Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Ugly American Report #21: Easter Edition

I had half a mind to take a few more shots at the Bunnies this week, seeing as how a small contingent really embarrassed themselves reacting to the supposedly imminent death of John Stewart. But you know what? It’s Easter, man. I’m going to give the rascals a break, which will also probably come as a relief to at least five of my seven readers. More comics, less ideology this week, kids. Whew!

Of course there was other big news this week, by which I mean big news in the least newsiest manner possible. I’m speaking of course about the alleged Angela appearance at the end of Age of Ultron.

Reason why this isn’t news # 1: It Could Be Nonsense

It wasn’t that long ago that Dan Slott was pretending to accidentally send tweets to his artist in order to take the dogs off the Doctor Octopus scent and send them over to Spider-Man 2099’s house. So it wouldn’t be entirely out of bounds to suspect foul play on this whole Angela business.

Honestly, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. (not that it would have to as regards Marvel in general or BM Bendis in particular) I’m not reading Age of Ultron, but I’m immersed enough to understand the generalities of what’s going on over there. I guess I really don’t see that story as lending itself to an angelic deus ex machina. If you were going to do something with alternative realities and big splashes, Miracleman would be a more sensible, stronger play. Gaiman’s involvement would still make sense.

This feels like a red herring to me, and not worth paying attention to.

Reason why this isn’t news # 2: Who Gives a Crap About Angela?

Let’s imagine for a moment that it’s true, and Angela does appear at the end of Age of Ultron and then does a guest-shot tour of the Marvel Universe. Ummmm….who cares? If this were baseball, Angela hasn’t played in a decade, didn’t get more than 150 big league at bats, and hit about .179 when she did play. Not really sure about why a 2013 call-up would be very exciting for the home crowd.

Think about it – can you even name three character traits? And “scantily clad harlot-looking angel” doesn’t count. I mean actual character traits. I vaguely remember her as being a really dour, monotone bitch. This makes it about 63% more likely that I’d want to date her in real life, but not a big draw for my reading list. There’s nothing there. Angela isn’t news.

Reason why this isn’t new # 3: Neil Gaiman…(deep breath)…hasn’t been Neil Gaiman lately

Oh, you quickly rebut, maybe Angela herself doesn’t intrinsically bring value to the table, but it means Neil Gaiman, man! Jackpot!

Except, not really. I put Sandman at the top of the all-time list, ahead of Watchmen, ahead of Dark Knight, and Maus, and everything. But since then? I enjoyed 1602 well enough, but Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader was a bit underwhelming and that Eternals series is rubbish.

Sandman means I’m always giving the guy some benefit of the doubt. I’m of the opinion that you can make almost anything work if executed correctly, so there’s no reason why an event laced with Angela couldn’t end up making sense and being enjoyable. It won’t be, but not out of cosmic necessity. But that’s as far as my excitement goes on the issue – it’s possible that it won’t be complete excrement. That’s not news.

At this point, secrets aren’t news, and it baffles me that Marvel and DC are still trying to hang stories around them any more. Reality check: there’s a small but feverish segment of the population that wants all of their Christmas presents in July, plus there’s an internet. That means the secret business is over. But don’t take my word for it, just look at…….eeeeeeeeeeeevery single fucking thing you’ve tried to keep under wraps for the past DECADE. My math is bad, but I have you guys down for 0 for your last 3,217 attempts. This is not a good ratio.

What might constitute news (assuming again that the Angela bit is true) is the inclusion of a privately owned character inside of the Marvel machinery. It’s not entirely unprecedented, because I think Kirkman slapped Invincible inside of a Marvel Team-Up story.

But usually these crossover appearances are strictly negotiated in contained material outside of the regular continuity. Now, I don’t know what kind of deal Gaiman struck with Marvel, if any. Maybe this Angela appearance is pro-bono. Knowing a little bit about Gaiman…that just doesn’t sound right. If she’s in the books, he’s getting a piece of it.

For the record, I have no problem with that. He’s Neil goddamn Gaiman, this is America, and whatever he negotiates with the Great Whore of Babylon is his by right. I hope he’s getting six figures up front, and 10 points on the back.

But if I were a Marvel creator, and I just saw some guy walk in and get a piece of the action, I would really start to wonder why that kind of thing couldn’t happen for more people than Neil Gaiman. I might start to wonder why it wasn’t happening for say, everybody. And that could be positively revolutionary. And that would be news.

In the meantime, if you watch me very closely, you’ll observe me not giving a shit about Age of Ultron. The last event that I bought front to back? That would be Civil War. Every now and again I check in for an issue to review it, or just to take the temperature. So occasionally I’ll grab an issue of Siege or Fear Itself, grab it by the testicles, ask it to cough. Then it’ll ask why I’m holding on so long, and I’ll say “Hey, buddy, who’s the doctor here?” Then I diagnose it with acute lack of authenticity and a severe interest deficit, throw it in the trash and go about my day.


Then there’s Saga. What a glorious, wonderful beast she is!

I don’t think I’ve seen a book get sucked off quite so thoroughly or widely since Langridge and Samnee did Thor: Mighty Avenger. It’s in some rarefied critical air, and it mostly deserves it. It totally deserves it.

But it also kinda shouldn’t work at all. Quite a few elements in Saga are aggressively stupid. Wooden rocket ships are really dumb. Wooden rocket ships that burn their fuel are just completely moronic. But that’s Saga. Pregnant robots with televisions for heads…yikes. Silly. If you had your fourth graders build a science fiction tale, that’s what they’d come up with.

It’s not just the trappings, either. The story mechanics, the nuts and bolts are off. The beginning of issue # 11 makes the cliff-hanger ending of # 10 a total bullshit cheat, and a cheat that Vaughan never bothers explaining. There’s very little that’s happened that won’t instantly cave in if you apply the slightest logical pressure. Alana and Marko are pretty adorable but not spectacularly competent people. They should have been dead ages ago, and the longer the story strings itself out, the more credulity gets stretched.

So why does Saga work? It works because I don’t think I’ve ever observed a work of art in any medium that embraces the totality of life like Saga does. I find myself in awe of how quietly pornographic this comic is. Pornographic is probably too loaded a word, but I don’t know what to replace it with. It’s not exactly porn, because that word tends to absorb the entire reality. Porn is either purely physical sex, or its purely physical sex with intermittent filler fluff in between. Sometimes you’ll tolerate the fluff, I don’t know, to prove that you’re not a bad person? I don’t know. The point of the porn is to get to the sex.

That’s not what Saga does at all. The point of Saga is not to get to the sex, but since sex is an important part of life, it gets a fairly constant starring role. There are a lot more dicks and balls in Saga then you’re likely to find anywhere outside of a men’s locker room. This latest issue begins with coitus and a post-coital conversation that reveals that Alana uttered an inter-coital “Please shoot it in my twat”.

That’s not grand-standing, exactly, that’s what people say. So that’s what Saga does. Vaughan isn’t a moron; he knows when he’s breaking the rules and shocking readers out of complacency. But again, the point isn’t porn, the point is life. Saga is about breaking out of dull jobs, the fear and joy of babies, losing loved ones, dealing with odd in-laws, coming into contact with sexual norms outside of your comfort zone, violence, culture clashing, bad break-ups, and giant balls. Just like your life.

Saga works because it is operating at a level of intimacy few comics ever consider approaching. While it often fails miserably at obeying convention, its emotional truths are unmatched in the medium. If you just give in to it, Saga will walk you through every facet of the human condition with courage and clarity. That’s a pretty good reason to read a comic book. If you’re an adult, you probably owe it to yourself to at least try Saga.

As always, please leave your comments below. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ugly American # 20: Crunching Gender-kvetching

One of the things that is guaranteed to get my blood pressure spiking is the monthly Gender-crunching report over at Bleeding Cool. Some cat named Tim Hanley has decided that it is worth the time and effort to catalog everything that Marvel and DC are publishing, and figure out how many of the creators involved have a uterus. The question is…why?

Well, here’s Hanley’s answer:

“Women account for half of all human beings on the planet, but in terms of making comic books they are seriously under-represented. This shouldn’t be a shocking piece of information to anyone…we all know that comics are a male-dominated industry. But we know this anecdotally, not with solid numbers behind it or breakdowns of what women are doing where. Thus, this women in comics statistics project.”

Hmmm. Hanley is only half playing fair there, methinks. On the plus side, he’s not perpetrating any farcical objectivity. “We all know” the game is rigged and that the males are on top. Gender-crunching isn’t an investigation where Hanley wonders what he’ll discover. It’s numerical propaganda. Why tell us what we already know? One wonders what the point of the exercise is.

Except…we all know that, too. The point is activism and indictment, and that’s not plainly stated, but it’s there. Of course, it doesn’t have to be stated. In fact, it’s the unstated that roots the deepest. The current cultural narrative we have about gender works like this:

• Males are bad
• White males are really bad. (not super bad like James Brown, which is good, but despicable/immoral)
• Rich White Males are the author of all human evil (that would be the owners of Warner Bros and Disney, for those scoring at home)

So if the roster demographics at Marvel and DC don’t line up with the population at large, well, then that’s got to be part of a diabolical plot. Duh, they’re evil! And that’s why Hanley uses the words “seriously under-represented”, and that’s why he uses the term “male-dominated”. It’s not an accident. A variance can be random, but a serious under-representation cannot. Dominance implies aggression. He’s counting the numbers to call out the Big 2 for their gender transgressions, or at least what Hanley (and the Soft & Fuzzy Bunnies) perceive as transgressions.

And that’s fine, by the way. Like most of the Bunnies’ most annoying and destructive behavior, it comes from a good place. They would like to see more women in comics, and I’m happily on board with that. Hanley’s results seem to indicate that women comprise about 11% of Marvel and DCs creative teams. That’s a rough but useful figure, you can certainly hit gender-crunching if you want more specifics. And those figures do seem a little odd at first blush, I’ll grant you.

