Flashback to… The Ultimates!

October 22nd, 2015

What I like best in art – and I like loads of stuff, I like jokes that I can’t help but laugh at, I like being able to just fucking marvel at someone doing something that seems impossible, I like that moment when something that didn’t seem like it could possibly come together does, and so on – is being put into difficulty.  Not in terms of being faced with something that’s hard to watch/read/look at/listen to necessarily, more in that I like it when I’m made to confront something that I can’t easily resolve or ignore or explain away.

The Millar/Hitch Ultimates doesn’t look like the most promising territory for this sort of experience, and for the most part that’s true. It’s probably the last Mark Millar comic I was able to enjoy without vomiting up qualifiers, and it definitely represents the last point where Bryan Hitch’s artwork looked good to my eyes, but if I like it at all then I like it in a fairly breezy way.  I laugh at the crude bits, I follow the fight scenes, I enjoy the brash, bratty character beats, and all of this is good.

The point of difficulty, for me, the point where I find myself getting really tangled up in the book, involves a cameo by the man who was President of the United States of America at the time the story was published:


Five links full of thoughts the lovely, horrible stuff, on a day where you’re almost certainly worrying about how much of it you’ve got and how much life it might be able to buy you (if you’re like me, this is true literally every day of the week):
  1. What the fuck is money? Who makes it? It’s the government, yeah? Or maybe the banks. This episode of the Kraken podcast makes for a cheerful introduction to this topic, and if you’re left wishing that they got a bit more into the question of what they’d do for money, well, there’s a whole big world of people wanking for coins out there for you to concern yourself with.
  2. If you’d plashing up to the deep end, the New Economics Foundation have put together a report on the prospects for an independent Scotland creating its own digital currency, the “ScoutPound”.  The NEF argue that if £250 worth of it were issued to every Scottish citizen, it would boost the spending power of the poorest and boost business.  Critics in the comments argue that the administration of this would be more difficult than presented and/or that it’s all just an New World Order plot, but then again these criticisms are generally applied to almost anything that’s “proposed” on the internet these days, so…
  3. If you need to wash the taste of BitCoin out of your mouth after reading that, here’s a post on Basic Income (also known as giving people enough money to ensure that they won’t die of poverty) that takes issue with some of its technolibertarian supporters, and another that casts a sceptical eye on some of cryptocurrency driven Basic income proposals. I’m a big advocate of Basic Income as an idea, so it’s good to read critiques like this – shout outs to Charlie Stross for the links!
  4. Bringing it back down to Earth for a minute, here’s a news article on the Govanhill pound, a local currency that has been created by a community artist at the Govanhill Baths, just round the corner from my old house.  The exchange rate for the Govanhill Pound is variable, with the suggestion being that it amounts to “a hundredth of a person’s weekly income”.  If you were going to make a joke about artists needing to print their own money don’t bother unless you’re going to wince when you say it.
  5. Finally, in case you were wondering where all the comics chat went, here’s a link to my post on Eddie Campbell’s book about money, the title of which I stole earlier in the post. Every other comics critic I’ve discussed The Lovely Horrible Stuff with has told me that they think it’s good, but slight – I reckon they’ve just not realised that it’s a dapper bit of bunting that’s been hung around a gaping, cyclopean abyss…

The Failure of The Filth

July 2nd, 2015

The five people who are eagerly awaiting my book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s pestilent fantasy The Filth will note that the book has still not been released yet.


That I have failed to finish this project in time for the release of the hardcover edition of The Filth will surprise no one who has retained interest in the project for this long. The fact that said hardcover contains just the bare minimum of fresh material  – a script for issue #6, some sketches that make the book even more difficult to read on the bus, the reheated contents of the charmingly crap Crack Comicks website – will also fail surprise anyone with a basic understanding of both comics and capitalism.

