March 5, 2013
Matt Seneca‘s new Very Fine Comix imprint has released its first two products in rapid succession. First, Daredevil 12″ (#56 of 100) is a folded-copy-paper zine-format comic wherein Marvel Comics superheroes Daredevil and the Black Widow have graphic sex for a while, until the story just sort of ends. “Christ it’s cold,” Daredevil murmurs at the beginning, in a nod to his superhuman sensitivity and his Catholicism. “I’ll warm you up,” Black Widow replies, and then it’s off to the races.
I have, in a pile of books to be read, an actual mass market fiction book titled Rule 34. Anyone with Google and sin in their hearts can amass a trove of Daredevil porn to match the libraries of the ancient world in scope. In 1983, or even 1993, Seneca’s Daredevil 12″ would be transgressive in its subversion. Post-internet-porn, the only aggressively esoteric aspect of the material is that it’s printed on paper and he’s charging money for it.
The sex itself in Daredevil 12″ is conventional, which is odd. Why use Big Two superheroes at all unless you’re going to get really weird with it? Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss 2 is still fresh in the comics intelligentsia’s cultural memory. Next to that, the only appropriate reactions to Daredevil 12″ seem to be relief or disappointment, depending on one’s taste for extremity. Seneca only gets playful when he messes with the design of things — aping Paolo Rivera’s innovation of how Daredevil’s powers can be represented visually in some panels, or swimming in the vein of Guido Crepax (who gets called out on a billboard in the background of the two leads sixty-nining). In execution, it comes off more like Guy Peellart in things like The Adventures of Jodelle, minus Peellaert’s flow-like-water psychedelia.
In the end, there’s something plain and xvideos.com-like about Daredevil 12″. It’s two people in silly costumes (well, one — Black Widow is just a naked redhead, whereas Daredevil keeps his longjohns bunched around his hips like a kid at a urinal) having sex, with a minor Satanic outro that honestly isn’t disruptive enough. The only 100% successful part of the book is the cover, this rough-and-ready shot of a sweaty Daredevil in extreme close-up, biting his lower lip in an awkward Gil Kane angle. The rest of the zine doesn’t deliver on that great, ugly image’s promise, nor does it answer the important questions, like how a superhero whose sense of touch is a million times more vivid than the normal person’s would feel about teeth grazing him during a blowjob, or whether he shaves or waxes (bereft as he is of pubic hair), since both of those would probably be hell.
The second Seneca release on Very Fine is Trap: The Magazine About Drugs #1 (#42 of 100), another zine-format comic. Instead of a single narrative, it strings together a bunch of short comics and single-page pinups, mostly about women doing drugs. If nothing else, these sketches — and make no mistake, most of them do feel like sketches and fragments — have more energy than anything in Daredevil 12″, and come off as more lurid and exploitation-movie-esque than his actual sexploitation comic.
If Trap can be compared to anything, it’s Vice Magazine, with its scattered reportage, refusal to take a position, and cherishing of young urban females making questionable-at-best decisions. In his back-cover editorial, “Trap Rap,” Seneca just seems confused about what he’s doing: “[The drug experience] can be good like when you see you needn’t take everything so serious or realize how fun listening to Skrillex on percocet or MDMA is. Or it can be bad like when the .32 in your hand is shaking like the San Andreas fault as you hold it on the dude who is supposed to be your best bro and scream that you need the rest of the yay more than him and you’re eyeing the drawer where his cash is as your septum caves in. … The stories in this magazine are about people who ACT — without anything holding them back.” Those two scenarios he pitches would both make perfectly decent comics. But Trap itself is just a batch of moments: people doing drugs or living the fallout, without context, build-up, consequence, or any of that. The closing story has three panels, and the person who ACTS in it snorts a line of heroin and then hugs her knees to her chest while on the nod. To its credit, Trap really does reflect the drug experience: getting a good idea and then losing half of it on a ray of sunlight, trying to cling to what’s left.
Katie Skelly has the coolest taste in movies in all of comics. That’s a subjective judgment, but this is a blog, so it’s no less absolute. Here is some proof, though, for the people who need it. When a comic book gets tagged with the dreaded “cinematic” adjective, it usually means that it’s ripping off a mass-market CGI summer adventure flick, or that it’s ripping off Bryan Hitch. “Cinematic” dialogue is bad Quentin Tarantino, or worse, Whit Stillman. It’s rare that a comic book reminds me of the movies in a good way, and thus, Katie Skelly is a rare cartoonist.
