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Tue, Oct. 20th, 2009, 03:45 pm
I Killed Adolf Hitler

My fondness for alternative comics is not well documented, because mostly I actually kinda hate them. When it comes to illustrated literature, I typically need people to be wearing capes, or trying to blow up the Earth, or both. Also I'm perhaps prejudiced against artists with one name who don't live in a giant purple mansion in Minnesota. But every once in a while I go off the rez and find myself happier for it. This book was one of those occasions. There's really no way to explain what this thing is without spoiling it, even though its plot is largely nonsensical. A deadpan-hip time-travel story featuring an anthropomorphized cat hitman (hitcat?) Oh, and it's also a story about being in love and growing old together with someone? In the future/past. Uh, yeah, sure, why not. Pour me another.

So, aside from all its aggressively quirky quirks, this is actually quite an affecting and touching tale about falling in love, in a very non-Hollywood and refreshing way, where it's not cliche fireworks, it's kinda hard, and maybe almost accidental. Obviously, its other message is that being in love means helping the ones you love kill a genocidal 20th century dictator, which is as it should be.

The only drawback is that it takes maybe ten minutes to read, tops, and, while pleasurable, is an entertainment of no greater duration than your average issue of Batman. Or Usagi Yojimbo, if you are not of the cape-loving orientation. You can argue about whether I Killed Adolf Hitler offers a more sublime set of pleasures, but--yikes--the book lists for more than four times an issue of reg'lar comics, at $12.95. And ~$1.25 per minute is a pretty steep investment for any literature these days.

Wed, Aug. 12th, 2009, 11:55 am
Empowered #5

Pretty great still, but like the last Scott Pilgrim, perhaps a bit of a letdown? Which may or may not be due to my expectations having metastasized grossly beyond the actual merit of the works. There's pretty great character growth when it comes to Melissa, the main superhero. She's starting to outpace her friends in terms of power-level, growing beyond her drunk superninja best friend and ex-villain-minion boyfriend. All along, her boyfriend's been on the "she's really more badass than all of us put together" train, and it's a nice thing to say, but it's neat that it's actually starting to happen in the story. And the growing big-bad of the series continues to be appropriately scaled upwards in terms of scariness and threat level.

The book starts out with her working a side-gig doing dress-up at cons, getting paid to pretend to be herself, and segues through the main themes of the series so far: the extreme Neil-Labute-esque mistreatment of her by her male co-workers, being blasted mercilessly when she screws up and given no credit when she kicks ass, her bondagey origins, minor daddy issues, the trio's increasingly awkward almost-love-triangle, and the coming storm of the series Big Bad percolating on Empowered's horizon. There's maybe too much of each character being on their own, which doesn't give Adam Warren room for any of the interaction that made the earlier volumes so terrific, but it does give him a chance to flesh out other relationships.

There's a scene in here where she kicks ass on a bunch of supervillains, not as like a plot point where she "steps up to the plate", but just as a matter of course, like, "Oh yeah, she can just do that now." Everyone's getting to know she's not a C-lister, she's a fucking SUPER HERO. Unfortunately I couldn't find any scans of that, so here's some scans of the "steps up to the plate" variety from, I think, the first trade, where she has to go rescue her helpless boyfriend-in-distress.

ka-POWCollapse )

Also, as with Scott Pilgrim, this issue ends on a big downer.

Balls. Now I have to wait until 2010 for the next one.

Wed, Aug. 12th, 2009, 01:29 am
Justice League of America: Sanctuary & The Injustice League

Just ... unreadable. Seriously, the worst shit I have cast my eyes across in a long time. Indifferently written at best (I kinda like Dwayne McDuffie most of the time), and drawn repulsively by Ed Benes. Googling "art of Ed Benes" will basically bring up a guide to the thongs and ass cracks of the DC Universe. And the Marvel universe. (Seriously, what is up with that cover? Are Spider-Woman's buttocks the main characters?) Another thing you should know about Ed Benes is that he doesn't believe in drawing backgrounds. Ever. He hates backgrounds like Rob Liefeld hates feet. Generally, he just draws everyone so large in the panel that there's no room for much of a background. "I'll just draw lots and lots of pipes. I guess they're all in the basement, changing a fuse or something." Also note how virtually all of his characters' faces look like they're suffering some grave bowel distress. And when his figures aren't overcrowding the panel, all action, wherever it takes place, occurs somehow in front of a formless and featureless tarp of some sort. The scenes of dialogue in Justice League headquarters look like they're all taking place in a giant cardboard box. All walls appear to be cornerless and featureless. Geez, Batman, hang a picture or something.

