Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When Words Collide: Three Digressions on GØDLAND

When Joe Casey asked me to provide the critical essay for inclusion in the second "GØDLAND Celestial Edition," I said, "hell, yes!" And I had plenty of ideas of how I would approach a retrospective/analysis of the series. Then I reread Tom Spurgeon's essay in the first volume, and he basically said most of the things I was going to say.

Then I reread issues #13-24 with a notebook by my side and my critical faculties at their most incisive and started making mad lists of whatever I noticed or felt worthy of comment in an essay. I ended up with a long list and random bits of genius dialogue and imagery that I just had to make note of. I mixed it all up in my brain and felt that the fancy hardcover collection deserved more than just a few thoughts, so I came up with my "Twelve Digressions on GØDLAND," one digression for each issue, even though they aren't tied to any strict chronology.

You'll have to buy the Celestial Edition Vol. 2 to get all twelve (and who wouldn't want the Celestial Edition, anyway? It's gonna be gorgeous), but I'm giving away the first three for free in this week's "When Words Collide" column. And maybe if you're nice and you get my blog up to 1,000 visitors per day, or get me to 666 Twitter followers by the end of the month, I'll post some more for your reading enjoyment. It's all about the give and take. Until then, think GØDLAND!

READ: Three Digressions on GØDLAND!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Absolute Absolutes

I wouldn't call "Green Lantern: Rebirth" my favorite comic book series. Not even close. I liked it well enough at the time of its release, and I thought Geoff Johns did a surprisingly good job making some kind of sense out of the Parallax ridiculousness and bringing Hal Jordan back in a way that erased the sins of the "Emerald Dawn"/Gerard Jones era without ignoring them.

But I somehow now own it in three different formats: single issues, hardcover collection, and now the Absolute edition. I bought the single issues during release, and caught up with all the Johns Lantern HCs during the "Sinestro Corps War" when my local shop had a 50% off sale, and I felt the need to own the comics in a format that I could throw at slow moving squirrels or something. And I am incapable of resisting an Absolute edition. It's by far my favorite format to read comics in. Oversized and bulky. Absolutes are immersive experiences.

Turns out, that just like so many other Absolute editions, I like "Green Lantern: Rebirth" even more reading it at this size. Ethan Van Sciver has never been one of my favorite artists. He strives for Brian Bolland but lacks the structure to hang all that rendering on. Yet at the Absolute size, his work looks great. And it helps that "Green Lantern: Rebirth" is the best work of his career. Far better than "Flash: Iron Heights," which was his previous benchmark, and far, far better than his recent work on "Flash: Rebirth."

So, yes, "Absolute Green Lantern: Rebirth." I am no sorry I own this. Not one bit.

And when I mentioned Absolute editions on Twitter, some folks asked for recommendations, so here are my Top 10 Absolute Editions, in order of ones-I-would-bring-to-a-desert-island-and-read-and-not-burn-in-a-fire-to-keep-me-warm.

#1. Absolute Watchmen. Dave Gibbons at this size is like the Mona Lisa giving you a high-five.

#2. Absolute Dark Night. Frank Miller doesn't just draw comics. He carves them.

#3. Absolute DC The New Frontier. Darwyn Cooke's finely crafted masterpiece of superhero spectacle is a bit cold and lifeless. But in this format, you can crawl around inside its sculptured majesty.

#4. Absolute Promethea. J. H. Williams III. He draws good.

#5. Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story is pretty terrible to actually read, but George Perez's art has never looked better.

#6. Absolute Ronin. Euro-manga explosion, inside Frank Miller's pen and ink.

#7. Absolute Sandman. All four volumes. Why not?

#8. Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both volumes. Out-of-print, but classic. And Kev O'Neilly.

#9. Absolute Death. Chris Bachalo is an amazing artist, and even if this book unnecessarily reprints issues from Absolute Sandman (seriously, who buys this and not Sandman?), it's still, you know, Chris Bachalo.

#10. Absolute JLA/Avengers. Pure eye candy.