Skelly calls to mind a figure like the young Leos Carax, when he was making movies like Boy Meets Girl. Like early Carax, Skelly absorbs the influence of films — especially the canonical French New Wave, films still suave in their middle age — and synthesizes their spirit, attitude, and decor. Operation Margarine #1 (self-published, #14 of 150) is the first reel of the badass biker mama movie that Claude Chabrol never quite got around to making in the sixties.
In Operation Margarine, rich girl Margarine gets out of a mental health facility and teams up with tough girl Bon-Bon. They sock a jerk and hit the road on motorcycles. To be continued. It reeks of (to steal an LCD Soundsystem lyric) “borrowed nostalgia” — all of the obvious call-outs are to things from well before her generation. Margarine’s Jean Seberg haircut, the mod fashions, the Easy Rider vibe, girls named “Bon-Bon”… And yet there’s a distinct love for the stuff, shot through with Skelly’s confidence in her own voice. A bad comic would make me wonder why I didn’t just watch a movie; a good one reminds me why I love them, and Operation Margarine is very good indeed.
As a follow-up, Skelly contributed the short comic “A Winter’s Dream” — based on an Arthur Rimbaud poem — to Study Group Comics’ website. “A Winter’s Dream,” even moreso than Operation Margarine, shows why Skelly stands out. It’s not just her taste, or her whimsy: it’s her figures, and what she does with them. She draws noodle people with bobble heads. They all have big doe eyes and noses like pinky fingers. Their skulls are round and maybe soft to the touch. These people are fragile and adorable, which is why the sexual delirium of “A Winter’s Dream,” or the violence of Operation Margarine works: these people are too cute to fuck, too stringy to swing a fist, and yet that’s exactly what they end up doing.
March 3, 2013
When I sat down to write this, I googled around trying to find an article I wanted to pull a quote from that I hazily half-remember reading: it had compared the music of Hype Williams (A/K/A Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland) to something you’d experience while under the influence of a concussion. I didn’t find it, but some spam result spat out in its summary: “Concussion the spirit molecule.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Hype Williams operate via obfuscation. Everything is referential (to the point of outright appropriation), but none of those references seem to add up to anything. Witness their mixtape The Attitude Era, laden with references to late-1990s World Wrestling Federation gimmicks, and comprised wholly of outtakes. It figures, then, that “Don’t Look Back, That’s Not Where You’re Going” — a three-track vinyl EP prefacing Inga Copeland’s upcoming solo album — comes in a plain white paper sleeve, housed within a black cardboard one. The B-side of the vinyl has a featureless white-label sticker, and the A-side is a photo of a woman who looks a bit like Copeland (but who also looks a bit like someone I went to university with, come to think of it), smiling politely. The record’s most prominent identifying mark is the Nike swoosh on her sweatshirt. So it remains in the labyrinth.
Yet the sound of the thing inches towards an exit. On all three tracks, Inga sings (a potential album title if there ever was one). She uses a girlish, stateless-but-Eurocentric croon that calls to mind a school play about Nico, and she sings elliptical lyrics that skate just short of making a direct point. On the first cut, “So Far So Clean,” she intones (moreso than singing, really) over an unsteady, shivery bed of slow retro synths and what sounds like a bullfrog fucking a broom. The break in the middle is disruptive and overpowering, sounding like a different song entirely cut-and-pasted over the original and trying to dominate it utterly… this is Hype Williams pop, and it’s wonderful.
Not like this is an artist who will let anything get comfortable. “So Far So Clean” leads right into “Speak,” which sounds like a halfway conventional dance tune — easily the most baffling thing Copeland and co. could pull. (The tracks here were produced, apparently, by Martyn and Scratcha DVA, but it’s not like there’s a credits sheet.) Its see-saw synth stabs and loops aren’t enough to distract from the insistence of the bass’s cock pummel posturing, and I found myself utterly confused by a song that you could just flat out dance to, no qualifiers.
The b-side is “A&E,” which finds a spot between the two extremes of the a-side and stays there for five minutes of pulsing, low-key delirium. This is music for when you’re sweaty on a cold day and the furniture is floating up toward the ceiling. Copeland’s voice — “On and on and on and on” — hangs above a smoked-out pirate radio beat that has the theoretical energy of the early 90s but the swampiness of post-historical now, a luscious — or maybe viscous — low end that tugs you downward into it. Music for the back of the brain, for when you’re moving and you don’t even realize it. The only question with Inga Copeland, with the music, with the packaging, with the new World Music label, with Hype Williams: What’s the catch? And will they ever deign to tell us?
