Monday, June 25, 2007

Vacation Time!

This will be my last post until July 7th, 'cause I'm going on vacation! Since you'll probably be totally bored over the next week and a half, waiting for me to return, here's what you should do each day to keep busy:

Tuesday, June 26th: Watch Season Three of Deadwood.

Wednesday, June 27th: Read a bunch of new comics. Sinestro Corps comes out! Buy it and tell me if it's as cool as it should be.

Thursday, June 28th: Read a Cormac McCarthy novel of your choice.

Friday, June 29th: Read something drawn by a great European artist. Maybe a Blueberry graphic novel, or something by Hugo Pratt.

Saturday, June 30th: Watch The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Sunday, July 1st: Draw an eight-page minicomic about Yeti assassins.

Monday, July 2nd: Read something by Jack Kirby, like the Fourth World Omnibus or Kamandi Archives Volumes 1 and 2.

Tuesday, July 3rd: Watch The Venture Brothers, probably the second season, I would say.

Wednesday, July 4th: Celebrate Independence Day by playing frisbee and reading my Grant Morrison book!

Thursday, July 5th: After reading my book, you'll be pumped for Morrison goodness, so go back and read Animal Man and Doom Patrol.

Friday, July 6th: To prepare for my return, you should take the day off. Relax, read something light and fun, like My Dead Girlfriend, by Eric Wight.

Saturday, July 7th: I'll be back to brighten your day!

Have fun everyone!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

PULPHOPE: The Art of Paul Pope--A Review

Yesterday, just glancing at the book, I referred to PULPHOPE as an "autobiography in art, except incomplete, and with lots of pretty pictures." That's not a bad starting point when you think about this particular art book. My initial assessment was pretty accurate, it turns out. First of all, this is unlike any other art book I've seen. I own a lot of "sketchbooks" showing the work of various comic book artists--most of which feature a lot of raw pin-ups, some finished pieces, promotional stuff, and occasionally a finished story or something sequential. I also own a lot of fine art books, which usually feature representative images from throughout an artists career with varying amounts of text explanation. PULPHOPE features a little bit of all of that (both as a comic book artist's "sketchbook" and a fine arts overview of his career), but what makes this book so different is the amount of personal detail Pope includes in the text pieces. It's not just a bunch of paragraphs explaining, "oh, I drew this for this company, but it was never published." It's pages upon pages (interspersed with gorgeous art) in which Pope defines his boundaries as an artist. It's part manifesto, part philiosophy of art, part autobiography. Taken as a whole, this book clearly defines what Paul Pope believes, what he does, and who he is.

Although he has a tendency to add extra letters to the names of writers (he spells Hemingway with an extra "m" and James Fenimore Cooper with an extra "n" in the middle), Pope is a good writer. He has things to say, and he has thought deeply about what he believes as an artist, so I was more that happy to read his fascinating text pieces. The book begins with an invocation to past artists and visionaries. Pope says, "These poets and philosophers are the whispering dead I hear, pointing the way to the road which leads out of this inferno. These are the dead on the roof with me, these are my Virgils. They point their parchment fingers toward the arc of the heavens, helping make sense of a meaningless rising moon and a mute and dumb setting sun." To Pope, art makes sense of life, and that's all it has ever tried to do.

Pope provides insight into his methods, but more in terms of a methodology than a "how-to" manual. He says, for example, "I'd pencil, letter, ink, and finish 16 pages at a time, using tape to hold up two rows of eight pages of comics side by side...Working within an assembly line such as this is the most effective method for producing comics I know of, and I credit it with how I could manage to finish seventy or eighty completely print ready pages a month, which was necessary sometime while working for Kodansha [the Manga publisher]." Pope's art seems anything but "assembly line." It reads as vibrant and alive, so his mechanical method of churning out multiple pages at once seems antithetical to the result. But, perhaps that type of speed encourages spontanteity and energy--it certainly appears that way in Pope's case, and Jack Kirby's best work was often produced under the same conditions (although Kirby famously just drew from one panel to the next until everything was completed. I wonder what he would have thought about Pope's 16-pages-at-once approach?)

Pope doesn't speak specifically about the work as much as I would have liked--he's more interested in moments from his life, and bold statements about the nature of art and reality, but what he does say is interesting and engaging. It's unusual (for me at least) to "read" an art book voraciously, in one sitting, but that's what I did with PULPHOPE. Ultimately, this substantial book gave me a greater appreciation for Pope's work (which I held in considerable esteem already), and it inspired me to create art of my own.

I highly recommend this book. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

MoCCA Art Festival 2007: A Report

I didn't take any pictures, because unlike a normal comic-con, the MoCCA fest is a nice little small press show and it just feels too intimate to snap photos of everyone. That's my excuse anyway.

But here's what I bought at the show:

Atlas #1, by Dylan Horrocks. I'm not as enamored of Hicksville as everyone else seems to be, but I really enjoyed the first two issues of Atlas. It's like a year or two between issues at this point, so I don't even remember what's going on, but I was happy to pick this up today. I'm hopeful.

Pulp Hope: The Art of Paul Pope. This was the first purchase I made today, and I guess I could have waited in line to get Paul to sign it, I just can't bring myself to do such a thing. Pretty cool-looking book! Lots of text too, written by Paul. It's like his autobiography in art, except incomplete, and with lots of pretty pictures. I'm reading this tonight!

Superior Showcase #1 and 2. I'm a ginormous fan of Project Superior and how can you not like the line-up in these two issues? Bertozzi, Trippe, Dalrymple, to name just three (--the best three, but still...) My local store doesn't carry stuff like this at all, although James, if you're reading this, carry this stuff! I will buy it!

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #3, by Micahel Kupperman. Not only did I buy this, but it's always fun when Gary Groth is the one making change for you. If you haven't read this comic book series yet, you must read it right away. Not every page is a winner, but 98% of them will make milk spew from your nose (even if you haven't had milk to drink in years, which is weird).

Stuff from Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier. Lots of stuff. I own most of their work already, but I picked up Life Meter #2 (the anthology of comics inspired by video games), Astronaut Elementary 8-9-10, Teen Boat #7 (obviously!), and Agnes Quill: an anthology of mystery. I'm looking forward to all of these books. Keep up the good work, guys! And Raina, keep that Dave in line. Don't let him get all cocky just because I said he was awesome the other day. Don't forget the reason for awesomeness #1!

