Thursday, October 30, 2008
1984. A Skeleton
I don't know about the rest of you people, but to me, real Halloween costumes are not bought in a store ready to wear. They're made in part or in full by the wearer. Or in the case of my first costume (and a lot of them on this list), they're made by the wearer's mom.
The Skeleton overthrow I'm wearing here was sewed by my mom along with a matching pillow case-style bag that I used every year after that. They were totally boss.
1985. The First Time I Was Batman
I've loved Batman so long I have no memory of not loving Batman, which should be pretty evident by the fact that I was dressing as him at the age of four. I'm not sure if I was routinely crashing my Super Powers Batmobile into everything in our house at every available possibility at this point, but I am pretty sure I'd already taken to watching the old Adam West show and taking it 110% seriously by then. (If you see me sometime, ask me to tell the story about when I met Adam West. It's way too long to post here.)
I don't remember much else from when I was four, but I remember this costume…probably because I kept wearing the mask around the neighborhood for years after that and insisting that my friend Kyle Davis was Robin because he was shorter than me and had black hair.
1986. A Ghost
Everyone should dress up as a traditional "spooky Halloween character" at least once in their life. For me it was as a ghost, and I think the silver-lined costume mom made is still somewhere in our house. Although, both my brother Brian and I got way more mileage out of his Dracula cape and teeth, the latter of which probably gave us more shared colds than we can remember.
1987. A Policeman
When I was a kid, my dad was a police officer in our hometown of Flint, Michigan. His tenure on the force meant that we had both a lot of crazy legendary family police stories (the time my aunt maced herself, the time dad's partner accidentally shot a hole through our bathroom wall) and a lot of old police equipment in our garage, including the real gun belt I'm rocking here. Also, that odd looking helmet comes from my dad's short stint riding with Flint's mounted division (Yes, Flint, Michigan employs police on horseback).
1988. Darth Vader
When you're a little brother, it's a fact of life that most of your clothing comes in the form of things your older brother has grown out of. Sometimes this happens with Halloween costumes too, including this Darth Vader getup. I seriously didn't mind, though, as the costume was super dope. The front piece breathing apparatus my mom made by wrapping a bunch of material around one of those single serving Frosted Flakes boxes with buttons sewn on the front. Pretty slick, mom.
I honestly think the above pic is one of my brother in the costume from the year before, but for reals, how could I not include a picture of FUCKING VAMPIRE SPIDER-MAN?!?!?
1989. The Second Time I Was Batman
When Tim Burton's "Batman" film came out in 1989, I spent the summer collecting every toy, trading card, magazine, glow-in-the-dark Frisbee, mail away bank from a cereal box and Prince "Batdance" cassette single imaginable. Was there any doubt that I'd dress as the black-clad version of the Dark Knight that Halloween? No. But who could have guessed I'd look so bad ass.
In the most telling of our costume pairings, Brian (my real life archnemesis) dressed as the Joker (my fake Halloween archnemesis). We're totally cool now. I think that I wore that Batman costume every day for a week straight…possibly without showering (less gross when you're eight).
1990. Dick Tracy
Unfortunately, I was unable to find any of the pictures of me in the totally awesome Dick Tracy trench coat mom sewed for me out of yellow corduroy which we still have. Fortunately, I was able to find the official Dick Tracy fedora and signal watch I wore to lend authenticity to the ensemble. That watch was fucking awesome because it both told the time and lit up when I decided to call into headquarters Warren Beatty style.
1991. Moon Knight
Unless someone presents evidence to the contrary, I'm going to go ahead an assume that I am the only 4th Grader in the history of America to dress up as Doug Moench, Don Perlin and Bill Sienkiewicz's werewolf-fighting, billionaire, schizophrenic superhero Moon Knight. And you know what? I'm totally cool with that.
In the summer of 1992, my family moved to the suburb town of Grand Blanc, making me change schools for the first time. In retrospect, I probably did myself no favors in terms of fighting the "weird new kid who likes comic books way too much" stereotype by dressing up as Cyclops and answering questions as to who I was by saying, "I'm Cyclops. I used to be in the X-Men, but now I lead X-Factor." But how could I resist dressing up like this sweet Marvel Universe trading card by Ron Lim?
I made the visor myself by cutting out the red lenses from two pair of 3D glasses and affixing them to a felt headband by way of thread and an insane amount of hot glue gun work. I recall walking down the hallway of my new school and having an older kid ask aloud, "Did he seriously make that mask himself?" and thinking, "Uh…yeah! Because I wouldn't really be Cyclops without a ruby quartz visor, you fucking loser!"
1993. Clark Kent
Believe it or not, there was a time pretty recently in America where cheap T-shirts with Superman's S-Shield were not sold at every kiosk in the local mall, so when "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" debuted, combining my twin nerd loves of comic book superheroes and romantic comedies, I had to have my saintly grandmother put together this shirt by giving her a Dan Jurgens comic to use as a model.
1994 – 1997. The Lost Years
Two things happened between the time I was in 6th Grade and my Sophomore year of high school: the Phegley family kind of stopped taking photos of any kind and caring about how cool your Halloween costume was became pretty low on the priority list for my peer group (I think puberty may have something to do with the latter). End result in terms of this essay? I have no photos or really a lot of recollection of costumes from that period. I'm pretty sure I did something comic related most of the time and know that in the 8th Grade I was The Shadow because of that not-so-great Alec Baldwin movie, but beyond that…I got nothing. Luckily, things started looking up in high school when I met a group of friends who got back into the costume game for an annual Halloween party at my friend Lauren's house, leading to…
1998. Jay & Silent Bob
I know this costume choice may be perceived as a point against me for some of you, but you know what? When I was 17, the only movies Kevin Smith had made were "Clerks," "Mallrats," and "Chasing Amy" so Cullen Brown and I pretty much figured he could do no wrong. Plus, it allowed me to swear in front of adults and not get yelled at because I was "in character."
Note Cullen's candy cigarettes and my brown bagged bottle of lemonade (we were good kids) and my Clerks comic book T-shirt by the always link-worthy Jim Mahfood.
James Robinson's Starman comic is still my favorite monthly series of all time, so I had no qualms about going to a party with swim goggles on my head, an ugly Hawaiin shirt (which I actually wore A LOT back then) and a "cosmic rod" I made with half an old hiking stick with a yellow ball from the MacDonald's ball pit glued on the end. What you can't see in this picture of me dancing poorly with my buddy Kegmeister (who apparently went as some sleazy greaseball) is that I had nerd cred on my side that night as my costume included DC's official Starman tin badge that I'd bought at a con that summer. Represent.
2000. Shaggy & Velma
My Freshman year of college, my girlfriend Jami and I had a whole scheme with a bunch of other kids in our dorms to go out for Halloween parties dressed as the gang from Scooby-Doo. Unfortunately, no one else came through, but screw those kids…we looked hot anyway. But you know…without Jami, my costume isn't much of a costume as it consisted of a Phish T-shirt and a pair of hippie pants my brother sewed himself and then gave to me when he joined the army. I would've worn that anyway in college.
2001. Tommy Chong & Josie
Although I couldn't find a photo of it, Sophomore year of college my roommate Justin and I did a costume team-up going as Cheech and Chong. But really, our costumes weren't that great. They were more or less an excuse to walk around campus blitzed all day. Other such excuse days included Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, Bastille Day, Day After Midterms Day and Tuesdays. On the up swing, Jami and her roommates pulled off a rad Josie & the Pussycats trio inspired by the totally underrated movie by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.
2002. Green Lantern & Hello Kitty
I know nothing about the costume screams it, but in my mind I was always Kyle Rayner and not Hal Jordan, which is funny as the ring I'm wearing is actually autographed by Alan Scott creator Mart Nodell. If you understand anything about that last sentence, you're a nerd.
Above is a picture of me and a guy dressed like "Piano Man" era Billy Joel.
