The Cipher 05/04/11: “A meeting in progress.”

May 4th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

(retooling this some.)


New rules for comic book movies! Watch people get mad at me for saying The Dark Knight is not perfect!

Five digital comics you should buy!

Dark Horse has a digital comics app and I take a look!

David Hine and Moritat make The Spirit good!


-Two things about Frank Miller’s work on Sin City: Family Values.

-This page is pretty nuts. A lot of what I read are mainstream comics, superhero or otherwise, which means that they’re colored, sometimes garishly (in both good and bad ways). Spotting blacks is something that feels pretty rare. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a page like, “Wow, look at all that black.”

-Miller’s pretty good at making black and white play well together, though, isn’t he? I love how he minimizes certain things (the barstools), suggests other things (Peggy’s legs), and then throws a bunch of detail onto the man’s pants and Peggy’s sweater. What’s really striking is how that big drop of black that’s Dwight’s chest really sets off his figure.

-I like the feathery fur on Peggy’s jacket, and the fuzz on Dwight’s coat. What material is that supposed to be? Like a light fur? Dwight’s really into his role. Shame about him sitting on his coat, though.

-There’s this piece Miller did of Miho for some magazine or another. It’s in The Art of Sin City, at any rate. It’s sparse, hardly any details but Miho’s face and pubic hair. It sounds perverted, but it really doesn’t come off like that way. It’s sexy, but not like… gross.

-I couldn’t find the image online. Found a whole bunch of other stuff, though. Here’s a slightly dirty Sergio Aragones Sin City illo, instead:

-Miho is probably my favorite character out of Sin City‘s cast. She’s sorta the height of Miller’s Elektric woman worshipping. She’s an invincible killing machine, stronger than everyone around her, and only subordinate to a man when she wants to be, which isn’t really submission at all, is it?

-Miller writes and draws her as a sort of ethereal, angelic figure. Her thoughts are closed to us, barring commentary from other characters, so we can only judge her actions.

-She’s entirely free of shadows in this tale. She’s the only pure character in the entire book. It’s an effective visual choice, because she either fades into the background, like a ghost, or really pops off the page.

-Miho spends all of her time in Family Values killing and maiming some thugs. It’s great.

-It’s great because Miller’s actually pretty good at action scenes. I like how casual this whole sequence is, how Miho’s just an efficient killing machine that catches everyone by surprise.

-The best bit, though, is that last page. Perfect picture of one moment in time, in that moment right before confusion turns into surprise.

-Has anyone ever looked at how Miller portrays people in mid-air? There’s this sublime bit in Elektra Lives Again where Matt Murdock just steps off a balcony and falls, before hitting a wire. Miller & Lynn Varley left the snow on the wire in place while the wire fell. There’s something about the way Miller shows people leaping and falling that’s different. I’d have to reread a whole lot more of his stuff specifically looking at that, though.

-Copped two new albums this week, both of which are actually old: Misnomer(S)’s American I(s) and Hard Nips second EP, I Shit U Not. One’s this sorta… punk-y thing, lots of heavy guitars. The other’s violin-inflected hip-hop.

-I really like the idea of violins and rap. There’s no real reason why one doesn’t belong with the other, and I’ve liked that mix since the intro on Hip Hop Respect (scroll down, hit listen). Misnomer(S) is two sisters, Knewdles and Sos. Knewdles kicks raps that feel sorta Native Tongues-y in terms of flow (I hear a lot of Queen Latifah in her voice, but she’s got De La’s playfulness) and Sos is the violinist half.

American I(s) is a pretty fun record, but that type of fun that flips between rapping about rapping to rapping about real life issues, like racism or broken relationships. I like the way it sounds, though I’ve only listened to it a couple of times thus far.

I Shit U Not… I like how this sounds. I don’t really know much about whatever microgenre this is probably supposed to be, but it’s good music to bike to. That mix of higher-pitched vocals and deep guitars (what’s the word for this type of guitar sound? somebody help me out) makes for an aural mix that’s new to me. The songs feel almost… abstracted, with the music and vocals playing basically the same role to my ears.

-Is that weird?

-I’m pleased with both albums, though. Hard Nips goes onto the workout mix, Misnomer(S) into boom-bap-rap.



David: Heroes for Hire 6
Esther: Yes: Superboy 7 Maybe: Secret Six 33
Gavin: Axe Cop Bad Guy Earth 3, Secret Six 33, Irredeemable 25, Avengers Academy 13, Deadpool Annual 1, Fear Itself 2, Herc 2, Heroes For Hire 6, Marvel Zombies Supreme 4, Ozma Of Oz 6, Uncanny X-Force 9

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The Cipher 02/09/11: “you can’t get what you want, but you can get me”

February 9th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

ready to give up so i seek the old earth

created: I’ve seen a few posts over the past couple weeks about the role of criticism and negative reviews online. I dunno–I feel like the only thing that matters is the work. Criticism, reviews, all of that stuff is just toppings. Eat it or don’t, find pleasure or pain in it, but you shouldn’t really try to place rules on it or minimize it. You don’t like it, but somebody else does, and honestly, somebody really needs to be there to say that Grimm Fairy Tales Inferno looks and reads terribly (it does, I checked). Long story short, I hate reading posts that are about posts. And look what I just did! Onward:

You should’ve read Zeb Wells’s run on New Mutants. It’s cool, though: you can pick up New Mutants, Vol. 1: Return of Legion for cheap. I’m not too fond of John Rauch’s color work on the series (everything seems sort of washed out/overbright, like Pete Pantazis over Ed Benes on JLA a couple years back), but the rest of it’s solid.

