Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading the Watchmen: Chapter 1

Since the movie is coming out in a little over a month, my local comics shop's book club decided that Watchmen should be our next book up for discussion. This seemed like a piece of cake to me, since I had read the book first close to 20 years ago and several times since. However, once I thought about it, it's probably been over a decade since I sat down and actually read the whole thing, all the way through. Sure, I'd scanned through it on lazy Saturday afternoons, maybe even read the whole thing, minus the text pieces a few times. But I can't remember the last time I had made a concerted effort to read it all as a solid piece of work.

So that brings us to the purpose of this post, and the series that should (hopefully) follow it. I'm going to read each issue individually and try to type up my thoughts about it here. Though I'm sure it'll be tempting to blow through several of the chapters at a time, I kind of want to give myself the chance to really think on each one individually, and this will also help to serve as my "notes" for the upcoming discussion of the book over pizza and beers at the end of the month.

One last quick note, if you haven't read the book yet, I'll probably be talking about some of the stuff that will happen later in the book, so you may want to skip over this book and go and pick up a copy for yourself. Even though I haven't read it in a while, I still think it's one of the best books residing on my bookshelves.

Anyway, issue #1: We begin with the aftermath of the Comedian's death and the start of Rorschach's investigation into it. IT serves as a clever introduction into the world of the book, the conversation between the investigating Detective's providing us with the broad frame-work of what has happened to the super-heroes of the world and Rorschach's narration giving us a view into his pure black-and-white morality.

After discovering that the murder he was investigating turned out to be a former costumed adventurer, Rorschach then sets out to warn his former comrades: Nightowl, now a fat, middle-aged man who's only happiness lies in the past. Adrian Veidt, the smartest (and possibly richest) man in the world, who sold-out before heroes were made illegal and now makes a pretty penny on his image. Then, finally there is Dr. Manhattan and Sally Jupiter. Manhattan, the only truly "super" hero of this world who seemingly detached from life itself. Sally, his "kept woman", given a life by the government simply because she keeps Manhattan happy and relaxed.

With his warnings ignored, Rorschach sets out to find the killer none-the-less, simply because that is what he does, he realizes that he cannot save the world from what he sees as an inevitable fall into evil, but he does what he can simply because he must, as his morals allow for nothing less.

Following the comic proper, there is an "exerpt" from the first Nighowl's memoir, detailing his childhood during the Great Depression and what pushed him to become a masked adventurer. The most interesting thing about the text piece being is that he mentions that he was inspired by the early pulp heroes and comics, particularly Superman, but he then comments that no one probably remembers them, giving us a clue that, in this world where superheroes are "real", the fictional ones ceased to exist.

Overall, this is just a fantastic first issue, and it's still as fresh today as the day it was printed back in 1985. Re-reading it today the art is the biggest revelation. I've long been a fan of Dave Gibbons, but it's odd when you realize that large portions of this book are wordless, simply streetscapes of New York City with a lone character walking. Working in a fairly rigid nine-panel grid, Gibbons just does beautiful work. One of the biggest things I noticed is his use of facial expressions to convey very precise emotions. Gibbons is probably the single best artist I can think of at doing this, all of his faces just look real. The color pallet is very limited with a lot of deep-browns and greens, making everything look very dingy and decrepit.

Thanks for reading along, I look forward to sinking my teeth into issue 2 tomorrow night, (depending upon whether the Superbowl is interesting or not).

My Fellow Americans:


Listen, I like him, you like him, we all like him. A lot. But please, stop buying this shit so they stop making it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Night Fights: The Conclusion

Since tonight is the final round of Space Booger's first go-round of heading up FNF, I figured that I had better find something suitably epic to end it on the proper note:


So yeah, Earth-2 Superman punching the Anti-Monitor's disembodied spirit to Hell feels suitably epic for me. Anyway, big thanks fo SpaceBooger for heading this up for the last 13 weeks, and though I haven't had been involved as much as I would have liked to, it's been a blast.

Images taken from the "Event Comic" that started them all, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zombies Ahead

You know, fun is fun, but if I saw this sign on my commute home:

Let's just say, it's for the best that I do not drive through pedestrian-heavy areas on the way home. I don't like the zombies.

