Where the Trains Turn November 19, 2014 Where the Trains Turn Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen His imagination runs wild. The Walk November 12, 2014 The Walk Dennis Etchison Creative differences can be brutal. Where the Lost Things Are November 5, 2014 Where the Lost Things Are Rudy Rucker and Terry Bisson Everything has to wind up somewhere. A Kiss with Teeth October 29, 2014 A Kiss with Teeth Max Gladstone Happy Halloween.
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Showing posts by: Jim Henley click to see Jim Henley's profile
Wed
Sep 10 2008 9:37pm

See Your Subscription Box Next Tuesday, Batfans

Or, The Vagina Dialogues. DC Comics recalled all copies of this week’s shipment of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder because of a printing problem. The method of Miller’s script is

  1. Use an awful lot of profanity, including the C-word.
  2. Letter the profanity into the book.
  3. Black over the profanity, sometimes leaving little bits sticking out so people can figure out the redacted words pretty easily.

Apparently, the ink-over blocks weren’t black enough this time.

Heidi MacDonald broke the story. Rich Johnston got some illicit snaps of a few recalled pages, and provides a helpful transcript. All-Star Batman isn't to my taste, and it’s been a standing joke in the comics blogosphere since at least the “I’m the goddam Batman” issue. I wonder if Miller’s take is a plausible hip-hop-generation take on the character, though, or a white cusper’s (those of us born at the very tale end of the baby boom or right at the supposed start of Generation X, falling between those two stools culturally) notion of a hip-hop generation take on Batman. Lots of bling, lots of T&A, lots of ultraviolance and lots and lots of profiling hard. Regardless, while I don’t like it, it ain’t moody.

Mon
Sep 8 2008 11:14pm

We Must Be Cruel, Only to Be Kind Fanboys

Attention Peter David: Tor.com is worried about X-Factor! And when I say “Tor.com,” I mean “me.” And tikilovegod, who comments downblog:

I’ll second Jim’s assessment of Peter David’s X-Factor. What’s happening to X-Factor right now is particularly disheartening because it’s the same thing that happened to the title when David was writing it back in the early 90s. The title was a funny, character-driven thing that was nothing like anything else Marvel was publishing at the time. The psychoanalysis story (#87) remains one of my all-time favorite single issues. Crossovers killed the earlier X-Factor series and they are killing the new one.

That’s two! If we were cockroaches, and I ain’t sayin’ one way or the other, that would mean there are two thousand of us you’re not seeing. We have loved X-Factor, man, and we want to go on loving it. DO OUR BIDDING—FOR WE ARE THE CRANKY INTERNET AND THEREFORE GUARANTEED TO BE REPRESENTATIVE!

And, honestly, a plot that turns on the conceit that the whole Secret Invasion can be undone by taking down the One Super-Magic Skrull Priest Guy, when we have never, in almost fifty meatspace years of Marvel Comics, come across the faintest suggestion that Skrull society operates that way? That’s lame. Are you sending a secret message?

UPDATE: Dave Robeson makes three!

Mon
Sep 8 2008 10:39am

Secret? What Crisis?

Last week I fell prey to an avocational disease: I bought a couple of comics because I felt the need to keep current. They were DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, by Brad Meltzer, Adam Kubert and John Dell, and Final Crisis: Revelation #1, by Greg Rucka, Philip Tan, inker Jeff De Los Santos and colorist Jonathan Glapion. Both are part of DC Comics’ current big crossover event, “Final Crisis.” DC says Final Crisis is what previous events from 2004’s Identity Crisis through Infinite Crisis and, somewhere in there, 52 and Countdown. The end result will be, DC said, to determine what their continuity will be for the next several years. In other words, the whole shebang constitutes a kind of four-year retcon.

Meanwhile, Marvel Comics has been running its own series of daisy-chained crossover events which, Wikipedia reminds me, includes “Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Decimation, and Secret War.” The current series is Secret Invasion.

When people like Douglas Wolk write about the high entry costs of corporate superhero comics—all that back-story—and declare that the pleasure to be had is the long sweep of the continuity-wide narrative, to some extent they’re talking about the succession of crossover series. Me, I hate ’em. Indeed, I wish they would get off my lawn.

[More comics talk behind the cut...]

Sat
Aug 30 2008 2:05pm

Geek Brother, the Power

I had a bootleg concert tape in which Steve Earle spoke between songs about his high-school hobby of “turning cowboys onto LSD.” Of one football-playing friend, in paraphrase: Wed lie on the hood of my car looking up at the sky and hed say, Did you see that?? And Id tell him, No, man, thats your hallucination.” A key theme of the monologue was that these were friends who were only comfortable hanging out with Earle on the sly. They took care not to be seen palling around with him. High school hierarchies.

