October 28, 2014
Be glad — actually, no, be ecstatic that the Manics never re-recorded “Motown Junk” for their first album, Generation Terrorists. None of their re-recorded tracks ever matched the fire or power of the originals, and as if to prove it, here comes “You Love Us” (matched on the flip by a cover of the relentlessly boring flexi track “UK Channel Boredom” — here retitled “A Vision of Dead Desire”).
There are a few spackled improvements, to be sure: “You love us like a Holocaust, same PR problem as E.S.T.” flows a lot better than it did on the Heavenly version, when James Dean Bradfield had to crunch “marketing” into two syllables. And Bradfield’s guitar solos, well, they’re certainly more heroic and muscular than before. But besides that, there’s not much that the ’92 Generation Terrorists re-cut of “You Love Us” has going for it. It’s certainly… a song.
In 1992, Richey Edwards — key ideologue of the band — declared that “we are here at the complete death of rock culture,” but the “You Love Us” single forges a path that is now well-trodden by everybody else who was successful in 1992. The re-issue! Re-recorded, re-mastered, re-whatevered. If you bought the compact disc of “You Love Us”, you received, in this order: two re-recorded old songs, one re-issued song from a year previous (“We Her Majesty’s Prisoners” from the “Motown Junk” single), and a live version of “It’s So Easy”, a Guns N Roses cover. No new ideas here, just new drum machines. Even the cover of the single speaks volumes of nothing in particular: one of the now-trademark stenciled shirts, emblazoned with the song’s title, hung on a wall with no wearer in stark black and white. What to make of it all? Fashion without humanity, slogans without speakers, literal emptiness…
Needless to say, with all of these shortcomings, “You Love Us” became the Manics’ first Top 20 hit and kicked off a run of them. Maybe it was the video, which was the first real sign of joy or sex in their provocations, with unsubtle inspiration from the Monkees’ self-immolation, Head…
“False Media – We don’t need it do we?”
This series will continue next week.
October 25, 2014
So a couple weeks back I went to New York Comic Con for a day. Here’s my con report: I took the train up, I did some stuff, and then I took the train home. At one point I left the con entirely and walked into Times Square to find new headphones for my iPod. I spent half the time in Artist’s Alley, looking at original art but not buying anything (except for one thing), and the other half of the time on the show floor, looking at all kinds of stuff but not buying much. At one point I wandered into some part of the show floor that was about… I don’t even know, anime or designer toys or video games or something, and the only other times I’ve ever been so compressed among human bodies has been at major rock festivals. I feel like the more I go to New York Comic Con, the less I understand anything.
Here’s what I bought:
PINK by Kyoko Okazaki
One of the first stops I made was at the Vertical table. At Baltimore Comic Con I bought Moyoco Anno’s In Clothes Called Fat and enjoyed it greatly, and all the reviews I read of that one pointed me towards this one as an equally misanthropic venture. I still haven’t had a chance to read it, but… soon.
A 1968 semi-classic by J. Scott Pike (“Created, written & illustrated by…”) which was part of the same drive for new characters that resulted in Hawk & Dove. For years, this was the only appearance of Dolphin, who nowadays lingers as a C-list Aquaman hanger-on. Here’s the plot of this comic: a submarine finds a woman swimming among some dolphins, and she doesn’t speak English, just dolphin squeaks or whatever. She falls in love with one of the sailors, because that’s just what you did back then, and helps them fix some kind of problem I’ve already forgotten the details of. Then she goes back into the ocean, with no explanation given as to who she is or where she came from or any of that. It’s altogether strange enough to warrant a post of its own down the line, and it’s one of the loopiest things I’ve ever read from one of the loopiest times in DC history. Side note: the guy who I bought this from wanted way too much money for it. I ended up looking up copies in similar condition on eBay right there and talking him down by showing him my findings. I don’t know who was the bigger d-bag there.
THE DESTRUCTOR #2 and 3
My main quest on the show floor was to find old Atlas-Seaboard comics. The stuff I really wanted was Police Action, which was a Steve Skeates/Mike Sekowsky (I think!) comic that was either a parody of Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle type tuff cops, or an attempt to write a tuff cop comic with the kind of earnestness that really only comes from significant brain damage. I didn’t find any of those — a lot of dealers seemed baffled that I thought anyone would bring crappy old Atlas comics to NYCC, when I could buy a $200 first appearance of Carnage instead, or whatever the fuck. (Con dealers seem to get some of their prices broadcast into their skulls directly from Mars.) Anyway, I found two issues of Destructor, an Atlas superhero title I know nothing about. I bought them because of the Larry Lieber fake-Kirby covers, but the insides are by Archie Goodwin(!) and Steve Ditko(!!!).
