November 23rd, 2008


Not done these in a while. Where to start?

Every time I even consider doing a review column, it’s there – it apparates, like unto an apparition. Or rather… a Ghost (Rider - apologias. Dios mio). Since the last installation of my biennial comic reviewing, Ghost Rider has changed artists from the not-final-article Rolando Boschi to evil-Ryan-Sook Tan Eng Huat (a change, on balance, I’m personally very happy about; Huat’s terrific, even if his flaming skulls look a little… odd) and basically gone full-on Prismatic which is – I suppose it’s gratifying? Once you see every other superbook do the Anatomy Lesson and plunge into legacied crossreferentialism, once the pattern no longer seems nascent; it’s a bit like seeing the magician’s glove. There’s a – I think – Japanese and Chinese pair, Molek and Bai Gu Jing, at the end of this month’s ish. It’s the ‘International Club of Heroes’ prismodel. I quite dig how offhandedly the ‘other guys just like you!‘ bit was handled last(?) month – Johnny Blaze finds himself in Tibet, whuoop, there’s a Tibetan Ghost Rider. That guy is totally dead; not a production. Move on, fight your thematic nemesis and also brother who killed him. Have some brotherly talk, some rivalry, almost mundane, counterpointing your explosive Manichaean duel for the soul of Heaven itself! Even the archivist, the new Caretaker gets the nouveau spin – where once the articles of Ghost Riderdom lay in a (fucking pretty weird) museum, tended by her father, now they live on, transmuted, in her head. You wonder if they’re doing it, if the culture of property writerdom is doing this shit subconsciously or otherwise sometimes. You wonder if it’d be better or worse either way.

ghostrider29Such a monolithically stupid property to give the storied treatment to, Ghost Rider. But then, in public and pop culture cognisance, probably a stone winner vs. Green Lantern or whatever. Aquaman. Which is why Marvel will always win these duopoly face-offs, if anyone cares, because their opposition’s third-tier is characters like Booster Gold. No-one knows, no-one will ever, ever care. Ghost Rider is – I’m always worried that I’m prone to justify, to vaunt these things, but contextually – it’s an enjoyable comic, it’s pretty much what I want and suddenly seems at the forefront of the new Metal revolution in the superbooks (‘metal’ is everyone’s codifier about now: Thor is metal obviously, Final Crisis is metal, I dunno couple other things.) I don’t really know what the significance is, having listened to metal almost exclusively from 1991-95 and since wended a path almost entirely away. Is there anything good now? I find it very hard to deal with, as middle-age barrels terrifyingly onto the horizon – should Mastodon be whacked on the headphones whilst reading Final Crisis? Is there a marked improvement as a result?

I remember around that time, the early nineties: no-one ever seems to want to confirm this for sure, but I’m sure I remember – it may only have been misperceived through the dark glass of the onset of puberty – a time when basically Ghost Rider, the Punisher and Lobo were like the three biggest characters in comics. No? Maybe? Metal is stupid, symbolically-confused (as an exemplar, in said time-frame, I designed for art class a Faith No More album cover that comprised various elements of their other covers, Pushead and general morbidity – it was a half-human, half-flaming skull with one eye, the skull eye, the socket covered by an Israeli flag. I have no idea what this means) and evolutionarily dead-ended. But also at best terrific and exhilarating, perhaps even occasionally redemptive.

Oh God, yeah: that’s the other thing, more reviewers – critics, whatevs rather than the author in this case have been ascribing the growing contempo-Metalll(!!) revoluSHUN to, is Fantastic Four. Occasionally with quantifiers like ‘speed’ or ‘thrash’. And then saying how inappropriate it is. For the Fantastic Four, which it probably is, maybe – or would be if I acceded to such descriptors. It has however, as yet, not featured Doctor Doom wearing dead lover’s skin-armour, which is some Slayer or Celtic Frost worthy shit. Mark Waid, eh? Problems!! I haven’t read Unthinkable so would haste not to criticise beyond “Really?! Wow.” – I hate that, outside of comics, when people always have to weigh the fuck in on something they haven’t even seen or heard. I’m willing to bet, unverifiably, that the vast majority of complainants, each of whom deserves a thorough facepunching, in the recent, neverending Ross/Brand/Sachs nontroversy haven’t and so will be pursuing zero tolerance the next time someone in this darkened corner of our culture starts with the concern trolling. Which is to say, leaving disapproving comments on blogs or something equally radical. Not much of which has to do with this month’s, quarter’s, copy of Fantastic Four magazine! (I like the redesign, fwiw.)

ff561Because, frankly, I’m not overpleased to talk about it – I have honestly, and it may be a shared Scottish, Calvinistic culture thing with Millar, found his FF hitherto now relatively sedate and gentle, compared to either his own, concurrent (1985 excepted) and earlier works or indeed that of Mark ‘Silence of the Lambs‘ Waid on this legendary title, which – of all major Marvel properties – I’ve never been very much enamoured of. Okay, there’s a charred corpse with Doc Doom looming over it at the end of this issue but the victim was really old. The prior seven issues have been really pretty decent, pushing modest, uncontroversial agendas like environmentalism in the faintly retarded Mark Millar fashion, plenty beautifully described action – Millar’s absolute, possibly solitary remaining real, strong point – not violence, no, not anymore than your Kirbys or Byrnes, just The Thing getting punted through buildings and The Torch through vehicles. Bloodless. Attractive living spaces, reappropriated plots: just a pleasant enjoyable Marvel comic, really. But then this installment rather sucks the air out of the unambitious vista by just. being. so. predictable. And self-affirming; no, not ‘self’ – company, corporate. The character stable. The sole genuinely surprising element in this comic is a twist that begs only to be sworn at.

It’s a consistent irritant with Millar that he seems to feel the need to sell readers the thing they’ve already bought, to tell them what a good time they’re having, how cool this all is – look, I really like the Marvel Universe, okay? It’s – I also don’t care for amateur psychologising on writers, but – it seems a marker of a fairly crippling lack of self-assurance. Professionally, anyway; affix the burgeoning infantilism Millar displays regularly and there’s an unfortunate bundle of neuroses… Look, just go and read Tom Crippen’s Portrait of the Writer as a Young Marvel Fan. It’s phenomenal writing… God, it’s really depressing.

punwarj025As is Punisher War Journal, ultimately. I think this is the last issue? I shan’t be checking for more. There were moments, certainly, in the title’s run – the funeral of the Stilt-Man, the Cory Walker illustrated first part of the (son of) Kraven saga, the pain of the Gibbon… the Rhino was a fairly welcome comic foil, but beyond that, you’re really talking a book that batted .16 (I know Matt Fraction is a baseball fan and have created this analogy specifically to hurt him). I think that isn’t good batting, but baseball is like quicker cricket and basically the most mystifying – in its popularity – of popular sports therefore. This book was in fact insufficiently metal over the piece, despite at one point having a sword-shooting gun, I feel.

The problem – well, it’s maybe illustrated by the highpoints, which were all around interesting, clever and often amusing takes on the (primarily) Spidey supervillains – was there never really was a handle on the lead. My dark secret is, I don’t even know why, after buying every Ennis MK Punisher book, I dropped the MAX series after one arc and then later, upon realising the sheer heinousness of this error picked up in trades – it was basically an impossible task to change the res on the character, even though it was attempted with specificity, pulling the white gloves back on, the supersuit. Ennis made the character work by putting him in scenarios where his m.o. did indeed seem like the sanest thing available – Fraction’s position was, I think, paraphrasing, that Frank Castle was ‘like a cancer, ruining everything he touched’; a not-startling insight and making for a tonally, complete with six artists drawing 25 issues and three event tie-ins, messy, incomplete entity.

uncanny504c1But, lo! Not all is lost for superbooks most frustrating and yet also mercurial talent, Matt Fraction because he has taken apparently – without warning! – the reins to Uncanny X-Men into his sole possession. I think? I would have liked to be told. What about the fans, Joe? It is almost as if they, the corporation, do not care beyond receiving cash-money. Anyway, it looks as though Rich Johnston did not lie when he said this would happen – there was the impression both Fraction and Brubaker would be cocredited, and Fraction would take charge of the Greg Land issues and Bru the Terry Dodson ones. Perhaps it was the other way round and when #507 rolls around with a Brubaker credit, I’ll look very silly indeed if anyone even remembers me writing what I write now. These are the things we need to know! This is basically a terrific issue – I’ll go so far as to say, without having read every intervening single on this series, without even a modicum of compunction, that it’s the best issue of Uncanny X-Men in over twenty years. Faint praise indeed! Just a dense, staggeringly well-paced comic – some cool new guy a bit like Fantomex appears, Colossus is sad, Emma is looking at Scott’s sexdrive in his head again, some new devices, bit naughty, people still hate mutants, all 200 of them, ‘zat the fucking Soul-Skinner??!! None of which feels cramped, all of which is allowed to breathe – I’m still not overkeen on the art duo, who are absolutely what X-fans (ironically, given the content and theme of the comics, the most shallow of comic franchise fans) want, but both have given a fair to actually-good impression of themselves. Why is the inside of Scott Summers’ head like a 1920s art deco hotel?! Staffed by busty X-women? It is because he is cool and refined externally, but the ravening awful beast of his sexdrive lies just under the surface. I am like him in all ways.

27 Responses to “Reviewniverse”

  1. David Uzumeri Says:

    Aaron’s Ghost Rider has been a pleasure, at least until this latest issue, which had that “decompressed series of impressive splash pages” feel I first remember really encountering hunched over scanlations of Toriyama’s later Dragonball chapters at age, like, fourteen. The dialogue was I guess as good as dialogue can get when it’s two dudes in biker outfits with flaming heads throwing each other through mountains, but at the end of the day that’s all the majority of the issue was. For the first time, ever, I felt like I’d read an issue of Aaron’s Ghost Rider and it went by too quickly and didn’t have enough substance. And this made me Very Sad.

    With regards to music and Final Crisis, I’m sure I’m totally alone here but so far the entire fucked-up saga has oddly matched the latest Mars Volta album (Bedlam at Goliath), especially the track “Agadez” – the crushing feeling of impending doom, the quick cuts and tonal shifts, that bizarre niggling feeling that Something Grand is occurring just five nanoseconds past your wall of perception.

    And I think Millar’s FF works precisely *because* it’s so predictable – it’s a relief to see a comic awash in Big Splashes and Grand Images actually contain a sensical plot structure. Mark Millar has kind of turned himself into a Jeph Loeb with story sense and logical character progression, and I’m willing to sacrifice unpredictability for time machines powered by a jobbed Galactus.

    And Mark Waid’s “Unthinkable” is my favorite Dr. Doom story of all time, including the flesh armor. I’m sorry, but it is indeed metal as all hell, and it completely fucking rules.

  2. Noah Berlatsky Says:

    Hey Mindless Ones. I would love, love, love to take credit for that essay you link to, which is indeed amazingly written — but it’s not by me. It’s by Tom Crippen, who’s recently started co-blogging with me over at the Hooded U. It first ran in The Comics Journal, where he has a regular column, the Post-Human Review.

  3. Duncan Says:

    Erk! I forget there are two Hooded Utilitarians – sorry Noah, sorry Tom, will change.

  4. James Says:

    They did explicitly say the first Land-drawn arc would be Fraction’s, and they’d alternate from there. So maybe Brubaker’s gone? I sort of hope so – I’ve not read an X-story by him I’ve enjoyed. But if anyone could go, I’d pick Land. I find the Dodsons charming-if-not-brilliant, but they’re certainly an improvement on the last arc.

  5. amypoodle Says:

    That image you used up top is way cool, Dunc. Where’s it from? I want one. But bigger.

  6. Zom Says:

    I didn’t know all these comics were supposed to be metal. I read the last FC while listening to some menacing electro-pop, which did the trick, but, I gather, simply isn’t in the spirit of things…

  7. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Yeah, these guys – maybe not Aaron, but certainly Morrison, certainly Fraction and I’m sure a couple others have specifically said that [Final Crisis/Thor trilogy/etc.] is true metal. I like to envision FC as a radioactive isotope of one form or other. Uranium-237.

    It’s a bit… I’ve kind of lost track, and obviously don’t define myself to anything like the same extent through music – but it seemed kinda culturally out-of-step (maybe precursory?) because there aren’t really any titans of that particular grand art bestriding the world atm (yes, there is a new Metallica album out/due but no-one gives a shit for them since ‘…Some Kind of Monster’) and I really don’t know of any breakthrough acts – save the above-linked, to some extent, Mastodon – in aaages. Maybe I’m out-of-step, I only listen to angry hip-hop.

    The image, amy, I thought I had set as a link – I have now; it’s always tempting to use the www as yr giant clip-art gallery but I felt the guy who did the pic deserved whatever kudos we can give ‘im. So, you know, check it out, everyone.

    David – I agree that GR this month was pretty slight; I’ve felt a couple of the issues so far have been a little bit insubstantial.

    Can’t get next to TMV, unfortunately, and I did like At the Drive-In quite a bit; they do seem appropriately baroque tho’; maybe I’ll try some ‘Lateralus’ on the mp3 sometime as accompaniment.

    I’m not critiquing, as I say, Waid’s much-loved run on FF as I haven’t an opinion – it’s just the disparity between the respective fan-perceptions he and Millar enjoy seem ironically at odds with the comparative content of their respective runs on the title. There is probably something Loebesque, it struck me, about the latter’s work here – it only occurred this month; ‘Loebesque’ is a term that can really only be used as a pejorate.

  8. David Uzumeri Says:

    Tool’s probably an equally good choice. WRT the Waid/Millar thing, that’s actually a really good point, I hadn’t considered it that way; however, the rest of Waid’s run was all fairly lighthearted and upbeat, while Millar’s run is kind of the most upbeat thing he’s written since… has he ever written anything this upbeat?? Trouble, maybe? No, that was pretty depressing at the end…

    (Yeah, I kind of enjoy Trouble in a mega-trashy way, what of it????)

  9. Gunderic Mollusk Says:

    I’m usually prone more toward 1970s Beard Rock for Ghost Rider; stuff like the Guess Who and CCR, especially some of the Screamin’ Jay covers. If we learned anything from Metalocalypse, it’s that the Blues is just as brutal as Cannibal Corpse, if it wants to be.

    But whatever.

  10. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I think that’s probably more the Jason Aaron vibe, prolly a bit Southern, yeah, Gunderic Mollusk (awesome name!) – nonetheless, if the atrocious Iron Maiden tell us one thing, it is that skullheaded men atop motorcycles are ineffably metal.

    Millar’s upbeat works include: (by reputation) Superman Adventures and definitely the 12-issue run on The Flash, which was cocredited to Morrison for the first nine. I think on the latter the arc ‘The Human Race’ is the best, most humanitarian, thing he’s had his name on but I’m reluctant to ascribe overmuch of that to his fair hand – the thing with most GM/MM collabs was, with the exception of the legendary Big Dave, you just basically ended up with a subpar GM comic (e.g. Aztek). I haven’t read Trouble.

  11. Zom Says:

    I like that Blues can be super-brutal! Not that I’ve heard Metalocalypse, you understand, but it’s the principle of the thing.

    Re the popularity of Metal, surely the genre is at its height right now in terms of people who are willing to give it the time of day. The nineties, in the UK at least, were totally dominated by Dance Music in its many varied and beautiful forms to the extent that it seemed difficult to imagine Metal ever making a come-back. Things have changed rather a lot on that score, I’d say.