But on the flip side, there are all kinds of groups under-represented or not represented at all. The latest figures I could find on the US census indicate that Asians are 10.4% of the general population, but I can count the number of Asian comic creators I’m aware of on one hand. And I’m assuming things, of course, as I count. I think Tan Eng Huat is Asian, but for all I really know, the guy is Bolivian. And there’s another under-representation – how many Bolivian creators are being denied their place in comics by the dastardly Big Two? Sheesh, how many conspiracies are these guys doing right now?

Also, I see almost no ninjas in comics. Seriously, seriously under-represented. There’s just Jeff Parker. Don’t buy into that “aw shucks” southern bit, folks. Right now Jeff Parker has infiltrated the Russian consulate, and there aren’t even any Russians any more. That’s how good he is. But still, he’s the only ninja. The horror

Imagine this scenario:

A packet arrives on an editor’s desk at DC. He (or maybe she, since the editor job seems to be more readily available to women) looks at a pitch for a Red Tornado ongoing, and word has come down the pipe that Didio really wants the Tornado in the next wave. The take is strong, the direction is clear, even the supporting cast are distinct and compelling. There are four pages of preview artwork - the storytelling is impeccable and the action pops. This could work!

“If only this wasn’t pitched by skirts, I’d do it in a heartbeat!” He (or maybe she) throws the Golden Pitch into the wastebasket.

Does that sound even remotely plausible to you? Because it sounds like bullshit to me.

Think about Marvel for a few moments. I know it’s painful, but do it. Do you think they’d pass up making a nickel over a little vagina? No way. If Marvel could make a nickel bashing kitten skulls with cricket bats….you’d better get a helmet for Mr. Mittens, because Tom Brevoort is coming. That’s the reality I understand.

DC takes the worst of the gender lashings, but that makes even less sense to me. Was the ship largely guided by Jennette Kahn, Diane Nelson, and Karen Berger really female unfriendly? Or maybe it was that noted misogynist Paul Levitz? I suppose Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Dan Didio distributed that email declaring the New 52 a “cocks only” club. Oh wait, that email doesn’t exist. Nope, none of that makes a lick of sense to me. Who is it exactly keeping women from working at DC?

Folks with really spooky memories will recall that I asked Sheriff Mark Waid that very question when he appeared on Where Monsters Dwell. He said that it was too strong to suggest that women were “barred” from working in comics, but that he knew of editors more comfortable working with men. Sheriff Waid would not name names, though. Nobody does.

I think it’s weird that nobody can point out a problem editor or executive, especially these days when kids are telling so many tales out of school as they leave. Surely somebody would have pulled a Roberson and blew a whistle by now? I suppose that the prospect of confrontation will make some uncomfortable, and the spectre of rescinded future work will scare others into silence.

But really, it isn’t 1955 any more. Outing a misogynist is more likely to be greeted with obligatory golf-clapping then ostracization (somewhere Dave Sim is nodding, and doesn’t know why). In any case, wouldn’t it be worth it to build a better industry? I think the support is there for that sort of thing, it’s a progressive’s world at this point. (somewhere Orson Scott Card is grimacing and doesn’t know why).

But no, there is no bogeyman to be found, and I think the most likely reason for that is… there simply isn’t one. But don’t take my word for it, because I’m not there at DC. Judd Winnick is there. And this is what he had to say on the latest episode of Word Balloon right around the 35 minute mark:

And there was some kerfuffle going on, and not necessarily wrong, about the lack of women writers we have at DC, which is still going on.
And I will say this, and you know we’ve talked about it internally, that it isn’t know, it isn’t like…{laughs} let me put it this way…
If there was a male writer and a female writer, and they’re both of equal talent, and they’re both putting in good pitches and they’re interesting, you don’t think DC, at this - you know at ANY point would say:
“No, we’re going to hire her, because man, we need some more women writers and some women energy in here and like, you know, this dude’s good, but, you know, maybe not right now.”
They would jump at the chance to have, like, a really strong female writer, and I’m not saying there aren’t female writers, I guess I’m saying more to the point – if women are interested in writing superhero comics, get in there! Just push as hard as you can to get into DC because they really do want you, and many of us want to read you. It’s, it’s, and I’m really, I’m really not even talking out of my ass, I’m not even speculating. I’m talking about actual conversations with people who would do the hiring and firing. They would love strong women to come in who want to write strong characters. They really would!

I was going to clean out all the little imperfections in Winnick’s speech patterns to make it look better in text form, but I decided to leave them in because I think they tell an important story about how desperately uncomfortable he was addressing the truth of the matter. Why? Because it goes against the culture’s narrative grain.

Look, Winnick is a Bunny. Big time. If you want to hear the golf-clapping at the end of your sentence, you need to stick to the script – men bad, white male corporation bad, women oppressed, boycott, twitter, picket, the end. You don’t get points in the Bunny Briar for facing the reality that there are likely no hobgoblins at DC looking to keep the fairer sex down. I give him massive credit for that. If you listen to the interview, he really struggled internally to spit that out.

Why is that? Why does it feel so dangerous to admit that maybe things aren’t so bad after all? Why do we recoil at the thought that maybe the comics world is populated mostly by people who are happy to work with women and want them to succeed in order to produce the best product? Shouldn’t that be cause for celebration?

I think the reason why we prickle at acknowledging real progress is complicated. There is a lot of currency in victimhood these days. Success brings derision, not praise in 2013. If you want status now, you have to be oppressed. These are the bizarre times we live in. But more than that, there is a sense that if the culture ever relaxes in its diligence against sexism, the males will instantly pounce on the opportunity and it will be barefoot and pregnant for the next couple of centuries.

So rather than assess the culture reasonably, we lock ourselves into “ism” (sexism, racism, ageism) mode whether the shoe actually fits or not, because the alternative is to hand the world back to the “ists”. That fear is absurd, of course.

It’s absurd, but it’s very real. You’ll notice that Winnick’s opener absolutely contradicts everything that follows it. He leads by saying that the “kerfuffle” over DC not hiring women is not necessarily wrong. He then spends the rest of his time on the subject explaining how that charge is absolutely wrong. DC is in fact tripping over itself to bring in female talent. Winnick is in a tough spot where culturally he must state that DC is sexist, because if he doesn’t, he must turn in his Bunny card and (in his mind) promote sexism. Except in his experience, there is no sexism there – and you can listen to his brain break as he tries to articulate that.

There are consequences for this madness, folks. I don’t know that I have a satisfactory explanation for why there are so few women creating comics and attempting to get into comics. I do know that if I were a woman and interested, but once a month some asshole showed me a chart explaining that I have no chance…that wouldn’t exactly invite me in. You can’t make comics if you never try.

I find no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise that women aren’t working in comics because of something systemic directed at them specifically. And let’s be real here; the deck is stacked against everybody. The old saw is that nobody breaks into funnybooks the same way, because once that method is revealed they plug the whole. There are a lot of talented people out there, and not very many jobs at the Big Two to go around. In order to get in, you have to beat the best in the world. You know, no pressure.

If the comics punditsphere were actually interested in creating opportunities for women, they’d spend less time making depressing pie charts and more time advertising the Winnick Plan:

Get in there! DC wants you, and we want to read you!

I don’t see that happening. The only place you’re ever going to hear about that Winnick quote is the original podcast and the Ugly American. Truth isn’t nearly as sexy as putting on your Pharisee robes and showing everyone what a Not-Sexist you are. My theory is that you’ll get more traction telling women the truth about how in demand they are, instead of painting them as eternal victims. My theories aren’t popular in the comics punditsphere, though.

And hey, if I’ve got it wrong, you can always correct me by commenting below….

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ugly American # 19 – Market Spotlight Redux

Some interesting things are happening right now in the secondary market, so I thought we’d take a tiny break from hunting Soft & Fuzzy Bunnies and talk about makin’ that dollah.

The World Has Gone Cullen Bunn Crazy!

Last time we checked in with the secondary market, it had a lot to do with Sixth Gun and the impending NBC pilot. Prices were skyrocketing quickly then, and are now approaching super-absurd Peter Panzerfaust levels. If you have a really nice raw copy of Sixth Gun # 1, it’s not impossible to get $400 for that. Kinda crazy, huh? You know, the first appearance is that FCBD edition. Probably not as scarce, but I’m guessing more difficult to find in really nice condition. I’m watching that trade from $80-$150 as well. The mania is beginning to leak into the trades now as well. Sixth Gun Volume 2: Crossroads is fetching completely ridiculous prices on Amazon right now. I really doubt that your local comic shop has a copy of issue 1 at this point, but if they order indie books, it’s not unthinkable that a copy of the second trade is available for cover price.

You’re welcome.

You’ll notice that the headline here was “Cullen Bunn Crazy”, not “Sixth Gun” crazy. In 2006 Bunn published a different book (also penciled by Brian Hurt) called Damned. There’s this guy named Eddie, and he’s cursed. He can die, but he comes back to life as soon as somebody touches him. When that happens, all of Eddie’s wounds transfer to the poor sap that dared to lay a finger on his corpse, and Eddie lives while Mr. Touchy dies. You do NOT want to be this guy’s coroner, is the point.

Dreamworks bought the film option in 2008, and Showtime bought the television rights in 2011. So nothing hot off the press there, but like I said – planet earth is way into Cullen Bunn right now. Damned # 1 is trading for around $50 a pop, and that isn’t bad. It’s an Oni book and it’s old, so the odds of your local shop having this in stock are not particularly good. If it is there, though, it’s likely sitting at cover price. It’s worth peeking, for sure.

Meanwhile, Cullen Bunn’s new Oni book Helheim hasn’t even had time to lose its umbilical cord, and prices are already spiking. This looks like another hit waiting to happen – cool Norse warrior, sexy witches, revenge, one can definitely see the appeal, yes? The regular version of issue #1 is trading around $10 per, and the phantom variant slightly more, we’ll call it $12-$15. I would say that Cullen has a lot of buns in the Market Spotlight oven if that wasn’t a horrifyingly bad pun. Good thing I avoided doing that.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

This one is just beyond peculiar, and frankly, wonderful - a real gem spawned from some ordinarily dubious sources. Injustice is a web comic turned print collection. There’s nothing to say a web comic couldn’t be good…but we don’t exactly have a lot of success stories to point to on that front. Now let’s up the ante and reveal that this web comic is based on an upcoming video game. Nobody gives a shit about video game comics, and this is because they are generally quite awful.

So you’ll excuse me if I got caught flat-footed by how awesome Injustice is. My problem now is how to properly convey said awesomeness without spoiling it for you. OK…you know how you’re sick to death of “event” books because they promise you that interesting and impactful things will happen, but they never do, because they need the book to continue and they need to protect the “brand”? Well, for some reason DC has decided that inside this video game universe, nothing is out of bounds. NOTHING.

So, some fabulously dark and horrible things happen to some of the most important characters in the DC universe inside of the Injustice bubble. And that would be enough to sell me right there, but the extra bonus is how funny Tom Thayer makes these characters. So you’ve got a really powerful blend of “I can’t #$%#& believe that just happened” with efficient, brisk pacing, and all that laced with character moments that will have you annoying your cube mates with unscheduled spontaneous guffawing.

Word seems to be getting around about how cool Injustice is, because the first print issue is spiking pretty hard to find. Results are a little unpredictable, but if I had to pick a current value I’d say $25 is the going rate.

Issue # 2 came out about 12 seconds ago, and that routinely trades for $10 a pop right now.

If you want to get current, the web comics are obviously a little ahead of the print version. It seems like DC is releasing them in weekly chunks for $.99, three chunks to a print issue. Why would anybody pay $25 for a copy of Injustice # 1 when they can easily buy the digital book for a total of $2.97? Because people like print comics, that’s why.

More importantly, this marks a significant change in how DC handles its intellectual property. Back when that Alan Moore kid was doing Watchmen, they caught wind of the adult themes and wouldn’t even let him touch their low-rent Charlton characters. There’s no way I could imagine DC signing off on what they’re currently doing to their icons in this comic, it’s entirely too interesting. I would be very interested to talk to the parties that green-lit the project, or be a mouse in the corner for the development meetings. This is different, and I’d like to know what prompted the change. Chuck, get me Dan Didio on the phone!

As always, your comments are welcome, please leave them in the field below!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ugly American # 18 – Color Me Bad Edition!

Follow Up:  Playing the Orson Scott Card

Well, looks like the Bunnies got their way, as they often do in these dark days.  Chris Sprouse has bowed out of his penciling duties and DC has shelved Card’s Superman story until it can hire another artist.  I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that story to see print, folks.

Sprouse claims that the media attention was affecting the work, and that he couldn’t abide a decline in quality.  I have nothing against Sprouse, he’s a grown ass man in a tough spot, and he’s free to do what he wants.  But that story smells like bullshit.  I don’t even know what that means, really.  Is he implying that he can’t concentrate on the work with the hullaballoo, or that he’s doing so many interviews he doesn’t have time to work?  It makes no sense to me.

What I believe Sprouse would tell you, if he lived in a society that would support honesty is that he’s uncomfortable and afraid.  He doesn’t want to be the guy who thinks it’s OK to work with The Guy That Hates Gay People.  He doesn’t want to have to answer the questions, he doesn’t want to have to swallow hard before he opens his twitter account, and he doesn’t want to be the guy with a front yard packed with villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.  Before you accuse me of hyperbole, it wasn’t too long ago the Bunnies decided George Zimmermann needed to pay for his alleged crimes and Spike Lee published what he thought was Zimmerman’s address on Twitter, so that interested parties could…I don’t know…debate the case, I guess?  I’m sure his motives were pure.  Turns out it was the address of an old couple having nothing whatever to do with Trayvon Martin.  No charges filed on that, by the way, but he did pay them some settlement money.  So yeah, if I’m Chris Sprouse, I’d want to extricate myself from the situation as well.  Weird stuff happens when you cross the Soft and Fuzzies.

Now I’ve got people lining up on my Facebook wall pretending like something wonderful just happened, but really it’s just the return of a new flavor of McCarthyism.  Trust me, folks, that’s nothing to cheer about.  Not that even 1% of the 99% would even know who Joe McCarthy was, which is exactly why these little bouts of ideological bullying cycle around again and again.  Oh, they know about chucking disgruntled birds at pixilated structures and how to text blind with the phone in their pocket.  They know the Duck Dynasty guys.  But Senator McCarthy, your little war against the Communists has been forgotten – say it isn’t so, Joe!

And just like this new brand of insanity, the old brand originally came from a good place.  We had some Russian rats in the pipes, and guys like Alger Hiss probably needed to go.  But it starts with Alger Hiss, and then the power starts to make the fevered egos a little too drunk, and by the end of it you’re clapping irons on janitors and blacklisting actors and directors from working in Hollywood.  That’s what has happened here with Superman Adventures.  It starts with people wanting basic human rights for all, but it ends with little would-be dictators deciding that anybody who doesn’t agree with their point of view shouldn’t exist.  So Orson Scott Card is gone now.  He’s effectively blacklisted. 

So now what?  Should DC distribute a liberal test to decide if writers and artists are progressive enough to work there?  I saw an article linking to Sprouse’s other projects so Bunnies could reward him for his efforts, which I thought was more than a little odd.  If I want a good hamburger, I don’t ask if the cook agrees with me about immigration policy.  I ask if the food is good.  Apparently in the Bunny Briar, you read comics if the creators agree with you about politics, and you end the career of anybody who doesn’t.  It’s appropriate to be worried about the future of America.

I guess the good news is that DC didn’t curl up into the fetal position and cave to the pressure.  They did the right thing and explained that what their employees believe in their off time doesn’t really have much to do with them.  Not everybody caves to the Bunnies, and there is still hope.  But mostly this stuff is just depressing.

So let’s talk about Sex, instead, shall we?

Sex # 1

My take on Joe Casey by now is familiar to Insomniacs.  I love the idea of Joe Casey.  I don’t want to imagine a world in which Casey is not making comics.  Every single blessed time I see a solicitation or a teaser campaign for one of his projects, I say to myself “Oh man, I have GOT to get on board with that!”  It was no different with Sex.  And every time I dive into the actual guts of the Joe Casey comic, something seems out of synch or intrinsically broken about it.  It seems like it will be no different with Sex.

The single greatest and most important element of Sex # 1 does not appear in any panel, but the back cover.  In the bottom-right corner it says:

I laughed so hard when I saw that…quintessential Casey!  There is indeed no shortage of bullshit in this comic, starting with the snarky little “Collector’s Item” tag on the front cover.  Just in case you missed how much distaste he has for the collector’s market, it looks like the same tag will be gracing issue # 2 as well.  I imagine the joke will continue to get more delicious, and by issue # 8 we will all be tearing up before we even get to page one.  Does that (admittedly juicy) little piece of meta assist the reader with processing the tone or themes of the comic inside?  Ahhh, no.  Not really. 

Except it kinda does, because it’s a Joe Casey comic, and that means anything goes.  In Casey World everything goes into the stew, because if he thought of it, then it fits.  Mostly, Sex is about Simon Cooke, the world’s most dull ex-superhero.  It’s hard to be exactly sure this early in the game, but it seems like Sex is going to be some kind of perverted Shane trope.  Mr. Cooke used to be The Armored Saint, crime fighter and defender of Saturn City.  He made a promise that he would hang up his costume to somebody who has subsequently died, though.  So now he does….well….nothing, really.  But talk.

There is an awful lot of talking in Sex # 1, and a lot of awful talking.  Talk about where to set the helicopter down, talk about civic functions and meetings and potential pay increases, talk about things that are happening in other places, and talk about things that used to happen.  Nobody in this comic is particularly interested in doing anything here and now, though.  There are a lot of dour faces with moving lips, but everything else is limp.  In fact, by the time we get to the actual sex of Sex, Mr. Cooke is too distracted by that previously-mentioned-dead-person’s Inception totem to even notice the super hot chick with her face buried in the other hot chick’s fully rendered taint. 

There’s a lot of talking, but nothing that pops at even 20% of the intensity and energy of the letters page.  You’ll hang on every word of Joe Casey’s during the back matter, as always.  He is an out-of-the-box, passionate, entertaining cat.  If any of the characters actually talked like Casey, you’d never want it to end. The puppets inside of his panels…

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do.  Maybe it’s just a bit too soon.  I dunno….”


And for all I know, that’s the bit.  There’s always a bit (or five) in a Joe Casey book.  Maybe the trick he’s trying to pull off in Sex is showing how dead Simon Cooke and his world are, and then he finds some kind of vitality in the continuously escalating sexual journey he’s about to embark on.

 Reviewing a first issue is really like reviewing the first 20 minutes of a movie.  Would you give the first 20 minutes of Sixth Sense four stars?  You sort of need the end, or at least a grasp of the bigger picture to assess it.  I’m admitting I don’t have enough info to properly diagnose what Casey is doing yet or how well he’s doing it….but it feels a little like we’re headed toward a weird train wreck where a really unimpressive Shane decides to fuck a lot of whores instead of picking up his guns to save good ol’ Saturn City again.  What a bunch of fuckin’ bullshit, indeed!