THE BRUTE #1 thru 3
I also found these, which I gobbled up as soon as I found them. The Brute is one of those comics that makes me wonder if Atlas-Seaboard had any kind of editorial process at all. The remit here is clear: “make a Hulk.” Here’s how Atlas (represented by Michael Fleisher and Mike Sekowsky) made their Hulk. Instead of a gamma scientist, he’s a literal caveman, who’s found in (dig this) a cave by a bunch of kids. Within five pages of #1, the Brute has killed all but one of these children. The Brute kills like six people #1, and he kills them all by throwing them into walls, spine-first. By #3, it’s settled into a more conventional Hulk rip-off, but #1 alone is definitely one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever read, in the sense of “who decided that this was how to launch a superhero company, by introducing a superhero who has unambiguously murdered children?“
STORM sketch by Kris Anka
I asked for a brutally 1970s Storm, and the Farrah hair delivers. Next up, I gotta find someone to tackle the 80s.
Multiversity: The Just #1
“#EARTHME” Written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Ben Oliver; colored by Ben Oliver and Dan Brown; published by DC Comics.
At MorrisonCon in 2012, Grant Morrison described his mob-hit mini-series Happy! as being a response to what he termed the “meeehhhh” of the jaded Internet fanboys. He ran into their swords with Final Crisis, and the negative response to that series has undoubtedly contributed to a series of moves over the past few years that seemed to put him in the same shit-stirring anti-fanboy camp as his old nemesis Alan Moore. Now, we have Multiversity: The Just, a snapshot of Earth-16, a planet of Super Sons and Daring Daughters, who embody the worst and most futile of the cinematic-universe generation. The first thing we have to do is put aside the weird connotations of Damian Wayne, a Grant Morrison creation, taking on a bald-headed lover when Morrison himself is famous for his Gillette’d dome. Down that path lurks madness.
On Earth-16, Superman’s fixed all the world’s problems, and so the next generation of super-heroes really have nothing to do. They’re celebrities; they party. Some of them hang out in the desert and re-create old battles in masturbatory re-runs that blur together in the mind (when invited to one, Connor Hawke can’t even remember if he was there for the original). These are the heroes of homogenized brand culture, and on Earth-16 strange lights in the sky are met with bored “wows” and “whatevers” from the citizens. Batman can only watch from afar through binoculars while Superman’s robots take care of it, which is a bit like the superhero equivalent of having a hard-on that’s as stiff as rope.
As a condemnation of apathy and bland consumerism, this is way better than Happy!, and not in the least because Ben Oliver’s expressions and color palette paint a much more evocative picture of boredom than Darick Robertson’s rubberfaces. The world is doomed because no one’s paying attention, they’re just trusting in the system and focusing on their parties and gallery openings and — well, shit — comic books instead. And they’re not even enjoying them. Batman’s idea of talking dirty is “You’re a psycho-autistic mess, Lexie! Admit it! ADMIT IT!” This is the superhero universe you’d squeeze out of Bret Easton Ellis, and that’s a fair bit scarier than Kingdom Come.
“Xenia” Created and produced by Michel Fiffe; self-published.
First off, let’s just come out and say it, Michel Fiffe is the best letterer around since Dave Sim. That part isn’t even up for debate, and you’re just going to have to live with it. I’m greatly enjoying living with it, so I don’t see why you can’t do the same. Anyway.
It took 18 issues, but Copra finally delivers the goods with a potshot at Boyd Rice; I’ve been waiting for a superhero comic to put that guy down. So if the Guthie issue was the Kirby issue, and the Rax issue was the Ditko issue, this is the Starlin issue. Xenia, apprentice to Vincent (whose job title probably sounds a lot like “Borcerer Bupreme”), has an artifact of great power wedged in her stomach like a bullet, and this issue is about her collapsing inward like a dying star, trying to recalibrate herself through read-through-ten-of-Mind-Invaders style magickal rituals — the kind you always hear Genesis Breyer P-Orridge nattering on about, to anyone who’ll listen at the local post office.
