MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Here’s an odd little rant:
I’m a pretty severe Type 1 nerd. I don’t just collect comic books, I obsess about all kinds of weird stuff, from cartoons to detective movies to video games to toys. It’s a strange relationship with late capitalism, I’ll freely admit; I think normal people play FIFA or Call of Duty and watch The Big Bang Theory and have fuller social lives than I do. There are days I like to think of my own tastes as more sophisticated and self-aware than the people who crochet wool Hulkbuster armor to go to San Diego Comic Con, but they’re not, really. They’re reflexive, and those reflexes have to do with growing up during a period when advertisements during children’s television programming had been aggressively deregulated by Ronald Reagan’s head of the FCC, and a host of other environmental factors I’m probably not in close enough touch with my own psyche to identify, except generalized loneliness, which is apparent even to me.
But among a bunch of the weird artifacts of being a kid I still enjoy, even as I grow out of a lot of the superhero stories I loved and sell back issues to buy actual art that I put on the walls and so on, are Transformers toys. I don’t care about the cartoon, I throw away the comics that come as inserts in the packages, but I really enjoy and find soothing the act of turning a little plastic robot into a little plastic car or airplane or tank or bug.
As with most things I’ve liked for a long time, I will, if provoked, deliver a multi-point seminar on Transformers toys: how in the early 1980’s they were several loosely-related lines of Japanese transforming robots bought by a single holding company called Takara and distributed in the US under names dreamed up to give them a unifying story by the then-editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, Jim Shooter; how they’ve changed in the past 10 years or so to uniform scales and price points and are largely marketed to men my age; how shortly after the Transformers movie – the first one, which is arguably a pretty fun popcorn flick – the company that makes and distributes the toys in the US, Hasbro, was so flush with cash that it vastly overspent on design and production and even the modest $15 Deluxe-class figures from that era, as opposed to the larger Voyager, Leader, and two-foot-tall Titan class figures that came later, are bizarrely complex and troubling little works of art crafted to release the maximum number of whatever weird sub-endorphin is also associated with finishing a puzzle or assembling an Ikea bookshelf. Fans whose interest runs even deeper than my own know the names of the top designers and have strong opinions on who is the best.
One extremely weird feature of Transformers toys – and I mean nonsensical, not merely unique to the rules of this already eccentric world – is that there are maybe two female characters in this whole universe of intellectual property. Two: Arcee and Blackarachnia (I know. Never mind). A few more have been added but those are the two with personality.
The company, as it has aged, has more or less embraced the thirtysomething nerdity of its customer base and allows third-party fan-run companies to produce accessories and limited runs of finnicky and crazily specific action figures and parts of action figures; it also makes a breathtakingly expensive line of “Masterpiece”-class toys totally inappropriate for children, which closely resemble the cartoon TV show versions of both robot and vehicle modes by virtue of brain-destroyingly complicated transformational procedures that combine interlocking series of hidden panels and joints adjusted to the decamicron like a puzzle box from a Hellraiser movie. So the toymaker is very much in touch with its consumers and those consumers are few enough in number – but associated with the high-grossing film appendage of the product – that their various ideas are considered carefully.
As with most people devoted to mechanical engineering, one salient feature of Transformers fandom is lack of internal drama. Recently, at the end of that flush period – the company had to negotiate less favorable terms with Disney on two of its biggest licenses, Star Wars and Marvel, and its other film projects like Battleship and the second GI Joe movie failed abysmally, so it probably won’t do this again – Hasbro held a poll to “create” a new character from a bunch of preset options: what should its new Transformer look and act like? Should the character be secretive? Grumpy? Wild? A motorcycle? Orange? A girl? And the fans spoke, and they said, “We would like a girl Transformer, please,” and then they gave her a bunch of other characteristics: she’s a telepath from the city of Kaon, with a sword, who turns into a jet, and is valiant. Her name is Windblade.
The toy itself is a little plastic marvel, which is why I have one, and I mean, they’re all fucking robots, man, if they contribute to anyone’s romantic fantasy life that’s not on Hasbro, but Windblade is curvy and pointy where Starscream and Drift are boxy and paneled, and is kind of wearing high heels in a nontraditional way, and her face is a stylized feminine face. She has a big-ass sword and a scabbard that clip seamlessly into her sci-fi jet mode and looks like a miniature samurai warrior, in the way most of the really cool Transformers do.
