Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not so boring out there now, is it?

I think Ken Parille has said the last word on the "comics snobs are suffering from class envy" school of comics criticism. I ask (surely in vain) that anyone itching to invoke such arguments re-read this essay before doing so.

This whole thing, for those who don't know, is over Ted Rall's recent overview of the comics which have run in the NY Times on Sundays. The one thing I'd add to Parille's analysis is this: Rall is basically wrong is saying that nobody is talking about these comics. I mean, I write about them all the time on this blog, and I talk about them to people I know in real life fairly often as well. I've seen Mister Wonderful on at least one best of 2007 list, and Seth's George Sprott (which bears so little resemblance to Rall's straw man that I seriously doubt he's read any of it) will make an appearance on my list. Parille himself has written about Mister Wonderful (in fact, he's done so twice.)

Anyway, there may be one of those cataclysmic Beat threads brewing over this. I can't tell if the holiday slowdown is going to stop the coming apocalypse, or if it will encourage it. It seems like some of the most vigorous shouting matches on that blog have occurred over weekends, when (one speculates) people with nothing better to do relish the opportunity to spend a couple of days berating complete strangers for daring to disagree with Harlan Ellison or whatever. So maybe that will be the case here once again. No matter what happens, it's worth checking out just for Eric Reynold's rebuttal (which covers much of the ground as Parille's, but is much more mean-spirited).

One last thing: anyone else amused that Rall cited Noah Berlatsky to fortify his opinions? It was only a couple of months ago that said critic posted a pretty scathing review of Rall's work. The review also ran in the Comics Journal. Rall doesn't strike me as the sort who would forget such a negative review. Interesting.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Best of 2007--everything but comics


More than any other category, this will reveal what a strange dude I am.

1. Sopranos
I'm still shocked at the bitterness over that ending. It was perfect. Come on.

2. Various live (or slightly tape delayed) UFC specials on Spike
The Fight Night specials, as always, have been a mixed bag, but we also got UFC 70 and 75, either of which were well worth $40

3. The Ultimate Fighter season 5
Rivals seasons 1 and 3. Needless to say, season 6 was a big disappointment in comparison. Maybe it's the odd numbered seasons which will be good. Another reason to anticipate Rampage vs. Forrest in season 7!

4. The Office
One of only two sitcoms I watch. The addition of Ed Helms was pretty smart, as was the decision to break up Dwight and Angela at the same time Pam and Jim got together.

5. Ninja Warrior
Read Greg Rucka's thoughts on the show, which basically mirror my own. Except I don't have any kids running around the apartment trying to imitate the show. We have, however, considered setting up a course for the cats. (Side note: Oh god, I had no idea how much G4 sucked until I started watching this show. I'd avoided the channel at all costs, but now I know what so many other people already know. Thankfully, we watch most episodes on sweet, sweet, DVR.)

6. The Colbert Report
Easily has eclipsed its parent show. Almost certainly will suck without striking writers.

7. WEC on Versus
Finally a (semi) high profile home for the lighter weight classes on American televison

8. 30 Rock
The other sitcom I watch.

9. Shin Chan
So glad to see new English-dubbed episodes.

10. America's Test Kitchen
Still the best cooking show on television.


Uh, let me get back to you on that one. I still haven't played Lost Planet, Super Mario Galaxy, Assassin's Creed, or RE: The Umbrella Chronicles. And I just started Bioshock (I have, however, played enough to know that it's my pick for best game of 2007).


1. Resident Evil 5 (yes, I know it's supposed to be coming out in 2009, but I'm really excited about it)
2. Grand Theft Auto 4
3. Fallout 3
4. Condemned 2
5. Silent Hill 5
6. Alone in the Dark
7. Alan Wake (assuming it's still happening)
8. Dead Space
9. Gears of War 2
10. Whatever the new Shin Megami Tensei game for PS3 is supposed to be--I'd probably even buy a PS3 just to play it


I've scaled down my viewing of Japanese mid-majors (Shooto, DEEP, etc.), so bear that in mind. Also bear in mind that I saw most of the big EXC cards and found nothing especially compelling on them. I mean, they were worth watching, but maybe not worth watching twice.

1. Tyson Griffin vs. Frankie Edgar, UFC 67
An incredible back-and-forth fight with a little bit of everything. Would be in the top 10 just for the furious position wars on the ground alone.
2. Tyson Griffin vs. Thiago Tavares, UFC 76
Basically the same as the above, except I thought that things slowed down a little in the third round.
3. Roger Huerta vs. Clay Guida, Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale
A great, dramatic fight with two very skilled, very game opponents. A rare combination of nonstop action and memorable finish.
4. Takanori Gomi vs. Nick Diaz, Pride 33
Very similar to Huerta-Guida, except that Gomi looked like a bum in the last couple of minutes of the fight.
5. Tyson Griffin vs. Clay Guida, UFC 72
Another great fight from two great fighters.
6. Dan Henderson vs. Quinton Jackson, UFC 75
Possibly a little boring for casual fans, but this was a great positional chess match. A very impressive win for Jackson, who beat an Olympic wrestler at his own game.
7. Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout, UFC Fight Night 10
The best standup battle of the year. These two beat the hell out of each other for three rounds, but it never descended into toughman contest territory.
8. Jason Miller vs. Hiromitsu Miura, WEC 27
A largely unforgotten but very entertaining fight. Miura is one tough dude.
9. Leonard Garcia vs. Roger Huerta, UFC 69
Not an especially technical fight, but Garcia's got a ton of heart. That didn't help him win, but it did make for a great fight.
10. Jon Koppenhaver vs. Jared Rollins, Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale
A real war, and maybe the bloodiest UFC fight of the year. Great finish.


1. Josh Koscheck vs. Diego Sanchez, UFC 69
A very smart fight for Koscheck, a very revealing fight for Sanchez, a very boring fight for anyone with a pulse.
2. Phil Baroni vs. Frank Shamrock, Strikeforce-EXC: Shamrock vs. Baroni
Baroni fought like a dead man. Complete, sloppy domination from Shamrock, who seemed to be playing to the crowd at least half the time.
3. Manny Gamburyan vs. Nate Diaz, Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale
Gamburyan's injury robbed us of a good fight with a lot at stake. Nobody's fault, but still disappointing.
4. Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz, UFC 73
After improving his image with impressive wins over Sean Salmon and Jason Lambert, Evans was totally ineffectual for the first half of this fight. Then Tito cheated to win, except he was deducted a point. That led to a draw, and the promise of a rematch. Please, Dana White and Joe Silva, break that promise. No one needs to see a rematch of this fight.
5. Karo Parisyan vs. Ryo Chonan, UFC 78
Not all that bad, really, but I was expecting a whole lot more for this Pride vs. UFC battle. I really thought that Chonan would benefit from fighting at 170 lbs., but he was easily overpowered by Parisyan.
6. Rich Franklin vs. Yushin Okami, UFC 72
Dull, dull, dull. Franklin fought not to lose for two rounds, then Okami suddenly remembered that he was in a fight. Last round was better, but frustrating; Okami revealed that he might have had the tools to beat Franklin if he'd worked harder in the first two rounds. Franklin came out of this looking completely incapable of beating Anderson Silva. This was, in fact, the case when the two fought later in the year.
7. Heath Herring vs. Jake O'Brien, UFC Fight Night 8
Herring looked terrible, O'Brien looked scared to engage on the ground. Seems especially pointless in retrospect, since O'Brien's subsequent injury problems will keep him from fighting well into next year.
8. Tim Sylvia vs. Brandon Vera, UFC 77
Typical plodding Sylvia, but many of us had high hopes for Vera. If nothing else, we thought, he'd at least get himself knocked out. Instead, Vera broke his hand and let Sylvia grind him against the cage for three rounds.
9. Michael Bisping vs. Rashad Evans, UFC 78
Less boring than the Evans-Ortiz fight, but still pretty boring.
10. Alvin Robinson vs. Jorge Gurgel, UFC 77
I don't particularly need to see Gurgel ever again.


