plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Monday, September 27, 2004

I'm Back In Town

And since I'm feeling lazy/uninspired at the moment, I will defer to your five questions, folks. Make them difficult, please. I'm in a mental stimulation funk. I don't mind having to do research to answer them. I'm a new guy in blogtown, so someone must be slightly curious what I think about things. Right? No? Okay...

I'm just about done reading Jar of Fools. I'm reading it through once for enjoyment, then I'll look it over again to see how it works, and iff I find something iteresting I'll post about it here. McCloud made enough references to it in Understanding Comics to get me curious, so I suspect I just might find something.

Meanwhile, Amp has an awesome post about plagiarism in academia that he, being as awesome as he is, brings right back around to comics and work for hire.

I'll be back later tonight, so get the questions brewing! Brewing? Yeesh...

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Trash is Not a Dismissal

I just realized that in the post below I referred to a comic as trash. I just wanted to make sure that I clarified myself. While it is true that trash refers to cast-off waste, filler, disposable entertainment and a host of other things, it is also in many cases ripe for a bit of cultural dumpster-diving. The rewards of getting down in the muck for a bit are often immense, and often subtle-but-satisfying. Don't get me wrong; the canon is great. I'm lit-comics guy after all, that's what I make, that's what I usually read. However, with those books, you generally know what you're getting. You don't have to work as hard to find what's rewarding about them. I'll tell you what, finding satisfying flavor in old EC books and 70's and 80's company comics can take some work. It needs to be unearthed, unfolded from the juvenilia and/or hackery in which it is embedded. It takes an eye. I probably come off as a company comics/superhero apologist on this, and that's not exactly my aim here, but I'll just have the grace to shrug and be okay with it.

Also, I notice in todays Basement Tapes, Casey and Fraction discuss hidden treasures found in the cheap boxes, which sort of relates to what I'm saying. Among my great finds:

A bunch of Morrisson's Doom Patrol

Several issues of Concrete from way back

Ted McKeever's Junk Culture

Milligan/Fegredo's Enigma in paperback

I'm sure there's been more, but those were the best, and had the biggest effect on me at the time. There will be light to no blogging ahead for the rest of the week due to a death in the family. I should be back at it for the weekend.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Defenders Fun, Continued

As I mentioned last night, I didn't see number 113 in the discount box, so I have to skip directly to number 114. Coninuing the story:

The story opens on the moon, where the entirety of the previous issue apparently took place. At some point, the Overmind lost control of the Squadron Supreme, Kyle Richmond was assassinated, and the true mastermind behind the whole operation made itself known: Null, the Living Void. About ten issues prior to this one, the Defenders defeated Null in its younger state on the regular Marvel U earth. It then wandered the world where it fought the Ghost Rider and was beaten, deciding that it was too underdeveloped to destroy all of creation, as it wanted to do. It decided that it needed to make use of a pawn to realize its goal. Null reached out mentally and contacted a kindred spirit, the Overmind. The Overmind had been banished by the Stranger to a microverse. He was contacted and released by Null, only to find that he was not in the regular Marvel universe at all, but rather the one inhabited by Earth-S. The Overmind decided that he didn't care, and would destroy the universe anyway. Working under the influence of Null, the Overmind proceeded with the plan detailed in issue 112.

Having established all that, everyone hangs out and talks to Null for a bit. Null alludes to something special about Nighthawk (the Marvel U version, not the dead one), but before it can finish its thought, the composite telepathic entity Mindy (Mindy is an old girlfriend of Kyle Richmond's who is telepathic, and is just one of several telepaths making up the composite entity. I use the name Mindy here just to make it easier) shows up and insists that the fight get started. They start to fight, and the Defenders/Squadron team gets pretty thoroughly schooled. Mindy then reveals that Null is not quite fully mature, and that it is drawing its energy from Overmind. The only way to stop it appears to be a psychic union of all the heroes. After a bit of exposition and bickering, they do all join together within Mindy, and a big fight ensues between Mindy and Null. It's positive vibes versus negative vibes, but creeping doubt threatens to dissolve the union of the heroes' minds. Meanwhile, August Masters, the man who shot Kyle Richmond (of Earth-S), is wracked with guilt and goes to where Richmond's body is. He watches in horror as richmond's face melts right away.

Mindy makes one final strike against Null, and after the impact the heroes are all in their separate forms again. They reason that since they are still alive, then Null must be as well. Null does indeed get back up, and it begins to ready for its final attack by absorbing the last of the remaining energy from Overmind. As it does so, however, it destroys itself. Everyone is super confused, until they hear Overmind speak, and recognize the patronizing tone of Mindy. It turns out that she entered Overmind's empty body, and psychically entered Null, amplifying the small shreds of positivity hidden within Null's soul, thereby destroying it.

As everyone recovers, Nighthawk wanders off to where August Masters is standing over the melting body of what he thought was Kyle Richmond. Upon seeing this, Nighthawk freaks out for a bit as he realizes that he is, in fact, the Kyle Richmond of Earth-S, and therefore is Nighthawk of the Squadron Supreme, and also President of the United States. And then it's over.

What occurs to me about these issues is that, by today's standards, they contain about twelve issues' worth of comics (maybe more). All quality considerations aside, I think that this was quite an amazing ride. It's certainly puerile trash, but if it weren't I don't think I could enjoy it as much as I do.

Incidentally, these issues were written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Don Perlin.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Some Great Finds

Half Price Books has been having a sale for the past few days. Books are 20% off of the already reduced prices. I had hoped to find some remaindered or used Marvel Essentials titles, but no luck. I did find a copy of Jason Lutes' Jar of Fools, so I expect that I'll have a review of that up here soon. A few years behind the curve, certainly, but I won't let that stop me.

Speaking of a few years behind the curve, I also unearthed, in the 10-cent boxes, a couple old issues of Defenders from the early 80's. These issues were definitely the gems of my excursion. The numbers were 112 and 114. 113 was missing, but largely irrelevant as its details were woven as seamlessly as a Frankensteinian limb into the narrative of 114, likely at the behest of then-EIC Jim Shooter. Man, what a ride. I will believe a Void can live!!!

The gist, if I may:

There is a party at the Brownstone where the Defenders dwell. It takes place in the evening, although the establishing shot is of a daytime scene. Even though the team members are just hanging out, they are in full costume. You don't see that kind of preparedness in today's superhero.

Some team members are there, others aren't. In addition, the Vision and the Scarlet Witch have turned up for the party, and to muse on love. This is their conversation on page 2, panel 4:

Scarlet Witch: I'm so happy Hank invited us for dinner. I've missed him since we left the Avengers--haven't you, Vision?

Vision: I have felt a sense of loss, Wanda. But with you beside me, I am always...complete.

Silver Surfer, standing beside them: To be near two so deep in love--makes me feel complete as well.

With all this completeness, it's a wonder someone brings up the fact that Dr. Banner, Daimon Hellstrom, Prince Namor and Dr. Strange are all missing, but thankfully Gargoyle's on the job--after having forgotten for a second. After a bit Dr. Strange astrally crashes the party from a different dimension, and before anyone can object he magically transports them to the world that they will soon come to realize is...Earth-S! And everyone is there... including Nighthawk, who they thought was dead. Once everyone is done freaking out for a second they go to another room and see Hyperion, the Superman analogue of the Squadron Supreme. Then they freak out some more. They watch a tape to get up to speed on the world-threatening danger, as high above the planet a bunch of telepaths merge their consciences into somebody called Mindy. I think. Anyway, Hyperion explains that his world's version of Nighthawk is the President and he has come under the control of a particulary nihilistic alien composite being called the Overmind. Together they manufactured a red scare, because this is a parallel universe where things like that happen, and then proceeded to beat down and subvert the wills of the whole Squadron Supreme except for Hyperion, who flees to the planet only to find that his name has been smeared and his fortress has been razed. Drag. So he flies into space, but the upper atmosphere is being bombarded with argonite radiation. He has to smash the Squadron's headquarters to shield himself, then he uses their equipment to send a distress signal to the regular Marvel earth (616, I think the kids are calling it). In the process Nighthawk, Hellstrom, Namor, Hulk and Dr. Strange were pulled to Earth-S, where they could nurse the helplessly irradiated Hyperion back to health.

Once everyone's up to speed, Hyperion makes the final reveal that the Overmind and the mind-controlled Squadron are on the moon building rockets to be employed to take over the universe. The Defenders are clearly glad to have been partying in-costume.

That's all I have time for tonight. I'll do issue 114 and a general assesment of the storyline tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Happy New Year

Well, it's time once again to celebrate the real new year, as opposed to the arbitrary one that begins in January. And I promised myself I wouldn't make another shofar shogood joke. Luckily I've managed to squeak by without doing that this time. Be well, everyone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Editor-Author and the Product-Oriented Approach

For someone who claims not to read company comics, I sure do like to talk about them quite a bit. You all know that guy who purports to not be interested in mainstream comics, but who seems oddly enough to know a great deal about them? Hi, I'm that guy. The thing is that I'm not uninterested as a matter of principle so much as I'm uninterested in a very specific way. That is to say that there is nothing currently available that I find interesting enough to get into, although there has been in the past and almost certainly will be in the future. I've been trying to figure out what it is that gets and/or keeps me interested in those kinds of titles, and it got me thinking about something that I guess you could call tangential to that subject, but something that's been nagging at me enough that I want to blog about it a bit.

It all started with a thread on the Comics Journal message board. Many of you may have read it or commented on it. It is the "Good 'Bad' Artists" thread. As the other nerds and I gushed about the hacks we love, stalwart craftspersons who could churn out the pages and do so with grace and dynamism nine times out of ten, it occurred to me that the comics that really captured my imagination as a youngster and later as a teenager were not so much the personal artistic visions of hotshot auteurs. Rather, they were the result of a product-oriented approach helmed by editor-authors who were interested in sucking in and holding onto readers, and who knew exactly what notes to hit in order to accomplish just that. It was formulaic dreck, and I couldn't get enough. And you know, in my more crackheaded moments, I sort of miss it.

See, the editors knew how to move the units. Focus on the issue. Sure, there was serialization, but things weren't so broken up into rigid arcs the way they are nowadays. There were main plots, background plots, long-term character arcs, and nothing was ever resolved all at once. Tying up one plot just forced one of the many background plots to the foreground (in, and I want to make this perfectly clear, the most ham-fisted and melodramatic way most of the time). Under the right editor, even the most pedestrian writer could produce a comic that, if not exactly a masterpiece, was a compelling read on a sustained basis. Hackwork that was comfortable with its hack-ness, if you will.

Nowadays it seems that such a thing isn't even an option, and I think that's a real shame. Now, I'm not an all or nothing sort of guy. I'd like to see an environment in which company comics could produce a whole range of work, including the personal vision type of comic. But come on. The personal visions of hacks, unfettered by any editorial guidance, are going to be a mess. Combine that with artists who basically set their own schedules and you've got what appears to me to be the bulk of the output of company comics today. Spelling and grammatical errors, plotlines that don't make sense, characters whose motivations change radically and inexplicably from one moment to the next, and story arcs that drag on and on for no reason end up being the result. These books need editorial guidance. They need to become more comfortable with their hack-ness. They could benefit immensely from being treated as mindless product. The personal artistic vision approach only works when the visions are good, and when the creators have the skills to back them up. Everyone else needs a good, benevolent but forceful editor to shepherd their product to some semblence of an entertaining, cohesive serial narrative. And where are those editors?

I'll cop to being pretty much out of touch with the bulk of what's going on in company comics right now, and simply ask that if anyone could suggest titles to me that embody what I'm getting at, that they please do so. I would love to read them. And I would love to review them.

These ideas have been kicking around in my head for some time, and I just wanted to get them down somewhere so that I can start to make sense of it all, and I'd love to know what people think so that I can come to some sort of resolution, even though it's ultimately useless. Anyway, as I've said, I welcome all reading recommendations. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Review--Warlock #1

Writer: Greg Pak

Artist: Charie Adlard

I'm not a big reader of company comics these days, preferring to stick to the creator-owned books about more banal subjects. But it would be dishonest were I to adopt the posture of never having taken an immense interest in the doings and goings on of the company universes and their characters. I particularly enjoyed Marvel's cosmic-themed characters, and during the early 90's when I bought the largest number of company titles those characters took center stage just about every summer, with the consequences lasting through the year just long enough to spark the next summer's cosmic saga and renew the cycle. I've long since lost interest in that sort of story, but because I liked it so much when I was younger I've always been willing to at least give the new titles of these characters a chance should they start up again as they always do. Also, I'll take a chance on any book that I don't have to pay to read, as was the case with Warlock #1.

This is a book that has left me with a great deal of questions. First and foremost is, why the revamp? Was the character of Adam Warlock so encumbered by prior continuity that the only option was to start over? I'm not complaining or anything. It may well be in Marvel's interest, and it's certainly their prerogative, I just don't know why someone would feel that all of that complicated and interesting history is actually a detriment rather than an interesting platform from which to build up, and maybe to clarify a little bit. To me, that would seem to be crammed with possibility. So I can only assume that there was a sound creative reason to scrap all that and start over, but from reading the issue I can't tell what that is.

Our way into the story of Adam's (re-)creation is through his visual designer, Janie Chin. She so far doesn't seem to have much of a distinguishing personality. I can read that in a couple of different ways. Either no attempt has been made to endow her with a personality of some sort in this, the introductory issue of the title, wherein there were twenty-some pages where it could have been done, or this is realism of a profound order. I'll explain. Most attempts to create a personality for a fictional character result in the writer amassing layers of cliched quirks and schticks with a little reified stereotyping and wish-fulfillment thrown in the mix. Most people, however, don't have much of a distinct personality at all by comparison. People would all sound remarkably similar if we read the things they said instead of hearing it. And even when we hear it, the content doesn't vary much from person to person. So, maybe it's a good thing and maybe it's not. Personally, I'm willing to put up with a certain amount of cliche if it results in the emergence of a distinguishable character, which means that the bland approach loses some points for me. Yes, it's only the first issue, but these things don't take long to establish.

I had the same problem with the scientist guys. They're pretty much several iterations of the same character. They're all deeply cynical, but they all really want to save the world at the same time. And this is where the story starts to get really confusing for me. The scientists want to save the world by creating a perfect ruler and protector for it. Is this the conclusion that a mix of cynicism and altruism would bring about? Does it not occur to these incredibly well-educated men that maybe part of the reason for the trouble in the world is the over-reliance on paternalistic, forceful, charismatic leader types to make the big decisions for everyone? Because, in essence, that's the solution that they're proposing. Well, not so much proposing as forcing on the world for its own good. Maybe this will be addressed in future issues, but again there is nothing contained in the first issue to suggest that it will.

On a sort of formal/thematic level, I also wonder at the costume choice. I mean, if this hero is supposed to be based on classical, ideal, mythological hero types, then why bring in the art deco look? I don't want to come across as freaking out about the costume change, because clearly the old designs were equally pointless and not much better looking. But when the reason for Janie's involvement is the design, and she explained her reasons for things like skin color, build and all that, why would she choose something as seemingly specific as art deco to influence the clothing design and not have a reason for it? Maybe I'm thinking too much about that one. Maybe the resemblance is coincidental.

I don't get a sense of any real conflict driving the plot. The wars and pollution seem like background details for the most part. The boyfriend is abandoned as soon as the scene shifts. When Adam appears there isn't any sense of urgency to it, he just says hi and introduces himself, then it's over. There really isn't anything there to compel me to seek out the next issue. Maybe Pak's just getting his comic legs, I don't know. It's just not quite coming together here.

Monday, September 13, 2004

How About That? It's My First Meme.

I'm doing my small part to contribute to the Brilliant But Canceled lists that are spreading through the comics blogs, originated by Casey Parkman and ADD. Honestly, most of the work I consider brilliant wasn't so much canceled as it just ended. But there are a few things, and actually probably a few more that I'm forgetting, that I could stick into that category. So here's my list, with some hopefully brief justifications.

American Century--Howard Chaykin writes good trash. I can't be sure with this series how much is him and how much is this Tischman guy, but overall I like what I've read. The adventures are complex and tense-but-funny. And I like that the book is usually a little bit low-key on the whambam action in favor of quietly setting up intense situations.

Let's face it: the concept of a suburban Jewish guy in the '50's leaving his life behind to go off on pulpy adventures is pretty much a non-starter in the direct market. Somehow AC still managed to last 27 issues. But it was doomed from the start, and met its end barely selling at all. At some point soon I'll acquire the issues that I don't have for a quarter apiece, though, so I can't stay mad forever. And soon enough Chaykin will be writing the same book with different details, and I'll buy it because I'm a sucker for the stuff.

Orion--I have to say I'm a little shocked not to have seen this on anyone else's list. I am referring to the Simonson series that ended a couple years ago. Man, that was an exciting book, done by the one true heir to the Kirby legacy. Another series I'll purchase in its entirety for a quarter apiece, I'm sure. People for whatever reason were just not interested enough in this title to keep it going.

Firearm--Yes, I am aware that the Ultraverse was just unbearably awful. But the people working on the books tended to be talented, and James Robinson was easily the best writer working on an Ultraverse title. Firearm rose above the rest of the garbage to be not only the best of the Ultaverse titles, but also one of the few books I remember actually enjoying in that early to mid '90's period. In the midst of a poorly conceptualized superhero universe was dropped an English take on American detective fiction, and it worked. When the non Marvel/DC superhero universes started dropping like flies, Firearm was in with that lot and met its end I believe when Malibu was acquired by Marvel.

Conan Saga--Wha--? A reprint series? Yes, a reprint series. Here's why. Not every story printed in Savage Sword, Conan the Barbarian and Conan the King was particularly good. Conan Saga did the kind work of taking all of the best of the Thomas/Buscema Conan work, as well as some of the old Barry Windsor-Smith illustrated stories and putting them all in one series so that one need not wade through the useless work. When I was in my Conan phase, I personally preferred the reprints of the '70's stuff to the new '90's stuff. And why wouldn't I? I'm not entirely sure why or when this series ended, but it was an excellent way to get much of the best Conan comics from the golden age of the...Hyborean...age...yeah.

The Nimrod--Trondheim is without a doubt one of the world's greatest cartoonists. It's a shame that more of his work is not available in English, though it's not much of a surprise. This was Fantagraphics' contribution to the Anglification of his oeuvre, translated by Kim Thompson himself. Well, needless to say, a French comic about a guy living his life, drawn with animals and published in black and white was not going to sell well enough to justify the work of releasing this in the US, and so it ended. To this day I am mystified by the idea that comics about regular people doing regular things are the ones that are considered to be impenetrably artsy.

Crime Does Not Pay--Pure trashy delight. This series began in 1942 and ran crime stories from the point-of-view of the criminals, always ending in the death of the protagonist. It was pulpy, melodramatic, garish, well-illustrated and a hit on the stands. Indeed, this is the only comic on my list that ended because it sold too well--so well that rival publishers had to destroy it and others like it through devious means. Yes, this book, like so many others in its day, was a victim of...the Code! Dah Dah Daaaaaaaaaaah!

So there's my list. Thanks for indulging my nerdy side a bit.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

A Politics-Free Patriot Day

That is my promise to you, oh nonexistent reader. Instead, it's a little dad-blogging.

I went to the library with my wife and my son yesterday. While we were there Micah(my son) found some puzzles over in the children's area and proceeded to dismantle and then solve every last one of them. This only amazes me because he's had puzzles at the house for over a year now and has seldom expressed an interest in them beyond taking them apart and leaving the pieces all over the house. When trying to solve them, he always lost patience quickly with trying to put the pieces in the appropriate places.

Now out of nowhere he's solving puzzles he's never seen before in his life like a pro. So it makes me wonder, what's so terrible about two-year-olds? Aside from the occasional refusal to eat despite the fact that I have prepared up to five options, it's been a breeze. Maybe I'm just lucky. After all, he loves Indian food, he rarely acts up when we're out, he naps at the same time every day and usually goes to bed without complaint. It's quiet... too quiet.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Following the Commenty Footsteps of My Forebears

I have installed the Haloscan comment feature because I've thought it was mighty slick on other sites. I hope it works this time.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Still setting things up around here...

I've added a few links, just the usual suspects. I'm a member of the Comic Creators' Network (well, since membership is no longer exclusive and doesn't cost anything I guess we're all members in our own way) and they are my people and they will be at the top of my list. Check 'em out, and maybe you'll find some common ground with the folks there. I also put up the Comics Journal. I'm going to assume I don't have to explain why. I'm on the snobbier side of the comics blogging world. So what? I linked as well to Comic Book Galaxy. It was the first comics related website I discovered when I actually started looking around for those kinds of things years ago, and it's still one of the best. I've also linked to a couple columns I enjoy every week, Steven Grant's Permanent Damage, and Fraction and Casey's Basement Tapes. Matt Fraction is a fellow Kansas City guy, and generally has insightful things to say about comics and trash culcha.

I promise not to explain every link that goes on my sidebar.

The More Things Stay the Same, the More They Change?

Tim O'Neill at the Hurting is the latest to tackle the issue of characters in company comics being fundamentally changed to suit the whims of the current creator. His argument is that it is disrespectful to the original creator to alter the character at its most defining level. He does say that change is okay on certain levels, as long as it does no damage to the narrative consistency of prior work. On the new Question series (which, to be fair, is not yet available for reading), he writes:

One of Steve Ditko’s greatest contributions to the field of comics – if not his single greatest contribution – is the strident and consistent marriage of art and polemic. You can’t separate a Ditko creation from their moral underpinnings without changing the characters beyond recognition. To do so, as DC has consistently done with the character of The Question for almost twenty years (including another well-regarded run with the character by Denny O'Neil) , is an artistic insult of the most egregious caliber.

I would argue that the moral absolutism that defines the Question’s world is as vital to Ditko’s original conception of the character as the mythological trappings behind Thor. Take away Asgard and Odin and all that, and Thor’s just another strong man with a hammer. Take away the Objectivist philosophy, and the Question is just another mentally-ill costumed vigilante.

My sight-unseen opinion on this is that Tim is right in this specific context. While there are probably very few comic readers or creators who agree philosophically or politically with Objectivism, there are still ways to keep characters who do embody that philosophy while at the same time addressing any disagreements that might exist. For example, put the Question through some kind of situation wherein he is forced to acknowledge an ambiguity of some sort. There are any number of ways to logically dismantle Objectivism in a narrative fashion, I'm sure.

But it seems to me that in this case, it's not so much that Veitch disagrees with Objectivist thought, or at the very least he doesn't claim to. It's more that he doesn't seem to address it at all. It doesn't even enter into consideration. Veitch says that the character needs "tinkering" to help him stand out on his own. But why? How many Objectivist comic characters are there? The Question, Mr. A, Rorschach (perhaps, though it isn't so explicitly stated)... the list doesn't exactly go on and on.

So yes, that to me is more the insulting thing. The history and motivation of the character aren't even being considered. It's just the name and the visual being kept, because in the end, that's all that matters to an intellectual property house.

Again, though, I would like to say that these are thoughts I am having prior to even reading the book, and I may be proven completely wrong once it is released.

What, Another One?

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Boys and mother--

Wait, I'll start over.

Welcome to A Blog Found on a Garbage Heap. In case you were wondering, the title and the url, burningbronte, are references to the greatest film of all time. I'll leave it for everyone to google about to find out what exactly that film is, but it is truly one of the great cinematic achievements of the twentieth century, and in many ways it has all been downhill from there.

Anyway, this is my foray into actual blogging after having spent so much time commenting on the blogs of others. This will primarily be a comics blog, but I reserve the right to go into issues of politics (which will be marked, lest you, dear reader, are not a member of the choir to whom I am preaching) and to go on and on about how awesome my son is. Let's not pretend that this blogging business is some kind of service that I provide to others. This is about me.

Now, while I mention that this is primarily a comics blog, I should note that I do not currently read many comics. I don't read any monthlies because I haven't the time or money to commit to that, even if I could find one I liked. I have a profound love for the medium and its finest works, however, and I think that sufficient. In regard to company comics, well, I find it more interesting to read about those than to actually read them, and so I do, and I will participate in any sort of cross-blog discussion about anything regardless of whether I have read it or not. So there. So here we go, here's my intro. I'll be doing the usual adding of links and blogroll and the like as the weeks go by, but I may just get into the content stuff right away if no one minds.

Thanks for reading.