I found Xenia one of the more fascinating characters in the first twelve issues of Copra. She’s drawn from Clea, Doctor Strange’s apprentice-turned-lover. Fiffe often shows a lot of fidelity in his Marvel and DC plunderphonic stuff — Lloyd is pretty much just Deadshot with one letter changed. But I don’t remember Clea having as bad an attitude as Xenia did. She was downright antagonistic towards Copra… and I definitely don’t remember Clea having a boxer’s obtuse-angled nose. The familiarity of half of Copra‘s cast brings out the invention in the other half (and vice versa), and there’s a tension there that’s one of the things I like best about the series. The past six issues of Copra have been about the cast visiting their dark places, and all of them come back with unfinished business. More, please. It’s gonna be good when the abyss starts gazing also.
October 21, 2014
On the back of my 12″ copy of the “Love’s Sweet Exile / Repeat” (or “Repeat / Love’s Sweet Exile” or whatever) single, at the back of the top, in tiny type, is set: “For regular manifestos write to MANIC STREET PREACHERS…” These two songs then must be the sampler, the taster menu to decide if this flavor of screed is to your liking.
Make no bones about it, “Love’s Sweet Exile” and “Repeat” are two loud, angry songs, showcasing the guitars as much as the hatred. The Manics put out “Stay Beautiful” in July 1991, and while it was an us-vs.-them kind of track, it wasn’t terribly angry about it — it was more like one of those beautiful-doomer tracks Suede likes to cut, just revved up and less pelvic. In October, this double A-side hit and returned them to the bloodshot-eyed bile of the “Motown Junk” days, spit all but audibly flecking from James Dean Bradfield’s mouth as he rushes and screams…
“Love’s Sweet Exile” is all heavy chug with a cavernous backbeat that sounds like Sean Moore set the drum machine to “Bonham marches to war.” The guitars rev themselves to distraction, providing an agitated, pent-up backdrop to Bradfield belting: “Rain down, alienation, leave this country, leave this country…” Despite his impassioned cries for escape — and his admission that they’re “kept down, cuz we hate” — the song goes nowhere in the end, chugging in circles, pausing only to be split open sten to sterm by one of Bradfield’s best-ever guitar solos. By October 1991, Nirvana had landed; a Vai-esque solo like this one wasn’t just a declaration of loyalty to metal, it was as flamboyantly othersome as Richey and Nicky’s Liz Taylor haircuts.
On “Love’s Sweet Exile” the desperate trash lose their glamour — on “Stay Beautiful” it was all lipstick and spraypaint, but here: “Despair seeps through and cuts our eyes, unified collapse of everything inside…”
More melodramatic still is “Repeat” — but what other word works for a song like this? “Repeat after me, fuck Queen and country!” isn’t exactly the Manics’ most subtle or impressionistic lyric, but it was probably a necessary one in their forward momentum. We’re right back to the Heavenly era on this one (it even appeared in rough demo form on the “Feminine Is Beautiful” single put out by Caff Records, run by one of their labelmates), leading off with a Public Enemy sample and jumping right into the political arena, high heels kicking.
“Repeat” is a much better idea for a song than it is a song, at least in its released form. Despite the revolutionary rhetoric, it’s probably one of the most lunkheaded songs of the era, musically speaking — its solos never quite take off like the one in “Love’s Sweet Exile”, instead slip-n-sliding on cock-rock rails. Lyrically, Steve Sutherland’s Melody Maker review of Crass comes to mind: “…where words are a series of shock slogans…” That’s what it is, pure anti-monarchy sloganeering, though “Death Camp Palace” and “Royal Khmer Rouge” don’t stick sharply in the mind like the opening couplet quoted above.
What’s maybe most noteworthy about “Repeat” is how it really initiates the Manics’ purging instinct. None of their songs prior had quite reached the extremes of “Lose this generation’s dumb fuck scum…” There’s a point in the guitar solo where sirens begin to overtake the song, building in the background, and then the music drops out, replaced by machine gun fire. Who exactly is being shot at? The band, the royals, the fans, the loyalists, the listener…?
“Then came human beings, they wanted to cling but there was nothing to cling to”
This series will continue on Sunday.
October 12, 2014
July 29, 1991, and the Manic Street Preachers well and truly arrive, smearing lipstick everywhere. “Stay Beautiful” is the band’s first major label single, and the infusion of loads of money led to two key things: the crystallization of a beefed-up professional sound, and a gleeful impulse towards self-disassembly.
“Stay Beautiful” is a New York Dolls/GNR/Hanoi Rocks/Decline of Western Civilization Part II glam-metal anthem, cruising along on Roxy Theatre guitar crush. The lyrics self-consciously celebrate the debris falling between the cracks of mass culture and invite the straight square world to, as the saying goes, “fuck off.” (This crucial lyric is missing from the finished product; fans connect the dots at live shows.)