The show was a good time overall. We didn't stay as long as we might have if we were less grumpy and less tired (from staying up late last night putting together minicomics...more on that when I get scans of the artwork), but we got to chat with some cool people. I met Karen Berger, Vertigo founder--who is eagerly looking forward to reading my Grant Morrison book. Well, that's how I interpreted it. Her actual words were, "I haven't read it yet. But I will." The eagerness was implied. And I talked to Tim Leong about doing some stuff for Comic Foundry. I chatted with Cameron Stewart for a while, embarassing him with my recollection of his fan letters to Grant Morrison--something I discovered when I was researching my book. But as I told Cam, I am also a Morrison fanboy from way back, and a letter in Animal Man #5 will attest to that (plus, I wrote a freakin' book on the guy. Nerdtastic!)

We also hung out with RAB from Estoreal for much of the day. He took us to a great burger place for lunch and he and I chatted about all things Jeff Parker-y, Legion-esque, and Kirby-tastic. He's not only contributing to my Legion book, but he also came up with some thoughts for a future Sequart project, so that was cool.

I'm going to go read all the great stuff I bought. Discuss.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Secret Project...

I've been up all night working on a secret, Ninja Wolf-related comics project. More details to follow after MoCCA!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Bryan Lee O'Malley

We all know Bryan Lee O'Malley is a gigantic superstar these days and his Scott Pilgrim is going to be the greatest movie of 2009 or whenever, but he's still an indy guy. And he's going to be at MoCCA this weekend, even though he should be home drawing Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together! But O'Malley is great, and I love everything he's done from the moving Lost at Sea to the kickass little piece from Project: Superior. And, as we all know, Scott Pilgrim is wondrous and beautiful and full of all kinds of badassery. It's so good that I think I referenced it as my favorite contemporary comic when I hung out with Howard Cruse last summer. Wonder if Howard ever picked up a copy. I doubt it, though. What do you say Howard?

Here's my Bryan Lee O'Malley story: It takes place a year before any of the Scott Pilgrim books debuted. It was the year my brother and I created Ninja Wolf as a joke that became kinda serious but still funny (and trust me, WAAAAY MORE info on Ninja Wolf is coming very soon!!! Keep your eyes peeled!). Anyway, I was running around at the end of the last day of the San Diego Comic-Con, trying to get as many free sketches of Ninja Wolf as I could. I ended up with only a few, but one of the guys willing to do a sketch was Corey Lewis, he of Sharknife fame. Of course, he hadn't published Sharknife yet, and I had no idea who he was, but he was totally into Ninja Wolf when I told him the concept. "Can you draw this character we made up?" I asked. "It's kind of a joke thing....Anyway, his name is Ninja Wolf--He was an orphan raised by ninjas, then subsequently raised by wolves." "That doesn't sound like a joke," said The Rey aka Corey Lewis. "That sounds like the greatest idea ever!" Bryan Lee O'Malley, seated next to The Rey, said, "that sounds just like one of your ideas." "I know," said The Rey, "I will totally draw you a sketch of Ninja Wolf. And if you do a comic, I will draw the cover for you! It's awesome." So as The Rey was creating his masterpiece of Ninja Wolf sketchery, I said, "hey Bryan, you know you want to draw Ninja Wolf too." "I can't," he said, "I gotta copy this album cover for some guy."

And thus, many years ago, Bryan Lee O'Malley was denied the chance to draw Ninja Wolf and the world has become a sadder place.

But, The Rey's work still adorns my classroom wall, and O'Malley has gone on to produce works of staggeringly important graphic genius.

So, in the end, it all worked out. Except it's not the end of the story. Ninja Wolf is....(yet, I must hold my tongue. Further updates will follow this summer!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Jeff Lemire

One year and three days ago, I recommended Jeff Lemire's last book, Lost Dogs. It surprised me with its quality. This year, I'm recommending Lemire's follow-up: Tales from the Farm. It's a better, more mature work, with cleaner (though still expressionistic) linework, and a more deeply resonant story.

What Lemire does best, in both of his graphic novels, is develop simple but powerful relationships. Both works have focused primarily on the connection between an older man and a youngster. Both works have explored rural, working-class settings. Both works have displayed a quiet power, both within the characters and within the storytelling itself.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once stated something to the effect that anyone under thirty looks to the future and anyone over thirty looks to the past. In Lemire's comic book worlds, that maxim seems true, with an underlying sense of imagination and fantasy. His characters don't just think about the future or the past, they romanticize it to an almost dangerous degree, but their fantasies protect them from realities that may be too difficult to face, similar to the way Gatsby adopted a new persona to recapture the illusion of the past. Like Fitzgerald's, Lemire's characters need their imaginations to survive, especially in Tales from the Farm. And because they do not confront traditional reality as we know it, they are misunderstood and find companionship and strength only in each other.

Unlike Fitzgerald, Lemire is not cynical about any of this. His characters are not destroted by the harsh reality which they attempt to avoid. Instead, the fantasy world bleeds into their provincial lives, and the ending swerves in an unexpected direction. I'm rarely surprised by a comic book story anymore, but Lemire took Tales from the Farm in a direction I didn't anticipate, and I look forward to seeing what he's going to do next.

Setting the Internet on Fire: Permanent Damage

Here's what comic book scribe and CBR columnist Steven Grant has to say about Grant Morrison: The Early Years: "How is it people keep writing good books about Grant Morrison? Callahan does a great job deconstructing Morrison's initial 2000 AD and DC work like 'Zenith' and DOOM PATROL to uncover his influences and illuminate recurring themes."

A positive endorsement!

Steven Grant, for those of you who don't know, is the guy who launched The Punisher to glory back in the 1980s. If Steven Grant likes my book, it must be good!

Setting the Internet on Fire with CCL!

Here we go: the most recent example of SETTING THE INTERNET ON FIRE. Check out Chris's Collected Comics Library podcast to listen to an hour-long inteview with ME! I talk about my collecting habits, my top ten collected editions ever, and I provide scintillating insight into my new book! If you have never listened to a podcast before, NOW IS THE TIME!

Check out the CCL website HERE. Or go directly to the podcast HERE.

It's awesome.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Dave Roman

You know what? I was going to write an analysis of why Dave Roman is one of my favorite independent creators, but I just spent over an hour doing a telephone interview (yet another example of me SETTING THE INTERNET ON FIRE) with Andy from Comic Book Resources, and I need sleep, man. But in fairness to the great Dave Roman, I will share some of my observations about why his work is so damn awesome.