The funny thing here is that there was no outcry about her. Nerds get a richly deserved bad rap for taking collective action when some poor author or artist trying desperately to stay interested in a job working in the corporate IP salt mines creatively misgenders or racebends a character from whatever transnational entertainment combine’s “classic” period is being celebrated this week, and for engaging in that action with a vigor that could change the world if it was deployed in the service of a political candidate. I think a lot of their fury has to do with the way those companies emphasize nonsensical continuity over decades of stories by thousands of writers and artists to prevent fans from following the people who actually create the work from company to company or, God forbid, medium to medium, but there’s no getting around how much of it is down to the basic shittiness of men to women. I honestly didn’t even know there WERE women Transformers fans until I bought Windblade at Toys R Us. She was part of a small, all-female “wave” of toys (Transformers is a brand, Combiner Wars or Titans Return is the line for, say, fiscal year ‘15-’16, Wave Four ships in June and is all helicopters or trucks); when I went to the checkout counter I made small talk and the clerk said she, too, had gotten Windblade as soon as she could and said proudly that she’d made sure to snap up the Arcee from the same wave. She barely managed it, even working at the store – they just didn’t make that many of them, because action figures are considered “boys’ toys” where dolls are considered the corresponding “girls’ toys.”
There’s a lot of reinforced historical sexism in the toy industry, as people briefly discovered and then rapidly forgot when Disney mandated underproduction of Rey action figures for the Star Wars movie, even though Rey was the film’s protagonist. The thesis was that boys wouldn’t buy them because boys don’t like girls, and girls wouldn’t buy them because girls don’t like action figures, which are notions that are basically correct because they’re enforced from an extremely young age by toy manufacturers. So Hasbro slowly admitting that the categories are arbitrary is a larger win than it may at first appear to be.
I found that several of the young women who worked at the comic book store near my office had largish collections; then I found whole websites devoted to female transformers that had been there all along. I just hadn’t been looking for them.
I suppose my point here is that in the same way that you don’t have to have a swastika tattoo to contribute to structural racism, you don’t have to be a rapist to contribute to institutionalized misogyny. In tiny ways, every day, men and women make easy choices to simply not consider women just this one time. Maybe it’s because we just have such a deep personal connection to Ghostbusters or because we love The O’Reilly Factor even though the guy who runs Fox News is probably kind of a scumbag; I’m not saying the reasons aren’t good, I’m saying they’re not good enough.
This is not a call to go campaigning against individual bad actors. For one thing, it’s not up to any of us to personally decide who those bad actors are beyond personal preference, which, as I say above, is reflexive to a large degree and unrelated to any but the broadest notions of quality (see files under: Goonies, The; Hook; and Land Before Time, The). Instead, it’s a tentative request to quiet down about needs that aren’t vital and personal. Were we to ask only for what we need, we might find ourselves talking less often, and we might hear other people asking for what they need, which might surprise us. We might also be ashamed to hear people asking to be represented just this once in places where we hadn’t even seen them being excluded, and rather than shout out their needs as we understand them, we might finally be quiet enough for them to be heard.
Hey, I haven’t updated this in a while, largely because things haven’t changed much in my personal comics-buying habits, but I thought I’d just put up my pull list in case people are interested. I recommend all these.
– Sex Criminals – Just broke down and started getting this as soon as it comes out. It’s amazing. The gags in the background are so great it bears multiple rereadings just to catch them all (fave at the moment, on a jar of petroleum jelly: LUBICROUS: WAY TOO MUCH LUBE). Also the dirty variant covers in the most recent story arc are uniformly terrific, especially the Jaime Hernandez one.
– Howard the Duck – This is my favorite Marvel comic, maybe ever. It is to funny comics as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is to horror comics. The crossover with Squirrel Girl in the most recent issue is just truly excellent.
– Silver Surfer – Mike Allred’s ability to keep up with this comic monthly is pretty astonishing. I don’t know if Marvel is fudging ship dates here and there to keep it pure Allred from start to finish, but it remains a really wonderful, beautiful book.
