Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Friday, September 21st, 2012 at 01:00:33 PM
About two years ago, David Brothers recommended Brandon Graham’s King City in a conversation and in a series of great posts at 4th Letter. At that time, there was no collected edition, and only selected issues were available in my local store. I nodded, politely smiled, and bookmarked the posts (which also include thesethreegems). I made a mental note to pick up King City if it ever came out in a collection. I was in the middle of reading something or watching some “epic”/”novelistic” television show, and had a long list of things to read and watch in one of my queues so I was in no rush. I read an issue or two, but didn’t really connect with the book until I picked up the collection published by Image Comics earlier this year. After I read the first issue, I was hooked. When I was reading the fourth issue, this song came up in my shuffle:
Posted by Jamaal Thomas on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 at 12:00:48 PM
“They try to find some hidden darkness or something like that,” he sighs, “or ‘this proves, this proves!’ – naw, it just proves I said something that day, you know, which either I still agree with or don’t. Why do I have to defend all of this? I think people just want to be mad and want to fight all the time, so I’m gonna join in now!”
Sometimes it feels like Grant Morrison’s spent the last year and a half on a bad will publicity tour designed to disappoint people like me. I’m one of those readers who were persuaded to return to the superhero genre by Morrison and Quitely’s (seemingly) audacious take on the X-Men. There was a moment when I thought that Morrison fulfilled the potential of the genre for an adult audience – a writer who specialized in witty layered narratives and who understood the importance of visual storytelling. Morrison managed to appeal to those who hungered for meaning from the culture they consumed while spinning an entertaining yarn.
That appeal was complemented by the public persona that Morrison constructed over the years: a new-age counter culture icon. He talked about Buddhism and aliens and psychedelic drugs. He espoused anti-corporate philosophies. He evinced radicalism. We were tempted to think of him as some kind of post-modern pop culture Gnostic visionary. A philosopher. A chaos magician. In the last year and change, Grant made a series of comments in interviews and his Supergods book that seemed to come from a different place. A guy who used to embrace the paradoxes of the human condition in books like the Invisibles and Seaguy sounded like he was more interested in the mythology around pop culture icons than the struggles of the men who created them. It felt like he was turning a blind eye to what Tom Spurgeon’s described as the original sin of the American comics industry to embrace the stories.
David Brothers has tackled Morrison’s hypocrisy over at 4th Letter, but I’d like to approach this from a slightly different angle. I think Morrison’s heel turn has been incredibly helpful for comics readers and fans.
A few words on the substance of his comments:
Morrison has become the master of the disingenuous bad faith argument. All of his critics are clownish strawmen. Matt Seneca’s transformed from an impassioned critic into some kind of performance artist who ate Supergods out of incoherent mania. I may not agree with all of Matt’s points, but he deserves engagement, not condescension. Morrison’s critics werent holding him personally responsible for the Siefel/Shuster suit, they were just holding him to account for the things he actually said or wrote. But I guess it’s easier to pretend otherwise.
But that’s not my favorite part. The best bit is when he doubles down on his position on the relationship between creators and the ‘Big Two’ publishers and drops a subliminal Alan Moore dis that would make Jay-Z proud. We’re supposed to ignore the fact that Moore wasn’t some yokel who signed his ideas away for magic beans, but a guy who thought that DC violated the terms of its contract with him and acted in bad faith after benefiting from a windfall (long story short: the rights to Watchmen were supposed to revert to the creators after the book went out of print. Neither party anticipated the explosive growth of the trade market). I find it hard to believe that Morrison doesn’t know that contracts are always subject to interpretation and frequently fail to address unforeseeable advances in technology or changes to the marketplace.
So, I’ve reached the conclusion that he is mostly full of crap. At the same time, I think the Morrison heel turn can be a teachable moment for comics fans (and I’m including myself in this). We need to reevaluate our relationship with creators.