Reason # 1: He's married to Raina Telgemeier, who is super-awesome. In fact, I bought my VERY FIRST mini-comic from Raina about four years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con. Then, after browsing a few more tables, I bought my SECOND (and third and forth and fifth) mini-comic from Dave Roman (who was not seated near Raina). Little did I know that the two would become husband and wife only a couple of years later. Obviously, they were meant to be together, if my taste in awesomeness is to be trusted (and it is).

Reason #2: Both he and Raina share the same birthday. And guess what? It's my birthday too! Yup, May 26th is the joyous celebration of all of our births. Take that all you suckers born on the other 364 pathetic and non-awesome days of the year!

Reason #3: Dave writes the way Walt Whitman wishes he could have written (if he had been involved in a freak time machine accident which catapulted him into a future HE NEVER KNEW). Peep these lines from Astronaut Elementary #4: "Stupid hat / I should have known better based on my past, which is filled with harsh lessons / Ugh, I'm so tired of pandas! They've been going extinct for like ever! / Not that I'm racist against pandas, but that point was so funny that I can't stop the laughing from pouring out! / Or the milk!"

Reason #4: In the astounding Teen Boat, he is able to balance the angst (of being a teen) with the thrill (of being a boat). Only, instead of the thrill (of being a boat), he writes about longing and heartache. And it's so good. Too short, but still excellent. Everything you could possibly hope for in an ongoing mini-comic series that has a LONG OVERDUE ISSUE DEBUTING AT MoCCA! Yes, I will buy it, and so must you. (Seriously, it's like 50 cents, you cheap bastards! Buy it!)

Reason #5: How is he not more famous? Is this a reason why his work is awesome? Not really, but I don't get why Dave Roman is not writing Spider-Man loves Mary Jane right now. I would totally buy it AND possibly shoplift extra copies to give to the homeless orphans. Think about it, Marvel.

If you don't know why Dave Roman is awesome by now, then buy his comics. Visit his website. Follow him home. Peruse his record collection. Ask him to dance.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Richard Oldstate's 24 Legionnaires!

Noted wrestling scholar and facial hair model Richard Oldstate has written a piece for my upcoming Legion book. He's too important a public figure to ignore, so rather than wait a year to show you his work, I figured I'd better post his contribution now, before he tries to regain control of this essay via complicated legal procedures and albino spider monkey attacks.

(JUNE THE 4TH, 2007)

By Richard Oldstate

1.Awkward Silence Lad

2.Chicken-Like Boy Jim

3.Slightly Smaller Than Average Lass

4.Childhood Obesity Boy

5.Elliot, The Boy Who Can Travel Through Time, But Only Slightly, Like A Few Minutes Or So

6.Matter Regurgitation Lad

7.Static Electricity Lass

8.Big Baby Jesus

9.Slightly Larger Than Average Lass

10.Mutton Eater Lad

11.Excitable Boy

12.Conventional Wisdom Boy

13.Incredible Androgynous LadLass

14.Super Brazilian Jujitsu Master Lass

15.Superb Boy

16.Personal Injury Attorney Lad

17.Man Hands Lass

18.Gill, The Singing Cowboy, Who Sings Happy Songs For The Nice People

19.The Samoan Submission Android

20.Braniac Googolplex

21.Dr. Sympaathy

22.Admiral Tonkin Incident

23.Mitch Buchanan Boy

24.Ted Williams 4

Indy Spotlight: James Kochalka

How can you not love James Kochalka? Here's a guy who has been doing his own thing, in his own inimitable style, for years. Whether it's reading his sketchbook diaries in American Elf, rockin' out to "Hockey Monkey," or soaking in his gloriously warped take on The Legion of Super-Heroes in the hilarious Super F*ckers, you will certainly find something to enjoy in Kochalka's work.

My first exposure to Kochalka came in the pre-internet (at least for me) days, when he launched the famous anti-craft manifesto at The Comics Journal. His basic point was, and I'm paraphrasing from a distant memory here, "just draw and stop worrying so much about it." Now, of course, Kochalka teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and from what I gather, he sets up a variety of assignments which result in students learning that they should just draw, without worrying so much about it. It's a good philosophy, but it wouldn't necessarily result in good comics all by itself. Luckily, Kochalka's cute-and-twisted look at the world more than makes up for a lack of craft (and as anyone with eyes can see, Kochalka's a pretty great artist anyway--he just doesn't worry about making his art look like other comic book art).

After reading about Kochalka for years, I finally tracked down some of his comics, starting with the Monkey vs. Robot graphic novel. I couldn't resist buying the accompanying album as well, and I spent the following week sharing the Kochalka joy with everyone I encountered. My wife just didn't seem to see the greatness of "Bad Astronaut," but that didn't stop me from playing that song over and over in the car. Later that year, I loaned my copy of the graphic novel and the album to one of my students who seemed to have good taste. She liked the Kochalka stuff, she said, after handing it back, but she didn't love it. She also spilled orange juice all over the pages of Monkey Vs. Robot, but such is the price I had to pay to spread the Kochalka, even to an ungrateful audience.

James Kochalka's masterpiece, though, is the second volume of American Elf. In this full-color collection of sketchbook diaries, Kochalka poetically captures the minor details of life in a style that is both sparse and beautiful. The first volume is excellent as well, but in the second volume, Kochalka has matured as an artist, an observer of life, and as a father. It's in his relationship with his wife and son that we see the new Kochalka, a little less preoccupied with himself and a little more fascinated by the world around him. It's a transition that any parent can understand. Unlike a television sitcom, in which the addition of a cute child is a sign that the show is doomed, American Elf: Volume 2 shows that, in real life--at least four panel slices of it--every new experience is a chance for wonder, amazement, sadness, beauty, and joy.

Get your Kochalka on!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Indy Spotlight: Matt Fraction

In preparation for the MoCCA art festival next weekend in glorious NYC, I'm going to focus on one of my favorite independent creators each day this week. First up is a creator who is both a new obsession of mine and someone who I've known (about) and admired for years: MATT FRACTION!

Sure he's a big time mainstream guy now, with his fancy Punisher, and half of Iron Fist, and the upcoming recently-retitled Champions comic (now called The Order? Is that right? It's not a great title change). I'll review his Image book, Five Fists of Science in a minute (because I already wrote about Casanova yesterday), but the Matt Fraction I still think of is the guy who kicked off Savant, the internet magazine for comics activists. If you missed those early issues of Savant, you missed a pissed off Matt Fraction. A Matt Fraction who wanted to let the world know that comics mattered, damn it, and people had better start paying attention.