2003. The Third Time I Was Batman
Jami and I returned to the couples theme Senior year as Batman and Catwoman. I know what you're thinking, and you're right…Batman does not wear glasses under his cowl or have a beard. But you know what? He does wear his underpants outside his regular pants, so you've got to give me some credit there, right?
2004 – Present.
The past few years, my few meager attempts at Halloween costumes have been forgettable and unphotographed, but this year Jami and I are making a dramatic return, and I promise to post a photo or two next week.
Pardon, sir or madam, but would you please be so kind as to read my disclaimer...
If you were reading this blog two weeks ago, you know I think Jason Aaron's current run on Ghost Rider to be the bee's knees, an opinion I believe is shared my two blogmates. Certainly an element of my affection towards this series has been the somewhat unexpected return of the Ghost Rider of my youth, Danny Ketch. I must admit this to be a somewhat strange development since, prior to to his return, I never really cared about Danny Ketch one way or the other. Perhaps it's the simple nostalgia of seeing something from when I was 10 dusted off and put to use, or perhaps it's some deeper recognition of an untapped potential just now being realized for the first time.
It's probably the first one.
Nonetheless, Ryan and I were just the other day in the process of working on an article for Marvel.com were discussing how in getting prepped for the additional focus on Danny by doing even just a cursory bit of reading on him (and checking out the Rise of the Midnight Sons trade). we both were coming to realize he was a very different character than Johnny Blaze, and made both unique and cool by result of that virtue. Whereas the original Ghost Rider stories starring Johnny were a bit more fantastic with elements of over-the-top horror (a rival cyclist with a giant eyeball for a head), Danny's stories in the 90's were more urban with really really dark horror elements (vampire druglords who kill his comatose sister after he's been Ghost Rider for like five issues). Both setups make for good stories, but that they're so unique underneath the surface similarities is an accomplishment many "legacy" characters fall short of.
There's another element of Danny's character that makes him quite separate from Johnny, and it's one writer Simon Spurrier keys in on and mines for optimum use in this new series: that he never wanted to be Ghost Rider. Sure, I don't think Johnny Blaze was ever thrilled at the concept of sharing his life with a flaming-skulled Spirit of Vengeance (that has always been kinda the thrust of his story), but at his heart, he was a stunt cyclist who was used to taking crazy risks and who ultimately did make a deal with the devil that led to his fate. Danny on the other hand was just some kid off the street who literally tripped and fell into a haunted motorcycle. Yeah, there's like 80 issues explaining how Danny's becoming Ghost Rider was more than just some coincidence, but at the core, he's an average guy-turned-reluctant hero in the tradition of guys like Spider-Man, but rather than just getting the proportionate strength of a spider, he got some heavy mystical mojo that places the burden of punishing the guilty and protecting the Marvel Universe from folks a lot scarier than Mysterio. Danny was a dude in way over his head (often my favorite kind of hero) who never asked for or wanted the power he received.
So Spurrier's decision here, to basically grant Danny his fondest wish of getting rid of his Ghost Rider mojo only to reveal he'd become essentially a junkie for the power without ever knowing it, opens up whole new doors for the character. From the first three pages, where Spurrier transitions from a flashback about Danny was always reluctant but dignified to present day where he's getting plastered and provoking barfights, immediately flips whatever expectations you had and throws you into an interesting story.
This story is supposed to reveal to us how Danny went from being Ghost Rider to a lieutenant of GR's new archnemesis, the fallen angel Zadkiel, over in the regular book, and it's off to a nice start as far as keeping the lead a sympathetic shades of grey character. You definitely feel for Danny who, as the flashback said, was never anything but the ultimate nice guy and has now become a total washout as a result of getting the carrot he was chasing all those years and being dealth yet another bum rap. Now of course another carrot is being dangled in front of him in the form of renewed powers and you're screaming through the page at him to remember how much shit he went through to get rid of them to begin with. Danny has fallen so far and somehow in the process become even more relatable.
The presence of artist Javier Saltares, who has drawn roughly a zillion Ghost Rider stories over the past two decades, most of them starring Danny Ketch, gives this book an appropriate and comfortable feel ("comfortable" being a dude with a smoking skull he can't quite get lit beating the crap out of European hoodlums). The sarcastic but creepy narration of a crow who is taunting Danny with his lost powers is a nicely weird touch.
This book looks like it's going to be a worthy companion piece to Jason Aaron's stellar work over on the mothership, so I'm psyched for five months of double the Ghost Rider goodness.
And with that, I yield the blog to Kiel Phegley who will be our Halloween ringmaster with a very cool uberpost of his own.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Stop! Read the Disclaimer!
Back during my Wizard days, when we'd sit around to do the old Thursday Morning Quarterback column under the legendary leadership of Sean T. Collins, Daredevil always presented something of a conundrum: every time an issue came out, we'd inevitably agree it was of such high quality that it deserved discussion, but then when we tried to talk about it, we couldn't come up with much more to say other than, "Another great issue of Daredevil." The book has been so consistently good for so long that there isn't usually much to get into other than standard praise. However, I think Brubaker's latest arc, "Lady Bullseye," continues that level of quality while also creating some new twists and interesting talking points.
First up, of course, is the titular villain of the arc herself (and yes, that sentence reads a bit dirty, but if noticed that already, it just means you're down in the gutters here with me--welcome). I think when people heard that there was going to be a character named Lady Bullseye, there were more than a few audible groans at yet another "sexy" twist on a familiar favorite. And hey, we're only two issues deep, so maybe that fear could still come true, but from what I've seen so far (and based on my confidence in Brubaker's abilities), I feel confident saying that won't be the case.
Lady Bullseye inherits a unique visual appearance from her namesake, but I like that other than those two contributions, the original Bullseye's involvement in the new femme fatale's was brief but impactful. Bullseye was an intriguing starting point for the Lady's story, but their contrasts are far more interesting. Whereas Bullseye is pure id and fury, seeing his target and striking immediately, almost without thought; this is why Daredevil is so often able to take him down. But Lady Bullseye is a calculated planner, the type of villain who has always given DD more trouble; she has spent two issues now stalking her prey, analyzing him and putting distractions in his path. Lady Bullseye possesses the lethal physical attritbutes of a Bullseye, the patience and craftiness of a Kingpin, and her own code of discipline and desire to never again be made a victim.
In short, in combining the nastiest parts of Daredevil's greatest foes, Lady Bullseye could present him with his most potent challenge ever. There is certainly potential here.
There is also potential in whatever is going on with Matt Murdock and Dakota North. When Dakota was introduced as a sort of supplemental supporting cast member early in Brubaker's run, it was a neat easter egg for those proud few who remembered the sole limited series of this supermodel-turned-P.I. back in the 80's (I'm looking at you, Marvel assistant editor Michael Horwitz who likely has no idea I even have a blog!), but didn't seem like much more. And truthfully, I don't think Brubaker had much more planned for her. But over the course of the last year, it feels like Brubaker has kind of unexpectedly fallen in love with Dakota in the same way that Matt has become somewhat infatuated with her, and that dual sense of improvization for both creator and creation is something that's neat to see.
Dakota presents an interesting potential romantic foil for Matt, as she is not a victim or a vixen (his usual type), but rather a capable, strong, positive female presence who can hold her own with him without coming at him with a sai. She's sassy and likeable and, like I said, seemed to come out of left field in a totally organic way. Given Matt's hardluck history with the ladies, it's the kind of burgeoning relationship I want to stand up and cheer.
But then there's the tiny monkey wrench of Matt already being married to a woman who is currently in an insane asylum pretty much because of him and they are both totally aware of this and thus feel horrible about sleeping together.
Ok, maybe not so tiny.
That Brubaker can make me so psyched for a potential tryst between Matt and Dakota and then at the moment of my elation remind me along with the characters that this is a big moral no no is another testament to his talent.