One of the best things about the comics industry is that the line between creator and audience is a lot fuzzier than it is in other American cultural industries. American comics is still a pretty cozy industry. It’s pretty easy to engage with creators at cons, comic stores and online. If you have the talent, the barriers to entry to becoming a creator are pretty low. So it’s easy to forget that the main reason that the public personae of constructed by most creators (and almost all other entertainment figures) are essentially fictions. They’re created to evoke specific responses from the audience and to generate revenue. I know that sounds cynical, but it’s a perfectly natural phenomenon, especially for creators who work on books published by Marvel or DC. Most of the interviews we read are arranged to promote a particular project or the creator’s personal brand. There’s an inescapably commercial element to most of our interactions with creators at store signings and conventions – even if you’re not going to buy a specific product, you’re being cultivated as a potential audience for a future product. This shouldn’t be mistaken for an ethical judgment of any kind, it’s just reality. Creators are in the business of selling the cultural products they create to an audience who will appreciate them.
So it stands to reason that a rational creator would present the public with a version of themselves that’s most conducive to selling those products. It makes sense for Grant Morrison or Alan Moore to emphasize the more radical, countercultural side of their personalities when selling products to an audience that would be most receptive to those ideas. Neither man would gain from reminding the audience that they are also hard-nosed businessmen. But we forget. We confuse an advertising campaign with reality. We never should have assumed that Grant Morrison was anything more than “a freelance commercial writer who sells stories to pay the bills“.
I’m not sure if the version of Morrison that inspired a thriving online community of freethinkers and radicals represents all or any of the real Grant Morrison, and I don’t think it matters.
These interviews should inspire us to rethink the notion of fandom. We shouldn’t stop loving the books or respecting the people who create them. We can still value online and in-person interactions with creators, and pore over their interviews and profiles. We just shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when they change their public persona. We should resist that sense of false sense of familiarity or intimacy with people who are essentially strangers.
Sometimes creators modify their public persona because they want to emphasize a different part of their personality, or because their views on a subject have evolved. Or maybe it’s just part of a public relations campaign of some kind. We shouldn’t stop pointing out hypocrisies or falsehoods, especially since most journalists covering the culture beat are hopelessly compromised (either because they are enthusiasts or because of the commercial interests of their employers who rely on the industry they cover for advertising revenue). But we shouldn’t kid ourselves.
We never knew Grant Morrison. If we’re disappointed in him, that’s our problem. It says a lot more about us than it does about him.
Posted by Chris Eckert on Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 at 11:08:36 PM
It’s the end of the month, so that means another installment of 5-10-15-20. Not a lot of blockbuster debuts to discuss this month, although Vertigo has a couple of big scores that I probably don’t spend nearly enough time discussing. Do you have strong feelings about either book? Let me know in the comments!
Posted by Chris Eckert on Monday, July 16th, 2012 at 07:39:21 PM
last week, I’ve been doing some research about Marvel’s recent headlong dive into doubleshipping many of their titles. As has been discussed elsewhere, the accelerated scheduling is most often noticed when it derails a book someone is enjoying with an inconsistent revolving door of creators. But if you’re not a regular Weekly Wednesday Shopper, it’s easy to overlook situations where everything falls into place.
Assuming no last minute derails in the production of the final two issues, Jeff Parker will have written thirty-four issues of Hulk before the title switches over to She-Hulk in October. By the time the final issues ships (scheduled for August 29) there will have been twenty-three months between the first and last issues of the run. That’s eleven extra issues above and beyond the standard monthly output.
This sort of frequency is increasingly less unusual at Marvel, but what does seem unusual is the consistency at work: every single issue has shipped with the solicited artist on board, and the changeovers between artists has occured at logical storyline endpoints. With only a few exceptions, even the inkers, colorists, and letterers have remained consistent and worked on all the same issues as their associated pencillers. And to top it off, there have only been six pencillers — Elena Casagrande, Dale Eaglesham, Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuinness, Carlo Pagulayan, and Patrick Zircher — across nearly three dozen issues. The recently relaunched Daredevil hit that number within twelve issues, Ultimates had EIGHTartists on itsfirst dozen issues.
