March 5, 2013
Matt Seneca‘s new Very Fine Comix imprint has released its first two products in rapid succession. First, Daredevil 12″ (#56 of 100) is a folded-copy-paper zine-format comic wherein Marvel Comics superheroes Daredevil and the Black Widow have graphic sex for a while, until the story just sort of ends. “Christ it’s cold,” Daredevil murmurs at the beginning, in a nod to his superhuman sensitivity and his Catholicism. “I’ll warm you up,” Black Widow replies, and then it’s off to the races.
I have, in a pile of books to be read, an actual mass market fiction book titled Rule 34. Anyone with Google and sin in their hearts can amass a trove of Daredevil porn to match the libraries of the ancient world in scope. In 1983, or even 1993, Seneca’s Daredevil 12″ would be transgressive in its subversion. Post-internet-porn, the only aggressively esoteric aspect of the material is that it’s printed on paper and he’s charging money for it.
The sex itself in Daredevil 12″ is conventional, which is odd. Why use Big Two superheroes at all unless you’re going to get really weird with it? Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss 2 is still fresh in the comics intelligentsia’s cultural memory. Next to that, the only appropriate reactions to Daredevil 12″ seem to be relief or disappointment, depending on one’s taste for extremity. Seneca only gets playful when he messes with the design of things — aping Paolo Rivera’s innovation of how Daredevil’s powers can be represented visually in some panels, or swimming in the vein of Guido Crepax (who gets called out on a billboard in the background of the two leads sixty-nining). In execution, it comes off more like Guy Peellart in things like The Adventures of Jodelle, minus Peellaert’s flow-like-water psychedelia.
In the end, there’s something plain and xvideos.com-like about Daredevil 12″. It’s two people in silly costumes (well, one — Black Widow is just a naked redhead, whereas Daredevil keeps his longjohns bunched around his hips like a kid at a urinal) having sex, with a minor Satanic outro that honestly isn’t disruptive enough. The only 100% successful part of the book is the cover, this rough-and-ready shot of a sweaty Daredevil in extreme close-up, biting his lower lip in an awkward Gil Kane angle. The rest of the zine doesn’t deliver on that great, ugly image’s promise, nor does it answer the important questions, like how a superhero whose sense of touch is a million times more vivid than the normal person’s would feel about teeth grazing him during a blowjob, or whether he shaves or waxes (bereft as he is of pubic hair), since both of those would probably be hell.
The second Seneca release on Very Fine is Trap: The Magazine About Drugs #1 (#42 of 100), another zine-format comic. Instead of a single narrative, it strings together a bunch of short comics and single-page pinups, mostly about women doing drugs. If nothing else, these sketches — and make no mistake, most of them do feel like sketches and fragments — have more energy than anything in Daredevil 12″, and come off as more lurid and exploitation-movie-esque than his actual sexploitation comic.
If Trap can be compared to anything, it’s Vice Magazine, with its scattered reportage, refusal to take a position, and cherishing of young urban females making questionable-at-best decisions. In his back-cover editorial, “Trap Rap,” Seneca just seems confused about what he’s doing: “[The drug experience] can be good like when you see you needn’t take everything so serious or realize how fun listening to Skrillex on percocet or MDMA is. Or it can be bad like when the .32 in your hand is shaking like the San Andreas fault as you hold it on the dude who is supposed to be your best bro and scream that you need the rest of the yay more than him and you’re eyeing the drawer where his cash is as your septum caves in. … The stories in this magazine are about people who ACT — without anything holding them back.” Those two scenarios he pitches would both make perfectly decent comics. But Trap itself is just a batch of moments: people doing drugs or living the fallout, without context, build-up, consequence, or any of that. The closing story has three panels, and the person who ACTS in it snorts a line of heroin and then hugs her knees to her chest while on the nod. To its credit, Trap really does reflect the drug experience: getting a good idea and then losing half of it on a ray of sunlight, trying to cling to what’s left.