I find myself thinking of the story as I continue to mull a passage from Tim O’Neil’s post on 1990s superhero comics I linked early in the week. The gist:

If you’re of a certain age and have never had the kind of “break” in comic reading that a lot of people usually do—you know, the old, “I discovered girls / college / pot and comics went by the wayside”—in other words, if you’re a lifer, your relationship with comics is probably pretty complicated. Comics can be like a drug. They say addicts get stuck at the level of emotional maturity they were when they first began to use. That is definitely true for comics fans, and learning to outgrow what can be a pretty crippling, albeit comforting “crutch” can be really, really traumatic.

I don’t think there’s no truth in that. (See also, “Comics Made Me Fat”, by Tom Spurgeon.) While there’s no question Tim’s portrait offers a facile causality, I think it would be equally glib to say the dynamic runs purely the other way, that comics are simply the refuge in which that some people respite from preexisting body issues or social anxieties or health problems. I think there’s a lot of that, just as there’s some evidence that a fair amount of pleasure-drug addiction constitutes an instinctive, if often counterproductive, self-medication for depression or chronic physical pain. I’ve been to a mall, and there’s an awful lot of fat people out there, and according to the circulation reports, hardly any comics readers. But people can deform themselves by clinging too firmly to crutches, yes, even if the crutch started out as necessary or at least useful.

But what I got interested in, pondering all this, was the kind of Oort Cloud of fandom: the closet cases; the furtive readers and the vocally anti-nerd nerds.

[Read more behind the cut...]

Mon
Aug 25 2008 10:54pm

The King of the World, as Far as I Know

A hot topic in the comics blogosphere last week was “What were the best superhero comics of the 1990s, and were even the best ones any, um, good?” It’s a good thing the comics blogosphere took up this topic because I couldn’t tell you: I gafiated right through the decade, except for a brief fling with the early America’s Best Comics line. Which, I suppose, is the kind of thing one would say, but it happened just that way. What I was reading about the superhero-comics genre in the media was dire enough to keep me from re-engaging, particularly the deaths (for certain values of death) of Superman and the Jason Todd Robin. Somewhere I picked up a few issues of Daredevil written by DG Chichester: they and he seem to have passed from the memory of the hobby, but I liked them pretty well. But overall, I got no clue, so you should go to the people who were paying attention.

Dick Hyacinth kicks things off, tossing out the idea that there were no worthwhile superhero comics in the decade to warm up for an attack on part of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s tenure on JLA. In a separate post, he shoots down some of the decade’s standard canon. (Contains a lengthy comment thread with people’s enthusiasms.)

Tom Spurgeon offers a big long list of “half-way decent or well-regarded” books. It offers breadth rather than depth (there’s no appraisal).

Tim O’Neill goes the other way, offering lengthy appreciations of his Top Five, along with meditations on the social and psychological effects of long immersion in the hobby. (By implication, he thinks a decade’s gafiation here and there is a good idea.)

Wed
Aug 20 2008 12:24am

The Cool Exec with the Heart of Steel

Via Spencer Ackerman, a deleted scene from Iron Man if you haven't come across it.

Since we can see the glowing ring beneath Tony Stark's shirt, we can tell the scene follows Stark's rescue. I'm thinking the scene's business was to place Tony closer to Afghanistan so it would "make sense" that he could get there in his suit. It probably made sense to cut it. There's some development of the relationship between Pepper and Tony, but probably not enough to make it worth keeping. And the seeming setup for a group-sex session (admittedly a total fakeout) was edgy for the rating.

The lack of music (even in the part with dancing) gives the clip an eerie feel.

Mon
Aug 18 2008 11:32pm

Eighties Rewind III

I’m fuzzy on my cyberpunk bon mots and so is Wikiquote. Was it William Gibson who said that today’s nightmare future is tomorrow’s ordinary day? Around that time he or someone like him would have been saying that or something like it, Howard Chaykin was creating American Flagg!, the post-apocalyptic cop comic in which the Future looks at the ruin of Terran civilization—nuclear war; plague; general societal collapse and I forget what all else—and says, “Fuck it, man, let’s go bowling.”

Metaphorically speaking, I mean. I don’t remember if there was any bowling in the series or not. (There was basketball. With cesti! I am telling you about these books before I reread them because there’s no reason for you to delay picking them up on my account.)

