OMAC, What Is Best In Life?

August 28th, 2014

Do you think that he’d even know? I’m not sure. He’s always so busy, isn’t he? The character and the book he starred in are a perfect match that way.

I’ve been spending a lot of time round at Kirby’s recently, and my favourite Kirby is the chatty, energetic old guy who’s perpetually setting up a big picture with the intention of hinting at an even bigger one. I’m talking about the Kirby who’s always happy to sit you down, offer you a drink and ask how you’re doing before the trip so nighttown begins. You’ll find this Kirby in The Eternals, of course, as well as in his Fourth World stories, and it’s hard not to love the guy.

The Jack Kirby you meet in OMAC is every bit as sharp as that other Jack, but he’s forever on the move. You head round to his place only to find him halfway out the door. This situation poses no problem for Kirby: ‘Of course you can come along!’ he barks. ‘I’m about to grab a taxi down to the “Brother” Eye if you’re willing to take a detour?’

Before you even have a chance to say yes you’re jumping out of the taxi and into the “Brother” Eye, a dingy old man’s pub untouched by the smoking ban, the sort of place that’s packed full of cigar smoke and shifty characters. And talking about characters, did Kirby really just tell you that that girl over there is a robot? And what’s that he’s saying about a man so rich he can afford to rent out whole cities for his private parties? You’re sure that he just said that the most recent party had a more sinister purpose, but somehow Kirby’s over at the other side of the bar now, stopping a nasty brawl before it can properly get going. One minute he’s holding a man ten years his junior by the throat, the next they’re heading towards you, talking quite intently with each other about the “Sickies”.

Kirby slaps you on the arm, buys you a drink and introduces you to his new friend Bucky… no, wait, it’s Buck, sorry. Kirby starts to settle down; he stretches his back out, and it looks like he’s about to chat to you when he suddenly decides to throw a nearby chair through the closest window. You’re about to tell the old guy to chill the fuck out, but then he leaps clean through the window and chases a mugger off down the street.

A brief ‘Good to see ya kid!’ and a hastily written check to the bar owner later and Kirby’s off into the night, shouting ‘OMAC lives so that man may live!!’ as he goes. Shit, that was exhausting, you think. But hell, when was the last time you had that much fun with a comic book superhero?

Does OMAC know what’s best in life? I’m not sure, but the man who created him certainly did! Happy birthday, then, to Jack Kirby – still missed, still the only king I will ever bow to.

Artifice and Intelligence

August 24th, 2014

Secret Avengers #7, by Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles

They’re re-writing the TV show again, remaking their little models fit to play the parts occupied by [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] on the screen, picking up tips and characters from [REDACTED], letting the characters get all cute cute cute on the black ops beat, all limber on the page, unbothered by caption chatter, the disconcerting mix of [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], the whole functioning in defiance of the fact that it’s been divined like Frankenstein, realizing Borgesian phantoms. Is the whole thing ectoplasmic, even the brand management, even the [REDACTED] approved implication that we secretly (Secret Avengers) need/crave dangerous spooks like these? This is subversion but the question of who or what is being subverted is as hard to grasp as the figures on the page, sleek in the shadows, smooth like cartoons – is the mechanism being made more likeable here, or more ridiculous? Are these positions necessarily opposed? Or are we on the third path, Dark Starring the bomb to light another day? You will of course interject that here be monsters, but is that not always the case when one is pre-writing history?

Regardless, this is the most effective use of an affected guest star in a [REDACTED] comic since [REDACTED], a triumph of affect over the constant cries of “THIS IS AFFECT!” There are too few contemporary comics that make intrigue feel this easy.

A funny thing happened after I read Jeet Heer’s twitter essay on the debt popular culture owes to Jack Kirby: I found myself wanting to get some Kirby in front of my eyes again for the first time in a couple of months.

Remembering The Beast Must Die’s classic (#classic) post on The Demon, I decided to start there and I was impressed by the supremely elegant hackwork I found within:

This might sound dismissive, but it’s not meant to be. Mark Evanier’s introduction frames these stories as an attempt to horror comic on demand – “Carmine [Infantino] wants a comic about a demon? Fine. I’ll give him one. I’ll even call it THE DEMON! - and compared to Kirby’s Fourth World books or his work on The Eternals, there’s a lack of grandiose philosophical ambition coded into this particular eruption of granite-faced monsters and face-splitting energy blasts.

