Still fired up from February’s discussion of what’s worth watching on American TV, Mindless twinset Mark (Amypoodle) and Adam (Adam) have written an Experts Guide to HBO’s ‘True Detective’ and weird comic book fiction for Comic Alliance.

There’s a lot of great stuff about Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti in that post – if you’ve read any of Mark or Adam‘s stuff before, you’ll know what to expect, and if not you’re going to enjoy finding out!

One of the jokes that the other Mindless Ones have about me is that while I often complain about not having written enough, I’m ridiculously productive (I write two or three books a year, on average). They only make this joke because unlike me, they don’t know Phil Sandifer.

Phil recently released TARDIS Eruditorum vol 4, the fourth volume of his look at every Doctor Who TV story (and many of the books and audios), A Golden Thread, a critical history of Wonder Woman, Last War In Albion Chapter Four, the latest in a series of short ebooks charting the parallel careers of Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, and Flood, a book in the 33 ⅓ series, in which he and co-author S. Alexander Reed look at the classic They Might Be Giants album.

And by recently, I mean in the last two months. He might have released something else since I made that list — I haven’t looked since lunchtime.

Much, though not all, of his work is serialised on www.philipsandifer.com (where I’ll be doing a guest post next week on Final Crisis, incidentally) and readers of Mindless Ones will, I’m sure, find it worth checking out.

Read the interview

If the first volume of Batman Incorporated exploded out of the gloom and propelled the character back towards life, then the second iteration of this latest re-branding was a far different proposition.

Every stage of Morrison’s Batman has followed a similar trajectory, starting off light-hearted and energetic before eventually plunging right back into the overarching mega-plot, and with it, the grand absence that unifies the whole run:

In the previous two iterations this has entailed an increase of complexity, either in the form of the deconstructionist absurdity of Batman RIP or in the twinned conclusions to Batman and Robin and The Return of Bruce Wayne.   Batman Incorporated 2.0 represents a different approach.  This final flourish of Batman comics represents the ultimate reduction of all that had come before, with the stresses of the plot compressing these twelve issues down to the barest element as it plays out to its logical conclusion: a man in a cape punching people in the face forever.

Click here to explore the limits of… THE INK!

Yeah, I know, I thought I was done thinking about this comic too but I took some time out from the Black Bug Room to do a big Action Comics re-read yesterday while my girlfriend was off seeing some movie where James Franco and Sam Raimi turn fine wine into goat piss, and… well, I ended up sending my fellow Mindless an email about they experience, which they’ve bullied me into sharing with you.

I’m not trying to be dramatic here, but in a week where the main topics of conversation in Mindless HQ were largely focussed on Mad Men, male members and the interaction of the two, the sudden focus on reaching out to you lot made me feel a little bit like this:

Have you been on the internet?  There are all these people there, and it’s hard to work out what all of them want, and some of them might not enjoy Gary Lactus’ “Hamm on the bone” jokes as much as I do (seriously though, is Jon Hamm’s penis the exciting new character find of 2013 or what?).

Anyway, enough of that pish, let’s talk about the man who’s…

———————>>>>> FASTER! THAN A SPEEDING BULLET!!!!———————>>>>>

  • The much-anticipated socialist/Bruce Springsteen Superman still fails to fully materialise on a second reading, but this botched manifestation seems weirdly charming this time round.  The appeal and the failure of this approach are both linked to the fact that this isn’t familiar territory for writer Grant Morrison – as any round of interview questions will quickly reveal, our G-Mo doesn’t have the interest in tackling current affairs required to really make a story about idealistic young things sing, but he’s definitely cocking his head in the right direction here.  Taken at face value the idea of “Clark Kent: Blogger” is dull dull dull, but positioning Kent as a Laurie Penny style crossover journalist makes a lot of sense to me.  The appeal of Superman has always been partly bound up in the a romance of modernity, with our ongoing attempts to manage the impossible scale of things, and so it follows that it’s worth updating the idea that he’s a newspaper man, rather than merely preserving it, eh Grant?
  • While Morrison might not quite have nose for a story that his core trio of young journalists share, his efforts aren’t helped by the fact that Rags Morales’ characters can’t act for shit. G-Mo has to take part of the blame for the fact that the interplay between Clark/Jimmy/Lois remains merely promising throughout, but knowing how Morrison tends to rise to his collaborators, I can’t help but feel that he would have given his cast better material if they’d demanded it while they were looking up at him from the pages of the comic itself.

