Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Future

So. Figure I might as well continue this thing. I mean, I know that the professor of the GN class was the only one who read it and the class is over, but you know what? I don't go back to school for a few months and I don't know how the radio show will be working when that comes. With that said, I want to keep talking about comics here. The basic idea here is just that I share whatever thoughts I have with the interblag, so why not keep going? At least I talk about something specific; I'm not chronicling my boring-ass life like so many others that blog, and at least I'm not political on this thing.
So. Figure I'll try to keep this up with once-a-week content at least, and I'll be keeping it pretty on-topic for comics (been thinking that the radio show might branch out to non-comics animation). Also, I've had some practice with blogging at another site, so I'll be doing more fancy crap like pictures and videos like recent posts. If there is such a thing as a reader for this thing, I'd like to thank you for your patience. It's only going to get better from here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Might as Well Talk About Iron Man

You know, I sort of wish I hadn't liked Iron Man so much. Then I'd be able to say something different from what I see everywhere on the net and hear in conversation. But you see, it's all true. Everything good you've heard about this movie is 100% right on. The acting is great, the effects are well done and still special effects (not overdone), and the plot reduces the character to his most essential elements and works from there.
A big reason many of us die-hard comics fans were so (rightfully) excited is because Jon Favreau, the director is... well, one of us. He's been looking to do a Marvel movie for around ten years now if you believe the rumors, and he finally got his shot and quite a bit of budget to do it with. It's actually a joke among my friends and I that scripts for movies more in line with the Spider-Man and X-Men (read: Wolverine) films, but Favreau rejected them on the grounds that they'd have made crappy comics.
And really, that's why Iron Man rocked so hard. It really felt like a good adaptation of a comic, even without being one. And the Iron Monger suit was like watching a steel-plated Hulk; bulky yet graceful... nice.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Webcomic Highlight: Dresden Codak

Dresden Codak does not work like other comics, or even other webcomics. It's in it's own little universe filled with theoretical science, high minded philosophy, and silly slapstick humor. In a big way, it's impossible to summarize, since before the current storyline, there was no emphasis on storylines, only concepts. So this Highlight is a quick hit because I don't know if I can do it justice. The writing is charming and intelligent, the art is attractive and expressive, the science is fun, and you really feel like you have a budding writer evolving as you read.
Another good reason to go read it now is the fact that the archives are short. It's been around for a while, but Codak himself is a student, and so there are often delays between comics; sometimes updates are a month apart. So keep it bookmarked, and check it every so often. It's a reading experience you won't regret.

Movie Trailer Madness: The Incredible Hulk

Is it bad that I can tell more or less the entire story from this trailer? Banner on the run, hating the Hulk inside him, society hating Hulk even more, Blonsky becomes the Abomination, people see how much worse Hulk could be, then Hulk saves them, and enjoys some popularity, and Banner accepts that the Hulk can be a force for good, and runs off at the end to continue to try to control it. They even got the license for the piano music from the T.V. show.
This isn't a criticism, though. The plotting of a Hulk story isn't where the depth comes from; it's the psychology and build-up, while the story mostly ends with Hulk hitting things and Banner running away. Also, they're obviously pulling some cool moments from all over Hulk continuity, like the Banner-into-Hulk air drop from The Ultimates. So I'm looking forward to it (it comes out the day before my birthday, and I always loved the Hulk), but I don't expect to be surprised.

Movie Trailer Madness: The Spirit

Frank Miller's Will Eisner's The Spirit. Damn it movie, what do you want from me? Yes I enjoyed Sin City, but that's because that's a faithful adaptation. No I don't want The Spirit to be Sin City 2, I can wait for that. Yes I like the casting you've got. No, I don't want them to all either be "badasses" or "whores" (Frank, you really need to work on this one). Yes I like the fact that The Spirit is having a resurgence, but a big part of that is Darwyn Cooke's version, which is true to Eisner's original vision. Oh, and it has colors. No, really. You can do that in a crime-based movie.
Now, I understand that Sin City was a gold mine, and 2 is in development hell due to actor disputes and schedule problems, but that's no excuse to take something that is an artistic work in its own right and make it into a "holdover" for something else by betraying the heart of the work. Now, I'll admit that this is a fairly abstract trailer, and the finished product might be something completely different. But I wouldn't put money on it. Not when I saw that all black "movie version" Spirit figure at NYCC.
Regardless, here's the trailer. Make your own decision.

Movie Trailer Madness: The Dark Knight

Now, it should be no surprise that I'm excited about the next Batman movie. While this time around Nolan doesn't have a comic to pull from (Begins was basically Year One: the backstory heavy edition), he is making some parallels to other films (he's referenced Heat as an inspiration in interviews). The fact that he said that brings up what I feel is an interesting point. Is it that different to make a superhero movie compared to any other kind? Now of course, with Batman, you can address the logical problems of superheroism by explaining his gadgets, but what about someone with powers, specifically ones that would not work in the real world? Could you base a Flash movie on some other film with no fantastic qualities? I'm not sure. Then again, I suppose it depends on the skill of the director and the quality of the script, not the conventions of the genre. What people expect is less important than delivering them a quality story.
Alright; I promised a trailer, so here it is. It's actually a brand new one, from some viral marketing event. The quality is iffy (I suspect camera phone), but the stuff's all there, and it's good.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Best Part

So. Con again. Want to know the best part? I got to meet two writers who are among my all-time favorites; personal heroes of mine for the last few years and probably a good few more. Hell, I even liked them on a social level. I'll tell the stories in chronological order.
I met Darwyn Cooke on Saturday, early afternoon. I had tried in the morning, but the line to meet and get a signature was constantly changing direction, and I have a fervent distaste for strangers touching me, so I left, dejected. When I returned, he was coming back from a lunch break, and I made sure that the newly-forming line was going my way. I jumped through hoops for the right to meet the author/artist of New Frontier, damn it, and I was going to tell him how much I enjoyed his work. When I got to him, some random person (who hadn't been in any line) jumped in ahead of me and began accosting Mr. Cooke about something some other artist had said about commissions. When I (and by the look on his face, Mr. Cooke) had had enough, I politely elbowed the man out of my way, and got one of the things I had literally gone to New York to get.
Meeting Grant Morrison was less annoying, but took longer. I'd attended his Spotlight panel, and waited in various lines for almost two hours, but I got to him. The guy who helped change my perception of comics. He can write a story that explores Hell from the perspective of a Golden Age character gone wrong, or he can do Batman in a self-reflective style that uses things that had been retconned out. He made a joke about Britney Spears. I got a picture of him with me and my girlfriend. And his signature is across my copy of Kid Eternity's cover. And for that, all of the hassles were worth it. Everything else at con was just a bonus.

Con's Great Lesson

So. Comic Con; three days of madness, fanboyism, capitalism, and one really nasty car trip. A ride so bad that by then end people who actually liked one another were so sick of the other's presence... I'm focusing on the wrong part of the story here. The point was the bits in the middle, not the shuttling across four or five states.
Point of fact, I learned very little about upcoming comics events that I didn't already know. I attended part of the Final Crisis panel, but since I'll be buying that only when it finally comes out in trade, I can't say I much care. I was hoping for a panel on the upcoming storylines in Green Lantern, but apparently they wouldn't let Geoff Johns have a room to himself for an hour or so.
Want to know what I did learn quite a bit about? Merchandise. I now know every toy, t-shirt, and video game that Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse will be putting out related to thier comics (Marvel), movies (DC), or both (Dark Horse). I'm not looking down on these companies for this, hell, it's good business (and I can't wait for some of this stuff to come out), but it's not really promoting anything other than the merch, and you can't buy any of it, even if they have a final product packaged and priced right there under glass. It's like they're reminding the fans that the companies have us by the sensitive bits when they feel like it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aaah! Get Out of my Head Charles!

Okay, so here's how I balance out my massive wall of text from the last post. It's a song. This song has taken up residence in my brain, maybe forever. It's a J-Rock song that I think is the theme song to some anime or another, performed by a supergroup with six lead singers who all appear to be LARPing their D&D characters on stage. It's actually pretty good, and has an oddly epic feel to it, which is why I suppose it makes good theme music. At least it's not J-Pop; I'd have gone nuts by now if some of that were in my head.

Adrian Veidt: World's Greatest Hero?

Alright, so on Monday I may not have been clear. I definitely got a chance to speak my part, but I think I expressed the thought poorly. Simply enough, I actually think Adrian Veidt is actually the most consciously heroic person in the story. I think he's a great guy who uses his massive intellect to solve what was the greatest problem his world's ever seen. However, his logic was somewhat flawed. He assumed that the only way to achieve his goal was the one he used, based on the (true) premise that no one else who was willing to solve the problem was smart enough to do the job.
What he never considered was that intelligence might not be the only criteria for saving the world. As much as it pains me to say it, but sometimes the smartest one is not the best one. On the other hand, he also kind of assumed that the problem needed outside help to be solved. Our Cold War worked out fine, if you recall. Of course there were differences in society, but the end result could have very easily been worked out in less sudden methods; I'm sure someone like Veidt would have had some political leverage.
Of course, none of this is related to my original point. The simple fact is that Veidt had no ulterior motives for doing what he did; he simply thought it was the only way to save the world. He makes no money from this venture, in fact he loses quite a bit of his own. The way he's planned it, no one will even know he's done it; he'll be remembered as "Ozymandias, that one guy who was an okay hero and a decent businessman."
That fact right there is why I'm calling B.S. on the people who compare Veidt to Light from Death Note. If Light's plans succeed he'll be worshiped as Lord and Savior; Veidt wants to be recalled as a guy you wish you were friends with. Yes, they both had God complexes, but Viedt's was more like a surgeon, and Light's was like a fascist dictator.
I guess all I'm saying is that you can't call Veidt a villain. He did only what he thought was necessary to accomplish his goal (saving humanity from an actual threat, remember?), and all the loss of life was tragic to him. He feels more like the Classical tragic hero; did what needed to be done, but his flaws now condemn him to a life of sadness and pain.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Few Words on Secret Invasion