There are five different ways to buy Marvel digital comics. There should be, at most, two. I think the strongest strategy, once they get it straightened out, will be Marvel DCU + Marvel Comics on Chrome. Not perfect, but a good step.

who explained working hard may help you maintain

consumed: iTunes is doing this thing where it only plays several albums I’ve heard in a row, and then something I haven’t listened to in months. I dunno how to feel about that, but it was nice to hear that Johnson & Jonson again. Blu & Mainframe are ill. Here’s “Disco DYNAMITE”:

-That breakdown at 1:50 is the sort of thing I listen to rap for. In comics, it’s like if the CMY dropped out of the CMYK, the lettering went translucent, and the panel borders faded away. (Also the girl at 2:05.)

-An interesting thing about that album is that they did it under fake names for their fake names. Blu, Mainframe, and their guests took on a Johnson alias (Don, Magic, Jack). There’s no real rhyme or reason to it. They shout out their real fake names during the album, they shout out their fake fake names… it’s just an interesting gimmick. It’s meaningless, maybe, but the sort of thing I dig. I think it’d be interesting to take established personas and flip them for a new project. “I act like a dick, so hence the name Johnson.”

“Hold On John” is nice, too. That boy Blu has range. He needs to drop an album yesterday. I’d put ten on it, first day. I’ll end up getting his Amnesia EP next week, too.

-Blu, Blur, what’s the difference I ask you?

-I sat down with the Catherine demo and was STUNNED to find that it isn’t even really an RPG. It’s a puzzle platformer/dating sim/texting game. It isn’t exactly like Intelligent Qube, which I loved, but it’s similar enough that I’m honestly thinking about importing a game for the first time since whatever that last Fire Pro Wrestling was on PS2. Essentially, you have to scale a maze. You can push and pull blocks left/right/forward/backward or create new blocks. You have to navigate to the top of the stage to escape whatever’s chasing you. I like it. I like it a lot. Importing is probably a bit much (Play-Asia is talking about 90 bucks shipped), so I’m just gonna have to deal until E3 and hopefully an announcement for a US release. There’s a ton of English text in the game, though, so fingers crossed, minna-san.

Matt Seneca wrote about Grant Morrison and Jim Lee’s Wildcats. I don’t know if I agree with all the specifics of his post, but I do agree that it’s by far the most interesting book Morrison and Lee have done in the past ten years. I tried to wrap my head around it in ’09. I like seeing how we have the same or opposite opinions on certain things. We both had the same reaction to the psychedelic superhero sex.

-I wonder if that scene was supposed to be a Steranko thing, with the pulling in of various styles and influences to make comics that run counter to what you think they should be? Maybe so, maybe no. I’d kill to see Lee on a book where he can cut loose, though. I’ve got high hopes for Dark Knight: Boy Wonder with Frank Miller. Guaranteed to be hands down the most interesting Batman book all year, and probably the most entertaining.

-Speak of the devil, and you will see the weird way everyone draws his radar–Tim Callahan and Ryan Lindsay on Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Next week is Ann Nocenti. To say that I’m on pins and needles would be an understatement. Callahan is good at his job. The Aphrodite/Athena thing–I never picked up on that, and I’ve read all these comics back to front and back again.

-Big KRIT is ill, and he’s got a four song EP with live instruments and an R&B band out now. It costs four bucks. I bought it.

Aw, sugar, you just gone and wrote the dumbest thing in your whole life.

-MTVGeek interviewed Gareb Shamus. Spurgeon suggested skipping it, and I agree. It’s full of garbage marketing speak and shamelessness. But first, read this excerpt:

“And when it comes to ex-employees, you’ve got to understand that they’re ex-employees: they’re people who have just lost their jobs. And it’s very unfortunate, but unfortunately you’ve got to take what they say with a grain of salt. You’ve got to understand where it’s coming from. It doesn’t diminish their contribution to what we’ve done, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate their hard work – but when you look at the landscape of comic books today, a lot of these people wouldn’t even be working in this business if it wasn’t for Wizard giving them their first start.

So, when you look at a lot of the people saying those things about us, if it wasn’t for us transplanting them from where they existed – from jobs that weren’t even in comic books, where they were in school and looking for their first opportunity – they might not even be in comics now. So in a sense, I’m really happy – we’ve been able to influence so many different outlets out there, and we gave a lot of people out there a chance to be involved in this industry.”

“Don’t listen to these people. We fired them, and they wouldn’t be anything without us, so how dare they say word one?” Scum.

Jared Lewis shows off his thirty characters. See what procrastinating gets you? I’d been meaning to email him for weeks (seriously, since November) about this project to get some commentary-type interview going, but he went and did it himself before I could get off my lazy butt. Click through, check it out.

-Jared and Sean are talking Art Adams and Sean’s ’80s hair fetish over at Supervillain, too. Worth reading.

-Also worth reading: Mike Mignola talking about buildings.

Sequential Tart catches up with Faith Erin Hicks. I like her work, but haven’t read enough of it. Something else I need to fix this year. And hey, look at that–Zombies Calling is four bucks and The War at Ellsmere is five on ComiXology. I’m down with those prices.

