Superman saga with seamless efficiency, but what's really compelling about 'Supergirl' #39 is the mystery of Superwoman. What's her deal, and why is she so damn nasty?"

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zack Snyder's Watchmen Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett finally had a chance to see the "Watchmen" movie, and we needed to talk about what he thought. Did he like it? Did he want to punch it in its smug blue face? Let's find out...

Chad Nevett: We're a little late to the party, but that's because I didn't see "Watchmen" until this past Tuesday. Why? I dislike crowds in movie theaters and, well, Tuesdays are cheap movie days at the theaters here, which suits the respective budgets of myself and my girlfriend quite nicely. You saw it opening weekend and wrote a "non-review" for your blog where you discussed a few things you liked and disliked, but didn't really get into the nitty gritty of it. So, much like you did to me with "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" last week, I'll bestow the honor of first thoughts upon you and make you wait to hear what I thought of "Watchmen." (Though, if you'd like to guess, go ahead.)

Timothy Callahan: I'm going to guess that you thought it mostly looked nice, but the musical cues were too heavy-handed, and the interpretation of Ozymandias was way off the mark. I'll also guess that you liked Jackie Earl Haley and you thought that most of the perfomances were decent (except Matthew Goode's moustache-twirling funny-accented evil approach and probably Malin Ackerman, because, you know, she's not what you might call a good actor), and you didn't mind the lack of squid. I'll guess that you thought it wasn't very effective as an actual movie, but as a companion to the graphic novel it could have been a lot worse. You'll have to admit that it's better than the motion comic, but it's nowhere in the same league as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's work on the page.

That's what I'm guessing for you, because that's pretty much how I feel about it, and we're usually in the same ballpark, taste-wise. I don't know if the wigs bothered you as much as they did me, though.

So, how close was I?

CN: Not that close in that I hated it. I really, really did not like it. I walked out of it and my girlfriend, Michelle looked at me, wanting to know what I thought and all I could do was mutter "Godawful." While discussing it over dinner with her, I stumbled across exactly what my problem with the movie is: it seemed like an adaptation of every stupid, lame imitation of "Watchmen" that didn't actually understand "Watchmen." We've seen so many of those in comics and this film was like that. Superficially, it shared plot elements and select lines of dialogue, but all of the small nuances were altered to make them more graphic, more obvious and, really, very dumbed down. I couldn't escape the comic when watching it and, as a result, the film didn't sit right with me.

I'm not the sort of the guy who demands perfectly faithful adaptations, because I'm not dumb enough to think that what works in comics or prose will work in film, so it's not that "Watchmen" deviated it. I didn't mind the switch from the squid to Jon. I did mind that the ending just sort of happened without any real payoff or build-up. I asked Michelle about the ending -- hell, the entire movie's forward momentum -- and she agreed that there just wasn't anything at stake there. While the comic built up to the end, the film just kind of shows up there because that's where it's supposed to go. It went through the motions, providing little to no depth of character or plot.

And, yes, it was faithful in the broad strokes, but I noticed that every scene seemed altered for no apparent reason. It may just be nit-picking on my part, sure. One example I gave Michelle is when Rorschach is talking to the prison shrink and talking about the abduction/murder of the little girl. When he kills the man with the cleaver (which didn't bother me) and says that Walter Kovacs died that night, but Rorschach was born or lived or however he phrased it, I couldn't help but wonder why they altered that line from the comic where he says, "It was Kovacs who said 'Mother' then, muffled under latex. It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again." A small change, and not really an important one, but... why do it? The line from the comic is a hundred times better and illustrates how Rorschach views himself in relation to Kovacs much better than what he said in the film -- and it doesn't take up more screen time. And the film kept on having small little changes that altered meanings of lines in small ways, making them less impactful. Then again, I noticed this stuff because I know the comic.

Michelle liked it more than I did, but we did both hate the acting. Aside from a couple of people who did decent jobs, it was just awful. The funny thing is that Michelle thought that the actors were playing their parts like that because of the comic, that the comic was an exagerated, highly unrealistic piece of work, not a work that tried to place costumed heroes within as realistic a setting/world as possible.

And don't get me started on the violence, whose utter fetishisation by Snyder proves more than anything that, yeah, he really didn't understand "Watchmen" in the same way that all of the hapless imitators in comics didn't understand it.

So, yeah, I didn't like it. If I were reviewing it, I would have given it one star probably. Maybe two if I really tried to get away from my own perspective and try to view it through the eyes of someone new to the material.

TC: Wow. I think you probably need to see it again to understand its complexities, because obviously you didn't get it.

Oh wait, you totally got it.

I agree with all of your criticisms, but I enjoyed the movie more than you did, probably because I really did have such low expectations, ultimately. I had high expectations until about a week before the release, and then my expectations kept dropping and dropping when people I trusted started saying less than positive things about it. And I really don't think the acting is terrible, except for a few really important exceptions, but I do think that Zack Snyder didn't demand anything close to consistency in the performances. (Plus, a lot of the Moore dialogue just does not work when spoken aloud.)

But it is certainly not the graphic novel, not even what you could honestly think of as an adaptation of it. It's a completely new, post-"Mystery Men" cheesy, faux-grand superhero epic without any kind of humanity to it. It's all artifice. I really do think it's a terrible movie, with moments that made me cringe for aesthetic reasons, but I'm kind of fascinated by it and maybe that's why I get some perverse enjoyment out of it. I certainly wouldn't recommend the movie to anyone, but I do want to see what my wife thinks about it. I'm curious.

Let's talk about the fetishized violence a bit. It's obviously a different perspective than we get from the graphic novel, but we really need to distance it from the source material if we're going to have any kind of conversation about it as a film. So is there any merit to the notion that this is "Watchmen" for superhero movies? That is to say: does the fetishized violence comment upon the traditions of supehero action movies, and to portray the violence in a more down-to-earth, "realistic" way would have disconnected it from the movies it was meant to comment upon? Does this movie even work as a gloriously deranged, artificial pastiche of the Hollywood superhero film?

To be continued at GRAPHICONTENT!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Finally! Jeff Lemire's Vertigo Ongoing Announced

Jeff Lemire told me he had a Vertigo ongoing greenlit back when I ran into him at San Diego last summer. And it's FINALLY been officially announced.

It's called "Sweet Tooth" and, according to Lemire's own press release, the series tells the story of Gus, "a young boy born with deer-like antlers. He has lived his entire life in total isolation in the woods with his Father. As our story begins Gus' is finally forced to leave their forest sanctuary and begins experiencing the outside world for the first time. What he finds out there is beyond his comprehension; an American landscape decimated a decade earlier by a mysterious disease. Even more remarkable is that Gus is part of a rare new breed of human/animal hybrid children who have emerged in its wake, all apparently immune to the infection. The boy is soon taken in by Jepperd, a hulking drifter who promises to lead Gus to 'The Preserve' a fabled safe-haven for hybrid children. Along the way a larger mystery surrounding the origins of the hybrids begins to unfold, with Gus and Jepperd at its center."

