Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Final Final Crisis

The last issue came out today and this is what Grant Morrison says on Newsarama about the series as a whole:

It’s one of the most highly-structured and demanding pieces of work I’ve done and brings to fruition a lot of long-time obsessions, I suppose. It’s my Monitor-vision, high-altitude view of the DCU as an entity; before I take a long-awaited break to do some other work. It’s my sci-fi/horror version of everything I love about DC, everything I ever thought or felt about DC, in one book. It’s about the confusion and excitement of getting into this wild, colourful fictional continuum as a kid, and it’s an attempt to define what makes DC unique and vibrant in relation to other superhero universes. It also offers a full cosmology of higher dimensions, including our own, and an insight into the creative impulse of God, so it’s well worth the cover price, I like to think. It’s filled with interesting and life-changing occult and philosophical secrets too and the more you read it, the more you’ll pick up on them.

It’s also a deliberate attempt to show how so-called ‘rules’ can be broken to create different kinds of effects in our comics. It’s a way of using superhero comics to talk about the ‘real’ world that doesn’t rely on news headlines, mock-‘relevance’ or ‘adult’ language and imagery.

I found myself wondering what it would be like if comics’ storytelling stopped aping film or TV and tried a few tricks from opera, for instance. How about dense, allusive, hermetic comics that read more like poetry than prose? How about comics loaded with multiple, prismatic meanings and possibilities? Comics composed like music? In a marketplace dominated by ‘left brain’ books, I thought it might be refreshing to offer an unashamedly ‘right brain’ alternative.

Just as Marvel Boy in 1999 foreshadowed the storytelling trends of this last decade, Final Crisis is an attempt to predict how ‘channel-zapping’ techniques might develop as the Fifth World of the Information Age of Obama gets underway and begins to define itself in opposition to the previous generation’s ‘rules’.

It’s all of the above. I was trying to distil everything I love about superhero comics into this loaded, condensed...artefact, which meant using all the lessons I’ve learned in a lifetime’s writing for a living.

That about sums up how I feel about the book: full of really awesome, mind-boggling potential, but confusing as hell. Though there are hints and glimmers of crazy coolness throughout, I don't think he quite achieved what he was aiming for. I'll withhold final judgment, though, until the collection comes out and I give it another read.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Were They Thinking?!


Go now. Or if that's not convincing enough, read these samples:

Female muscles

All hail writers.

Joker's Boner

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkham

Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkham, image from Amazon (customer upload).

Gangrene. Pirates. Storms.

Shoulda just stayed home, sailor.

Harkham's art for this book looks like a cross between Jason and Tony Millionaire (and I don't just say Tony Millionaire because of their common nautical theme).

Harkham of course is best known for editing Kramers Ergot, the anthology that been impressing everybody, it seems like. It certainly owned the 2007 BAC. This is his first book and, if I'm not mistaken, still his only book (it was released in 2005). If not an incredibly exciting work, it still bodes well. I'll be interested to read what else he produces in the future.

Go get 'em, Sammy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stagger Lee by Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix

stagger lee by derek mcculloch and shepherd hendrix.

This year is off to a great start, comicswise. A great start. First The Arrival and now Stagger Lee.

In case you were as poorly educated as myself, Stagger Lee is a legendary American figure who killed a man over a hat. McCulloch did a heap of research into the origins of the legend and the thousand songs it spawned and put together this compelling fictionalized account that's part cultural history, part journey to old-timey St. Louis, part novel. It feels so true that the notes at the end that list the corrects and incorrects and whoknows are less believable --- it's hard to accept that this account is not a perfect reflection of life actual.

Meanwhile, the brown and brown illustrations of Shepherd Hendrix are great. I do have complaints (in extreme closeup, everyone looks the same, for instance), but generally, his work is great. And since the title character and the man he kills change race and bodytype with some regularity, it's impressive that it's so easy for me the reader to keep them straight.

art by shepherd hendrix

Stag Lee is always in scribbles and Billy wears crosshatch. Very nice.

In addition to the Stack-o-Lee story itself, the narrative weaves in a couple other songs that have their genesis in the era as well as some other interesting tales like that of Joseph Folk and Colonel Ed Butler.

Great read.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Goddam Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder

Good things about All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder Volume 1:
  • Jim Lee's art is pretty (even if not particularly suited to the story).
  • The first time Batman said "I'm the goddam Batman," it was funny (even if less so each of the 47 times it was repeated thereafter).
  • It was amusing to see Batman and Robin exploit Green Lantern's weakness by painting themselves and the room they were in completely yellow (even if Frank Miller's obvious contempt for Green Lantern and anyone else who isn't Batman got really tiring after a while).
  • Miller's take on Robin--that Batman had been eyeing Dick Grayson as a future recruit for quite some time and the murder of the boys' parents simply moved his timetable forward by several years--makes more sense than the traditional take because honestly, Batman can't make every orphan he comes across his partner (even if Miller's take on the Batman/Robin relationship is otherwise disturbing and creepy).
And, yeah, I think that's about it.

Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 was revolutionary because it did something that hadn't been done before with Batman or with comics. His Batman: Year One in 1987 was great because it made Batman real in a way that previous stories had not. With those two stories Miller established who Batman would be for the next two decades, in comics and elsewhere.

With Miller's 2001 sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again and now this Dark Knight prequel/Year One sequel, he's simply gone off the deep end. Batman is no longer a grim and gritty, somewhat obsessed crimefighter. He's a psychopath and a sadist. Yes, perhaps in the real world any person who dresses up like a bat to fight crime would have to be like this, but if I'm willing to beleive that a man drives around in a car that transforms first into a plane and then into a submarine, I'm willing to believe that that man just might have some shred of human decency.

If not for the almost universally poor reception, I'd fear that this is what Batman will look like for the next twenty years. DC will continue to publish All-Star Batman and Robin so long as Miller and Lee's names continue to make it their top-selling title (and I suspect a good portion of those sales are from people like me who are just curious to see the train wreck everyone's talking about), but hopefully they recognize it's not the quality of the story or the likeability of the characters that's bringing in all that money.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Trainstop by Barbara Lehman


Speaking of wordless comics and speaking of picture books in comic form, may I recommend this fun little book?

Trainstop by Barbara Lehman

The Arrival by Shaun Tan


The Arrival by Shaun TanNever have I so clearly understood the feelings of strangeness and desperate loneliness inherent in immigration as when reading this beautiful book. Tan's sepia-toned faux photographs et in, idk, 1890s Shangri-La?, bring it home as no other story of immigration in any other medium has ever managed before -- at least for me personally. Because no matter how well I understand the character of Tony Tonio or Stanly Scywkzk, they're always immigrated to the US or at strangest Australia -- that
is, somewhere mostly similar to my own homeland, with words and clothing and traditions I understand. It's not the destination that is ultimately strange, but the comers.

So Tan does some amalgamation and just when I was expection New York, Ellis Islandm Lady Liberty, I'm dropped in a strange and weird and bewilderingly foreign land (check it out). I understand even less than the protag, as he struggles to make his way and earn enough money to bring his wife and child to this New World.

This book is lovely, praiseworthy, of good report.

This book pushed me to the edge of tears.

This book made me laugh out loud.

Highly recommended.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan