Warren Ellis’ Shoot

November 13th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

In late October, Vertigo published Vertigo Resurrected, a collection of rare stories.  One of them was Shoot, a story about schoolyard shootings in America by Warren Ellis.  Before it was published, the Columbine shooting happened.  According to Ellis, DC wanted to change the story, he refused, they refused to publish, and that was that. 

The new people at DC had a different take, and obviously it’s been a while since Columbine, and so the story came out.  I don’t have any problem with Ellis refusing to change his story.  That’s his decision.  I have to say, though, that I think not publishing it, especially at the time, was the right call.  That’s a debate for another time. 

For now, I’m looking at the content of the story.  Reading Shoot left me feeling acutely annoyed.  On his blog, Warren Ellis says that he intended the story to be horror, not social commentary.  Reading the story, I’m not sure that’s true.  It’s a Hellblazer story, so it has John Constantine swaggering across the page, saything pithy and clear-sighted things.  In the last few pages, he gives a long speech about what prompted the shooting.  I can’t say the speech wrong.  What I can say, is the speech is completely off the mark.

Let’s see what we have in the paragraphs above.  The first two panels are Constantine ridiculing the woman for thinking there is any one thing that made the kid do it.  It wasn’t violent video games, or movies or music.  Those ideas are stupid and simplistic.

So what’s his take?

Second scan, second bubble:  “These are the end times.”

Second scan, fourth, fifth and sixth bubble:  “The sins of the father are visited on the son.”

Third scan, first bubble:  “Television is taking over.”

Third scan, second bubble: “Think of the children.”

Although the ‘raised by television’ argument is a new one, it harkens back to boarding schools, nannies, the modern novel, the internet, pacifiers, and any other invention that lets parents forget they’re parents every once in a while.  The rest are biblically old.  They were trotted out to explain everything from plagues to fires to pre-marital sex.  They’re not useful advice.  They’re not insight.  They’re not even observations.  They’re slogans.

And they’re slogans that can be used for anything.  I’m willing to bet the people Constantine ridicules used the same lines he does.  ‘Our society is crumbling’ is a set up used for any argument, from lowering taxes to distributing condoms in schools.  And  I know that the ‘raised by television’ bit and ‘parents asleep at the wheel’ bit were trotted out by people wanting to ban graphic video games and violent music.

To be honest, if asked to side with a person making Constantine’s speech or someone who wanted to start a campaign to tone down video game violence, I’d go with the latter.  Not because I think it would work, but because it’s something.  It’s some concrete step.  It’s some way to engage with kids.  And if it doesn’t work, it can be changed.

What Constantine is offering is a four word explanation for everything.  “Society is to blame.”  Well, okay.  Thanks for letting us in on that. 

Now what?

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Fourcast! 42: We’re The Losers, Baby

April 26th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-We talk about The Losers, the recently released adaptation of Andy Diggle and Jock’s Vertigo comic.
-I mean, we kinda talk about it. We kinda go all over the place.
-You listen to the Fourcast, you know how it goes. Sometimes we just gotta talk about sitcoms.
-Something something Grey’s Anatomy.
-Blah blah John Constantine blah.
-David can’t tell actors apart.
-Chris Evans sidebar.
-A little bit about Shane Black.
Die Hard is from 1988, not 1989.
-Overall, though, we liked it. Solid B+, feel good 80s-style action movie of the spring. Nothing too deep, but you’ll never be bored.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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The Losers Film Is Coming

January 29th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Andy Diggle and Jock’s The Losers has probably the best last line of any comic ever (if you’ve ever read it, you know it) and the movie drops later this year. MSN has the hookup on a full length trailer, presented here with a tip of the hat to iFanboy, where I watched the footage.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&#038;from=sp&#038;fg=MsnEntertainment_MoviesTrailersGP2_a&#038;vid=1b9d070f-aff2-47f6-8a86-9b2b44ec4fc6" target="_new" title="'The Losers' Exclusive Look">Video: &#8216;The Losers&#8217; Exclusive Look</a>

I like it. It looks great, it feels like the book, it’s well-cast, and it has a good sense of humor, something that The Losers definitely had when it was appropriate. Another thing I really like: they aren’t afraid to step away from the source material to make the movie work. There were a few scenes I didn’t recognize (Aisha in the tub, the Blagyver stuff, Aisha being fairly talky talk) along with a lot that I did (Chris Evans dancing in the elevator, Aisha blowing up the tank). A good comic book movie, even when adapting a specific story (such as 300 or Sin City), includes something new, rather than just being comics turned storyboards turned script turned movie.