I don't own Absolute Planetary or Absolute Authority, but when they're reprinted, I'll be able to build a house with them. Alex Ross in Absolute format? Nah.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Splash Page Podcast 16: Siege, Siege, Sentry, Siege

This week's Splash Page podcast is mostly about "Siege" and Chad and I mostly disagree about everything. Except how terrible the "Sentry: Fallen Sun" comic was. That's just a fact. Nothing to disagree about there.

What else do we talk about? Pretty much everything that's important in life and/or comics.

And all in a single, extra-long episode this week. Because that's what we're all about. Quality, in a compressed dose of limited quantity.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 16!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Oberon Sexton REVEALED!

In the build-up to Oberon Sexton's recent reveal in "Batman and Robin," I'm sure many of us tried to see if his name was a clue. We knew Oberon was the king of the faeries and we knew Sexton was a keeper of a churchyard, and Oberon Sexton himself was called the "Gravedigger." But so what? It didn't seem to lead anywhere.

Then Oberon Sexton turned out the be the Joker, which wasn't really that much of a surprise since Morrison had mentioned Joker as a looming presence in the series in interviews. But still, why the name "Oberon Sexton"

Reader Dennis McNicholas e-mailed me and pointed out the possible joke: If Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries, he's also the "fey king." Oberon Sexton is "fey king" (or faking) being the Gravedigger. It's a joke, kids!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Iron Man Noir #2 Review

This is better than you might think, mostly because Scott Snyder knows what he's doing, even if Manuel Garcia's pencils are not well-complemented by the inks and colors on this issue.

Then again, I would probably regularly buy a series about Captain Namor and his grumpy seafaring adventures. "Captain Namor and the Giant Squid from Dimension X"? Yeah, I'd be all over that.

Oh, and everyone dies at the end of this issue. (But not really, I bet.)

Read the REVIEW.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Siege #4 Review

Yes, it's time for me to get back to linking to all my reviews, so you can keep up with the most accurate and informative and exciting and sometimes typo-laden opinion in comic books.

Today, I'll spotlight my review of "Siege" #4. It's a comic I read. It's basically Marvel's version of the final paragraph of the Gettysburg Address, covered with salsa, and thrown into the end zone into the arms of a free Plaxico Burress.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Words Collide: Joe Casey Says Stuff That's Fascinating

On Monday, my long-awaited interview with Joe Casey finally hit the internet: I Interview Joe Casey for When Words Collide.

Casey clearly didn't have a great time with his most recent work-for-hire experience at DC, and he even spills a whole lot o' beans about an abandoned "Justice League Academy" series that might have happened in an alternate reality where DC Comics didn't take so long to get a project off the ground.

Oh, and I'm writing the big honkin' essay on "GØDLAND" that will appear in this summer's "GØDLAND Celestial Edition, Vol. 2." I'll provide an except of that piece in next week's column, to tease and inform.

I really want to see a Damian Wayne and Offspring team-up comic. Written by Joe Casey and illustrated by Sean Murphy. I'm sure we'll see that happen a few years from never.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Moore and Morrison and Deconstruction

I received an interesting, insightful e-mail from Jason Faris a couple of weeks ago. According to Jason, he's an "autodidact, comic book enthusiast, energetic fictional advocate, moral philosopher and budding comic book author; currently posing as a mild mannered 33 year old father of twin seven year old boys and working as a cubicle jockey in the Midwest." Well, that sounds pretty good (except the cubicle jockey part, since I keep picturing a tiny little man surrounded by large gray walls covered with memos and photos of cats).

Jason had some things to say about Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, and after I responded positively to his e-mail, he revised and expanded his comments a bit, and so I present it to you now. Jason Faris's thoughts on Moore/Morrison Deconstruction, with my commentary afterward:
It is not to shocking or original to suggest that within the last 30 plus years no writer has had as great an impact on the comic book medium as have Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. These two giants have, in fact, much more in common. Both are self educated, both come from working class but liberal families, both grew up in the British Isles during a period of economic down turn, both are self professed magicians, and both of their work is shrouded in the esoteric with a suggestion of the subversive. How is it then that their work is rarely complimentary and at times directly in opposition? Both are consummate craftsman, both intellectually stimulating and brilliantly playful, but with a very different energy and affect on the reader. Both are innovators of unbridled imagination but have a completely different impact on other writers or would be imitators. How is it that these two men with so much in common could have bodies of work that are so strikingly different. I think the starkest and most telling difference between them is in their approach to the iconic figure and conversely how they use these figures to address or reflect realism.

