Monday, June 30, 2008

Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows

I can't say I was ever a big Alan Moore fan. I'd read collections of the early Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing as a kid, and even picked up the first issue or two of "Saga" by Marty Pasko Tom Yeates, and liked them okay. When the rare Moore issue of the book winded its way to a Seven-Eleven though, it always left my young mind quizzical. I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew of its mystique, and I didn't get it. On the other hand, I did enjoy his odd Green Lantern Corps tales, so where was my personal disconnect?

On reading this collection of issues #43-50, I finally got it-- I don't like Moore in long form. "Windfall" is a nifty little tale about the highly individualized reactions by people eating of the Swamp Thing's "flesh." I enjoyed the gimmick of "Bogeyman," especially the punchline. The reference to Clive Barker's "Books of Blood" did remind me that Moore was at best only of his time though, allowing him "visionary" status just in relation to the culturally clueless comic book industry. "Ghost Dance" was another ripping yarn, though only production values would have prohibited its inclusion in one of the British "Tales From The Crypt" movies. I enjoyed that trio.

Then came the tie-ins to "Crisis On Infinite Earths," and an apocalyptic side story of same leading to the big anniversary issue. In the case of "Watchmen," I understand the anti-climax was an intended shock to the system, but that doesn't explain why a great many of Moore's other lengthy works peter out in a much less effective fashion. Despite a great deal of effort to lend the story weight, this "epic" always feels small and clumsy. I knew by "The Parliament of Trees," 2/5ths in, roughly how it would all end. The two issues following had enough curves to retain my interest, but the use of the rule of three in the final chapter had be whincing. "Could this be any more obvious? Is that all there is?" Further, I fail to see what point the seance that claimed the lives of two decades-old DC characters served. Not a single noteworthy fatality in hell itself, but a bunch of voyeurs drop like flies? I do wonder if there was a metatextual connection to the Crisis with the hands at the end, but unless one story is directly tied to another in this manner, all that "everything's changed" hubbab was just more empty hype.

Finally, while the illustrations generally serve the story well, there are stretches, especially toward the end, where the artistry becomes decidedly dubious. Lots of style masks some very loose layouts in the finale especially.

All in all, I'd still recommend "A Murder of Crows," but with obvious caveats. I swear, this deification of Alan Moore, when a major component of his landmark run gets only passing Nurgile grades...

For more on this story, click here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The New Fantastic Four (2008)

I remember in the early days of my internet experience, I'd occasionally stumble upon fan fiction. These were typically plain text pages, without so much as a jpeg to illustrate the piece. The novice writer typically struggle to capture the feel of bad 70's comics in worse prose, while my eyes glazed and my mouse clicked to greener pastures. Imagine my surprise all these years later to find professional quality fan fic being sold direct from Marvel! I'm not even mad about having paid good money for it, but I've still got to call it.

Dwayne McDuffie is a talented writer and a damned nice guy who's rarely been allowed to play with the good toys in the Marvel Universe. As I understand it, he's very busy working in animation, but is also a big Fantastic Four geek. I assume he couldn't bring himself to turn down the role of filler between the Straczynski/McKone and Millar/Hitch runs, but also had to type this up by the seat of his pants on a tight schedule. That's my best explanation for this ridiculous mess of a plot sporting delightful dialogue and fine artwork.

First off, I'm a Black Panther fan, and very much prefer the Machiavellian schemer of his earliest appearances to the pitiful soul of the 70's & 80's. Christopher Priest deserves commendation for elevating T'Challa's status, but unlike those that followed, he retained the charm that allowed the monarch to get away with murder. Under Reggie Hudlin and now McDuffie, the King of the Wakandas comes off as an International Thug of Misery-- too much Putin, not enough Reagan. For no other reason than to set up an aggrandizing line of dialogue, the Black Panther pulls an Ultimate Nullifier on Uatu the Watcher. Even if he's staying in the Baxter Building, is it really reasonable to expect a weapon that kills anything, plus its wielder, to be left available by Reed Richards? Assuming by some complicated means more interesting than the story being related, T'Challa acquired the device, what would motivate him to use it? Likely not a "bad cop" scenario where he's looking for evidence of who robbed the grave of minor hero "Gravity."

Maybe I should track backward for a bit of exposition. After the first family was torn apart by Civil War, Reed and Sue decided to take a second honeymoon to rekindle their love. As the New York Wakandan embassy had been wrecked during the aforementioned conflict, Reed offered up both his home and remaining teammates to Black Panther and his new bride Storm. That marriage in and of itself reeks of ill-conceived fanfic, but that wasn't McDuffie's fault, so we'll move on. Now that the two most prominent black heroes in the Marvel Universe were married and being written by an African-American writer, the former second Deathloc (of color) gave the team a ring. Now, I'm not aware of any connection between any of these characters, as I think the former Deathloc didn't meet Black Panther until after co-creator and intitial writer Dwayne McD--oh, wait. There's the source of awkward connection. Michael Collins, when he was Deathlok, was also mentioned as having fought Doombots with Thing at some point. If you say so...

Now, Collins joined a bunch of heroes in a mini-series also written by McDuffie called "Beyond!" Another was Gravity, who died at the end, and I guess Collins and/or McDuffie felt bad about that, so they both visited the emptied plot where he was buried. The latest New Fantastic Four (there've been a few, y'know) investigated, because they're not busy doing anything that matters with Reed gone. Still, this is only a seven issue stint, so why waste time fielding a proper investigation when you can just have Black Panther threaten a Watcher with the Ultimate Nullifier, and maybe a broomstick.

But the WTF? doesn't end there: Gravity has been resurrected by Epoch the Living Planet as the latest cosmically-powered protector of the universe. Wasn't that Quasar's job, or something? Is there a reason weiners like these keep becoming grand poobahs of the cosmos, and shouldn't they at least have a pulse to qualify? Also, Silver Surfer and another herald of Galactus showed up to invite the Devourer of Worlds to dine on Epoch. There's some lip service given to the whys and wherefores of all this, but neither this reader nor the characters themselves seem convinced of why we should give a shit beyond going through the motions. Again, the dialogue wasn't bad, and everyone was in character, so the lot of us tried to make the best of it. Black Panther will always have bragging rights that he put the friggin' Silver Surfer in a submission hold. Norrin looked pissed that in every versus thread on a message board until the end of time, some asshole will bring up the time he was put in a fucking submission hold by friggin' Black Panther. It sucks to be him, but he's more than willing to get all emo about it, so fuck 'im.

Again raiding the Priest chest, T'Challa finally gets to employ at least a portion of his Galactus Protocols, not to mention King Solomon's Frogs, and-- waitaminute! Human Torch! Johnny Storm is in this book, gets some funny lines, and fights that other herald. I didn't want people to think he or Ben were slighted in the book. Sure, virtually every significant action is performed by Black Panther, including a rematch with Silver Surfer where he steals the Power Cosmic and then beats Surfer's ass, but this is still the Fantastic Four! Just some members present are more fantastic than others, y'see? Oh hey, spoiler, Gravity placates Galactus while being restored to his normal powers, returning everything to the status quo. Exciting!

Next story, things go slightly Grant Morrison with the Big Idea menace fighting for space with the Old Super-Villain Team Staffed With New Members and Edgy Attitudes. Heroes are held hostage and brutalized, shit blows up, bad guys act all foreboding, opponents are obliterated in kewl fashion only to inexplicably reappear, oversold grudge matches-- its like we're working off a script program here. The dialogue and McDuffie's obvious enthusiasm are all that's saving this from being rote.

The whole boondoggle closes out on a half-baked cosmic spectacle with a bunch of guest appearance, and then the black people are shown the door. Normally, that would piss me off, but you'll notice I hardly mentioned the Thing, either. Reed and Sue have to come back in a big way just to represent, and they do, but its all a bit contrived and galling. Again, I can't find it in my heart to hate, as this was ultimately and enjoyable book making characters I like look bad ass. It's just that the whole thing is preposterous.

Not helping my conflict was some of he best art of Paul Pelletier, likely in no small part due to inks from the vastly underrated Rick Magyar, a man capable of making Denys Cowan look bankable. Scott Hanna also assists, and it's all good, while also being exceptionally bad.

Look, if after reading this review, you still have any positive inclination toward the book, just go ahead and buy it. This is a total summer blockbuster action fest/check your brain at the door good time. If you're one of those people, typically me, who can't forgive mammoth plot holes and dubious motivation... maybe not...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Dirty Trader- Martian Manhunter: American Secrets #1-3 (1992)

The second solo Martian Manhunter mini-series arrived in the form of three prestige format issues in 1992. Gerard Jones crafted a paranoid tale of Cold War era intrigue, filtered through J'Onzz's very alien perceptions. It was an odd and challenging piece, overlooked and unrecognized in its time and to this day. It honestly took me a few weeks after reading the story to sort out my feelings about the series. I finally came to the conclusion that American Secrets was one of the most impressive comic scripts I'd ever read, truly capturing an otherworldly feeling throughout the story. The influence of David Lynch (especially "Blue Velvet") was strong here, and indicative of Jones' surrealistic approach for what was left of his time working in mainstream comics. Truth to tell, its cerebral nature and the psychodrama that came with it likely played a part in his being pushed out of the industry.

Lending a period flavor to the book was the art of Eduardo Barreto, by my estimation the best work of his career. The landscape of this world was fully realized in Barreto's illustrations, with the rich inks and colors the quality paper stock allowed for giving the series a sumptuous look. While Barreto's style is often anachronistic when applied to modern stories, here the man evoked an entirely appropriate 50's noir feel.

American Secrets is disputably the greatest story ever told with the Martian Marvel. The tale's sophistication and dark undercurrent could have easily qualified it for Vertigo status, had the title not arrived a bit prior to that line's launch and outside its "Goth" scope. Gerard Jones' setting of late 50's/early 60's America remains fairly unique for modern comics, arriving after the McCarthy period and before the Love Generation had really gotten into gear. This period is underrepresented and fascinating in comic form, though I shed no tears for having missed it first hand.