-I wanted Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku this weekend. A friend gave me the Criterion months ago and I finally made time. Watching subbed movies is tough for me–I’m used to being able to multitask and write while I watch movies and stuff, and you can’t do that when you have to read. I usually do it on the weekends or between projects. Anyway, trailer:

-It was probably very edgy for its time, but in nowadays, it’s actually kind of boring, up to and until the point the setting shifts to Hell. I mean, honestly. Anyway, I was talking to my friend while and after watching it, which I don’t usually do (death to liveblogs, enjoy things while they happen instead of trying to document them), and here’s a few lines from our conversation:

dub> “stand in a circle in front of this video of fire”
dub> japanese hell is awful
dub> i do like how ironic all the punishments are
dub> it’s like how the Spectre comic used to be
Esco> the best thing is that there is no message other than “Hell sucks, don’t go there”
dub> haha yeah
dub> “if you witness an accident… say something about it”
dub> “unless a dude who is clearly the devil kills your wife first”
dub> man is it just me or is this guy innocent of everything?
dub> “You are guilty of getting depressed when your fiancee died! TO HELL WITH YOU!”

-The thing about the Eight Hells is that apparently people just yell at you in between being dismembered and set on fire or chasing babies. Sometimes the yelling is just your name, and other times, it’s people shouting revelations about the past at you. And that’s the story of why there’s a surprise almost retroactive incest toward the end when a guy finds out one of his love interests is secretly his sister. Not even half-sister. Just straight up sister. His mom was like “I’m not sayin I’m number one–uh, I’m sorry, I LIED.”

This Black History tumblr is probably my favorite website.

-I ventured back into the badlands of TCJ.com to read a two part Geoff Johns interview with Nathan Wilson. Part One and Part Two. He says a lot of things I thought were pretty interesting, whether in terms of how he approaches comics, the difference in approaches between him and Grant Morrison, or even competition in comics writing.

-Gonna karaoke this weekend. Looking forward to it.

to learn to overcome the heartaches and pain

David: ha ha ha
Esther: For sure: Batgirl 18, Batman and Robin 20, Birds of Prey 9, Knight and Squire 5
Possible: The Brave and the Bold 4, Red Robin 20
Gavin: Batman And Robin 20, Justice League Generation Lost 19, Knight & Squire 5, Carnage 3, (maybe) Casanova Gula 2, Deadpool Team-Up 885, Heroes For Hire 3, Incredible Hulks 622, New Avengers 9,Power Man And Iron Fist 1, Punisher MAX 10, Secret Warriors 24, (maybe), Ultimate Comics Avengers vs New Ultimates 1, Ultimate Comics Captain America 2

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Gamble a Stamp 03: Superhero Comics Are Dead

October 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The story goes that Dark Knight Returns was born when Frank Miller realized that Bruce Wayne was younger than he was. This character that he’d looked up to, or at least enjoyed, since he was a kid in Vermont was suddenly younger than he was. Miller was getting old, and part of getting old is looking at the things you loved as a child stay young. The aspirational aspect of superheroes, the “Gamble a stamp!” element that makes the genre so fascinating, is a little tougher to swallow when you’re finding wrinkles in new places and Bruce Wayne is still 29 years old.

So, Miller added twenty years to the character and in doing so, plowed fresh ground. Batman became someone Miller could look up to again, with his universe and methods updated accordingly. Superstitious and cowardly criminals were replaced with a threat birthed from societal collapse and the apathy of good men. Batman turned pointedly political, and Miller took on Reagan and pop psychology over the course of DKR. He created Carrie Kelly and made her the new Robin, both updating and critiquing the Robin concept.

Getting older killed the superhero for Miller. He couldn’t relate as he once did, and he took steps to make superheroes cool one last time. Dark Knight Returns is a blaze of glory for the superhero, that last, brilliant blast of light before death. It says that these dusty old characters are still just as vibrant as they once were, but not in the same ways. People grow old and change, and their interests change with them. At the end of DKR, Batman isn’t a soldier in the war against crime like he once was, and like he is now. He was a general, as his severe turtleneck and demeanor suggests. He’s leading the war, not fighting it. He grew up.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen came from Moore wanting to write a superhero story with weight, something like Moby Dick in particular. He wanted to write a superhero for adults, and chose hard-edged pessimism to get the job done. Its rigid structure shows a world that has no use for acrobatics or melodrama. It has no place for many of the staples of cape comics, whether you prefer Jack Kirby-style action or classic stylings of Curt Swan.

Watchmen, then, is an autopsy. By the end of it, all of the secrets of the superhero are laid bare. You see the paunches and watch their muscles sag. You get a front row seat to Nite Owl’s impotence and the way superhero costumes function as fetish objects. Rorshach is revealed as being not that much better than the villains he fights. An old man gets his brains beaten out, the only true superhero is so alien as to be inhuman, and in the end, the villain wins and saves the world. The heroes? They compromised because to actually defeat the villain would have resulted in the destruction of world peace. Rorshach refuses to compromise and is killed for it.

All of your illusions and ideas of the superhero are deconstructed and proved false by Watchmen. They’re normal people, rather than superheroes, and act accordingly. There’s no magic, no aspirational aspects, and nary a wink from Superman. Just hard edges and gritty realism.

DKR is the blaze of glory. It’s a revitalization before death. Watchmen is the autopsy. At the end, there are no secrets. What’s Flex Mentallo? It’s a wake, that time when everyone gets together, gets drunk, and talks about the deceased.

Wally Sage is overdosing on painkillers in Flex, but that’s not all he’s taken. He’s had a bottle of vodka, a couple e pills, a quarter ounce of hash, and he’s tripping on acid, too. As he’s dying, he’s talking about all the amazing comics he read. He’s talking about the good, the bad, and the irrelevant. He’s painting a picture.

The picture he’s painting is of the full spectrum of comics, or at least the full spectrum of the comics he read as a child. He talks about how exciting they were, how sexy, and how scary. He talks about how superheroes couldn’t stop his parents from fighting or save us from the bomb. Flex is about how fiction is real, and the way that the two rub up against each other and interact at certain points.