1. Quinton Jackson
Finally seems to have put it all together, with strong showings against Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson. Also united the Pride and UFC 205 lb. titles. Light heavyweight is as stacked a division as any in MMA, but it's still hard to imagine anyone unseating him next year.
2. Anderson Silva
Looked utterly unstoppable in 2007. As the middleweight division suffers worldwide (what with Paulo Fihlo's weak showing against Chael Sonnen, Denis Kang's loss to Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Matt Lindland's inactivity at that weight), Silva's stature only grows.
3. Randy Couture
Did the unthinkable by becoming the heavyweight champ at the age of 44. I'd rank him higher if I thought he could beat an uninjured Sylvia.
4. Gesias Calvancante
Won his second consecutive K1 Heroes lightweight tournament this year. Only the second person ever to beat Vitor Ribeiro, and the first to do so in three years.
5. Rameau Sokoudjou
Completely unheralded fighter demolished two top 10 light heavyweights in the course of two months. Has been inactive since then, so it's unclear if he's the real deal or if he's just been lucky. A fight against undefeated Ryoto Machida should resolve this conundrum.
6. Frankie Edgar
Tore through the UFC's lightweight divison, beating bigger and more experienced fighters along the way. One half of 2007's fight of the year (vs. Tyson Griffin).
7. Forrest Griffin
Did what nearly everyone (including myself) thought was impossible by beating consensus #1 light heavyweight Mauricio Rua. Has also developed into one of the great ambassadors for the sport, coming off as funny, articulate, and charmingly self-deprecating in mainstream interviews.
8. Urijah Faber
The most dominant featherweight in America easily bested all opponents in 2007. Hopefully we'll see him take on some of the top featherweights in the world (ie, dudes from Japan) next year.
9. Dan Henderson
After a lackluster 2006, Henderson beat Wanderlei Silva for the Pride title, despite giving up a lot of size. He then gave Quinton Jackson (an even bigger man) all he could handle in a losing effort later in the year. His upcoming match with Anderson Silva might be the most anticipated fight of 2008.
10. Matt Serra
In a year full of shocking upsets, his win over George St. Pierre for the UFC welterweight title might have dropped the most jaws. Serra was also an entertaining and sympathetic figure on the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter. His year ended on a very downbeat note, however, when he had to pull out of a much-anticipated title fight with Matt Hughes due to back injury.
Honorable mention: Robbie Lawler
He regained the ICON middleweight title against a rejuvenated Frank Trigg, then beat Strikeforce MW champ Murilo Rua. It's time to see how he'll do against better competition.


1. Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
Rarely has a fighter gone from monster to chump so quickly. We all thought Cro Cop would run roughshod through UFC's heavyweight division, but he's struggled badly.
2. Chuck Liddell
If we're talking about mainstream perception, no one has lost bigger than Liddell in 2007. But people have been predicting his decline for years, and he's kind of an old dude.
3. Diego Sanchez
Diego was one of the most electrifying fighters of 2006, but he slipped badly this year. Maybe the rumored move to 155 lbs. is the answer.
4. Joachim Hansen
He sat out most of the year in a contract dispute with UFC, only to lose in Shooto once he returned to action. He's a long way off from his magical 2005.
5. Rashad Evans
Went 2-0-1 this year, but really hurt his public standing with two consecutive stinkfests against Tito Ortiz and Michael Bisping. Looked like a contender in 2006, but he looked like an also-ran this year. Another TUF alum who should consider dropping down to a different weight division.


1. Thiago Silva
Has looked the best of all the ex-Chuteboxe fighters in UFC, partly because he's actually big enough for his weight class (light heavyweight). Looked awesome against Houston Alexander; seems to have a complete game.
2. Tyson Griffin
Ranked this high partly because he always puts on an incredible show. But his tireless scrambling, excellent BJJ, and tough chin should give him the wins to go with the FOTYCs.
3. The winner of Ryoto Machida vs. Rameau Sokoudjou
A classic match--the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object. Machida fights in a very conservative style, one intended to keep him out of danger. That's harder to do than one might guess. Sokoudjou, however, has looked like an absolute buzzsaw so far in his career, running right through Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona. I suspect Machida will win, but I hope he doesn't.
4. Jon Fitch
No longer a sleeper after his win over Diego Sanchez, Fitch will shoulder great expectations in 2008. A fight with Karo Parisyan seems inevitable, as does a title shot if he wins (assuming, of course, that the UFC welterweight title gets straightened out anytime soon).
5. Joe Lauzon
After a disappointing loss in the semis of TUF 5, Lauzon looks to remind everyone that he was the odds-on favorite to win the competition going in. A relocation to Hawaii to train with BJ Penn hints at even better things to come.
6. Jens Pulver
Lauzon made his name by beating Pulver, who then went on to lose to Penn. A move to featherweight seems to be just what Pulver needed, though, given his dominant performance against the talented Cub Swanson. A title fight against Urijah Faber should be the most anticipated match in WEC history.
7. Ricardo Almeida
After a few years of inactivity, Almeida should make a big splash upon his return to MMA in 2008. He holds wins over a number of credible opponents (including Ryo Chonan, Kazuo Misaki, and Nate Marquardt). Hopefully he'll inject some much-needed excitement into UFC's beleaguered middleweight division.
8. Thales Leites
Another middleweight who UFC hopes will make a splash in the division next year. He was mediocre in his debut fight against Martin Kampmann, but he's won three in a row since. Perhaps he, Almeida, and Demain Maia will turn the 185 lb. weight class into a grappler's division in 2008.
9. Brock Lesnar
He's a total question mark going into his UFC debut against Frank Mir, but there's reason to hope that Lesnar will add some spark to the heavyweight division. His wrestling credentials are impeccable, and his ground and pound is rumored to be off-the-charts. Now all he needs is to work on his submissions and standup. But that's only 2/3 of the game, right?
10. Shinya Aoki
Only ranked this low because everyone who's seen him knows how great a fighter he is. He's been inactive for most of 2007, and he has a tough test on New Year's Eve against Gesias "JZ" Calvacante. (Or maybe not.) But he was the most exciting fighter of 2006, and hopefully we'll see him in more prominent fights in 2008.

Oh man, I think I only saw like four new movies last year, and one of them was 300. Pass.

On the other hand, I think I heard exactly one new album in the last year--the new one by Dinosaur Jr. (Quick review: the opening track is really strong, deserving a space alongside "In a Jar" or "Freak Scene." The rest I can't remember.) I guess I still need to check out the new Dillinger Escape Plan record, but I'm not sure if two items constitute a list. So there's no point in this pathetic antiquarian telling you what he thought the best albums of 2007 were. I can, however, tell you which albums I probably listened to the most in 2007 (listed in no particular order):

1. Pretty Things-Parachute
Probably my favorite psychedelic record. Much better than the more heralded SF Sorrow.
2. Neil Young-On the Beach
Kind of like Young's delayed reaction to the death of the hippie era, with ruminations on his own career, Charles Manson, etc. Right now I like it better than Tonight's the Night.
3. Faces-Ooh La La
It's the melancholy quality of this record that sets it apart from the rest of the band's oeuvre. Key track: "My Fault."
4. Kinks-Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Part One
Not the best Kinks album, but it's the one I listened to most in 2007. Interesting to see Wes Anderson using two of my favorite tracks from it so prominently in his last movie. "This Time Tomorrow" might be the most underrated song in the Kinks' catalogue.
5. T Rex-Electric Warrior
What I like best about this record is that touch of sadness, most obvious on "Cosmic Dancer." I really need that from my music these days.
6. Mott the Hoople-Mott
And of course, this is like the ultimate tearjerker glam rock album. Even the good time tracks ("Honaloochie Boogie," "All the Way to Memphis") have a healthy serving of despair.
7. Pink Fairies-Kings of Oblivion
A good album that I probably wouldn't listen to quite as often if "I Wish I Was a Girl" wasn't so mindblowingly great.
8. Rudimentary Peni-Cacophony
I wrote a big long piece on this album here.
9. Leatherface-Mush
I don't like many of their contemporaries, and I don't listen to much 90s rock at all, but this album has really held up.
10. Neil Young-Chrome Dreams
A bootleg which attempts to reconstruct an album Young scrapped at the last minute. Lots of great stuff on this, including unreleased tracks and songs which I tend to forget about because I don't listen to the albums they ended up on very often ("Will to Love" being a good example).


1. Garlic
It's going to be hard to unseat the long-reigning champ in 2008.
2. Tofu
I'm a vegetarian, guys.
3. Tomatoes
Hint for making vegetarian chili--you need a lot of tomatoes to balance the flavor of the beans.
4. Parmesan cheese
More and more, this is my favorite cheese.
5. Carrots
Only in the last year or two have I discovered the versatility of carrots. They go well with all manner of stir-fried dishes.
6. Onions
Always loved onions.
7. Basil
With October comes the death of my basil plants. Maybe next year we'll be living somewhere with a climate warm enough to support a longer herb growing season.
8. Olive Oil
Can't get by without it.
9. Corn tortillas
A word of advice here--don't buy Azteca corn tortillas (I have no problem with their flour tortillas). The grocery store was out of my usual brand and I grabbed a pack of them for enchilada-making purposes. They basically dissolved in the sauce, leaving me with a baking dish full of melted cheese. Yuck.
10. Celery
Possibly the most underrated of vegetables. Celery adds a nice, subtle flavor to all kinds of food. I especially like it in soup.