As he says in the opening essay, written nearly a decade ago: "I think there are more great comics being made now than ever before. I think there are more comics that could appeal to the mainstream world, more genres with vital and important work being made right now than there ever has been before. I certainly buy more than I ever have before. And what's sad is that if you would stack them in a pile, I would still have pairs of boots that go up higher." Here's a guy, writing years and years ago (has it been about 10 years since Savant first launched?), about his unrestrained love for the medium, and his disappointment as well, and then he goes on to tell us what we need to do about it: "Graft pop sensibilities onto Comics: cult of celebrity, collectability, sexiness and hipness," Fraction says, "Think of Punk Rock. Make work that kids will read and think This is the most important thing I've ever read. Or write about it, reciprocating the passion and importance you feel."

"Zealotry, Idolatry: Now's the goddamned time to make things change," he says, "This is what we've been thinking about while preparing to launch SAVANT. For the sweet love of fancy fuck, just be cool. Anger is proactive. Find something broken and fix it; there's plenty to go around. Let's get to work. Stop talking. Keep moving."

This is the Matt Fraction I remember. He helped produce Savant for the first couple of years, and I drifted away from reading the site around the same time he stopped writing for it. I didn't leave just because Fraction stopped contributing, but I'm sure there was a correlation there. He was the best writer they had--the most enthusiastic spokesman for comics, the most joyously angry, and perhaps the funniest.

Now he's on the other side of the page, producing major work for Image and Marvel. So how can I say he deserves an Indy Spotlight? Because he's still Matt-freakin'-Fraction, the Savant guy. He's an outsider working on the inside all of a sudden (does it feel like it's all of a sudden to you, Matt, or just to those of us still on the receiving end of the work?). And even though he is a Marvel writer, his most important work thus far has come from Image, where he has not only produced the brilliant Casanova, which embodies the "just be cool" aesthetic the younger, angrier Matt Fraction vocalized years and years ago, but he's also written Five Fists of Science, an ambitious work that perhaps tries to do too much in too few pages, but isn't that better than doing too little in too many?

Five Fists of Science, for those of you who haven't read it, is a steampunk thriller which features the unlikely team-up between Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain (among others). On the brink of a new century, these two geniuses, with the help of a few other historical figures, concoct a scheme to promote peace across the world via a robotic arms race. Their plan is, unsurprisingly, not embraced by world leaders, which causes Twain and Tesla to resort to demonstrations of just how much the world needs these giant robots. Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan, and other men of stature provide an opposition force to the Tesla/Twain team, as Fraction throws in Lovecraftian monsters (and a Yeti!) to provide visual symbols (and good targets for punching) of the corruption and violence inherent in these men. It's a story of true genius versus stolen credit, and it's as much fun as it sounds. The only flaw is Steven Sanders's artwork, which is at once too murky and too stiff. The designs are nice, but the story deserves clean, vigorous art to accompany Fraction's vibrant script. After reading Casanova, I can't help thinking how much better the story would be if someone with a clean line like Gabriel Ba had provided the pictures.

But, If you like giant robots, 19th century science, evil cabals, wit, and the Yeti, you can hardly go wrong with Five Fists of Science. It's Matt Fraction, and he's still a comics activist. Only now he's producing the Punk Rock comics himself. I'll keep looking for that Indy Matt Fraction no matter who's signing his paychecks.

Mary Jane Skrull?

Just a thought after reading New Avengers #31. It's not possible that this whole Skrull thing is a going to be used as a way for Quesada to retcon the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson marriage is it? Would Marvel reveal that Mary Jane has been a Skrull all this time? They wouldn't go that far, would they?

Even if they did, that doesn't mean the marriage has to end. If Colossal Boy and Yera can work through the shapeshifting, so can the Parkers. It's what's inside that counts, although you know what's inside Skrulls? Tiny little evil shapeshifting Skrull cells. Curse that evil Mary Jane and her Skrull way of doing laundry inside a laundry basket!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Casanova and Fourth World in my Brain

I just spent the week reading two of the greatest hardcover comic book collections in the history of the universe ever: Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova: Volume One and Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus: Volume One. It's insane to compare the two. Kirby's work was done 35 years ago and published across four different interwoven (sort of) titles and ultimately left incomplete, while Fraction and Ba's work is brand new, self-contained and structured like a GURPS module on fast forward. Yet I can get neither masterpiece out of my brain. They have some immense cortex-burning power, these books, and I'm not kidding when I said I spent the week reading them. I have not only read them both, cover-to-cover, but I keep picking them up and reading sections again, not because the plots are densely packed (and they are, though not to a baffling degree), but because the energy in these works won't allow me to put them down for long. Even when I have set them aside for hours (because I have to, let's say, "work" or "feed my kids," or whatever), I think about the images, the ideas, the depth of imagination, and I want to clear my schedule for another dive into the fictional worlds in which a super-escape artist and his dwarf sidekick zoom around on Aero-Discs, in which the three conjoined brains of transcendent Zen monks turns evil, in which Don Rickles' nicer doppelganger confronts Superman, and in which a transdimensional superspy posing as a fashion photographer uncovers the hidden map which might save civilization as we know it.

Image provides Casanova with better production value, by the way. The book is glossy and beautiful, just as it should be. It's as slick as a Casanova Quinn doublecross and just as dynamic. The Fourth World Omnibus on the other hand is shockingly light for its size. When I picked it up at the store (and yes, even though I pre-ordered it from Amazon months ago, I couldn't wait until July to receive it, so I bought it at Fantasy Realms at a higher price and cancelled my Amazon order--that's how excited I was before even opening the book), anyway, it felt like it was hollow--like the hardcovers were wrapped around a chewy foam center. That's because, as voices around the internet will no doubt declare, the paper quality is poor. It's like that Mando paper DC used to put in its "New Format" titles back in the late 1980s (which was fine for The New Guardians, but for a $50 hardcover???). It's not the glossy stuff you might find in an Archive edition, or even the glossy stuff you might find in regular floppy comic from DC these days. No, it's like having bound copies of the original New Gods and Jimmy Olsen issues, only without the color bars on the top of the page. Even with the inferior paper quality, the book is still great. Kirby doesn't need glossy paper to blow your mind. The production values in The Fourth World Omnibus don't come from the printing, they come from the genius of Jack Kirby.

