Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bagley and Williams III Fistfight in Heaven

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

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

Williams III:


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Plans Derailed. New Plans Taking Shape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

At a Conference -- Not Much Comic Action

I'm at a conference for work this week, so I won't be updating until Saturday, but I'm trying to stop by the local comic shops while I'm out here in Newton, Massachusetts. I'll let you know if I find anything cool.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

When Words Collide: Adventures in MoCCALand

So there was this thing in NYC last weekend? MoCCA Art Fesival? Perhaps you've heard of it?

Anyway, Todd Casey and I hit the MoCCA Festival hard and came back with some stories to tell and some comics to read. My story popped up at CBR in yesterday's "When Words Collide." Read it and enjoy!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Review: Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3

In the history of my CBR reviewery (and I've written well over 300 reviews in the past 15 months), I've only given the coveted five-star review three times. "Casanova" #14 got the perfect score. So did "All-Star Superman" #10. Now, another comic has joined that elite rank: "Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye" #3. Man, did I really like this comic.

You should read the heck out of the whole series and then eagerly anticipate the final three issue mini which, according to Cameron Stewart, we can expect in the summer of 2010!

EW on Asterios Polyp

In the grade-A review of Mazzucchelli's "Asterios Polyp," Sean Howe of "EW" mentions the "nearly subliminal color symbolism" in the book. The symbolism is anything but subliminal -- it's an essential detail that's commented upon within the text. That doesn't make it any less great, though.

But it's like saying that the bat motif in Bruce Wayne's life is subliminal.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Random MoCCA Festival 2009 Photos

Commentary on MoCCA 2009 to appear in tomorrow's "When Words Collide" column. Now I just have to write it.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Batman and Robin and Seaguy Hit THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett and I couldn't resist talking about Grant Morrison comics when two of them shipped on the same day. So that's what we did:

Chad Nevett:
Oh my god, we're discussing Grant Morrison again! What a surprise! I am so shocked! This never happens! Ever! Seriously! Er... so... yeah... "Batman and Robin" #1 and "Seaguy" #3. Want to kick things off, Tim?

Tim Callahan: "Batman and Robin" #1? Oh, did that come out?

Honestly, I haven't been anticipating a comic this much since "Final Crisis" #7, how about you?

The first thing that pops to mind is, "yeah, had Quitely drawn all of Morrison's 'Batman' run, our brains would not have been able to handle the awesomeness." Boy, is he the perfect guy to take this Morrisonian weirdness and make it sing. And, yeah, this issue immediately renders all of "Battle for the Cowl" moot, filling in just enough plot details to get everyone up to speed, and then jumping right into the action. This is definitely a much more accessible Morrison Batman comic, with very little in the way of subtext beyond the Dick/Damian relationship and the new strangeness descending on Gotham in the absence of Bruce Wayne. But Morrison's "Batman" run started out simple too, with a Man-Bat Ninja attack and the introduction of his hitherto-unknown son. I think people forget that when they complain about the dense and indecipherable earlier Morrison Batman comics (which, as we both know, were slightly dense but hardly indecipherable). Still, this is a "Batman and Robin" comic for everyone to enjoy. I didn't even miss Jamie Grant's colors as much as I thought I would -- Alex Sinclair does a nice, bold job with the color palatte here, and perhaps Grant would have made it too ephemeral for a Batman comic (although I probably shouldn't assume that, since a pro like Grant would have changed his approach to suit this series).

As much as I liked "Batman and Robin" #1, I think I prefered "Seaguy" #3, though. "Batman and Robin" #1 was great and all, but it seemed to be pretty much exactly what I expected going in -- based on the preview art and the interviews. I never know what to expect from "Seaguy," and this final issue (of the middle series) had it all: action, madness, thrills, nonsense, satire, and most of all, romance! I loved the heck out of this "Seaguy" series. What about you? "Batman and Robin" #1 or "Seaguy" #3? What takes the Nevett Award for Best Morrison Comic of Early June?