    Dunc, that’s a fun reframing of Millar and Waid’s output.

  12. David Uzumeri Says:

    Oh man, Trouble is an adventure. Mark Millar, Terry Dodson, six issues of raunchy summer-off sex comedy that culminates in Aunt May giving birth to Peter Parker. I did not make that up, I could not make that up if I tried. And every single cover will make you look like a pedophile for reading it on the subway, they all look like rejected Lolita book covers.

    I really need to reread that run on Flash, it’s been forever.

    And as for Ghost Rider, yeah, I definitely get a deep-fried southern vibe from it – if there was some band out there that combined String Cheese Incident, Metallica and Lynyrd Skynyrd, that’d be the soundtrack to Aaron’s Ghost Rider.

  13. Zom Says:

    Wow, Trouble goes straight onto the special list… I mean, that’s just amazing in so many special, special ways

  14. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Yes, it looks as if it might be a night in with the bitTorrent culture-as-convenience device, me and Mark, cosy together by the fireside.

    My memory of the 1990s is a little different, Zom; there were cultural currents set as oppositional, Ravers vs Moshers, in my high school – one revolving around the (frankly insane) Tartan techno, ReZerection sound and the other polarising about, well, let’s say Nirvana and Pantera. Metal was really hot (with the aid of Grunge doubtless) in terms of breakthrough acts around then and gained cultural capital some time after, in the very late 90s, early 00s off the back of some generally abysmal second, third gen types like Papa Roach, Korn and them. Offspring. It was hard to avoid the blackclad hordes that I had only recently outgrown then; I hated them for their groupiness, their sense of expansive belonging, sitting on the lawn in the sun when we few had paved the way like brave frontiersmen only 3-4 years hence… the wee ungrateful bastards. It’s all since really dissolved into what they call ‘emo’, but I will always call ‘Goths’ – My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco, The Killers – and I don’t, as I say, know so much about metal now, but it seems almost a dead mode, like skiffle or ska.

  15. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    if there was some band out there that combined String Cheese Incident, Metallica and Lynyrd Skynyrd

    I believe that band is called Pride & Glory.

  16. Zom Says:

    No, I think you’re right, I’d excluded grunge, and with grunge in the frame things are most def diff.

    That said, the cultural reach of dance music grew and became mighty during the nineties – metal was more of a (quite large) minority sport amongst the kiddies, at least down ‘ere.

  17. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I agree, and it sounds fairly similar with… there’s like a year or two slippage between you and I – as I say, metal broke big in the very late 1990s, ’99-’00, horrible Limp Bizkit, not during my pubescence with which it will remain innately associated but it was – along with the grunge revolution – acts like Sepultura, Pantera, I think Metallica’s insane-selling Black Album was 1991, that laid the groundwork for those (corporately co-opted) cultural currents to do that.

    I don’t really know much about dance music from that period, there’s probably still some inchoate feeling of oppositionalism… this is the post-Acid House kind era, I guess? A Guy Called Gerald? The acts were so faceless, to me – the popular dance music of my teenage enemies (better skin, nicer clothes, knew more girls) was like the happy hardcore stuff: pretty brutal, impressively inane. I grew out of powerchords and took my spinks at the club like anyone else in the early ’00s but even then I didn’t know much about what I was listening to, though I liked it. I am culturally impoverished thus – listening to metal, as a teen, it’s always the end of the world, that’s an important element, I do think it is helpful in the sense of freeing oneself from the burden of Taste’s tyranny so that you can, you know, read trashy comics heading into yr thirties later. Have a great time.

  18. Zom Says:

    It took me years to leave behind the tyranny of popularism, but, by crikey, comicbooks and rpgs helped me get there

  19. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Rage Against the Machine, too! They were massive, that first album.

    I only RPG’d single-figure times, but I did spend a lot of time contemplating Warhammer 40,000 armies. That shit was Metal – Games Workshop even had their own music label for a while, featuring delights such as Bolt Thrower, named after the Goblin heavy catapult, iirc.