I'm not going to even try to summarize the plots of these two books. You should read them. You will. You must. So, I'll just touch upon the stuff that's been stuck in my brain all week as I've read and reread these two works.

Let's start with Kirby. I've owned the New Gods stuff in various formats over the years. I have a few of the original issues. I have the Baxter 6-issue reprint series. I have the black and white paperbacks. I have the Jimmy Olsen books. But even though this book is only the first volume of a proposed four volumes, I've never read the stories in this way: presented in chronological order by date of publication. The continuity doesn't make sense this way, of course. At one point Superman is knocked out at the end of a Jimmy Olsen story, then flying around with the Forever People within a few pages of the next chapter, then, a few chapters later, he's back on the floor as the Jimmy Olsen story resumes. But that's not important. What is important is the sense of scope and grandeur that can only occur when reading the stories in this way. I'd read them in segments before: all the New Gods stuff, all the Mister Miracle stuff, etc., but I'd never read them with any sense of the issue-to-issue developments BETWEEN the different series. Even though Mister Miracle #2 doesn't directly lead into Forever People #3, it's essential to read them in that order because the Fourth World tapestry develops across all the comics, and it amplifies slowly, but with sudden bursts of violence and danger. Read in chronological order, the entire Fourth World saga feels like a magnificent orchestral arrangement.

I don't know enough about music to say what Casanova feels like. It's not grandiose in the way the Kirby stuff is, and it's not down-and-dirty punk rock either. It's lean and crisp and complex and stylish. Perhaps it's a new sound, at once stripped down and packed with meaning. An aural cocktail of sex and betrayal and parallel universes and filicide. It's both totally plot-driven and superficial and deeply complicated and resonant, and I can't quite classify it as a sound or as a work of graphic narrative. All I can do is put it next to Kirby and call it some kind of genius. Geoff Klock calls it the comic book equivalent of Kill Bill, which, to him, is the highest praise. Matt Fraction, creator of Casanova Quinn, and not necessarily a big fan of late Tarantino, disagrees. I see what Klock is saying, but I also think that it's less specific an homage than anything Tarantino has ever done. Fraction's work on this book alludes to other work, certainly, but it's not as simple as saying that Casanova is the son of Nick Fury from an alternate dimension. Maybe Kill Bill isn't that simple either, but you can't break down each page of Casanova and identify the allusions to everything Fraction has read or watched the way you can with Tarantino's work. Writer Fraction and artist Ba are recombining genres and styles not to look back at the past, but to make something new for the future.

Just as Jack Kirby always did. Even when he seemed to run out of new ideas, his "rehashed" ideas (Eternals and Captain Victory to name two of his lesser works) are still amazingly imaginative. Kirby's Fourth World saga looks to the future too. Even today. It literally destroys the past in the epilogue to New Gods #1, as the old gods are shown facing their final destruction. And, in typical Kirby fashion, he gives the epilogue on THE FIRST PAGE of the series. Talk about compressed storytelling. The old gods=dead. Move on. And he does, with vigor. In the first volume of the Fourth World saga, he builds much of the cosmic architecture that still underlies the DC universe today. Cadmus clones, Apokalips, Boom Tubes, Darkseid, the dozens of New Gods, and Intergang. Those words still appear almost MONTHLY in DC comics, and Kirby threw it all at the reader in these stories that are now almost two generations old. Even Kirby's throwaway ideas, the stuff that didn't take hold in the DC universe, like the miniature clones of the Newsboy Legion who run around as a tiny army, are spectacular.

Fraction and Ba pack Casanova with ideas as well: pop group assassins, robot doubles, dimension-hopping secret agents, flying casinos, comic books, and moustaches. Some readers have found it too dense to follow. They are just lazy. Fed on a diet of Ultimate Spider-Man and Justice League of America, where the beat sheets are broken up by issue number rather than page number, the contemporary comics reader might not be able to follow multiple plot twists AND duplicity within a singel issue. Fraction says he wanted Casanova to give readers the same feeling he got while reading Howard Chaykin's American Flagg. He wants people to be initially disoriented as he throws them into the chaos. Ironically, Chaykin's Plex-filled future has come true, and the information overload he prophesized 25 years ago has made the average reader more passive, more unlikely to stick with Fraction's ambitious attempt to make readers THINK about the story. The reader who does follow the Casanova story to the end (of at least Volume One), will be more than rewarded.

So go out and buy these books. Read them multiple times. Let yourself be swept into new worlds with new labyrinths of ideas. And see if, like me, you can't get these books out of your brain.

To quote Casanova's narrator:

Friday, June 15, 2007

Setting the Internet on Fire: Part Two

Richard Bensam also has some overly kind words about my book. Not just because he's kissing up to me, although he is. But anyone who has read the book three times deserves a link, and perhaps a hug. So here's another case of me SETTING THE INTERNET ON FIRE: Click Here

Hugs will come later.

And, hey kids, MODOK!

Setting the Internet on Fire: Part One

Pretty soon, I'm going to have to build one of those fancy fences and place armed guards around the perimeter of the Callahan compound, because the fame just keeps a'comin' and the fortune is surely around the corner.

Over the next few weeks, you're going to see and hear my name EVERYWHERE around the internet (and by "everywhere," I mean a few sweet podcasts and comic book websites, but I assume 99% of all patrons of the internet visit those sites and those sites alone, right?).

So, in addition to my regular blogging here, and my once-in-a-while columns at, and the various press releases that have started popping up for my book, you can WATCH and LISTEN as I set the internet on fire!

Here's me saying smart stuff about "Hotel Harry Felix!" over at Comics Should Be Good: Click Here!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Very Special Top 5 List

I have a special treat for you from my six year-old son. As I was preparing a list of "Best Collected Editions" for my upcoming interview with podcaster Chris from Collected Comics Library, my son thought I should make a list of HIS favorite comic books too. So, from the perspective of a soon-to-be kindergarten graduate, here are the top five comic books currently being published (followed by my commentary):

