26 March 2006

Comics Roundup 3/27 (CS)

There was stiff competition for my pick of the week this time around. I'd of course go with Vol. 2 of Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby*, but I try to keep with the floppies instead of trades or hardcovers. And Brubeck's latest offering of Captain America had Cap not only giddy, but proving to us all what a real hero is like. But the ever so coveted honor of the book I was most looking forward to AND had the most fun reading goes to this month's installment of The Incredible Hulk.

That's right. I'm loving this Planet Hulk arc. Everyone else out there is busy heaping praises on Daredevil, X-Factor or the One Year Later titles. And at least you'll hear people talk about New Avengers or Legion of Superheroes (even if it isn't always nice talk). But nobody out there is talking about big green these days. What's the deal?

This story has been filled with so much ass kicking goodness so far that it was almost impossible to decide on a picture to use to illustrate that. For now, just settle for a brooding Hulk in gladiator gear.

Yes, I do consider the Hulk running around with axes and having gladiator fights a huge bonus. The story is shaping up a little bit like Spartacus in that respect, with Hulk in the Kirk Douglas role. In merely capable hands I would find this entertaining, but this Greg Pak guy has the chops to do more than just that. He's managed to give some decent characterization to the players surrounding Hulkie. In the span of two issues he's given more life to an overgrown ant and a big lump of rock than Judd Winnick could to the entire Green Arrow family in three separate story arcs (I'm sorry, one of these days I'll be able to make it through a comics article without taking a shot at Winnick.... Well, maybe not).
Pak has thrust the reader onto an alien world with absolutely no familiar characters (save the titular one). Space, bizarre new races of beings, the seeds of revolution within a society, and hardly a thread connecting things to the cozy Marvel Universe.... It's a recipe for narrative disaster rivaled only by time travel. Pak proves an adept guide though and rarely if ever do all these elements become frustrating. It's just fun.

Of course, part of why it's turning out to be a great story is because Pak knows how to put a character through pain. Winnick tried it with Green Arrow (sorry to pick on him again.... No, not really) and at what was supposed to be the big emotional turn, you couldn't care less about Ollie's suffering. In Incredible Hulk, however, you can feel just how pissed offed the big green guy is with every page. He's been launched into space by his best friends like some disease they just wanted to get rid of. And now he gets the pleasure of being lit on fire and called an idiot. He doesn't like that.
There's every indication that there's a ton more ass-kickery to come in this first section of Planet Hulk. You also figure that with the way he's been treated, if/when Hulk gets back to Earth, there's gonna be hell to pay. Big Green has made indications (subtly, thank you Mr Pak) that things WILL get messy if/when that happens.

Game On.

*With the luck of prolonged time at a scanner, I will be able to give an in depth look at the glory that is Kirby's Dr. Doom............ ON A SURFBOARD.

Why Cap Is My Hero (CS)

You AIM suckas best not roll up on Captain America when he's laying up with his woman.
He Does NOT like that.

And you are liable to get kicked in the face.

24 March 2006

NewsMax: Enemies of God? (BR)

Cunning leads to knavery. - Ovid

I saw V for Vendetta a couple of nights ago and while I'm sort of loath to entertain Orwellian and Hitlerian -- lord do I wish I had a last name which lent itself to adjectivization -- analogies to W. Bush's Amuhhhhricah, it did get me to thinking about issues of social programming, manufactured consent and whatnot.

The problem with the fantasy tyrannies depicted in Vendetta, 1984 and other dystopic visions, and why they don't really apply, is they all feature a stern, paternalistic, brilliantly spoken leader who keeps the mass in lyrical thrall with passion and diction.

What type of man has been running the American show lately? Lovable, non-threatening knuckleheads. President Clinton, as charming as he was, was capable of enormous, embarrassing gaffes, and ditto for Ronald Reagan, who may have delivered some great speeches, but was not a great speaker. Bush's father was an effeminate nerd and Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer.

We, after all, invented and probably perfected anti-intellectualism. It's been one of the more notable symptoms of our culture since we landed on this rock. But I'm still occasionally chilled to my bones by the breadth and degree of my peoples' revulsion at knowledge or reason in general. Take NewsMax.

For the uninitiated, NewsMax is a political and world news website which wears its neoconservativism rather unabashedly on its sleeve. During my brief foray as a registered Libertarian I was added to their mailing list somehow, and still receive their bulletins in an e-mail account I rarely use.

A rapid glance through the headline stack evinces this (Top story: 'Bush, Cheney go on offensive' ... look out!) but thousands of times more interesting than the "news" is the site's choice for sidebar ads.

By the sixth paragraph through a story about a right-wing group attempting to introduce an article of censure for President Carter (?), my eye is drawn by a green box with yellow text reading "Christian Fighting System Revealed." OK, I'm excited. I click. I'm taken to a site called fightfast.com. Large red text headline:
"1000-Year-Old Christian Fighting System Finally Revealed!" My, that is a long time to wait for a martial art. Tell me more:

This Ancient Russian Military System Is The Key To
Dominating Without Fear... Without Anger... And (Most Important),
With a Simple "Moral Psychology" That'll Make YOU Unbeatable!

... Ever hear of Vladimir Vasiliev? Most of my "hotlist" has. He's the guy who defected from the Soviets to become the top Russian "SPETSNAZ" martial arts trainer in the Western world — the guy who "broke silence" on the now-famous (but previously TOP SECRET) Russian martial arts system used ONLY by the super-elite SPETSNAZ fighting forces.

Here's what I'm talking about: An audience clearly exists, which will be hooked by the concept of a "Christian" ideal of administering a beatdown. This audience is evidently located predominantly within the self-professed moral values crowd. Was Jesus the type of guy who fought to win?

Evidently not.

Back like spinal meningitis: The return of (Brendan and) Chef (BR)

My friend Matthew Jordan sent me a memorandum soliciting my opinion of Chef's return and subsequent demise on South Park. First of all, this was the first funny episode of the show I've seen in two years. The writers had fallen into a rut of making cheap jokes at easy targets, and even the "controversy" generated by the Scientology episode was, I felt, unwarranted and gave too much credit to the show for making fun at the expense of walking punchlines.

This was different. Usually creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone use the boys of South Park to hammer home some simple point or observation about the events of the day, ratcheting up the outrageousness to keep the main idea from getting stale, with varying degrees of success. In Wednesday's season premiere -- aside: I can't fucking believe this show has been on for 10 years now -- the boys speak to the hurt and resentment that Parker and Stone feel personally at Chef's (Isaac Hayes') rather flaky and inexplicable choice of a "fruity little club" over his friends who love, admire, and need him.

Due in no small part to the sensitive nature of the split between Hayes and South Park, the screenplay for this episode is stellar and incisive in a way that we haven't seen from this show in a long time, and was capped by an ending -- I won't go into detail. Watch it. It's worth it. -- that was equally brutal and heartbreaking. It seems silly to attach any kind of emotional importance to a character who was initially made of circles cut out of construction paper, but because of South Park's enormous cultural significance, and the critical role Chef played on the show -- a somewhat cynical, but ultimately upbeat and jolly sage -- I found myself moved to palpable sadness by the close of the episode.

Suffice it to say that Parker and Stone got the last laugh, not to mention the last "holy fucking shit!" in this situation. And the great thing about all this is that if Hayes ever recovers his marbles, Chef will reappear just like that.