Most of the series covers, by Michael Turner, were similarly atrocious. (At least he's dead now.) Though I must mention Adam Hughes did a really nice Black Canary pinup cover for the series (cf. Benes' horrific, only-for-masturbation-after-Baywatch, sub-FHM rendition of the same character).

Just ... bleh. I stayed away after the first few issues of Justice League. I thought it might have gotten better after I left. It didn't.

Tue, Aug. 11th, 2009, 10:00 pm
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152

I've been run too rush-ragged to have had any time to post about anything, particularly what I've been reading, but I got this hardcover as part of my birthday swag when I had my party at Bar Reis last weekend, and it's reinvigorated my desire to talk about the literature I've been passing before my eyes. It's so fucking good. For those of you who know how much I dig Usagi Yojimbo, and who dig it too, you'll quickly recognize this as a similar pleasure. The first trade of this that I read (this is the second), I had an almost identical first impression, actually, in that I liked it, but wasn't exactly blown away. As with Bone also, there is a deceptive simplicity to these works--all-ages books that're smart enough for that descriptor to actually mean something--that can take time to wriggle out of the grasp of your stubborn expectations.

But now? After two books? I really, really like Mouse Guard. Perhaps one complaint I still have is that I sometimes have a hard time telling the characters apart, even though Petersen provides a lot of cues. But even so, his eye for silent drama is pretty astounding. Imagine the old Conan comics (not the later Marvel series), but replacing the voluptuous earthiness of his stories and art with a quiet, snow-muted austerity. It's just a beautiful little book.

Seriously? Look at this:Collapse )

This whole book, you just feel the cold, and the wet, and the tiredness all around. The main characters, members of the Mouse Guard, are traveling from mouse city to mouse city begging supplies from these member states to support the institution of the Mouse Guard during a season of deprivation and hardship. The party gets separated, and one faction winds up going through a haunted expanse of abandoned weasel kingdom, while the other faction, the more compelling one, is Lieam and the Black Axe, an aging mouse Dread Pirate Roberts who also serves as Lieam's grizzled mouse-Yoda. These two are just trying to get home, while being hunted by an owl earlier maimed by one of the mice. This provides the book its more harrowing passages, in a way that knights and dragons cannot any longer, by dint of their cliched familiarity. To see Lieam face down an owl is to touch the fright of really seeing a monster, really almost dying in its claws. Exhilarating stuff.

Tue, Jul. 7th, 2009, 06:30 pm
Adventures in Valueless Media

I've been trying to sell my comics on the internet the last couple months, and the conclusion I have regrettably reached is that comics are worthless. In terms of the secondary market, at least. Virtually every book and DVD I've tried to sell online has gone pretty quick, and yet that monolithic, step-pyramid of longboxes hasn't shrunk one iota. Even my shitty, scratched public domain bargain bin DVD copy of Pot O' Gold sold. But nobody's got a dime for old issues of Stray Toasters or The Saga of Crystar (even the one from which Danzig stole his logo!)

So anyway, I figured I'd put it up to you, my livejournal people: I'm past wanting to turn these into a financial resource, and just want to get rid of these things. Does anyone want a bunch of issues of Cable? Or Brubaker's Captain America or Ennis's Punisher? Seriously, just ask. And if I have em, they're yours. I'd like to donate some or most of them, too, but haven't been able to find someone that accepts donations of floppies (although Maggie had some leads I haven't followed up on yet). Are there any libraries anywhere who accept or are even seeking floppies to add to their collection? Help me out here, library people.

I could store them, I suppose. My dad's basement would be the likeliest place. But part of the reason I don't have even more comics than I do now is that that's where I stored them when I first moved out on my own, and a flood destroyed like four longboxes, so I think if I'm gonna store them like that, I might as well not even have them at all. There's some stuff in there that Maggie still needs to read, but mostly I look at that giant tower of boxes and feel resentful of the space my accumulation of things takes up.

