November 21, 2014
So I looked at Twitter this morning because I was trying to come up with a Hot Take on something or other to do with comics, and it took a good long while of scrolling to reach a tweet that had anything to do with comics — and even then, it was just Peter Milligan saying “UKIP, eh? Bloody hell.” This morning cast into stark relief just how divorced I am from the comic book news cycle.
Back when I first got Twitter, I decided I would cap the number of people I followed at 300. After a while, that got annoying, the signal-to-noise ratio was out of whack. So I cut out 100 of them. Then, later, it was still out of whack, so I cut another 100. The people who were first to go were the people (comic creators, musicians, etc.) who used Twitter as hype tools. (I love Mike Allred, but I don’t need to see a retweet of every nice thing anyone has ever said about his work.) Now I find Twitter much more useful and readable, but it also means that I don’t have a lot of comic book news-and-views cropping up.
I look at Bleeding Cool maybe once every few days. I read Jog’s the-week-in-new-releases column at TCJ, Abhay Khosla’s Tumblr, and Paul O’Brien’s X-Axis reviews. I listen to Comic Books Are Burning in Hell. I’m trying to think of what other dedicated news sources I keep on my radar for regular checking, and that’s really it. (Not conveyed in this format is how I stopped writing for like fifteen minutes just to sit and think about this.) Now, with my job, I should probably be a lot more plugged-in, but the reward for doing so seems minimal. “ANOTHER MARVEL TEASER THAT SAYS LITERALLY NOTHING — WHAT COULD IT MEAN?” Who gives a fuck?
The only “comic book world issues” this past week that come to mind (with zero research) are the fact that Pax Americana finally came out, which is covered below, and the Spider-Woman #1 Milo Manara Giant Red Ass Variant. People were paying $150 on eBay in pre-sales for those things. In two years, they’ll be worth thirty bucks. The return of speculators to comics just gets more and more astonishing every week: literally going from “coincidental panel that people can willfully misinterpret as an X-23 cameo” to “big red ass cover.” At least the first one almost required half a thought.
“In Which We Burn” Written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Frank Quitely; colored by Nathan Fairbarn; published by DC Comics.
The discourse is flying on this one, thick and furious, and while I might be a dum-dum I’m at least smart enough to know when I can’t compete — I’ll cede this stage to the old Barbelith posters. Suffice it to say, I’ve been waiting two years for this, ever since I saw the pages of Peacemaker assassinating the President — in reverse! — at MorrisonCon, which was a thing that really happened and that I really blew a whole tax return on attending.
But let me just get this one shot in. Grant Morrison has spent years now trying to make the point that the post-Watchmen “deconstruction” approach to superhero comics is an emotionally-gelded dead end. Here, in half a page, with the invaluable help of Quitely and a strong boost from Fairbarn, he finally nails it. Just beautiful.
“Earth One” Written by Jeff Lemire; penciled by Terry Dodson; inked by Rachel Dodson and Cam Smith; colored by Brad Anderson; published by DC Comics.
Some things seem too good to be true, and when things seem like that, they usually are. Case in point: a hundred-plus pages of new interior art by the Dodsons. Teen Titans: Earth One is the latest cargo drop by DC’s original-graphic-novel initiative, wherein each title takes place in a universe free of any other corporate brand’s influence. (Common question: “So do Superman: Earth One and Batman: Earth One take place on the same Earth…?” The answer is “no, they just picked a bad gimmick name for these products.”)
Since the original Teen Titans were literally just a gathering of assorted sidekicks, the focus here are the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans characters, like Cyborg, Raven, Terra… characters who don’t need a relationship with an existing hero to make sense. These characters are drawn together by a mysterious bond which reads like the precise mixture of old Gen13 comics (not a compliment) and a bland young adult novel franchise cravenly begging for a film adaptation (also not a compliment). These characters have “personalities” only in the vaguest sense, and the emotional beats of the story are so transparent that the characters’ word balloons might as well just contain commands to the reader: “This is where you’re supposed to sympathize with our plight. Or empathize, or whatever.”
The Dodsons’ usual style — sleek and gleaming, with exaggerated body shapes and no small dose of cheesecake posing — is gone here, replaced by a looser, more “cartoony” vibe. The only other artist I’ve seen do such a radical shift in their superhero work on zero notice was the time Ian “A Million Tiny Lines” Churchill did a Hulk storyline as Fake Darwyn Cooke. Here, the Dodsons look like they’ve been drinking in the work of Cameron Stewart, but the styles don’t mesh well: Terra, for example, has a round little toon-y head but her features are still “very Dodson,” and she just ends up looking like a baby, or a chipmunk, or both. The facial acting is all over the place, too, but part of why that rings hollow is because the dialogue frankly sucks, and that’s not the Dodsons’ fault.
No matter what Pax Americana was going to be, I would have bought it, because it’s Morrison and Quitely. I bought Teen Titans: Earth One just because Terry and Rachel Dodson were working on it, without looking at any previews or interior pages. Just goes to show you, sometimes you can’t just go in blind.
November 15, 2014
The only song as spectacularly unsubtle as “Slash ‘n’ Burn” is “Little Baby Nothing” — and we’ll get to that one when it’s time. We are talking about a single (released a month after Generation Terrorists) that contains the line “Drain your blood and let the Exxon spill in.” If “Slash ‘n’ Burn” wasn’t as catchy and bombastic as it is, the song would be at best a Crass song, and at worst totally insufferable. (Not that Crass couldn’t be catchy or bombastic at times, but you get what I mean.) Lyrically, “Slash ‘n’ Burn” is a call against the exploitation of third world countries for first world consumer benefit. Musically, it’s fucking scorching.
The track’s virtue is its weakness. It’s not just easy to bop along to, it demands it. It’s got synthesized cowbell, for Christ’s sake, how can your leg not tremble in time? The guitars come in waves of bleach and it’s way, way too easy to get carried off and totally lose track of the lyrical message. It’s entirely possible to listen to the song for a decade or two and not really know any of the words beyond “SLASH… and boo-ooo-ooorn.” The mission of this song, almost certainly, is to take revolutionary politics and package them in a thrash-along pop song, to smuggle a little bit of anarchy to the masses… But it’s wrapped too perfectly and too tightly, to the point that you might not even realize there’s something powerful inside, just some bitching guitars.
But then you actually unwrap it: “Twenty-four boredom, I’m convicted instantly, gorgeous poverty of created needs…”
It’s actually kind of difficult, writing about all of the Generation Terrorists singles, because at this stage of the Manics’ career they really only had the one trick. They only really deviated from the blueprint with the singles to follow — inching away with “Motorcycle Emptiness” and “Little Baby Nothing,” and then traversing newer and darker lyrical territory in the Gold Against the Soul material — but “Slash ‘n’ Burn” is, discography-wise, just another in a series of left-wing kicks delivered in polished leopard-print cowgirl boots. Within the context of Generation Terrorists, it was fantastic: the opening track, a perfect summary of what was to follow, and a hypnotic siren to lure the unwary further inward. Outside of that position as the entryway to the Manics’ album-sized world, “Slash ‘n’ Burn” is one more single, although it’s one that’s very fun to hum along to.
“Only the man who says no is free”
This series will continue on Sunday.
November 14, 2014
It’s been a busy couple weeks for me here at Villa Nowhere / No Formats, and to be pefectly honest, none of the comics I’ve squeezed into what reading time I have are ones that I really have much to say about. You know what I’ve been reading lately? Old New Warriors comics. I don’t have anything in-depth to say about them. I don’t think anyone on planet Earth does, unless they have a severe drug problem or general derangement. (I’m going chronologically according to some continuity fanatic’s reading list. I’m somewhere in “Kings of Pain,” which means I just passed the story where the Warriors save the day by threatening to kill the villain’s cat. These kids were fucking psychos.)
So instead of reviews or just hot-air ranting I decided to review my own pull list, as far as the monthly pamphlet-type comics go. Here’s my soul laid bare for all of you to mock. Presenting my buy list and my thoughts on same is pure internet masochism:
ALL NEW ULTIMATES: I think I’m like four issues behind on this — I haven’t read the issues by the Old City Blues artist whose name I don’t remember off the top of my head. (This post is being done with zero research.) I think what Michel Fiffe is writing in All New Ultimates is actually what got me on this New Warriors kick lately, because he’s going for a pure early-90s thing. It’s more craft than nostalgia, which is why I dig it (contrast with the time Kirkman did that “1991” issue of Marvel Team-Up and I wondered if he was battling a brain lesion while writing that script). RIP this book.