1) Sonic the Hedgehog--I wrote about my first exposure to the Sonic comic book a few months ago, and I pointed out that the continuity is overwhelming, and I found the issue to be unreadable, but my son loved it. Well, he continues to love this comic book ever since, and I've grown to understand his attraction. The action is fast-paced, the characters say exactly what they mean, and there is a real sense of jeopardy established. He literally was upset by last month's issue when, only looking at the pictures, he saw all of Sonic's friends obliterated by Dr. Eggman. He didn't even want me to read the story to him, because he thought the characters had died. When I finally read it to him, he realized the words described a teleportation ray. The characters weren't dead after all, just imprisoned somewhere far away, and Sonic was going to go save them all! It was a great lesson in the magic of comic books. The pictures AND words matter equally. So, even though I still don't particularly like Sonic the Hedgehog, I liked that he learned that lesson, and I like the enthusiasm he shows for each new issue. It's cool to see your son devour a comic book as soon as you bring it home. (And, as a side note, I picked up the new Fables trade for my wife, and she read the whole thing right away. So the image was: my wife reading Fables on one end of the couch, my son reading Sonic on the other, and my daughter watching TV in the middle. I told my daughter--who's three--that she needed a comic book too! She asked for "Woman Woman," which is what she calls Wonder Woman. So I gave her a copy of Wonder Woman Archives Volume 1, the only Wonder Woman book I had around. She said, "I don't like it," and thereby ruined my chance to turn all of my family into comic-loving geeks. DC Comics, if you're reading this, you have a potential reader just waiting for an age-appropriate Wonder Woman comic book. Try to start publishing one by the time she's old enough to read. Maybe Gail Simone is already at work on just such a title.) Anyway, Sonic the Hedgehog is BY FAR my son's favorite comic, as he will gladly tell you.

2) Sonic X--My son has only read one issue of this title, and he didn't seem to understand it, but he assumes it must be great because the other Sonic comic book is so awesome. Anyway, that's why he puts it so high on his list. I can't bring myself to buy him two Sonic titles every month though. Does that make me a bad parent? No way! I shouldn't let my son develop a two-Sonic-a-month habit so early in life. Unless he wants to get a job and pay for the comics himself! Am I right, people?

3) Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century--Did he list this title in his top five just to get my approval because he knows I'm obsessed with the Legion now? Possibly. But he really liked all the episodes of the cartoon, and he loves the characters. I can't believe he loves the comic book this much, though, since the first couple of issues haven't really been all that exciting for him. But he and I both have great hopes for this title. And, it's the freakin' Legion!

4) Teen Titans Go!--He and I have been watching the first three seasons of the animated series on DVD recently, and it was a really cool show. I didn't appreciate it at the time, because it was so different than MY Titans, but, even though he watched these episodes before, he was too young to remember much about them (he claims to have no memory of Season One at all), and he's really excited about the comic book now that he's recaptured his joy for the cartoon. Plus, the most recent issue was great! I'll miss reading this title with him when it's cancelled later this year.

5) Power Pack--Although this is a bunch of mini-series and not an ongoing, it's basically been published every month for the past couple of years, and my son loves it. He's less happy with the art on the Hulk mini, but he just thinks it's awesome to see little kids with super-powers. And each member of the team has such well-defined personalities, the stories really work well. It's been fun to read this one too. I'd personally put this waaaay higher than the Sonic stuff, but I'm not six.

Out of this Top 5, I would sincerely recommend the Legion, Titans, and Power Pack books to anyone, no matter what age. They are good, often much better than a lot of "mainstream" titles I buy from Marvel and DC. Don't be afraid to pick them up just because they are for kids. All the Silver Age comics were written for kids too, don't forget.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The End of The Road--My Final Rebuttal

It all started with my comment on Frank Tempone's Fitzgerald vs. Chabon post. I suggested Cormac McCarthy instead. Which led to this, followed by my defense of The Road here. Tempone retaliated with a one-two punch. The spectators of this battle are divided; some agree with my observations, while others...also agree with my observations...and yet others want to read the book for themselves now that they've read our little back-and-forth.

But can a winner truly be declared in any war? Yes. And it is me.

(But it never was really a fair fight. After all, I had Oprah on my side.)

But just to ensure the knock-out punch, I will respond to Tempone's final barrage of comments. He basically has three criticisms of The Road, which boil down to the following: 1) It isn't much of a character study; 2) It resorts to existentialism; and 3) It's cryptic and ambiguous. I'll respond to each:

It isn't much of a character study. I agree. But so what? Just because some "glowing reviews" called the novel a character study doesn't mean that the novel is required to live up to that expectation. And that's sort of the core of Tempone's argument anyway: the novel didn't live up to his expectations. He's constantly judging it based on what it's NOT, rather than analyzing what it is. I do this sometimes, of course, because it's impossible to suppress your expectations completely, but I make an effort to avoid such an approach because it's just not fair to the work. If you judge a work of literature based on what it's NOT, then every work is a failure. Hamlet sucks since it doesn't have as much ninjitsu as I expected. Moby Dick sucks because it didn't sensitively explore the relationship between Starbuck and his wife, like I thought it would. The Road sucks because it wasn't a character study. You can see how that type of illogical analysis isn't very useful. Tempone, of course, could counter (but he won't, because he's sick of writing about a book he doesn't even like) by saying that it's absurd to expect ninjas and romance in Hamlet and Moby Dick, respectively, but it's not absurd to expect something as basic as character development in a novel. I disagree. You shouldn't expect anything more from a novel than what the writer gives you. Cormac McCarthy violates a number of novel-writing "rules" in The Road and that's one of the reasons it's so great. He challenges expectations. He makes his own rules. He doesn't have to give you what you expect from a novel. Read the book for what it is, not for what it isn't.

It resorts to existentialism. Right. And that's bad why? Tempone repeatedly uses "existentialism" as a criticism of the book, but what's wrong with existentialism? It seems like a pretty freakin' appropriate philosophy for life after the apocalypse, doesn't it? All the father and son have is the fact that they exist. Their existence is their world. They have no other cultural markers to hold on to. Even when they visit the father's old home, none of it has much meaning in the new world they inhabit. Tempone criticizes this bit of dialogue "--Who is it? said the boy. --I don’t know. Who is anybody?" He calls it "zen Buddhism, with a side of fried existentialism." I call it a significant thematic passage. After all, identity is so dependent on our position in society, so it's worth questioning the concept of identity when society as we know it no longer exists. The traditional roles no longer apply. The response, "Who is anybody?" is not, as Tempone implies, an open-ended question that "hovers over the reader while he chases his tail," it's a question-as-statement. The father phrases it as a question, sure. But it's an answer. And the answer is: we exist, and that's all we know.

