Fourcast! 79: What David Read

March 7th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-David bought comics!
Heroes for Hire 4, by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Robert Atkins
Power Man & Iron Fist 2, by Fred Van Lente/Wellington Alves & Nelson Pereira
Thunderbolts 154, by Jeff Parker & Declan Shalvey
Joe the Barbarian 8, by Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy
-You’ll never guess which one he wasn’t too fond of.
-Esther only bought a single book, so David gets to do most of the reviewing.
-Luckily, the Fourcast! is your number one source for digressions… so this one’s an hour.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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No Effort Week: Death to the Uncool

January 24th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely at what was, at this point, the top of their game. From Flex Mentallo to We3 on through to All-Star Superman, this duo has proven to be one of the best in comics.
New X-Men: Riot at Xavier’s remains one of the best, if not the best, X-Men stories.

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I’ve Got So Much Trouble On My Mind: Race & Cape Comics

December 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I wanted to start this post about race and comics with this:

because, cripes, that’s Hypno Hustler, hands down my favorite obscure comics character and Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta brought him back. It’s also a funny macro for black characters in comics. Do you get it? Next would be this:

Black Batman: Bruce Wayne won’t franchise in urban markets
Black Panther: Stuck in dumb, unforgiveably boring comics
The Boondocks: Gone forever
Brother Voodoo: Brother Who?
Chalky White: Not given nearly enough screen-time, inexplicable fascination with not building bookcases
Garterbelt: Drawn with stereotypically huge lips, pedo priest
Menace: Tragic Mulatto, single mother
Lebron James: Worse than Hitler
Luke Cage: Would rather hang out at prison than with his White Wife and Mixed Baby
Power Man: Does Dominican count as black?
Robin: Still not black
Storm: smh
Turk: Needs to stop snitching
War Machine: Who cares?

But, the thought of pretending like I care that Brother Voodoo bit it in some comic I didn’t read gives me a migraine and I’m all out of jokes. Instead, though, I’m going to do this:

was a hero to most

I can’t get into Will Eisner’s The Spirit. I’ve tried a fistful of times. I bought a trade, thinking that putting money down would force me to plow through it. It didn’t. I can’t get past Ebony White. He’s a roadblock that I can’t get around.

I get the excuses and explanations. It was the humor of the time, Eisner didn’t know any better, he didn’t really mean it, Ebony was actually helpful, he was heroic in his own way, and a credit to his race. Blah blah blah. Eisner is a legend, and you don’t really want to tar his past with accusations of racism, do you? The Spirit is a classic, a titan in the medium! It’s hugely influential, so surely you can let this minor issue pass? It’s not really racism, is it?

But if it talks like a duck and looks like a pickaninny and drives Miss Daisy? Then it’s a slap in the face, and who consents to being slapped?

The issue of Ebony White is minimized in favor of the ongoing stature of The Spirit. It’s obviously an issue, since the two most recent relaunches of The Spirit have adjusted the character to be more palatable. Miller didn’t even put him in the movie, presumably because he knew that Ebony was a hard sell. Brian Azzarello turned her into a sassy black girl for the First Wave books. (Better “Nuh-uh nigga I ain’t going in there you better ask somebody else to do that nuh-UH” than “Yessuh boss whateva you say, boss.” That’s progress, innit?) But Ebony, the character, is minimized in favor of The Spirit, the classic. Don’t let racism ruin this great thing.

puffin newports ’cause life’s a bitch, and it’s too short

You can see maximization in the cases of OJ Simpson and Mike Vick. You’d think those two guys were the second and third coming of Charles Manson the way the news and society keeps on about them. Their crimes are maximized to the point where Tucker Carlson can say on tv that Vick should’ve been executed for his crimes. America: where you do the crime and do the time, or get acquitted, and then you keep doing the time because you’re a filthy, filthy convict.

Unless you’re Johannes Mehserle, who got to shoot an unarmed father in the back, get sentenced in November, be eligible for release two months later, and be hailed as a hero and victim of… something.

everything is everything, what is meant to be will be

When I first started writing about race and comics, I feel like I focused on characters. I wanted to celebrate these characters I’d grown up enjoying or learned to enjoy as an adult. “Look! We exist! And we’re not awful!” Time went on and I started to point out the problems. This kind of tone deaf, “this is how black people act in movies, not in real life” sort of thing. I later learned to focus on context. Here is why this bit is good, here is how it relates to real life. Finding the way verisimilitude makes stories better. This year, I tried to focus more on the people creating the comics.

