Archive for June, 2010


The Cipher 06/30/10

June 30th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Unknown Soldier 21: words by Joshua Dysart, art by Rick Veitch, cover by Dave Johnson. No preview online, near as I can tell.

The white man came to Africa with rifles and Bibles; Heard the name, started changin’ the titles.

Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier is pretty great. I wrote an appreciation of it for Comics Alliance earlier this month. It’s winding down in a surprisingly organic way, and this issue is a one-shot that looks like it’s going to work with some of the themes of the book. The solicit:

A standalone story with guest art by industry great Rick Veitch (SWAMP THING)! The AK-47 is the shining star of resistance movements, small wars and domestic crime the world over. And this is the story of a single rifle’s 30-year trek from Cold War Soviet Union to an unknown soldier deep in the African bush.

I’m on the hook, and it sounds like this is a good point for people who aren’t reading to give it a try, too. If you like it, the first trade is ten bucks. Here’s the history of the AK-47 on Wikipedia.

4thletter reads comics! Here are some pull lists for floppical format funnybooks.
David: Captain America 607, Heralds 5, Unknown Soldier 21
Esther: Action Comics 890, Green Lantern 55, The Brave and the Bold 18, Wonder Woman 600
Gavin: Green Lantern 55, Jokers Asylum II Clayface, Invincible 73, Captain America 607, Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War 2, Deadpool Team-Up 892, Doomwar 5, Marvel Zombies 4, Luke Cage 3, Secret Avengers 2

Looks like… Gavin likes everything, Esther likes villains, and I like… nothing. Ouch.

I like this post from my buddy Lauren about what she’s learned by reading print comics over the past few months.

What’re you reading, what looks good, what should I be reading, etc. Let’s do it.

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Promise you’ll be merry!

June 30th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

I think that, over the last few years, I’ve had the same emotional journey with Oliver Queen as most of his love interests did.  It added a little meta to the experience of reading.  I went from being charmed, to really enjoying the fun, to wishing he hadn’t just done that, to wondering why he kept doing that, and finally it came time to toss his ring on the floor and stride out.

I was pretty much done with the book, despite remarking to David that the funny, magical forest in the middle and Green Arrow as a direct Robin Hood metaphor was right up my alley until I saw the last page of Green Arrow #1.

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International Incidents

June 30th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

These days I don’t read too much from DC. I check out things from the Green Lantern neighborhood, the Batman neighborhood, Secret Six and I’m probably the only one mourning the loss of Magog’s solo series. What’s really keeping my attention these days is the Booster Gold section of the DC Universe in Booster Gold and Justice League: Generation Lost.

Let’s go back a second to the days of Countdown to Infinite Crisis. So much has happened since this story that I’ve almost forgotten about how I and many other DC readers had felt when it happened. The big reveal of the comic is that Maxwell Lord, former liaison of Justice League International, is not only evil, but has always been evil and the Booster/Beetle/Fire/Ice version of the Justice League was created to keep the brand from being competent. To prove he’s a jerk, he shoots and kills Ted Kord.

One of the big responses from the fans was how this idea that Max was always evil went against his behavior in Justice League International. One instance brought up is the twelfth issue where it’s revealed that Max has been blackmailed by a super computer called the Construct to betray the team, as the Construct has kept Max from succumbing to several bullet wounds. Max turns against the Construct and destroys it, allowing himself to die in the process. His body is recovered by the League in time and he’s brought to the hospital. There’s a scene between Scott Free and Oberon where they discuss what a great guy Max really is and how Martian Manhunter himself has been doing a full scan of Max’s mind to search for any sort of corruption. The last panel of the issue shows that J’onn had walked into the comatose Max’s hospital room and placed a JLI membership badge in his hands. According to one of the greatest psychics, Max is completely clean.

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Women as Victims in Comics, Movies, and Books

June 29th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

This is a difficult entry for me to word, because a supposition has been set down by feminists about why women are portrayed as victims, and I don’t disagree with it.  Not one bit.  At the same time, I have some thoughts that I hope will broaden the understanding of why women are the victims in fiction, but that I think could also be used as an excuse.  So I’m trying to make my point clear, without any confusion.

