Saturday, February 28, 2009

Second Printing's Weekly Question (#3 in a series)

What is your comics guilty pleasure?

I absolutely love, love, love !mpact Comics, the short-lived imprint from the early 1990's where DC licensed the Archie/Red Circle super-heroes and reinvented them for a less than receptive audience. Mark Waid was a writer and editor on the line and has hung his head in shame over his involvement with it from time to time. Through my rose-colored glasses I can't see why. The initial impetus for !mpact was to make new and younger-reader friendly comics without dumbing them down. I was about 15 when the line hit and was intrigued by most of the books but only saw The Fly (by Len Strazewski and the late, great Mike Parobeck) through to its finish. When the line was threatened with cancellation there was a brief flirtation with making it darker, grim'n'gritty, which completely betrayed the line's impetus, so after the six-issue Crucible finished, it was unceremoniously cancelled. I've since collected the entire line, with the exception of a couple missing issues of the Black Hood and the final issue of Crucible. I'm oddly proud of this.

I know it's not the sexiest of answers but it's X-Force 1-5. Not too long ago, I was putting books together to give away and came across them again. I put them in the "give-away" pile. I had put down childish things, after all.

That was until I looked through them. God, they were as terrible as I remember but the feeling of "youth" these comics had to them was undeniable. They were just so insane and the feeling they gave me was just pure adrenaline. Needless to say, I had to pull them out of the fire. I can't even look at them but there's just something to them that makes me smile.

Big Mike:
Two things:

1) My guilty pleasure is Marvel's early 90's cosmic books. Infinity Gauntlet / Watch / War / Crusade... got 'em all... love 'em all. Jim Starlin, I'm sad to say, is a huge influence on my life. As a kid, I was fascinated with Adam Warlock and his weird orange skin. It's probably why I eventually got into Legion, and it's definitely why I own everything with the word Annihilation in it.

2)As a corollary to Devon's guilty pleasure, I would be a bad friend if I didn't point out that in order to complete his X-Force 1-5 collection, he also needs Spider-Man #16 because it bridges the gap between X-Force #3 and #4 (in the aptly named crossover 'X-Over'). Oh, what's that you say, Devon? You don't have Spider-Man #16? Two words: MONEY DAY!

I should add I have two copies of Spider-Man #16, and for real, Devon, you can have one. Hell, take both, see if I care. I won't even charge postage. Sorry Mike, didn't mean to poch block ya. (poch = POcket CHange, and yes, I just made that up)

Ummm... What makes you all think that I don't already have three copies of Spider-Man #16?

Rom: Spaceknight. That book got a shapeshifting alien space invasion RIGHT. And the right way involves the sun turning into a black hole and building a giant power-negating laser into a satellite. Also Ditko.

(Hey, Second Printers, plug your answers in the comments)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Starman: An Appreciation

This is nothing more than what it is: an appreciation.

An appreciation of what was, what is and what will be.

I just got done re-reading James Robinson's Starman and man, was it worth it!

I'd never realized it up until now just how amazing and good this series was. It so many things on so many levels. One, it introduced us to, of course, Jack Knight, arguably, the greatest of Starmen.

Two, it introduced us to sprawling art deco metropolis, Opal City and the very idea that in the DC Universe, the city is every bit the star as its lead character.

Until this series hit, I'd never thought of Gotham or Metropolis as having a rhythm, a pulse that drives its movement. One that its hero is keenly attuned to. I never thought of the city and its hero as intertwined. I'd never seen it as integral. Starman helped me re-discover the DC Universe.

Thirdly and most importantly, it introduced us to a concept and term we'd never thought of as a collective before:


Before Starman, few comics writers had bothered to explore the subject of "legacy." Before, if DC were to introduce a new character, the character was simply a re-branding, a way to sometimes even, re-establish copyright with little or no regard to what came before.

Before Starman, there was no such term as "The Legacy Hero."

Before Starman, the most popular exploration of legacy came from Marvel in the form of a virus.

Before that, superhero connections to their predecessors were something to be explained away with. If DC decided to create a new Firebrand, they simply were parking on the name, not the legacy. Before Starman, legacy, largely, was a thing to be damned.

With Starman, legacy wasn't something to be ignored or forgotten, it was a thing to be explored and even honored.

Under Robinson, threads were pulled together, continuity was explained and the tapestry was explored. Starman explored the idea that the hero is only as great as the obstacles put before him. From this, we saw the re-emergence of The Shade and Solomon Grundy. From these pages we were given our comics history back. As readers, we were to become this story. We were asked to visit a city, explore it and its hero's origins and explore the things it gained in the fire.

Because of Starman, we have the DCU landscape that we have today. Because of Starman, we have his spiritual predecessor, Stargirl. Because of Starman, we still have The Justice Society of America. Because of James Robinson's Starman, we were introduced to the DC Universe's master architect, Geoff Johns. Because of Starman, we explore the legacies and origins of the DCU with events such as Final Crisis.

The argument could be made that Starman, good or bad, has become the cornerstone on which the modern DC Universe has been built. Regardless of how one feels, there's little doubt that Starman was and still is, what any comic should be.


Ad blast from the past

DC had a very, very short lived ad campaign in the mid-1990s where they decked out real people/male models in costumes to promote their new series' The Ray and Damage. I'm not sure why they didn't do more of them, because as a teenager, I thought they were the coolest thing, and 15 years later, I still think they're pretty awesome. Something about them sparks the imagination, like teasing that superheroes are real, or that live-action versions of all super-heroes are possible. But ultimately these were the first and last images we saw in the campaign. I would love to know more about the process DC went through to make these ads and their marketing department's thoughts on the success (and/or failure) of them.
(sorry for the image quality, I don't have a scanner, so I took photos instead)

Looking at that Damage ad though, something struck me as... familiar...
No, not just the fact that I knew these ads from before, but ... there was something... smarmy... about that Damage... you know, dick-ish


Damage is notorious ex-Illinois governor/jagoff Milorad "Rod" Blagojevich.
Okay, not really, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Second Printing's Weekly Question #2

This week's question:

How do you keep your comics?
Follow up: do you keep records of your collection, and if so, how?

Oh, God, no.

I gave up about years back. They're just sitting in longboxes in alphabetical order with no bags or boards. The older I get, the less I care. Now, they're more about the stories contained within than the condition or somesuch. Hell, I don't even feel the need to complete runs like I used to.

It's weird but it all coincided with the end of the letter columns in the backs of DC's comics. I started feeling less propriety in my collection.

As far as records go, I used to keep these insane handwritten-on-notebook paper records of every comic I bought. Now, I just sort of laugh at my former anal retentiveness.

I miss those days.

Mine're half in a longbox - sorted as best as I can manage by title and number - and half all over the bloody place. I'm not terrifically good at, y'know, "collecting." Aces at reading, though.

Big Mike:
I try to keep things in order, but I inevitably fall of the wagon. I have a set of long boxes that are in perfect alphabetical and numerical order, but then I have several short boxes that are completely unsorted. My whole collection is in a storage unit in my building, but I do keep a few comics in a small box at the top of my closet... this is for the comics that I would not be okay with losing in the event of a flood, fire, etc. They're not worth much or anything... just sentimental value. Highlights include the whole Lonely Place of Dying arc, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, and Chroma Tick.

I keep my (actually "our", given that I've merged my collection with my wife's) comics primarily in alphabetical order on bookshelves in the basement. I use comic boards, positioned sideways to separate the titles (each letter has a "miscellaneous" section for small runs and random issues). There are also about 18 other long boxes, 6 of which are major character/team runs (Batman, Superman, X-Men), the rest having been recently conscripted to "discard duty", meaning about half the collection is getting positioned for sale. I used to have everything individually bagged and boarded, now it's a mix of individual bag'n'board and multiple issues in the same bag. I've become rather lax about bagging of late, but only the worst of condition books are left permanently un-bagged.

I started about a year ago inventorying all my comics on an spreadsheet. It's kind of a pain to maintain but has been very useful for knowing what I have, what I want to get rid of, how many books are in the collection, that sort of thing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Detective: Comics: Who Am I?

I have been driven to madness and denied you.

I have embraced you and given you opportunity.

We are family yet we share no blood.

I have fought side-by-side with soldiers and peacemakers.

I have risen above you while walking beside you.

I have been inspired and been an inspiration.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Second Printing's Weekly Question- Updated!

NEW FEATURE! Every week, we will pose (and [some of us will] answer) a question. In future weeks we'll even start taking questions. You too can play along on your own blog or in the comments section.

What were the last three trades you bought? Recommended or no?

Big Mike:
Walking Dead Vol. 8: Made to Suffer - Simply put, one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever read. I needed a drink after finishing this one. Recommended.
Fables Vol. 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers - I am way late to the party on Fables. While I enjoyed the first three trades, it wasn't until this one that I understood why people seem to worship this book. Great story. I recommend it big time.
The Legion of Super-Heroes: The Beginning of Tomorrow - This is the only volume of the Post-Zero Hour Legion that I can find in trade. If you're a fan of that particular Legion, recommended. If not, get therapy.

The Incredible Hercules vol.1: Against the World - fun charming stuff, the wife liked it too. Definitely recommended
Immortal Iron Fist vol. 3: Book of the Iron Fist - not recommended (unless you're really into Iron Fist mythology), not that it's bad but the first two volumes contain the meat, this is the extracurricular.
Nova vol 3: Secret Invasion - haven't finished reading it yet, but the Galactus story was flippin' cool. Recommended.

Jon Carey:

Scud: The Whole Shebang- I bought the first trade when I was in eighth grade, oh some years gone, wanted to see the end. I can't say I'd recommend it unless you were wallowing in nostalgia, honestly.

All of Annihilation- Thanks to judicious use of coupons and buy-one-get-one-half-off deals, I got all three trades for like twenty bucks. I read the first couple trades of Nova prior to this and liked those way better- I'm kinda failing to see what the big deal was, I guess. The Ronan mini read like a weird Transformers filler issue starring, like, that Pretender that looked like a whaler, but I suppose that's just Furman for you.

Ares: God of War- Plan A is lighting yourself on fire and having Hercules throe you at stuff? Sign me the fuck up.

Devon Sanders:

Daredevil: Born Again- Loved the hell out of it when I was fourteen and loved it even more at *cough*. I was just as enthralled by its pacing. This time around, what I was struck by was the logical abruptness of its ending. Still the best comic I ever read, though. Highly recommended.

The Death of Captain America: The Man Who Bought America: Vol. 3- Jason Bourne meets superhero comics. What's not to love?

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe: Vol. 5- Took it behind the CHUD bleachers and made out with it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Leaked Footage From Bret Ratner's YOUNGBLOOD

You read that right, true believers - Bret Ratner's Youngblood. I thought it was an elaborate prank played on people with eyes by the inscrutable monsters over at Variety, but then I chanced across this uncut footage from the set:

My sources say that's Troll.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On giving up ...

I've invested over 20 years of my life and countless thousands of dollars into the DC Universe, experienced some pretty high highs, and some pretty awful lows. On their respected competition side, I spent about 2 years investing into the Marvel Universe (from 1991 - 1993) and then opted out altogether for a half decade (Busiek/Ross' Marvels the only exception in that time).

Up until 2007, I was still quite invested in the goings-on around the DCU, but then there was Countdown, which made me realize being so immersed wasn't yielding the thrill it once did, and, in fact, the more I tried to immerse myself the more frustrated I became. I think, more than anything, it was DC's hype machine, led by Dan DiDio, that has put me off. It seems like everything under his leadership has become an event worth noting, even if really it is just a status quo story. Most works (music, movies, theater, comics...) can't live up to extensive hype, and the stronger the hype gets, the harder it is for the material to maintain its luster. Acclamation from reviewers and critics after the fact is one thing, but tooting ones own horn over and over again long before the material is available just leads to a numb ringing in the audience's ears. I checked in on the DC panel write-ups from the NYCC and it was just that... the text equivalent of a high-pitched "eeeeeeeeeee". Redundancy. Same old, same old.

I manage to ignore Marvel's hype. I manage to ignore most of Marvel's product quite frankly. I dive into titles that seem interesting or are getting good reviews, but more often then not, I read Marvel books in trade after they've been well vetted by my Thor's Comic Column colleagues or other trusted sources around the web. Recent runs of books like The Incredible Hercules, Nova, Captain America, The Immortal Iron Fist and Thunderbolts have all proved highly favourable reads, and most have managed to side-step getting too bogged down in larger-universe continuity (when they do touch on it, they seem to do well in keeping it contained within the context of the title).

I can't seem to do the same with DC. I can't let go of the larger picture. I can't leave behind the weird emotional connections to characters to leave it to others to tell me what's good and what's not. I'm not sure if it's me or that DC can't isolate itself from its continuity in order to just let a story run free. Even some really great stories, like the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" by Johns and Frank in Action Comics builds itself upon stories past. It would seem Final Crisis was a treatise on the constraints editorial and expectations fans have placed on the DCUniverse, and the end result was an obtuse resolution, huge in symbolism, but whether it has any real impact in how stories are told remains to be seen. Governing from the NYCC DC panel reports, it's seems status quo looms large.

I highly enjoyed Final Crisis, but I guess I had hoped for a new DC Universe, something distinctly, identifiably different, something daring out of the end of it, but all I see is a new event in the Black Lanterns and Superman/Wonder Woman/Batman vacating the scene, yet again (like they didn't just do that in 2006 and for a third of the 1990s). So, I'm giving up, because at this stage in my fandom, I don't want to care so much for the larger picture, I just want a good story. I need to put some distance between myself and the half-dozen Crises that have bewildered and confounded. I need to just seek out books to enjoy, books that have a creative vision that are allowed to fulfil that vision without having to impose itself beyond it's confines of control or placate those imposing on it (even Blue Beetle couldn't escape the "Sinestro Corps War" or "Countdown").

I'm looking at the solicitations for the next two weeks and I have only one monthly title from the big two: X-Factor #40, and it would seem, looking over April solicits that I'm completely bereft of any ongoing DC titles on my pull list. I think I'll need to keep it that way for a while.

The larger universe of DC and Marvel and others have their own unique joys, but when it really comes down to it, the comics that have most excited me over the past two or three years haven't come from the big two: Jonathan Hickman's Nightly News, Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's The Damned, James Turner's Rex Libris, Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim, each bringing something new to the medium, something unique. Given the nature of the industry and economy, it's going to be more difficult to find the different, but I think I need to make more of an effort to do so else I abandon completely this medium I've enjoyed, nay loved for so long.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Detective: Comics: Who Am I?

I have taken in the dust and touched the sky.

I have been a loner and a joiner.

I have shunned and handed down knowledge.

I have willingly spoken to the dead and unwillingly brought life to this world.

I came from nothing.

I am far from the last.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Final Crisis and Stories about Stories

When asked about 'Walking Dead' Robert Kirkman once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that the best zombie stories aren't about zombies. Rather, they use zombies to tell us something about ourselves. I love that sentiment. I've never been much of an 'art for art's sake' kind of guy. I believe that our reaction to it is a large part of what makes it art. It's art because it influences or provokes thought or action. Art transcends the aesthetic.

I get a lot out of stories that acknowledge the role of narrative in shaping societies. It's why, when I was a kid, I thought 'Sandman' ruled. Sure, it was neat that he was all goth and whatnot, but I really dug how he burrowed deep into myths, legends, and epics from the Greek pantheon to Shakespeare to explore the ways in they tackle the most ubiquitous topic of all: human nature. It's why I love 'Planetary', despite the fact that Warren Ellis seems like kind of a dick. Through the lens of popular culture, he takes us on a stroll through the great legends, both tragic and uplifting, of the 20th century. And of course, no fanboy can resist the delightful 'Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality'. It's a wonderful metatextual exploration of the modern comic book. Every time I read it, it makes me smile.

And that, second printers, brings me to 'Final Crisis'. Full disclosure: I loved it. It was dense, and it's not easy to follow a story like that with month-long (or longer) gaps between issues, but I'll be damned if I didn't love the hell out of every page.

I was talking to Ben about it, and he viewed it to some degree as a meta-admonition of the fans. 'We're the monitors,' he said. 'Sucking the life out of comics.' Maybe. But I want it to be more. I need it to be more.

I want it to be about the triumph of imagination over despair, and the immortality of true heroism. About how those who devote their lives to something greater than themselves might all have 'To Be Continued' etched into their gravestones.

I want it to be about overcoming fatalism and standing defiant in the face of grim certainty. I want it to be about outrunning the inevitable doom.

I want it to be about enduring hope. About what's possible when a hero wishes for a happy ending. Mostly, I want it to be a story about stories. About what our heroes mean to us and what they say about us.

When you strip out the continuity screw ups and the inconsistent tie-ins and all the other crap, I believe 'Final Crisis' is a treatise on the human imagination. Perhaps the greatest crime of modernism is that it once and for all slew the gods the myth and replaced them with unassailable reason. Superhero comics free us of the yoke of reason and tell us to look beyond into countless worlds of imagination, reminding us that those images that we dream are often the truest representations of ourselves.

What I take away from 'Final Crisis' is this: We don't exist just to consume narrative, nor does narrative exist just to fulfill us. Narrative also consumes us just as we fulfill it. This is the tacit agreement between humans and their myths, legends, and tales, tall or otherwise. Our stories are all that survive us when the Black Racer chases us down, and maintaining balance with our stories is the only way that they will speak truth about us. It's the only way we can view our own souls with clarity. It's through the penetrating gaze of human narrative that we find and celebrate that special thing that Jack Kirby believed was the hallmark of life itself: our free will.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Devil and The Details: Daredevil: Born Again

Fourteen years old and I learn that the devil is in the details.

The paper is somewhat coarse beneath my fingertips. My brain tries to race forward so as to empower my fingers to do what they have done for nearly a decade:

Turn the damned page.

The art is pretty, like the kind of pretty you see in the posters in the drycleaners' window. The art is polished. Considered. The man talks to the woman. The woman... remembers, not in flashback but in something, realistic. She remembers with regret.

The woman answers, raises a slip of paper and makes a declaration. It will speak of deconstruction.

“Look, this is worth something.”

These people speak to each other. This is... conversation?

It is changing everything I know.

Turn the page.

The man in red has yet to arrive. He is a good man. He is a good and noble man who has done many great things. He has not impressed me in the least.

How could he? He has always existed on the fringe of my four color existence. He'd no weight with me.

He'd never avenged.

On the page, the fat man with the diamond in his ascot from the Spider-Man albums I had six years back, holds up an envelope, considering its contents.

“Await the kill order... I shall test the information.”

Six months pass and the hero awakens to the sun's warmth on his face.

I am fourteen and I notice the color of the sun's warmth on a man's face. I am four pages in.

I am learning comics as art.

The noble hero awakens to his quiet destruction.

And I turn the page.