All of the creators and editors involved deserve kudos, and beyond simple logistics and work ethic, Hulk has continued to be an entertaining read, performing the seemingly impossible trick of taking an incredibly goofy and gimmicky Jeph Loeb “creation“/murder mystery and turning it into a compelling story I look forward to reading.
All joking aside, I am still pulling together information on the doubleshipping, and I wanted to work on my chart making. More to come!
Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, July 12th, 2012 at 06:55:40 AM
Marvel released their October 2012 solicitations earlier this week, with numerous mysterious gaps that will presumably be filled in this weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con. In the meanwhile, here are nine things about the information they did release that I apparently found interesting enough to blog about! These mostly boil down to complaints, but I tried to keep it balanced, and I am interested in reading at least half of the books I discuss. Expect a longer post about double-shipping titles after all the SDCC hoopla dies down. But for now, check out these Covers ‘N’ Comments!
Uncanny Avengers #1: I’m not about to speculate on what will shake out of the Avengers vs. X-Men mega-event, nor am I going to crack wise about putting John Cassaday on a flagship monthly book — his track record shows that he’s one of the more prolific artists to get tagged with the “slow” label — but I do want to comment on one of the eight variant covers announced for the book: the “Deadpool Call Me Maybe” variant by “TBA”. I’m not the target market for variant covers or for Internet Meme Jokes, but I find it amusing that this is clearly a joke someone at Marvel came up with too close to deadline to actually commission the cover before soliciting it. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Chris Eckert on Sunday, July 1st, 2012 at 11:05:59 PM
Like sands through an hourglass, this is the latest installment of 5-10-15-20. I know this is a little late, but how am I supposed to remember that June only has 30 days? It’s not like there’s a children’s rhyme about it. Or calendars.
As always feedback, particularly about how you’d like to see more ____________ or less ____________ is appreciated! On with the history.
Posted by Chris Eckert on Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 at 11:05:21 PM
Most of my posts lately have been trawling through comic book history, and this is no exception. This month marks the 25th Anniversary of me being an active comic reader. In June of 1987 I had just finished up 2nd grade and began deliberately following contemporary comics with Avengers #283. As detailed in the Origin Stories podcast with David Brothers, the Avengers were my entry point into superhero comics: my dad’s collection was low on Spider-Man or X-Men content, and most of the 1960s DC stuff seemed hopelessly corny, even for a little kid. But the Avengers encompassed the whole Marvel Universe, with a sprawling rotating cast and guest stars. When I checked in a decade and a half after my father’s collection cut off, there were still familiar faces — think anyone who turned up in this summer’s movie — along with a bunch of new faces. It was exciting to see tradition and innovation side by side, and I know I thought in twenty five years newcomers like La Espirita and Captain Marvel could be my generation’s Captain America and Iron Man.
For the uninitiated, Dredd is an adaptation of the famous British comics property created by John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra (and serialized in 2000AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine) about a police state in a post-apocalyptic world. In this world, the varied actors/stakeholders in the criminal justice system have been reduced to a heavily armed ‘judge’ who acts as law enforcement, prosecutor, judge and fact-finder.
I first got hooked on the Dredd books through the Eagle Comics reprint series (titled Judge Dredd) and story collections picked up at comics conventions. I’ve always viewed Dredd series of stories as a high satire of the Reagan/Thatcher era, specifically that strain of neo-conservatism that produced the so-called “broken windows” theory and the modern carceral state, but it also works as a celebration of that period. Although citizens of Mega City One don’t have many of the civil liberties that we hold dear, Wagner and Grant depict a world crippled by the kind of urban decay that could have only existed in Rudy Giuliani’s worst nightmares. In this world, the idea that the proper role of law enforcement is not to solve crime, but maintain order must be incredibly seductive. Mike Konczal explained the logic behind this ideology with the following :
There’s an important rhetorical trick that the Broken Window ideology brought to the table, one that caught progressives off-guard and brought in liberals hook-line-and-sinker. As Bernard Harcourt has noted , it transforms the idea of offensive acts into harmful acts. Public drinking and loitering aren’t harms, but they are offensive to some. Broken Windows allowed people to believe the notion that offensive behavior created (by creating the potentials for and inevitability of) legal harms. It also became backwards compatible, with people being able to think that harmful acts were obviously preceded by an offensive act; criminalize and ruthless prosecute the offensive acts, and you can prevent the real harms from taking place.
