Friday, April 22, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Superman 710

Superman 710

Cover by JOHN CASSADAY; 1:10 Variant cover by ADAM HUGHES

It would be interesting to have been in the room during any number of calls between writer Chris Roberson and editors Matt Idleson and Wil Moss.

J. Michael Straczynski is beloved amongst sci-fi fans for his creation of Babylon 5 (a show I was oddly loyal to during my college years), and wrote the well-regarded film Changeling, which was directed by Clint Eastwood and has a considerable writing career in television and movies.  He's also occasionally been a favorite writer in comics, and I was a fan of, oh.... the first half of his work on Amazing Spider-Man.

DC landing JMS was supposed to be a coup.  The comic nerderati enthusiasm for the Geoff Johns reboot of Superman with Infinite Crisis had been squandered with the sprawling New Krypton storyline.  JMS would arrive, tell some kick-ass Superman stories and all would be well.  He had professed publicly to a great love for Superman and told (repeatedly) a story about stopping thieves himself thanks to Superman's inspiration.  It was going to be a thing.  And then the interviews started to hit...

JMS was planning to send Superman on a 1-year walking tour of the US where he would meet and greet with everyday people. I've already talked about this, and I don't think I need to rehash the details, but...  it didn't go well for either JMS or for the readers.  I could only be in so much denial about what a misfire the Grounded storyline felt like, even as I could see there was a nugget of a great idea in there. 

Roberson, a writer who's star has been on a crazy meteoric rise the past two years, was somehow handed the book, and he's working alchemy, turning lead to gold.  Honestly, I had only heard Roberson's name in conjunction with iZombie before I picked up his Superman title and read the first iZombie issue before trade-waiting it.

Again, I don't know what those conversations were like between Roberson and editorial, but he's doing something only a few writers do that I absolutely love, and which Geoff Johns does practically as an art-form.  He's taking some of the flubs of the JMS-penned issues and mining them for story points, both including them in the narrative and assuring readers "no, DC did not go completely crazy".

From comments in interviews, it seems Roberson only ever got an outline from editorial as to what JMS planned to do before he basically quit both Superman and Wonder Woman mid-story.  So that's a bit of context.

In this issue Superman wanders into Ogden, Utah where he saves a woman from beings truck by a car.  Returning her "home", he's directed to an archaeological site, but the real story is the flashback sequence embedded in the issue.  Talking to the archaeologist, Superman sees an "S" shield projected onto the clouds with ultraviolet, and flies off to see who is looking for him.

Fair warning:  from here on out there are plenty of spoilers

For, really, the first time since Final Crisis, Superman gets to have a chance to speak with Bruce Wayne/ Batman (he had previously spoken with Dick Grayson in the Batman costume about 6 issues ago).  The two recall a meeting that took place prior to either assuming their names and costumes, and its a bit of fan-wank, but...  Several years ago a one-shot entitled Superman: The Odyssey was released.  Mostly forgettable, the one shot did feature a brief meeting of a young Clark Kent and an unnamed Bruce Wayne on the steps of a temple.

Clearly, the same image stuck in Roberson's head that caught in mine, and it was fun to see Roberson take an opportunity to explore that meeting and place it directly into continuity.  What follows is a tale of an early meeting of the World's Finest, and how it would presage their careers.  The great thing is that, from a fan service perspective, Roberson also namedrops the first meeting "Superman" and "Batman" from Man of Steel, and a short story by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale in which a young Bruce Wayne is taken on a cross-country trip in the family limo by Alfred, and the tire pops in Smallville.

After a decade of writers coming to Superman with no terrific love for the character and seemingly just hop scotching across titles at DC, its stupendous to see a writer who knows his Superman AND can write around this background as a shared history rather than a tangle of continuity or just namechecking.

While the flashback sequence is great (I won't take anything away from 20-somethings Clark and Bruce taking on a force they don't understand yet as Vandal Savage), the climax really comes as Bruce talks to Clark, and says what we've all been thinking:  you're not quite right because you've been grieving.