Just discussing the two women currently looming heavy in the life of Daredevil takes up enough space that I only briefly need to mention stuff like Michael Lark's gorgeous art, the curious proto-Stick type character introduced at the end, and the fact that we get a bonus Iron Fist figt in this issue at no additional charge (or, in my case, no charge at all).
Great book, plenty to talk about.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Stop! Read the Disclaimer!
This is actually a fairly significant issue in Ed Brubaker's historic Captain America run. After nearly two years of telling a complex super-story that involved a pack of well-known villains, guest stars galore and major status quo changes around every corner, issue #43 was really Brubaker's first opportunity to showcase his new Cap in "just another adventure" since the death of Steve Rogers. Without all the trimmings, could Brubaker's Cap still bring the goods?
Well, obviously I think it did, otherwise it would be on my Five Comics Worth Avoiding list.
Brubaker keeps things interesting by switching gears from the 18 issues of non-stop action and a massive cast to a chance to focus in on the character of Bucky Barnes, now getting settled in his role as Captain America. Under Brubaker's pen, Bucky has grown enormously as a character since his unlikely return to life back in 2004. In this issue, we see why Bucky is a classic "hero with feet of clay" in the Marvel mold honestly moreso than Steve Rogers ever was. Steve was a great character in large part because he was the practically flawless hero in a universe populated by very flawed characters, but Bucky is great because he has all those flaws and then some, yet he's expected to fill the role his mentor did in spite of them.
Bucky's got the same "man out of time" gimmick that Steve had, and you see it in bits like his inability to elegantly manuever in dealing with people outside his limited circle. But Bucky's more interesting chinks lie in his simmering guilt over his actions during his time as the Winter Soldier and how those feelings feed into the inferiority complex he has as Cap. He's a haunted character, but not so brooding that you can't relate to and root for him. He's more than a little charming. There's something about the fact that he still refers to his smoking hot lover, the Black Widow, as his "best friend" that makes you smile. He's a bad ass on a motorcycle, but there's still a bit of that wide-eyed kid from the 40's kicking around.
Of course a major selling point for this issue for many (I'm not being sarcastic) was to see how Brubaker would handle a classic Cap villain in Batroc the Leaper. Despite being a fan favorite, Batroc has been portrayed as more or less a joke for the better part of his existence, with his ridiculous moustache, overblown French accent and propensity for losing fights pretty quickly after making a bold entrance. Upon hearing that Brubaker had designs on restoring some of Batroc's lost credibility, I had some concern that he'd go too far in the serious direction, robbing "Ze Lepair" of some of what makes him cool. Because honestly, at the end of the day, Batroc needs to be at least a little ridiculous.
Brubaker achieves a nice balance with Batroc in this issue. He is portrayed both by the writer and by Cap as a legit threat effectively not only through his actions but by Bucky paying respect to Savate, the French martial art of which he is the master. At the same time, he's still got the accent, he's still got the moustache and he's still got the quirkiness and arrogance, he's just able to back up his words. I'm glad Brubaker was able to see the potential that was already there in Batroc and recognize he didn't need to reinvented from the ground up, just tweaked.
Amidst the character exploration of the new Cap and the cool fight scenes with Batroc, we've also got the interspersed flashbacks to Bucky's WWII days with the original Cap and the Invaders (represented here by the Golden Age Human Torch) that have become a trademark of this book. It's always cool to see old school Bucky cutting loose, as Brubaker's enjoyment of writing that particular material is evident and infectious. Additionally, it seems like these particular flashbacks are leading to revelations about Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier and perhaps his first rogue truly all his own.
With nobody dying, nobody getting a new costume and not a Red Skull in sight, Captain America remains one of the best books on the stands.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Stop! Read the disclaimer!
Having recently rewatched all of "Buffy" on DVD with my fiancee, Megan, I can say that as a full body of work, that show is certainly superior to "Angel" and has held up better. However, it was a case of timing for me back in the day, as I only sporadically watched "Buffy" until late in college when it was winding down but picked up on "Angel" at exactly the right time. "Angel" started right as I was getting ready to graduate high school, and as it was ostensibly about the journey people take after that period in their life, so I was hooked.
Also, I'm a dude, so the male fantasy show hooked me a little more quickly at age 18 than the female empowerment one. Go fig.
Anyhow, back to the funnybooks, Angel: After the Fall, like the Buffy comic, picked up after the show's series finale and, again like its counterpart, threw the status quo into a tailspin, plunking Angel and friends (and L.A.) down in Hell where humans were caught in the crossfire of a demonic turf war. Over the course of its first year, After the Fall has roped back in pretty much all of the familiar faces from "Angel," in some cases in extremely altered states (Gunn has fangs, Angel does not), and had them circling one another leading up to the climactic clash of the last couple issues.
Before I (finally) get to issue #13 proper, one final Buffy vs Angel comics comparison: the Buffy book is great on its own but can feel like kinda a separate beast from the TV show since their base of operations for the seven-year run of the show no longer exists, the cast is scattered, etc.; however, on "Angel," there was never quite that sense of comfort as the locales and cast changed much more often, so After the Fall really does feel like a logical extension of where we left off.
Ok, the issue itself. As mentioned, writer Brian Lynch (under direction from Whedon) has spent 12 issues manuevering his pieces into place, so my expectations going into this were emotional payoffs galore, and this one delivered by the boatload.
No character has changed from the show to the comic more thoroughly than Gunn, who went from being the human heart and soul of the team on TV to a vampire with delusions that he can succeed where Angel has failed on the printed page. He's a truly tragic and frightening "villain" as you desperately want him to come around and realize how crazy he's acting, but he just won't. His complete emotional breakdown upon realization of his fool's errand is crushing and makes his reunion at issue's end with former lover Fred/Illyria all the more tragic--and what happens next all the more shocking.
Connor is a character I always hated on the show because he was all about the whining and the inner darkness, but Lynch has found room to grow him and make him really likeable. His relationship with Angel, his father, has become the core of the book, and it has become something both touching and cool that doesn't detract from either being a badass hero. His speech about not giving up the fight in this issue as he attempts to bring his pop back from the brink of death is "Braveheart" dope and makes me wish the show had gone another year or two if only to see if the character could have gotten here in that medium.
The one problematic character in the book, as he was in the final season of "Angel," is Spike, simply because the guy can clearly carry his own show (or comic book), so making him a supporting player is tough. Nonetheless, Lynch writes him very well, as his dialogue makes him far and away the wittiest member of the cast. Being breathlessly offended at a Slayer thinking his jacket is pleather as three of them leap at him with murderous intentions is classic.
At the end of the day, Angel: After the Fall is exactly what an "Angel" fan would hope for: another season of the show with an unlimited budget and no casting conflicts. Shit is crazy, there are dragons in every issue, and tragedy, comedy and action collide on a monthly basis for a nice little soup. I would say it's a comic I can really sink my teeth into, but that would be cliched. So I won't.
But I could.
See you tomorrow (I hope)!
And like Ben, once I left the conversation, some of my ideas came into clearer view, so I'm gonna post on them here.
Basically, I think Ben and I were talking about different things when we were talking about the idea of what people find to be a "good" comic.
The idea of what makes a comic book (and art in general) "good" has been a concept I've wrestled with since a college course I took on literary criticism. I'd get pissed at my professor at pretty much every turn because I was caught up on the same broad ideals as Ben brought up - specifically, that no one should tell someone else what is "good." But my grasp of criticism vs the "good" started coming into focus when she brought up those cheap Harlequin romance novels.
She pointed out that, yes, many readers obviously love the Harlequin books, but we can all agree they don't have as much artistic merit as, say, a Zadie Smith novel. And that's where the seperation exists. Just cause something has artistic merit, doesn't mean it's personally good for a reader, and vice versa.