I feel that now would be a good time to explain the name of this blog, seeing as I've altered it again just now. Specifically, I jokingly say that my writings are not connected to the various hot comics "events" because I have come to the conclusion that I find them abhorrent. While the potential to make positive changes and draw in readers is there, these events have recently become a crutch used to excuse a lack of original thought. What's worse is that these things may be used to undo details or plot elements that a writer dislikes, regardless of the readers' opinions, and often end up only complicating continuity.

*This Section Contains Spoilers From an Internal Leak*

To use Secret Invasion as an example, there are indications that several super-powered individuals (hero and villain) have been replaced with Skrulls. What's more, those people have in fact been Skrulls since some point in the 70's. For these characters, this means undoing every single bit of growth they've had, since before that point, characters didn't evolve over time.
Luke Cage has become, over the last few years, a father, husband, and leader. He's gone from being quite literally a Blaxploitation character with low-key powers to a potential leading man for Marvel; powerful enough to warrant a place on the main stage and developed properly as a man who could lead the Avengers (which he has been). Nope! Not anymore, because Brian Michael Bendis really likes the old version! Ergo, we get stuck with a guy with no depth, and we're expected to swallow the fact that Iron Fist, Luke's best friend nearly since their debuts, had not noticed, and that the impostor had decided not acting like the guy he'd replaced would be the perfect cover (especially with the getting married part). It's just dumb, and it injures all the stories that feature Luke.
Short version: events like this all end up being one kid in the playpen messing with everyone's toys, and I for one wish that we could just have some time without all this nonsense. At least, I'd like it if Bendis would stop taking all the toys and making a huge messy pile.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Webcomic Highlight: Gunnerkrigg Court

Here's a quickie for you: Gunnerkrigg Court is a comic that is fantastic. It's got a sort of Harry Potter vibe, with a young kid growing up at a fantastic boarding school, but there are few spots where the comparison becomes unfair. Mostly, it's unfair to Harry Potter, because Gunnerkrigg blows HP away.
It's about Antimony Carver, who goes to live at the school/community Gunnerkrigg Court, which is a haven for super-science, yet surrounded by a magical forest (with some noteworthy supernatural elements in the Court as well). Also, they employ a dragonslayer as their gym teacher, and have a class for kids with psychic powers.
Now for some of the cool stuff; there's an epic story arc, but Antimony (and the reader) doesn't know what it is yet, so we only get glimpses of it. For the most part it's a sweet story about the kids that go to school in the Court.
Also, the art is quite nice and dreamy, giving this already surreal comic an even more ethereal aesthetic. It took me only two sittings to finish it, so you won't lose much time if you hate it. Which is highly unlikely.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 3: We3

I don't know how or why I've found myself reading so many comics that star talking animals recently, but collectively they've reinforced my feelings that there are no set boundaries when it comes how a writer wants to tell a story. Then again, when the writer is Grant Morrison, you might as well forget there were any boundaries in the first place; after all, he met Animal Man once.
With We3, Morrison is working once again with Frank Quitely (are they best friends or something?), who brings his usual unsettling, expressive, and slightly over-detailed style to this story of animal exploitation. Morrison, a vegetarian since the late 80's and strong believer in animal rights, successfully brings the callousness of military-industrial thinking to the foreground. By which I mean he made me cry. And want to see my dog.

We3's basic premise is this: the military has decided to use modified animals to replace conventional human soldiers and assassins, and the We3 team are the prototypes for this system. Weapon 1 (Bandit) is a dog, built to carry the heavy weapons and chosen to lead the team because of his intelligence and loyalty to both their masters and his teammates. Weapon 2 (Tinker) is a cat, stealthy and antisocial, but aware of who her allies are. Weapon 3 (Pirate) is a rabbit made into a demolition specialist with blinding speed.
The short version is, the senator who was backing the product gets creeped out after seeing what's been done to these animals, and orders them killed. The one good person working in the lab (the woman who cared for them and handled their education) lets them out. Then massively depressing moments, high-speed gory action, and a moderately happy ending follow.

