September 6, 2014
So Thursday night, I got on an overnight train to Baltimore. Then I went to the Baltimore Comic Con on Friday. Then on Friday night I took another train back home.
I didn’t have a very long to-do list, and I got all of it done. Report follows:
I got into Baltimore much earlier than the Con opened. I thought I would spend a few hours dawdling and exploring, but it was something like ninety degrees out, with (this is a guess) four hundred million billion percent humidity. I kept close to the harbor area, hoping it would stay cooler there. At one point I sat next to a fountain on Pratt Street(?) reading about Anonymous in the New Yorker for a while. This was okay by me. The fountain I was next to is this big weird concrete brutalist thing with a waterfall you can walk through. Eventually the sun got too high in the sky and the humidity became too much for a pussywillow like me to bear. I neglected to bring a hat, so my hair started looking like the guy’s hair in Eraserhead. I read the new issue of Copra, the Ditko-inspired Rax issue, sitting in the shade on the steps of the convention center.
So that’s when the con haul began, when I went to Barnes and Noble and stumbled around like a drunk for a bit.
I ended up leaving with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and read the first hundred pages of it in line to get into the Con. I’m pretty sure that I’m the last person on the planet left who hasn’t read this book. I’m enjoying it; I plan to finish it, even. Maybe even before the movie comes out!
Eventually, after some time spent in an indoor corral (where at one point people from Geico were walking around taking pictures of people, which was strange), they let us into the Con.
The first thing I did upon entering the convention floor was walk right to table AA208. Then I got confused. It turned out I wanted table 208, not AA208. AA208 was some guy; 208 was Alan Davis.
Along with a small group of hardy survivors, I waited in line for three hours or so to get a sketch by Davis. I was the last in line. The table wrangler even made me hold a sign saying “LAST IN LINE.” I lost count of the number of apologies I made to people thinking they were getting in line for Alan Davis. (How great a prank would that be? Posing as a table wrangler and giving someone a sign and telling them to turn away anyone else who tries to get in line.)
By the time I made it to Davis himself, I think I was eager and he was tired. This doesn’t make for a good combination, though he did graciously tell me all about the secret origins of the costumes of ClanDestine (and why two characters had to change their names). That’s the sketch I got above: Imp, from ClanDestine. I don’t feel like I made a great impression on Davis (but at that point he had been signing and sketching for over three hours). That’s something that seems to happen when I meet classic 1980s X-Men artists. When I met Art Adams, I made a total ass of myself.
After leaving Planet Davis, I wandered over to the Studio Farlaine table. J, the creator of Farlaine the Goblin, is a good guy who makes a fun comic about a tree shaman on a quest to find a forest. He just put out a compendium of the first three issues: pick it up, maybe. I caught up with him for a bit.
Then I sought out Michel Fiffe. Fiffe is the writer of Marvel’s All New Ultimates (and he indulgently signed a bunch of them for me), but more importantly, he’s the creator of Copra. Copra is easily my favorite comic series going right now, and for sheer sustained quality, Fiffe is my favorite creator going. I’ve been subscribing to Copra since it began, but I still bought a copy of Copra: Round One. I haven’t re-read it yet.
Fiffe was also gracious enough to do a quick sketch of Gracie in my little sketchbook. Gracie’s solo issue of Copra, #15, was one of the best issues of the series, and even if Gracie’s sole personality trait was “she looks like Grace Jones,” that would still put her in the running for my favorite character in the series. Sometimes I am easy to please.
Earlier I mentioned that I had a very short to-do list. I meant it. By meeting Alan Davis and Michel Fiffe, and catching up with J, I had accomplished more or less everything I urgently needed to do at Baltimore Comic Con. So I wandered around for a while.
