Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Comics Out 31 January 2007

I did not see anything out this week that I need a copy of; if there is anything I am missing, let me know.

In comics news, Newsarama is discussing some mysterious intriguing teaser image DC released of some major heroes, Frank Miller will be at the New York City Comic Con (which I will be at too, with a press pass), and they also gave a link to an unintentionally funny website where the Las Vegas Police Department totally ripped off Frank Miller.

In news closer to home Brad Winderbaum's next installment of Satacracy 88 is up at (link to the right), and our own Mitch is now working at Marvel Comics.

For my own contribution this week I am going to recommend Spiderman Loves Mary Jane by Sean McKeever and Takashi Miyazawa. I picked these up on a whim last week and loved them. The target audience (imagined or real) is teenage girls, but it is well plotted and paced and well drawn, and fun, which is what I want out of a comic book. In a minor way, it is nearly perfect: it aims at something simple, and succeeds gracefully. On the one hand it is exactly what you expect -- Mary Jane has boyfriends, knows this guy Peter Parker at school, looses the boyfriend, wants to date Spiderman, complains to Peter about this (not knowing he is Spiderman of course), has a date with Spiderman that does not go well, realizes she loves Peter Parker, discovers Peter kissing the new girl Gwen Stacy before she can tell him, and so on. It's simple, but it's lovely and the art is cute but not too cute. You would have to have a heart of complete stone not to fall in love with this book.

Oh, and for the record, I am adding one more character to my list from last Friday: Takashi Miyazawa's Mary Jane.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From Thomas Pynchon's Slow Learner (Commonplace Book)

What is most appealing about young folks, after all, is the changes, not the still photograph of finished character but the movie, the soul in flux. Maybe this small attachment to my past is only another case of what Frank Zappa calls a bunch of old guys sitting around playing rock 'n' roll. But as we all know, rock 'n' roll will never die, and education, as Henry Adams always sez, keeps going on forever.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 118

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to see related posts, click the New X-Men link at the bottom of this post. ]

I said this of 116, but 118 is also one of the great X-Men covers: Cyclops could not look more cool. Just as a series of design ads I cannot remember promise to build your home around a single object, New X-Men should have been built around this issue's cover. This is a run that is best captured in the form of it's Quitely covers. Nothing lives up to their promises.

We open with a kid wearing a Magneto tee-shirt shooting a kid at a school assembly. Actually, VanSciver has him shooting US, the reader, and saying "So ... Anybody else want to sneer at my comic book collection." This is a strange point of view to locate the (by definition comic book reading) audience -- Morrison and VanSciver are on an attack that will continue in the next few pages. The kid gives a speech summarizing his life (all very convenient for the reader, who has just come upon the scene): he is a geeky, comic book nerd obsessed with "Mutant Culture" (just as the reader is likely obsessed with the X-Men comic books). Uncool is the new cool, he is proud to be a geek and he has killed his classmate to take his X-Ray eyes and join the U-Men. Then he gets shot by the police. Morrison is clearly going after the continuity obsessed X-Men audience angered at all his changes; Morrison is going after the people who are holding his New X-Men back with their conservative objections.

VanSciver gives us a two page fashion spread, but is not up to the task. Later in the issue he does give us a nice image of Jean Grey eating chips in Cerebra, and he gets points back for that. Unfortunately, he once again goes for the painfully literal as Jean looks into the fantasies of two newscasters -- she is reading their crystal clear cartoon fantasies through their OPEN BRAINS.

Once again we have lame graffiti and signs, and a lame confrontation with the poorly defined mob outside (a sense of one individual in the crowd would help). These people are like the citizens of South Park and are so stupid as to have "Mutants go Home" signs. Meeting with lame mob only lowers the cool factor Morrison had been building for his main characters.

We get a great moment when Scott implies he had sex with Emma, and then we are off to meet the new Angel.

Morrison likes his core group: when he couldn't have Hawkman for the JLA he invented Zauriel. On New X-Men he has replaced Iceman with Emma (slang for diamond is "ice", her new power); now he will replace Angel with a poor pregnant mutant whose name is Angel. It's a cool idea, but I don't care for how it plays out. We already had a discussion about Beak last time, and I don't want to go over it all again, but the scenes with Angel and her crummy life, and her mutant power to vomit acid, and her crashing into the power lines, return me to Morrison's initial Manifesto in frustration: everyone else has gotten over the change in direction, but I want to know where my cool, pop-sexy X-Men went. I was really looking forward to the book I was promised in those lovely lovely covers. Perhaps I am the audience he is angry with, the audience he is attacking for holding him back.

