Monday, September 23, 2013

Ugly American - Forever Evil # 1 Review!

I bought Forever Evil # 1, and I'm not sure why I would do that to myself. I don't like Event Books generally. I've spilled gallons of ink crusading against the publishing and purchasing of $3.99 comics from the Big 2, and this is certainly one of those. I don't like hypocrisy, and buying Forever Evil after all that crusading sure sounds like hypocrisy to me.

So why the hell did I do it? {briefly rationalizes before beginning tap-dance} It's true that I tend not to like Event comics, and I still believe that buying $4 comics sends a bad signal to the publishers. On the other hand, I have always been an advocate for buying whatever the hell you want, so long as you understand the consequences. I do. My signal is mixed, I guess. I'm telling Marvel and DC:

"I'll test drive one of your monstrous debacles of spectacle every few years just to see what's going on."

It's probably important to do that every now and again just to maintain some objective integrity. If all I ever do is rant about these Events and never read one of the damn things, I'm ranting from a position of ignorance. Which wouldn't be unprecedented, but is not ideal. So here we go!

Forever Evil # 1 (DC Comics)
Script: Geoff Johns
Art: David Finch/Richard Friend

Boiled down to its essence, Forever Evil is the story of what happens when an evil Justice League from another dimension removes the real Justice League from the playing field, and it becomes the duty of Earth's villains to rise up and Take Care of Business.

This is actually not a bad hook, as hooks go. It's a very big story, and it offers ample opportunities for undeveloped ciphers to blossom into full-fledged complex people. So I like all that.

That platform contains a few inherent problems, however, and all of them manifest in this comic book. Big is good, and big is grand, but it's difficult to accomplish big in a few pages. Here's what happened from a plot perspective in this comic:

-Lex Luthor is a bad person, and discovers that someone has taken over global communications
-Nightwing gets captured while delivering Mr. Zsasz to Arkham Asylum
-Rogues receive a secret decoder coin inviting them to the Big Meeting At The Docks
-The Crime Syndicate announces that they have murdered the Justice League and will now be taking over planet Earth at the Big Meeting At The Docks
-Nightwing has a really bad day
-Ultraman pushes the goddamn moon in front of the sun because it's irritating him

Some significant things happen, sure. Most of them don't happen on the page, which is a bit striking. That bit about the dead Justice League? There isn't a sniff of that actually on the page in Forever Evil # 1. We're taking the Syndicate's word for all of it. The reader never really gets to see how any of this global takeover transpires. It's just baked into the plot via expository dialogue, which frankly feels weak and greatly reduces the drama.

This is not unique to Forever Evil, either. Bendis just did this with the Ultron thingy Marvel trotted out.

"Ultron has completely taken over everything!", says Bendis.

"Sounds cool", you say while recognizing that you're sort of bullshitting yourself about that, "how does it happen?"

"Well..." says Bendis, fumbling to come up with something but then realizing that he is indeed Brian Michael Bendis and therefore can do whatever he damn well pleases without editorial permission or peasant scrutiny "....he just did! See how all the buildings are knocked over? It totally happened! Now on with the rest of the show!"

It is possible to tell a good story that begins en media res, of course. You can get to the mysterious origins of the conflict later on out of sequence. This kind of fancy footwork is rarely worth the cost, in my opinion. You can even completely ignore the hows and whys of your giant conflicts, if you like. George RR Martin rarely shows the reader giant battles or military actions "on screen" in the Game of Thrones series. You usually get that sort of information second hand and days after via conversation between characters who weren't even primary witnesses.

It works in those books because of the intricate character work, and because it feels authentic to receive that kind of news in the same manner as the characters - second hand, out of date, and colored heavily by the messenger. It works because Martin understands that what counts are the people, and the succulent little details.

Most of the character work and details feel just a bit "off" in Forever Evil. Here's what I mean by that - take this early scene featuring Nightwing, in which he delivers a trussed up Mr. Zsasz to Arkham Asylum. Finch puts together a very nice action pose that would look fantastic framed on your wall.

Unfortunately, it just doesn't make a lick of sense. Listen, Dick Grayson does a lot of push-ups, so I can almost believe he could carry a grown man around like that for awhile. But not even the Hulk could swing around a city with a guy cradled in one of his arms, because it just takes two arms to do that. The entire premise is absurd.

This guy learned from the world's greatest detective, right? He should be pretty smart. How does he not know that it would be far easier and more efficient to just rent a Jeep Grand Cherokee and then ask Mr Zsasz if he smells chloroform on your rag?

Listen, I know it's comics. There must come some suspension of disbelief so you can roll with these things....but think about it - how much better would it be to read about a Nightwing/Zsasz road trip? Now there's a comic I would absolutely buy! It's like Midnight Run, and the two of them can learn some stuff about each other, and get into hijinx together, and now they have a relationship that you can build on the next time Zsasz does inevitably escape from Arkham.

But that's not the point of these events, and there's no time for anything really interesting to happen. Only two characters get explored in even trace amounts of depth in this issue - Ultraman and Lex Luthor, who shares a delightful little story about a cat that sheds some light on his motivations as a human being.

But this Nightwing thing? It's random, and it spits in the face of logic, and it draws attention to the hands of the puppeteers. Dick just happens to be there at the same time as Evil Wonder Woman, because the comic needs Something Dramatic To Happen To A Suitably Popular Character.

The problem, of course, is that the randomness of it all means there isn't any drama in the "dramatic" stuff that happens to Dick Grayson. Spoiler time - what happens is that the Crime Syndicate beats the crap out of Nightwing, unmasks him, and then tweets his secret identity to the world at large. It's unpleasant, sure, but there's nothing in the character or in the story (to my knowledge) that makes any of that mean anything.

Here's a really bad example of something that might work:

Let's say Nightwing ended up crossing paths with a troubled little girl while fighting crime in Bludhaven, or Chicago, or wherever the hell he's headquartered now. Maybe she's got no father and he put her mother in prison, and he feels responsible. Maybe he goes through an arduous adoption process, and he agonizes over the decision because he worries about how much his second life might be putting the child in danger. But maybe he goes through that process, and the little girl is starting to buy into that process and starts accepting love and turning her life around.

If you set all that stuff up, then when Dick Grayson's identity is exposed, you actually feel it in your gut. It's something born out of character and story, and if you actually care about that little girl and her relationship with Dick, (man I wish I hadn't typed that) Forever Evil put that girl in dire jeopardy and it becomes something you might really anticipate on the rack each month. You might even remember that story six months down the road.

Why would the Crime Syndicate even bother with a single secret identity, by the way? To prove their reach or resolve? Why not publish the whole NOC list? But really, I would think bodies would communicate better. Producing Justice League corpses would achieve that end far more effectively than a B-Lister's name and address. Show me Superman's head and my balls will retreat into their natural orifice. How does outing Nightwing accomplish anything for the Syndicate? Inside the story, it really doesn't. Outside the fourth wall, that "news" will tend to make the regular comics sites, though, and that's what it's really about.

That's all I can see when I look at Forever Evil....puppet strings and puppeteer hands. I see DC trying to establish September as the Month That Big Doings Happen, so this book has to exist whether it needs to or not. I see a lot of villains gathered together in a room, hell, it took a four page splash just to fit them all in! It's a nice picture, it really is, I'm not just spinning bullshit about that.

But what does it mean? It means that random characters will utter stilted nonsense. Who is Cheetah, anyway? As a person, I mean. Would she ever really say "Nor I, Grodd, but give them a chance to speak." I guess I don't know if she would actually say that or not. But it sounds....wrong. Like a bad puppeteer got hold of her and started moving her mouth for her.

I know Black Manta doesn't like Aquaman, that's pretty standard. The Crime Syndicate just tosses out Aquaman's trident and Black Manta claims it like something important just hapened. How anti-climactic is that? Manta did nothing to achieve it, for all anybody really knows, it's not even real. That would be like criminals burning down the Baseball Hall of Fame, and then tossing Ernie Banks a World Series ring. He'd probably throw it back in the criminals faces...there's no catharsis in that, no achievement.

In an actual story with actual human elements, Black Manta would likely resent whatever asshole took Aquaman down and spit on that trident, because it cheats him of his victory. He doesn't pick it up and do a touchdown dance. That's the opposite of a character moment, but it feels like it has the requisite weight to be "big", so there's your event book. It's 5,000 calories, but it actually tastes like crap and has absolutely no nutritional value.

Do I even comment on the absurdity of moving the moon in front of the sun? If you like logic or physics or yourself, you don't like that. But it's "big", I'll give it that.

To be honest, I don't hate Forever Evil. It almost salvages the Villains Month debacle for me. I still don't think it was worth the allocations and the retailer headaches, or completely derailing the narrative flow of the entire DC universe. Forever Evil establishes that the heroes are gone, and the villains must step up to protect our world. Villains Month is a way of saying "let's learn a little something about these unlikely caretakers, shall we?" The execution on most of those comics ranged from adequate to deplorable. But given the Forever Evil context, it nearly makes sense now that they did it.

So no, I don't hate Forever Evil. It does exactly what it sets out to do - declare that it is important in the most ostentatious and unconvincing manner possible. Whenever somebody feels compelled to announce to me how important they are, I know to quickly file that business card in the trash.

Mostly I just feel sorry for Forever Evil. It very much wishes it were a Valiant event, built on the natural confluence of rising story actions. But it's not. The calendar turned September, so everybody got together in one panel for a group photo, Nightwing got his ass kicked, and The Monocle got his head blown off and took one for the team. For the depressing, soulless team. Sad.

I'm done with Forever Evil, because it's not really a story. I would like to read a story, please. Maybe when I check back a few years from now, an Event might actually provide one. Hope springs eternal!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Ugly American On Batwoman

So, I've been purposefully trying to avoid Bunny Talk... but I have to get back to it this week.  It's a little depressing, but it's also important.  Sometimes you have to do the Good Work even though it may not feel like fun.

What set me off this time were violent threats sent to certain folks at DC over JH Williams unscheduled departure from Batwoman.  Williams recounts the usual sins when these things happen, and they happen a lot lately.  Stories are broken, creative work gets approved, and then at 11:59pm editorial sends a note saying "change everything, and get that to us by midnight".

The wrinkle here is that Williams specifically pointed to DC vetoing a proposed marriage between Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer as a sticking point.

Uh oh.  That'll get the Bunnies attention, won't it?

So now we've got death threats coming into DC if JH Williams is a credible source, and I don't see why he'd lie about that.  Not to belabor the obvious, but this is not (just) about a creator leaving a book before the fan base is ready.  This is about an "attack" on gay marriage, and a small but unduly influential group responding as they always do when somebody has the audacity to disagree with them.  The Bunny credo is - think like I do or be silent, be gone, and now…. be dead, I guess.

I've been banging this drum for a while....but are folks finally getting the idea that the Soft & Fuzzy Bunnies are not the tolerant, benevolent creatures sold in the brochure?

It does not surprise me a lick that DC is hesitant to let JH Williams run with his gay marriage storyline.  It's storytelling 101, and DC is (supposedly) in the business of storytelling and not gay politics.  DC has no gay agenda, and no anti-gay agenda. DC has a money-making agenda, and marriage (gay or otherwise) has never been a big breadwinner.

Do people not remember the lengths that Joe Q went through to nix Peter Parker's marriage? When DC went to the reboolaunch, they instantly split up Lois and Clark.  Personally, I think the marriage dampening effect is overrated, and a good writer could very easily concoct some marriage-based stories that would heighten drama, not diffuse it. But the truth of the matter is that people are far more interested in "will they or won't they?" then "happily ever after."  And in the storytelling game, interest is a pretty precious commodity.

Moonlighting figured this out the hard way.
 Things tanked pretty hard when Dave and Maddie finally hooked up, and that wasn't even a marriage thing.  That was just a boyfriend/girlfriend thing.   Of course nobody remembers Moonlighting, so that’s probably a bad example. How about this one? People want to watch Rick Castle and Kate Beckett dance the Dance of Longing, not pick out curtains.  You can build an entire show around sexual tension, and sink the whole ship by finally pairing people up.

But things are even more dire for Batwoman, because they can't even get the initial tension thing right.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to make two chicks making out boring? Williams and Co. have done it. They should probably invent a new Eisner award just for pulling that off.  Batwoman's crime isn't that it wants to portray gay marriage; its crime is that it is deadly dull.  So when Williams is proposing to make the comic even more mind-bendingly dull, DC can and should send the book in another direction.

When all this hit, the JH Williams blog indicated they’d be staying on until issue 26 and then packing their bags. DC saw the excrement hitting the fan and put Mark Andreyko starting with # 25, and you know what? Good for DC! I’m not in love with the editorial micro-managing that appears to be the norm over there, but if somebody is going to shit all over you, they don’t get to pick when they leave. An advisory not to let the door hit your ass on the way out is an appropriate response in those cases.

Everything comes back to bigotry and intolerance and bullying and oppression these days. Except this situation isn’t about being anti-gay, it's about being anti-boring.  Ask Orson Scott Card about DCs anti-gay agenda.

Incidentally, bigotry is still prevalent in comics, in significant doses.  It doesn't work in the manner that the Bunnies would have you believe, though.  Let me show you how comic book bigotry works in reality, on the page.

So let's take a look at how the police are portrayed in three recent comics: Daredevil # 29, The Movement # 1, and Robocop: Last Stand # 1.  It bears mentioning that in order to make this point, I didn't have to dig back thirty years to find three obscure examples of the phenomenon.  What I'm about to show you are very recent examples typical of the way comics depict police.

I'll start with Mark Waid's Daredevil story, in which papier mache redneck cops attempt to frame a black paramedic of a crime, and then attempt to murder him.

“No wonder they didn’t think they’d get caught”, says Daredevil. “Sounds like these racist fanatics have infiltrated the whole justice system. My justice system.”

I have to say, if I were Frederick Douglas, or Sojourner Truth
, or Jackie Robinson, or Martin Luther King, I would be super pissed right now. Because all of those sacrifices I made, and all of that progress I bled for, and all the benefits I worked pretty goddamn hard for…apparently none of it made a difference.

Could I please let everyone writing comics today in on a little secret? It’s not a very well-kept secret, but you’d never know it by reading the books – institutional racism is OVER. It’s over, and it’s been over for quite a while, and I know you like Mississippi Burning, and I do, too. Gene Hackman? The guy is fantastic. But it’s not 1955 anymore, and that’s mostly a good thing. So please do celebrate that!

Do individuals still exhibit racism? They surely do, and it’s not ideal, and we have lots and lots of safeguards to protect against that kind of thing because again… the Institutional Racism is over. Ask Paula Deen how institutional racism is going right now. The institution is now set up to gulag little old ladies with cooking shows if it turns out that they once whispered a mean racist word 20 years ago. That’s how institutional racism is doing these days. By the way, have you met the President? But I digress.

You know, art is supposed to be the lie that tells the truth. But I don’t find any truth in Daredevil’s extended assertion that our justice system is infested with racists, bent on destroying black paramedics. Instead, I find chilling evidence of quite the opposite when I read about Dave Forster and Marjon Rostami.

Did you hear about them? No, you probably didn’t. They’re a couple of reporters for the Virginian- Pilot, beaten by a mob of somewhere between 30-100. As the story goes, the pair were stopped at a red light when one of the mob threw a rock completely unprovoked and broke a window. When Forster inexplicably got out to verbally confront said rock-thrower, pandemonium and many head injuries ensued.

Their own newspaper failed to cover the story, and only one teenager was ever charged. Why wouldn’t the paper cover it, and why wouldn’t the police aggressively pursue the case? Because the assailants were black, and it’s bad form. The institution would rather people be beaten, even die, then appear racist. That’s the bizarre truth. I don’t know what’s going on in Daredevil’s world, because I don’t recognize it. That’s not art lying to tell the truth. That’s just lying, and I call bullshit.

Then you've got Gail Simone's Movement story, in which a pair of dirty cops confiscate some recreational drugs from some street youths. Their intention is to take it back to the car for “evidence”, because that's what cops do in 21st Century comics.  They don't stop crimes, they create them. They harass and bully people who have done nothing wrong, with no motive other than the intense pleasure they derive from doing so. You’ll notice the racist officers doing a lot grinning in these scenes, because they love it so much.

The crooked cops are considering letting the kids go, but not before Joe decides he needs to see one of the girls naked.  Who knows where things would lead from there?  We'll never find out, because the creepy degenerate Movement folks step in and prevent whatever crimes were about to occur.  Sexual assault of some type was on the menu for sure.

Speaking of cops committing sexual assault, how about the OCP merc police in Robocop: The Last Stand # 1?  These guys are even worse.  Not even any idle talk about letting these ladies go.  Nope, here the police just want to get straight to the raping.

Robocop kinda sorta gets a pass because it's a dystopian tale dedicated to the idea that there is only one good cop, and that's Murphy.  It's hard to tell the story of a world gone bad with only one good cop unless the other cops suck.  But it kinda doesn't get a pass, because it might be worse to build your story around reinforcing the stereotype.

I’ll give Gail some credit as well, because not all of her cops are strict caricatures. The Captain has a little more literary meat on his bones, and he suspends Joe and Luis. But I don’t think the Bunnies would forgive a movie featuring characters in black-face just because it also starred Sidney Poitier, so I’m not sure how much leeway is due there.

The “Bad Cop” stereotype exists everywhere in today's funny books.  The Ugly American has already recounted the tale in which he ejected from Green Lantern over the terrible, horrible people in law enforcement that had audacity to believe that Simon Baz might be a terrorist just because he happened to be a Muslim driving a stolen truck filled with explosives that accidentally blew up a whole building.

Bendis and Maleev's Scarlet comic is built from the foundation of dirty cops murdering her friend.  And hey, here's a new book:  Hit Police!  Well, now it's just "Hit", they took the police part off the title.  But make no mistake about it, those are definitely cops working outside the law to commit murders.  Because in comics, that's pretty much all the cops do. Sort of.

I guess there are four types of police officers currently depicted in comics:

• Cops that are racist
• Cops that like to rape
• Cops that commit murder
• Racist, rapey, murderous cops

Mostly, comics are populated with Cop # 4.  By the way, police corruption is a real thing, (entire history of New Orleans, I'm looking at you) and I'm not suggesting that writers can't talk about that.  What I'm telling you is that there are a wildly disproportionate number of despicable, evil, racist police officers.  These depictions are cartoony, largely inaccurate, ham-fisted, lazy, and destructive.

Listen, by day I work with police officers all the time.  They can be a difficult group to deal with, to be sure.  I see arrogance, and short fuses, and apathy, and all sorts of other human foibles that come with being human.  Mostly what I see are good people putting themselves in harm's way both physically and psychologically trying to protect ingrates that don't appreciate them and communities that don't support them.

Can you guess how many racist, rapey, murderous police I work with?  I don't think I've met one yet.  And I've met a lot.  Sometimes they don't come right out and announce that they're rapey murderers, so there might be some error variance to account for.  Let's say that as many as 4% of police officers might be racist and rapey and murderous.  You'll find bigger numbers than that at your PTA meeting, folks.  Comics are demonstrably and crushingly unfair to the police. it all the police that are bad?  Because if we go back to The Movement # 1, there are two officers in that scene.  One of them wants a "peek" at a victim, and the other guy has a darker complexion and is named "Luis".  It's non-white Luis who actually suggests they let the kids go, and then evil white Joe suggests that not-as-evil-because-he’s-more-brown Luis should sack up and get on board with the sexual harassment part.

So is it cops that are bad, or is it white cops?  Hmmm.

If we go back to Daredevil, all of the white cops and the white judge are twisted and criminal.  The only officer in the whole book who isn't on the take is the Asian female cop.
 Huh. Interesting. If you're an Asian female cop, you're just trying to do your job, and you're hyper-observant, and you twig onto what's happening and valiantly try to stop the racist white cops.

So really, the message is that mostly cops are bad, but not all. A minority cop might be OK.  White people, though?  Evil.  Always evil.  Put a badge on them and all they can think about is forcing your sex from you. And executing you.

Incidentally, you'll never catch the Bunnies crying about any of that.  You won't find any lamentations over police depictions over at the Comics Beat.  I really doubt we'll get a "white people crunching" chart over at Bleeding Cool this month.  Why is that, do you suppose?

The answers are a little too involved to get into in this column entry, which is already overly long. There's enough material there for a book in those answers, honestly.  It's a complex cocktail of good intentions, vanity, willful ignorance, greed, and fear. Lots and lots of misplaced fear. Maybe I'll start attacking that next column, or maybe not.  It feels important to me, but I want us to enjoy ourselves as well.  I don't want to turn this column into an endless screed.

In the meantime, you'll notice that the “mean and insensitive Ugly American” is not only taking a pass on threatening Waid, Simone, or Grant with any violence...but I enjoy the work of all three.  I don’t believe these authors are doing anything for the greater good by stacking on to the Fallacy of the Omnipresent Dirty Cop/Evil White Guy, but I don’t see any malicious intent, either. I believe that each is probably a good person stuck in 1955 and simply running the playbook with the best of intentions. Of course, how would we pave the road to hell without those? My point is not to grind an axe or tell anybody to shut up.

My point is that we need to start publicly talking back to this stuff, because ultimately we get the world we deserve, and you don't solve bigotry with different bigotry. 

We need to get smarter fast, though, because running wild with New Bigotry is giving rabid Bunnies the idea that they have license to threaten people with violence, and with impunity.  It's getting scary out there, folks. Danger, Will Robinson!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ugly American: Hello, Goodbye!

Before I really get started, I just wanted to share something that’s been driving me bananas, even though I shouldn’t remotely care. It’s this Hundred Penny ad I saw in the back of some IDW book:

Do you see the problem here, people? It’s called the Hundred Penny Press because they’re charging you a dollar. So how in the hell is that “priceless stories for UNDER a buck?” In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya…”You keep on using that word…I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Now, a well-adjusted human would simply look at that and be thankful that a publisher was gracious enough to offer product at a nice promotional rate. I, however, cannot seem to get past the part where the laws of mathematics are being treated like Marcellus Wallace in Zed’s basement. $1 is just never under a buck. Not even in comics. If you have any questions on the matter, just ask a six year old – they’ll straighten you right out.

The person who wrote that ad makes more than I do, by the way. Anywho. Enough of that.

All day today I’ve had the Beatles “Hello, Goodbye” running through my head, so I took it as a sign and built a column around it. You should always be assessing your pull list and cutting out the chaff so you can latch onto something else that’s more inspiring to read. This week I’ve decided to say goodbye to a title, and hello (again) to an unlikely new steady. Let’s start with goodbye, shall we?

Goodbye, Young Avengers!

Before you boo and hiss me, understand that I’m not suggesting that Young Avengers is a “bad” book. It’s not. In fact, it’s got an awful lot going for it.

For one, it’s a big ball of really pretty kinetic energy. Jamie McKelvie’s figures are just gorgeous. Everybody is impossibly beautiful, and things are moving along at a neck-snapping pace. Every issue has some kind of innovative panel layout, some new trick to pull out of the artistic sleeve. There’s a palpable sense of exuberance about Young Avengers.

Some of the characters are exceptional. Gillen’s Kid Loki is a modern marvel, although this isn’t strictly his book, and must share the spotlight with a lot of other shiny stars. Gillen’s even brought Leah back, after a fashion. Not sure exactly how I feel about that after losing her in JIM felt so punishing. There’s some joy there, yes, but it frankly cheapens how I feel about Journey a bit. And that’s sad. One thing it’s not, though, is boring.

Then there’s David Alleyne, aka Prodigy. I like smart characters, and now the twist is that he’s also bisexual because his power is to absorb just about anything outside of super-powers. It’s a clever consequence, and opens the door for a lot of other intriguing possibilities. If he can take on sexuality, why not psychosis? Isn’t hanging around Loki inevitably going to make him duplicitous? Hmmmm…lots of good stuff to be mined out of that character, and Keiron Gillen has the goods to extract it.

Why good-bye then, you ask? I’ve given Young Avengers nine issues to teach me what it is and what it does, and this is not a book for me. I’m an old man, and quite happy to be so. This is all emotion and urgency and hipness. I don’t necessarily need to identify with characters in order to find them interesting, but mostly I’m here on earth now to shout at these kids to get off my lawn. Reading these exploits feels exhausting, mostly.

I think if this comic had been published in 1991, it might be my most favoritest thing ever, because how could it not be? When you’re 19 years old, things are either the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, or soul-crushingly horrible. When you’re 41, you can look at a book like Young Avengers, entirely appreciate it for what it is, and then leave it alone without any hard feelings at all. So that’s what I’m doing. Good-bye, Young Avengers!

Helloooooooooo Sex!

Readers of this column will remember that the Ugly American gave mixed reviews to Sex # 1, which was delightfully perplexing. When issue # 2 hit the stands with that same collector’s item “joke” on the cover, I just couldn’t abide spending money on it. By the time issue # 3 came out, I had completely forgotten it, and even if I hadn’t I think Catalyst Comics had been released and Joe Casey’s “I’m a badass giving a finger to the man and making REAL comics” schtick was irritating the shit out of me and I wouldn’t have grabbed it out of spite.

And then when Sex # 4 arrived at my LCS, curiosity got the better of me and I picked it up again. My thing is, I desperately need to understand things. Sex was (and remains) difficult to put into a neat box. I looked at Sex # 4 and thought – “I might be a little lost here, but I’d really like to get a feel for what kind of butterfly this is turning into.”

To be honest, I think Joe Casey has similar feelings about the comic. I have zero indication that Casey has a concrete plan for how he wants to develop this series, which is equal parts intriguing and off-putting. I can promise you, you don’t know exactly where Sex is going. The reason I know that is because Joe Casey doesn’t know where it’s going.

There is a driving force propelling things, and it basically goes like this:

What if Batman got old, stopped obsessively feeding his Vengeance Demon, and tried to have a real life as Bruce Wayne? What if he dropped the cowl for good and actually tried to integrate into life by paying attention to WayneCorp and other human beings on a personal level?

That’s the hook for Sex – the personal consequences of a life spent avoiding real human connection. In Sex, the guy is Simon Cooke, and the alter ego was The Armored Saint. Simon is a middle aged man with absolutely zero social skills and personal agency. He’s spent the last 25 years of life looking at people as marks and assets. He doesn’t know what he wants, because he gave it all to The Mission.

So what Sex amounts to is a hyper-talented invalid failing miserably at life, in the most awkward manner possible. Here are the actual activities of Simon Cooke, broken down for the last three issues of Sex:

Chapter 4
• Silently watches old videos alone
• Tosses and turns in bed
• Dresses up like Fidel Castro then sits silently alone at a seedy bar
• Awkwardly talks about mid-life crisis feelings with his friend Warren, who looks like he should be played by that guy from East Bound & Down

Chapter 5
• Fails miserably at double dating with East Bound & Down
• Gets knob polished in bathroom any way
• EB&D carries him to bed where he passes out
• Takes a meeting with an empty suit the next morning

Chapter 6
• Passive aggressive awkward conversation with Mayor Sedgewick
• Stares silently over balcony, then has uncomfortable conversation with his assistant about her dating Sedgewick’s little lapdog

The Armored Saint is the ultimate inaction hero. You might be wondering where the sex in Sex is. There is some, but Simon Cooke isn’t getting any, at least not yet. Zero social skills for that kid. East Bound & Down is getting some, and the really puerile stuff generally happens when the wrinkled old villain of the book is on screen. There was quite a lot of ass rape in issue # 6, as I recall.

This book is more about the consequences of leading an unnatural life as a superhero. You don’t know how to talk to girls. You have no clue how to run your business, or relate to your co-workers. Annabelle Lagravenese ( the Catwoman analog ) is going blind because of the night-vision goggles she used to wear. The superhero life has consequences, and Sex is built like a documentary about them.

I’m almost ashamed to admit this…but I’m interested in that shit. I’m sort of rooting for Simon Cooke to grow into something more healthy as a human being. One gets the feeling that he might just end up transporting all that obsession he had for vengeance into sensory indulgences, and that would be bad. Might be fun to watch, though!

It also feels like Annabelle might be able to help him pull through. She has her stuff a little more together and could guide him through his transition, and he’d understand her on a level that other people just can’t, so that might work. Needless to say this is not how things generally work in The Avengers. It’s just a different kind of a book, and different is attractive to me.

They’re still doing that bizarre “lets color code certain key words in each word balloon” thing, which is really best left for dead. What would be the rationale for continuing with that other than artistic obstinacy? I guess the good news is that I’m mostly able to just tune that nonsense out at this point. It’s not a deal-breaker. On the plus side, you’re getting those fantastic Joe Casey commentaries on the back end.

People often wonder about the magic behind Walking Dead, but honestly Kirkman spelled it out in the beginning – what happens after the zombie movie? I think what people are responding to is that deeper plumbing of the Unhappily Ever After, that never really had been explored before. Sex is at least attempting to add similar depth to a tired old horse by asking – what happens after the superhero series? So far, it’s a lot of odd reclusive behavior and awkward conversations…but for some reason that seems to have me hooked.