Morrison is a master of the game, and We3 stands out even among his work. The stilted, unpronounceable speech patterns the team speak in convey more emotion than meaning, and yet the WE3 team is as characterized as any character that only got three issues. Things like 2's attempts to hide her feelings and 1's sense of responsibility (as he berates himself for everything that goes wrong) give an additional layer of tragedy to the work.
I'm not usually a fan of Quitely's style, since he tends to make the people the reader is supposed to like look creepy. However, this carries over to the animals only so far as to properly convey their suffering, while all humans should look nasty in this book.
I don't know how to close this. I could write a term paper on this comic, and it's only three issues. Read it. Buy some tissues while you're out.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 2: Mouse Guard Fall 1152

Just as the last post in the "Funny Animal" series, I use the term in a somewhat sarcastic manner, as neither book has anything to do with the funny animal archetype other than anthropomorphism. However, nearly everything else about the two books is different. Whereas Fox Bunny Funny is some sort of ham-fisted statement about human nature, Mouse Guard is a low fantasy action epic. Starring mice, mind you.
Yes, Mouse Guard depicts a world of sapient mice, living in fortress cities. Since nearly any other animal has the physical edge over a mouse, the mice have developed a guardian force to allow for travel between cities and other elements essential for a true culture. This is the titular guard, and their trials are the focus of the series, which has a planned run of five mini-series. This one, Fall 1152, named for the season it depicts, focuses on a plot to undermine the guard and their capital city from within.
The art is an interesting balance of representational and interpretive, as most animals are show with a reasonably normal appearance, yet the cloak-wearing, sword-wielding guardsmice look perfectly natural. The landscapes and scenery are properly emotive, and there are enough visual clues to prevent character confusion, even if you only remember them as "mouse with green cloak" and "mouse with blue cloak and a stick."
The story reads like some of the better fantasy novels I've read in my lifetime, with dialogue that feels natural for the characters and their setting, and expressing the personality of individuals at the proper times. There was a decent level of worldbuilding involved in the writing, and it's never dropped on the reader in a fit of "as you know, Bob..." and there's an index at the end for details that didn't make it into the story.
In short; it's pretty, the writing is solid, and the world is never ridiculous, even though the heroes are fieldmice. There's even a few overly manly action-hero moments for nearly every main character. This is the kind of book that makes use of every vernacular use of the word "epic."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Funny Animal Comics 1: Fox Bunny Funny

Yikes. Fox Bunny Funny is literally a fifteen minute read, but since I spent that fifteen minutes, I've probably gone through about two hours just thinking about this one comic, what it means, and what it might not mean.
For starters, I have to explain the worldbuilding that Andy Hartzell put into the writing of FBF. What you have at first are two towns of the pseudo-1950's America variety, one populated by Foxes, whose culture is centered on the killing of Bunnies, and the town of Bunnies, which we readers see less of, but which seems more religious and fearful of their neighbors. No other animals seem to exist. Certain touches exist to reinforce the idea of a society based on the mannerisms of animals, for example, the Foxes use guns that have metal teeth attached to a wire, to fire and reel in their prey.
Also, there are no words. Not just that there's no dialogue, but the written languages for the Foxes is a series of pawprints, and the Bunny writings are all leaves and plants. There is no replacement for language, the characters all just pantomime their way through life. Because of that, the reading goes quickly, helped along by the simplicity of Hartzell's drawings which require little to no effort to understand.
Then there's the meaning behind the story, and that's where the house of cards gets shuffled (for the record, I'm kind of pleased with that turn of phrase). With the main character's hidden desire to become a Bunny, but forced to live as a Bunny-killing Fox, there's an attempt at a metaphor for GLBT lifestyle, but it never really catches on. With the relationship between the Foxes and Bunnies, there's an obvious race metaphor, but that falls apart at the end, much like my feelings about the book.
The main character finds himself in a city of the hedonistic 1980's sort populated by a combination of Foxes and Bunnies, who exchange fashion styles, have relationships, and consume one another's flesh. That's right; we have Bunnies that eat Bunny, Foxes that eat Fox, everyone eating carrots, some eating everything, and nobody seems to mind. The main character is then given plastic surgery to become a Bunny just as he always wanted, and the image of his bruised, slightly misshapen body as he weeps with joy is the closing image. Let's just say I had a hard time sleeping last night after seeing that bit.

