Friday, August 24, 2007

Sex! Sex! Sex! And comics!

What I would have included in the first issue of Comic Foundry, if I were the editor and wished to stick to the "comics culture" (or whatever) mission statement:

-Beyond Commander Steel: We all know that modern superheroes like to get it on, just like their cool, cocktail-swilling fans. But which super-dude is packing the most trouser muscle? Some of our favorite artists share their interpretations of heroic phalli. Who's cut? Who's not? Who's hanging to the left? Who likes the brisk feel of a hairless scrotum? Who's a little intimidating? Who's downright scary? There's only one way to find out. (Warning: these drawings are really sexy and might turn you into a homosexual. Use extreme caution when viewing.)

-T-shirt Mania: You like superhero comics and EVERYONE YOU MEET MUST KNOW IT. That means you constantly wear t-shirts featuring depictions of Marvel and DC's intellectual properties. Which shirt(s) will least impair your ability to get laid? Which ones can you pass off as "ironic?" Our expert panel mulls the question.

-A Legacy of Shame: Well, you finally suckered some poor woman into marrying you, and now you're going to taint* the gene pool with your comic-loving DNA. But what will you name your progeny (assuming the marriage lasts long enough to encompass the act of procreation)? Any doofus can name their dog or cat after supporting characters from Popeye, but it takes a special type of fan to look a newborn baby in the face and call him/her "Wimpy." We'll tell you which comic strip-derived baby names are the hottest this year, from Officer Pupp to Nice Pete.

*Pun intended.

-Pointless Assholery: What do your favorite comics creators listen to when they're blowing their deadlines (probably by having hot, comic-related sex)? We asked several popular middlebrow favorites to share their fave playlists; we didn't tell them that I only solicited this information in order to mock their hopelessly insipid taste in music. Part two of this feature follows next month, when the aforementioned creators write in with angry rebuttals, which I will also mock (with special emphasis on identifying grammatical errors).

-Holy Baked Goods, Batman!: Shaggy and Scooby loved them, and now you can try them as well. The authentic Bat-Cookie recipe is revealed at last! The secret ingredient may shock and arouse you!

(Note: If you're reading this in the not-too-distant future, and Comic Foundry has become a sort of feminist-friendly version of Wizard, as Jog thinks might be a potentially valid direction based on the first issue, please feel free to leave comments telling me how stupid I was back in the dark days of 2007.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Liefeld retrospective I: Hawk and Dove, 1988

At long last, the long-promised Liefeld career retrospective is here. Or at least the first part of it. Just to be clear, let me explain what I'm doing. I'm not a Liefeld fan. I liked him quite a bit when I was a teenager, but that was a long time ago. What I'm trying to do here, actually, is put myself back into that adolescent mindset in order to reconstruct what it was about Liefeld that attracted young boys in droves back about 15-20 years ago. I'm not here to mock Liefeld or persuade you re: the quality of his work. This is a descriptive project, not a prescriptive one.

One more word on my intentions before going any further. I envision this being a five or six part series, broken down as follows:

1: Hawk and Dove
2: New Mutants
3: X-Force
4: Youngblood
5: Heroes Reborn
6: I'll figure it out when I get there

I can't promise that I'll produce these every week, but I'll try my best to get them out in a timely manner. We'll see how that goes.

Hawk and Dove. Five issue miniseries, DC, 1988.
Writers: Karl and Barbara Kesel
Penciller: Rob Liefeld
Inker: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore

Hawk and Dove were originally a Steve Ditko creation, pairing brothers Hank and Don Hall as costumed heroes Hawk and Dove. Their code names, as one might expect, reflected their political beliefs. The original series was short-lived; the characters showed up again in Teen Titans, but were not very prominent players in the DC universe. Dove died in the 1985 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, leaving Hawk somewhat in limbo. This miniseries sought to reestablish the Hawk and Dove team for the post-Crisis era. The writers, Barbara and Karl Kesel, have a small but enthusiastic following in the current online comics community; I've seen their writing praised for being exceptionally faithful to the original concept of the characters being featured. This, however, was something of a departure from the original concept.

