Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Uncomfortable Comics Truths 3

Walt Simonson is not immune to the lure of a paycheck gig. Evidence: his run on the World of Warcraft comic book. How bad is this comic? Well, ignore for a moment that it's a tie in to a video game. Ignore for a moment that the first issue opens with an amnesiac awakening on the shores of a strange and hostile land. Ignore for the moment that the art team has rotated around so much that the book has no coherent look and characters have gone from emaciated to hyperinflated in the space of an issue. No, no, all you need to know about this comic is that Walter Simonson placed the following dialog in it: "We will feed them a diet of steel!"

Seriously, no one loves Walt more than I do. But this is hire and salary, man. This is Jeremy Irons doing the Dungeons and Dragons movie with that especial flair that says "I want some additions to that Irish Castle I bought." This is "Weezie and I aren't getting any younger and I want to buy a jaccuzi" in four colors. Go ahead and find a couple issues of this book. It's as if Walt took a nap while he was scripting it.

Comic book adaption movies are pretty hit and miss, but that's not the real problem. The real problem is when we start to see comic book adaptions which are clearly transparent money grabs made by studios who think any property is ripe for adaptation. Worse than that, though, are the reverse: movie, tv or novel properties made into comic books with no real purpose or goal other than "We gotta rip a hunk of that pig off as fast as possible." Pretty much every Buffy, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc etc comic is like this, even the ones written by the people involved in the original property: go ahead and read Joss Whedon's Buffy comics for some of the most self indulgent tripe ever published.

There is no good way to transition from the first three paragraphs to this next one, so here goes.

The return of Barry Allen? No one cared. Well, no, no one cared outside of the weird cabal of endless nostalgia addicts running DC Comics. To be fair, Marvel proved they're not immune with Brand New Day, the comic which supplies us all with the hot Spider-Man trying to get laid by random women action that has nothing to do with, say, spinning a web any size or catching thieves just like flies. (Doesn't anyone read comic books for violence anymore, I ask you?)

Comic books where the art looks as if the artist picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly and decided the cast of, let's say Fringe (just to pick out one show with actors who look constantly surprised) will be playing the Avengers this month are just impossible to read without snickering. "Yeah, I think Pacey was a good choice to play Thor this month!"

Let's not even discuss Greg Land. We all know he photoshops porn stars and wrestlers into costumes, let's just pretend it's not happening.

It's totally happening though. But again, let's pretend it isn't.

The common uncomfortable truth linking everything I said above? All of these comics sell. People buy bad video game tie ins, bad movie tie ins, comics with traced/photoshopped art, self indulgent nostalgia trips and we're only going to see more of all of them to come.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

News: Warners realizes it owns DC

I'm guessing the conversation went something like this...

WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: Did you see those stories about Disney buying Marvel?

WARNERS EXECUTIVE 2: How could I miss it? It was all over!

WARNERS EXECUTIVE 1: They got a ton of free press out of it and are going to get to control all those characters in the long run.

WARNERS EXECUTIVE 3: We should've bought Marvel, damn it!


WARNERS EXECUTIVE 2: I wonder if there are any other major comic book companies we could purchase.

INTERN: Uh... you mean besides DC?


INTERN: You guys do realize you already own DC comics, right? Batman? Superman? The only comic book library that's deeper and richer than Marvel's?


Monday, September 7, 2009

Captain America: Rebirth - You are so fucking boring that you make me sad

There you go.

Seriously, two issues in, and I'm so fucking bored I'd rather go read something by Chuck Austen. At least by now Chuck would have tried to convince me that Lutherans are out to use a Volton-style robot to convince the Beast he's the reincarnation of John the Baptist or something.

To sum up: Sharon Carter shot Captain America with a gun that didn't kill him but instead put him into some weird form of time stasis that leaves a corpse behind and yet jumps your mind around between points in time. Or he's jumping around in time because Sharon blew up the device the Red Skull was going to use to put his mind in Cap's body once he fished it out of time. Or he's jumping around time so we could have yet another anguished scene of a time traveler who knows the future but can't change it what the fuck they did this exact fucking story back in Death Be Not Proud when Cap went back and had to watch helplessly as he and Bucky tried to stop Zemo and the rocket plane at least that time had size changing robots fuck this.