CN: Yeah, "Seaguy" was the better comic. I was looking forward to "Batman and Robin" more, but "Seaguy" is just too damn good for a lighter superhero book to really match up. And "Batman and Robin" is very much a light superhero book -- a very good one, but, in many ways, I don't think it quite matches up to what Morrison did up until this point on "Batman." As you said, it's very superficial and lacking in subtext, which is fine and good, but a book like that is always going to look inferior next to one that is so rich and deep like "Seaguy." I love both, but one is going to get reread this weekend and the other isn't.

Actually, there's something about "Batman and Robin" that felt off for me. I didn't mention it in my review of the issue, because I was going for something a bit more objective -- and because I haven't been able to figure out what feels off yet. Maybe it's the lack of subtext. In many ways, this comic feels too easy, too self-explanatory. Too unchallenging. One of the things that we've loved about Morrison's "Batman" run has been that it demands that the reader step up and engage the comic in a far more active way than he or she usually would. Now, maybe we'll discover later that there really was tons of stuff going on here -- because, as you said, Morrison's "Batman" run began similarly -- but, I was maybe just expecting more. That said, "Batman and Robin" is a very smart, well-executed comic that reads briskly. I don't think it's as groundshaking as others have said, but it's a very strong start to this book and this new dynamic duo. Are you missing the subtext like I am?

To Be Continued at GraphiContent!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Review: Astonishing Tales #5

This is a terrible comic with the single redeeming feature of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra's story. Their "Mojoworld" might not be all that great, but it's funny, it looks different from everything else, and it has a sense of absurdity about it.

The rest of this comic isn't worth reading at all. Check out my CBR review to see why.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Batman and Robin #1 Annotations

Like my previous annotations/commentary on Morrison's Batman, this is not so much a scholarly look at a comic book page-by-page as it is me making fun of stuff and/or pointing out what I notice. I may point you in directions you hadn't yet considered, but I would never guarantee anything that foolish.

Batman and Robin #1 Annotations

Cover: I'm not a huge fan of the "Battle of the Planets" Batmobile, but I'm sure it will grow on me as it continues to fly through Gotham and blow stuff up. I do like the utter simplicity of Quitely's Batman design -- classic, yet with a bit of weight in the boots to show this well-grounded Dick Grayson incarnation. I also like the return of the green on the Robin costume, as if Damian insisted "hey, Neal Adams, man! We can't just throw out his design!" and I like the Doc Martens, because Damian Wayne does not wear slippers (in fact, that's the subtitle of the next Robin spin-off miniseries). The best bit of the Robin costume is the black hood on top of the yellow cape because Damian doesn't care about fashion rules. He'll put a damn hood of a different color on top of a a damn yellow cape anytime he wants. He was raised by ninja assassins. Were you?

Page 1: Mr. Toad. Note that "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" isn't actually a ride at Disney World anymore. Instead you can journey through a lame, and pointlessly bouncy, tour of Winne the Pooh's house. Perhaps Morrison's anger at this switch led to the Mickey Eye thing in "Seaguy."

Pages 2-3: Flying Batmobile vs. old-timey car.

Pages 4-5: I imagine Batman says "I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Damian" in the tone of a middle school basketball coach, trying his best to be patient and supportive, but really wanting to tell the other kids to beat the little punk up after practice. This Batmobile shoots rockets that go boom.

Pages 6-7: "Never use real names in the field" is code for: "the exposition's over, pal, so start talking like these readers have actually read 'Battle for the Cowl' (even though we're as surprised as anyone that they actually did)." This Batmobile also has grappling powers. All it needs is a pair of metal fists. And Mr. Toad speaks like a carnie.

Pages 8-9: The double punch is a strategy employed heavily in the "Batman" television show from the 1960s, which is the feeling Morrison is apparently aiming for here. No sound effects, though, because that wouldn't make this panel ironic, it would just make it silly. Dominoes are also known as "bones" because doctors, aka "sawbones" used to get paid in dominoes (okay, that is probably not true at all). Does anyone draw gloves better than Frank Quitely? The answer is no.

Pages 10-11: The two pages that render all of "Battle of the Cowl" and its tie-ins completely irrelevant. Good. Also: Batman's grave, but nothing is written on it! Could it be that he's not really dead? Perhaps that final page at the end of "Final Crisis" #7 that showed Bruce Wayne alive in a caveman cave meant that Bruce Wayne is not, in fact, dead but rather alive in a caveman cave.

