Funnybook Babylon

September 19, 2012

I Know I Contradicted Myself. Look, I Don’t Need That Now.

Filed under: Blurbs — Tags: — Jamaal Thomas @ 12:00 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!”

Grant Morrison

Oh, Grant.

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.

At the same time, I don’t want to completely dismiss Morrison’s comments. As I’ve written earlier, I suspect that Morrison was trying to suggest that “modern creators should go into contract negotiations with their eyes wide open, and appreciate the risks of opting for short-term gains (immediate compensation) over long-term uncertainty (the property which may be more valuable than [the creator] thought)”. On the other hand, if that’s what he wanted to say, then wouldn’t he have just said it? It’s impossible to believe that the misrepresentations weren’t deliberate, that the whole point was to get us to forget why so many Golden and Silver and Bronze Age creators signed such terrible contracts.

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.

May 10, 2012

With Two Left Feet, It’s Hard To Walk The Straight Path

Filed under: Articles,Blurbs — Tags: , , , , , — Jamaal Thomas @ 3:00 pm

I. Everybody Talking About Changing the World, the World Ain’t Never Gonna Change

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.

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January 6, 2012

FBBP #137 – New Year, Same Old New 52

Welcome to 2012! Back in the dying days of 2011, we sat down and looked at some of DC’s “New 52” titles a few issues in. Titles discussed include:

  • Action Comics by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales and others
  • Batman & Robin by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
  • Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
  • Batwoman by JH Williams III and Haden Blackman
  • Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang

We also talked about the overall “success” of The New 52, how we as readers should judge the success, how much digital comics should cost, and how Apple should really sell Chris an iPad for ten dollars. Seriously. It would be great PR.

What New 52 books are we sleeping on? What books are we insane to enjoy? Why aren’t we reading something not published by DC? All good questions, and it’s up to you, the FBBArmy, to tell us!

COMING IN 2012: More Avenging the Week, more Girl Talk, more podcasts, and A Cavalcade of Davids!

July 26, 2010

Batman and Robin #13 – “Batman and Robin Must Die! Part 1: The Garden of Death”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 10:14 am
Brief Bloom.

Brief Bloom.

Batman and Robin continues, beginning the “Batman and Robin Must Die!” arc, which Morrison has stated is “R.I.P. as farce.” Each issue is named after a classic gothic painting; this one is “The Garden of Death” by Hugo Simberg, pictured above. Many shots and events in this book are deliberate evocations of events in “R.I.P.”, so I recommend a rereading before engaging in any close analysis of this story.

And, as usual, the links to my other annotations:

Stuff here (original Batman run, current Batman and Robin)

Stuff at Comics Alliance (Return of Bruce Wayne #1, #2, #3; Batman #700)
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May 17, 2010

Batmannotations: Batman and Robin #10-12 – “Batman vs. Robin”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 8:54 pm

For those of you who missed it, I already annotated Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 over at Comics Alliance. You’ll continue to find those annotations there, while Batman and Robin will remain here.

It’s been a while and there’ s a lot to talk about, so let’s get into it.
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April 20, 2010

Stay Positive: Chris Looks at DC’s July Solicitations

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , , , , — Chris Eckert @ 9:27 pm

Reader, my two most recent posts have been spiteful missives directed at funnybooks. Most of the other things I’ve been working on are critical of comics as well. I do not wish to simply curse the darkness, so when I looked at yesterday’s DC Solicitations, I struggled mightily not to focus on the negative. So here are some nice things DC will be doing in July, assuming they do not change things and make these books returnable:

bnrobin-14 02

Batman #701 (Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel)
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4
(Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart)
Batman & Robin #14 (Grant Morrison & Frazier Irving)
Joe the Barbarian #7 (Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy) – Who could imagine, I’m excited for a GMo QUAD-LASER in July! And he’s collaborating with two of his Seven Soldiers running buddies! And Sean Murphy, who is killing it on Joe! And Tony Daniel, who is… uh… providing a narrative consistency with “Batman R.I.P.”! I feel pity for David’s annotatin’ arm come July, but am otherwise unabashedly excited for the barrage of Morrison Batmanalia coming this summer.

Sparta: USA #5 (David Lapham & Johnny Timmons) – Like The Beast Must Die over on Mindless Ones, I’m distracted by Johnny Timmons’s overly photo-referenced art in Sparta. But like TMBD, I’m powering through it to follow Lapham. It’s getting to the point that stiff photoreferenced work is just this era’s Thing You Must Endure, like muddy proto-Vertigo coloring and the awkward introduction of computer coloring and lettering. How many otherwise enjoyable comics were marred by grotesque lensflares, ridiculous character-specific fonts, and panel upon panel awash with different concentrations of brown and purple? Many! And yet comics soldiered on. One day, this too shall pass.
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March 15, 2010

Batman and Robin #s 8 and 9 – “Blackest Knight” Parts 2 and 3: “Batman vs. Batman” and “Broken”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 2:56 pm
Batman and Robin #8

Batman and Robin #8
Batman and Robin #9

Batman and Robin #9

After the extensive infodump of last issue, these two issues are FAR more streamlined as we ramp up to “Batman vs. Batman” and the return of Bruce Wayne. In this installment: The Bug Black Voice of Gotham City! The Bible of Crime! And… Batwoman! Come back soon for Batman and Robin #10, and a look into the Wayne family’s lineage, but until then let’s see what further clues we can divine from “Blackest Knight.”

Additionally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the superb amypoodle at the always-sublime Mindless Ones, who put together an insanely compelling counter-theory to mine about Simon Hurt. It’s great stuff, and you should really check it out, as I’ll certainly be keeping it in mind in the months ahead.
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January 28, 2010

Batman and Robin #6 and #7

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , , — David Uzumeri @ 9:07 am
Batman and Robin #6

Batman and Robin #6
Batman and Robin #7

Batman and Robin #7

The #6 annotations are so late partly because the issue seemed rather sparse to me and partly because Gavok over at 4thletter! just completely demolished the landscape of any of my commentary, so what’s below regarding that issue is heavily indebted to his realization about the nature of the story. Then, below, commentary on today’s #7, which is detailed and byzantine and littered with references and basically my wet dream as an annotator.
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January 15, 2010

Final Crisis Annotations Epilogue: The Hardcover

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , — David Uzumeri @ 2:13 pm

Yeah, this is incredibly anal, but after the ridiculous amount of time I spent studying this book, I’d be remiss not to cap this off with a look at the collected edition.

But first, since I don’t think I’ve ever linked them at once like this: here are all of the original annotations/articles I wrote upon the book’s initial release.
Final Crisis #1
Final Crisis #2
Final Crisis #3
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1
Final Crisis #4
Final Crisis #5
Final Crisis #6
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2
Final Crisis: Superman Beyond – On Mandrakk
Final Crisis #7

So: a catalogue of, as far as I can tell, every single change made to Final Crisis from single issue to collected edition. A lot of them are pretty interesting, and clear up stuff that I remember myself or other annotators pointing out. I’ve bolded the ones that are major, or of special interest (the one about the Anthro painting being in Gotham rather than NYC has rather interesting potential repercussions for the Return of Bruce Wayne storyline).
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January 3, 2010

Bruce Wayne: A Man of Wealth and Taste (Batmannotations Gaiden)

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , — David Uzumeri @ 8:25 pm

What if there were an ultimate villain out there, unseen? An absolute mastermind, closing in for the kill? What if there existed an invisible, implacable foe who’d calculated my every weakness? Who had access to allies, weapons and tactics I couldn’t imagine. An adversary whose plots and grand designs were so vast, so elaborate, that they went unnoticed… until it was too late. How could I prepare for a challenge like that? Would I have the resources to deal with it? I’ve often wondered. If my hypothetical ultimate enemy can be imagined, I can’t help considering the possibility that he actually exists. Breathing… feels like drowning. And if he exists… if the king of crime is real… is he telling me his name?

– Bruce Wayne, Batman #674

From Batman #666

From Batman #666

By the time we were about halfway through Batman R.I.P., and our esteemed British colleagues the Mindless Ones were divining hints from ancient Chinese wisdom, and I was still rambling on and on and on about goddammit no seriously they WILL reveal Alfred as the villain, there’s one thing we all agreed on: whether or not Simon Hurt was actually supposed to be the literal Devil, he certainly was a metaphorical one.

The question is – what’s the significance of that? If Simon Hurt is the Devil – or, as our li’l buddy Damian states there to the left, “may as well be” the Devil – then what does that mean? What, for all practical purposes, is the Devil?
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November 22, 2009

FBBP #120 – Love & Shame

Filed under: Podcasts — Tags: , , , , , , — Chris Eckert @ 12:55 pm

This episode, we discuss changes over at the Comics Journal and what that means for the blogosphere, plus answer your questions about love, shame, professional wrestling and enabling habits!

If you have questions or topics you’d like to see addressed in future podcasts, write us at editors AT funnybookbabylon DOT com, or take advantage of our new phone service:

(347)-AUNT-MAY

That’s right, New York’s own May Parker has taken time out of her busy schedule of working at a soup kitchen and fretting about her nephew Peter to collect questions for us. Treat her well, she’s a great ol’ gal!

October 7, 2009

Batman and Robin #5 – “Revenge of the Red Hood Part Two: Scarlet”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , — David Uzumeri @ 6:50 pm
Batman and Robin #5

Batman and Robin #5

As suspected by a few people in last month’s comment thread, the Red Hood is in fact the obvious option, Jason Todd. So that entire mystery’s away from us, although the domino killer and Man-On-Gargoyle are still milling around, not to mention Oberon Sexton.

Philip Tan’s art in this issue is rather confusing and unclear with regards to the storytelling, especially on the fifth page, so I’ll try to disentangle some of those things as we go.
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September 16, 2009

Batman and Robin #4 – “Revenge of the Red Hood Part One: Red Right Hand”

Filed under: Annotations — Tags: , , , — David Uzumeri @ 6:04 pm
Batman and Robin #4

Batman and Robin #4

Again, a link to what’s come before.

The immediate interpretation of the issue title is the Nick Cave song of the same name, but its use within the issue makes it pretty clear that while that may have been an inspirational source, the context in which it’s used in the issue relates more to Milton’s “Paradise Lost” – which isn’t to say the song doesn’t eerily parallel the promises Red Hood is trying to sell Scarlet.

Philip Tan comes on as artist for this arc, and it’s certainly very different from Frank Quitely; losing Alex Sinclair as colorist gets rid of the posterized sky effects, and Tan’s art style owes way more to his time on Spawn than any precedent Quitely set, all stark shadows and straightforward panel layouts. This is a much darker look than what Quitely offered.

But anyway: new story, new start. Let’s go!
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September 15, 2009

Batmannotation Catch-Up: Batman and Robin #2-3

First off, a link to what’s come before.

With #4 hitting this Wednesday, I figured it was high time to get back into the game and take a look at the latest two issues of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Batman and Robin. I just reread Morrison’s entire Batman run to refresh my memory, so I’m good and ready – here goes!

Well, maybe I *do*, asshole!

Well, maybe I *do*, asshole!

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June 3, 2009

Batman and Robin #1 – “Batman Reborn Part 1: Domino Effect”

Batman and Robin #1

Batman and Robin #1

And we’re back after those messages! Finally, the main narrative line of the Batman books returns with Grant Morrison at the wheel aided by the ever-incredible Frank Quitely. And, in an all-new team-up, Alex Sinclair on colors, which leads to such interesting effects as the sky behind Wayne Tower looking like a badly compressed .GIF. While this issue is significantly more straightforward than the past few issues of Morrison’s Batman run, I have no doubt that things will get complex and trippy eventually, and until then it’s probably best to keep up continuity with these annotations, no? Besides, they’re fun.
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