1. Insulting
2. Discernible
3. Litigation
4. Quesada
5. Abject
6. Rapidograph
7. Fascist
8. Murky
9. Oeuvre
10. Inflated
11. Retro
12. Clunky
13. Suppository
14. Momentous
15. Elegiac
16. Scrotum
17. Pastiche
18. Vibrant
19. Torso
20. Puerile
21. Pedantic
22. Dropkick
23. Render
24. Balloon
25. Crusty
26. Teleology
27. Thud
28. Deus Ex Machina
29. Batcave
30. Dormant
31. Depressing
32. Nu
33. Stylized
34. Hairy
35. Gorgonzola
36. Hype
37. Rape
38. Formative
39. Nuanced
40. Preservation
41. Zombie
42. Repressed
43. Luddite
44. Laser
45. Taser
46. Rabbi
47. Fluid
48. Aggro
49. Angle
50. Puddle
51. Ostensible
52. Olfactory
53. Didio
54. Nipple
55. Thunderbolt
56. Balls
57. Mangaka
58. Anthology
59. Terra
60. Firma
61. India
62. Ink
63. Boob
64. Sock
65. Binary
66. Voyeur
67. Sticky
68. Ultimate
69. Subaltern
70. Visage
71. Mustache
72. Sweaty
73. Empower
74. Edict
75. Howitzer
76. Hacienda
77. Bristol
78. Eco-terrorism
79. Oedipal
80. Pilgrim
81. Discourse
82. Thor
83. Continuity
84. Priapism
85. Galactus
86. Storytelling
87. Zounds
88. Marmaduke
89. Haircut
90. Mylar
91. Virgin
92. Semantics
93. Tuft
94. Preposterous
95. Straczynski
96. Keyboard
97. Verite
98. Defile
99. Rejuvenate
100. Atomic vampire

Friday, December 21, 2007

I guess I'm taking off for a while too

I mean, not too long or anything. I'll be back doing this next week for sure. Might even post my non-comics best of lists at some point this weekend--I'm nearly done writing it. It's probably a good time to take a break, since I don't expect to see much going on in the blogosphere over the next four or five days. I'm surprised things have been as busy as they have. I was especially surprised* to read that Blogorama is aflame with keyboard skirmishes in the comments fields. Don't you people have better things to be doing? Actually, that's probably it--these angry comment-leavers are likely the types who are experiencing holiday-related anxiety. Possibly induced by visiting relatives who ask if they're still into those silly comic books, and why aren't you married yet? You're such a nice looking boy. Maybe if you'd just dress nicer and get your hair cut and AAAAAH SHUT UP GRANDMA! I HATE YOU ALL!!!


If anybody wants me I'll be watching cartoons with the kids.


So please, all you sociopathic types: please find something to keep yourself busy during this stressful time of the year. I recommend getting drunk and pirating some comics. Doesn't matter which ones--download some you already have, if you can't think of anything. Pretend Dan Didio is your verbally abusive grandmother. It's all part of the healing process.

For everyone else, I hope you have a good time doing whatever you do on Christmas and the surrounding days. Try not to yell at the TV too much.

*That's actually sort of a lie, since one of the first things I read on Blogorama this morning was a comment where someone called another person a "douche" for misinterpreting the latest issue of Green Lantern. Oh wait, sorry--for misinterpreting an advertisement in the latest issue of Green Lantern. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New frontiers in meta hype

-So I watched the new Batman trailer (still haven't seen the Iron Man trailer, though). Heath Ledger looks creepy enough, but he kind of sounds like he's channeling Daniel Day Lewis' Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York. And there are so many explosions. Explosions are so boring. Can't we have more knife fights instead? The opening moments of the trailer suggest a heavy knife content for the movie, but after that it's all rocket launchers and bombs. Here's my ideal Joker-Batman action sequence: Joker poisons Batman, then tries to stab him. A delirious Batman tries to avoid being stabbed. I bet that would have been a lot cheaper to make, and the Joker would have been a lot scarier.

-Marvel is providing real-time coverage of its latest creator summit, and it's kind of interesting who isn't there: JMS and Mark Millar. Tom Brevoort cites scheduling differences as the reason for their absence, but it's still interesting in a symbolic kind of way. I don't think either of those guys are going to be a big part of the company's future going forward, yet I have a hard time imaging them fitting into DC right now.

Also interesting are those who are in attendance. Some of them are no surprise: Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, and Ed Brubaker are always at these things. Dan Slott's been involved in the past too, I'm pretty sure. I'm not so surprised to see Greg Pak among the names, given the success of World War Hulk. I'm not a huge fan or anything, but it's kind of nice to see a guy who's worked his way up from Marvel's amateur hour Unlimited line up to this lofty position. Allan Heinberg is also there, which I'm guessing is more a function of the WGA strike than anything. And I guess one of his characters from Young Avengers will be pretty central to this upcoming Skrull thing. The question on millions of Newsarama readers' minds: will they dare give him a new assignment? And if they do, will fanboys root for the WGA strike to continue indefinitely? Finally, and most interesting to me on a fannish level, Matt Fraction is there. I think Fraction could be a big asset to Marvel--not just as a writer, but as a Grant Morrison type figure who provides interesting ideas at these kinds of retreats. Superhero comics could stand to be a bit more Fraction-centric.

But the very most interesting thing of all is the very fact that Marvel has decided to post its own "coverage" of this event. Obviously it's mostly intended to hype the Skrull storyline for next year, but there are other, possibly unintended, PR benefits as well. Marvel's coverage really emphasizes the heated discussions over the major plot developments for the coming year (a few of which are hinted at--and yes, they mostly involve Skrulls). With the constant mentions of all the writers present, and indications that nothing is being decided without a pretty spirited debate, one can't help but be reminded of constant reader complaints about "editorially-driven" content. The summit coverage might be Marvel's attempt to refute this notion--it's not just Quesada making these decisions, see, but Greg Pak, Ed Brubaker, and Allan Heinberg as well. The other side of the coin is the notion that all major plot developments are well-vetted before showing up in the pages of your favorite Marvel funnybook. So when you see the latest bizarre plot twist in a Jeph Loeb comic, bear in mind that Matt Fraction and Dan Slott bear some responsibility for it as well. They had their say at the creator summit, after all.

One thing that's missing so far is that sense of camaraderie that Marvel usually tries to play up. For previous summits (at least the ones I can recall), "coverage" was handled by Newsarama, usually in the form of a Joe Fridays interview where Quesada would put various creators "on the line" with Matt Brady. And there would be many jokes about Millar's accent, Bendis' lack of hair, and Quesada's waistline. There's none of that so far, but that doesn't mean it's not coming. I should think Marvel would be eager to reestablish an air of chumliness after the minor PR disaster brought about by JMS' public statements about One Day Later.

I don't know if anyone looking to glean information about the plots of upcoming Marvel comics will get anything out of Marvel's summit "coverage," so don't bother if that's what's interesting to you. If you want hints at infighting or backroom politicking, this isn't worth your time either. But if you're interested in how Marvel tries to present itself to hardcore comics fans, this might not be the worst use of your time.

-I watched the first episode of VH1 Classic's Seven Ages of Rock, and much yelling at the television ensued. The episode--the first in the series, mind you--started in London, c. 1962. The narrator (Dennis Hopper) told us that British teens didn't much care for the safe, sterile rock and roll coming out of America, but did like the blues quite a bit. And it was okay for British kids to like the blues, cause they didn't have the whole race issue hanging over their heads. We then move on to the Rolling Stones, then the Yardbirds, and then I quit watching because it was time to eat dinner and I didn't want to scream at the TV all the way through it.

Here's a partial list of people who were never mentioned during the first half hour of the first episode in a series whose title suggests that it's a history of rock and roll: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley, Carl Perkins. And here's one more name that was not mentioned, and I want you to bear in mind here that the narrative thrust of the first episode was that British rock and roll was a product of working class kids' identification with Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and the like: the Beatles. Yes, this documentary was insinuating that the Beatles had little or no place in the development of rock and roll in England.

My wife did a little research on the series, and found out that it's a co-production with BBC. I guess that explains the (totally asinine) "rock and roll started in England" premise of the first episode, but it doesn't really explain the absence of the Beatles, does it? She also tells me that there's some uproar over the lack of any Led Zeppelin coverage thus far. Well, I could kind of see that coming--the segment on the Yardbirds implies that the group went on to do warmed over Herman's Hermits type material after Eric Clapton left. The Rolling Stones segment was pretty irritating as well--I don't know how you can talk about the formative years of that group without mentioning Chuck Berry. But there were images of a pack of wolves chowing down on a some kind of carcass while Howlin' Wolf was playing. And that's what rock and roll is all about, after all.