In the mind's eye of the public (both in the DCU and in our own), Superman does not grieve.  But given the events of the Superman titles since the first Brainiac robot showed up a couple of years ago in the Superman books, Superman has a lot to grieve for, and might not even know how to do so.  Unlike the original comics in which Superboy lost his parents at the age of 18 and Kandor never ceased to exist, or the movies in which there is no Kandor and Jonathan's death occurs around the age of 18, Superman in this continuity has lost his father and his civilization (and chance for belonging) in one fell swoop.

Its not a stunning revelation, but its also a new era at DC if Batman is allowed to have such a conversation with Superman without shouting at him to get it together.  For once, you can see why Superman would bother to talk to Batman outside the context of JLA meetings.

But in having this conversation, Roberson also works some of that alchemy.  And this is where I'd refer to how interesting those conversations must have been at the DC offices.  Roberson IS a good writer, and he's worked wonders, but I'd love to know if it was him bringing ways to address the problems the readership had with the story or if it was the editors.  Frankly, I hope it was Roberson, because the moment of "can we do this?" would have been some serious gold for those of us who like awkward moments. 

One of the most derided scenes in early issues of Grounded featured Superman lecturing a man on the street about morality and that man's duty.  It went over... poorly.  Superman, when will written, wins hearts and minds mostly by example and action, not pedantic lecturing. Roberson's Batman actually refers to the scene and in a bit of metatextual apology to readers tells Superman he was behaving out of character, but we have to forgive him as he forgives himself.

It may be a bit forced or a bit clunky to read months and months later, and will most certainly read better one day in a collected edition where one hasn't pondered that sequence with months inbetween installments, but it does so much to rehabilitate a broken narrative, as so much of what Roberson has written has done.

Flat out, DC can't afford to kowtow to writers anymore if it isn't in service to their staple characters.  They can be in the business of name writers, but they also have a longterm duty to first serve their licensed characters to make sure there's a wealth of information that people can enjoy in comics and which can be looked at for treatment in other media.  Making these kinds of adjustments mid-story is a pleasure to read, even if it isn't as streamlined as it could be.

And if there was one last bit of gold I enjoyed - it was the suggestion to Superman that a SQUAD of Supermen might be a good thing, too, if Batman was willing to go worldwide.

So, yes, DC...  I would read that.  And I hope that's where you're going with this whole Doomsday thing.

Oh, right... the art.

I don't know if there's much new to add from previous statements about Barrow's art.  I've been very pleased with recent issues, and I think the look is right for the most mainstream Superman book.  The flashback sequences also looked pretty great, drawn by Travel Foreman and meant to ape the style of The Odyssey.

No Post Friday

We will entrust Ms. Clara Bow to guide you safely into the weekend.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super Catch Up: Reign of Doomsday (so far)

With London, birthday parties, etc...  I've fallen a little behind on my comics reading, and I promised myself I'd be talking a bit about Superman comics.

Starting over a month ago, DC decided to launch a half-baked event leading up to the release of Action Comics #900 (the comic is released next week).  Its also a tribute or reminder of the last time DC sold a whole boat-ton of comics, which was 20 years ago with The Death of Superman storyline, from which came the Reign of the Supermen storyline.

Its no secret to longtime comics fans that when the company decides to suddenly overlay an "event" on a comic or a story within a comic that was not originally plotted to include the "event", things get messy.  And, boy howdy...

Is this thing ever a mess.

Steel (One Shot)
Written by STEVE LYONS; Art by ED BENES; Cover by ALEX GARNER
"I am Iron Man!  Wait...  that's wrong..."
The first comic to tie into this this thing was actually Steel #1, a one-shot which basically featured one of my favorite bits of the modern Superman-era, John Henry Irons (aka: Steel).  Steel is just one of those great ideas that's only going to work if a writer stays on Superman long enough to figure out that Superman needs a supporting cast, and Steel probably fits the bill better than most for someone who can be pals with Superman both as a superhero and as a super-scientist.

In the context of this issue, Superman is off wandering America, and so when Doomsday shows up, Steel basically gets really, really beat up.  The end.

Fans speculated that DC had killed Steel, and given the capricious ways of DC editorial, hey, maybe...

This issue was supposed to be setting us up for the Reign of Doomsday story, but somebody forgot to make sure this was going to synch up with anything else, and the next installments just sort of trickled out into books I'm not currently reading.

