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Wait, What? Ep. 144: The “Ass” in “Assemble”

Jeff Lester

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Fuck yes, Shaolin Cowboy.

Hey, so it’s another installment of Wait, What?, and I think maybe this fortnightly thing is going to work out?  (Provided you don’t abandon us in droves or something…)  Whereas our last installment was two hours and us whingeing on about the news, this one is two hours and is us whingeing about comics we’ve read.  Brilliant!

After the jump, Jeff makes some brilliantly incorrect statements about Shaolin Cowboy in service of a perfectly good theory, Graeme fills us in on the most successfully monetized fanfic since 50 Shades of Grey, and we do that thing about the first twenty-five issues of Avengers that would finally allow an old man like me to type ‘smh’ except I have no idea how to pluralize that. (Plus, guest appearances by two of the more important writers in the science fiction and fantasy genres.)  In short: show notes!

00:00-21:47: Greetings!  As I mentioned, last time was news, this time it’s weather. No, wait, comics, I mean comics! Jesus, I am rusty.  But this every other week thing has made us hungry to talk, let me tell you that.  For example, Graeme knows I’ve got this theory about the most recent four issue run of Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy, so I, uh, I really go right into it. Seriously, if you thought the biggest problem with the podcast was Jeff didn’t start throwing around crazy theories in under the first minute, this is the fast-moving podcast for you. It’s very much a full spoiler conversation, as it’s impossible for me to talk about it without talking about the very end.  (Although looking at the first issue again, I see at least one helluva big hole in my theory….and after looking over the last three issues at once think my biggest argument for my theory is also, uh, not quite right.  So…cave canem, y’all!)
21:47-28:11:  The Fox #1 and #2, by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid!  Not nearly as extensive a theory on Jeff’s part (no theory at all, in fact, just his usual irresponsible opinions) but that means that Graeme gets more than a word in edgewise, thank goodness.
28:11-33:11: The comparisons between Dean Haspiel and Mike Allred lends itself well to Graeme weighing in on Don Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer.  Also covered: we discuss Steve Englehart’s Silver Surfer… because it is Steve Englehart and because it is our heart.
33:11-53:59:  Exactly five minutes later (exactly!) we end up discussing the Star Trek photonovel, Strange New Worlds, assembled by John Byrne. Somewhere in there, my voice picks up a faint echo, not unlike one of the quasi-omnipotent aliens from the first series?  And then the dogs go cuh-razy? And we discuss how to best be a comic store clerk and not end up in hell?  And Jeff does the best imitation he probably has ever done?  And we talk about how John Byrne’s financial affairs, like that’s even a thing we might know anything about?  So….a little bit of something for everyone?  Or maybe a whole bunch of nothing for someone?  You make the call!
53:59-57:11: Graeme asks Jeff what he thinks about the Joe Casey Captain Victory news.  Jeff, as it turns out, knows nothing about it.  We talk about it super-briefly (because what is there to say, apart from sweet mother of god, that art team!) and then…
57:11-1:01:47: Graeme talks about a bit about what he’s read recently, including the first Constantine trade by Ray Fawkes, Jeff Lemire and Renato Guedes, the second and third Justice League Dark trades by Jeff Lemire, Mikel Janin, and Graham Nolan.
1:01:47-1:22:41: Thanks to the holiday generosity of Whatnaut Matt Terl, Jeff got a free one month sub to Marvel Unlimited, the digital all-you-can eat service offered by Marvel.  Our discussion of it is perhaps inextricably intertwined with  our thoughts about stuff — to be more speciific, Peter Bagge’s brilliant The Death of the Age of Stuff  — the digital economy, why audio never goes viral,  and other things  like Christploitation, The Power of Warlock, The Incredible Hulk, the last thing Jeff will think of before he dies (which hopefully is not the perfect seque into…)
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1:22:41-1:27:48:  The first twenty-five issues of Avengers! Graeme and Jeff are endeavoring to read the first 300 issues this year and talk about them:  good luck on that one, since (a) our disagreements start from literally the first issue, and (b) if there are more stretches like that first twenty-five issues, then…whew. Anyway, in there Graeme starts cutting out a little bit so we have…
1:27:48-1:28:10: INTERMISSION ONE! Man, I kind of missed these.  I really have to rope Graeme into doing more music for the show.
1:28:10-2:06:45: And we’re back!  And Graeme’s not cutting out anymore! And Jeff no longer sounds like one of those omnipotent threats from the first series of Star Trek!  Yay, technology!!  Technology can’t help where the first twenty-five issues of Avengers are concerned, though: so we have to talk about their slapdash charms (or pseudo-charms, to be honest).  Of particular interest: Stan Lee’s handling of Captain America, the difference between the original team and the new team, celebrity fan letters,
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the world’s worst person, terrifying comic ads,
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the origin of the mighty Marvel subplot, early continuity, and much, much more.
2:06:45-2:08:57: Penultimately, Graeme has some breaking news (at the time of recording) about Agents of SHIELD and Deathlok. You can actually hear Jeff’s ambivalence about this news manifest itself as a low sonic hum.
2:08:57-end:  Closing comments! Remember to come back in two weeks!


This sucker is already up on iTunes and our RSS feed, but it is also the kind of thing we’d like to make available for you here:

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated and obsessed over to an inordinate degree!  We hope you enjoy and, of course, thank you for listening!

21 Responses to “ Wait, What? Ep. 144: The “Ass” in “Assemble” ”

  1. Great show guys. Jeff’s idea about shaolin cowboy as zen meditation is absolutely amazing. If that isn’t the idea he was going for I may steal it for my own work.

    Re: Avengers #1-25, the way you describe Captain America and the thought bubbles makes me think that perhaps the thought bubbles are not what Hawkeye/whoever was thinking but what Captain America thought they were thinking.

    Also it’s a little ironic that Jeff brought up his idea of the era of ‘good enough’ in the same show as Avengers#1-25 and didn’t connect the two :P

    Keep up the good work :)

  2. Any chance we could get a download link inserted into the shownotes? I personally found that to be the most convenient way to access the podcast.

  3. @Dave Clarke: I only wish Avengers #1-25 had qualified as “good enough.”

    @Matt: yeah, download link is now an embedded player, apparently (appears right below “…but is also the kind of thing we’d like to make available to you here:”)? If that format stays around (because I don’t remember it being there last week…) I’ll make it a point to throw it under that.

    And so, even though it’ll doubtlessly gum up this comment and require me to moderate myself 24 hours from now:


  4. I can’t seem to find you on either my rss feed or on my itunes. I can hear it fine on your website, but I can’t find it on what I normally use to listen to your podcast.

  5. @Gary: Huh! Well RSS feed is:


    And Apple page is:


    It’s possible I screwed up the code somewhere and it’s not updating but I see both of those as currently updated through my usual webpages…Still not working for you, though?

  6. For the record, SHAOLIN COWBOY was four issues in four months, each shipping right on the date scheduled.

    I thought it was just Byrne’s creator owned work at IDW that he was doing for free for the initial serialization, not the work-for-hire stuff. I don’t know how much detail he’s gone into that, just when someone pulls a quote about it.

  7. Geoff Darrow recently said on the Word Ballon Podcast that he intended to be SC#2 and SC#3 as one big issue and that it was Dark Horse who decided to split it up into to issues. And in that same interview, which came out before #4, he said: Wait and see, there’S a point to it! So maybe Jeff is onto something here…

  8. Jeff’s theories on Shaolin Cowboy were very convincing!!! I’m swinging wildly between seeing it as an OCD act of madness and brilliant pop Buddhist experience now!
    I’m guessing your comment about issue one undoing part of your argument was the frog? But not sure what the other problem with your argument coming from the last three issues is…
    …On word balloon they said that Darrow would come back to talk about issue 4; I wonder if that will add fuel to your interpretation or shoot it down.

  9. Really loving this episode so far (about 2/3 through). Jeff’s Shaolin Cowboy theory was truly a thing of beauty. I’m on pause for the moment, because I had to see Herb Trimpe’s Last Supper. So to save other listeners some Googling, you can check that out (along with some other gems) here:


  10. Jeff! Three Shaolin Cowboy counterpoints:

    -What Darrow is doing with the art, repeated panels, etc: it’s the comic book equivalent of real-time. If you look at Shaolin Cowboy’s moves, and how Darrow transitions from panel 1 to 2 to 3, you’ll a masterful flow from move to move. It’s the same thing as multi-image Spideys or the experiments Quitely has done with time dilation, but broken out into an entire scene instead of a burst. It is a logical progression and you see (almost) every detail of the fight. It’s a comic version of a no-cuts fight.