I submitted some comics to the CGC on a whim. This is a true story: I bought Rat Queens #1 when it came out, and then forgot I had bought it, so I bought it again. Then I actually read it and didn’t really like it very much. I forgot I had two copies of Rat Queens #1 until a day or two before the show. So, time to slab them and sell them, I guess. I had wanted to submit my awful copy of Adventure into Fear #19 (in the hopes of getting a guaranteed 0.0 comic), but I forgot that, too.
I ended up at the Nobrow table, where I spent a while talking to Jeff (Geoff? …Jeph?) about their books. I’ve heard a lot of things about Nobrow in the past year or two, but hadn’t had an opportunity to check out their books in person. Most of them looked handsome and intriguing, but buying a ton of books wasn’t in my budget (and more importantly, I did not want to separate my shoulder lugging them all around).
I ended up picking up Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk from Nobrow. I liked the fox/reindeer/thing on the cover. It reminded me of my cat, back when my cat was alive. The actual comic was cute and charming, about a little girl looking for storybook adventure in a world where storybook adventure is actually possible. I think this was the first book in a series. The world of the book already felt lived-in and like it extended past the boundaries of the panels. Plus, a book about a brief adventure with no clear moral is very suitable reading on the train home from a comic book convention.
After the show ended, I went to Pizzeria Uno and ate a bunch of stuff, like nuclear-fission-hot pretzel sticks with frozen-lake-cold cheese dip. I don’t know what I expected, because I willingly walked into Pizzeria Uno and asked them to make me food. That one is on me.
When I stumbled around Barnes and Noble in the morning, I had seen Moyoco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat poking out of a shelf display. I resolved to look for it at the con, and then as soon as I started looking, I forgot the title. So I went back to Barnes and Noble before leaving and just bought the book there. I read it in the train station. It’s about an overweight young woman working in an office, with shitty coworkers and a shitty boyfriend. She tries to solve all of her problems by throwing up everything she eats, and somehow it doesn’t work. Afterwards I read some online reviews of it. A significant portion of the reviewers took pains to point out Anno’s “judgment” of her characters or “cruelty” towards them. I didn’t read it like that. I read it more like old Simpsons episodes where they went out of their way to show how everyone in the entire Simpsons world was corrupt or lazy or stupid in some way or another — even the smart, capable ones. Everyone in In Clothes Called Fat is awful. Sometimes that’s just how the world is, and you have to laugh. Whether or not you’re laughing in helpless despair is up to you.
August 23, 2014
I went to see Sin City: A Dame to Kill For on Thursday. I feel like being disappointed in the movie was a foregone conclusion, like it is with most Frank Miller endeavors these days. Let us not forget: the man has taken great pains to come off like a racist old coot in recent years, and at San Diego this year he appeared to be taking style tips from noted Spider-Man adversary The Vulture. Miller wrote two new stories for this movie, one about a cocky gambler up against Senator Powers Boothe in high-stakes poker, and the other about Jessica Alba, Action Star. Neither of them are as fun as the glib summaries imply, and the Alba story in particular comes off like a bad video game sequence (go to bad guy place, shoot bad guys, end).
What really sank A Dame to Kill For was how cheap it looked. The first Sin City film has some pretty glaring green screen in moments (for example, Alexis Bledel walking next to Benicio Del Toro’s car in Old Town), but this time around it was pervasive. Scenes of ninja assassin Miho rolling around on a roof don’t look like a ninja on a roof, they look like Jamie Chung playing dress-up and rolling around on a green floor somewhere. Josh Brolin underacts; Eva Green overacts; Rosario Dawson and Dennis Haysbert are wired-in and capital-G-I Get It.
