Sunday, June 27, 2010
I'll be headed to Autreat 2010 in Pennsylvania this week. Hence, limited internet access and more limited update to comics, blogs, Facebook, and assorted online goings-on.
As an apology for my absence, a piece of Ruby's World art. About as close as I'll get to a fanservicey " Beach Episode ".
Friday, June 25, 2010
I must announce to my undying surprise that having read the first issue of the new Green Arrow ( written by J.T. Krul and illustrated by Diogenes Neves ), I found it not only not awful, but actually enjoyable. I say this because while I've been following the Green Arrow books since Cry for Justice, I've been doing so with a sense of perverse irony, the kind that makes train crashes, coked-up former child stars, and contemporary Frank Miller comics interesting. Since the book's direction has been dictated by the infamous Cry for Justice, the final issues of the current Green Arrow title featured little more than angst and bloodshed, with Oliver Queen seeking vengeance for the destruction of his hometown and the death of his adoptive granddaughter. The spin-off Rise of Arsenal, starring GA's former sidekick minus one five-year-old daughter and one arm, has been even worst.
I think the image of Roy Harper high on heroin and cradling a dead cat he believes is his daughter after nearly murdering a bunch of street hoods after failing to perform in bed with his super-villainess babymama Cheshire says more than I ever could about that series.
But that baggage has been minimized in the new title, and suggests that the problems with those previous stories were likely due to the source material, not the writer. The premise of the new series is this; there's a star-shaped forest in the middle of Star City, and the outlaw Green Arrow uses it as a base of operations as he fights crime and corruption in the urban perimeter. While the reason there's a giant star-shaped section of forest in the middle of Star City is ludicrous crossover stuff ( which I sincerely hope will be kept peripheral in this book ), it distinguishes the place from just being another New York analogue, and makes the character a literal modern-day Robin Hood. The forest is an interesting character itself, allowing Ollie not only cover for his vigilante operation, but a complex three-dimensional landscape where he's right at home. Where else would a green leotard be effective camouflage?
In the meantime, the urban perimeter takes the Robin Hood comparison further. It's a corrupt city ruled by evil authorities, which is standard for most vigilante stories, but is given an effective figurehead here-- Isabel Rochev, new CEO of the Queen family munitions firm, and way into the royalty bit. Her character design has her wearing a full face mask and goggles mixed with a regal red robe, a costume worthy of a Final Fantasy villain in its flamboyant creepiness. She's even hiring a private security force to take down Ollie, and maintain order. And no, we don't know what her face looks like-- I assume it's scarred, but I hope the answer is more original.
It's not the most original premise, but it's definitely a unique take on the story, and Diogenes Neves' art is great-- he's a very effective storyteller, and has the characters emote with an appealingly cartoony style ( that doesn't clash with the realism elsewhere ). The opening sequence of Ollie fighting a street gang in the forest suggests that he's going to be very good with the setting, as Ollie takes full advantage of the space with tactics more guerilla than usual. The scenes following with Ollie escorting the gang's attempted victim back to safety are just as effective, showing the forest to be both lush and beautiful as well as creepy and labyrinthine.
It's not a great story, but it's a very good start, and given what it's come from, that's extremely impressive.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Mental illness tends not to be treated well in popular culture. Crazy and evil are synonymous; heroes may have their problems, but serious, debilitating mental problems tend to be the province of villains-- characters who are simply irredeemable. One need only look at how " mad scientist " is used to see this problem-- being emotionally unbalanced translates well into carving up people for fun and profit. In truth, many of the worst actions in human history were justified with perfectly rational ( if hideously unsympathetic ) thoughts, but it's easier to accept an evil figure who wears it on their sleeve.
And nobody knows this better than the Avengers themselves, since not only do they fight crazy evils on a regular basis, but many amongst their members have been crazy in an evil fashion on more than one occasion. This informs the premise of Avengers Academy, the new teen superhero team by Christos Gage and Mike McKone. Six teenage heroes assembled by a faculty of veteran Avengers are told that they're being groomed to be the next generation of heroes. By the end of the issue, they find out that they were picked because they were the most psychologically troubling of superhumans, and the adults are playing damage control lest these kids become a new pack of Norman Osborns.
