February 21st, 2015
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.
January 29th, 2015
December 10th, 2014
Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison and Nathan Fairbairn – Multiversity: Pax Americana #1
It’s here that our story begins: in pieces. Many, many authors have shot at this target and missed, preferring not to recognize that in truth this is what we really know, and what we really believe, about the forces that create and shape our lives — preferring not to see that what science and philosophy describe is the branch from which our lives’ dramas depend, and not just convenient intellectual set-dressing for them.
We should remember that murder mysteries are always just local expressions, of a grander philosophical struggle — someone is killing capes, and who’s next? Well, after the scientists the answer is, we are: as the stunning profusion of interlinked symbols that fills Pax Americana’s pages ceaselessly intimates to us the unavoidability of that final, bitter realization of entropy. War, and death, and chaos…
…Or, what is perhaps worse: not chaos, at all, but order.
An implacable order, that we can’t resist. A pattern we’re trapped in, that we can’t see.
December 4th, 2014
There comes a point in every Mindless gathering where the correct amount of alcohol has finally been consumed for the conversation to turn to Final Crisis, with a special focus on the hastily squandered horror of the fifth issue. Thankfully, we’ve started to bring friends along to help identify the reason for this boozy recurrence:
Yes, that’s right – the crushing banality of the morning aftermath is rank rotten enough to haunt its own bacchanalian origins, and when it does so it wears Darkseid’s face. Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The spirit of this wretched, queasy moment inevitably seeps into the comics I buy at Thought Bubble when I try to read them on the train home. This petty, remorse-tinged meanness tried to curdle my appreciation of the Decadence comics I brought home with me last year, but it struggled to find shelter in their sparsely populated mindscapes. The darkness found a more suitable hiding place in Spandex, Martin Eden’s LGBT-friendly, Brighton based superhero strip.
Like his previous serial adventure The O-Men, Spandex mixes everyday drama and garish unreality with ease. Brother Bobsy mentioned Paul Grist as an obvious reference point when he discussed the collected Spandex on SILENCE! and there’s definitely something to that: like Jack Staff or Mud Man, Spandex is humorous without ever seeming parodic, and it manages to generate a sense of low-budget romance from its seaside drama. The debt to the X-Men is also undeniable, both in Eden’s commitment to chronicling the adventures of a group of emotionally combustible super-friends, and in his clean, brightly coloured artwork:
September 15th, 2014
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.
July 31st, 2014
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
November 27th, 2013
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.
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.
- The non-Morales broadcasts are easily the most compelling chapters this story, barring the frantic display of prowess that is the last four issues. The Ha/Kubert/Foreman episodes are still jarring, but they make retrospective sense as the first indications of 5D cuntwagon Vyndktvx’s non-chronological assault on our hero – Gene Ha’ linework has a utopian sci-fi solidity that contrasts nicely with the surrounding chaos, Andy Kubert’s work is a bit generic but its relative polish suits the slick diversion of the Krypton and Legion stories he’s given to illustrate, and Travel Foreman’s commitment to horrible things adds a nice, jagged edge to the spookily seasonal Halloween issue. The fact that these stories deviate from the core premise (promise?) of the series is both the best and most disappointing thing about them.
————>>>>> 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…