Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thursday is links day

Meanwhile in Las Vegas… This week’s LVW comics review is of Wonton Soup, which I boldly called the best space-trucker cooking opera of the year. Boy will my face be red if another, even better comes out on one of the last two Wednesdays of the year! You can read/skim the first 39 pages of it here, and I should point out that the book gets better and better the deeper you get into it.

Hey man, nice shot: December is a busy time of year for a lot of folks, as they do all their Christmas shopping, make travel plans, prep their houses for visitors and so forth. It’s quite busy for me too, but for an entirely different reason—this is the point of the year when “best of” lists get assembled, and critics find themselves playing catch-up.

By the time December rolls around, I find myself buried in film screenings as studios begin to campaign hard for awards consideration and slots on best-of lists.

And, inevitably, as many comics and graphic novels as I read every week, I realize I’ve missed quite a few big releases, and spend much of the month tracking down everything I’ve heard something good about or just haven’t gotten around to, so that when I sit down to tell you what I thought the best books of the year are, I can feel pretty well-informed on the subject.

One book I just finished was Anthony Lape and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War, a dramedy about a blogger who covers the Iraq War during the McCain administration. Brian Doherty of The New York Post just wrote a very good review of it, with a pretty damn good headline (has no one ever turned the phrase “blog of war” before? Really? Because it’s a good one).

Doherty gave the book a bit of a kicking:

It might be formally appropriate that a graphic novel set in a chaotic, horrific near future should sport this book's off-putting computerized art style. It's a bricolage of digitally altered photos, cut-and-paste cartooning, and beards that look like the random up-and-down ballpoint pen scratches one would use to deface a magazine photo.

But formally appropriate or not, a reader versed in classic comic book cartooning will be apt to find it distractingly ugly. The style often gets in the way of the simple storytelling virtues that cartooning is best for. It's sometimes difficult to tell from panel to panel exactly what's going on. The graphic novel's look, created as the book flap says with “a combination of photography, vector illustration, and digital painting" is very now - the sort of “now" that will almost certainly look dated and oh-so-2007 soon enough.

In the book's afterword, the authors identify this as a “work of political satire" that strives to “get you thinking about some big questions concerning the media, the war in Iraq and American foreign policy." That was all-too-obvious in this heavy-handed, though successfully gripping, work. They add that, “We also hope it makes you chuckle." Unless, say, the suitcase-nuking of Bangalore is a knee-slapper, they misunderstand their own work's tone.

I can’t say I disagree with him entirely either. As I finished it, I was actually pretty relieved I wasn’t planning on giving it a formal review for LVW, but just satisfying my own curiosity about it at this point. The look of the book is just as Doherty described it. At times it did seem ugly and distracting to me, at other times it seemed pretty appropriate given the subject matter, and I thought it even had a sort of strange beauty, perhaps more beautiful than it might have looked were it all drawn out. But these times changed back and forth from page to page.

Ultimately I think it’s a fine style for a single graphic novel like this, when a reader is only spending an hour or two with it, but if this were serialized into single issues, or if I tried reading it as it was originally serialized on the web, I would have given up a long time ago, I think, as it’s not the sort of art I would seek out once I’d walked away form it.

I’m not quite sure what to think of the writing end of things, either. It’s structurally sound, and the dramatic arc works well enough. The lead character is one I kind of like, but really rather despise. The speculative political science work that went into the where will the world be in 2011 question was pretty interesting, but somewhat undermined by the more straightforward action adventure comic villain, the charismatic leader of a made-up terrorist group that actually compares himself to a Bond villain at one point.

I think this is a book I’d have to return to again in the future to truly form an opinion on, but, on my first reading, my reaction was extremely mixed, often simultaneously liking and disliking different aspects of the story.

One thing that I really enjoyed was Dan Rather, who cameos in one scene, only to become main character Jimmy Burns’ sidekick by the climax. Lappe nails Rather’s dialogue, or rather a convincing parody of his TV personality’s dialogue, and Goldman does a nice drawing of the old man. I cracked up in almost every scene featuring Rather as heroic newsman, particularly the bit about the frequency.

I give Lappe and Goldman a lot of credit for trying to spin a bigger story with Shooting War, addressing the media’s role in the world and in the war. Me, I would have just focused on the adventures of Dan Rather in the near-future Middle East, and, as entertaining as that may be, it’s probably not of much value to anyone all on its own.

Have any of you read Shooting War yet? Any prognosis to share? I’d definitely recommend it, even though I’ve not quite made up my mind as to how good a graphic novel it actually is.

Confidential to Joe Madureira and Greg Land:

Can a decision to collect a comic book series a particular way be considered evil? : I’ve been bewildered by many of the decisions DC has made in terms of what they choose to collect and release in trade, what they choose not to, and how they package some of their trades, but this is probably the most mystifying item I’ve seen show up on a Diamond shipping list from the company in a long, long time:


Yes, the universally reviled series that didn’t make any goddam sense, the series that helped make Jodi Picoult’s run even worse, the series which caused sales of tie-in issues like Teen Titans and Wonder Woman to drop, is released in a collected edition for any unfortunate souls who want to subject themselves to it. I can see them in Barnes and Noble now, flipping through it, drinking in Pete Woods’ fantastic art, seeing all the heroes in it, and thinking, “Well, this looks good,” and then heading towards the cash register.

Yes, it looks good, but that’s only because the art is so good. But it is not a good book. It’s a terrible one! Terrible, I tell you! (Well, the first three issues…I didn’t read the last half). And at the end, you don’t get any kind of resolution (I did flip-through #4-#6), you just get a big, fat cliffhanger, and to find out what the hell happens next, you have to read Countdown!

I suppose DC thought they could make a few bucks off these poor folks and that it was therefore worth collecting this story in trade (a sad, sad fact when you consider all of the better Wonder Woman stories not available in trade, however).

But a hardcover?

Nobody wants a hardcover of this. No one who reads it will ever want to reread it. And charging $25 bucks for the sturdier cover just strikes me as…perverse. It’s a six-issue series, each sold for $2.99, so anyone fool enough to buy this thing is paying $7 more than they would have if they got it while it was originally coming out.

Surely you can still find all six of these issues in your local comic shop or on the ebay for cover price or lower…hell, you’re welcome to my Amazons Attack #1-#3 for the cost of shipping…

Here it comes: Have you seen the trailer for Speed Racer yet? I have. About, oh, 25 times now or so. I was skeptical of this project since it was first announced, having been a fan of the admittedly quite terrible cartoon and having lost pretty much all faith in the Wachowski Brothers about four minutes into Matrix Revolutions (Yeah, Reloaded wasn’t all that either, but the action scenes in it were a thing of beauty).

But I’ve gotta admit, this looks pretty great from the few minute snippet of the trailer—the costume design, the automobile design, the use of speedlines in live action, the jumping Mach 5 sound effect, the corny-ass dialogue like “It’s way more important than that, it’s like a religion” and “Maybe not, but it’s the only thing I know how to do and I gotta do something.” Awesome. A quick check at IMDB reveals that Snake Oiler and Inspector Detector are characters in the movie, too. Awesome I say, awesome!

Anyway, check out the scene where Speed discovers Spritle and Chim Chim in the trunk reading comic books by flashlight—they’re totally reading an issue of Geoff Darrows fantastic and hardly ever printed ongoing series Shaolin Cowboy, from the Wachowski’s own vanity publisher Burlyman.

And speaking of trailers…: I see no giant bipedal talking sword-wielding mice in this trailer, which worries me excessively. Still, I hope Prince Caspian makes a billion dollars, if only to ensure more Narnia movies, as the next two are my favorite of the seven books.

Poor Will Smith: The real tragedy of the dystopian future presented in I Am Legend?:Will Smith’s character, the last man alive in New York City after a plague has decimated humanity, must see a poster in Times Square advertising some sort of upcoming Batman/Superman movie (it features the S-shield from Superman Returns atop a bat-symbol shape) every day, knowing full well that even though the movie was made, it will never be played in theaters for him. The poor, poor bastard. Oh, and I guess he’s all alone fighting for his life too. Anyway, here’s a review of I Am Legend if you’re interested.

"He's a superintelligent small pox virus. And he wants justice": I should have posted this scan from Green Lantern #25 in yesterday's off-the-cuff review, when discussing the scale of the war. As you can see, not only were human-sized combatants duking it out, or planet-sized ones like Mogo and Warworld, but also microscopic rivals.

Here, check this out if you haven't already, and then I've got a serious question:

Is that the absolute coolest thing Geoff Johns has ever written? I know I make fun of Johns alot here, particularly for his affinity for gore (yes, there is a panel of a character being ripped in half in this same issue), the number of times he has heroes resort to torture, his uninihibted man-love for Hal Jordan, and his bad habit of going too grim and gritty too often, but I do think he's a pretty solid comics writer, and is probably DC's best writer by default (Busiek, Morrison and Waid are no slouches either, of course, but they just can't keep up with Johns, who writes about 15 books a month now, I believe).

And make no mistake, a heroic small pox virus that wants justice? That is pretty much the definition of awesome. (Well, not in my computer's dictionary, which I just checked to verify, but I bet if I went and got a dicitonary off the shelf, it would be in there). Thinking of all of the most awesome beats in other of the roughly two million stories by Geoff Johns I've read in the past, all of the closest competitors—Booster Gold and Skeets' journey to cowboy times, much of 52—came in books in which Johns worked with one to three co-writers on. But this book is all him, meaning this beat is all him.

So here's my question: Is this the most awesome thing Johns has ever written, or not? And if not, what is?

Yeah, what she said: Carla makes a very fine point here, in this post about Marvel’s “One More Day” story, which I’m sure everyone’s more than sick of hearing about at this point (And there’s still one issue to go, meaning over a month’s worth of commentary yet to come!)

She stopped reading at the same point I did, the second part, but returned faster than I would have because, as she says “This is important.”

Indeed, it is. Not change-your-life important, or impact-the-world-outside-the-Marvel-Universe-at-all important, but important within that fictional shared setting, and important to the way readers will be interacting with it for the next few weeks, months, years and, potentially, from now on.

This “One More Day” storyline, if they really do go through with it and they don’t change it back immediately, is going to end up being the most important Spider-Man story ever told, if only because it’s going to be the only one in which Spider-Man comics get rebooted. It’s going to be a big, bright, red line through Spider-Man’s (fictional history), not unlike the original Crisis on Infinite Earths was a big, bright red line through DC Comics’ (fictional history) becoming, like the birth of Christ, the point that divides that history into two different era. The death of Captain Stacy, or of Gwen Stacy, Kraven’s Last hunt, the Osborne/Golin saga, the black suit/Venom business, none of those will end up being as important as OMD, simply because none of them managed to shift the entire playing field the way OMD will.

In a few years time, people could be discussing Spider-Man using the terms Pre-OMD and Post-OMD, as they used to with Crisis (Again, if they really have Spidey and/or MJ trade their marriage for a reboot, and if they stick to it).

It’s a seriously ballsy move by editor-in-chief, penciller and, if JMS is to be believed, plotter Joe Quesada, whatever you think of it.

And I can’t help but wonder how many people are reading this story not because they like the writing or art, or are invested in the story, but simply because they know how potentially important it is. Are they, like Carla, reading it simply because it’s going to be the starting point for the pretty exciting sounding future of Spider-Man comics? (Three times a month! Dan Slott writing Spidey regularly!). I fear Marvel will interpret the gonzo sales of the event as tacit approval for the story itself, giving them grounds to dismiss all criticism as the opinions of a few hundred cranks with Internet access and too much free time on their hands (Now, I’m not saying I’m not a crank with too much free time on my hands, just that that doesn’t make me wrong about whether a comic book story is stupid or not).

Do check out Carla’s review of the third chapter, as she has a beautiful image of a fan’s despair at the book, and check out this week’s Lying in the Gutters if you haven’t already, as Rich Johnston recounts previous pitches for how to undo the marriages of Superman and Spider-Man without resorting to divorce or killing off a supporting character. As awesome as I think the Morrison/Waid/Millar/Peyer Super-books would have been (and hey, where is Peyer these days?), I’m glad DC let the Superman/Lois marriage stand. I could do without this Chris Kent character, though…


Anonymous said...

