Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Comics Out 28 February 2007

Comics Out Today that I bought:

Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert on Action Comics 846. I like Zod, but this book is only pretty good. It strikes me mostly as a response to the new Superman film, a kind of "This is the movie I would have done if you had ditched that Bryan Singer clown." I may keep up with it, but I have not decided.

Bryan K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's Runaways 24. The run by the book's creators ends here. All my mixed feeling about the book are prompted by this issue -- it is nice, and the stories are pretty good, and the art is often great, but the dialogue and exposition are often clunky and it also has a random quality that bothers me. There is a twist here about a main character -- I won't spoil it -- but the surprise is just sort of out of nowhere: it is not what you expect because it is not what you expect if that makes sense, and that is all there is to it.

I was thinking this week how I am getting too many mediocre books and I need to clean house -- I get these books because there are not enough good comics. Also people have been making me feel bad about Chris Claremont. So I found the solution to both with one thing: I bought the DVD-rom of 40 years worth of X-Men comics for 40 bucks. Now I will go back and read Claremont again in color and think about how he relates to Morrison, and what a genius he used to be, instead of buying books I don't like that much.

In comics news: Whedon will only do 6 -- yes 6 -- issue of Runaways. So there you have it. Sad, but the guy has stuff to do and I am sure the 6 will be perfect.

Also in comics news: Neil Adams announced at the comic con that he going to do an eight part project with Frank Miller called Batman: Odyssey. Check out the weirdness. Miller owns Batman. Morrison makes fun of Miller and says he wants his Batman to get away from Miller's psycho and back to the Neil Adams love god days. You know Morrison is freaking out about Miller because his Batman run starts with a cop who dresses as Batman and kills: as Mitch (I think it was) pointed out this character is from the comics, the two issues before Batman: Year One came out; it is like Morrison is wishing he could have taken over before Miller did his thing. Morrison wants Neil Adams style; Miller responds by getting the actual Neil Adams. And people tell me this anxiety of influence thing is just a nutty theory.

One more thing: I don't have much to say about the con, but what I do have to say I said to comic geek speak. Go to the site (link on the right) and listen to episode 229 (28 February 2007): my bit is 8 minutes long, involves me talking about strip clubs and ranting about Planet Hulk, and starts at the 27:30 mark. Library Boy (Demon Etrigan) had this to say about me on the CGS forum:
I'm only as far as the Geoff Klock interview at the moment, but I just need to
say that I agree with the man 100% about the event book glut, and that it's also
driving me to the fringes of the Big 2 publishing lines just so I can get good
stories that don't tie into this crap. Where do I get my "Geoff Klock was right"
or "Geoff Klock is my master now" t-shirt?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

From W.H. Auden's "The Cave of Making" (Commonplace Book)

I wanted to quote today from a poem that exemplifies what I like most and least about Auden. Here is Auden with a wonderful statement about poetry:

After all, it's rather a privilege
amid the affluent traffic
to serve this unpopular art which cannot be turned into
background-noise for study
or hung as status-trophy by rising executives,
cannot be "done" like Venice
or abridged like Tolstoy, but stubbornly still insists upon
being read or ignored.

That is lovely, and true, and makes me proud to be a person who cares about poetry. But for Auden, pride is always a sin, and so the poem ends like this:

God may reduce you
on Judgement Day
to tears of shame,
reciting by heart
the poems you would
have written, had
your life been good.
(The computer is making it hard to format this correctly but you get the idea). It is beautifully put, but the idea that poetry would be better if poets were better human beings seems to me to be not such a good observation. Ego-maniacs write great poems -- and comic books and television -- and I do not think their poetry would be better if they spent more time loving their neighbor and loving God, which Auden says are the only important things in life, unlike poetry, which he calls frivolous.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 125

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue. For more posts like it hit the New X-Men link at the bottom of this post.]

Kordey on art here is just like he was last issue -- he was rushed and his art looks like enlarged thumbnails and sketches. I am sure this was fixed in the trade, but in the original issue Kordey drew a complex two page spread with six panels and great dialogue (Cyclops: "Hey, its those pesky X-Men") -- the image was ruined by Starburst advertisement that split the two page spread on to two left hand pages. To see the image properly you have to take the staples out and put the pages side by side, as intended. To make it worse, it takes a moment to realize it IS a two page spread, and not just a confusing pair of distinct pages. One more artistic offence for our record: the explosion of the Shi'ar battleship is a tiny panel at the bottom of page eight -- such a big moment should never appear so small.

Nova has been to mutants what mutants are to humans, then Xavier's evil genetic twin, then bodiless unique emotional energy that formed a body from Xavier's DNA. In this issue she is described by the Shi'ar as "Mummudra, the anti-self, Xavier's terrible opposite," a myth their civilization did not believe in. The next step in evolution, Xavier's sister, and a unique creature are all better ideas than a generic kind of mythical monster (of which there are many) who takes this as its credo: "Underneath the laws and rules of every civilization a snarling beast prowls, straining at its chains. I only set the beast free." It's Freud's return of the repressed, which is the basis of almost all horror movies, as well as, in the X-Men, Onslaught. This is territory we have been over before. That may be Morrison's point -- the X-Men are in a rut -- but he should break out of the rut as he was doing, rather than further exemplify it. If I want to see the rut, I can read whoever was writing the book before he got a hold of it.