Flex Mentallo is a hopeful book. At the end, the superheroes return to save us all. They are revealed as us, or at least a significant part of us. Flex saves the day. The magic of reading superheroes as a kid is adapted to the real world. The glow of the lamp that Wally read comics by as a child serves as a blatant metaphor for the brilliance of superheroes. At the end of the book, the light is restored to Wally’s sight.

Flex is a celebration of the superhero. All of it, from good to bad, from perfections to imperfections, is important. The sexualization of superheroes serves a purpose, either as masturbation material or as an outlet for the creator’s desires. The Silver Age zaniness provided a look into other worlds, whether unsettling or fantastic. The escapism provided a look into a better world. The Starlin acid trips, the fear of the superhero, the edginess, the pointlessness, all of it matters. All of it fits together. It’s all part of the same picture. All of it is wonderful, in one way or another. It’s a puzzle with a million parts that still manages to stay in sync.

And in one of the last scenes, the point of Flex is laid bare. “Look at you! A half-naked muscleman in trunks! What’s that supposed to signify? What are you? Do you know what you are?” asks a teenaged Wally Sage. Flex shrugs and says, “Sure. I’m a superhero. Being clever’s a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.”

Implicit in Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Flex Mentallo is a critique of the superhero. DKR teaches that the superhero is broken and it must be made cool again. Watchmen teaches that the superhero is broken, and here is how it is broken. Flex teaches that superheroes are broken, but that brokenness is just as natural as the parts which aren’t broken. Blaze of glory, autopsy, wake.

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Fourcast! 61: Exploitation!

September 13th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Good news!
-If you’ve ever wondered how often we can say “boobs” or “pornography” in sixty seconds, this is definitely the show for you.
-If you’ve ever wanted to hear David and Esther debate the use of exploitation in comics and media, this may be the show for you.
-I mean, what’s the difference between porn and exploitation cinema?
-(The answer is probably “narrative.”)
-Is exploitation ever okay?
-If you’ve ever wanted a show that has a debate that ends in consensus, or even a point, then you should probably listen to some other podcast.
-Fifty minutes, whoo.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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3 Formative Works: 300

August 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 300 was probably the first comic that I really dug into and absorbed. I’d read and reread several comics before, most notably a couple of Akira softcovers I’d inherited (remember those? I ended up trading for a few) and the last chapter of Sin City: The Big Fat Kill, but I’d never really dug into them. Comics blogging didn’t exist when I was a kid, all we did was talk about how cool it was that people had guns and argue over how many copies of Brigade 1 X-Men 25 was worth.

But 300–I picked it up because I recognized Miller’s name, and didn’t care that it was in Spanish because the art was dope. Poring over it and rereading it actually helped me learn Spanish, and I ended up quizzing my teacher over words I didn’t know. “Hace apenas un año,” a caption early in the book, threw me off at first, for example, but once I got it, other words and phrases began to fall into place.

I read and reread 300. I absorbed it, and that’s corny, but really the only way to put it. If you’ve ever fallen into a book like I fell into 300, you’ll understand.

What’s weird is that I’ve been writing about comics for the past five years, slowly getting better at critical analysis, and I’ve only ever written about 300 once, and that was as part of a review of the (in hindsight) crappy movie. Everything else, every other time I’ve mentioned it, has just been in passing, or relating the story above. I haven’t been avoiding it, but I haven’t exactly felt led to write about it, either.

It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. The last time Miller made a comic that wasn’t worth examining in detail was probably his early work on Daredevil. There’s always something to look at and pull apart, whether that thing is how Miller’s changed approach to superheroes intersected with 9/11 and brought Batman kicking and screaming into realpolitik or how 21st Century Frank Miller’s biggest enemy is 20th Century Frank Miller.

(Digression: Miller’s rep in the blogosphere has been boiled down to “WHORESWHORESWHORES” due to the fact that people can’t separate jokes from actual criticism/examination. The image of Miller as a leering, super-serious sexist monster only tracks if you’re ignorant of his body of work–the Martha Washington books, Hard Boiled, Ronin, etc. He’s got a wider range and better sense of humor than most people seem to give him credit for, though he can be awfully self-indulgent at the same time. What I’m saying, I guess, is step your game up, internet. This is basic stuff.)

I think part of it is that 300 is just a very straightforward book. I’m not saying it has no depth, but it isn’t tough to suss out what Miller’s playing with in the story. If you pull 300 apart, what you’re left with is Miller’s entire career. It’s not an end point, obviously, but it is something that he had to make at some point. Just look at the chapter titles: Honor, Duty, Glory, Combat, and Victory.

300 is everything. There’s the hard Dirty Harry morality, the strength tempered with love, quiet and graceful violence, ugly violence, brotherhood, casual male and female nudity, the rejection of cowardice, some obscenely good one-liners, self-sacrifice, corrupt politicians and priests, and hey, look, what’s that at the end of chapter 4?


Miller has said that he started Sin City because he wanted to draw manly men, sexy women, and old cars. Daredevil and Ronin had ninjas and samurai because Miller was into manga and martial arts flicks. Miller did covers for the First Comics editions of Lone Wolf & Cub, a series all about duty and honor and the proper application of violence. 300 has its roots in an old movie he saw as a kid. Frank Miller draws what he’s interested in at the time, and you can track those interests in his work. There’s even a 300 tease in the last chapter of The Big Fat Kill. This is clearly a story he’s been interested in forever.

While I don’t think I ever really consciously realized this while reading and rereading, 300 is where close reading began for me. I studied it closer than you usually study comics, due entirely to the fact that it was in another language. It’s not my favorite of his books, though I do like it a whole lot, but it’s kind of interesting to look back at it and everything I learned from it without being conscious of that education. I started picking up on his magic tricks (the last chapter goes first person as Leonidas surveys his enemies for a few pages, and then pulls out to show the full Spartan might) and tics (repetition of dialogue and captions for emphasis and pacing) and interests via, what, osmosis? By accident?