– Kaptara – More Zdarsky. Fun, funny space jam, nice art.
– Providence – The most disturbing thing Alan Moore has ever written. Can’t look away, can’t wait to see how it ends.
– Injection – Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis’s magical espionage book. Really beautiful, and really intense and fun. The detective-story arc that’s just about to end is totally delightful.
– James Bond: VARGR – More Ellis, on Bond. It’s the only licensed book I’ve read in years and years; the art is a little workaday but it’s getting progressively better. Ellis is one of those writers who has good panel layout ideas and you can see Jason Masters getting into it. The irony is that he tried to do basically this exact book on Jack Cross a few years back with Gary Erskine, a much, much more accomplished penciller and it went AWOL after four issues and can only be read in reprint when DC revived briefly the “100-page super spectacular” format about five years ago in an uncharacteristic fit of good sense.
– Black Panther – Ta-Nahesi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze. I think it may be the first time the character has had an all-black creative team. The jury is out, but it’s interesting so far. It’s good, in fact.
– Archie – Yeah, it’s great. Don’t make it a thing.
– Jughead – Better than Archie, if anything. Erica Henderson’s art is terrific.
– ODY-C – Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s insane genderswapped retelling of the Odyssey. Every time I think I can wait on the trade paperback I see the cover to the new one.
– Black Widow – Holy shit, this book is amazing. The work of Chris Samnee’s career (which is saying quite a bit) for which he very rightly gets coauthor credit with Mark Waid. Samnee’s storytelling chops are just unparalleled; he can guide your eye across the page like nobody else.
– Klaus – Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s ironically grimdark Santa Claus: Year One tale, done up like a really happy episode of Game of Thrones. Mora’s art is excellent.
– Hellboy in Hell – The final Hellboy story. This will really have been an amazing body of work when it finishes in a couple of months.
– Karnak – This book comes out once every million years but it’s really solid. Gerardo Zaffino is a gloriously talented artist but his replacement Roland Boschi keeps the aesthetic without being swallowed up by it (Zaffino had some kind of family crisis, hence the interminable delays, so fingers crossed the last three issues arrive without incident).
– DKIII: The Master Race – I am reading this entirely for the Frank Miller-drawn minicomics in the middle of each issue. Brian Azzarello’s writing is unbearably hacky, sorry. I care not even a little about anyone in the story, but I am happy to see new Miller art.
– Strange Fruit – Sue me, I like this book. I realize the Art Police have chewed on its ankles a little but its heart is in the right place. Mark Waid’s vision of the Jim Crow South is a little hamfisted but the concept is quietly brilliant and is right in the wheelhouse for his superheroic gifts. I can’t say enough good things about J G Jones’s painted art; it’s like a particularly grim edition of the Saturday Evening Post.
TREES: Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s near-future alien invasion book. It makes 10x more sense in collections and Jason Howard’s art is basically only okay; it’s also been really spotty coming out lately so I’m giving it until the end of the next arc before I buy it again.
ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS: Waid, Andy Kubert and Mahmud Arsar, whose stuff is not even slightly of a piece with Kubert’s. It’s an interesting counterpoint but there’s no thematic consistency to what Kubert draws and what Arsar draws. But the story is fun and I love the lineup.
DOCTOR STRANGE: Basically dropped down on this one last week because there’s some kind of crossover going on; Chris Bachalo is the best thing going and he’s not doing all the art on the new story, so we’ll see how it shakes out when it hits the stands as a collection. Often they leave out the little ancillary bits if they’re not super-central to the story, which I hope for dearly.
LOOKING FORWARD TO:
SNOTGIRL – New Brian Lee O’Malley. I will read it, even though it’s called Snotgirl.
BETTY & VERONICA – Adam Hughes is doing a serial comic, which will probably come out once every nine years, but I’m still into it. because I really like Adam Hughes.
KILL OR BE KILLED – Brubaker and Phillips’ new project, essentially a film noir Punisher.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Alan Moore’s formally brilliant, painstakingly crafted horror comic PROVIDENCE went so far in its efforts to disturb readers that it precluded my recommending without huge, all-caps caveats, despite enjoying the vast majority of it myself, but I was holding out hope, which was dashed about as awfully as possible with the sixth issue.