Freshen it up some. I loved Sin City, but it is faithful to the point of being annoying. I knew all the twists, I knew all the lines, and while I liked it, it wasn’t as dope as it should have been.

But yeah, back to the point: The Losers. Dope.

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First Shot, Last Call.

April 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets #100 drops today, and it’s the end of the series. I’m planning on picking my copy after work.

I’m kind of sad about it, but a different kind of sad than I was when I finished the first issue of Flash: Rebirth. Rebirth was a signal that the DC Universe is moving in a direction that is pointedly Not For Me. The end of 100 Bullets is the end of a series that was definitely, 100%, absolutely aimed directly at my temple.

100 Bullets started before I got back into comics, and to be honest, I’m not sure exactly when I started it. I think it’s Thomas Wilde’s fault, and skimming covers and wracking my brain leads me to believe that I began picking it up regularly during the Chill in the Oven arc, mid-2003. I know that I read the first arc, then Counterfifth Detective, and then started over again from the beginning.

Since then, I’ve bought every issue and every trade, something I rarely do. Double-dipping is a sucker’s move, but I dig the series enough that I didn’t mind paying twice. While looking over the covers, I was struck with memories ofa series of moments from the series. The Saddest Thing in the NOLA arc, Cole’s one-shot, the peckerwood joke in Chill in the Oven, the history lesson in issue 50, Lono and Loop’s discussion of the d-spot, Victor Ray indulging himself on a mission by doing the Frank Castle thing, Graves losing it when someone important dies, Dizzy’s ascendance, Lono’s look as he realizes that he killed a friend, the teenage pregnancy drama that plays a background role to Graves telling a mother exactly why her daughter died, Remi Rome going from amazing character to my most hated and back around again, the way that Loop’s dad was Mr. Hughes to the Minutemen, never ‘Curtis.’ Dave Johnson’s amazing covers.

These are just moments in the series. The moments build to the story arcs. Dizzy going from hood rat to high class. Loop learning how to be a man via Graves’ guilt over how Loop’s father was treated. The reconnection and dissolution of the Minutemen once again. The fall of the Trust.

It’s a series I’m very fond of, and was hands-down the best comic of the week each and every time. It’s one that rewards repeat readings, and even readings where you skip all of the words and just take in Eduardo Risso’s art. It made me a believer in Vertigo in a way that Sandman and the rest of the boring fantasy books that’d previously made up the bulk of Vertigo didn’t.

100 Bullets was, for me, a Thing. It’s the only comic I’ve bought for six years straight, month-in, month-out. It was my only mainstay, and now it’s gone. I think the comics world will be poorer without it. I can’t think of a comic I’ve enjoyed as consistently as 100 Bullets. I can’t even think of a creator who’s delivered as consistently as Azz and Risso have.

100 Bullets is The Symphony. It’s talented creators dropping in, doing some amazing work, and dropping out, leaving the track, or the genre, or the industry, or their peers, a drooling and shuddering mess. It’s Wu-Tang Forever, with RZA’s arrogant insistence at the end of Bells of War, halfway through Disc Two, that Wu-Tang Forever is so ahead of its time that “niggas ain’t gonna figure it out til the year Two-G.” It’s Raekwon on The Closing on the same record, explaining that he looks at other emcees and realizes that they’re going to stay garbage because they don’t know any better.

Azzarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets is a challenge. It’s saying, “Look, we did this. This is us. Ante up.”

I’ll be sorry to see it go. I keep thinking that I want to do this big, bang-up, blow-the-doors-off outrospective, but I don’t even know if I know where to start or if I even should. Luckily, Tucker’s got an Off the Shelf for us, and I hope to see Matthew Brady writing about it, too. I really enjoyed his Monster series, though I don’t think I ever remembered to link to it, and I know he’s a fan. I’m curious to see what kind of send-off the best comic book to come out of Time Warner will receive.

100 Bullets is 13 volumes, and pretty cheap on Amazon. You can catch each volume for around ten bucks new, less from a third-party seller. In fact, the first book’s like five bucks right now. Links below. If you haven’t started, you should. I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that it’s easily my favorite comic, and one of the most rewarding I’ve ever picked up. Click here to look at the entire 100 Bullets catalog on Amazon.

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Black History Month ’09 #19: Bridging the Gap

February 19th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A book that I’m enjoying quite a bit is Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli’s Unknown Soldier from DC’s Vertigo imprint. I first found Dysart via Mike Mignola’s BPRD series, and Ponticelli’s entirely new to me. Together, the two of them have created one of the more interesting books to come out of DC Comics in more than a few years.

Previously, the Unknown Soldier was just that- an unknown soldier. Depending on the version, his identity was kept secret from the characters he interacted with or even the reader. He was often tied to World War II, but the new one is more closely associated with the war-torn land of Uganda.

It stars Dr. Moses Lwanga, a normal man and relief worker who has come to Uganda with his wife. He’s a good man, and a kind one, but this kindness backfires when he runs out of the camp to help someone and is ambushed by child soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army. A voice whispers in his ear and he knows exactly what he has to do in order to kill the children and save his life. He does it and is immediately overcome with despair. He destroys his face with a rock and lays down to bleed to death.

After a curious series of events, Moses has found himself in a situation where he is traveling under a false name and danger lurks around every corner. Eventually, push comes to shove and he has to listen to that little voice in his ear to survive, even if surviving means the death of multiple children by his own hand. Add in the trials of Moses’s wife, who does not know what happened to him or where he is, and you have a startling picture of modern-day Uganda.

Unknown Soldier, when it’s on, is a gripping comic. The end of the first issue is a pretty good depiction of despair and fear as any, and was what originally hooked me on the series. Dysart has clearly done his homework, as both the work and his supplemental material shows. Ponticelli’s art isn’t realistic in a Bryan Hitch kind of way, but still does a great job of getting across exactly what it needs to. The violence is ugly, wounds look painful, and damage goes further than “ripped shirt, scuffed cheeks, bloody nose.” When Moses destroys his face, there’s a panel where the rock catches on his lips. “Beautiful” is the wrong word for it, but it’s a little touch like that that sells the book.

I think that if Unknown Soldier keeps up, and the quality stays high, it could be one of those classic Vertigo books that really captures people’s hearts. It’s not high fantasy for dreary goths, and it isn’t an irreverent spin on American culture. It’s just the story of a man who is up against a wall, knows exactly what to do to escape, but finds the solution so reprehensible that he can barely stand to do it.

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Some Books Are Important

September 4th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

There’s a line from the Atmosphere song “Always Coming Back Home To You” that I like and reference probably too often for my own good. “I swear to God, hip-hop and comic books were my genesis.” It was true when I first heard it and it’s still true. Rap and comics have been two of the handful of constants in my life so far. It isn’t exactly a question of which one I like more. It’s more that both have had different effects on my life.

Comics helped a lot in teaching me to read. Obscure science terms, made-up words, and things that sounded like made-up words but were actually real words after all littered my early comics reading experience. So, comics taught me a love of words.

Rap taught me to love wordplay. It’s about taking a phrase you know and turning it on its head. High School Me would hate me for being about to quote Young Jeezy, but this part from his verse on Put On is great and he’s from the next town over, so suck it, 2001-me.

Passenger’s a red bone, her weave look like some curly fries
Inside’s fish sticks, outside’s tartar sauce
Pocket full of cel-e-ry, imagine what she telling me
Blowing on asparagus, the realest shit I ever smoked
Ridin’ to that trap or die- the realest shit I ever wrote
They know I got that bro-cco-li, so I keep that glock with me

And yeah, it’s typical ignant thug rap– this is still Jeezy, after all. He makes the extended food metaphor work, and for some reason, it ends up being pretty clever. There are other great examples. Big Pun had that killer tongue-twister flow (Dead in the middle of little Italy, little did we know that we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddly) and Ghostface is still rap’s very own Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Another place where rap and comics intersected for me was in that they both portrayed heroes and role models for a very young David Brothers to take in. The difference between the two is that comics had heroes, black or white, who were generally written for white guys by white guys, while rappers were generally black guys who were usually aimed at a black audience.

The majority of black comics characters were, for years, either black characters filtered through an extremely non-black lens (Storm), unrelateable (Panther), parodies (Cage), or awful (Bishop).

Rap offered a slightly different perspective. I was just old enough to sneak in on the tail end of the pro-black movement of rap. Midnight Marauders hit when I was nine or ten (along with the Malcolm X movie). I had the Wu. I had Nas. I had a ton of people who taught me that being black is awesome, having money is great, and that crime is exciting. When it came down to choosing Iron Man or Tony Starks… I went with Ghostface Killah.

Most comics, with the notable exception of Milestone and occasional “outreach” books, aren’t aimed at me. That’s changed somewhat in recent years, but Marvel and DC are still relying on the same fanbase they’ve had for forty-plus years.

This brings me around to what I think are the two most important books in comics since… I dunno, the Jemas-era began. Nat Turner by Kyle Baker, and Sentences by Percy “MF Grimm” Carey and Ron Wimberly are books that are aimed at me. They’re by black people and aimed, if not at black people directly, at a wider audience than just “fanboys.”

Both aren’t necessarily the most marketable “comic books.” One is a book about a guy whose claim to fame was killing a lot of white men, women, and children after he was given a sign from Heaven. The other is about a rapper, but the greater message isn’t about “bitches and switches and hoes and clothes and weed,” which is what you’d usually see out of basically anything involving rap in the media at large.

Sentences was probably my favorite complete book out of ’07, including single issues, and it totally got robbed for that Eisner. I think it’s an important step in a lot of ways, and the least Vertigo-style title Vertigo has published. It isn’t a long and boring, goth-y, about vampires, religion, or your usual Vertigo cliche of choice. It’s just about a dude, his life, and the choices he made that got him to where he is now. It’s also about growing up black, falling into traps, and digging your way out of a hole you’ve dug for yourself.

There were any number of scenes and references in that book that I immediately got. I thought the bit with the mom in the beginning was hilarious. Why? Probably because I’d seen my mom swing on a grown man for messing with my little brother and any number of verbal sonnings while out shopping. I can relate to Carey’s love for his grandmother because we’re on the same level there.

In a very real way, it’s a book about me and my experiences. It’s about someone who looks like me, has gone through some of the same things I’ve gone through, listens to the same music, and even hung out with some of my own heroes. I don’t have to play down the obvious racial and class differences between me and most comics characters. I don’t have to worry about shocked stares when I say I haven’t heard of some apparently huge band. It’s the power of shared experience working in my favor. I finished the book feeling like I could go “Midnight Marauders or Low End Theory?” and “Ether or Takeover?” and get into an hour-long fight or an hour-long conversation, depending on the answer.

(Midnight Marauders and Ether are the right answers.)

Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner was my Sentences for when it came out. I recently re-read it on a long plane ride few weeks back, and finishing it prompted a few things. First, it made me realize that I had to do this essay. Second, I resolved to give the book (which I had just purchased a few days earlier) away the first chance I got, because people need to read it. And I did.

Nat Turner, the person, has been an interesting figure to me since I first heard of him. It could have been from a rap song, or from one of the footnotes in a school textbook that Baker mentions in his text pieces in the book. I know (off the top of my head) that he was mentioned on Wu-Forever, Sean Price’s Brokest Rapper You Know, and the Talib Kweli + dead prez joint off Lyricist Lounge.

Nat’s claim to fame, and I’m not embellishing anything here, is that he killed fifty-plus white men, women, and children. He led the largest slave rebellion in the States. Obviously, he was a murderer, and that isn’t something to be proud of. At the same time, though, he stood up tall and spat in the face of a system and country that believed him to be less than human. There’s a lot to appreciate in this story, though that probably makes me sound like a sociopath.

Baker’s approach to the book gives it a storybook kind of feel. There are only a few word balloons, leaving the action to stand on its own. The majority of the text is taken directly from The Confessions of Nat Turner. It comes in chunks and often relates to the scenes being depicted on the page, but its tone is jarring. The rebellion happened 160-some years ago, so the language and times are different. It’s like peeking into another world, or reading about a faraway land. The essay is very methodical and sometimes stilted. Premediated is an apt description, as well.