Meanwhile, the good guys (including cyborg-arm Bucky 2009, who's not dead) stumble around like idiots and are routinely out-thought by Norman Osborn. Frankly, I find the recent attempt at Marvel to build up Norman Osborn laughable. This is a guy who once impaled himself on a 'cross of tin', guys. Him and his 'New Avengers'... you might as well have Kraven the Hunter come back from the dead as the next villain, at least he unambiguously beat Spider-Man, he didn't just steal the dude's baby. You know what I see when I look at Norman Osborn? I see his bad orgasm face in that story where he knocked up Gwen Stacy with super-fast aging twins that looked like Gwen and Peter's kids because that's who they were supposed to be before Marvel editorial decided it would be better if I had to see Norman Osborn have an orgasm instead. And yes, I'll admit it may well have been the most evil orgasm ever committed to paper, but that doesn't make me scared of him as the prime villainous mover of a story.

Two issues in and its so bloody tedious. Something better happen soon, that's all I'm saying.

I'm gonna go reread my Sleeper tpb's now.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Uncomfortable Comics Truths 2

Yes, comic books objectify women. Look, I'm willing to cede that they also objectify men as being at once hypertrophic and yet sexless, smooth crotched aliens, but come on, women in comic books? Even the women who managed to be portrayed as strong, heroic and independent instead of hostage fodder have boob windows half the time. I'm amazed there's no super hero woman named Rackelin with big red arrows on her costume pointing to her amazingly round, drawn with a compass and a protractor, inhuman breasts. The arrows can come up from her 3 inch waist.

The real issue is not that Batman has a ward in short pants. The issue is that Batman has run through three (four?) of them at this point. Not to mention ancillary hangers on: Batman, the dude who lost his parents in an alley, spends a tremendous amount of time trying to build a new, surrogate family made up of himself, his ridiculously competent zen master commando medic butler, and a legion of angsty teenagers. Wayne Manor is second only to Xavier's School as far as putting teens in costumes at this point.

Last time I said Superman was lazy. Well, here's how that works: this is a dude who has, at points in his career, been shown to move planets around. Even if you ignore that, in a recent comic book he blew up an object the mass of Earth's Moon before it crashed into us. We're talking ridiculous, near godlike power. Which he does nearly jack with, if you think about it. It's not surprising Zod in Superman II thought we were his pets. If anything, it's Superman's hands off policy that allows the people of Earth the illusion of free will, I suppose.

Even ignoring things like friction (yeah yeah frictionless aura) how does the Flash avoid killing everyone and everything around him? Mass increases as you approach C (the speed of light) and it's been shown in at least two comic books that the Flash can approach light speed in order to increase his mass enough to punch out a Kryptonian-class enemy. Does he have the ability to control his mass? Because otherwise every footstep he takes at near light speeds should crack the planet in half as his mass approaches infinity. How does he manage not to cause the atmosphere to follow him around? Seriously, thinking about the Flash for any length of time could actually drive you into a Lovecraftian gibber fit.

Spending more than five seconds worrying about the physics of a comic book character means you're goddamn horribly broken somewhere in your head, by the way. The Flash isn't real. Calm the hell down.

But he should cause shockwaves that would pulverize cities!

He's. NOT. REAL.

Almost all supervillains have really, really stupid plans. Granted, they can't all be as bad as when Chuck Austen had exploding communion wafers cause the Rapture, but even guys like Luthor and Dr. Doom come up with some astonishingly ridiculous plans from time to time. (My favorite Doom plan is the one where he took over the world using neuro-gas, only to expose himself to the gas and forget that he had absolute control over everyone. Seriously, right now, if Doom realized it, he could just tell everyone to obey him and they would. We'll assume that the gas has worn off by now because Doom tends to give people orders all the time and you think he'd get suspicious the second time Spider-Man said "Yes sir!" and left.) Frankly, if all the super heroes were busy that week, it's likely that Darkseid would be foiled by, say, a cat.

Cerebus is a marvel of independent comics publishing. Many of the stories Dave Sim chose to tell were masterful. That being said, a lot of them suck, are insanely overwritten, boring, or even trite, and the guy's thesis on gender relations sounds almost as insane as Oscar Kiss Maerth's theories on human evolution. Most comics fans know this already, but I've had six people now come up to me with a shellshocked look after having discovered Cerebus for the first time and then being exposed to Sim's essays. So in case you haven't read him yet,he's a genius, and he's written an absolutely painful essay.

Seriously, the Flash isn't real, stop worrying about the planet collapsing into his gravity well as he approaches infinite mass.