[Read more below the fold...]

Mon
Aug 18 2008 10:15am

Eighties Rewind II

These days, when people think of Scott McCloud, they think of his books explaining comics, or his web-comics evangelism. Back when Talking Heads were touring, Scott McCloud was the guy who wrote and drew Zot! Zot the superhero was a teenage adventurer from the fantastic future of 1965—as envisioned by the 1939 World’s Fair. (Hear Aimee Mann sing about it at Last.fm. You need that whole record, Whatever, by the way.) Zot! the comic book is about a twelve-year-old girl named Jenny.

[Read more below the fold...]

Sun
Aug 17 2008 11:07pm

Eighties Rewind I

Readers are going to start asking, “Jim, do you read any new comics?” And I do! But the last couple of weeks have seen a bounty in reprints of long-unavailable classic work from the early and mid-1980s that I can't let them pass unmentioned. The three collections constitute some of my favorite comics from one of the industry’s more creative periods.

When I saw a collection of Journey on the shelves at Big Planet Comics in Bethesda on my regular Saturday shopping trip, I squealed like a child. I interrupted myself in mid-sentence in undignified fashion, something like, “Yeah, Leigh, the thing about the Ratzapper is OH MY GOD JOURNEY!!!”

So what is Journey?

Journey is the saga of—I’d call him a mountain man, except the Great Lakes region lacked mountains at the cusp of the War of 1812 just as it does today. Josh “Wolverine” McAllister is a pioneer in post-revolutionary America, but not the kind who makes as many tomahawk improvements as possible with an eye towards establishing his own town or estate. He’s the kind who comes to the frontier to get away from as many people as possible.

[More beyond the frontier...]

Thu
Aug 7 2008 9:15pm

Superhero Blogging Goes to the Dogs

For personal reasons, I decided to write a bit about dogs in superhero comics. The very brief history is, a long time ago there were a bunch of dogs in superhero comics. Then creators and publishers decided to put them outside, but dogs being clever creatures, they keep sneaking back into the house.

The most famous dog in superhero comics by far is Krypto. (If we open the field up to animation characters, Underdog might contend for pack leader.) DC Comics introduced Krypto in 1955. Thirty years later, they decided that Krypto was not grim, and neither was he gritty. DC was launching one of the first of their laborious attempts to "clean up" and modernize their continuity, which they believe should always be done in full view of readers, over months (lately, years) of time, across all their books at once, which may seem like it offers all the excitement of watching stage hands set up props between acts but which goes on for a lot longer.

[More below the fold...]

Sat
Jul 26 2008 4:46am

Fuzzy Heroes III: The Final (Promise!) Fuzzing

Because they told me back in Blog School that the key to building an audience was to seize on a hot topic and, er, worry it like a bone...

Because the question of what precisely Batman did to the dogs in The Dark Knight remains the overriding issue of our day, I ended up being interviewed by phone on the issue for Bloggasm. Simon also tracked down PETA's blogger, Christine Doré, to get additional comments on her two "animal-friendly superhero" items.That part's mostly just amusing. But the article adds value to the discussion by noticing that dog metaphors (or at least clichés) may be a running theme of the movie, which bears paying attention to on a second viewing.

Combat!

[Image courtesy Lolcat Builder. Caption text courtesy - me!]

Fri
Jul 25 2008 12:18am

Some of Origins of Marvel (and Other) Comics

In all the versions of it, no one missed him.

--Thomas Lynch, "Michael's Reply to the White Man"

Reading ComicsIn which I contribute more to The Valve's Reading Comics symposium than mere linkage. But first, more mere linkage, to playwright Justin Grote's appreciation of the book. I want to add megadittoes to his praise of the book, particularly the section where he explains how, "The genius of Reading Comics is that it combines the best of both [the fannish and formal critical] traditions." (Not so much for his assertion that SF fandom "began to emerge" in the 1960s.) I mention how much I agree with this part now because, in the way of things, I'll be spending a couple items on places where I disagree. So let's get to it.

The medium of comics has a Myth of the Fall that RC touches on, and that one finds elsewhere among critics, advocates and certain practitioners, and goes something like this:

Once upon a time, the comic-book industry offered a stupefying variety of material. From the late 1930s through the late 1960s you could buy monster comics, romance comics, humor comics, crime comics, horror comics, and, yes, superhero comics. Alas, as the 1970s turned to the 1980s, the two major corporate publishers, Marvel and DC, turned their backs on the general audience - especially children - to saturate the emerging (adult) fan market flocking to comics specialty stores, and since the fan market wanted superheroes and more superheroes, that's what the Big Two, and a remora-school of wannabes, gave them. As a result, circulations plummeted, the mass audience tuned out, and "pop" comic books lost their general-issue appeal, becoming the preoccupation of a dwindling audience of aging fanboys. Only once the independent comics (aka "comix") movement gathered steam from the late 1980s to early in the new millenium did at least a portion of the industry dare to provide the variety of sequential-art narratives that would appeal to a large audience.