The iconic figure is something/anything that is instantly recognizable. There are two very basic ways to interact with these figures. The first is to instill them within the bounds and boundaries of realism, to imagine them human. The second is to honor their inherent unreality as something 'other', to mythologize them.

The so called "deconstruction" of the superhero probably didn't originate with Moore. In fact a number of English books featured significantly darker heroes and anti-heroes. That period in English culture was socio-economically predisposed to mistrusting brightly clad primary color optimism. A cultural situation that America found some resonance with in the 80's, most notably with works like the Watchmen. In the long run this was essential for the medium to be elevated literarily. To show what could be done with the form. Additionally, reimagining these pure iconic figures as containing the frailties of the eras and insecurities that spawned them gives us access to them, updates them for a more cynical and more modern audience. It seems in retrospect like a no brainer, inevitable. Moore's real strength and the true evidence of his incomparable genius lie in his remarkable ability to craft a story and imbue a modern literary psychology within the medium of sequential art. Moore’s playfulness resides in this craft.

This deconstruction of iconic literary figures and archetypes is a hall mark of Moore's career; in fact it dominates almost the entirety of his work. The goal of this, one must imagine, being to use these iconic figures as a mirror into ourselves. What would getting the savior who so brilliantly sparks our cultural imagination be like? How small would we seem in his presence?

Morrison is no less interested in "realism" but to him these iconic figures are already "real". To paraphrase Morrison himself, “The real deal offers no emotional weight, no cathartic release, and no dramatic structure”. It is not necessary to "bring these figures down to our level" they are already pure expressions of ourselves, and he respects them as such in and of themselves. The superhero for instance doesn't need a human motivation to do good. The Superhero is simply the figure mankind has invented who always does good. Superman is the greatest invention of man not because he is a perfect expression of man but because he is man’s perfect expression of a savior who “loves everyone and always wins”. This is where Morrison's infamous 'weirdness' comes from. He is dealing with shiny abstract ideals and interacting with them on this mythic level as though their rules are as real as ‘the real deal’. These figures however don’t live in our world accept to the degree that we live in theirs. Neither do they necessarily abide by our rules.

I think asking for faith in the iconic figure in and of itself takes real guts and isn't as obvious a departure in today’s increasingly cynical society. This is why his work pops and crackles with energy. He is looking not to the past for where these ideas came from, or anthropologically into the dark recesses of our cultural psychology (though he does do this at times) so much as using the best tools we have for imagining our own greatest potential, looking to where we are/could be going. This is also why the apocalyptic and/or paradigm shifting event feature so prominently in his work. Morrison is asking where we are going. What is next? Morrison’s playfulness is unchecked (at times recklessly so) as his craft is subservient to the myth. He is always looking for the best ways to manipulate his work to accentuate these alien ideas. Reality is stranger than fiction so a realistic fiction must be very strange indeed.

There is much more one could explore in this exercise. I am not sure of what pragmatic value it would be beyond merely to support what is stated above. I am sure one could explore the Manichean vs Anti-Manichean relationships in their work, their very different views on adaptations and otherwise embracing or refuting the elements of a capitalist and information age. But I think the above is a succinct attempt to outline the root of these relationships.

My first thought is that it goes back to what I've said before about Moore as an ironist and Morrison as an absurdist, but by spinning his thoughts around both writers exporation of "the real," Jason looks at the differences in a fresh way. I think he's basically right when he talks about Moore exploring the psychology of the characters while Morrison explores the iconography, since the characters are, as Morrison has said, "realer than we are" already.

I also think about the development in literature in the ages since industrialization. I'm talking masterpieces of fiction and poetry here, in a simplified, Survey of Lit 101 kind of way. But, basically, as industrialization in Europe grew more oppressive, the poets and artists and novelists turned toward Romanticism, idealizing nature and purity over man-made artifice.

