Monday, August 31, 2009

Pod People: Robot Sweatshop

I know little to nothing about podcasts. And when I say, "little to nothing" I don't just mean about comics podcasts or what podcasts are cool. I'm not 100% sure what qualifies as a podcast, what the common formats for such programs are or how exactly they're made (my boy Pauly used to do a music one but then stopped when he lost his ipod...does owning an ipod make it easier?).

Right in step with my utter lack of knowledge on podcasting, I've slowly watched as a community of more tech-savvy nerds have seemingly taken the comics world by storm. There are podcast booths set up to do live reporting at every convention I've been at for the past three years from MoCCA to San Diego, and each day while reading sites like Dirk Deppey's Journalista I see mentions of comics podcasts that seem really up my alley, but I often click away in fear of the new.

Luckily for my luddite ass, our good buddy Dan Brooks co-hosts The Robot Sweatshop podcast, which he's been slowly reminding me to give a solid listen. Their latest installment boasts an interview with infamous comics douchebag the Yellow Hat Guy, which I think we may need to look at with our yuckster hats on and other links off the Sweatshop blog like this one right here made me want to pee myself a little.

As I go along with this, I think I may throw up an occasional review of whichever comics podcast I'm checking out in a given week, but for right now I think I'm a bit too close to Dan (though we've never met face-to-face, when I learned his band covered tunes of the first Fountains of Wayne album we became de facto bros for life) to offer a critical take, so I'ma just listen and dig for now.

If you've got a podcast you think I'll be into, drop it in the comments, and I promise to credit you if I review it and buy you a hot dog if I bump into you in real life.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's so hard to say goodbye...but you get cool stuff!

I'm rapidly approaching my two-year anniversary of leaving Wizard for Marvel. Actually, it was at Wizard World Chicago 2007 that Ryan first made me the offer I could not refuse, so I'm past two years on that and likely coming up on the anniversary of my entrance interviews. Perhaps when I hit the actual two-year mark official-like I'll blog at length about some of the details surrounding the move, but on this lazy Sunday night, I figured I'd just post the cool shit my buddies at Wizard got me for going away presents.

First up, the day I left, I was presented with this mocked-up cover which still holds an un-hung place of honor in my apartment and has remained the desktop wallpaper on my home computer since I first scanned it. Former Wizard Editor-in-Chief Pat McCallum started the tradition of doing these faux old school covers featuring outgoing staffers on toy bodies as going away gifts (I'll try and track some down to post this week; I know Ryan has a wicked M.O.D.O.K. one that I helped plan in function or another). Though Pat was unfortunately no longer at the magazine by the time I left, he had taught the rest of the staff well, and they made sure I got a custom Marvel Team-Up of my very own.

The gist of these was always to both give the departing staffer something cool but also to poke some fun at them as well; in my case, the gag was that I do own a black t-shirt with a red Superman symbol ala Superboy, and though I always tried to remember to wear it only with khakis, I would sometimes accidentally wear it with jeans and get made fun of (I don't feel so bad since Geoff Johns has told me he does the same thing all the time). The retro corner headshots of dudes who weren't leaving was also a Pat staple and the Dave Paggi thing is funny because he doesn't drink. I also thought it was cool that they Photoshopped in a Nova figure that to this day has never actually been made available to the public as a widespread release. I posted a pic of this cover on my Facebook the day I got it and got razzed for it plenty my first day at Marvel, mostly by Nova editor Bill Rosemann.

My second going away present took a bit longer to arrive, but was clearly well worth the wait. Rickey dropped it off at my apartment after months of alternate hype and apologies (neither were necessary) and I'll leave it to him to tell the full behind-the-scenes story of how it got done if he so chooses (I know Geoff was involved somehow, hence why the message on the sketch says he is one of the people it's from), but obviously it's one of the coolest things I've ever gotten. Scott Kolins is one of my favorite artists ever and also a guy I've never ever seen at a convention, so I've never been able to get a Nova sketch from him, something my buddies knew well. But they went one better, getting me Kolins' rendition not only of Nova, but of my other favorite character, the Flash, who Scott made his mark on for years alongside Geoff. The story behind them playing frisbee is that we all used to do that at lunch when it was nice out, hence the Wizard logo on the disc. It's the greatest super hero team-up of all-time and it's exclusive to the wall of my living room. I've never actually met Scott, but I e-mailed him a big thanks for this amazing piece.

So people often ask me: What was the coolest part about working for Wizard? I think after this post you can likely guess my answer: The friends I made there.


Friday, August 28, 2009

AIM Adventures Strikes Back

TJ: the shock and disapointment that you and rickey haven't seen star wars or don't like it or whatever nonsense it is has worn off
TJ: now i just feel bad for you guys
Ben: I feel bad for me too. I spent too many hours watching that shit.

Linko! XX

* Like every comic blog in the world is pointing out, I wanted to note that today is Jack "The King" Kirby's birthday. He would have been 92. You should spend some time today reading Kirby comics, but if you've none on hand, great ways to celebrate his life and art online include all the radical stuff Bully has up for today (and I nabbed the above image from this past Bully post), Tom Spurgeon's annual compilation of awesome Kirby panels (it's not loading properly right now, but I'm sure he'll fix it soon), the great Kirby Museum site I linked to last week or Mark Evanier's indispensable blog which I'm sure will have many jaw-dropping Kirby posts today and for the foreseeable future.

* In other "awesome people we've lost" news, songwriter Ellie Greenwich passed away this week. Andy Khouri points out how totally joy-inspiring some of her work was by posting this stone cold classic tune Greenwich wrote for The Crystals. Oh, and here's a nice post in the L.A. Times about folks remembering her too.

* I don't post a lot to Heidi MacDonald's The Beat mostly because I figure if you know what this blog is, you're reading her site on a regular basis without my recommendation. But in case you missed it, this "How To" on making a glowing Green Lantern ring she had up this week was pretty interesting. Well, it was interesting in the same way I found the first "Homemade Heroes" columns I read in Wizard when I was in the sixth grade, and I'd go, "Wow...that dude made a Solar Man of the Atom figure. Neat! I wonder if I could do that. Wait...doing that seems really fucking involved. Screw it, I'ma go play street hockey."

* If you live in Los Angeles, you should really go see "The Secret of Kells next month in possibly its only U.S. big screen showing. I'm dying to see this bad boy, but I live in Chicago. *sad face*

* Hey! Let's see if I can tie those last two posts together somehow. So earlier this week, Heidi Tweeted about this INSANE photoset of two people getting married under the giant Gundam they built in Tokyo. You really need to click through to the whole set. While I was marveling at the entire ordeal, I noticed that the robot is marked with a logo noting Tokyo's a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Chicago is a candidate city too. We've got a building by the highway with a track runner painted on it. Shit. We're gonna lose, aren't we?

* More awesome anime stuff Link: Zach Oat posted this Flickr set of a massive Lego Voltron.

* I found this article in the Times about Germany's #1 detective TV series FASCINATING.

* Ridiculous music link: Kind of Bloop, an 8-bit tribute to Miles Davis. (Thanks, J. Suh)

* I don't watch G4 TV at all, but I've met Blair Butler, and she's really nice. So it surprised me when I found this cache of video interviews between Butler and Grant Morrison, which I guess no other blogs have linked to in two months?

* This video Warmoth posted of Quentin Tarantino talking about his top 20 films since he became a filmmaker was fun and kind of surprising.

* Cool Shit to Buy Link #1: My girlfriend Jami found a collection of adorable Bearbrick superhero cars on something called the Celebrity Baby Blog. Click through to see Batman and the Joker.

* Cool Shit to Buy Link #2: Brendan McGuirk pointed out this awesome Kirby Thor trucker hat. Oh man...did we just come full circle? I think so.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lynne Cheney's Educational Think Tank: "Comics Aren't Literature"

OK, so maybe my headline is a little doomerific or whatever, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but the other day I noticed a piece by Stanley Fish on his New York Times blog about the standards of teaching English and writing to college students. After spending three and a half years as a tutor at the Michigan State University Writing Center, this is something I've read up on and talked about in a professional setting extensively, and like Fish, I was surprised to find myself agreeing with some of the thoughts behind the American Council of Trustees and Alumni's – a conservative think tank co-founded by Lynne Cheney – recent report on educational requirements in the core disciplines.