Just to get it out of the way: the writing is pretty mediocre, especially the dialouge. The college setting seems lifted from the Cosby Show spinoff A Different World; attempts to provide textural details fall flat (Wimbledon is played on grass, not clay); the Washington, DC setting is pretty much irrelevant. There's a battle staged at the Air and Space Museum in issue four, but that's about it. (This is probably for the best, since Liefeld seems to struggle with any kind of specific, reality-based settings.) The book ends without any clear resolution--the villain, Kestrel, fails to convince Hawk to join him as a servant of the Lord of Chaos. Kestrel's master is apparently angry at his failure and...that's about it. Hawk and Dove come home somehow, despite not having defeated Kestrel. Hawk makes his decision when Kestrel says something that reminds him of his brother. There's no other turning point, just the villain saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Hawk refuses to join him, and that's the end (aside from a coda suggesting that all is not what it seems--more a teaser for an ongoing series rather than a satisfying conclusion to this mini). The non-resolution is especially unsatisfying because the Kesels circle around Hawk's relationship with his dead brother, but never explain how he feels other than "angry" or maybe "enraged." The script presupposes reader investment in Hawk and Dove as characters. But for those who don't have that kind of background with the characters, Hawk/Hank's motivations are a little unclear.

Hawk/Hank is actually the only compelling thing about the script. He verges on being a cardboard character, a stereotypical "loose cannon" type. There are hints that he's bottomed out somehow--he's no longer a Teen Titan and the cops think he's a joke. But the Kesels undermine this characterization by having Hank engage in some behavior meant to resemble that of a typical college student--he jogs with friends, tries to join the football team, socializes with women (they flirt with him, even), hangs out at a restaurant that the Kesels seem to think resembles a college dive, and even has a beer at one point. But once in costume, Hawk is like DC's answer to the Punisher. Actually, he's more deranged; when he first meets the new, female Dove, a fight scene ensues in which he attacks her rather than the actual villains.

Figure 1: Hawk gets to know his new partner

This would all be comical if not for Liefeld's art, which elevates it to inspired levels of lunacy. Liefeld's Hawk is a menacing, hulking presence, apparently giddy with joy at the prospect of inflicting pain on his enemies (or anyone who gets in his way). Hank is a fairly mundane looking young man, but Hawk is grotesquely muscled, steroidal in the extreme. His jaw doubles in size when under the cowl.

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Figure 2: Hawk's prodigious mandible

Liefeld breathes life into the Kesels' characterization of Hawk. I'm not sure to what extent they intended to play around with notions of dualism by portraying Hawk and Hank as separate entities. Liefeld's art, however, allows no other interpretation. Hawk runs around in tight, skimpy gym shorts and sweatsuits, making a great show of his political beliefs by ordering a burger with American cheese. Hawk blows up libraries and destroys historical artifacts with reckless abandon--enthusiasm, actually. Without Liefeld's art, this would be farcical; with it, Hawk and Dove becomes something much more bizarre.

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Figure 3: Hawk threatens his love interest with violence; he thinks she may be Dove (see figure 1)

It takes Liefeld a while to get going, though. His most extravagant tendencies are in check during the first issue, for the most part. Liefeld's art mostly looks like that of an inexperienced youngster. He occasionally reveals the influence of George Perez, a flourish Kesel encourages with his weighty inking.

Figure 4: Liefeld channeling Perez, with a little help from Karl Kesel's inks

For the most part, however, Liefeld struggles with the demands of the script. Most of Hawk and Dove takes place on a college campus. Liefeld can more or less handle this, though he hardly excels at the task.

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Figure 5: It's more or less recognizable as a college campus, but something seems wrong, somehow....

The script initially works against Liefeld's strengths. The Kesels (presumably) write an early scene in a very cinematic style. A police radio announces details of a chase in progress while the camera moves from room to room, as though frantically searching for Hank/Hawk. Each panel reveals details about Hank's life: unpacked boxes, numerous free weights, unwashed dishes. The penultimate panel shows an unmade bed and an open window. The final panel reveals that Hank has just bounded out said window, presumably on his way to apprehend the criminal described on the police radio.

Figure 6: Liefeldian cinematics.

It's not a badly written scene, especially for a late 80s superhero comic. Unfortunately, Liefeld is totally incapable of pulling off this sort of thing. The furniture and appliances in the kitchen are strangely proportioned. The dirty dishes are neatly stacked up, thus undermining the intended characterization of Hank as something of a slob. The barbels are floating in midair in panel four. The final two panels seem to depict two different windows of quite different dimensions, but the storytelling suggests that it's the same window in each panel. Liefeld seems bored and restless.

But who cares, right? This book was not intended for people who care about old fogey ideas like perspective and proportion; it was meant for 12 year old boys. The problem, then, is that the Kesels' script prevents Liefeld from doing what he does best. Liefeld's true talents shine through a bit in the action sequences, but these scenes are not nearly frequent enough. The hypothetical 12 year old reader gets a few tantalizing glimpses of what Liefeld is all about, but are they enough to get him to return?

Figure 7: One of our few glimpses of the Liefeld to come in issue #1. Note how the extremely foreshortened figure hurtles toward the reader in the middle panel, the cape (or whatever it is) and hands breaking the panel plane. These are the techniques that brought Liefeld fame and fortune.