My relationship with 300 is weird. It never quite feels right to read it in English, the movie was several orders of magnitude less subtle than the book (“This is Sparta” was a sentence, not a scream), and the tone is strangely subdued in certain scenes. I think that, craft-wise, this is Miller’s strongest and tightest work, with very little fat worth trimming. It lacks the manic intensity of his more recent Batman work, but it also feels more grown-up. And the ending is dope–Leonidas simply saying “Stelios,” the leap that’s something of a callback to Stelios’s nickname “Stumblios,” all of it.

I’m glad I read it where and when I did.

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Fourcast! 46: Next Year’s Fourcast

May 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-The Fourcast is one year old this week!
-(We took a six week break last year when my work schedule got crazy and I officially stopped sleeping.)
-We talk about things we liked last year: Wednesday Comics, Amazing Spider-Man, and Gastrophobia
-We have a wish list for the next year, too!
-More ongoing series of graphic novels
-Happy Fun Comics
-Esther’s love of Frank Miller
-More Crime and War Comics
-David’s complete inability to add properly
Absolute Flex Mentallo
Wednesdayer Comics
-Dead Heroes
-No wait, No Dead Heroes
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Every 4th Quarter He Likes To Mike Jordan Them

April 18th, 2010 Posted by guest article

I got an email from José de Leon toward the middle of last week’s orgy of a commentary on violence. He had noticed a pretty funny, and fun, comparison between Frank Miller and Michael Jordan. I thought it was funny enough to post, and José gave me his permission, so here we are! I laughed a couple times reading this. You should, too. Index for Booze, Broads, & Bullets here.

I thought I’d trot this out again, seeing your blogging series “Booze, Broads ad Bullets”…

I actually noted this duality back in the mid-1990s (I posted this to a long-dead message-board many years ago) and have been updating it to match current events in both men’s careers… They both stand out to me as the pre-eminent “populist icons” of their respective fields, probably their fields most prominent and socially-influential modern-era practitioner — these are the men who inspired Air Jordan shoes and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, expensive “prestige format” sneakers and expensive “prestige format” comics. There is also to my mind a singular intensity to their work (some would say that intensity borders on the pathological), and tracing the arc of their careers, and the quite-evident passion that both men brought to their stage has influenced my own notions of how to achieve success in life, after seeing it duplicated at the highest level — more than once.

Next spring is the 25th anniversary of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and Frank Miller is back next spring doing Batman comics titled “THE DARK KNIGHT” (continuing the All-Star Batman series with Jim Lee). Things come full-circle.

In celebration of the Hall Of Fame induction of The One And Only Frank Miller Of Basketball…


I’ve been calling Miller “The Michael Jordan of Comics” in conversation for many years now, and I believe with good justification. Looking at both of their careers closely to this point, the similarities are uncanny …

Both are tremendous successes at their chosen professions, and are considered by many the very best of all time at what they do:

MJ: comics
FM: basketball

Both are considered among the greatest ever at the essentials of their profession. On a fundamental level they are impeccable and exemplary — you can find little wrong in what they do, and moreover almost everything is done perfectly right. And because of their strength in the fundamentals of their craft, they are able to be spectacular at times, almost at will:

MJ: scoring and defense
FM: drawing and writing

Both combine in their work a rare mix — an intense ferocity over-reaching his peers, reminiscent of:

MJ: basketball’s greatest winner, Bill Russell
FM: comics essential storyteller, Will Eisner

And a sublime elegance, beauty, power and spectacle, reminiscent of:

MJ: Wilt Chamberlain, a legendary, larger-than-life figure in basketball history, and owner of basketball’s gaudiest numbers (100 points in a single game is most notable)
FM: Jack Kirby, a legendary, larger-than-life figure in comics history, and owner of comics’ gaudiest artistic achievements (100 issues of Fantastic Four is most notable)

And both have acknowledged the influence of the two men in their work.

Each cut his teeth and refined his “chops” early in his career during the early 1980s:

MJ: at the University of North Carolina
FM: drawing, then writing, Daredevil

Both shortly after moved onto a different stage in an unorthodox setting:

MJ: at the 1984 Olympics, showing his stuff against international competition
FM: moving to DC, to create the creator-owned project RONIN, showing the influence of international artists Moebius and Goseki Kojima

Fans still rave about things he did in the spring of 1986:

MJ: scoring 63 points against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs

He began a breathtaking, show-stopping creative assault on his profession at large shortly after this work:

MJ: winning two slam-dunk competitions, winning Defensive Player of the Year, showing his all-around talent, and setting the highest season scoring average by someone other than Wilt Chamberlain (37.1, also the best of his career) between 1987-1990, becoming probably the most prominent star in basketball.

FM: puting out a varied body of work ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, DAREDEVIL LOVE AND WAR, ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN (personally I think this is his high point yet as an artist), mostly as a writer, showing his all around talent, between 1987-1990, becoming probably the most prominent star in comics.

Both have had a significant effect on the larger economy:

MJ: thru his success as a commercial spokesperson. Fortune magazine once estimated the contribution of Jordan to the success of the businesses he was involved in as $10 billion US.

FM: thru his success at revitalizing Batman as a haracter, he revitalized the Batman merchandising franchise, leading to movies and TV series that owed more to DARK KNIGHT rather than Adam West. He also inspired the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (largely a parody of his series RONIN), indirectly building one of the most successful line of toys and merchandise from the ’90s.