Outsiders #37


I didn't mind the set-up of Steel #1. It just felt like a prelude to bigger events, and sometimes comics does that. But here...

The co-plotting of the issue is attributed to Dan Didio and artist Phillip Tan. Script by Didio, DC's current Co-Publisher and a man who just loves a good mutilation in his comics.

I picked up Outsiders when the series relaunched, dealt with the changes as editorial floundered with the line-up around 2007, and then quit reading. I actually picked up the issue where it was revealed that Superman's sometimes-ally/ sometimes-enemy The Eradicator (I know... that name...) was joining the team, but, honestly, that was one of the worst comics I read that whole year. It was just a mess.

Well, in this issue Doomsday shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a completely ongoing Outsiders plot that's still seemingly concerned with the New Krypton storyline from the Superman books and which even the Superman books aren't really talking about anymore...  and beats everyone up, especially The Eradicator.

We do learn that:  Hey, Doomsday seems to have new powers.  And, look, that Olympian fellow from Gail Simone's Wonder Woman run found a place in...  Outsiders?

Outsiders seems to be the place DC gave Didio where he can keep talking about and insisting that things that happened under his stewardship at DC were neat ideas and shouldn't be forgotten.  Rucka's Checkmate?  Yes, absolutely a great book and its a shame DC has already forgotten how good it was.  Its too bad Didio louses up the memory with a nonsense superhero brawl.  Basically everything wrong with Wonder Woman that happened after OYL?  It can be seen in the fact that Didio thinks anyone was that interested in The Olympian in Wonder Woman or hoped he'd show up again.  The mix-n-match set of characters is just a telltale sign that Didio doesn't really get the actual DCU all that well, and he's not quite ready to admit defeat.

Mostly, though, the arrival of Doomsday in the title is meant to draw out The Eradicator, and once the two points are connected, its not too hard to say "oh, so Doomsday is going after all the characters from Reign of the Supermen".

Justice League of America #55

I don't think half of these characters appear in this issue

And then Doomsday shows up in the middle of a bunch of stuff that must be happening in Justice League of America, but given that I haven't actually been reading this title for what must have been a year, I have no clue what's happening. Eclipso is running around, possibly on the moon, possibly not. There seems to have been an incident that made Alan Scott go bald, created a magic city, which I think is ALSO on the moon, but its really hard to say.

What I did follow is that Supergirl is wearing all black and being moody in space and Doomsday shows up out of nowhere picking a fight with she and Boodika of the Green Lantern titles.

This crosses into...

Superman/ Batman Annual #5
Written by JAMES ROBINSON; Art and cover by MIGUEL SEPULVEDA

it's a little hard to parse, no?
At this point, we learn "oh, its not after Boodika, its after The Cyborg Superman who has been resting dormant inside her robotic body and-" Yeah. Look, that's fine. It at least gives Boodika a reason for showing up, even if the reason she appears is contrived to try to give Robinson an instant of being clever.

You see, Doomsday isn't really after Supegirl... the pattern is the same. He's after the Cyborg Superman. They fight. And just as Doomsday adapted to defeat The Eradicator and Steel, he also adapts to Cyborg Superman, which sounds kind of okay, but it really means Robot Doomsday, which just means... the fight ends.

I did get to see Robinson jettison the whole Dark Supergirl thing he was doing in JLA, and while that was satisfying to see him basically write Dark Supergirl to an end, it just felt like he decided "oh, I'm not going to keep doing this", and got a bit too literal with his explanation to the point where it just felt... silly.

If this is getting a little tedious to read this way, let me tell you....

The basic issue is that no matter what DC does with Doomsday, he's not very interesting. He has no motivation, and he only really works as a plotpoint. This was the design by the original creators back in 1992. Doomsday was a killing machine, and that was that. In the spirit of comics of the 1990's, that was pretty high concept. Various writers have tried to put their stamp on Doomsday and attempt to make him more interesting by, say, giving him the power of speech (now redacted), or thought (now seemingly redacted), or any of a number of items that would make him more interesting than, say, a really angry hunk of rock. But for some reason, we always wind up back at the angry hunk of rock.

Mostly, after the catastrophe of Countdown to Final Crisis and trying to wind stories into the ongoing narrative spine of the DCU, and watching that just utterly collapse, I figured DC was done with these sorts of "and now we pause for an issue while editorial mandates a brainless slugfest so you might pick up an otherwise unrelated comic" antics.

Curiously, Superboy seems to handle the narrative confusion the best of any of the series.

Superboy 6

I bet Doomsday's breath smells like peppermint Tic-Tacs

As Lemire has written the book so episodically, with each issue feeling contained to a specific time frame, Doomsday showing up seems less like an interruption and more of an unfortunate happenstance.

All that said, between all of these issues, nothing happened that couldn't have been represented in about four pages of issue #900 of Action Comics, and I'm forced to believe that we'll see exactly that in a recap.

The whole experience is a shame on so many levels. It burns through an issue of Superboy, it wastes a perfectly good opportunity for a Steel one-shot that could have demonstrated why Steel is exciting as a character, and it unnecessarily drove me, as a reader who doesn't care for the current JLA or Outsiders runs through a long slog with both books (especially the co-opted Superman/ Batman Annual. Those Annuals have been a lot of fun in previous years.).

There's no reason to think Action Comics #900 won't be a good read (more on Action's recent run another day), but if DC was casting a net to get Superman readers to check out JLA and Outsiders, this was a pretty cheesy way to do it, and, worse, they did nothing but convince me I've made the right decision ignoring both.

If they were looking to re-intro Steel, then...  okay.  Showing Steel getting creamed or dead wasn't a convincing argument for why I should keep up.

If they wanted to set a point in continuity where Superboy and Superman and Action synch up, okay...  but you can do that in a little editorial bubble, not blowing through an issue of a brand new title.

Its all just more than a little disappointing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Media Consumption, Culling, Surrender and First World Problems to Ponder

NPR has this column up on their site, and even those of you who think NPR is communist hogwash trash will find this article is not about that sort of thing at all.  The article is entitled The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're Going To Miss Almost Everything.  Kind of lovely, that.  Written by a Linda Holmes.

Before reading any further, I kind of have to require that you read the article so I am not forced to repeat the words in the article too, too much.

I recall that in high school, a teacher discussed how Thomas Jefferson was a master of almost all the knowledge the world had to offer.  Languages.  Science.  Poetry.  History and Geography.  What have you, if a book offered it up, Jefferson bought the book and was able to recall and process the information.  "Of course," we were told, "there just wasn't that much to know back then."  Which, of course, I now realize is sort of a tall tale to explain how well-read Jefferson was, and to understand how he embraced lifelong learning as a passion (or, perhaps, his passion for knowledge is itself what drove him).

I didn't believe then that Jefferson truly knew "everything", and I often think back to that story as a sort of fantasy for bookworms, museum dwellers, hobbyists, etc...  (a) the mental capacity to absorb and comprehend whatever material is put in front of you and (b) such a limited amount of knowledge to even try to absorb that its possible to have learned all there is to learn in your culture, perhaps by the age of 50.

But that's a pretty damn high bar to qualify as "well read".

For the record, I don't consider myself well read.  My patience is short with books written prior to 1900.  Anything over 500 pages gives me a moment of pause.  The manner in which books are dealt with in K-12 education always felt unnatural and suspect.  It wasn't that I didn't or don't read.  I just think my AP English teacher broke me and my interest in reading a pre-assigned list of books one is supposed to read, and built in a lifelong aversion to approved literature.  This is not something I celebrate, by the way.  I'm kind of sad at all the things I will likely never read, because, seriously...  no.  I'm not going to read Tolstoy or likely ever James Joyce or any of a couple hundred books that bring joy to very smart people I like and admire.  I'm not in my 20's anymore, when I guess people read those books.  I bypassed college literature classes after comping out, and it didn't fit very well in my schedule then either for coursework or during my off hours where I could be found sitting in a movie theater or walking the aisles at the video store.

The article discusses mechanisms for dealing, either culling or surrendering.  And I think we all do a bit of both.