It's cryptic and ambiguous. Tempone must realize that he referred to the same novel as both "painfully linear" and "cryptic and ambiguous." Which is it, Frank? Well, you know what? I can see how the novel could be both. They aren't mutually exclusive, even though simplicity and ambiguity seem like opposities. But, in The Road they cohabitate. The plot is simple and linear. The language is ambiguous. But, as with most of Tempone's observations, I just don't see the problem. Ambiguity is essential in a work of art, isn't it? What good is a novel that can be clearly defined and delineated? Isn't ambiguity of meaning one of the things that great literature does well? Tempone might argue that overall ambiguity is good, but ambiguity of language is just sloppy writing. Once again, I disagree. I think they go hand-in-hand, and in a novel like this, in which the father fails to make a great deal of sense out of the world in which he and his son now live, it's not surprising that the language might be more than a little ambiguous at times. But, then again, Tempone's example of cryptic and ambiguous language doesn't even prove that the language is ambiguous anyway. He cites one particular passage: "When he rose and turned to go back the tarp was lit from within where the boy had awakened. Sited there in the darkness the frail blue shape of it looked like the pitch of some last venture at the edge of the world. Something all but unaccountable. And so it was." Tempone's comment is, "I have no idea what he's trying to say in this one." Well, I do! It's an image of the boy in a tent, camped out at the end of the world. That's pretty easy to figure out, since that's what the words say, and Tempone is a smart guy, so I assume his confusion comes from the last two sentences: "Something all but unaccountable. And so it was." McCarthy indicates that the father finds this situation difficult to account for. He sees their whole existence as unlikely, and no doubt has the hope, however slight, that this "last venture" of theirs has to do with keeping his son alive. The final sentence: "And so it was," is not an ironic comment in the manner of Vonnegut's famous "and so it goes." In this novel, "And so it was" indicates two things: that the image of the small tent full of life surrounded by desolation is an unlikely image AND it's yet another iteration of the (quite relevant) existential theme. As unlikely as their situation is, at least they have their existence, for whatever it's worth (and since it's ALL they have, it's worth a lot).

Ultimately, I think this novel is a masterpiece for many of the same reasons Tempone criticizes it. Have I convinced Frank to like the book more? Probably not. Has he convinced me that it has deep flaws? Not really. So, if it's just a matter of taste, why did we bother this whole thread of discussion? Because literature matters. It should be thought about deeply, and I'm glad that at least one person has been prompted to pick up the novel because of our observations. (Not that the book hasn't sold ten bazillion copies already.)

Now I challenge Frank to recommend a novel to me, and we'll see if I can evaluate the novel for what it is, rather than for what I expect it to be. You up for another round, buddy?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In Defense of The Road (Which is GENIUS)

My pal and fellow writer Frank Tempone has thrown down the metaphorical gauntlet by not gushing about Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant novel, The Road. Tempone actually spends much of the review on his blog praising the novel, and he certainly appreciates it for what it is, but he describes the narrative as “painfully linear,” the prose as occasionally “monotonous,” and ends his review by saying “there were more than a couple of elements in the writing that bothered me.” Once again, let me state that Tempone’s criticism of the novel was not very harsh, and provides plenty of examples of what McCarthy does well, but the tone of Tempone’s piece clearly indicates that he’s getting the positive stuff out of the way first, giving us a nice, pleasant feeling before he goes for the jugular in, presumably, a future post.

My response here is a preemptive defense of The Road, which will probably result in a vitriolic counterattack from Tempone, and I will be forced to retaliate, and ultimately, in a battle like this, is victory even possible? Only in the hearts and minds of America, and that’s what I’m aiming for!

So, let me respond to Tempone’s initial criticism of the book:

1) The novel is “painfully linear.” Well, it is linear, certainly. It’s the story of a man and a boy walking down the road, trying to survive. That’s it. No “b” subplot, no significant flashbacks to provide a context for the post-apocalyptic future, no parallel narrative involving a baker’s wife during the Holocaust, no love interest, no metafictional gamesmanship. None of that. I actually found it shocking in its simplicity. I was waiting for some sort of Aristotelean plot development. A three-act structure, even if sparsely developed. A single major challenge for the heroes to overcome (would they be able to reach the magical island of super-scientists looking for a way to rebuild civilization?). Something. But nope. None of that either. And I love it. It shocked me with its direct attention to the narrative present. It wound me up into a paranoid ball as it forced me to confront the immediacy of this humble quest for survival in a harsh landscape. And I’m a big fan of ultra-complex novels. I’m a structuralist at heart. I love breaking down narrative. I love Moby-freakin-Dick. Yet, The Road astounded me with a simple story, told with sharp, terse sentences. It’s ALL Act III. Acts I and II happened before the novel opened, and they are barely hinted at. And it works. It works to confront the reader with the terror of the journey. It works to bind the reader to the father and son, as if we are faced with the impossible journey they face (and I NEVER emotionally connect with literary characters--I just don’t read that way--yet I could not escape the father’s point of view and I couldn't stop thinking about my own son while I read). And it works to build suspense, since we really have no idea what lies ahead on the road any more than the father and son do. That’s what’s most striking about the novel, I think: I did not know what would happen next, and as a structuralist and a scholar, I ALWAYS feel like I know what’s going to happen next when I read a novel (or at least I have a pretty good sense of how all the pieces are going to fit together, but in this case, there are no pieces--just a road drifting off into the hazy distance).

A Digression Here: I stated above that I never emotionally connect with literary characters, and that’s true. I don’t think that’s a good thing, because other people (i.e. my wife and everyone I’ve ever met) always seem to get so much emotional satisfaction out of reading. Not me (or at least, not usually). For me, the satisfaction is entirely intellectual (although it is VERY satisfying in that regard). Just the other day, the head of my English department asked me about the books I taught in my classes, curious to see which ones the students enjoyed the most. Then he asked me, “which one do you think is the best page turner?” And that question totally baffled me, not because I don’t know which books the kids enjoy more than others (for the record, they enjoy The Great Gatsby and do NOT enjoy Heart of Darkness, to name two), but because I don’t think about literature that way AT ALL. To me, asking which novel is the “best page turner” is like asking which book of Picasso paintings is the “best page turner.” It’s just totally foreign to the way I think about the art of writing. His question made me realize how odd my approach to literature truly is (comparatively speaking). And here’s how all of this relates to The Road: when I read the novel, I felt, as I always do, the intellectual pleasure of enjoying vivid sentences and beautifully painted (if horrific) images, but, because of the narrative confines, I became trapped inside the story in an emotional way. It was, I assume, the feeling that you get when you call a book a “page turner.” And I think McCarthy achieved that effect, at least in my case, BECAUSE of the linear plot. So, painful is not the word I would use to describe it. Instead, let’s agree to call it “magnificent.”