Not to bore all y'all to tears with the ins and outs of this, but the piece of the report and Fish's take on it that's germane to our discussion centers on the ACTA's harping after undergrad students' need to take classes covering the practical, core basics of disciplines like math, history, literature and composition. At face level, this makes perfect sense (especially to a guy who spent most of his undergrad years wondering why he had to take classes in multiplying number matrices when biology majors were never asked to diagram a complex sentence), but when you get into the group's specific findings and recommendation, things get a bit harrier.

First of all, the report gave grades to universities in their ability to properly teach their students core curriculum. Schools that received and "F" grade include Brown , Cornell, Johns Hopkins and Vassar. Seriously. My own beloved Alma mater got a "B," and despite my pride in being a Spartan, I've got to admit that folks coming out of the "F" list just may be a little more accomplished than my average classmate. Possibly.

The disconnect comes a little clearer when you look at the qualifications for which classes the ACTA found unworthy of undergrad's time. For example, the University of California Berkeley lost points for counting "Wildland Fire Science" as science requirements (because I guess studying wild fires in Southern California is a waste of time), and Carnegie Mellon University took knocks for having "Major Works of Modern Poetry" in the literature program (I can't even make a joke about that one it's so confusing to me).

Fish pointed out one particular bit of anti-nerd bias in the write-up of one of New Hampshire's better known institutes, as the ACTA said:
Dartmouth College: No credit given for Literature as the Literature requirement may be fulfilled with niche courses such as "Bob Dylan" or "The Graphic Novel" – a course about comic books.
And look, maybe he and I are both overreacting a bit when we take a little offense to the group citing these pop culture courses, but at the same time, this entire report should come as a reminder to the public in general that despite the need to constantly check our higher education institutes to make sure they're preparing students with the best information and training possible, we also can't let specialized, cutting edge or even counter-cultural programs get sidelined from the schools that are supposes to be exploring and defending areas of our society that have little protection elsewhere. I mean, it's pretty obvious that although the quotes above are used because they denote the official title of a college course, the ACTA uses them the same way my mom uses air quotes when noting how she's "really excited" to go back to teaching next week.

And more importantly for comics fans, this should help us note that for all the extra sales we've banked up in a business sense thanks to libraries, online sellers and big bookstore chains, some of the earliest adopters of comics as a piece of worthwhile culture were America's universities. I doubt Fish would be citing graphic novels as "a multi-media art that goes back at least as far as William Blake" without his academic background. Hell, when I was at MSU, not only was I able to dive into one of the premier comic collections anywhere whenever I felt like biking to the library, I also knew of teachers using books like Understanding Comics, Watchmen and Maus as in-class texts. And since then, more and more great comics have found champions at universities (academic support for Fun Home comes to mind for one).

So to wrap up in short: fuck the ACTA, and please go check out more comics from Noah Van Sciver from whom I stole the above, slightly topical image.

You Are the Weakest Link, Hello

There are few worse feelings if you're a super hero fan than your favorite protagonist finally making the "big time" and joining a grade A super team, but during a down period. You know what I mean: the Justice League is going through one of those eras when seemingly anybody can join and thus your favorite getting a spot doesn't feel epic, it feels like an afterthought (I'm speaking to you, Blue Devil fans). Believe me, I live in (not really) mortal fear that Nova is finally going to become an Avenger during a run where they're letting any old B-lister into the group.

Now the nice thing about these down periods is they rarely last and usually somebody on the creative end comes along to make membership in the JLA, Avengers, and so on feel special again; Grant Morrison did it, Kurt Busiek did it, and so on and so on.

For fun and excitement (mostly mine), I thought I'd do a little exercise trying to pinpoint the first instance in the case of each of comics' four biggest super team franchises where they gained that member who signified, "Hey, we're desperate, come on down and get your signal device." The interesting thing is that not all of the characters I'm going to discuss are necessarily bad characters nor did they make bad additions to their respective teams, but there's no doubt in my mind that once they gained membership, for whatever reason, doing so became a little less special for a bit.

Let's piss some people off...

The Avengers: Tigra
I think the Avengers actually kept their credibility levels high for a good long while in large part because Stan Lee made that major lineup change so early on, swapping the big guns out for Cap's Kooky Quartet, and almost immediately establishing the feel that it was the Avengers who elevated lesser known characters as opposed to more well-known characters being needed to elevate the Avengers. This philosophy made a lot of oddball choices through the first 200 issues of the series make a lot more sense, whether it was a relatively new character like the Black Knight or a quirky choice like Beast. However, during Jim Shooter's strange tenure as writer, he brought Tigra in under circumstances that were less than ideal and damaged the team's cred for a bit in my eyes. Basically, Moondragon made a bunch of random heroes show up at Avengers Mansion and try out for the team because she thought they needed a membership drive (they didn't); when the smoke cleared, not only did most of the newbies take off, so did stalwarts like Yellowjacket and Wonder Man, leaving the big three of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man with founding member the Wasp and new recruit Tigra. Though Tigra would go on to be a pretty cool member of the West Coast Avengers, this came right after some middling years as the Cat and she ended up leaving after only a few issues, making the Avengers seem like a high school athletics team you could just quit if practices got too hard. This would begin Earth's Mightiest Heroes' slow descent into inducting the likes of Doctor Druid and Gilgamesh until Heroes Return brought back respectability well over a decade later.

The Justice League: Elongated Man
No doubt I'll take some flak for this one, but hear me out. In the long run, Ralph Dibny (along with his wife Sue) turned out to be a wonderful addition to the Justice League and ended up one of the team's most enduring and beloved member over several incarnations. However, that's because he's a great character; very likeable, very quirky, and not so big a name that writers couldn't have some freedom to actually do stuff with him. But, if you come at it from a more meta perspective, Elongated Man really had no business being on the stacked Silver Age Justice League line. His stretching powers are simply not that impressive and while he's a fine detective, Batman is the world's greatest detective, so he really brings nothing practical to the team in terms of skillset. You could make the argument that Green Arrow was fairly useless during this era as well, but he was popular enough to carry his own book off and on, something Elongated Man was not. So essentially Elongated Man busted down the door of DC's all-star team, breaking through their glass ceiling to become the JLA's first fairly useless and not really that bankable member who was just on the team because he was Barry Allen's buddy, a pretty nice guy, and people seemed to like him and his wife. Ralph Dibny is the guy you let on the company softball team because you'd feel bad if you didn't. Again, over time the decision to admit Elongated Man to the Justice League was a strong one, but there's no question that the roll call of "Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! Green Lantern! Flash! Elongated Man..." feels a bit off and suddenly being in the JLA isn't quite as special and hey, suddenly they're in Detroit and there's a friggin' breakdancer on the team.

The X-Men: Rachel Summers
Since their whole gig is more being the kooky outsiders of the Marvel Universe and not acclaimed and respected like the Avengers, the X-Men get a lot more leeway in their recruiting efforts here, but at the same time, Chris Claremont always did a pretty good job of making the new recruits seem like they really belonged...until Rachel Summers. I've read pretty much Claremont's entire run of Uncanny X-Men, and I still can't figure out if during the issues in and around #200 Rachel was an official member of the team, a probationary recruit, an ally or what. I know that she hung around the X-Mansion, complained a lot, and was so powerful that it was annoying because you really didn't need Kitty Pryde or Nightcrawler when you had a cosmic telepath around. Obviouly you can see that the Rachel of that period irked me (though she grew on me during her Excalibur tenure), but I maintain she was the tipping point as far as joining the X-Men seeming like a big deal. Up to that point, Claremont was pretty meticulous about only adding a new member once every big moon and making it special, but Rachel's ambiguous status really muddied the waters and suddenly it was hard to tell who was and wasn't on the X-Men's active roster. In Uncanny X-Men #200, I'm pretty sure former big bad Magneto officially joined the team, but the roster was so fluid in those days of Rachel haze that it didn't really seem like much of an event at all. Wannabes like Longshot, Jubilee and Forge would all shuffle in and out of the X-Men following Rachel's weird stint, and to this day it's always tough to tell exactly what the set line-up of any given X-Book is; it's not necessarily a bad thing, but no doubt becoming an X-Man will likely never again be the big deal it was for Rogue or Shadowcat.

The Teen Titans: Titans West
When the Teen Titans first started, they felt like a very important team because the group was comprised of sidekicks to very important characters; they were very much a junior Justice League. The addition of Lilith here or Hawk & Dove there didn't dilute the pool all that much because you still had mini versions of Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc. hanging around. However, in 1977 with Teen Titans #50, DC opened the floodgates of the obscure and unleashed Titans West on an unsuspecting populace that was barely buying the regular Titans book. Suddenly Doom Patrol hanger-on Beast Boy, barely acknowledged Hawkman sidekick Golden Eagle, second rate Bat Family member Bat-Girl and a dang caveman named Gnaark were all card-carrying Titans. Once more, this was ultimately not a bad thing, because it opened the door for Raven, Cyborg and Starfire to make the scene and New Teen Titans to ascend to greatness a couple years later, but in 1977 being a Teen Titans hardly guaranteed you entrance beyond the velvet rope when you had Hornblower and Harlequin waiting in line with you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pimping Her Stuff: The Diary Project

I was gonna either have Kiel handle this or do a special "Linko! Plus" or something, but then I remembered I have my own little recurring feature with which to plug the work of myself and my acquaintances.

My officemate (and sometimes she lets me say she's my friend) and the resident fashionista of Marvel.Com, Margarita Vaisman, started her own blog last week and thus far it's proving quite the read. The Diary Project is my pink-haired colleague picking out old actual diary entries from when she was like 12 and picking them apart from her current vantage point as a Manhattan sophisticate. The results are interesting, entertaining, and quite frankly adorable. Margarita came to our fair American shores from Mother Russia as a little girl, so her grasp of the English language as a child was pretty impressive, but I have to admit I love the way her kid self has trouble grasping tense, it is tres cute. And even though the writing is unmistakably that of a prepubescent girl, Margarita's admitted snootiness was shining through even then; if her hero Dakota Fanning had a blog, this would be it.

So do yoursef a favor: get caught in the Vais Grip and check out The Diary Project!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Though it's not a universal rule, documentaries tend to work best when the director has a vested personal and emotional interest in the subject; in the case of Chris Bell's examination of America's steroid culture, the author has intimate ties to his investigation, and as such, he creates a powerful, informative and oft-times heartbreaking piece. A weightlifting enthusiast who idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan and whose brothers are both steroid users, Bell both tells the story of his family and also sets out to interview numerous experts, athletes and a colorful assortment of other characters in a quest to understand why his heroes and loved ones practice a lifestyle he grew up understanding to be wrong. I don't believe Bell is a full-time professional filmmaker and this works both for and against his case. The project comes off as earnest because you can sense through Bell he desperately wants to find some logic in the paradoxes that surround him, and his genuine reactions to his findings will hit you harder because he comes off more as an average guy doing a research paper or something as opposed to a polished director angling for awards. At times there is a cut to a cartoon or pop culture reference that feels unneeded or distracting, but it almost adds to the documentary's heart in the same way that Bell's voice not being that of the traditional and nuanced narrator does. I will say that the project lacks focus at times as Bell has a lot of information and arguments to present and sometimes jumps around without much seeming rhyme or reason and doesn't really finish trains of thought, but you get a lot out of it even if the presentation is a bit clunky. It's also a very balanced piece as Bell gives equal air to both pro and anti-steroid arguments, not necessarily painting anybody as the bad guy; he really is just looking for answers. The soul of the project really is Bell's family drama, and I have to give him, his parents and brothers a lot of credit for putting their story out there as it was definitely one worth telling.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Linko! XIX

A combination of a rough few weeks of late and some killer content from Ben and Rickey delayed this here post on Friday, and I'm going to let things fly fast and furious here, so try and keep up then scroll down for more better essays by my buds.

* Behold! Paul Conrad draws a Kirby-ish version of Luke Cage, via the fun Kirby-Vision blog at the online Kirby Museum and Brendan McGuirk.

* I'm not 100% what the mission statement behind the Hilobrow blog is, but any site that publishes a short essay by Douglas Wolk about Ogden Nash is cool by me. Ogden is a name in need of a comeback, by the by.

* Don't be like my friend Jenny Suh. Don't be one of CNN's annoying Facebook updaters.

* Jim Gibbons pointed me towards this great site of Post-It Note comics with this worthwhile entry by Derek Erdman about running teenage phone cons in suburban Ohio.

* One of CBR's regular reviewers Chad Nevett spent the weekend on a non-stop comics review blog-a-thon. Catch the results here.

* There are plenty of semi-funny articles on that are semi-related to comic books, but while screwing around on there for ten minutes last week, I found one that was both actually pretty funny and semi-educational: a list of comic characters ripped off from other concepts.

* Speaking of fun lists, my bud Caleb rocks out The 10 Most Abysmal Superhero Video Games for Topless Robot.

* For Brian Warmoth: A Swedish photoblog I happened across.

* Twitter is a strange place, entry #487: David LaFuente passed this to Leigh Walton who passed it to Brendan McGuirk who passed it to me: Bryan Hitch weighs in on the "fast vs. good" debate in comic art. I kind of feel like we've all got some nerd STD now.

* Newsarama Blogger Sarah Jaffe often makes me feel bad about myself with all the serious social political news she also blogs about. Occasionally, she crosses the two worlds as in this essay about women UFC fighters in relation to superheroines and sexuality.

* Finally, via Bryan Lee O'Malley, dance like a crazy person to the German opening of "Sailor Moon":

The Definitives: The Hulk

As a child with only a passing but intense interest in the world of comic books, the Hulk held little appeal for me. I saw no inherent relatable or admirable qualities in a loutish green dummy who always seemed to be running from the military or destroying towns rather than saving the day; I considered myself quite the little anti-authoritarian as a kid, but my heroes were smirking rogues rather than misunderstood brutes.

When I hit my first true comics renaissance at about 11 or 12, writer Peter David was about five or so years into his record-setting 11-year run on Incredible Hulk. At the time, PAD was in the midst of his "Professor Hulk" phase, writing the Hulk as an urbane intellectual who also happened to be a nine-foot tall green superman, and I fell in love with the humor and wit of both the title and its protagonist.

Over the years, I have found Hulk stories outside of Peter David's that I've enjoyed, but whether they star the sinister pseudo-villain Green Goliath of Marvel early's days or writer Greg Pak's "Green Scar" barbarian-type, the common denominator seems to be that I just don't dig the "classic" dumb green guy. It's interesting, since that "Hulk Smash!" incarnation seems to be the default one both in terms of the public's perception and where the character goes in times of creative upheaval, but it just doesn't click with me.

I'm sure there is some sort of interesting psychological profile to be written on me and my since-childhood disdain for the mindless Hulk, but in lieu of somebody tackling that, here are a few of the stories that I have found integral to my enjoyment of the character in his many other phases (ok, and maybe one or two from when he was an emerald idiot).

"The Hulk Vs Thing!" (Fantastic Four v1 #25-26)
Some old comics from the Silver Age that have been ballyhooed for decades inevitably fail to live up to their trumped-up advance billing--this is not one of those comics. This is actually the second clash between the Hulk and the Thing, as Hulk is pissed because he just got kicked out of the Avengers, the Thing is pissed because he doesn't think his girlfried will ever love him if he's not a rocky-skinned monster, and both guys are spoiling for a fight. Hulk pulverizes a New York City construction site and in the process beats the crap out of the Human Torch, drawing the Thing into the fray and you know what time it is (it's Clobbering Time, in case you were wondering). Hulk and Thing proceed to absolutely demolish the half-finished building and each other in a fight so grand and yet so gritty that only Jack Kirby could bring it to life, and "The King" is at the top of his game here, really pulling out all the stops and calling upon every visual trick he knows. On the writing side of the equation, Stan Lee rises to the occasion as well with the purplest of prose and wonderfully descriptive battle narrative for which he is known, and also by really hammering home Thing as the gruff underdog and Hulk as the sneering prick of a bully; it's classic stuff. The second part of the epic sees the Avengers join the fray in an attempt to corral the Hulk, but it's the portions pitting Marvel's two greatest monsters against one another that's really the stuff of true genius.