Sounds pretty cool to me, and I'm curious to see how Lemire's work looks in full color.

Newsarama interviewed him about "Sweet Tooth" over HERE if you're interested, though the first half just cuts and pastes Lemire's own press release into an answer. (Or maybe Lemire himself did that. Who knows.)

Spider-Man: Noir #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Spider-Man: Noir #4, about which I write the following sentences: "Really, though, the best part of this series -- here and in every issue -- is the artwork of Carmine Di Giandomenico. His full-color art expresses the thrill of the rooftop adventure, the tragedy of an untimely death, and the passion of those who love and hate. I've never seen his work before, but he shouldn't be stuck doing ancillary comics like this one (as good as it is). Di Giandomenico is very, very good, and I'd love to see him on an extended run of 'Daredevil' or 'Immortal Iron Fist.'"

Read the entire review HERE.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When Words Collide: Summer Collected Editions

There's nothing like window shopping for expensive hardcover collections in an economy like this, eh?

I really don't need 20 more collected editions -- I already own most of the stuff in some form or another -- but that doesn't stop me from recommending the 20 Best Collected Editions coming up in the next few months. Honestly, I'll probably end up buying most of these books anyway, because they are full of great stuff, and I like having these kinds of things much more than the individual floppies. (I really have to look into bookbinding more closely. My tendency to fall for double or triple dipping is getting ridiculous.)

But with stuff like "Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis Omnibus" and "Marvel Masterworks: Warlock" Volume 2 scheduled for the summer months, how can I really resist?

So go read Chris Marshall's list of upcoming Collected Editions, then go read this week's "When Words Collide" to see my recommendations. Tell me what I forgot to include in my admittedly Marvel and DC-heavy list!

Ultimate X-Men #100 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Ultimate X-Men #100, about which I write the following sentences: "'Ultimate X-Men' doesn't go out with a whimper, but the bang inside its pages is caused by something from another comic, from another writer. And that's not the classiest way to wrap up a series that has lasted for nearly 10 years. Then again, with Iceman still sporting that do-rag well into the 21st century, classy isn't really what this series is all about."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thunderbolts #130 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Thunderbolts #130, about which I write the following sentences: "Bong Dazo is a completely different kind of artist, and his work is jarring here. It's not that he's a bad artist at all -- and he's been working in the industry for years, mostly on various Dark Horse 'Star War' projects -- but his style is so different from what De La Torre has established on Diggle's 'Thunderbolts' run that it's like Keith Giffen drawing an issue in the middle of Ed Brubaker's 'Captain America' run. It just doesn't fit."

Read the entire review HERE.

I Buy Frazer Irving

I've always followed writers more than artists, but I definitely always buy anything involving the artwork of Frazer Irving. Whether it's "The Simping Detective," "Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained," "Klarion, the Witch Boy," or "Silent War," Irving reinvents his style for each project, but somehow maintains the same wonderful level of quality.

So, yes, I'll be buying "Azrael: Death's Dark Knight" just for Irving's art.

I told him as much when I bumped into him at the New York Comic-Con last month, and we got talking about his work on "Klarion" and he said he owed his career in American comics to Grant Morrison because Morrison had to fight really hard to get DC to hire him for the four issue series about the Witch Boy. His style didn't look mainstream enough, apparently, and without Morrison standing his ground, we never would have gotten to see Irving's "Klarion" at all.

Oh, DC! If you can't appreciate the greatness that is Frazer Irving on your own, then maybe you should be publishing something other than comic books.

X-Men: Noir #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: X-Men: Noir #4, about which I write the following sentences: "Ultimately, this series surprised me, not just because Calero's art worked better in the conclusion than it did in the opening. But it also surprised me because Fred Van Lente didn't take this series down the expected path. It didn't simply become about Xavier's team of mutants acting like themselves while wearing fedoras. It didn't just become a 'Star Trek' holodeck adventure."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Action Comics #875 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Action Comics #875, about which I write the following sentences: "It's a decent first issue, establishing who these two new heroes are, and setting up conflict between the Kryptonian militants, the human populace, and Nightwing and Flamebird. The protagonists may want to protect the Earth, but they have to hide their identities and hide behind suits of armor which would somehow justify their extraordinary powers. As part of the overall Superman mega-story which has been brewing since Johns injected new life in this series, the Nightwing and Flamebird stuff is just fine. As a single issue, though, it's just another story about costumed heroes rounding up a bad guy. "

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Special Forces #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Special Forces #4, about which I write the following sentences: "Issue #4 takes this series -- which is an over-the-top lampoon of the American military in the 21st century -- and amplifies it to the extreme. Baker's twin prongs of narrative assault in this comic have been (1) to satirize the recruitment and deployment of the mentally challenged by the military, and (2) to frame that satire within a thrilling, lascivious, gratuitous war action story. This issue focuses far more on the latter than the former. It's an all-out battle between a scantily-clad Felony (the bad-ass girl with the sassy attitude) and the forces of those-who-hate-freedom. Baker's use of the phrase 'Mission Accomplished' gains hilarious potency in context."

Read the entire review HERE.

Invincible Iron Man #11 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Invincible Iron Man #11, about which I write the following sentences: "Even though the characters don't visually match the previous issues with much fidelity, Larroca's work here actually looks better than it has on any 'Invincible Iron Man' issue so far. By abandoning the heavy photo reference (or making his use of it less obvious), his work becomes more dynamic, more fluid. This issue cuts between the past and present, and also between War Machine vs. Iron Man action and Maria Hill investigative mysteries. Frank D'Armata uses a different approach to coloring this comic than he does on 'Captain America,' and it looks good here. The sepia-toned flashbacks are well distinguished from the present-day action, and when Larroca gives us men and women in sleek suits of armor (for even Pepper Potts has her own super-suit now), D'Armata's coloring gives a glossy sheen that looks great. Larroca and D'Armata really are at their best with the mechanical aspects of this series, and this issues shows off their talents well. But this is a series about the men and women in those armored costumes, and that's where Matt Fraction comes in."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Battle for the Cowl #1 Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett and I couldn't resist talking about "Batman: Battle for the Cowl" this week, given our strong love for Morrison's "Batman" and our strong non-love for Tony Daniel's art. With Daniel on both art and script, how could this comic not be a winner?