We get that in comics from the Golden Age through the Silver Age, even if the idealized "nature" was the nature of "super-science" more often than not. (But think of how the evils of industrialization have always been at the heart of comic book villainy, from organized crime to brainy scientists to robots.)

In literature, Realism followed Romanticism, so we get Charles Dickens exploring social class and we get Emil Zola exploring the grim working conditions of the common man.

In comics, we get the Bronze Age.

While Modernism and Postmodernism take up the entire 20th century in literary terms, as the disillusionment sets in around WWI, followed by vast influenza outbreaks and tragedy and, in America, the Great Depression. So we get T. S. Eliot and we get Ernest Hemingway and we get James Joyce. All of whom, in their Modernist ways, interested in psychological realism and the fragmentation of society.

That's Alan Moore, circa 1983-1987. Modernism in comics.

Grant Morrison, coming in at the tail end of those years, immediately brings the Postmodernism, and "Animal Man" #5 is the epitome of that, with the metafiction, with the commentary on the Modernist mode.

So I can't help but think that Moore and Morrison compressed 100 years of literary development into about five years of comic books. It took a while for comics to catch up to what literature had been doing for decades, but once they broke away from the simplistic Romanticism, they started catching up really quickly.

Of course, this ignores the influence of the underground comics and even the EC comics and anything else that's not Moore or Morrison. But that's how this game is played.

What do you think?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Splash Page Podcast 15.2: Esteem, Hellboy, Wizard!

How great is that Richard Corben cover? If you don't think it's one of the greatest images to ever grace a comic book blog and or comic book shop, then you are a person who keeps an address in crazytown, one block over from insanity house.

So. Second Splash Page episode of the week. What do Chad and I talk about? Oh, everything.

Creators who have risen or fallen in our esteem. Hellboy. Longboxes. Wizard magazine. Jack Kirby's Eternals. Very sad X-Men. Iron Fist. And more.

Done in an extra low-key, smooth grove style.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 15.2!

Splash Page Podcast 15.1: Beast Boy, Thor, Gods!

Brian Cronin was nice enough to devote a few days of "Greatest Stories" month at Comics Should Be Good to Chad and I, mostly based around a long-ago discussion of Warren Ellis vs. Geoff Johns.

And then I went and chose Garfield Logan as my character, and the internet shrugged its shoulders.

We also talk about "I, Zombie" #1 and plenty of other comics this week. And I mess up the intro (twice, basically) but Chad doesn't bother editing it out because he wants to show you how human we are. Or how bad I am at saying words in a row.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 15.1!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

When Words Collide: A Whole Lot O' Content

Wow. Checking back, I realize that I haven't regularly posted links to my "When Words Collide" column at CBR since June of last year. Sad, really.

I won't bombard you with a list of everything I've written for CBR since then, but here are some of the things I've written in the past few months, in reverse order (the most recent stuff first):

1. Dancing with the Destroyer: How Robert Kirkman reinvigorated a Golden Age DC character and made me weep with joy.

2. Kevin Colden, Man of Mystery, Man of Scandalous Intent: The first mature-readers Zuda series and an interview with the Eisner-nominated man behind it. Yeah, that happened.

3. A Tale of Two (Comic Book) Cities: New York's MoCCA Festival vs. the Boston Comic Con? How many winners can there be? Answer: all of them. (Plus, Jack Kirby Bronze Age goodness.)

4. Frank Miller's New Gods: I linked to this when I posted the Miller story in its entirety, but it's still something worth mentioning because it's (a) Frank Miller, and (b), Jack Kirby, and (c) Darkseid. Three of my favorite flavors.

5. Brendan McCarthy is a God of Spiders and Other Things that are Good: I ruminate on "Spider-Man: Fever" and other important topics. Mostly awesome ones involving drawings by McCarthy.

6. Retcon Reviews: My controversial ironic take-down of such critically-acclaimed masterpieces as "Secret Wars II" and "Ultimatum." Zing! Take that, people who got paid to write bad comics!