I think ultimately, the "good" is a personal reality. What Ben thinks is good is his opinion and his opinion isn't universally right or wrong. But I do believe you CAN apply a certain level of criticism (i.e. tools to measure an art's effectiveness) to figure out if a project has artistic merit. From there, though, it depends on your own concepts of good or bad whether that artistic merit plays into whether you think that book is good or bad. But, generally, a book being "good or bad" doesn't play into the discovery of its artistic merits except in the very broadest sense. It's MUCH more involved than just reading something and saying, "yeah, this is crap" or "nope, this is amazing."
When it comes to critics, I'd generally not had much room for them in my life until about a year ago. And even then, I only pay attention to a SMALL number of comics critics and only for very focused projects. But my main reason for reading their reviews is because, like movies and novels and all other art, I feel like I don't always get all the meaning in a work on my own all the time and a deeper understanding of the work can be gotten at by hearing what others think. Sure I compose my own opinions of things, but I like hearing what others have to say and am VERY open to their opinions changing my opinion of a work.
One example is when a friend and I saw The Happening this past summer at the theater. The two of us walked out confused and generally unready to say if we liked the film or not. The following weeks, I dove into whatever reviews of the film I could find online to find out if there'd been something I missed or to find some greater meaning. I was using the reviews like a college student using Wikipedia, mostly searching for understanding in their critique of the work. There were plenty of critics focusing on broad ideas of "good or bad" but only a few attempted to use their critical tools to find a deeper meaning and intention from the production. To this day, I still don't like that film, but if I were to find an article about how the movie is, I dunno, a scene-for-scene remake of a lost Finnish film about the environment from 1935 then, yeah, my opinion of the film would change. I guess I'm saying I use a mosaic of things including critics, my own opinion, discussions of works with my friends,a nd other things to help me understand a work wholly before figuring my "good or bad" opinion of it and almost never close the case fully on my opinion. It's always like Play-doh and I like that.
But, getting back to the bigger idea here, and I told Ben this, I wonder if there's a problem with the quality of comics coming out today that's not as easy to answer as each individual saying "Let me like what I like." Maybe we aren't always getting the grand art that we deserve because the general public doesn't realize that they deserve better and so the companies give us what the companies want instead of the best they can give.
I genuinely believe every comic fan (and any fan of art, period) owes it to themselves to be their own critic and make a conscious decision to figure out why they like what they say is good. What is it that makes it good in your eyes? If it stands up to your test, then great! If it doesn't, then it's possible your passion has diluted your taste. Either way, as an intelligent fan, you deserve the best.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The subjective nature of quality makes me fidgety. I've stated pretty strongly on this blog before that I don't feel comfortable telling people what they should and shouldn't like. I have no problem telling you what I like, which is why I do Five Comics Worth Reading, but whether or not you choose to agree with me is your call. I've had too many people outright or indirectly tell me what I like is not "good." That's obviously a load of crap. Your "good" is different than my "good" is different than that guy's "good." It's all completely arbitrary based on who is judging. I respect people who can write critiques and reviews I find myself wanting to read (I try, but I'm not very good at it), but at the end of the day, I read those because I enjoy them, not because I'm looking to be handed an opinion.
So getting back to the "If you make a good comic, it will be successful" statement, how can you know what is a "good" comic? The only thing you can know is what you like and what is "good" to you. It's a pet peeve of mine when writers and editors put out what they want to see with no consideration of the audience simply because they can. I feel that the above statement more often than not justifies this behavior. If we have an industry of people working in a vacuum where they produce what they think are "good" comics based on their own tastes as opposed to what people want to read, we're going nowhere fast.
However, on the flipside, ignoring your own feelings and simply giving people what they've traditionally showed they will buy may be a safe proposition, but as a buddy of mine today persuasively demonstrated to me, this is also a road to a place I don't particularly want to be. This path is creatively stifling and ultimately leads to a lack of new and exciting directions for comics to go in. If you don't take chances and give people something new even if there's a chance they may reject it, in the end you'll lose them anyways.
So it seems like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you write to please only yourself, you're not only creating a product only a limited audience will enjoy, you'll also probably fail commercially. But if you write to please only your audience, your product will stagnate and ultimately die.
As always, the solution lies with Aristotle.
Aristotle's most famous teachings revolved around finding the mean, that perfect balance between excess and deficiency. This philosophy is one I've often embraced in life and find applies just as well to comics as anything else.
My model of success: You have to create a product that personally excites and interests you, but you also have to be willing to shape your creative vision to make it accesible to others.
An example I could use here would be my favorite comic from when I was a kid, Fabian Nicieza's New Warriors. Obviously I'd love to become the editor or writer of a new volume of New Warriors that featured characters and themes from that original volume. However, since I found those original comics to be "good," if I were following the model of simply writing for myself, I'd likely just replicate them in an attempt to entertain myself.
Conversely, if I were writing just for the perceived audience, I likely wouldn't resurrect that series at all because there is real clamoring for it beyond me and the other dudes I know who liked New Warriors.
In my opinion, the right way to do the project would be to feature the spirit of what I liked, but make allowances for those who don't share my opinion in order to win them over. If that means only getting to use some of the original cast as opposed to all because more people are likely to read the book if I mix in some bigger name characters, so be it. By finding a way to make things the audience like work as things I want, I get the tradeoff of them checking out the stuff I thought was "good" to begin with.
Some may think this approach means I'm sacrificing the purity of creative vision for the sake of commercial success. I disagree. I don't think pragmatism is equal to selling out and I also don't think it's fair to dictate the way to make "good" comics. We all have our own approach.
As my friend today astutely pointed out, the "write just for yourself" approach is one that's easier to make work at smaller companies or in self-publishing, because your goals are different. Your whole mission statement is to showcase your own vision, your own work. This is admirable. I say more power to indy and underground creators who create for themselves and fuck what other people think. They're cool in my book.
However, they don't get to tell me how to do my thing.
I truly believe that creating comics that will sell well and comics that are good don't have to be mutually exclusive. There is proof of that in our marketplace. And I am not the type who is going to be writing or editing or whatever solely for myself and my own creative fulfillment anytime soon. I like creating for an audience. I relish the challenge of figuring out what they like and then finding a way I can provide that but make it good (not "good") for them and for me.
There's nothing wrong with liking what everybody else likes. There's nothing wrong with liking something that nobody else likes. Don't let anybody else dictate to you what is "good" when you know what is good. If people tell you that you're too mainstream and that you should be exploring things you normally wouldn't try...well, you should consider it. I'm reading stuff now I would never have thought to read five years ago and it has opened up whole new worlds for me. However, remember to consider the irony of the people telling you to open those new worlds trying to close you off from the ones you already enjoy.
I don't apologize for what I like; neither should you. We all make good comics together.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
(I feel I should note before I start that, for whatever reason, I did not include LOST--and yes, I always write it in all CAPS--on this list. I could say that's because it hasn't debuted yet this season or because it only runs in half seasons, but I have shows on this list that violate both those rules. Ultimately, while I can somehow quantify hour long dramas versus half hour cartoon shows, for whatever reason I can't bring myself to place LOST on the scale. It is its own beast. If pressed, I guess it would probably be top three).
10. Saturday Night Live
Mileage varies episode-to-episode based in large part on who is hosting and other x-factors, but I think cast-wise, SNL is in the best shape it's been since the glory days of the 90's. They trimmed the fat by finally losing Maya Rudolph while Kristen Wiig became a sensation and roleplayers like Fred Armisen and Bill Hader grew into their roles nicely. I'm hard-pressed to name anybody on the cast who isn't at least trying. And fuck what anybody else thinks: Keenan is funny. It's gonna be tough when Amy Poehley finally calls it quits, but Weekend Update is still consistently hilarious and this show is still must see TV for me.
9. Family Guy
It's not the "I can't believe they went there" dynamo it once was every week anymore, but Family Guy still consistently wows me on a "They went there" level (last week's episode was about the fucking Holocaust, people!). A lot of the plots seem like rehashes or watered down compared to past genius, but Family Guy at 85% still makes me laugh more than a lot of stuff operating north of 90%. And the fact that a musical number could break out at any time still makes each episode worth watching.