I will point out out that many have complained about the odd continuity complications over this mini-series. John Jones does buy Oreos a half-century before Captain Marvel introduced him to the product in the pages of Justice League, and the early appearance of the natural Martian form does not jibe with the 1988 mini-series. Personally, I see these as incredibly minor flaws in comparison to the title's graces, mostly explainable by the "No-Prize" minded.

Fans who take issue with J'Onzz excess powers might be pleased to note that only his most common 50's abilities were on display here: enhanced strength, flight, invisibility, and shapeshifting. I'm very fond of intangibility, telepathy and some of the cooler applications of Martian Vision (laser specifically,) but it goes to show you can tell a perfectly grand story without them. Truth to tell, I hardly noticed.

Whether the $4.95 price tag or other elements were off-putting, the series was little read. Capitol City Distribution reported selling 13,750 copies of the first issue, 10,600 of the second, and 9,600 of the third. I don't recall if the series made it to booksellers, but if you double Capitol's numbers to account for Diamond Distribution, the circulation was still depressing. In today's market, those numbers would only be slightly underwhelming, but for 1992 they were tragic.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Canadian Ads

These are five of the goriest, most horrific advertisements ever. They're awesome! I've been waiting to see that forklift "accident" in real life for years... just not, y'know, in range...

Also, if you visit the site, there's some interactive "bullet time" terrors to be enjoyed. The controls are a bit tricky, but just mouse glide to the right to focus and rotate. Truck: Nice. Ladder: Lame. Jack-Hammer: Solid.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Yellow Peril & the Yellow Claw!

I took to Captain America early on, and one of my childhood favorites, which inexplicably got newsstand distribution, was a two-parter in "Marvel Fanfare" by J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill. It pitted the Sentinel of Liberty against the Yellow Claw, Marvel's epitome of the "Yellow Peril" villainous type (apologies to the Mandarin and most especially Fu Manchu, not technically a Marvel character.) Now, even in my youth, I was very socially progressive, but I could not let go of how much cooler the Yellow Claw was than most Captain America foes. Much as I loved Cap's book, how could I possibly get excited about Batroc ze Lepaire, Vermin, Machete, Super-Adaptoid and the 157th appearance of the Red Skull after bearing witness to the Claw? Sure, I recognized where having a decidedly Aryan American hero battling what some might consider a deeply offensive racist stereotype could be problematic, but goddamnit, it was also exciting!

While reading "The Great Comic Book Heroes" by Jules Feiffer, I was reminded that from the earliest days, the point was to entertain as broad and oftentimes as low of an audience as possible. In fact, Feiffer argues that this politically-incorrect approach was part of comics' essential appeal. He also reminded me that I've too often read stories that put forth the notion that super-villains came into being to balance the disparity between super-heroes and common criminals, making our beloved Mystery Men ultimately responsible for all the evil done by the Jokers, Brainiacs, and Green Goblins of the world. The Yellow Peril refutes that theory!

To put this all in context for the historically challenged, Chinese immigrants flooded the United States in the late 19th Century, taking work no one else wanted, but instilling panic in whites who believed them to be a threat to their standard of living. This all may sound familiar if you listen to conservative radio, and let us not also forget there were folks who used scripture to cast the Chinese as al-Qaida, as well. Funny though... it seems the folks who actually ended up in harm's way were the Asians, as their basic human rights were overlooked and they were routinely harassed and murdered. But hey, they were a "menace," and so ended up the stock villains of many a pulp novel and radio serial. That image spilled over into the early comics, as they had yet to establish an identity of their own. The Yellow Peril, along with actual monsters, were possessed of such fantastic abilities and resources as to constitute being "super-villains." A great many pulp heroes, followed by comic book champions, were the only force capable of challenging these terrifying Oriental masterminds.

Feiffer was good enough to point out that super-heroes continued to fight the Yellow Peril, along with other crooks, saboteurs, and mad scientists, until World War II arrived to buoy the already flagging interest in the super-hero boom. However, truly despicable depictions of Japanese replaced the evil Asian masterminds of old, who have only been seen sporadically since. The Yellow Claw, for instance, was a knock-off of Peril Pulp Grandaddy Fu Manchu and one of the most gruesome Golden Age villains, the Claw. Yellow Claw's series only ran four issues in 1956, but I'm here to tell you, I feel Asians should own this shit. For starters, the first issue was written by EC great Al Feldstein. That debut was drawn by Joe Maneely, who if I recall correctly was Stan Lee's favorite artist, even over Jack Kirby. Speaking of the King of Comics, Jack wrote and drew the rest of the series. That's pretty impressive. Following that was work by Lee, Jim Steranko, John Byrne, John Severin... his artistic legacy is outstanding for such a little-used character.

Next, while still a Yellow Peril type, Claw was pursued in his solo series by the heroic Asian F.B.I. agent Jimmy Woo, as well as his own niece. How many U.S. series from the 50's can you name with an Asian protagonist not named "Charlie Chan?" Further, Claw went on to battle a who's who of powerful, highly respected super-heroes, including the full Avengers team. The Yellow Claw is both a physical and mental dynamo, capable of matching the very best champions the world has to offer. His visual is potent, his history is impressive, and did I mention he's really tall? If we can all get past that whole "Yellow" business that keeps the character on the shelf, the "Golden Claw" (as he prefers to call himself,) could become one of the great super-villains in comics!

Feiffer joked about how after WWII, the evil Asians shifted to Korea and the North Vietnamese, noting that by 1965 it would probably have come full circle to Chinese again. Here we are in 2008, and outside of comics, North Korea could do just as well. I'm not trying to encourage a racist caricature, but I think the "Fu Manchu" is a part of comics' history, and an opportunity to exorcise the boogieman of "Yellow Peril" by personifying and slaying it with Asian protagonists. Also, when Captain America stops being dead, he'll need more villains to avoid the umpteen jillionth conflicts with Dr. Faustus, Arnim Zola, and the Skull. It seems to me the Yellow Claw is just too good to waste, and really, can't some glee be taken in seeing an Asian badass stomp great swaths of the Marvel Universe, racial sensitivity be damned?

Note: Running a Google image search for "Yellow Peril" brings up a bunch of early 20th Century editorial cartoons and pulp covers. "Fu Manchu" brings Republic Pictures stills and dudes with unfortunate facial hair. "Oriental Spy?" Porn, and lots of it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Censored Home Front Calgary Domestic Abuse Ads

Home Front Calgary

WARNING: Violence & Coarse Language
Parental Discretion Advised

A bold and innovative television public awareness campaign about domestic violence will not be shown on Calgary television stations due to an unfavourable ruling from the Television Bureau of Canada (TVB).

The TVB denied the HomeFront Society of Calgary approval to run the two public service announcements because they were deemed too graphic according to their Telecaster Guidelines. Given the failure to receive TVB approval, local Calgary televisions stations have decided not to run the PSAs (public service announcements).

“The purpose of the PSAs is to shine a light on domestic abuse by putting domestic violence situations in public places where it would not be tolerated.”

With the support of Ogilvy & Mather Calgary, HomeFront is currently appealing the TVB’s decision.



On the one hand, there are harrowing aspects of these ads, like the waitress' throaty scream as she's being scalded. One the other hand, they're so over the top, its hard not to find ghoulish humor in them. The police advisors for the ads felt they didn't go far enough to reflect actual domestic violence cases, but with the Alan Thicke-caliber of acting displayed, I expect that was for the best. Seeing the Canadian Scott Bakula taking the final leap into home abuse with Troma-level effects would have altered the intended effect all the more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Great Comic Book Heroes (2003 Edition) by Jules Feiffer

I'm pretty sure I checked this book out in hardcover at a school library or two, but I was a kid, so I didn't understand why all those stupid words were set between the many classic comic reprints. As an adult, I bought Fantagraphics nifty softcover collection of "the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's classic essay on the four-color characters he thrilled to as a youth and that inspired him to become one of the 20th century's most renowned cartoonists." Without the comics, for $8.95, and worth it still. Though first published in 1965, Feiffer contemporary language and views are just as valid and intriguing today. Anyone with an interest in comic book history should do the same. What's great about the essay (running a breezy 80 pages,) is that where even the best books of this type lean toward the academic, Feiffer gives a no-bullshit, straight from the hip recollection of both 40's fandom and professional life. Imagine a temporally displaced Kevin Smith, classier and more acerbic, but still course enough to refer to Robin as "a fag" in good humor. Feiffer makes more insightful observations, from a unique perspective that can still inform readers today. For instance, did you enjoy David Carradine's speech about Clark Kent being Superman's pointed critique of humanity in "Kill Bill." Tarantino claimed he was quoting Carradine's own aside from the set, but Carradine himself stole it directly from Feiffer.

Adding to the appeal of the essay is the very appealing presentation, both in the spiffy cover by Bob Sikoryak, and the winning interior design of Preston White. DC has been making extensive use of Chip Kidd on recent projects that instill feelings of annoyance in me, as they're both pretentious and plain ill-considered. White meanwhile employs a very attractive design sense that only enhances the work. I haven't been picking up Fantagraphics' comic strip reprints, but I hear great things, and if White isn't a part of that team, he should be.

Anyhow, you haven't heard the last from me on "The Great Comic Book Heroes." I'll be using its chapters as springboards for some future columns. It really is a joy to read (I've done it twice this calender year,) and I can't recommend it enough.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book three. (11/92)

Dr. McNider proceeded to tell Detective Jones that there were no Lizard-Men, and that his group were victims "of the strangest mass hallucinations of our very strange times." McNider and Director Hoover agreed, "that we 'heroes' had somehow sprung from and embodied a spirit of national terror... and summoned up a dark side, in the bodies of our foes, that enabled us to exorcise a nation's terror through bizarre and repetitive combat... And the Director's wisdom was borne out by what happened when we chose to continue after the war. Hysteria. Suddenly Americans were seeing flying saucers. Fearing the breakdown of this magnificent society. Imagining a 'mafia.' Director Hoover is very explicit about that: There is no 'mafia.' Just as there are no 'communist conspiracies' in our government. That's the fear that our enemies want us to suffer." Detective Jones was incredulous. "I just met an agent of the F.B.I. He turned into a lizard... What enemies?" McNider responded, "The Communists."