Two further issues have been published since I first started thinking about this; they’re both good and continue the unusual, accretive plot structure, which looks for hundreds of pages like a series of disturbing anecdotes and turns out to be a huge, horrifying, interconnected superstructure. “It’s like a maze you can’t see,” as one of the characters observes.
Here’s a brief explanation of why I care that the book is so aggressively problematic:
Moore is a genius. Like Stephen Sondheim or the Coen brothers, I am happy to be alive while he is creating new work. He is one of my favorite authors in any medium and I’m a moderately well-read guy, which is to say that I don’t just read comics or comics and sci-fi. He’s a virtuosic comics writer in the same way John Ashbery is a virtuosic poet or Tom Stoppard is a playwright; their work may be a little cold at times but it is underpinned with incredible and genuine depth of feeling and supported by tremendous, intricate knowledge of literary structure, which is why the final phrase of Moore’s has become such a disappointing one to his devoted fans, among whose number I of course count myself.
(I’ll get to the troublesome passage in a minute.)
A lot of Moore’s work has been derided by the weird internet morality police for depicting violence against women in what those readers think is a prurient way, notably The Killing Joke, an okay Batman graphic novel that’s not even in my top twenty Alan Moore stories. It’s apparently of no use to these people how well or sensitively Moore depicts sexual violence – and in the cases of, say, Watchmen and Top Ten, to pick what are probably the two best stand-alone volumes he’s written, I’d say he does it with extraordinary sensitivity.
This is very scary to someone who loves Moore’s work and thinks it’s valuable; we live in a time of such unparalleled idiocy in arts criticism that I often worry great works and great bodies of work will be consigned to the dumping ground of history by people who lack not just the understanding of but the slightest interest in the way art works. Fandom has no use for quality. Its objective is competitive, and its medium is intensity: all there is for the fan to do is to love or hate something harder than all the other fans.
Which is to say that when fans try to write criticism they do it badly. “Alan Moore’s work is RAPEY!” is not a criticism; it’s a description of subject matter. Law & Order: SVU is also rapey; so is Nabokov’s bibliography. The latter is better than the former.
But what these critics are gesturing at, again, badly, is in fact something legitimate. Alan Moore’s work is structured like clockwork, and it is designed to elicit emotions on this page and realizations on that page and to pull together in the readers head into a kind of larger structure you can hold in your mind only upon finishing one of his books. Many great writers do this; if it’s done well it’s often the reason a good book with many plot twists is worth rereading.
And, again, like many writers, Moore has a limited bag of tricks. Serial possession, intricate time travel, triadic romantic relationships, evil wizards who turn out to be nice, if horny, old men – these are things that show up in quite a few Moore books, and there are others besides.
One of those is rape as punishment.
Moore excels at writing cruelty. He also excels at writing heroism, and so his pitched battles tend to have higher stakes than most. But lately he has given up completely on heroism, or at least turned it down, and he has turned up cruelty as far as it will go, and so, as a writer good at weaving complicated ideas for his readership, when he has returned to horror in this latest and likely last stage of his career, he seems bent on crafting despair, using all of his tricks.
What’s odd is that his books are still enjoyable. His plots are twisty and his characters are sympathetic but (and here if you are easily disturbed or feel worried by anything you have read so far in this piece I would entreat you to stop reading) in the latest issue of Providence, his comic about a gay Jewish man learning the secrets of vicious racist horror writer HP Lovecraft’s New England, he has his hero, Robert Black, encounter a 13-year-old girl who turns out to be possessed by a creature that can move consciousnesses between bodies – its own and other people’s – as it wishes.
And, in order to teach Black a lesson, it traps his mind in the 13-year-old girl, possesses Black, and viciously rapes him with his own body, which on the page is depicted as the brutal and explicit violation of a teenage child.
There’s a tremendous amount going on in Providence. It’s drawn very cleverly; it’s clear that there are images in the background to which the reader will need to return to understand the way Moore is subtly bending time over the course of what appears at first blush for several issues to be a perfectly normal road trip story.