So? Read it, once I return it to the library. Don't buy it until you've gone through it once. Maybe you'll get something I didn't, and you'll think I'm an idiot for not liking it. Maybe you'll find it as horrifying as I did, and one or two quick reads will be enough. Then again, you might not feel anything, in which case I envy the extra time you'll have after the read.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Webcomic Highlight: Darken

Geek culture is not one culture, per se, but rather an affiliation of subcultures. As with any subculture, the internet has become a haven for these groups to show their appreciation, and many do so in the form of webcomics. While I feel a post on webcomics in general may be forthcoming, but with this highlight, I felt the comment about culture was apt as Darken is essentially based in Dungeons and Dragons.
Written and drawn by Kate Ashwin, Darken is in interesting study in anti-heroism and anti-villainy, as the entire main cast is more concerned with their scheming than they are about morality and loyalty. To call it character driven would downplay the well-placed (and paced) action, but the interactions between the characters and their ultimate goals are what drive the reader.
The art is smooth and expressive, with some slight Japanese influence, and the coloring, when used, contributes to the mood and energy of the scene. Very rarely is it possible to confuse characters, though there are clearly some "basic" faces at use.
You don't have to know D&D, but it certainly speeds things up for new readers. Regardless, Darken uses a mixture of action, humor, strong characters, and good plotting to make a very worthwhile read.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Keeping Things Straight (Last in a Triple Post!)

I hate repeating myself. If it's not a good story, and one I really like telling, then I only want to have to go through it once. Also, if I don't repeat, then it gives people more incentive to keep listening to what I say. Ergo, this semester has been rough.
I'm a comics guy, so I talk comics with my friends. I do a comics-based radio show, so I have to fill about 2 hours each week. I have class discussions, the discussion board, and this blog. And I hate repeating myself (unless I'm proving a point).
With my friends, I don't want to bore them. In class, I think it wastes time to go over the same points again and again. With my show, I feel it would be cheating to crib ideas or materials from class, so I have to keep racking my brain to think of things I can work with.

So please, forgive me if I fall behind in a conversation every so often. I may be having deja vu.

American Born Chinese: Some Quick Thoughts

Anybody ever watch the show The Boondocks (yes, based on the newspaper comic) and get uncomfortable at how often they use a certain racial epithet? You know the one; the one I can't even bring myself to type. ABC was kind of like that for me sometimes, with cousin Chin-Kee. I found myself reading those parts kind of fast, and taking my time with the Monkey King more than any other part.
Use of caricature helped with the magical realist atmosphere of the story; I don't know if I'd have been able to deal with Chin-Kee's head popping off to reveal the Monkey King in another style. Also, the Hair of Power would not have looked right.
Did anyone else have the sensation that both Jin and Wei-Chen are essentially lost? Haven't the four years of debauchery spoiled Wei-Chen's chances of becoming an emissary since the test was a full life of goodness? And didn't Jin "forfeit his soul" to become Danny? Not to mention the problems with his grades due to the moving around...
Also, did the infliction of Chin-Kee on Jin (as Danny) seem harsh to anyone else? Sure, he needed to be taught a lesson, but there's evidence that everything he says about Chin-Kee ruining his life are true...

There's more, but like I said; quick thoughts.

Comic Corollaries: Action Figures

Okay, so maybe you don't have to like action figures if you're a comic fan, but why wouldn't you? For my money, there's something indescribably cool about having a physical representation of the characters you like. Then again, I'm not the sort to spent more than $20 on a toy, and frankly the $20 ones have to really appeal to me.
Also, for the record, they are toys to me, not collectibles, and I open them as soon as I get back to my house. I can't really fathom hunting around for just the one you wanted then leaving it on a shelf, unopened, unappreciated. For example, earlier today I finally found a 25th Anniversary G.I.Joe Destro; something I've wanted for nigh on four months now. He makes a nice addition to my desktop. It's great to be a toy fan for the sake of their aesthetic purpose, but more importantly, it lets me keep a collection of the characters I really enjoy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Review: Astonishing X-Men

This comic is so good it feels like I'm cheating by writing about it. Honestly, my critiques are so minor compared to how many things I feel are not just done right, but perfectly, it's hard to start. Hence me rambling on in this self-conscious manner.

Astonishing, cribbing the name from one of the Age of Apocalypse books, picks up where Grant Morrison's New X-Men left off; Jean's dead (for a while this time), Emma and Scott are a power couple running the school while Xavier helps in Genosha, and the X-Men in general are scattered and confused. With that, Cyclops essentially decides that since someone will lay claim to the X-Men name, the mutant community is best served by having the highest quality X-Men possible, and assembles the team himself.
For reasons of having a balanced skill set and good public image (discarding the all-new, all-leather costumes of the Morrison era, except as casual wear), he brings together himself, Emma, Hank McCoy, Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine. Later on, Colossus has his shot at returning to life, joining the team and resuming his relationship with Kitty.
The arcs more or less break down as the X-Men dealing with a malicious alien attempting to wipe out mutantkind with a "cure" and violence, the sentient A.I. of the danger room, the apparent return of the Hellfire Club's Inner Circle, and a resolution of the issues with anti-mutant aliens (the latter has yet to be collected, but is almost finished).