Thankfully, the first issue ends in an irresistible splash page revealing the new Dove. Kesel gives Liefeld's speed lines extra weight, forming a black halo around Dove. It's actually a pretty strong diagonal composition, one that even a jaded 30-year old blogger can appreciate. The figure drawing might leave a bit to be desired--the slumped over gunman on the left is rather stiff--but this drawing reveals why kids loved Liefeld: the energy.

Figure 8: Liefeld finally gets to show off on the final page of the first issue.

Liefeld gets a bit more comfortable in the second issue, as his characters begin to take on more exaggerated appearances. As noted above, Liefeld's Hawk is an enormous, musclebound wonder. His depiction of Kestrel, the villain of the piece, also shows great flair.

Figure 9: Kestrel's selachimorphic grin; see also figure 2 above for an example of Liefeld's distinctive characterization of Hawk.

These are not realistic drawings, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are compelling in their own way: vibrant, full of implied detail and motion. When Liefeld's characters smile, sneer, or grimace, wrinkles and laugh lines swarm and dance around their mouths. You can almost see the character's face twisting into an expression of disgust or debauchery. Despite prevailing understandings of human anatomy, Liefeld's characters sport more teeth than the average great white shark. This is not necessarily a bad thing to the pubescent (or pre-pubescent) reader.

By the third issue, Liefeld is bringing a similar approach to his storytelling. A sequence in which Kestrel chases Dove reveals Liefeld's philosophy: don't let reality or common sense get in the way of pleasing your audience.

Figure 10: "Oh Yeaaaahhh!"

Dove leaps over a fence which appears to be about 3 1/2 feet tall. Rather than leaping over the fence himself, or breaking through it with a well-placed punch or kick, Kestrel actually ducks down so he can run through the wall, Kool-Aid Man style. This is completely nonsensical, but it looks way cooler than Kestrel jumping over the wall like a girl. (One might question why Liefeld chose to draw such a low fence, but I figure he was trying to maintain a realistic depiction of a campus setting. I don't think this scene takes place on any campus, but let's not get bogged down in details.)

Liefeld is firing on all cylinders by the fourth issue (see figure 3 above for an example). His work is actually starting to resemble his later New Mutants/X-Force material. In the first three issues, Hawk and Dove are mostly beating up guys who look like truck drivers or extras from Final Fight. But now, Liefeld is getting to draw freaky supervillains.

Figure 11: A taste of the Liefeld yet to come

Gone are the strained (probably unreferenced) depictions of working class toughs wielding conventional firearms. Now we see bizarre depictions of supernatural powers. In the above sequence, Shadowblade (yes, Shadowblade--that's presumably the Kesels' fault) is suffering from some burning ocular discharge. Liefeld is almost channeling Ditko in the second panel, as Shadowblade's power ricochets off the panel borders. There is no real explanation of what is happening, but that really only makes it more interesting. In New Mutants/X-Force, Liefeld's characters were mysterious strangers who belonged to obscure cabals. Their powers and appearance (eg, pupil-less eyes) were seldom explained, which only made the characters more intriguing. Here we see the first hint of this approach; Liefeld has truly arrived.

That still leaves one more issue, the infamous sideways issue. Liefeld, apparently acting unilaterally, decided that the chaos dimension would look better if all the pages were drawn in landscape orientation. Editor Mike Carlin flipped out when he received the pages; he cut and pasted them into a more conventional format, then sent them to Karl Kesel to ink. Kesel apparently lightboxed these pages, so there's probably a higher Kesel-to-Liefeld ratio than in the other issues of the mini. Not surprisingly, this issue marks a step backward in the development of the Liefeldian aesthetic. The compositions are (one would assume) more Carlin's than anyone's, and they're not especially elegant.

Figure 12: Breakdowns by Liefeld, layouts by Carlin, finishes by Kesel

As a storytelling sequence, the above page isn't bad. The actual composition of the panels, however, is rather clumsy. The third panel, upon which the first two panels are ostensibly superimposed, has an awkward break at about the level of the first two panels. Furthermore, the disembodied hands make for gawky bookends. It's not Carlin's best work.

But that's all a sidenote. Liefeld was clearly on his way towards being the artist who would break the all-time sales record with X-Force #1. By that point, Liefeld would be working with characters of his own design, illustrating scripts better suited to his existing strengths as an artist. The Liefeld we see in Hawk and Dove is a compromised version, held in check by script and altered by Kesel's inks. This is, I suspect, a Liefeld that would be more palatable to today's DC/Marvel reader; if he had continued down this path, I suspect the main thing separating him from, say, Tony Daniel would be the latter's greater reliance on photo reference when attempting to draw his female characters' faces. Instead of developing in this more structured environment, however, Liefeld jumped ship to Marvel, where he was given much freer reign to draw whatever the hell he felt like. This might have cost him some fans, c. 2007, but it also made him a very, very rich man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Let's not be rock critics, now

-Meant to mention this Monday: I participated in Chris Mautner's second "Everyone's a Critic" roundtable at Blogorama, thus dragging down the credibility of the assembled voices. The topic at hand was "Should online reviews include sample art?" I was most interested in this response by Douglas Wolk:

"I also don’t think it’s really necessary. If you’re reviewing a record, you don’t need to include a song from it; if you’re reviewing a movie, you don’t need to include a clip; if you’re reviewing a restaurant, you don’t need to include a snack."

Abhay Khosla makes essentially the same point, while Brigid Alverson argues that radio hosts can also successfully discuss art without providing examples. Steve Flanagan shows up in the comments to make a point very much worth considering: online reviewers can very easily include a sample of the work in question, an option unavailable to print record critics or food critics of any type.

It's a good point, as is Don MacPherson's contention that a critic can often find samples online. For what it's worth, I'll probably include some samples with the upcoming Liefeld reviews. I feel especially compelled to do so, since part of the project will be tracing the evolution (or devolution, depending on your perspective) of Liefeld's linework and composition. I'd like to think I'm up to the task of writing about this without the need for accompanying illustrations, but I'll let you folks be the judge of that.

Anyway, the above-cited comments reminded me of how often I've wished rock critics would include samples of music with their work. That's certainly one of the advantages of the internet--there's really no excuse not to include samples of the music in question. Without excerpts of the albums being reviewed, would be nothing more than a venue for the blandest of criticism. Consider the adjectives employed by many critics--"warm," "rocking," "Beatles-esque." Do these really give you any sense of what the music actually sounds like? The Beach Boys have been called "warm," but so have Pavement, Neil Young, and the Kinks. Worse yet, how about "abrasive"--Negative Approach is abrasive, but so are...Pavement, Neil Young, and the Kinks. These are not objective descriptors; some might consider "warm" and "abrasive" to be mutually exclusive. Fans of My Bloody Valentine might be inclined to disagree.

The other great staple of rock criticism is comparing artists to other artists. Thus, we are told that the Kids sound like the triangulation of the Damned, the Saints, and the Misfits. This has never made sense to me; I can see hints of these bands in different songs, but it depends on one's perspective. Ludo Mariman has a similar cadence to Glen Danzig at times, but I'd hesitate to say they sound alike; he can't croon like Danzig and he certainly lacks Danzig's lung power. If I told a Misfits fan that (s)he should check out the Kids because of this one strand of similarity, there's a good chance that disappointment would follow. This hypothetical Misfits fan would probably never trust my recommendations again. Ditto for hypothetical fans of the Saints (who are much, much more influenced by older rock and roll and especially soul) or the Damned (who are probably closest to the Kids' aesthetic (assuming we're talking about Damned, Damned, Damned here), but whose sound is much, much tighter, largely due to Rat Scabies' incredible drumming). A review which makes these specific comparisons would be fine, but referring to the Kids as merely "a mixture" of these three bands isn't especially helpful. Unfortunately, too many rock critics are content to say "sounds like the Who," as though this were a meaningful description.

I often think truly great music writing may require some degree of familiarity with musicology. I don't possess this, and I'm pretty fucking sure that most rock critics lack this knowledge as well. (Jazz and classical critics seem a bit more knowledgeable--but then again, they can't resort to analyzing lyrics. Plus jazz and classical music both seem to have established taxonomies that render comparisons to other artists superfluous.) I can't realistically expect every rock critic to have a PhD in musicology, but surely they could do a better job at considering how music and lyrics coexist.

This is, in fact, the most frustrating aspect of rock criticism to me--I read far too many reviews which don't consider the ways that the actual music (as in the tune and how it's played) affects our perception of the lyrics. Take, for instance, "Friends of Mine" by the Zombies. I've read countless reviews which apparently didn't actually listen to the lyrics; I've seen it described as an ode to "the joy of seeing other people in love." But consider the actual lyrics:

"And when I'm with her
She talks about you
The things that you say
The things that you do...

And when I feel bad
When people disappoint me
That's when I need you two
To help me believe"

These are the words of a sad, lonely man! He's clearly unlucky in love, but none of his friends are (at least at the moment). He's having to look outside himself for hope--this is not a positive development! Couple this with the chorus, in which Colin Blunstone sings "They are friends of mine/They are friends of mine/And they've got something/You don't often find," while the rest of the band names a long string of couples ("Joyce and Terry/Paul and Molly/Liz and Brian/Joy and David," and so on). At the very least, this is a bittersweet song. Actually, I've always thought that it's a sneering, cynical song about how couples form and impenetrable shell around themselves, preventing interaction with outsiders. Consider that first verse again--this is a thinly-veiled complaint! "I can't have a conversation with either of you about anything other than your relationship. It's rather boring." But the song has lots of pretty harmonies and is dominated by a driving, bouncy piano, so I guess people fail to see these nuances. Frankly, I think the music during the chorus reinforces my interpretation.*

(Aside: skip if you want to get on to the comics-relevant stuff. Check out All Music's review of Badfinger's "I'll Be the One," in particular this bit: "...there is a wonderful, almost campfire-style warmth to the entire affair. The lyrical theme of togetherness and camaraderie comes through loud and clear." Now look at the actual lyrics, which aren't about campfire togetherness (seriously, what the fuck?) at all: "Where did you go/When you were needed?/Was it some place I know where they care?/Rise in the rain/I learned to get by/Without you for the pain in my heart." Jesus, did this guy only listen to the chorus? Come on.)

So yes, maybe it would be nice for comics critics to include some illustrations for the same reason it would be nice to have rock critics include samples of music. But we don't want to aspire downward to the level of rock criticism, do we? Thankfully, I think it's much easier to discuss (visual) art than it is to discuss music. Music is abstract; it doesn't seek to replicate anything concrete (unless it's, like, animal noises or something). It's hard to explain why a piece of music is "haunting" without getting into music theory--and even if you understand it, there's a pretty good chance your readers won't.

But art--well now, we can say quite a few things about that, can't we? We can all tell the difference between Sean Phillips' inking and Charles Burns', right? It's not so important that you recognize the techniques that lead to these differences in style (though it would be nice if you did) so long as you can talk about how their impact on the narrative and the overall story. Both artists employ big pools of black ink, but the similarities end there. Burns uses a very feathery technique, while Phillips is much scratchier; Burns' style is much more controlled and mannered, while Phillips is looser, messier. With Burns, nary a line is out of place; with Phillips, lines intersect haphazardly, extending beyond their vertices.

Okay, so the reader could draw all that from samples of the art. But it's worth pointing out, since each artists' inking style so influences their larger work. Burns' lush, baroque brushwork reinforces the theme of the horror of adolescent sexual confusion in Black Hole. In Criminal, the puddles of black obviously suit the genre.** That, friends, is why it's not enough just to include samples of the art. Your readers might draw these conclusions on their own, but then they're the ones doing the reviewing now, aren't they?

*Or maybe I'm just crazy. I have no idea, BTW, what the Zombies intended with this song, but as a semi-post modernist, I don't think it negates my interpretation of the song.

**Of course, that's not the whole of it; Phillips also uses a lot of loose outlines and charcoal as well. The former, which suggests rushed work, helps establish the nervous energy of good noir ficiton. The latter, reminiscent of older illustration art or political cartoons (think Herblock), gives the book a distinctly old fashioned flavor. Combined with the dense pools of ink and scratchy penwork, Phillips manages to make Criminal seem both antiquated and contemporary, which is probably just about perfect for that kind of book.

-And really, are we going to be up to the challenge when it comes time to review the comics equivalent of "Friends of Mine?" There really aren't too many books which deliberately make the dialogue/narration and the art incongruous. It's usually done in an "unreliable narrator" kind of way, where the events depicted in the pictures don't match up with the description in the words.* But what of those works where the style of art (as opposed to the events it depicts) is incongruous with the story?

At present, deliberate shifts the style of drawing seems to be a relatively underdeveloped technique in comics. In mainstream American comics, it's often used in a flashback scene, especially one that takes place in a different era. (See, for example, recent issues of Iron Fist; admittedly, these are drawn by different artists, but the intended effect is clearly that mentioned above. In contrast, the jarring changes of style seen in books with "all star" lineups of artists (such as Justice League #0) rarely seem to have any tonal intent.) One sees it fairly often in manga, usually as a shift from semi-realism to extreme cartoonishness; this is often a device to denote an extreme reaction, such as embarrassment, shock, or anger. Joann Sfar actually does the opposite in The Rabbi's Cat, inserting realistic drawings into an otherwise rather cartoony book.

I've seen other types of style shifts, however. The most recent I can think of is also in The Rabbi's Cat, where Sfar occasionally seems to replace his customary scratchy linework with what looks like monotype printmaking.** I'm not sure what Sfar is getting at there (perhaps (SPOILERS!) the cat's frustration at being unable to scold the rabbi for allowing his daughter to marry the French rabbi), but it's pretty jarring. The work most defined by this sort of thing, at least in my experience, is Dave McKean's Cages. Unfortunately, I don't recall McKean really using this technique to any compelling effect. Cages, from what I remember, is like prog rock in the most pejorative sense; it's quite beautiful, but in kind of a wankerly way. I haven't read this particular comic in several years, so take this all with a grain of salt; maybe it was all just a little above my head when I was a younger man. It's certainly a terrific showcase for McKean, though.

*This seems to imply that, in the process of reading comics, we understand the drawing to be "reality" and the words to be gloss. Ironic, then, that art gets so little attention among critics of "mainstream" comics.

**I have no idea if this is what he's actually doing, but those panels look like monotype to me. Maybe it's Photoshop--producing three monotype prints seems like a lot of trouble for three lousy panels, especially for a prolific dude like Sfar. See page 93 of the American edition.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hype fatigue

-It appears that the Marvel/DC hype machine-friendly convention season has drawn to a close. Right? Please? Either way, I have one request for all those who blog these conventions: please, for god's sake, quit posting pictures of people in costume. I know I claim a lot of things depress me, but I really mean it this time. The sight of pimply, surely virginal young-ish men dressed in poorly assembled costumes intended to replicate the appearance of characters which the average American human could not identify if forced to do so at gunpoint--is there anything so viscerally nauseating in all the world of comics? I really can't take any more pictures of pudgy guys dressed like Iron Fist (or, to be more accurate, like an ice sculpture of Iron Fist which is slowly melting in the sun). I mean, I'm not trying to imply that I'm some Adonis, but I know better than to go out in public dressed in a little red skirt like Magnus, Robot Fighter. Actually, I don't think I would do that even if I was some kind of Adonis.

Really though, I find the costumed women even more disheartening. Look, it's bad enough that fictional characters are expected to dress like strippers who dance for a baroquely depraved clientèle. Why on earth are teenage girls doing it? Do we really need to see pictures of them? I'm actually somewhat serious about this last bit of business. The sight of overweight, delusional fanboys gussied up to approximate Blue Devil--that's funny to a broad cross section of the population, I'm guessing. But these young women (some of them, at least) seem to scream "severe self-esteem issues." It's not like any of the male fans are strutting around with half their butt hanging out.* Hell, most of them aren't even wearing spandex, perhaps in an effort to keep secret the precise contours of their genitalia. Here's a possible rule of thumb--if you're not old enough to rent a car, you're not sufficiently mature to determine the wisdom of dressing up like the White Queen in front of a convention center packed with guys who think The Death of Captain Marvel is great literature. And many of these guys have cameras, and will treasure those pictures until the end of time. Others will post them on the internet, so that even more depraved nerds can match their fantasies to actual flesh. And those pictures will be out there until the end of time.

*Not intentionally, at any rate.

-I don't know if it's responsible to think of conventions in terms of wins and losses, but I was really struck by how much more impressed I was by DC's announcements than Marvel's. I'm mainly basing this on the revamping of DC's kid-friendly line, particularly the awesome-looking Tiny Titans. (Actually, that Super Friends series looks pretty fucking bad--that's toy tie-ins for you, I guess). Marvel gets some points for Genndy Tartakovsky's CAGE!, but I like DC's attempt to embrace an original, cartoony aesthetic in its all-ages line.

Other than that, it was more of the usual crap from the Big Two. Tony Daniels replaces Andy Kubert on Batman? Geez, that seems like a lateral move at best. Alex Ross on some portentous Captain America project? Sure to be a hit with the dressed-like-Green-Arrow-in-public crowd. Dustin Nguyen on Detective? Actually, that's a good move. Nguyen's a whole lot better than Don Kramer, whose chief virtue is that his pencils don't force the reader to dwell on them too much. More time to analyze the continuity errors! Countdown: Arena? Yes, that's precisely what this ill-conceived franchise needs: a multiversal Contest of Champions retread spinoff. The Resurrection of Ra's Ahl-Guhl? Sounds like DC learned something from the success of World War Hulk. I say that under the assumption that all those crossover titles won't be necessary reading to get the basic story; that would be a bad thing, Mr. DiDio. Liefeld and Kirkman on Killraven? Once again, it's a cheap laugh at the expense of the "How dare you criticize the 1970s" crowd. More importantly, it once again proves that my upcoming Liefeld retrospective is well-timed. I'm working on Hawk and Dove right now. Millar and Hitch on Fantastic Four? Not really that interested; doesn't seem like a good fit for either talent. I haven't been reading Dwayne McDuffie's run, so I don't feel personally slighted. It's just another comic I won't be reading.