ANNIHILATOR: Grant Morrison and Frazier Irving, set loose in a symbiotic state of full-tilt sci-fi madness, and that’s really all it takes for me to buy a comic book sometimes. It helps that I’m loving the hell out of it, too, but that’s just gravy here.
BATGIRL: I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, and I enjoy this. I know people like to write gazillions of words about this book and what it’s doing that’s new and fresh and blah blah, but what they all mean to say is that “It’s a Batgirl comic done in the style of Scott Pilgrim,” and that’s enough for me so far. I’m really into Barbara Gordon Batgirl stuff, the loopy old Silver and Bronze Age stories, so it’s nice to have a contemporary Batgirl book that isn’t bland garbage for once.
BUCKY BARNES: THE WINTER SOLDIER: Ales Kot Appearance #1. I’m still not really sure if I enjoy this title. The concept is… well, it’s there, neither positive nor negative. Marco Rudy’s art is what blocks my understanding. He’s more into decoration than storytelling, and interesting decoration can’t beat interesting storytelling as far as maintaining my interest.
CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS: Joe Casey has great taste in artists, and if this comic had been called “Joe Casey Has Great Taste In Artists,” I’d still be buying it because the draw for me is seeing who he’s collaborating with and what they get out of each other, as opposed to the old Jack Kirby characters or whatever.
COPRA: The best!
THE FADE-OUT: When I read real books it’s usually non-fiction, and some of my favorite stuff to read is the history of pop media — documents of the weird shit that falls into the margins and footnotes of reality. The Fade-Out is like all that John Gilmore stuff about how the wicked live in Los Angeles, and I love it for that. The tone is so meticulously un-fantastic that if you told me this was all a true story so far, I wouldn’t discount it out of hand.
GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS: I dunno. This book is just a ten-car pile-up of weird shit, and the more weird shit they pile on top of the other weird shit, the more I like it. I want to see this comic sink further and further into a hermetically sealed bubble of lunacy; once the jokes start being about Taylor Swift and ebola I’m probably out.
GOTHAM ACADEMY: Great Karl Kerschl art, for one thing. I think that this kind of comic, that plays in the periphery of an established brand-synergy universe, is a lot more fun than the main event.
LETTER 44: I’m so far behind on this comic that I think I’d have to start from the beginning again just to catch up. I like the “new President is inaugurated and promptly discovers America is fucking with alien shit” story concept, like some kind of from-the-top-down take on the X-Files. I just hope it doesn’t turn out like Satellite Sam, where I bought it for a year despite having only read the first issue, then sat down and read all of it and realized that Satellite Sam is awful.
MS. MARVEL: Of all the Big-Two-Stuff on this shopping list, I think this title is my favorite. (It’s also the one I think is least likely to get cancelled anytime soon, though I really doubt they’d cancel Batgirl, as opposed to just replacing the creative team with another wet fart from Tony Bedard.) It’s well-crafted and it’s just weird enough, and reading it feels like getting to know the characters and their world as opposed to being served up more slices of grey meat. I know it can’t stay this good forever, but let me have my moments with it.
MULTIVERSITY: I feel like Grant Morrison is coming out of a lost weekend with this project, which might be a miscalculation because apparently he’s been working on it for five years now or something like that. Still: it’s nice to see a new Grant Morrison story that doesn’t make my balls go up into my body a bit at the thought of “Oh, no, how’s THIS one going to be.” It reminds me a lot of that one Aphex Twin album, Drukqs, where I listened to it the first time (back in high school, dear lord) and was like “wow, did he just empty out a hard-drive of semi-finished songs onto two CDs and call it an album?” Nowadays I listen to Drukqs and I enjoy it quite a bit more, but still: this is like Morrison emptying out a hard-drive of semi-finished ideas by the barrelful. The twist is that so many of them are tiny gems. A thousand points of light, etc.
THE NAMES: I like Peter Milligan a lot, but you couldn’t pay me to look at his superhero stuff these days. Projects like this are more up my alley, a weird conspiracy thriller about high finance and secret societies and a personal trainer whose stepson is almost as old as her and gets an awkward erection when they hug, and Leandro Fernandez exaggerates everyone’s everything, beauty and ugliness alike…
ROCKET GIRL: It feels like forever since this last came out. I put this in the same category as Ms. Marvel, kind of, not just the “young teen heroine figuring out what the fuck they’re doing having woken up into a whole new world of possibilities and hazards” box, though they both fit in that one, but more in the way that I feel like I’m watching the universe expand around each page of this book, and not in the kook Neal Adams sense.
SAGA: It’s such a “dad comic” — i.e., “this is the comic I’m writing now that I’m a dad” — but Fiona Staples’s art is so good, and the cliffhangers are so intense, that I keep coming back and demanding more.
SECRET AVENGERS: Ales Kot Appearance #2. This one provokes more rumination than me than a comic with “Avengers” in the title probably has any right to. I think I’ve gone off on this before, I honestly don’t remember, but part of the game in Kot’s Marvel stuff is given away because I recognize the unsubtle references he packs in. “Artaud Derrida” — that’s a name in this comic! At first it was really off-putting, like, yeah, buddy, OK, you know who Merzbow is, I have a subscription to The Wire too, move it along, but the more I dug in, the more I softened that stance. I remembered being a teenager and reading Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s Doom Patrol, with the same unsubtle “something I learned about” references, and using it as a guide map to seek out things that were new to me, and maybe people younger or less cuuuultured than I will do that with this one too… I really hope that’s what Kot is trying for, anchored by Michael Walsh’s not-too-cartoonish art to keep things steady, because it’s a noble pursuit in the world of big-brand comics, where so many of these comic series don’t have any points of reference outside of other big-brand comic book series. Comics that are just about other comics, those are really the fucking lowest of the low. Green Lantern continuity can suck my cock.
SEX: Another book I’m massively behind on, but Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski are doing a superhero comic about what happens when people stop being superheroes, and then don’t start being superheroes again, and it’s the simplest possible flip on Dark Knight Returns to the point that I’m shocked no one else has had the balls to try it yet. But I’m also not shocked that Joe Casey was the first.
SHUTTER: This is sort of like a mutant cousin of Saga. It’s got the same mix of melodrama and absurd whimsy, but fewer visible erections and more Internet, which is a negative correlation I didn’t even realize was possible. Reading it mostly for Leila del Luca’s drawings, but it’s a fine product overall. Actually, after writing that, I stepped away for a second, and you know what? This is still a mutant cousin of Saga, but I think its most direct possible parentage is that panel in Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave where the crazy mom hung the teddy bear in a noose. “Special Bear is dead.” Shutter is like reading a whole ongoing comic that flows directly out of that one panel.
STORM: I really like Victor Ibañez’s art, and Storm is my favorite member of the X-Men. That’s all, that’s it.
SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN: RIP this book, too. See my earlier notes on Gotham Academy, about how the fringes are more fun than the main event. See also my earlier notes about All New Ultimates, in how most of these characters are totally nostalgic for a recovering Spider-Man trading card collector like me, but there’s craft in the storytelling that justifies its existence. This was a really fun one, about Spider-Man’s less respected enemies being cretins and cheats. Sad to see it go.
TERMINAL HERO: More Milligan, more Kowalski. This is the sort of stuff that I think both of them excel at: dark, bizarre science fiction with inscrutably weird characters and the fantastic elements erupting from mundanity’s flesh like a bleeding sore. One of the rare comics where we’re invited to relate to the protagonist at our own peril, because anyone who’s totally on the same page as this guy is a dangerous individual. Two for two as far as Milligan stories involving the threat of incest, though. Curious.
TOMB RAIDER: I enjoyed the recent video game, and this is tiding me over till the next one, but wowee: for such a visually striking game, the Tomb Raider comic really did find the most inoffensive artist possible. And that’s it, he’s not offensive, but he’s also not all that fun to look at, either.