The art sells every emotion and scene perfectly. Sadness, determination, hate, and love all come through clear as a bell. One scene expertly shows a situation in which killing your own child is the greatest act of love you can perform. It’s depressing, it’s tough, and it’s a downer, but it’s a necessary one. It’s like medicine. You have to take it, and after you get past the taste, you’ll feel better.

I feel like it’s a book you should have to read at least once. It tells a story that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is still well-known and loved by a lot of people. It’s a story that illuminates both universal rights and what happens when someone is pushed too far and too hard.

Nat Turner and Sentences were like comics dipping their toe into the pool. They were warning shots. They are saying “We are here, we have always been here” to the industry and “Don’t go anywhere, there is something here for you, too” to the audience. I really wish that these books had been around for when I was younger. They’re exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t know I was looking for.

It was the equivalent of one of my favorite images from the past.

“We are here.”

Now, though, I just want more. My two loves are on speaking terms. Let’s keep at it, yeah?

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NYCC02 Miscellany

February 25th, 2007 Posted by david brothers

I caught three awesome panels today– Make Me Laff with Kyle Baker, Black Panel, and BET Animation panel. I’ll have thoughts on them later fa sho, but I just wanted to put this out there. I don’t think that Newsarama or CBR have covered either of them.

The BET Animation panel was, in a word, incredible. They’re doing extremely big things, and they showed a couple shorts that blew my mind. Hopefully the trailers will hit the net soon. I got to speak with Denys Cowan, who is an extremely nice guy, after the show, and I remarked (paraphrasing here) that, like a lot of the hip-hop I grew up with, these shorts are extremely subversive and, for lack of a better word, revolutionary. I told him that I’m in the Jay-Z generation, but I grew up on Rakim and PE and KRS, and each and everyone of them was subversive.

His response? “Exactly.”

Yes. This is good.

If you folks see any coverage of either the Black Panels or BET Animation panels anywhere, or discussion, can you drop me a comment? I really want to see some other reactions. BET hasn’t had a complete Road to Damascus moment, but they’re getting there.

More later. I’m completely out of it. I’ve got to say that this con has completely revitalized my interest in blogging and writing.

Also, the Marvel and DC panels pretty much universally blow. Vertigo was good, but blah on the rest.

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DC Solicitations, November 2006

August 22nd, 2006 Posted by david brothers

You can find the list, plus covers, over at Newsarama.

My commentary on the interesting books lies after the jump, and I’ve included the solicit text for them, too!
Read the rest of this entry �

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Pride of a Panther: Top 5 Black Men

July 10th, 2006 Posted by david brothers

Dr Sivana shol is a smart 'un!So, anyone who spends any amount of time speaking to me tends to find out that I am very, very pro-black. There’s a song by dead prez that goes, “Thirty-one years ago I would’ve been a [Black] Panther.” This is so true in my case that I have actually gone back in time and helped found a chapter of the Black Panther Party in Brooklyn. I did this when I was a little older. Time travel is tricky, all right?

I was sitting here thinking, as us intellectual types are wont to do, and I’m not feeling the love, comics. You aren’t treating your black characters right. You call Jason Rusch, the new Firestorm, a token, an affirmative action quota kid, and all kinds of other nasty names. Bishop? Bishop had a perm. What kind of self-respecting, non-pimp black man wears a perm? Virgil “Static” Hawkins and his imprintmates at Milestone went the way of the dodo, despite being some of the best comics to come out of the ’90s. Static was the first Ultimate Spider-Man, if you get me. Don’t even get me started on the reaction to Captain America: Truth – Red, White, and Black, or the kind of glaring lack of writers of color at the big two.

It’s cool, though.Captain Marvel in Blackface Blacks in comics have come a long way. Luke Cage used to be a patently offensive stereotype, though he’s been pretty well gentrified now. Stepin Fetchits abounded during the early years of comics. Comics great Will Eisner even had his own little stereotypical black kid running around. Did we have it as bad as Chop-chop and Egg-fu? Well, yeah. Stereotypes, unless played very carefully, tend to be ugly, ugly things.

Anyway, this is all introduction to the meat of the matter. A lot of black heroes are wack, but there are some gems, too. For every Black Goliath there’s a Black Panther, dig? So check the list and let me know what you think. Read the rest of this entry �

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