Sunday, January 22, 2012

Links...and a distracted tirade or two

Here's the cover of the first issue of Marvel's upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men event/series. I like that half the guys just seem to be screaming in the other guys' faces.

Hopefully someone on the Avengers' side knocks that goofy hat off of Colossus in the ensuing fight.


Check out Tim O'Neil's piece on recent Marvel Comics, in which he summarizes the state of the Marvel Universe from House of M to Battle Scars, the series which sparked O'Neil's post.

"Somewhere along the line the single most important question at issue in Marvel comics became Who Was In Charge of the superheroes," O'Neil wrote. He continues:

This is really weird: 2005's House of M was Marvel's first line-wide crossover since 2000's Maximum Security (an event so bad it was terrible), and the plot was basically Who Gets To Be In Charge, the Avengers or the X-Men. The winner was, of course, the Avengers, because House of M ended by kneecapping the X-franchise for years to come. But if the jockeying for dominance was metaphorical in House of M it became literal in Civil War: Who Gets To Be In Charge of the superheroes. If superheroes were real obviously they'd be run like any other branch of the federal government, so who gets to be the guy in charge of that agency (The Initiative). And then when that happens what happens when the guy in charge of the agency falls down on the job and lets a bunch of aliens invade (Secret Invasion) meaning that the new guy in charge is the looney ex-con who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to shoot Space Osama in the head (Dark Reign). And then the looney guy in charge goes nuts and leads his branch of the government right over a cliff (Seige) and then it's time for Daddy (AKA Captain America) to step in and take care of things. And from then on out it's all basically a story about all the characters getting in on Daddy's good side, because of course Daddy is the government and we all want Daddy's approval, right?

Because, you know, if there's one thing I always really wanted when I was a kid growing up reading superhero comic books, it was for stories about superheroes working for the government.
I've read pieces in which those very dots were connected before, and certainly I've noticed them myself (it's hard not too). But I think I haven't heard it explained quite as well as O'Neil does it there.

If the main concern of the Marvel Universe has become who is in charge of the superheroes, I wonder if that's because Marvel's editors and writers have been worrying about their job security, and those anxieties have been seeping into their work...?


So I guess something kinda weird happened on Newsarama this week. Specifically, EDILW favorite Brandon Graham might have talked some shit on Judd Winick for being a shitty writer, and that part of the roundtable interview was excised; according to Robot 6, the whole shebang has since been taken down.

I never saw it.

I wrote for Newsarama for years. (I almost wrote "I worked for Newsarama for years, starting in 2005," but then I remembered that I didn't get paid for most of the writing I did there until the old Blog@ crew moved on to start Robot 6 and the Newsarama's "Best Shots" review crew, of which I was then a part, took over Blog@. At that point, I started working for them.)

Everyone I dealt with there seemed cool, and they were always very nice to me. I did the vast majority of my writing at the mostly autonomous Blog@Newsarama section of the site, so the only writing I did for the main site was a few interviews and features that I really wanted to do. But the folks on that side were cool and nice to me too.

The unfortunate side of a site like Newsarama is that the Big Two sort of have it in a stranglehold (not unlike the grip the Big Two have on the direct market!) and can more or less indirectly dictate content. They can't demand positive reviews or get changes to articles or anything like that, but they can get mad at unflattering coverage, and give more exclusive previews to a rival site, or move a feature they were producing with Newsarama to its main rival site, limit access to creators for interviews and exert other forms of negative reinforcement.

That's not to say that Dan DiDio or Joe Quesada hand out Newsarama story assignments, it's just that there's a concern of the possibility of retaliation from Marvel or DC, and thus a reluctance to do anything that might piss them off. Well, not even a reluctance, per se—I can think of a handful of examples where Newsarama went ahead with things they were fairly certain would irritate the folks at DC and Marvel—but it's at least a constant concern. It's something that's always on their writers' and editors' minds, I would guess, even if only in the very back of their minds.

So maybe they did edit Graham's criticisms of Winick so as not to annoy either DC or Winick. It could also have been for space, or language, or a combination of them—like, for example, they had to lose 500-1,000 words from the transcript, so when looking for stuff to cut for space concerns, they went straight to the stuff that might also piss sources off.

I have no idea, though.

The thing that sucks about it though is that Graham has a really important point, one that the editing and/or eventual taking down of this story, one that the very existence of pressure—implied or expressed–exerted by Marvel and DC over an industry news site like Newsarama only reinforces.

"I want us to be able to actually have real conversations in comics," Graham wrote in his blog entry on the Newsarama kerfluffle. "I think we need to be critical of each other’s work, and this industry is especially weak on issues of race and gender. I want to see how good we can all get, and I want bullshit to be called when it needs to be called."

I can't really add anything other than "Amen."

The biggest problem with comics as a medium today is comics as an industry, and one of the problems with that industry is the amount of glad-handing, false high-fiving and outright lying about how great everything is all the time that goes on between creators and publishers. A lot of comics are terrible, a lot of the people who make them are terrible—not terrible people per se, but maybe terrible writers or artists or editors or colorists—and the fear of saying that because of fear of retaliation in some form of another, of not landing the big interviews you want to get on your site, or of not getting hired by the publisher you want to work with on the characters you've always dreamed of working on, paralyzes far too many people.

No one likes to mean—well, some people might—and I can understand why, say, Grant Morrison wasn't twittering about how DC was fucking him over by assigning Tony fucking Daniel to draw his Batman comics or whatever, because maybe Grant Morrison doesn't want to be an asshole. That's cool.

But critics? We should all be prepared to criticize. We should demand the best possible comics. The best work from the best creators, and, when one of even the best of the best creators turns in less than a perfect piece of work, we should feel free to accentuate the negative instead of simply ignoring it. Not to be assholes, but because in a perfect world, the comics should all be perfect, and me, I want to live in a perfect world with perfect comics...or at least a more perfect world with more perfect comics than the ones we have now in this world.


Sorry. Didn't mean to go off on a tangent or anything. I think Brandon Graham has more than earned the right to talk shit on Judd Winick, though, and I always find it refreshing when I hear a comics creator talking shit on another one, because it happens so infrequently that it can sometimes be difficult to believe anything any of these guys say about each other. Everyone can't love everyone's work all the time, you know? But that's the impression one gets if one reads enough interviews with creators.


Holy shit, can you imagine a Brandon Graham Catwoman...? That would be something to read, whether Graham was writing for Guillem March or writing and drawing it...


In that same post, Graham posted some sketches. Here's his Groucho Marx:Nice, huh? It's weird how its recognizably Groucho Marx, but also recognizably Graham's drawing, almost like Marx is a Graham creation.

You know what might be even cooler than a Graham Catwoman...? A Graham adaptation of Animal Crackers or The Cocoanuts...


Those are my two favorite Marx Brothers movies. Those two and Duck Soup are the best of them all, in my opinion.


Oh, I also kinda wanted to highlight the part where they talk about Ross Campbell drawing sexy ladies:

Brandon: Speaking of Ross Campbell(artist on Glory) and his stuff, he’s going through this period where he’s reassessing his work, really looking at how he’s approaching women. He’s actively trying not to be sexist in his own work, and talking about that a lot. His being given this character is almost a chance to make right how DC fucked themselves up on their relaunch and how they were really shitty to their female readers. Ross is coming in and being able to actually be thinking about them, because he comes off as one of the creators most aware of the female reader and how female characters are being depicted in comics.

Joe Keatinge (writer on Glory): That’s definitely a big part of it too. I mean, character comes first before any big political statement, but I want a female lead who can break Supreme in half, because why not? That’s definitely what we’re going for here.
My goal is to make her and one of the characters in the book who I won’t name, but who appears in the first issue, into two of the biggest bad asses in comics. Their gender doesn’t really come into it for me. I don’t see why it should. It’s just about who they are.

Brandon: It doesn’t hurt to point out they’re characters a teenaged girl could read about and not feel embarrassed.

Joe: Exactly! I wanted this to be a book that I could show to a girlfriend or my parents, and not be ashamed. I want a 13, 18, 20 year-old-girl to read this and not be embarrassed because Catwoman’s fucking Batman or whatever. I want this to be something where it can be enjoyed by them just as much by a 13, 18, 20-year-old boy, whatever.
Guys, I'm not gonna lie—as much as I love Ross Campbell's art (and I love it a lot) I also love his sexy art, including his insanely intense, hyper-sexualized artwork on The Abandoned and Water Baby. It might have been over-the-top on Water Baby, which was marketed toward teenage girls instead of lonely middle-aged men like me, but, divorced from context—it was very good, very sexy artwork.

I don't think Campbell's work was, in itself, sexist and, I think, the amped-up sexuality of his characters, their scanty clothing, the scenes of undress, their raging hormones all went a ways toward combating sexism in the mainstream comics industry in that Campbell was, in some of his work, drawing women of different ages, colors, styles and, most notably, sizes, and he was drawing them all in the same sexualized manner. You don't have to look far to find an image of a 90-110 lb. sexy woman in a comic book; but a sexy 150 lb. girl? Hell, a 150 lb. girl of any kind, sexy or not? Good luck with that outside of The Abandoned or Wet Moon or maybe a 45-year-old R. Crumb joint.

Super-sexy drawings aren't a problem by's when they appear in inappropriate places, when they are so foreign to a narrative that they're breaking it that they cause a problem (At least for me).

So if Ross Campbell is writing and drawing his own original graphic novel about a zombie apocalypse in the southern united states, and wants to fill it with scantily clad, sweaty girls occasionally locking lips, having their clothes torn off or exposing their undergarments when they change? If Campbell puts PG-13 flirting with R levels of sexuality in a book like The Abandoned? That's fine.

It's when Ed Benes lays out every page of a Dwayne McDuffie script about the Justice League battling The Injustice Gang in an issue of DC Comics' all-ages Justice League of America so that the focus of each page is Wonder Woman or Black Canary's scantily clad ass, when he designs his pages to change the meaning of the script to imply Lex Luthor exuding sexual menace to Wonder Woman instead of take-over-the-world comic book super-villainy? That is a problem.


If you didn't read The Abandoned, and thus have no idea what I'm talking about, here are a few of the girls from the book: In your average superhero comic, every single woman would look like the woman in the cowboy hat above, with maybe different color hair to differentiate them from one another.

All of those images above are from Campbell's Abandoned gallery at his website.

I'd highly recommend the "Monsters" and "TMNT" galleries on the art page, too.


In addition to Brandon Graham's Catwoman and Animal Crackers, I'd also like to read Ross Campbell's Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vs. Gamera:Get on it, IDW!


The headline of this review could be referring to superhero comics in general, rather than a specific miniseries.


Really, Superman? Her strangest story? Wonder Woman's strangest story...? I find that hard to believe. Especially since throughout the Golden Age, each and every succeeding Wonder Woman story happened to be her strangest story ever.


Three words I never thought I'd see: "Jules Feiffer Variant"


Finally, I did this again. Give me your page views!


Anthony Strand said...

I'm a Duck Soup man myself. In fact, it's probably my favorite movie of all time. Nearly every gag works for me. I've always said it's like they made a 90-minute comedy, then cut out everything that wasn't funny and ended up with the 68-minute gem we have today.

In general, I like the Paramount movies a lot more than the MGM ones, but I've never really liked The Cocoanuts all that much. Or at least not as much as I'd like to. It has a lot of good gags, but it feels so flat and static and sluggishly-paced.

Maybe it's just the difference between sound films in 1929 and 1930, but Animal Crackers (my second-favorite Marx movie) is such a huge step up in every way, I think. The timing is tightened up, the staging is better, the songs are more memorable, it has Lillian Roth in it.

What I mean to say is this: Please, expand on your fondness for The Cocoanuts. I always enjoy talking about the Marx Brothers.

Also, Marvel's event comics all sound terrible. I'm glad I haven't read them.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

@Anthony Strand

Not all of the recent event comics were completely terrible. Before petering out how it did I actually liked House Of M (which makes me unique in this world, it seems) and Civil War had some fun bits. Secret Invasion was pretty bad, though, and with Fear Itself I just stopped picking up issues after all hope of quality seemed lost.

matthew. said...

The Newsarama kerfuffle reminds me of the ending to the BBC series State of Play, in which it is revealed


that the higher ups in the company are pressuring the newspaper not to publish certain information because that info could disrupt an important deal between the parent company and the government.

There's something to be said about "journalistic integrity" but unfortunately, in our increasingly postcapitalist society, the market dictates the stories rather than the public thirst.

If indeed, this was a case of Newsarama bowing to pressure in order to avoid financial difficulties, they should have gone completely public and pointed to the increasingly narrow market controlled by the Big Two. They should have gone full disclosure in order to highlight how completely irrational the current system is.

Caleb said...


I'll rewatch and post about it in my next catch-all, not-comics, "Everything Else" post, which I'm currently working on. So...maybe a week or so...?