Comic Reviews… for the Internet. OR “I’ve Got a Ticket to Snide!” So, hey, guy, how long do you think these subject lines can be? Here’s the first paragraph of Dickens’s David Copperfield– let’s find out: Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.
Posted by: Abhay Khosla on September 26, 2013
I went to a shop yesterday and did my impulse buying. Now, because I’ve had a long day, I will write sloppily about those impulse buys, from the back of my motorcycle, which I have ridden to a cliff, one of those cliffs that you see in Tom Cruise movies. Look at this view! Oh no, my motorcycle is on fire! Damn, sometimes my lifestyle is almost TOO dangerous. COMIC BOOKS!
SEX CRIMINALS #1: I had thought this comic was going to be a comedy, and I guess it is one, but. The first issue starts with the main character’s dad dying in a shooting rampage and then her screaming impotently at her alcoholic, emotionally walled-off mother from a place the mother can’t hear her wails. So… you know: comedy.
I like comedies more than anything else because comedies can be anything and can go anywhere, as long as a thing is funny. Comedies can be Hunderby or they can be Bad Education; This is the End or In a World(…), Celeste & Jesse Forever or Eagleheart. There’s a zillion different ways for something to be funny, and they’re all great if they make you laugh. (And if they don’t– well, I always thought it was hard to get too upset about a person trying to make you laugh, but I guess the internet proved me wrong on that one, lately). So, I wouldn’t say digging a hole like “dad murdered in shooting rampage” on page 1 issue #1 is a “mistake”, necessarily, or insurmountable.
But boy, that’s a pretty, pretty deep hole. The underlying math seems sounds: “sex as escape from family dysfunction” seems like an honest, relatable thing, and I think honest, relatable things are a good foundation to build comedies on… But the bummer seriousness of “child screams helplessly at mother” plus a needlessly fractured timeline plus a joke deficit plus a lengthy quotation of Nabokov plus… (I quite like the art and so don’t interpret anything I say here to mean that I don’t; one panel of a guy in the dark, taking the main character’s virginity, from the main character’s POV, in particular, is worth seeking out and being horrified by) but plus art where all of the panels seem to have been labored over in Photoshop (a lot of panels that were shrunk down?), everything seems to have this level of detail that (this is why I don’t write about art, “why don’t people write about art more??” people! BECAUSE I’M BLOWING IT! This is you watch me blow it in real time!)…
It just all adds up to a very anxious comic. There’s bits around it that aren’t– the back cover’s got a loose gag to it; the dedication’s got a gag that feels loose; but the comic itself just seems… anxious that you be impressed with it. I say that knowing that was always the rap people would lay on Casanova and I remember thinking it was unfair there, so maybe I’m being unfair here, maybe there’s a Comics Alliance reviewer out there somewhere about to drop a “This comic is the greatest thing that will ever be made so I’m going to blow my brains out because everything is downhill from here, goodbye cruel world” essay that’ll school me but good, but… but… But I’m just not entirely sure that the flop-sweat anxiety is the best soil for laughs, necessarily…?
Maybe it’s not a comedy though and I misunderstood and I’m actually reading a serous comic about people who stop time when they orgasm…? I don’t think I’d be reading that long. That’d make for a pretty unpleasant one-two punch with Satellite Sam (a.k.a. “who knew a comic about a lady getting eaten out could be so boring?”).
PARASITE #1 Or Some Ridiculous Decimal Point I Didn’t Really Understand What Was Going On: This is a DC Comic about a Superman villain. I was curious what this whole Forever in Blue Jeans DC stunt-event was even supposed to be, once you got past the 3d Cover Incompetence Hooplah Spectacular. Plus, I was in the mood to read a Superman comic after reading this story about a screenwriter guy, one of the guys who wrote that new movie where Superman is all killing people while System of the Down music plays (didn’t see it; wild guess based on how people talk about that movie). In the article, that screenwriter guy said, “Yeah, Superman would totally kill all sorts of people while listening to System of the Down. That’s the logical way people should perceive a character named Superman.” Put me in the mood to see what the comics were like…
Anyways, I went with this one because it had a writer/artist on it (Aaron Kuder?), and I have a kneejerk belief in the inherent superiority of writer/artists that isn’t really intellectually defensible, but what can you do. It was just an origin story, though. In the Didioverse, Parasite is now an irritable bike messenger who got evil-Parasite-man powers from having electrocuted a monstrous squid-octopus-monster thing…? I guess. That’s basically the whole comic. I just told you the whole comic.
Some people say that superhero comics are made for older fans now, but when I look at these comics “as an old person”, as a card carrying old … With Marvel comics, I don’t recognize half the characters in crowd shots anymore (that big yellow guy with the horns and a gaping asshole on his forehead? who is that guy?), whereas with DC … Why would I want to see a new origin for a character I already thought I knew…? What would the “fun part” of that be, exactly? So, I don’t think superhero comics are made for old fans because I usually don’t even know what the fuck I’m looking at. I just think they’re made for hyper-obsessive goon squads. (But I love you! I love every one of you).
This comic though, being from a writer/artist– you get that thing of seeing a guy trying to liven up stuff that’s just structurally DOA. It’s an origin story of a character no one anywhere cares about! The best case scenario for that comic is still a pretty shitty comic. But poor guy tries! He tries to “fun” it up with playful layouts, a lot of playing around with sound effects, interesting panel borders, all that shit. He really, really tries. (You can see a page of what I mean over here). I admire the effort of it at least, even if it all seems dishonest, like he’s dressing up this pointless boring thing to make it seem “fun,” draping same-old same-old with the “signifiers” of a “fun comic” to try to falsely mislead the reader that they’ve seen something fun…? Was any of that English? I think he’s created a facsimile of a fun comic instead of a fun comic, basically. There’s kind of something admirable about that, even if there’s something sad about it…? That’s basically the job.
It’s almost interesting being an older person reading DC right now because when I was a younger fella, the dudes who were like… not over Crisis of Infinite Earths? Not over the fact that series had happened? Those people always seemed kinda sad / C-R-A-Z-Y to me, to be honest. But I get it a little more now, I guess. What’s the point of any of these comics? What’s the point of finding out Parasite’s new origin? They’re trying to tell some epic crossover story, I guess, but in a completely weightless space. What could possibly have weight when every character in your “universe” is now two years old? But … But: I sound like one of those Crisis cats! I know that’s what I sound like. (Up to and including the “ignoring DC can’t build a business on people like me who don’t even care, don’t even show up to a show up to a shop every week”, etc.).
I mean, even now– I see dudes sometimes online going, “Reverse the New 52 and get back to what it was.” But What it Was? That was POST-CRISIS. That’s what you’re trying to get back to. So ultimately the thing that makes a DC Comic feel most like a real DC comic now (besides being dull) is that feeling of “everything would be better if my time machine could take us back in time” which is the most DC thing there is left, now, for me. So, so DC, that. I know it’s been said before by other people, but: they didn’t just create a new universe; they created a new old-universe-that-it-was-a-mistake-to-throw-away. You know? I kinda find the poetry of it all interesting, if not the reading the DC comics part. (I tried to read the new Levitz-Giffen LEGION so… I bought that one issue…)
Also: Dan Didio and Bob Harras should be fired and driven out of comics. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this comic. We should all just say that more often, generally. Also, we should all live in teepees because in a lot of ways, that’d be better.
PROPHET # Man, I don’t know what number it is because they re-started this bullshit with some arbitrary number which is still tripping me up on the regular and … like, I’m convinced I missed some issues but which ones?? I have no idea because what am I, sitting around remembering double-digit numbers in my spare time? Is that really what’s expected of me? Go fuck yourself, numbers! I don’t have enough stress in my life??: Oh, this one was really great. The issue about Die Hard (the Rob Liefeld character, not the movie)? You should track that one down, issue # whatever. There’s a whole bunch of artists, jamming out a millenia-spanning biography for this shitty old Rob Liefeld character.
I think I’ve missed some issues– I’m not sure which or how many, for reasons set forth above, but it highlights how what I think I appreciate most with this comic is how much the pleasures of it are the pleasures of the moment. A page, a panel, a drawing…? Do you know what I mean? Like, by comparison, I still enjoy that comic SAGA, I think that’s going along pretty swell (I especially like how he’s set-up The Will’s shadow-family). Still, SAGA is a more traditional comic in that … each issue is fun but there’s a sense (maybe illusory or “wrong”) that each issue is a small part of some greater story, and so ultimately the real “fun” of it is to come, when the thing is complete and we possess the whole of it. Whereas PROPHET… I could give a shit about the whole of it, because … it’s about Rob Liefeld characters in outer space…? It’s a nice way to mark time waiting for MULTIPLE WARHEADS to start back up again…? But it doesn’t matter because the actual sitting down and reading of it is such a pleasant thing.
ASTRO CITY #4: I quite liked this one. At least, on the “I’d read another story about that character” level, that one worked out pretty good, I thought. But the ending was a little too NICE again…? Same issue I had with #3. In my hazy recollection of the Astro City issues that I’ve liked the most, in years past, as a younger fella, I remember the comic being a little more willing to have rougher edges to its characters, things they were unhappy about, endings that weren’t perfect happy endings.
This flirted with that, with the main character’s guilt about not having lived up to her potential. There’s a darkness to that idea– my skin crawls when I hear the “living up to his potential” phrase anyways. That’s just Anxiety Juice to me, that phrase. But the ending seems to veer away from that at the end; the end is again, like #3, “the main character reassured.” Maybe it’s a failing of me as a reader, but I’m not sure why that felt necessary. Maybe that’s the right choice for the book’s audience, though– maybe that’s how other people who read Astro City want to see that story end…? Maybe bolder, clearer emotions are a smart choice commercially, after years away, reentering this market. It’d be a stingy thing not to be willing to give it that time. Anyways, I liked it besides.
Gundam Origin Volume 2: Oh, I read this a while back. It was just a fun action manga thing, some nonsense with robots. That’s all. I just remembered this while I was sitting here typing. I wanted to read super-fast action shit, and this had a quote from Jog on it saying this was good, so. What more do you need than that? Seconded. (Volume 1 sold out at the store I went to, though. It didn’t seem to matter any). Oh, though why did they decide that manga about robots should have the shittiest, whiniest twerp main characters possible? Why is that a staple for that genre? I can’t really figure the math on that.
That Marvel Crossover #2: The one with Thanos? I forgot the name. Which– I think there’s two other crossovers going on right now so sorry about that; “the marvel one” doesn’t really narrow it down! Anyways, I picked it up, the Thanos one. I’d impulse bought #1 before, too, even though, at least for me, as a reader, just for me, maybe not for you, but for me, Jonathan Hickman has never met a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz he couldn’t snoooooooooooreeeee.
I tried to give that Jonathan Hickman a chance this year; tried to read a run from the guy, and it… I didn’t make it too far. I’ve tried his independent stuff. I’ve tried his mainstream stuff. We’re just not meant to be. He seems like he’s aggressively pursuing his vision, and I admire that; good for him; keep at it. Uhm. It’s not a vision I’d want to ever share in or be aware of or know about.
I’m not sure if I can articulate it past that, though. I mean… are they my least favorite comics I’ve read this year, or anything like that? I wouldn’t say that because I feel so emotionally detached from the work I saw. (Plus: I just get really, really irritated by that Greg Rucka / Michael Lark comic LAZARUS, for reasons I maybe don’t even myself know and certainly can’t even articulate, so that’s the clear winner of 2013 so far). Like… if we were to sit down, and I had to describe Hickman work, I’d say it’s schematic and inauthenetic and emotionally autistic and all that stuff; I’d make hand gestures like a bird that’s flying but then crashing into a helicopter blades and falling to the ground; then, I’d take off my pants and warm my hands between my buttocks (that last bit wouldn’t have anything to do with Jonathan Hickman comics; that’s just how I live my life, one quarter-mile at a time, one quarter-mile of buttock).
But if we were to sit here and try to anatomize the whole thing, what would make… What should he put in there that’d make it not feel schematic? What’s the missing ingredient? I don’t really know. I saw some of those Fantastic Four comics and there were scenes that were like, “Here are the characters having human emotions.” I just didn’t buy those scenes. So I’m not sure what the “missing bit” is…
ANYWAYS, this comic– uhhhhh, It’s that thing where… like, for a while, if you were to randomly pick up X-Men comics, the X-Men cared a lot about a Marvel universe version of Hamsterdam– you know, Hamsterdam from that show The Wire– from the because the people who made X-Men comics obviously had just bought The Wire on DVD. Or there were those Captain America comics where Captain America ran around yelling “Grawr, I watch the TV Show LOST!” Do you remember those? Or there was that crossover where they’d just bought the Battlestar Galactica DVDs, and suddenly Iron Man was like, “Cyclons have a plan!“
The news here is they got Game of Thrones on DVD so this is just all Game of Thrones-y, it’s gamey, except without Dinklage. Suddenly, the Marvel Universe cares a lot about KINGS and SONS and TRIBUTE and NAKED WHORES. (Well, okay, not that last one)(Yet). It’s all pretty silly and inorganic; these crossovers always seem to work when they focus on the characters people care about interacting with one another– that seems like it’s been the obvious winning strategy since Secret Wars (though I didn’t read Avengers v. X-Men); these Massive War / Invasion-based crossovers always seem like a misfire…
Every couple pages in this story they advertise spinoffs. There’s a chunk of this comic that’s just a recap of spinoffs (I think), plus it ends with ads for more spinoffs. The message is very clear, that you only get the whole story by purchasing the spin-offs. Which is just what Marvel and its people do in these comics. I find that disgusting incidentally, just no-joke disgusting behavior. If you really delve into the fandoms of these characters, if you ever sit on the internet and do that.. Man, the fans of these comics love those characters so goddamn much. It– it can be moving. And to imagine writers looking at those people, seeing them at conventions, talking to them on twitter, to imagine the writers turning around and selling those people advertising instead of stories…? I just think it’s all so gross. I don’t think crossovers have to be that way; it’s gross that’s how they are.
Blah blah blah– what happened in this one? Uhm, Thanos wants Inhuman babies or something? Oh, there’s a scene where aliens destroy a planet but the only way to find out that happened is by reading the narration captions. (Have you ever skipped all the captions in a comic as an experiment, to see how it reads when you skip those? It’s fun; I recommend trying it sometime). Uhm. There were spaceships; there was a part with spaceships…? I read it last night– it didn’t stick. The guy who draws these, Something Cheung? Jim? John?, he does a good job of making it all look like a Star War– it’s certainly very, very slick looking. Maybe too much so– it looks like one of the prequels, you know? Past a certain amount of slick, it’s hard to see a human heart beating anywhere. (oooooh look at me with the human heart… the hell am I talking about?? THIS IS WHY I DON’T WRITE ABOUT ART!)
I don’t know who the big yellow guy with the asshole-forehead is though. What is going on with that?
Powers — Volume Something? # I’m not sure — I’m too surprised it’s still coming out on time to know the number: I know that there’s not a comic info-tainment fan-press that “takes requests,” and I know no one gives real interviews… but boy, I’d really love to read an interview with Mike Oeming about the art in Powers lately.
It seems… I’ve seen some of the pages he’s done for his day job for Valve (does he still have that Valve gig?), and they’ve been detailed and careful “proper comic pages”. While with Powers he’s gotten– everything feels really rough and straight from the drawing board. I’m guessing a lot of these pages… no-pencil, no thumbnail, straight to ink? Like, there are these silhouette panels– characters standing in silhouette where… I can’t even properly call them “silhouette panels” because the figures are just these blobs of blank ink. There’s a panel in this new one where it looks like a breakdown that never got fully drawn in. A certain level of surface detail that you used to see in POWERS, he’s not bothering with anymore and it’s sort of like he’s focusing more on composition and seeing how much he can do with blacks and…
It all seems deliberate. I find it interesting, at least. And… I mean, as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s not a comic whose plotting has ever seemed very careful i.e. I can’t follow the plot anymore, so if anything Oeming’s art becoming more improvisational maybe feels truer to the spirit of how messy this comic has become.
I’d just really like to read that interview.