Yes, I do actually worry about that from time to time. How fast, exactly, does one have to be going before one's mass is greater than the planet Earth?

It's a comic book it's not real!

Can someone explain to me why the Punisher is still being published, by the way? Are comics readers just that hungry for Mack Bolan pastiche?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The First In Our Exciting New Series of Exclusive Pro Insights!

How To Write Comics Like Geoff Johns
by Geoff Johns, Totally The World's Greatest Comic Book Writer

Sometimes, fans will come up to me at Cons, or reporters will email me, or sometimes I sit down at a table at a fancy restaurant right next to a bunch of people who are already eating dinner and don't have any idea who I am and I'll just start eating right off of their plates, and these people, they'll ask me "What's the secret to writing an exciting Geoff Johns comic book?" or they'll get all angry and yell "Who are you? What do you think you're doing?" and then they tell me to get away from them and leave their shrimp scampi alone and I run away before the manager can throw me out of the Red Lobster. But what's the writing secret behind one of my totally awesome comic books? Wow! What a question!

I guess I never really thought about what makes those fifteen or sixteen scripts I dash off every month so special and appealing - I just put pen to paper and the words flow, LOL! So I called my good friend Greg Rucka for help. "Greg," I said, early this morning around three a.m., "I've been asked what makes my comic books so great, and I don't know what to say!" Greg mumbled something like "Geoff, 52's over, I can't take the blame for any more of your gory newsprint executions."

LOL, "GORY!" What a great word!

"Why don't you call Grant," he said (Grant Morrison scares me, Greg knows that. He's just being a silly-billy).

But anyway, I asked again and Greg started telling me how all stories have to have things in them, to give them "Struck Sure" - whatever that is - things like Plot, Conflict, Motive ... a whole bunch of things! I wrote them down, and then thought real real hard about how my stories must have lots of those things, because they're so popular! So, "with that in mind" (that's a smart thing Grant Morrison sometimes says, in his scary Scotchman accent), here's my list of ways that you can write just like my totally excellent comic book stories!

  • All stories have to have "conflict," I guess, which is basically a thing that happens when someone has a knife and tries to stab you with the knife and you don't want him to stab you with the knife. The stabbing is like a conflict! Personally, what I think makes for a good conflict is screaming, explosions, or there being a whole lot blood everywhere all the time. If you're writing a big "event" comic, then consider a screaming explosion of blood - that's extra conflicted!
  • People say that it's really difficult to write human emotions. These people are dumb - there's only seven emotions, and each of them has a color, and you can't feel more than two at a time. Easy-peasy!
  • An "Antagonist" is a guy who throws a lot of explosions at the hero. A "climax" is when most of the explosions happen, and the "denouement" is the part where someone's head gets punched through.
  • It's really important to "build tension" in a story. That means you don't just have explosions happen, sometimes the bad guy gets to say something really sarcastic first and THEN the explosion happens.
  • All characters have to have motives, which is a thing that makes them want to do the things they're doing. For instance, bad guys? They're usually insane, or zombies, and that's their "motive" for being evil. Now you know what a motive is, but you should come up with your own motive, because those two are my motives and I don't want you stealing my ideas.
  • Movies and plays are usually divided into three acts: The Setup, The Confrontation and The Resolution. I don't know why they don't just make explosions of screaming blood happen all the time instead, because that's what I do and it seems to work out okay. I don't even know what a "resolution" is, but I guess it's probably when the hero vows to never let any explosions happen to his loved ones ever again. (PS When he does that is a really good time to get his wife and kids killed)
  • Everybody knows the "Big Three" characters, but there are lots of lesser-known characters floating around who have "potential". Potential is a word that means "getting your arms torn off or your heart punched out for no reason". Potential is my favorite thing.

And there you have it - twelve great tips on how to write excellent comics just like me! More than anything, though, I think the most important thing is for a comic book writer to retain his sense of childlike wonder towards the world, to be able to look at it through the eyes of innocent youth - I mean, not TOO young, not like six or seven years old or anything gay like that, but maybe like thirteen. You know, puberty, when everything was really confusing and aggravating but you could get into some of the movies that totally showed tits sometimes or a guy getting stabbed in the chest, and they weren't really any good but they were SHOCKING and provoked a reaction and you confused that with any sense of worth? Either that or also you can just crib from old Mark Waid comics too. Peace out!

-Geoff Johns