Nova telling Lilandra she was hopeless in bed, and taunting Scott with sexual repression and inadequacy is a lot of fun, but the theme -- attacking self esteem -- is part of the old, stuck-in-a-rut X-Men, and not so interesting outside of these two examples.

Xorn says he can hear the ship's electromagnetic alarms -- a clue that he is Magneto. I have to wonder why Nova, however, never pays Xorn any attention -- as a super-psychic who tears away people's illusions, you would think she would do SOMETHING with him. I guess he is part of her plan -- she knows what is coming and she wants him to be around to screw with Xavier. But she seems surprised to be beaten -- she does not, it seems, expect to lose. It is hard to imagine this creature thinking "well, if I don't make it, Magneto can get them." Doesn't really seem her style. If the helmet is keeping her locked out surely she would want to control someone else to kill this wildcard. I don't get it.

Another odd detail: Emma's head is trapped in a gold metal blob, and her body language suggests only boredom. That might be funny, that might be bizarre, that might be stupid. Could go any direction.

Another: Nova's nano-sentinel's are in a liquid solution that drives the U-Men technology. OK. I guess. The connection was mentioned before, but it is hard to see how we should respond. Enabling the transplant of mutant organs into humans that don't like the X-Men seems like an odd way for bodiless emotional energy to behave. That made more sense, maybe, when she was the biologist she claimed to be in the first issue.

Another: The Beast, looking very like a cartoon and standing under fireworks declares he is gay. I just don't know what to do with that. Morrison is fighting with himself and getting desperate. On the one hand he has come to shake things up: the outfits, the new design for the Beast, outing Xavier, Nova as the next step in evolution, sex and sexuality. On the other hand he seems to be commenting on the rut the X-Men are stuck in by showing the rut: the theme of low self-esteem, angs-y teenage freaks, Sublime's self-help bad guy, Nova as Xavier's repressed. Theoretically it could be an interesting combination, but the story just feels like a mess, pulling in too many directions, somehow radical and boring at the same time.

The book ends with the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, standing strong, ready to fight Nova. This is ridiculous -- as we saw last issue these guys were a joke. When Nova beats on them in the final page it is hardly the terrifying moment it should be -- she could probably beat them without powers. People admitted that last issue was a low point, but the problems there follow us here. Bad issues are not isolated problems, they effect the rest of the run.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Week on TV

This week Studio 60 hit an annoying new low. The Matt and Harriet plot has been bad, but it seemed like we were going to move beyond it. With a new character -- a bad one --introduced to create a new triangle, not so much. The Danny and Jordan plot was funny, I guess, but it is not enough to take the taste out of my mouth.

Lost was solid, but not nearly as good as the last two episodes. I love this show but I do hate the advertising, which claimed three major secrets would be revealed. I could stretch in an attempt to name the three, but they are minor if they are secrets at all (Jack's tattoos?). This happened at the "Fall Season Finale" as well, which was a great episode, but nothing like a finale; to make matters worse my cable info guide made it seem like Locke would be important, and he wasn't, which I found frustrating because I kept expecting him to do something. The show ranges from sold to brilliant, but the advertising gets in the way sometimes.

30 Rock was great, but I am not thinking of anything to say about it this week. The three lead actors are all just perfect.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Free Form Comments

Free Form Comments: anonymous personal attacks, random thoughts, questions, suggestions, ideas, information, requests to be added to the blog-roll, shameless self-promotion, and so on, put it in the comments.

I did a very active 12 hour day at Comic-Con yesterday, including a 6 hour period in which only the press was allowed. I got a good sense of everything there, the panels I wanted to attend were mostly on Friday, and I touched base with the people I wanted to find. I am going to swing by today, and maybe Sunday, but my attendance is going to be more sporadic, since I get the idea and saw what I came to see. Also I need to get some work done here. Keep me up on what I missed.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New York City Comi-Con

I will be at the New York City Comi-Con walking around on all three days with a press pass, but besides seeing Frank Miller I do not know what events I will be at. As a short skinny white guy I doubt I will stand out visually, but I will have a black messenger bag, and, if you care to notice the shoes, bright colored sneakers (green and white, or blue and yellow). Feel free to introduce yourself. See you there.

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 124

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men issue by issue; the label at the bottom of this post will take you to more.]

Ok, this is the worst art ever. Kordey seems VERY rushed here -- these are less like finished images than enlarged thumbnails. The only exception is the final image, which I quite like. It shows a good design sense nowhere visible in the issue anywhere else. Kordey is not bad, he is just not good here.