The Demon is a formula book through and through, with Kirby sweating away to recapture (& literalise) the magic of The Hulk: Jason Blood socialises in glorious Gotham city until an occult menace emerges, prompting the titular Demon into action; after spending a few pages getting kicked around by this month’s threat while his friends trail or pine after him in a state of groovy bewilderment, Etrigan will best his opponent through sheer energy and force of will; eventually, Jason Blood returns to his wonderful social life with a slightly more sombre look on his face:

And yet, there’s an admirable thematic consistency to these adventures…

Enter the Multiversity

July 29th, 2014

A brief thought on Grant Morrison’s work that I might disown in the morning…

While hyping his upcoming Multiversity mini series for DC (at least half a decade in the making, and from the sound of it pages are still being done), Morrison has made reference to the Stan Lee method, in which the comic makes the reader an accomplice in the story.

Here’s the man himself, making some typically bold claims for his adoption of this technique in Multiversity #7, Ultra Comics:

I’ve used a lot of hypnotic induction. There’s an old trick that Stan Lee used to do — it was quite popular at Marvel — of the comic talking to you. I took that and this thing, and I think we’ve actually created the world’s first actual superhuman being, which you’ll see how it works when you read this comic. Then the world’s first super human being on this earth has to fight the most malignant entity. So the bad guys in Multiversity who are attacking the entire multiversal structure are also attacking the real world, and this comic is their only way through right now. So it becomes the reader versus the bad guy on the page. I think it’s actually quite scary, this thing. It scared me!

Read the rest of this entry »

Prismism

July 28th, 2014

With Grant Morrison’s Multiversity finally on the (candyfloss)horizon, he’s been doing some interviews in support of the book on The Comics Internet. You remember The Comics Internet, right? That place you used to go to discuss comics after you got sick of chopping up old issues of Wizard and randomly inserting snippets of inane commentary underneath pictures of classic (#classic) alt comics in TCJ, but before you resorted to gnomic twitter commentary and/or listening to a seemingly endless supply of podcasts while wanking/doing your housework/riding the bus?

The topic of the Prismatic Age of comics came up during one of these press adventures, with only a little bit of prompting from the interviewer from Comics Alliance:

Grant Morrison: Unlike Seven Soldiers… that was a lot more modular. This one is more of relay race, that was the structure we built because each universe is reading the comic books from the previous universe, and that’s how they learn about the threat, basically. It’s more like a chain. It doesn’t have the same intricate jigsaw pattern as Seven Soldiers. It’s quite linear, this one. I wanted to do something quite linear and simple and everyone could “get” this time. This one is for people who’ve never read DC before but want to get into this gigantic maelstrom of characters and versions of characters; the prismatic world of DC.

Comics Alliance: They call it the “prismatic age.”

GM: Yeah!

As long time Mindless readers will already know, this term originated in a couple of posts by our own Botswana Beast.  Good little virus that it is, the idea of The Prismatic Age has infected comics fans and academics alike, and if you’ve so far managed to avoid contagion, I’d recommend you do what all the cool kids were doing six years ago and expose yourself to the Bottie Beast!

Here’s a pre-amble, in which BB talks useless taxonomy in A Hall of Mirrors!

And here’s the main event, in which The Prismatic Age is… well, if not born, then at least recognised for what it was!

A tasty wee taster, just to get you started:

The ideology of the Prismatic Age, what it insistently moves toward, is that all parts are active, all of the time. While not necessarily visible monthly, nor are they hidden or overwritten – this was the notion of Hypertime, never fully realised but approached in the much-loathed-for-rule-breaking Kingdom. Summary of all incarnations, a distillate. This is partly what I find so terribly aggravating about the PopMatters piece that set me on this path many moons ago, apart from its attempts to cloak in inscrutable terminology a daft enthusiasm for two largely consequenceless and really quite markedly shit event-books from last year, is the lack of understanding of either superheroes or, really, the postmodernism it touts. Postmodernism is largely about (oh-ho-ho, I am going to tell you what postmodernism is “largely about” on a comics blog,) textually, shifting loci on a subject, a lack of definitiveness in portrayals and readings – to read Civil War(!!) as somehow having achieved a permanent destabilisation of the superhero archetype because it wasn’t about a binary black & white bone of contention?! No: that ship had long since sailed, it was a pirate ship in a comic read by an African-American child beside a fire hydrant, and the sole difference was that it was big duopoly franchise comic events that were dealing, ham-fistedly of course, with the supposed issues: none of which were terribly worldly, one of which was sort of, if you squinted, slightly topical. Boring, kneejerk Dark Age scions, really – Civil War literally ordains the Keene Act, for Rao’s sake! The spirit of this age seems to me throughout to have been essentially one of recapitulation and of remixing, in this case 2006 remixed 1986 badly – but this is also how you end up with Batmite as a Jungian portent of impending demise.