ÜBER: Another book I’m dreadfully far behind on. I think eight issues, maybe. Jesus. And it’s not like this thing comes out every two weeks, it just means that for eight months I’ve been looking at it and going “eh, soon.” I can half justify it to myself in my mind, with Über, because it does read better in big chunks than month-to-month, where the trivia of war fades from my memory between issues… I know it’s en vogue for Millennials and back-end-of-Gen-Xers to cite Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible as a revelatory document (partially as in, Revelations, the end of all that is), and it got namechecked in one of the backmatter texts as inspiring this series… but I feel like just by dint of its subject matter, it hits closer to the mark than a lot of people who just cite The Holy Bible as an excuse to be unpleasant or to appear that they’re deep thinkers, because the most affecting part of that record is that its lyrics ask the question: “If we as a species are capable of organizing, not just committing but organizing and preparing an atrocity on the scale of the Holocaust, do we deserve to exist?” And then it doesn’t answer, because the implication is blatantly “no.” And I’m not saying Über is, like, a fucking Imre Kertész The-Adventures-Of-Captain-Fateless comic book or something, but it always feels ready to travel into those dark places and come back empty-handed because there’s not actually anything to bring back from shit like that, just misery and emptiness. Not bad for a comic that I think started as Avatar wanting to print a bunch of drawings of war crimes.
VELVET: Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting 20th-century-pop spy comics, I’ll take ten.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE: Illogical Volume over at the Mindless Ones had a post about this comic that was just Principal Skinner going “Am I so out of touch? No. No, it’s the children who are wrong.” and I sympathize with that to a large degree. It’s an interesting and fun comic book but I feel so fucking old when I read it. It’s not half as much of a pain in the neck in that sense as Young Avengers was, but there are few comics that so nimbly remind me that I’m not nineteen anymore (and that I probably was a piece of shit when I was nineteen anyway, because most nineteen-year-olds are). There’s some stuff like when the Lucifer character says shit like “I like to do cocaine. This is interfering with me doing some cocaine. It sucks that I’m not doing cocaine! Let’s do some cocaine.” in the space of what feels like 1.5 pages, where the sheer repetition of an already thin joke makes me go “yeah, that sounds like a joke a teenager would beat into the ground,” and I don’t know, teens aren’t very fucking funny, just look at Vine.
ZERO: Ales Kot Appearance #3. Refer to the Secret Avengers commentary above. If Secret Avengers is a playful roadmap to cool ideas that might happen to have a point here and there like a cherry on top, though, this is the Serious Business Comic where the people making it are Actually Saying Something. I enjoy it but occasionally it’s so determined to impress upon me that it’s Actually Saying Something that it knocks me out of actually connecting with the story at hand. Still — I’m still buying it, aren’t I?
I buy too many fucking comic books…
November 7, 2014
I don’t have a crazed rant in me this week (or a review of anything, for that matter), but I have something much, much worse: thoughts about the New Warriors.
A guy I work with — who’s been in the thick of fandom and at the fringes of the industry for way longer than I’ve been alive — once said to me that back in the 1960s, comic book fans were nerds… but fans of the Legion of Super-Heroes were nerds. Spider-Man fans didn’t come up with official charters for their clubhouses. I got what he meant.
When I was a kid, New Warriors fans seemed like the same kind of people to me. You have to remember, I was six years old in 1991. I was a dedicated follower of Uncanny X-Men and X-Force, largely because those were the only two Marvel comics my local convenience store reliably carried. The New Warriors were only known to me through trading cards, guest appearances, and the occasional random issue I found in some exotic location like the nearby pharmacy’s spinner rack. But I had friends who were big New Warriors followers, and as much of a dork as I was for liking Cannonball, these guys could be insufferable, acting like a comic featuring a skateboarding guy named “Night Thrasher” was way more mature and adult than any other Marvel book running.
I guess, to single-digit-age humans, the baffling 1990s-ness of New Warriors — see also, anything Rich Rider ever wore, and anything Speedball ever said — was perceived as an accurate, hip portrayal of young adult life to cretinous children (LIKE MYSELF) who didn’t know any better. I didn’t quite buy it, but I don’t know if I thought X-Force was more realistic to the concerns and travails of adult life, or what. Dialogue like Warpath in that one issue, “Sorry, I always totally zone out when I listen to Porno for Pyros on my Discman…”
I’m revisiting the early New Warriors stuff now, for no adequately explained reason. I found a bunch of it in a discount bin at work and read through it all, and found the first New Warriors Classic trade to flip through. In the back, they have Fabian Nicieza’s original proposal for the book, with editor Danny Fingeroth’s hand-written notes.
From Nicieza’s proposal: “And Speedball? How about if he always shows up late! Eventually, to get to NYC faster, he will jump in front of an Amtrak Express Train to gain the necessary kinetic backlash…”
Fingeroth’s hand-written note next to that, circled: “NO!”
