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.

I’m going to become quite unpopular among my friends, I suspect, when I say that I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy very much at all.
I didn’t *hate* it — it had an excellent cast, the effects work was as good as you’d expect, and there were a few good lines of dialogue (I was the only one in the cinema who laughed at the John Stamos line, as the only people who know about him in Britain are Beach Boys fans — and indeed there has just been a massive amount of drama about Stamos among Beach Boys fandom, which made me laugh a little harder than I otherwise would). Sometimes it’s a bit too knowing about the pop culture tropes it makes fun of (this is definitely a post-TV Tropes script), but it occasionally does interesting things (there’s one neat little twist when a very, very, obvious third act reveal straight from Screenwriting 101 *doesn’t* turn out to be true).
It also actually had some scenes with colours that aren’t orange or bluish-grey — not many, but a few. This is increasingly rare in the cinema these days, and is to be applauded. I’m sure I even saw a glimpse of yellow at one point.

But one of the reasons Marvel’s films have been so successful is that they have been *superhero* films. This one isn’t

Jupiter’s Legacy #1-3, by Marky “Mark” Millar, Frank Quitely and Pete Doherty

Forgive me for the somewhat less than timely review, but fuck me – three issues in this is still a startlingly uninteresting book, from pig (Millar) to lipstick (Quitely) and beyond (???).

It should go without saying that this response is merely a product of the reaction between the lines on the page and those etched into my long-suffering brain, but that in no way makes this a good or even halfway entertaining comic.  So while it’s true that both Millar and Quitely have thwarted all expectations here by failing to irritate and innovate respectively, the only real problem experience poses for Jupiter’s Chegacy is that a lifetime of reading and watching stories will train you to spot a tired duffer like this miles off.

Familiarity itself isn’t the issue here, per se: the old power/responsibility theme could easily survive yet another regeneration, and there’s no reason why a story about the famous children of rich superheroes couldn’t be made timely and interesting. It’s the old world vs. the new, the people who made the world vs. those who have to limit in it, and surely that’s an easy sell in this post moneygeddon landscape?   The problem, at least so far as this cynical critic is concerned, is more that no one involved in this comic seems particularly interested in how they’re saying anything:

Page after page of dialogue mounts up to little effect, with passionate arguments sitting on the page like undeveloped notes from the plot breakdown, lacking either the vanity of realism or the courage of true artifice.  This is a comic full of gestures, which would be forgivable if we were dealing with the mangled mitts and marvelous manifestations of Ditko-era Doctor Strange. Instead, Jupiter’s Children nods absently towards a half-busy suburban street in the daylight, hoping that you’ll find something interesting there and mistake dumb luck for careful planning.

In the spirit of increased generosity, I won’t pretend that there’s no value to be found in this book…

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…

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 Review

March 29th, 2012

PREPARING REACTIONS TO THE NEWLY REDESIGNED DARKSEID DOT DOT DOT

Darkseid Is… An inaction figure/A “21st Century big bad”/A redesign of a redesign of a real design/A quaint plastic monster farting out an unclean sun.

Darkseid Is… Straining for relevance/A big Depeche Mode fan/Dangerously indebted to the robust sartorial choices of a certain Lex Luthor.

Darkseid Is… A dullard’s idea of raw spectacle/Actually quite ripped underneath that hard shell/Pretending to be a pint man now, probably.

Darkseid Is… Representative of nothing/Reflective of nothing/Currently unable to smuggle meaning under his dainty little skirt.

Darkseid Is… Singing the Arkham City blues/A capitalist realist’s dream/Safe now for renewed consumption.

Darkseid Is… Honestly, pretty fucking dull in this incarnation.

Botswana Beast: [post-factum editorial note: these were written intermittently on a GoogleDoc, in sections post- the release of Marvel's 2011 event Fear Itself, I think after issues 4, 6 and 7  were released unto the buying public.]

Right, son, I’mo get my fit-to-print pants on:

Where to start, oh, man; I guess you bought Fear Itself, I was surprised you did because you are a grown-up who buys [LOL interjection] grown-up comics, and you bought it because of how I described it to you at Kapow!? (How much punctuations should I put there? Feels like I should put more) Which was – I dunno – it was in April, so I guess just after the first issue? And I described it as “Final Crisis set in the Marvel Universe” which is… it’s not inaccurate, but, basically the lesson is never, ever listen to me.