Next year is another Black History Month. Right now, I feel like if I approach any of it from the position of black characters in mainstream comics, I’ll be making a huge mistake. Storm, Black Panther, and Luke Cage can be a useful lens for thoughts about race and comics at times, but by and large? I don’t care any more. What matters are the people who make the books, not these dusty old trademarks.

The problem with superheroes and black folks is that superhero comics used to be children’s comics. The in-text morals and structure are still leagues behind everything else. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a military family, but “heroes don’t kill” is an absurd positon to have and borderline insulting. Plenty of heroes kill. Some of our favorite Americans have killed dozens of people. But, the childlike morality stuck around, so we’re stuck with it. A side effect is that characters have to be very easy to understand.

Superhero comics don’t do nuance well. They do twenty-two pages of fights, yelling, and basic romantic drama well, but subtlety? Nah. And if you expect to be represented as a person, you’re going to need a certain degree of subtlety.

the violence in me reflects the violence that’s around me

It’s not all strange fruit and Al Sharpton in cape comics. Fred Van Lente and Mahmud Asrar’s Shadowland: Power Man was a breath of fresh air, and it’s actually kind of sad that that’s true. Regardless, Van Lente and Asrar knocked the book out of the park, cleverly working in socioeconomic and racial issues that enhanced the story, rather than distracted from the tale. They treated certain things as a given and created something worth reading.

The more I think about it, the more that Bendis’s Cage strikes me as an amalgamation of various black dudes in movies. It’s like an impersonation. A good one, but just off enough to be noticeable. He takes stands that don’t make sense, is bad with money, and is seemingly written as a Strong Black Man. You know how writers do that, yeah? Like there’s a checklist? Stands by his crew, loves his family, would die for his kids, on and on and on.

Jeff Parker’s work on Thunderbolts consistently impresses me, though. Like Van Lente and Power Man, he writes Cage in a way that clicks for me. When he busts out the black dudeisms like “What’s my name?” it’s not just an empty boast or black braggadocio. There’s a point to it. The bluesman in the Shadowland tie-ins was on point, too, and so was the way Cage deferred to him. It rings true in a way that Cage refusing Captain America’s money doesn’t. It’s about Cage, but it’s bigger than him, too.

These should be the rule, not the exception, but it is what it is.

take sun people, put ’em in atlanta snow

Chris Sims wrote an essay a few months back he called “The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling”. To sum it up, and I hope I’m not doing him a disservice by paraphrasing his argument, DC’s thirst for nostalgia has had the unintended side effect of scrubbing some of the non-white characters out of their universe. I think Sims has a point in there, but I don’t know that I agree with the why.

I don’t think that DC is working of nostalgia at all, especially not for the Silver Age. The Silver Age, running from the ’50s up to the early ’70s at the latest, was a time when superhero comics turned soft and transient. Characters changed shape, gimmick, and styles issue to issue. The Silver Age is generally viewed online as being wacky and out-there, super weird and goofy. It isn’t known for Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and Ray Palmer so much as for that time Superman had an ant head and Jimmy Olsen married a gorilla. Jordan, Allen, and Palmer date from those times, yes, but they aren’t emblematic of those times.

If you skip across the street to Marvel, there’s an interesting parallel. Over the past ten years, several characters from the ’70s have made a return. They haven’t replaced anyone, but Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight, Spider-Woman, Nova, Iron Fist, Ghost Rider, Shang-Chi, and even Howard the Duck have made returns, no matter how completely unmarketable they may be. Does that count as nostalgia for the ’70s?

I don’t think that either situation counts as nostalgia. There is certainly someone’s fond memories of a character involved in the process, but nostalgia is a yearning for, and sometimes emulation of, the past. Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a love letter to blaxploitation films. The casting of Pam Grier, the soundtrack, and all the overt references to blaxploitation is proof positive.

If you look at Bendis’s Cage or Geoff Johns’s Hal Jordan, and I mean really look at them, you’d see how they aren’t really fueled by nostalgia at all. The stories aren’t even remotely the same. They star the same characters, sure, but casting Pam Grier alone does not a blaxploitation movie make. Johns’s Green Lantern is deadly serious and never boring. The goofy ring structures, the giant boxing gloves and baseball bats, have largely given way to airplanes and detailed rifles. It’s realistic, rather than whimsical. His Flash comes a little closer to emulating the Silver Age style, but even then, he’s taking one part of the past (the Flash Facts/science) and applying it to something new (giving us stories that let Francis Manapul show us how cool superspeed is). The characters are old. The stories aren’t.