Both have been under the long-time commercial association of a company located in Oregon:

MJ: Nike of Beaverton, OR
FM: Dark Horse of Milwaukie, OR

Major color schemes:

Chicago Bulls: Red, White, and Black
Sin City: Black, White and Red

Both took major break at the height of their career and power from their chosen profession:

MJ: to try and play major league baseball (1993-94)
FM: to try and become a Hollywood screenwriter (1989-90)

And did not do as well as they did away from the profession that brought them fame:

MJ: barely breaking a .200 batting average in double-A level baseball
FM: Robocop 2 and 3

Both returned from that break and sucked originally coming out of the gate, with one really spectacular moment:

MJ: that whole #45 jersey thing, and getting knocked out the playoffs for the only time in the ’90s; 55 points against the New York Knicks
FM: that whole Martha Washington thing, Spawn/Batman; HARD BOILED

And after the bumpy restart, got down to business and came out with a more efficient, yet still devastating style:

MJ: developing a fadeaway jumper, posting a record 72-10 won-lost record for a season, and winning three more NBA championships for a total of six over the decade
FM: developing the stark black-and-white SIN CITY style, producing 300, and producing a total of nine SIN CITY graphic novels over the decade

Entered the 21st century making a controversial return to DC, which many critics branded as a spectacular failure:

MJ: as director of basketball operations and ultimately as a player for the Washington, DC, Wizards.
FM: returning to DC Comics to produce (work-for-hire) a sequel to BATMAN:THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

Introduced yet a THIRD evolutionary stylistic change far, far from their original overpowering style in their latest comeback:

MJ: as a coach-on-the-floor jump shooter
FM: admitting to using a more cartoony style in his later SIN CITY work and DARK KNIGHT 2

They have had one very significant collaborator through the bulk of their career:

MJ: Scottie Pippen
FM: Lynn Varley

And worked with a strong individual performer during their abortive comeback to DC:

MJ: Richard Hamilton
FM: Jim Lee

Other significant collaborators:

MJ: Dean Smith (college coach), Phil Jackson (pro coach, championship era), Horace Grant (workhorse power forward, pre-baseball), Dennis Rodman (gonzo power forward, post-baseball), Doug Collins (coach from waaayy back, coach in latest comeback)
FM: Denny O’Neil (editor at Marvel and DC), Diana Schutz (editor at Dark Horse, SIN CITY era), Klaus Janson (workhorse inker, pre-Hollywood), Geof Darrow (gonzo artist, post-Hollywood), Bob Schreck (editor from waaayy back, editor on latest comeback)

And really stretching it… both played themselves in a movie:

FM: Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey (1994 — you can find it on the IMDB)

Both have had visually overwhelming feature films produced with their heavy involvement chronicling their incredible runs of success during the 1990s:

MJ: the IMAX feature, “Michael Jordan TO THE MAX”
FM: Robert Rodriguez’s virtual transcription of the SIN CITY comic books to a feature-film version

Both have also had features directed by the director Zack Snyder:

MJ: Come Fly With Me (NBA Home Video, 1990)
FM: 300 (feature film, 2007)

Both had films presenting in stunning fashion their last great stand in 1998, when it has been argued by critics that they had reached the storybook pinnacle of their respective careers — if it was the last image of them, how magnificent was it:

MJ: Michael Jordan TO THE MAX, presenting Jordan’s last championship run and final title-winning shot with the Chicago Bulls in 1998
FM: 300, the film adapting the comic book portraying the last heroic stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, produced as a comic by Miller in 1998

In 2007, both separated from their long-time spouse:
MJ: Juanita Vanoy
FM: Lynn Varley

Both men made a bit of an unintended splash with their controversial comments in front of the national media:

MJ: With his pathologically-competitive “acceptance speech”, broadcast on ESPN, at his induction into the Basketball Hall Of Fame

FM: With his out-of-left-field assertion that Iraq declared war on the United States, broadcast on NPR, during his 2007 interview after the State of the Union

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder

April 17th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Chad wants to talk about Booze, Broads, & Bullets. Sean wants to talk about Daredevil: Love and War and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Me? I’ve just got an index and some words about Miller’s second-most hated.

Behold, I teach you the Batman.

Batman’s story is fundamentally about revenge. He was wronged as a child and dedicates his life to the get-back. Joe Chill, for various reasons, is beyond his grasp. He can never have his actual revenge. Either Chill is dead, too old, or simply doesn’t exist. So, instead of having an explicit goal for his revenge, something he can point to when finished and have some sense of accomplishment or closure, he’s left with a phantom, something he’ll never be able to grasp. The object of his hatred is transferred to “crime” itself, and thus begins his never-ending quest to get back at the world for the death of his parents.

Batman would not be a pleasant person to be around. He’s been training to fight crime since he was a teenager, at the latest, and that kind of focus does not lend itself to being a particularly good friend. He has focused his life on figuring out ways to solve mysteries, memorizing facts about decomposition, learning ways to hurt people, and make them fear him.

Now imagine if, after being brutalized on his first night out fighting crime, he found a lens to focus his vengeance. A variation on the last happy moment from before his life was ruined. Zorro re-imagined in a blood-soaked haze. “Yes. Father. I shall become a bat.” He is rich enough to do anything, save for overcome the heartache that infected him as a child. So, he lashes out.

A child’s fantasy becomes corrupted due to unimaginable pain. The moment his parents died, Bruce Wayne’s childhood stopped and the seed that would grow to be the Batman began, nourished by blood and anger. He’s going to become a force of nature, something that strikes from the darkness and has no more substance than a shadow. But, not the swashbuckler with a sense of humor from the movies. No, when the Batman laughs, it is a bad thing. That just means the pain is coming. And he’s going to hurt you because he was hurt as a child. This is the Batman.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is the story of how Batman learned to be human. Follow along.