But this most recent scene is so utterly horrible, so carefully designed for maximum disgust and so painstakingly demonstrative of sadism, that it’s hard not to receive it as authorial sadism. And I think that is on some level what the complainers (at least those who’ve read the work in question) are getting at: Watchmen and Top Ten take place in worlds where there is hope and the possibility of peace, or at least brief love. Providence does not. The Killing Joke, which might actually be Moore’s most widely read work, doesn’t really, either. V for Vendetta, largely for reasons of amateurism, is pretty hateful. The mechanics are not much different from any other Moore story; the trouble is that he’s intentionally cranked the volume up too high. He undoubtedly has a reason; in fact the reason is starting to become clear in the subsequent issues, but the question is not whether Moore can justify it to himself, it’s whether the reader can be reasonably expected to endure it. That the question is still open is a mark of Moore’s genius, and his willfulness.
I’ve considered not publishing this review until the series is finished. I still enjoy Providence tremendously and am anxious to read it to the end, no matter what Moore has coming next. I have a lot of faith that he will tell me something complicated and worth understanding about the way he sees the world; he has lost none of his cranky, crazy, unceasingly brilliant edge in the last ten years. Even his brief takeover of his friend’s mildly lame zombie series, Crossed, was excellent. But I am worried that this darkness in his work will engulf not just the author, but his place in posterity.
Anybody know anything about this cartoon? Artist, publication?
BATMAN V EVERYBODY
1. One of the few interesting things about BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and its director Zack Snyder is that, in the way of similarly stylish hacks like Michael Bay and David Fincher, he’s become obsessed with whether or not the hoi polloi, by which I mean newspaper movie critics, think he’s a genius or not (he’s not). Repeatedly, he’s told interviewers he thinks his films have more going on in them than reviewers have given him credit for putting there, and so it falls to me to give him at least that much: Snyder’s movies are not actually brainless popcorn-flick trash overburdened by special effects and kneecapped by directorial incompetence, they’re the work of a furious intellect trying to communicate ideas so big they overwhelm all notions of story, character and theme, in large part because those ideas are fucking stupid.
Snyder reveres the work of popular novelist and widely derided philosopher Ayn Rand, and if you watch Dawn of Justice, you will, whether you like it or not, witness something like the very first Objectivist superhero film. (Snyder tried to do this with Man of Steel but was thwarted by Superman himself, a pacifist force for altruistic good so strong in the viewer’s mind that his merely letting death happen somewhere during the film, let alone murder at the end, is derided by lovers of the comics, myself included, as Snyder refusing to deal with the character as written and instead fobbing off his own tainted version on a skeptical public. Good job, Superman.) Here’s how it breaks down:
In Batman v Superman, Lex Luthor, the villain, has no real ideas of his own and is driven by whining resentment for power, especially Superman’s power, so he steals it and uses it against Superman in Wagnerian fashion. This is pretty much perfectly redolent of Rand’s own whining, resentful villains, impotent to act except by stealing the work of their betters, who are unafraid to use power to make themselves still awesomer, like Snyder doubtless does basically all the time.
Batman, of course, works beautifully, because Snyder absolutely adores Frank Miller, the alcoholic genius whose minimalist reinvention of Batman as a vigilante psychopath poisoned the well for decades to come simply by being compelling to adult fans of the character’s exploits in an unapologetic way that few of his contemporaries dared to attempt in the fundamentally silly world of superheroes. (It may also have to do with Ben Affleck, the only person involved in the movie who’s ever won anything for his writing, who reportedly rewrote chunks of his dialogue on-set.) I’d also put to you that Snyder understands Miller; that it’s no accident his film of Miller’s 300 is such an insightful adaptation of that beautiful, jingoistic book and such a full realization of its grotesque themes.
In Dawn of Justice, Snyder goes so far as to frame several shots so that they recreate key moments from Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns; I have no idea what this does for people who haven’t read an unhealthy number of comics but as an artistic gesture, it’s pretty cool if you’re in the know. Both artists are attracted to Rand’s work as subject matter; Miller’s Martha Washington series of graphic novels loosely adapts Atlas Shrugged, Snyder will direct a big-budget version of The Fountainhead in years to come.