I think it was in the Authority that someone pointed out that the team could wipe out all life on Earth in 24 hours; Ellis and then Millar make you believe they could. The Shi'ar Imperial Guard, if I am understanding this correctly (and it is Morrison's fault for not being clear on this important point if I am not) have come to destroy all mutants on Earth, starting with Xavier's. Are they going to beat them all up individually? They don't seem at all up to the job of genocide: One is bitching about the temperature (Wolverine kills him instantly), the Cookoos take out another, Angel just punches one and with the help of the girls, he is out. The Beast makes them sound very tough, but he takes two down with two swipes of his claws, and takes another out by hitting him on the head with a statue. Jean beats one with a kick, an elbow to the face, and a slam against a wall. One is a sack of air so a touch from Wolverine sends him flying around the room like a balloon with a leak -- this does not seem like your best warrior for a thing called an Imperial Guard. He could be beaten with a toothpick. The Beast ties two up with the rubber body of a third, makes them vomit on each other, and smacks their heads together, like Moe from the Three Stoogers. I know Wolverine is tough but everyone he touches just goes down. And let's all remember how sick the X-Men are, weakened through robot-HIV. To top it all off Guardian says "You fought well. No force in the cosmos has ever disabled so many of the imperial superguardian elite." Well that surprises me, since even your lowest rent Lifetime Movie Network stalker can pull himself together after getting hit in the head with a statue, or punched in the face.

You want to think that these guys are not at their best because of Nova, but she is not controlling them -- she is controlling the Empress and they are following her orders. They have come to kill every mutant on Earth, but, seeing that fight, you feel like a half decent baseball team could end them altogether. It is a big letdown, because it was set up HUGE: in the last pages of issue 117 Nova says, looking at the Shi'ar battleship "Imagine the responsibility of all that destructive potential, the power to crack the firmament and extinguish suns ... Imagine that in the wrong hands." Well I did, and a dozen weirdos fighting like little girls was not so much what I pictured.

Meanwhile, on the Shi'ar battleship Cyclops and Xorn are about to get fired into space from something that looks almost exactly like a big double-barreled shot gun, one person stuffed awkwardly in each barrel. It is not an impressive image. This is surely be one of the lowest points in Morrison's New X-Men run.

A lot of people consider Morrison's New X-Men to be a classic, one of the great runs. If you are one of those people, I would like you to explain to me why we should use the word "classic" or "great" to describe a run that contains such a seriously flawed issue. I think "classic" and "great" have to be reserved for those comics that do not go off the rails like this.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Comics Out 21 February 2007

I got six comics today, which is a lot for me:

Mark Millar and Steven McNiven's Civil War #7: the thing ends, if you can call it that. Marvel and DC seem to have established permanent event climate, where a a lot of comics (Road to Civil War, Identity Crisis and the Omac Project and so on) lead up to a focal miniseries (Civil War, Infinite Crisis) for the mainstream press to read. The focal mini has a lot of spin-offs (Frontline, Infinite Crisis Aftermath) and repercussions in other books (Civil War and Infinite Crisis tie-ins) -- all of which lead to a transition event (52, The Inititave), and then the next one (Planet Hulk, whatever DC is going to call it when Ellis's Bleed gets properly established). I am getting very tired. This is why I like All Star Superman, Spiderman Loves Mary Jane, Astonishing X-Men, and Casanova. Cause they're, you know, just stories by people about characters.

Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson's Wonder Woman #4: sure it's crazy, and it comes out four times a year, and this plot is going to be aborted because Heinberg is leaving or was asked to leave -- but it is an entertaining book and the Dodson art is silly, cute, and fun. I like it.

Matt Fraction and Mike Deodato's Punisher War Journal #4: Fraction is a great writer, but the Punisher is not my favorite character, and I am having a little trouble getting into this.

Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, and David Aja's The Immortal Iron Fist #3: Aja is remarkable, elegant and visceral: there is a great 9 panel grid 14 pages in that is just simplicity itself. It is like something out of a much older comic book but it doesn't feel that way at all -- it feels just right. Even if it was not well written I would get it for the art, but thank god it is a good story to boot.

Douglas Rushkoff and Liam Sharp's Testament #15: the gods and monsters stand out in this issue especially.

Spider-Man Family #1: I got it for the Sean McKeever story, but it is not worth the price of the anthology.

Plus: I had a short (half hour) appearance on Comic Geek Speak talking about Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman. Be warned though, I was recovering from being more sick than I have ever been in my life, and my energy is not where it should be (as I told them when I was on). It is episode 227 and it is out on their site today.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

From John Ashbery's "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (Commonplace Book)

Just a quick commonplace entry today, from John Ashbery's "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror". I wanted to quote it this week since we have been talking about aesthetics and I have been defending my enjoyment of the more superficial aspects of Grant Morrison's New X-Men, such as the clothes. Here are a few lines from one of the most important poems by one of the most important poets of the century:

But your eyes proclaim
That everything is surface. The surface is what's there
And nothing can exist except what's there.

There are no words for the surface, that is,
No words to say what it really is, that it is not
Superficial but a visible core...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 123

[This post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men issue by issue. To read earlier posts in the series click the New X-Men link at the bottom of this post].

Is it a coincidence that one issue after Quitely leaves Beak is introduced, and in the three issues after that, drawn by Sciver and Kordey, Angel plays a main role? That when Quitely returns for two issues (121 and 122) these characters are nowhere to be found (except as part of the crowd attending Emma's lecture in 122)? That when Quitely leaves again in this issue, drawn by Sciver, the first page is a shot of Angel? This must be a coincidence -- certainly Quitely will eventually draw both Beak and Angel in prominent roles. But the fact that at this point Beak and Angel, who are against the spirit of the Morrison-Quitely manifesto, appear when Quitely leaves, disappear when he returns, and appear again when he leaves again, contributes seriously to the book's unevenness. It feels not just that the artists are isolated from each other, but that they are working against one another.