I haven’t read the recent stories with Ray Palmer and Hawkman, but I imagine that those are the same. Old characters, new stories. I know Hawkman in Brightest Day is caught up in some kind of insane recap/readjustment of his history, like Grant Morrison’s “Every Batman story is true” mandate. That doesn’t sound like nostalgia to me. It sounds like cape comics. It sounds like entropy. And with the way the comic industry is right now, it’s inevitable.

Cape comics are a closed system at this point. They cannot grow. This means that the only place left to go with these characters is to flip them. We’re in the remix era of superheroes, and we have been for years, probably ever since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Morrison took every crappy old X-Men concept, from sentinels to the Phoenix to Magneto to the New Mutants, and made it brand new. Superheroes have to take a page from William S Burroughs and create cut-up comics. Take this bit of history, match it with the other bit, and make something new. The fanbase is fiercely conservative and only want known quantities.

Disagree? Look at Paul Cornell’s Action Comics, Morrison’s Batman, Johns’s Green Lantern, Bendis’s Avengers empire (especially Prime and whichever one JRjr was drawing), Brubaker’s Captain America, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men. All of those are pulling ideas that are thirty, forty, sixty years old into the modern day and telling new stories with them. Taking the past and remixing it, updating it for a new era.

Cut-up Comics! The cover of New Gods 1 with “Kirby Is Here!” scratched out and “DJ Premier Is On The Wheels of Steel!” written in. Spider-Man twisted and turned through a new lens! Watch as the past is reinvented by way of public execution on the comics page!

This is something that only cape comics can do. If you take Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and try it, do you know what you get? Re-hash. It’s too small, too new, for that to work. Superheroes, though, are perfect for it. It’s the only way they’ll survive. Consumers don’t want new heroes. The market has proven its hostility to books that don’t fit within a certain shape. Fine–play with what sits inside that shape. Four walls can be a prison or a lab. Choose one.

y’all probably done forgot about her. but i ain’t gonna ever forget.

Remember earlier this year when the new Aqualad was announced and half the online commentary was, “Oh, so now we get BLACK Aqualad? Blaqualad?” and the other half was “Oh, so he’s AFRAID OF WATER, huh, he CAN’T SWIM? Is that how it is?”

Yeah. I see you. Do better. Be better.

a colored life still ain’t worth but a few ducats

Right now is still the best time to be black in cape comics. Cage is headlining a couple of books, Black Panther keeps getting tries at bat, Steel is kicking off and probably dying in an event next year, DC’s new Aqualad seems cool (he was dope on the show and pretty straight in the comics), Black Panther’s little sister has her own miniseries… things don’t suck. They could be better, though.

I got a letter from a third-tier company’s PR rep a few months back. Not a personal one, just your usual PR crap. It mentioned that there had been criticism online about there not being enough “diverse characters,” so they were launching a series starring a black guy.

Point: Cool, someone’s trying to listen to what people are saying.
Counter-point: Man, it’s all just business in the end, isn’t it?

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Gamble A Stamp 04: Why Didn’t They Stop My Mum and Dad Fighting?

November 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I want to talk about this, from what’s probably the best single chapter of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman (#6, “A Funeral In Smallville”):

(Words by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant)

But I need to talk about this before I come back around to it:

(Morrison/Quitely/Tom McCraw)

I may get lost along the way, because this is probably actually about a lot of things I’ve been working through over the past few months that I still don’t have a handle on, but follow along and maybe we’ll get there together and in one piece.

I’ve read Flex Mentallo a ton of times. Dozens, even. Every time I do one of these posts, I end up flicking through the series as a whole two or three times while writing. This panel (and a caption in the panel before it that reads, “Why didn’t the superheroes save us from the fucking bomb? I feel so sick.”) kept sticking in my head every time I ran through the book. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it.

The rest of Flex is pretty clear and easy to understand. It’s easy to figure out how the idea of superheroes intersects with and brushes up against real life. Most of the questions posed in the book, like the point of comics about broken heroes or the soft and mutable nature of comics in the Silver Age, are answered explicitly or implicitly in the text itself.

“Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?”, though. There are no captions or glimpses of superheroic life to give it a deeper context. There’s just a guy dying in an alley, wondering why love doesn’t last forever. For my money, it’s the saddest scene in the book. If you want cape comics with gritty realism, you don’t need rape backstories and heroes moping on rooftops. All you need is something basic going wrong with no easy answers to be found.

The word choice stuck with me, too. It’s not “Why couldn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” It’s not “Why wouldn’t they?” It’s “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” The superheroes had the will and the way, but they didn’t do it. That implies a choice, maybe even a conscious one, to let the fighting happen.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find an answer in Flex. There’s not even a hint, near as I can tell. It’s just dropped into the narrative, this drop of real-life despair in the middle of the fantastic, and then left there.

I had a few guesses about what it meant. None of them were very good. It could have been tough love. It could have been not wanting to interfere in the lives of humans too too much, like in JLA: New World Order (by far my worst guess, considering the rest of the book). Maybe they just simply couldn’t interfere due to… something something.

All-Star Superman 6 put it into better focus, though. I was rereading the series in prep for a different post (maybe GAS05) and the solution leapt out at me. ASS 6 is about failure and what superheroes cannot do. It features Superboy, rather than Superman, and is a flashback/time travel episode.

One more digression. Way back when DC let John Byrne revamp Superman, he did a story where Superman killed General Zod and the Phantom Zone criminals and cried a little bit. The purpose of this story, according to an interview I read forever ago and now cannot find, was to show exactly why Superman doesn’t kill. So, to show why Superman doesn’t kill, Byrne had him slowly kill three people.

Get it?

Byrne got it wrong, but when Morrison went to show Superman’s first failure, and thereby introduce a certain limit to the character, things turned out much better. Superboy chose to do the right thing without even thinking, against great odds, and in doing so, lost his chance to save his father. Three minutes of his life were taken, and in those three minutes, his father died. Superboy’s scream that he “can save everybody” speaks to a certain youthful invincibility, but also to what Superman will one day become. His scream of defiance as a child becomes a foreshadowing of his modus operandi years later, as he does his level best to save everybody.

But what’s important here is what Superboy did not do, which is save his own father. One of the other Supermen in the story explains that “his heart just ran out of beats.” He goes on to say that if Jon Kent hadn’t died, Clark Kent might have stayed in Smallville, “and none of us would ever have been born.” Put differently: “This had to happen.”

A few pages earlier is another key scene. While walking and talking with the Unknown Superman, who is actually the modern day Clark Kent in disguise, Jon Kent asks, “He’ll be okay, won’t he? The boy.” referring to his son. Kent clearly knows both that the Unknown Superman is not who he says he is and that his time is up. He wants to be sure that his son ends up okay, considering the amount of power he has. Superman’s response is “It all comes out right in the end.”

There’s a vein of fatalism there, isn’t there? In other hands, it would be “it is what it is.” Here, it’s an admission that even though this is a hiccup, that this will not work out like Superboy wants it to, things will work out in the end. This is just something he needs to learn before he can grow.

So, there are two answers here to consider. One is that Kent’s heart “just ran out of beats.” The other is that everything “comes out right in the end.” What that puts me in mind of is inevitability. You can’t fight certain things.

I think Byrne’s logic was atrocious (I haven’t killed anyone and don’t currently plan to, and I didn’t need to kill anyone to come to that conclusion) and his execution worse, but he was at least cognizant of the fact that there have to be limits. By forcing the hero to make a choice, though, Byrne shot himself in the foot. Morrison’s method, where the hero is forced to confront a shortcoming, seems much cleaner.

If superheroes can do anything, then you don’t have a story. There have to be things that superheroes cannot or will not do. Sometimes these limits are there to preserve the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Other times, it’s to maintain a profitable brand. Batman can’t kill the Joker and Superman can’t use his technology to make the world a better place. Flash can’t just end every fight in half a second.

These limits often tend to line up along real world lines, too. Tony Stark can never eliminate poverty and Superman can never battle racism. Those two things will just make the readers aware that they’re reading a comic book and that, hey, life still sucks.

I’m beginning to think that “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” is the one spot in Flex Mentallo that’s a rejection of the “Clap your hands if you believe in superheroes!”/”They will show us the way to a better life” philosophy that makes Flex such a strong and vital work. The rest of the book is about the glory of superheroes, the way we can become them, and how comic books are just a reflection of the cultural (un)consciousness.