Someone else’s handwriting, next to that note: “Maybe.”
November 5, 2014
For over twenty years now people have been trying to make heads or tails out of Generation Terrorists, which is to say, the deal with Generation Terrorists is a screamingly obvious one, and people are trying to squeeze blood out of a stone as far as coming up with insights previously hidden, twisting over themselves to find the right perspective at which mountains and molehills reach equal heights in the field of vision…
Here it is, in plain English: Generation Terrorists is a double album recorded by a band that did not have enough songs to justify a double album. Their stated ambition — “sell 16 million copies, play Wembley Stadium, and break up” — gets thrown out as the motivator, but even if that little comment hadn’t made the rounds, the early Manics seem like the sort of band who would have made a double album anyway, just for the fuck-you grandiosity of it. This is an album built to be difficult; why the fuck else would their talented drummer decide to program the whole record’s drum tracks on a machine instead of playing live, on a record modeled after Guns N Roses and Hanoi Rocks? Why else would they cover a song from a fictional punk-grrl band in the movie Times Square? Why else would they commission a Bomb Squad remix of “Repeat,” and then position it in the tracklist before the original? Why anything?
Bear in mind that this is also a record that alludes to government involvement in the creation and distribution of the AIDS virus and accidentally (if vaguely) predicted the 2008 mortgage-crisis financial meltdown.
It’s also a fat, flabby record, this Generation Terrorists, and by the time you get to side four you’re hearing it wheeze. The boom-boom drum tracks, the pyrokinetic guitar solos, the singalong choruses, after fifty minutes it’s all a mass of glittery sludge, formless and boneless and dripping over the edges of things. The samey tone is a kiss of death to an album that’s already hindered by songs which just aren’t on a level playing field, quality-wise. There are the cuts that rise above, of course: “Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds,” “Motorcycle Emptiness,” the finale… But then there are the songs that just fall flat, like the dull re-recording of “Spectators of Suicide.” On the singles preceding Generation Terrorists, many of the b-sides were dodgy and slipshod, and it gave the impression that maybe the good stuff was being saved for the album. As it turns out, no, this is just a band who occasionally craps out dodgy and slipshod songs.
But then there’s the ending: “Condemned to Rock and Roll” — a six-minute-plus guitar epic. By this point, over an hour in, the two lyricists seem to have run out of steam, rattling off impressionistic lines that seem half-hearted and tossed off. James Dean Bradfield still sings them with ferocity, because that’s how he sings virtually everything on the album. But there’s something there that’s depleted and exhausted, just like the listener by the end of a single-sitting playthrough. “The past is so beautiful, the future like a corpse in snow, I think it’s all the fucking same, it’s a life sentence babe…”
“Condemned to Rock and Roll” is about exactly what the title says it’s about. After a big — huge — monolithic album positioning themselves as glam-trash political revolutionaries smeared with lipstick and a little bit of cum, fierce hawk-androgynes out to destroy the status quo and radically dope the usual plan for living… “Condemned to Rock and Roll” admits that this elevation to rock star, no matter the ideas, is just another prison, another set of fucked up standards and pre-programmed behaviors, another lie to learn. It has maybe the most virtuosic playing of the whole album — Bradfield’s guitar dueling with the drum machine is explosive and captivating — but it’s all in the service of just making another fat rock record, another sprawled-out mess that’s just as disposable as the rest, just as capable of being slotted into the user’s life as background noise, quoting “More Than a Feeling” in one of the solos because it’s all the fucking same…
All paths are dead ends, especially the ones that promise freedom. At the end of Generation Terrorists, at the end of “Condemned to Rock and Roll,” the music drops out, having given up, and as the song fades, Bradfield can only whimper: “There’s nothing I want to see, there’s nowhere I want to go…”
“To all who pass that they may see, Rock ‘N’ Roll was a part of me”
This series will continue next week.
November 1, 2014
This is the post where I just shriek my little brains out about stuff I don’t like so if you want positivity skip down to the review section; I haven’t read it yet but I’m pretty sure I’ll like Dredd: Uprise #1, and if I don’t, well, you can point at this sentence and tweet at me and call me a dope or whatever. Anyway, this is my angry Black Bug Room time and here we go.