VanSciver ends the book on a weird note: Wolverine's claws popping out to take out the U-Men. It is oddly anti-climatic: with no opponent of value we have no sense he COULD lose. It's like an empty parody of all the times a book ended with Wolverine ready for a throw-down -- it now ends with him ready to throw-down with three nobodies. It is a kind of commentary, but the first lines of Morrison's New X-Men was Cyclops saying to Wolverine "You can probably stop doing that now [e.g. the cliched scenes you usually do]." I can't quite figure out why Morrison still has him doing those scenes. VanSciver has THREE scenes of BIG FISTS, just to make it more noticeable. Emphasizing how lame those scenes are is not helping my enjoyment at all. I came to the party for something new, not bitching about old stuff, if that is what it is.

Finally there is this little website, which taught me a new level of hatred for VanSciver. Apparently VanSciver encoded the word SEX into the incidental art work like 18 times. Ugh. Hunting for secret "codes" in art is already geeky and lame, and having the thing you are searching for be the word SEX is just appalling, and makes me embarrassed all over. I suppose it could be a continuation of attacking the audience -- the conservative fans alluded to in the opening of the issue are the ones looking for it, and entertained by it -- but now that I know it is there it just annoys me. And I am supposed to be Morrison's target audience, one of the ones eager for his Brave New World. Or maybe this is all some kind of Rorschach test, and I am revealing myself to be one of the bad guys by not playing along or getting the joke. I did, after all, ask for the pop-sexy X-Men he promised; maybe the joke is on me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Free Form Comments

Self-promote, make anonymous personal attacks, ask questions, make suggestions, post off topic thoughts, whatever. Now that I have written about the first five Morrison New X-Men issues, feel free to let me know if another 35 posts like that might be too much, or if you want to keep going.

In the announcement department I will be turning my posts on Frank Miller's Batman and the Grotesque into an essay in a collection on Batman for BenBella Books and the proofs for Imaginary Biographies have arrived from Continuum. On top of that I have a new class to teach that starts Monday and my supervisor's notes on my Oxford thesis arrived this morning. I am going to try and make sure that this new work does not interfere with the blog, but in case it does, you know why.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 117

[This post is part of an issue by issue look at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run. To read the other posts, hit the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post.]

I think I made a mistake to talk about the New X-Men Annual last time in the context of Magneto, because it obscured something fundamental -- the Annual is a wonderful issue and my small complaint about Sublime feeling like the wrong kind of villain was the only thing keeping Morrison's first four New X-Men issues from perfection. That needs to be kept in mind.

It is in New X-Men 117 that the tiny crack of Sublime in the annual grows into a bigger problem. 117 does not sink the ship -- that comes in the next issue, with the Korday art -- but it is with 117 that we begin to sense something has gone fundamentally wrong.

The hauntingly beautiful cover by Quitely gives way to a first page that in any other X-Men book would be fine: a chicken-man mutant is running through the snow.

I imagine people will jump all over me for being insensitive here, but I think it needs to be said -- while the X-Men have always been about freaks and outsiders like Beak, I was surprised and disappointed to see him become a focus in Morrison's New X-Men, which is supposed to be about pop sexy post-human cool. There are certainly cool ways to do freaks -- Coney Island comes to mind -- but this does not seem like one of them. Like Mr. Sublime, Beak seems like a holdover from an earlier, pre-Morrison era. Morrison will redeem him in the end with an ultra-cool descendant, but for many issues Beak will be there, making me feel something is off on every page on which he appears. What happened to Quitely's fashion model spreads?

We are then treated to a two page spread of the freak students and human protesters, and again, the whole thing feels ancient. Morrison injected a lot of life into the X-Men with his first four issues but a good bit drained out with protesters with signs like "It's not murder if its a mutant." That's lame, and sadly realistic, but lame and sadly realistic are not the tone for this book. That is the tone for much of Watchmen, or Jimmy Corrigan. These are small complaints so far, just hints that something has gone wrong, and I don't want to make too big a deal of them. Much bigger problems appear in the next pages.

VanSciver's Beast -- like VanSciver's art genreally -- does not look nearly as cool as Quitely's, probably because he does not have Quitely's weird design sense, or Quitely's magical ability to make anything work. VanSciver also does not work with the script: Xavier says to Hank that he looks happy, and Hank agrees, but he looks positively depressed. Then his girlfriend breaks up with him over the answering machine while he is admiring himself in a mirror -- Morrison wants pathos, I think, but the sitcom staging descends into bathos (though I am not 100% sure Quitely would have saved Morrison here as the moment seems unredeemable, but Quitely does work miracles). VanSciver also draws a wooden bat, when a character refers to it as aluminum, and again slides into bathos when a tormented Beak is on his knees, clutching ripped feathers and holding them up to god as he screams at the sky like King Lear. King Lear the chicken man. Thanks.