Sciver again is quite uneven. My hunch is that he is talented but rushed. He draws a great Jean Grey on page two, but very strange Wolverine claws on page 3; Cyclops looks right, but the Cookoo girl flirting looks just bizarre in the worst way.

Morrison, again following the lead of his artist (if that is even possible, since he may write these scripts before knowing who will draw then), writes very unevenly. Nova, it turns out, has infected the X-Men with nano-sentinels, giving them AIDS caused by tiny robots in their bloodstreams. That is a stroke of genius, especially when you place it in the context of all that they are dealing with at once: Charles dying from a series of motor neuron disorders, Nova returning with the Shi'ar, being "outed" and having to protect the media.

But Morrison also goes screwy on a couple of points. Everyone will tell me this is too minor to care about but when the Cookoos get annoyed with one of their own saying "she's kissing him now. That practically makes her a slut" that feels off to me; this is written at a time when the newspapers are going crazy about middle schools and oral sex --Morrison's Cookoos seems like an earlier generation of high school students, which is a problem given how progressive Morrison wants to be, looking at the future of post-humanism.

This looks especially bad in this issue where we get what should be Morrison's big statement on post-humanism: the last testament of Charles Xavier. It is a pretty thin testament.

"Charles saw that we were all just scared of being hurt and betrayed by one another."

"Everyone wants to be a persecuted minority these days, but the institute tries not to encourage that kind of defeatist world-view."

"Xavier's is a school. We're here to teach our students to take care of themselves and other people."

"[The X-men simply] monitor and resolve mutant emergency situations; we're here for everyone's protection."

"We're giving the world Mutant musicians, mutant doctors and athletes."

"Our telepaths can voyage into the depths of the human mind and free people from ancient destructive behavior patterns. Humans and mutants are branches on the same evolutionary tree. The very idea that we should fight is absurd; it's like one finger fighting another."

"All of us, humans and mutants, have to spend the rest of our lives in the future. Let's get together and make it a nice place to live."

Jean Grey calls this "an outpost of the future, here and now" but it just sounds like a lot of lame self-help books, and perfectly traditional ideas about education. Morrison is misunderstanding his strengths: he is a fantastic storyteller, with great sci-fi crazy ideas and a lot of heart. But he is not a philosopher, nor does he do ground level, day to day realism very well.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

TV: Week in Review

Lost has never been better than the last two episodes, both of which introduced new twists on the flashback structure. I also saw Studio 60 (maybe the best episode yet, but still nowhere near West Wing or Sports Night), Ugly Betty and 30 Rock. If people want to talk about this week's TV, including shows I should be watching, do it in the comments to this post. I will have a few words to say about Lost in the comments.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Free Form Comments

Anonymous personal attacks, random questions, suggestions, recommendations, thoughts, requests to be added to the blogroll, shameless self promotion, whatever: do it here.

For my part I want to thank They sent a pretty good number of viewers over here this week, I think because on Monday's post I mentioned how great it was when Morrison had Logan and Scott sitting around while the women, more powerful than everyone else, did all the work.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 122

Quitely's cover is again fantastic, and strange: I am not quite sure what to make out of Lilandra's pose here, but I like it; it is very artificial, in a good way. I would love to know if it is based off of another image, but right now I have no guesses.

The Shi'ar are all fantastic characters, right up Morrison and Quitely's alley -- all crazy and alien, and weird. The Steersman losing control of the ship is a fantastic image to open with, and even minor details like a character activating "penta-vision" ("I can see around corners, through walls, into minds") or going into "4-Space" are great fun; Morrison always knows how to put an odd prefix in front of a normal word so that it makes sense, but becomes uncanny. Quitely does great, tall panels in this scene, and Nova saying "Become Insane for Me" to destroy someone is devastating. I want to read a whole Morrison-Quitely book with these guys.

Morrison has us enter the scene after Nova has already done most of her damage. On the one hand this is disappointing: I wanted to see the fight. On the other hand it shows a lot of balls: Morrison has established well that Nova is tough, and we will believe she simply ruined them; we don't have to see the fight. It is a daring choice and it works pretty well, I think.

Back with the X-Men, Emma announces that "the traditional human education system ... is to be scrapped" in favor of something more mutant. It is unclear what this will look like -- the only suggestion as to what will be different is feedback from students will be important, which is hardly a new idea. Later in the issue Scott and Jean have a fight; Jean is welcoming the new post-human changes at the school, but Scott fears they should not be acting like a master race. Jean is inspired by Charles's notes for the school but we don't get any idea what they are. Then we are told the world media is being invited to the school to see the unveiling of Charles new ideas, his last will and testament. If Nova is going to kill him he wants to make it work for him, and speak to the world. That is a beautiful moment, but we will never really hear these ideas except it small bits that do not seem interesting at all, like the glimpses of the show within a show on Studio 60. Morrison is a storyteller who is only playing at being a philosopher, at least so far. In the best line in this issue, Emma says "The whole world is watching us now. We must be nothing less than fabulous." (Thank god this was not a Kordey fill in, or unintentional irony would have ruined the scene). Morrison is fabulous, but it is all style over substance. More post-human ideas might be better, but the lack of them is forgivable, I think, at least in this issue. It will become more of a problem as we continue -- Morrison keeps suggesting he has these great post-human ideas; that he does not is OK, but he should stop claiming to to often, as it gets distracting.