——————->>>>> STRONGER THAN A LOCOMOTIVE!!!!!———————>>>>>

  • Morrison and Morales’ other big shared failing is in their coordination of the action scenes throughout the first three quarters of this run. Again, they’re both gunning in the right direction, working hard to emphasise the physical exertion involved in these impossible acts while also plowing right through several moral fundamentals (as the Bottie Beast pointed out way back when, it’s a bit like “okay, so here’s how power effects justice, and here’s why torture is always wrong, and here’s a working definition of realpolitik for you” at the start there), but all of this would feel more vital if there were believable physical bodies and environments involved.  Morales’ line has a certain rugged dynamism to it, but there’s no solidity to his characters and situations – it’s almost as though the world he’s depicting is melted down and reformed between every panel.  Weirdly, this same plasticity works in favour of the climactic arc, in which punches are thrown across dimensions, and headbutts crash right into the face of spacetime.
  • Similar problems haunt the Igor Kordey drawn issues of the New X-Men story ‘Imperial’ and the Philip Tan drawn arc of Batman & Robin, which suggests that Morrison is not inclined to worry about spacial relations in action scenes unless prompted to by his collaborators.  It’s easy to blame the artist for these faults but it seems fair to suggest that Morrison should probably work on this aspect of the collaborative process in order to avoid such disappointing results in the future.

————>>>>> ABLE TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND!!!!———->>>>>

  • The conclusion to the Braniac plot is the lowest point in the series: honestly, I winked at it above, but can anyone manage enthusiasm for the Saving vs. Collecting theme here?  Yeah, I thought not.  A more committed curmudgeon than Our Grant could have probably made something out of the way the internet allows you to mistake passive curation for participation, but these issues don’t even get that far down dead granddad avenue, so.
  • Lois Lane really gets short-changed in this comic as elsewhere; Mozzer writes a mean Lois, but for whatever reason he tends to write around her most of the time rather than putting her at the centre of the story, where she obviously wants to be.

—————–>>>>> A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF DC COMICS!!!!—————->>>>>

  • The Beast Must Die’s (second hand?) point about how Morrison has managed to smuggle a lot of the rich weirdness of Superman history back into the camera-blur addled, modern blockbuster world of the New52 is well taken. The fact that Morrison only managed to successfully integrate these queasy fantasy textures to his ALL ACTION ALL THE TIME approach in the last arc is an obvious storytelling fault, but as a no doubt soon to be ignored bit of structural work it’s not half bad: the goofy future kids and extradimensional kids are here, and they’ve adapted to the challenges of their new, frantic landscape well.
  • In a neat inversion of All Star Superman’s pacifist logic, Superman brawls his way through these stories, solving problems with sheer brute force and tenacity until the final arc. This linear approach to problem solving is obviously apropos and it also makes explicit the idea of Superman as a fantasy of impossible force made real. The not-entirely-resolved thematic throughline of Morrison’s run involves matching Superman’s power up against the power of the mob (peep just how often large groups of people intervene in the conflicts in this series), and linking both of those things with the power of journalism, i.e. with the way that narrative power can be converted into ACTUAL POWER.  The suggestion seems to be that wielding the impossible force of “Superman” against the prevailing forces of the world is possible, but requires the contribution of EVERY LAST ONE OF OUR LOYAL READERS, hence the fact that the last story can only be resolved with audience participation.
  • Of course, as I said, none of this is quite (explicitly) resolved in the comic itself, and even when Morrison uses all of his daintiest framing devices in the last arc, it’s not quite enough to disguise the fact that this is 4D flower is blooming in the toxic graveyard world of corporate comics. Issue #18 of this comic hit like a car through the front counter of a book shop, but despite the best efforts of lE laK, nosirroM tnarG, selaroM sgaR and the rest, I never found myself mistaking Action for an argument…

*and Batwomen, obviously!

As anyone unlucky enough to follow me on twitter will know by now, I was at Dundee Comics Day yesterday with Botswanna Beast, Mister Attack, Ben Deep Space Transmissions and Ben Deep Space Transmissions’ mate (who was lovely, but whose name I never managed to remember for >>> 5 minutes because I am a cock) yesterday.

Comics journalist Laura Sneddon was working at the event too, so Team Mindless had a brief but enjoyable chat with her about The Singing Kettle, which… uh, probably isn’t something you know about outside of Scotland, I guess. I also apparently ignored at least one person I’m twitter friends with, so sorry Dan!