And then we get Casandra Nova hiding in Xavier's brain. Like fifteen minutes ago she was -- horrifically and shockingly -- to mutants what mutants are to humans. Now, suddenly without warning, she is Xavier's evil twin. And not a metaphorical twin (at least not yet, but give it a few issues) -- she is his evil genetic twin. Morrison has abandoned a great idea for a cliche. He might have saved the cliche -- he is very good at that actually -- but changing to one midstream is just mind boggling, in the worst way. He will fumble this ball a few more times before the finish line.

VanSciver is again a big weak point, not exactly selling the "Nova Revealed" moment (a key moment in the run). Nova uses psychic powers to attack Hank's self-esteem (there is that lame old-fashioned theme again). VanSciver decides to dramatize this by drawing Hank surrounded by upsetting words: Pain, Ugly, Stupid, Bad, Child, Nightmare, Hurt.

This fails on a number of levels, the most obvious being (1) it reminds me of a Nicktoon commercial telling kids how words can't hurt them, and (2) it is painfully literal. This second problem is best illustrated by the Beavis and Butthead episode when they watch the video for Tag Team's "Whoop There It is" and Butthead says sagely that it would be a great video to teach kids to read because they say "Whoop" and then the word "Whoop" appears on the screen.

The final page spread is a marvel of terror and wonder as we see Nova, in Xavier's body, looking at the Shi'ar battleship -- and the aliens that have come to get him -- like a cat with a canary. Sadly, the previous 21 pages suck a lot of the promise out of a powerful moment.

EDIT: Two mistakes. I wrote "Scrivner" but the artist's name is VanSciver. That has been changed. Also we have one more issue with VanSciver before Kordey shows up, and so I deleted the last sentence of the post which was "The next issue will take that promise, and beat it to death in an alley with a chain."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Comics Out 24 January 2007

The only book I am getting this week is Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti's Punisher War Journal #3. I will review it in the comments later today.

No news on Newsarama caught my eye except for this imagination-deadening image on that someone found on solicits. The book is called Iron Man: Steve Rogers:

It's possible this in one of Marvel's misinformation things, to keep people from knowing how Civil War ends, and I hope so, but I fear not. I don't know how many points my imagination has but I permanently lost some from looking at that picture.

Also, Marvel put their solicits out last week, and I read on a message board people talking about the implications of the whole "Spiderman: Back in Black" thing (the solicits only hint at why he is back in black). They were discussing something I was taking for granted: Marvel is going to kill Mary Jane in Civil War 7 -- he will be in the black costume to mourn, and to tie in with Spiderman 3. (This marketing tie in would be in poor taste if Civil War was not also in poor taste). Joe Quesada has said Spiderman should never have gotten married, that it killed the romantic energy in the book (a fair complaint), and this is how he is going to fix it. I just assumed we were all on the same page about this, but then I realized maybe we weren't. Do we all think Civil War is a 100+ issue red-herring for the assassination of Mary Jane? That Peter revealed his secret identity in issue two and it gets someone he loves killed in issue seven? Or did I go off the rails somewhere, misdirected by Marvel or fandom? It's entirely possible that I went off the rails somewhere.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

From Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles (Commonplace Book)

Who knows how many suffering, crippled, fragmentary forms of life there are, such as the artificially created life of chests and tables quickly nailed together, crucified timbers, silent martyrs to cruel human inventiveness. The terrible transplantation of incompatible and hostile races of wood, their merging into one misbegotten personality. How much ancient suffering is there in the varnished grain, in the veins and knots of our old familiar wardrobes? Who would recognize in them the old features, smiles, and glances, almost polished out of recognition.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Casanova 7 -- preview review (spoiler free)

Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba were putting out Casanova at a pretty good clip -- of the books I look forward to most, it was certainly the most on time. But the book hit a snag before the final issue of the first volume -- called LUXURIA by the way -- and so Casanova 7 wont be out until the middle of February. Matt Fraction, feeling badly about this, and wanting to generate some positive buzz, sent some electronic copies to the book's big supporters. My joyous apoplectic freakout on Guttergeek a while back put me on the mailing list.

So today I thought I would collect two random observations about Casanova 1 through 6, and say a few spoiler-free words about the upcoming 7.

1. Matt Fraction has Grant Morrison's skill at jamming a series of dense and silly words together so that they hit you in one insane burst. Morrison's tend to be sci-fi: "silver, morphing hyper-dimensional gel" and telepathy that works across the "infra-somber bands of the mood spectrum" (both examples cited in my book). Fraction most often goes pulpy: "sexed up shut in" and "grand mal doll kink nutjob" are two of my favorites.