Katie Skelly has the coolest taste in movies in all of comics. That’s a subjective judgment, but this is a blog, so it’s no less absolute. Here is some proof, though, for the people who need it. When a comic book gets tagged with the dreaded “cinematic” adjective, it usually means that it’s ripping off a mass-market CGI summer adventure flick, or that it’s ripping off Bryan Hitch. “Cinematic” dialogue is bad Quentin Tarantino, or worse, Whit Stillman. It’s rare that a comic book reminds me of the movies in a good way, and thus, Katie Skelly is a rare cartoonist.
Skelly calls to mind a figure like the young Leos Carax, when he was making movies like Boy Meets Girl. Like early Carax, Skelly absorbs the influence of films — especially the canonical French New Wave, films still suave in their middle age — and synthesizes their spirit, attitude, and decor. Operation Margarine #1 (self-published, #14 of 150) is the first reel of the badass biker mama movie that Claude Chabrol never quite got around to making in the sixties.
In Operation Margarine, rich girl Margarine gets out of a mental health facility and teams up with tough girl Bon-Bon. They sock a jerk and hit the road on motorcycles. To be continued. It reeks of (to steal an LCD Soundsystem lyric) “borrowed nostalgia” — all of the obvious call-outs are to things from well before her generation. Margarine’s Jean Seberg haircut, the mod fashions, the Easy Rider vibe, girls named “Bon-Bon”… And yet there’s a distinct love for the stuff, shot through with Skelly’s confidence in her own voice. A bad comic would make me wonder why I didn’t just watch a movie; a good one reminds me why I love them, and Operation Margarine is very good indeed.
As a follow-up, Skelly contributed the short comic “A Winter’s Dream” — based on an Arthur Rimbaud poem — to Study Group Comics’ website. “A Winter’s Dream,” even moreso than Operation Margarine, shows why Skelly stands out. It’s not just her taste, or her whimsy: it’s her figures, and what she does with them. She draws noodle people with bobble heads. They all have big doe eyes and noses like pinky fingers. Their skulls are round and maybe soft to the touch. These people are fragile and adorable, which is why the sexual delirium of “A Winter’s Dream,” or the violence of Operation Margarine works: these people are too cute to fuck, too stringy to swing a fist, and yet that’s exactly what they end up doing.
When I sat down to write this, I googled around trying to find an article I wanted to pull a quote from that I hazily half-remember reading: it had compared the music of Hype Williams (A/K/A Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland) to something you’d experience while under the influence of a concussion. I didn’t find it, but some spam result spat out in its summary: “Concussion the spirit molecule.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Hype Williams operate via obfuscation. Everything is referential (to the point of outright appropriation), but none of those references seem to add up to anything. Witness their mixtape The Attitude Era, laden with references to late-1990s World Wrestling Federation gimmicks, and comprised wholly of outtakes. It figures, then, that “Don’t Look Back, That’s Not Where You’re Going” — a three-track vinyl EP prefacing Inga Copeland’s upcoming solo album — comes in a plain white paper sleeve, housed within a black cardboard one. The B-side of the vinyl has a featureless white-label sticker, and the A-side is a photo of a woman who looks a bit like Copeland (but who also looks a bit like someone I went to university with, come to think of it), smiling politely. The record’s most prominent identifying mark is the Nike swoosh on her sweatshirt. So it remains in the labyrinth.
Yet the sound of the thing inches towards an exit. On all three tracks, Inga sings (a potential album title if there ever was one). She uses a girlish, stateless-but-Eurocentric croon that calls to mind a school play about Nico, and she sings elliptical lyrics that skate just short of making a direct point. On the first cut, “So Far So Clean,” she intones (moreso than singing, really) over an unsteady, shivery bed of slow retro synths and what sounds like a bullfrog fucking a broom. The break in the middle is disruptive and overpowering, sounding like a different song entirely cut-and-pasted over the original and trying to dominate it utterly… this is Hype Williams pop, and it’s wonderful.