The more you read Judge Dredd stories, the more attractive his worldview becomes, especially if you alternate between the longer arcs (Apocalypse War, Block Mania, the Judge Child storyline) and the shorter stories which frequently featured Dredd punishing a citizen for some quality of life crime. Dredd faces more traditional villains in many of the longer stories, which makes it easier for the reader to start thinking of him as a heroic super cop. By the end of these stories, Dredd’s saved the lives of millions, and one would almost forget that this is the same guy who punishes people for ridiculous things. At it’s best, the series made me hate Dredd (and the system he represented) and want him to succeed. I felt drawn into a queasy complicity with a eerily familiar police state.
As a reader of long-form serialized superhero comics, the serial’s unique blend of worldbuilding, long-term plotting and (close to) real-time storytelling within the confines of a procedural also present an interesting alternative model to the Marvel/DC approach. You can have a popular quasi-superhero procedural where the characters age and the series progresses in real time.
This is the second attempt to adapt Judge Dredd as a feature film. The first (released in 1995) tried to toe the line between satire and action, but ultimately failed because the scope of the story was just too large . In the film, Dredd has to combat an existential threat to the status quo while attempting to clear his name of false murder charges. It’s an interesting premise, but the audience didn’t get enough of an opportunity to experience the status quo. Director Danny Cannon sets incredibly high stakes, but I had no investment in the outcome (other than the generalized non-specific support for the ‘good guys’). We needed to see more of Judge Dredd being Judge Dredd, not ex-Judge Dredd. It looks like Pete Travis is going to try to avoid this problem in Dredd by keeping it simple. Dredd and a rookie (Judge Anderson) take on a drug-dealing gang that’s occupied a city block. Contra Alyssa Rosenberg , I think Dredd stories are most effective when the character just does his job. If the filmmakers give the audience a look into the lives of the ordinary citizens of Mega City One, I think they’ll question the nature of the system in a more organic way.
I love that the trailer starts with the criminal (played by Lena Headey , who is an excellent ‘villain’ in the Game of Thrones series). The high stakes are set immediately. It’s a dark, post-apocalyptic world. One city. Many criminals. A strange (and illegal) reality altering drug. We need Dredd.
The trailer looks like it’s heavily influenced by Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption, which was one of my favorite action movies of the last couple of years. There’s something incredibly compelling about watching someone face impossible odds.
I haven’t read the script, but I hope that the film will also prod the audience to examine their feelings about the criminal justice system, state sanctioned violence and the increasingly blurry line between counterinsurgency doctrine and domestic law enforcement. We all want to see Dredd kicking ass and taking names, but a great Dredd movie would make us question that impulse.
One other thing that I forgot to mention: although Judge Dredd stories are very dark (particularly if you have a strong commitment to civil liberties), they are frequently hilarious. I hope that the film captures some of that black humor as well.
If you’re not familiar with the Judge Dredd comic, I suggest the following:
Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files 05, by John Wagner and Alan Grant, with art from Brian Bolland, Carlos Ezquerra and Mike McMahon. This collects Judge Death Lives, Block Mania and the Apocalypse War.
2000 AD #460 (“Letter From A Democrat”), 531-33 (“Revolution”) and 661 (“A Letter to Judge Dredd”). Letter From A Democrat and Revolution were written by Wagner and Grant, with art from John Higgins. A Letter to Judge Dredd was written by Wagner with art from Simpson. You can find these issues in Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 09, 11 and 13.