2. Fraction's device for transcending influence in Casanova is to just slam one influence against another. Watch the way he avoids feeling like Grant Morrison or the Ellis's Authority by shifting from one to the other in a split second:
"He's a big mutant brain. Three, even. I heard he's three monks that practiced some form of occult Zen for so long they fused together in a wad. Whatever -- he's an arrogant special effect and I'm going to fuck him up for money."
He is such a master at this that you don't feel Morrison is being ripped off even when he is: digital HIV from Casanova 2 is taken directly from New X-Men, and the pop escape artist who is also in touch with the gods, from Casanova 4, IS Morrison's Mr. Miracle. By making them details in an ocean of stuff -- I didn't even notice the significance of the digital HIV line till the third time I read issue 2 -- Casanova owns them. (The device by which this is achieved is called Transumptive Allusion, and I will talk more about it in the future). As a very young Bob Dylan answered when asked how he felt about stealing so much from other songwriters: "they're mine now." When Fraction quotes South Park in issue 6 -- Zeyphr says the backward "you go to hell, you go to hell and you die" -- you simply don't hear it. The surface of Casanova is too dense to pick apart at a single reading, and you are forced to go for the ride.

In much the same way, the cover to Casanova 7 is an allusion to that Star Wars poster where Leah is hanging sexually on Luke's leg (if you can find an image, please link in the comments) -- in Star Wars, the incest is kept to a minimum, but Fraction has been playing up the incest between his two main characters for so long, why not expose what Star Wars should have been about?

Casanova 7 is every bit as good as every issue before it, which means Fraction and Ba have created, not only some perfect comic books, but a perfect seven issue collection. A new, very fun, character is introduced and the volume ends with quite a coup -- in seven issues this dense the thing manages to end with an open, forward looking final page that transforms a perfect book into the perfect PROLOGUE: with the threads of volume 1 wrapped up, readers can freshly jump on for volume 2 (GULA, the Latin word for Lust), which looks like it will be the next logical step; if volume 1 was about insane characters, volume 2 looks like it will be about an insane TEAM.

Deeply surprising in a completely different vein is the back-matter of issue 7. Talking about the cosmic nature of inspiration and art is an all-but-impossible task; on a subject that demands failure, Fraction makes a strong go of it, one of the better I have seen, and it is a fun read. He also makes some heartbreaking auto-biographical confessions which I will not repeat here (you will understand why when you read them). Casanova is a lot of things -- the epitome of superficial pop-comic tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really genius -- but it is not an emotional or sympathetic book. All of the emotion and sympathy (which are, it turns out, the personal origins of this book) spring, like the Freudian repressed, in the pages after the story's conclusion. On the one hand it is a bit like the E. M. Forster quote about standing a man a drink so he cannot criticize your opinions; but it is also genuinely moving, and surprising, and provides, in an odd apocryphal way, the only thing the book lacks. After seven issues of being surprised on every page, I thought I had this book all figured out.

I have used this Newsradio joke before, but I am going to use it again here: Jimmy James is telling Dave Nelson that when it looks like he is going to zig he zags, and when it looks like he is going to zag -- and Dave cuts him off, anticipating him, and says "that's when you zig." Jimmy replies seriously -- "no. That's when I ZOG." Casanova zigs and zags for seven issues. Then Fraction, in his concluding essay, ZOGS. It's nice to be perpetually surprised by a comic book.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say whatever off topic thing you have to say here: anonymous criticism, self-promotion, questions, thoughts, recommendations, requests to be added to the blog roll, introductions. (If you read but don't comment, start commenting).

I was contacted this week by Stewart St. John, who produces original television and film content online. He is a fan of what we are doing here; to check out his stuff, just click the Stewdiomedia link on the right.

Also, the numbers of visitors here are strong but steady -- I would like to see them go up. Please tell folks we are over here so they can join us. The more people we have here the better this is going to be, especially if they are vocal.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men Annual (Part 2 of 2)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to read the other entries, click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post. ]

Cassandra Nova will be revised many times in the New X-Men runs; I set up my discussion of her by pretending I did not know about those changes in discussing the first three issues. Xorn, who premieres in the X-Men annual, needs to be evaluated in light of the twist that is coming. I think everyone in comicbookdom needs to calm down about spoilers, especially when a run has been collected, but Spoilers Ho.

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Many issues down the line Xorn -- a sensitive, curious, Chinese mutant and healer with a star for a brain locked in an iron mask -- turns out to have been Magneto the whole time.

Let me digress to talk about twists for a moment. Any screenwriting guide will tell you that twists, to work right, should be, as the phrase goes, "inevitable yet surprising." While there are many little clues that Xorn is Magneto something seems off to me: there MAY be a LOGIC to it (though not always) but it never FEELS right to me, the first time, or on any of my re-reads. Many fans seem satisfied by "possible yet surprising," but I am not one of them. I admit it makes a kind of sense, but what was needed was not there. In my analysis, I will pick up all the moments that work and don't work to build this twist, and then we will see where we are by the time the mask comes off.