Good little enemy of the entertainment complex that I am, I paid to consume The Filth for the third time anyway. The hardback edition simulates the glossy colouring of the single issues rather than the battered bog roll of the trade paperback. It offers the reader a sense of solidity, of lasting luxury, that the previous editions lacked.

The Filth is a disgusting, slippery mess of a book. As Terrance Moreua said in the comments to one of my preview posts:

The visual grammar of The Filth is all over the place. The discontinuity being part of the point, of course. There are times when it seems to be Morrison’s script callouts (the tv cameras) and times when it seems to be Weston (background texture effects, etc) and times where it’s really fucking hard to tell (the goddamn photoshop transform tool effect to signify getting squeezed into the crack, or getting your personality fucked with in psychedelisex)…

Essentially, I find The Filth to be textually rich, garishly colored, expressively acted, disgustingly rendered and more. But comparatively poorly composed. I think there are too many components fighting for interplay. And while that’s part of the larger point, I think a little less noise and little more signal would have heightened the contrast between the two much better.

Another way to say all of that would be to say that The Filth is comics.


Beast Wagon #1, by Owen Michael Johnson, John Pearson, Colin Bell, and Gavin James-Weir (Changeling Studios, 2015)

I have no idea what this comic is. I cannot it read it. It renders reading impossible. What is that smell? No, that’s too kind a word for it. Stench is too florid, too learned. This comic doesn’t smell, it hums. Is it glue? My mind tells me that it must be, glue or something like it, some aspect of the binding.

It’s not the staples though, staples could never smell like this. It’s the glue. That’s what my brain tells me, but there’s another reaction, a deeper one. Probably just a different function of the brain. Definitely that. And yet it also feels like it’s a function of the body. I know, I know, all parts of the same system, but it’s like hearing a lion scream at you in the zoo: you know there are physical and social constraints preventing the brute from eviscerating you but part of you is still howling to run!

It’s only a comic, just a mess of words and pictures on the page, just paper and ink. Ink doesn’t smell like this, does it?  Probably not even if you use it wrong. No, I can’t read it, I want to get rid of it, I need to get it out of my house, need to wash the smell of it off me.

I think this comic is planning to kill me.


Ghost World: Song #1

June 5th, 2015

A few thoughts on Dan Clowes’ Ghost World, as previously presented as part of this extended discussion of what that comic is and how we should read it:

I’m going to side step this fascinating discussion of formalism/post-structuralism/intentionality because otherwise I’ll either get so bogged down in it that I don’t find time to talk about Ghost World or I’ll say something stupid about being a “post-structuralist intentionalist” or spam the world with idiotic diagrams I’ve just thrown together on Paint or whatever…

Let’s talk about a grubbier aspect of what we’re talking about when we talk about Ghost World, namely the packaging, how it’s been sold and re-sold, whether it’s got a picture of Thora Birch on the cover (I don’t think any such edition exists, but maybe I’m wrong). The stuff you’re not supposed to judge it by, basically, despite the fact that this but into all that good “literary” stuff about intention, reception, and interpretation in a tangible way.

After all, the sort of intentions and expectations you read a comic with will be different if you read it as one strip amongst many in Clowes’ Eightball than they are if you read it as a graphic novel, or as the source material for a movie that left you slightly unsatisfied but curious enough to read more.

It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that all of the critiques of the comic that were raised during the London Graphic Novel Network’s examination of the series relate to its failure as an extended narrative, but that does seem to be a recurring theme, and I think that’s pretty fair. There are notes of epiphanic ambiguity that seem to be aspiring towards the status of the literary short story, just as there were in various other Clowes strips from that era, but these are too rote and underdeveloped to hold much appeal in themselves.

The pleasures of the strip, for me, are more in line with the pleasures of more traditional comics…

Fight Club 2 #1, by Cameron Stewart and Chuck Palahniuk (Dark Horse, 2015)

Dear Mister Attack,

You will be unsurprised to hear that WOLF EMOTIONS was giving the new Fight Club comic the hard sell in the shop the other day. Apparently Cameron Stewart is coming in for a signing, in theory he’s only going to sign copies of Fight Club 2 but I’m sure we could get him to stretch to some Batman underpants if we ask nicely.

Probably best to take them off and wash them before we make the request, mind.

Anyway, the comic itself is pretty much as you’d expect given who’s involved. If the book worked like a generational confession that was just novelistic enough to cast doubt on its own world view, and if the movie existed in a more open sort of conflict with itself due to the fact that it couldn’t help but try to sell you Brad Pitts by the box-load, then this represents the final triumph of Fight Club as product.

It’s a sequel so that might seem like a statement of the obvious, but just like Buzzfeed and Vice are made more evil by the fact that they publish some genuinely worthwhile stuff, the fact that this is an actual comic – worse, that it threatens to turn into a genuine collaboration – just makes it worse and more obvious. I could feel Eddie Campbell getting eggy over my shoulder while I read it, the pair of us getting increasingly fucked off with the surface level tricks, the scattered pills and petals that obscure faces and dialogue throughout.

You could even argue that the comic acknowledges its readership, gives them a twisted identification figure in the form of Marla, so horny for the destructive thrills of the source material – because this does not feel so much like a continuation as it does part of an extended universe, like Kieron Gillen writing what Darth Vader did on his holidays – that she doesn’t give a shit what feeding that monster brings,  GamerGate: The Musical, Before Fight Club, the immolation of her own flesh and blood, whatever.

It’s still all very cleverly done, of course, but even that calls back to one of the movie’s more resonant exchanges:

How’s that working out for you… being clever?

As part of the London Graphic Novel Network’s roundtable on All Star Superman, Ilia put forward the following suggestions about the book’s ultimate meaning:

My sense is that there’s a religion to science move in the final issue – Lois believes that one day Superman will return, while Leo Quintum goes off to try and solve the problems of the universe on his own. Maybe Quintum isn’t just Luthor (first time I’ve seen that theory and like it a lot!), but the Superman of the future. That is to say: the representation of our collective 21st century aspirations.

The Quintum/Luthor angle has been played to death round my way, but the idea that the last issue represents a move from the religious to the scientific is genuinely intriguing. For me, the question is how we square that with Lex Luthor’s pantomime performance of smug, materialist arrogance, as captured perfectly by Marc Singer here:

The second half of the series highlights Superman’s capacity to inspire people, even (especially) as a purely fictional character.  It’s the only power he has in our benighted world, and Morrison believes it’s the most important one he’s got.  In fact, he says that if Superman did not exist, we would have to invent him (simply returning a favor, since Superman thoughtfully created us back in issue #10, March 2008; mark your calendars).  That’s why the finale pits him against an antagonist who disputes the very idea that fictions and abstractions can hold real power, as seen in this exchange from issue #12:

WHITE:  The truth sent you to the chair, Luthor!

LUTHOR:  Is that right, Mister White?  Funny, I don’t see the truth anywhere around, do you?  I mean, what color is it?  Can I touch it?

Luthor mocks White’s dedication to abstract principle, confronting him with the truth’s immateriality, because he’s a materialist to the extreme.  He says the priest at his execution “stinks of the irrational” and his niece proclaims “This is Science Year Zero!”–next I suppose they’ll be rewriting the calendar.  This scorn for idealism confirms Luthor’s stature as the series archvillain, especially since a hallucinatory Jor-El (himself part of “the field of living, fluid consciousness”) has just told his son he has given us humans ”an ideal to aspire to, embodied [our] highest aspirations.

Thankfully, I think Ilia has already suggested the answer to this question by noting that Quintum is both Superman and Luthor – a figure capable of aspiring to ideals and in working in the world to attain them.

As sneering, Kryptonian hard cases Lila and Bar-El note in issue #9, Superman is a scientist’s son, a curator of wonders who thinks his way around a problem as often as he smashes his way through it, leaving his many stand-ins (be they brawny, like Hercules and Sampson, or brainy like Lex) in the dust.  Hell, for all his self-aggrandisement, Luthor spectacularly fails to see what’s right in front of his face when he gives Clark Kent a tour through his prison, and it’s hard to imagine his nemesis making the same mistake.