March 1, 2013
Robin died. A different Robin than the first one that died — both were bratty punks with a tendency toward murder, but this one, people had come to enjoy a bit. The first time, the comics readership had a choice, and voted to let the little bastard die; this time, he’s just been taken off the game board, no reader participation invited. It’s provoked quite a lot of reactions, largely because it’s a big “important” story, like the time Johnny Storm died, and has been promoted with the same gusto. My favorite of these has been Colin Smith’s call of “why does no one seem to care that we just looked at a ten-year-old getting stabbed in the belly,” once again proving at length that he is troublesomely sane for a comic book fan.
DC Comics has slated a whole month of mourning across the bevy of Batman books, although they’ve again skimped out on reader participation by not polybagging them with black “R”-logo armbands. Then again, I’m not sure anyone would be right to mourn Damian Wayne, our young Robin. For one, within the logic of the story, he’s the grandson of constant death-cheater Ra’s al Ghul, and a dunk in the revivifying Lazarus Pit is a destiny I’d bet money on. For another, even if that’s not how it happens, we’re living in a year when Vibe has his own comic book, and if Vibe of all people won’t stay dead, no one will. For a third, would it even be that great to keep him around?
“Yes,” cry out the fans of Damian Wayne, while also personally insulting me. “He’s a great character and a breath of fresh air and he and Dick have crazy chemistry and blah blah.” Okay, that’s fine, and I hear you on that; I’m no small fan of the Dick-and-Damian Batman and Robin myself. But let’s look at what being a Batman sidekick gets you: a decade or so (give or take forty years in Dick’s case) as the Boy Wonder, and then the sales department dictates a newer, fresher take (or a return to a more classical i.e. guaranteed-appeal take), and then what?
I’m not going to broach the issue of “disrespecting characters” because as it turns out, I’m real and they’re not. As it is, in my imagined future for the Batman books, Damian will end up dead for a minute, dunked in a Lazarus Pit, insane thereafter, and an enemy of the Bat-family until such time as he can be pulled back into the fold as the prodigal “bad boy” (i.e. when Jason “Red Hood” Todd’s appeal no longer translates into sales). Or, he comes back, returns to being Robin, and eventually transitions into a full-time post-Robin gig as Redbird or something (see also Tim “Red Robin” Drake). Or, he comes back and then is written out and in and out and in and out and in until the enduring social profile of the character is the idea that liking them makes you part of a persecuted set (see also Stephanie “Batgirl” Brown and Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain). (Eventually, in any of the above scenarios, Batman presides over a legion of twenty-something-year-old acolytes who were all born in different generations.) Or, he stays dead, and the New 52′s thirst for blood is decried all ’round.
None of these seem like winning propositions to me. Yes, someone could come along and make decent comic books out of them, but someone could also come along and make decent comic books out of Firestorm, so let’s not get crazy here. I mean, it sucks that Damian died, sure. I just dread to find out how badly it could suck if he lives.
January 8, 2013
What I do while ignoring this blog:
me: the cover to the new album rules
Sent at 1:05 PM on Tuesday
Dustin: i like it, bowie found ms paint
me: hahahah yes
Sent at 1:14 PM on Tuesday
Dustin: i hope he legitimately did discover it and now it is what he will make all future album artwork with
Sent at 1:21 PM on Tuesday
he summons a designer into a kush smoke filled room in his manhattan penthouse at midnight, weird crowleyan artifacts all over
“i’ve made… a discovery” bowie rasps through the smoke, slowly turning his sony vaio toward the designer to show an mspaint screen he drew blotchy stick figures on with the spray can tool, and signed ‘BOWIE’ in letters made from rectangle blocks
“will a million dollars for the new cover be sufficient?” the designer sweats so much he passes out, which bowie takes as a yes
Sent at 1:23 PM on Tuesday
that needs to be posted somewhere
me: on it
Sent at 1:26 PM on Tuesday
December 14, 2012
This past Wednesday, Avengers Arena #1, by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker (secretly Marvel’s best artist), was released to the sustained, Tina-from-Bob’s-Burgers-esque moans of the people who are so wrapped up in their favorite teen superhero characters that they haven’t yet figured out that “death in comics” is even more meaningless than “superhero comics in real adult life.”
