Wednesday, June 8, 2011

OG Seebelow Re-Revived! Gets new costume! Joins JLA spinoff!

DC Comics ready for a risky yet relevant publishing change 
Here's a sneak preview of the Geoff Johns and
Jim Lee Bobblehead dolls from Funko!

As excited as Dan DiDio is about DC Comics' newest initiative, the company's co-publisher knows he can walk the hallways of the DC Comics offices in Manhattan and pick up the same vibe from his co-workers.

And if he doesn't, out come the whips and scorpions.

"If we can convince the people here we're doing something brand-new and fresh, we have a good chance to really get the people outside on board," DiDio says.

That’s what we call in the trade “A mighty big if,” partner.

DC will re-number its entire line of superhero titles, beginning with all-new No. 1 issues starting Aug. 31 — 52 in all, including a new Justice League No. 1. Fittingly, the publisher put its creative superteam on its trademark superhero superteam.


Guided by writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee, Justice League will begin its first year with an updated secret origin reflecting DC's new initiative, giving the group a reason for coming together that it lacked when the league first appeared in 1960. And while it will ultimately boast 14 members, at its core will be DC's A-list do-gooders: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman.

"The approach is very much about who they are behind the masks and how they interact together and how these personalities mix," explains Johns, DC Entertainment's chief creative officer. "With the world's greatest superheroes, how does that team actually work? Do they all get along? Being able to pull together and see how that relationship is forged and continues to grow has to be at the heart of that book."

As you peruse that awkward mess of a sentence, keep in mind that this guy is a writer, folks.

For Lee, working on a team book is a different experience than a Superman or Batman, both of which he illustrated in recent years.

"When you have a Green Lantern mixing with a foil like Batman,

Batman is a BAT, Jim. You’re thinking of Foil-Man.

you get scenes that are comic-book history.

Or are “something that happens every month in Justice League already”.

There's the epicness of it all.

Right there! There it is! All the epicness!

You're dealing with iconic characters and you want to give them all equal grandeur and weight."

Well, no, no you really don't. In a character-driven story - especially one with an exceptionally large cast - you want to have inequality between the characters in order to have tension, which drives the story forward and gives characters the opportunity to react, grow, perform and generally define themselves in the context of the plot. Ideally, you have some characters whose roles are almost exclusively supportive and secondary, so that they help give structure to the larger story of the primary characters. This gives a story focus, and if you make everyone equal in value then you disperse the tension out across everyone and the story appears lackluster and devoid of emotional consistency.  BUT HEY this guy is the artist, I'm just busting his balls now ...

In the rollout of the revamped DC Universe, some titles will return, a lot of titles won't

(low whistle)

and DC will have a wider range of books starting in September, DiDio says. In addition, three-quarters of the creative teams will be shuffled around — series that are successful and writer/artist combinations that work well together won't be tweaked too much, he says.

I'm not really sure why you'd mess around with the teams that currently work just fine at all, but tweak away, man. It's your company.

"We've got a new set of creators coming in with new voices in the DC Universe," DiDio says. "We really want to bring a new energy and excitement to our books."

"We also have a lot of the same shitty old creators coming back to the books which I already thought sucked so bad we needed to relaunch the entire line. The new DC!"

The characters also are getting a makeover. While most of the specifics are still top secret, Lee says he worked with both staff and freelance artists to redesign costumes in a contemporary way as well as alter the physicality of many heroes and villains to modernize the DC Universe.

"You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too," Lee says.

Finally, something to like about all this business – cake.

"You're trying to keep the iconic elements there, but at the same time freshen up the look so that people are intrigued by what they're seeing and hopefully come and sample the wares."

“So they almost definitely should not have put me on this gig” said Lee, dismissively recalling Heroes Reborn.

The recent emphasis on diverse characters such as lesbian superheroine Batwoman, Hispanic hero Blue Beetle and African-American adventurer Cyborg (who will be a core member of Johns and Lee's new Justice League) also will continue.

Wow, they got one of everybody in there! Say, didn’t we have an Asian-American Atom around here somewhere? Whatever happened to that guy? Oh, that’s right, he’s dead in a matchbox.

There’s a particular irony in DC claiming to have an ‘emphasis’ on diversity - beyond how many of their ethnic and gender atypical characters they’ve chosen to kill off in recent years (although, to be fair, they killed off just about everybody at one point or another). More than that, though, they took their only two characters who’ve relied on prosthetics and appliances to overcome disabilities – one-armed archer Roy Harper and paraplegic Barbara Gordon – and made them whole-bodied again. 

"Diversity" in fiction is more than just counting skin color, it's about depicting the unique struggles and experiences of sub-groups and sub-communities within a larger population. While they're promoting Cyborg as the African-American guy on the front of their pamphlet, they're conceiving of him not as the victim of traumatic injuries who requires his prosthetics to survive (as he was, you know, originally conceived) but as ... - well, read on for that. But, essentially, "diversity" seems to mean "You can't sell action figures if they're in a wheelchair".

"He's a character I really see as the modern-day, 21st-century superhero," Johns says of Cyborg. "He represents all of us in a lot of ways.

“I’ll name one.”

If we have a cellphone and we're texting on it, we are a cyborg — "

You can always tell when Johns has been talking with Morrison. 

that's what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves."

That is totally not what a cyborg is, Geoff. Cybernetics is expressly the scientific study of human physiological functions and the use of artificial mechanical means to replace them. That Cyborg has a manufactured eye which transmits visual information to his brain, that's what makes him a cyborg. That he can access Yahoo! Sports without an iPad isn't. 

What Johns is describing is "using tools", and by that definition I'm a cyborg every time I pick up a hammer. By that definition, we've had cyborgs since the Paleolithic era, and every time a chimp uses a twig to flush termites out of a mound, then he's a Chimpborg. By that definition, I'm a cyborg every time I slap a male prostitute in the face with my dick. Hold on ... I've said too much.

There will also be a lot of diversity in the products as well, DiDio promises.

There’s that word again.

"It's not just about straight superhero characters and stories.

“You saw we got Batwoman, right?”

We're going to use war comics, we have stories set in mystery and horror, we've got Westerns."

Groundbreaking. There's nothing more modern than the comics they published back in the Fifties.

While Lee allows that this kind of wholesale change is risky for DC, it's far more perilous to play it safe

By definition, it is never more perilous to play it safe. What monkey journalism school drop-out did they hire to write this thing?

and not periodically examine these characters and how they relate to the readership.

"It's part of our jobs to make sure that these characters stay dynamic and relevant," Lee says. "And that's what drove us on a creative level to make these kinds of changes."

And certainly not an attempt to make our comics lawsuit-proof by erasing all the Siegel, Kirby and Alan Moore contributions or to distract people from the economic swipe we've just delivered to brick-and-mortar comic shops or how by effectively having pulled out of those venues we'll have taken a shot at the indy and alternative markets which it's hard to argue were competitors at all. Dynamic and relevant, that's why!

OG Seebelow Revived! Gets own book from "new" DC (is cancelled two months later)

DC Comics unleashes a new universe of superhero titles
How sick are you of this picture already?