Anyway, Dundee Comics Day has been a fixture of the town’s Literary Festival since 2007, and this year’s event was focused on Grant Morrison and some of his collaborators.  What this meant was that me and the boyce were treated to a solid day’s worth of comics chat, in a setting that was designed to force Mister Attack and myself and especially the Bottie Beast flashbacks back to our time in higher education.

The conversation with Grant Morrison that kicked off the day was entertaining if short on revelation.  There wee a few routines in there that anyone who’s heard Morrison speak more than once in the past decade will probably have heard before (“more space combat!” etc), but the man’s still good company whether he’s discussing why Batman is the only character he keeps coming back to (“because he’s so sexy”) or making my teenage brain melt by mentioning that he’s met with the RZA re: the proposed movie adaptation of Happy!  Of course he would have gained extra points if he’d announced this by saying “Me and the RZA connect”, but so it goes.

During the Q&A part of the event, I asked whether Morrison was interested in writing something set closer to home – if not GRANT MORRISON: THE SCOTTISH CONNECTION, then maybe something close.   Morrison responded by saying that he’d like to write something set in Glasgow, which he reckons would be a good setting for a horror story.  He pointed to Bible John as being the work of his that comes closest to fulfilling this promise, but noted that he  probably won’t get around to doing something else set in his hometown until he’s in his dotage.  Morrison also added that he’d love to play a computer game set in Glasgow so he could drive a car through Princes Square, to which I can only say “I Want To Go To There!”

There was a definite break between Morrison’s panel and everything that followed, and the line between the two parts of the day was exposed when Morrison was asked a question abut the future of comics.  Morrison joked that he’s still hoping that the world is going end in December so there won’t have to be a future of comics, before describing how he reckons that the sort of comics that thrive on the variety of new platforms available to them will almost certainly have evolved to make use of the new dimensions available to them.  This idea was presented enthusiastically, but there was a subtext of melancholy that makes perfect sense when you think about how closely entwined Morrison’s personal iconography is with the physical properties of the comics form:

 

Click here to read more about the event that experts are calling Morrison Con for people who didn’t finish their computing degrees!

Okay so I’m four issues late to say it, but it’s still worth noting that somehow, in the middle of a run of spectacularly unspectacular comics, THIS happened:

THIS being, for what it’s worth, the 2012 superhero comic most acutely tuned in to the concerns of its moment. Oh, sure, there are a  few other enjoyable superhero comics out there right – Hawkeye, Batman Incorporated, uh… Journey Into Mystery, if that counts? [1] -  but none of them feel like an inescapable product of their moment in the way that Action Comics #9 does. [2]

You might well ask yourself how worthwhile this is, and if you told me that you preferred the focus on individual action beats that you get with Matt Fraction and David Aja’s work on Hawkeye…

…then I’d have to concede that you might well have a point.  What’s particularly interesting here is that the other twelve issues of Morrison’s Action Comics run can be seen as a generally unsuccessful attempt to transition Morrison’s recent  hall-of-mirrors scripting style into something more rhythmic and less meaning-intensive [3]. Something a bit more like what Fraction and Aja’s are attempting in Hawkeye, in other words, only done less well, almost a year earlier.

ART PARAGRAPH: UNFORTUNATELY, A LACK OF TRUE ARTISTIC SYNTHESIS HAS ENSURED THAT THIS PARTICULAR MACHINE (ACTION! COMICS!) HAS RARELY LOOKED LIKE IT WAS READY FOR  THE COMICS MARKETPLACE. THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE WAS DRAWN BY GENE HA, WHO PREVIOUSLY GRACED THE SERIES WITH GUEST ART FOR AN APOCALYPTIC SCENE SET ON KRYPTON IN ISSUE #3. HIS RIGID, RETRO-FUTURISTIC ARTWORK MAKES FOR A PURPOSEFUL CONTRAST TO THE RUGGED MALLEABILITY OF REGULAR ARTIST RAGS MORALES’ LINE, AND WHILE HIS DEPICTION OF SUPERMAN LACKS THE EASYGOING GRACE OF FRANK QUITELY’S VERSION, THE RELATIVE STRENGTH AND CLARITY OF HIS HAND IS STILL VERY MUCH APPRECIATED HERE.