When it comes to the writing, I would be sorely tempted to call this my perfect image of the X-Men. Everyone gets their due (even Scott), but nobody overshadows the rest of the team (not even Wolverine). The dialogue is as good as we've come to expect from Whedon, being interesting and witty while remaining in-character for each of the distinct personalities. The plotting is solid, with the only low point being the second storyline, "Danger," which shoehorns Whedon's ideas about A.I. in a disjointed story. Arcs aside, Astonishing's two year run reads as one long story with self-contained issues in six-issue arcs. Therefore, don't look to this for and single-issue reading; give yourself some time to read at least an arc at a time.
John Cassiday's art is detailed, active, and expressive. Action has punch, and you'll never confuse characters as everyone has their own unique features. However, he may have some sort of eyelash fetish, seeing as he exaggerates their portrayal on everyone's face. Even the aliens and robots. Regardless, his use of form and color leave one with a "real people in a comic setting" impression that compliments Whedon's writing perfectly.

The bottom line about this series is: "If you've ever liked any of these characters or even the concept of the X-Men, read it, dummy." Also, if you've always felt that nobody ever "got it" when you've tried to read X-Men, give Whedon a chance to win you over. He probably will.
Thus far, the storylines collected are titled "Gifted," "Dangerous," "Torn," and "Unstoppable" (again, yet to be collected). Taking over after Whedon is Warren Ellis (who apparently writes 75% of Marvel between him and Bendis). I'm greatly saddened to see this run end, but if Whedon feels he's finished I won't argue. Besides, maybe with Ellis Astonishing can go back to being monthly instead of every other month.
Yeah, I'm so hooked that I buy every single and the trades. Try it, and see if you blame me.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dark Phoenix Saga *Non-DPS Spoilers*

This story has in many ways set the tone for all comics in this franchise right up to today. It was at the time just one link in a chain of major storylines dreamed up by Clairmont, but is now seen as a major point in not only X-Men history, but mainstream comics on the whole. For example, let's look at what pieces are present here:
1) As stated, Wolverine gets plenty of face time, and his multiple homicides are ignored.
2) Cyclops is shown as a competent leader, powerful fighter, and compassionate person, but is not written as doing anything terribly vital.
3) Jean taps into Phoenix powers, dies. Hints at drama with the previous two.
4) There's an emphasis on the growing divide between the Professor and the team, which has only recently become an issue again. Then again, I imagine since he's dead now, it's a bit moot.
5) Lots of people get involved in stories. This is to me the hallmark of X-Men storylines, with heroes and villains from all over showing up, often in unexpected roles.

There are some clear signs of DPS, great as it is, actually not being as good as it could have been. For one, since trade paperbacks were not collected at the time, the recap dialogue is ever-present, since a reader may have missed the last issue (thank Buddha for the modern recap first page). The other is that some plot points reek of editorial mandate, "Quick, we need a character to reach out to that new demographic! Make a disco character!" Oh, the immense fail that is Dazzler, whose name was originally supposed to be "The Disco Dazzler."
Nonetheless, it's a classic story that's earned it place. No wonder this is the fourth time the story's been printed; once originally, once in X-Men Classics monthly, and two printings (at least) in trade. It's kind of a big deal.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The X-Men in other media...

Considering how insanely popular the X-Men have become within my lifetime, it's a no-brainer that they'd show up outside their comfort zone of comics. However, I will warn you, reader. I may myself stray from the intent of this post, and be prepared for a long one.

Before movies, cartoons and video games, comes the merchandise. I myself ate X-Men fruit snacks, chewed X-Men gum, wore X-Men clothes, and owned several dozen X-Men action figures, so I may be said to be something of an expert. Wolverine has appeared in all of them, in something that will quickly become a habit. Speaking specifically, since the Marvel Secret Wars toyline in 1984, no less than 73 figures of Wolverine have been produced. In fact, while Wolverine found a place in the Secret Wars line, it wasn't until 1993 that any other X-Man was made into a figure. Nonetheless, once the dam broke in '93, it would be hard to ever again look into a toy isle and not see some sort of X-Men (read: Wolverine) representation.

The video games were, as comic book games often are, mostly mediocre. With a few bright spots in the mid-90's beat-'em-up genre and the fantastic X-Men Legends, they have essentially forgettable. The one unifying thread? The characters of Cyclops, Storm and (of course) Wolverine, who've appeared in every one to my recollection, with Iceman, Gambit, and Colossus being the most often used otherwise. A nice range of ethnicities, I suppose, though I'd like to see Banshee implemented somehow.

The cartoons many of us have seen. The first was the unfortunate attempt at a girl's show, Pryde of the X-Men, whose quality was so low that the people who green-lit Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (also featuring X-men) killed it after one episode. The early-90's one, smack dab in the middle of the X-Boom, played loose and fast with the canon, but stuck to the heart of the characters (while giving Wolverine plenty of robots to cut in half). Most recently was X-Men: Evolution, which served as a sort of animated Ultimate X-Men, while thankfully avoiding the Jean Grey/Wolverine subplot by making Jean (and most of the team) about fifteen. However, we can only imagine how the upcoming Wolverine and the X-Men will fare, considering that he's been given top billing over the entire franchise.