Not like this is an artist who will let anything get comfortable. “So Far So Clean” leads right into “Speak,” which sounds like a halfway conventional dance tune — easily the most baffling thing Copeland and co. could pull. (The tracks here were produced, apparently, by Martyn and Scratcha DVA, but it’s not like there’s a credits sheet.) Its see-saw synth stabs and loops aren’t enough to distract from the insistence of the bass’s cock pummel posturing, and I found myself utterly confused by a song that you could just flat out dance to, no qualifiers.
The b-side is “A&E,” which finds a spot between the two extremes of the a-side and stays there for five minutes of pulsing, low-key delirium. This is music for when you’re sweaty on a cold day and the furniture is floating up toward the ceiling. Copeland’s voice — “On and on and on and on” — hangs above a smoked-out pirate radio beat that has the theoretical energy of the early 90s but the swampiness of post-historical now, a luscious — or maybe viscous — low end that tugs you downward into it. Music for the back of the brain, for when you’re moving and you don’t even realize it. The only question with Inga Copeland, with the music, with the packaging, with the new World Music label, with Hype Williams: What’s the catch? And will they ever deign to tell us?
March 28, 2012
Let’s see how long I can keep up with this.
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Jason Aaron. Drawn by Frank Cho. Colored by Jason Keith.
I was bored of this comic book within three or four pages. M.O.D.O.K.–the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing–is sort of a human potato fetus who’s been jammed into a cross between a hoveround scooter and a boxer’s headpiece. In the hands of truly deranged artists (and I mean that in the best possible way), he’s a true monster in the “this should not be” sense. In the hands of anyone else, he’s a punchline, because he’s a giant head. He’s also died, on panel, something like four thousand times now. They don’t bother keeping track anymore–if he shows up somewhere, well, I guess he’s alive, you know?
That’s part of what bugs me about using him as the villain of the Scarlet Witch story that leads off Avengers vs. X-Men #0. The important stuff is covered early on, which is to say there’s a full page splash of Scarlet Witch where her breasts are easily as big as her head and which will probably sell to a private collector for $10,000. Then we get into M.O.D.O.K., he of the irrelevant personal continuity, spouting dialogue like: “Aarrghh! What is this? Who are y–? Wait! I know you! You’re the Scarlet Witch, the disgraced Avenger!” On the one hand, yes, it’s good to use an ‘introductory issue’ for the big summer crossover to establish what the deal is with the major players.
On the other hand, your chosen method of exposition is to have M.O.D.O.K., a cyborg whose brain is the size of a Buick’s engine block, bleat out “The rumor was that you’d lost your mind and turned on the Avengers,” while he and the Scarlet Witch gamely zap at each other with ray-beams. This is like Brian Bendis trying to do Roy Thomas, only Roy Thomas had the good sense to make banal exposition come out in the form of feverish free-jazz dialogue blurts that attempted to convince the reader that Hawkeye’s carny upbringing was a matter of more emotional electricity than an African civil war.
Then there’s Spider-Woman coming in with “Boom! I won’t lie to you, ladies, I kinda needed this,” which is I guess the 2012 equivalent of Hank Kanalz’s “I gotta admit–this gets me pumped!”
Anyway, the first story is one of the most half-baked lowballs Marvel has pitched in years. Where it should have gone for turgid, throbbing melodrama, it tried to play things both straight and cute, and those two flavors blend into bland. Cho, who’s got Kevin Maguire’s knack for varied facial expressions in his DNA, isn’t even given much to work with on that front–characters mostly seem “a little sad” or “a little annoyed” or, most frequently, “a little flummoxed.”