Imagine these four kids, three of them with their instruments actually plugged in, belting this out in boiler room jumpsuits stenciled with “DEATH SENTENCE HERITAGE” and so on, half Liz Taylor haircuts, one quarter rough trade. “Destroyed by madness!” they cry at the end, like it’s the most romantic goal around, the best immortality being the death kind…
With the Columbia cash cash cash drummer Sean Moore elected to buy a high-end drum machine and program that for use on the album sessions that produced “Stay Beautiful.” The mechanized beat gives the track a precision gallop that also helps rein things in on the backend: with the beat in lockstep, the guitars are free to wiggle and squeal that much more, without the song de-evolving into overdramatic chaos. There’s also the thematic stuff of it, the sheer cheek and audacity of a punk-metal band getting their shot at the big time and then deciding, well, let’s hook our songs up to this high-tech drum gizmo. To the purists, it’s perverse, and to the already perverse, it’s all the more pleasurable. “Don’t fall in love cuz we hate you still…”
And later when we got into the car, he took a turn down a street that I was pretty sure was a dead end. “Where are we going?” I asked. “I don’t know” he said “just driving”. “But this road doesn’t go anywhere” I told him. “That doesn’t matter.” “What does?” I asked, after a little while. “Just that we’re on it, dude.” He said.
-Bret Easton Ellis
“The male chromosome is an incomplete female chromosome. In other words, the male is a walking abortion; aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.”
“Work is only justified by leisure time. To admit the emptiness of leisure time is to admit the impossibility of life.”
“The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer. He sells the consumer to his product. He degrades and simplifies his client.”
-William S. Burroughs
This series will continue next Sunday.
October 9, 2014
If you’re reading this on Friday — because that’s when it’s going up — I’ll be at NYCC, staggering around like an abused cretin, looking at everything but probably not actually seeing much of it.
I’ve been going to NYCC for a while now, and every year it sneaks up on me. I don’t have a lot of things I actually plan on scoring there — in fact, everything on my shopping list is for other people. I just like to go, probably as much to say I went as anything. It’s nice to have an excuse to go to New York City for whatever reason. I’m broke as hell this year, so a consumerist expedition isn’t in the cards. I can only carry so much, anyway.
I went to all four days of NYCC in 2012, and I can honestly say that I’d rather be tortured by cannibals than go to NYCC on a Saturday ever again. The crowds! The fucking crowds. I have to pinch myself, so to speak, to remind myself that for most of the people who go to this show, this is it. By and large, they’re not every-week-hit-up-the-LCS types. A lot of them probably don’t even read Western comics. And that debate’s been raging online now, and I really don’t want to take part in it, but there’s a thing where I consider how jaded I am, working in a comic book store for five days a week, and then here I am surrounded by all these people who are just so excited to be around all this nerdy shit for even just the one day, and I don’t really feel spoiled because fuck it, my job sucks, but I realize how small my position is, how the LCSes in America are just a cloud of freckles on somebody’s shoulder compared to the greater, corpulent body of geekdom…
No review section this week. I read Batgirl #35, and it’s great, it’s Scott Pilgrim, it’s Batgirl meets Scott Pilgrim, and that’s about it.
October 5, 2014
“It was the starting point for us really. That was the first time we ever really felt like a band, the first time we created a record we could live with. We had people around us who understood exactly what we were trying to say and how we were trying to say it. Then we signed to Sony.”
-James Dean Bradfield, 1994
WHEN LENNON GOT SHOT
-“Motown Junk” (1991)
Not the first shots, by any means — but the first shots that even halfway mattered. When Manic Street Preachers (James Dean Bradfield on vocals and guitar; Nicky Wire on bass and lyrics; Sean Moore on drums; Richey James Edwards on lyrics and vision) signed to hip indie label Heavenly Recordings, they’d already put some work out there. There was the self-released “Suicide Alley” single, half-baked Clash. Then there was “U.K. Channel Boredom”, a flexi justly forgotten by all justly. Then the New Art Riot E.P., a first step forwards…
On January 21 1991, the Manics released “Motown Junk”, their first single for Heavenly. Their transformation was complete in one song. “Motown Junk” begins with a sample from a Public Enemy song: the word “revolution,” getting louder and louder and louder still. The musical perfomance is raw and ragged, and one can be forgiven for not knowing the lyrics, because James Dean Bradfield sounds like he’s about to vomit in rage throughout. “Twenty-one years of living and nothing means anything to me…”
“I will always hate Slowdive more than Hitler,” said Richey Edwards in 1991. With “Motown Junk” and a parade of apoplectic press notes, the Manics found out who they were, by coming out swinging at everything they weren’t. They were leftie intellectual Welshmen young enough to remember the miners’ strike, who held the ruling class in severe acid contempt. They spoke loudly about how the only relevant music was being made in America, and 90% of that statement meant “Public Enemy.” (Sampled on “Motown Junk”, paraphrased on “You Love Us”, sampled again on “Starlover”…) They were not manufactured assembly-line pop (Motown junk!), they were not followers of fashion, they were not indie, they were not baggy, they were not about aciiieeed, they did not look at their fucking shoes, they were not Londoners, and they sure as fuck weren’t from Manchester.