Fri, Mar. 13th, 2009, 12:24 am
Scott Pilgrim 5: Scott Pilgrim vs the Universe

Bit of a disappointment, this one. Definitely the weakest installment so far. Very little of it is about Scott Pilgrim being awesome--the lure of the earlier books--and a lot of it is about everything sucking. And not being funny. Who's gettin' cheated on, who's breaking up, who's getting beaten up by a homemade robot created by two twins. There are some great running gags, like where Scott is always talking about the X-Men in the early 90s, but mostly it's the dark night of soul for Scott and most everyone around him.

The brilliant, sparkly cover makes up for a lot, though.

Fri, Feb. 13th, 2009, 05:53 pm
Countdown to Final Crisis vols. 1-4

I never finished this when it was coming out weekly. Why? It was terrible! It still is, and finally getting to the end of the story doesn't do it any favors. All of the narrative threads are all ridiculous and make no sense: Jimmy Olsen getting powers, Holly Robinson & Harley Quinn learning to be Amazons, Mary Marvel being emo, Karate Kid dying, Donna Troy & Jason Todd hunting for Ray Palmer, Pied Piper & the Tricksters as The Defiant Ones. It is all terrible. In fifty two issues of comics, there's basically nothing redeeming about any of them. What was I thinking?

Tue, Jan. 6th, 2009, 12:21 am
The Alcoholic

Sometimes a book turns out to be so precisely what you had been expecting, it leaves you utterly without response (because you'd experienced your reaction far before ever reading the thing), and a little in awe at your own horrible prescience. The Alcoholic is a book like that. Poor, self loathing little rich kid. High achieving suburban white boy, a weekend drunk. Had a homosexual make-out experience with his best friend in high school and ... their relationship was never the same! Big city : professional writer : poor grasp of boundaries even when sober : kind of a dick. Then, his body ruined by alcohol, he ... poops himself! If that isn't the #4 special on the recovery memoir menu, I don't know what is.

If I had to identify the book's biggest problem I'd say it's that it's a coming of age story, only the protagonist isn't fifteen, he's thirty-six, and doesn't really come of age. Really? You're balding and think you're bad in the sack and never really liked yourself? Get over your shit, twerp. It's frustrating that reviewers seem to be eating this crap up, lauding him for "making no bones" that the book is thinly veiled autobiography, when what that really means is it's only partly his life, exaggerated to make him seem interesting, and with a bunch of made up shit, but he doesn't want anyone to James Frey him.

On a positive note, I think Dean Haspiel's a pretty sweet artist. Kinda David Lapham-esque, in that his style is noirish, but doesn't plunge screaming into burlesque the way Frank Miller's does. The book, I must say, is pretty readable, a trait which I credit to Haspiel's bracing visuals, rather than Ames' emetic autobiography.

Mon, Dec. 8th, 2008, 10:33 am
Empowered vol. 4 (tl; dr)

Real life comic writer/artist Adam Warren found himself drawing a lot of pictures of superheroines in bondage, since that's what a lot of guys at comic conventions want you to draw (really, a lot). And he found himself glomming onto one of these non-characters: who might this blonde be, who always finds herself in a tattered costume and elaborately tied up? And he started writing stories about her. That's the gimmick that launches the first, admittedly uneven, book, about a c-list superheroine named Empowered whose powers fade when her delicate supersuit gets ripped up, so she's continually being taken hostage. And the suit doesn't work when she wears anything underneath it, of course.

Over the first two volumes, Warren developed her into both a really interesting, well rounded character, and a really interesting symbolic examination of female-character tropes in superhero comics that manages to be both sexy and thoughtful about it. She's got this horribly revealing outfit (par for the superheroine course), but is horribly neurotic about her body: her costume is basically "naked" with a spraypaint-thin black membrane over it. And instead of the de facto marginalization in mainstream super-heroics, Empowered is openly treated like second-class shit by her clique-ish peers.

The antics Empowered suffers at the hands of her co-workers and the ridiculous, Tick-like supervillains are the same things suffered by any super-heroine in regular comics, only with a more realistic examination of what the costs would be to that person's self-esteem and body-image. Supervillains (unquestionably stand-ins for the kind of mouth-breathing comics fans who make bondage portraits such a popular commission genre) leer over Empowered's bound and gagged form, commenting on her endowments like unfettered Howard Stern fans, WWTDD-like websites nastily and deprecatingly discuss her body and her exploits. Empowered, the book, talks about what it's like to live with that objectification, while at the same time trying to be a sexy sex comic. It doesn't make people into monsters for wanting to look at boobs.