Magneto, apparently, escaped the destruction of Genosha and set up this charade to trick the X-Men. When the jailer explains to Mr. Sublime that Xorn has been locked here for half a century, and that his own curse has been to be the jailer for many years, and when Xorn's mask is lifted and two children are (apparently) destroyed, this is all some kind of trick: since the prison and the jailer seem real, perhaps the trick is psychic, but we never learn how it is pulled off. Emma gets a psychic read off of a key and learns Xorn's history: a child who develops a sun for a brain, who should have been a healer or a Buddha, but was locked up for his whole life out of fear. Its one thing to introduce a mysterious character, it is another to give him an elaborate fake history that can be psychically verified by a key. We are told he even escaped once in 1969 and they had to bring him back -- details like that seem unnecessary if you just want to pretend to be someone else. We never learn how Magneto pulled this absurdly elaborate hoax off, a hoax which included a psychic scan by Emma revealing "nothing where his thoughts should be." We just learn, 35 odd issues later, that Xorn is Magneto the whole time. At the end of the issue we see Xorn, finally free and talked out of some kind of black hole suicide by Scott; he stands alone in a huge vista and says to no one (there is no one to hear him) "How strange ... The world seems so much smaller than I remember." One can imagine reasons for this (he took over the life of an actual person, psychics are always watching so he better be in character the whole time, this character is both suicidal and prone to speaking out loud when alone, and details are convincing) -- on some level of course it is POSSIBLE that Xorn is Magneto, but it is the kind of "possible" defense lawyers hammer away at in a courtroom drama:
Witness: "The fingerprint evidence shows he was there."
Lawyer: "Is it POSSIBLE the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Witness: "It's a one in a million chance the fingerprint evidence could be wrong."
Lawyer: "But it is POSSIBLE, isn't that right, doctor?!"
Witness: "(sigh), yes it is possible."
Lawyer: "no further questions, your honor."
Morrison should make himself clear about how Magneto did this if he wants the twist to work. A twist should answer questions, not raise them, unless you are planning to deal with the new questions raised. It seems Morrison intended to break everyone's hearts by revealing Xorn to be a facade in the biggest twist of the series, which is a moving idea, but unjustified within his pages -- the Magneto who is revealed at the end is not emotionally manipulative, he is genocidal. A two part plan to (1) make the X-Men feel heartbroken for loving Xorn, and (2) to blow up Manhattan and kill all humans, is hard to swallow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Comics Out 17 January 2007

The new issue of Testament is out this week, as is the collected edition of Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100. The Batman book is exactly what I want right now: someone progressive and edgy doing an established superhero character. I actually know nothing about it beyond that, but I am looking forward to it.

In comics news, Marvel and DC's solicits are both up at Newsarama. Joss Whedon's Runaways hits in April, and I am also very excited to see Jeff Smith on Shazam! has a new series premiering today, called Find Me, for which Brad Winderbaum (Satacracy 88) is the Exec Producer. The site is eventually going to be like a television channel, with lots of different web-content guided by the votes of the audience.

Review. Recommend. Discuss.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

From Robert McKee's Story (Commonplace Book)

Ask What's my favorite genre? Then write in the genre you love. For although the passion for an idea or experience may wither, the love of the movies is forever. Genre should be a constant source of re-inspiration. Every time you reread your script, it should excite you, for this is your kind of story, the kind of film you'd stand in line in the rain to see. Do not write something because intellectual friends think it's socially important. Do no write something you think will inspire critical praise in Film Quarterly. Be honest in your choice of genre, for all the reasons for wanting to write, the one one that nurtures us through time is love of the work itself.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men Annual (Part 1 of 2)

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to read the other entries, click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post. ]
New X-Men Annual 2001
This will be a two part post about the Annual: I have too much to say about the introduction of Xorn, so that will be relegated to the next installment of this little series.

The artwork by Lenil Yu is beautiful -- he does a great job with both sexy and monstrous, and he should have been considered as the regular artist on this book -- he would have been great. He has an especially good effect of "cutting out" his characters from the background and isolating them as pure images, which is a great device on Morrison's attempt to make the X-Men sexy.

Emma, especially, always looks great in his hands. I don't have anything to say about the book's "sideways" format, except that I like it and would like to see it more often.

Scott taking a vow of celibacy the the beginning of this issue is exactly the right direction to take this character -- play up his sex life and him being a zen jackass about it. Once again, it is just wonderful to be in new territory with this character and this book: on no previous X-Men issue could this even be a topic. The whole thing feels more adult, and it should. Morrison is forcing these characters to grow up. Even better, he plays with the idea that Scott sleeps with Emma. The X-Men is always called a soap opera, but it has never felt more like one than with Morrison, and much of it is fantastic.