It’s pretty obvious that in fiction, especially in horror or action genre’s, women are sent in to be captured, to scream and be horrified, to look pitiful when they’re being used as a bargaining chip, and in many cases to die.  They’re the victims who wring the most drama from the situation, and they engage the audience’s sympathy more than men do when they’re put in peril.  Some people argue that this decision to endanger women shows that women are considered more valuable than men.  If a guy’s life is on the line, the audience doesn’t care as much.  That argument never worked for me.  If a female character’s most valuable when being a hung over an abyss, female characters aren’t in a good position.  The feminist argument is that women are most often put in the action genre to be prizes and plot points, and because there is something in people that thrills to see women in danger.

Like I said, I don’t disagree with that.

I think, however, that women in danger is compelling because of the way that those women can behave.  Any horror movie trailer will include the blood-curdling shrieks of women.  They’ll scream, cry, beg for their lives.  They’ll whimper when they’re afraid.  They’ll rock back and forth in shock.  They’ll go through a massive range of emotions.

And, more often than not, at the end of that horror movie, the woman will pull herself together, beat the hell out of the villain, and walk away.  (There are exceptions.  Some modern horror movies like to kill off everyone, but they suck.  They do.)

Men in horror movies, or action movies, or comics, or fiction, don’t tend to do the same.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think that actual men in danger would react every bit as emotionally as women do.  No one’s whimper-proof.  It’s just that audiences don’t accept it the same way that they do women.

A woman can be a screaming, quivering wreck and still be tough as nails a few scenes later.  If a man does the same thing, shrieking and begging and going to pieces, its rare that his character is given the same respect, even if he does overcome his weaknesses and become the hero.  Women are given the full range of human emotion.  Men are tough guy stereotypes.  It’s no wonder that women in peril are more interesting to watch.

I’ve always thought that what modern men need most is a ‘women’s movement’ of their own.  The women’s movement made it acceptable for women to not only retain the ‘feminine’ traits that they were always allowed to express, but also pick up any and all masculine traits as well.  They can grovel in the dirt *and* grind their enemies into the dust.  Men, on the other hand, have relatively circumscribed behavior.  Although they do tend to have more power, and get more respect, when they show masculine emotions, when they step away from traditionally masculine traits, they get a tidal wave of disapproval.  It’s an effective carrot and stick strategy, and unless there’s a line of defense for men who men who step outside the masculine sphere, it will continue to limit men’s behavior both in fiction and in life.

Before anyone says that the continued use of women as victims is some kind of sign of female empowerment, or of female dominance, lets remember one more time what we’re talking about.  Screaming, begging, weeping, shaking, and breaking down are signs of weakness.  There’s no question that they’re understandable, but comic books and action movies are power fantasies.  Like women being ‘valued’ as long as they’re being threatened, women having the freedom to be weak is a sign of the social order.  I remember a few years ago, Marvel published a comic in which a female hero was brutalized on camera, for the entertainment of a bunch of villains.  The woman screamed and fought ineffectually, and the film ended to general approval.  Marvel said that the comic was intended to be horrifying and to sicken the readers, not to glorify female suffering.  I believe that that was true.

I also believe that Captain America wouldn’t be in a scene like that.  Or Tony Stark.  They might be beat up on camera, but they wouldn’t be in a scene like *that*.  Screaming, begging, weeping, coming apart, being beaten down as they try to fight – this is not something male heroes do.  At least, not male heroes who will continue to be marketable.  Yes, in general women get a fuller range of expression, but it’s important to remember that they get that range of expression in order to be allowed to behave in ways that would be too degrading, humiliating, and ruinous for male characters.  Being skewered on a hook to tug the audience’s heartstrings is not a sign of social equality.  Especially not when they’re alone out there.

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Read Fewer Comics

June 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Hey, let’s talk about Rise of Arsenal some more!


Let’s do some math instead. According to my hyper-literate, arithmetically-impaired brain, comics are, at first glance, 50% writing and 50% art. In reality, the scales are probably tilted a little more toward 25% vs 75%, since you can look at a comic and see the art but not even notice the words, but ride with me here. I have a point and I’ll not let numbers stand in my way.