As flagged by the inclusion of the Obama-riffic Superman from Final Crisis, issue #9 of Action Comics is an unashamed example of Morrison’s recent obsession with viewing the whole universe through the lens of superheroic fiction, a throwback to an era that’s not quite ended.

Click here for more about Superman, Siegel and Shuster, drones, Obama and all that!

Or Flex Mentallo: A Moonrock Murder Mystery!!!!

Okay, as you [may or may not] know, Flex Mentallo is a very good comic by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, a four issue Dennis Potter style drama in which a young man who [may or may not] have taken an overdose of paracetamol looks back at this life through the lens of superhero comics.

As you [may or may not] know, Flex Mentallo hadn’t been reprinted until now because of various preposterous legal issues.

Now it’s finally been reprinted in a very handsome hardcover package, you [may or may not] be aware that it’s been the victim of a strange recolouring job, the sort of recolouring that transforms Flex Mentallo’s greatest foe The Mentallium Man from a Jolly Rancher nightmare…

…into the grayest daydream you never had:

Now, I’ll throw a couple of kind words in the direction new colourist Peter Doherty in a minute, but it has to be said that anyone who thinks that a character called the Mentallium Man, who is an exaggerated parody of an old-fashioned comic book villain, needs to look all clean and boring like that is just plain wrong.

Actually, thinking about it, I’d go so far as to say that anyone who prefers this new incarnation of the character needs blasted with all five types of Flex’s own Kryptonite-derivative “Mentallium” at once:

Sadly we never find out what the fifth type of Mentalium, “Lamb and Turkey”, does to The Hero of the Beach, but I think we can take a guess and that our guesses will all be equally delicious.

Tasty tasy dogshit, mmmm!

Um….

For some reason, probably because I found the Chief Man of Bats issue so meh and the following one bloody awful, and because I was in the Isle of Man, I didn’t pick up this, ahem, *special* (way to throw a cover together, DC art Dept!) when it came out a couple of weeks back, but I’m pleased I have now because this book’s back on track in a big way. We all moan about the Big Two, but DC aren’t stupid enough to completely overhaul one of their most popular titles, and, as with Snyder’s book, now that we know Batman Inc will stay pretty much on point after the reboot, I’m prepared to invest myself again.

Now that I know I won’t get hu….

DIDN’T THIS HAPPEN LAST TIME?

For some reason, probably because I found the Chief Man of Bats issue so meh and the following one bloody awful, and because I was in the Isle of Man, I didn’t pick up this, ahem, *special* (way to throw a cover together, DC art dept!) when it came out a couple of weeks back, but I’m pleased I have now because this book’s back on track in a big way. We all moan about the Big Two, but DC aren’t stupid enough to completely overhaul one of their most popular titles, and, as with Snyder’s book, now that we know Batman Inc will stay pretty much on point after the reboot, I’m prepared to invest myself again.

Now that I know I won’t get hurt.

Sniff.

As was somewhat unsurprising, the second part of this story really divided fans. You know my take on this by now. There are problems with Grant’s writing, sure. I know all about them. I’ve been reading him since Zenith. But they have nothing to do with the writer being on bad drugs. If people want a more traditional take, they can read Snyder. If they want a more colourful one that’s not afraid to push the boat out, then Morrison’s the man for them. If you belong to the former group, you should know now that what you’re about to read is going to take it for granted that experimentation in comic books should be the norm rather than the exception. There certainly won’t be any time wasted on justifying such an approach.

So: annocommentations annocommence!

If you don’t know who Marc Singer is then you’ve been doing something wrong. An academic by trade and one of the most rigorous and interesting critical voices to come out of the comics blogosphere, Marc’s writing is often mentioned in the same breath as Joe McCulloch’s (Jog) and Douglas Wolk’s, and has long been a Mindless touchstone.

To the dismay of many Marc took a step back from his blog, I Am NOT the Beast Master, a couple of years ago, but during that time re-focussed his energies into a book length critical overview of Grant Morrison’s work. We’re happy to say that we got an early look at the finished product, Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics, and that it’s honestly the best sustained piece of writing on Morrison’s work that you’re likely to find anywhere for some time to come. It’ll be published by University Press of Mississippi in paper back and hardback on the 6th of December just in time for your Christmas stocking.

In the meantime, as a little teaser, here’s Marc being interrogated on the subject of his book by the Faceless Mindless Collective. Don’t pity him too much: He can control animals ‘n’ shit.

Click here to read the rest of this face scorching entry, and to find out who ends up in the Shark Tank!