I recall being 18 and standing in Tower Records and having something akin to a panic attack as I realized "I will never hear 90% of the albums, and every time I buy one that's a thousand I didn't buy."  This was back when you had to buy music to hear it.  And so it goes.

I don't know very many people I would consider well read, even among people I know who read a lot of books.  I wish the article did more to talk about what the idea of being well-read even means in the 21st Century.  I don't know if I can buy the idea that Holmes states in her final sentences.
If "well-read" means "not missing anything," then nobody has a chance. If "well-read" means "making a genuine effort to explore thoughtfully," then yes, we can all be well-read.
Who does this describe?  I don't know this person.  I've never seen him or her.  Even the idea that a person cranks through 100 books in a year is almost laughable.  You may read several, but in 2007, 1 in 4 said they hadn't read any books in the previous year.  But I'm not sure that's something to get hung up on, exactly.  Even if someone reads 50 books in a year, is that time better spent if the books are lousy than if that person were reading newspapers, journal articles, etc...?  Does reading all of War and Peace carry the same weight as a David Sedaris airplane book?  What constitutes thoughtful exploration?  Where's the rubric for that?


Its the 21st Century.  We receive and process stories and information in packages that didn't exist 100 years ago.  If its fiction we're describing, does a book outweigh the value of a film at every turn (I'm the first to say it usually does)?  Longform television series?  And can't you have deep thoughts(tm) that come from these other media?  And if you don't, is it the media or the message?

We have limited time on this spinning space rock.  And we've all got our pet biases.  Of course I love comics.  And, firstly, 95% (or more) of the population will witness the walls of comics in my home, the crates of comics stored away and I cannot imagine anyone looking at me and judging me as well read.  I don't, but its not because I'm more likely to pick up Jimmy Olsen than finally @#$%ing finish Moby Dick.

As mentioned above, I was broken.  We all had assigned reading we hated.  Specifically, it was Tess of the D'Urbervilles that sort of pushed me over the edge into distrusting the idea of a prescribed set of books that may have been relevant 50, 75, 100 years prior, but sitting in a classroom in 1993, and seeing my instructor swoon in her personal infatuation with the book, but fail to convince me that the book wasn't some sort of masochistic victim porn.  "Why is this good?" I asked.  "Because people have loved it for generations" I was told.  "Its been assigned for generations," I said, "Of course you're always going to find somebody who likes everything.  I don't see how that makes it good.  Beverly Hills 90210 isn't 'good' and millions of people watch that."  "This isn't going to get you any closer to an 'A'" I was informed.  And so I shut up.

Of course genre fiction was trash.  And I loved it.  It brings me back to the question from over the weekend, of the possibly no-longer useful thinking employed in the NYT Game of Thrones review I mentioned.

But if I find something worth loving in Holmes' article, its the idea of surrender, which is something I occasionally espouse here, though I've never put a name on it.  I've just considered a zen* approach to dealing with the fact that there is too much to ever read, watch or listen to.  Just this week, I told some of your fellow Leaguers via email that I likely just wasn't going to read Ayn rand before I died.  It just wasn't on the bucket list.

You can actually see a version of the bucket list, by the way.  I keep it on a Google Site.  Its easier to manage if I keep a physical list of reminders, etc...  Would anything in that list lead you to believe I was "well read"?  Or was gaining understanding?  No.

Now, I am certain I cull.  I avoid romantic comedies, I won't read Harlequin Romance novels and I'll be honest... poetry is just beyond me.  I can't get my head around 95% of country music, and I generally avoid stagey, 3-camera sitcoms and sports talk television except during football season.

As per books...  you know, its hard to say.

But we all cull.  Its called personal taste or interest.  We all surrender.

I work in a building housing part of one of the finest libraries in the world.  The building I work in, a main campus library, is 6 stories and has a footprint about the size of just under a city block.  That building holds books on 4 of those floors, maps on one, and is one of about a dozen library buildings on campus.  And they really don't bother keeping much in the way of fiction in the library, I might add.

I have no idea what well read means.  Like everyone else, I wish I were smarter and had more information and insight at my fingertips.  But I am happy to be a part of curating and managing the wealth of human achievement as we move from dusty shelves to the digital beyond.

What choice is there but a happy surrender?