"But you just said..." noted an increasingly irritated Jones. "That's the point! 'Red Scare' hysteria is a Communist ploy! And demagogues like Senator McCarthy were communist dupes!" Jones sat silently for a moment, staring daggers at the former Dr. Mid-Nite before scowling and leaping from his chair. "This is insane! You come here promising explanations and you talk in circles! Our fears are false, created by the people we fear so we won't fear what we should fear-- which is them? This is hog-wash! You just don't want us to trust what we see!"

"No detective! I just want you to serve the right side. Your government needs you. It needs all the Martians it can get." McNider's enhanced vision could see through J'Onzz's human form, as he claimed the JSA's "retirement" in protest of congressional red-baiting was a cover for their enlistment in the F.B.I., a role they wanted Jones to share. "That was a calculated little blow against the Red Scare. In truth, we've all been serving our country in quiet, invisible ways. The way every good American should. Beating our super-powers into tract homes, as it were. Why, heck, if the government couldn't find a use for powers like ours, they'd probably have to kill us! Ha ha... The F.B.I. is on its way, Jones. If you don't help them, they'll do what they have to do. Do you understand? Well then... ZOPRBETIE!" Jones seized McNider at that, demanding the meaning of his parting word. A little joke phrase old pal Melvin Keene used to toss around, someone that now had to be protected from trouble at times because of "that silly magazine of his."

McNider left, and Detective Jones considered his words. "Lies. But lies so big and ugly that he had to know I'd spot them. 'No mafia.' The kind of lies only a government could try to pull off... I thought I could trick them, negotiate something with them. But their negotiations could make prisoners of us-- slaves of us!" Perkins Preston believed McNider, to which Jones angrily protested, "You believed your A&R man. You believed in Leavitzville. Both nearly got you killed!"

The F.B.I., Whitey Bright in tow, came calling. Perkins Preston let them in over Jones' continued objection. "They won't hurt us, Patty Marie! They're the government." Patty Marie hugged Jones around the waist. Inspector Anole quickly led Preston into the outside hall, promising, "we'll discuss what you can do for your F.B.I." With the entertainer out of sight, the feds circled the resistant pair remaining. The returning Inspector Anole drew his flame pistol, but Jones snatched up Patty Marie and headed for the window. Whitey "Skeeter" Bright lunged for the girl's feet. "I've got plans for this little girl!" They likely did not include his losing his grip and being tossed through the window to his death. The fugitives followed after to make their escape. Inspector Anole declared, "No more subtle gestures."

Edwards Air Force Base scrambled an assault against the flying Martian. J'Onzz took evasive maneuvers, riding alongside a fighter as a means of cover. Another pilot was ordered to fire on his fellow, in order to "hit the target at any cost." The explosion that followed set Patty Marie afire while separating her from "J'Onn J'Onzz. "Help me! Catch me!" she cried. "Fire. Even this far from her, it burns me. Closer it could kill me." Closer he came, cradling the child in his arms as his powers failed him. The pair landed on the desert floor with a heavy thud, lying all too still until the sun rose. J'Onn J'Onzz reverted to his human guise. Patty Marie could no longer do anything at all.

"I have been here before. Somewhere before I've seen children killed and been left alone on a dead world. Seen children devoured on a funeral pyre and learned to fear the flames. Again I'm a speck in the desert. Blood on the snow. With the fiery eye of the world looking down on me. Is there anywhere to run? With all their eyes trained on me? Their eyes see everything. And ours? They see lizards. Is this your 'prize-to-be,' Patty? You might have been better off with the lizards. I'm sorry, Hon. Maybe this is just what comes for the ones like us. The ones who can see... Do we see what the rest don't? Or are the others just happier with their mouths shut?"

Checking the corpse of a downed pilot, John Jones found documents regarding himself and several JSAers. Further, he discovered an extra-terrestrial fungus wrapped along the pilot's nervous system. "Why? So he won't see? Or so he'll catch fire if he tries to talk?" Using the pilot's knife, Jones performed an autopsy on Patty Marie, and found her body to be fungus free. Going over the new and old information, J'Onzz realized where all the clues were pointing. Prize To Be. Beto EZ Rip. Zoprbetie. All letters found in "PTO. Iberez" in Cuba.

"A long drift down the Colorado River, then flight through the hills of Mexico and a stint as a Cuban sailor across the Gulf. Where I find the strength to keep going I don't know, unless it's the rum and the conga." Making his way to Havana, Jones learned about the American gangsters' stranglehold on Cuba. "I ask questions. Not too direct to bring the lizard-dogs sniffing, but direct enough to get quick answers... There are rebels in the hills, between here and Puerto Iberez... Mr. Gioconda's men are running weapons for the government troops. 'Strange weapons,' I'm told."

Jones met a poet who's book of verse was identical to the one he heard at the start of this all in New York. "The truth is written by many people in many places... Poetry be easy. But it's as near as we can get." The fungus held the poet's tongue, so he spoke cryptically at first of Latin America and "people who crossed a vast gulf, came like gods to colonize, to plant... to shape... Cuba is an island, isolated and alone. So we reach to cross our ninety miles of aloneness. Agriculture and horticulture link Cuba to the world. In her dark interior valleys the horticulture is rich." Jones noted, "You're all islands on this planet." Less one, as the poet reckoned, "And now, I'm afraid I've talked to much. It's time for me to burn for that ancient communion with the night!" His eyes bled, his face bubbled, and then he combusted. Jones fled the scene invisibly.

"I am with you in Cuba, and on the roads of America and the streets of New York. I am with you, and Melvin Keene, and all of you who see the truth but cannot speak it because of that terrible horticulture of your conquerors, that fungus in your brain. I am with every one of you who has been burned alive, and every one who risked that burning by sending coded messages of the truth. The truth of the shape-shifting conquerors who came to Earth during the terror of war, who used that terror to infiltrate governments and communications cartels, to spring the sleep of sameness over this boiling, fertile world. The truth bent into strange new shapes by profiteers and power-handlers, willing to lie down with lizards whether they could see them or not. I am with you, the defenders and the victims of the truth. I am with the murdered, and the frightened and the fooled."

J'Onn J'Onzz was with Perkins Preston, who happened to be playing at the Club Mona Lisa for Mr. Giaconda, who alerted the Master Gardener. Most notably, he was with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who he spurred into a raid on Puerto Iberez against the invading aliens. Perkins Preston was in turn with J'Onn J'Onzz, after learning the aliens had been using his songs to distribute subliminal messages, but he still had reservations. "These folks... they're not communists, are they, Detective Jones?"
"Communists. And what are they? Beings who live through the group-- and not themselves? Is this baseball playing warrior, this self-assigned savior a communist? There are no communists on this world. There were on mine. They're all dead now."

Perkins Preston confronted a lizard horticulturist in his garden of domination with what he had learned. "If you know this much, you must be one of the chosen. And that means I don't dare kill you. What do I do with you? What would the Master Gardener want?" The concern was taken out of the lizard's hands by the Manhunter's own, in the form of a fist. The Martian then assumed the horticulturist's likeness, and led Preston past troops with saurian-dogs. "But I am something they can't see inside. Why? Why have they failed to catch me... even now? Even here?"

The pair walked into the cavernous den of those engaged in "the cultivation of human culture." Strange organic television monitors displayed various aspects of media currently in circulation, their hidden messages made clearer as they overlapped. The concealed Martian tried to use Perkins Preston to access the Master Gardener when his vizier appeared. "The Master Gardener knows of this human, as he knows of everything. You will follow me, horticulturist... along the canal." This river teemed with the organisms that spawn the fungus. "It calls to me, strangely. Like these dark, cool chambers of sentient fungus call to me. Like an echo of my lost life."

The pair were presented to the Master Gardener in his throne room. "The human... He should show me his gratitude... that I crossed the starry gulf to bring his competitive, conflict-ridden world together... in perfect peace, serenity, equality, and order. I've given you Leavitzville! I've given you Skeeter! I've shown you how to keep your children! All I ask in return is that you give me a place to end my lonely wanderings through the stars... a place to call home."

The still incognito J'Onzz responded, "...we undermine their faith in the truth! Our quiz shows reduce truth to bits of entertaining information! We teach them to memorize rather than think!" The Master Gardener responded, "... you know how easy it is to train the masses. The artists are harder. And the heroes. They had to be manipulated. Deals had to be made, with subversives like Keene... But heroes can be tamed! ...And you can serve better than any!" The horticulturist asked, confusedly, "Me?"

Perkins had previously proven himself able to see even an invisible Martian Manhunter, and this held true when he became conscious of the fact that the Master Gardener was not what he appeared to be. Before the duo's eyes, it changed into a natural form Martian!

"Haven't you wondered why my people have been reluctant to kill you? But all my knowledge of organisms couldn't stop the spread of the microbes that slaughtered our children! My knowledge kept me alive, age after age, enclosed in my loneliness, haunted by the funeral pyres of my babies. Then the Lizard Men came. Lonely, isolated Lizard Men. I made them think I was their lost Father-God. I used my horticulture to give them new thoughts. To make them my children. But I couldn't bear the dead plains of Mars. I needed a home. I needed a world rich with life. A world I could prune and nurture into harmony. And that world is here!"

The Master Gardener and his shape-shifting Lizard Man came to Earth during World War II, and took advantage of the terror and confusion of the time to infiltrate governments and communications cartels. They grew plants bearing fungus that bonded to the human nervous system, allowing them to control the very words they spoke under threat of spontaneous combustion. Based in Puerto Iberez, Cuba, they exported the plant around the world, infecting much of the human populace with their tyranny. They were the real reason the Justice Society of America was forced to retire, and held sway over all media. "Don't they look the other way when they see the truth? Don't they settle for the happy pictures I give them of what life should be? They feel safe so long as there are warriors in the sky to protect them from the evil 'other...' They feel content so long as I feed them a simple picture of the world."

"It was my mission. This planet has become an event nexus, an intersection of cosmic forces that create great beings and attract great beings. It would continue to produce 'heroes' had I not come. In the quest for harmony, great individuals only bring chaos. Rebellion. Conflict. But such heroes can be tamed! They can serve harmony! They can help us keep our children!"