Then there’s Mickey Rourke, returning as Marv. In the first Sin City film, he looked like a beast carved from granite. In A Dame to Kill For, he looks like Max Headroom ate Robert Z’Dar. I don’t know what happened here. Did they not have enough money? Did they not have enough time (I doubt it, considering this thing took nine fucking years to make)? Did they just not care enough? The best moments in A Dame to Kill For are the ones pulled directly from Frank Miller’s Sin City comics, shot-for-shot: a double-image of Eva Green diving into a reflective pool, Dennis Haysbert draping her coat on her as she stares out a shattered window, Mickey Rourke rambling to an injured Josh Brolin as they drive away in a stolen car, Herr Wallenquist as a lump of warty rubber with Stacy Keach’s lips and voice…
But they’re just moments, and when they’re over, we’re stuck with the rest of the thing, which Frank Miller himself sums up in his cameo as a TV bum. “This rotten city…”
Written by Grant Morrison; penciled by Ivan Reis; inked by Joe Prado; colored by Nei Ruffino; published by DC Comics.
Let me just say first that Ivan Reis might be the best superhero artist working on a regular quasi-monthly basis. Teamed with Joe Prado and Nei Ruffino, this comic looks like the best bits of Neal Adams, Alan Davis, and Phil Jiminez, multiversally cross-pollinated.
The more interesting part of this comic — to me — is that it feels like one of the first major big-two productions to take advantage of the contemporary information surplus. Calling it “Crisis on Infinite Earths smushed into eight issues” seems like a fair comparison so far, but in 1985 DC had to publish a twenty-six-issue companion to Crisis, the first Who’s Who, in order for the layperson to I.D. the background cast of millions. Even then, Who’s Who told you what DC wanted you to know, which was short blurbs about the in-world history of Automan. Now, Deep Space Transmissions has a near-instant annotation of the whole issue, not only contextualizing the appearance of the Heroes of Angor (not even named as such here) in Multiversity #1, but also within the publishing history of DC Comics. Creator credits, even! Multiversity is an information overload that can be tracked out in all directions, perhaps unintentionally disguised as a sustained spurt of wholecloth invention.
Multiversity hurtles forward while trailing streamers of the past’s debris. Nix Uotan, Superjudge — last glimpsed in Morrison’s own Final Crisis — is an avatar of the comics-reading public who has been corrupted here, twisted by unknowable forces into some sort of rotted villain-presence. (Who is the true villain of the comic book industry, if not the most devoted longtime fans?) Up against him are the likes of President Superman and Captain Carrot — superheroic idealism, pitted against the necromantic urges of the collector. Can even Dino-Cop or Aquawoman escape the longbox crypt?
In form and function, Multiversity makes me think of (and about) Simon Reynolds’s book Retromania. Reynolds wrote an open-ended question about how we treat the past of music, and how we’ll treat its future, and the more he wrote the more he seemed to realize that there was no answer.
Reynolds: “Is nostalgia stopping our culture’s ability to surge forward, or are we nostalgic precisely because our culture has stopped moving forward and so we inevitably look back to more momentous and dynamic times?”
President Superman: “I suspect you may have run into one of my alternate Earth counterparts. I seem to have more than one or two.”
ALL NEW ULTIMATES #6
Written by Michel Fiffe; illustrated by Amilcar Pinna; colored by Nolan Woodard; published by Marvel Comics.
Written by Greg Pak; illustrated by Victor Ibañez; colored by Ruth Redmond; published by Marvel Comics.
I lumped these two together not so much because of any outstanding similarity in their stories (All New Ultimates is the climax of the Ultimates vs. Serpent Society gang war; Storm is a brisk jog through Storm tracking down a runaway), but because they each represent different angles of retro.
All New Ultimates is a retro style of comic stretched into modern formatting. The Ultimates used to be an alternate Earth counterpart deal to the Avengers, but now all the big guns like Thor and Iron Man are dead (or whatever) and the Ultimates brand has been seized by a rag-tag teen team, spearheaded by Spider-Man. The whole set-up evokes not so much the Avengers as the New Warriors, the early-1990s Marvel book where a group of superheroes like Namorita (Prince Namor’s cousin) and Night Thrasher (armored skateboarding sorta-Batman) bonded into a family because there was really nothing better to do. All New Ultimates is also filled with shout-outs to 1980s Marvel, with its use of Scourge, the Serpent Society, and Detective Brigid O’Reilly (a deep cut, even to people who do own the Official Handbook ’89 Update). There are even little recurring caption boxes that tell you the characters’ names: when done without ironic commentary, that’s like the contemporary comics version of wearing a slap bracelet. Still, it’s programmed like a modern thing, with action scenes breaking into multiple panels so that each one can showcase a discrete quip, and the gang war functioning as a six-part single story that can be compiled into graphic novel format with ease. (The early 1990s were awash with six-part stories, too, but I think All New Ultimates strays from their blueprint by not crossing over with Daredevil and Nomad in the process.)
If All New Ultimates is an early-1990s-style comic that comes in a 2010s-style package, Storm is the reverse. Storm (in casual modern dress) eats a hamburger with Wolverine, goes looking for a runaway, (after changing into her costume) fights Callisto the Morlock, finds the runaway, realizes she didn’t want to be found, and goes home. It’s entirely possible that Marvel would publish the preceding story beats as five issues, if they were written that way. Instead, it’s all been pushed into twenty pages. “Character-building, set-up of mystery, fight scene, resolution of mystery, implication of characters continuing to live their lives and the universe continuing onward inexorably toward heat death” — this feels like the structure of any given issue of any given late-1980s/early-1990s Marvel solo book. It’s a structure filled out with a modern style of content, like first-person narrative captions instead of thought balloons, and single panels of nothing but characters saying “Mmm” while they kiss.
But are they any good? Yeah, they’re both fine superhero comics. Storm is an effective little character piece and All New Ultimates is fun action, both given competitive edges by artists who operate with styles just outside the boundaries of “usual.” And maybe they get bonus points from me because I was six years old in 1991 and remember back in the days.
Reynolds: “The avant-garde is now an arrière-garde.”
August 16, 2014
I bought a copy of Adventure Into Fear #19 for a dollar the other day. The comics speculators are out in full force again, like vampires cruising the streets, sunglasses at night, looking for that one gem of a woman, walking alone across a deserted lot, and the vampire turns the headlights of his car off and just starts circling…
Adventure Into Fear #19 is the first appearance of Howard the Duck, who is Seth Green now, and may again be Seth Green in the future. Its price is steadily rising on the secondary market — probably $75 on average, for an above-average copy. I bought mine for a dollar.
The copy I bought looks like a dog has attacked it. It’s full of tears, especially on the back cover, which looks like someone attempted to remove the cover of the comic like the rind of an orange. The interior pages are khaki. The spine of the comic is the most curious part. I don’t understand why the spine is the way it is. It seems like the paper on just the spine is flaking, like old paint cracking and peeling. I want to submit this copy to CGC and see if I can get below a 1.0 grade. I might intentionally spill wine on it, just to make sure.
I bought Adventure Into Fear #19 for a dollar and now I am doing a comic book review column again. This is Advice to Young Girls, and you are reading it.
Written by Dennis Hopeless; illustrated by Tigh Walker; colored by Jean-Francois Beaulieu; published by Marvel Comics.
I don’t read a lot of Marvel comics anymore, in part because they don’t make a lot of sense. There’s sense and there’s sense: nothing about a radioactive spider bite makes sense, but when you put twenty pages of it in the right order it should still make sense within its own binding. Someone told me that Avengers Undercover had been given the Wire-Season-5 treatment and its 12-issue run had been cut to 10. Maybe that’s why this comic doesn’t make much sense. The “three months into the future” jump is tauntingly glib. When the book started, it was a handful of traumatized super-teens trying to kill the man who had wronged them. Along the way it became a book about a handful of traumatized super-teens being tempted to become evil, or at least “evil” in the sense of “not junior members of the military-Avengers complex.” Now it’s a book about some of them being “evil” and some of them not, and it turns out that their stories are just part of an evil genius’s master plan to bring in the real Avengers and blah, blah, blah. The truncated nature of the story has left the motivations of all but a handful of characters unclear, and not good unclear. Stuff is happening because it’s time for that stuff to happen, not because it’s convinced me, the rube, that any of it needs to happen. Would another two issues have done the trick, though?