One thing I haven’t seen anyone address is how Batman is treated in the text. The Batman of the early ’00s, who alienated his friends and allies simply because he could, was still treated as a hero and morally correct. The Batman of ASBAR, on the other hand, is actively disliked by everyone he interacts with. In the first conversation he has with Dick Grayson, age twelve, Dick realizes that Batman is putting on a voice. “It’s like he’s doing some lameass Clint Eastwood impression. That’s not his real voice. He’s faking it.” Later, when Batman tells him that the car is called “the Batmobile,” Dick rolls his eyes and says, “That is totally queer. :rolleyes:”

Alfred, after being ordered to let the boy eat rats, declares that he is not Batman’s slave. He vehemently objects to Batman’s treatment of the child. Jim Gordon, the closest thing Batman has to a friend, mocks him after doing him a favor and receiving no thanks in return. “Of COURSE not,” he thinks. “That’s hardly be GRIM AND GRITTY, would it?” An inexplicably Irish Black Canary echoes Dick’s opinion of the name “Batmobile,” and even goes so far as to say that maybe, just maybe, Batman “could find some wee benefit from speaking to a person or two, now and then– of course not while you’re so busy punching somebody senseless?”

Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, gives him the treatment on behalf of the Justice League. Wonder Woman wants Batman dead and shown as an example of the cape community policing their own. Superman, showing signs of the ending of Dark Knight Strikes Again decades ahead of time, declares that “this is my world. These are my people. These are my rules.” He overrules her. The only person in the JLA who likes Batman is Plastic Man, who is insane.

The dislike, or grudging acceptance, is nearly unanimous. Vicki Vale dodges a direct meeting with Batman, but calls him a “flying rat.” The only person in the entire book who meets Batman and is anything less than completely unimpressed with him is a woman he rescues from rapist muggers in an alley. She says, “Thank you. I love you,” as Batman is leaving. His monologue: “Nobody loves anybody, my darling. We just survive.”

Think it through. No one in the book likes him. He’s playing a role that is so obvious a recently-traumatized twelve-year old can see through it. He has flashes of darkness, where thoughts of his parents come unbidden to his mind. He repeatedly calls grief the enemy, because grief leads to acceptance and forgiveness. “Grief forgives what can never be forgiven.”

Issue nine. He unleashes Robin on Green Lantern because it’ll be a laugh and he needs to show the JLA he means business. The anger and grief inside Robin spills over and he nearly kills Green Lantern. Batman is suddenly forced to realize that he’s been going about his quest wrong. He was forcing the boy into the steps he followed to become Batman, not realizing that grief and closure are vital to growth. The issue ends with them weeping over the graves of Dick’s parents.

That is the first step toward Batman becoming an actual hero. ASBAR is the story of why Batman needs a Robin. It brings him back down to Earth and forces him to acknowledge his own flaws and humanity. It shows him that you can be young and adjusted, and that crime fighting doesn’t have to be about revenge. The mean one-liners and Eastwood fade. The fun of crime fighting doesn’t. “Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

Of course, the tragedy of ASBAR is that Dark Knight Strikes Again lies in its future. After being fired, Dick Grayson went bad. Batman has to kill him, and while he mocks him, he still marks his passing with a sad, “So long, Boy Wonder.”

Make no mistake: the Batman is a child’s fantasy. Batman’s defining moment is tragedy, and it has effected his adulthood in a way that, say, Spider-Man’s tragedy didn’t. Uncle Ben’s death taught Spider-Man that heroism is a requirement, not an option. The death of Thomas and Martha Wayne taught Bruce that the world is a cruel place. He took Zorro, a character his father enjoyed, and stepped into his boots. It is telling that Miller revises Robin’s origin to include the fact that Dick’s father was a Robin Hood fan and often took Dick to see the movie. Dick chooses his name in honor of his father. Batman does, too. But the difference in the two of them is astounding.

But, for now, ASBAR is the last lesson of the Batman. He’s mastered ways to hurt, maim, kill, investigate, deduce, and solve. This is where he learns to feel. I assume that next year’s Dark Knight: Boy Wonder will wrap the story and show us how Batman and Robin work together in their first bout against the Joker.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder is grotesque and exaggerated. It’s not a satire, and there’s definitely a point to all of the glorious excess.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: I’m sick of flags.

April 16th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Chad’s talking about Family Values while Sean is over here making connections between That Yellow Bastard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Booze, Broads, & Bullets: we got it covered from all angles. Start at the index, work your way down.

Page 63 of 9-11: Artists Respond features a story by Layla Lawlor. It’s a one page story about the impermanence of things, but also about the way things live on and on in new forms. It’s a hopeful piece, about the way life ebbs and flows and then becomes great again. Pages 66 and 67 are about Peter Pachoumis’s memories of 9-11. Frantic phone calls, live television broadcasts, a slow return to normalcy. It has the iconography of most 9-11 related tales– firemen, cops, flags, and dust. It’s about shock, rather than Lawlor’s hope. And then you have pages 64 and 65.

An atom bomb of anger and cynicism dropped into the middle of a book filled with stories about unity and tolerance and sadness. The rest of the book is your mother comforting you and putting ice on your black eye, while Miller’s two pages are your father asking you if you gave as good as you got, and if not, you better do better next time. It’s a mood-killer, a bug crawling across your dinner plate on the night you want to propose to your lady.

