Friday, July 16, 2010

Tactical Superiority

Superman #701 was released this week. Written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Eddie Barrows, it's the first issue of what readers have already been told will be a 12-part saga of Superman walking from one coast to the next, crossing the US of A.

The reaction from comic fans, including many Superman fans, was abject horror. Of course, these days, if DC promised a $100 bill tucked into every $3 issue of Superman, comic geeks would rush to the message boards to insure that the world was on notice regarding how irrelevant and outlandish one MUST find Superman (while promoting the realism of a guy in a bat costume who swings from the sides of skyscrapers and can do anything the story dictates. Or, of course, Wolverine, the Punisher, Dr. Strange...).

As of this writing, I haven't picked up my copy of issue #701. So I can't comment much more on the issue other than to say that: while I like my superhero battles, and can totally get behind something that's non-stop action like Blackest Night, I always appreciate even semi-botched attempts to try to better define character through actions taken and intention in the story itself, and not just "look at Superman proving his mettle in the heat of battle".

Admittedly, these days I'm also becoming more and more aware that the definition of "hero" in comics and, I guess, cinema has been so shaped by the paramilitary fantasies of the late 1980's and 1990's that many of the ideals upon which the characters of DC Comics were founded might not make sense to a modern audience. Very simply, the same mindset that can't understand why Superman didn't use his heat vision to melt lex Luthor from orbit in secret isn't going to be very open to "what does it mean for a superman to walk the earth, reminding himself of the people he's supposedly helping with all of these usual fisticuffs with aliens and super scientists?"

On a slightly different tangent, this post started a few days back.

I found this quote at Robot 6, but read the interview at The Quietus

Have you turned your back on superheroes now?

AM: I'm interested in the superhero in real life, but not the comic book version. I've had some distancing thoughts about them recently. I've come to the conclusion that what superheroes might be — in their current incarnation, at least — is a symbol of American reluctance to involve themselves in any kind of conflict without massive tactical superiority. I think this is the same whether you have the advantage of carpet bombing from altitude or if you come from the planet Krypton as a baby and have increased powers in Earth's lower gravity. That's not what superheroes meant to me when I was a kid. To me, they represented a wellspring of the imagination. Superman had a dog in a cape! He had a city in a bottle! It was wonderful stuff for a seven-year-old boy to think about. But I suspect that a lot of superheroes now are basically about the unfair fight. You know: people wouldn't bully me if I could turn into the Hulk.

Leave it to Alan Moore to soundly express an idea I've had churning in my head for, oh... about five years now.

So its interesting to me that when DC Comics decides that Superman (who people barely read, anyway) is going to take part in a story that isn't about beating some threatening bad guy until he quits trying to kill Superman and/ or other people... the reaction from the interwebs has been nothing short of openly hostile in many cases. And, of course, the geeks trying to point out that a character in some other story in a comic they once read did something similar (apparently missing the fact that in the pages of Batman, Tony Daniel just redid every Batman story from the mid-1990's to 2006).

And, yes, Superman is the example of tactical superiority, but that was always the point, back to 1938. He has the power, and its all about how you choose to use it. What wrong would you right? And how do you recognize a true wrong? And just because you can punch a hole in the side of a tank, is that the best way to help?

Certainly part of my fascination with Superman has extended to the bizarre world developed around the character during the 1950's and 1960's, and the wild ideas the creative teams worked with. Sure, some of its lifted from elsewhere, and if you want to believe that the coolest superheroes are the ones with lots of pockets and guns the size of a Smart Car, then you're going to likely not see the appeal.

Still, it was an interesting bit of food for thought from Mr. Moore once again.

As I mentioned, I haven't actually read that issue #701 as of yet. I truly hope JMS does okay with the issue. I've heard mixed reviews, and seen some pretty darn nitpicky complaints online already, to the point where you wonder exactly what the creative team could have possibly done that wouldn't have drawn this kind of ire. No matter what, I'll likely forgive them for any flaws, and be happy they tried something a bit out of step with the standard villain set up. But I'll review the book, I guess, and try to be as honest as possible.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vive La France! Happy Bastille Day, Mes Amis!

Some Americans like to take potshots at France. And while I find the phrase "Surrender Monkey" totally hilarious, it totally ignores how bad ass the French Resistance was during WWII.

It's Bastille Day, which... you know, the French had an odd time of it deciding how things would run after they figured out how to get out from under the boot heel of their oppressors, but today we're celebrating a day in the move toward freedom for a people.

And the French were never more awesome than when played by Hollywood actors sticking it to the Nazis. In song.

La Marseillaise via Casablanca

Thanks to Bully for the inspiration.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Amazing World of Jimmy Olsen

I went and saw Sunset Boulevard tonight and then watched an hour of Louis on FX (it's okay. A bit different.).

Anyway, no post as my plans now include reading some Batman comics and then going to sleep.

So I leave you to ponder at what point this party got out of control:

This is exactly why you want to leave before Superman tears the roof off the joint.

Super Pets: Books for Kids!