But that part’s not important. What’s important is the letter that got printed in the back:
Eagle-eyed Nowhere / No Formats readers might remember Mr. Case from a review post I did nearly a year ago, where I brought him in as “resident dArkhawk expert” to explain the enduring appeal of the character. And so, without anything of my own to say (again), I re-present to you Mr. Case’s startling essay:
The first thing you have to know about dArkhawk is that he is the spirit of the 90’s. He embodies all that is good about the 90’s and all that is bad about it. His origin is 90’s as hell, his powers are 90’s as hell, and his anger management issues are 90’s as hell.
Let’s start by looking at his brilliantly conceived origin story. Chris Powell, is your normal teen just hanging out at abandoned theme parks with his two younger brothers. I don’t live in New York so this might be a pretty common thing to live across from old theme parks. While hanging out at the abandoned them park, Chris sees his cop father taking a bribe from a known mobster. Why did his father decide to set up his bribe money transaction across the street from his house? One simple answer, the Powell family doesn’t think ahead. After seeing his father’s back alley deal going down, Chris freaks out and runs away coming upon a giant pink crystal. Instead of just continuing past it like every other human being he instead brushes off the used condoms and grabs the crystal and is transformed into DARKHAWK! This really is all there is to his origin story. As you read more of the comic you actually forget about his dad or any other pieces of his origin because they don’t actually matter. Everything in his story is flimsy setup for him to find a pink tech crystal and becoming a space robot. This is the perfect 90’s story because it has no substance and gets you right to the part you care about, the part where a robot beats people up.
The most 90’s part about dArkhawk is his powers, which either don’t make sense or are taken from a more popular hero. First, dArkhawk has a claw that unsurprisingly looks exactly like Wolverine’s claws, but it is totally different because he only has one and it is also a grappling hook. We should just rename the 90’s to the Woverines because everything in those years was about how Wolverine you could be. dArkhawk gave it a good try, claw and all. Second, dArkhawk has wings that allow him to fly, which makes his grappling hook even more pointless. It is like the creator got drunk and made a list of powers his awesome robot hero was going to have. Grappling Hook? Check. Claws? Check. Can fly? Check. Wait did I put in someone like flying already? Whatever, I’m too drunk to double check this. Third, dArkhawk has all the generic hero stuff. He is more durable, stronger, and faster than a normal person. He basically has a little Spider-man thrown in there to cash in if that is your kind of thing. You wouldn’t want him to be really original. Lastly, you have to give this robot some real power, maybe some sort of blast like an optic blast but we can’t totally be ripping Cyclops off, how about a chest laser. A laser that shoots out of his pink chest crystal. So with a great mix of random and ripped off powers you have the amazing abilities of dArkhawk.
This may sound like I hate dArkhawk but nothing could be further from the truth. I love dArkhawk. He is the perfect character to read when you don’t want to care about comics. Everything in dArkhawk is carefree. He can go from one issue where he brags about not having to breath in space to the next issue where he freaks out because he thinks he is going to drown while fighting a squidman. dArkhawk is the kind of comic where I can watch two sweaty muscled robots punching each other and trying to gross each other out by taking of their helmets(his robot face is ugly, no one knows why). It also doesn’t try to hide the fact it is absurd. Half of the issues near the beginning of his run are team ups with people whose powers he has ripped off. I have to root for an underdog like dArkhawk, the comic tries to make him seem really important like when people fro mthe future talk about this super awesome hero in the future called ‘The Powell’, and you just know that is never going to be talked about again because it is stupid as hell. A lot of the other dArkhawk historians won’t cover this but dArkhawk is also one of the few chubby chaser suoerheros. Every girlfriend dArkhawk has is a skinny girl who he treats like trash. Obviously, because he has a deep desire for a large girl but can’t get one. He is truly a confilicted hero. Having read the entire original run of dArkhawk, I can tell you it is worth reading if only because dArkhawk the character is a lot of fun even when he is fighting communists or whatever random shit comes up in the series.
October 22, 2012
A bit of fun: the letter column–both pages of it–from May, 1967′s Detective Comics #363. #363 was the second appearance of Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, and the letters in that issue (including one from the legendary Mike Friedrich!) show the polarized reaction the character initially received. There was also a letter from Gardner Fox, not reproduced here, about an Elongated Man backup.