7. Jorge Molina's Marvel House (Style) Party: Here's a guy trying to carve a career in mainstream superhero comics. What is that like? I wonder. So I ask.

8. Fifteen Must-Have Collected Editions that Sort of Came Out Already, Mostly: This was basically a way to remind myself what I should buy in recent months, and let people know about the goodness inside. If you're curious, I have since bought six of the books on the list. Guess which ones, and win a prize!

9. Scott Snyder: Who is This Guy? If you don't already know, Scott Snyder is the next big thing, and I've known that for a while. Plus, he's a teacher. And that makes him doubly cool. Not as cool as "American Vampire." But close.

10. Bendis, Bendis, Bendis: I spent a month writing about Bendis, including a list of the "Bendis Top Ten," plus a Three-Part Examination of the Bendis Daredevil: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3!

If you've been reading all the WWC stuff all along, thanks! If not, it looks like you'll have plenty of fun and informative and probably mind-blowing catching up to do.

Splash Page Podcast 14.2: Who, Hickman, Legion Espionage Squad!

Chad = big fan of "Babylon 5." Yet he hasn't been watching the new "Doctor Who." I'm pretty sure "Doctor Who" > "Babylon 5." No. It's a fact, actually.

So we talk about that. And tons of comics. Tons!

Like ones starring Dash Bad Horse, even if he doesn't appear in the issue. And ones starring Superman, even if barely appears in the issue. And ones starring a whole batch of warriors who operate in secret. And a family of four, with fantastic powers.

And John Romita, Jr.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 14.2!

Splash Page Podcast 14.1: Freebies, Bendis, Arkhammy!

Free Comic Book Day happened. We talk about that. Or we talk about how it's going to happen. One or the other.

And we talk about what's going on in "Detective Comics" and "Captain America" and other things of great import. Like "New Avengers" #64. Life-altering conversations, I'm sure.

And more.

Listen: Splash Page Podcast Episode 14.1!

Splash Page Podcast 13.2: Energy, Unity, Style!

This is where Chad and I develop a four-point mapping system for discussing all comic book writers. I'll expand it into a WWC column or four at some point, but we basically quantify every major writer according to our new, completely made-up, criteria. But it guides our discussion of a few important comics of the week.

Like "Who Won't Wield the Shield" and "Joe the Barbarian" and "DV8" and "The Spirit."

Comics, all!

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.2.

Splash Page Podcast 13.1: Babs, Bullets, Better Comics

This is the episode where we talk about the now-infamous "Brave and the Bold" #33, the one where Batgirl dances. Then gets shot in the spine. No thanks to her superhero pals!

I think I explain my critical approach to comics in this podcast, or say other smart things about smart topics. Or not.

I'm sure it's a good one, though, because it has a discussion of Cliff Chiang, and anything involving that man always comes out great. Unless it's "Brave and the Bold" #33. Totally not his fault.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 13.1!

Splash Page Podcast 12.2: Straczynski, Doc Savage, Chad Writes Comics

J. Michael Straczynski writing about Superman walking across the country to learn about himself, to learn about America? Yeah, we talk about that.

(I think. We recorded this a while ago, so maybe we talk about something completely different.)

We also probably talk about "Doc Savage" #1 and Chad's history as a writer, including his comics that are so famous, they ended up on a t-shirt.

LISTEN: Splash Page Podcast Episode 12.2!

Update Attack: A Promise to Readers Young and Old

I've been neglecting the updates here. If you were going by this blog, you'd think Chad and I stopped the Splash Page Podcast at episode 12.1. But we didn't. You'd think my When Words Collide column at CBR ended a few months back. It didn't. You'd think I'd stopped doing reviews. I Haven't.

I just need to get back into the habit of keeping everyone informed AND provide some new content for this blog on a regular basis. So here's what I promise: I will link to every podcast, column, and review I do. And I will provide at least one new-content post a week. Let's get this "Geniusboy Firemelon" train back on its magical, day-glo tracks!

Want to see me tackle something in a post? Give me a topic to talk about in the comments!