Lastly, the movies. Dear gott im himmel, the movies. I'll say this; they're fun little action romps. But to put it one way, I actually laughed when I heard that a Wolverine movie in the franchise was planned, because last time I'd checked, I'd already seen three Wolverine movies. You see, when someone writes Cyclops as being a dull jerk, they're being lazy. When someone writes Jean Grey as psychic powers with romantic tension and red hair, they're being lazy. When someone has to incapacitate Professor X before every single fight, they're. Being. Lazy. however, when that person then decides to write Wolverine as being a level-headed natural leader of men with no problem making emotional connections to people, they're just being idiots. By the end of Wolverine 3: The Last Stand, he was acting more like Cyclops that Cyclops had been (before they killed him off-screen five minutes in, which apparently bothered no one).

Wow, that was not the post I had planned. I was going to do an even handed review of each category and make recommendations based on my favorites, but that Canadian bastard is just so grating in his popularity that I can't avoid the prick.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The X-Men *musings*

The X-Men are, by far, my favorite team. I don't have much of a Marvel/DC bias, but one thing I'll always want to know is what's happening in X-Men, even when I lose track of everything else. Maybe it's the broad metaphor they present; whatever you are, if you feel oppressed, the Mutants of X-Men can be that too. Maybe it's the huge, rotating cast of characters with the constant potential for new ones, everyone with their unique powers and personalities. More than likely, it's the way all of these come together, often with top-notch writers pulling the strings.

They may not have the automatic mythology of one of the DC greats or the constant personal struggle of Spider-Man, but the X-Men have a feel to their stories that is specific to their world, one of scientific philosophy, soap opera dramatics, and as much action as any other premise.

Which is why it's so frustrating to see people get it wrong. Coming first to mind would be the movies; which I enjoy on the base level of a moviegoer, but loathe to my core as somebody who actually (god forbid) likes Cyclops. On this week's Blackboard forum, you'll see I'm no major Wolverine fan, but I'll admit he has his place in the menagerie. For me, reading the highlights of the Clairmont run are essentially history lessons, as he made the X-Teams into what they are today, allowing Whedon (and soon Ellis) to create such superhero masterpieces.

This post is kind of aimless, but it sets the tone for this week-and-a-half. I'm going to talk about the X-Men a lot over the next few days.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Understanding Comics, part 2

Okay, so I've been thinking, reading, and listening to what some of my compatriots have to say about Understanding. And while I'm not going to place McCloud up on a pedestal, I'm also not looking to write off everything he says either. I honestly doubt that it's possible to write a comprehensive theory relating to any media without being pretentious in one way or another. The very act of thinking about art in general terms like this assumes that the thinker can ultimately understand that art completely.
However, it's not the philosophy present in Understanding that ever captured my attention at all. It was the frank, solid examination of things like shape, color, and time in comics that kept me reading, and here, I was hard pressed to find any pretension. The conclusions might be different from what others might have come to, but all in all he's just talking about comics in a scholarly light.
Honestly, from what I've heard about the man and his encounters, it seems like McCloud is simply taking his own theory too seriously. While much of the point of Understanding was for the purpose of taking comics seriously, McCloud apparently has trouble with the idea that not everyone will agree with his theories and concepts wholeheartedly. It's kind of like a large-scale internet forum; there's some good ideas here, but it's too close to everyone's hearts for them to discuss it dispassionately.

Non-Class Review: Superman: Red Son

Is it just me, or is the Silver Age aesthetic en vogue right now? From Alex Ross' Justice to Darwin Cooke's New Frontier (more on both of those later), it seems like the area from 1960-1975-ish is being mined pretty frequently. This is undercut, however, by how much all of those projects rule. As is the case with Red Son, it seems like everyone's respect for the Silver Age makes them work to their best.
Red Son is in many ways, only theoretically about Superman. My reading (which not everyone would agree with) is that it uses the Superman mythos specifically and DC at large to tell a story about moral relativism and the impact super-humans can have on politics and philosophy. The moral issues in particular are key to the story; in many scenes, I found myself cheering on the absurdly intelligent Doctor Luthor, defender of America, and more than once Superman commits what I would call unforgivable acts.
As with many "Elseworlds" titles, Red Son features alternate versions of mainstream DC characters. Some are the "same" as their counterparts having led alternate lives, such as Lois Luthor (nee Lane) and Jimmy Olsen (who eventually finds himself director of the CIA). On the other hand, many are odd parallels to people from the regular continuity, like Piotr Roslov, a twisted doppelganger of Pete Ross.
If you don't know who Pete is, then many of the subtle references may escape you. However, even if you don't know who the Atomic Skull is, you'll get the bid stuff and will be able to enjoy the story all the same. The point of the story is not hidden among these Easter Eggs, but if you get it, you often can't help but smile.
On top of all that goodness, the writing is solid and the art has a simple, 60's sci-fi/superhero style that's perfect for the flow of the story and action. It feels like a cop-out to put that all in one line, but I dare you to read this story and think about anything other than the quadruple twist ending, which actually fits perfectly while still leaving you breathless from awesomeness.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Understanding Comics, Part One