This myth is very nearly completely backwards.

[More below the fold...]

Thu
Jul 24 2008 3:16am

Comicon of the Mind

RC coverYour intrepid superhero-comics blogger has not made the journey to SDCC, an event which, from what I can tell, is probably sour anyway. Plus, those of us who stayed home get food and sleep. Plus, we need not lack for comics-related stimulation thanks to literary blog The Valve's virtual symposium on Douglas Wolk's new book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. The book is not remotely as annoying as the subtitle, which was probably chosen by committee. I enjoyed it a great deal, and recommend it unreservedly. I'm also part of the symposium, thanks to Valve ringmaster John Holbo. I'll be writing about the book here over the next few days as part of the event, but tonight I wanted to point you to the existing symposium contributions.

Of the batch, Burke, Manley and Pedler take off from and to different extents argue with Wolk's take on superhero comics; LaRiviere and Roberts try to use Wolk to justify their lack of interest in multipage sequential art as a medium; Farmar argues that the national traditions of comics art are more distinct than Wolk gives them credit for; Holbo plays off of Farmar's essay; and Paik discusses - lots of things: to be frank, I've only skimmed it.

Nevertheless, I agree with part of Paik's entry that did jump out at me:

He does a marvelous job of sparking interest in the creators he clearly admires, such as Carla Speed McNeil, the Hernandez brothers, Chester Brown, and Grant Morrison - in the chapters dedicated to them, Wolk demonstrates his skill at zeroing in on the essential details of a work without giving away too much in the way of plot.

I enjoy this aspect of Reading Comics a lot. I find Wolk to be delightful at expressing delight, and I find a lot of delight in the book. To that extent, I disagree with Burke, who sees way more frown on Wolk's face than I do.

Cover image courtesy Da Capo Books.

Tue
Jul 22 2008 3:05am

Fuzzy Heroes II: The Fuzzening

Over the weekend I blogged about PETA's list of the Top 10 Animal-Friendly Superheroes. Via an update on CWR, I see that PETA has kicked Batman off the island because of his dog combat in The Dark Knight. (Hellboy replaces him.) PETA Dudes. I have two words for you: Self. Defense.

By the by, I read somewhere people saying that Batman tossed one of the dogs out the window during the big skyscraper fight. I didn't see it that way, and I was kind of alert for the possibility of a dog getting pitched. In my experience, an American movie will show you almost any kind of atrocity against human beings, but will scrupulously avoid graphic despoliation of Fluffy. My recollection is that, in Shooter, where the Feds' murder of the protagonist's dog becomes a major motivation,  the movie keeps the dog's death safely offscreen. Am I misremembering either or both of these movies?

Meanwhile, the weekend is over, and I'd like to open this thread to completely spoilerous discussion of the movie.

Ace the Bathound!

Sun
Jul 20 2008 4:35pm

Good Words About Bad Men

Ledger's JokerSean Collins's entire review of The Dark Knight is worth reading, but I especially like this part:

Ledger's Joker is a creature in that vein, but instead of being larger than life, he's smaller than life. I know that seems counterintuitive given the for-the-ages performance he turned in--surely this will be the most-referenced portrayal of a Villain since Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter--but what the Joker is is a human being reduced to only cruelty and glee.

Nicely put.

Sun
Jul 20 2008 3:01am

The Conquest of Earth Prime

DarkseidTwo recent blog entries by bloggers I enjoy got me thinking.

First, Johanna Draper Carlson makes an odd declaration in the course of panning the Batman Begins DVD.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a *bad* movie… It’s very faithful to the comics (the good ones). It just doesn’t have much heart. It’s great for the fans, not so much for a general audience. If you don’t know the comics, the character types can seem pretty two-dimensional.

My emphasis. Johanna's a seasoned critic with informed tastes who need apologize to no one for liking what she likes and disliking what she doesn't. But while Johanna is much less enthusiastic about American superhero comics than, say, I am, she is nevertheless a fandom lifer, who goes to cons, married a fan and former pro (KC Carlson, who co-reviews the new animated-Batman DVD in another entry), and reads more comics of all kinds in a week than I do in a month. Neither she nor I constitute the "general audience," so we're not well-qualified to declare whether a given genre product is going to resonate with that audience.