In order:

1) I'll read the preview. I hadn't even heard of this until reading your blog.

2) I flipped through SHOOTING WAR a few times, but the book is so massively ugly that I haven't been able to convince myself to buy it. Perhaps I'll see if the library has it.

3) You expect a lot more than Greg Land or Joe Madureira can ever be expected to deliver.

4) DC's marketing department, the overlords of the collections department, use Magic 8-Ball to pick what will be collected and in which format it will appear.

5) Haven't watched the trailer, mostly due to lack of sound on my pc. I thought Matrix entertaining, but not so compelling that I ever bothered to see either sequel. I'm told I missed very little. Still undecided about Speed.

skipping down to the Geoff Johns bit) That is the coolest thing he's ever written, which is not a very difficult thing to accomplish. Beyond the ultra-violence and unlikable heroes, I've never enjoyed anything he's written* for a few major reasons. His stories exhibit, imo, too much fan-service, continuity-incest fan-fiction, and opt to shoot for "kewl" over "smart."

* exceptions being Superman: Up, Up and Away and GLC: Recharge, both of which had a better writer along to pick up the slack.

Jeff said...

Oh, Caleb Caleb Caleb. That Speed Racer trailer? Dude, it looks like a fourth grader put it together. And that's insulting to 4Gers everywhere, I know because they've by and large given up Crayolas which were obviously used extensively in coloring this mess. Granted, the cartoon wasn't Shakespeare, but the writing here makes me embarrassed FOR Matthew Fox. And John Goodman...ugh. Words fail me.

SallyP said...

Yes, a super-intelligent smallpox virus wishing for revenge upon the sentient Despotillus virus that killed his partner IS a bloody amazing concept.

Patrick C said...

While the Leezle Pon super-sentient smallpox virus was very well written, Johns doesn't get all the credit. Alan Moore created Leezle Pon way back when he wrote the story Mogo Doesn't Socialize. (The smallpox virus doesn't make an appearance, but he is mentioned by name).

Anonymous said...

Consider the "coolest thing (he's)ever written" compliment revoked.

Anonymous said...

Patrick C beat me to it!

Alan Moore created all the great Green Lanterns. You get the feeling that he was able to really just go nuts with ideas for completely unexpected non-human stories about wildly different and exciting aliens. As cool as Leezle Pon is, he's not as cool as Dkrtzy Rrr(the other Lantern Moore name-dropped in that same story) who DID attend meetings but was only visible to the Guardians, as he was an abstract mathematical progression.

When I read John's stuff, I get the feeling he's just cutting and pasting, sometimes reshaping, but I don't ever think of him as adding to the universe he's writing in. Redeeming Black Adam, reforming the JSA, 52, he's got a lot of good stories that use pre-existing elements well, but I can't imagine him coming up with an idea as awesome as the F-Sharp Bell. He moves the pieces around, but he couldn't design a whole new game.

Patrick C said...

I agree with all the previous commenters saying that Geoff Johns reuses a lot of ideas, but that's actually a reason I like him so much. He loves living in the DCU and uses all of the pieces, making the irrelevant relevant again!

I am happy that Leezle Pon is actually being used in a story, and not just existing as a line from a story twenty years ago.

As for not creating anything new, he did create the Sinestro Corps, and is now creating 6 other Corps., sure some of the members are going to be existing characters created by other people, but you can't say he's entirely unoriginal.

Chance said...

I like that he used a throwaway line from a classic Moore story, too, but I don't think it's anything to get excited about.

Anonymous said...

As for not creating anything new, he did create the Sinestro Corps, and is now creating 6 other Corps.,

I guess we ought to give him credit(blame) for creating Giant Yellow Space-Bug Parallax as well.

The Sinestro Corps seem like every other yellow-ring users, and I haven't read the newest stuff with the Rainbow Corps(but it sounds pretty formulaic).

Carla said...

Thanks, man. Just remember that when you pick up that last issue of Spider-Man, you are not alone and on the other side is indeed a Brand New Day.

Plus, YES. I can't believe how much fangirl weight and pull Johns had with me until I saw the preview teaser for Blackest Night at the back of Green Lantern #25. I mean, WOW. Star Warian, indeed.