Thanks to Johnny Bacardi for the tip.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Book I Want Part 2

OK, since I'm bored, this one popped into my head as I was going through some comics in the basement and came upon the one issue I have of this run. Jeez, this is some wierded out shit*, I would love to have it all in one nice package:

Written by JACK KIRBY
Penciled by JACK KIRBY
The trippiest movie of the 1960's becomes the trippiest comic of the 1970's. On the success of one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Marvel commissioned Jack Kirby to bring his own cosmic spin to the story, and boy, did he! Featuring the first appearance of X-51 aka Mr. Machine aka Machine Man!
Collects 2001: A Space Odyssey #1-10 and 2001 Marvel Treasury Edition #1
290 PGS / All Ages … $29.99

*Seriously, if you don't believe me just go check out the cover gallery at The Grand Comics Database.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Book I Want

Kevin Church put out the call for people to submit solicitations for collections that you want to see happen. Here's mine, by all accounts, this is pretty awful stuff, but boy, did I love this book when I was a kid:

Cover by BOB HALL
Dark Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers! Copy cats! Look here True Believers to see the original Avengers spin-off! Watch as everyone's, fan-favorite couple Hawkeye and Mockingbird assemble the most stunning group of heroes yet! Also featuring Iron Man, Wonderman, Tigra and even more!
Collects West Coast Avengers Mini-Series 1-4 and West Coast Avengers 1-23.
544 PGS / All Ages … $16.99

New Music: A.C. Newman: Get Guilty

So, if you pay attention to the little do-dad I have in the sidebar over to your right, you'll notice that I've been listening to A.C. Newman's new album Get Guilty pretty much non-stop lately. Newman's best known for being the ringleader of the "Supergroup" The New Pornographers, who are probably one of my favorite active bands. Though I've generally enjoyed his song-writing and singing for that band, I was left a tad cold by his first solo effort, it just felt (for lack of a better term) thin. However his new record is a lot more like his work with the 'Pornos, more orchestrated with much more complicated arrangements. However, it's just not as lush as the Pornographers stuff. That's not a criticism, it gives the work a certain, almost lo-fi charm, as if it was all hashed out in his garage (though it's obiously very produced). Essentially it feels like a New Pornographers' record, minus the influence of his collaborators in that band (Dan Bejar, Neko Case, Todd Fancey, etc.) and it comes out very well.

Anway, since I'm kinda crap at talking about music, here's one of my favorite tracks:

A.C. Newman - The Collected Works

This album is available at eMusic, a service that I wholly endorse as a way of downloading very good music for a very low cost.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How to Start a Day, Badly

I made chili last night, and it turned out OK, but not as good as I would have hoped when I figured in the amount of effort I had put into it. Anyway, I had to chop up something like 7 jalapeno peppers for the recipe* and despite washing my hands several thousand times during the cooking process, apparently some of the pepper oils hitched a ride on my fingers, none-the-less.

Anyway, long story short, though feeling a slight burning when I took out my contacts before bed, nothing could prepare me for the horror that I was dealt when I put them back in in the morning. I dropped to my knees and squealed like a little girl seeing a Jonas Brother and it took every bit of will power I had to pull my eye open and get the damn thing out again.

However, needless to say, there was no way my day could go downhill from that point on, so I had that going for me.**

*I used the standard recipe from The Joy of Cooking, with some alterations of my own.

** And yes, after a quick Google search I leaned that I have to use some type of cleaner with citrus or detergent qualities to break up the oils, but shit, next time I'm wearing rubber gloves if I'm chopping peppers.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Night Fights!

America! How do we celebrate a new President!?!?!?

By beating up on Hitler, dammit!


Once again, another wholly out-of-context panel from Captain America: Bicentennial Battles by Jack Kirby. Then again, beating up on Hitler needs no context.

For more Friday-Night-Fighting Action, check out SpaceBooger.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Seriously folks, I could just post random panels from Captain America: Bicentennial Battles every day for months. What a delightful batch of insanity it is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

It's Inauguration Day, and let's celebrate it the best way I know how: with an out-of-context panel from Captain America: Bicentennial Battles!!!

Find out more about Benjamin Franklin: the shiftiest of the Founding Fathers in Captain America: Bicentennial Battles by Jack Kirby.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Comics: 1/14/09

Hey, imagine that? Comics are in the news these days, so let's talk about them. Fortunately, the two biggest selling comics for the big two publishers for the month were out yesterday so I figured I'd give my impressions.

First up is Amazing Spider-Man #583, which, according to one person's whose blogging I have high regard for, is bringing out classiness all over America:

Now there are three distinct things wrong with this issue, and they are all on the cover, let me break them down for you.

Problem #1:

Firstly, let me say, I don't have a problem with the fact that they are doing a "Tribute to Dating" issue. It's close to Valentine's Day, and hey, whatever you can do to shift a few more units, you go right ahead Marvel. But, it's the fact that this issue points out what a soulless, awful hell the dating world of the 21st Century is, well, it's just cruel. The whole point of the issue is for Betty Brandt to reflect on her relationship with Peter Parker while she does her best to hook him up via the time tested devices of speed-dating and getting her friends so drunk they'll sleep with anyone (except, of course, Peter Parker). The big problem is that she proves that there is not one, acceptable single woman in all of (make-believe) New York City. That's just sad.

Problem #2:

OK, though Peter's not meeting any women inside the book, outside he's hitting on promiscuous older ladies. This is disturbing to me on many levels. First of all, ever since Peter was made single by selling off his marriage to the love of his life to the devil magic, Marvel's gone to great pains to point out that this was to make him seem younger (especially because once you've got a ball and chain, you're one foot in the grave already), but this is just not the way to do it people!

Problem #3

Spider-Man's gettin' lucky tonight! That's just too much.

Anyway, once you get into the actual content of the issue, it's pretty damn good, and it's odd that this could be an issue that a lot of non-comic readers pick up, since Spider-Man only appears in about three pages.

Oh yeah, and the thing that everyone's talking about, the back-up featuring President Obama. It's OK, certainly a rush-job featuring some workmanlike art by Todd Nauk, but it's not bad and it features a pretty good Joe Biden joke. Obviously I was not one of the lucky few to get the much-vaunted Phil Jimenez Obama cover, but I think I got some good mileage out of this one.

Next up, we've got Final Crisis #6, spoiler goggles on for the rest of this one:

So let's get this out of the way, who woulda thought that the comic that features the death of Batman would be a newscycle also-ran this week? But let's begin at the beginning. I've really been enjoying Final Crisis, and so have a lot of other people, but I have a feeling that this book just isn't going to get its due for a while. Grant Morrison is making you work for it a little more than you do for other big event books. Often the big fights are left off-panel, leaving you to fill in some of the blanks. Also, something that rarely has occurred to me while reading the book is that the "big seven" of the DCU is pretty much been taken off the board ever since issue #2. This is a book, though rewarding in (somewhat) monthly reading is going to be a whole different, better beast once collected.

In this issue, we get the show down between the last remaining remnants of free humanity and Darkseid and his accursed horde. This is really where the series really rewards those of us who have read a lot of old DC books, I mean, there's a scene where Tawky Tawny disembowels Kalibak, who has been reincarnated as a tiger-man from Kamandi. That scene pushes a button that few people have, but if you have that button, like I do, it's a motherfucker.

All of this wraps up in the showdown between Batman and Darkseid, which is just as understated and as well written as anything else in this series. It's just plain good.

Anyway, we have one or maybe two (depending upon how much Superman Beyond #2 ties in) issues of this series left to go, and I can't wait to read the whole thing through sometime soon.

A quick word about the art, up until this issue, the multiple artists that they've been employing have blended pretty seamlessly through out, however this was the first time that I noticed a jarring shift. There were a few, obviously rushed pages in the middle with some sloppy inking, and the last few by Doug Mahnke didn't flow as well from the rest, just because he has such a different style from Pacheo, Jones, etal. But overall, still very nice. Hopefully the inking will be cleaned up in the collection.

So there you go, two very good books this week, I feel blessed!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Bugs Me About Fringe: Part One

You know, I've started this post two or three times and just never gotten around to finishing it, but seeing the promos for the second half of Fringe's first season really solidified something in my mind. The thing that bugs me the most is that fucking robot arm. In the first episode, when Olivia met with the suit from Massive Dynamics (can't remember her name, but it might as well be Deus Ex Machina), to show the benevolence of the company's owner, she shows off the nifty robot arm he gave her to replace the one she lost to cancer.

See, with The X-Files being one of my favorite TV series ever, it's obvious that I'll make comparisons, seeing as how they're pretty much the same, ie. FBI Agents exploring weird shit. However, The X-Files always went out of their way to make things somewhat plausible. At the end of the day, most of the stories could be explained by delusion or some other, real-world type of explanation, and even the more fantastical stuff was grounded in a some form of reality. Hell, the aliens in the show didn't run around blasting each other with lasers...fuck no! They stabbed each other in the neck with ice picks.

But in Fringe, that robot arm showed that all bets were off, we were no longer grounded in reality and in full on, sci-fi zone. This show does not take place in anything close to the "real" world (unless you listen to a lot of Coast to Coast AM), and it does not have to play by the physical rules as we know them. Once I saw that, I just started to care less. It's not that it resides in that zone, it's that it went out its way to flaunt it in its first episode. Take Fringe's older brother, Lost. A show it is obviously meant to be a companion to (the in-jokes leading me to believe that they even take place in the same "universe"), Lost, though dealing in the fantastical as well, didn't delve into the full-on, anything can happen, sci-fi realm before its third season, when it had earned the audience's trust through a lot of very good story-telling. In my mind, it had earned that leap. Everyone who was watching had seen the clues along the way, the polar bear, the subtle time-shifts, the smoke monster. But at any time, there could have been a "rational" explanation. Then they took the plunge and it worked. It just seemed cheap to me that Fringe took that leap without earning it, like they took the believability of the series for granted.