What to make, then, of Quintum as a replacement Superman?

What’s his purpose?

What does he have that Superman doesn’t?

A few thoughts about working for Marvel/DC, as stolen from a Canadian friend who was trying to add a bit of clarity to my rant about Chip Zdarsky’s inability to say the name of Howard the Duck‘s “original creator”:

(1) In corporate comic, everyone is a scab because there is no union.

(2) In corporate comics, no one can be a scab because there is no union.

(3) Join the union.

What to make, then, of Grant Morrison’s dedication to superheroes, his attempts to imbue them with some sort of positivist power of their own, to try and find transcendent meaning in a series of commercially dictated genre tropes and characters that were sacrificed to them? When presented straight, in Supergods, this stuff feels as silly and desperate as it is, like an attempt to put a fresh golden frame around a thrice-stolen turd in the hope of selling it on eBay again. But in All Star Superman? Not so much. The sales pitch here is a lot more successful.

I’m was being dumb and scatological there, for sure, but the emphasis on framing is appropriate. This is Grant Morrison’s most carefully crafted book, the one he says that he “wrote for the ages”:

It’s the one that comic fans really like. They like that, you know, that architecture… It’s literary, it’s not like a live performance. Like, you read The Invisibles a hundred times and it’s different a hundred times. If you read All Star Superman a hundred times you just understand it more.

In other words, as I think he’s said elsewhere, it’s his Alan Moore comic: twelve issues, immaculately constructed as a hall of mirrors instead of Watchmen’s inkblot test, with Superman wrestling with other versions himself issue after issue as he works hard to deal with the aftermath of his own murder.


Multiversity Guidebook #1, by Grant Morrison, Marcus To, Paulo Siqueira and a cast of thousands

This is where I part ways with most of my fellow Mindless: they felt the old thrill while reading the Multiversity Guidebook, with its comic book creation myth and its parade of endless (if by “endless” you mean fifty two) alternative worlds, whereas I mostly just felt exhausted.

It’s a clever mix of marketing material, series bible and actual story, and obvious as it might have been the “dark secret” at the heart of the universe with the Chibi superheroes still reinforced the series’ running theme of how shit it is to be confronted with your own fundamental nature. You could even read the list of junked pitches, elseworlds, prestige comics and parallel worlds that form the centrepiece as a critique, if you were so inclined.  As Marc Singer noted in his clipped and clear-headed review of the comic, some of these entries are quietly scathing, and someone with the right (as in “correct”? -Ed) biases could certainly read this endless parade of Batmen and Wonder Women as a critique of capitalism’s frantic grasping (“Empty is thy hand”) and ability to reduce complexity to a series of easily recognisable products.

Is that really enough though? Not for me. The “Guidebook” section of this comic reminded me most of all of Gary R. R. Lactus’ Time of Crowns (with its endless list of medieval clans, “with their tits out”) and the end credits of 22 Jump Street, but it’s neither as succinct as the former nor as merciless as the latter – in the end, it’s just business as usual.

Click here for more on the Guidebook plus Multiversity: Mastermen and James Robinson’s Earth 2!

SARAH HORROCKS – BRUISE (self-published, 2014)

From the cool blue risotone colour to the grey static hiss of the prose, Bruise is heavy on the cyberpunk stylings:

The comic itself follows up on that initial promise, coming on almost like a young William Gibson who’s got too lost in the poetry of his own thoughts to ever force them to fit a form as traditionally satisfying as a “novel”. Actually, scrap that “almost” and focus on the real novelty here, achieved through jagged collage of familiar tropes. Include the squinting cool of the front cover and the miraculous map of the back (as you must) in the run time and you’ve got one hell of a joyride here:

16 pages of bad road