By the way, the news that Millar won't be renewing his exclusive with Marvel might be the best news for DC all week. Seriously, Millar is just the sort of galvanizing figure DC's going to need when Jann Jones inevitably replaces Dan DiDio this time next year.

-On a related note, Rich Johnston reports that Mike Allred blames DiDio for failing to release his Teen Titans special and a Metal Men collaboration with Evan Dorkin. Now I don't care so much about the latter (I've become less and less into Dorkin as the years have passed), but Allred's Teen Titans story in his issue of Solo was really great, whimsical Silver Age pastiche. That's harder to pull off than one might think (not that it's stopped people from trying). It's wrong of DiDio withhold this from us. Here's hoping Jones really does replace him! Assuming, of course, that she does the sensible thing and releases said Teen Titans special.

-RIP Mike Wieringo. I always thought he was one of the few contemporary superhero artists who cared about the craft of cartooning, let alone excelled at it. The mainstream comics world will be poorer for his loss.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Still trying (and probably failing) to catch up

-I think I'm starting to realize why the out-of-context wacky panel is so popular among comics bloggers--it's easy content on days when you have little to say, yet you feel obligated to post. Unfortuantely, the scanner is in my wife's office; otherwise, you'd be looking at a panel from Epileptic or maybe House with a hilarious caption. ("Way to go, spazzmoid" or "Oooh, that's gotta hurt!" would work for either, right?)

-Man, I've made that joke before, haven't I? Was a week a long enough vacation?

-Speaking of that break, I'm still not caught up on the San Diego news. Was the announcement of Warren Ellis on Astonishing X-Men really the big news? Cause there's not a whole lot to say about that which isn't crushingly obvious, really. And the Engine is shutting down? I can't say I ever went there unless Spurgeon or MacDonald or someone linked to a thread there. I just found it very difficult and unpleasant to navigate. Plus it was, you know, a message board. I thought the internet had evolved past these things (and I'm guessing--SPECULATING--Ellis agrees, and that his next major web presence will be via a blog, probably in podcast format or some similar, iPhone-friendly format).

Bonus Ellis content: I'm guessing Bill Willingham is not a fan of Transmetropolitan, based on these comments (re: his doubts about pitching Fables):

"I didn't think it was a really good Vertigo book, since all of their books kind of had a universal look at the time, of pouty teenagers with lots of face shrapnel and tattoos, railing against The Man."

-So I've read exactly one book from this week so far--Batman #667. I assume that, for the next week, bloggers will be occupied with identifying which artist JH Williams is homaging with each character. On my first read, the only one I recognized for certain was Howard Chaykin.* I'm pretty sure Dave Gibbons is in there somewhere as well, but I'm not sure about the rest. I almost want to say Steve Rude and Mike Mignola, but those seem wrong somehow. Anyone?

*Speaking of whom: I flipped through that coffee table book featuring cartoonists in their work spaces, and that's not how I thought he would look.

-I'm still planning on doing the Rob Liefeld retrospective, starting this weekend probably. It looks like the timing is just right, given his impending return to Image. Anyway, I was planning on diving right into the New Mutants material, but it occurs to me that he first gained notoriety on the Hawk & Dove mini. For those who were Liefeld fans back in the day: should I start there?

-I guess that's it, because a quick browse of the usual sites isn't yielding much in the way of viable topics. Are things that slow? Is there some kind of interconventionary torpor plaguing the blogosphere?

EDIT: Okay, here's something (via The Beat): a recap of the "Comics Are Not Literature" panel which I found to be the only really compelling reason for anyone to go to San Diego (in a purely hypothetical sense). I have to say--it seems a little disappointing. "Comics need a space to just be awesome" is not the level of discourse I would have hoped for. But then you read this in the comments:

"Comics not literature? Read "The Death of Captain Marvel" by Jim Starlin and get back to me..."

Oh man. But that's Newsarama for you--I'm way more disappointed by the comments left at The Beat, which (of course) has a much more intelligent readership. Some people just can't seem to understand this is not a highbrow/lowbrow question, despite repeated attempts to explain this to them. There's also a lot of "Aaargh! Semantics! Me am no like!" there. (I don't understand the mentality which causes people to run away from semantics. How on earth do you go about expressing yourself to others if you're so thoroughly repelled by examining the nature of the words you're speaking? Stupid modernists.) And there's also a lot of people wanting to bury their heads in the sand and hide from questions which grown-ups might ask about comics. Very depressing. Maybe my expectations aren't really in line with reality, I don't know.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Much better now, thanks