Real life is the only inescapable hole in the philosophy. Yes, you can use superheroes as a model for life, and yes, in a certain way, we did create them to save us from ourselves, but they only go so far. They’re still fictional. They can’t stop your mum and dad fighting, they can’t stop the bomb, and they won’t actually save your life. Superheroes cannot stop real life–they can only delay it. Even Regan, the girl who Superman stopped from committing suicide, is going to die one day, and Superman can’t stop that.

There’s a Kanye West line I’m fond of from the 808s and Heartbreak era. It’s from Young Jeezy’s “Put On,” a song that banged before Kanye came in with some emotion. “I feel like these butt niggas don’t know he’s stressed/ I lost the only girl in the world that know me best/ I got the money and the fame and that don’t mean shit/ I got the Jesus on the chain, man, that don’t mean shit.” Since the death of his mother, all the stuff that brought him happiness and gave him peace, the money and fame and fancy necklaces, are worthless. Real life struck and they hit their limit. Kanye was at a point where they couldn’t serve their purpose.

Pulling back again. “Why didn’t they stop my mum and dad fighting?” makes sense to me now. It’s speaking to the fact that superheroes are wonderful, wonderful things, but even then, there are some things they can’t do. Taken alone, it’s a question without an answer. In concert with All-Star Superman, though, it makes much more sense.

When a little boy asks “Mommy, why don’t I have a daddy?” Superman can’t swoop in and give a little speech or solve that problem. That’s stupid. It doesn’t work. It’s pushing the idea of a superhero too far, and at that point, the idea breaks.

It’s interesting to me that it took All-Star Superman for that one line to click. It’s like if expanding upon it in Flex would’ve broken the story, but freed of the restraints of proselytizing the superhero, Morrison is much more free to demonstrate where capes fall short.

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Fourcast! 67: The Bat’s Back

November 22nd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-It’s been a long time, we shouldn’t have left you
-Without a Batman-focused, digression filled Fourcast! to step to
-Grant Morrison’s big Batman arc is done! The second phase of it, anyway.
-Good a time as any to catch up on the franchise and see where we’re at.
-Recorded this one the weekend before Batman Inc dropped, if you were wondering.
-You know the drill. Put it on your iPod and listen.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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The Cipher 11/17/10

November 17th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-If you’ve gotta buy a Batman comic this week… buy the one Yanick Paquette and Michael Lacombe drew. Finch’s stiff, ugly, overly gritty work does absolutely nothing for me.

-Paquette is ill, though. I’ve liked his work since Bulleteer, and I hope he sticks around for the long haul.

Sean Witzke vs Matt Seneca vs Steranko. Read it.

My man Ray the Destroyer gave Kanye’s new album a thorough review. I liked My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but wow, dude went in. I hadn’t thought of half of this while listening to the album, but it all makes sense. It’s nice when somebody breaks down exactly why you like something.

-Sidebar: The last joint on Kanye’s album features Gil Scott-Heron. I sort of miss when you could pick up a rap album and hear something political from The Last Poets, Poppa Wu, or Big Rube. “Who Will Survive In America” is the sort of thing that almost re-contextualizes the whole record, I think.

-Via Matt Maxwell comes a link to Jay-Z and Cornel West. I’m listening to it as I write this. What’s up with Decoded not dropping in ebook format until December, though? I hated on the book when it was first announced because it sounded like an annotated rhyme book, and I cannot think of anything more boring. If it’s more of a memoir than a cheat sheet, it might be interesting.

-Did you know they recolored Superman vs. Muhammad Ali? I wasn’t expecting that. I’m still not sure how to feel about it.

overload, overload
created: I like this Usagi Yojimbo preview, this Amazing Spidey recap, and this review of Adam WarRock’s debut album.

(Writing about music is weird for me. I don’t have the technical background that a lot of people who are good at it, but I have an okay understanding of history and context. Play to your strengths, right?)

consumed: Not much. I read Jormungand, Vol. 5 in one sitting, and it’s still plenty enjoyable. It’s still good and still about child soldiers. I’ve been in a holding pattern lately, but I’ve got The Night of the Hunter, Gorillaz: Rise of the Ogre and Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso’s Vampire Boy to take in. Also on deck is Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond Vizbig 9, which may be my pick for fight scene of the year, just from flipping through the volume. Six hundred pages, Miyamoto Musashi versus the entire Yoshioka school.