Ah, what do I know, I'm just some crank on the internet. Plus I keep watching, but really, I can't deny the awesomeness of crazy-Walter. I wish the show was just about him.

Yes, apparently, this is the first in a possible series, as there are some other things that bug me about Fringe and I will continue to keep venting them at you until you go to everyone of my Amazon affiliate links and buy all of the shit that I am pushing on you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What I'm Reading: RASL: The Drift

Hey there, I still have on more Vacation Reading post to go up, but, I haven't finished to book yet. Hopefully tomorrow night I'll get through it and get a post up. Anyhoo, this week I picked up RASL: The Drift, the first volume of Bone creator Jeff Smith's new book. A ways back I reviewed the first issue of this book, and though I liked it, I had felt that it was simply not paced for single issue reading, especially considering the book is coming out on a quarterly basis, so when I saw the collection was hitting the shelves today, I was excited.

And I was right to be, though this volume only collects the first three issues, it feels like a much more solid chuck of story, though it is obviously only just the very beginning. Our protagonist is Rasl, a man who has discovered how to jump between parallel Earths and uses this knowledge to steal priceless works of art from other Earths to fence on our own. OVer the course of the volume, he learns that other, more sinister interests have discovered how to do this too, and they're out to get him. We also get some back-story as to how Rasl discovered how to traverse universes and what led him to go from straight-edge scientist to hard drinkin' thief.

As a whole, it's very good and I'm definitely interested to see where this is going. I was wondering how Smith's rather cartoonish art style would match up with the more real-world, violent themes of this new creation, but I should not have worried. It all looks good and nothing seems out of place. It's obvious that Smith came from animation, because his art just moves. There are a couple of foot-chase scenes in the book and you can practically see the characters running in your mind as you go.

My only hesitation about the book is that it is so obviously only the beginning and there's probably a lot more to before we really get into the meat of the story. I want the rest now. But, then again, I'm an impatient ass, so YMMV.

Also, a note about the packaging of the book itself. I had assumed that the book would be would be in the "smaller than a comic, but bigger than manga" size that the re-issues of Smith's Bone have been in, however, it was in an oversized (roughly 10''x13'') format and it added some nice heft to the volume. It also allows Smith's art more room to breathe and it helps the story. It made me very happy that I waited for trade.

Marvel Team-Up Featuring: Spider-Man & Barack Obama

I realize that I'm late to the game on this one, but I just had to comment that this is incredibly cool:
I mean, when was the last time we had a President cool enough to team up with Spidey, much less, share a "terrorist fist-bump"?

Anyway, hopefully I'll have a review of something I picked up this week later today and maybe even finish up my Vacation Reading series (if I ever finish the last book I started).

For more amusing, if not down-right scary, reactions to this issue, check out the latest from Get Off The Internet.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Hey Kids! Art!

Just had to share these, Les McClaine, co-creator of The Middleman and creator of the web-comic Johnny Crossbones put out a call a month or so ago that he was taking commissions, so I had him do these two:


The Demon Etrigan

I'm very happy with the way they turned out, and if you like them, keep an eye on his blog for the next time he puts out the call.

Vacation Reading: THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT

The Best of the Spirit is a book I had read several years ago, courtesy of the local library, however it recently came up as a selection of my (Comic)Book Club for this month. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this month's meeting/drink-up, so I neglected to pick up a copy. Fortunately, the weather on the night in question proved apocalyptic, so I learned on Christmas Eve that it had been pushed back to Jan. 2, so I grabbed a copy and threw it in my suitcase.

This book contains various stories from The Spirit Sunday newspaper supplement from 1941 through 1950 and (I believe) they are all seven pages long. The single fact that they are all so short is shocking considering the amount of information and story they contain. Will Eisner's art is very good and you can see it evolve throughout the book, from the very "puply" style of the first few stories, to a much more cartoonish style towards the end. And some of the title pages are just jaw-dropping, employing techniques that Jim Steranko would use to drop jaws forty years later.

Here are two as examples:

The stories themselves are very good and the wide range of story-telling styles employed (standard comics, text with pictures, story-book-like, etc.) is just incredible when you consider that it was all done by one author. The hardest part about judging the stories is that you have to keep reminding yourself that Eisner is inventing this stuff. It's kind of like when I watched Citizen Kane for the first time a few years ago and I realized that I'd already seen the whole movie in various bits on The Simpsons, it's almost impossible to understand how revolutionary this stuff was, since so many of these things have been woven into the tapestry that is comics today.