Well, you can read Part 1 of our discussion at Chad's blog, and find out why we didn't like the issue very much.
Then come back here and read the rest of our chat, which will probably contain spoilers if that matters to you:

Tim Callahan:
What I have a problem with is the details of the writing. I have a problem with how Robin's monologue isn't recognizably Robin's without the little "R" insignia to identify it. Tim Drake's voice should be strong enough not to need that, but even if they decide to go with the labelled caption box, at least use it well. It's used overlapping a Catwoman scene at first, and then it's like, "wait, where's Robin? Oh, I guess he's in that Batman costume all of a sudden?"

And though I mentioned that I like the Black Mask as a Batman villain, he's just used here as a generic leader of villains. Take his dialogue and give it to the Penguin, to goddamn Maxie Zeus, and it still works the same. The whole thing about the Black Mask is that he's a screwed up parallel to Bruce Wayne. He's Hush, if Hush were a psychotic self-torturing creep. Oh, wait, Hush turned into that under Paul Dini. So basically Hush became the Black Mask because the Black Mask was supposedly dead. Anyway, Black Mask is back, and he's generic-er than ever! Wahoo!

By the way, might it be confusing to anyone that the whole second half of the Morrison "Batman" run was all about the Black Glove, and now the Black Mask -- who is completely unrelated to the Black Glove in every way -- shows up as a criminal mastermind? It would be like an Avengers comic giving us a big Doctor Doom story, and then following it up with a Doctor Droom story, no relation.

So, wait, Jason Todd is the rampaging Batman? And he just happens to use almost exactly the same mask as the psychotic ex-cop Batman who may or may not have been working for the Devil? That Todd kid has made some interesting costume choices since coming back from the dead, eh?

Chad Nevett: Yeah, here's the line from the solicits: "But when you add a deadly Jason Todd masquerading as a gun-toting Batman to the mix, things have definitely spiraled out of control!" The similarity to the Third Policeman's costume is striking, but, come on, if there's one thing that the Image-style of artist has always lacked, it's originality in design, so I'm not surprised.

Honestly, I don't know Tim Drake's voice or character well enough to judge the narration. I've seen him pop up in Batman books, I've read the odd the issue of "Robin," but, really, I have no sense of the character beyond him, seemingly, being a teenager and kind of responsible, maybe? Of course, those captions are generic enough that I see your point.

The Black Glove/Black Mask thing is a good point, especially because when we last saw the Black Glove, he was in a helicopter explosion. So, it's not a quick leap for a fan to think that, maybe, he was burned horribly or something, had to cover his face and has changed his name. Readers "in the know" know this isn't the case, but it would be an easy mistake to make.

I think my main problem with this book (and the larger "event" surrounding it) is that it doesn't feel that important or like there really is anything at stake. Yes, Gotham is falling apart (again); yes, the Black Mask has an army of bad guys; yes, there's a crazy Batman running around... but, come June, that's all behind us and... it just feels like there's no real tension or drama here. As I said before, the writing is obviously geared towards moving from post-"Final Crisis" to June, so what actually happens in the journey isn't nearly as important as the destination.

TC: It not only reminds me of "Countdown," in the way that it's just so perfunctory, but it's also like "Salvation Run" in its gaggle of costumed characters and its completely bland look and feel. Actually, as much as I despised the end of "Salvation Run," and as bad as the Sean Chen art was (two weeks in a row with me trashing Sean Chen -- sorry, nothing personal), at least "Salvation Run" had the campy sense to amp things up to 12 on the ridiculositity-meter. The Mallah vs. Grodd sequence was insanse fun. "Battle for the Cowl" lacks even that.

"Battle for the Cowl": It's all the pedestrian dullness of "Countdown" without the thrills of "Salvation Run"!

CN: And seeing as how I avoided both of them, I think the remaining two issues plus the various minis and one-shots will similarily get avoided. Bring on "Batman and Robin"!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Words Collide: Jason Aaron: The Superpro Years

In this week's "When Words Collide," I grill Jason Aaron on his early years -- what he was like as a student, how he feels about some classic comics of the 1980s, how much he's written about strippers -- and talk about his approach to his craft.

If you ever wondered how Jason Aaron feels about "NFL Superpro," which great authors influenced him, or what he has planned for the upcoming year of "Scalped," this is the only interview you'll ever need.

Check it out: "Jason Aaron: The Superpro Years."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Morrison and Quitely's "Batman and Robin"



Though DC is being coy (not really very successfully coy, but pretending to be coy at least) with this week's DC Nation page, this is pretty obviously a preview of the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely "Batman and Robin" comic, and though it's sometimes hard to tell with Quitely, that looks pretty much like how I'd imagine he'd draw Damian as Robin.

But who's behind that Batman mask?

The smart money is on Thomas Wayne, Owlman! (Just kidding. I really can't imagine it would be anyone other than Dick Grayson.)

OR, this series could just be an unofficial "All-Star" take on the characters, with Bruce and Dick's adventures in the past. Check out those retro vehicles!

Punisher: Frank Castle #68 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Punisher: Frank Castle #68, about which I write the following sentences: "Duane Swierczynski doesn't seem particularly interested in building the tension within this scenario. In this issue, he shifts the focus away from Frank Castle to give us a glimpse of the past and present of a few of the key bad-guy players. The problem here -- and it's a problem that Swierczynski tends to have in his comic book work -- is that the pacing is too lethargic. The best thing Swierczynski's written for Marvel so far has been a single-issue 'Immortal Iron Fist' story, set in the future. That story was crisp, and fast-moving, and packed with detail. In his Punisher work, and in his 'Cable; series, Swierczynski plods along, and while some of the details may be interesting, they just drift in front of our eyes like a sad parade."

Read the entire review HERE.

Boody. The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Boody. The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers, about which I write the following sentences: "This 144-page softcover collection edited by Craig Yoe features some of the nuttiest comics you'll ever read. From the hillbilly hijinx of 'Babe' to the wacko sci-fi underworld of 'Sparky Watts' to the hipster hullabaloo of 'Dudley, the Prince of Prance,' Boody Rogers presents an off-kilter world of hilarity that seems like an oft-unheralded link between the Golden Age of the newspaper strips and the underground cartoonists of the 1960s.

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Mighty #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: The Mighty #2, about which I write the following sentences: "But this isn't a miniseries. It's an ongoing, or at least it's scheduled to be one. And a non-Vertigo, outside-of-the-DCU-proper superhero comic seems to have little chance of long-term survival in this marketplace. Yet this one certainly deserves a chance. I say, let's support it while it lasts, and maybe enough of us will do that so the series will get a chance to develop fully. So that the seeds planted in the first couple of issues will grow into something majestic"

Read the entire review HERE.