So maybe a more apt title for this special is The Seven Ages of Rock for Which We Have Footage. Despite all my yelling at the television, I do recommend watching the series just to hear Ginger Baker dissing the Stones in general and Mick Jagger in particular. That's pretty entertaining.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fake contest

-Journalista is going on hiatus for the holidays, The Beat is slowing down, and I suspect other sites will make similar announcements later this week. This seems like a good opportunity to see what I can get away with test the ability of other blogs to respond to interesting, bizarrely contrarian opinions without Dirk Deppey or Heidi MacDonald pointing them out. I've provided three of them for the sake of scientific inquiry. Let's get the experiment started:

Newspaper strips set back the comics industry/medium 50 years: Because they were so much more prestigous and lucrative than comic books, the most talented cartoonists gravitated towards newspapers rather than comic books. Newspaper strips are an excellent format with many advantages, but there are limits to what one can achieve in three or four panels. Furthermore, newspapers made comics a wildly popular form of art in the United States, but also conditioned the public to think of comics as disposable. Comics as a medium and an industry would have been better off if left to struggle in the comic book format. Such a Darwinian landscape would have forced cartoonists to produce more ambitious material sooner.

Comics shops should quit selling toys, models, sculptures, and other three dimensional merchandise: Nothing makes the comics industry look dumber than the tawdry, tacky display of "action figures," figurines, collectible busts, and the like which greet any unsuspecting customer unlucky enough to walk into the average comics shop. All the New York Times profiles in the world cannot undo the harm embodied by a small statue of Black Canary sculpted by someone using back issues of Penthouse as his* primary reference. If Diamond would simply stop carrying these inimical baubles, they would surely disappear from the shelves of stores owned by man-children too lazy or incompetent to order from other sources. In fact, Diamond should mandate that any store with a Diamond account be forced to relocate this worthless junk to a separate section cordoned off by a black curtain, so as to protect the sensibilities of any fully functional adults who may have wandered into the store by accident.

Every snooty "art comix" critic should be forced to review a stack of superhero comics every year to prove that they really like comics: Does anyone really like impenetrable flummery like Acme Novelty Library or EC Segar's Popeye? I don't, and I don't know anyone who does. And yet we're besieged by blogs and websites operated by quasi-literate hipsters who claim to like grim, gloomy, overly introspective junk like Speak of the Devil (which is in black and white, for Pete's sake!). I say it's time that we force these self-righteous eggheads to declare once and for all whether or not they're real comics fans. I suggest that a specially selected cadre of influential comics fans should select 10-12 of the best comics of the year. And by comics, I mean comic books--no graphic novels or trade paperbacks, thank you. (Don't worry--it will be a pretty diverse array, running the gamut from Action Comics to Green Lantern Corps.) These should be sent to every single effete "sequential art" fan of any renown. Even degraded aesthetes such as they should be able to find at least one comic they like in the stack. If not, we'll have no choice but to consider them Enemies of Comics who only like things that are cool at the moment. And we all know that Acme Novelty Library is the pet rock of the 21st century.

There. Now let's see how long it takes for other blogs to pick up on these vital opinions. This will be reflected in your yearly performance analysis**, so take care.

* I'd say "his or her," but let's be realistic here.
** Not really. Your yearly performance analysis will be determined by how many times you linked to this blog, with extra credit for using words like "insightful," "uncanny," or "uncannily insightful" in doing so.

-Okay, this is a Vertigo title I might actually buy, based on concept alone. Can't say that very often.

-Anyone else watching this Rise of the Video Game thing on Discovery? I am, even though every episode annoys the hell out of me. It's the worst kind of pop history, where facile comparisons to momentous historical events (eg, the removal of the Berlin Wall, referenced in nearly every episode to explain any number of developments) are favored over actual research and analysis. It's frustrating to hear the narrator suggest that the popularity of the original Sim City was a product of demographic changes, only to have that analysis abandoned in favor of more footage of the Berlin Wall being torn down. It's doubly frustrating to note how many of the talking heads are people who have real, useful information to share, but aren't providing it. Not sure if that's (a) aggressive editing in support of the stupid meta-narrative, (b) the interviewer asking questions that would provoke responses which fit into the stupid meta-narrative, or (c) the interviewees taking advantage of the stupid meta-narrative to stroke their own egos.

Also annoying is the way the show leaps around in time. I'm pretty sure that Black & White had little to nothing to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but you wouldn't know that from watching this thing. The section on Sega from the second episode also bugged me; one would assume that Sega only made plush toys before it launched the Master System, or that the company was completely unknown in America before the Genesis. And you'd also get the idea that Sega's decision to market itself as a more mature/adult alternative to Nintendo led seamlessly to Grand Theft Auto 3.

And yet I keep watching, because I've become the kind of person who enjoys yelling at the television. And I'll probably watch VH1's documentary on the history of rock and roll, even though I'm already annoyed by its ads. I mean really--the "art rock" episode looks like it will cover glam rock and prog rock. I'm guessing that Roxy Music will provide the tenuous link that will allow the producers to claim these are basically two halves of the same movement. Also, I really don't have the patience to sit through an episode entitled "British Indie Rock." But that's the last (or next-to-last) episode of the series, and I'll probably have quit watching it by then.

Yelling at the television--evidence that I'm still young/dumb enough to care about this kind of ultimately meaningless shit, or evidence that I'm becoming an old crank who's forgotten that the television is a unidirectional communication device?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hope you like posts about MMA and the back of pizza boxes

-Dumbass comment of the week (and probably month): The Fortress Keeper has it for you. It's nothing he said--he's a pretty reasonable dude and I always liked his blog.* I'd just link directly to it here, but TFK's comments are well worth reading. So follow the links and report back here (or to the Fortress Keeper's blog, or to your own blog or wherever) for discussion.

*If it's survived all my recent RSS purges, I must think pretty highly of it. I don't mean that as an egotistical statement, like "if I like it then it must be good." I just kind of have a low tolerance for stupid blogs. But you already knew that, didn't you?

-My terminology is spreading. Excellent.

-To those who are more familiar with the Urusei Yatsura TV series: does Ryuunosuke eventually take over the series? The episodes featuring her have been pretty grating, and a little disturbing (I'm referring mostly to her relationship to her father). They're interesting from a historical perspective, in that her character seems to presage characters and themes which would appear in Ranma 1/2 (Ukyo in particular), but her presence seems to have adversely affected the entertainment quotient. Which is too bad, because I thought the series was pretty close to peaking before she showed up--the Gatcha Gatcha Balls, Lum's space cold, and especially Ten's Valentine's Day. But the episodes featuring Ryuunosuke seemed to grind all momentum to a halt. Any reassuring words from anyone on this subject?

-Trader Joe's section: Not a review, but a curiosity this week. My wife and I both like one particular variety of the TJ frozen pizzas, the kind with goat cheese and olives. I was reading the back of the box to remind myself of the correct oven setting when I glanced at the French and Italian instructions. If you've never bought anything from Trader Joe's, you might not be aware of their rather pedantic approach to cooking instructions; nearly all their frozen food specify "at least 10 minutes" of preheat time. This always makes me wonder what the copywriters at Trader Joe's think of their consumers. Have there been complaints from dissatisfied customers unfamiliar with the nature of preheating?

What's interesting in this case is that I'm pretty sure the Italian and French instructions suggest only five minutes of preheating. I admit to knowing absolutely no Italian, and my French is beyond rusty (I struggle mightily with Les Petits Riens and usually concede defeat). But I'm pretty sure I recognize the digit "5" when I see it. So what gives? Are European ovens that much faster at preheating? Are they using metric minutes? Do Trader Joe's continental customers prefer their pizza a little cold in the middle? Are there any French or Italian customers for Trader Joe's? If so, do they actually buy these frozen pizzas?

More disturbing yet is some notation about how long these foods will stay fresh in the refrigerator vs. the freezer. This warning is completely absent from the English instructions. Hopefully that's a mistranslation on my part. I'd provide a scan, but my wife threw away the box before I could do so. And my scanner's broke. And I don't want to scan a pizza box, cause I think that sort of behavior is a precursor to complete mental breakdown.

-And as long as I'm not talking about comics (don't blame me, things are pretty dead out there), here's the main sentence on last night's WEC show: Frank Mir and that other guy are a couple of homers, aren't they? Plugging the stars (as Dr. Z would say), ignoring the controversy in the Filho-Sonnen fight, ignoring the boos raining down on Jens Pulver (not that they were justified, but some acknowledgment wouldn't hurt). Mir's also got a case of the Bas Ruttens--commentary centered around telling the audience what the fighter should be doing rather than telling the audience what the fighter might be thinking. Admittedly, this is far less annoying coming from Mir or Rutten than Stephen Quadros, but still.

All the same, it was a pretty good night of fights. I'm always happy to see fights from the lower weight classes, and last night was no exception. Especially exciting to see a German suplex in the middle of a legit fight.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There's a reference to an old punk band hidden in this post

-Man, Peter Bagge is my Jack Kirby. Well, actually Jack Kirby is my Jack Kirby, but you probably get what I'm saying. Hate Annual #7 = best "floppy" of the year.