"Join me, brother! I don't know how you came across space and time to find yourself here-- but it can't be accident! Destiny brought you! Destiny placed you among Earthlings, so that you could understand their souls better than I! Help me save our new children! From themselves! Help me give birth-- to a Mars regained!"

"I know your pain, brother. But I won't pervert a world to ease it."
"You believe what they believe! Forget what Earth taught you! Remember MARS!"
"Mars is dead."

Attacking the Gardener both with ideology and fists, it wasn't long before J'Onzz attracted lizard guardsmen. Firing their flame projectors, the lizards scored a direct hit against their ruler. "But master...the fire doesn't hurt us!" The Master Gardener chuckled as he fell to an immolation-induced apparent death; "Do you hear The fire...doesn't hurt...'us.'" J'Onzz swept the lizard guard off its feet, then ordered their troops to bomb the valley using the Gardener's communications equipment. He then succumbed to another blast of flame.

"I hear through the flames the wailing of my family. Then not that, but a deeper sound. The thunder of bombs. I am lifted and carried away. By the Fire-God, I think, to his Parlor of Red Death. But it's the canal I feel. So cool. So dark. It calls me strangely." J'Onzz was seemingly carried into the safety of the canal by Perkins Preston.

Back in the States, John Jones read a newspaper announcing Preston's death in a plane crash over Cuba. At his side was Charles McNider, who noted, "I suppose we won't be able to discuss the truth behind recent events for a long time. So long as our nervous systems are bearing our little... 'guests'..." Jones promised to finish apprehending the loose bands of directionless Lizard Men, affirming, "...eventually, this world may pour forth its 'great individuals' again." The former Dr. Mid-Nite asked if John was tempted by the Gardener's offer. "I might have been, McNider. Until that moment in the desert. When I was truly alone. And I could finally see the truth. By the time I met him, McNider, he and I were strangers to each other.
You see, he was a Martian. I'm a beatnik."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book two. (10/92)

Upon arrival, the runaways took in the sight of the suburban "heaven." Preston informed John, "The comic book man told me all about Leavitzville. This is where he wants to come--after the reckoning... He used to come out here to visit with his old boss-- the 'Nuts' man!" Intruding on this revelation was the Anderson family, a nuclear bunch complete with both parents, a child of each gender, and a loyal pet dog. "Can we give you folks a hand?" The teenage daughter was already swooning over Perkins Preston, and Mom recognized Patty Marie. "Whatever brings you here so late at night?"

Jones bought himself a few minutes to come up with an excuse for his group's late night arrival into the Anderson home, involving a well-known mobster. "These extortion gangs threaten popular personalities to bleed the producers. I was about to move Perkins and Patty to a safe-house in the Rockies when someone tried to hit them...You heard of a man called Mr. Gioconda?"
"He's one of those Las Vegas gangsters, isn't he?" Jones was pleased to glean that bit of information, then asked about their suburban habitat, while Mrs. Anderson blathered the equivalent of product endorsements in the background (predating "The Truman Show.") Mr. Anderson affirmed, "People of all types, all backgrounds, and all creeds are welcome in Leavitzville. As long as they fit in."

Meanwhile, Sissy shared her secret stash of "Pink Passion" lipstick with Patty Marie. Sissy whispered, "Is your mom strict about things, too?" Patty replied, "She tried to give me to the lizards. Usually she only hurts me when she's drunk, or when one of my uncles is over and I interrupt them. But this time all I did was say the wrong thing on television. A man called me on the telephone and said I should say the words 'Prize-To-Be' on the program. And I said them...and she whipped me with the hose and said she was going to give me to the-- to the-- NO! NO! NO!"

Jones arrived to console Patty Marie. "Your mother's made milk shakes, Sissy. Wipe the Pink Passion off your mouth and join her." In the next room, Buddy showed off his collection of movie monster magazines. A hungry Preston was more interested in the kid's candy. "Have all you want. It tastes crummy. That weird Mr. Keene gives it out to all the kids. It's made from sugar-beets...Bleccchhh!" Perkins read the wrapper, "Beto," then mentioned black friends back home in Mississippi who share-cropped the sugar-beets. "Colored people? You've seen colored people? What are they like?"

Jones slept on the couch. "That night I dream strange dreams. Dreams of my other self. Misty dreams of Mars, and great airships over Earthly cities. Of little girls and their prizes, and boys and their candy. Dreams of endless grids. Straight rows of lights, or houses, of humanity, stretching endlessly away." The next morning, Jones perused the morning newspaper, noting the suicide death of singer Eddie Lowe. "Prize-To-Be... The tumblers roll through my brain but can't click into place. Eddie Lowe fights with Phil Jerry about jukebox orders from Mr. Gioconda. From Cuba. Las Vegas. The Big Question. And a parody..."

Jones decided to investigate further, by invisibly trekking to the home of the former employer of the proselytizing lizard-obsessed artist, Mr. Keene. Jazz music blared from his home, while Jones noted a sign above his door reading "POETRIE B E-Z --KOMMEDIE B HARD". A pudgy, goateed, bespectacled man answered the door, and was surprised to be questioned by a Denver police officer. On his floor was an unpublished art board from "Nuts" depicting child personality "Skeeter" as a murderous alien invader. "There was a murder on 'The Big Question.' 'Nuts' magazine satirized that...Your parody used the category 'horticulture' the day of the murder." Keene, an obvious analog for Bill Gaines, joked around Jones' questions before settling into a confessional funk. "Once I was serious. About science-fiction stories, crime stories. They took me to a senate committee for such serious. They dragged me through the mud. They cut off my head. Their pink-tinted head-shrinkers called me a capitalist pimp... and their flag-flying preachers called me a Red. They wanted me quiet. And they got it."
"Who? Who wanted you quiet, Keene?"
"My neighbors, maybe..."

Suddenly, a dragon-hound burst through the door, attacking the Manhunter. Mr. Anderson pulled up in his station wagon shortly after, walking up to Keene's door with briefcase in hand. Just as J'Onzz snapped the beast's neck, Anderson whipped out a hi-tech handgun, firing streams of flame at the Martian. Perkins and Patty thankfully arrived in their pink Cadillac, saving Jones by running Anderson down. "Oh my Lord! I killed him!" Keene consoled, "It's okay, kid. He wasn't human anyway... Insurance salesman." Keene fetched some fresh clothes for the singed John Jones, and a batch of All-Star Comics for Patty Marie. The girl protested, "But I don't read comic books! They're not educational." Keene retorted, "That's what you think."

A panicked Perkins Preston shouted, "Detective Jones? Sir? They're coming, sir. Station Wagons!" Loading up the Caddie, Jones reverted to Manhunter form, and flew away with the car. Keene looked on. "I didn't think there were any of your kind left."

Jones and company made the long trip across country to Nevada. On a night drive, Preston asked, "Are they after us, sir?"
"Then what do we do?"
"We learn who they are. And we go after them."
"What are you, sir."
"Don't ask me that. Just drive."

In a Vegas hotel room, child actor Whitey Bright, nationally famous star of the hit series "It Must Be Skeeter," talked up a couple of working girls while smoking and boozing. Watching an episode of his show, the boy noted "We shot this baby in three days, dolls. No thanks to (co-star) Hubert. What a bender he was on!" The broadcast was interrupted by a special bulletin. "The F.B.I. requests all citizens be on the lookout for the murderer of a Leavitzville insurance agent. He has been identified as Denver Detective John Jones, and he appears to be holding as hostages Hillbilly singer Perkins Preston and child actress Patty Marie."

Arriving at a casino lobby, the Martian arranged a meeting with Mr. Gioconda by posing as Preston's manager, an elderly southern fried colonel. "The Colonel" claimed to want Perkins to perform for the mobster's patrons, but Preston quietly protested, "With all these drunken old people here, sir? I'll never sing in a place like this."
"Without cooperation, young man, you may not live to wrestle with that dilemma!"

The Colonel was more concerned with meeting the management than booking Perkins, so he had his charges shuffled off to separate rooms. He claimed the "abduction" of his talent was part of a publicity stunt he'd engineered, until things got out of hand with John Jones. He also slipped mentions of Cuba and the jukebox business, which grabbed Mr. G's attention firmly.

In her room, Patty Marie was visited by Whitey "Skeeter" Bright, who let himself in with his own key. Still smoking, Whitey pressed himself ever closer to the crying girl. "They call Skeeter a 'message show.' They don't know the half of it. I sell big messages on that show, baby. Stick with me, and maybe I'll let you in on a few. Or maybe you got a few secret messages of your own, huh, Sad-Eyes? What makes another child-star shed such big, juicy tears?" Whitey's hand rested on Patty Marie's prepubescent thigh, as he kept leaning in closer. "Who'd ever want to hurt a sweet little thing like you?"

"My mother! And my uncles! All the uncles she brings home! She lets them hurt me! She always let them hurt me!" Whitey's hand crept ever higher, under the child's skirt, another creep with a perverse agenda. "Tell Uncle Whitey what the bad men did to you... Come on. We've all got secrets. The world runs on secrets. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine. Come on honey... tell me everything those terrible uncles did to you."

In his own room, Perkins Preston read, with occasional difficulty, some of Keene's comics. In an adventure of the Justice Society of America, Perkins was surprised to find the team battling "Lizard Men."

Exiting his meeting, "the Colonel" was confronted by Inspector Anole of the F.B.I in the hotel hallway. At first he seemed to be enlisting the Colonel's help investigating the "subversive" Gioconda, until his features began to take on a decidedly reptilian appearance. "... nobody's what they seem to be these days. Before the war, you knew the lefties. You knew the thugs. Then it all changed. Gangsters pose as businessmen. Commies work in the state department. Homosexuals pass for school teachers. And that client of yours. Perkins Preston. He has a white man's face but a Negro's soul. Just to seduce our American girls into popping open their little coin-purses. You just can't tell about anybody anymore." Anole knew the Colonel was green in his own heart, and wanted to enlist his services to keep up the "land of the free." That is, "Free for those who are advanced enough to appreciate it."

At that moment, Patty Marie burst out of her room into the hall, crying for Officer Jones to "Make him stop!" Whitey Bright strolled out after, affecting innocence and claiming he was only doing his duty as a "Junior G-Man," plying the poor girl for information. Inspector Anole congratulated the fresh-faced youth as they strolled off together, leaving Jones alone with his shaken charge. "He... he changed, Officer Jones!"
"Yeah. Who hasn't?"

Back in Perkins' room, Patty and Jones learned about the four-color Lizard-Men with crops that controlled racketeers minds. "This is what we need, Sir! Heroes-- like Flash and Green Lantern and Doctor--" John Jones cut him off with, "It'd be nice, if they were real." Perkins assured Jones they were, pointing out the indicia of the comics informing, "Published by arrangement with the Justice Society of America. Melvin Keene, licensing representative." With another item tying Keene to the conspiracy, Jones begins looking for other common bonds. The "Beto E-Z Rip" candy wrapper, "Prize-To-Be," and other clues all contained the same combination of letters, but what did they spell? Before Jones could come to an answer, yet another visitor darkened the refugees' door. "Forgive me, Detective. An inclination to cheap suspense comes naturally to my sort after a while. I'm Charles McNider. Physician, retired. But they used to call me Dr. Midnight!"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Martian Manhunter: American Secrets. Book one. (9/92)

"He reached for me as the bullet broke his breastbone. Who else could he reach for? He's a stranger. I'm a stranger. Not just strangers to each other, but even bigger strangers to the cold stone eyes of the city. He's a beatnik. I'm a Martian." The scene was a street corner on a cold winter's night in New York, 1959. Denver Police Detective John Jones was in town for a forensics convention. The bleeding beatnik told Jones "It's the dogs. The dogs who...see inside," before dying in the alien's arms.

Police soon arrived, as a witness informed Jones that the beatnik had been chased out of a nearby cafe. "Procedure would be to let the local cops check the story. But I feel something in this. Something that no procedure can cover." After asking a few questions, Jones decided to sit and observe the goings on at this bohemian establishment. Open-mic poets rambled apparent nonsense, while he noted an older gentleman at a table jotting lines on paper. A folk singer preached resistance as Jones departed, wondering about seemingly casual mentions of a supposedly omnipresent game show called "The Big Question."

Returning to his hotel room, Jones deflected a bellhop's attempts to solicit "companionship" for him, preferring a glass of milk and the boob tube. "This is what the cold brings. Companions on order... Contests so they can cheer for the meaningless victories of strangers. Manufactured families. Staged communication. It's a cold world for a stranger. I'll look for my own warmth. My way. The Martian way. I remember little of my world, of my past life. But in moments of peace I remember a warmth. I remember a silent companionship. But peace is short here. And suddenly I can't even remember the warmth." The cold and warmth are a concern for Jones' questing mind throughout the story, referring less to the snow falling outside than that of the heart. He watched the television; visited bars; glanced at pornography; trying to understand the nature of these temporary respites from loneliness men cleave to.

Exploring the 50's game show scandals two years before the much-lauded film "Quiz Show," Jones continued his investigation invisibly at the filming of "The Big Question." The show was rigged, but one obstinate contestant refused to request the question category, "horticulture," that was being fed to her. Before a live studio audience in a heated booth, her head exploded. As the mess was quickly cleaned up and attributed to technical difficulties, an invisible Manhunter spied a woman threatening her pig-tailed daughter. "She said the wrong thing, Patty Marie. You won't say the wrong thing, will you, darling?" The contestant's identical duplicate then entered stage left, pushed the corpse aside, and picked up where the original left off. Into her session, however, the duplicate spotted the incognito John Jones through unknown senses. "Him! He isn't one of them! He sees!" Racing from the scene, John Jones noted to himself, "And she sees...what no human can see." He also noted the reappearance of the older gentleman from the beat club in a station hallway, and followed that lead out.

The gentleman led Jones to a diner, where he met and turned out fading pop singer Eddie Lowe. "These kids don't know music. You give them a Negro beat and they think it's all they need. Now you know I have nothing against the Negroes, Phil. Our people, we have a spiritual kinship with the Negro. We're all exiled people, Phil." The gentleman replied, "You're exiled...Exiled from the Hit Parade, you are." As the singer stormed out, Detective Jones materialized to step up to the gentleman. "Didn't mean to eavesdrop...but you're in the music business, aren't you? I need to ask some questions." The older man, Phil Jerry, was less than helpful. However, the arrival of hot new music sensation Perkins Preston, an Elvis analogue, was illuminating. In the midst of listening to the country boy ramble about writing to his mama regarding the sinful big city, the mention of "lizards" caught Jones' attention. Pulling out a religious comic strip pamphlet given to him by a "holy man" in the New York streets, Preston stated, "He knows the end in store for us all."

On finding the aged zealot, the detective was informed, "Satan is a lizard! I can see him, that's why he torments me. That's why he had me thrown out of Nuts." This "Nuts" was revealed to be the Mad Magazine-type humor publication of one Melvin Keene, complete with gap-toothed mascot. "I put the lizards into all my pictures," said the former cartoonist, "to warn people. But Satan made them fire me." Perusing a copy of "Nuts" at a newsstand, Jones noted a parody called, "The Big Kvetch-tion" where a contestant fervently asked for the horticulture category. Jones also noted a conspicuous zeppelin above the caricature's head reading, "ZOPRBETIE".

On his way back to the hotel, Jones stopped at a corner store for some Oreos, but they only had Hydrox. "Tell me. Why are there two of everything here? Or more. Hydrox and Oreo. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler."

"Competition, buddy. The American way."

At the forensics convention, Jones talked a bit about his odd case, to general derision as a misguided yokel from Denver. "I've been following a trail... but not an evidence trail. A trail of references and hunches. Game-shows, lizard-headed devils, comic books..." That line got the attention of a lean, mustachioed, plainclothes officer named Jim Swift, who insisted on knowing where Jones was staying while in town.

That night, the Martian sat in his hotel room, watching a detective show on television, while in his natural form. "This is why I became a cop. Stranded on this world, I wanted to be among its heroes. These were the heroes the culture showed me. There were other heroes before, I've heard. During Earth's last Great War. But like all war heroes, they've faded. Except the ones who chose to become something other than heroes. There is so much they don't tell. Is that why I became a cop? To learn what they don't tell?"

A knock came on the door from Swift, offering information on Jones' case. From behind the door, J'Onzz repeatedly refused Swift for the night, at which point the officer announced, "I'm coming in, Jones." A lizard-like version of Swift joined two reptilian uniformed officers in bursting through the door. The policemen released twin saurian hounds from their leashes to seize the lanky Martian's arms.

"What are you?"
"No, John. I'm the local cop. I ask the questions. So what the hell are--What?"
The Martian transformed from his natural form to the familiar Manhunter visage, tossing the hounds into their masters. "I am a police officer." In the struggle that followed, a smashed television set the hotel room ablaze, revealing J'Onzz's weakness. The Manhunter flew through the roof to make his escape, then did some digging to find Phil Jerry at Royal Records. That same night, J'Onzz overheard mafia thugs commanding Jerry in his office, "Need another Preston Platter... for the jukes... Word's come down... All the way from Cuba... We'll tell Mr. Gioconda you're working on it."

When the thugs left, Detective Jones entered to grill Jerry. Apparently, he did too good a job, as Jerry spontaneously combusted once he began leaking information. As Jones backed away from the flaming corpse, he bumped into an excited Perkins Preston. "The lizards! They--Oh Lord! They did it to Mr. Jerry!" Detective Jones hauled the young rocker out of the building by his arm, asking questions the whole way. Suspecting a police dragnet in the works, the pair needed a discreet way out of town. What they got was Preston's pink Cadillac, complete with "The Big Question's" Patty Marie hiding in the back seat. While narrowly evading a pursuing car and lizard-police gunfire, Patty confessed, "Mother was going to give me to the lizards! I ran out of the booth! I had to hide!"

Hours later, Patty Marie had cried herself to sleep, and Jones contemplated the group's future course. "Strange. The first thought that crosses my mind is the trouble I can get into by taking a runaway minor across state lines. Maybe I've learned my police codes too well." Preston noted a freeway exit to Leavitzville, and took it. "My mama talks about the suburbs all the time! Like a small town--Only new and improved! Nothing'll hurt us there."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Random Videos From An Impaired Computer

I barely got my Idol-Head post up tonight, as my computer is having fits. Sorry the ...nurgh... hasn't so much flowed as trickled this week. For tonight, a couple of my favorite YouTube videos (none fully work safe, so fair warning,) plus this first one, which one of my best friends is obsessed with...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Audio Neurotic Fixation: Students of the Unusual Giant-Sized Music Special #1

This is basically a sampler CD featuring Students of the Unusual comic book contest winners and probably some label talent snuck through the back door. The whole album sounds professionally, and sometimes heavily, produced. The thing is, for most of these people, this is the most significant act of their lives outside marriage and children. Most all of these efforts are earnest and pleasing enough to the ear on repeat listens. For $3, you could do a hell of a lot worse-- like actually read the comic book this came from. I'd recommend it to geeks especially, with select cuts appropriate for mass consumption.