We learn that Nova has carefully organized her attack and that it is STILL going according to plan -- she booby trapped her body so that when Charles was trapped in it he would have Alzheimer's, a motor neuron disease and "a new form of degenerative Creutzfeld Jacob disease." This is Morrison at his best; only he would see the body as a trap in this way. Nova will want to watch Charles die; since he has a week to live this gives us the time-line for her return (with a Shi'ar battleship), which is a nice touch.

Not so nice is the further confusion over what Nova actually is: she was born without a body of her own. Her mother's fall last issue, caused by her fighting back against Charles in the womb, must have killed Nova's body. So she is "living emotional energy, formless, immense and unique" that "improvised" a body using Charles's cells. This is a major and confusing shift in this character, much less interesting than the evolution idea when she first appeared that she was to mutants what mutants are to humans; also much more confusing than just being an evil twin. It also seems that without the body she created she will not have access to a "full range" of various mutant abilities; now she will just be an evil emotional psychic, which is a lot less interesting. Also confusing is when Hank alludes to her connection to the U-Men. What that connection was, I missed. She was a great character, and now she is quite muddy.

Finally we pick up Xorn, and our watch for Xorn-Magneto connections. I have only two. 1. If Xorn is Magneto, then Magneto learned Chinese. Fine. I suppose there are lots of ways he could have learned Chinese, but little things like this mess up a twist I think, which needs to be sudden and smooth. 2. If Xorn is Magneto in this scene then Magneto brings a dead bird back to life. The monk swears it was dead. Maybe the monk is lying or was tricked about this; maybe Magneto fed the bird little metal shavings for weeks so that when it died he could make it look like he brought it back to life at just the moment Scott walks in. Maybe there is some way to use magnets to make light like he does around the bird as he does whatever it is he does. I have a hard time imagining Magneto doing these things, but fine, I will admit they are possible. They are just little details that I do not find persuasive. They get on my nerves, in retrospect.

Finally we have the great two page spread where one of the Shi'ar, destroyed from his trip, tries to warn someone that Nova is coming and the only creatures around are cows. On of my favorite ending beats of all time, in any story.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Comics Out 14 February 2007

1. Grant Morrison and John Van Fleet's Batman 663 (a stand alone issue about the Joker; this is Morrison's return to the book after a hiatus of a few months)

2. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men 20 (part two of six, and four issues from the end of the run)

3. Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova 7 (the conclusion to the first "album" [collection])

I was sent a preview of the Casanova issue, and reviewed it (very spoiler free) recently on January 22, 2007 -- check the archives. I will review Astonishing and Batman in the comments when I get the chance.

In comics news this week, Newsarama has Marvel and DC solicits out (All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder 5 will be out in May). Two other random bits of news: one from last week:

1. The Green Lantern went into the Bleed suggesting that the DCU is going to adopt the idea from Ellis fully, allowing characters to cross to and from the Wildstorm universe and beyond.

2. I have not read Spiderman: Reign; it is apparently a Dark Knight Returns take on Spiderman, which could be fun if it was parodic and done right (but it is probably not done right). At one point in the story (spoilers ho) we learn how Mary Jane died (this story is set in the future like DKR): Peter tells us that it was not just his blood that was poisoned by the radioactive spider, but all his "fluids" -- he says he was killing her every time he loved her. Radioactive Semen. I don't know if that is very funny, or very very wrong.

Review. Recommend. Discuss.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From W.H. Auden's The Dyer's Hand (Commonplace Book)

In my post on New X-Men 121 I wrote "Everyone looks like fashion models again, and the aims of the manifesto come rushing back. The Beak and Angel are not around to mess with the aesthetic integrity of this issue. " That is not a very nice thing to say. The fact that I side with the uber-cool, uber-sexy and against the "freaks" like Beak and Angel does not make me look like a good guy. Even worse: this is an X-Men book, in which the "freaks" are a long-established metaphor for the nerds and high-school outcasts. As it stands, I end up looking like I am rooting for a world in which football players and cheerleaders are the only high school students visible and everyone who reads or has acne is shoved in a dark corner and forgotten about. Even worse, I myself was an outcast bookworm as a teenager, so I come of as self-loathing. And all I wanted to do was appreciate good comics.

To make a clear statement where I stand on this I have selected W.H. Auden for a commonplace book quote today, from the Dyer's Hand. Replace "poem" with "X-Men comic book" as you read:
A society which was really like a good poem, embodying the aesthetic virtues of beauty, order, economy and subordination of detail to the whole, would be a nightmare of horror for, given the historical reality of actual men, such a society could only come into being through selective breeding, extermination of the mentally and physically unfit, absolute obedience to its Director, and a large slave caste kept out of sight in cellars.