8. Dirty Sexy Money
This show could be climbing the ranks as I'm still waiting to see the full effects of the subptle reinvention of its direction coming off the heels of a freshman half season I very much enjoyed. As you will find the case with many of the shows on my list, I dig Dirty Sexy Money in large part because it has an extremely talented ensemble cast who can each carry their own scenes and subplots with equal skill. The diversity of character types on this show and the caliber of actor brought in for each makes for a dizzying and fulfilling viewing experience. The larger super structure of the show still intrigues, but it's the smaller episode-to-episode dilemmas and character interactions that keep me invested. The addition of Lucy Liu is certainly something to watch, as is how this show progresses in general. Ask me again in six months...
7. Pushing Daisies
It's probably the most unique show on television and there's so much to love from the quirky sets to the wonderful synergy among the cast, but I can't say I feel much drive to pull it from my DVR until four days after it airs, so that has to drop it down the list a bit. Part of the reason I've lost a bit of interest is that the relationship between Ned and Chuck that I find so precious in season one seems to be going nowhere fast; understandable given the show's set-up, but frustrating nonetheless. I find now that I enjoy Kristen Chenoweth's Olive and Chi McBride's Emerson immensely more than anything else going on, but the fact is that no matter how many subplots they get, Ned and Chuck are always going to be the center of the show, and if that relationship loses steam, so does everything built around it. At this point, I can still appreciate Pushing Daisies for all it tries to do, but my overall enjoyment is based more and more on how interesting the mystery of the week is.
A lot of folks have proclaimed Entourage to be running on fumes at this point, but I think the new season has completely rejuvenated a show I was losing interest in before the Writer's Strike. For years I've been wanting them to finally explore the angle of an actor struggling and paying for too many rash decisions, and this season they're finally doing that. I also love that Eric has his own easy vehicle for sideplots with his new agency and that Vince's financial problems force Drama and even Turtle to find more stuff to do and expand their characters. And Jeremy Piven earns those Emmys every week. Entourage usually starts slow and then really heats up once the major movie project gets rolling, but this season is off to a very nice start just for being different and actually placing hurdles in the boys' way instead of letting them coast.
5. Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice
I grouo these two together because in the first few weeks of the new season they've bounced back and forth in my affections as far as whether the spinoff has begun to outshine the mothership or not. I always give Grey's credit for its cast and its writing being able to overcome having the least likable lead character on television, but it does seem to be spinning its wheels a bit these days. I appreciate the kinda cool meta attempt to freshen things up by having the hospital in dire straits because of all the things realists criticize the show for (basically that the doctors are self-obsessed fuck-ups who lose a lot of patients because they're wrapped up in their own shit), but some of the relationships are starting to feel played out. The season premiere was absolutely brilliant though. On the Private Practice side of the equation, I'm finding their cases to be far more compelling and their characters to still have much more depth to explore, but the cast hasn't yet achieved that ease of comfort their Grey's counterparts can fall back on during weak episodes through banter and chemistry.
4. The Office
I was something of a late convert with The Office, as I liked but did not love it right off. I'm still not as head over heels with it as a lot of other people I know, but I've come to appreciate it's intelligence, the fine comedic science behind it's writing, and its cast's knack for finding that perfect balance between real and surreal. I should probably disclose that I did go to high school with stars John Krasinski and B.J. Novak, and while we were three years apart and never spoke to each other, I still begrudge them their success and amd thusly predisposed to want to find things wrong with their show. This is a frustratingly difficult thing to do. Last season lost me a bit (and I don't think I was alone), but the first few episodes of the new season have been absolutely hysterical. Amy Ryan adds a lot to the show and I'll be interested to see where it goes once she leaves.
3. Brothers & Sisters
My favorite hour-long straight up drama on TV, Brothers & Sisters consistently impresses me by taking a formula that should by all means get real old, real fast and make me eat it up every time. Seriously, just about every week follows the same routine of the Walkers gossiping about one another for the first half hour, having some big get together (usually a dinner) where they get drunk and spout off secrets and fight loudly for the next fifteen minutes, then resolve at least two or three of the major conflicts to wind down the episode. This happens every week! And the show is still thoroughly enjoyable! A large part of this is the sheer force of acting will that perhaps the best ensemble cast on television brings to the table. At age 61, Sally Field still delivers at least one diatribe a week that makes me laugh and/or cry and believe that she is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today. The addition of Rob Lowe to the regular cast just pushed things over the top, as he's yet another shining jewel in a crown that doesn't have a single tarnish. The writing on this show is by no means bad, but it can certainly get repetitive, and it's the incredible energy of the actors that buys their crew time to find the plots a viewer can really sink their teeth into.
2. Gossip Girl
Guess what, suckas: this guilty pleasure, over-the-top, teenage melodrama-fest on the friggin' CW is one of the best-acted shows on television. For real. I'll be the first to admit that I will gladly watch something with no socially redeeming value because it appeals to my lowest common denominator even when I know it's not exactly a polished cast and crew at their most professional (see: Place, Melrose), but here's the secret of Gossip Girl: there is actually some substance behind the style. Yes, jaw-droppingly awesome one-liners and tearjerking courtships aside, the writing on the show probably wouldn't always pass high school English and the pacing often makes the Indy 500 look like a footrace, but it all works and comes off sounding good, looking good and holding your attention because the young actors on this show are seriously among the best in the business. There's not a Monday I don't come away marvelling at how Leighton Meester can say more with her facial acting than most Oscar bait starlets can say in a monologue or how Ed Westwick knows exactly how to hit the inflection on each line so perfectly. I flip to 90210 on some Tuesdays and see just how bad this show could be if it weren't for every actor on it being so incredibly talented; I honestly think they force the writers to stretch far beyond their capabilities to live up to their work, and for a group mostly in their early 20's (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Matthew Settle and Melrose alum Kelly Rutherford rock as the parents), that's pretty impressive.
1. 30 Rock
Ok, so yes, it is indeed hard to make a list like this when you have shows of such widely varied themes, formats, etc., but in the end, pound for pound, there is no show on television I enjoy as much as 30 Rock. For every other show on this list and on TV, I can remember a time where I thought an episode was at least a bit slow, or a little off, but in my eyes 30 Rock simply does not have bad episodes. It is consistently entertaining. It is the total package of great writing, incredible acting, superlative production and everything else that goes into making great television. Tina Fey seems to have emerged over the past five years or so as this generation's latest driving force in comedy (the fact that she won Emmys for acting and writing was just awesome) and that's dope. Alec Baldwin has completely rejuvenated his career and I think getting old and no longer taking himelf seriously is the best thing that ever could have happened to him. Tracy Morgan is ridiculous. And there is not a single member of the ensemble who doesn't make the most out of every second they're onscreen. This is a cast so good that when they have big name guest stars, sometimes I get irritated that they're taking away lines from Jack McBrayer and Judah Friedlander. I don't think there is some greater message behind 30 Rock (or maybe there is an I just don't care), but it's smart and it makes me laugh and that's what I want when I'm tired on a Thursday night. Booyah.
Well, TJ got the ball rolling today, beginning his visual exploration of the Justice Society of America with a rad Dr. Fate sketch. Here's a taste...
...for the full monty, follow TJ's blog, where you can also read top notch horror movie reviews and much more.
And very soon (maybe as soon as next week), we'll be joining in over here at the CKT. I'll be tackling Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, while Rickey draws...well, that would be telling.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Once again, a few honorable mentions to begin...