  1. "The Dark Harbor Strangler" by Ty Bru: The winner of the SOTU song contest, and a lot more entertaining than most of the crap played every two hours on the Houston hip-hop station I'm subjected to at work. The flow is smooth, a better story is told here than anything in the comics, and those digital hand claps are infectious. All things considered, it's pretty sick.
  2. "Giant-Sized Extra Credit Special" by The Impediments: A lot of these tunes will be familar to fans of 80's radio. You're liable to assume this is "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" by Joe Jackson until an out-of-tune "grunge" voice screeches "Well Roger Miller is the King of the Road, and I'm the king of Rock n' Roll!" It blessedly gets better from there, sort of like Cracker covering Bruce Springfield, if David Lowerly were smashed blind. For some reason, the phrase " watch over you with the chicken wire" will not leave my head.
  3. "The Strangler" by Sterling Schroeder: Another one of those eerily familiar tunes, though it's a folkie on guitar, so what else is new? The vocals aren't great, and some of the phrasing is awkward, but another horror story teller that begs forgiveness. I'd throw some change in his case at the alternative coffee bar.
  4. "Keep on rockin', there ain't no stoppin'!" by Students of the Unusual: Is that damned song you can't name by a one-hit wonder that popped up on a half-dozen movie soundtracks and still gets play. Ever see that episode of "Married... With Children" where Al keeps humming "mmm mm him" in a bid to remember a song (see comments.) Well, "Mm mm mm-mm mm mmm, to your heart!" But with an accordian, a guy constantly affecting an Elvis "uh-huh," and a tunelessly rambling chorus. Still, sounds fine.
  5. "Trent Jones (The Recalcitrant Groove)" by Subshark's Toupee & the Melvinators: Book these guys for your next graduation or Baht Mitvah! A damned fine funk ensemble with some sweet guitar licks and nice harmonizing.
  6. "Theme From Recalcitrant Jones the Animated Series" by The Yuri Gagarins: What the name implies, by way of the garage version of 60's surf music. Dig it Annette, Frankie's shooting a curl!
  7. Deadbeats' Dysfunction by Jezebel: By this point, conceptual fatigue is setting in, with an R.E.M./Billy Joel auctioneer's ramble of comic book errata. Pass.
  8. "Dead Beats" by Students of the Unusual: Sluggish "Tell Laura I Love Her"-type moan that tests your advance button.
  9. "I'm So Curious (SOTU Mix)" by SANDra Fisher: An nakedly obvious R&B demo repurposed for the contest. Doesn't matter, as you need a break from "Recalcitrant Jones" references by this point, and again, it's as good as anything on the radio these days. My favorite song on the CD, and damned catchy, though the vocals strain audibly at times.
  10. "Red Shirt" by Ashley Holt (thrdgll): These guys should so be playing the sci-fi convention bar. Cute, and holds up after the strain of other tracks through more sideways references.
  11. "P Zombie Z" by Peelander-Z with Yusuke Kawaguchi: Asian punk rock where the only word I can consistently make out is "zombie?" Okay, sure. If this is the kind of thing you like, you'll like this kind of thing, especially with the enthusiasm on display.
  12. "Zombie Jamboree" by Ash Reeder: An aged Dr. Demento does zydeco, which despite fragile vocals and another likely repurposing, is infectious. "Back to back and belly to belly/ I don't give a damn/ I'm stone dead already." Damn skippy, and dig the steel drum.
  13. "Students of the Unusual" by Robin & Eddy with the Unfourseen: Something like a cross between spoken word performance and those old hippies that play at the local church a few times a year. So kookie and distant from everything else on the album, it makes for a great change-up.
  14. "Ghost Car (One of Those Years)" by Ty Bru: The contest winner gets a second and final cut. Rolls like an LLCoolJ b-side, but plays out the disc on a high note refardless.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Comic Review: Students of the Unusual Giant-Sized Music Special #1

This will be a bit of an unusual review, as I'm covering both a comic book, and its accompanying CD. The comic came out several months ago, but it takes me a lot longer to feel comfortable commenting on a musical compilation than a comic book, as evidenced by this being only the second track-by-track Audio Neurotic Fixation on this blog. I'd really love to do more, but the time consumption and my anxiety get in the way of more.

Students of the Unusual Giant-Sized Music Special #1 (3 Boys Productions, $2.95) I've been reading comics long enough to have owned my fair share of "Power Records" and "Flexidiscs," so I'm well versed on their highs and lows. Typically, you have a professional quality publication combined with "Amateur Hour" or a quaint radio drama throwback. This would be the rare exception of the comic being amateur hour, and the cd being-- well, also amateur hour. However, the comic is drunken Japanese businessmen performing karaoke of the Ratt musical catalogue, while the CD is closer to a solid Fantagraphics anthology.

Someone clearly has a good deal of money to flush down the toilet, as the comic is published in full color on 48 pages of heavy, high glass stock. Marvel weeps for the disparity between their printing and this. The back cover credits These guys rule the school. The trouble doesn't start until you actually try to read those pages.

For starters, despite that "number one" on the cover, this is not the first SOTU book, presumably will not be he last, and I assure you this is not to the benefit of mankind. The first "story" chronicles the funeral of a character that I guess played a role in previous editions, but was introduced to me through a four page illustrated bar gag of grade school aspirations. From there its pages and pages of cryptic dialogue, nonexistent characters, vague subplots, and a wealth of meaningless conflict that ends in a cliffhanger at page 21. Whatever it took to make them stop, I'm all for it. Awful writing and art that looks like layouts.

Next up is "Recalcitrant Jones and the Deadbeats," the subject of numerous songs on the CD. The obvious reason is that Trent's backing band is made up of undead rock superstars (including the obligatory Elvis.) This is not a bad premise, and the five pages of stylish magazine quality illustration make it seem like an obvious lead story. However, this as the first were "written" by Terry Cronin! Emphasis his, in the Eliot S! Maggin tradition, but a talent for scripting the men do not share.

"Sulfer Water!!!" followed, again by Cronin!, and the closest he came to the writing credit being anything but a technical distinction. I should point out all magazine contents were copywritten to Cronin!, so I assume he's the one with a very lucrative drug trafficking operation/filthy rich uncle/etc. Again, this me feels like a set-up for future tales, but the art's solid and the story has an ending of a sort.

"The Flame of Faith Part 3" was yet again by Cronin!, with five pages of decent art, and made it very clear there will be a part four that no one unrelated to Cronin! will ever want to read.

"Gone Tiki" was 6 pages that thanks to a merciful god were not scripted by anyone with an exclamation point in their name. That doesn't make it good, but it has a beginning and comes to some sort of resolution without making me contemplate suicide. The art, on the other hand, seemed to be provided by a dual amputee drawing with the pen firmly atop his ear.

The final theoretical story was "Awake/The Escape/Life." What's that you say? For six pages, that sounds awfully pretentious? You know it baby, and based on absolutely no merit whatsoever! Well okay, the coloring was okay.

Also, there was a pin-up of the same zombie biker from the cover and cliffhanger on the back page. The art would be about the best feature of the issue, but what makes it truly fantastic is that it in no way involved the production of another script. Sweet Jesus Palmomina!

Alright folks, enough with the very bad and often ugly... tomorrow* we cover the CD!

* "Tomorrow" meaning an hour-and-a-half after today's post, so you'll likely have read it already...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blue Devil #5 (10/84)

Elongated Man: Only a one page cameo for Ralph this time, as he interrupted Blue Devil and Zatanna's mutual self-incrimination to announce, "Let's save the postmortem till after the game is over, people! You goofed-- but you can still clean up your mess!" Satellite sensors detected Nebiros in the Sierra Madre range, so Ralph teleported the pair to investigate. "Good luck, heroes! I'll stay up here to monitor developments... just in case-- much as I wish I could tag along!" Sounds kind of bogus to me, but Yellow Devil obscured that bit of cowardice by offering to swap places with Elongated Man!

Zatanna: Her hand at the small of Blue Devil's back, Zee demanded of Dan when he tried to bow out of the mission, "Not a chance, sport! Beam us down, Ralph!" Desperate much since the Barry Allen hit & run?

The pair arrived in Mexico, where Nebiros had created two new volcanoes through power channeled into Blue Devil's trident. At Zee's urging, Dan tried to summon the staff, but was hit by an energy backlash for his trouble. Nebiros unearthed another of his ancient temples, which was fired upon to modest effect by the Mexican military. Nebiros retaliated by calling forth a legion of demons, while simultaneously disassembling the military machinery through magic. Blue Devil finally stepped-up: "You were right, Zatanna-- it's up to us!"

The heroic couple charged into the misbegotten mass, filmed by Dan's cameraman friend Norm Paxton (under orders from their producer boss, Marla Bloom, looking for movie footage.) Zatanna cast a spell to help protect Norm, who refused to flee the scene. "You're as stubborn as your friend! I won't waste time arguing!" Zatanna continued to focus her attention on the monstrous throng, while Blue Devil confronted Nebiros. Zee had to save Dan at one point, before the tide turned upon Blue Devil's regaining his trident. Dan used its partially-infernal power to destroy Nebiron's temple, and in turn his demons. Zatanna then created a vortex to drag Nebiron through his own portal, sealing it from our side.

Zatanna congratulated Blue Devil's heroic accomplishment: "You saved the world... I suspect there's more in your future than just filmmaking, Dan... you are going to make one terrific super-hero!" Zee then grabbed BD by his horns and kissed him firmly! "Time for me to get going now... Dliw sdniw wolb dna tfil em yawa! Call me sometime, handsome!"

The Creators: The team of Paris Cullins and Gary Martin were on fire here, rendering ornate temples and hordes of varied hellspawn that seemed to anticipate the glory of Art Adams. In my admittedly biased opinion, this was among the best depictions of Zee, both in art and writing, that I've ever read. People seem to have trouble making Zatana work in a super-hero universe, but tales like this reveal it isn't the character at fault, but her scripters. Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin had no such issues, and rereading this tale has reminded me of how much I loved their work on Blue Devil. I owned quite a few of these back in the day, often available on the cheap at flea markets. Now I have a hankering to hunt a run down on eBay...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blue Devil #4 (9/84)

Martian Manhunter: Had not yet returned to Earth, as this story took place prior to Justice League of America #228-230, which was being published at around the same time. This is basically the next-to-last Satellite Era story.

Elongated Man: Was hanging out on the Justice League Satellite in orbit 22,300 miles above the Earth. Superman brought Blue Devil up for a visit after the new but reluctant hero defeated Metallo, the man with the Kryptonite heart, while at S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis. Ralph Dibney shook hands with Dan Cassidy, then defended Superman when he proved less cavalier about his secret identity. "Buddy boy, you've got a lot to learn about this business! Most super-heroes never reveal their names!" Blue Devil thought Superman just sounded paranoid, then wanted to test his strength against the Man of Steel in an arm-wrestling match. Ralph had to convince him: "Oh, come on, don't be so serious all the time... it'll be lots of fun!" Dan couldn't budge an inch with both arms and legs leveraged against the table, then was taken way over the top with a wrist flick! "I like that guy! He's a barrel of laughs! ...That's lesson number one, pal o' mine: You don't want to mess with the Big Red S!" Trailed off with Superman after Cassidy moved on to investigate magical means of removing the Blue Devil costume he'd been bonded with.