[More below the fold...]

Sun
Jul 20 2008 2:26am

Fuzzy Heroes

GnortOne of my running topics on Unqualified Offerings and The Art of the Possible in the last year or so has been animal welfare and the possibility that "animal rights" of various sorts may exist. So I was amused to see, via Comics Worth Reading, that PETA's blog has a new entry on the "Top 10 Animal-Friendly Superheroes." As Johanna notes on CWR, the choices "indicate a real familiarity with the source material." I find myself asking, did they leave anyone out? and the only answer I get is, "Maybe Vixen." Back in the 1970s, there was an issue of Daredevil where he killed a giant bat with a broken piece of billy club, but he felt bad about it. No lie, he swore vengeance on his opponent for forcing him to kill a giant bat.

 

Sat
Jul 19 2008 3:38am

The Percentage of Billionaires Multiplied by the Percentage of Decathletes

The Goddamn Batman!

In Scientific American, professor of kinesiology and neuroscience E. Paul Zehr explains how long it would take you to become Batman, assuming you have endless wealth and time, and how long you could stay Batman. The part that jumped out at me:

Batman can't really afford to lose. Losing means death—or at least not being able to be Batman anymore. But another benchmark is having enough skill and experience to defend himself without killing anyone. Because that's part of his credo. It would be much easier to fight somebody if you could incapacitate them with extreme force. Punching somebody in the throat could be a lethal blow. That's pretty easy to do.

But if you're thinking about something that doesn't result in lethal force, that's more tricky. It's really hard for people to get their heads around, I think. To be that good, to not actually lethally injure anyone, requires an extremely high level of skill that would take maybe 15 to 18 years to accumulate.

Later, Zehr gets into the nitty-gritty of real-life violence and its implications. [More after the fold...]

Sat
Jul 19 2008 2:02am

Superhero Politics: The Art of the Impossible

Elliott Serrano of Newsday wants to give all the lazy bloggers (me! me!) some easy material, offering up a presentation on the politics of superheroes. People and institutions publish these things so other people will complain about how wrong they are, with links. Call me Pavlov's Dog and call Pavlov at the number on my tag here. Meantime, let's correct some misimpressions, shall we! For the record, in cases where Serrano and I disagree, I am right and he is wrong. But before we even get to that, the correct answer is that all superheroes have the politics of whoever is writing them at the time, unless management at the corporation that owns them pulls rank. For instance, if DC hadn't gone and killed off the real Question, I'd want to write him as Radley Balko: The Comic Book. But the nearly as correct answers follow:

Superman - Serrano: Reagan Republican, cause that's how Frank Miller wrote him in Dark Knight Returns. The history of Superman's politics is genuinely interesting. In Action Comics #1, his first appearance, he's a dedicated isolationist. His enemies are a Senator and a lobbyist pushing a bill that will “embroil us with Europe.” He solves the problem by, well, kidnapping them, dumping them in the middle of a pointless war between two Central American nations. Add to the stories about corrupt mine bosses and such and you have a populist crusader on the left wing of the New Deal - with, in those early stories, a mean streak the width of the Ohio River. A couple years after creators Siegel and Schuster had Superman keeping America free of European entanglements, he was showing up Bundists in Ubermensching contests. Over the decades, the constant has been Superman's personal resistance to the temptation of solving all humankind's problems for us, except in alternate-universe stories where that's precisely what he does.

[More below the fold...]

Fri
Jul 18 2008 7:21am

So How Was the Movie, Mr. Henley

Why so serious? Very good. Deliberately epic in scope; flawed in execution. Let's start with an audience note, then get the bad stuff out of the way before being not queasy to praise a little.

I get the impression that it's a fandom faux pas to make a sweeping statement that a particular thing is "not for kids" or "suitable" for same. Every child is a unique snowflake, and the children of nerds, even . . . flakier. Fnord knows mine are. So, I'll just say: The movie includes children being menaced close up and at length, ordinary people being deliberately tempted toward monstrous behavior, lingering scenes of bald cruelty and the drawn-out death of a sympathetic character. As a minor matter, Harvey Dent's late-movie makeup job is pretty effective. I'm sure my eight-year-old daughter would find the movie too upsetting to enjoy, and I suspect that is true of my twelve-year-old son too, if not in the same degree. Your mileage MV.

Now the bad stuff. Some of it is pretty major: