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Monday, September 26, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Let's play a game:
Pretend you're somebody who has never read a comic book before in your life. You have two young children, a boy and a girl, and they are both somewhere between the age of 5 and 10. You're watching TV when you see the DC reboot commercial. You're thinking, "Hey, I enjoyed I couple of those superhero movies that come out every summer. So do my kids. Let's go down to the comic book shop and pick up some comics to keep the kids busy and maybe we can resell them in a couple of years for a little side money." You pack up the kids in the car and decide to go on down to the comic shop.
Now if you live in America, the odds are that your "local" comic book shop is more likely to be a few miles away rather than a couple stops on the subway. As previously stated, you don't know the first thing about comic books and this is probably the first time your children have ever even laid eyes on a comic book before in their lives. Primed by his prior moviegoing experiences, your son grabs titles tying in to whatever was recently in theaters, but what about your daughter? Your little girl finds nothing that immediately appeals to her and if you leave the store with nothing for her you'd feel like a bad parent. (You see where I'm going with this?) So you grab her a copy of CATWOMAN #1 since, hey, that's a female superhero, right? It's probably on prominent display right in the shop's front since it's a new release for the DC reboot. You're probably thinking back to the 1966 JulieNewmar Catwoman and remember how much you liked her as a kid. Imagine having your 5-10 year old girl reading CATWOMAN #1 at home, her first time ever reading a comic book. Imagine your daughter, possibly in first grade, reading it. Imagine how you would feel if she were bring it to you and ask you what was happening during the sex parts. Imagine if she would have brought it to school to show her friends without you even looking at it first.
The movies attract children, they make toys based on the movies for children, they sell candy with the heroes emblazoned on the packaging, for children. This comic book reboot, was also advertised to children. The majority of Americans think comic books are solely for children. The majority of Americans are whom the reboot was targeting, to get them involved. So why the hell would they not make these comics friendly for children?
Yes, comics are a medium and an art form. I completely understand, but let's be honest: selling Catwoman comics to an older adult market just couldn't work. If it could, DC would have rebooted the damned series into such ages ago! Children are the future of comic books. Get them hooked now, like how you were hooked back then. Now some people will defend it by saying something like "Catwoman is a sexual character." That's bullshit. Catwoman was in every incarnation of the Batman cartoons, even BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. How come those incarnations can be child friendly but this one can't? It is unacceptable that DC released this shoddily-written filth of a comic as a big #1 reboot issue. Terrible writing aside, you obviously need prior knowledge to read this comic. Nobody is properly introduced. This comic was apparently simply just a renumbering of an issue of Catwoman that was written a while ago, only with a few minor changes made prior to the relaunch. DC completely screwed the pooch in regard to any responsible parent buying this comic.
Let me be clear I have nothing against sex in comics. I understand there is a lot of sexual tension between Catwoman and Batman, in fact it's one of the defining elements of the dynamic between the two characters. I enjoy that. I love that building of the "will they/won't they" thing going on between them. That is a tool a good writer could have used to keep a reader entertained and interest them in following the series, but to have the payoff already? In the first damned issue?!!? After that, there is no need to even bother continue reading the series. So congrats DC, you are officially back to how you were before the reboot. Now the ongoing CATWOMAN series will only have its rapidly declining fan base to rely on until 10 years from now, when they decide to do a child-friendly reboot (which they will) or whenever Warner Bros kicks Geoff and Jim out of the castle (which they should.)
Remember back when Alan Moore was talking about how comic books written today are not worth his time to read? This is exactly the sort of crap he was talking about. This comic sucks, plain and simple.
As of this point, it is a verifiable fact that DC Comics fucked up their shot at this reboot. I look forward to reading about their abysmal sales figures for the #3 and #4 issues of these reboot comics.
The cover art for CATWOMAN #1.
WONDER WOMAN #1
I just read the New 52's WONDER WOMAN #1 and recommend it mostly for Cliff Chiang's excellent artwork. As stated, it looked great, but the story was not at all what I expected. It's very much rooted in non-sanitized Greek mythology and consequently it's waaaay more gory and violent than I was prepared for (which is not to say that I minded at all). Diana's drawn to be very Amazonian — depending on the panel, I'd peg her at being well over six feet tall — and handles her mythological foes like an ancient warrior should, meaning that she has zero qualms about making her combat against them both personally painful and fatal. True, we saw her quite necessarily kill Maxwell Lord a few years ago and it was clearly implied on a number of occasions that she has killed creatures and beings outside of the laws and realms of mortals, but here we see her hack off the right arm of a female centaur, with the severed limb and wound right in the reader's face. The sequence where the evil centaurs are created (there's a male and a female) is also gorier than DC's usual kid-friendly fare, complete with the beheading of a stable horse and one of the centaurs clawing its way free from the dead horse's gaping, gory neck wound. The story itself feels like the reader came in on the middle of something and little explanation is given as to what's going on, which leads me to once again state that this, like several others in the relaunch, should have been a 48-pager. And, perhaps honoring an ages-old comics tradition, the scene on the cover is nowhere to be found inside the book (no surprise there). And I don't care what anyone says, I miss the red hooker boots.
The new BATMAN #1 is vastly superior to the recent DETECTIVE COMICS relaunch, and as such I recommend it. The story it sets up intrigues me and I'm curious to read further and see where it goes. (I won't spoil what happens.) My one complaint is that the art is a tad too anime-influenced to be appropriate for a Batman book (in my humble opinion), which leads to Bruce Wayne being drawn to look like he's maybe twenty-five.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #1
This entertainingly bad entry would have rated as almost passable in my book if not for writer Scott Lobdell's appalling handling of Starfire, a character that I and a legion of comics readers, both male and female, have grown to adore over the past three decades. There are those who can make a not-unjustified case for Starfire being the DCU's answer to Little Annie Fanny, but she was always written as a sweet-natured, physically/sexually uninhibited ingenue (an intriguing contradiction in terms), but now she's an apparently brain-dead living sex toy to be shared by any nearby males, meaning her teammates. There are also a few elements in the plot that make no sense whatsoever, which again leads me to say this would have benefited from being a 48-pager. The book does little with its 20 pages other than to introduce us to the unlikeable "New 52" versions of the Red Hood, Arsenal, and Starfire, and it also fails to establish much by way of an actual story, so I'm hoping that will be remedied in the next issue. Yes, I will be back for the next issue, because this is bad enough to warrant one more issue to see how much worse it all gets.
The main reason to check out NIGHTWING #1 is the stunning artwork by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer. Simply put, it's easily one of the best drawn books in the relaunch thus far. That said, the story makes it clear that this is one of the books apparently unaffected by the status quo re-setting at the end of FLASHPOINT, thanks to Dick commenting on having worn the mantle of the Batman "while Bruce was away" for a year. The story itself is mostly an issue-length monologue by Dick on his current state of mind and being, and that part's not bad. The rest of it features a highly-skilled professional assassin who's shown up in Gotham to exact a hit on Dick, but the issue ends before the "why" of it all is given. Say it with me: again we get what feels like half of an issue and again I say it should have been a 48-pager. Also, there art here is so good that I very much doubt it can be maintained on a monthly basis. In fact, I predict a total of three, maybe four issues before the art chores get passed off to Joe Schlabotnik.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1
Much like last week's LEGION LOST, this umpteenth first issue of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES is just more of the same, albeit with decent art. There's nothing more to add, other than that I won't be back next month.
DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS #1
Featuring a modernized origin for the venerable Deadman, this is a decent read, but it's also a derivative metaphysical-redemption-based (rather than science-fictional) knockoff of QUANTUM LEAP. But whatever, the art and story mesh into an interesting whole and I will stick with it for now.
Catwoman is a character I've loved since childhood and I will always give a new book starring her a chance. This latest CATWOMAN #1 entertained me, but it has already garnered a good deal of controversy among fans for its considerable and unrepentant sleaziness. It's our girl Selina once again up to exactly the kind of shenanigans we've come to expect of her in her post-BATMAN: YEAR ONE iteration, only with the pinup factor turned up to eleven, although the art can get anatomically wonky at times. (It reminded me of someone trying to channel the IRON-JAW-era Pablo Marcos.) Worth a second look. But caveat for parents and those who may be expecting a PG-level issue: it should be noted that the guest appearance by Batman toward the end of the issue sends this into territory that could make for some uncomfortable questions from your kids. In short, Catwoman and the Batman fuck in costume on a rooftop as a way to alleviate tension, and the final splash page has already become rather infamous. It's a post-coital shot of Batman, looking utterly spent, as an equally exhausted Catwoman remains astride him, leading anyone who understands how such activities work to conclude that we are getting an onscreen depiction of our heroine still very much with a bat-dick inside her. This also did not read like a situation in which any form of prophylactics were in use, so there a good message for you...(Then again, Batman has already fathered a bastard son, so maybe he's just really into bare-backing? God knows he can afford to throw the mother of any kid who may get conceived a cornucopia of cash.)
BIRDS OF PREY #1
BIRDS OF PREY is back for yet another relaunch — this being its second in less than two years — only this time minus the writing of Gail Simone, which really shows. Jesus Saiz's artwork is quite nice but I'm only giving this one, maybe two more issues to see if it goes anywhere. (And ignore the cover; Poison Ivy and Katana are not in this issue.) I am, however, intrigued by Starling, the woman seated cross-legged in the middle of the composition. She's featured throughout and at first I thought she might be a revamp of the Huntress, but nothing is given of her backstory.
BLUE BEETLE #1
Despite my complete lack of interest in this character, I checked out BLUE BEETLE #1 and was pleasantly surprised by what I got. In another series opener that should have been a 48-pager, the protagonist doesn't become the Blue Beetle until the very last page, at which point we get a blurb reading "Next: Meet the Beetle." Um, wouldn't one expect to meet the Beetle in the first issue of his own book? It's clear that the writing on most of the books in the relaunch are being geared for collecting the arcs in trade paperbacks and that's especially evident here, and I think that's a shabby way to treat newcomer monthly readers, the stated target audience of the whole thing in the first place. And is it just me or has the version of the Beetle we've seen over the past few years pretty much a knockoff of the Guyver?
THE SIMPSONS' TREEHOUSE OF HORROR ANNUAL #17
A not-bad assemblage of Simpsons-related cheesy Halloween stories, one of which was scripted by Jane Weidlin, formerly best known as the rhythm guitarist of the '80's band the Go-Go's. It's all fun but worth the price of admission is Jim Woodring's laugh-out-loud hilarious "harvest of Fear," in which Bart buys an old E.C. knockoff comic at a yard sale and finds himself deeply disturbed by its contents, as well as becoming embroiled in an attempt to solve the greatest mystery in the history of '50's horror comics. For that story alone, this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Seriously, I laughed my ass off reading that one.
X-MEN: SCHISM #4 (of 5)
At times it seems like at least half of the comics that come out each month feature the X-Men, so how in does anyone keep track of what's going on? I certainly can't, so I gave up on regularly reading them ages ago, but then I saw this issue on the stands and picked it up for the Alan Davis artwork, which was as gorgeous as always. I didn't even bother to read most of the story, simply skimming it instead, because I'll just pick it up when the collected edition inevitably comes out. The only thing I can tell you about the plot is that Wolverine and Cyclops begin the knockdown, drag-out fight that's been brewing between them for ages, and the outcome of that will apparently cause the legion of mutant characters to split into two factions, each led by one of the respective combatants. Whatever. The art's pretty, though.
SPIDER-ISLAND: CLOAK & DAGGER #2 (of 3)
I can't talk about this one without giving away the particulars but if you're a Cloak and Dagger fan, you'll get a kick out of this.
AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE #7 (of 9)
I'm not gonna lie. I bought this to see what the status quo is with the Scarlet Witch, now that she's apparently sane again — a long and convoluted story that has been ongoing for the past few years throughout a number of titles and mini-series, so don't ask — and I found both the story and art to be very good. Much better than expected for yet another Marvel mini-series, I will definitely check this out in full when it hits as a collected edition.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Anyway, love ya, Joanie. And here she is, kicking ass before "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" at the age of twenty-two.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
One of my favorite moments from GHOUL A GO-GO, featuring the Neanderthals and the world-famous Pontani Sisters.
9/4/2006-Me with the GHOUL A GO-GO boys, Vlad (L) and Creighton (R), at what turned out to be (I believe) the last Cramps show in New York City before the untimely death of their frontman, the awesome Lux Interior. It was an excellent show, one of the best I ever saw the band give, and meeting these two was the icing o that cake of awesomeness.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I was out with the gang last night — which I really needed because the lack of a job plunged me into deep depression that I'm currently clawing my way back from — and, after sucking down approximately six pints (the reckoning is hard to keep track of because our waitress, Joanne, replaces empties before we even have a chance to request another) I got the urge to scribble. The first mat that I violated included a drawing of a "gimp," complete with pierced nipples, leather posing pouch, Cambridge Rapist-style bondage mask and scraggly body hair, and next to that was a caricature of the 2000 A.D. character Middenface MacNulty. Then, rounding things out is a quickie portrait of the cyclops from THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD. Hey, why not?
I didn't think to take a picture of that one when the mat was filled and by the time the thought occurred to me, my friend Rob had claimed it, folded it carefully, and stuck it in his wife's bag for safe keeping. However, when I awoke this morning and checked my emails, Rob had kindly sent me a picture of the item in question, so it is now permanently chronicled.
The second placemat, however, did get photographed as it happened and here it is in all its nonsensical glory.
This one ended up claimed by one of three new acquaintances whom I met for the first time last night, and two of those acquaintances spent a good fifteen minutes or more closely analyzing my doodle and (believe it or not) wondering over how I could just pull something like it out of my ass (so to speak) while well-marinaded in Guinness.
So from now on, anytime I do one of these placemat mini-murals, I'll make sure to photograph them for posterity and happily post them here as blog fodder.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
I loved the majority of the Marv Wolfman/George Perez era of THE NEW TEEN TITANS as it was coming out on a monthly basis and I still think it was one of DC's strongest runs from the pre-DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN 1980's. It looked and read like a top-level Marvel book — which surely must have been a sticking point for those firmly committed to one-company blind loyalty — and when it came to characterization in mainstream comics, it was second to none. But nothing lasts forever and, in my humble opinion, it pretty much ran out of gas by around the time Donna married that dude who looked like the JOY OF PAINTING "happy little trees" guy. After that the Titans pretty much cruised along based on fond memories of the glory days, and every now and then there would be a glimmer of the Wolfman/Perez brilliance, but nothing of any merit as a true successor on a steady basis. Now it's thirty-one years since the Wolfman/Perez TITANS hit, and after a lengthy gestation — one stretching from 1988 until now — the long-awaited original TITANS graphic novel, "Games," is here, and I have to say that I don't necessarily think it was worth the wait.
In "Games," the Titans are pitted against an insane master strategist known as the Gamesmaster, a former designer of war games for the Central Bureau of Intelligence who has a major hatred for vintage DC government spook King Farraday. The Gamesmaster plots to wreak all manner of terrible havoc, including the destruction of New York City, so Farraday press-gangs the Titans into aiding him in his efforts to thwart the madman, alerting them to the Gamesmaster's plans to cause harm to those closest to the Titans in their civilian lives. The usual cat-and-mouse found in stories like this ensues and tensions escalate between Farraday and the Titans, as well as between the Titans themselves, and it's a race against time and a crew of skilled and dangerous operatives set in place by the Gamesmaster.
The flavor of the work is definitely that of the Wolfman/Perez we know and love, but the story itself, despite the obvious effort that went into crafting it, comes off as rote and, if truth be told, rather stale. This is a work by two industry legends who have both moved on from their take on the Titans, so this piece is something of a throwback to the days just after the series ran out of creative steam and was running on fumes. Perez's art is as gorgeous as usual, some of the best of his career (and it's aided and abetted by the format's larger scale and printing that allows for crisp image resolution and vibrant colors), but the story is too pedestrian for what fans of the original series may be expecting.
Priced at $24.99, the bottom line here is that it's pretty to look at — very pretty to look at — but I cannot in good faith recommend it to anyone other than Perez fans and TITANS diehards. It's not bad, but the overall result ends up being mediocre.
FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1
For all of us secret agent fans and former "monster kids," this one doesn't skimp on the clandestine organization particulars or the monsters (there are many), and even throws in a non-Atom Ray Palmer as the organization's answer to James Bond's Q. Very entertaining, I will definitely be back for more of this. But, fun read though it is, FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. is a blatant gene-splicing/knockoff of AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and HELLBOY, complete with constructs that could be L.M.D.'s down the line, and an operative among the Creature Commandos who's a female version/doppelganger of Abe Sapien.
SUICIDE SQUAD #1
This one comes as a pleasant and nasty surprise that fuses the regular SQUAD concept with that of the late, lamented SECRET SIX (to an extent). We get Deadshot, a re-designed Harley Quinn — who looks great as seen in the interior art by Federico Dallocchio, as opposed to the awful pseudo-anime-looking mess seen on the cover — King Shark (who now looks more like a hammerhead, and it works), pyrokinetic El Diablo, Black Spider, the electrical Voltaic, and some unidentified guy with a blade, all of whom are under the sadistic thumb of handler Amanda Waller (who this time around has apparently gone to Weight Watchers), and the first issue sees the Squad horribly tortured as a test of their individual mettle. As this ordeal goes on, we get looks into the heads of a few of the characters, after which our protagonists are unceremoniously and literally dumped into a mission of a highly questionable sort, the commencement of which we'll get to next issue. Bottom line: SUICIDE SQUAD is a collection of deadly and twisted misfits that I will definitely return to next month. I just hope the established level of quality holds...
GREEN LANTERN #1
Apparently utterly unaffected by the events at the end of FLASHPOINT, GREEN LANTERN #1 finds Sinestro again chosen to work for the Guardians (he's not happy about it) while a ringless Hal Jordan's life spirals down the bowl. This is a good return to form after the back-to-back boredom of BLACKEST NIGHT and BRIGHTEST DAY but if if you haven't been reading GL for the past couple of years, you may be lost without a road map. Also, taking into account how Green Lantern stories in recent years have started out well and then turned to straight-up shite, I'm not going into this without a certain sense of wariness.
DEMON KNIGHTS #1
Not at all what I expected from an Etrigan relaunch, DEMON KNIGHTS debuts as a straight-up fantasy book set during the dark ages. Jason Blood and his demonic other self, Etrigan (aka The Demon) are partnered with Madame Xanadu (who is Etrigan's lover) and Vandal Savage, a re-imagined-as-female Shining Knight, and a character who may be a Themiscyran expat. A tempting opening that reads a lot like a well-realized D&D campaign translated into comics form, but this needed to be a 48-pager. I'll give it another issue or two to see where it goes.
LEGION LOST #1
For a book that's supposed to attract new readers, LEGION LOST #1 offers Legion tropes that — and I say this as a Legion fan of thirty-eight years — have been run into the ground, and, if things go as they have for the past thirty-some-odd years (which is not unlikely), such will continue to be the case. An assortment of Legionnaires are lost in time — again — and other than some very nice art (the new designs for Wildfire and Dawnstar are great) and an intriguing Durlan character, this is just an example of a by-the-numbers Legion story. Also, Timber Wolf is written to be more like Wolverine than ever, and that was a distinct turn-off. Nice art by Pete Woods notwithstanding, I doubt I'll return to this.
Thankfully having nothing to do with his long connection with the Teen Titans — and I hope it stays that way — this first issue of DEATHSTROKE rocked. HARD. As nasty and violent as it needed to be, this issue perfectly defines what a monumental badass Slade Wilson is without going into the minutia of his origins, and that's just fine by me. Give me a meta-human mercenary with physical skills comparable to those of Captain America, virtually no morals, and a high set of professional standards, and you have my attention. I will definitely be back next month!
For the past few years, I've read a lot of positive buzz about Batwoman and also heard friends and former colleagues who I respect say that the character's previous run was very good. I am perfectly willing to believe that but I never checked her out because I missed the initial installment, and then lost track of which collected editions I would need to pick up in order to get caught up. After that, I just lost interest. This eagerly-awaited (by some) first issue is well-written and very nicely illustrated, but BATWOMAN #1 left me cold. There's no explanation as to who the main characters are — the only one I had prior knowledge of was Detective Maggie Sawyer, and I've always liked her a lot — and the story just didn't grab me enough to make me a returning reader. If you're already a Batwoman fan, this seems to have been written just for those already familiar with her and her portion of Gotham. All others may want to give this a miss or catch up via collections of the preceding material. Me, I'm out.
RESURRECTION MAN #1
A well-crafted issue that did absolutely nothing for me. There are those who loved RESURRECTION MAN during its prior run but since I've been an avid reader of the WILD CARDS novels and am very familiar with the Sleeper, I was never impressed. The Sleeper and Resurrection Man, where it really counts, are virtually the same character; The Sleeper gains a different power whenever he awakens from a long sleep, while Resurrection Man does the same after he dies. Their personalities are markedly different — the Sleeper is a career criminal who fears going to sleep in case he may die, so while awake he doses himself with fistfuls of amphetamines and becomes dangerously psychotic and violent until he finally crashes — but the hook here is in the power, and I've seen it before and done better. And, since she turns up here and in other books, is Madame Xanadu being groomed as a major recurring presence in the DCnU?
And here's the non-DCnU stuff I got my hands on:
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #669
The latest chapter in the "Spider-Island" event proves once again that Dan Slott = quality storytelling. That said, I'm still not a fan of Humberto Ramos' art — I've actively disliked the guy's stuff for well over a decade — but there are those who dig it and I admit that he's improved immensely since his early days. At least he finally stopped drawing everybody with disproportionately huge feet, supplemented with cankles.
FEAR ITSELF: THE MONKEY KING (one-shot)
This one-shot spinoff from Marvel's FEAR ITSELF event sets up a Chinese hero, formerly a crime boss, who possess the power of Sun Wukong, the legendary literary hero known as the Monkey King. For those who never read Wu Cheng En's classic JOURNEY TO THE WEST, Sun Wukong is a character of incredible super-powers and martial arts skills, basically the perfect fantasy hero, so he's right up my alley. I hope to see more of Marvel's version as soon as possible, because the world is a barren place without more kung fu heroes.
JOHN CARTER OF MARS: A PRINCESS OF MARS #1 (of 5)
A real surprise, this adaptation of A PRINCESS OF MARS (issue 1 of 5) is kind of an abridged version of the oft-told story of John Carter's early days on Barsoom, but it's very lively and I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed Filipe Andrade's very "cartoony artwork." Some of my fellow Burroughs purists may object, but I found it a refreshingly different take on a story and characters I've been familiar with since childhood, so I will definitely be back next month.
Monday, September 12, 2011
You can read Whitfield's obituary here.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
It wasn't like something out of a Michael Bay cinematic confection.
I know today is the day to remember the dead, and while doing just that this classic John Berkey movie poster comes to mind:
If only a battle with a gigantic ape had been the worst thing to happen at the World Trade Center...
Today is the tenth anniversary of the cataclysmic Bin Laden-driven terrorist attack, and I am filled with a great sense of trepidation and near nausea when I think of the inevitable wave of phony patriotism and jump-on-the-bandwagon “grief” that is certain to inundate the nation for about a week. I guarantee you that the bulk of media will be devoted to documentaries/tributes on the subject — all punctuated by somber arrangements of classic patriotic standards — and there will be at least one presidential address to the nation from our alleged Commander In Chief, a badly read cue card performance that will politically and emotionally push buttons and exploit/exacerbate the nation’s xenophobia and jingoistic horseshit, which in turn will probably fuel yet more American youth to throw away their lives in pointless and immoral wars supposedly being fought in the name of Freedom with a capital F.
Across the nation but most flagrantly here in the Big Apple, there are certain to be legions of thoughtless vendors out for no more than some extra greenbacks, flogging mountains of 9/11 souvenirs and merchandise to blindsided tourists and perhaps even a few locals who forgot exactly how horrifying the events of that day were. The rest of the country may have been genuinely shocked by what they witnessed on the news during 9/11 and the days that followed, but the images seen on a TV, secure in the comfort of home and hearth, cannot convey the agonizing impact of what happened here. Yes, other countries have endured nightmarish events of similar caliber — on a daily basis, no less — but this was the first time something of such international magnitude struck us here at home in quite some time, and that’s what really kicked our long-held American arrogance right up our collective ass, that feeling of “How could they do this to us? How can this happen here?” and my absolute favorite, “But we’re Americans! We’re the good guys!”
How soon we forget the atrocities committed by this country and its various administrations, both within my own meager lifetime and since the beginning of this nation. My ancestry includes both Native-American and African blood among the other genetics that make up my own personal stew, and both of those groups were famously fucked over by the US government and its people, but many factions these days urge us ethnic types to more or less shut up and forget it, and be happy about where we are blessed enough to live.
I love my country but I am in no way blind to what has gone before or at present, so the situation of ten years past did not necessarily surprise me, but what does continue to surprise me is the extent to which the American people — and to be honest, some New Yorkers as well — have relegated the horrors of 9/11 to an oft-discussed tragedy, but one that they are not really connected to in an actual, visceral way. It’s one thing to have the media inform your opinion, but it’s a whole different animal to have been there for a major catastrophe and relegate it to the file of sensational events that evoke revulsion one day, only to become a case of ”Yeah, that really sucked.” In essence, forgetting it as another disposable news item rather than the globally connective event that it was.
I, for one, will never forget it, and I hope that I never see anything else like it for as long as I may be fortunate enough to draw breath.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I reported to work at 7am at DC Comics' Vertigo offices, an early start, yes, but one that facilitated speaking to the company’s European freelancers without interrupting their dinners or quality evening times with their families or loved ones. I immediately got on the phone and called my favorite HELLBLAZER scribe, Jamie Delano, to hash out the details of getting him a check that had slipped through the cracks, an unfortunately common occurrence at the company in question at the time. As I chatted with him and assured him that I would remedy the situation once the payroll guys showed up, one of the editors from the collected editions department burst into my office and told me to switch my computer to the BBC News live feed; an airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center and one of the towers was burning and in danger of imminent collapse. Stunned, I filled Jamie in on what had happened and again promised to take care of his check as soon as possible. I hung up the telephone and switched to the online BBC news channel.
I gaped at the monitor as I watched the tower burn and immediately thought of the people who were within the structure, frightened, confused, in search of a safe exit, and in many cases flat out dead. As those thoughts wrapped around my brain, a second plane hit the towers, and at that moment one cold, jagged inkling leaped to the front of my consciousness:
THIS IS NO ACCIDENT. THIS IS A TERRORIST ATTACK.
I had no experience with such matters other than through what I saw on the news, and while I was willing to accept one plane slamming into the Twin Towers as pilot error or some other such awful happenstance, two planes making such a collision one after the other was too much of a coincidence for me to write off as an unfortunate twist of fate, the odds against such a fluke being beyond astronomical. Sure, I worked in an industry that thrived from depictions of super-powered set-to’s and endless scenes of mass destruction, but that shit’s fantasy and entertainment. Here, for the first time in my life, I was faced with wholesale devastation for real, and the gravity of the situation completely rewrote my thinking on such things as the stuff of celluloid or four-color diversion.
As my mind reeled from what I had just witnessed, before I proceeded any further I called my mom in Connecticut. I knew that she was one of those East Coasters who frequented Manhattan but did not really know its geography, so for all she knew the Trade Center could have been across the street from where I worked (it was at the bottom end of Manhattan and my office was in Midtown, across the street from The David Letterman Show, so it was approximately three miles away). She was still asleep when I called and had no idea what the hell I was talking about, but I told her not to worry about me and that communications in the city would soon be overloaded by people attempting to reach their loved ones. I then signed off and set about emailing all of the freelancers and anyone else who might wonder if we’d been caught up in the attack.
Most of my co-workers made it in to work, arriving just before most mass transit ground to a standstill. The majority of the subway lines shut down, there were power outages, and then the predicted phone problems happened, effectively rendering the city incommunicado for the better part of twelve hours depending on where you were. Needless to say, work did not happen that day and we all sat or paced in a nauseous, nervous state of uncertainty, wondering if more planes would plummet from the air.
After over six hours of being more or less stranded in Midtown, the subways tentatively began to move once again and we all made our way home. I entered the B train station right at the steps of where I worked and found myself deep in a throng that crowded the platform, every one of us eager to get home and escape the horror that spewed hellish black smoke only a few dozen blocks away. Three or four trains slowly lurched in an out of the station before the crowd thinned enough for me to actually board one, and as I clung to the metal ceiling handle I surveyed my fellow passengers and found each of them looking back at me with the same silent question written on their faces: “What now?” That brief musing came to an abrupt halt as the train shuddered roughly into motion and bore us downtown, a destination that we dreaded since the line ran close to what would later be known as Ground Zero.
As the B train approached the stop near the burning towers, there were long delays as the preceding trains delicately inched their way toward Brooklyn, gingerly advancing in hope that that the tunnel would not collapse. Never in my life have I felt such out-of-my-control fear, and I couldn’t help but flash back to my mother’s rampant claustrophobia, a condition that has affected her since her father attempted to kidnap her in a sack and through a window when she was three years old; if she had been on that train, she would have begun hyperventilating, shaking, and finally trying to claw her way out of the car like a rat trapped in a box. (NOTE: the claustrophobia story about my mom is not a gag, but that's a tale for another posting.)
Passing under the potentially unstable section of street took less time than I would have thought, and as we left that foreboding underground hell we emerged onto the elevated track that crossed the Manhattan Bridge and sat stunned as an unspeakable tableau loomed to our collective right. You see, the train passed right by the Twin Towers as part of its route, which I rode every motherfucking day, and as we surfaced all present beheld a vision straight out of Gustave Dor .
The pristine lower Manhattan cityscape that I had passed for four years now had a black abscess smack dab in its center, a wound from which protruded two smoldering stumps of iron and glass, both surrounded by a multitude of police cars, ambulances, and assorted rescue vehicles, each with lights blinking and swirling, forcing the onlooker’s attention to the misery. Thick, blacker-than-black clouds of chemical smoke billowed heavenward, making the scene look like the largest sacrificial pyre imaginable (which, let’s face it, it kind of was).
The passengers craned their necks, pressed themselves against the windows and sat agog, unwillingly mesmerized by the sight. Not a word was said as we passed the inferno, but the view was reminiscent of a drive-by attraction at Disneyworld if the designer had been a mass murdering pussy of an arsonist. The chemical fumes somehow managed to creep in through the car’s sealed doors and windows, filling us with the dread certainty that what we were experiencing was so unreal that is simply had to be real. Not soon enough, the nightmarish display faded into the distance and we were once more underground in the safety (?) of the MTA’s underground labyrinth. A commute that normally encompassed about a half hour one way had been actually and subjectively transformed into a three-hour trip along the River Styx, and I felt an edginess that I had never known before.
Upon surfacing at my subway station, I looked northward in the direction of the once flawless skyline of lower Manhattan — a key selling point for homes and apartments in Park Slope — and saw the spewing columns blotting out everything else within view, then noticed some form of unusual precipitation; thanks to the strong winds debris, ashes, and burnt office papers fell from the skies like morbid snowflakes, festooning both sides of the Gowanus Canal with remains that settled all over parked cars, houses, backyards and citizens on the street. When I realized that at least some part of those ashes was all that was left of some of the innocents removed from the human equation by a bunch of cowardly hijackers, I became stiff as a board, staggered over to the entrance of the local bath house turned performance space and voided the contents of my stomach onto the sidewalk. After I had regained my composure, I headed straight to the corner bodega and bought a case of beer, then raced to the liquor store on Fifth Avenue for a bottle of the reliable Jose Quervo tequila, and finally went home to my apartment.
After dropping off my book bag and putting away half of the beer, I went to the roof of my building, camera at the ready, and found many of my fellow dwellers at number 647 staring to the north, some in the throes of great, wracking sobs while others just stood transfixed by something inconceivable to those of us raised in the over-confident security of a society that had kicked ass on all comers (yes, I’m leaving Vietnam out of that one).
Zombified, I snapped pictures of the burning towers until I had exhausted the disposable camera — pictures that I decided against developing, and I chucked the disposable camera over the side of my building — at which point I broke the seal on the Quervo, took a deep burning swig, and passed the bottle to the others who stood on the roof bearing witness. As the amber cactus squeezings incinerated their way down my gullet, I washed them down with one beer, then another, and ended up sitting cross-legged on the roof trying to make sense of the whole thing. Then a huge joint was stuffed into my mouth by another resident and I inhaled for all I was worth. “Fuck it,” I figured. ”This is the first volley of the end of the world, and there’s NO FUCKING WAY I’m facing it sober!” The other-than-nicotinal effects mingled with the fermented goodness to create a feeling of hoodoo comfort and I willingly surrendered, somehow eventually ending up safe in my bed, where I awoke the next afternoon, which turned out to be a day off from work for obvious travel and emotional reasons for the company’s entire staff.
The moment I awoke I turned on the TV and sifted my way through countless takes on what had happened and a nearly endless amount of video footage from Ground Zero and the surrounding areas. It was several hours later when I caught up on all of my friends who lived and worked in Manhattan and found all of them to be basically okay, although some soon showed signs of post-event trauma such as a formerly brown head of hair turning silver, and one healthy person in his early forties developing the first sign of what would turn out to be testicular cancer. Both people had made their way out of the great cloud of debris when the second tower collapsed, so the gods only know what the fuck they inhaled or absorbed through physical contact, but they are both thankfully okay now.
When I returned to work, the morale of the whole place was quite understandably fucked up and very little work was accomplished, but we all were grateful for our own miserable lives and sickened that so many innocents had senselessly perished in what was in my humble opinion a clear case of the chickens coming home to roost. I resumed my usual duties and checked in with the international talent who needed to be called, and one of our artists, a guy who lives in Croatia, forever cemented my understanding of how the rest of this world looks at such events. As I told him of what I’d seen he didn’t say a word, and when I had finished I was greeted with a very long silence. As the long distance hush stretched on I said,”Goran? Dude, are you there?” He cleared his throat after an audible drag on a smoke and said, “Bunche…I know you’ve just seen something really, REALLY horrible, but I live in Croatia, man. Similar shit happens all the time here, and the worst part is, YOU GET USED TO IT.”
Sure as hell put me in my motherfucking place, let me tell you that fucking much.
So while we all take time out to remember and mourn for those lost or affected by 9/11, let us also channel as much positive energy as we can into the ether in hope of man someday overcoming his seemingly ingrained need to kill his fellow man for what are more often than not the most idiotic of reasons. Tolerance is a bitch thanks to the fact that we all possess some attribute, belief or behavior that drives someone else barking mad, but we've got to start trying to deal with each other if we don't want to see all that our ancestors strove and bled for washed away in a tsunami of ignorance and violence.
And that’s all I have to say on the subject. Hopefully I will not have any need to bring this up again in the foreseeable future, but here’s my multi-point, possibly bottom line on the subject, and then I’m out:
1. WAR FUCKING SUCKS. DO NOT FORGET THAT. It is wasteful of lives and everything else, so avoid it whenever possible. When innocents, women, and especially children are killed there is simply no excuse, despite what your country’s administration may tell you.
2. THE DEHUMANIZATION OF OTHER PEOPLES AND CULTURES IS UNACCEPTABLE. See above.
3. THINK FOR YOURSELF AND DO NOT LET THE MEDIA — even well-meaning li’l ol’ me — OR YOUR GOVERNMENT TELL YOU OTHERWISE.
4. REMEMBER WHAT RICHARD PRYOR HAD TO SAY ON THE SUBJECT OF WAR IN GENERAL: “COMING BEATS HAVING A WAR.” So get the hell out there, get your hump on, and stop all of this madness, for fuck’s sake! In this world, you are just a guest, so make the stay pleasant for all people.
Thank you for your time. And never forget to make love, not war. For all our sakes.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
ACTION COMICS #1
Finally, after all the hype and rhetoric about about how they were bringing in superstar writer Grant Morrison to revamp the Man of Steel for a new audience, the first effort has been released and it amounts to a glossy snowjob. Nice art by Rags Morales cannot disguise the fact that rather than give us something new/updated for the 2000's, the script brings back the aggressive "bully" Superman of 1938, only dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, shit-kickers and a cape. True, there was action in its pages, but Superman himself was not likable in the least and I didn't care enough to want to read any further than this issue. If you were expecting the magic that Morrison crafted in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, you're shit outta luck with this one.
DETECTIVE COMICS #1
The first issue of the rebooted DETECTIVE COMICS offers a standard Batman story that's utterly indistinguishable from just about any garden variety Dark Knight yarn of the past quarter-century, other than that the Joker's crimes are now much more graphically-depicted. An admittedly shocking cliffhanger has me intrigued enough to see where it goes next issue, but there is nothing noteworthy to be found here.
Due to my love of Gail Simone's writing, BATGIRL #1 was the book among the "New 52" reboots that I was most intrigued by, largely to see how DC could possibly justify ditching the years of excellent development of Barbara Gordon as Oracle, the disabled information-broker to the DCU's heroes and the Alexander Waverly to the all-female Birds of Prey. I religiously followed Barbara's adventures in BIRDS OF PREY and elsewhere for well over a decade and grew to care a lot about her, so suddenly dropping her back to her pre-KILLING JOKE status quo was a slap in the face to both her fans and to the character herself. So much rich characterization to be just thrown away...The new series gets off to an okay start and thankfully has not forgotten about Barbara's defining injury, so I'll be back to see how she's suddenly able to walk again. And it had better be a damned good explanation! Overall grade: B
JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #1
While by no means a knock-your-socks-off comic, JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL #1 was everything that the much-hyped JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 failed big-time to deliver. It shows the swift formation of the team, gives us nine heroes, immediately drops them into a mission, and has fun with the characters not necessarily getting along. In fact, in several ways it's kind of a knockoff of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 from fifty years ago, and if you're going to craft a knockoff, there's far worse source material out there to crib from. It was fun for what it was — an entry-level team book — but I doubt I'll read any further. And Godiva, a third rate British knockoff of Marvel's Medusa, on the team? Seriously? Overall grade: B
Without the guiding hand of Jack Kirby, the likelihood of an OMAC relaunch working was slim at best, but I am genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this first issue. Wearing its Kirby influence unabashedly on its sleeve, the art and story feel like a promising successor to the King's original concept, and I will definitely be back for more. And to my former marvel Bullpen colleague Scott Koblish, stellar inks on this, man! Overall grade: A-
ANIMAL MAN #1
Another character whose best years ended over two decades ago, ANIMAL MAN has since been occasionally dusted off to little effect, but the first issue on his "New 52" run gets off to an auspicious start, giving us the always fun dynamic between Buddy Baker and his family, some interesting applications of his ability to tap into the "morphogenetic field" and access the abilities of any living creature, and a majorly creepy cliffhanger, and to say any more would ruin things... I will absolutely be back next month. Overall grade: A-
SWAMP THING #1
Despite having been burned several times by attempts to keep SWAMP THING going after the departure of Alan Moore nearly 25 years ago — the ill-advised run involving Swamp Thing's daughter, Tefe, being particularly dire — I gave the first issue of the reboot a look and I was quite pleased to not be disappointed by either Scott Snyder's script or Yanick Paquette's excellent artwork. Exactly how is Alec Holland back from the dead and human again? Apparently he has memories of Swamp Thing's experiences, but how is that possible since for all intents and purposes Alec's body was completely immolated during the event that transferred Alec's memories and personality into the bog-matter that would arise to become Swamp Thing? Why does Swamp Thing himself only appear on the last page? I don't know, but I sure want to find out. As set-ups where not much other than talking takes place go, this was quite good and is easily the best of the "New 52" thus far. Overall grade: A-
That's all for now, but be here next week for more!
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Today is the sixtieth birthday of the one and only Chrissie Hynde, and looking back on my more than three decades of thinking she's the coolest thing ever doesn't trip my usual "I feel old" triggers one little bit. When it comes to badass rockers who embody the powerful triple-threat of talented composer, player and singer, Hynde stands tall among the all-time greats of either gender and definitely holds the Number One position among the women. She's been a major hero to me since I was of a very impressionable age (fourteen to be specific) and my estimation of her awesomeness has only grown over the years.
Hailing from Akron, Ohio — also the home of Devo — Hynde made her way to London in 1973 and by the mid-'70's found herself in at Ground Zero for the British punk movement, namely the famous boutique SEX, run by designer Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren, the rock 'n' roll Svengali who would unleash the Sex Pistols upon the world. Though one of the key components of punk's anti-allure was its DIY sensibility — which basically meant that if you could pick up a guitar and wring noise from it, you were a punk musician — Hynde possessed a keen intelligence and genuine talent that made her something of an ill-fit among the musicians and bands that were her contemporaries. While the Brits mostly cranked out godless rackafracka steeped in accents straight out of a bad Dickens adaptation, Hynde allied herself with genuinely talented musicians in the forms of bassist Pete Farndon, keyboardist/guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, and drummer Martin Chambers, to form the original iteration of the Pretenders in 1978.
The Pretenders' first album: It came from out of nowhere to kick my fourteen-year-old ass and completely re-arrange my way of thinking about what pop music could be.
The eponymous first effort of the Pretenders was an instant classic and not at all what one would necessarily think could spring from the same musical genre that gave the world the likes of Splodgenessabounds or The Pork Dukes. Its musicianship was across-the-board striking, the compositions were an intriguing confluence of the beautiful ("Kid") and the hard-edged ("Precious," "Tattooed Love Boys") and stuff that fell somewhere in-between ("Brass in Pocket") and with Hynde serving front and center as the true face and voice of the group, it displayed a distinctly female sensibility of a type previously unseen in rock. (True, Fanny and Heart were there first, but both were stylistically light years removed from what Hynde and crew were up to.) That greatly appealed to me as an adolescent who dug girls but found much of the music crafted by female pop artists to be way too saccharine and, well, "girly" (with certain tunes by Heart being the major exception).
The group's second album, simply entitled "Pretenders II," was a decent sophomore effort that yielded a couple of true gems, specifically the evocative "Talk of the Town" and the superlative "Message of Love," a song whose presence should be mandatory at wedding receptions, but it somehow fell rather short of the debut record's unexpected knockout punch. But then came "Learning to Crawl," arguably the band's best after the initial salvo and a work that reflected a stylistic maturity and greater confidence in the wake of critical and financial success.
"Learning to Crawl": the best third album since The Damned's "Machine Gun Etiquette."
Released two years after "Pretenders II," a delay due largely to the band's necessary restructuring following the drug-related death of James Honeyman-Scott and the dismissal of Pete Farndon (who subsequently O.D.'ed), the album was preceded by the 1982 hit single "Back on the Chain Gang" (which made it to #4 on the Billboard chart in 1983). At the time of its release, I found "Back on the Chain Gang" to be quite good, but what really made me eager for more was the single's B-side, the excellent "My City Was Gone," Hynde's stark and bluesy assessment of the degeneration of her home state. To hear her deeply sad-yet-reserved voice note how her former home was now a dead zone of shopping malls and muzak is to hear Hynde bear witness to a true "you can't go home again" end of an era and the direct confrontation of nostalgia for one's youth with the stark inevitability of "progress." It moved me at the time and has only resonated more deeply with each year. Another pre-album single, 1983's "2000 Miles," was also excellent (and has subsequently evolved into a wistufl and unlikely Christmas perennial), and along with "Back on the Chain Gang" and " My City Was Gone," it was wisely included when "Learning to Crawl" was finally released in January of 1984.
When it came out, "Learning to Crawl" proved to be a stunning achievement with not one weak track among the lot, with "Time the Avenger," the gorgeous "Show Me" and an excellent cover of the melancholy 1971 R&B hit by the Persuaders, "Thin Line Between Love and Hate," being standouts. I played that album to death when I first got it, and many of its tunes still enjoy frequent rotation from my iTunes library. Since those days nearly thirty years gone, I've followed both her band and Hynde's solo efforts with keen interest, but none of the post-"Learning to Crawl" output has quite moved me in the same way as the first three albums (although 1999's single "Human" is as good anything from the Pretenders' halcyon days). Nonetheless, my admiration of and respect for Chrissie Hynde remains unwavering, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with as her seventh decade commences.
Happy birthday, Chrissie. You mean a lot to me and your fans worldwide, so keep on keepin' it real.