This is explosive music. “Motown Junk” could have been designed in a laboratory to get bodies moving in a mosh pit. As it was released, it sounded like it had been cooked up in some backwoods lab, permanently at risk of blowing itself up. The Manics never did write lyrics on any of these songs, so much as veiled manifestos.
The samples on the Heavenly singles weren’t cleared by anyone. They just did it. That’s how “You Love Us” — the second Heavenly single, from May 1991, later re-done with Sony for their first LP — opens with “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki and ends with the drums from “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop.
“You Love Us” is grand mania shoved forward by fury. “We’re gonna burn your deathmask uniforms,” the Manics say, without even naming their enemy — who has time to state the obvious? “Understand we can never belong,” they say, shoving the audience away, and then trying to follow up “Motown Junk”‘s immortal Lennon line with a crack at the Mona Lisa. The title is ironic; the full line is “You love us like a Holocaust” — i.e., cosmic repulsion — “same marketing problem as E.S.T.” Manic Street Preachers, Electro-Shock Therapy for the sneering indie kids, fey queerish villains in leopard print and mascara, hearts lit up by neon hate.
“ROCK AND ROLL ADOLESCENT HOODLUMS STORM THE STREETS OF ALL NATIONS. THEY RUSH INTO THE LOUVRE AND THROW ACID IN THE MONA LISA’S FACE. THEY OPEN ZOOS, INSANE ASYLUMS, PRISONS, BURST WATER MAINS WITH AIR HAMMERS, CHOP THE FLOOR OUT OF PASSENGER PLANE LAVATORIES, SHOOT OUT LIGHTHOUSES, TURN SEWERS INTO THE WATER SUPPLY, ADMINISTER INJECTIONS WITH BICYCLE PUMPS, THEY SHIT ON THE FLOOR OF THE UNITED NATIONS AND WIPE THEIR ASS WITH TREATIES, PACTS, ALLIANCES.”
“I knew I belonged to the public and to the world not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone ever.”
This series will continue next Sunday.
October 3, 2014
When I talk to people about comic book collections, usually the thing that comes up is the “crown jewels” — the stuff that’s the most valuable, the hardest to get, has the most cultural cachet. Most of the people I know aren’t ridiculously wealthy, so “9.0 Action Comics #1″ or whatever never gets thrown around. Usually it comes down to their “run” — oh, yeah, I have a run of Uncanny X-Men going back to #3, or whatever. (No one ever tells me about the variant covers they have. I’ve yet to meet anyone who sees them as anything other than an annoyance, even the people who doggedly throw money at them, but that’s another rant.)
I’ve given up on maintaining an extensive comic book collection. I tried, for a while. It just became too inconvenient and cumbersome. That collecting impulse jumped around in a couple different ways before largely dissipating. For a while, I collected original art pages; then deluxe hardcover Omnibus type books; then I just kind of got tired of the whole thing. Of all of these, the hardcover Omnibus type books were the most immediately lucrative thing to collect. I paid for a PS4 by selling a copy of New Teen Titans Omnibus Vol. 1 and a copy of X-Men: Inferno.
The things I actually buy and keep, comic book wise, tend to have real value to no one but myself. The main feature of my tiny collection is a whole run (yep) of Ostrander/Yale Suicide Squad. I keep all of it because it’s meaningful to me to do so. No other reason. People might mistake this for something valuable, now that the Suicide Squad movie is in production or whatever. These are the same people who are currently scouring dollar bins for a copy of Wolverine #80 or X-Force #2. These are the same people who tell me that investing in 90s comic book speculation is “smarter and safer” than putting their money in the stock market. (That was a real conversation I had recently.)
When people ask me what the most valuable comic in my collection is, I usually just shrug and say “Saga #1.” This invariably disappoints people who devote long hours to trying to will their shitty 1990s comic book collection into being a worthwhile investment, or who have spent real money to have things that are actually worth real money. Sometimes the conversation stops there.
When it continues, sometimes I tell them about the real most valuable thing in my collection — a sketch commission from Saga artist Fiona Staples that I got at New York Comic Con in 2012. I have seen actual envy in the eyes of grown men when showing them the same lousy phone picture I’m including in this post. I’m not interested in selling it, but I know that if I gave even the slightest hint that I was, they’d be right up in there, trying to lowball me and get themselves a hell of a deal. There’s no great story to how I got it: I was on Twitter at work one day, saw Staples’s art dealer posting about the commission list being open, and I was fast enough to get a request e-mailed in. That’s it. Sheer dumb luck.
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher; illustrated by Karl Kerschl; published by DC Comics.
There’s an ad for a Star Wars cartoon show right on the inside front cover of this, and that’s pretty much what it is: the Batman Expanded Universe, finally illuminating a corner that isn’t as painfully boring as whatever Nightwing is doing at any point, past present or future. When I look at Star Wars stuff, I’m always indifferent to the Jedi and the Sith and the Rebels and the Empire and all of that good-versus-evil stuff. I know how it’s going to go. I like the weird little detours, the bounty hunters, the stories that “don’t matter,” in the macro sense of the brand.
Gotham Academy‘s premise, in the broadest possible way, is that Gotham City is full of weird shit, and not all of it is men in fetish costumes hitting each other or setting off nerve gas in the subways. It’s less immediately bizarre than Hogwarts, until you get to the names: Maps Mizoguchi, for one, which brings to mind the twin inspirations of the blonde girl with the camera from the Burger King Kids Club and the director of Street of Shame (unless she’s named after a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, in which case, fuck this whole comic). The girl with the last name “Silverlock” has silvery hair. That sort of thing.
I could go for more of this kind of comic: it’s fun and easy to read, and drawn exceptionally well, and it tries to stake out new ground (as far as Batman comics go). It’s a pleasant first step on the road to DC publishing comics about Bruce Wayne’s country club, starring Jason Todd’s second cousin as the kid in the Night Ranger shirt from Caddyshack.
Written by Ales Kot; illustrated by Marco Rudy; published by Marvel Comics.
Never you mind the Aphex Twin and Merzbow references; those seem like the only way to keep sane when one is tasked with “write the adventures of our new movie guy, but in outer space, and with a sidekick whose personality seems to be that she has the haircut of Angelina Jolie in Hackers and that’s really it.” Make a game of it. Both writer and artist seem like they’re having fun, and that’s the only thing that saves this comic, where Ales Kot uses the same “the pleasure of sharing a meal is the fastest shortcut to a meaningful human connection” bit that he did with Spider-Woman and the bomb guy in Secret Avengers, and Marco Rudy…
Let’s hijack Simone de Beauvoir’s essay, Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome, to try and shed some light on whatever the fuck Marco Rudy is doing in this comic: “The ‘young novel’ — as it calls itself — is bent on creating a universe as devoid as possible of human meanings, a universe reduced to shiftings of volumes and surfaces, of light and shade, to the play of space and time; the characters and their relationships are left in the background or even dropped entirely. This quest is of interest only to a small number of initiates.”
And even if you nod your head with all that, it won’t make Marco Rudy’s compositions any less arbitrary to take in. It’s a lot of shifting of space and time, a lot of interesting decoration, but no assurance that finding the thread of picto-story connecting it all is worth the minimal effort.
Written and illustrated by Jean-Claude Forest; translated by Kelly Sue DeConnick; published by Humanoids.
Whoa, there, Simone, don’t stray too far just yet. If we can borrow your words for just a minute longer, on the subject of Madame Bardot herself: “It has often been said that her face has only one expression. It is true that the outer world is hardly reflected in it at all and that it does not reveal great inner disturbance. But that air of indifference becomes her.”
So it is with Barbarella in Jean-Claude Forest’s comic, originally presented as a series of eight-page magazine strips, and then collectively as banned smut. The past fifty years have made Barbarella synonymous with Jane Fonda, doing her best starry-eyed-and-clueless, stumbling from bed to bed and all but saying “oh, golly gosh” during orgasm. But Forest draws Barbarella more like Bardot, with those lines under her eyes that could mean just about anything. Barbarella acts like late-50s Bardot, too, or at least the version of her that Roger Vadim presented to the world. (Vadim also directed the Fonda Barbarella…) In the comic, presented as a jumbo hardcover that demands a whole production be made of reading it, Barbarella wanders from adventure to adventure, with no clear mission, until the end of the strip’s serialization demands the story close. No loose ends tied up, no real lessons learned… Barbarella is a woman who does as she pleases, and Forest’s expressive artwork (the detail is phenomenal at this size, and in its original downbeat duotone) is drawn after her.