The hardest and least successful reckoning is between Objectivist fuckery and
Superman, because Rand’s ugly philosophy is devoted to making virtue of selfishness, and Superman’s most basic quality, beyond even the big red S and the cape and the ability to bend steel in his bare hands, is selflessness. It becomes very difficult for Snyder to give Superman some kind of compelling motivation to do the right thing, because Snyder, like Rand, doesn’t believe people can ever really want altruism. They just want favors. So, in the movie’s ugliest scenes, he has Superman’s parents tell him that: “You don’t owe this damn world a thing,” Martha Kent tells her son. “Be whatever you want to be.” It’s supposed to sound like motherly support for a guy who needs to embrace the ultimate good of self-interest, I guess, but of course it sounds monstrous. Plenty of good Supeman comics take the view that Superman only becomes Superman because his parents are good people who raise him right. What we’re actually hearing, I think, is Snyder himself screaming at the character to want something, anything, beyond to be asleep next to Lois and to make sure everyone is safe. Where could that sense of responsibility possibly come from? What does Superman have to gain by helping people who might -often, who do – hate and fear him? It’s a question too big for Snyder.
Miller, a smarter writer who lacks Snyder’s open contempt for his audience (which is a little bit funny because Miller’s audience is much smaller and a hundred times more irritating than Snyder’s), dealt with it by reducing Superman’s conscience to thoughtless patriotism, which scans for the length of his Dark Knight comics, where Superman is mostly used to show the superiority of Batman’s will. But that perspective still isn’t quite right, and that’s perhaps why Miller is on record saying he hates Superman. He’s a hard character to write if you exclusively believe people have no capacity other than selfishness within them.
The movie mashes up The Dark Knight Returns with The Death of Superman, a really dumb story that doesn’t say much of anything except “buy this special edition comic, it will be worth something in a few years.”
2. DEADPOOL, another sneering, mean-spirited, ultra-violent superhero movie, is loads of fun, entirely because it embraces the cheapest and most juvenile thrills available and makes no apology for them. It tries to say nothing, it lives only to make you laugh, its performances are uniformly wonderful and it gives its actors room to maneuver in the way that the last few big-budget comedies have wisely done with their writer-performers. “You look like an avocado fucked an older, more disgusting avocado,” Weasel (TJ Miller) observes to Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). “And it wasn’t gentle, either. It was like, hatefucking. Like there was something seriously wrong in the relatioship and it was the only catharsis they could achieve without violence.”
I would rather watch that line on a loop than think about Zack Snyder’s idiot Superman movies for another minute.
3. The anti-Snyder comic, WORLD’S FUNNEST, finally got its very first reprint this week. It’s so wonderful. Its by the underrated Evan Dorkin, who wrote quite a bit of Superman: The Animated Series and the late, lamented 90′s hipster indie humor comic Milk & Cheese. It’s illustrated, hilariously, by a who’s who of grimdark 80′s and 90′s comics, including but not limited to Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons, Miller himself (see picture), Dave Mazzuchelli, Alex Ross, wonderful workaday guys like Phil Jimenez and Mike Allred, and then a ton of indie comics people from Jim Woodring to Jaime Hernandez. The plot, briefly, is that Bat-Mite and Mr Mxyzptlk, fifth-dimensional foes of Batman and Superman respectively, travel from parallel universe to parallel universe killing their counterparts every time they encounter them. The collection has a bunch of other rarities in it, like Kevin O’Neill’s incredible Bat-Mite comics and some Silver Age Mr Mxyzptlk stories. I hope I live long enough for a Mr Mxyzptlk to show up in a movie. Or at least Brainiac.
4. Things that remain pretty good: Warren Ellis’s bajillion projects are still great (Injection, James Bond: Vargr, which has settled in nicely, a couple others), Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s borderline unreadable, unbearably beautiful ODY-C remains glorious, Howard the Duck is still solid, oh, and I owe the world a long, nerdy post on the Ellis/Moore/Brubaker years at Wildstorm. I’ll probably also put up my rant about Providence, which got super dark two issues ago, in a few days. Oh and there’s a fun Joss Whedon/John Cassaday story in the new CAPTAIN AMERICA, and Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s BLACK WIDOW is just totally boss.