I recently said that the MMA blogosphere is worse than the comics blogosphere. Here's a pretty strong example of this in action. Fightlinker, one of the few MMA blogs I actually enjoy (I don't endorse every little bit of it, but I like his general approach quite a bit), called out a couple of blogs for blatant hypocrisy. A little background: mixed martial arts is still a pretty controversial sport (you might remember that Heidi MacDonald got a little grief for covering it, but you might also chalk that up to either (a) straight male comics fans' displeasure at being forced to think about men grappling in their underwear or (b) comics fans' ceaseless complaining about anything and everything, no matter how minor). These days it's as well-regulated as boxing, but there's still a popular misconception that it involves the ritual removal of internal organs as a way of taunting defeated opponents. That really only depends on the ref.

So anyway, there's some promotion out of Brazil which is marketing itself as a genuine vale tudo experience--limited rules (no biting, eye gouging, or nut shots (that's the technical term, I assure you)), no time limit, no gloves. Exactly the image which legitimate MMA promoters are trying to work against, really. Fightlinker points out that one blog (Five Ounces of Pain) which had published editorials condemning this approach is now running advertisements for the company. One of the writers for Five Ounces of Pain shows up to say I don't care as long as we get paid cause my kids' Christmas presents have to come from somewhere (I'm totally not kidding). But there still seems to be a general spirit of collegiality among the bloggers. Not so much the quasi-anonymous comment-leavers, but this is the internet.

So, in what way does this situation most differ from the comics blogosphere?

a. No one in the comics blogosphere would ever think of running banner ads for such a sleazy operation
b. You can run banner ads for sleazy operations (like, say, Platinum), but it's not such an ethical pratfall cause at least they're not promising grievous bodily harm in their ads
c. The people leaving comments on popular MMA blogs are even dumber than the ones who leave comments on popular comics blogs
d. The MMA bloggers disagree with each other, but things don't deteriorate into a tedious snarkfest
e. There aren't enough money marks in comics for anyone to sell out.

Answer at the end of today's post!


-I didn't expect three packs to be such a popular topic, but then again the ones I encountered in rural South Carolina were pretty lame. Anyone interested in learning more about three bags should check out Mark Evanier's article on the subject.

Hearing so many of you talking about your memories of three packs reminded me of a really bizarre experience from my youth. I was on vacation with my family in Beaufort, SC, probably around 1989 or 1990 or so. I was in the toy section of a K-Mart, looking at some three packs in the children's books section. Some of the packs were ripped open, leaving a few single issues lying around on the shelf. One of them was, believe it or not, a comic by Matt Feazell. I was already familiar with Feazell from his backup strips in Zot! (I wasn't a regular reader, but Eclipse had provided some copies as a giveaway for a convention I'd attended when I was pretty young). But I have no idea how a copy of his comic got on the shelf at K-Mart. Maybe someone was reading it in the store and was accused of shoplifting when he/she tried to leave with it. Maybe it was pre-internet viral marketing. Maybe it really did end up in a three pack somehow!

The problem is, I'm not sure if Feazell ever did a standard sized comic; his website suggests that he's only had "paperback" and minicomic collections. But I remember this being a regular old comic book. So now I'm especially confused. Maybe it was all a dream....

-ANSWER TO BRAIN TEASER: In descending order of correctness: (e), (c) + (d) (TIE), (b), (a)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best of 2007 FEVER!!! (no, this is not my list)

-Just wanted to pay my respects to Al Scaduto. Like most people who've commented on the passing, I mostly came to know of his work from The Comics Curmudgeon's Josh Fruhlinger (who has a nice writeup here). Sounds like a nice guy, someone who made a career out of being a cartoonist in a way that may not be possible in today's industry. Mike Lynch has more details on Scaduto's professional career. And it's kind of nice that a comics blog put Scaduto on the radar for a lot of people, including me. That's why I don't hate every blog.

-I hadn't seen this mentioned elsewhere (except Jason Aaron's blog): the Washington Post's Best of 2007 list:

Army@Love #1
Exit Wounds
Luxuria: Casanova, Vol. 1
The Other Side
The Plain Janes
Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm

My own thoughts, in convenient list form:
1. That's a whole lot of Vertigo, man.
2. It's awfully strange to see a single issue (Army@Love #1) among all the collections and OGNs.
3. Is it too early to declare that Exit Wounds is going to be on more best of lists than anything else published this year? I mean, I don't think it's at a Fun Home level of saturation, but I don't see anything else unseating it.
4. Not the worst list I've seen so far, but one written from a perspective very different from my own.

Other recent lists include this one from Time which is sure to have people bitching about the inclusion of Marvel Zombies (but which I like a lot better than the list printed above), and this rather idiosyncratic one from New York Magazine--but didn't Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms come out last year? (both lists courtesy Flog). And guess which book is on both those lists as well?

Meanwhile, none of these lists really bear any resemblance to my own, which is coming along pretty nicely now. Still need to read Exit Wounds, though. Maybe I'll pick it up this week, since I won't be getting anything else except maybe the new Hate Annual. But that's not actually on Diamond's shipping list for this week. Hmm.

-Most of you have already seen this, but Chris Mautner has begun a multi-part interview with Joe "Jog" McCulloch. Like everyone else with a comics-related blog, I'm a great admirer of Jog's work. It's one of the shining examples of the potential of blogs to make the comics industry better. Jog's a great advocate for comics, and a better ambassador for comics blogs than anyone I can think of. I'm eager to see where the interview goes.

-Cedric Daniels is in a Cadillac commercial? Anyone else think that was weird?

-Tom Brevoort on the the old "three bag" format of merchandising older comics. I'm not sure if I remember ever seeing any Marvel comics in this kind of package--maybe the Star Wars books, but I'm not sure. What I do remember are Whitman three packs. Whitman, if you don't know, was the successor to Gold Key. I used to see these Whitman three packs in one particular grocery store chain (Community Cash), where there was usually a rather motley assortment available. The most desirable were the old Disney books, followed by the packs featuring other cartoon characters (I remember Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny in particular). I'm not absolutely certain, but I seem to recall some packs had issues of Solar and Magnus; I definitely was already familiar with both characters when I saw them in my father's massive Silver Age collection.

The weirdest of the bunch, though, was the old licensed SF show pack. The Whitman stock at Community Cash never seemed to rotate, and I distinctly remember that particular three pack sitting around for months and months before I finally asked for it. I can't even remember which comics were in that pack. I want to say that Battlestar Galactica was one of them, but that might be because repeats of it were running on Saturday afternoons around the same time (plus I'm not sure Western ever had the rights to Battlestar Galactica, or even that there was a Battlestar Galactica comic from the 70s/80s). Ditto for Buck Rogers, except I'm pretty sure that Western did have that license. The one thing I'm sure of was there was an issue of Space Family Robinson with a weird feature on the Zodiac. I'd never heard of astrology before then, but it was instantly fascinating because it was another system of classification. I never really believed in it, but I always loved taxonomical systems. And the Zodiac was especially neat because it also intersected with astronomy and mythology, sort of. Don't remember anything about the actual comic, though.

Mostly I remember those three packs as the sort of thing I didn't really want that bad, but which I'd occasionally beg for out of boredom while at the grocery store. Kind of like those packages of all the little individual serving boxes of cereal. Mom never wanted to buy us those things because my brother and I would only eat the sugary stuff, leaving us with a pantry full of Grape Nuts and Alpha-Bits. There was no real Grape Nuts equivalent in those three packs--I read every comic bought for me, no matter how boring or incomprehensible--but the money probably would have been better spent on comics I'd actually re-read later.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Friendly advice

As many of you know, I'm one of the people who complains loudest about the neglect of art in online comics criticism. I think this situation has improved over the last year, and I'm grateful for that. But I also see a lot of reviews which discuss art in rather vague terms. In other cases, the criticism being made isn't really fair. Usually it seems like the reviewer knows what she/he is trying to say, but can't quite articulate it clearly. This can be frustrating to readers of the review, and doubly so any creator who stumbles upon the review.

Looking over my review of The Ultimates 3, I think I kind of fell into some of these traps in an effort to make jokes at Joe Madureira's expense. That's not what I aim to do here, and I'll avoid it in the future. Bearing that in mind, here are a few problem areas I see pop up pretty frequently in reviews, and a few suggestions for improvement. I'll try bear them in mind in the future myself.

Weak criticism: All the faces look the same
Better: All the facial expressions look the same
Also good: The similarity in the faces undermines the storytelling

I often see this criticism used against once-popular superhero artists whose work has fallen out of favor. It sounds reasonable on the surface, but there are many beloved cartoonists whose faces all basically look the same. Usually they get by with this for one of two reasons. First, if the faces are similar but still remarkably expressive, then it's a lot easier to forgive an underlying similarity. Second, the type of story also matters. If we're talking about a strip with a limited, established cast of characters (like Peanuts), the cartoonist can get by with this sort of thing. If we're talking about an intricately plotted ensemble piece with characters constantly cycling in and out (like Monster), then it's going to be a problem if everyone looks the same.