Zatanna: The reason Blue Devil had been taken up to the Satellite in the first place, though he seemed to forget his problems while flirting with the receptive enchantress! "Y'know, there aren't many women who could get away with wearing a bug on their head... but on you it looks terrific." Zee tried to get Dan out of his suit (*ahem*) but he had been permanently merged with it, its circuits having become inextricable and organic.

Zee cast a spell to retrieve a book called "The Demonography" in order to reference the monster that cast the binding spell on Dan, Nebiros. Zee believed Dan should try to request Nebiros remove the spell, so the pair teleported to Île du Diable. Zee reconstituted a mystical key in order to access Nebiros' dimension through an Earthly temple. With a peck on the cheek, Zatanna sent Blue Devil through the portal, while she remained to prevent any demons from escaping to Earth.

Nebiros was too presumptuous and Blue Devil too intemperate to come to an agreement, as the elder demon seized Dan and carried him back to the portal. Zee mistook Dan's presence as her cue to open the portal, releasing both devils. Zatanna was anxious to make amends by thwarting Nebiros, but Blue Devil felt it was more than they could handle. He grabbed Zee under his arm and carried her out of the temple with his enhanced agility. Zee continued to argue, but was finally convinced to request help from the Justice League. Zatanna knew from the Demonography that Nebiros' weakness was water, and hoped to contain him on the island. However, the demon used a jet-propelled trident "given" to him by Dan to escape to the Mexican coast. Zee cast a teleportation spell to transport herself and Blue Devil ahead of Nebiros.

The Creators: Ralph called it earlier-- this book was a fun break from too much seriousness. Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin were clearly having a ball with the characters and premise, which were dynamically depicted by Paris Cullins and Gary Martin. This was the first Zatanna story I ever read, and I was struck by how nice she was. To my mind, that's still her best feature. I like when she's shown to be powerful and capable, but if she doesn't have that girl-next-door sweetness that shone through the thigh high boots and Necronomicon, it just isn't Zee to me!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Whatever Happened to the Negro League?

New solicitation art in making George upset! I could have sworn just a few months ago I expressed my pleasant surprise at seeing not just a person of color on the League, but multiple blacks under the writing of a very talented African-American. Christopher Priest's career is spinning in its grave over the sheer audacity of Dwayne McDuffie to pull this shit off-- for all of five minutes. Look at that fucking cover! Now, picking apart the faults in Ed Benes' work is pretty much always like taking candy from a babe, but this is ridiculous! Here's the 25th issue of the new JLofA, in a story focused on the Nubian Princess Vixen, and she'd need Brother Eagle to lend her his eyes in order to see the DCU Trinity from where she's sitting. Green Lantern John Stewart looks like he's being gut punched by Hal Jordan for being uppity enough to serve in his stead of late. Not only is Firestorm at the furthest back of the JLA bus, but you just know he'll be wiped out completely by the logo come publication. The only black member that doesn't look like they're from a separate regiment bringing up the rear is Black Lightning, but he's almost entirely obscured by Batman and the extremely prominent Zatanna, who I wasn't aware was even a current teammate. Even from 22,300 miles up, you should be able to hear Sharpton going off about the Hall of No Justice!

Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Ed Benes
Cover by Ed Benes
Vixen and Animal Man journey into the sacred Tantu Totem to solve the mystery of their altered powers. But Anansi, the African spider god responsible for these changes, has only begun reshaping the powers and histories of the Justice League, as eight-year-old Bruce Wayne shoots the burglar who killed his parents, Wonder Woman retires from the JLA after the tragic death of her husband, Superman, and The Green Lantern Corps quarantines Earth after one of their number destroys an American city. With the team’s history changing before Vixen’s eyes, is the JLA we now know gone forever?
On sale September 17 • 48 pg, FC, $3.99 US

Friday, June 13, 2008

1966 Teen Titans Debut Subscription Ad

Definately Cool is right, as this ad for the new Teen Titans series from the mid 60's features are by Nick Cardy and with-it beatnik slang from the early 50's! All the hepcats are down! Don't be a square, daddy-o!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

1962 100 Toy Soldiers $1.25 Ad

I've been reading comic books for the better part of three decades, which means I spent years having toy soldiers advertised to me. I do not recall my ever having acquired tiny, inarticulate toy soldiers on purpose. I had some of these cheap bastards in my wee years, but I can't recall ever crying and whining "Please-- I want toys with as little play value possible involving guns and casualties!" My most vivid memory of toy soldiers as a child was holding a mine sweeper in my tiny little hands and wondering what exactly I was meant to do with this piece of shit. "Look out, he has a wand! He may perhaps use it to field a hockey puck, or collect loose change and lost fillings on the beach!" There is not one G.I. Joe in all of creation with a penis small enough to sodomize this useless cunts. I think I accidentally broke Dr. Mindbender's codpiece off, and he still had too much love nub.

But see, at least the comic book ads had grand illustrated spectacles of epic conflict... except this one. Who would buy these shitty little toys based on an ad featuring a pre-ocular-degenerative Paul Pfieffer staring at a more fully realized game of "Stratego" than anyone ever cared to play? My friend Dave would tell "Paul" to die in a fire, which would add some value to the Army Men, if their being placed in an oven set said "fire." I myself am not so cruel, but I do have a sudden urge to masturbate to Winnie Cooper...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #6

Booster Gold #9 * Caliber: First Cannon of Justice #1 * Cyborg #1 * Firebreather #1 * Hercules: The Thracian Wars #1 * Judenhass * Legion of Super-Heroes #42 * Nexus' Greatest Hits *

Booster Gold #9 (DC, $2.99) I was pretty ticked with myself for missing out on the resurrection of one of my favorite Titans ever, Pantha. Yes really. Well, I understand she was killed yet again in an alternate timeline and in an even more inglorious manner, so maybe Geoff Johns is right at home with Bloodthirsty Dan Didio. Bastards. Returning focus to this issue, I figured J'Onn's miscolored boots on the cover were some sort of nod to this whole story arc being another "Days of Future Past" retread, and I was right about everything but the boots. Someone just screwed up four months ago, and no one gave enough of a crap about the dear departed Martian Manhunter to bother with corrections. Bastards. The creators continue to insure that despite a touching, humorous, years-in-development redemptive arc for Max Lord, he really was an evil twat all along, and new ways are developed to showcase that. Bastards. Speaking of J'onn, he, like Blue Beetle, is alive again for this JLI reunion story, at least until he they die again in-story, or they're just gone when the timeline is finally corrected. Bastards. But hey, at least Booster Gold, a character I dislike greatly and have fully authorized Didio to kill, will continue on in his own title. Bastards. With a new, likely lower rent writing team joining Dan Jurgens, the man who first ruined the JLI and turned Max out. Bastards, bastards, bastards all!

Caliber: First Cannon of Justice #1 (Radical Comics, $1.00) Okay, I'm confused. I had thought IDW was the new Innovation Studios, what with all its nostalgic, often B-list sci-fi licenses. Maybe they're the new Now Comics, or else Radical plans to handle only the off-brand watercolor fantasy Innovation was also known for. I hasten to note, none of this is a bad thing, except maybe the inherent stiffness of representational painted at, which I've always found off-putting. The story itself is solid, as it sets up an old school western variation on "The Sword and the Stone." The script gets a bit too much mileage out of its "clever" nods to the Arthur legend, and rides a lot of the standard prarie cliches into the ground. All criticism aside, this should be to fans of genre-blenders what a rip-roarin' Bronze Age throwback is to super-hero nerds: embraced for its familiarity, and forgiven much. If nothing else, it is so much better than anything I've read fro Virgin to date. You know-- Jademan Comics Y2K...

Cyborg #1 (DC Comics, $2.99) Mark Sable spends a good deal of time explaining to readers just who Victor Stone is, how he came to become the New Teen Titan Cyborg, and the various complications he's faced over the years. They set up two new circumstances to drive the mini-series: a major development for a long-time supporting character, and a retroactive addition sure to have a major impact on Vic's future. Ken Lashley's art is as dynamic as it's ever been, aided by potent coloring by JD Smith. The only fault I can find here, aside from a confusingly rushed two-page shift back to present catastrophy at the end, is that Vic Stone sucks. I grew up with black kids, and we all read about black characters like Luke Cage, Black Panther, Storm, Roadblock, Stalker, Deathlok, and even a few not from Marvel. Nobody particularly cared about Cyborg. It isn't just that he was a brown dot in the lily-white DC Universe; there just isn't much of a character there. He's a play on the self-pitying, sympathetic man-monster popularized by Marvel, but with none of the charisma. Lip service is paid to Vic's athletic career, both a stereotype and a pale reflection of the Olympic-caliber Black Lightning. His I.Q. of 170 is referenced, but when has the guy done anything more intellectual than work a white sound blaster? Vic had something like a twelve year lead on John Henry Irons, but who's the brilliant black scientist of the DCU? Cyborg doesn't even do his own repairs! What he does do is fall apart, constantly, like NoMan and Vision before him, and a great many who followed. He's Arms-Fall-Off Boy, except you can't call him "boy," or else he'll bluster at you in a tepid Power Man impersonation. The only thing really wrong with this book is it stars a loser.

Firebreather #1 (Image, $2.99) I bought plenty of comics from lots of publishers growing up, but my early fandom centered on some soloists and the X-Men line of titles. I'd lots interest in Chris Claremont's stuff in the late 80's, though, and it took the rise of what became the Image style that brought me back into the fold. I continued to collect X-titles into the 90's, but finally gave up the ghost around X-Tinction Agenda, and never looked back. I was looking for a new focus for my geek obsessiveness, and bought about every Image comic for the first few years. I then proceeded to drop every single one, as the writing just was not there. That's how I ended up buying so much DC, until the Didio Administration.

Well, I've been casting about again, and the more I try these newfangled, curiously readable Image super-hero titles, the more I like 'em. I praised the underappreciated Astounding Wolf-Man last week, and this time I'll do the same for Firebreather. I never gave Invincible another shot after the weak first trade, but it seems my response to Firebreather is in line with that book's following. Duncan Rosenblatt has spent his young life trying to be as normal as he can, but the scaly orange skin probably set him back in a pretty major way. You see, he's the son of a 300 foot dragon, but his human mother has custody, and the U.S. Government regularly has to step in to negoiate post-divorce circumstances. This is another coming-of-age hero book, but the premise alone would set it apart, though it doesn't have to. The scrpt by Phil Hester is so much smarter than most, allowing the outrageousness of the premise to springboard a wealth of innovations that seem imtent on being played out for highest entertainment value. A very impressive entry-point for readers like me who missed the mini-series from three years back, and a guaranteed trade purchase in the near future.

More please... I've got a hole the size of the DCU to fill in my reading...

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #1 (Radical Comics, $1.00) I really appreciate the high production values, literacy, and cheap introductory issues of these new Radical books... I just wish they were more to my taste. Steve Moore spends nine pages setting the stage and explaining who Hercules is before the character actually appears. That works out well, except that at the same time, those past adventures were related through verbal sparring between Hercules' men and a barbarian horde. Then, five more pages are devoted to the two groups ragging on each other. By the time blood started to spray I hated everyone so much I wanted them all dead. Hercules' team are a bunch of nagging bitches and nutjobs, so their ultimate victory meant nothing to me. The turnabout at the end left me hanging, but I suspect I'm a Wiki away from solving the mystery, and haven't yet bothered. Being much better than Virgin, Devil's Due, DC, and the rest of the bargain trial club just means I feel worse when I turn them all away as underwhelming.

Judenhass (Aardvark-Vanaheim, $4.00) On the one hand, there is no real difference between the presentation and production of this book and Glamourpuss, which saw an industry scratch its head or wipe its ass. On the other hand, it's substantially superior, in that there's, y'know, substance. Images of the Holocaust are an easy route to affecting emotion in an audience, but what makes this a powerful and important work are the many biting quotes that, taken as a whole lead people who damned well ought to know better into atrocities no being should endure. Presumptions, prejudices-- you should have heard the conversation I caught today between two ignoramouses questioning how any white man could possible support Barrack Obama. Reasonable arguments can be made to deny the man the presidency, but framed in those terms, reason is not a serious concern. How many people in this country actually know a Jew, or a Muslim, or an African-American with an Ivy League education? How many would assume that since I referenced Islam and Obama in the same sentence, one has anything to do with the other? Above all else, "Judenhass" makes clear the importance of education, and the recognition of where it ends and understanding too often fails to begin.

Legion of Super-Heroes #42 (DC Comics, $2.99) Even before I knew Jim Shooter had quit DC, again, I knew this book was too good to last. Like Christopher Priest, Shooter is too hip, too talented, and possessed of too much vision to survive in modern comics. He never kissed ass and he was too bust producing quality books to develop an online cult of personality. Seeing titles like this consistently fail was one of the many reasons I quite retailing. What does it matter if I can get a book to sell decent numbers in my little shop? I live in Texas and plan to vote for Obama. Same thing, but I've only got to see my vote come to nothing once every couple years, not on a weekly basis.

Nexus' Greatest Hits (Rude Dude Productions, $1.99) Nexus was one of those titles I dallied with before I was mature enough to appreciate, then never managed to return to. I decided to rectify the overssight with both this low-cost sampler and the purchase of "Nexus: The Origin," which I believe has recently been reprinted. "The Origin" is where it's at, introducing many of the major characters, the premise, and telling a satisfying story of its own. "Greatest Hits," even after having read "The Origin," was a random, disorienting collection of out-of-sequences pages from prior runs with rambling commentary. I pity anyone who made "Greatest Hits" their first exposure to Nexus, and urge anyone who bought it to give the title a second pass. I'm not saying I'm rushing out to buy those pricey Dark Horse hardcover collections, but maybe if a reasonable Omnibus came along...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Angel and the Ape (2001)

Just look at that cover by Art Adams, one of four produced for the series. Doesn't that look fun? The story would seem to write itself, wouldn't it? It may very well have, as the mini-series was lightweight to the point of ephemera. It's entirely too cute, with its endless pun names, cheesecake, and passing nods at sitcom humor. Certainly Phillip Bond's interior art is worth flipping through, making you wish he'd been tapped for that recent "Tank Girl" revival. There's nothing in Howard Chaykin and David Tischman's script to earn any ire. It's just, y'know, there's nothing much else in there, either. Its only sin is its puerile faux hipness; reminding one more of the graying middle class writers DC would have assigned this book to in its original 60's run than anything warranting a "Mature Readers" label.

Note: This is a review of a mini-series for which no trade collection is available.

Monday, June 9, 2008

JLA: Welcome To The Working Week

"A 64-page prestige format JLA story that served as a brain-dump for all my ideas about superheroes and humans. Indulgent, but with great art by Patrick Gleason. As you'll see, I really lucked out with artists."

I recognize comedian Patton Oswalt's greatest claim to fame is voice acting for Pixar's "Ratatouille," putting him squarely in the Miguel Ferrer/Amber Benson non-celebrity comic book writer crossover camp. Still, it seems a shame, because he compares quite favorably to the starfucker favorites DC and Marvel have pushed in recent years*. Maybe this is because he's clearly a real comic geek, as evidenced by his co-writing and co-starring a rejected pilot (with Brian Posehn and Smokin' Semetic Sarah Silverman) centered around comic book retail. It takes a true dork to delude themselves into thinking that's a palatable backdrop for series television.

Anyhow, the guy wrote this special, and he's doing his damndest to channel Grant Morrison. That premise pretty much never pans out, sometimes even when Grant's doing it, except curiously in this little-read one-shot. The premise is that a young reporter of a super-hero tabloid/fanzine manages to hide himself in the Watchtower for a week, spying on the League. Before your fanboy claxon sounds, rest assured, this is all explained in a satisfactory manner. Anyhow, the story manages to bounce from introspective personal anecdotes from the reporter to observations on the heroes to broad comedy to mindbending cosmic hoo-hah. Again all of which read like several different types of Morrison books smooshed together in a manner never accomplished by Grant himself, or anyone else. Curiously for professional comedian, the worst bits are the pedestrian attempts at humor, and the best are the speculative mindfucks. In the minus column, the dialogue is sometimes choppy and overly vague, and some of the more challenging concepts toward the end of the book are presented clumsily. Expect to read portions multiple times, as either the letter threw a rod or the captions were poorly expressed to begin with.

Patrick Gleason and Christian Alamy were a fantastic choice for the art, both in art quality and in the ability to run the same gamut as Oswalt. It is at turns sexy and grotesque, soft-focus and widescreen cinescope. All in all, an beautiful package worthy of wider distribution. Also, there's a multi-page party sequence featuring a wealth of cameos for DC fans, particularly those who've missed some of Keith Giffen's more hilarious creations.

*Which reminds me: I still haven't finished reading Allen Heinberg's Wonder Woman run. I need to get it over with, eh?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare

Pages were missing from the Book of Destiny. Every super-hero you ever heard of was at best just another comic book character. Across the world in recent weeks, humans had begun to spontaneously develop super-powers. 79,000 of these "Sparkers" resided in the United States alone. The heroes and villains of this new world order were new to the tongue... Onyx... Unity... Vigil... Behemoth... The only thing super about Beatriz DaCosta was her modelling career. Michael Carter was a football booster worth his weight in gold, with Ted Kord a CEO. Kyle Rayner drew comic books. Clark Kent was nothing more than a recently ineffectual newspaper reporter. Bruce Wayne's parents chided him for turning their charitable tax shelter into a philanthropic crusade. Wally West taught grade school, while Diana Prince was headmistress of a boarding school. Most incredulously, Arthur Curry was a fisherman given a position in the Red Tide Tuna Company corporate office to avoid a lawsuit when he lost a hand. Unlike the other former Leaguers, most of his supporting cast was also present... on staff. As the founding members of the Justice League of America begin to recognize the Matrix has them, they are drawn to one another as the only force powerful enough to set the world right. Problem being, one of the seven would just as soon retain their illusion, and what if the Know Man is right about this world being the best of all possible?

This was the basic premise behind 1996's "A Midsummer's Nightmare." After cancelling their then-current line of Justice League related books; America, Task Force, Quarterly, Extreme; this three issue mini-series seemed rushed into production to fill the gap until and explain the formation of what would become their renaissance formulation, the Morrison/Porter "JLA." Each issue ran about 1 1/2 times normal length, which likely put a strain on the artists, as their work was uneven.

That said, I think Jeff Johnson and John Holdredge's pages were mostly spectacular, evoking a mixture of cover artist Kevin Maguire's expressive caricature with Stuart Immonen's more impressionistic work. Johnson's Manhunter remains a personal favorite, and I regret his limited contact with the character. Few can capture both the extremes of serenity and righteous fury in J'Onn's Martian heart with comparable aptitude. Darick Robertson and Hanibal Rodriguez fare worse, too often appearing as choppy chicken-scratch.

Mark Waid and Fabian Nicieza co-wrote the effort, and they acquit themselves very nicely. I've long felt Nicieza is an under-appreciated master at team dynamics. Waid remains one of the best writers the League has never quite had, seeing as how he's rarely around longer than a handful of issues, despite multiple runs on various line-ups. For some unfathomable reason, this mini tends to be treated as something of a cast-off, even though it sets up both the monster hit ongoing that followed and the ultimate resolution of the Morrison/Porter run three years later. I only have sales numbers on the last issue, which sold 53,244 copies in the direct market. "JLA" #3 by comparison sold about 47% better, and that was before the book became "hot" or benefited from widespread newsstand distribution.

On a personal note, the end of the second issue was what turned Martian Manhunter from a well-liked also-ran to my favorite character, necessitating this series' inclusion as part of my spotlight of some of the best J'Onn J'Onzz comics ever. While the Manhunter himself is seen on only 5 of the first 68 pages, his presence is felt on many more, and he dominates much of the last issue. All of the Leaguers get their chances to shine, either through action or personality, making the trade both an excellent jumping-on point for passingly familiar readers and a pleasure for fans of any one character. Well, maybe not Wonder Woman, who's role is rather passive, and of course Aquaman, but what else is new?


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