The real problem here is that Avengers Undercover lost its artist. #8 is the first drawn by Tigh Walker, who greatly enjoys Nathan Fox. (Nathan Fox did his own comic about the villainous fringe of Marvel; he and Joe Casey did Dark Reign: Zodiac, which was fucking berserk, even if it censored full-on ass shots.) Tigh Walker is perfectly fine. Better he get the book than Timothy Green. But he’s no Kev Walker. At his best, Kev Walker was the perfect artist for this comic because he makes everyone look like they’re evolved from cavepeople. It’s extremely easy to believe that a Kev Walker drawing could go either way, hero or villain. Even the “good” guys have an unsavory bluntness to the way they look (mitigated in the first seven issues of Avengers Undercover by either unfair inking, or unfair deadlines). The perfect teen superhero book, if only in its squandered potential.
Written by Mark Millar; illustrated by Goran Parlov; colored by Ive Svorcina; published by Image Comics.
Everything is fine inside this comic. This is a movie they used to make, before everything turned grey and shaky and the stars started acting like they were really learning krav maga. Still, imagine being Goran Parlov, drawing as well as you do, and finally having a project where people are gonna see it and know your name. And on the penultimate issue, you don’t even get a cover, because it went to Rob Liefeld instead, doing another Rob Liefeld drawing just like all the other ones, except this time it’s of the brand you’re trying to build your future off of. At least if Liefeld had covered an issue of Nemesis, the tones would have been in perfect harmony.
Written by Ales Kot; illustrated by Michael Gaydos; colored by Jordie Bellaire; published by Image Comics.
I’ve read a more-than-fair number of blurbs comparing Ales Kot to Grant Morrison, but if we’re going to play that game, he’s really more of… Brian K. Vaughan, with more interesting books and movies in his library. The second half of Zero #10 contains a scene where a character explains their particular style of performance art to another character. This is a very Vaughan move — see also noted trivia delivery-mechanism Ex Machina — but I can’t recall any Vaughan character that’s ever made me think of Jean-Paul Leaud’s character in La Chinoise. I can’t tell if the game Ales Kot is playing is meant to play up the obviousness of its influences (there’s a fucking Psychic TV quote in this thing, for Christ’s sake), or if I’ve just spoiled the game for myself by being able to recognize so much.
More interesting to me is how slow Zero is. In the first half of this issue, we’re treated to a wordless multi-page sequence of lead character Edward Zero waking up, making breakfast, working out, going to his job… This is all drawn by Michael Gaydos, an artist whose strength (like Steve Dillon) is in the consistency of his characters and their world from panel to panel. (Did you see the David Fincher version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? In the sex dungeon scene, the sex harness thing that Daniel Craig gets strapped into, it looks like something someone in the real world might actually build, with no prior experience as a Hollywood set decorator. Fincher is very good at maintaining a sense of complete believability in even the smallest elements of his shots, and that’s the quality I’m talking about here. Even when Gaydos draws superheroes, they look like they actually had to put their clothes on over their bodies. The opposite of this condition in comic book art is probably Jim Lee, or J. Scott Campbell, who draws those people you see in traveling roadshows who have plastic injected into their muscles and are dead.) The newer strains of webcomics are full of these attempts to capture profundity in the anti-profound, and it’s curious to me how that might interact with traditionally published comics. It seems to me like people could put up with a hundred pages of puttering around (so to speak) in a free webcomic without complaint, and yet accuse a print comic of being “too decompressed” solely because money changed hands, despite the value in time of production probably being about the same. I don’t think Zero is a particularly strong example of this idea, or even an example at all, but it’s where my mind goes when I think about it. I also think about Tao Lin novels, and I feel certain Ales Kot has read those, too.