-Most Silver Age Superman stories drive me insane (Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes stories, now that's another story...) and since his brilliant debut mini, the Sentry isn't exactly a character who has set my world on fire; thus, you'd think a limited series like Age of the Sentry, which is essentially the Sentry in knockoffs (albeit self-aware knockoffs) of those SA Superman yarns, would be right up not my alley, you'd be wrong. Writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin along with their talented crew of artists have created a very neat project that goes all the way with its parody, mixing fun and nostalgia in an intelligent way. This past week's Age of the Sentry #2, in which we started to get the sense that not all was as it seems, added a depth I did not see coming and hooked me all the more.
-Batman Confidential #22 did not come out this week (I don't believe), but I snagged it from the delayed DC comps pile of ol' JC mostly because I wanted to sample the work of relative newcomer Andrew Kreisberg, the writer who will soon be taking over Green Arrow/Black Canary, a title in which I have a degree of interest. So far so good, as in this flashback on the Joker's first night in the custody of the Gotham PD, Kreisberg telegraphs a plot twist way early on presumably because he had the confidence he could still make it resonate, a goal he certainly accomplishes. I'll be keeping an eye on this fella.
-This week also saw the release of Ultimate Origins #5, the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis and Butch Guice's "filling in the blanks" behind the scenes origin of the Ultimate Universe. It's probably making a quantum leap to compare Ultimate Origins to "LOST," but that has been the prevailing thought on my mind each time I read an issue. I love the way Bendis pulled in every major Ultimate player and made them all connected without (in my opinion) making it seem forced or implausible. The massive conspiracy angle breathes some needed new life into the Ultimate Universe's mission statement and I'm happy this book received the success some feeled it would not achieve.
Ok, main event time...
As I've touched on a bit previously, I've never been a massive Spider-Man fan. I like the character fine, but I much more appreciate the concept (my favored interpretations of which are Ultimate Spider-Man and the movies) and the massive change it brought about in the industry creatively than I have any particular affection for ol' Spidey himself. I think much of this is rooted in my having not grown up in the 60's, 70's or even 80's and forming a childhood attachment to the fondly remembered Spider-Man material of those periods, but rather beginning to read comics in the 90's, when most people thought the Spider-Man franchise was running on fumes; an essay for another day (I seem to be stockpiling those).
However, once in awhile a story will come along in the mainstream Marvel U that clues me in to why people dig this character and his world so much; "New Ways to Die," the six-parter by Dan Slott and John Romita Jr. that wrapped this week, has certainly been one of those stories.
Slott has a great grasp on Peter Parker himself, which of course is a huge advantage if you're going to be writing Amazing Spider-Man. Having to keep secrets from friends and loved ones is of course the classic burden of super hero comics, but Slott did a good job in this arc even in little moments making me feel like it may just be rougher on Peter than most. In Spidey's whole public struggle against the Thunderbolts and in the resolution you can see coming to this latest chapter of his neverending feud with Norman Osborn even before it hits, Slott also conveys why Peter remains the hardest luck hero in an indsutry populated with guys who can't seem to catch a break.
Speaking of the Osborn family, the cranked up to 11 f'ed up dynamic between Norman and Harry really made me blink hard a few times this issue. Slott writes a fantastic Norman, flipping him on a dime from shrewd to callous and embittered to just plain nuts, and nowhere is that more evident than in his warped relationship with his son. Harry's manic need to alternately liberate himself from and please his father makes his scenes palpably uncomfortable and presents a strong contrast to the cool and laid back Harry who is normally presented.
The Osborns are just part of that larger Spidey-centric world that made "New Ways to Die" so fun. Eddie Brock's new role as Anti-Venom is intriguing. The stuff with Mr. Li raises an inquisitive eyebrow. The soap opera between Peter and the various members of his supporting cast has a great deal of potential. Even Peter's new job working for Ben Urich is something I can sink my teeth into. There's a lot going on here and a lot to mine.
Briefly on the matter of John Romita Jr., I absolutely detested his art when I was 12 and he was drawing Uncanny X-Men, but years of growth on both our parts and my enjoyment and appreciation of his work on Daredevil: Man Without Fear, Thor and Eternals, to name but a few, have made me really appreciate what a gift he is to the business. His fight scenes are awesome, his anatomy is so cool and his women are beautiful in a very real (i.e. not cheesecake) way. He's been called the definitive Spider-Man artist of our time and I've got no cause to argue.
But all that aside, I said a couple paragraphs back that this story was "fun," and above all else, that's what it was. There's just something viscerally smile-inducing for even this non-Spidey fan when Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin.
And as a random conclusion, I loved Songbird's last exchange with Spidey; don't know why.
The Legion of Super-Heroes (all of them) + George Perez + so many continuity Easter eggs this comic should be sponsored be Cadbury is a pretty solid equation for getting my resounding seal of approval on a comic book.
Oh, Geoff Johns, you know me so well.
I could honestly write a treatise on all the reasons I love this limited series and this issue, but let's focus on the tangibles.
Of course one of the greatest challenges for anybody writing (or drawing) the Legion (and one of the knocks people will often level against the property) is that the cast is huge. And that's when you're dealing with one Legion. In this book we've got three Legions. And Superman. And Superboy Prime. And a gigantic Legion of Super-Villains. In short, it's practically incomprehensible that any creative team would agree to take on this comic book equivalent of fixing the U.S. economy (topical!), but given that Johns has shown on Justice Society of America that he can juggle over a dozen characters with the best of them and Perez has been attempting to top himself as undsiputed master of cramming more and more characters into splash pages for the last two-plus decades, clearly these are the guys for the jobs.
That aforementioned gigantic Legion of Super-Villains emerges fully formed only a few pages into this issue, and thusly Johns only has a few more pages to flesh them out enough for us to care when they go to war with the good guys; he does so masterfully. Making full use of just a line of dialogue here or a description from a Legionnaire there, he elevates the LSV above the status of a duble page spread of cool costumes and wacky names. Superboy Prime we already know, but the sadistic glee Johns takes in writing his dialogue shines through. Mordru is the crazy old man who is terrifying because he's got more power than he does a grasp of what's happening around him. Saturn Queen is every telepathic character from Professor X on taken to that dark extreme they're always afraid of reaching. Earthman is the arrogant racist with heaping helpings of insecurity swirling about him. Universo is the ultimate absentee father who places his lusts above any sense of responsibility. The Fatal Five is a time bomb. The rest are henchmen, but that's ok. I seriously get all of that from like 10 pages--incredible!
On the flipside, Johns gives as much insight as he can into the Legionnaires by breaking them up into smaller mission groups (an old Paul Levitz trick) and splitting the focus. Ok, the White Witch-Blok and Wildfire-Dawnstar mushy stuff may be a bit overwrought, but it gets you where it needs to emotionally in the shortest amount of time. I could do with a little less perfunctory cursing from Lightning Lad, but the scene where Cosmic Boy finally snaps about leading the team and making the hard choices so that LL and Saturn Girl can have some semblance of a normal life as his erstwhile romantic partner Night Girl looks on stone-faced is one helluva moment. As always, Brainiac 5 is just great.
And speaking of Brainiac 5, I'm sure we'll get plenty more of the actual 3 Legions stuff next issue, but the introduction of the other two groups this go-around (in particular the nerdtastic method used) was great, and the subsequent three-way argument between the three Brainys was jus classic. I hope Johns takes the opportunity to compare and contrast the trio of groups more over the next couple months as his initial attempts were really fun.
But arguably the real star of the issue is Rond Vidar, the final Green Lantern of the 31st century. A supporting character who didn't really get to shine until years after this Legion's prime, Rond gets elevated tremendously here, and his against all odds struggle with the LSV is a tense nailbiter that Johns paces out masterfully. Rond was just another character for me when I read Levitz' Legion, but I really came to care about him really quick here. As for the GL-related revelation that closes this issue...I'll see where it goes (didn't do much for me either way this month).