The second story–Jason Aaron giving us Hope vs. Cyclops, and then Hope vs. the Serpent Society–fares better. Aaron is more comfortable with the style that seems to be the editorial remit here: early-90s PG-13 superheroing with a side of sniffling angst. There are good lines, good opportunities for Cho to stretch his legs, and a relatively sound plot–and it introduces us to Hope besides. It’s not going to stand the test of time as some sort of hidden classic, but when your job is just to prime the pump for 12 issues of hooting and punching, it’s nice to see that mission both understood and delivered on.
Marvel Comics. Written by Hawkeye. Penciled by Hawkeye. Inked by Hawkeye. Colored by Hawkeye.
This is sort of like what if Spider-Man and Captain America were published by DC’s online fan community. That is to say: it’s a comic where Spidey and Cap sort of talk about feelings in a roundabout way and more time is spent on the heroes goofing around and being bros than on their skirmish with the villains (who are also the villains from the second half of Avengers vs. X-Men #0–on a different coast!). Captain America’s old pre-super-soldier comic strip art gets found and put up for auction, and upon realizing that America’s living legend is enough of a dork to have drawn comic books, Spider-Man tries to bond with him. Okay. Meanwhile, on the cover, Cap tries to cut Spider-Man’s arm off at the shoulder with his shield.
As a low-impact superhero buddy story, it’s fine and will go down in the collective memory to whatever space all those other fucking Spider-Man “let’s bond” stories live in. It gives Leinil Yu a chance to draw stuff that doesn’t involve people leaping around dislocating their hips–he’s actually gotten pretty good at the whole “humans showing human emotions” thing in the past couple years, since Secret Invasion. That said, he’s the wrong choice for this–his whole thing is loose-lined shadows and grim stares of determination and that’s way more noir than a story about Spider-Man and Captain America sitting around having a comic book jam session. Just two clean-shaven sensibly-coiffed white dudes in tight shirts having a good time and maybe drinking some soda pop. If Marvel hadn’t lost Clayton Henry to Valiant, that’d be his kind of jam. Cap’s ‘Fletcher Hanks drinking whole milk’-style comic, though, starring “Sir Spangled”–solid gold.
Plus, they either forgot or willfully ignored the storyline where Captain America was, like, a penciler for Marvel Comics for years. Like, seriously, back in the 80s he’s out there hunting the Scourge of the Underworld, who was going around serial-killing bad guys, and he stops mid-investigation to go “Oh, darn, I need to FedEx a couple pages of art to Marvel! Golly, I’m glad that comic book artists don’t need a fixed address, since I’m living out of my star-spangled Avengers Quinnebago!” I mean, that whole thing was just so weird that it’s a shame to whitewash it.
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Penciled by Paolo Rivera. Inked by Joe Rivera. Colored by Javier Rodriguez.
You know, Mark Waid is such a good fit for this character that it’s practically obscene. What people vibe on in Daredevil comics is the level of emotional intensity–Miller had it, Bendis’s best days had it, Brubaker had it, Kelly had the start of it, and some other guys had it too. Then there was the rest of the post-Miller stuff that was just, like, all of the dark gritty clenched-teeth trappings but none of the molten core. When it comes to superhero comics about to have an aneurysm, no one can touch Waid.
Look at the guy’s history, even all the way back to shit like The Comet–where once he was upgraded from scripter to full writer, he did a story where the Comet’s life fell apart, he found out he was a shapeshifting alien clone, all of his friends were working against him, and he went insane and became the greatest threat Impact Comics ever faced, aside from low readership. Then look at the stuff people actually read–Waid’s the co-father of Kingdom Come, which is easily as good as it gets for comics that deal in unsubtle, provocative human sturm und drang. Superman clamping his super-hand over Billy Batson’s mouth and lecturing him on the burden of godhood, before launching into the air to try and actually shove away nuclear death. That’s Mark Waid!