One of the best things that Eisner does so well, is that he recognizes that the Spirit himself is one of the least interesting characters in the book, and as you get to the later stories, the Spirit becomes less of a character int he stories and instead is a macguffin or a force of nature that moves the stories forward, sometimes appearing only in a single panel or not at all.

Overall, the box at the top of the title page promises Action, Mystery, Adventure! and this book does deliver. The only mark against this book are the absolutely horrible racial caricatures, particularly of Ebony, the Spirit's cab-driving side-kick. They are indefensible other than to say that they are a product of their time.

As for the recent movie, ever since I saw the first images, I had a feeling that it wasn't for me, coming from "Whores, Whores N' More Whores!" Frank Miller, I had a feeling it would stray from what I've always liked about this character. After reading Doctor K's recent negative review, and Conditional Jeff's thoughtful notes on why he was skipping out on it and I decided that life's too short to waste my time and money on a movie that I know that I'd hate (though I will rent it, since I bizarrely consider Netflix "free"). All I can say, is considering the movie made about $1.25 in it's first weekend, hopefully that means we won't get subjected to Frank Miller's "vision" of Buck Rogers.

Other recommended reading: To see a big-name comics creator do right by the character, definitely check out Darwyn Cooke's first collection of DC's recent re-launch of The Spirit. It contains six, very good done-in-one stories, and Cooke & Jeph Loeb's The Spirit/Batman team-up, which is a hoot.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Vacation Reading: THE RIGHT STUFF

Happy New Year folks! After a fun few days in the sun (and a few more at home in recovery), I've decided to do a quick series about the books I blew through while trying to keep my kids from jumping into the lagoons to "play" with the sharks they had on display.

First up is The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. After catching the last half of the movie on AMC a couple weeks ago I lamented on twitter that I had yet to get off my ass to read the book, one quick recommendation from Kevin Church and a 40% off coupon from Borders later and it was on the top of the pile for my vacation. Being a space geek from earliest childhood, my first ever book report was about a biography of John Glenn, I was very familiar with the story of the Mercury Seven astronauts and the American space program in general, I've also seen the film many, many times. However, the book is a much different animal than the movie, which seemed to be a much more straight forward docu-drama about how the men were chosen and what happened during the years of the program. Wolfe, in his book, seems more interested in getting in their head and finding out, "what makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle wait for someone to light the fuse?" He also delves into the idea that the Astronauts were not merely meant to be heroes to our nation, but our ultimate heroes during the Cold War, single-combat warriors battling the Russian Cosmonauts for rule over the very space above our heads.

I think he does the first the best, helping us to understand the mind-set of a military pilot and how the best of the best judge themselves against each other. The supreme amount of confidence that a ma must have being a pilot at that time, knowing you had a 20% chance of dieing by simply climbing into an airplane in those days must have been stifling. Yet, Wolfe never makes these men out to be egotistical. They are doing a job that requires them to be this way, and quite simply, it almost makes them, ad their families unable to operate as "normal" society does. In a way, it mirrors what seems to be happening with returning Iraq and Afghan War veterans with PTSD, and I wonder if he looked into those who had "the right stuff" and lost it ever experienced symptoms of PTSD, or if that was a closed subject, both in the 1950's & 60's when these events occurred and even in the late 1970's when this book was written.

Wolfe's second theme of the book, that the Astronaut's were America's proxy single-combat warriors of the skies didn't work so well for me. Probably because, by the time I was a child, the Cold War was still going on and space seemed less like a battle ground than an empty place where ICBM's will pass in the night whist on their way to delivering mutually-assured destruction. Wolfe even goes as far as to declare the Cold War over once the US pushes forward its agenda to go to the moon, despite the War forging ahead for at least two more decades. I understand his point, but the Astronauts proved to be simply warriors in a battle that came in the middle of the war.

All of this is not to say that I did not enjoy the book, the cooperation of many of the Astronauts in the writing of the book is what makes it the most interesting, as a long time space geek, I'm very familiar with the time lines and the general facts of each launch, but the personal recollections ad some of the behind-the-scenes politicking of the missions are very enlightening. Also, it is a very quick, snappy read. I blew through its 351 pages in two days, so I highly recommend it.

Other recommended reading: Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon, is probably my favorite book on the American space program, gaining incredible access to NASA and the twelve men who walked on the moon, this book (at 720 pages) is a solid brick of knowledge, but it's also a very fast read as well.