It's a really strong start, because unlike most teams of teenagers, they don't have typical kid problems. These are the most damaged goods you can get, and most of them suffer from the same conditions that give them superhuman abilities. The POV character, Maddy " Veil " Berry, is gradually turning into gas. Another girl, Haz-Mat, has to live her life in a radiation suit lest she poison everyone around her. The boy Mettle is a giant crimson metal humanoid with a skull face. And while we don't know as much about the other two's respective baggages, the girl Finesse-- the one who appears normal on the surface-- is a hypercompetent polymath with no social graces or basic empathy, described as " Rain Man meets Ninja Assassin ".*
At the same time, they're more sympathetic than the adults, who could be set up as the antagonists. Note that these are Avengers with specific histories of trauma and failure-- of them, Justice is the only character who appears sympathetic to the class**. The cast is round out with promiscuous running joke Tigra, former S&M angst master Speedball, Magneto's bastard son Quicksilver, and Hank Pym ( who is currently calling himself the Wasp after his dead ex-wife's hero name, and needs no introduction beyond that ). They're trying to keep the truth from the new Avengers, and maintain the illusion that these kids can become great heroes. And it's ultimately set up to fail, because if there's one thing teenagers don't like, it's being patronized. However, what we don't know is if learning about how the adult Avengers are treating them as literal time bombs is going to galvanize the kids' resolve-- or be the incident that finally drives them over the edge.
Needless to say, I'm very interested in where this series is headed, because not only is it well-written and well-drawn, but it sets up one of the best premises I've seen from a Marvel book in many years.
* ( If she's actually autistic isn't stated, but hopefully if an actual diagnosis is given, it won't be attached to her being portrayed as a complete sociopath. )
** ( It helps that Justice is one of the two adults in the book actually close to the kids' age, but Maddy goes so far as to describe him as Dr. Phil with Robert Pattinson's looks. I swear, between this and his apperances in the Initiative, the guy could get a crowd of girls to swoon over him even if he was picking his nose and eating the boogers. )
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Admittedly, I was prompted to post this due to the camera photo opportunity of Allie, our lovable tabby cat, sitting on a stack of my comics. That he chose to sit on some of my Amazing Spider-Man Ultimate Collections ( large trade paperbacks collecting chunks of J. Michael Stracyinski's stories ) was appropriate, because I've been reading those thoroughly lately, and appreciating them a lot.
Discussions of JMS' Amazing Spider-Man tend to be myopic, focusing on the big events-- the totem stuff, the WTC tribute, Sins Past, the Other, the Iron Spider, and of course, the infamous One More Day. It is true that a lot of those stories were terrible-- I mean, there's no way to spin " Gwen Stacy had Norman Osborn's mutant love children before he murdered her " to sound like anything less than crap. Then again, most of the later stuff had a strong editorial hand, or was tied into crossover stuff. But to focus only on those is to undermine the excellent individual stories going on in between.
What I liked so much about JMS' Spider-Man was that he made the character of Peter Parker care. Even though Peter was still a working-class twentysomething, he lived his life to the fullest, and did everything he could. Having Peter become a high school teacher was a stroke of genius; despite low pay and unruly students, he realized that he could help kids feeling just as isolated and misunderstood as he was. When villains attacked him and his loved ones, he didn't just quip and dodge-- if needed, he'd go in there and fight until he blacked out from sheer pain and exhaustion. And when his marriage with Mary Jane was falling apart, he'd drag his ass all the way across the country to win her back.
JMS has been criticized for overly melodramatic writing, and in some cases that's a very accurate critique ( re: the WTC tribute, and the infamous tears from murderous despot Dr. Doom ). However, for Spider-Man JMS' voice worked very well. His stories worked to show us that Peter wasn't a superhero in the professionalized terms of modern comics ( i.e. anyone registered with the Initiative ), but a genuine hero. Compared to Ezekiel, who tried to seek power but never ended up using it for pure good, Peter's determination to do the right thing was all the more inspiring. Compared to his high school friend Charles Weiderman, who used his nerdy isolation to obsess over super-soldier fantasies, Peter was impressive for not giving into the bitterness of his lonely youth. Even Peter's family got in the act-- Aunt May became a staunch supporter of Spider-Man after finding out Peter's secret identity, helping in all the ways a seventy-something woman can help ( which is more than you'd think ), and Mary Jane tried to work out her difficulties being a superhero's wife like an adult.
Yes, " Adult ". Not adult in the sense of having more gore, but in facing consequences with responsibility and integrity. Post-JMS Spider-Man comics have been determined to show us that " twentysomething " means " slacker ", with Peter stumbling around blindly, mooching off his friends and family, and being Spider-Man reactively. These comics show us that for Peter, being Spider-Man isn't a choice he makes to do good in the world; it's a burden he's taken because he doesn't want to disappoint the big sky-daddy ( in his case, his uncle ). This Peter has the morality of a six-year-old, acting in accordance with internalized fear of being bad, while not really giving thought to hard choices and major progressions. As a twentysomething myself, it's grating that Spider-Man's fortysomething-plus writers see my generation like this-- especially if they're right, that this audience wants Spider-Man as a slacker who fights crime as an impulse/hobby.
But I digress...the point is that for all the melodramatic warts, and the stupid event stuff, JMS wrote great stories that were ethically driven and emotionally meaningful. They were more than just a bed for a cat wanting to nap in the sun.
( Though they serve that purpose well enough. )
Saturday, June 12, 2010
For the pages in question, go here
Nemesis, the new creator-owned series by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, is about a Batman-type vigilante who uses his unequaled skills and resources to cause crimes, rather than fight them. In the second issue, we find out the origin of Nemesis; when young Matthew Anderson's parents were arrested for hunting transients as sport, he trained himself to be the greatest criminal ever. And I quote...
" Bored shitless with his [Matt's uncle and legal guardian] endless choir practice and impeccable manners, I ran away and travelled the world, learning at the feet of its magnificent bastards. By twelve I was a gang lord. At fifteen I was Asia's largest drugs exporter. At twenty-three I headed a Zoroastrian death-cult and was finally ready to honor my mother's dying wish. "
Note how all of this is caption narration over a panel where we see a young man in a hooded sweater in a dark alley. Obviously, this is a take-off on how Bruce Wayne travelled the world to learn the ninja skills he would use as Batman. However, there are some questions raised by this, such as
1.) Why would all these " magnificent bastards " train Matt in their criminal trades? Do they take time off of stealing and murdering to mentor at-risk youth in super-villainy?
2.) How did a teenaged boy, even a precociously evil one, run a criminal empire successfully without ever getting caught?
3.) Why would he run a death cult with its name attached to an ancient religion practiced today only by hundreds of thousands ( most of whom, I'll wager, are NOT mass-murderers ).
4.) Are we going to see any of this on panel?
The answers are; not explained, not explained, not explained, and probably not. Many stories have been done about Bruce Wayne's pre-Batman life and his training in martial arts; they devoted a whole movie to it ( Batman Begins ), and it was a very good movie. Millar's logic seems to be that because we get the joke that Nemesis is Batman with the serial numbers filed off and his morals ( and color scheme ) flipped 180 degrees, we can get the joke that Nemesis would just have the same background, except trained by the wicked instead of the virtuous.
See, 70 years of Batman writers already did all the work, so Millar can just piggyback on our familiarity with Batman!
Of course, that's the way the entirety of Nemesis works. It is a story that relies on better stories to do its heavy lifting. We know that Officer Blake Morrow is supposed to be Comissioner Gordon, so we don't need to hear too much about who he is as a character, what makes him tick, how he gets along with his family ( a brief comment to his partner about Morrow's arguments with his wife is dropped in a mechanical fashion ). We know that Batman has a bunch of wonderful toys, so we don't need to see what makes Nemesis' tech any more special. We know that the Joker is the homicidal artist that Nemesis is aping, so we don't need to see any particularly unique crimes. After all, the late Heath Ledger's epic performance set the groundwork for the entire media-friendly world appreciating the Joker, so all that Nemesis needs is for us to " hear " Ledger's voice when we read the guy's word balloons!
The truth is, all I can hear from Nemesis is Christian Bale's Batman voice, trying for intimidating and ending up with ridiculous growling.
The galling part is that this comic is under Marvel's creator-owned Icon imprint, but there's very little actually CREATED here*. This is a lame joke about an iconic superhero character, stretched out in an attempt at a story. It's not entertainingly over-the-top, because it sticks so close to the source material. It's not deep, because it doesn't expand far beyond what we already know about the characters and tropes. And while there's a plot that will be going on for two more issues, thus far all we've seen is the most rudimentary duel of wits we can imagine; " I planned for you to fail like that! " " No, I planned YOU to fail like that! ". There aren't characters, there aren't conflicting ideologies, and there are barely thrills.
If you want a great story about a superhero gone bad, read Mark Waid and Peter Kruse's Irredeemable-- it's a Superman gone bad and not a Batman, but it's got much more depth and suspense. If you want a great story about a Batman analogue raised towards evil, read the Prometheus story in Grant Morrison's second JLA Deluxe hardcover. I suppose if you want a story that's an exact replica of " What if Batman was bad ", without ties to any character outside the Batman mythos, Nemesis is your book. But you should probably wait for the inevitable movie made from Millar's Nemesis script, because the cast and crew there are much less likely to phone it in.
* At least not by Millar; Dave McCaig offers excellent colors, and Steve McNiven draws in a rougher style that looks much more appealing than his hyper-rendered work on previous Millar titles. It's a shame that Millar has kept us from seeing McNiven's artwork on a decent story on three consecutive occasions.
Friday, June 11, 2010
( WARNING: Links are Not Safe For Work )
Asperchu, written and illustrated by Alec Benson Leary, is my current favorite webcomic. It is a parody of a very specific source; the webcomic Sonichu, by Christian Weston Chandler. Hence, you'll have to bone up on your knowledge of Chris-Chan before you can appreciate it. Fortunately, the man's life is documented here in all its pathetic glory.
A cursory look at Chris-Chan shows that he's an unlimited source of fuel for parody. He is quite possibly the most laughable excuse for a human being ever documented. He became internet-famous for his childishly-drawn comic about a mixture between Sonic the Hedgehog and Pikachu the Pokemon. His comic is set in the town of CWCville, where Chris inserts himself as the mayor. He regularly uses the comic to fight villains based on those in his real life, ranging from the trolls who make fun of him on the internet to the mall cops who take issue with his loitering. He's a fundamentalist Christian who regularly draws cartoon animals having sex, a vicious homophobe who takes every chance he can get to declare that he is in fact heterosexual, a creepy stalker who has drawn erotic fan art of ( former ) female friends, and a 28-year-old man still living with his parents off of welfare. He's apparently autistic, but he routinely bashes people with Asperger's for taking attention away from him, takes a strong pro-cure stance, and basically uses his disorder as an excuse not to do anything with his life. Thanks to the internet, however, he's an idiot for the global village.
Leary uses all this material in full force. Asperchu himself is a mixture between Sonichu and Chris himself, with the portly physique, childish shirts, and gaudy medallion. He lives in CWCville, but Leary's portrayal of the town makes it out to be a North Korea-type ego-opolis, with the real Chris-Chan replaced by a psychopathic man-child impostor. The trolls that Chris-Chan rails against in real life are a heroic underground resistance, fighting against a corrupt dictator who forces women into prostitution under the guise of " Dating Education ". Even Chris' own creations appear as rebels against him, with Sonichu in particular going on a hysterical revenge spree against his " father ". In the meantime, Asperchu is more of a foolish figurehead than a heroic protagonist, idly playing video games ( with an near-infinite supply of handheld consoles that he just pulls out of thin air ) while all this is going on. He has some importance to the larger plot, but while his destiny is calling him, he's too lazy to pick up the phone.
The art is extremely simplistic on purpose ( as a spoof of Chris' terrible Crayola comics ), but the subject matter is as dark as possible. This story, after all, is based on the imagination of a 28-year-old man with the maturity of an 8-year-old and the libidio of a 14-year-old. The strip seems to be based simply on trying to piss Chris off, and of all the people to troll the man-child, Leary has done it the best by far. Everything in this comic is a reference to just how pathetic Chris is, ranging from the protagonist drawing upon Chris' own sloth, to the overtly homo-erotic interactions between Sonichu and Asperchu, to the use of Chris' arch-enemies as heroic figures. It's extremely dark and creepy, but if you have the stomach, hilarious.