And what can I say about George Perez? The guy is probably my favorite comic book artist of all time. The thing that impresses me most about George is that he was at the top of the industry over 20 years ago and he has kept himself in demand through to this day by constantly adapting and improving, never resting on his laurels. His art in Crisis On Infinite Earths, which came out back in 1986, remains breathtaking for the amount of detail he works into each panel; had he stopped there he would have been a legend, but he did not. His stuff in 1996 was better than his stuff in 1986 and his stuff today is his best yet. In 10 years, he'll probably be working on a whole new level of awesome. Scott Koblish's inks and the colors from Hi-Fi compliment George perfectly and this is a just a beautiful comic book.
So yeah, I liked it.
I'm a bit curious if this book worked as well for folks not as familiar with Legion lore as myself, so if you're out there, please, speak up.
And here's the other Geoff Johns-penned Final Crisis tie-in mini that seems catered to yours truly.
Rogues' Revenge reunited one of my favorite Flash creative teams of Johns and Scott Kolins for another romp in the playground that made them famous. While the Flash himself (neither my preferred version, Wally West, or that other guy who just came back) may not figure into this book, Johns and Kolins gained much of their acclaim for reinvigorating the Scarlet Speedster's bad guys and making them one of the most popular group of villains around (that they can star in their own book spinning out of DC's biggest event should attest to that popularity). In the last few years since both guys left the Flash and the Rogues behind, Captain Cold and company have fared not so well (to be kind) in the hands of other creative teams. No doubt a principle goal of Rogues' Revenge was to re-re-establish these guys as the badasses they were back around 2004 and try to put the not so great times behind them.
For the most part, I'd say mission accomplished.
Over the course of the two issues prior, the Rogues have regrouped, dispatched their would-be successors with extreme prejudice, and put the DCU back on notice. This issue brought about their pivotal faceoff with Inertia, their secondary showdown with Zoom, and the confrontation with Libra they didn't know was coming, but which was probably my favorite of all.
The fights with Zoom and Inertia are great both because Johns showcases the Rogues' powers in ways he only he can dream up and demonstrates why they're truly a villain team like no other when it comes to loyalty and cohesion. All the stuff about the Rogues' code of honor and the way they look out for each other isn't just lip service; I think what makes the Rogues feel different and cool is best conveyed with Mirror Master trying to explain to the young Trickster why and how he got accepted into the group as a replacement for his predecessor. But aside from that, the action scenes are awesome because this is really what Scott Kolins was built for. With all due respect to the legendary Carmine Infantiono, I truly do believe Kolins has caught up with him (metaphor!) as far as being among the best when it comes to conveying the use of super speed. It's a tricky thing to do without making it look hokey, but the time and effort Kolins puts into putting you in between seconds with guys like Zoom and Inertia (and, of course, the Flash) really shows. He also makes all the other Rogues look phenomenal, but it's the speedster stuff that really drops my jaw.
The stuff that went on with Zoom was unexpected and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it, but it opens up interesting routes for him to run going forward (double metaphor!). It definitely helped the final Rogues vs Inertia battle carry more gravitas and made the end result more satisfying. Loved the role Pied Piper played as well.
But my favorite part about the issue was unquestionably when the Rogues more or less told Libra to f off. I've not been the biggest fan of Libra in FC proper because it seems like most of the explanation of why I should find him cool is going to be done on the back end (see Grant Morrison rant), but I do find him scary and ominous enough that the Rogues turning him down is a stand up and cheer moment that sets them apart from every other DC villain without diminishing him too much (and yeah, I also liked it because I think the Rogues rock and Libra is lame).
So Geoff deciding to write Mirror Master with the thickest Scottish accent ever after eschewing anything like that for years aside, I label Rogues' Revenge an ace success in putting these guys back where they should be, and while I may not be looking forward to a lot of aspects of Flash: Rebirth quite yet, I'll certainly be psyched to see what role these fellas play.
Last issue of Guardians of the Galaxy ended with Drax deciding the only way to ferret out who on Knowhere was a Skrull was to kill everybody onboard and then see who did and didn't revert to green, wrinkly-chinned form. Well, he actually does it to kick off this issue, and the way the situation is resolved in a way that, y'know, allows the book to continue without coming up with a whole new cast, base of operations, etc. is clever and elegant in a manner that is befitting of this title, which can be well-described by both of those adjectives.
Guardians' tie-ins to Secret Invasion have been an interesting change of pace from some others, as the team and their allies and enemies are essentially quarintined in the middle of space, a situation that lends itself better to the whole "Who Can You Trust?" mantra than most. Given that the characters who make up this cast are still getting to know each other besides, their paranoia and quickness to point fingers is something different from the Avengers wondering who of the people they've put their faith in for months or years is going to turn on them. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have definitely seized the opportunities presented them by SI and used them to enhance their book rather than going through the motions and picking up some extra sales.
The simmering distrust from last issue (and really from the four before that as well) all bubbles to the surface here and explodes in some great skirmishes that Paul Pelletier does a great job rendering in a style both bouncy and dark. Quasar vs Drax is brief but brutal. Warlock vs Cosmo is similarly short but tense. Drax vs Cosmo is awesome because Drax kicks a telepathic Russian dog in the face. And then the Guardians vs the Luminals with Major Victory and Starhawk darting in and out of the background is just an enjoyable little clusterf*ck. And, of course, it's all up to Cosmo to clean everything up (I'm starting to see why editor Bill Rosemann loves this pup so much). None of the skirmishes last more than a page or two, but they all add up to a fast-paced ride you get your money's worth on.
Beyond the punching, kicking and telepathic blasts, we also get a nice spot on insight into what's currently making Drax tick (as well as planting the seeds for a potentially excellent addition to the supporting cast) and an ending that could spiral this book off into a number of intriguing directions.
Writer Brian Reed said from the onset in interviews that his goal for this limited series was to basically do "Cloverfield in the Marvel Universe." Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of whether or not he could pull this off without just ripping the movie directly, but with this issue, I think things really started to click in place and Reed is using themes, influences and plotpoints set up elsewhere to create something unique and well done.
Ostensibly, this is a comic about a bunch of non-powered civilians running scared around dark, secluded areas trying to get away from the looming Skrull menace. Now of course countless horror movies have succeeded off that very premise ("Cloverfield" included) and most of the better ones capitalize on showing the monster as little as possible. However, this is a comic, meaning Reed doesn't have actors to sell his lines, just the lines themselves and his artist, newcomer Marco Castiello. And speaking of Castiello, he doesn't get to draw costumer super heroes or big, scary aliens in this book, he just gets to draw scared teenagers and middle-aged cops.
But Reed and Castiello make it work, and my hat is off to them for that (I seriously was wearing a hat earlier today and have since taken it off).
Reed has help, of course, from Ben Urich, his lead character and one of the great supporting characters in the history of the Marvel Universe. A veteran newspaperman like Ben is the perfect protagonist for a book like this, torn between personal emotions and his drive to do his job. That Ben is not a square-jawed Abercrombie model is, of course, another thing that differentiates this book from just a horror movie knockoff. Ben's devotion to getting the other "survivors" to safety and seeming fearlessness in the face of it is the mark of a great Marvel hero, but that he still whips out his tape recorder to get the guy dying on the table to spill details (whether the cop says it "helped" or not) adds another layer.
Castiello does a wonderful job making the subway and Stark Tower scenes appropriately claustrophobic and ominous, and then flipping the script once Urich is outside and making "occupied" New York desolate in a very creepy way. As a reader, you don't feel safe at any point during the issue, and that's a testament to the fine job these creators are doing.
Telling the "man on the street" side of a story like Secret Invasion is something that has been attempted over the years with varying degrees of success. With this series, I think Reed and Castiello have turned in one of the better efforts and I'm looking forward to seeing where they take it in the final issue as Urich intersects with the climactic battle of SI. Ultimately, I think this story is one that will accompany the rest of Secret Invasion very nicely when it's all released as a whole.
And it needs to be said: that Juan Doe cover just rocks in so many ways.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
However, comics being in a pretty good place right now creatively also means that it's harder than ever to break into that elite group, simply because there are plenty of qualified bodies already filling those spots and this current crop doesn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon (which is a good thing). But that doesn't mean new talent isn't emerging all the time and finding success, even if it may not quite be on that lofty "A-List" level. There are plenty of guys on my personal "A-List" who may not be not be defining the larger landscape right now, but I'd certainly like to see them doing so in the future (if that's what they want, of course).
Here are just five writers that are on the cusp of something really special (or already there in some cases) and deserve your attention, respect and hard-earned dollars...
When I was first introduced to Jason Aaron via Scalped from Vertigo, I admit that I was not a fan. I found his characters too unlikable, his moral landscape too murky and everything to be just too dark. However, I gave him a second look when he came aboard Ghost Rider and was honestly amazed by how much a book about a character I was never interested in written by a writer I thought I didn't care for suddenly became one of my must-reads (it sits near the top of my pile whenever it comes out). Jason's GR is this crazy, surreal mix of horror, action and over-the-top nuttiness that feels more like a grindhouse flick then a comic sometimes. That previous sentence doesn't necessarily sound like it's a describing a formula for a quality comic I would love, but Jason makes it work! It's honestly like nothing else on the market today, and with each arc he's working in more and more actual continuity and comic book-y flourishes that only make it better. However, I'll once again come to the confessional and say I thought it highly possible that Jason's work on Ghost Rider was a glitch and I only liked it because it was unique. Wrong. He absolutely killed it on the "Get Mystique" arc of Wolverine, combining a period piece with balls out action and super hero stuff, then did great work recently on Black Panther, encapsulating nicely the coolness of T'Challa and creating possibly my favorite Super Skrull of the Secret Invasion. Heck, I even gave that first issue of Scalped another read, and I think my initial judgment may have been hasty. Jason Aaron is great at going in directions you don't expect, working outside the box and infusing traditional characters with genres they're not known for playing it, but where they fit nicely; I'd love to see him get a long run on a top flight book very soon.
Captain Britain and MI13 has unquestionably been the pleasant surprise breakout hit of Marvel over the past few months, and to say the writing of Paul Cornell hasn't been a huge factor in that is lunacy. Now I don't mean to shortchange Leonard Kirk, who is a brilliantly talented artist and doing beautiful work, but Secret Invasion tie-ins or no, a book starring the likes of Spitfire and the Black Knight doesn't catch the kind of critical fire MI13 has unless it's got a helluva writer steering the ship. What I love about Paul's approach is that he was a British writer handed a book full of British super heroes but was smart enough to know it would never sell as "the British book" (in the same way Alpha Flight will never sell as just "the Canadian book"...but that's another blog entry) and instead found a way to give it a niche beyond that rather limited premise in making it the book that deals with magic in the Marvel Universe. It's a very specified but intriguing mission statement that gives the book direction and then lets Paul's knack for character work do the rest. He does infuse his cast with a certain vaguely alien quality that reminds you they're not from the same country as seemingly 95% of the Marvel Universe, but he doesn't beat you over the head with it. More than that, Paul makes the principals of MI13 likable not so much in the way Captain America seems like a guy you'd love to get an autograph from, but in a way where you'd like to share a beer with them and maybe have Pete Wisdom as a weird neighbor. And of course in addition to the rock solid characterization, Paul also isn't above throwing in twists like having Blade ram a wooden stake through the heart of a core team member on the last page of an issue. Paul's work on MI13 as well as the trippy and fun Fantastic Four: True Story demonstrates an intelligence and willingness to take risks that we need more of in comics.
Of the guys on this list, Jeff Katz has done arguably the least to warrant being on it, but yet I didn't hesitate to write his name. To date, Jeff really only has to his credit in the world of big ticket comics 12 issues of Booster Gold, and those he co-wrote with unquestionable A-lister Geoff Johns. Thanks to having spoken to Geoff as he was launching the book and having seen some of the early scripts, I have an idea of what role Jeff played at least in those first issues, but nonetheless, with him being the junior partner in that creative dynamic, you have to wonder how much hand-holding was really done and how well he'd do flying solo. Well, I'd like to learn the answer to that second question sooner rather than later, because despite his reasonably slim bibliography to date, there's something about Jeff Katz that just makes me feel like he's a star waiting to be fully born. Maybe it's the way he carries himself in interviews, as he's affable as well as unquetionably enthuiastic and knowledgable about just about every comic out there. He projects an understanding for why and how properties work (or should work) that inspires confidence. There's also the fact that Booster Gold read different from just about any other Geoff Johns book (in a good way), and while I credit Geoff for being versatile, I also figure at least some of that has to be Jeff's doing. It's a bit of a leap of faith, but I really do think if Jeff Katz committed more time and focus to comics (which he may or may not ever do), he could be a major player. And I'd like to see that.
For a substantial period during the last few years, Blue Beetle wasn't just a book I was raving about month in and month out, more often than not it was indeed probably my very favorite ongoing super hero title from DC or Marvel. When Keith Giffen left the book only a few issues in, people assumed meltdown and cancellatio would be iminent, but his co-writer John Rogers proved to not only be competent, he absolutely blasted Blue Beetle into the stratosphere of quality. Here was a book that took the concept of the awkward teenage super hero originated with Spider-Man over 40 years ago and reinvented it not just for a new generation, but for a whole new cross section of readers. John made Jaime Reyes and his friends seem cool, smart, funny and just impossibly appealing month in and month out, but never like they couldn't also be the kids you went to high school with. John ran with the idea of Jaime not having the cliche of parents he had to keep his secret from, but rather embraced him having an extended family (including his friends) that not only knew about his double life, but offered him the support and guidance he could not do his job without. Jaime struggled and screwed up, but he was always growing, and John made sure you were along for every step of the ride. John also adeptly handled guest stars from Superman and Batman to Guy Gardner and Booster Gold and often cut to their core better and gave thema shinier polish than they received in their own books. But perhaps most impressively from a writing standpoint, John was able to tell engaging and satisfying one or two-part stories that gave you maximum bang for your buck while also never shortchanging those of us in it for the long haul because he never lost sight of his larger 25-issue super story and guided it to an eminently delicious conclusion. John has since departed Blue Beetle for yet-to-be-named other projects and I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for them to be announced, because I think this guy could take just about anything and make it shine.
Fred Van Lente
It wasn't that long ago that Fred Van Lente seemed to be merely the sidekick to Greg Pak's superstar on the Incredible Hercules writing team, but of late, FVL finally seems to be receiving the attention and acclaim he deserves. Before he landed on Herc, in addition to his indy work (which I really need to track down) and work in the Marvel All Ages playground, Fred penned the chuckle-a-minute Super-Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.'s 11, which had as much heart as it did humor. He and Pak have scored big with Herc, which, as I've mentioned here before, may be my favorite book currently being published (y'know, because John Rogers left Blue Beetle, remember?). No other book out there so deftly utilizes classic mythological structure and tropes as well as buddy cop movie dynamics and plenty of good ol' fashioner super hero punching. Heck, I'm actually not sure if any other comic has featured that particular delectable formula...ever. But then also from solo FVL, you've got Wolverine: First Class, a book that is supposedly for all ages, but I feel was designed specifically for 26-year old males who love dry wit and touching life lessons all wrapped in one (or really anybody who just like good, fun comics). W: FC actually encapsulates what I think makes Fred rock quite well: he excels at humor and a sense of fun, but he doesn't use it as his fallback or his one trick, he uses it as a tool in his storytelling arsenal that compliments the serious stuff instead of overwhelming it. Just last week, FVL launched his latest (and perhaps most high profile) endeavor with Marvel Zombies 3, and showed that he can do horror and gore just as well as Greek god goofiness or classic mutant mayhem. And again: he made it fun, but he also made it smart. Fred's a man with a solid plan who (like everybody on this list) brings something different from the norm to the table and given the opportunity could do some universe building on a grand scale I think any fan of quality would stand to benefit from.