5. Almost forgot: I did a long feature on Clowes. I put my back into it and I’m proud of how it came out.
I owe you an apology. It’s been too long, but I promise, I have been reading comic books.
1. Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures, which is in no way by Will Eisner, has had a new printing from Dark Horse. It is half the price of the original printing, on better paper, at slightly larger trim size and now includes a never-before published story by a very interesting Australian writer/artist I’d never heard of in addition to the rare Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons/Neil Gaiman-Eddie Campbell/Kurt Busiek/Paul Pope/etc stories that made up the original volume and if that’s not a deal I’d like you to tell me what is.
2. Karnak is back! I have missed this book and while I’m terribly sorry this will be the final Gerardo Zaffino issue – I can see very clearly why they hired him, his work on here is astonishing – it’ll be nice to get closer to something approximating a regular publishing schedule. Speaking of which:
3. Miracleman appears to have been pushed back. Again. I’d be less upset about this but TWENTY YEARS. It’s a long time to wait. They’re renumbering the book for each of the Gaiman arcs, so the next issue is to be The Silver Age #1 and then presumably The Dark Age #1 and so on. The full collection of the first Gaiman story is out; it’s wonderful and has a great Mark Buckingham collage cover of the kind he did in imitation of Dave McKean the first time around and then with a bit more authority on the reprints. It’s lovely and finally has the backup stories that lead into the next sequence in it, which the editors left out of the collection the first time around. It’s just a brilliant thing to have in my hand and it makes me all the more anxious to have the rest of the story before, I don’t know, a meteor strike the Marvel offices or something awful happens to Neil Gaiman. I realize how weirdly selfish that sounds but there are artists, Gaiman among them, who have unfinished work I’m very partial to and with which I’m happy for them to take as long as they want with the the sole caveat that they not die first. It feels like a good compromise; Stephen King said people relievedly walked up to him after his car accident and told him they were glad he’d survived which, if memory serves, King said “beats the hell out of ‘why aren’t you dead yet.’” He was in the middle of The Dark Tower at the time, into which he incorporated said car accident, incidentally.
4. Dan Clowes has finished his masterpiece Patience and I got to read it early and hang out with him for a feature on same which I have to say was a strong exception to the Never Meet Your Heroes rule. Eightball, Clowes’s crazy, id-driven humor anthology comic that read (and still reads) a little like what would happen if Mad and Zap had a baby, imprinted on me like a newly-hatched chicken when I was a teenager. Patience is his crazy, id-driven scifi comic; he’s gotten a lot less discursive with age and so his new book doesn’t have that funny character who intemperately hectors the reader but it does feel just as strangely personal as anything in the Clowes canon. I can’t say enough good things about the art; it’s just staggeringly beautiful, with these huge two-page spreads of the hero traveling through time. His work always sort of dares you to analyze it, but it’s very hard. His narrator’s self-image is such a typically heavy presence in the world that it often overwhelms the reader’s ability to figure out how many of his perceptions are accurate and which of the ones that aren’t are colored by rage or fear or lust. A few times his mind will wander during what are obviously vital conversations and Clowes will realize this by letting the dialogue he’s not listening to carefully enough go off the borders of the panel. A lot of contemporary indie comics are just gorgeously drawn but hardly written at all; Patience has both halves of this weird hybrid medium fully realized and it’s a real watershed. I’m sorry we live in such a shitty, awful time for criticism because it’s so finely wrought it bears a lot of unpacking. The TCJ review of the book was conspicuously awful and that’s the highest-profile an in-depth treatment the book is going to get, at least until arts writers all suddenly collectively get over themselves.
5. The medium needs some new ideas. Clowes has quite a few; the mainstream superhero titles are just so horribly deracinated with a very few exceptions. I was reading the new Doctor Strange, a book I really like largely for the artwork, and I suddenly realized that the writer, Jason Aaron, was doing a riff on Alan Moore’s first big Swamp Thing story from thirty years ago and then about five pages later started pillaging the first issue of The Sandman. Those are both great books but they’re an average of thirty years old!