There’s other crumbs of oddness.  There’s a not-too-subtle phallic arrow on the cover, and then you open the cover and there’s a large building shooting out of the ground at a perfectly erect 45 degree angle.  The title of Chapter One is “The Summer of Hard.”  I don’t have a problem with any of that.  Good God, if you’ve heard my show, you know I don’t have a problem with that.  The problem is reconciling the juvenile, playful stuff on the periphery with the stuffy, plodding contents.  Am I taking this seriously or not?  Sex is like a Deadpool comic inviting you to an insurance seminar that breaks out into some porn at the end.  As the credits roll, the director cuts them short, shrugs his shoulders, and essentially admits that the whole thing was an abject failure with good intentions. 

How bizarre is that?  Then, just up the ante a little further, let’s throw colored boxes around pieces of dialogue.  Every page of this comic contain balloons with a word or two highlighted in a rainbow of fruit flavors.  It’s painfully distracting.  I had some fun trying to decipher what the colors might signify, briefly.  Are the light colored words sexy, and the darker colored ones not?  Ehhhh, not really.  I’m told the average male has a sexual thought every 2.6 seconds or something like that.  Could this be Casey trying to indicate a sexual thought with a blip of color?  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t put it past him.  That kind of thing is fun in the abstract, but in terms of reading mechanics, it’s like somebody throwing rocks into your transmission.  What a bunch of fuckin’ bullshit, y’know?  That’s the Joe Casey experience.

You know, a lot of artists are intensely afraid that they aren’t actually any good, secretly dreading that someday the world will discover that they are frauds.  I’m talking about hyper-talented, top-of-the-game people hide this fear in their hearts.  Sometimes I think Joe Casey is afraid to play a story straight, because it won’t be any “good”, and he’ll be “exposed” as a fraud.  But if you hang a bunch of sophomoric dick jokes, collector’s mentality meta-commentary, oddly colored word balloons, and an alert at the end about what a bunch of bullshit the comic is, you’re off the hook.  The absurdity shields you from real criticism, because either A) it’s just a gag, relax, I’m not writing War & Peace over here or B) it was an experiment the critic was just too lame to “get”.  The problem is theirs.

Or maybe I’m just projecting, because that pretty much sums up myself, and I should just leave Joe Casey out of my own psychological foils.  But I would really, really love to see Joe Casey write something with all the horses pulling the wagon in the same direction.  This comic isn’t that.
I don’t know. 

Feel free to add your own thoughts about Joe Casey, Sex, or my misguided armchair psychology – that could be fun, right?


Friday, March 1, 2013

Ugly American # 17 – Five Weapons

Hand Me That Cudgel…..Now Where Did I Put The Dead Horse?

Marvel just released Guardians of the Galaxy 0.1 on Wednesday, and I instantly got a headache. You’d think I’d be over this by now….but I’m not, because they keep upping the audacity ante. Look, Marvel, I didn’t make the rules, YOU made the rules! And the rules for .1 issues, while stultifyingly misguided, were quite simple:

• They were to signify a jumping on point for new readers
• They were to illuminate a tone or plot vehicle for the title’s direction
• They were to be followed by another book shipping that same month
• They were to be priced at $2.99 to encourage test-driving

Since the initiative started, Marvel has routinely made a mockery of the first two tenets. The transgressions are so numerous at this point that I think the blatant misuses far outnumber the times they’ve played fair. No trouble with point # 3, mind you. Everything Marvel publishes ships 2.8 times a month now, so does that even qualify as a .1 thing? And then I look at GOTG 0.1 and see that disgusting looking $3.99 on the cover, so now they’ve taken a hot dump all over principle # 4.

As if there were ever a shred of doubt, .1 is an unattractive turd of sound and fury, signifying NOTHING. So the program is confusing and ill conceived, but at least they lied to us about everything. Well, everything but the part where they gouge you for double the cost in a month by over-shipping. Whew! Dodged a bullet there, huh?

What’s extra funny about all this is that if you listen to guys like Brian Bendis or Jonathan Hickman talk about the marketing/numbers guys at Marvel, you’d think they were referring to extra-dimensional savants. These numbers guys at Marvel have come down from heaven to show us mere mortals how the science of selling works. Except if you look at the mass attrition, the over-saturation of every workable brand, the over-saturation of every non-workable brand, the failure to produce any title sustainable past twelve issues, and the embarrassment that is Marvel’s performance in the book market, you might wonder if these guys aren’t so smart after all.

News to the “wizards”….that red stripe at the bottom of all your books looks like ass. Propping up your numbers with variant covers is not smart, it’s poking an economic badger with a pointy stick, and it’s going to bite you sooner rather than later. You have the most vibrant and powerful IP library in comics, and Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead outperformed your ENTIRE CATALOG according to Bookscans numbers. Don’t just gloss over that, folks. I want you to stop for a moment and consider that one independent black and white horror property outsold everything Marvel produced in 2012. And this with a billion dollar movie in the theaters! Yeah. Those are some sharp cats over there at Marvel marketing. Given the choice between the current regime and a pack of syphilitic hamsters…I’m taking the hamsters.