Sex is brought up twice more in this book, both time to great effect:
Wolverine: So ... you need some company after this gig?
Domino: Can't hide from the man with hypersenses, huh? No strings animal passion, Logan, and you're paying for the drinks.
Wolverine: The Professor hands out platinum credit cards to his teaching staff.
Domino: First things first, honey ... Ninja business.
It takes only a split second to realize why his hypersenses are telling him she wants to have sex, and right in that moment you know the X-Men should never go back again. We don't lose the ninja stuff, but it's working on a fun, sexy, and dangerous new level.

Right on the next page is a much darker sexual moment, when Xorn's jailer reveals that "My fantasy is to have two white girls wrestle in crude oil until they suffocate like gulls on the beaches of Kuwait," a fantasy he admits to accomplishing later on in the issue. There is a lot packed into that sentence, including an instant grasp of his character, a revealing suggesting about the West and its quest for oil, and a realization that this is not so much a new fantasy as the unspeakable base structure under sexual fantasies of, for example, mud wrestling: beyond a "safe" demeaning of women lies the fantasy of killing them.

Violence is also brought up a notch, as the X-Men bomb a facility in China from a plane: "So we're allowed to do stuff like this now," says Wolverine; "Let's see who complains," says Scott. The whole thing feels fresh, both for the readers and the characters, and it is exhilarating. Freedom is a hard feeling to create on a book with continuity like this.

And finally we have the introduction of Mr. Sublime, and the U-Men. Morrison's is a genius for coming up with the name "U-Men (human)" to oppose to "X-Men (mutants)" -- it's hard to believe that no one thought of that before -- and I can't help but love their outfits, designed to shield them from the "fallen world," the gnostic catastrophe creation.

But Sublime himself is the leader of a self-esteem cult, which is the kind of theme we expect from the book before Morrison got it -- angst and self-esteem are the wrong topics for Morrison's new direction, they can only hold back his pop sexy post-humanism. Sublime is the only thing in the first four issues that felt off to me, a hold over from the old guard. I just can't buy into him as a bad guy -- the 1980s media savvy slime-ball villain concept is dumb, like the villains on Columbo (a show I love by the way). Also vaguely troubling is his "transsexual language" about being a "third species" (like the third sex) -- third species is post-humanism stuff, and should be associated with the good guys, surely. Something very small has gone wrong, but it will grow exponentially as we continue.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Free Form Comments

Self-promote, anonymously criticize, random thoughts, questions: go.

For my part, I have a question, which you can answer anonymously if you like -- what do people around here do for money? I find many people avoid listing their occupation on their blogs, and it has made me curious.

Oh, and Robert Anton Wilson died.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 116

[this post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to read the other entries, click the New X-Men label at the bottom of this post. Sorry for the low quality pictures. I assume most people reading this have read the run.]

Oh, this is certainly my favorite comic book cover of all time.

The infamous "camel toe" cover. Right off the bat you have to be impressed that Marvel let them publish such an edgy cover -- this is not Lady Death style T and A, this is strange fashion-model ostensibly-sexy-and-hip but also weird, disorienting, cold and asexual. Open the book and you get the Beast, doing the Hamlet pose, but also showing off his outfit in the best fashion add way -- both these images are about the clothes. Style is everything here, which makes a lot of sense in a genre of storytelling where people have such wild outfits with the underwear on the outside (Scott Bukatman has argued, in this respect, how the 60's Batman is such a dandy, with that closet full of different Bat-suits).

Just as the Beast remarks about his own design change in 114, Jean remarks here on Quitely as well, calling attention to her "unnaturally thin wrists and ankles." Morrison is using the age old device of having characters speak the audience's complaints to win them over. He is doing everything he can to make his changes stick. Don't like "secondary mutation" as an explanation of Emma's new diamond skin power? Neither does she: "your pseudo-scientific explanations are far from satisfactory" she says to the Beast, when he tries to sell her on the idea. (As I have remarked earlier the purpose of Emma's new power is that the slang word for diamond is "ice" -- Morrison is trying to create the core team and he needs an "ice"man, just as his JLA needed a Hawkman, Zauriel; a new "Angel" will be soon on his agenda).

In the meat of the story Morrison's new theme -- his new direction for the concept of the X-Men -- is brought home in a frightening and powerful way: rather than identity politics he wants to address post-humanism, what it means to inherit the earth and make your own rules. Now he reveals that humanity is dying out as a species -- so the X-Men will be forced to confront their new role. And to make matters more stark Casandra Nova, it turns out, is to them what they are to the humans, what the early humans were to the Neanderthals (as we saw in issue 114): she is the next level above them.