Page 12: See, I told you dominoes were called bones! Also, this page is a complete rip-off of Chris Ware's "Building Stories" and he should probably sue.

Page 13: The exposition ain't done yet, it turns out. But a European circus performer? That's menacing. And, no, eating chicken and jalapeno sandwiches don't make you a badass, Dick Grayson, as Damian is quick to prove.

Page 14: Who says, "crime is doomed"? Dick Grayson, right? He is turning into the sarcastic middle school basketball coach already. Also, Damian should drop a League of Assassins reference in every conversation. "So, did you catch the 'Lost' season finale?" "No, because I was raised by the masters of my mother's League of Assassins." "Do you like jalapeno sandwiches, with chicken?" "Dick Grayson, I will cut out your pansy tongue with a machete I carved from the spine of Charles Manson as I was taught by the masters of my mother's League of Assassins." Etc.

Pages 15-16: Disrespectful brats always talk about other people having to "earn" their respect. The "Tim Drake" line really puts Damian in his place, though. Dick Grayson may get promoted to junior varsity b-ball coach before this issue is over. Also, Pyg's doll gals are creepy. Pyg and his dolls appeared way back in "Batman" #666, remember that one? The one that was an "alternate future" where Damian was Batman? The one that seems less and less like an alternate future and more and more like what could really happen if Morrison stayed on this comic long enough? That was a good issue, wasn't it? This art is way better.

Pages 17-18: I know it's expressionistic and I understand foreshortening, but Frank Quitely's Batman can reach down and grab hold of his kneecaps without even bending over. His arms must have stretched after all those years of swinging around Gotham. I do like how Robin is bigger and in the foreground. This is the "Robin and Batman" series at this point. Grayson needs to step up and smack the little brat with those baboon arms of his.

Pages 19-20: That guy with the flaming skull? It's not the Flaming Skull. (He's Phosphorus Rex.)

Pages 21-22: Pyg is apparently not a professor yet. He's got a whole Leatherface thing going on here, which is pretty terrifying actually. And the acid mask gag? Didn't the Black Mask used to do something like that? Anyway, things look bleak for Niko and family. I don't think Robin will care too much about saving them. He was raised by assassins.

Page 23: I don't know if that's Jason Todd or not, but in that single panel, he looks cooler than he does in every previous appearance combined. Also: Dr. Hurt returns and he's got the keys to a building that's been blown up. Why is he all braggy about it? Because he's Satan, that's why! Or he's Bruce Wayne's father, that's why! Neither of which were raised by any sort of assassins, as far as I know.

No obscure 1950's "Batman" comics to reference this month? Maybe I'll drop this series and see what Winick's got going on.

Morrison and Quitely!!!

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man #133 -- UPDATED

Though I use words like "tragedy" and "weighty" and "Bendis," I provide a spoiler-free review of the final issue of "Ultimate Spider-Man." But it's not very hard to connect the dots and figure out what happens, especially when I quote from the solicitations for the "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" series headed our way later this fall.

Oh, and as an extra bonus for Geniusboy Firemelon subscribers, here's my one-sentence review of "Ultimatum" #4: It reads as if it were written by Sid from "Toy Story."

UPDATED TO ADD: Bendis, via Twitter, emphasizes that this is NOT the last issue. There are two double-sized issues left. Yet, as I pointed out to him, when Marvel.com solicitations for #133 clearly say "this final issue," then why would we assume otherwise?

Batman and Robin #1 Commentary Coming Soon

You're probably expecting my "Batman and Robin" #1 thoughts, and they will be coming soon. Friday night at the latest. Until then, know this: I HATED that first issue.

Just kidding. Of course I loved it. It's Morrison and Quitely.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Reviews: Aliens #1 and Incredible Hercules #129

I wrote a couple of CBR review from last week that I never got around to linking to: Aliens #1 and Incredible Hercules #129.