1. Good Writing + Good Art = Good Comic
2. Good Writing + Bad Art = Bad Comic
3. Bad Writing + Good Art = Bad Comic

This is a boiled down version of how I judge comics. Both halves of a comic have to work in concert to tell the story. If one half isn’t pulling its weight, then the other half suffers. A comic with bad art or bad writing is like watching a wonderfully cast movie with excellent dialogue, but with sound editing done by a three year old. It doesn’t work, it’s clashing and ugly, and there’s no reason to put up with it.

Bad writing can be any number of things. Same-y dialogue, lackluster plotting, crap pacing, or simply being boring all count as bad. Bad art is similarly varied. Unrealistic proportions are not bad by default–Chris Bachalo and Eiichiro Oda being two examples of people who twist and contort figures and it all looks fantastic–but when used poorly (read: looks like crap), it’s crap. Poorly designed layouts are another thing that can kill art, as well as being blatantly photo-referenced.

Good is easier. If you look at it and go, “I like this!” Congrats! You have found good writing and/or art! Embrace it and watch your enjoyment of comics increase!

Grant Morrison and Mark Millar are the all-time champions of this sort of thing. Morrison’s had his Batman scripts drawn by Philip Tan, Tony Daniel, and one particularly bad issue by Ryan Benjamin. The middle third of his run on New X-Men is frustratingly ugly, with Igor Kordey and Ethan Van Sciver turning in some subpar work. Millar’s the opposite. He’s worked with John Romita Jr, Steve McNiven, Leinil Francis Yu, Frank Quitely, and several other artists who deserved better stories.

Jeph Loeb sits in this strange middle ground between the two. He’s a solidly average writer, but his extreme lows (Ultimatum, Ultimates 3) were paired with artists like Joe Madureira or David Finch. When working with Tim Sale or Ed McGuinness, or really anyone who’s worked on Hulk with him, he delivers scripts that usually don’t get in the way of the art. You could make a case for the constant narration boxes being distracting, but Loeb does simple, crowd-pleasing books. If I had to pick between Loeb working with Ed McGuinness and Millar working with him, I’d choose Loeb every time.

I decided a while back that I’d stop settling when reading comics. No more paying money for things that make me go, “I like it, but.” No more suffering through sub-par art to get a Grant Morrison story. No more forcing myself to read a Mark Millar script just so I can see what John Romita Jr is drawing this month.

I’m a picky comics reader by choice. I could sit through Greg Land or Salvador Larroca just to keep up with what’s going on, but I don’t think that’s worth it. These are just stories. They aren’t so important that I have to know, and if I’m reading comics for fun, I’d have to be stupid to willingly put myself through something that detracts from that. I like comics more since I started reading fewer of them. Funny how that works out.

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Fourcast! 51: Spelunking

June 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-You Made Me Read This! returns!
-A cave-centric comic book podcast! Yes!
-We have some very kind words for Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground
Here is the Steve Lieber photo David incorrectly described.
-This is also a You Made Me Watch This!
-Esther made David watch a movie about women and caves. It was called The Descent.
The Descent was directed by Neil Marshall.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

Subscribe to the Fourcast! via:
Podcast Alley feed!
RSS feed via Feedburner
iTunes Store

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This Week in Panels: Week 40

June 27th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

40 isn’t a very special number, but we got a lot on the plate this time around anyway, so let’s pretend it matters. Oh, and we also get three doses of Grant Morrison. Well… only two of them count, but whatever.

Amazing Spider-Man #635
Joe Kelly and Michael Lark among others

American Vampire #4
Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King

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B is for Brains! That’s Good Enough for Us!

June 26th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

An online discussion about Spidey Super Stories led to someone making the joke about how Sesame Street and Marvel share continuity and how he’d like to see the Venom symbiote latch onto the Cookie Monster. We all had a laugh, but a guy named Carl the Shivan decided to go the extra mile. What followed is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

“GROVER! We’ll make you pay for the way you’ve humiliated us! You may have fooled others, but we know that you are the true monster at the end of this book!”

Venom Nom Nom is brought to you by the letter V.

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Jormungand 3: “To promote world peace.”

June 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I’m going to be completely honest for a minute here. My favorite genre isn’t crime. It’s “violence.” I like my violence stylish and casual. You can’t work that hard at it, unless you’re John McClane, and even he makes it look effortless. I’m talking about single bullet in the head, hard jerk, splash of blood on the sunglasses violence. We gotta kill every rat-bastard one of them violence. No-look pass violence, where the hand that holds the knife moves so quickly and smoothly it’s almost independent of the body. Fade to black, the tip of a cigarette goes bright orange, one gunshot, and that’s all she wrote violence. I’m talking about the fact that bullets cost about twenty cents a piece, so your life is much, much cheaper than you think it is.

My most recent fix for that is Keitaro Takahashi’s Jormungand. I’ve written about it before, but I think I spent a lot of time introducing it, rather than actually talking about it. Its premise is fairly simple, which is the weird part about the lengthy introduction I wrote. A child soldier who hates weapons joins an arms dealer and people die. That’s it. There’s subplots involving vain crushes and revenge and all, but that’s flavor.

The second volume ended with Jonah, the child soldier and theoretical focus of the series, going into a suicidal rage and attacking a man named Kasper, brother of his boss, Koko Hekmatyar. The first chapter of Jormungand volume 3 reveals why he hates him. Three months ago, in an unnamed country in West Asia, most likely Afghanistan, Jonah was sent to support a military unit. Present in the camp are a group of local orphans. Jonah befriends them and protects them. Halfway through that first chapter, a vile arms dealer takes two of the orphans and goes out looking for the US military ordnance that he was planning to turn into profit. When he accidentally triggers a landmine, he uses the body of Malka, a young girl, to shield himself. She dies. He doesn’t. Jonah has a very reasonable reaction.

“I can’t accept that Malka died and not that bastard. I’ll personally send him to hell.”

By the end of the chapter, every soldier in the base is dead and the the arms dealer has four new holes in his face.

Jormungand is primarily an action manga. Its primary focus is strictly on entertainment. Bullets are expended by the dozen, each member of the cast has their specialty (sniping, tech, knife fighting, alertness, a willingness to murder), there’s a hopeless romance, fanservice, goofy comedy, and a quirky/wacky character. With that said, it isn’t completely empty of meaningful content. Jormungand is about violence. It’s about the application of violence, its beauty, its ugliness, the way it twists and distorts people with its pressure. It’s about the necessity of violence.

After his… temper tantrum, Jonah becomes a bodyguard for Koko. He hates weapons, and the people who make and use them, due to the fact that his family was killed as a direct result of arms dealers prizing profit over basic human decency. Due to his situation, and his history, Jonah is sullen and withdrawn, and not at all eager to open up and soften his facade. Which, of course, means that people are eager to talk to him and they talk at him. The cast discusses weapons and violence with him a couple times in each volume. In volume two, Koko discusses the UN’s Millenium Development Goals with Jonah. She tells him that nearly two hundred countries pledged to raise twenty-two billion dollars to genuinely improve the world. She says, “But that figure was recently surpassed by the average annual amount of money spent on weapons in regional conflicts across the globe. Can you believe that? Clearly the world likes war a lot more than it likes little kids!”

She goes on to ask him who owns most of the guns in the world. Military? Police? Private militias? Terrorists? No. Civilians own sixty percent of all the guns in the world. Less than one percent are owned by radical militias. This PDF link to “Transition to Peace: Guns in Civilian Hands” suggests that her figures are accurate. Finally, Koko says, “It’s a world where it’s easier to find a gun… than to find kindness for a stranger.”

You know what I like in my action comics? Actual facts that are more depressing than anything in the world.

Violence and weapons, they’re like a genie that’s come out of its bottle. They are not going to go away. The best you can hope for is to minimize the damage. One thing that comes up again and again in Jormungand is what it takes to defend something. Koko is of the opinion that the guns, in and of themselves, hold no values. What matters is why you use them and what you believe in. Jonah is disgusted by weapons, period. They exist only to hurt and to kill. They took his family from him.