Meanwhile, the Distinguished Competition is learning all the wrong lessons from these kinds of shenanigans. Word from the grapevine is that the Geoff Johns Green Lantern Finale is going to have a big fat $7.99 price point, just like ASM # 700. Ugh. Yeah, yeah, extra pages. But what kind of pages? If this were 80 pages of Geoff Johns/Doug Mahnke swan singing, I wouldn’t champion the idea, but I’d understand. Everybody knows how this is going to work, though – it’s going to be 40% Johns/Mahnke, and a heaping pile of forgettable professional yeomen’s work.

Ask yourself this – if DC published one GL finale with just the Johns/Mahnke story for $4.99, and also published the $7.99 version with this “bonus” material, how many would purchase the comic with the extra content? I’m going to put the over/under at 3% of the $4.99 version. And by the way, half of that 3% would be savvy speculators betting on the “scarce” version for future profits. If DC really believed in the material, they’d publish it separately. But mostly, they just want as many $8 monsters as they can rape out of you for Q1. And that’s comics.

But this is also comics:

Five Weapons # 1
This is another new book from Image, and it’s Jimmie Robinson’s baby. Paul Little is handling the colors, but other than that it’s the Jimmie Robinson show. He’s doing the writing, the drawing, he’s washing the dishes, sweeping the floors, and tucking you in at night. That’s full service.

Five Weapons is the story of one intrepid Tyler Shainline. He’s the new kid at the School of Five Weapons, where today’s youth are trained to become tomorrow’s professional assassins. Tyler’s got a couple of wrinkles to work out, though. One, his father is a legend at this school, so he’s got a sizeable reputation demon to exorcise with everyone he meets. The other problem is that he appears to be a pacifist. This is kinda not what Weapon School is looking for.

The schtick seems to be that Tyler’s weapon is going to be his mind, and it’s a shockingly enjoyable schtick. If you’re super old like me and have favorable memories of Encyclopedia Brown, this will feel pleasantly like going home. For a more contemporary camp, I would say that if you liked Veronica Mars (and shame on you if you didn’t) you should absolutely give Five Weapons a shot. There’s the backdrop of fitting in at high school, dodging cliques, making an impression on the cute girl in home room. All good stuff, but standard. The twist is that the story is laced with puzzles and brain teasers. By the end of the issue I noticed I was on yellow alert, searching for clues about which rug might get pulled from beneath me. That was fun, and I don’t get that from many comics. The cliffhanger ending for the debut issue doesn’t have anything to do with shocking violence or a stunning reveal. It’s a puzzle. How the hell is Tyler going to pull that off? (You’ll have to read it to find out what that is) I don’t know. I’m interested enough to find the next issue, though.

This is an all ages book. It’s not labeled as such, and the marketing I saw beforehand didn’t suggest that. Perhaps if we asked Mr. Robinson, he would deny it. But it’s an all ages book. Frederic Wertham would feel comfortable handing this book to a 12 year-old. The sensibility skews a little young, and that’s not a pejorative, it’s just a fact. When Tyler was being introduced to the teachers, (one of whom has an arrow inexplicably jutting out of her head) it almost lost me. By the time I got to the “exotic weapons” student talking to Tyler through a presumably poisonous snake, I recognized that this is a book pointed more at the Ben 10 crowd and relaxed. There’s nothing wrong with Ben 10 or all ages material. Diary of a Wimpy Captain Underpants sells more books than comics can imagine. And like Han Solo, comics can imagine a lot. So I’ve been waiting for something in this vein to hit gold, and maybe this can do it?

I know Jimmie Robinson from his Bomb Queen work, so Five Weapons surprised me a little. Bomb Queen is, how shall we say this….saucy. It’s a little like hiring me and Chronic Mike to write for The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. We could probably do it, maybe even do it well. But you wouldn’t exactly expect it. I like that. I like creators stretching their creative muscles, and I like it when creators take on more control of their product.

Five Weapons is pretty darned good. Right now it’s in the “Oh, isn’t that sort of clever and interesting” category. If Robinson is able to really sell the brain teaser elements while naturally progressing the relationships in the book, Five Weapons could be really special.

Hawkeye # 8
I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to wait for the trade to come out and then catch up and read it all, but all the cool kids kept talking about it, so I had to crack open Hawkeye and see what the hullaballoo was about.
This just in: Hawkeye is super cool. It’s so cool, it makes you feel cooler for having read it. This particular issue featured a series of full page splashes paying homage to golden age comics while simultaneously adding weight to the tone of the scene. In the hands of lesser men, those pages would feel like wasted fluff. In Hawkeye, it’s just cool.

FUN FACT: You know how the “track suit draculas” like say “bro” at least once every five words? Know where Fraction got that from? It’s a gentle ribbing of Warren Simons, currently the executive editor at Valiant. I’m guessing it’s exaggerated. Let’s hope so, at any rate.

Clint Barton is arrested in this issue. How cool is that? It’s Hawkeye cool. Also, between this and the Young Avengers - I’m officially in love with Kate Bishop. The end!

As always, your comments are very welcome so leave them below.