DC Comics has a new strategy to be No. 1 in comic books: all-new No. 1's.

Yes, DC will be doing number ones all over the place!

Starting this summer, the publisher will re-number its entire DC Universe of titles, revamping characters such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and others from its 76-year history for a more modern and diverse 21st century.

Or, in the case of some characters like Wonder Woman, re-re-revamping them. Again. Also, nice to know that the 21st century is more modern than all the other centuries that have been or will be. That's modernity for you - it's contemporary!

The first book to be released under this new era: Justice League No. 1, out Aug. 31. The series by writer Geoff Johns and artist Jim Lee reunites the famous lineup of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.

I’m guessing they would have called Martian Manhunter but his phone doesn’t get service on Mars.

Taking the place of the alien outsider who stuck out like a sore thumb among the ethnically consistent faces of the world’s premiere superhero collective will be a black dude.

Johns promises a focus on the interpersonal relationships within DC's trademark superteam. "What's the human aspect behind all these costumes? That's what I wanted to explore," he says.

“But instead it ended up being a lot of explosions and stupid dialogue, like I usually do.”

In September, an additional 51 first issues will make their debut, introducing stories that are grounded in each character's specific legend but also reflect today's real-world themes and events.

That sounds … groundbreaking.

It's wonderful that they're launching 52 new titles (or, if not wonderful, then "pretty much what comics companies do, publishing titles"), but if the goal is to draw in new readers and get them emotionally (and, more importantly, financially) involved with the new books and new looks, then surely the question isn't "how many titles they are launching" but rather "What's their commitment to these titles?"

DC Comics under Dan Didio has a pretty inconsistent history with follow-through on any of their big ideas. With that in mind, what is his dedication to what appears to be a Pre-Re-Implosion Universe? If a book isn't selling after three issues, does it go down the drain? How will that resonate with the new readers he's trying to generate? 

Some of these books are going to be slow starters out of the gate, that's just to be expected when you've got 52 new number one issues starting up all at once. 

The lion's share of the market attention is bound to go to the Bats and Capes, Rings and Tits, so what happens when one of these titles inevitably dips below 30,000 by their second or third issue? Does Didio plan to exercise any kind of sticktuitiveness with all of these new franchises? Justice League is bound to go the distance, but how much loving care is he going to be willing to shell out for Justice League Dark (which is just like the regular Justice League only with Dark Chocolate instead of Milk Chocolate. Coming this Christmas, look for Justice League Peppermint and Chunky Justice League with Raisins).

Lee spearheaded the costumes' redesign to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old.

“I changed how they looked so people would recognize them better. Like, you know how in movies when an escaped criminal goes to a plastic surgeon and gets his face changed and goes back to get revenge on the people who ratted him out, the first thing everybody says is ‘Oh my god I totally knew it was you because you looked so different!’ … well, that’s what I’m doing here.”

V-collars make characters more accessible. Haven’t you read Understanding Comics?

"We really want to inject new life in our characters and line," says Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC with Lee.

“Any ideas on how to do that?”

"This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."

“We’re starting at what I like to call ‘an arbitrary point that comprises no discernable milestone.’”

In an even more important move in the competitive comics industry, DC is making all of the re-numbered titles available digitally via apps and a DC website the same day they arrive in comic shops. It marks the first time that a major comics publisher has done so with its popular superhero titles.

You know what this is going to do? It’s really going to stick it to comic shops. By the end of the year, I fully expect that about ninety percent of all the comic shops in America will dedicate no more than a single wall to print versions of new comics, and instead stack their shelves with a seemingly limitless supply of toys, action figures, statues, tee-shirts, keychains, magnets, baseball caps, novelty glassware, Heroclix and other licensed comic book-related collectibles. Mark my words, I have seen the future*!

In all seriousness, I do wonder how much the same day availability of digital comics will ultimately affect comics retailers/ While I was being flippant**, I honestly rarely find a comic shop where the actual comics comprise more than five or ten percent of the store stock - out of six in my immediate area, I can only think of one that even HAS a back issue section, or a reasonable selection of alternative and indy titles. I honestly have no idea what this will do to brick-and-mortar options, except I'll continue to not really go into them all that often. I'm full up on Heroclix.

(*And it looks like the mall)

(** …the butler was murdered!)

The company has come in second to Marvel every year since 2002 in market share, according to Diamond Comic Distributors.

Can’t you let them have this one, solitary moment of happiness, USA Today?

While the two companies are making millions off movie adaptations of their comic books, print sales for both have dropped in recent years, as new technology gives readers many more options.

For instance, “seeing movies” instead of “reading comics”.

"We're allowing people who have never bought a comic book in their lives to download them on portable media devices and take a look," Lee says.

“Before now, we strictly prohibited them from doing that, using remote controlled drones and off-duty border patrol agents.”

"Having the ability to give people access to these comics with one button click means we're going to get a lot of new readers."

"And there's no way they could just not click that button, right? Right?"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Who Watches the Watchmen: Again?

Over at, Rich Johnston asserts a comically frightening hypothesis. His ear to the pavement, Rich indicates that his sources have revealed to him the possibility of not only a sequel to The Watchmen film, but a number of miniseries and on going projects exploring the history of the franchise.

Despite the rumor that the events in Watchmen took place in one of the new post 52 universes, Paul Levitz had always put the kibosh on any expansion of the franchise. One presumes it's just another bizarre manifestation of his challenging relationship with Alan Moore. It seems that expanding on the franchise is something of a dirty fantasy for Don DiDio. With Levitz stepping aside, indications are that DiDio has made expanding the Watchmen franchise a pet project.

With any luck this will generate a vindictive and angry screed from Moore that will require a thesauraus for proper comprehension.

[Get Ready for Watchmen 2]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Party Planning Tips!

Party supply site offers several suggestions for planning a Superman-themed party for your kids. You know, Superman?

The Man of Steel,
the purveyor of good deeds
the destoryer of bad deeds

Yeah, him. Don't knock yourself out preparing a fancy spread for your birthday tyke, not when ...

Not many people know this, but Superman secretly craved hamburgers and hot dogs and while we do not know for sure, this menu makes for easy outdoor cooking with no mess in the kitchen. Add chips, cut-up vegetables, condiments, popcorn and beverages.

Looking for fun activities? Why not sing this specially crafted Superman birthday song!
Happy Birthday Song

Add a word to the standard song that is sung before the candles are blown out and the cake is served.





And now the part that would have made my head explode when I was six:

Birthday Cake
Decorate the cake with a Superman cake topper or emblem or create your own. Add red, white and blue frosting and decorations that carries the Superman color scheme perfectly.

AAAgh my six-year old brain ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Excerpts: How much worse could Superman IV have truly been?

The incidental music alone is a more serious villain than Nuclear Man...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dial –§ for Fakeski!

Here's an amusing, really nicely designed, and completely ersatz version of Leon Trotsky as Tintin.

The dead giveaway is the date 1922 - Tintin was first published in 1929, which is easy to remember, since everyone knows Hergé's's boy reporter is responsible for causing the Black Tuesday stock market crash. If memory serves (I don't have my own Tintin books at hand) this isn't a version of any particular Tintin book, but rather of a logo that appears on the title pages of most editions.

There's a selection of several more equally fake and attractive covers at English Russia

It's not clear to me exactly what might be the point of all this, especially since I neither speak nor read Russian. Still, I could hardly post that without also posting this.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is one of the few of the series I still haven't read. When I was a real obsessive about these things, back in the last 70s, I don't think an English translation was even available. Certainly the earliest Tintin books are pretty problematic with the advantage of renewable energy powered 21st century hindsight, what with the racism and drinking and smoking and adorable terriers with the power of speech (hey, so THAT'S what's missing from Mad Men!)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Superman: The Man of Tomorrow That Almost Was

Superman is about as iconic as you can get. He transcends the super hero medium of comics and offers a reflection of a nostalgic mid century America that never really existed. To many people he embodies the very values and presence of an America that we wished was real.

Which is all the more impressive when you consider that depite his outward resemblance to us, he is not human. Tossing about city buses and swimming in lava aside, it's sometimes easy to forget that Kal-El was born on Krypton and launched from that dying world to our own in a suped up* space crib. I think the residents of Smallville and Metropolis both can thank their lucky stars that the instinctual behavior of Kryptonian infants didn't include punching and staring intently at the ceiling until it catches on fire.

How much would it blow your mind though, if I told you that Superman was originally conceived of as a HUMAN?! Is your mind blown? Is it laying about the floor like the contents of a can of beans left unopened on a burner for too long?**

The totally awesome website has featured, and translated, a letter that Jerry Siegel wrote to Russel Keaton in 1934. Siegel was looking for an artist for Superman and pitched the idea to the Buck Rogers artist with a brief script detailing a significantly different origin story for Clark Kent.

Notable differences include Kent being human, instead of alien, thrust back in time from a dying earth by the last man alive. Thankfully the last man alive was not a telephone repair man, and he had the capacity and resources to construct a time machines. Additionally, this Clark Kent was raised in an orphanage, and delighted in public displays of his strength.

Keaton turned down the offer, and it was another four years before Superman finally ended up with Joe Shuster and National Allied Publications.

* See what I did there? I'm very clever.
** My father actually did this. Big mess. Beans everywhere. Beans!

Superman: The Man of Tomorrow []

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Superman: Secret Origins 1 and 2 quick impressions

Yet more evidence that I post too much here.

Anyway, not a real review, just some impressions.

Gary Frank's a good artist but he needs to tone down the "I'm INSAAAAAANE" expressions he uses for characters. I can handle it on Lex Luthor, cause, well, he's Lex Luthor. It's just weird looking at a picture of Lana hiding in a cornfield when the expression on her face says "They'll never find the bodies."

Also, so far Gary's trying way, way too hard to draw Clark Kent/Superboy to look just like Christopher Reeve. There are a few panels in this comic that approach pure mastery... the full page spread where Superboy catches Lionel Luthor's truck as it prepares to go splay is really well done all told... but it's detracted significantly when I look at the next page and I see teen Chris Reeve staring out at me.

The plot tries to incorporate pretty much every Superman as young boy scenario out there, from Byrne's football playing popular jock kid to the classic Silver Age bookworm version to Smallville (complete with heat vision whenever Lana Lang kisses him) and as a result, it's kind of messed up. It doesn't help that it's Geoff Johns so I expect everyone to die horribly on every page. Lex Luthor's story works pretty well so far, however, and I liked seeing Lena Luthor again.

The Legion of Super Heroes appearance worked pretty well. I liked that Lightning Lad alone was more concerened with young Clark as a person rather than a legend or a fundamental part of the time stream, and his manipulation of Brainiac 5 worked elegantly enough. I was happy they didn't include the original "The Legion fucks with his head first" aspect of the story, as Clark comes off as more shy and timid in this version and it would have seemed like kicking a puppy.

In fact, one of my main problems with the story is that they're overselling the shy and timid aspect. At one point Clark asks Saturn Girl what he did wrong in a way that makes him seem rather slow witted. This isn't a major concern, but it's still kind of weird.

And there's a Krypto appearance in issue #2. Can't say anything bad about Krypto.

Clearly, this is a re-retcon of the retcon of the Silver Age origin when Byrne took over the book. That origin was itself built out of many previous Golden and Silver Age tweaks to the story. Since it's Geoff Johns, I'm honestly relieved at how much it doesn't deviate from what you might expect. I'm cautiously willing to read more.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Awesome Insanity of the Golden Age Superman

I talk about this a lot, but seriously: the Golden Age Superman was purely batshit. I've been rereading the Superman Chronicles, a series of reprintings of all the old Siegel and Shuster Superman stories, and man, is he one murderous, grinning psychopath. Superman will impersonate a sports figure, declare war on rigged pinball machines, or destroy the wall of a radio station to announce to a town that he's essentially decided to destroy all of their cars if they cross him. He enjoys being shot at, stabbed, and poisoned because it gives him the chance to show off how nothing can hurt him, and he'll actually destroy an entire slum on the off chance the US Government will replace the ruined buildings.

I suppose we should be glad he didn't decide to try that in New Orleans.

I just get such a massive kick out of raving asshole Superman. Let's not mince words: the Siegel and Shuster Superman is a crusader against social inequity, a champion of the little guy, and a grinning, smug as all hell complete fucker who is just itching to fuck with you before he throws you into the harbor. He will deliberately crash head first into your propeller if you try and fly to safety, too.

I wish I had scans of the issue where Superman, in his Clark Kent identity, comes upon a man who has committed suicide after realizing his purchase of stock in an oil company has ruined him because the two gentlemen running the company prefer selling shares to actually drilling for oil. In short order Superman buys all the stock available in the company (coming right out and saying that he wiped out Clark Kent's savings to do it... at one point he buys $5000 worth of stock from a buyer, in 1938, implying that Clark Kent's got some cash stocked away) then runs out to the derelict well the company owns, knocks out the night watchman, and drills for oil himself until the well strikes some. We're then treated to the spectacle of the fraudulent stock swindlers hiring goons to kill Superman (in his cover identity as 'mysterious guy who buys stock in worthless companies that suddenly aren't') because he refuses to sell his shares back to them, followed of course by the inevitable 'Superman lets the goons kill him, then gets up and beats them half to death while smirking' sequence.

We then get Superman demanding a million dollars for his shares: the crooked oil men pay, because the well is worth many millions. Superman promptly changes into his costume, breaks into their homes, kidnaps them, drags them to the well and forces them to watch as he destroys the derrick and throws a gasoline cocktail into it, setting it ablaze. That's right, Superman set an oil well on fire. Perhaps it's even still burning. The best part is, he pockets the million dollars.

It's majestic, in its way. Sure, the evil oil guys had it coming. They even hired assassins, so you really can't feel bad for them. But the magnificent bastardy Superman displays as he methodically dismantles their lives, toys with their thugs, and finally takes all their money while burning down their property is just... I mean, seriously, why can't we have this Superman around when we live in the age of massive govenment bailouts? Then again, do we really want to see Superman hanging Bernie Madoff from a flagpole? I know most people would probably not accept Superman heading into GM and destroying the place over its safety record. Not to mention pretending to be an undead spectre just to screw with a hit and run driver. (I seriously cannot get enough of 'Superman as car safety demon'.)

I get why Superman had to mellow out, and I'm a huge fan of the complicated Weisinger-era mythos of the character. But man, every time I read one of these stories (Superman versus giant yellow rats on Luthor's volcano island! Superman vs pinball machines! Superman vs... Yale, I guess? I'm not sure. Some ivy league college football coach who hires assassins to stab opposing players, I don't know if the sport was just rougher back then) I'm just in awe of how didactic, bombastic and even outright insane (Superman forces a munitions manufacturer to join a foreign military in order to gloat as the guy almost gets killed a few times, then forces the opposing generals into a fist fight, and this somehow fixes everything) these stories get. The Ultra-Humanite first tries to take over Metropolis' cabbies, and when this fails, he unleashes the Bubonic Plague! With no stops in between! He doesn't go from cabbies to, say, ambulance drives, he leaps straight from "I will control all the gypsy cabs in Metropolis" to "I will wipe out 90% of all humans and make a superior race" in one go.

Of course Superman routs him, because if there's one lesson to these stories, it's that scientists can never win against brute force that's very smug.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Uncomfortable Comics Truths 4 - The Kirby Era Edition

Believe it or not, Jack Kirby didn't shit rainbows and lactate wonder. A very good artist, professional, and seemingly a wonderful guy, but come on: he did Dingbats of Danger Street. It's pretty clear that his work on the legendary run on FF was only helped by the presence of Stan Lee to help rein the guys more elaborate fancies in. This isn't to say I don't love the idea of a small planet of vampires and other monsters in Dabney Donovan's basement, much less the idea of Superman fixing everything by playing the film version of Oklahoma at it. But take Darkseid, for example. Since Darkseid is basically a god of pure fascism, it's difficult for most writers to avoid failing to actually use him effectively in a story. The best stories involving Darkseid outside of Kirby's work are ones where Darkseid actually acts, which is rare: the best non Kirby Darkseid story for my money is stil The Great Darkness Saga because (gasp) Darkseid is an active force of evil and menace throughout the story! He does things! He turns an entire planet into a bust of his head just to be a dick! Compare this to "Legends" where Darkseid's evil plan involves daytime talk television. I realize I'm blaming Kirby for what people did with his creations here, but it's not Kirby's fault, it's the fault of the ridiculous fetishization of his work. Still, Darkseid's a less compelling villain than half of the ones ripping him off, because they at least get to go around doing evil things. Darkseid gets to sit around and talk to Desaad.

You do have to give Kirby credit for understanding that the Marquis De Sade was pretty up front about tyranny and how he'd go about it. So many writers just use Desaad as a sniveling henchman and toady, but Kirby always depicted the relationship between the two much more subtly. Desaad is often the only one willing to tell Darkseid off. Admittedly, he usually ends up paying for it. "Once upon the throne of kings" and all that. I wish other writers could grasp that complicated relationship: when Paul Levitz managed to have Darkseid actually miss Desaad, he got the point of what Desaad does for the figure of Darkseid as an evil force. (Then again I hail from a country where people are totally okay with torture so maybe I expect too much.)

Please, though, fuck the Eternals. It's not even that they're a bad idea, it's just that Marvel already has too many cosmic entities patterned after various mythological figures. The Eternals would work perfectly as a stand alone, doesn't interact with the Marvel comics in any way story/setting, but having Ikaris and Thor hang out is just too weird. Thor actually is a god! It's weird! Having the actual Greek gods running around in a setting with cosmic powered immortals who were thought to be the Greek gods is just storytelling hash, you end up with story after story trying to reconcile the two. And frankly, multiple stories (even ONE story) that are just excuses to explain minor points of comic book trivia aren't really compelling. I was surprised that I didn't hate Gaiman's Eternals more. (I honestly don't have any major complaints about it even. I was surprised too. I didn't like it, but it didn't actively enrage me.)

They used to call Marvel "The House of Ideas" but aside from Kirby, Ditko and a few others like Steranko it often seems like the only idea was "Wouldn't it be neat if the skies rained shit down on superheroes?" which, to be fair, was a fairly novel idea at the time. (I'm actually giving Ditko incredibly short shrift here, which is totally unfair of me, but bear along) - stories like Brave New Day bore and disappoint because they borrow heavily from the "Look at all the crap Peter Parker has to go through" without any of the "Lost city full of whacked out freaks" aspects of Marvel's Silver Age. What Marvel needs now is a passel of wildly creative types and a moderately clever guy with a real editorial flair to round them all up and make them produce good stuff without letting their egos out of check so that we don't get a year of Norman Osborne running the world.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why I am an entire pain in the ass

Go read this webcomic.

Most people read that, maybe snigger a little at the clever Linux joke or don't get it because like the majority of human beings they could not care less about computer operating systems. Either way, they get that its a joke, laugh or don't, and move on.

I spend six hours saying "But there's no way for your nerves to interact with the USB port in any useful or meaningful way! You'd need more hardware than currently exists, it's not just a software problem, he'd just have to rip the USB port out again later and install whatever adapter will allow chemical based nerve impulses to be read by a USB device" and then we're off to the races and it takes me days to get my brain to slow down and laugh at the joke.

This is entirely the fault of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. You have no idea how many hours of time I obsessed on just how loud Black Bolt actually would have to be to blow up a city by speaking.

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

News Item: The Mouse Makes a Bid on Stan Lee

I don't know about anyone else, but I was a bit surprised to learn that Disney very likely will be buying Marvel this morning. Approved by the board of directors of both Disney and Marvel, the transaction comes down to $50 a share, or about $4 Billion.

Robert Iger, CEO of Disney said "This transaction combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories"

As part of the deal, Disney will acquire total ownership of Marvel, including "more than 5000 characters." Ike Perlmutter, current CEO of Marvel will oversee Marvel properties under the direction of Disney.

I'm not sure what to think of this. My instinct says it sucks, at the very least from the perspective of market and product homogenization. The deal still has to be approved by the Marvel shareholders, and has to pass some anti-trust barriers, but I think it's safe to assume it's a done deal.

Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment []

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Uncomfortable Comics Truths 1

I have no idea if this will actually become a series. Anyway:

Animal Man is basically just Ambush Bug but taking itself much more seriously.

Batman is essentially every bit as impossible as Superman. Yes, that's right: even a billionaire with years to dedicate to training in exotic martial arts and criminology couldn't do all that stuff. Let's be honest: Tony Stark is a far more realistic portrayal of how a billionaire who decided to fight crime would go about it. Drunk off his ass and in a armored suit that kept bullets from hitting him, and with as much ordnance as he can possibly afford. (Thankfully, realism in comic books is completely unimportant.) If you're one of those fans who says things like "Batman is a self-made man" (if you don't count the billions of dollars he inherited, I guess) or "I like Batman because it's possible anyone could be him if they trained hard enough" (no amount of training will allow a normal human being to defeat 20 armed men) then you're kind of missing the point of comic books.

Man-Thing came out before Swamp Thing. Man-Thing's first appearance is cover dated May of 1971, Swamp Thing's in July of that year. That's right: Swamp Thing is in fact a retread of Man-Thing. Don't worry, they're both ripoffs of the Heap anyway.

For a guy who constantly complains about his terrible luck, Spider-Man has nailed some ridiculously attractive women over the years.

Wonder Woman was created to be a bondage fantasy. No matter how you try and dress her up as a symbol of feminine empowerment, she's still a bondage fantasy in a star spangled unitard. Go ahead and read some of her Golden Age appearances, she comes right out and tells people she's going to tie them up and make them submit to her. It's not subtle. Moulton-Marston was a complicated fellow.

Behind the Scenes videos that showcase the creative teams of comics should make sure that they don't showcase people who look like their souls have been replaced by pure evil after a long, painful hollowing out process. (Seriously, rent the new Green Lantern straight to DvD video and watch the Blackest Night preview, you will be convinced that at least two of the people involved are themselves zombies.) Victor Garber is ridiculously well cast as Sinestro, btw. The guys voice just oozes menace.

The Ultimates was never really all that good. At best, it was old Avengers scripts with tits and violence thrown in. At worst, it was written by Jeph Loeb so they ramped the incest up to 11.

Superman's lazy.

No, seriously, he's lazy. Really really lazy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PHI 120: Introduction to Humanism and Hellboy

Everyone loves Hellboy. Well, I guess, some people probably don't, but they're communists. And not the good kind, the bad kind, that invade Connecticut and make everyone wear mittens in the summer.

And, I guess, there are probably people who haven't read Hellboy, like say, Yanomamo warriors, appellate judges or philosophy 120 professors. There's no hope for the first two, but the latter is in luck.

Sara Cole, writing for, has produced an article that not only covers the origins and essential details of the Hellboy story, but also delves into deconstructing the titular character's motivations, Mignola's attempts to define what constitutes humanity, and adds a little sprinkling of Giambattista Vico to tie together the conclusion. It's the perfect article for someone who's never heard of Hellboy, but wants to have a coffee house conversation about what it means to, you know, really be human, and a demon.

The Boy Who Would Be The Beast of the Apocalpyse: Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Mythology, and the Human []

Living in the basement, Geoff? Really?

So, either you read Legion of 3 Worlds or you didn't. I did, because George Perez was drawing a Legion of Super Heroes stories with three Legions of Super Heroes in it. (Is that how we work the plural of Legion? The Romans didn't make that clear for me when dealing with Legions of Super Heroes.) I'm neither a huge fan nor a detractor of Geoff Johns, if only because I keep remembering that there but for the grace of God we could have had Chuck Austen as the hot DC writer instead.

And to be fair, I don't dislike Johns' take on the Legion. Sure, it's yet another retcon, but come on: we've had so many Legion reboots by now that they were running out of cute ways to combine numbers with the word 'reboot'. Johns' approach - every Legion you ever read about is valid because they come from one of many DC fictional universes - is at once Silver Age enough to tickle me (and I'm long on record as having disliked what Crisis on Infinite Earths did to the DC Multiverse) while it does for the Legion what they somehow missed doing back when there were sixty million alternate Supermen, Wonder Women, Green Lanterns and Hawkmen... it gives them the same metafictive weight as their 2oth/21st Century predecessors. I'm okay with Waid's Legion being the Legion of Earth-Prime. I'm okay if not actually excited with the Adult Legion of the Johns' Action Comics run being around and still interacting with Superman. I'm okay with the Connor Kent/Kon-El clone Superboy being back from the dead (although I really don't get the Lex Luthor connection) and Bart Allen, too, why not?

No, my real problem is with Superboy-Prime, the alternate version of Superman from Earth-Prime who first debuted in a DC Comics Presents back as Crisis on Infinite Earths and who went from an earnest young kid with the power of a Superman and no idea how to live up to it (and who was even aware of Superman, since in the DC Universe's fictional metacommentary on itself Earth Prime is supposed to be OUR world, and so OUR comics are what's published there - basically, you and I live on Earth Prime.) to a monstrously egotistical and moronic teen jackass who punches people's heads off while whining that no one likes him.

The reason I hate the kid, though, isn't that he's a strutting, preening jackass who blames everyone but himself for every bad thing that's ever happened to him, though. Shit, if that's all it took to set me off I'd have had a meltdown within five years of my birth. No, what pisses me off is that the kid is effectively a kind of smug, leering in-joke at comics fandom.

I'm the first to admit that I find fans and fandom irritating. I used to post occasionally on Scans_Daily, after all, and I found their attitude of entitlement and sneering contempt for the people actually making the comics they read unbearable and pretentious. Even as I partook in it. Shut up, I know I'm a hypocritical asshole. Anyway, when you get to the end of a comic book it's taken months and months to get out (hey, you hire George Perez and tell him he can draw any member of the Legion who has ever existed, what the hell do you expect to have happen?) and you see the ultimate villain of the story lurking in his parents basement demanding grilled cheese sandwiches while posting menacingly to DC Comics messageboards then the joke, she is dead.

I'm not saying its not apt.

I'm just saying it's not particularly funny or clever. It's too easy. Yes, we get it, Superboy-Prime is what those annoying trolls on message boards would be like if they had Superman's powers. Thanks, Geoff. We needed this in depth exploration of nerdraging. It's compelling storytelling.

It's a shame, too, because I actually like the majority of what Johns is doing with the Legion, and I'm interested to keep reading it. I like that he's embraced competing narratives, different versions of the LSH and found a way for them to all coexist while still writing the stories he wants to write. I liked his idea for the Time Trapper as a sentient, rebellious timeline that constantly changes and reinvents itself in its battle with the Legion, unable to determine which of the many timelines and realities it can see is the one it has to destroy. I even liked the idea of Superboy-Prime's punishment being what he'd always longed for, a return to his home, only to find the people he'd wanted and loved no longer could stand the sight of him.

But the basement scene? Frankly, it's too much like saying "Get it, get it?" after you tell a joke. Yeah, we get it. If you really feel you have to explain the joke this much, man, it's probably not all that funny.

Chip Kidd Shows Part of His Japanese Batman Toys Collection

"During his presentation at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Chip Kidd shows the various Japanese Batman Toys he came across during his project, Bat Manga."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My terrifyingly long Watchmen review that's completely irrelevantly late

Before I subject you to this, let me but apologize for having been away from the site for so long only to come out of my hole to post this long, vitriolic, intensely late review of a movie that's long since slid from the movie theatres. Since Leonard and Jon have been posting Watchmen stuff, and Brodie's rocking the Spider-Man posts, I got to feeling guilty. I have been busy (trying to get a new job, pray for me) but that's no excuse.

Anyway, here's my crazy long angry Watchmen piece.

In 1998, Gus Van Sant decided the world needed a remake of Psycho, the by-then world famous movie by Alfred Hitchcock. He assembled a cast (including Viggo Mortensen, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche) and proceeded to make a film so rigidly derivative of its inspiration (which was not, by the way, the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, the source of the original movie - Van Sant went so far as to bring a DVD of the original film to the set and recreate continuity errors from the first film) that it failed to provide any real energy or tension of any kind. In attempting to slavishly homage the first movie, Van Sant created sterile, lifeless film rather than art.

In watching Zach Snyder's version of Watchmen, several scenes in particular were so thoroughly and blatantly intended to be reconstructions of panels from the various issues of the original limited series that they may well have been simply lifted from the book and displayed on screen in the original Gibbons art. Yet, much as Van Sant failed to provide anything the source he was adapting did not already say and in the process made a film that fell to the floor of the theatre with a wet thud, Snyder's Watchmen crashes through the screen as dead as the dogs it so lovingly hurls through windows, their skulls split open. Worse still, not only does Snyder often fail to take any real time to adapt the original source in any way aside from using it as a storyboard, when he does decide to make changes he almost universally detracts from the story.

Watchmen is a twitching ruin of a film wrapped up in the most colorful tinsel Snyder could find, a movie which not only insults the intelligence of the viewer no matter his or her relationship to the source material - my wife, who has not read the comics nor has any intention of doing so, found the movie so tedious and the violence so pointless and lacking in narrative weight that she
almost fell asleep, kept awake only by a particularly bad job of balancing the sound in the theatre and some scenes that took the gore a touch over her comfort level, while I was grinding my teeth any time Matthew Goode opened his mouth. Seriously, what the hell was he doing? - but manages to be plodding and tedious despite constant hyper-kinetic scenes of violence and sex.

Honestly, part of the reason I hated the movie so much is that it's boring, once you get past the eye candy.

It's not bad in a MST3K sort of way. It's competently shot, most of the actors range from good to
very good (Malin Ackerman seems to be on heavy horse tranquilizers for much of the film and I've already mentioned Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt, a performance made possible by the Snidley Whiplash Foundation) with particular praise being due to Patrick Wilson's performance as Dan Dreiberg.

Billy Crudup's Manhattan was serviceable, although it was somewhat marred for me by his choice to deliver his lines in a voice not entirely dissimilar to that of an ATM machine. Still, the flashback sequence gave him more of a chance to turn in a nuanced performance in a very few lines and he did an excellent job making John Osterman seem like someone real and human in
that time. Matt Frewer turns in a delightful small performance as Moloch, Stephen McHattie does good work as Hollis Mason even if Hollis himself feels completely out of place in the film, a gun on the mantle that never gets fired.

Again, my wife turned to me at one point and said "Whatever happened to that old guy?" and I
had to explain that he was supposed to end up dead. I was even pleasantly surprised by Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in their roles as Rorschach and the Comedian, respectively. There were scenes that, taken out of the context of the greater film, worked very
well. I thought the credits as a means of establishing the world weinhabit in the film was inspired, music choices helped reinforce the period, and the visual effects were often inspired or purely gorgeous.

Unfortunately, a lot of people (including director Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse) spend an awful lot of time and effort desperately constructing a meticulously exploded world detail by detail, only to forget to provide this elaborate construction of almost breathtakingly stylized violence, elaborate grotesqueries, exquisite images and fetishization with anything to say.

Considering that the original source that was so thoroughly dissected and pinned to the screen for us by these people was so fraught with ideas, the effort that must have gone into avoiding them to the degree that Watchmen does as a film is rather staggering. You have to have real talent and work very, very hard to manage to take the original comics, reproduce much of them so faithfully that it's like walking into a gallery of photographs of the pages taken at odd angles and yet prevent all but the most broad strokes of the original story's themes and ideas from coming through.

In a way, it's a triumph, a masterpiece of style beating substance brutally and throwing it out of a window so we can lovingly watch each shard of glass float suspended before plummeting to the ground below.

Paradoxically in a 'adaptation' that fails on many levels to adapt anything, a film where the director and writers seem resistant if not outright horrified at the idea of trying to make the story inhabit the new artistic medium it's being created in, rather taking the original text as a kind of animatic or storyboard, the film also manages to fail when the screenplay or director feels compelled to deviate from the source. The reason Ozymandias' plan had a chance of succeeding in the comic is because, in a world on the brink of nuclear armaggedon, a gigantic squid monster appearing in New York and killing half a million people with a psionic death scream was so alien that it would not immediately cause the calamity it was intended to prevent.

But having Dr. Manhattan appear to have blown up several cities across the world presumes that the hostile nuclear armed powers of the time would wait to launch their missles and not simply let everything fly the second a big explosion took place in a major city. I'm sorry, but
it doesn't make any sense at all. The second Moscow went up, missiles would be headed for the USA, especially when the movie clearly shows us that Moscow is already under attack by Adrian's device before it moves on to New York.

Sure, the explosions are keyed to Dr. Manhattan's energy signature. Why would that keep the Russians from nuking the US? The Russians expect Dr. Manhattan to do things to them. They know he's American. They're afraid of him. The movie spends two hours pointing out that they're willing to go to the brink of war in the face of him. In order for the plan to have worked, New York would have had to have been hit first. So in just this one example of the film deviating from the original story it manages to butcher it and makes itself insipid even if you don't remember the original story at all. You're trying to prevent nuclear apocalypse?

You don't nuke people! The giant squid works precisely because it is absurd, ludicrous, so completely out of the pale that its sheer implausibility forces people to stop before unleashing their own destruction while also providing an enemy that is unfathomable, alien and yet still
possible to defeat (since clearly the body in the New York City aftermath is dead) while Dr. Manhattan as global annihilation is familiar, as nuclear as the other warheads, and provides at once no more threat than the stockpile of warheads we've already had mentioned several times in the film, while also being totally unstoppable.

Why should his act unite the world? They can't do anything about it. There's no 'alien corpse' to give the world a rallying sign, nothing that can be stood up to and fought. There's just a blue god who wipes cities off the face of the earth for the terrible crime of being populated by a species that... was about to wipe those cities off the face of the earth.

Similarly, the film manages to steal the great impact of the final encounter between its protagonists while still striving to reproduce it panel by panel: it's awesome to see Dr. Manhattan punch through the glass roof of Adrian's redoubt, but not only does the story fail to deliver any of the real tension (we never have to consider Adrian as possibly being right thanks to Goode's performance channeling Vincent Price's later years on mescaline) but when Rorschach dies, we get Nite-Owl watching it happen, which changes his complicity in events and makes the romantic movie ending almost obscene. You know, the one where he and Laurie make out in his living room while talking about the omnipotent blue boogeyman keeping the world in line and Laurie delivers Dr. Manhattan's best line (the one that rebuts pretty much everything Adrian has ever done or worked to do) gutting the last chance for the film to make a point like a trout in the process.

Every creative decision made in the last third of this movie to deviate from the source ruins it, while every creative decision to hew blindly to the source in the first two thirds leaves it devoid of any real identity or message. Like I said, it manages an almost impossible feat, you really almost have to admire its sheer craft. It's like watching a team of masons painstakingly craft an outhouse out of Belgian Marble.

I could go on. The scene where Rorschach reveals the reason for his violence and brutality is weakened by elision: removing the scene with the gas can, hacksaw and handcuffs makes a simple, brutal explosion of violence out of what had been a far more complex turning-in, a murder that is also an act of violence by Rorschach against who he had been.

The sex scene between Laurie and Dan managed to be rather faithful to the comic while at the same time totally missing the point (and being quite frankly a lot more like a bad Cinemax film than I was expecting). And Rorschach's narration, which works fine in the comic, actually could have benefited from some pruning in scenes where we have tools like music to help set a mood.

In the end, if I had never seen the comic book, I would have dismissed Watchmen the movie as a
visually interesting, ambitious failure on the level of Ang Lee's failed Hulk movie. But because I know how much better it could have been, I end up totally disgusted with it. It abandons the heart and mind of the original in an attempt to stuff and mount the body after pulling them out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sewer Diving: Fear is a Slinking Cat I Find Beneath the Lileks of My Mind

Those of you familiar with the work of humorist-writer-scold James Lileks will also be familiar with the sensation of thinking that he’s a schmuck even when you agree with him. Such is the case with his recent review of Watchmen.

Lileks is a very good humorist, and a skillful and perceptive archivist of cultural detritus. He is also, unfortunately for those who enjoy his work in those fields, a pedantic and short-sighted right-wing scold, an inveterate foe of the unconventional, and one of the worst cultural critics in the world. He’s wonderful at finding something funny to say about things, and terrible at finding something intelligent to say about them, with a keen grasp of what they are and no grasp whatsoever of what they mean. He also only knows seven things, and the two most important are these: The Sixties Ruined Everything, and Anyone Who Doesn’t Like Conventional American Politics And Culture Is Basically Just A Dad-Hating Punk Who Smokes Dope And Complains About How, Like, Mall Security Guards Are Totally Fascists, Man.

These points are hammered home in spades with Lileks’ Watchmen review; we both disliked the movie, but for distinctly different reasons. Let’s take a look.
The characters. Small point, but I wish the movie had characters I enjoyed. Silk Spectre was awful; Nite Owl was pudgy-dull, with all the gravitas of a hospital administration bureaucrat, and yes I know that’s the point; Dr. Manhattan was interesting, inasmuch as whispering superbeing with cerulean salami hangin’ free is interesting, but you have to admit it’s difficult to identify with a character who has Mars as his personal chill-pad.
It appears not to have occurred to Lileks that Alan Moore made Dr. Manhattan difficult to identify with for a reason, and if it had, he would have complained about it. He goes on to say that the most unpleasant characters are the most interesting ones, a banal observation to anyone who has paid any attention to the development of the novel for the last 150 years or so, but a shock to Lileks, who writes books but does not read them. It will no doubt come as a surprise to him in a decade when he’s nosing through his daughter’s freshman-year coursework and he discovers that Madame Bovary is not especially likable.
I dislike any movie that makes me wonder whether that’s a good Eleanor Clift impersonation.
Lileks, apparently, lives in a world where he is constantly inundated with movies that demand of him a judgment on the quality of their Eleanor Clift impersonations.
The source material. Look. I love graphic novels
Name three.
and this one gets props for upending the Superhero Mythos when it did, but great writing it isn’t, and brilliant insight it lacks.
Sure! It’s only the most highly praised book in the history of the comics medium; but great writing it isn’t. One wonders, if Watchmen lacks it, what graphic novel he thinks contains actual brilliant insight. The Avenging World? Ironwood?
I much preferred “Marvels,” which came along later, and had better art
Well, of course you did.
the illustration in “Watchmen” never bowled me over, and the coloring was often horrible.
There’s a lot of smart comics fans who would agree that Dave Gibbons’ art wasn’t the best fit for Watchmen, but the coloring? Seriously? His enjoyment of what’s widely regarded as the best superhero comic of all time was ruined by the coloring?

From here in 09 I could smell its 80s roots - dated, sorry, tired politics that lack anything other than sullen adolescent angst and dorm-room bong-session insight.
And here we get to the heart of it: Watchmen was an anti-authoritarian book with a rebellious (and arguably leftist) viewpoint, and from Lileks’ neo-Zhdanovite soap bucket, nothing with those qualities can possibly be any good. Never mind its intricate structure, its clever narrative, its savage moral lessons, its masterful dialogue, its thematic daring, its heartrending emotional moments: it is clearly of, by, and for a bunch of snotty dope-smoking pseudo-intellectual teenagers.
Reminded me of the Dark Knight comics: Reagan was President, which somehow explained why the cities were such horrid dystopias. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Some how?
Just in case you’re missing the subtlety here, Lileks is accusing Frank Miller — one of the most conservative creators in the comics industry, and a guy who unabashedly glorifies the totalitarian vigilante aspect of Batman — of being a leftist tool.
Same here: the reign of Nixon (Jeezum crow, Nixon) ties in with urban decay, filth, moral calumny, and all those incidents of debauched decline Rorschack [sic] decried as he walked the mean streets.
Ha ha, those crazy hippies! Still attacking Nixon, just as if he still had some kind of cultural or political influence on America! This sentence is so ridiculous it’s hard to know where to start: did Lileks somehow miss the part of Nixon’s presidency where the country was plagued with urban decay and moral calumny? Did he think that Rorschach — the book’s most obviously right-wing character — was decrying conservative rule? Did he even pay attention to how things were during Nixon’s term of service, and the reason he was driven from office?
I may be particularly sensitive to this stuff because I get rashes when the ideas and tropes of the Sixties are trotted out as prima facie truths - as though a reference to Vietnam and a snippet of Simon and Garfunkel is like some scriptural quote I’m expected to swallow without question.

Actually, he gets rashes when the ideas of the Sixties are mentioned at all.
One exchange stuck out - by which I mean, it made me roll my eyes so hard I almost tipped the couch over. “What happened to the American Dream?” Owl-guy says to the Comedian, after they’ve dispatched a late-night demonstration demanding more police, instead of masked vigilantes. “It came true!” grins the Comedian, meaning, all the violence and oppression and fear and war.
The Comedian, of course, is presented as an amoral nihilist, but that won’t stop Lileks from vaporing about this throwaway line:
It’s all very deep when you’re in high school and the ‘rents are being total Nazis. At this point, though, no one’s used the term “American Dream” without scare quotes since the second episode of “Laugh-In,” so any piercing insight may ping off the skins of viewers who don’t stamp around the mall glowering at the Phonies.
And there we go again: anyone who questions the rightness of Lileks' grandpa’s conception of the greatness of our country is a huffing, puffing, teenage jerkoff who hates Dad and Santa Claus and sulks around the house spelling America with three Ks. Any criticism whatsoever of the country, its economic system, or even its leadership (when that leadership happens to be Republican) reduces you to this Holden-Caulfield-Meets-Abbie-Hoffman stereotype.
It’s an artifact of the 80s counterculture, an echo of the dyspeptic souls who masked their hatred of humans with high-flown concern for humanity, a bizarre example of reality denial: the war they insisted was an inevitable outcome of the US posture in the 80s never happened, so they remake the era with Nixon at the helm and kill millions to force us to come to our senses so we won’t do the thing . . . that we didn’t do.
Because Reagan did not actually carry out the nuclear war ‘80s liberals nervously feared he would, the criticism of his overaggressive, pointlessly expensive, and often ineffective Cold War gunboat diplomacy is therefore a “bizarre example of reality denial”, and those citizens of this and other countries who feared that America or Russia might annihilate their families in order to make a political point were consumed with a “hatred of humans”. Also, it’s funny that he says liberals have to invent a false reality in which a third-term Nixon brings America to the brink of war in order to fight communism, since in our (real) world, the actual Nixon considered nuking Vietnam, and supervised the illegal bombing of Laos and Cambodia which killed tens of thousands of people. Who needs fake Nixon when we’ve got the real thing, eh, Jim?

Its thematic tone-deafness and utter obliviousness to what made the Watchmen comic so good in the first place (hint: nobody, but nobody, thinks it was its politics) make this a perfect example of why Lileks should stick to what he’s good at. Funny he is, but a good critic he isn’t, and any insight he lacks.

Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week - 7: The Scorpion

Has it really been a week of Spider-Man butt whuppins already? Yes, my friends, I'm afraid we've reached the end.

Today's villain is Mac Gargon, aka The Scorpion, a villain who has always tried to use his mechanical tail to stick a sharp protrusion into Spider-Man's thorax, but a bigger thorn in Spidey's side has always been J. Jonah Jameson.

That's Jameson, the publisher of The Daily Bugle, in the foreground, gleefully looking at a copy of his paper with a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped on the front page. Apparently there's also something that delights JJJ on the back page too, possibly a particularly hilarious installment of "Hi and Lois." Jameson has always hated Spider-Man, various explanations have been offered over the years, but none of them have really ever done the job. I think the simplest explanation is just that Jameson is a jerk and it's just Spider-Man's bad lick that he's gotten the biggest helping of that jerkery.

But while we do have a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped on the paper, as we can see outside of the window, our favorite arachnid came back for a round two and ended the week victorious! Poor J. Jonah Jameson, in a moment he'll hear the tapping, turn around, and realize he's going to need to run a correction in tomorrow's edition. That guy has to print retractions more often than Spider-Man gets his butt whupped. And as you've learned over the past week, that's kind of a lot.

Tomorrow: I don't know. Do whatever you want tomorrow, this is really the last one of these!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week - 6: The Green Goblin

Today's installment of Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week is another cover version of a famous Spider-Man cover, this time going all the way back to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39, drawn by John Romita (who I talked about back in the first installment of this series).

Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, is generally considered Spider-Man's #1 bad guy, his arch enemy. I guess killing the hero's first true love will earn you that kind of cred. That's probably why, when Spidey first made it to the big screen, GG got to be the villain. Sadly, in that movie he dropped all the purple parts of his costume. Less fashion daring meant he seemed a lot less daring all together. Shockingly, after three movies and four villians, we have yet to see a shred of purple cloth yet. Here's hoping if Mysterio ever makes it to the movies, he won't be forced to be less fabulous.

For an older guy, Norman keeps up on his work out regime pretty good, doesn't he? Either that or it's the Goblin serum that keeps his glutes so tight.

TOMORROW: In our exciting conclusion, we present a picture of Spider-Man getting his butt whupped AND Spider-Man triumphant, all in one picture! How can his be? Find out when the Scorpion strikes!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week - 5: The Vulture

Spider-Man's butt whuppin' for today comes courtesy of The Vulture, aka Adrian Toomes. The Vulture debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #2 and is, therefore, the first classic Spider-Man villain (issue #1's villain was perennial B-lister The Chameleon).

The vulture's power? His suit slightly increases his strength, and he can fly. That's it. And the great thing about The Vulture? That's plenty. He's always been totally confident about his ability to get away with anything based on these mild and pretty common powers. "No one can stop a man who can FLY!" he would yell, flying away from a crime, unconcerned with the fact that he certainly could not fly faster than bullets.

Another great thing about The Vulture - he's old. Super crime is usually a younger man's game, what with all the running around and punching. Middle aged men in the business usually take more of a criminal mastermind
role than a physical thievery modus. The Vulture, however, is a card carrying member of the AAERP (American Association of Evil Retired Persons) and he's out there scrapping and runnin' with the youngins.

Writers over the years have fretted, repeatedly, that The Vulture's old age make him an unintimidating enemy, replacing him with a younger protege, replacing him with three upstarts. Recently, they've replaced him yet again with a acid-spitting mutant cannibal (and the only interesting scene in that story was when Spidey went to talk to old Adrian in his jail cell about the new guy). The simplicity of Adrian's powers, the unusual aspect of his age, and his general creepiness are the things that make him such a strong and memorable character. I don't know how many times new writers will try to replace him, but I do know they'll always come back to the original.

TOMORROW: Green grinning Goblins come out to terrorize!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week - 4: The Lizard

Curt Conners was a brilliant scientist who had a hard time dealing with the fact that he'd lost an arm (I don't know how. Possibly it was fed to a crocodile by an immortal child). One day, curt noticed that lizards are able to re-grow tails that they lose and figured that maybe if he bonded lizard DNA with his own, he might grow back that missing arm.

Incredibly, Curt had figured right! Unfortunately, he did not also figure out that it would turn him into a crazy human-hating man/lizard monster (and, for some reason, give him the ability to control reptiles).

Here, the lizard has whupped poor Spider-Man good and is trying to find the quickest way to take him back to his lair in the sewer. You just know once he gets out of this Peter isn't going to just throw the costume away, either. He's going to try washing it and washing it and washing it, but it will never be OK to wear it again.

TOMORROW: The wings of the Vulture!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spider-Man Gets His Butt Whupped Week - three: Electro

BONUS: Click here if you'd like to see the static/non "animated" version of this picture.

Max Dillon was working on power lines (lookin' in the sun for another overload) when he was struck by lightning and given the power to conduct and control electricity). It's a little known fact that the same thing happened to Benjamin Franklin after the kite and key incident. He took to using his electrical powers to punish those who had voted against the turkey as the national bird and to terrorize French prostitutes (or something like that. I'm more up on my comic book villains than American history).

Also in today's picture is Peter Parker's dear old Aunt May. I'm not exactly sure what brought Electro to Aunt May's kitchen in the first place. I think maybe he was casing one of the neighbor's houses and then was drawn there by the inviting aroma of wheatcakes. What are wheatcakes, you ask? They appear to be what you and I and everyone else call "pancakes" (occasionally "griddle cakes" or sporadically "flapjacks"), but what Aunt May calls "wheatcakes." Perhaps they have a higher wheat content. I don't know, Aunt May won't give me the recipe. Anyway, she's dropping them now, so it looks like there won't be wheatcakes for anybody. Thanks a lot, Electro.

When he's not playing supervillain, Electro also has a career in movies, having starred in films such as "The Flamingo Kid," "Rumble Fish" and "There's Something About Mary (Jane Watson)."

TOMORROW: Near the lair of The Lizard!