X-Men/Spider-Man #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: X-Men/Spider-Man #4, about which I write the following sentences: "So what's missing from this issue is Christos Gage's witty perspective on the past, and Mario Alberti's enchanting images of nostalgia. Instead, we get Gage writing about Spider-Man teaming up with the X-Men yet again, and Alberti's take on the current look of most of the characters. And Alberti's work looks a bit rushed in this finale as well -- it's not as blindingly great as it was on the previous three issues."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I Saw the Watchmen Movie Last Night and Here's a Non-Review Review

I saw it last night. So here's...

A non-review of "Watchmen," by Zack Snyder, in 12 parts:

1. The movie is somehow really close to being excellent and simultaneously very, very far away from quality. That's kind of weird.

2. I thought the casting of Danny Bonaduce as Rorschach was provocative at first, but it turns out that he's the best part of the movie. Yes, this joke is terrible, but I couldn't resist. (I blame it on the wig.)

3. The opening credits sequence is really and truly the best part, and it's pretty great.

4. And the Oscar for "Worst Wigs in a Movie Ever. Seriously, Ever!" goes to..."Watchmen."

5. The deep focus and over-lighting make the movie look a lot like the comic but those wigs are really, really terrible.

6. I need to talk about the wigs some more. Maybe there's an in-story reason for the badness of the wigs. I mean, you'd think Adrian Veidt could afford a better rug and all, but Rorschach's a crazy person so he's off the hook. Sally Jupiter: she's old, and probably crazy as well, so maybe she just likes bad wigs. I don't know. Maybe hanging out with Dr. Manhattan did make all their hair fall out and part of the conspiracy is the let's-not-point-out-how-bad-everyone's-wigs-are thing that's going on in the movie.

7. Because the wigs are really bad. And the old age makeup doesn't work at all either.

8. Hollis Mason is cool. There should have been more of him. Note that they didn't go with old age makeup on him, they just cast two completely different actors for the young and old versions and, wow, it actually looks so much better that way.

9. The musican cues are as bad and cheesy as everyone says. At one point, "99 Luftballoons" kicks in, because it's the 80's I guess, and though I am a proponent of two things in movies (the use of "99 Luftballoons" whenever possible -- see "Nights, Boogie" for a great example -- and freeze-frame jumps to close things out -- see "Gordon, Flash" for a great example of that), Snyder throws in the Nena musical gem and then doesn't seem to know what to do with it so it just awkwardly fades out. Poor form, Mr. Snyder. Nena needs nourishment. Though if the movie ended with a freeze frame high-five between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, it could have redeemed itself.

10. I really like Patrick Wilson.

11. One of the questions people had after seeing early clips from this movie was how well Zack Snyder can direct actors. The answer is pretty clear: he can't do it well at all. It's not that the performances were bad, it's that they were wildly inconsistent, with some actors hamming it up like crazy (like Max Headroom as Moloch -- though, really, what do you expect when you cast Max Headroom in a role?) and some actors playing it kind of straight and somewhat subtle (sort of). Part of the problem was that Alan Moore's dialogue doesn't work that well when spoken aloud, but part of it was that some actors seemed to think they were in "Mystery Men" (Carla Gugino), while others seemed to think they were in "The Big Chill" (Patrick Wilson). Matthew Goode didn't seem to know what movie he was in, but he knew that it was one that involved a lot of stylized movements and an ever-changing accent. His performance doesn't really work well at all.

12. Seeing the movie divorced from its comic book context made two things apparent: (a) there's really no in-story reason for the characters to wear costumes (with the exception of maybe Rorschach, who keeps screaming about his "face"), and while costumes seem perfectly natural in a superhero comic, they seem perfectly silly in a superhero movie, and that's hard to get past; (b) "Watchmen" is really a story about Batman vs. Superman. I never realized it before, because I was always reading it as a book about Charlton analogues, but the movie doesn't have that same context and so the movie becomes about the three aspects of Batman (the obsessed vigilante, Rorschach; the kind-hearted gadgeteer, Nite Owl; and the self-made fighting machine with a gazillion bucks, Ozymandias) in conflict with an ever-distant, alien Superman (Dr. Manhattan, obviously). As a Batman vs. Superman movie, "Watchmen" is pretty cool.

And a bonus #13: I actually liked "Watchmen," even with all of its flaws. It's an imperfect, not-even-close-to-a-masterpiece of artificiality. But I enjoyed it.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Jonathan Hickman Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

This week, Chad and I decided to look at the Marvel work of Jonathan Hickman and try to figure out whether or not its a good start, or a sign of increasing mediocrity. Later in our conversation, we tackle the problem of great writers doing sub-par work on mainstream superheroes, and you may not exactly agree with our conclusions! (Or maybe you will, probably, sort of.)

Chad Nevett: This week, Jonathan Hickman had two Marvel comics come out, "Secret Warriors" #2 and "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" #1. I've been a fan of Hickman's since reading the trade of "The Nightly News" and was curious to see how his style would translate over to the Marvel universe -- and I think I can say that it does quite well. Do you agree, Tim?

Tim Callahan: I don't feel the Hickman-ness at Marvel, yet. "Secret Warriors" is fine -- maybe my problems are on the art side, because I think it's a terribly ugly comic -- and "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" is a step below "Secret Warriors" (with art that's not ugly, but isn't very good at all.) (For the record, I think Stefano Caselli is a good artist, but I think he's the wrong fit for "Secret Warriors," or maybe it's just Daniele Rudoni's garish colors I have a problem with, while Sean Chen isn't the right fit for anything.)

But we're here to talk about Hickman.

I, like you, really liked "The Nightly News," and, honestly, I haven't loved the rest of his work. His other Image comics seemed underdeveloped or more like outlines than real stories, and this Marvel stuff is merely okay. I highlighted him as a "creator to watch" in an early-2009 installment of "When Words Collide," so I'm certainly rooting for the guy to write great comics.

Maybe he needs to pick up some more momentum on both of these Marvel titles, because I definitely don't hate either one. I think they're worth reading. It's good stuff, just not great. And they don't seem to have much of a unique voice to them. If you said Dan Slott wrote these comics, I wouldn't say that you were wrong. I mean, you would be wrong, but you wouldn't feel wrong.

What is it that you like about Hickman, past and present?

CN: Well, with his Image work, I really like that his books are about ideas with characters secondary -- and that he makes that sort of story work. It's a really unique manner in which to construct a story, mostly because it goes against all common sense in writing. If you asked me about the characters in "Pax Romana," I would probably give a couple of vague impressions spaced out over a few dozen "Uh"s, "Um"s and "Er"s. But, if you asked me about the ideas behind the series, about the moral questions in time travel, in society-building, in governance, and what is right, I could go on and on. "The Nightly News" was the same way, as was "Transhuman." Also, if Hickman is doing the art, his unique design-driven work that emphasizes the overall look of the page and the placement of text and overload of information is more important than traditional page layouts. Really, there's no one else doing what he does (or, maybe there is and I just don't know about it, which is possible).