  20. Zom Says:

    I remember that business.

    I was having a bit of an identity crisis round then. On the one hand I wanted to think of myself as a raver/party person and acted accordingly, on the other I was regularly sneaking round to my mate’s house to play GURPs and WFRP, and, yeah, I too spent a great deal of time thinking about fantasy armies and twiddling with Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd Edition army lists.

  21. Christian Otholm Says:

    I’m not a big fan of either, but My Chemical Romance isn’t even slightly goth. It’s a Queen ripoff dressed in black makeup.

    And Fraction’s Thor is fucking metal. I mean, come on, he named one of the issue Rain of Blood. And he named it after this fucking YouTube video:

    If you don’t see the fun in that, you have no soul.

  22. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Tbh, if you wear kohl and sing rock songs about death I’m pretty much certain you are a Goth – ‘snot that broad a definition.

    But, yeah, thanks for the reminder there on the Thor thing, Christian – the one coming out next week, which I’ll hopefully review, is called Thor: Man of War which is a fairly obvious nod that I’d missed to the Gods of True Metal, Manowar. I see the fun, do not worry.

  23. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    So I read Trouble.

    It’s quite good, actually; I guess this is what they call a romance comic? It’s a bit like Happy Days or something – I have no real frame of reference for 50′s,60′s,70′s teen Americana. That film with those guys. It actually made me think for a moment that Millar had something approaching ‘range’; he does and has things like ‘characterisation’, ‘plotting’ and ‘heart’ in the comic, unusually.

    As for the salacious secret Spidey origin… I’m kind of broadly in favour of it for several reasons. i) Why do no superheroes, except maybe a couple of the New Warriors or X-Force or something have mums and dads? Everyone I know has at least one ii) teenagers can get themselves in *sigh* ‘trouble’. Mums and dads were also teenagers once. iii) it is guaranteed to infuriate interfans, which is almost never a mistake. iv) it’s an interesting, non-judgmental sexual origin. I’m quite tempted to do a Silent 73 on this, honestly; there’s a rubbish little sop on the second last page that’d have continuity-heads mopping their fevered little continuity-brows, but the character used has since been Rez’d anyway and it’s really easy to flub. I am putting it in-continuity as you read, though I fear it will not be enough to exonerate the double-M’s latter execrable run on Spider-Man with the Dodsons (who do some bang-up bubblegum on the subject, I think I may also have to reassess them.)

  24. Thrilltone Says:

    I don’t really see Ghost Rider as being metal, blues, or southern rock (though I can see how all might apply). After seeing the Ghost Rider film last year (was it last year?), his defining moment will always be the scene where he and Sam Elliot ride across the desert at night, trailing flames, to a soundtrack of spaghetti western crossed with Edinburgh tourist shop music. If Jason Aaron can channel even some of that scene, then I may have to pick up the trade paperback.

    And jings, speaking of prismatic action, anyone remember purple spiky GR substitute, Vengeance? I think it’s near time someone released a team book starring him, Thunderstrike, War Machine, and US Agent. Or is that basically the sort of thing all those post-Civil War team books covered?

  25. Zom Says:

    That would be some dirty, dirty b-list action. I would expect (and hope for) extreme violence and many, many explosions

  26. Thrilltone Says:

    Oh, completely. Ideally, it’d be sort of like an early-90s image comic, only not completely awful (sort of like I was hoping Grant Morrison’s Wildcats would turn out, though it actually never turned out to be anything).

    I’d buy it. I wouldn’t let anyone know, though. Not any real people, at any rate.

    Thunderstrike is pretty much the Nickleback to Thor’s Saxon. Though a comic which tried to be like Nickleback would probably just be the Darick Robertson/Greg Rucka Wolverine.

  27. Zom Says:

    Yes, like Morrison’s Wildcats that never was. Yup

    In the early zeroes, when Bobsy, TBMD and I used to work together, Bobsy would spend some of his comics Thursday pocket money on back issues of Youngblood. It was an amazing time.

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