Surprisingly, the Aliens comic ended up with the better score, although I'm quite fond of the Hercules series. But Arcudi has some fun with subverting reader expectation in the Aliens comic, and the art on the newest issue of Hercules is too hammy for my tastes.

See what I have to say, and then come back here and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

WWC: Comics in the Danger Zone

The cancellation of "Captain Britain and MI13" coupled with the recently-announced demise of "Young Liars" has really annoyed me. Chad Nevett and I had a Splash Page discussion (that's been lost to the wilds of the internet) about cancelled comics last summer, and we took a "hey, maybe it's better to go out while you're on top" approach, but while that's all well and good, it's frustrating that readers flock to the most mediocre X-crap while ignoring the stuff right next to it on the shelf that's actually produced with some intelligence and creativity.

So I decided to spend this week's "When Words Collide" column, the first of the all-new MONDAY TIME-SLOT COLUMNS, talking about 10 comics that deserve more readers. I stuck with the mainstream stuff from the Big Two, because that's the stuff that everyone should already have access to, and all they have to do is start picking it up off the shelf and telling their retailers, "you sold out of 'Northlanders'?!? Don't you know that book is awesome enough to order extra quantities???" etc.

Question: What comics would you have added to the "under-the-radar" list?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Final Crisis Aftermath Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett and I have resurrected "The Splash Page" just in time to look at the first issues of the four "Final Crisis Aftermath" series. The first part of the discussion is posted at Chad's blog, and the second half is presented below for your edification and amusement:

Following up on Grant Morrison ideas and characters has always been a tricky/problematic area. If companies don't follow the path Morrison's laid out, we bitch. When we do, they usually can't match Morrison's skill, so we bitch. There's really no winning with us fans, honestly. Then again, I've been saying for quite a long time that the writer they should be tapping to follow-up Morrison is Joe Casey (usually when discussing Noh-Varr) and, finally, it's happened and I was right. Or, look at what Ivan Brandon is doing on "Escape" by taking the very basic concept of that world peacekeeping organisation group on one of the parallel Earths and putting a spin on it that's both reminiscent of Morrison's work (specifically "The Invisibles" and "The Filth"), but still writing it in different ways. It reminds me of adaptations where the worst ones are often the ones that recreate the plot faithfully while getting the tone and feel wrong, while the best ones are often the ones that have no problem changing the plot while maintaining the feel of the original. That's what "Dance" and "Escape" do very well: they share a feel with Morrison's work while not necessarily reading like one of his comics. If that makes sense. Of course, neither "Run!" nor "Ink" seem to attempt to go for duplication of plot or feel, so maybe that explains them.

Ideally, you want writers who will make their own statement and be unafraid to take these characters in different directions, while, at the same time, maintaining some of the feel of Morrison's depictions of them. It's an incredibly hard thing to do, but I think where too many go wrong is getting caught up in the small details or flat-out stealing from Morrison's writings -- a tactic you'd think would work, but doesn't. In that "Secret Invasion: Who Do You Trust?" one-shot, Zeb Wells did a Noh-Varr story that was utterly lifeless despite being filled with elements from "Marvel Boy," and it didn't work because it was filled with elements from "Marvel Boy." It was, on the surface, 100% true to the character, but was devoid of any of the life or energy Morrison gave the character, because it was just a pastiche of pre-existing lines or situations. Christ, I'm just rambling on, aren't I? Help me out here, Tim, and, hopefully, put what I'm saying into words that, you know, make sense.

TC: Well, I think you make a good point, but it's the same point that's made about almost every comic that sucks: "100% true to the character, but...devoid of any of the life or energy." See everyone who followed Jack Kirby for more examples.

So here we are talking too much about Morrison again, but what does he do that stays true to the character but injects energy? And why is it so difficult for others to do the same thing? Why is Morrison's "Animal Man" vibrant, but Peter Milligan's is flat. Why is Morrison's "X-Men" new, while Chuck Austen's is unreadable melodrama? Why wasn't Mark Waid able to pull off "JLA," even though he had the same tools and some of the same concepts as Morrison?