I’d also strongly recommend reading Douglas Wolk’s Dredd Reviews blog project, where he reviews every Dredd book in chronological order. It’s a fun read and features appearances from Alyssa Rosenberg, Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, David Wolkin, Graeme McMillan and FBB4L compatriot David Brothers, among others. If you’re completely new to Dredd, or if (like me) you’re not familiar with the modern Dredd books, Wolk provides an excellent guide (along with some great commentary – the discussion with McCulloch about Ennis is fantastic stuff).
Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 01:20:06 AM
So apparently “Ends of the Earth” wrapped up in Amazing Spider-Man today, a big story about Doctor Octopus wanting to murder seven billion people so that everyone will remember him after his death as History’s Greatest Monster: “a mass murderer worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan combined!” He actually says this.
Never mind that seven billion people puts him pretty safely into the realm of “a mass murderer worse than all mass murderers ever combined”.
Never mind that I’m not sure anyone — Hitler, Pol Pot or Genghis Khan included — ever sat down and went, “This is what I’m going into the history books for, boys. Being a mass murderer!”
Never mind the nauseating “heroes don’t torture, if you pretend that torture means cold blooded murder and nothing less” scene from a few issues back.
Never mind that the entire story felt like a video game with a bunch of ‘quests’ that were immediately invalidated because Doctor Octopus had secret contingency plan after secret contingency plan.
You’ll all be glad to know that Spidey saved the day, and kept Doc Ock from turning on his Doomsday Satellite and murdering 99.992% of Earth’s population. The good guys won! But don’t try telling that to Spider-Man!
Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 11:06:14 PM
We’re back — at the very end of May — with another installment of 5-10-15-20, where we look at comic book history in convenient five year installments. I’ve started to figure out the workflow of digging up all this information, and I’m curious: what sort of features are people interested in seeing? Significant releases? Character debuts? Industry happenings? Births and deaths? Funny covers? Please let me know in the comments.
FIVE YEARS AGO – MAY 2007
The #1 Comic Book Five Years Ago was Fallen Son: Captain America
Posted by Chris Eckert on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 at 01:20:39 PM
So in just two weeks, Marvel’s The Avengers has made a billion dollars worldwide. Over the past fourteen years, films based on Marvel superheroes have grossed over nine and a half billion dollars at the box office, and with the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man 3, Wolverine, Thor 2 and others, you can expect to add a couple billion more to the ledger in the next year or so. As anyone reading this probably already knows, Jack Kirby — co-creator of the characters starring in Avengers and many of these other blockbuster films — does not receive credit in the films, nor does his family receive even the smallest scrap of this massive revenue stream.
CORRECTION: Apparently Jack Kirby’s name is listed in the credits of Marvel’s The Avengers, a film I have not seen. I was under the mistaken impression that he was not credited in two films I did see recently, Thor and Captain America.
In Thor, the credit “Based on The Marvel Comic Book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby” is placed in the latter half of the end credits, in between those for Stand-Ins and Production Supervisor.
In Captain America, the credit “Based on The Marvel Comic by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby” is placed in the latter half of the end credits, in between those for Stand-Ins and Supervising Sound Editor.
In Marvel’s the Avengers I do not know the placement of the credit. It may also be easy to miss. A story circulated last month in which Stan Lee seemed to indicate Kirby’s name was not in the credits for the film. This was later confirmed to not be true. Having seen neither the film itself nor the corrections, I passed along this incorrect statement. Jack Kirby is credited in Marvel’s The Avengers. He just isn’t being paid for it.
That list reminded me of a comment from a few months back, in response to another good Kirby post from Brothers. RS David said:
The result of the Kirby trial changed the way I purchased comics too. Essentially, I cut out all Marvel comics focused on Kirby creations (unfortunately that included Parker’s Hulk, but still buying Thunderbolts).