And she sends Cyclops to a psychic place called the Black Bug Room, a small red cell with three giant, grotesque bugs whose heads brush the celling, and whose hats and formal capes are hanging on hooks next to them. They say "Welcome to the black bug room. Everyone has their own black bug room. This is yours, Scott." HORRIFIC. In a single panel, with no details, I am TERRIFIED. (I actually recall the idea popping up in a speech of Tara's on a fourth season Buffy episode -- the one where Tara's family shows up -- so I am pretty sure it is from some kind of mythology, even one as recent as William S Burroughs).

Emma goes to have herself valued, but has "an Epiphany, like St. Paul on the Road to Damascus." She comes back and kills Nova just as Nova gets into Cerebra. Nova gets up anyway and Charles shoots her. "Hardcore, Chuck" says Wolverine. "May posterity forgive me" says Charles. "May our dry cleaners forgive you, Charles dear." Emma says: "May God award you a medal for your uninhibited marksmanship." With a shard of glass in his head and a line of blood on his face Professor X says the famous line from the very first X-Men comic book: "to me, my X-Men."

Then he tells the world he is a mutant, changing everything for the characters as Morrison has been changing everything for the readers.

Morrison's first arc is one of his best works: daring, surprising, persuasive, and exciting on every level -- design, plot, character, and theme.

In the annual, which I will look at next time, he introduces a fascinating new character.

And then his genius ideas begin to fall apart, both quickly and slowly, depending on where you look.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Comics Out 10 January 2007

The only book I picked up this week was Runaways, which has always been a bit of a lame duck book, since I am getting it only as a background to Whedon's run. Don't get me wrong, it has things to recommend it, but, on my own, I would have stopped reading when they removed the main conflict at the end of the first run (before they started re-numbering).

I did, trolling reviews on Newsarama, find a few other reasons to hate Civil War 6 (in addition to the ones I mentioned in the comments to last week's comics out post): why is Susan's underwater breathing thing a mask with cords to her ears? Is the point of that scene really a recap? And why did Cap let the Punisher on the team after he killed to C-List villains and then freak out after he killed two D-List Villains? On the plus side I did discover the purpose of the Dr. Strange scene, and I will give it to the writers and admit I missed it -- it is to show that there will be no deus ex machina, and thus a necessary scene for building tension. Issue still sucked, even if that scene had a point.

As usual recommend, review, discuss.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

From James Merrill's "Oranges" (Commonplace Book)

Segment by segment, nonetheless a mind
Made up of taste and sunlight. May the blind
Gods who drink its juice be satisfied,
Disposing gently of the empty rind.
What I like about those lines is the way the first sentence is so sweet, then in the same line it goes suddenly dark. They admit a very dark evil, but also just hope evil will unintentionally nice, since perhaps we are too small to care about. I also like how "blind Gods" is split across two lines; the appearance of the word "Gods" is more surprising, and, because it is at the beginning of the line, it is capitalized, making whether these are "gods" or "Gods" ambiguous.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 115

[This post is part of series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; click on the "New X-Men" label at the bottom of this post to read all the entries.]

The Wolverine cover is great.

Like the first, and the next few covers, Morrison and Quitely are after a magazine look, and if Wolverine were on the cover of GQ this is what it would look like. We get one more glamor shot of everyone's outfits with the first two page spread, as Quitely gives us the whole team lineup in a single static image with labels -- this book really is all about the clothes, which I love.

Morrison, in an effort to rehabilitate the character, even gives Cyclops the eternal boyscout some cool (as well as nodding to continuity): as the plane is going down he says "Relax, I've survived more jet aircraft crashes than any other mutant. Insurance takes care of everything." Wolverine says to him "You know what I admire most about you Summers? Your icy calm lunacy under pressure." "Call me Cyclops" he replies. Quitely's images of the character support this aim: even when his visor shatters, it is a thing of beauty in suspension.

Cassandra Nova's bony hand pushing though Trask's face as if it were a mask is a terrifying image, especially because her other hand and her body language suggest seduction. "Do you want to know the real message of evolution?" she says "All life ends up as manure" -- which is true and a great point to make in a book where evolution is the central concept. No more of Apocalypse with his giant "A" belt crying about making everyone strong or dead.

I know Cyclops's ruby quarts contact lenses bothered people but why the hell not have them -- it's not like they were a major part of the plot and that image of his visor shattering makes it worth it. As for his mercy killing of Ugly John being out of character -- it is a fair point from longtime fans but the payoff is an X-Men book that is genuinely surprising, which is a good trade, I think.