As everyone on the planet knows by now, Marvel and DC have rolled out their movie plans through the next millennium, and there’s one response to this in particular that grates on me like nothing else. DC’s plans have been met with skepticism, since all we have to trust them on quality-wise is a movie where Kevin Costner dies in a tornado to teach his son a J. Walter Weatherman lesson. The Marvel stuff is what gets the reaction that bugs me: grown adults saying “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY” or some variation thereof.
And yes, I know it’s just a silly meme, but I think there’s more truth in it than lie. People WILL line up to uncritically have the latest Marvel movie-product crammed into their mouth and not even think twice about it. There’s the snob in me going off — “don’t these people know that there are better things out there?!” Or, worse, “How dare these people not like the same things that I like?!” But first off, this is my website, so fuck it I’ll complain about what I want, and secondly, there is a certain degree of objective quality in these things and anyone who thinks that Guardians of the Galaxy is better than any Leos Carax movie is guaranteed to be a cretin in the majority of the things they do in life.
Bear in mind: I stand to benefit from this! I run a comic book store and when Captain America 2 came out, the Winter Soldier Complete Edition Whatever Blah Blah editions flew off the shelves. These things doing well is theoretically money in my pocket! Theoretically. “Flying off the shelves” means “selling a dozen copies in maybe a month.” I’m reasonably sure more than a dozen people went to see Captain America 2 around here. But my point stands, there’s the POV that I should be praising these movie studios for increasing awareness of these products and all that shit.
The main effect that this increase of awareness bestows is a return to the speculator market of the early 1990s. Things aren’t as disastrous: most people aren’t dumb enough to order 200 copies of Inhuman #1. (Based on how it’s sold, most people aren’t dumb enough to read Inhuman #1, so thank heaven for little miracles.) The day after the Avengers trailer leaked, the first request I got from a random walk-in was if I could get him Avengers #55 and Iron Man #304 and 305. (First Ultron, first Hulkbuster Iron Man.) “Key issues” is a term that idiots are beginning to use without irony again. The bubble will burst, too. You can’t build healthy relationships with new customers over movie tie-in speculation. People can come in to a comic book store and say “hey, thanks for recommending me that comic I read, I really enjoyed it,” and they’ll keep coming back; no one’s excited to return to a store because “hey, thanks for recommending me that comic that was relevant to an upcoming media product.” When people stop paying these increasingly outlandish fees, these wannabe wheeler-dealers are going to evaporate and move on to the next stupid thing, like WWE toys or whatever the fuck. And they take themselves seriously! I can’t get over one guy who told me that investing in comics — now, bear in mind, this is a guy who would ask me if I could “cut him a deal” on comics literally priced one dollar — was “safer and smarter” than the stock market. I nearly made him call his mother and apologize to her for growing up so stupid. It’s just stunning, and more than stunning, it’s pretty depressing. (At this point it has hopefully been long clear to the reader that this is not a “thinkpiece” so much as an “inarticulate slurring rage piece,” all complaints with no practical solutions offered. This is a blog, not a pop culture site.)
Culturally, too, in the broader sense — well, let’s just say I go to the movies a lot less these days, because outside of small non-franchise theaters, what is there to see that doesn’t flow back into the multinational media conglomerates who are either Disney or wannabe Disneys? It’s like watching Hostess buy out entire supermarkets and start replacing everything, shelf-by-shelf, with Ding-Dongs. Consuming nothing but Ding-Dongs means you will eventually have to get your fucking foot sawed off. “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY FOOT.” (Marvel movies are Ding-Dongs; DC’s movies so far appear to be somewhere between “pink slime” and the yoga mat shit that Subway was putting in their bread.)
Hit it, Pynchon:
“It’s all supposed to be so innocent, upwardly mobile snob, designer shades, beret, so desperate to show he’s got good taste, except he’s also dyslexic so he gets ‘good taste’ mixed up with ‘taste good,’ but it’s worse than that! Far, far worse! Charlie really has this, like, obsessive death wish! Yes! he, he wants to be caught, processed, put in a can, not just any can, you dig, it has to be StarKist! suicidal brand loyalty, man, deep parable of consumer capitalism, they won’t be happy with anything less than drift-netting us all, chopping us up and stacking us on the shelves of Supermarket Amerika, and subconsciously the horrible thing is, we want them to do it…”
Okay, I’m done, here’s the part where my eyes aren’t bugging out:
“Uprise” Written by Arthur Wyatt; illustrated by Paul Davidson; colored by Chris Blythe; published by Rebellion/2000 AD.
But see, sometimes I like these movies. Dredd was a pleasant surprise, at least to me — I can’t speak to the four other human bodies in the full-size theater who shared the experience with me. There’s a lot to like about Dredd, mostly centered in the performances (Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, all fine) and the violence (graphic and constant). The violence is really where it stays true to the 2000 AD comics, and that’s enough to carry a brisk runtime, but the comics have a rubbery madness that the movies didn’t quite have the budget (or perhaps the will) to live up to. It’s all a big jumble of a moebius loop. Joe Dredd, the comic book character, is a distillation of stony action-movie macho fascism into the ultimate straight man, which means he can be pitted against any wizard’s spell or wacky gag and emerge unscathed. (Spider-Man is a character with the same quality, upside-down: Dredd resists with curt anger, and Spidey resists with self-aware mocking.) Joe Dredd, the movie character who is also Karl Urban, is a distillation of the comic-Dredd into just the parts where he yells “STUB GUN!” and shoots a guy in the brain like he’s putting down a horse, AKA stony action-movie macho fascism. And now we have a comic book based on the movie based on the comic book, dealing with the type of stuff too wacky for the movies, like mutants and robots.
Wait, no, that was Dredd: Underbelly, a “sequel” published last year, first in the Judge Dredd Megazine in the UK and then in its own comic-format thing in the USA. And now there’s Dredd: Uprise, which I guess brings us into a trilogy — the Dream Warriors of the Dredd franchise. These comics are being written by Arthur Wyatt, a 2000 AD script-bot working in the same hardened artery as Alex Garland’s movie script. The Underbelly art was by Henry Flint, one of the more notable stylistic descendants of Judge Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra, but who had an unfortunate tendency to draw Olivia Thirlby’s chin like it was sporting an infection out of Crossed. Now we have Paul Davidson, who makes things both more shiny and more manic — his art reads like a more addled Andrew Currie’s.
The Dredd film focused on the relationship between maniac-cop Dredd and justice-with-a-conscience protege Anderson, and the lessons they might learn from each other (inasmuch as Judge Dredd ever learns any lessons). Underbelly was more of a straight-up actioner with a morally questionable ending, as Anderson pops up to inform us in the last page. (Indeed, if Underbelly is the considered a direct sequel, Dredd has already hardened his psychic carapace back to regulation levels.) Uprise dismisses Anderson entirely in favor of Conti, another young student, who makes a bizarre error that results in an entire section of Mega City One giving themselves over to anti-corporate, anti-police rioting. Imagine Chicago rioting because someone blew up Michael Jordan’s car (and collusion between real-estate development and the military-industrial complex to set it all up), and that’s pretty much what you’ve got here. The only media property historically more eager to exploit current events than Judge Dredd is probably Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and usually with about the same level of outright lunacy.
Two big miscalculations in this one:
One, the last page hinges on a reveal of two characters, one of whom I legitimately don’t fucking recognize. I have a guess, but I had to go back and pore through the pages, checking everyone’s hairstyles, just to be sure I hadn’t totally missed a character being introduced.
Two, I have no idea if this thing is going for satire, but if it is, it’s starting on a stunning miss. To have Ferguson-style riots kick off by a cop shooting an unarmed luxury car is a joke, even if it’s not intended as such, and it’s a joke on the people willing to riot over a car being blown up — i.e., the people who are standing in for real-life people who would protest, say, a young black man being shot by the cops. I’m sure that this was all well-intentioned enough, but these things always are, and it really stands out like a sore thumb. There’s a fine and funny and maybe even incisive comic to be done about Judge Dredd dealing with anti-establishment rioting. By having Uprise kick off with an act of unchecked police violence (even against an inanimate object, and even though it was plainly orchestrated by outside forces), it ties the comic into the headlines a little too gracelessly to recover. I could do without a Dredd 2 like this, but call me when Karl Urban dons the helmet again to institute a crackdown on the Fatties, that rolling gang whose crime is willful violation of personal health. Fascism versus obesity: now there’s the action movie we need.
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.