Because it’s been – and I know some folk don’t think it inarguable that Final Crisis was a good comic, let alone a great one (I think “you are probably wrong” to these people, not necessarily on a permanent basis, just on that matter) – but it’s been a disaster, really, and at this point I kind of wish I’d sold you, or more importantly, myself, on “Age of Apocalypse set in the DC Universe” aka Flashpoint which has been… I don’t know, not good exactly? Momentous? They both have nice art, that is all I’m going to say on art. That is the Art Statement. Mainstream comics are not about art, they’re about commerce. The artists on Fear Itself and Flashpoint really did a good job – but it was the Marvel eds and Johns that built these.

It’s been so bad – whilst also offering glimmers of something that could have been really good, Marvel is my district, really, it always has been in comics, but it’s been so bad that I can feel my Zombie embers burn out as it progresses; I’ve fiended Marvel for a decade, which, whatever, bloggers don’t tend to do (“I’m not you, blogger. I’m not you.”) possibly because they are largely at some level involved in an industry which the company can and has run jackbooted over as it please. And I’m not: you’ll get purely sideline sniping here. So, yeah, I looked at September’s offerings from them and, assuming Mark Waid performs the first-time feat of maintaining my interest in a comic he’s writing past three issues, the art on these is really nice, I’ll get Daredevil, I’ll probably fork out £3.25 for DPMAX2, I’ll definitely get the Elektra:Assassin trade at some indeterminate point and that’s it. (It is necessary to discuss Marvel comics in transactional terms, always). Now, there may be other aspects at play here, I may have taken Alan Moore and his former friend Steve Bissette’s rejoinders to heart, it may be that I am envious of Matt Fraction*, it may be that, given I have a second imminent baby, probably [EDIT: yes] arrived by the time this sees printernet, I’ve decided to rationalise cutting back in all these ways, who knows what my Crowleyan Will hath wrought? But anyway, Fear Itself is coincident with my final days as a Marvel “fan”, it transpires. It’s complicated, I guess; but anyway, anyone who sez: Kirboycotters are all people who weren’t reading Marvel anyway – no, I am yr counterexample. But, you know, do what you like.

By do what you like I mean CLICK HERE to read the rest of this epic in the making!

The Communist Bullpen

August 16th, 2011

So, it kind of started like this between he and me, yr ever-lovin’ Botswana Beast, the O-rriginal Eyeball, and there’s more but I’m fuctifano how to get all these trackbacks on the twtr, so look for yourselves, if you really want. Joel (that’s his tumblr) is a pwopa Marxist on the speed-dial and who knows; maybe he can diagnose and cure comics’ endemic corporate thievery better than a ragtag bunch of libertarians? My inclination’s to think this eminently likely.

Dare you look ahent the curtain, at a world inverted?! Come then, brave traveller, beneath the cut!!

That’s what I wanted to call Andrew Hickey’s new Seven Soldiers reader, The Miser’s Coat, but he’d only gawn an’ bleedin’ had another idea for the title of his own work first, so. An Incomprehensible Condition should be available from finer internet shops by the time you read this; and he’s only gawn an’ bleedin’ joined the Mindless Ones for his pop-culture critic hat, we’re over the bloody moon to have him, so this interview serves a twofold purpose: to promote and discuss the book and to welcome him to our plated bosom.

Read the rest of this entry »

We’ll stop at nothing, you see. All the suffering and the death and the pain in your world is entertainment for us. Why does blood and torture and anguish still excite us?

We thought that by making your world more violent we would make it more “realistic,” more “adult.” God help us if that’s what it means.

Maybe, for once, we could try to be kind.
(Grant Morrison, Animal Man #26)

TALES FROM THE MILLARDROME, PART 1: Having spent a fair bit of time ripping the pish out of Marky “Mark” Millar while writing up my Kapow! experience, and having then heckled my way through a twitter argument about Mark Millar’s collaborations with Frank Quitely on The Authority, I felt an odd sense of duty to reread Millar’s breakthrough comic, to see if it still worked.

And you know what? Turns out Millar’s first story, ‘The Nativity’, is still really fucking good:

Find out why after the cut!!!