Check back tomorrow from more Multiversity pre-amble, because apparently I quite like The Comics Internet, when I remember that it still exists!

‘Six Degrees’ (music by BadBadNotGood, guest verse by Danny Brown):

I hope Ghostface keeps making music with live bands, because this collaboration with hip-hop/punk/jazz trio BadBadNotGood is like a signpost pointing to a better record yet to come, one where he’s allowed to follow his cracked muse down whatever back alleys it might take him, with a band fit to follow in hot pursuit.

Last year’s Twelve Reasons to Die album was lush as hell itself, and it had an unshakeable fatalistic logic with which to lead you there – when the album finishes and rolls straight into its instrumental mix, it feels like the natural conclusion to this story of ridiculous bloodshed, like a walk around the movie set except that it’s empty and you suspect someone’s had to bury a lot of bodies to get it that way.

Still, as glorious as Adrian Younge’s orchestration is, the overarching conceit – as a expanded in creaky, 90s style in the tie-in comic!- constrains Ghost’s talent as much as it showcases it. After all, this is a man whose best albums demonstrate that crack rap can sell any detail (Fishscale) and find a way to make any words work for its hustle (Supreme Clientele), and whose penchant for off-key singing can never quite obscure the ragged, soulful quality of his voice (as best displayed in the sudden mood shifts of The Pretty Toney Album). The catalogue of brutality Ghostface and his Wu-brethren provide on 12RTD isn’t without interest – lines like “Blow out your lungs/See you’ve been smoking for years” are crude and vivid and funny, and the fact that the gang war is prompted by the structural racism of the mob gives the story an edge it doesn’t quite make use of – but Mr GFK only really comes alive on the sweet-then-sour love songs in the middle of the album.

On ‘Centre of Attraction’ and ‘Enemies All Around Me’, Ghost’s voice cracks as internal conflict enters his world for the first time on this album – external conflict being something of a non-issue for a super-competent gang boss who can overcome death in order to take revenge on his enemies. These songs see Ghost’s character (Tony Starks, natch) wading through both his own deep reserves of sexism (“Bitches is sneaky, triflin’, and not to be trusted”) and the waves of suspicion that are coming towards him from his crew while trying to keep faith that his girl isn’t just setting him up for a fall. In typical Ghostface style, he is able to convince himself of this only by way of conjuring up a visual that’s as striking as it is unprompted: “That’s my lady, she would never backstab or double cross me/Standing butt naked in the storm, sipping the frosty.”

Of course, this script being predetermined, it turns out that his sexist instincts were correct

Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell – ‘Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m.’

Back at the end of April the Guardian ran an experiment to see what would happen if real writers were involved with comics, and the results were pretty much what you’d expect, ranging as they did from the mediocre (Dave “David” Eggers’ ponderous buffalo comic) to the merely gorgeous (Frazer Irving’s whatever the hell it was that Frazer Irving drew) by way of the profoundly functional (Dave Gibbons and Gillian Flynn’s clockwork deconstruction of vigilantism).

As a showcase for a variety of semi-respectable comics art styles it was a success, but as a pop culture moment it lacked a sense of novelty or excitement.

The exception was Thursdays, Six to Eight pm, a modern romance comic with a faint hint of the gothic to it.  A man and woman are in love and they get married, but she can’t stop worrying about why he wants two hours to himself every Thursday night.  For his part, he keeps quiet about the details, so Ellen does what we all do unless we’re sinister enough to work for the NSA already: she calls in some spies.

The result of a long-distance collaboration between Audrey Niffinegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) and Eddie Campbell (all the best comics), this strip stood out from the others by virtue of the fact that both of the involved parties contributed to the art. Well, according to the contents page Dave “Dave” Eggers was “collaborating with himself” but this does no damage to my argument: the lines on Eggers’ pages were the work of only one artist, while the Campbell/Niffenegger strip bears the mark of two “primary” artists.

According to Niffeneger’s write-up, she drew the Charles – the guy doing the proposal in the above panel – and the two spies his wife hires to investigate him, while Campbell drew Ellen, the suspicious wife and protagonist on the right hand side of the same frame.

Even though Campbell apparently modified Niffenegger’s line work to make it look of a piece with his own, my eyes mostly confirms that these characters are not made out of the same materials.  This plays into a classic romantic conceit, suggesting as it does that while these two characters may share their lives with each other they’ll always be fundamentally distant.  Charles’ thin, defiantly two-dimensional features provide an impermeable barrier between the contents of his mind and the blown out, fuzzy world he lives in with Ellen – being an Eddie Campbell character, she is made out of the same fuzz and clutter as everything else.

The fact that Campbell was also responsible for the lettering and page layouts will be immediately obvious to anyone who is familiar with his autobiographical comics.

This comment from Niffenegger struck me so forcefully that it left me with a mental scar I’d now swear I was born with:

Eddie always begins with the lettering, so there was an early stage of panels and lettering but no images, which I found intriguing. He letters by hand, and already the pages looked like a true Eddie Campbell comic.

More than any other comics artist I can think of, Campbell makes a casual mockery of the idea that the manner in which comics combine words and pictures needs to be policed to maintain the purity of the form.  While works such as Bacchus and From Hell shows that Campbell is perfectly comfortable telling a story visually, in a comic like Alec - how to be an artist the continuity of the narrative can be found in the prose, with the visuals reacting to and reiterating the words in exactly the way we’re told they shouldn’t.

More modern comics magic after the cut.

The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki, 2013

Before we start, a warning: this is probably not a fun night at the movies for your eight-year-old, unless said child is prematurely obsessed with flat-head screws. I mention this not out of a new-found commitment to providing consumer advice but because my friend Adam was frustrated by the apparent inability of movie reviewers to clarify this matter for him.

Studio Ghibili’s long standing trust in the ability of children to stay interested in quiet moments and make sense of the senseless is admirable, but The Wind Rises seems to have been made in a different spirit from, say, Howl’s Moving Castle (which combined frantic scene-shifting with portraits of stark devastation to great effect) or Princess Mononoke (which grew slowly, steadily monstrous in front of the patient viewer).

This film is realised with the lush, painterly attention to detail that characterises Hayao Miyazaki’s other movies, but this is definitely a film of and about our world. Its magic is not of the kind likely to intrigue a child into attentiveness: its wonders are the result of late night meetings as much as they are the product of dreams, and even its most hard won miracles taste of ashes.

The most jarring note in this regard is the use of human voices to simulate the sounds made by everything from earthquakes to passing planes…

Zadie Smith – The Autograph Man

For someone with my particular literary damage, reading this novel for the first time in 2014 was a lot like having the arguments of 2001 all over again.  If literary critic James Wood’s attack on what he deemed “hysterical realism” has a fitting target it is this over-eager, initially likeable but ultimately tiresome second novel from Smith.

The story of “twenty-something Chinese-Jewish autograph dealer” Alex-Li Tandem’s frantic, free-wheeling attempts to lose himself in the search for his pop culture obsession, The Autograph Man spends its four hundred plus pages tilting after a curiously overdetermined sort of oblivion.  To mangle a Samuel Johnston quote most boys of my age know by way of popular wise guy Hunter S. Thompson, Tandem acts in the belief that he who becomes his hobbies spares himself the pain of being a man.  The novel follows suit, hence the ever-egressing framework of Kabbalistic associations, Zen progressions, verbal tics (“the popular” and ”wise guy” chief among them), Rabbinical comedy routines and generally excessive detail.  All of this by way of keeping Tandem from dealing with the world’s tendency towards impermanence and disorder: these events take place in the build-up to the tenth anniversary of his fathers’ death, and in the aftermath of a destructive trip that seems like it might cost Tandem most of his established relationships, and also his car.

The overlapping structures of this novel are all fine and sturdy, and have elsewhere proven themselves more than capable of supporting, variously: an Oscar Wilde aphorism, an essay by Walter Benjamin (“wise guy” and recipient of the novel’s worst punchline), the occult adventure comic Promethea, and an excellent graphic novel by Eddie Campbell.  There’s nothing to say that they couldn’t provide the framework for an excellent Zadie Smith novel too, but the difference between The Autograph Man and all of the aforementioned works is that Smith’s imaginative scaffolding seems to exist around very little that was worth supporting in the first place.

Click here to read more nothing for longer!