The basic message is this: it's okay to really like sex, just don't be a creep or an asshole! Which is a cool breeze of air on a hot day compared to the sticky, insulting mixed messages most mainstream comics send about sex.

What kicks the book into golden territory is the solid backing cast Warren's developed--Empowered's supportive ex-thug boyfriend, her semi-alcoholic superninja best friend, and the "Caged Demonwolf", an evil god living in a ghostbuster trap on her coffee table. Their group dynamic is probably the best in all of comics right now. (The neuroses of her tormentors are also starting to get interestingly explored.)

There are still a lot of people who absolutely hate Empowered, people who don't think it seemly that a comic about sexual exploitiveness in comics should itself appear so sexually exploitive. And there are moments of genuine discomfort that are not lightly passed--it's not easy to read a bunch of dudes talking about how easily they could get away with sexually assaulting the superheroine they've just tied up. But comics about sex (unless they're written by Alan Moore) are still trapped under the weight of logic that prohibits comedies from winning Oscars, that is, entertainment is inversely proportional to artistic merit. And so the people who DO like Empowered tend to consider it an interesting, thoughtful c-list confection and nothing more. It's also unfortunately stuck half-way on the shuttle bus between two ghettoes: manga people typically don't like superheroes, and superhero people don't like manga. And this is superhero manga.

But I will say it: Empowered is one of the best, smartest superhero books being published. No effing joke. I recently stopped buying my weekly Marvel and DC comics for financial, moving-related reasons, and I gotta say, I don't miss em all that much. But the second this new volume of Empowered was released, I tore it off the shelf and blazed through it.

This one? It's pretty much more of the same goodness, but better. There are still things Warren needs to work on (his pacing can be choppy), but you can see him improving, story by story, and each Empowered volume is exponentially better than the last, the plots denser, the characters richer, the gags funnier.

There are two main arcs here. The first involves a dying cancer kid with dreams of supervillainy whose "Make a Wish Foundation" wish is to be like a real supervillain, that is, to "capture" Empowered and put her in bondage. She gets kind of tricked and guilted into it by her cruel superhero co-workers, but when she goes along with it, the kid turns out to be a considerate sweetheart working really hard to not make an inherently weird situation weird or degrading for her. Until the press burst upon the scene, a kind of jeering super-paparazzi flashbulbs a'snappin' at Empowered in bondage (again! ha ha) to a ten-year-old, and the kid flips the fuck out on them like, "What the fuck is wrong with you people! Don't humiliate her!" I think he's going to become a recurring character. I hope so.

The second arc deals with a superhero Oscar-type ceremony in which Empowered might receive an award of professional recognition, although it turns out the whole thing might be some kind of Carrie setup in which she'd be further humiliated by the dickish superhero community. But in the end, in one of her increasingly frequent episodes of being amazing and self-assured and kicking ass, she saves all the superheroes from disaster and unambiguously crunches the villain's face. Satisfying.

Also, this volume introduces the character of Man-Maid, a Captain-America-like guy in French maid drag. He's pretty amazing, and is so far the only decent human being in the superhero community.

Playlist for this post:
Simon Tedd - Let's Talk
Phil Seymour - Don't Blow Your Life Away
Vicious Visions - I Beat You

Thu, Nov. 20th, 2008, 07:58 pm
Strangers in Paradise

So I just a second ago polished off the sixth and final volume of the complete Strangers in Paradise collection. It's so big and sprawling--1800 pages, give or take--that it's hard to calculate what angle of attack you should use to start talking about it, and I guess the answer is that I'm not going to. It's less a work to discuss than it is one that hangs a lantern in the window and starts to live inside you. The closest parallel I can think of is Bone, because, as with Fone Bone and Thorn, I'm really going to miss these characters now that they're gone.

I haven't liked Terry Moore's work for Marvel (so far), but I think this stuff is just brilliant, heartrending stuff; particularly the latter three trades or so, when some of the loony plot contrivances start to cool down and Moore focuses on the kind of thing he's best at: quiet character detail. See that picture up there? I am in love with all of those people. That's no easy trick.

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