21 March 2006

Faster Than A Speeding Retailer, More Powerful Than A Market Share (CS)

I just can't seem to understand the comic book industry and it drives me crazy.
This shouldn't be something that bothers me too much as I've grown accustomed to having trouble understanding "industry" in general. Like any good History student I've read my Marx and my Wages of Whiteness. I understand the idea of market forces and I've even begun to be a regular reader of The Economist (god, help me). But once you start talking with numbers and "marketing" and the like, if I don't zero in on what's going on with a laser-like focus, I'm going to become very lost very quickly. Often, trying to understand the manipulative aspects of marketing ruin the fun I might be having. Despite always trying to improve on this, I've come to generally except this limitation and not get too wound up about it. Then what is it about not understanding the comic book industry that drives me insane?

The problem to me is that I can identify certain glaring flaws in some comic business decisions. Little old me. With the help of the comics-web-blogosphere, with many pages maintained by retailers who have been in the business for quite some time, I easily pick up on a lot of what's going on in the industry, whether it's pertaining what is/is going to be hot or whatever jerk-wad moves Marvel, DC, or even Diamond has made.

is precisely what "the big two" have been accused of recently, as they try to trade mark the word "superhero." It's almost enough to make one not want to buy their product. I suppose I can try to understand the mindset their in and how it could pay off but why try to stifle smaller publishers and at the same time clearly stand in the way of having the medium accepted as worthwhile? Most importantly, why piss-off your customer base like that?

Most companies understand the importance of having a good image in the eyes of the customer. Even Wal-Mart and Starbucks have made certain moves to alleviate the impression most have of them as corporate monsters gobbling up space on the market. The comic-book industry is experiencing a boom right now and perhaps Marvel and DC figure they can use that to ride out any ill effect from boneheaded or sloppy moves. There will come a time, though, when the market quiets down and especially at times like this, there's something to be said for customer loyalty.

Brian Hibbs points out that brand name actually does carry some marketing power in his most recent article of Tilting @ Windmills. Hibbs points out more than just that, though, as his article goes on to explain a lot of the major errors publishers (including Marvel and DC) make when promoting their books. I regularly read several comic-book blogs, many of them produced by comic book retailers (many of whom have been at that gig for quite some time) and they often have similar insights that apparently continue to go unaddressed by the companies actually producing comics.

I just wonder, if I can catch on, why can't the comic book companies? More importantly, why aren't some of these guys (or like minded individuals) gaining positions of influence within the companies to enact the changes that need to be made?
The high-times that comic book sales are seeing now aren't going to last forever and being a big fan of them, I'd hate to see the industry get hit harder than it has to when things start heading downhill.

13 March 2006

Meatheads and Boneheads and the Press Who Love To Hate (or Love) Them (CS)

So it looks like Barry Bonds has finally been outed regarding his steroid use. Plenty of people will talk about implications like the Hall of Fame, past records, and the upcoming season. But to me the most remarkable element of the Bonds saga has been the persistence of the sports media in pursuing this issue and story over the past couple years. Since the home run race really heated up these rumors have been swirling about and Bonds has frequently been implicated and asked about his possible steroid use ever since the issue was blown wide enough to be brought before some Senators. Bonds has always been pursued as a target of sports reporters and these recent revelations should only serve to stir the pot some more.
Now, not to get all Frank Rich on you here (with Sports in place of Culture/The Arts), but I have to make yet another comparison to the Bush Administration (and its respective relationship with the press).
Here we have a situation much more serious than the home run race, the pennant race, and spring training combined (not to demean these things... just saying, The President is a pretty important figure in our country and the world at large). Bush has made plenty of pinheaded moves and his administration has fouled up situations left and right. Even his "successes" are turning out failures. Just look at Afghanistan. Didn't we "win" there? Then why are reports coming in of deteriorating security, a broken economy, and rising Taliban (and in the face of all this, a reduced American responsibility)?
Essentially, there's plenty of ammunition to use against Bush and Co. But where is the tenacity that one would expect in these cases? How come important issues and developments often get a day or two of play in the media only to disappear? How come the press has no teeth? Of course you'll find condemnations in liberal outlets like The Nation and The Huffington Post but where is the determination of outlets like The NY Times, The Washington Post, or even CNN and other news media? Even some conservative sources are criticizing the President's lack of economic responsibility and complete uninvolvement with major issues.
Perhaps most of the media is trying to adhere to some form of "objectivity" but this is taking objectivity too far and no such argument can defend constantly taking simple excuses and ignoring important issues. One might also argue that the Bonds story is more "sexy" and thus gets more attention, while no one has the attention span for the various scandals coming out of Washington and the Bush machine. But knowing plenty of people tired of hearing about Bonds and aggravated beyond reason regarding the present administration, I don't buy such excuses.
I've already mentioned that there's plenty of fodder to go around for the media to pick up on. So what is it going to take to finally get them to dig in and stop swallowing any old excuses the White House soft serves them? I'd consider starting rumors that Bush has been taking steroids too, but the mental image of Cheney injecting a needle into GW's ass in the Oval Office is just a bit too much for the average American to handle.

12 March 2006

Comics Roundup 3/12

Back in action after a while. There's a lot of crap I guess I could try to catch up on (the new Spider Suit, One Year Later, Civil War, etc) But I think I'll just jot down whatever comes to my head (which will most likely be whatever gave me particular delight).

The Thing
#4 was just chock-full-o goodness. It had action, humor, a sequence involving taking children to the race track and The Inhumans. I'm a sucker for the Inhumans, particularly Lockjaw and Blackbolt. All those folks out there complaining about the lack of good-natured comics and worrying about character makeovers ala Brubaker and Morrison (no I am not one of these people) must love this Dan Slott fellow. I simply love him cuz if you give me a panel featuring Lockjaw communicating with Black Bolt you're pretty secure in my good graces.

And I know I said I probably wouldn't comment on Infinite Crisis but....

Look at this one panel. I realize the art is shooting for Superman and Wonder Woman being upset in the face of Earth-Two Superman's realization but....
Doesn't it look more like they just feel REALLY awkward and are trying to look anywhere except right at Earth-2 Superman? I was just waiting for (our) Superman to but in "Well... uh... that's great buddy, but we really should be going.... Hope ya feel better!!!" and shoot off, yknow, faster than a speeding bullet and all that.

I recently heard about an interesting little comic in production called Punks: The Comic. The style looks cool and it features a fist, a skull, a dog, and Abraham Frikken Lincoln. Recipe for success right there. However, looking at the depictions, there's one thing that pisses me off.... Abraham Lincoln as one of those tight pants, hipster/punk assholes? No, I don't think so. That is NOT Abe. MY Abraham Lincoln is more from the Brandon Bird mind's eye... Kicking ass in cage matches in a way that would make Charles Bronson proud.... Or practicing Aikido. Bottom line, Abraham Lincoln should be able to kick my ass.

I'm a sucker for Swamp Thing. Don't ask me why or how, cuz I'm not all too certain myself (aside from the obvious fascination with a swamp monster/man). He's one of the few characters I could see consistantly collecting, much like Captain America (barring any terrible mishaps like Judd Winnick coming on to write and giving Swamp Thing AIDS). They keep having Eric Powell do the covers which is, as i've said, a match made in heaven. And the most recent issue was a damn fine read. Between this and Brubaker's Captain America, I could make myself content ignoring the debacle Winnick has produced with one of my other favorites, Green Arrow.

The comic that kicks ALL the asses though? Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #3. I realize it's only March but I wouldn't be suprised if this winds up being the coolest single issue I read all year. A 4-Armed Bride of Frankenstein, meat eating savage cows, and crazy government experimental madness are only some of the craziness you'll find in there. Let me put it this way.... The cover features Frankenstein weidling his weapons against an army of crazed, evil gerbils, bunny rabbits, and other little cute animals foaming at the mouth and with beady little red eyes.... AND THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS WITHIN THE COMIC. Does it get much more Awesome than that?

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you..... Sissy Bob.