I've read Understanding before, years ago, and I was astounded. Not because of what McCloud says in it, but rather because I'd found it in my high school library. My shock was profound; Gilford High, bastion of suburban "normality" and regimented schooling, had this epic dissertation on comics. Of course, they didn't have any actual comics along with it so I could examine them in this new light, which raises some serious questions. Why is it that a text on comics is respectable enough for the library, but not the comics it discusses, when the text itself is told as a comic? I can only guess that the answer is something that would probably depress and infuriate me.
Regardless, I've enjoyed this chance to revisit the text that helped me into my current phase as a comics reader. McCloud's work examines comics by means of storytelling, art, and psychology, with their connection to the work of "sequential art" is the overhead concept which only needs refreshing every so often.
However, while I was entranced by the book when I first picked it up, this time I found I knew enough about the craft to occasionally yearn for more specificity than McCloud gives. As I begin to give serious thought to writing actual scripts and submitting them to companies, I find that Understanding is less about what it takes to create comics, and more about what comics are once they've been created. Then again, perhaps this generality is akin to McCloud's point about icons being more applicable; maybe he's sacrificed specificity to reach the widest possible audience.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Non-Class Review: Immortal Iron Fist

It's worth mentioning that I'm biased. Being a white guy who knows martial arts myself, Iron Fist has been one of my favorite characters since I was little, when he showed up a grand total of once or twice a year if I was lucky. The writer of Immortal, Ed Brubaker, sums the appeal of the character up best in this three word idiom: Kung. Fu. Billionaire. He's a semi-powered Batman who actually knows how to enjoy himself, and has an automatic connection to both the world of big-time heroing, while maintaining his own mystical myth base.
It's this balance that keeps Immortal so interesting; the big stuff in post "Civil War" Marvel is there, but Iron Fist has his own issues to deal with that feel just as important. You get to see his old buddy Luke Cage and old nemesis Davos, but they feel more alive than those old 70's comics. Brubaker writes everyone as very real, interesting people living in a ridiculous superhero world. On top of that, David Aja provides art that has a tangible, visceral feel while not going too far into the recent "photo-realistic" trend. I would recommend this book to anyone who can keep an open mind about their superheroes.

NOTE: As with every book I review under "Non-Class," I can make this available to anyone willing to treat them like newborn infants. Also, if I don't have it in my room, you may have to wait a few weeks for me to get it from my home in NH.

Tales from the Farm *Major Spoilers, such as they are*

Spoiler/reflection/theory one: Jimmy is obviously Lester's dad, and is not a brain damaged as he seems at first.
For starters, half of the dialogue in the comic only makes sense if Jimmy is Lester's dad, especially the poignant look after "You and me get along, and you never had any kids." However, the second part only comes into play with that in mind. My thought is that the hit Jimmy took in the NHL was only the last in a series of concussions, which made it dangerous to continue playing professionally, and left him with speech problems and concentration problems. Those of you familiar with football, think Steve Young in recent years. Therefore, instead of a man with the mind of a child playing with a child, it's a man who can't get respect in his home town connecting with his son the only way he's allowed.
Spoiler/reflection/theory two: Arguments for and against alien invasion.
On the first hand, if there are no actual aliens, what the hell happens to Jimmy? Lester may be imaginative, and writing Jimmy out of the story may have been dramatic, but Lester lives his story and wouldn't kill off a real person like that for no reason. This makes even more sense when you consider the Lester hung up his cape, meaning something important happened. Also, he seems as surprised as anyone when he flies or did the trick with the flaming slingshot pellet.
On the other hand, this is a story about people connecting with one another, or failing to, as the case my be, and that means alien invasion is probably out. Also, Lester never uses his powers when anyone other than Jimmy is around.
Seems kind of like a crap shoot to me, so believe whatever you prefer.

My Perspective

Here's the thing. I'm a life-long reader of comics, and that includes the scholcky cape-and-tights stuff. Hell, I still like all that stuff, though my standards for writing are much higher than they used to be. Ergo, I think of comics as the media that allowed my beloved superheroes to exist, and everything that goes above and beyond is icing on the cake.
The combination of visual and textual media is an experience that I don't think can be found anywhere else, and though conventions exist, they're subverted as often as anything, so nearly any story can be told. Because of that, I often find that I prefer the absurd and fantastic when venturing away from superheroic tales, but ultimately I'll listen to whatever story the writer has to tell.