"Days of Rage!" (Incredible Hulk #300)
Ok, so this would be the exception to the rule I spent my first few paragraphs discussing, as not only is this a story starring the dumb green Hulk, it could well be considered the ultimate dumb green Hulk story, but dammit, I love it anyways. Basically, as the result of a spell by Doctor Strange gone horribly awry, any trace of Bruce Banner has been removed from the Hulk's make-up and he's now a completely mindless, engine of destruction plowing through New York with no goal except to (pardon me here) fuck shit up. There's a video game-like simplicity to this over-sized special issue written by Bill Mantlo as Hulk smashes his way through increasingly more difficult waves of Marvel heroes as his rampage continues. Mantlo masterfully manages to ramp up the action and intensity scene-by-scene and build your sense of anticipation as the Hulk starts out swatting S.H.I.E.L.D. agents then dispatching street level guys including Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Human Torch en route to the Avengers being called in and all going down until it's down to Thor to save the day. It's pure unadulterated big dumb action, but again, Mantlo's pacing and movie-like sense of how tell a story coupled with wonderful, epic art by the legendary Sal Buscema make it work so well (I also really love the cover of this issue by Bret Blevins).

Incredible Hulk Visionaries: Peter David v1-2
Honestly, I don't think you'd be making a bad investment if you chose to seek out not only the six volumes of Incredible Hulk Visionaries: Peter David currently available, but indeed his entire original run on the title. All 134 or so (I'm not 100% on my math) issues plus Annuals, one-shots, etc. Seriously. If you like one issue, you're going to like them all, and the whole thing has so many twists, turns and game-changers that it's like reading several runs bridged together by a shared author and tone, but almost as if it were a long-running TV series that switched things up as cast members aged or departed and now you're getting the box set. I may be over-seeling it, but I really loved this stuff. However, if you're looking to just put your toes in the pool, the first two collections provide some rad stuff and give you a nice taste while also providing a decent enough jumping-off point if you decide you've had enough. The first volume is PAD finding his footing and getting into the heads of both Bruce Banner and the more sinister grey Hulk he has inherited from the previous short-lived creative regime. David instantly dials the book several shades darker and makes it as much a psychological thrillride as an action-driven fight-fest, mining the twisted chemistry of his cast for a more mature version of the classic soap opera of Silver Age Marvel. In the second volume, then-burgeoning star artist Todd McFarlane really comes into his own and David lets him loose on some truly visceral fights between Hulk and Wolverine, Man-Bull and others that made McFarlane's career and still hold up gruesomely to this day. The whole thing culminates with an intense and disturbing showdown with the Leader that demonstrated inarguably that PAD was playing for keeps. Give it a taste, I have a feeling you'll be back for more.

Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect
He's gotten some impressive challenges from the Thing, the Abomination, Thor, etc., but at the end of the day, there's only one ultimate challenger for the Hulk--and that's the Hulk. In this two-part classic, we see what would happen if two Hulks each in peak physical and mental condition went at it in a war of not just fists, but of words and ideals as well. In one of his very favorite works of all time (I know so because he told me at dinner in San Diego this year), Peter David crafts the Hulk's most implacable foe of all in the Maestro, a future version of Bruce Banner's dark side who has given into his most base desires, conquering the world, slaughtering the heroes of the Marvel Universe, and enslaving humanity so he can revel in food, women and power. The requisite rebellion group all dystopian futures are required to have throws a hail mary by acquiring the intelligent "Professor" Hulk from the past and pitting him against his elder self, initially with disastrous results as the Maestro humbles his young counterpart not only physically but psychologically. It's a rare Hulk story where the titular character happens to be the underdog and must utilize every tool both physical and mental at his disposal to defeat the big bad he's really been battling all his life: himself. The cherry on the sundae here is that the art is provided by my all-time favorite comic book illustrator, George Perez, who you can tell is clearly having the time of his life from depicting two Hulks trading blows to cramming the trophy room of an elderly Rick Jones with every relic of the Marvel Universe (and elsewhere) that he, PAD and I'm guessing several other folks could think of.

World War Hulk
A lot of folks would pull the year-long "Planet Hulk" epic by writer Greg Pak as their pick for the best Hulk story in recent years, and while I'm a big fan of that yarn as well, I think I liked the blockbuster sequel even a bit more. After over a year in interstellar exile thanks to the Illuminati, the Hulk returns to Earth pissed off and possessing not just his strength and his smarts, but the hardships and skills earned by months of surviving on the battle-hardened planet of Sakaar and an army of allies to aid him in taking his revenge on all who have done him wrong in the past. In some ways, it's almost a book-end to "Days of Rage!" in that it's once again Hulk vs the Marvel Universe, but this time you've got so many cool wild card factors from the big guy actually being arguably in the right (the Illuminati were pretty widely-regarded as dicks around this time) to the Hulk actually having friends watching his back for like the first time ever. It's a timeless tale twisted in enough ways to be novel and it's also packing the secret weapon of the one and only John Romita Jr. on art, and his pairing with Pak could not be more perfect as he draws just as grand as his writing counterpart tends to plot. And for the kid who couldn't be bothered with the dumb green Hulk, there's something cathartic about seeing a smart surly dude with his face and complexion lashing out against a Universe that refused to let him be his true self.

You can find my first two entries in the Hulk vs The Marvel Universe collection.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Sunshine Cleaners

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

The premise here--down-on-her-luck single mom and her bad seed sister make cash by cleaning up crime scenes--is a neat gimmick and decent hook, but really more just a clever set-for a group of talented actors to do what they do best. However, as much as this film was more of an actor's showcase to me, I don't want to undersell the script, which did a nice job of balancing dark comedy with some real heavy stuff centered on loss and family. It's no surprise to me any time Amy Adams turns in an amazing performance, but she was really on top of her game here, convincingly playing Rose, whose life has taken every turn possible and infusing her with real likeability, making you want to root for her; she's also truly masterful at infusing scenes with awkward energy, which makes for some excellent comedy. Complenting Adams, Emily Blunt slips into the role of slacker Norah nicely, really inhabiting the character and making her feel like a real person, complete with quirks and flaws you want to learn more about. The chemistry between Adams and Blunt is wonderful, as you really do believe they're sisters and they work so naturally, making their scenes a real delight. The side scenes mostly involve the girls' dad, played as a wayward but lovable aging deal-seeker by the great Alan Arkin, giving Rose's son, Oscar, the wonderfully precocious Jason Pevack, lessons in life. Mary Lynn Rajskub and Steve Zahn--playing way against type--round out the ensemble, but the movie's biggest revelation for me was Clifton Collins Jr. as Winston, the soft-spoken one-armed cleaning supplies salesman who tutors the girls and totally charms you in the process without even really trying. If I have any real complaints about this film it's that I felt like a lot of the relationships and issues didn't get fully explored or resolved, and given that it ran only 90 minutes, I would have gladly accepted another half hour at least to give those outstanding bits room to breathe (also, Eric Christian Olsen was wasted in basically a cameo, but what can you do). Ultimately, this movie has a lot of heart and really welcomes you in to it's world for an enriching if slightly unsettling (did I mention the blood and maggots?) experience.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Blackest Night: Send in the Ringers

From where I sit right now, DC's sci-fi horror action-adventure epic Blackest Night is a bonafide hit and a darn good yarn to boot, which illustrates precisely what I dig most about it: it's an event but at the same time a story with deeper meaning. I mean, you don't get much more popcorn flick/kids playing with action figures than "it's a bunch of armies with different colored uniforms fighting in space and some are zombies," but I know Geoff Johns has been crafting all this long enough that there's more to it than just the trapping, and each issue I've read so far has done a good job of balancing the loud explosions with the emotional nuances so to say.

However, I'm not here today to discuss the pathos of Hawkman and Hawkgirl's doomed love nor am I here to debate the placement of avarice versus hope on the emotional spectrum; no, I'm here to say what DC heroes and villains I want to see in which colored rings and Lantern jumpsuits...