On one hand, this is a perfectly rational response. Marvel’s lack of respect towards the Kirby estate is a massive, prominent thumb in the eye of treating comics creators like human beings. If you’re not prepared to go cold turkey, dropping the books most clearly built off Kirby’s unrewarded labor seems like the logical thing to do. But in practice, this is a tangled web. Read the rest of this entry »
I loved everything about the first few issues of Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman. When Chiang was briefly rotated off the title, my love dimmed, even though Akins is a more than capable artist. Chiang returned to the series for the seventh issue, but I fear that it’s too late. My love has faded.
Posted by Chris Eckert on Thursday, May 10th, 2012 at 10:00:24 PM
Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of Countdown #51. Hopefully everyone honored the anniversary in the same way as its creators: by trying to forget that Countdown ever existed.
Indeed, what can be said about Countdown that has not already been said about the Vietnam War? It was a quagmire, an unwinnable war of attrition that even the planners could not find a graceful way to end. It left a psychic scar on the nation, and destroyed the best years of countless young men’s lives.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as Vietnam. If nothing else, Countdown provided the spark that led to me blogging about comics. And if you don’t think that’s a good thing, fine: it also provided us a near-perfect lab specimen of what an Editorially Driven Comic Book looks like. To a certain extent, everything you can say about Countdown is true of nearly every Big Two superhero comic:
It was published to fill a hole in the schedule
Non-Executive-Staff creative members were treated like interchangeable cogs, comic-producing machines
Plot Events (and importance to the companywide Uberplot) were privileged over what would be traditionally called “story” and “character”
It received constant “comics” “media” attention on the big blogs despite no one, not even the interviewers and DC employees extruding the book weekly, seemed to care in the least
Countdown may have been a lightning-in-a-bottle, textbook demonstration of what you get when the entire publishing line of a company is hashed out by people who have never been hired to be creators on a dry erase board, then handed down piecemeal to people actually hired to be creators. But it isn’t the last. From countless Blackest Night tie-ins (now with free prize inside!) to Marvel’s endless series of Avengers Presents: We Need Some Movie Tie-Ins, from Avengers vs. X-Men to Before Watchmen, we are seeing a shift towards ever more editorially driven comics from “The Big Two”. All of the gradual, glacial movement towards treating superhero comics as something that might exist because a creator had a compelling story seems to be eroding. Of course, this exists in all media: just as there Has to Be an issue of Batman every month, there also has to be a few dozen episodes of CSI shows every year, an appropriate number of Star Wars Extended Universe novels, a Battleship motion picture, whether anyone has the perfect idea for it or not. But the ratio of “someone has a good idea they have pitched” to “someone in marketing decided this needs to exist” is growing more and more lopsided. Read the rest of this entry »
In the summer of 2011, I came up with a plan. I would collaborate with Chris Eckert on a post previewing DC’s relaunch of its line of superhero comics, and write a series of brief posts in subsequent months that would discuss the creative successes and failures of the initiative. I was cautiously optimistic about the initiative in the first few months, despite some early disappointments. Even a month ago, I still cared about five or six of these books. I was going to write a post on Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins’ Wonder Woman and Francis Manapul’s Flash and follow that up with a post on the two stand-out miniseries of the post-relaunch period at DC – Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Jamal Igle’s the Ray and James Robinson’s Shade.
I’m not sure that I can do that anymore without acknowledging my growing concerns about reading books from either publisher. I don’t think I can pretend that controversies about DC’s attitude towards the creators who work on the books it publishes don’t have an impact on whether I will buy (or can recommend) their books.
Posted by Chris Eckert on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 11:41:01 PM
It’s the end of the month, so you know what time it is: 5-10-15-20 time! No one guessed the really dumb research question from last month: I read over two dozen black and white issues of Luke Cage looking for the first recorded instance of “Sweet Christmas!” That means no one gets the Luke Cage toy I have lying around for some reason. On with the history!
The #1 Comic Five Years Ago was Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1
Last month Captain America died, and this month Jeph Loeb begins mining his core competencies — jumping onto hot properties, using his rolodex of Big Name Artists, and working the untimely death of his son — into one mega-selling mini-series. Spoiler alert: we’ll be seeing more of Fallen Son in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.