September 20, 2014
It feels weird to be reading comics without really considering myself a “collector” of them. I wish I could say that I had purged the collecting instinct from my genetics entirely, but it’s still there, in the blood. Just ask my bookshelves full of Doom Patrol Archives, and Manara Library, and the Criterion Collection (what a give-away).
When I started reading comics, I jumped at the X-Men headfirst, and I was young enough and dumb enough to believe everything Wizard: The Guide to Comics told me. I convinced my mother to cough up $13.00 for a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #252 on the basis of “it will be worth so much more money one day.” In that case, I might have been right, but I also used the same line of reasoning to get her to pay for a variant cover edition of the Liefeld Heroes Reborn Captain America #1.
I think being an X-Men fan so early in life was a spectacular aid in guiding me towards “collector” status. In the very early 1990s, the X-Men universe was ballooning, and it felt exciting, like being there for the formation of the Acolytes was a big deal. (Bear in mind: I was also six years old.) And from the X-Men, you could read X-Force, and X-Factor, and go back in time with X-Men Classic, and there was the Wolverine solo series, and…
There was also some fetishization of unseen works going on, because at my LCS (Local Convenience Store), I only had access to Uncanny X-Men and X-Force. The Bishop/Gambit confrontation in X-Men #8 was relayed to me via editorial footnote. I believed Wizard when they said these comics were valuable, because they must be — if it’s so hard for a six-year-old boy to get to them, they must be worth the price! There was no digital collection to reference, no legally dubious scans, and no trade paperbacks. The universe of these comic books was bigger than what I was able to get my hands on, and that factor made it seem limitless. Now, I am old, and the X-Men’s universe is very small.
I buy comics now and when the series is over or when I get bored of them, I just sell them or give them away. I don’t consider the handful of shortboxes I own my “collection,” just paper hotel guests. The only box I call my “collection” is a box of Suicide Squad and Copra. The Suicide Squad stuff contains all the tie-ins of the Ostrander/Yale/McDonnell/Isherwood/etc. run. All the Janus Directive crossovers, the annuals, the Secret Origins issue…
I also buy records, but the sheer expense of them makes it hard to consider myself a “collector” there, either. When, let’s say, Dean Blunt puts out a new album, or something new comes out on Night School Records, I make an effort to buy it, because I’ve built up a reasonable expectation of quality for certain parameters. But I lack the expectation of reward for my consumerist accumulation that came with “collecting comics” in my youth. (Is it a subliminal religious thing, sacrifice thine cash and thou shalt be rewarded in the aftermarket?) I just want some fucking good records to listen to.
At my day job, the comic book store, I was going through some dollar bins and I found Captain Atom #22, from 1988. The cover features Atom’s foe and eventual wife, Plastique, in a fistfight with Nightshade. Nightshade was a former Charlton character, like Atom himself, but she was also a mainstay of Ostrander/Yale’s Suicide Squad, so I checked it out.
The urge hit me: buy it, bag it, board it, file it away in the Suicide Squad box. Amanda Waller is in there; the Suicide Squad is mentioned; Nightshade is a prominent member — surely it counts! I felt the same stirring about the 1987 crossover Millennium #4, which has a tarot card of Squad member Deadshot on the cover, and pays a bit of lip service to the Squad to set up Suicide Squad #9, their Millennium tie-in issue. Add it to the Squad box? And if I add it, do I just add #4, or do I add in the whole series? And hey, didn’t Ostrander also write Firestorm, the Nuclear Man…? D’ya think there’s some Squad in there…?
I felt the same way looking at records online today. The record label Hyperdub is releasing some 10th anniversary CDs, and they feature new (or at least unheard) tracks by Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, both of whom are worth my time. And they have a 12″ record with one of the songs! And five other songs I don’t particularly care about! And, y’know, I can get the record for ten bucks–
Since I stopped “collecting” in any serious way, I’m going to be plagued with these thoughts for the rest of my fucking life. Collecting comic books has ruined me forever.
Written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Frazier Irving; published by Legendary Comics.
S.F.: L.P.B. #1
Written and illustrated by Ryan Cecil Smith; self-published.
“Dis is your home until your sentence runs out.”
“Didn’t they tell you? My sentence will never run out.”