At the same time, the necessity of them drives a lot of his actions. He is in danger simply by existing, and especially due to who he associates with. He’s a bodyguard, and you can’t defend someone with pacifism. For Jonah, weapons are a necessary evil. He can’t escape them. He knows that he needs weapons to get the job done. Early in the first volume, Jonah and Koko have a one-sided conversation about killing arms dealers. “Can you really give up the gun?” Koko asks him. She answers for him, saying, “No, you can’t. You’ll never be able to walk away from weapons. You may hate them more than anyone… but you know better than most how powerful you are with a weapon in your hand.” Simply put: you can’t bring a knife to a gun fight, and every fight is a gun fight.

Lehm, the old thrill-seeking mercenary of the group, emphasizes the importance of a cool head. He tells Jonah that the violence they engage in is just business and that they do not get into feuds. Control is what separates the men from the boys. One kind of violence destroys both sides. With control, only one side goes down. When another man describes a gunfight as “symphony,” Lehm tells him that he’s wrong. A gunfight is “a farting contest. Something awful, ugly, messy, and most of all, shameful!” Lehm thinks that a gunfight should make you apologize, and, after killing a young woman, he does exactly that to a teammate. It was necessary to kill her to protect someone’s life, but Lehm regrets it regardless.

Valmet, the eyepatch-wearing knife-wielder, prizes efficiency and emotion over all else. She believes in doing just enough, and doing it for a good reason. She has a cartoonish crush on Koko, the kind that’s obvious to everyone but Koko, but it also means that she’s fiercely loyal. While she has a certain amount of flair, since this is an action comic after all, she’s very straightforward. No flourish, no tricks, just doing what needs to be done.

Mildo, a member of a rival group, considers Valmet the big man on campus and wants to make her rep by beating her. She provides a nice contrast to Valmet. She fights because, after a while, all of the violence and death makes you empty on the inside. You take up a gun to protect your family or fight for your country, but after a while, all of that just becomes a rationalization. Mildo does it because she wants to be the best.

I find Jormungand so interesting because there are all of these questions and motivations swirling around. Every character, including Jonah, acknowledges the fact that, at a certain point, violence is a necessary evil. Jonah knows that he can’t get justice without weapons. Koko has used her position as an arms dealer to gain a greater appreciation of the way the world works. Lehm is a mercenary because it’s exciting, but he knows how to control the more unpleasant aspects of it.

I don’t know if this is making any sense. I have this theory that the stuff people describe as mindless entertainment, or popcorn movies, or whatever–none of that is worthwhile. It’s the entertainment equivalent of treading water or ten cent ramen noodles. It’ll kill some time, and you won’t come out of it angry or anything, but it won’t make an impression, either. The stuff that people remember and talk about and genuinely enjoy tends to have something beyond lasers and cool fights. It’s got to have something for you to latch on to. Jormungand is an action comic with something to say. There’s a lot of action and several exciting gun battles, but between all of that are the conversations and arguments that give context to all of the violence. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too.

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Birds of Prey #2: When it’s just . . . . Enough.

June 24th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Anyone who has read this site knows I’m no fan of character death.  I thought, though, that the right circumstances could make me ignore one plot element that I didn’t like.  I was wrong.

I’m a ridiculous fangirl for the writer of this series.  I adore the characters.  I’m psyched about the book.  I’m intrigued by the story.  This is as ideal a situation as it gets.

In issue #2 a character dies, and the heroes are distraught over that character’s death.  I’ve re-written this tiny post several times because I don’t want this reaction to seem flip.  The minute I saw that, I stopped wanting the book.  I didn’t decide that I wasn’t going to buy it, or that I was going to make some kind of statement by not buying it.  I just didn’t want it anymore.

The thing is, I went online and found several hints that this death is not what it seems.  I still don’t want the book.  I really don’t care about the circumstances of character death anymore.  It doesn’t matter if the fallout is realistic, if it’s happening for sound story purposes, if it’s helping to set up a new and exciting new world, if it’s a really great story, or even if the death is guaranteed to be temporary.  I just don’t care.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up the book.  Like I said, I love the whole package of Birds of Prey.  As soon as the ripples stop – no funeral, no angst, no memories or flashbacks -I’ll be back and loving it. 

It’s just that I realized that nothing on earth is going to make me willing to pick up one single more book with character death in it.  I read comics for enjoyment, and that sucks all of my enjoyment out.   There’s a limit to the death, pain, and despair that I’m willing to read.  I guess I’m at that limit.  Enough.

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