I liked "Secret Warriors" more than you, even the art, which I didn't like in previews, but doesn't bother me while reading the issues. I think Hickman is trying to shift from idea-centric writing to character-centric writing, but, thankfully, this book really allows for a lot of big concepts and big questions. Honestly, if he wanted to spend an issue of Nick Fury and Daisy discussing the moral ramifications of killing thousands of innocent people to stop Hydra, I think he could get away with it. In fact, my one complaint for that title is that he's not drawing upon his unique manner of writing enough and is trying to do things too traditionally. Which is definitely the problem with "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" (besides Sean Chen's art). He does cookie cutter characterization of the group, not really getting it wrong, but falling very much into the typical FF ideas. Though, his plot involving Reed trying to fix the world is great, although I'm not sure how that will play out, because Reed obviously won't succeed, but failure doesn't seem an option. I'm not sure his Marvel work quite lives up to the promise of his creator-owned stuff, though. I do wonder if it's possible for Hickman to do his best work at Marvel since his style is so different from what's typically done at Marvel. Will he rise above that or begin to fit in?

TC: I like the idea-centric approach too, but it can go too far and become a polemic instead of a story. Or it can become too shallow and read like nothing more than junior high-style essay writing. That's not Hickman's problem, though. His problem is that he is working in the Marvel Universe now, and that universe -- that company -- has a history of character-based drama. This is an overly simplistic perspective, but DC is seen as the more idea-based company and Marvel is seen as character-based, right? So, does Hickman's approach fit well with what's expected from him at Marvel? Can he turn his idea-oriented drama into something that has enough characterization to make it work? Or will he end up doing neither thing very well, straddling the soft, doughy middle ground where good comic book writers go to die?

Let's take a minute to look at Hickman's use of characterization in his Marvel books. While his Nick Fury and Reed Richards have strong, distinct personalities, what about the rest of the characters. How many of the so-called "Secret Warriors" can you even name without looking back at the comic? How many of them have any kind of personality at all? And what about the rest of the Fantastic Four? Is there anything going on with them that's the least bit interesting?

Now I understand that we're talking about the VERY beginnings of two comic book series, and it's ridiculous to expect that Hickman would develop his characters fully in just 22 or 44 pages, but I think the success of his work may depend on it. Or maybe not. Maybe the ideas are good enough to pull him through.

Then again, what are the great ideas which drive these comics? That Hydra has controlled S.H.I.E.L.D. all along? That Reed Richards feels like he should be able to fix things? Are there bigger ideas in play here, other than just things that will drive the plots?

CN: I can name a bunch of the "Secret Warriors" cast: Alex, Yo-Yo, Sebastian, JT, Daisy, Stonewall... am I missing anyone? Now, what they're like is harder to tell, but I have some ideas about each. Although, honestly, that's partly due to the Bendis/Maleev "Mighty Avengers" issues that introduced the characters. Your point is well taken.

Hickman seems to be playing with big ideas like in his creator-owned work, but framing these ideas through characters rather than simply presenting them. Both of these series look like they'll expand on the ideas I mentioned for "Pax Romana," about society building and the morality of it. In "Secret Warriors," it will come down to who has the right to rule the world? It already seems implied (to me, at least) that the question Fury should be asking, if Hydra has, pretty much, ruled the world for years (or decades), isn't that the status quo he should be preserving? What makes one entity's claim to power more legitimate? "Dark Reign: Fantastic Four" looks like it will lead to a similar problem, probably with Reed figuring out how to "fix things," and then wondering if he should. Is it moral for him to alter the world on a large scale? Isn't that what caused all of these problems? Granted, these ideas were much more interesting in "Pax Romana" where there isn't the requisite third-grade morality of superhero comics -- "Secret Warriors" could rise above that, I think, but anything involving the Fantastic Four is stuck there.

One concern I have for Hickman working at Marvel is that this writer whose work I loved before Marvel will gradually change and I won't be reading anything he writes in a few years. It happened with Matt Fraction, a guy who went from "buy sight unseen" to "when is 'Casanova' coming back?" Your opinion of Fraction's Marvel work isn't as low as mine, but do you think that's a concern nonetheless? I can probably rhyme off a good dozen writers who do great work outside of Marvel or DC, but churn out mediocre crap because of the constraints of the companies. Do you see that happening to Hickman in the future -- or, has it already begun?

CONTINUED AT CHAD NEVETT'S BLOG...

What I'm Watching: Important Things, Milk, Gran Torino

I have a few episodes of "Important Things with Demetri Martin" on my DVR, and I finally got around to watching the one titled "Brains." While the "Jokes" segment isn't very funny, the sketch involving Ben Franklin, Shakespeare, and Galileo was genius.

And the stroller battle between the two dads was laugh-out-loud funny.

Martin's style of comedy (obsessive, conceptual, visual, faux-naive, and yet highly intelligent) works well in small doses, and this show breaks everything up into tiny segments, so the bits that miss the mark don't sting as much, and the bits that are hilarious leave a quick impression and then disappear. It's a good show.

I also caught up with some movie watching this week (and though I may have seen "Watchmen" by the time this is posted, I haven't seen it as of Friday afternoon's writing). I saw "Milk" and "Gran Torino," thanks to some screener dvds.

"Milk" is a good movie, and I liked Gus Van Sant's use of documentary footage mixed in with his own stuff. Van Sant also shot some new footage to match the grainy documentary sequences, but he mostly doesn't even try to make it match, visually. The cinematography between the in-movie Harvey Milk scenes looks like its a different universe from the documentary pieces, and I like the artificiality of the juxtaposition. It's one of the most interesting things about the movie, I think.

I talked about how Mickey Rourke deserved the Oscar in last week's "What I'm Watching" post, and even though I hadn't seen "Milk" at that time, I was confident in my assertion that Sean Penn wasn't as good as Rourke. And I was definitely right. Penn plays Harvey Milk as a gay caricature, which wasn't super-distracting as I was watching the film (it's a consistent and fully realized performance), but I have since seen some footage of the real Harvey Milk in various clips on YouTube, and Milk, in real life, was nowhere near as mannered and fidgety as Penn is in the film. Putting the real Milk next to the movie Milk makes Penn's performance seem almost embarrassing.

But nothing about "Milk" is anywhere nearly as embarassing as the abysmal "Gran Torino." If this is, indeed, Clint Eastwood's last performance, then it's a shame. He literally growls his way through the performance as Archie-Bunker-in-the-Hood, and the whole movie feels like a silly made-for-tv production, with 99% more racism.

You know what it reminds me of? Did you see "Million Dollar Baby"? You know that one really out-of-place scene where the the boxer girl's family visits her in the hospital, and they come in with their Disney gear and the whole scene is tonally unlike everything in the movie? "Gran Torino" feels like that for two hours. Every scene feels wrong, feels out of place, whether it's the embarrassing moments of Eastwood pounding the Pabst and growling racial epithets, or the cartoonish Hmong neighbors, or the after-school-special priest character and his awkward advice.

"Gran Torino" is just plain terrible.

What are YOU watching?

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Watchmen Dialogues Redux

This discussion was once-upon-a-time published at Sequart.org, but since that site is still inactive, and a movie by the name of "Watchmen" debuted today, Chad Nevett and I thought it would be cool to post this for everyone who missed it.

So here's Chad and I talking with a former student of mine, web-designer Justin Dickinson, right after he read "Watchmen" for the very first time in the fall of 2008:

Tim Callahan: I know Justin just read the series for the first time over the past week--presumably in trade paperback form, and in sequence. Chad, how did you read it? You mentioned being aware of it as a youngster, but when you did finally read it, did you read it all straight through? Because I had a different experience. I actually jumped on when issue #4 was released, but the shop had issue #2 sitting on the shelf too (I must have been about 15), and so I bought #2 and #4 and read those two first, then continued the rest of the series straight through. I didn't read #1 or #3 until around the time the series ended. But I kind of think that it still works that way. The story takes on a serialized feel about halfway through, but each of the first handful of issues feels compartmentalized. Yeah, there's the through-line of Rorschach's detective mission, but #2 and #4 work kind of on their own, and like much of the series, each small part reflects the larger whole almost completely. I don't really know where I'm going with this except to say that while Watchmen gets--deservedly so--a lot of credit for its intricate structure, it's a structure that somehow still works when it's rearranged a bit. I probably wouldn't have noticed it except I read it out of order, and it still astonished me--and I didn't feel at all confused by the story. Of course, now it's impossible to go back and read any of the individual chapters out of sequence without being aware of the context--since we've read the whole thing, but for me, it started with Sally Jupiter in the nursing home and the funeral for the Comedian. That was how Watchmen began, as far as I was concerned.

Chad Nevett:
I did read it all through, but, even then, I had an awareness of the story beyond its linear narrative. I knew of images and words from future issues. I even knew the big spoiler regarding Ozymandis thanks to Wizard and its "Most shocking moments" article whose only point seemed to spoil major plot points for those of us who hadn't had a chance to read certain stories because we weren't quite old enough to give them a shot yet. The same thing happened with The Dark Knight Returns, which I'd flipped through since I was a small child, but didn't read until I was older. I kind of wish I'd read Watchmen completely fresh beginning to end, because I don't really know what that's like. However, my first time reading it from beginning to end, I skipped a lot of the extra back matter material, so my second read-through included that, as well, which made it special, too.

TC:
I savored the back matter with each issue. And because I wasn't really buying that many comics as a teenager--maybe five or six a week at most--and Watchmen was so clearly a cut above anything else--I really poured over every page and every text supplement. I'm still not convinced that the "Tales of the Black Freighter" sequences add all that much to the narrative--I get the thematic connection, but still. I do like the idea of a raft made up of corpses and the carcass of a shark, though. That's a great image above and beyond its metaphorical resonance. Although I would like to point out that the Hollis Mason memoir must have been the shortest book in history. It seems that the whole thing is excerpted in Watchmen, doesn't it? What was the total--like 15 pages?

Justin Dickinson
: I read it straight through. The chapter with Jon on Mars telling his origin was what really hooked me. I stopped the first reading session right when Rorschach was captured. The second bit of reading took longer as I didn't like those chapters as much. As I said before, seeing Rorschach in jail didn't sit right with me. I really didn't get all the way back into it until Dan and Laurie hooked up and brought out Archie for some good old adventurin'. I read from when Veidt was in Antartica straight through to the end after that, couldn't put it down. I feel like the chapters do have some independence and the jumping around in time means reading out of order doesn't ruin the experience—kind of like watching Pulp Fiction on shuffle.

I'm curious to talk about the "Tales of the Black Freighter" sequences (which, I've just read, aren't featured in the movie but will be on the DVD, narrated by Gerald Butler.) How much of that is actually mirroring any actual comic trends or periods? Was the duotone/dot matrix style of those panels supposed to be a comment on Warhol/Lichtenstein pop culture art? Or is that reading WAY into it? Also, I've seen some mention in the production material (on Zack Snyder's blog, which is kind of like DVD extras before the movie) of how the color palate used in the book was very avant garde for the time period due to its use of colors that weren't red/blue/yellow primaries. Was that a big deal? What else did this comic do that we hadn't seen before?

TC:
The "joke" of the "Black Freighter" sequence is that pirate comics have become the dominant genre because superheroes are real, so people in that world don't want to read comics about them. The back matter credits real-life artist Joe Orlando with the "Black Freighter" work, which is an inside joke because Orlando was a DC executive--and editor who had risen through the ranks, but was also a fantastic artist who had worked on the classic EC comics, and the Warren magazines like Creepy and Eerie before joining DC editorial. So even though Gibbons actually drew those sequences, the shout-out to Orlando does have a relevance and connects the sequence to the famous horror comics of the 50s and 60s. The benday dots were used to make the comic seem older, and I don't think it relates to pop art at all--it was just a way to visually distinguish the "comic book" world from the "real" world. It's a technique that's been widely used ever since Watchmen, and maybe it was used before that, but I can't think of any prior examples (Chad, can you?). I don't know what version of Watchmen you read, but it has been recolored since the original release. The color palate hasn't changed much--it's just been toned down a bit and some stuff has been cleared up.

Basically, the technology has improved dramatically and I'm sure the original coloring was a bit muddier than planned. But the palate was quite different from other comics of the time. A lot of browns and purples, while most other superhero comics were bright primary colors. Was it a big deal? I don't know. It certainly marked it as a different comic, visually.

Watchmen
also drew attention to techniques that it didn't necessarily pioneer, but once it came out to such acclaim, others copied. Like the lack of thought balloons. Thought balloons are pretty much extinct now, and that's largely because of Watchmen. The use of Rorschach's journal--with the different font and everything--as the narration; that was copied by plenty of comics too. The inclusion of the back matter was certainly influential--with plenty of comics adding "journal excerpts" or fake letters in the back, none with as much quality as the stuff we find in Watchmen. Also, just the lack of action. That was pretty revolutionary. Look at how few action sequences there are in the twelve issues. It was published at a time in comic book history when every comic climaxed in a fight scene, and Watchmen totally avoids that kind of artificially-imposed structure. What am I forgetting, Chad?

CN: Like you said, I can think of plenty of examples of books that used these ideas--like how Westerns are the dominant genre for comics in Automatic Kafka. If I recall correctly (and I could be wrong since I haven't read it), but the lack of thought balloons may have come from The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, which Bryan Talbot started before Watchmen, took a hiatus and then completed after Watchmen. I've heard it described as highly influential in its experimentation and, for some reason, think I read that it didn't use thought balloons either. Of course, I could be wrong.

(Oh, and now that it's mentioned, I skipped over the pirate narrative the first time I read Watchmen, too. Another little surprise/addition for my second reading.)

And not only does Watchmen have little action, the action is does have is swift and brutal, done in a more realistic fashion than most superhero comics. Look at how quickly Veidt takes out his "assassin" or Rorschach and Nite-Owl... they're not typical action sequences in any way. Moore and Gibbons try to portray those sequences as realistic as possible, which is quite different from what was going on at the time.

That raises the idea of realism in the book. How realistic do you guys find it?

JD: I just read a really great article In Defense of Superhero comics which talked about Romanticism vs. Realism in a way that was really clear and understandable—made me feel like I was in English class in 11th grade again. Referencing that, I find Watchmen to be a realistic portrayal of a romantically imagined alternate world. It obviously still has elements of romanticism—there are certain leaps of faith you just have to go with and not get bogged down in whether or not it's real—but if you can accept the world Watchmen has built, then the characters all act realistically within it. There are some ideas that are obviously impossible, like Jon, but there are others that make sense (I'm thinking of Veidt's flood of information as a tool to predict the future.) In fact, that last bit brings up something I noticed about the book that I'm sure has been covered already: it's affect and resonance now vs. when it was written. Even now, any major disaster in NYC echoes of 9/11 which really just means that when this was written, that sequence was probably less imaginable than it is today. Also, the book was pre-Internet but much of Veidt's approach to technology and culture had a kind of clairvoyance to the flood of information each of us experience today.

In terms of character motivation, I think the book really excels in realism. I found all of the characters very well thought out and believable. They all acted with believable motive and rarely, if ever, did I feel a character's actions were merely to enhance the plot. I appreciated this as I feel that extra time was taken to ensure this realism and characterization (I'm thinking right now about the chapter regarding owls and Dan's essay on them. I've never found owls so cool as when he was expressing his love for them. It really made his alter-ego more authentic and understandable and less goofy.)

TC: Watchmen is certainly high Romanticism in content, but Justin's right--the style tends to portray that romantically imagined world in a more realistic way. It's still not Realism, in the literary sense, but while the conventions of the superhero narrative rely on simplistic morality, Watchmen allows for shading. (Although each character in the book still has a relatively simplistic moral sense, if you get right down to it--but the cumulative effect is one that doesn't offer simple moral solutions.) Watchmen also lingers on the humanity of the characters instead of their outward exploits, which is a trait of Realism, even if the trappings and cues are still taken from fantasy. If Romanticism and Realism is a spectrum, then Watchmen is still on the Romantic side, but leaning closer to Realism than every other superhero comic of its era--it's certainly farther toward Realism--at least in style and emphasis--than Dark Knight Returns, which is about as Romantic as you can get.

CN:
Pretty much. It certainly is a Romance since its genre is inherently Romantic. Well, and the super-powered guy who can teleport people to Mars and alter the molecular structure of matter... that's a pretty big tip-off. Also, the lack of any clear comedic and tragic trajectory in the overall narrative. But, on a character-by-character level, you can probably make the argument that the story is filled with comedies and tragedies. Rorschach is a tragic figure, brought down by his own rigid morality, while Dan and Laurie are more comedic, finding some happiness in the end with each other. But what of Adrian and Jon?

TC: Ozymandias is an inherently tragic figure, isn't he? His downfall is implicit in the conclusion even though he achieved his goals, right? Maybe not. Maybe he's beyond tragedy because he's just the villain. He's Iago at the end of Othello, victorious but at what cost? And Dr. Manhattan is above tragedy or comedy. It's like asking if a mountain is tragic or comic.

CN:
Wait... I thought Adrian was the hero... He did save the world, albeit through some very "supervillainy" tactics. I'd agree that he's a tragic character, because he'll never be sure if the ends really do justify the means.

As for Jon... is he really above tragedy or comedy? As Dr. Manhattan he is, but what if you take his whole life into account, including before his accident when he was human? How he turns out at the end, so cold and detached, willing to completely write off Earth... what does that say about his life and character?

TC:
He might be a tragic figure if the emphasis was on his pre-atomic life. But we spend more time with him while he's Dr. Manhattan, when he seems beyond human judgments. But, then again, he lives in all times simultaneously, so he is constantly in a state of tragedy, isn't he? I'd buy that. In a recent interview Zack Snyder said he refused to change the ending of the movie--refused to turn it into a "Hollywood ending"--because he wanted to spark these kinds of debates about morality and tragedy. I'm glad to hear that, because even though I expect the film to be something quite different than the graphic novel, I think some of the key questions and themes can carry over, along with the visuals.

Why Not More Weekly Miniseries?

As Marc-Oliver Frisch points out, when the first two issues of a series appear in the same calendar month (like "Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom" or "Black Lightning: Year One"), the drop off in order numbers between issue #1 and issue #2 is much less.

Retailers order far more copies of the second issue, proportionally, than they do if there's merely a one month gap between issues.

If that's true, and it seems to be, then why do Marvel and DC even bother with monthly (or, worse, bi-monthly) miniseries? Why not just wait an extra few months until the whole series is in the can and release all 4-6 issue miniseries as weeklies? The sales boost across the line would be pretty significant.

And I don't think it's just a matter of tricking retailers into ordering more. I think readers would tend to stick with even a mediocre comic for more issues if it came out on a weekly basis. See "Trinity" for more information.

Not that I'm promoting mediocrity, but I'm just wondering why publishers wouldn't take advantage of the retailer/buyer patterns.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Final Crisis Hardcover vs. Watchmen Movie Sequels

1. While it's great that DC has decided to make a logical "Final Crisis" Hardcover with "Superman Beyond" and all, what you may not realize is that DC hardcovers involving the addition of 3D glasses, well, they suck. Big time. Check out the "Superman: Last Son" hardcover from last year. The cardboard with the 3D pop-out glasses is glued into the center of the binding. Glued. You can't remove it the way you can remove the 3D glasses holder from a regular comic.

So you're stuck with three choices: leave the glasses in the cardboard, and have a really annoying giant piece of cardboard in the middle of your hardcover, making it literally hard to read because the pages flip open to the middle constantly. Or, you can pop out the 3D glasses, leaving a hideous piece of cardboard-sans-glasses that still has the same problems but now looks worse. Or, you can take a razor and slice out as much of the cardboard as you can, leaving a hacked apart slice of cardboard in the center of your book.

It's a lose-lose-lose situation, and unless DC changes the way they include the 3D glasses with "Final Crisis," the problem will be just as bad with that hardcover. So if you are one of those people who think you convinced DC to add "Superman Beyond" to the hardcover, then you should fight for a better way to include the 3D glasses as well. Otherwise, you'll just end up with a really crappy collected edition. Why are people not complaining about this?

2. I haven't seen the "Watchmen" movie, but I've heard good things from people whose opinions I don't necessarily respect, and terrible things from people whose opinions I generally do respect. And a lot of thoughts in between. So I won't go into the movie with high expectations.

BUT, I don't understand the backlash against a possible "Watchmen" sequel or prequel. Yes, I would assume such a sequel or prequel would be terrible. Yes, it would miss the entire point of the comic. But when people compare the "Watchmen" comic to some great work of literature and then say, "How ridiculous a 'Macbeth' sequel would be! How could you make a sequel to 'Moby Dick'?" Well, that's just silly. I would LOVE to see a "Macbeth" sequel. I would love to see "Ishmael's Revenge!" I think they would be glorious misguided failures, but at least they would be more interesting than, oh, pretty much anything that's playing at the theaters now.

So bring on "Watchmen: The Minutemen," bring on "Watchmen: Nite Owl's Lament." They will probably be terrible, but so what? It doesn't make Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's comic any less wonderful.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

When Words Collide: Following Watchmen

Really, this week's "When Words Collide" probably isn't geared for you. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you are smart enough to know all about any possible recommendations I might make about what you should suggest to your friends after they've read "Watchmen."

BUT, it might be a chance for you to tell me how wrong I am.

People love doing that, right?

So take a look at my suggestions for "Following Watchmen," consider what prospective readers I target, and come back here and tell me everything I should have included. Tell me everything I was an idiot for mentioning.

Let's debate these suggestions, and have a massive verbal throw-down.

Because I have been hearing worse and worse reports about the quality of the "Watchmen" movie, so if you leave lots of contentious comments, at least I'll have something to look forward to this weekend.

Agents of Atlas #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Agents of Atlas #2, about which I write the following sentences: "There's plenty of Gorilla-Man in this issue, don't worry, but Parker knows how to walk the line between serious and winking-to-the reader. Parker knows Gorilla-Man is ridiculous, Gorilla-Man knows he's ridiculous, but neither of them flaunt it. Instead, we're treated to a tough-talking hero in the manner of the Thing, but without the constant longing for humanity. Gorilla-Man seems perfectly fine being who he is. The rest of the Agents of Atlas seem similarly comfortable with their place in the world, with the exception of former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jimmy Woo, who uses his strange position as new leader of his father's criminal syndicate to do good, instead of evil. The Agents of Atlas are kind of like the Bizarro Thunderbolts, doing good deeds while pretending to be bad."

Read the entire review HERE.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Similarly Profound Thoughts from the Father of a Five-Year-Old

Before I went to sleep, I couldn't help but think: "What if a 5th-dimensional imp had a palindrome for a name? Mister Retsim would be really easy for Superman to defeat."

Profound Thoughts from a Five-Year-Old

Out of nowhere, as I was putting my daughter to bed tonight, she said, "When I see two things, I just can't help it! I want to put them together to make art."

New Avengers: Reunion #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: New Avengers: Reunion #1, about which I write the following sentences: "The premise of this series is that Mockingbird is back from her Skrull abduction, but as an ex-secret agent, an ex-Avenger (or current New Avenger), and all-around woman of action, she's not just going to sit back and whine about her pain and sorrow. She has a new job to do, with new inside-Skrullball information to rely on. And her husband (her former husband according to California state law, which declared Bobbi Morse legally dead years ago) is always a step behind her. He wants to pick up where they left off, but she may be a completely different person from who she was back in the 'West Coast Avengers' glory days. Just because Clint Barton wears a new costume and carries nunchucks instead of bows and arrows, it doesn't mean he wants things to change."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Unknown Soldier #5 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Unknown Soldier #5, about which I write the following sentences: "But Dysart smartly avoids such preachiness by focusing on the details of Moses's situation. It's the story of one man's struggle to do what's right, even when forces beyond his control have literally destroyed his face and taken away who he once was. By keeping the story whirling around the Unknown Soldier -- a label that has only metaphorical meaning here, since we all know who is behind these particular bandages -- Dysart makes the comic about characters in action, and not about the social problems themselves. The themes are readily apparent -- and War Is Hell, for sure -- but they resonate more deeply because they are connected to a compelling narrative. This is a violent, messy Vertigo crime comic set in a war-torn landscape. The crimes are political ones, with personal repercussions, but it's far closer to the crime genre than the stereotypical 'war comic' genre you might expect from its title. "

Read the entire review HERE.

What I'm Reading: The Learners

Even though I teach literature and love books, it's been a while since I have actually read a novel that's not for use in school. I know that's sad, but it's my reality right now, simply because I either lack (a) the desire, (b) the time, or (c) the patience to read prose fiction of any length.

I used to read a couple of novels a week, and now that I only read a few book-length works of prose fiction a year, I wonder if it's because I'm getting older and less willing to put up with sustained mediocrity (How many novels are really better than all the ones I've already read? Very few!) or if the internet really has changed everything (My brain is built for internet speed now, for better or worse). I think it's probably both.

I spend most of my time reading comics not just because I love comics, though I do, but because they fit into the nooks and crannies of my busy life. They take the perfect amount of attention and time, and are easy to slip into the ten or fifteen minutes I have between doing other things.

Anyway, I did read a novel this week, and it doesn't even have anything to do with comics. Well, it's sort of tangentially related to comics, with the Charles Burns cover and the fact that it's written by Chip Kidd, a guy who has worked on plenty of comic art books.

But "The Learner" isn't ABOUT comics, and that's what counts. It's the sequel to "The Cheese Monkeys," one of my favorite novels ever -- well, at least in my Top 100 -- and although it's not quite as good as Kidd's first, it's pretty darn good.

It takes place in 1961, in an advertising agency, so my recent interest in "Mad Men" can't help but color my impression of this novel. Yet Kidd is interested in entirely different things, and his story explores the effect of the real-life Milgram experiment on his fictional protagonist. The Milgram experiment was that one where unwitting participants administered shocks to "learners" who failed to remember an answer. They were "unwitting" because they thought they were involved in a memory test, but they were actually involved in an Obedience to Authority test.

His involvement with the experiment shakes the narrator to the bone, and raises questions about perception and reality that tie into the notion of advertising.

Kidd also explores the relationship between Form and Content, explicitly, both within the narrative and in some metafictional digressions between chapters.

Even though "The Learners" stumbles at the end, and doesn't quite live up to the quality of "The Cheese Monkeys" -- which, if I recall, also had some problems in the final section -- it was nice to read a novel again.

I'll let Kidd close this post by speaking for himself, on the notion of Form and Content:



What are YOU reading?