This exchange occurs on page 15 of Annihilator #1, the delirious new sci-fi comic by Grant Morrison and Frazier Irving. It wasn’t until I read the comic a second time that the sting of that dialogue really sunk into my flesh. The second speaker is Max Nomax, the greatest criminal of a distant alternate world, whose crimes violate not the laws of man but the laws of nature; his coup de grace shall be a “cure for death.” His declaration — “my sentence will never run out,” meaning prison — is a funhouse mirror of perhaps the most famous line in any Morrison comic: the closing line of The Invisibles, “Our sentence is up.” In The Invisibles, when Jack Frost says that, it marks the occasion of humanity being set free from its imperfect physical and psychic shells, and regrouping to join the harmonious superstructure of the universe, moving one ridge up the fractal. The last thing we see in that series, which Morrison both wrote and used as a totem of magickal power, is a slow zoom onto that final word balloon, until we are gazing into nothing but the white space surrounding (or perhaps past) the period, infinite starless space.
Six pages later in Annihilator #1, we pull back from the blackness of a period on word processor screen, the story retrieving itself from an endless void. Whenever Grant Morrison is at his weirdest, he’s usually also at his most personal (see also The Filth, a black dirge fueled by poisonously despairing moments in his own life). So I want to read that level into these two moments of Annihilator, the man who dove into the punctual finality of Armageddon in The Invisibles finally drawing himself back out, chakra aligned and Eschaton re-immanentized. (Barbelith the red; Annihilator the black; those two colors again, like a callback to a joke…)
It’s certainly easy, because he wrote a comic about a writer who is struggling to rediscover the populist genius he once had. Ray Spass (“Space”) is a screenwriter who did a Tom Cruise movie once, and is now running up against various problems: deadlines, moving house, a brain tumor, and so on. He attempts to drink and snort and fuck his problems away, to predictable levels of success. And then, there he is: Max Nomax, the lead character of Spass’s new screenplay, Annihilator, in the flesh. To see Frazier Irving draw it, it’s all a nightmare, or maybe a hallucination, especially the California sunshine. Small black dots of infinite emptiness and decay and rot and unknowable anti-life are a recurring image throughout, and it’s Irving’s sensitive handling of these abysses that allows them to gaze also. What is going on here? begs Annihilator, and the question caught in its throat seems to be In this black circle, which way is up? Corridors curve unnaturally across pages. If Morrison is asking himself this, the worth of the series hinges upon whether he finds the answer… or just writes a comic.
On the other side, in every possible way: Ryan Cecil Smith’s new minicomic, S.F.: L.P.B. #1. S.F. is about the Space Fleet, and more specifically the S.F. Science Foundation, and more specifically the S.F.S.F. Special Forces. The L.P.B. of the title claims to stand for Liquid Planet BETA-14, the minicomic’s setting, but it also means Lapel Pin Badge, a handsome little accessory which came with 100 limited-edition copies. (I am #4/100.)
S.F.: L.P.B. is printed a bit bigger than a matchbook, with a landscape-format way of reading that’s more like thumbing through a Rolodex than reading a traditional horizontal comic. In it, Duke the Duck goes on an S.F.S.F.S.F. mission to Liquid Planet BETA-14, engages some pirates, and has to flee with the use of his technology (which is explained in various cutaways and asides). Where Annihilator is the grim and bowel-churning end of science fiction, this is the sprightly flipside: not quite utopian, but it’s hard to feel the crushing danger of a world where “Duke the Duck” is our protector. Other agents in S.F. comics include Russell the Well-Dressed Cat, and Hupa Dupa, who is an S.F.S.F.S.F. Special Fellow, and also a robot boy with a nose like a beer bong.
Smith’s unfussy drawing style, fused from the spinal fluid of newspaper strips and the chromosomes of manga, makes reading a spaceship dogfight thrilling in a way that “serious” sci-fi can’t handle. The very style Smith employs reaches out a hand to the reader and offers an implicit agreement that no one is going to die, or at least, no one is going to die who doesn’t already deserve it. (Contrast: Marvel’s recent Infinity crossover, which occasionally teased the notion of a plot in between spasms of universal mass murder.) “Fun” sci-fi can be just as crappy as “serious” — I wince at how self-conscious most of it is, on both sides — but S.F. has a unique voice and panache that transcends all obstacles and legitimizes even the lousiest puns.
The risograph printing on S.F.: L.P.B. #1 has its faults, as color patches don’t quite align on some of my pages, putting the art work out of sync with itself. The effect is charming and sweetly nostalgic. Annihilator #1 is printed as a traditional comic book, on “deluxe” paper. The ultra-glossy stock used for the cover seems especially susceptible to dings, nicks, and stresses — like it’s decaying right in front of you.
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.”