Most comics simply can’t compete with Vagabond.

coming on to the
David: Batman, Inc. 1, Hellblazer 273, Thunderbolts 150
Esther: For definite: Batman Incorporated 1, Tiny Titans 34, Superman/Batman 78. For maybe: Batman 704, Batman: The Return, Power Girl 18.
Gavin: Azrael 14, Batman Incorporated 1, Batman The Return 1, Green Lantern 59, Green Lantern Corps 54, Avengers 7, Chaos War Chaos King 1, Chaos War Dead Avengers 1, Daken Dark Wolverine 3, Hulk 27, Thunderbolts 150, Darkwing Duck 6

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The Cipher 11/10/10

November 10th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

and yeah, ain’t nobody as true as us
-Comic books? Did you know that they let people other than Grant Morrison write Damian Wayne? Whose bright idea was that?

-What have we learned?

-Kanye’s record leaked a week ahead of schedule. As expected, it’s good. I’m not sure how good just yet–I’ve only listened a few times–but good enough that I listened to it a few times in a row.

-It opens with Nicki Minaj, which is whatever, but the production and rhymes are solid.

-He does a lot of really interesting stuff musically this time around. He’s much more willing to let tracks breathe, or go on long past their running time, which is something I enjoy. There’s a breakdown on “Devil In A New Dress” before Rick Ross’s verse that’s tremendous, the 9 minute version of “Runaway” is heat, and there’s one track in particular that feels kind of like 808s & Heartbreak in miniature. I can’t wait for the official release, as long as I can get the cover art with the dude with the sword in his head and not that ugly painting.

-It’s been a good year for music, hasn’t it?

you ain’t gotta like me
created: I’ve got something big cooking that will hopefully land with both feet right in the small of someone’s back, but in the meantime, I put some words on comic book covers (protip: they’re there for a reason) and Thor comics (protip: don’t read all of them, or even most of them). Soon, though, I think I’ll have something you’ll love/hate.

consumed: I watched George Clooney in The American the other night. It was pretty good. It was kind of the anti-Bourne, and not really how the trailers made it out to be. It was a very quiet movie, though it opens on an effective bit of violence, which had the effect of making almost every scene very tense. You’re waiting for the explosion. It’s like Unforgiven, but instead of fighting against type like Eastwood did then, Clooney is stuck in a movie you expect to go one way but insists on going another. It indulges in cliché a few times, but it doesn’t really hurt the movie. I liked it, I’ll probably watch it again.

I’m in the middle of a reread of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman & Robin. I picked up Batman Reborn and Batman vs. Robin the other day in prep for an upcoming post. It’s wildly uneven, with Philip Tan not even doing the bare minimum in terms of storytelling or quality being the nadir and Cameron Stewart’s arc being the height. I’m massively frustrated by Morrison lately, and by the fact that what should have been a good story has been marred by crap art. I’m gonna try to work that out on the page, though, so stay tuned.

i like me enough for the two of us
David: Amazing Spider-Man 648
Esther: Batgirl 15, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 6, Birds of Prey 6, Knight & Squire 2, maybe Red Robin 17
Gavin: Batman Return Of Bruce Wayne 6, Booster Gold 38, Justice League Generation Lost 13, Knight & Squire 2, Welcome To Tranquility One Foot Grave 5, Avengers Prime 4, Chaos War Thor 1, Incredible Hulks 616, New Avengers 6, Ultimate Comics Thor 2

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Gamble A Stamp 02: Fredric Wertham Was Right

October 14th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

NSFW images after the jump. Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.
Read the rest of this entry �

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Gamble A Stamp 01: It’s Only Like Heaven

September 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I think that if you are a fan of superhero comics, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo should be your holy book. It caused a seismic shift in my enjoyment and understanding of superheroes after I read it, simultaneously deepening my enjoyment of the good stuff and my willingness to ignore the terrible. It’s a story, it’s comics journalism, it’s a history lesson, it’s evergreen, and it is auto-critique in pamphlet form. It’s about comics, you see, and if you haven’t read it, you should. This is part of a series of posts relating to the book.

At one point in the book, Sage says, “Because listen! When it all comes down to it, how could you love ANYBODY the way you loved THUNDERGIRL? You try and it’s like Heaven. But it’s only LIKE Heaven. It’s NOT Heaven, is it?” It’s one of those points that stuck with me after reading, kind of like “Sometimes her cigarette smoke smells like flowers” from Brandon Graham’s King City carved out a space in my skull.

A teen in the throes of puberty and wishing for a Mary Jane Watson of his very own isn’t wishing for a real girlfriend. He’s looking for someone who resembles the stories and beliefs that he has built up around Mary Jane. Maybe she likes his favorite kind of music, has a certain cup size, or will do all those nasty things in bed that he’s been curious about.

What can compare to that? The only possible end point of that is disappointment. No matter how much you love someone, no matter how heads over heels they are–they’ll never be Mary Jane Watson, tiger. You can’t build a lover out of ideas. And yes, on the very next page: “What’s like Heaven? Shit. Oh shit. They fuck you up, those comics. They really fuck you up…”

Just like romance movies, fairy tales, sitcoms, and every other thing that tells us how life is before we get to experience it ourselves, superheroes sell us a reality that only works with archetypes. Every romance is an atom bomb of passion or strife. Lovers embrace against all odds and damn the consequences. No one gets to settle for someone they didn’t want or to be content with somebody who is just okay. Love triangles aren’t a ball of stress and drama so much as an entertaining diversion. No one comes home, hugs their wife, and goes to bed early. Everything is larger than life. Superheroes go hard or go home. There is no in-between.

At the same time, this is the strength of superheroes. Superheroes exist as archetypes that have been drawn from the same collective unconscious that has been creating stories about heroes for thousands of years. They represent abstract or unquantifiable values–responsibility, vengeance, altruism, guilt–and work out our insecurities and fears on the comics page. Spider-Man insists on a world where people take responsibility according to their ability, no matter how marginal. Batman is about emerging from darkness, away from your baser instincts, and into the light. Superman is a father figure, there to protect us from all possible harm and guide us on our way.

One of the points of Flex Mentallo is that superheroes exist to save us from ourselves. They provide an example for us to follow and embody the best aspects of human nature. They represent the hole that’s present in reality, the thing that’s missing that resulted in the world being in the shape it’s in. They’re the memory of a better time.

Flex provides a reason for comics to traffic in the stories that they do. The superheroes exist outside of the comic books, having escaped from their doomed reality by becoming fictional in ours, and live in our imagination. The comics are an attempt by the superheroes to show us what things could be like, if only we tried a little harder.

Sage’s feeling about Thundergirl and love–it’s not just about love. It’s deeper than that. It’s about archetypes, period. Your father may make you angry and let you down. Your friends may betray you. But, when you get down to it, Spider-Man will fight to the death to save you. Superman will always be there with a kind word when you need it. His stories and his reasons for being don’t change.

This is the power of superheroes. They touch on something deep inside us, whether as adults or children, and show us something we need to see. This is one of several messages in Flex Mentallo, and it’s one that places superheroes on a direct level with every other story. They represent something bigger than themselves and better than us.

How could you trust anybody the way you trust Superman?

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The Cipher 07/28/10

July 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Return of Bruce Wayne 4, words by Grant Morrison, pencils by Georges Jeanty, inks by Walden Wong, colors by Tony Aviña, letters by Travis Lanham. Preview

See where the bad guys are to be found and make em lay down! The defenders of the West, crushing all pretenders in the West!

Cowboy Batman! Maybe I should’ve let Esther write this one, I know she was looking forward to it. I don’t even really have anything clever to say!

Book-wise, I got a few from San Diego, B.P.R.D 13: 1947 from Amazon today, and I’m about 15 pages from the end of Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. SP is kind of interesting. I like it, but I don’t love it. I respect Bryan Lee O’Malley for getting it done and having it become some kind of crazy ill success, too. I’m slowly working through my stack and decompressing from a hectic San Diego, so I’ll have better words next week.

I gotta buy last week’s comics this week, too. Bleah.

The David: Unknown Soldier 22
The Esther: Definitely: Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne 4 Maybe: Batman: The Brave and the Bold 19, Detective Comics 867, First Wave 3, Green Arrow 2
and The Gavin Authority: The Lost Year 11, Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne 4, Green Lantern 56, Green Lantern Corps 50, Justice League: Generation Lost 6, Deadpool Team-Up 891, Franken-Castle 19, Weapon X Noir, Incorruptible 8, WWE Heroes 5

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