2) The prose--is it occasionally monotonous? Possibly. But if, as I teach my students, language CREATES meaning, and the meaning of this novel lies in the unrelenting journey which the characters undertake, then is not monotony appropriate? Does that not simulate the crushing lack of hope which the father faces each day (and the son must be constantly protected from)? So I think it’s appropriate, even if it is monotonous, but I’m not sure I agree that monotonous is the best word to describe the prose anyway. Here’s a random selection from page 130:

"They scrabbled through the charred ruins of houses they would not have entered before. A corpse floating in the black water of a basement among the trash and rusting ductwork. He stood in a livingroom partly burned and open to the sky. The waterbuckled boards sloping away into the yard. Soggy volumes in a bookcase. He took one down and opened it and put it back. Everything damp. Rotting. In a drawer he found a candle. No way to light it. He put it in his pocket. He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."

And, yes, I flipped open the book and chose this selection totally at random, but it’s a beauty. Look what McCarthy does in this paragraph! I’m not going to explicate the whole thing, but he’s got shocking examples of usage: “scrabble” as a verb! “sorrow” as a verb! “livingroom” as one word! “intestate” which apparently means “without a will (in a legal sense)”--the whole planet has died and left no will--that’s good stuff, Cormac! He’s often compared to Hemingway, because of the simple construction of his sentences, but Hemingway used conventional words in conventional ways. McCarthy doesn’t. He’s far superior to Hemingway in that regard. Look what else he has going on in this one paragraph: the symbols of the rotting books and the candle; the use of Free Indirect Discourse to shatter narrative distance between Third Person and First Person: “he found a candle. No way to light it”; the crescendo of the paragraph itself, which builds from the particular details through the symbolic details to the absolute futility of the entire universe.

And that’s just one paragraph. That’s not what I call monotonous. So let’s agree to use the word, “strikingly brilliant” to refer to his prose instead.

So now it’s up to Tempone to launch his counterattack and clarify which other elements of The Road “bothered” him. Because from where I stand, this novel has withstood the opening salvo.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Lightning Saga

Legion expert (and fellow collaborator on the big book of Legion essays due out next year) Matthew Elmslie has a nice overview/response to the ongoing "Lightning Saga" storyline in the current issues of Justice League and Justice Society. I'll probably comment on the entire saga once it's completed, but I think Matthew makes some keen observations and has a nice perspective on things. Read his "Continuity Notes" HERE.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Grant/Breyfogle and Detective Comics

The newest issue of Back Issue magazine not only features an interview with Legion creators Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen (which is why I bought it--although, I have been buying the magazine regularly for a while, so I probably would have picked it up anyway), but this issue also has a nice interview with Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. I don't necessarily have fond memories of their Detective Comics run, but this interview was full of interesting tidbits. I already knew about John Wagner leaving the book early in his collaboration with Alan Grant (even though Grant kept Wagner's name as co-writer for the rest of that first year), but I didn't know that Scarface and The Ventriloquist had originally been created as a Judge Dredd villain, but Wagner and Grant decided he'd fit better in a Batman story, because, as Grant says, "Judge Dredd would have shot [The Ventriloquist/Scarface] dead and it'd be over."

Grant also reveals that he created Anarky as a replacement for Jason Todd's Robin, once he knew that Robin was scheduled to die. "I had hoped, without mentioning it to anyone at all (even Norman), that [Anarky] would become the next Robin. I didn't know that at that time, Denny [O'Neil] and Marv Wolfman had been in secret talks about the development of a new Robin." That new Robin, of course, would be the Tim Drake incarnation, which Alan Grant wasn't involved with.

The interview made me pull out my old copies of Detective. I realized, looking through the long box, that I really didn't start collecting the series until the Grant/Breyfogle era. I had probably ten or twenty issues from years before, but nothing in sequence. I would have been 15 years old when the Grant/Breyfogle issues premiered, and I was just starting to go to the comic book store on a weekly basis, and I pretty much bought all the DC titles, while my brother bought all the Marvels, and then I'd read all of his comics (and he'd ignore mine--he wasn't ready for DC apparently, since he was only 10 at the time. I don't know if he even really read the Marvel comics, to be honest. Ryan, post a reply and let the readers know.) But I basically own the entire Grant/Breyfogle run (minus two random issues), and I stopped buying Detective about two years after they left. So, why don't I have fond memories of their stories? I really don't know.

I looked at their first two issues again, and they hold up pretty well. It's a bit strange to see Batman actually talking to civilians and police officers, since we're so used to seeing him "in character" all the time nowadays, and Grant's narrative captions seem a bit excessive, but Breyfogle's art (which I remember NOT being impressed with in 1988) is fluid and dynamic. His characters can seem a bit weightless at times, but his pages are exciting to look at. I like his acrobatic Batman, in particular, especially compared to the overly muscled incarnation we see so frequently today. And the Ventriloquist and Scarface are well-presented, if a bit underpowered for a Batman villain. Their threat comes from the harm they cause others, though, so in that regard they are not without potency. They not only distribute drugs which kill children, but they gun down their own men who don't do their jobs well enough.

So, yeah, I liked the first two issues after reading them again. Perhaps, like most comics, they read better in sequence, and my heavy reading load combined with the month-long wait didn't allow me to give these Grant/Breyfogle stories the attention they deserved nearly 20 years ago. I'm going to make time to read the rest of their Detective run, even though I'm extraordinarily busy (and my reading load these days is MUCH heavier than it was when I was 15), and I'll keep you posted on my thoughts. Perhaps I'll enjoy the series more this time around.

UPDATE: I still haven't read more than the first two issues of this run, but in retrospect, 1987-1988 were the two years in which I was really exposed to a lot of brilliant comic books. I came to Watchmen during the middle of its run and probably wasn't able to complete my set and read the whole thing until 1988. I read Dark Knight the week it was launched as a trade paperback, which was probably 1987 or 1988 (right?). I was really enjoying the Giffen/Maguire Justice League, and the Levitz Legion, and had caught up with all of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing issues and was heavily into Rick Veitch's version. So, considering the competition at the time, at least within my brain, I guess it's not suprising that the Grant/Breyfogle Detective run wasn't my favorite thing in the world. But now that the dust has settled, we'll see if these Detective issues have merit. They may not be the height of the genre, but maybe they're pretty good. We'll see.