So hey, I took a week off. It was Sunday, I guess--we'd been busy all weekend, running around buying shit that we needed (plus a Philadelphia Eagles cap--it's almost time!) and going to see Ratatouille (short review: very pretty, fairly good fun, but what was up with that sour grapes "criticism is ultimately meaningless in the face of any attempt at producing art" ending?). When I finally finished all this, I sat down to look at the blogosphere and realized, "Oh shit--this weekend was the San Diego convention. Now I'll need to spend another two hours just getting caught up. And that's just for the news--there's also the commentary on the news. Let's see what [name redacted] has to say. Oh, that's predictable, not very funny, and, frankly, a little depressing. Why do I bother with his/her blog anyway? Has this blog actually gotten worse since I started this blog? Have other blogs declined as well? Maybe I should go play Resident Evil 4 (Wii version) or the new Guitar Hero or something."

So I took a week off--not just from writing on this blog, but from reading any and all comics news (with one exception--I checked out Jog's shipping-this-week post). Here's the condensed version of what I would have normally wrote last week:

1. 90s Part Five: I started reading comics again, after I realized that I could just special order things from my local store that they were generally too chicken to buy for the shelf. (EDIT: This might be a bit uncharitable; I'll elaborate later.) Then they started buying these sorts of comics for the shelf, knowing that I probably would buy them. And I did, until I marched off to the land of eternal adolescence known as graduate school. Then I started reading comics again a few years ago--but that's the 00s, not the 90s. (I might flesh this out later this week.)

2. Multiple Warheads was very good. I have no idea what the online critical response has been (this statement also applies to the proceeding two items), but one might describe it as something like Grant Morrison and Victor Moscoso collaborating on a comic to be serialized in 2000 AD, which has a new editor who commissioned the strip as part of his hazy plan to take the magazine in a more manga-ish direction. I hate reviews that consist of nothing but comparisons to other comics, but that's kind of what I thought when I read it. Seriously, Morrison fans who are primarily fans of "batshit crazy ideas" Morrison should seek this out immediately.

3. I read a bit of the first issue of Comics Introspective, which is entirely devoted to Peter Bagge. There's way, way too much of the interviewer in there (really now, do we need his thoughts on when the Smashing Pumpkins sold out? Is this some meta-joke, given that the Hate aesthetic was kind of the antithesis of this sort of thing?), but Bagge fans will definitely want to buy it for the copious illustrations (much (most?) of it previously unpublished). From what I recall of Comic Book Artist, I don't think its Bagge-centered issue will be redundant at all. These seem like two very different approaches.

4. Left over from a few weeks ago: I seem to like The Order better than most. This looks to be an examination of how superheroes would work in Los Angeles (Fraction quoted Mike Davis, for Chrissakes!), which seems like a fairly promising premise. I don't expect an X-Statix/X-Force rehash here--Fraction's too smart for that. I think he's more interested in exploring the idea of heroism in the Hollywood/LA milieu--the recovering alcoholic character is going to be emblematic of that approach, I suspect. Also, Barry Kitson's art has never looked better, and I'm not really a Kitson fan.

5. I bought a KitchenAid stand mixer for the incredibly low price of $65. I used it in two applications this weekend. (1) Cookies: I can make cookies with our hand mixer (a hand-me-down from my wife's deceased grandmother), but this was much faster and much, much, much cleaner. It also seemed to distribute the sugar a little better, making the cookies (peanut butter, FWIW) a bit crisper than normal. (2) Focaccia bread: I'd never tried to make focaccia at home before, but I needed a quick recipe that would allow me to test the dough hook. This turned out very well--I'm convinced the stand mixer kneads dough better than my bread machine. Here is the recipe, if anyone is interested. My advice: go easy on the salt for the topping, do use corn meal to dust the bottom (file that under "duh"), and be prepared for a bake time more along the lines of 20-25 minutes. It's a nice recipe, I think.

I'd obviously like to use the mixer to make a cake, but my wife doesn't like cake. Yes--my wife does not like cake, especially chocolate cake. Yes--especially chocolate cake. It seems wrong to me too. But she's going out of town in about a week, so maybe I'll do some cake-baking then. Maybe I'll even try that avocado frosting Alton Brown made on that one episode of Good Eats--my wife is allergic to avocados, so it'll be like double forbidden food or something.

6. Greg Burgas, did you ask that question at the Dark Horse panel? Let me know.

...And that's really it. There are probably other debates raging in blogs out there that I haven't been reading, but I don't know about them yet. The only thing I've read today was Blogarama (Chris Mautner's new column--good idea), and that just today's posts and Graeme McMillan's week in review. So if I'm a little late in responding to a stale controversy, please remember that I spent last week shooting zombies and testing expensive kitchen equipment.