It’s cynical and ugly and I don’t know that he was wrong for doing it. Something about the sparse art and jagged lettering makes me think that this is just as personal and honest as the rest of the stories in the book. Miller is a big fan of New York City, whether it was the mythical one in his Daredevil run or the city he moved to with a portfolio full of art in an attempt to make it big.

There’s anger and hurt in these two pages, these fourteen words, but there’s also a love. Most of all, though, there’s hurt feelings. Miller’s reaction is short, curt, and mean. It’s a slap in the face. Miller uses a star and a cross, specifically American symbols of church and state, to symbolize the ideas that he’s disgusted with. It’s a very pointed choice, and feels like a backlash against the reactionary patriotism that swept the country in the wake of 9-11. “They weren’t right, but we aren’t right, either.”

His views have changed in the years since. 2006 saw him deliver an impassioned essay on the subject of how his belief in the flag turned around. He’s a supporter of the war on terror, and considers it to be vitally important to the survival of the country. Holy Terror, Batman! was going to be a “piece of propaganda” that will “offend just about everybody” before it changed into something else entirely.

I don’t know enough about Miller’s political views to accurately judge him. He’s libertarian, I’m not. He supported the War in Iraq, I don’t. But this quick blast of anger, this “Get real!” in the middle of “It’ll be all right!”, is fascinating to me. You can see where he was coming from and exactly how he felt, and it’s all in three panels and fourteen words.

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Booze, Broads, & Bullets: Sin City: The Big Fat Kill

April 15th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

You should probably go and read Chad Nevett on That Yellow Bastard and then make your way back here. Peep the index. This one is about the book and about me and my relationship to the book, so, y’know, pull up a chair.

My first comics were Amazing Spider-Man 316, 317, 321 and 322. The first two were the return of Venom, while the latter two were part of the Assassin Nation Plot, with art by Todd McFarlane and words by David Michelinie. I read them til they fell apart, and up until getting screwed over in a move a few years back, they were the oldest comics I owned. I think the first I bought with my own money, or traded for or whatever, was X-Men 1. That set the tone for my comics habits for the next few years. I was reading Marvel, mostly out of the X-office, almost exclusively. I picked up the odd books via trading– Warriors of Plasm, Spawn, Shadowhawk, Robin–but my world was fairly limited. Until Sin City: The Big Fat Kill.

I only ever had chapter five of The Big Fat Kill when I was younger, but I read it dozens, if not hundreds, of times. It’d be years, and I’d be grown, before I read the full story. I’d read plenty of comic books before it, but none like it. The cover alone was different. There was an explosion, a guy jumping, and then some striking text: “Sin City.” More text: “We gotta kill every rat-bastard one of them.” Still more, off to the lower left: “The Big Fat Kill.” This book was different. This was designed. It wasn’t just disparate cover elements tossed onto a gaudy, garish pinup.

Inside was a revelation. Comics come in black and white? And I mean literal black and white. There were no shades of grey, like in flashbacks. People cursed, people died, guns went off, and it was all rendered in two colors. Architecture flip-flopped colors and appeared only in contour. People didn’t have figures so much as vague outlines, and their shadows were all weird. Some pages were half empty, there were panel dedicated to sound effects, and the lettering was uneven and weird. I didn’t know back then, but I now recognize that Miller was playing with negative space, pacing, and contrast. It was just striking. It was amazing.

And the ending– it was murder. “We gotta kill them because we need them dead.” No nobility, no heroism, no moral, and no cause. These people gotta die because Dwight and the girls need to prove a point. Quite a difference from Wolverine pulling his claws or Bishop shooting people with energy bullets.

Past the ending was a letters page. “Keynote Speech by Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar.” It was a speech about something entirely new to me. I didn’t know about Jack Kirby, or William Gaines, or the Comics Code Authority. Royalties? What? Creator-ownership? Making fun of Marvel? Past the letters page were pinups. Sergio Aragones, who I knew from Mad. Walt Simonson, who I didn’t know at all.

I would’ve been twelve, but more likely eleven, when I first read it. I don’t think I even really got that the girls were hookers when I first read this. I knew they had actual nudity, rather than the fake nudity of superheroines. It just never clicked. I was out of my depth. The Big Fat Kill was bigger than anything I’d read before, from front to back. It left my brains on the wall.

I didn’t see it at the time, but The Big Fat Kill came along at the right time. I already liked mystery/adventure books. I dug Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and Sherlock Holmes more than the Hardy Boys, and I blazed through Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids books. But, reading and re-reading and absorbing The Big Fat Kill was like the end of The Usual Suspects. Tumblers clicked into place, and I was introduced to what would later become my favorite thing. This hard-boiled, ugly, jarring, nasty bastard of a book was a virus. It rewrote my brain.

It was that last scene that did it for me. The calculated murder, the callous way they went about it, and the pithy line Dwight drops when the killing starts (“Where to fight. It counts for a lot. But there’s nothing like having your friends show up with lots of guns.”), all of that had a huge effect on me. Now, I love crime fiction more than anything else, couldn’t really care less about sci-fi/fantasy if I tried, and old movies where women grip cigarette holders, breathe out clouds of stylish death, and send men off to die with a glance and a false smile are some of my favorites. The only thing that even comes close to my attraction to crime stories are stories about feudal Japan, and guess what Frank Miller flirted with in Ronin?

The Big Fat Kill is one of those books I can’t accurately judge. I’m too close to it, it’s too entwined in my DNA. If I had to pretend to be objective, I’d say that Chad has it down pretty well. It’s a short story, not trying to do a whole lot beyond show some manly men, violent women, and dangly earrings. There’s nothing righteous or noble about it. It warps a young mind.

“We gotta kill every last rat-bastard one of them.”

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