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In the comments to my discussion of the previous issue Ping makes the important point that Morrison and Quitely have made sentinels genuinely scary; they are disturbing and weird even though they seem to derive from the Jamie Lee Curtis movie Virus. Morrison brings the classic design back in his final arc (and calls it a classic) but for now giant bugs are fantastic. The destruction of sixteen million mutants in this issue is breathtaking, though I suspect that this is an editorial decision -- Joe Q said for years he wanted to decrease the mutant population to properly return to the "minority" theme of the book, the X-Men as a metaphor for persecuted outsiders; this just wasn't dramatic enough to stick, so House of M came along years later. If this was what Marvel wanted Morrison turned out to be a very bad choice on a number of levels, since he tried to get the X-Men away from "identity politics" -- rather than reestablish old themes he wants to inject new ones, like what it really means to know you are here to inherit the earth from a dying species. On every level this book is being re-imagined: design (cool clothes, the Beast, the sentinels), characters (Cyclops kills), concept (they are not superheroes), theme (Post-humanism rather than identity politics). Powerful stuff, and flawlessly done two issues in.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Free Form Comments

Say anything you want here, including shameless self promotion, anonymous criticism, and random thoughts.

All I want to do is direct anyone who wants to read my reviews of All Star Superman and Civil War to the comments section of yesterday's posts.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Comics Out 4 January 2006

A good week this week: Matt Fraction and Ariel Olivetti's Punisher War Journal #2, Mark Millar and Steven McNiven's penultimate Civil War issue, and the cream of the superhero crop, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman #6.

Also, unrelated, the trailers for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodreguez's Grindhouse is up, as is the trailer for Ocean's 13; just plug them into youtube.

I will review the comics in the comments as soon as I get my hands on them, and you should too. As usual review, recommend, discuss.

I am off to teach the first day of my Kill Bill class. My head is bursting from knowing far too much about that movie right now.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 114 (Part Two of Two)

[This post is part of series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; click on the "New X-Men" label at the bottom of this post to read all the entries.]

Morrison wastes no time making the book his own. The Beast is redesigned – for good or ill it lets you know right of the bat nothing is sacred and everything can change, an exhilarating feeling to get from an X-Men comic book mired in years of unchanging continuity. Plus we get real banter: “Soda?” “Diet please.” “Diet? You weigh six hundred pounds.” “So? Do I want to get fat? I do a lot of leaping around.” We get Morrison at his unhinged best, when the Beast says “I feel like a Hindu sex god, Jean.”

Cerebra is clearly explained and elegantly designed, as is the X-Jet, with a sensibility not unlike the WE3 armor.

The design for Ugly John, as I mentioned in my book, is taken from an Australian Skiing magazine; Quitely uses hip sources even when going for ugly.

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With the Tommy Hilfigure uniforms the whole concept is re-imagined from the ground up: Morrison goes so far as to boldly assert that the X-Men never were superheroes, and thus should dress accordingly.
Morrison makes the whole concept dangerous again, and to mark the occasion gives Xavier a gun. Those who objected this being out of character missed the point: for Morrison the gun less of a steel weapon and more of a metaphor for violent change, which is why the final cover of the Invisibles is a hand with a gun.

The very first page of Morrison's run shows Wolverine ripping up a sentinel and Cyclops dryly remarking “You can probably stop doing that” – it is an indictment of decades of repetitive, redundant X-Men continuity. Just as the book opens with a metaphor for time past it closes with a metaphor for time future: Cassandra Nova says “imagine self made sentinels, using spare parts to evolve themselves into more effective forms.” The X-Men have always been about survival and Morrison wants to make them survive by using the past -- often piecemeal -- to evolve the book into a more effective form. This first issue is an incredibly strong start.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

From Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby (Commonplace Book)

If youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.”A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.

Up to about its primary school days a child thinks, naturally, only of play. But many a form of play contains disciplinary factors. “You can’t do this,” or “that puts you out,” shows a child that it must think, practically or fail. Now, if, throughout childhood, a brain has no opposition, it is plain that it will attain a position of “status quo,” as with our ordinary animals. Man knows not why a cow, dog or lion was not born with a brain on a par with ours; why such animals cannot add, subtract, or obtain from books and schooling, that paramount position which Man holds today.
You may feel that that that little passage, the first two paragraphs of Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby (1939),was not at all remarkable. In terms of content you would be right. But Gadsby is more than a coming-of-age story. It is a 50,000 word novel written entirely without the use of the letter E. Check those paragraphs again: no letter E anywhere. He wrote a novel avoiding all words that contained the letter E, the most common letter in the English language, five times more common than any other. He literally removed the "E" key from his typewriter, just for the fun of it. That means no verbs with an "ed" ending, no numbers between six and thirty, and very few pronouns since "he" "she" "they" "them" "their" "her" "herself" "myself" "himself" and "yourself" are all right out. The name of this kind of experiment, if you care to know, is "lipogram." The whole novel is available online for free: just click here, if you want to check if he cheated. (He didn't).