Green Lantern: Dick Grayson
We got into it a bit in the comments section of my recent post on Nightwing: Year One, but I'm fairly sure that in some comic from the 80's (most likely an issue of Action Comics Weekly), it was established that Dick Grayson was a viable candidate to receive a Green Lantern ring and that had he been geographically closer to the site of Abin Sur's crash than Hal Jordan, he indeed would have. Well, here we are, the GL Corps are experiencing their Blackest Night and they need al hands on deck; at the same time, Dick is experiencing his own personal darkest hour as his mentor is gone and he's been forced to step into the cowl. Dick being given a Green Lantern ring--albeit for a very short term basis--and being a major part of saving the day during this event would be both a cool moment and also a major step in establishing his credibility as a legitimate Batman until Bruce Wayne returns. Plus, you have to know DC Direct could come up with some sort of amazing Batman/Nightwing/Green Lantern hybrid figure that would make us all lose our shit.

Sinestro Corps: Jason Todd
It's been said that fear is perhaps the most potent item in Batman's utility belt, but no member of the Bat Family would out and out admit that fact--except for Jason Todd. With Jason at a loose end following Battle for the Cowl, it could be a great scene in Blackest Night or in the Batman tie-in mini for the down and out former Robin to be visited by a little yellow ring offering him a chance for ultimate power and to police the universe through fear just as you know he had always desired deep down. And of course if we assume this is couple with my Dick Grayson-as-Green Lantern concept, you get the climactic "brother vs brother" showdown once more, this time with each slinging power rings and creating the nastiest Bat-centric constructs they can conjure.

Red Lantern: Doomsday
The caveat here is that of course Doomsday does not need a power ring any more than the Hulk needed giant guns, but that doesn't make either concept any less awesome. The fact is that Doomsday has never been as cool as he was when he was first introduced to kill Superman and as a result has fallen into that awful purgatory as a guy other characters can beat up to gain credibility (other notable residents of this realm include the Juggernaut, Captain Atom and the Rhino). But you put a red ring on one of Doomsday's bony protusions, have him vomit a bit of blood and set him up as the DC Universe's ultimate embodiment of rage as he tears through other Lanterns like toilet paper and you've got a grade-A badass monster back in the mix.

Star Sapphire: Starfire
Ever since she was introduced, a big part of Starfire's character--and a side we saw expanded whenever she traveled home to Tamarana before it was destroyed umpteen times--was how her people both fought and loved with unbridled passion, and how she could not understand why humans were so guarded with expressing their emotions, love in particular. This is the girl, remember, who planted a wet one on Robin back in New Teen Titans #2 in order to "learn the English language." Over the years, Kory has been unlucky in love, getting left at the altar after a demon disrupted her wedding and losing a husband to the Sun Eater. Of late she has been kvetching about getting ditched once more by Dick Grayson--the Green Lantern of my piece, making this all the more perfect--making her an ideal candidate to become the latest Star Sapphire (and she wouldn't even need to change her costume much).

Blue Lantern: Zauriel
One of the things Geoff has impressed me most with during this saga, especially in the first issue of Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps, is how maturely and astutely he's able to write the faith/religion-based Blue Lantern Corps without coming off preachy or making it feel like he won't commit. Couple that with the fact that he was involved in a couple good peripheral Zauriel stories in JSA and that Zauriel is just an awesome, underutilized character in general, and this is a pick that makes perfect sense to me. Granted there would be the tangled explanation of how Zauriel's allegiance switches from the Judeo-Christian God to the Blue Lantern Corps (or if they switch at all), but that's the journey I want to read about.

Orange Lantern: Catwoman
Much as she has tried to be a good girl, greed is the motivating factor that always seems to drive Selina Kyle back to the dark side or at least cause her to skirt it. It's the one element in her existence that she can't seem to tame or control and make her plaything. Granted in order to become a member of the Orange Lantern Corps you need to kinda die and then be absorbed into the collective consciousness created by Larfleeze, but I think Catwoman either trying to pull off the ultimate heist and case the Orange battery or overwhelm Agent Orange with her cult of personality would make for a great, funy story.

Indigo Tribe: Raven
We don't know much about the Indigo Tribe yet (their Tales of the Corps story didn't help much), but their logline is supposed to be compassion and given that Raven possesses the super power of empathy, that's kinda her gig. Plus, it gets another New Teen Titan into the mix, so why not.

Black Lantern: Barry Allen
Too soon?

Friday, August 21, 2009

San Diego Comic-Con: Better Late Than Constantly...

Sooooo, I went to San Diego Comic-Con this year, and even though I went with no buying plans, I picked up quite a few fun biddies on close to no budget. Aside from my new Watchmen sketches, here's what else I got at the crazy crazy show this year. Sorry I'm late with this. I had to catch up on sleep when I got home. And drink.

  • The Comic-Con Program - I feel bad for whatever sorry bastard has to put this motherfucker together every year. At just under 200 pages, this doorstop overflows with panel listings and times and exhibitors and recipes for vanilla cake and a complete reproduction of the New Testament and predictions for the performances of every Chicago sports team for the next 150 years and much much more. It's epic. And its author probably had a heart attack 2 drafts in.
  • The Comic-Con 40th Anniversary Book - Poppin' with articles and photos from the show's last 40 years, this full-color, 240-page love letter to the con is a FUN read. Hopefully I can finish it's sprawling history by the time I head to the show next year.
  • Disney Expo Button - Some guy wearing Mickey Mouse ears handed me as I walked the floor, and I figured my girlfriend would want it. She did not. So who out there does?
  • Dark Horse Preview Book - LOADS of peeks at upcoming projects from one of my favorite publishers! Who am I kidding? Everybody is "one of my favorite publishers." But for real: A Chris Offutt noir story? Beasts of Burden from Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin? A new book from Matt Kindt? Shit yeah.
  • Cartoon Art Museum flier - Derek Kirk Kim handed me this when he sketched in my Watchmen book. I stayed for the stippled Mighty Mouse.
  • For about 10 minutes at the tail-end of Saturday, I caught Jeffrey Brown at the Top Shelf booth and he handed me this button for an upcoming film called Rabbit Fever. He did the art for it and it looks neat, so I took it! Jeff had just come from watching a documentary a guy made about his work as a comic creator. If it's playing near you, go watch it!
  • Trick 'r Treat mini-comic - I feel like I've been excitedly waiting for 5 years for this fucking movie to come out. An anthology horror movie starring Brian Cox sounds right up my alley, so I was pumped when the film's writer/director Michael Dougherty signed at the DC booth in support of the upcoming graphic novel based on the film. And even MORE excited when they passed out these mini-comics with a sample chapter written by Marc Andreyko with art by Fiona Staples from the book. (PS: I got to meet Doherty and he was nice to me)
  • 20 Years B.C. - Someone left this Andrew Pepoy sketchbook at the booth, so I held on to it and called dibs on it on Sunday when no one else did. The guy's prolly my second favorite thing about Jack of Fables. So...I win.
  • The Iliad in Sixteen Pages - Fun fun fun from a creator I'd never heard of by the name of Ilias Kyriazis. I saw him sitting at a shared table with folks like Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Fabio Moon, Garbriel Ba and so on, so I grabbed his book cause he was in such solid company. He's got the goods.

  • Scott Pilgrim SHIRT!!! - This beaut was only on sale at the show, and I regret not grabbing the shirt available in 2007 (Sean DID get it), so this was one of the only things I meant to buy.
  • New Scott Pilgrim buttons!!! - I'm in love with 4 of the 5 buttons in this con-debut set, so I went ahead and snagged this neat-o baggie of fun.
  • Tote Bag - If you spent enough money at the Oni booth, they'd give you one of these bags for free! My girlfriend and I started trying to use plastic grocery bags less often, so this will come in handy since it's too thin to be useful to my multiple book-carrying ass during my NYC commute. Did you know Dave Gibbons designed that Kabuki logo?