If there's been a central thesis to The Signal Watch and League of Melbotis before it, its been to try to rally a bit behind genre fiction in comics, books, movies, TV, et al., and try to make a case that this stuff has merit, that its part of the great possibilities.  It seemed like a small crack of insanity back in 2003, but in the short 8 years I've been doing this (and April marks the 8th anniversary), its been an amazing period of growth, co-option, adoption, transformation, diversity, etc... for the world of genre fiction.  If I've had any part in it, its just been to be a statistic of the number of blogs dedicated to these sorts of shenanigans, and these days, our numbers are legion.

So of course I'm biased.  But I also fully expect that a good number of readers have either culled the stuff I'm discussing right out of their options or they've done that surrender bit.  

But that's the way it is.  There's too much.  And I often feel badly, because you people are all right, and when you make suggestions as friends, its hard to just shrug and say "yeah, I'm probably never going to read that" and not make it sound like you're not a disrespectful jerk.  There's just a whole lot of stuff out there.

*certainly, I am misusing this word

Monday, April 18, 2011

Noir Watch: Human Desire

Ah, Ms. Gloria Grahame.

Human Desire is listed as 1954, directed by the great Fritz Lang, and is sort of a Double Indemnity meets Narrow Margin meets The Postman Always Rings Twice meets...   Still, I don't think its fair to say that Human Desire is a throwaway movie just because you can see the movie wearing its influences on its sleeve.

they say the same things about Jamie

The plot is a bit convoluted (aren't they all).  Grahame plays Vicki Buckley, the wife of a railyard junior manager who has lost his job.  He asks her to look up an old family employer of money and influence, and only after Vicki returns from securing the job does her husband, Carl, realize that Vicki and Owens may have had a past.  Things get murdery on the return train, and with incriminating evidence in his pocket Carl holds Vicki's fate in his hands.  However, Jeff Warren (played by Glenn Ford) works for the train company, has a run in with Vicki on the train, and slowly begins to piece things together even as he falls for Vicki.

Lang puts his stamp on the movie, incorporating trademark play with shadows and swashes of light, and in the tradition of the movies I'd mentioned above, it fits the bill for noir with any number of checkmarks including the disintegration of the everyman at the hands of sexual desire.  And, really, that's the hook of the entire story.

strangers on a train?

If I were to pick one thing that made the movie a bit of a standout, its that somewhat like Hayworth in Gilda, Grahame's Vicki is both victim and conniver, innocent and seductress.  Even when she's using less than scrupulous means to get something, its hard not to believe that she's at least partially honest.  And its that vacillation between right and wrong surrounding Vicki, Carl and Jeff, even with a murder in between them, that makes the story a bit different from, say, Double Indemnity.  Rather than simple corruption, its a sort of moral purgatory that seems to consume the characters.

Grahame gets an unusual amount of screentime in this one, and its a welcome difference.  On a simple read, I suppose its easy enough to see Vicki as the femme fatale, but her motivations from even before the film starts are mostly standard issue desires, and its circumstance and situations beyond her control that lead to the climax of the film.  The character simply isn't as likable as her role in her other co-starring film with Glenn Ford, The Big Heat, but she makes the most of a complex character.

Ford may have never committed fully to the pit he's supposed to be sinking into, and seems content to play the hero in a role that doesn't really demand it.  Curiously, in key scenes he does seem in tune with the material, so its an interesting noir schizm to see the lead merrily getting suckered into a bad corner without the "damn the torpedoes" look that comes with chasing a woman you know is going to wind up getting somebody killed.

Did I like the film?  Absolutely.  the story was tightly told, the characters believable, the setting and types of characters a bit fresh, and as I had Gloria Grahame on the brain, the timing was excellent.  I'd like to give it another whirl to see what I missed, and I'm sure some enterprising RTF scholar could write a whole paper on trains as symbolism of some sort as Lang frames them and uses them throughout the film.

I watched the film as part of a set Jamie got me for my birthday, Columbia Film Noir Classics 2.  The movie also comes with a short documentary.

In which I choose to judge a book by its cover

This may be the greatest cover to a book I've ever seen. Well, maybe not the greatest, but it speaks to me.

Picture of Young Joan Crawford kind of freakin' me out

I stumbled onto this last night, and now I can't quit looking at it. Young Joan Crawford looks like she really wants to stab someone.  I recommend you not look directly at the picture for too long.  Use one of those boxes you're supposed to make to look at the eclipse.  In this way, you are less likely to find yourself driven to madness.

As terrifying as I find Young Joan Crawford staring impassively into the camera, if she broke into a smile, I think I might pee myself a little.

No Post Monday

Last night we had a little to-do here at League HQ.  I had a blast, and I hope all of you Leaguers who made it had as good a time as I did.  If you didn't make it, I hope you can make some future shindig.

Heck, The Dug will be here in pretty short order, and that seems like reason enough to raise a glass or three (and possibly screen Birdemic while hangin' out with my family).

Anyway, rather than beat around the bush, this is about it for my post tonight.  I've got some other things on tap, and I'm a bit tired.  So here's something for you to ponder:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: The Sixth Gun - Volume 1

We've talked a bit before about The Sixth Gun, a western/ fantasy/ horror book from Oni Press. Unfortunately for somebody in the equation, The Sixth Gun was one of the books I moved to my "will read in Trade format" during last year's re-think on how I was consuming my comics. For this post to feel more useful, I'd definitely hop back to that first post at the link above, and consider this a follow up.

Finally getting to Sixth Gun's first trade comes on the heels of me finally exploring a bit of Palmiotti and Gray's version of Jonah Hex, likely the best selling western comic in the US comics scene. Fortunately, just as movie westerns are really a big tent for all sorts of sub-genres, so, too, are comics westerns. Where we can get our Spaghetti Western on in the pages of Hex, Sixth Gun is telling aan adventure/horror tale of walking dead men, ancient evils and man's pivotal place in that scheme, circa 1870's America.

Bunn and Hurtt's comic shouldn't read as well as it does. By that I mean - there are a lot of comics on the stands that are mash-ups of two or more pop-culture concepts (seriously, you can't keep up), be it "Werewolf Zombie-Killer", "Chtulu High School", or "Spacefaring Vampire Superheroes" or whatever. And most of them are a kind of cute/ high concept idea with a neat cover and character designs, and then absolutely no ability to actually execute on a story.

Sixth Gun mixes concepts, and its hard to say its anything new, exactly, which is why it seems like this should fail.  But here at The Signal Watch, we say: it works.  The pacing, dialog, characters, etc...  may not be cut from new cloth, but Bunn and Hurtt seem to have that alchemy at their fingertips that can take those concepts and  breathe new life into them, pushing the story forward via well-conveyed character motivation and making the elements pulled from other sources fit like gears.

Bunn understands the spirit of the Southern culture he's depicting (I believe he's from Missouri, which puts him pretty neatly there below the Mason-Dixon line), and the misplaced honor and grandeur of the Old South which produces characters like our heroes and villains, and the expansion into the west as a sort of post-war purgatory where towns could burn to ashes and that was simply that.  And he knows what's actually scary about the concepts he's pulling into play.

Add in a set of a half-dozen guns-of-the-damned granting the carriers with supernatural properties, beasts from American mythology, and nightmare-inspired bar brawls, and Sixth Gun makes for a pretty darn good read.

As is now site policy, I'm going to wait to see how Volume 2 pans out before I give this book a "Signal Watch Official Seal of Recommended Reading".  I'd like to see where Bunn takes the protagonists, who showed signs of character, but seems to be on the slow boil model of character revelation.  Frankly, there's enough going on in the first volume with world setting, conflict establishment, etc...  that I didn't really feel like I was missing much until I began thinking about what we know about the rakish Drake Sinclair and Becky, the preacher's daughter who seems to have a bit of iron in her that precludes a standard-issue damsel in distress that a less creative writer might have put in her place. 

Hurtt's animation-friendly artistic style still works remarkably well for me, and I'll take it over any number of high-gloss, improbable anatomy wielding, no-understanding of action-framing artists out there working on high-profile books.  The terrain of the West, the mixing of western and wild mythology, etc...  blend very well under his pencil. 

Anyhow, we'll be back to talk Volume 2 when that edition arrives.