Ideally every cartoonist would be as versatile as Naoki Urasawa, but that's probably unrealistic. In reality, we should try to bear in mind whether or not a comic depends on a variety of easily distinguished faces. And it's also important to consider genre here. Frankly, it's kind of hard to draw distinctive faces for a team full of impossibly attractive alpha plus pluses. A truly remarkable artist will make these characters easily distinguishable, but it's not fair to expect every artist to be Jaime Hernandez.

Weak criticism: The anatomy is unrealistic
Better: The anatomy undermines the aims of the comic

This frustrates me more than any other piece of criticism because it rests on an unstated assumption that the purpose of any comic is to reflect reality as closely as possible. This, of course, is not true. There are plenty of reasons to distort anatomy: to make the reader laugh, to indicate that a character falls into a particular character type, to make the character appear more heroic/monstrous, or to add impact to a particular panel.

Of course, there are times when distorted anatomy draws attention to itself. Context matters. For instance, a scene where Captain America is punching the Red Skull is very different than a scene where Steve Rogers is on a date with Sharon Carter. Exaggerated musculature has a place in the former, but maybe not the latter.

Weak criticism: The art was was too cartoony/static
Better: The style was inappropriate for the story/genre/scene/whatever

Similar to the above, this criticism should always be linked to content. One of the great advantages of comics over film is the ability of the artist to manipulate characters in a way that a director could never manipulate his/her actors.* That means there's a place for bulging eyeballs, rubbery arms, and other exaggerations in comics.

Having said that, there are times where that kind of cartooning is inappropriate. Mark Millar's Ultimates was notable for being a comic which tried to place superhero action in a real world context. Ed McGuinness would not have been the right choice for such a story. On the other hand, the appeal of Hate came largely from its art; if it had been drawn by Adrian Tomine or Jonathan Bennett, the tone of the comic would have shifted dramatically. (Of course, there's also room for comics where there's a deliberate disconnect between plot/script and pictures. But that's not the easiest thing in the world to pull off, and I see more comics with an unintentional disconnect than ones with an intentional disconnect.)

Personally, I'd like to see more fluidity. That's something I think Western cartoonists could learn from mangaka. Many of my favorite manga titles feature sharp shifts in style, from cartoony to realistic (Dr. Slump) and vice versa (Hunter x Hunter). I think it's an effective technique, the sort of thing that would make modern superhero comics more palatable to a wider audience.

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Weak criticism: The art appears to be Photoshopped
Better: The art appears to be Photoshopped in a particularly inelegant or incompetent way

Whenever an argument about Greg Land breaks out, eventually someone with some background in art will show up to remind everyone that any artist working in a realistic style has to use photo reference, and many are using Photoshop. The difference is that the Greg Lands of the world are hilariously inept/shameless in their use of photo manipulation. It's worth making that distinction clear.

Weak criticism: Not every panel contained background details
Better: The background art failed to establish setting (time and/or place) or mood

It's rarer and rarer to read comics which ignore background detail completely. Most mainstream artists include fairly elaborate, realistic establishing shots when the action shifts from scene to scene. (This might also be a function of improved writing, or the abandonment of the "Marvel method" for detailed scripts.) But you do see complaints that artists omit background details on some panels. One should remember that this is occasionally done for a reason--to emphasize the characters in the foreground, to improve the composition of the page, or to make a complex action sequence clearer or more forceful.

Backgrounds are more important in some comics than others. Rob Liefeld's X-Force always seemed to take place in vast subterranean complexes**; I don't really miss the background detail in those situations. World War Hulk, however, depends on details--smoldering buildings, shocked New Yorkers, and the like. Omitting those details would have gutted the emotional core of the comic. And let's not forget that an artist can provide detailed backgrounds that utterly fail to establish setting or mood; see the aforementioned Ultimates 3 #1.

Weak criticism: There was too much photocopying
Better: The excessive photocopying took me out of the story

This always strikes me as a very lazy criticism. Certainly there are times when photocopying gets out of control, but I see some criticism which evinces a total misunderstanding of the author's intent. The most common use of photocopied panels is as a storytelling device, usually to indicate an uncomfortable pause. But there are other uses as well: to indicate the passage of time without action, to emphasize silence, or to sell a joke.

There are times when I find photocopying excessive or unnecessary. A slight change from panel to panel helps indicate that the writer's intent is to further the narrative rather than to save time for the artist. And a subtle change is often the most effective--a little eye movement, a slight turn of the head, or whatever. But again, that's personal preference, and not a criticism I'd make unless (a) the photocopying was done to the point of overkill (like for seven consecutive panels), or (b) the dialogue necessitates some change in expression or body language.

Weak criticism: The coloring was murky
Better: The coloring did not complement the art or the tone of the story
Also good: The coloring obscured or clashed with the line art

A pretty common complaint; in fact, I'd bet that most online discussions of the aesthetics of coloring include some reference to murkiness. It's a vague adjective, though. I think there are basically two distinct complaints encompassed by "murkiness": (1) the palette being used by the colorist and (2) the interplay between color art and line art.

The validity of the former criticism is largely going to depend on context, both in terms of story and line art. The most glaring recent example of this was the first issue of The Ultimates 3 (it's the cautionary example that keeps on giving!) where the muted palette did not suit either Jeph Loeb's SLAM BANG INCEST script, nor Joe Madureira's How to Draw Comics the Wizard Way (1998 edition) line art. In contrast, Frank D'Armata's coloring on Captain America is appropriately muted. Ed Brubaker's story is as grounded in reality as any in the recent history of Marvel, relying on intrigue and surprise more than conventional superheroics. Steve Epting's art emphasizes this approach, as does D'Armata's colors.

The other complaint, about the relationship between line art and coloring, is less context-dependent. Sometimes a colorist can destroy delicate linework by choosing a hue that's a little too dark, as is the case in the second Eddie Campbell panel here. In other cases, the colorist over-renders the art by adding rendering to an already heavily rendered drawing. Then you have two competing levels of rendering, which renders*** the art confusing and ugly.

My basic thought is this: the denser the line art, the clearer the coloring should be. Once again, I think D'Armata's gets it right on Captain America. When Epting's inking is dense, D'Armata resists the urge to do too much rendering. However, Epting frequently leaves his art somewhat open, giving D'Armata a suitable venue for rendered colors. When the two are working in harmony (which is often the case), the book is realistic without being stiff. That wouldn't be possible without skillful coloring. Yet, shockingly, I've seen people describe D'Armata's coloring as "murky."

So, I guess it boils down to this: neither limited/muted palettes nor rendered colors are inherently bad. The success of coloring largely depends on the skill with which it's integrated into the line art. And "murky" isn't an especially useful descriptor.


Basically, you can boil all this down to one rule: when discussing art, you should seriously consider the intentions of the author(s) (meaning both writer and artist, if these are separate people). There's plenty of room for criticism based on personal preference, of course, but there are often reasons for the choices which artists make. That's not to say that the only criteria for criticism is the success of the creators in realizing their intentions. It's perfectly legitimate to say that the creators' intentions were not worthwhile, and thus reading the comic is a waste of time.**** Please note that this isn't an endorsement of objectivity in criticism, which I absolutely don't believe in. Also please note that all this is true for writing as well, but that's a different column (which I probably won't write).

*This obviously doesn't apply to animation.

**Mostly because they're easier to draw, I'm guessing.

***GET IT?

****I basically feel this way about 99% of all webcomics I've read.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My real time review of Ultimates 3

I've got some time here, so let's try this. I haven't read a single thing about this issue yet, so I'm going in fairly clean.

(It occurs to me now, several hours after initially posting this, that I should point out SPOILERS! are ahead. And lots of CAPITALIZATION.)

3:16 PM-I notice Sabertooth (or is that Sabretooth?) on the cover, and wonder if he's now on the team. I then realize that I picked up the version with the ULTIMATE BROTHERHOOD OF EVIL MUTANTS (or whatever they're called) cover. I had noticed there were two covers in the store, but they basically looked the same--very, very brown.

3:18 PM-Now I notice that this a gatefold cover featuring ULTIMATE VENOM. Wasn't he killed off? Why is he hanging out with Magneto? The answer awaits within, true believer....

3:20-I see we start out with a sex tape. And, uh, that's the Wasp? She looks a lot different now.

3:22-And then there's Venom out of nowhere, approximately 10 feet tall and busting through the wall like Kool-Aid Man. I'm starting to get the idea that Joe Madureira maybe doesn't care so much about storytelling, cause the dialogue and the pictures aren't really in synch. Venom promises something, but I have no idea what it is because HERE COMES MASSIVELY STEROIDED ULTIMATE BLACK PANTHER!!! I didn't even know there was an Ultimate Black Panther!