My Fantagraphics haul!!!
  • Comic Strip Masterpieces #1 - At the Fantagraphics table, every purchase was rewarded with a plastic bag (pictured below) and a few freebies. For me, one of those was this newsprint sampler of classic strip collections from Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Neat!
  • The Comics Journal #169 - Another freebie, this one's a doozy. Gary Groth interviews Neil Gaiman and they talk everything from Spawn to Love & Rockets! A news section that mentions Grant Morrison is returning "to monthly comics with The Invisibles #1..."! A scathing review of Frank Miller's Batman/Spawn! An ENLIGHTENING interview with former DC President Sol Harrison! This is a great issue from 1994.
  • The Comics Journal #269 - Another freebie, this one's not so much a personal doozy since it deals heavily with manga and I'm only a passing dabbler. Even still, there's neat stuff like a pretty, full-page color ad for Mome and The Clouds Above. And an essay on the very awesome Chyna Clugston, whose work I've enjoyed since the first Blue Monday and who I just met at SDCC this year since she started working on the WildStorm editorial staff. And there's an ad announcing the new Xeric winners including Jeff Lemire's book Stray Dogs, which I bought at my first MoCCA along with an early version of Essex County vol. 1. And then there's an interesting article about online comics journalism involving Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon, both of whom I like. So there.
  • The 2009 FCBD Drawn and Quarterly issue - Another freebie, I'd missed this Melvin Monster/Nancy flip book this year, so I was psyched to get it for free!
  • The 2009 Fantagraphics FCBD issue - Yet another freebie, I'd snagged a copy of this Love & Rockets special when it came out, but I dunno where it went. Bonus!
  • Fantagraphics Spring/Summer 2009 book trade catalog - I use these like checklists, so I love getting updated copies at shows like SDCC.
  • Prison Pit!!! - The only book I bought and kept for myself from the Fanta booth, this Johnny Ryan special featuring a massive, bloody brawl surprised me at the show cause I didn't know it'd be there. The company had a lot of cool-looking new stuff, but I picked this over everything else with plans to read it on the plane back. But because of the decapitation on the cover, I decided to wait until I got home so a sky marshal wouldn't arrest me...and so I could read it on a train to work, preferably next to a little kid. IT'S BADASS NOW GO BUY IT!

  • My Fantagraphics bag - neat, yeah? I carry shit in it!
  • True Blood Door Hanger - I don't watch this show about Southern vampires, but I chuckled at the door hanger the staff at the Omni Hotel left for me when I stumbled back from the show one day.
  • Batman Arkham Asylum Video Game Door Hanger - Another one! And this one features Killer Croc! Eat me, Marriot! Omni Hotel 4 EVA!!!

  • A District 9 Promo Poster - I grabbed one for my girlfriend!
  • This is WildStorm Universe #0 - A promo comic I helped write!
  • Blackest Night #0 - It's a new printing of the FCBD version of this book, but without all the FCBD logo mumbo-jumbo! I lost mine, so this helps.
  • Titan Books Sampler - They have a few comic book books coming out, so I stopped by to check it out.
  • Titan Books Bookmarks - One features the Kick-Ass movie! The other features Tank Girl art! BOOOOM!

  • Boys Club #3 - That's right, suckers! I got a copy at the show and I didn't even know it was gonna be there! When you get one (AND YOU NEED TO), pay attention to the neat barcode sticker!
  • I Want You #1 - As long as Lisa Hanawalt keeps making HILARIOUS, subversive comics, I'll keep buying them sight-unseen. Do we have a deal, Lisa?
  • Injury #3 - A new Ted May issue at the show, too? Buenaventura Press rocked my San Diego. Thank you. Really.
  • Stun Nuts #5 - Chris Cilla handed me this preview of an upcoming book he has set to hit from Sparkplug Books while I waited for Sammy Harkham to finish up his Watchmen sketch for me. The sketchbook Chris was working on at the Buenaventura table was SOOO stunning, so I'm glad he handed me this! Look forward to seeing more of his stuff. Hopefully he's at SPX this year.
  • Drawn and Quarterly Freebies - A literary Acme Novelty Date Book postcard! A smooth Summer Blonde bookmark! A stylin Seth postcard! A classy D&Q note card! A colorful Ron Rege postcard! D&Q's invaluable signing and panel schedule for the show! A double-sided Crickets and Big Question note card! A Christmas Doug Wright postcard signed by random staffers! Yaaaay!

  • Blammo #3 and #4 - At the Sparkplug booth I found these issues of Noah Van Sciver's one-man anthology series. I've been trying to pick these up at a show for a little over a year, so i was happy to finally find them!
  • Washing Machine Summer 2007 - Sparkplug also had this fun mini that reads like an indie romantic comedy film but features a frozen, distinct art style that slapped me in the face and made me buy it.
  • Ten Thousand Things To Do #4 - Can I get real for a second? This diary comic from Jesse Reklaw has done more to help me cope with some of my own bullshit hang-ups over the last few weeks since I bought issues #1-3 at Hanley's than any other Diary comic I've ever read. And for that distinct personal favor, I place it up in a pantheon alongside Snake Pit and Clutch, my other two favorite (for entirely different reasons) diary comics. I randomly found this final issue at the Sparkplug booth, so I had to have it. I've been meaning to blind-email Reklaw and tell him how much I enjoy the series. Really, make it through one of these and you'll drudge up some new personal ideas in your mind.
  • Two Eyes of the Beautiful - Sparkplug had this fun "grotesque horror manga by Ryan Cecil Smith" and since it was based on a story by Kazuo Umezo, I snatched it up! And the cover's exciting metallic ink cover makes it that much more fun!
  • I Cut My Hair #1 and #2 - When I first opened Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg's diary comic, with its packed panels and precise fine-line art style, I felt like my eyes were going to shred themselves because of how busy each page appeared to be. But then I zoomed in on each panel and this shit is BANANAS in its DETAILED simplicity. And that she maintains the high level of implied motion that she does all while using absolutely no shading is madness. This is really well-crafted comics and that's without me gushing over the free-spirited, slice-of-life writing. I like these. :)
  • Top Shelf 2009 Catalog - I meant to grab one of these at MoCCA this year, but forgot. New Jefrrey Brown cover! Preview of AX vol. 1! Yippee!
  • iGoogle Top Shelf postcard - DC had some of these with Batman and stuff, but I grabbed this one cause I'm a sucker for anything with Owly and Jeffrey Brown art.

The end! Now stay tuned for a special post I'm prepping on a very serious issue I discovered in San Diego: THE BOSS CEREAL THEY HAVE AT THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE!!!

Coming soon...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

21 Hours

(WARNING: The following post, in particular the images, may not be totally suitable for the squeamish, the weak of heart or those wondering why I'm not writing about Nova. Also, all times are approximate and Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

Tuesday, August 18

6:30 PM: I get off the phone with my mother because I've begun to cough up blood a bit and am having trouble speaking.

7:00 PM: Megan returns home to find me spitting blood into the trashcan; it's nearly three-quarters filled with tissues from the past few days nearly all of which are now crimson red.

7:15 PM: Megan calls the doctor on call at the practice who performed my surgery. He advises using Afrin to try and stop the bleeding, but if it doesn't work, call him back.

7:20 PM: We use Afrin; it doesn't go well. The blood sprays the Afrin out of my nose and mostly into my both; I nearly choke on it (probably an exaggeration, but that's how I remember it).

7:30 PM: Megan hears back from the on-call doctor, having called him back; he says to meet him in the Emergency Room in a half hour.

7:50 PM: I check into the Emergency Room, gauze strapped to my nose to prevent bleeding and spitting blood into a Starbucks cup from Megan's car, which I've filled just enough so you can't see the bottom.

8:00 PM: The on-call doctor brings us into the ER proper (on a side note, I've never been in an ER before and have just seen them on TV; I was really impressed with how incredibly organized it was and how well the overworked staff managed everything).

8:10 PM: After looking me over and using a tube to drain some blood from my nose, the doctor is unable to determine any clear and immediate danger, but can see most of the blood flow is coming out of my left nostril.

8:15 PM: Around now I begin spitting blood into containers given to me by the nurses; over the course of the five and a half hours or so, I lose an estimated quart of blood from my mouth and nose.

8:30 PM: The doctor uses a tubing of guaze to pack my left nostril all the way up through my sinus; after it's in he uses salt water to expand it and because I'm a big baby I think it hurts like hell.

8:45 PM: The problem seemingly solved, the doctor leaves and asks us to stick around and wait to be discharged. He leaves.

9:00 PM: I start spitting up blood again. Megan and I become concerned over what to do. She goes to call the doctor back and ask for advice. He says to stay there and wait 15 minutes; if the bleeding continues, call him back

9:15 PM: As the bleeding has not stopped, Megan goes to call the doctor again. The doctor left in charge of the emergency room also comes to check on me and is concerned by how much I'm bleeding out of my right nostril.

10:00 PM: The ER doctor does a quick packing job on my right nostril; as she puts it, "It's not as fancy as the other one, but it will get the job done. She asks us to stick around and see what happens.

10:30 PM: Despite both my nostrils being packed, the bleeding continues out of my mouth, even heavier than before; at times, it feels like I'm practically choking on the blood, which isn't helped by the fact that I can't breathe out of my nose at all thanks to the packing.

11:00 PM: The ER doctor returns, having spoken to the on-call doctor on the phone. She says they have conferred and that if my bleeding doesn't stop within the next hour, I'm going to be scheduled for emergency surgery to determine the problem.

Wednesday, August 19

12:00 AM: With my bloodflow not having ceased, the ER doctor calls my on-call doctor and schedules an operating room for my surgery.

12:15 AM: Megan who has been keeping my parents updated over the phone and just generally being amazing while I'm freaking out more than a little, gives our friend Jodie a call to come keep her company; Jodie, who is now in the running for world's greatest friend, doesn't miss a beat in saying she'll be right over.

1:00 AM: Jodie shows up and boosts both our spirits. Nurses are prepping me for surgery, putting in an IV and replacing my blood-soaked hospital gown. Also, the blood from my right nostril has basically pushed the packing out of my nose and into my mouth, so they take that out, removing a huge clot with it.

1:30 AM: The on-call doctor comes back in to discuss surgery with us. He's not sure quite what's wrong, but theorizes that--for lack of a better description--a scab has come off where my surgery was performed and he'll need to go in and cauterize the wound. Another possibility is that a cut has opened on my sinus, in which case he'll need to attach clips to close it up.

1:45 AM: I use the bathroom, change into another clean gown, say goodbye to Megan and Jodie and get wheeled out of the ER.

2:00 AM: After going through all the necessary paperwork, etc., I head into the OR for surgery.

5:00 AM: I wake up in the recovery room feeling nauseous with the mother of all headaches; the awesome nurses give me some morphine and I drift back off for a bit.

6:00 AM: I'm taken to a hospital room where Jodie and Megan are waiting; the gentleman in the other area of the room is snoring loudly, which does not bode well. Megan tells me the doctor could not locate a specific wound that was the main cause of the bleeding, so he cauterized all the chief possibilities and also removed several blood clots to help the healing process.

8:00 AM: Having pulled an all-nighter, Megan and Jodie head out with my gratitude.

9:15 AM: The doctor who performed my surgery comes in to speak with me. He repeats to me basically what he told Megan. He also lets me know that nothing went wrong with my initial surgery and that there was nothing to be concerned about, some people just react differently to procedures like this and you can't anticipate what will happen (having since read several online testimonials, I can confirm this). He tells me I should be able to head home that evening, he just wants to keep me awhile for observation; already quite uncomfortable with the hot room, the stiff bed and my noisy roommate, I talk him down to 4:00.

9:30 AM: Sweating and nauseous (most likely from morphine withdrawl), I call Megan and ask her to come back.

10:00 AM: Megan makes it back and I feel a lot better; the painkillers and medication for nausea the nurse gives me also helps.

11:00 AM: The surgeon who performed my original surgery stops by to see how I'm doing. He doesn't tell me much new, but again reassures me that despite these complications, I've got nothing to worry about in terms of long-term ramifications; I bargain him to push my discharge up to 2:00.

11:45 AM: Megan takes a nap. I'm too sweaty and nauseous to get any real sleep, but with the help of a cold compress and some ice, I'm at least able to rest a bit; like every other person I've encountered since my surgery, my nurse is fantastic.

12:00-2:00 PM: I manage a sort of half-sleep in between watching pieces of the telenovellas my roommate has on.

2:45 PM: A resident of my two doctors comes by and issues my discharge papers.

3:30 PM: After waiting a bit for a wheelchair, I finally leave the hospital, 21 hours after this whole ordeal began. The rest of the afternoon/evening/night is spent feeling like crap from the surgery, morphine and lack of food, but I get a full night's sleep and feel much better Thursday morning in time for my parents to drive down from Boston to spend the day with Megan and I; I really wanted to get them here before October, I just didn't realize I'd go to such lengths.

Some commentary on this whole thing:

1. I in no way by this post mean to make light of the far more serious hardships and health problems other people go through daily. This incident was traumatic for me, but it's nothing compared to what a lot of other folks experience all the time. Writing stuff like this out just helps me to process (sorry for the fairly self-indulgent post).

2. You may have noticed throughout this post I didn't refer to any doctors by name; that is not because I feel like anybody involved with my surgery did anything wrong. On the contrary, everybody involved with both my surgeries did an excellent job, and I have nothing but praise for them. However, they are healthcare professionals, and I feel like keeping their anonymity here is just the right thing to do.

3. I sent my boss an IM earlier today saying I wish so badly I was back at my desk with him giving me a hard time; he made fun of me, but it's true. Stuff like this incident make me appreciate everything I have, from my fiancee to my friends to my family to my job to every other little dumb thing in between. I'm extremely blessed and I thank God and everybody who has guided me to this point and who will continue to steer my journey from here on out.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Random Reviews: The Red Circle parts 1 & 2

[Editor’s Note: We don’t do a lot of new comics reviews here on the CKT mostly due to the awesome jobs my co-bloggers have at DC and Marvel. But since I have no such conflicts of interest, every once in a while I’m going to throw one of my legendarily long-winded reviews up if I feel I’ve got something to say. I should note the following disclaimer, though: What follows should not be considered anything close to the actual opinion of anyone who holds a real job. - KP]

The Red Circle: The Hangman #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by Tom Derenick
Inked by Bill Sienkiewicz

If my slowly ongoing series of posts on my love of notoriously lackluster comics hadn’t clued anyone in, I was fairly excited last year when DC announced they’d be incorporating the Archie Comics superheroes (collectively called The Mighty Crusaders by some folks but bewilderingly branded under the barely historically accurate Red Circle label for this iteration) into the DC Universe proper. If nothing else, the crew of characters have a few great designs and concepts amongst them, and DC’s general “any concept and the kitchen sink (and Ambush Bug)” feel make it pretty pliable when it comes to this kind of thing. And after a year of waiting and watching while the planned relaunch hopped from The Brave & The Bold to its own semi-linked pseudo-mini series, I picked up the first two parts of the introductory Red Circle comic under the guidance of writer J. Michael Straczynski.

Now, here’s where I stand with JMS. After years working in television and film, he certainly doesn’t need any tips from me on how to be a successful writer, and most of his comics work bears out his screenwriting training in terms of being well-plotted and generally providing honest, justified character motivations. At the same time, JMS suffers worse than any comics scribe I can recall of the sin of being too “writerly.” Too many of his comics get dragged down by over the top story turns and verbose, pompous prose that screams “I am a Serious Writer and this tale of men in spandex is Serious Literature” from the oblique parallel narratives and clichéd twists that sunk the later half of his Amazing Spider-Man run to the intolerably hackneyed “What dreams I have dreamed” opening that almost turned me off what became a really good run on Thor. For whatever reason, Straczynski constantly forgets fiction rule #1 – “less is more” – in favor of comic scripts that try much harder to impress than they do to entertain.

With The Hangman story that kicks of The Red Circle series, these ticks aren’t quite as apparent as some of his least successful comics work, but ultimately the comic reads like a staid and standard C-list superhero origin story rather than the introduction of a major new piece of DC mythology. The titular hero this time out is Dr. Robert Dickering – a Civil War sawbones for the North who gets trapped behind enemy lines. After delaying his own escape to save a blind Confederate soldier from bleeding to death (remember...he’s our hero!), Dickering gets caught by some brutish Southerners who string him up to hang. Enter the standard “Devil and Daniel Webster” twist when a dark figure enters the good doctor’s mind offering him life everlasting if he agrees to hunt down supposed criminals, saving the wrongly accused and killing the true villains. Well, maybe it’s not 100% Daniel Webster territory as Dickering gets to hold on to his soul in the process but examining the details of this crucial two-page scene do the book very little in the favor department.

We flash forward through time to learn that the Doc is still kicking in our own time, working the day shift at an unnamed hospital in an unnamed city where he’s the delight of the terminally ill kids ward and a bevy of hot single nurses. At night, Dickering undergoes a painful transformation to become The Hangman – a hero who can’t be killed but still feels the pain of every gun shot he takes in the gut. Basically what we’re left with is a mix of that show “New Amsterdam” that only lasted one season last year and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Painkiller Jane. That’s the high concept in a nutshell, dig?

I could almost ride along with a concept that isn’t 100% original if the execution had some pizazz to it, but unfortunately the whole package reads luke warm at best. In his scenes as Dr. Dickering, the lead character carries an almost antagonistic attitude towards having an actual personality (beyond that general “I’m a good dude” feel that comes with any superhero), and as The Hangman, he’s another dime-a-dozen “I’m tortured by the pain of my powers” creeper of the night. Worst of all, the core conceit that’s supposed to make this character work makes little to no sense. That crucial scene where Dickering agrees to live forever as a pained knight of vengeance clocks in at two whole pages, and after the whole “he’s so good he’ll risk his own life to save an enemy combatant” set up, I can’t think of reason 1 why the good doctor would take the fucking deal with the devilish stranger. I mean, there’s a bit of business at the beginning about Doc having a honey back home in the North, but even that cliché is only hinted at and never developed. Reading the deal scene, the only motivation an audience could guess for the doc to take the deal would be “for shits and giggles” as a death at the end of a noose would most certainly deliver our hero straight into the arms of the heavenly host. Ultimately, what we’re left with is a character who willingly takes on a horrible curse for no good reason.

And to be a nerd for a minute, the worst thing about this failed attempt at giving the character a good story hook is that the original Hangman actually already had an unique hook that’s been thrown out the window. Aside from being known by the 17 fans of his Golden Age adventures for killer splash pages and axe violence, The Hangman’s 1940’s origin involved Dr. Dickering taking up the mantle of vigilante because his brother was the superhero The Comet, who was tragically killed in action after a few Jack Cole-drawn appearances. Now, it’s not like that “brother’s revenge” aspect was ever developed into anything worth reading (this was the war era after all), but I’ll be damned if “one super brother avenging his dead super brother” isn’t a better origin than this warmed over deal with the devil take. I mean, maybe James Robinson’s Starman has an element of that in its sublimely layered motivation of Jack Knight, but overall I can’t think of any modern hero who has a similarly compelling origin that can be recapped in three panels like Superman or Batman’s can.

In terms of the always crucial visual side of the package, Tom Derenick does what Tom Derenick does just about as well as he’s done it anywhere else. The penciler is a decent storyteller with a cartooning style somewhere between Bart Sears and Neal Adams, which is totally fine for this type of thing, though I’ve always gotten the impression that a lot of Derenick’s workload over the past few years has come thanks to the fact that he’s so fast (for those who don’t know, he was a regular Countdown and Trinity contributor). And while I love Bill Sienkiewicz for the talented and ground-breaking artist that he’s always been, his ink work generally comes along to add a little scratchy and dark tone to perfunctory superhero pencil work – the ultimate effect of which is usually to say “Hey, kids! This was inked by Bill Sienkiewicz!” Honestly, that dark tone probably helped a bit more here due to the subject matter, but it did little to elevate the presentation out of mediocrity. Oh, and just because I thought it so strange, I should note that the final page of the issue was drawn by Inferno artist Greg Scott, I guess to create some kind of continuity between issues? Speaking of which...

The Red Circle: The Inferno #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled and Inked by Greg Scott

In what I assume is an attempt to get a slight sales bump across the introduction of these characters to the DCU, each new Red Circle comic shipping in August carries its own character-specific #1 status, but don’t let that throw you. This is essentially a mini series even though each issue brings a new player onto the board. And halfway through this story, I’m already starting to see some weird dissonance between the twin story goals of overarching story and solo character introduction, so let’s take each of them in their own time.

This go around, our new hero is Inferno – a character carted onto the scene as a comatose victim of some mysterious explosion in the aforementioned last page of The Hangman. There was some general head-scratching across message boards when Inferno was announced as part of the launch both from casual Archie heroes fans who wondered why such a Z-lister would get top billing and from hardcore Mighty Crusader fans who didn’t like that the guy ended up looking so different from his original incarnation. As far as I’m concerned, polishing up these guys to fit in the DCU should be part of the fun of a project like this, and Inferno fits that bill perfectly. I mean, I know a lot about these characters, and the most I know about Infero is that he’s a guy some fire powers and shit? Prime candidate for reimagining.

Straczynski’s execution of said reimagining is pretty odd and a little lackluster, but ultimately I think it works better than The Hangman’s for a few reason. While the gallows-themed hero who kick-started this whole shebang got saddled with a straight done-in-one original tale, Inferno’s first story is all mystery and misdirection. Carted on page like that Hungarian dude at the start of “The Usual Suspects” after a harbor explosion left him the only survivor, our guy has no memory of who he is (though he conspicuously drops the name Frank Verrano in a brief jibbering fit). Add that to a scattered one-page flashback where he agrees to get involved in...something with a blonde lady, and so far we’ve got very little to hang our hat on. But once this mystery gentleman (who, by the by, looks like your average “white guy with brown hair in a superhero comic”) wakes up, he’s got a gunman popping bullets from an uzi at his face, igniting flame powers that also physically turn him into a beefy WWE type complete with bald head and Macho Man ‘stache. That inexplicable transmographying element to Inferno is just so silly I kind of love it as it gives the hero something beyond another set of bland elemental-based powers. And even though the mystery elements surrounding who the character is aren’t really compelling on their own, they also don’t sink the concept outright like the Hangman’s clichés did. There’s potential here to be built upon, so bully for JMS on that.

In terms of our ongoing story, things are less promising. The sketchy details that help Inferno get established in and of himself without a full origin story really hamper the bigger plot as there are absolutely no details that would make a reader who’s not invested in the concept of Archie heroes at DC want to keep buying. Like I said, a gunman comes to kill Inferno in the hospital and the inclusion of an earpiece hooked up to shadowy boss types reveals that he’s part of a bigger organization of some kind, maybe. But there’s no specifics given on any of that. Not a name for the organization, not a hint as to why Inferno’s important, not one bit of storytelling style or compelling line of dialogue that raises the attack beyond “guy with gun shoots at guy in coma.” Zip. Later, after the obligatory “Hangman and Inferno fight in the street then team up to stop a bomb Inferno inexplicably remembers,” the fiery hero notes that whoever caused the first explosion had a reason for being on the boat, but that this second explosion was only a decoy to throw the cops off the true motives of the first. I’ve read this comic three times and what I just wrote about it confuses the fuck out of me.

Worst of all, we’ve got several pages of a nondescript cop team trying to crack the case of the exploding boat mystery, and the oh-so maudlin bits of info on what’s going on never reach them. The only people who’ve put anything together at all are the morphing amnesiac escapee who catches fire and the immortal, cursed doctor who fled the scene. So thanks for wasting four pages of a comic on two expository cops without a clue who I’m assuming we won’t see again for the rest of the series. And at this point we’re half way through a four-issue story!!!

I know it seems like I’m endlessly harping on a lot of minor details, but the point I’m ultimately trying to get at here is that if I am totally the target audience for this material, and JMS and company can’t string together the bare bones of a story that makes sense even to me, we may be approaching unmitigated disaster here for a new character initiative DC has been talking about for over a year. At this point, the most compelling thing I can point to about the entire operation is the teaser copy from the end of The Hangman that reads “To Be Continued As The Circle Embraces the Inferno!” Sounds like it has potential, right? What is the Red Circle? A prophecy? An organization? Is there even a reason all these characters are crossing paths, or is it all (as it seems) just stupid fucking coincidence and the name Red Circle was just drawn out of a hat to brand these guys rather than Mighty Crusaders?

In any event, I’m going to keep reading the next two issues and let you know how it goes. Certainly The Web and The Shield have slightly more draw and potential for superhero fans of any stripe (an idea I’ll return to when talking about them), and what I’ve heard about the non-JMS ongoing series sounds more fun than what we’re getting here, so fingers crossed. You can check out a preview of the issue that ships today at Newsarama if you like in the meantime.