Long story short: a good comic book is not a model of a good society. My comments on this blog are about good comics, not good social principles. I am interested in aesthetics first, which is why I blog on Grant Morrison and John Ashbery and not president Bush; philosophy, theory, politics, psychology, and the rest, come second.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 121

[This post is part of a series looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men run issue by issue; to read the previous posts just click the labels tab at the bottom of this post.]

Annnnnnd... were back. Emma and Jean enter a bizarre psychic dream world to rescue Xavier's trapped consciousness. One of the comments that sparked this series of posts was from Stephen Frug pointing out that I am not always clear if it is the writing or the art that made New X-Men a failure -- for whatever reason, Morrison's writing just seems better with better artists: Quitely returns in this issue and suddenly Morrison seems to be a much better writer than he was in "Germ Free Generation."

Everyone looks like fashion models again, and the aims of the manifesto come rushing back. The Beak and Angel are not around to mess with the aesthetic integrity of this issue. A childish and scatological sense of humor visible in the last three issues has been replaced with a sense of humor more fun and more weird: Emma suddenly has a flask even though her costume is essentially a second skin which has NO POCKETS it could have emerged from. That's funny. So is the image at the end of Cyclops and Wolverine sitting bored in the hallway, Wolverine reading a book and Scott listening music. The X-women are more powerful and more important and these guys have nothing to do but sit and wait.

The dream-like images in this issue -- crafted by both Quitely and Morrison as we can see in the script that was online at the time -- are haunting, amazing, and simple (no hidden codes here, just an uncanny, weirdly-lit beauty): Jean, for example, has hair in the shape of flame which at one point becomes the Phoenix symbol. Morrison references both Dali and Blake in the script, but they are not necessary or even helpful: they are guides for Quitely rather than keys for the reader. These images and this world are Morrison and Quitely at their best.

The world they build conceals their most audacious image -- in the dream-like and psychically loaded context it seems almost normal, but slow down and realize what you are looking at: Jean Grey, beautiful and powerful and dressed in her fantastically designed sexy black leather uniform is covered in sperm. Sure, she is tiny and this is her psychic view of the moment of conception from inside the womb, the birth of Xavier and Nova. But still. The infamous "camel toe" cover was edgy but this is way beyond that. I have a hunch this is the most audacious panel in any X-Men comic book, and Morrison makes it work. His genius in a mainstream comic book -- his ability to get away with anything -- is nowhere more evident that here. Morrison and Quitely have come to shake things up, and -- boy howdy -- they do. Making Xavier the aggressor against his unborn sister is the main plot point, but this is the image that says with me.

(Just so we are all clear on the plot: the unborn Xavier tries to kill his unborn sister physically, but she strikes back with a mutant ability, causing their mother to fall down the stairs; we will follow how this plot unfolds in future issues, but Nova dies in this fall and survives as disembodied psychic energy, building a body later from the remains of her physical self.)

New X-Men 121 is part of a Marvel stunt to challenge creators to tell a story without dialogue. Clearly Morrison and Quitely are up to the task, but, in a move I am at a loss to understand, they fudge the rules when they don't need to, providing instant message style "emoticons" that age badly, and words written in goo. This is a minor flaw -- I think the issue would be better without them, but they don't screw up what these guys are up to, especially because they do not act as any kind of a crutch. The story stands perfectly without them, and they do not intrude too much.

Casandra Nova's body is in a shell that is clearly a forerunner to the WE3 armor, and Jean casually assembling structures from bricks as she strides confidently toward her goal is almost straight out of Dark City. The key context we need to judge this issue, however, is Joss Whedon. At the time Whedon did not seem like a threatening influence -- he was a TV guy after all. But in light of the fact that he is the guy who inherits Morrison's story in Astonishing X-Men, the famous episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Hush," cannot be avoided. In Whedon's "Hush" creatures come and steal everyone's voices, and a large portion of the episode is devoid of dialogue. "Hush" (2001) was probably the inspiration for all of Marvel's "Nuff said" silent comics (2002), but Morrision points more directly to Whedon: though it is, perhaps, an obvious line of dialogue, both "Hush" and New X-Men 121 break silence with the same words: in both, characters say "We need to talk..." and then the story ends. Morrison and Quitely stand on their own merrits, but anyone who thinks the Morrison-Whedon relationship is one way (Whedon using Morrison's characters in Astonishing) needs to look at Morrison's VERY Whedonesque Vimanarama (written during Whedon's tenure with Morrison characters) and this issue of New X-Men. It is subtle, but these guys have been squaring off for years.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Free Form Comments

Anonymous personal attacks, shameless self-promotion, random thoughts, questions, suggestions, recommendations, requests to be added to the blog roll, introductions (if you have never posted a comment before please do) -- whatever -- put it in the comments to this post.

For my part, I am thinking instead of a weekly post on Lost, maybe a TV week in review post (like the comics out post) every Friday or something, in addition to free form comments. Let me know. The only new shows I watch, in addition to Lost, are Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, and Studio 60 (which I will just complain about every week, apparently), but obviously you guys who watch other stuff will talk to each other.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Grant Morrison's New X-Men 120

[this post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men; to read the rest of the posts, just click the New X-Men label at the end of this post.]

This issue begins just like the last one -- the cover is a fantastic Quitely image of a sexy Jean Grey, the first page is Kordey's dumpy Wolverine, covered with Angel's strawberry milkshake. That could be funny, but I think it is disappointing. The giant title card on the next page spread is a design disaster, especially compared to Quitely's elegant and reversible New X-Men logo.

We have a scene of a U-Man who does not want to cut Cyclops's head off; seeing these guys as nervous foot soldiers brings the story down a notch, lessening the High Drama, but it is interesting to see these guys as regular people, I suppose (though very little is done with it in the end). We have some language in this scene we will see again: "Our rules are post-human rules ... a whole new humanity." These lines are much less interesting in the mouths of the bad guys, but Xavier will take them up soon.

I am confused as to how the U-Men can know about Cerebra but not anticipate how powerful Jean Grey is going to be -- they can "switch [their] minds to 'off'" (not Morrison's best line), but they seem unprepared to deal with simple telekinesis. Morrison gives the impression that these guys are just a bunch of jerks, which is less exciting than giving the X-Men threats they deserve, threats like Casandra Nova in the third issue. The U-Men even say that mutants don't feel pain, which is a crummy racist cliche, realistic and lame. I want to say that a villain such Magneto is better because his ideology is more seductive and interesting, but Morrison's Magneto (so often intelligent and subtle) will turn this around, and claim ordinary humans don't feel any pain. These guys don't have an ideology at all -- if someone can explain to me the connection between a germ free life sealed off from the fallen world, and transplanting organs from mutants they consider cattle into their own bodies, I would like to hear it. Morrison's X-Men have still not found their post-sexy ideology either -- Scott says "We're X-Men, not vigilantes," which is confusing, since they bombed that facility in China. How is that not taking the law into your own hands? Morrison has lost his center, and is now writing an unfocused mess.

A pop-sexy X-Men should have grand villains they can look great fighting; Morrison is up to something else -- he wants to bring these characters down to earth, so characters such as a nervous girl with eight sets of lips on her neck confront a bunch of nervous racist jerks. When Jean Grey gets involved her telekinesis -- which is powered by the cosmic strength of the Phoenix and later in the book we will learn can manipulate mater on the molecular level -- is used to make the U-Men throw up in their helmets, and shit their pants. I see how that is funny, in the abstract, but, like Preacher, it is not the kind of funny I am looking for -- it seems juvenile behavior from the people Morrison wants us to see as the future of humanity on earth here and now. Bad art makes this worse -- and Kordey is especially rushed here, reusing his own art whenever he can, and drawing very ugly faces on Jean Grey when she should look like an alien goddess.

When Mr. Sublime falls of the building it is a weak end to a bad villain. I don't know if it is Kordey or Morrison's decision to bring the whole thing down to an even lower level by having his toupee fall off just before he falls, but it is cartoonish, cliched, lame, and better suited to the tone of a movie like One Crazy Summer.

LOST: Season 3 Episode 7

I am going to try a new feature today, in addition to the post on the New X-Men (which will be up later today): Anyone who wants to talk about the most recent episode of Lost can do so in the comments to this post. I am going to say what I have to say in the first comment, so as not to spoil anything for people looking at the main page. If you want to talk about Lost, do so, because if this does not generate any interest, it will not be up next week.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Comics Out 7 February 2007

The only comic book I picked up this week was Jeff Smith's Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil. I like Jeff Smith, I guess, but this lost me in the same way that his Bone did: it is sweet and the art is clean and nicely designed but I don't really see what all the fuss is about. Especially since Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely are doing a much better aw-shucks hero in All Star Superman -- a book in which our sweet hero, instead of being mired in nostalgia, keeps slamming up against forward-looking sci-fi madness, shockingly well-designed creatures, and the brilliantly characterized, realistic and frightening Lex Luthor. Someone is more than welcome to explain to me the wonder of Jeff Smith; I am open to learning what it is about this guy that gets people so excited.

In comics news, Joss Whedon is off the Wonder Woman movie, for no reason other than creative differences, basically. That is sad, but there is good Joss Whedon news: Newsarama got a hold of a preview copy of the first issue of next month's Joss Whedon written Buffy comic book (which is being unofficially referred to as "Season 8"), and gave it a great review. So something to look forward to, for those of us who are Whedon people.

Also Newsarama has a preview of the new Grant Morrison Batman issue, which it says is out today, but I didn't see it. I seem to remember this happeneing before.

Review, Recommend, Discuss.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

From The King James Bible (Commonplace Book)

"Wherefore I say unto you: all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." (Matthew 12:31)

"But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." (Mark 3:29)

What is the sin that shall not be forgiven? Nobody knows, though footnotes to the bible, which conflict each other, try to make people feel like this passage is not something believers should worry about. It is all quite obscure; and that's an area where you want a lot of obscurity -- on the subject of the secret crime against god that cannot be forgiven. One of my favorite bits in the bible.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Grant Morrison’s New X-Men 119

[this post is part of a series of posts looking at Grant Morrison's New X-Men; to read the rest of the posts, just click the New X-Men label at the end of this post.]