3:25-Apparently vibranium knuckles (is there an Ultimate Vibranium?) can hurt Venom. Can't protect you from being thrown, though. Wasp desperately attempts to reach Iron Man on the radio, but wasn't he there on the first page, drinking a martini and avoiding questions about his sex tape? Or is there a different "Tony" in this series now?

3:27-ULTIMATE VALKYRIE? WTF? Wasn't she one of the losers in the Ultimate Defenders? If not, what on earth is she doing here?

3:28-Oh, she's Thor's girlfriend. Okay. Thor, BTW, just killed Venom, as far as I can tell.

3:29-Apparently Valkyrie doesn't speak in Thor's dialectic of Nordic-by-way-of-Shakespeare. I'm still shocked that there's an Ultimate Valkyrie. This reminds me of that Dan Clowes comic where he claimed that the end of the world would come once every possible combination of products had been made. If Ultimate Valkyrie isn't a hi-fi pizza, what is?


3:32-Remember the innuendo about Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's incestuous relationship? It's apparently not innuendo anymore. I think Hawkeye wants to kill them to prevent bad publicity. This is character development, friends--like so many survivors of full family assassinations in real life, Hawkeye now thinks that the solution to any problem is to put a bullet in its skull.

3:35-This art is TERRIBLE. Thought I should point it out. It's like the Disney version of Simon Bisely.

3:36-SPOILER: The Scarlet Witch is dead! Somebody (please let it be Hawkeye) shot at her, and Quicksilver couldn't stop the bullet in time, leaving a 2" hole in his hand. Then a doctor (and you know he's a doctor, cause he's wearing a white lab coat and big nerd glasses) fortuitously steps out of the crowd, tries and fails to save her life, and then announces that she's dead. And then Mephisto pops out of nowhere and offers Quicksilver the chance to save her life--if he'll agree to kill ULTIMATE AUNT MAY.

3:41-And that's it, cause the additional 10 pages are all just ads (Rocket Raccoon is in Annihilation? Seriously?). Oh, one more detail--the fortuitous doctor is using a cane! He's apparently ULTIMATE DONALD BLAKE!

Well, I guess that the way Scarlet Witch died (the bullet turned 90 degrees in midair, as if manipulated by MAGNETISM) would be considered foreshadowing, with a big reveal next issue when the heroes finally remembered who it is that manipulates magnets. But then the cover features Magneto and the Blob, so it's pretty obvious where the story is going. This was basically page-to-page chaos--Venom attacks for reasons as yet unrevealed; characters admit that they don't really know who Black Panther or Valkyrie are (apparently they just showed up one day); Black Panther might be DEAD, since no one's been able to find him after Venom flung him away; Hank Pym might also be DEAD, since he apparently overdosed while at his microscope (missed that on the first read-through); Hawkeye is out of his mind; Wasp may not be Asian anymore (or maybe Madureira just sucks); Ultimate Cap has a secret life he won't discuss with anyone.

Man, I hope that Ultimate Captain America is dating Ultimate Black Panther. If this was the regular Marvel Universe, that would never happen (because of all the Black Panther merchandising of course, not because a certain segment of fanboy nation is violently homophobic). But the Ultimate Universe is sort of like one of those toys that you like for a while, then let your little brother play with once you feel you've outgrown it. I don't think Joe Quesada cares what happens in these comics anymore. Can anyone tell me the creative teams on Ultimate X-Men or Ultimate Fantastic Four? Can anyone tell me if those titles are even published anymore? I always liked The Ultimates, partly because Millar did a good job at keeping things just off kilter enough that you weren't sure exactly what would happen in any issue. It doesn't hurt that these aren't the "real" versions of the characters, thus giving Millar room to kill off quasi-beloved characters in a somewhat off-handed manner. Jeph Loeb seems to be taking that approach to new heights here, so there's reason to hope that he would go way beyond what even Millar would dare and reveal that Captain Greatest Generation John Wayne Was a Commie Fuck You Kids Get Off My Lawn is, in fact, more into the dudes than the ladies. Not that it would go anywhere interesting--in fact, I think Loeb would manage to offend everyone, regardless of their politics--but it would really amuse me.

So this is kind of like Marvel's answer to All-Star Batman, except that, as nearly everyone has pointed out by now, (a) Frank Miller is obviously writing a parody, and (b) Jim Lee's art is the ultimate (PUN INTENDED!) expression of contemporary superhero art, thus adding a subversive element to the proceedings. If The Ultimates 3 is a parody, it's more subtle than what Frank Miller's doing in All-Star Batman and Robin.* I suspect it's closer to unintentional self-parody, which you might actually find just as amusing as Frank Millers "fuck you fanboy" level of satire. As for the art, this is the ugliest comic I've read in some time. Do you like that hideous "digital painting" style that Marvel unleashes for its "prestige" titles? Do you think forearms should, without exception, be just as thick as biceps? Do you prefer the most generic possible background art to that which actually establishes setting or mood? Do you constantly crave extreme foreshortening (PUN INTENDED! THINK ABOUT IT!)? Do you think all scenes should look like they're taking place at dusk? If so, then this is the only comic on the stands that can meet all your demands. And thus the art doesn't really add anything to the comic if you choose the alternate reading suggested above--there's no parodic reading for the art.

On the other hand, you could view this as EXTREME FUTURISM, kind of a version of what comics will look like 10 years from now--gooey coloring over sketchy pencils, bad storytelling, hyper-compressed plots**, and heroes threatening to kill each other every five pages. It's amusing, but I don't think it's amusing enough to spend $3 on. So I suggest you try to download it for free, so that you'll only feel guilty about wasting your time. Reading it for free is what turned around online opinion on All-Star Batman and Robin, right?

*"Praise for The Ultimates 3:
'It's more subtle than All-Star Batman and Robin!'
-Dick Hates Your Blog"

**Retrieved from a thread on Mountain Dew Presents Newsarama, 10 years from now:

"Comic writers should get back to the decompressed storytelling that turned the industry around back in the early 00s. "

"I totally agree. Bring back Daniel Way!"

"The real problem is that everyone's reading comics on their cell phones, and they want a year's worth of plot in 10 panels. Comics are meant to be read on full-sized computer screens, dammit!"

"Good discussion. I'd like to comment, but my mutant overlord supervisor tells me it's time to go back to work running on the treadmill that powers their secret hideout. Suffice to say that I'm sick of Marvel, and I'm erasing all their comics from my brain implant."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I think I just saw a frost giant pass by the window

-By now everyone's heard about J Michael Straczynski making public his reservations with the One More Day storyline, up to the point where he wanted to Alan Smithee the last two chapters. Assuming this isn't part of Joe Quesada's carnival of misinformation, I think JMS's declaration marks a turning point in the post-Jemas era. When I read interviews with Marvel's top tier writers (Millar, Bendis, Loeb, Straczynski, and Brubaker, more or less), it's hard to find hidden messages suggesting strife between creators and editorial. And believe me, I look. Mostly what I see are a bunch of statements intended to make you think of Marvel's most prominent writers as a bunch of swell raconteurs, kind of a nerd version of the Rat Pack with Quesada in Sinatra's position as enlightened despot.* You may very well question the sincerity of this sentiment, but it's pretty consistent in all the interviews I read. It's not like the heavy hand of editorial is denied or anything, but usually it's couched in phrases like "it opened up a lot of great storytelling options" or "after the creator summit, I was so full of energy that I couldn't wait to get to work scripting Editorially-Mandated Crossover No. 183-B."

So this is mildly ominous for Marvel, and it doesn't bode well for the final chapter of the story (which I'm not reading, though I am following the online reaction to it (which is probably more entertaining, anyway)). And if this does turn out to be a stinker, we might be in for a pretty entertaining round of tell-alls and mea culpas. You can never tell; this story might be remembered as the crest of the Quesada reign, the point from which everything went south. Probably not, but maybe this is the first domino. Probably not, but I'm certainly eager to see how this gets spun in future Quesada interview (they still doing Joe Fridays at Newsarama?). Prediction: JMS and Quesada milk this to no end in an attempt to make everyone feel like a jerk for caring. And JMS is off Thor in 6 months' time, to be replaced by someone like Frank Tieri. And then the title is canceled and the "real" Thor is back by March 2009.

*If my interpretation internal Rat Pack politics is incorrect, please bear in mind that I don't give a shit about the Rat Pack.

-UPDATE: Perhaps no one will be talking about any of this once word circulates that Greg Rucka has announced his intention not to renew his exclusive with DC. Let the speculation begin!

-The new banner, for those who can't tell, is a John Buscema drawing from Avengers #48.

-Those who follow mixed martial arts are strongly advised to bookmark the redesigned Fight Opinion, which now has RSS feeds for pretty much every MMA blog, website, podcast, and mainstream press writer of note. I mean, there are even feeds for Dave Meltzer's Yahoo Sports articles. This is especially recommended because no one in their right mind wants to clutter up their RSS reader with a bunch of MMA blogs. If you think comics blogs are bad (and, as a rule, they are), you probably can't handle the oppressive idiocy of the MMA blogosphere. So do what I do now: go to Fight Opinion and click on the headlines that interest you. Sure as hell beats going to the Underground Forum.

-I'm probably going to pick up the Loeb/Madureira Ultimates this week. Don't ask me why, cause I can't put it into words. I want to say it's out of a desire to rubberneck, but there seems to be something deeper than that. Like there's some vestigial part of my brain that thinks this comic will provide vital nutrients. I can't explain it. Hopefully they don't all sell out today, cause I don't feel like braving the elements right now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Three reviews: Phoenix: Sun, new Zuda entries, The Order #4

Phoenix volumes 10 and 11
Osamu Tezuka

When you're dealing with a visionary like Osamu Tezuka or Charles Schulz or Jack Kirby or whoever, it's easy to get lost in the meta. The creator's impact on successive generations of cartoonists, the relationship of a particular work to the creator's larger oeuvre, the way the creator changed the industry he or she worked in, the impact on culture beyond comics--this is all fascinating, important stuff. I like to read articles and reviews that take that sort of approach. But sometimes, when a creator is so important to his or her field, I kind of forget about the quality of their actual work. And then, when you least expect it, you're casually flipping through a book or reading a blog or something, and WHAM! a reminder of how great the cartoonist is hits you right in the face.

Thankfully, we live in an opulent, reprint-intense age which affords ample opportunities to remind oneself of the quality of the medium's greatest creators. Sun, stretched across these two volumes, is as striking a reminder of Tezuka's brilliance as you'll ever find. Every page offers something to savor--beautiful linework, bold storytelling, peerless cartooning, clever character designs, compelling composition. I don't think there was anything more visually arresting published in 2007--and a lot of beautiful comics came out this year.

This is all in support of a story which puts many of Tezuka's pet themes and idiosyncrasies on display. The narrative goes back and forth between feudal Japan and a sci-fi future (which is our present, but it was Tezuka's future when he wrote this). Both story threads deal with conflicts emerging when the power of the state is enlisted in the aid of proselytizing a new religion. The feudal narrative shows various Japanese spirits (associated with what would eventually be called Shinto) in conflict with various incarnations of Buddha. And I mean that literally--they're actually fighting each other. Thrust into this battle is Korean refugee Harima, whose face has been replaced with that of a dog (I told you Tezuka's pet themes were prominent). Harima (or Inugami, as he's called later in the book) takes the side of the native spirits, putting him into conflict with the emperor, who's trying to force Buddhism on his subjects in order to consolidate power. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, war rages between "shadow people" and followers of the Church of Light. The latter have forced all nonbelievers literally underground, where the shadow people carry out acts of terrorism while plotting to return to the surface. The protagonist here is Suguru, a shadow agent tasked with stealing an artifact from the Church of Light.

Tezuka isn't exactly subtle about his message--at one point, a character explicitly says that the problem with religion is when it's paired with power. Which all sounds like a rather nuanced message; it's not that religion is bad per se, but it can be a dangerous when used by those who seek power. But Sun suggests a much more cynical understanding of religion beneath this sentiment. Every character who attains power seeks to use religion to his advantage, implying that religion and power are deeply intertwined. Furthermore, the ending of the book suggests a rejection of religion in favor of a more meaningful, personal spirituality that organized religion cannot provide. In fact, the protagonists achieve this state of spiritual harmony by escaping from the temporal world, where spirituality is tied to religion (and thus temporal power). It's not an entirely pessimistic message--Tezuka never argues that the struggle against oppression is meaningless--but it's certainly striking that liberators become oppressors in both threads of the narrative. Perhaps Tezuka is reminding us about the price of freedom is eternal vigilance or something like that.

This is a more traditional Tezuka story than the recent Vertical reprints, which means occasional talking animals who frequently break the fourth wall to comment on the narrative. I don't mind this so much, but others might find it distracting. There's also an element of cross-dressing in the story, but without all the weird sexual politics that marred MW. I did find the treatment of women in Sun to be a bit more positive than in other recent Tezuka reprints. Princess Tochi is pretty heroic, as is the otherwise nameless (yeah, I know) Old Woman. But, as in most of Tezuka's work, all the female characters are eventually sucked into the protagonists' charisma singularity. But that's true for most of the secondary male characters as well, though.

I'd highly recommend Sun to anyone interested in manga, Tezuka, or comics in general. Long after we're all dead, Tezuka will best be remembered for his tremendous influence on manga and anime. But his actual contributions as a writer and artist are just as formidable, and they're lying in wait to ambush you when you least suspect it. If you're unfamiliar with Tezuka, this is as good and accessible a starting point as any. And might I suggest you check out Jones' review of the volume of Phoenix immediately proceeding the ones reviewed here?

New Zuda comics

I know the 8 page limit is a beast to work around, especially given the circumstances at work here (providing a sample of a larger work in a format that will encourage people to vote for it in a contest). But some of the stuff here is paced really, really strangely. Like, in a totally rhythmless way. The worst offender was Ponkibi Z, which consistently spread the dialogue across panels in a way that I found terribly distracting. I think I understand what creator Alberto Rios was going for (breathless, asthmatic narration), but it didn't work. The transition from page 2 to 3 was especially clunky. There were similar problems in the otherwise well-crafted The Crooked Man, especially in the last few panels on the final page.

Despite these pacing issues, the comics mentioned above were by no means the worst of the lot. My least favorites were Development Hell and Pray For Death. The former is a gag-oriented strip about website development. I hate nerd meta-humor, and this was no exception. Even still, these jokes felt especially flat. I'm not sure that I can even identify a joke on page three. Pray For Death is about serial killers or something. I honestly couldn't make heads or tails of it--it's easily the least professional strip of the current batch, and probably the entire Zuda experiment. The art was bad, but I think the script was worse. The computerized lettering didn't help either. In fact, the computerized lettering was a distraction in nearly every strip I read. Please, future Zuda creators--pay more attention to your lettering! Choose a style that fits the tone of your comic!

The best of the bunch was easily Adventures of Maxy J Millionaire, by Paul Maybury, artist on the forthcoming Aqua Leung. I'm assuming this work predates what I've seen of Aqua Leung, since the latter shows a great deal more confidence and sophistication. Still, Maybury's art is pretty charming, as is the dialogue of the title character. Some might be reminded of Archer Prewitt's Sof'Boy, but this seems a bit gentler in tone. And let's face it, Sof'Boy appearances are few and far between. I'd definitely read this if it won.

In the category of not bad are the aforementioned The Crooked Man and the manga-influenced Word of Power. The Crooked Man is a period police drama, taking place in San Francisco days before the 1906 earthquake. Sounds promising, and there's a greater degree of craft on display here than in anything else I've seen from Zuda. I'd read more. Word of Power is little more than a vignette about a subway musician as it stands. It appears to take place in a future world somewhat similar to that in Phoenix: Sun (surface people vs. subterranean dwellers), but that's kind of secondary. The art was nice, if a little inconsistent. I'd probably file this under "interesting artist to look out for in the future" rather than "story I'd like to continue reading." We'll see.

Nothing else really grabbed me--more twists on superheroes, something about Frankenstein, and a stick figure comic about pirates that seemed to be trying way to hard. Overall, I thought the quality was a bit higher than the first go-round, which featured absolutely nothing of interest to me. I might even sign up to vote for Adventures of Maxy J Millionaire.

(Oh, and Heidi MacDonald linked to this comic, which was rejected by Zuda. I thought it was significantly better than anything I've read at Zuda, with the possible exception of Maybury's strip. And people in the comments at The Beat seem to agree! Good for that dude.)

The Order #4
Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, others

I'm still really enjoying this comic. It's my favorite of all Fraction's Marvel work (including Iron Fist) and it's pretty close to the best superhero book being published today. But it's not quite there yet. Almost every issue has been framed by a different team member's interview when applying for the program. The theme is pretty interesting--these are all people who were heroes before they got their superpower, but now that they have it they're using it largely as a form of wish fulfillment. And the whole thing has a distinctive Southern California feel, from the local politicians to the backgrounds of all the heroes. Pretty clever.

As far as the action goes, there's some secret organization named SHADOW that's being set up as the antagonist for the series. That's kind of interesting, but I'm curious as to how it's going to tie into the book's larger themes. If it does, then this will end up being one hell of a comic. As it is, it's very good and definitely worth your time and money. New issue is out tomorrow, BTW.