And do you really think Casey and Brandon can pull it off? I like to hope they can, by doing what you're saying: taking the tone and spinning it out in new plot directions, while putting their own personalities into it. I mean, Joe Casey of "The Intimates" and "Godland" was BORN to write the Super Young Team.

Speaking of that -- and to go off on a tangent -- I've seen readers complain about the use of Twitter in "Dance." What's that about? Do you think it's cheesy and too of-the-moment for Casey to have Most Excellent Superbat tweeting throughout the issue?

CN: I honestly think that Morrison's approach lends itself to a certain feeling that's hard to replicate -- Joe Casey and Matt Fraction have a similar feeling at times. Part fun, part "who gives a crap," part "this is the greatest moment of all time," part... I don't know what. The only way to describe it is in contradictory terms, because it's both insanely fun and light, while also being heavy and serious.

I don't understand the Twitter complaint. The only Twitter-related complaint I've thought made sense was a guy who lives in Japan arguing that Japanese teens don't use Twitter, so it's not true to the characters. Other than that, how is it any different from regular narrative captions or excerpts from journals? I think it's very clever, not because it relates to contemporary times, but because Twitter allows him to narrate and comment in a manner that is immediate and, contextually, fits into the book. Sometimes, narrative captions seem out of place and you wonder why a character would be thinking that, but people are more conscious about what's going on when posting on Twitter, so it makes sense for Most Excellent Superbat to say some of the things he says. Twitter is immediate and, at times, random, which fits here. It really comes off as a combination of traditional narrative captions and the infoscroll Casey used in "The Intimates." I never understand people who complain that references that place a work within a specific time is somehow bad. Those people obviously haven't read... well, any book worth reading since they all are products of their time. Is there any way to depict young people well other than placing them firmly within the cultural context from which they've sprung? What else do they even care about?

"Escape" draws me back it for some reason, but, as you said earlier, there isn't a lot there. It's mostly a jumble of images that don't really lead anywhere, so do you think future issues may begin to suffer once the plot becomes clearer? I think that this odd way of doing an issue is what makes it so good, so I'm a little concerned that Brandon won't be able to keep it going once things become clearer.

TC: I know what you mean about "Escape." If its greatness lies in its mystery, and then things start to become clearer and we uncover more and more about what's really going on, then it loses the very thing that attracted us to it. Maybe that's why "The Prisoner" isn't such a strong narrative model, unless the comic book series ends on issue #4 and we never find out the secrets, which would be even more annoying in its own way. BUT, I think that Brandon can use the strangeness and mystery as the hook and then still tell an interesting story as Tom Tresser (and the reader) start piecing things together, as long as the ultimate truth is at least different than "oh, he's in a prison somewhere and he's drugged." If there's an actual story with twists and turns beneath the mysterious exterior, then "Escape" could very well end up being the best of the bunch.

I only have one last question: will you drop "Ink" and "Run" now that you've seen the first issue and just stick with "Dance" and "Escape"? Or will you keep buying all four to see how it all plays out in the end? (I think I know the answer to this already.)

CN: I won't be buying "Run!" or "Ink" again, sticking just with "Dance" and "Escape." Unless I'm buying it for review purposes, I just can't support a comic I know to be bad. I just can't. I assume you'll keep buying all four titles, because you buy everything, right?

TC: I might drop the two I didn't like, but my comic book habit pays for itself these days, so I think I might stick with all four and I'll let you know how they all turn out. Or you could keep buying them too, and then we could come back when it's all over and see if our opinions have changed. Somehow, I suspect they won't.

Review: Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight #1

Boy, I'm not a fan of that Jim Lee cover. It's got a bit of the Spanish architecture in the background, but it's such a generic pose otherwise. Some might call it "iconic," but I'd just call it lifeless and insipid.

Anyway, I didn't review the cover over at CBR, I reviewed the inside bits. You know, the story and the art and the dialogue and the stuff that matters. Because everyone knows that a Batman story from the past about that one time he fought Killer Kroc in Spain is totally essential to understanding the Batman mythos.

But I shouldn't tease, because I did like this issue, and it was fun to see Bruce Wayne doing the Batman thing after reading three issues of the supposed "Battle for the Cowl" that was really not about battling for the cowl at all, was it?