In the comments to my post about New X-Men 118, Ping made a very sound objection: I have been complaining that Morrison abandoned his call – visible in the first three issues and the manifesto – for pop-sexy X-Men; a work should be judged on its own merits, and since Morrison has left pop-sexy behind, I should too. Otherwise I will be like the person that complains that the Sopranos is a poor role model for children, as if the show is attempting to be a good role model for children and failing miserably.

But I can’t drop the pop-sexy X-Men idea because Morrison has not yet properly abandoned it. It still hovers around spoiling whatever direction he wants to replace it with (possibly the virtues of freaky, ugly, useless mutant children). Morrison has not changed directions – he has adopted a new direction in addition to the old one, and the two are pulling each other apart. The evidence is the juxtaposition of the cover for 119 and its interior.

The cover is Quitely at his fashion cool best: Angel looks like a hip-hop star – her name is on her helmet in graffiti, she has at least eight rings on, and a fantastic pair of shoes to go with the outfit. She is confident, powerful, and hovers over a mass of normal and freaky people she has either left behind, or who stand with her in solidarity.

In the issue Kordey – whose vastly inappropriate ugly art style I have already blogged about – will draw her vomiting on her food in a diner while she bitches like the worst kind of high school girl and crashes into stuff. At the time I thought the cover was a vision of what she would become in the course of Morrison’s story, but in retrospect we know she will never wear that outfit or stand that cool. My objection is not just that the art in the issue makes everyone look horrible and crummy – it is that the cover looks so cool, and the issue – like the run – breaks under the stress of violently conflicting artistic temperaments.

Mr. Sublime is still a silly villain -- giving Emma a signed copy of his book as an insult is just dumb -- but Morrision does give him two brilliant lines in the same scene: he says to Emma “maybe we could split you into living shards and turn you into some kind of kinky chandelier” and “liquid diamond lipstick: heck of a good name for a band.” Sublime setting off Cyclops’s visor causing it to shoots the crotch of a statue of David, is juvenile and lame, but the scene where Jean feels the presence of something “crawling around the edges of our lives” is haunting, simple, and powerful. Morrison writes a beautiful and sad story for the guy who owns the diner – whose wife was killed in childbirth delivering a baby with mutant spikes – but also writes a very strange moment where Jean calls the police when the U-Men attack. Really? The one woman army calls the cops? Who will defend the school with, what, guns (tear gas won’t work since the guys are in self contained suits)? And, in a repeat of the end of last issue, we end on a bizarre anti-climax, the U-Men attacking the school led by Jean Grey (who Sublime dismisses as “one uppity redhead”): we have not established the U-Men as nearly scary or powerful enough to justify our worrying about Jean Grey for the next 30 days, and Sublime’s pointless overconfidence here does not help. The art pulls in two directions (one awful), and Morrison’s writing runs hot and cold.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Free Form Comments

All off topic posts go here: random questions, thoughts, anonymous criticism, suggestions, self-promotion (if you have a blog tell people what you have been writing about), announcements, requests to be added to the blog-roll, whatever. If you read but do not comment, introduce yourself here and start commenting.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Brad Winderbaum's Satacracy 88: Episode Six

The new episode of Satacracy 88 is up on; check it out (link on the right), vote, then come back here for the commentary.

This sixth episode of Satacracy has debts to Batman: Tales of the Dark Knight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a sixth season episode Brad has never seen), and plays with material from Nightmare on Elm Street in a fun way (objects from dreams can come back with you). But the influence I want to focus on in this post is the origin of all three.

Like the best science fiction (Dark City, The Truman Show, the first Matrix film, the Invisibles), Satacracy has found its Gnostic heritage. Creation is a flawed and dangerous illusion, a horrific prison world, and an inner light is your only guide, against all other influences. Even those we are closest to, those we want to trust, may be part of the nightmare, soldiers sent to keep us in chains with kind words and good intentions. Just as the Gnostic messiah -- or messiahs, as there are more than one -- enters the world of the dream (the world where we live), where he may become ensnared both physically and psychically and forget his true mission, Angela enters a dream with a mission she is in danger of forgetting. It is important that her most dangerous foes are kindly and familiar. This is how they come for you.

The casting of Max Ghezzi as Dr. Johnson is perhaps the best casting yet. He looks almost nice, almost right, but something about him is subtly off. It may be important that his namesake -- 18th century man of letters Dr. Samuel Johnson -- was famed for insisting on absolute accuracy in in all things, for hating illusion and having an almost pathological fear of the madness that might result from too much illusion. It is important that in the world of the asylum Brad has abandoned fancy camera work, weird music, and pulp effects of any kind. A dose of realism made his sci-fi effective; now his main character is in danger from an overdose of sober realism, which will kill her more than natural spark.

Brad and actress-and-co-writer Diahnna Nicole Baxter have made Angela's ultimate choice in this episode the best one yet, a genuine dilemma: Angela needs the Truth, and was told to hold onto it at any cost by Loyce; in the dream world it is Loyce who insists she tell the truth, but now it no longer seems like Truth with a capital T -- she did kill Martin, but that feels beside the point. Her choice is not between truth and illusion, but between mere accuracy, and the gnosis of her inner light.