    -What the comic’s about: On the cover to #1 is a bit of graffiti that reads “NRAholes,” with a red peace sign sketched over it NO symbol style. Shaolin Cowboy fights his way out of the underground, pursued by zombies, and tries to leave the area and find safety. On the way, he meets racist, homophobic guys driving a car with an Ichthys, Texas plates (BIGG(texas symbol)COK, the Long Cock State), and a bumper sticker reading “My other car is a CLOCK,” among other things. They harass him for no reason at all, for simply existing, pitch a can at him as an elaborate racial dig.

    They run into zombies. Shaolin Cowboy looks at how far he is from safety, a town named Palinsbush (yowza), looks back at the jerks, lowers his head, and breathes out before returning to the jerks, saving their life, and battling the zombies until he achieves victory. He says “amituofu” throughout the battle, which can be seen as giving thanks or an apology.

    After he wins, he’s shot down from long range for petty reasons by a coward who felt like less of a man because his racism was rebuffed. Not hipsters, but “NRA-holes.” They use their power for killing for petty, weak reasons, which stands in stark contrast to Shaolin Cowboy nearly killing himself to protect others. Even the last page of Shaolin Cowboy is an exhortation to protect children from predators.

    -The frog is the same frog from the beginning of the comic, making it a loop. Shaolin Cowboy rises from the darkness, saves the day, and is returned to the darkness, ready to rise again. I need to go look at the old series, but I’m pretty sure he’s positioned as a source of unrelenting goodness, only using violence to combat bad guys who are utterly unrepentant or outwardly monstrous. Shaolin Cowboy represents protection, safety, and probably a little grace, too.

    Pow! What say you, Lester?

  11. For the record, Slott has been upfront in interviews about the Dr. Who influence on Silver Surfer and it’s pretty obvious that he and Allred have their tongues firmly planted in cheek with this series. I love Slott’s whimsical, goofy stuff like She-Hulk and Great Lakes Avengers so I’m really looking forward to Silver Surfer. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

  12. I appreciate David’s synopsis of the plot and style of Shaolin Cowboy. I think there is room for much of Jeff’s interpretation of the process as well. The panels are very much like mantra for comics and the panel variation did give me pause when it did occur. Arts, be they martial or visual, are never far from spirituality. All that said, I only read #2 in full, loved it, spent most the time laughing and thought that the ‘coming up next’ panel at the end was a joke along with the whole issue. Btw John Kane’s review of #2 started a good conversation about the goodness vs waste-of-moneyness of it all.

    RE: CONSTANTINE and JLD- Jeff Lemire is generally a very good writer isn’t he? DC would be a sadder place if it weren’t for him pulling titles out of the trash and dusting them off. I just worry he’s doing too much busy work and not flexing his muscles on his own stuff lately.

    Did I miss the memo on the Avengers book club? Or was it a surprise this week? Either way, looking forward to more. Nice Stan Lee/Steve Rogers, Jeff.

  13. SHAOLIN COWBOY again. I just remembered I think Darrow said something about the chainsaws being a bit of giving the people what they want. So doing it to such excess has to be a bit of a piss-take right?

  14. Loved The Avengers convo. Had me giggling the whole way to work. I got some of the early issues in a Comixology sale, and I stalled at #9. I’d felt bad for disrespecting early Kirby, or something, glad to hear I no longer need feel a secret shame. Articles about the Marvel Age often seem to struggle to explain why DC still outsold them till the late sixties – maybe there’s good reason it took a few years to catch on.

  15. I grabbed the first Avengers for free from Comixology quite a while ago and it took me 3 tries to get through it. Even the insanity of a clown suited Hulk couldn’t pull me through it. It sounds like those first 25 issues may be one of those things where it’s easier to hear someone discuss it rather than actually going through it myself.

    I’m very happy to hear my opinion of The Fox isn’t limited to just myself. It just absolutely didn’t work for me which was very unexpected and unfortunate.

  16. In a shocking twist, I totally agree with Jeff and Graeme about a Marvel subject: the first 25 issues of the Avengers are terrible; stories lurch around looking for a point. Much like Bendis’ run. Hi-YOOOOOOOO! It was the first original Marvel book that was actually improved by the arrival of Rascally Roy Thomas.

    Jeff, what exactly will it take for you to break your Marvel boycott? Brevoort leaving the company?

  17. Also, as someone who’s enjoying the Fox- where, exactly, was Dean Haspiel complaining about not being taken seriously? Mark Waid’s the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do creator on that series, IIRC.

  18. @David: Thanks for taking the time for some feedback, and a no small amount of necessary common sense being applied to my hyperbole. However, I personally feel your statements perhaps move things too much in the other direction, a reduction that runs the risk of being too cut & dry.

    So, to reply to your pow! with the following ka-zing:

    -Darrow and what he’s doing with the panels and movement: here is the first of my many “yes, but…” statements. Yes, he is doing the masterly charting of the Cowboy from move to move, but what I find important is that I think Darrow “cheats” enough on this front to invite an ambiguity into this reading, because although SC movement’s are fluid ones from panel to panel, you’ll find that the zombies clutter up the panels are not. One of the things I found myself noticing is the extent to which Darrow creates an easy way to identify specific zombies (via their tattoos) and then almost wholly makes it a point to ignore using those tattoos as a way to track how the zombies land, how they fall to pieces. As the long, long fight goes on, bodies fall and sometime hit the ground in the next panel, but sometimes it’s different bodies entirely.

    Sometimes there’s a huge pile of zombies at the Cowboy’s feet and in the next they’re not there. I don’t think Darrow is doing this to be inconsistent — and let’s face it, I’m a sloppy reader and definitely not accounting for things like forward movement and the changing of angles in the Cowboy’s circular movements so I can be pretty easily disregarded on this point — but rather to suggest the idea that this fight is taking a long, long time, longer than the flow from panel to panel of the Cowboy’s movement would suggest. It actually looks like a no-cut fight but there is the suggestion that it’s just the opposite.

    -What the comic’s about: Your point about the NRA-holes is a good one (especially the bumper sticker which reads “My other car is a Glock”) although, again, I feel your point strips a degree of ambiguity to it. (Although mine did as well.) After all, these guys also have a Jesus fish, a JMJ stickie (that maybe refers to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) an Honor Roll, No.1 dick, pussy magnet, and Route 69 stickers on there.

    And they’re not shave-headed and/or mulletted types with swastikas (until the very end where the NRA and SS shirts are finally revealed) — they’ve got the tats and facial hair of young bros. Dickhead party bros, obviously, but I think Darrow is trying to encourage a reading a bit wider than just NRA-holes (and hipsters, I admit), if only for the shock twist at the end. But their tattoos and bumper-sticker sexuality is supposed to link them to the scores of similarly tattooed undead whose withered genitals are not obscured or covered by the authors.

    So, yeah, NRA-holes. Good point! But looking at the circular nature of the frog’s appearance, and the way in which in issue #4 Darrow very explicitly sets his page layouts to mirror one another in two page groups (or four page groups for the double-page spreads), I think the circularity of life plays just as importantly into what the book might be about. (Also, a huge tell to me is that full-page splash on the first page of issue #3 where out of nowhere, we have a beautiful tattooed woman posing for a picture for an unseen man whose hands are tattooed with “love” and the ankh: there’s nothing about these characters that read as corrupt, but, again, their tattoos and emphasis on the flesh, link them explicitly to the fight going on in the background.

    -And so I think we’re mostly in agreement about the frog–yeah, it’s the same frog although we don’t see it again until the Cowboy’s shot and he would have to have fought all those zombies back across all the ground he covered (in a big circle, maybe) for the frog to reappear. And there’s a great big “out” card as far as the Cowboy’s demise with the people on the satellite seeing the YouTube footage of the Cowboy, such that he can totally end up being Deathlok’d or Robocop’d in the next storyline.

    But I do think there’s a very nice bit of closure to the story if Darrow decides not to return: the Cowboy has transcended the circle of life through his good deeds and his efforts, and reading the book mirrors the effort and concentration of that effort…as does perhaps the creation of the book.

  19. Good podcast. I enjoyed the Avengers review and intend to read along with you at least for a while. The cover of Avengers #22 is one of my favourite examples of Stan and Jack being at cross-purposes. Stan’s caption reads “See Captain America’s Sensational Battle With Power Man!”. Jack has drawn Cap cringing as if he’s a kid about to be done over by a bully.

  20. I think we’re all missing the most important part of this episode – Jeff’s DEAD ON impression of The Incredible Hulk TV show. Dynamite work, sir!

  21. @Voodoo Ben: THANK YOU AND YES! When I was editing this episode, I thought it was a pretty good impression as well. (It’s actually my only *good* one, in fact.)

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