DC Comics and Capstone books will soon release a line of kids' chapter books starring the DC Super Pets! I know! I'm using exclamation points! (...because I'm excited!)

For those of you not in the know, back in the day Superman editor and controversial figure (aka: well-known jerk), Mort Weisinger was all about adding new characters and accouterments to the Superman titles. Thus, you got everything from Kandor to Beppo, the super monkey. Some stuff stuck, some stuff didn't.

Superman wound up with a whole line of buddies, the most famous of which is Krypto the Superdog.

The really great news isn't just that these books are coming, but that they'll be drawn by Tiny Titans wunderkind cartoonist Art Baltazar.

Sadly, I can't really justify buying these books. I think. We'll see. I'm a bit of an impulse purchaser. But those of you with kids should totally check these things out. It's a book with Beppo and Titano! How can you go wrong?

I think I'm lying. I'm totally buying that book with Krypto and Ace the Bathound on the cover.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar Merges with the Infinite

I was telling some folks earlier today that I was surprised that I had a moment when I read the headline.

Comics great Harvey Pekar has passed.

But, then, it kind of makes sense that, even as casual a reader as myself, might feel they knew Pekar little. To read Harvey's comics (most of which existed under the title American Splendor) was to get to know at least some version of the man. The comics were vastly autobiographical, honest, and unflinching. Sometimes funny, sometimes not, sometimes tough to read when Pekar shared his day-to-day, especially in Our Cancer Year.

If you haven't read American Splendor comics, pick up a collection or two, and if you aren't going to do that, then, for the love of God, rent the movie. The movie is actually just really, really good and stars Paul Giammti in most scenes, but it includes interview footage with Pekar, his family and the folks around him.

For a guy who outwardly seemed gruff and likely a little tough to deal with, its a bit surprising that the man more or less pioneered autobiographical comics, something that's become a huge staple of the indie comics and web comics scene. And, not to bag on anyone's efforts, Pekar is still largely unmatched. He wasn't enamored with making himself seem clever, or his life seem hip (good Lord, no), but he did like to catch the details of the everyday in a way authors, documentarians and Pekar's fellow cartoonists could only dream about.

That's a tough thing to do, and to keep it as honest as Harvey did, even through chemo and all the rest... kind of amazing.

Oddly, Harvey was never the artist of his own comics, but to work with Harvey who had started his work with R. Crumb, became a sort of thing. And to capture what Harvey was trying to put into his comics seemed to be a challenge artists wanted to rise to.

In his last few years I think Harvey enjoyed a little boost in personal fame and popularity. I'm not sure how much it helped with what seemed to be his anxiety over finances, etc... but I hope he came to see that there was a large audience out there that loved his work.

So long, Harvey. Thanks for changing comics.

I can only hope that you've got access to your record collection wherever you are.

07/14 is The Sixth Gun Day

Howdy, Signal Corps!

This is a friendly reminder that Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's Western/ Fantasy/ Horror comic is arriving in comic shops on 07/14/2010. Both issues #1 and #2 will arrive at your local comic shop on Wednesday.

Issue #1 was previously released as a Free Comic Book Day release, but is available for a bit more than, well, free. We at The Signal Watch quite liked the comics and believe its worth the price of admission. You can read my review here.

We're looking forward to picking up issue #2 and seeing what follows.

Old, Cranky Comics Fan

I started this post before reading about Mark Waid's Twitter post from the other day.

Annnnd today was the day I stopped reading super-hero comics. One that I won't name finally broke me. Collection stops as of now. No joke.

Mark Waid, the forefront in fans-turned-pro, the guy who became known for not just writing great superhero comics, but his encyclopedic knowledge of superhero comics, has decided to quit reading superhero comics.

Well, maybe. I kind of think maybe Mr. Waid was having a particularly bad day and used a smidge of hyperbole, but...

It wasn't actually one comic, by the way. He later explained it was his basic dislike of so much he'd read of late in the superhero mega-genre. Unlike the trolls on Newsarama, it seems unlikely Waid made any impotent proclamations regarding stopping reading comics if, say, DC didn't acknowledge Jimmy Olsen was the one, true, original Flamebird or that they didn't like some turn of events in a Captain Marvel mini series and so were done with DC... forever*. Instead, you get the feeling Waid is just weary of the state of things. Of course, one could make the same claim when he wrote Kingdom Come in the mid-90's.

...then there was that time in the dystopian future where Superman got the JLA back together and quit taking any BS from the 1990's...

Waid has since further elaborated, stating specific writers he feels are doing a good job, and that he's a bit worn out on what he sees as cynicism in the creation of superhero comics, or messages of cynicism in the comics. In general: cynicism. He doesn't like it.

At first blush, its a bit of a bitter pill to swallow from the guy who is writing the power Irredeemable series about a Superman proxy gone amuck, but Irredeemable is about what happens when hope turns to horror and our heroes turn on us. A bit different, I think, than what Waid is describing.

But he also describes that he's tired of seeing the same thing done over the 100th time (perhaps cynical recycling of stories?), and that's an idea I can get behind.

I started the post around the fourth of July. I was in a mood.

On the Fourth of July, a favorite comic shoppe posted an image to Facebook from The Dark Knight Returns as a sort of wink and nod to the holiday, patriotic fervor, all hat good stuff. Those who've read The Dark Knight Returns will recall the image immediately.

If you were a kid in the mid-80's (and I was), it wasn't so much just that Dark Knight would turn out to be the most influential comic book of the next 25 years. At the time, if you read comics and hadn't read it, you would. It was just done. Like owning jeans or trying to moonwalk when nobody was looking.

But the first comment read:

Never read the Dark Knight Returns (art isn't my style, therefore it's hard to get past it and stay interested) but there is something INCREDIBLY errie about that....

Nevermind the type-o's, but this was enough of a comics fan that the person followed this favored comic shoppe on Facebook, and didn't think it odd that (a) he hadn't read Dark Knight Returns, and (b) that the art not being his cup of tea was a reasonable excuse for shrugging off one of the essentials of the past three decades for enthusiasts of the genre and medium.

Kids today. I swear.

But it is a reminder that the breakthroughs of Dark Knight and Watchmen will be forgotten by subsequent generations, just as breakthroughs in cinema television, the visual arts, etc... are absorbed, reprocessed, and ignored as archaic or strange when the subsequent enthusiasts of the medium become the audience.

I also can acknowledge that a lot of what seems popular with the kids these days just doesn't... do a lot for me as a reader.

The X-Men (the supposed stand in for minorities, but, really, the superheroic embodiment of teen-geek alienation since at least the late 1980's) plus vampires? Yeah, I know vampires are the new zombies/ monkeys/ whatever...

But I can't do it. And I guess at least Neil Gaiman appears to agree with me. But the kids like their memes in comics, too, these days. But jumping on these memes is certainly popular with the kids, or at least it appears to be. And it certainly stinks of a certain bit of that cynicism from the publishers (seriously, Marvel, hoping to get Twilight spill over is just embarrassing, I don't care what mopey teenagers are picking up X-Men.).

After 70-odd years of superheroes in comics, with thousands of characters, with some characters popping up multiple times in a month... I'm not at all surprised that Mr. Waid has detected a certain repetition in superhero comics. I'm stunned that Law & Order ran for as long as it did and spawned a half-dozen spin-offs and countless imitators, as that seemed to more or less be the same show every time I watched it, but there's certainly a comfort factor in repetition, and some of it I can get behind. I was interested in, for example, what DC wanted to do with Brainiac in a post Infinite Crisis DCU. But I could barely muster the energy to turn the pages of the recent Tony Daniel written Batman series when, once again, the inmates of Arkham were loose in Gotham, and, once again, Gotham was experiencing gang war. That may be the third time that's been used since 2005.

But too often it does seem a bit mind boggling, when I'm reading a superhero comic from the big two and realize that was what they decided to put out there. Either the story was pointless, or the plot seemed generic and recycled... and when reading some of the recent excuses DC has had for Justice League and Justice Society comics... it all feels like filler until they can get someone with a vision on the books once again. And in a worse case scenario, you wind up with ridiculousness like the recent "Rise" and "Fall" storylines spinning out of the abysmal "Cry for Justice".

I'm certainly not sure I am ready to quit reading superhero comics, but the number of them I do read seems to be on the decline. My plans to move to largely trades and collections seems to be a smarter move every week that I get away from the comic shop habit. We'll see.

There really is quite a bit out there that I do find worth my time with superhero concepts and ideas. Grant Morrison's Batman has been nothing short of terrific for about four years. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern is a sleek jet fighter of a comic that may not be the most complex reading you're likely to do, but always stays interesting. His Flash is also promising. Rucka's Batwoman and Question stories were a highlight of 2009. Amanda Connor worked wonders with Power Girl for 12 issues. Sterling Gates fully rehabilitated the modern Supergirl title, and saved the character. I've liked REBELS that I've read in trade. Levitz's new Legion books seem like the real deal. And its going to raise some eyebrows, but I'm actually a bit enthusiastic about JMS coming on Wonder Woman and Superman.

I'm nowhere close to Mr. Waid's assessment, but I also want for superhero comics to try to do more with themselves and start working toward fulfilling the promise of the 1980's, and quit tracing back to the lazy and bad habits of the 1990's.

*comic nerds: when you pick some arbitrary thing that's going to mean you will no longer ever, ever, ever read a company's comics, like, ever... it makes you look kind of crazy. Go ahead and stop reading, but, you know, keep it to yourself or bounce it off a friend or two before making bold proclamations. Honestly, your opinions in the comment sections? Nobody cares. It makes you look a little nutty.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What the @#$%, CNN?

So, I couldn't help but notice an ad during World Cup play that Christiane Amanpour, one of the most respected journalists on the planet, has bailed on CNN and joined ABC News. Apparently old news, but....

Don't worry, CNN will be fine. They are pimping their iReporters, one of which is a puppet.

You know, CNN... you used have decent ratings, but not so much these days. Maybe, just maybe... its time for a good, long look in the mirror.