And that’s what we’ve got here: Mark Waid, the man who’s both a superhero classicist and a leering agitator, taking the vein-popping man-child turbo-emotions of Matt Murdock and steering them into situations that evoke more of a Lee/Romita feel than Bendis/Maleev or Miller/Janson. Paolo Rivera, teaming with his father Joe, might be the next Wally Wood–he’s deft and clever enough to give us both the harmless, cartoony sad-sack bloat of Foggy’s face on the last page, and the shadowed rock-hard teeth-baring power of Daredevil on the first. In between, we get two emotionally stunted grown men–Daredevil and Marvel-nerd old-school favorite the Mole Man–screaming about their personal issues, having a quietly majestic staff-fight, and fucking each other over. It’s beautiful. People sweat this comic so hard for a reason. I do, too.
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Drawn by Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere. Colored by Admira Wijaya.
Peter Milligan is writing one of the best comics on the stands right now. Unfortunately, that comic is Hellblazer, and this right here is Justice League Dark. Honestly, Milligan is kind of like Bendis in his own weird way, where he can work wonders with a single protagonist or a small ensemble of them, but if you give him a seven-person team (or however many people are on the JLD–I don’t even remember!), they all blob together and it becomes a big case of Stuff Happens.
Granted, when Milligan Stuff Happens, it’s at least usually weird and cool. Here, not so much: a vampire lord is “stealing all the magic” (their description, not mine), and Gotham City is apparently 50% on fire and 50% besieged by vampires, to facilitate a crossover with I, Vampire. (Batman and Batgirl show up to remind readers that this is a shared universe and do nothing else at all.) The fill-in art–by two artists–is a step down from Mikel Janin, who balances Milligan’s weirdness by trying to skew realistic. Honestly, that’s been a lot of the fun of JLD thus far–Janin’s figures look like they’re lightboxed from 3D modeling dummies, and it gives them a kind of stiffness and plasticine glaze that actually passively enhances Milligan’s safe-for-capes nightmare winks.
Still, we’ve already hit the “b-list crossover” section of this book’s lifespan, and I can’t even begin to explain what the hell Madame Xanadu means by: “I have drawn together this team of damaged, distressed characters. Mainly because they’re all too dangerous to be left on their own…”
Oh, well, at least it’s not Red Lanterns. Am I right, ladies?
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Drawn by Alex Maleev. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth.
Now this–this is the Bendis we like. Moon Knight has been the best Bendis/Maleev collaboration since their Daredevil glory days a hundred years ago. These two guys are like a heavy metal band, or something–Bendis is the guy who wants to do every song in fractional time signatures and can’t find a rhythm section that can keep to his personal Bizarro Didley beat, and Maleev is the guy who can thump his pen to it in perfect time. Naturally, the best work they’ve done together in years is also selling too little to meet their page rates, so we only get another issue of it after this one.
In this issue: Moon Knight and his new sidekick Buck Lime (in keeping with the tradition of Moon Knight’s buddies having ridiculous names like “Frenchie” and “Marlene”) steal the deactivated head of a killer cyborg from Iron Man villain Madame Masque, using the cunning plan of “pretty much just barging right in and getting into a 20-page fistfight.” So what? Maleev owns it, gratuitous butt-shot angles and all. At this point, with the end in sight, and no guarantee that the peculiar “Moon Knight is hallucinating that fellow members of the Avengers are always telling him what to do” plotline will ever continue past this series (see also: the “SWORD wants her to hunt runaway Skrulls” idea from the Bendis/Maleev Spider-Woman series), it’s just a party, and this issue is a My War Black Flag mosh pit before Erol Alkan plays “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” and the night’s over, and that’s okay by me.
DC Comics/Vertigo. Written by Brian Azzarello. Drawn by Eduardo Risso. Colored by Trish Mulvihill.
Ape-men, child trafficking, exposed lady butts, txtspeak, boating, unlicensed therapy, reality television surviving after the collapse of civilization, gold prospecting…
Look, this comic is great, okay? And Eduardo Risso wrote his name on the surface of Mars. That’s more amazing than anything you or I did today, and we should get behind him on this. Fuck Team Comics, this is Team Comics From Mars, and we don’t care.