Monday, September 26, 2011

"Welcome To The Zone" by David Chelsea (1995)

The follow-up to David Chelsea In Love is goddamned near critic proof. It was one of the last books to come out of Kitchen Sink Press before it collapsed under its own weight, has gone ignored by publishers and critics for sixteen years, can be had for a shiny penny plus shipping on, and even its creator says "...I regard this one as a misfire on just about every level, right down to my choice of a square format..." This basically puts me in the position to either kick the shaggy dog with no legs, or point out that it has pretty eyes and a pleasant demeanor. I'll run contrary to my norm and choose the latter.

Don't get me wrong-- I didn't buy this book on purpose. It came in a heavily discount, sight unseen bundle I ordered in the late '90s, most of which has gone unread since I took it home. I uncovered it on my shelf months back, and finally read it in something like a dozen installments. That was a difficult thing to do, since there are no actual chapter breaks over its ninety-two pages, but I doubt anyone sober would be inclined to try to push through the thing in one sitting. The book is essentially a collection of interwoven semi-biographical slice of life pieces from the East Village bohemian scene of the late '80s. Of course, then the author substitutes giant slobbering hound dogs for window washing bums, an anthropomorphic duck for Donald Trump, flesh eating tentacle aliens for no reason in particular, and so forth. There are mutants and full frontals aplenty, robots, schemes, murder, celebrity cameos, and God help us all, no shortage of performance art. The book is willfully weird; coherent enough to be followed, but too surreal for it to be appreciated in its entirety. Regardless, the intricate tonal stippling makes it a visual feast worthy of the $9.95 cover price no one is likely to actually be asked to pay for decades to come. Give it a toss through if it crosses your path.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Garth Ennis Chronicles of Wormwood TPB (2007)

Like the comic book equivalent of a hipster, I was into Garth Ennis in his early days, but dropped him with disparaging remarks after a few years once he'd gone "mainstream." I made it through a couple of years worth of True Romance Preacher, which always felt like a Hellblazer spin-off before descending into some sort of sadistic situation comedy. Ennis struck me as a pandering legend in his own mind, not half as audacious as he was made out to be, and quite the indiscriminate work-for-hire whore besides. It's been a long time since I truly enjoyed anything associated with Ennis, but I have to say that I found this book an exception.

Chronicles of Wormwood seems to boil down everything Ennis tried to convey about his views on Christianity over five years in Preacher, without bungling the execution. Danny Wormwood is the Antichrist, which has its privileges and drawbacks. He's not really into it, and has even chosen Jesus Christ as his personal pal, which vexes father Lucifer and the Roman Catholic Church alike. Joined by Wormwood's sentient pet bunny, the trio decide on a road trip from heaven to hell, while others see an opportunity afoot. Given the monkey oversaturation of recent years, I must put forth that there is a sore lack of sarcastic bunnies that this series really drives home.

Artist Jacen Burrows has never seemed to even try to transition out of Avatar Press, and I don't think his style would work elsewhere, but he's perfect for the satirical bent of Avatar wares. His Satan is among the best I've seen, and he draws a fine jackrabbit. The book is rude, sometimes a bit too obvious, and I would be surprised if Ennis hadn't given Videodrome a spin at some point. Still, it's a fun story with likeable characters that's fucked-up when it needs to be while making its points well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stormwatch: Force of Nature (1999)

The original Stormwatch series was begun in 1993 by schoolmates Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, joined by artist Scott Clark in his major debut. Those initial creators lasted maybe a year, and then the poor man's Alpha Flight got passed through a variety of hands for another two years. Stormwatch was one of nine books with a role in the 21 part "Fire From Heaven" crossover, Image Comics' closest attempt to recreate the widespread pointlessness of DC's Millennium. This seemed to be the title's breaking point, where they either had to get serious about producing something worth buying or else put the thing down. Alan Moore was leaving WildC.A.T.s around this time, taking a good deal of Wildstorm's cache with him. In the absence of another acclaimed British writer to take over that book, I suppose someone decided to at least give an up and coming limey carte blanche with that book's ugly sister.

After years of daring work on bottom rung Marvel titles, Ellis would finally began building his name in the industry with Stormwatch. Similarly, Tom Raney had several short stints on various Marvel and DC team books without any real impact, but would make a cult hit out of the title. For myself, I thought it was okay when it first came out, and I knew which customers it would appeal to, but it wasn't something I felt any compulsion to follow regularly. Reading the issues in full and in sequence, I find that the title's elevated reputation in some fan's eyes is, well, fuzzy rose-colored memories of the way it was.

The first issue under the new management saw a good deal of changes put into place and the introduction of new characters with some staying power like Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks, and Rose Tattoo. It was a decent set-up, with a throwaway villain battle besides. However, the next issue was a was a fairly bland, half-hearted police procedural with convenient deux ex machina tarted up in ultraviolence and anti-American banner waving. That last part doesn't bother me a bit, but isn't any more sophisticated than Red State nationalism.

A major problem I have with these stories is that they aren't stories, just premises. For instance, the third issue of the collection was played up using a timeframe jumping scheme that attempted to mask the information dumping needed to convey the premise. Without the device, one would be more likely to notice that beyond the exposition, the heroes simply battered one dimensional evil cops and jailed them, with no serious attempt at characterization or complication. The politics were hamfisted in the same way as a Judd Winick script, and most of the art that round was by a severely unripened Pete Woods.

The fourth issue town, involved a mutant producing dirty bomb and turning a small town into a variety of body horrors to make David Cronenberg proud. Most of the issue is just three characters wandering through the mess, with a mild twist toward the end. In several issues, Ellis displayed a nasty habit of dumping character flashbacks inappropriately into a narrative, instead of offering more organic character-centric narratives. This began to change in the fifth tale, whose first page announced Ellis' intention to write a Christine Trelane story. He surely did, but it seemed like he made that decision without actually coming up with a story. You pretty much immediately know the central antagonist is a creep, so the only mystery is where his deprivations would flow. A good artist could have sold that cinematically with mood, but the art by Michael Ryan was cartoonish amateur hour crap. It was also ill-considered, since Trelane has what was believed to be a unique and essential power to preserve the team, but she nearly gets herself killed on an unnecessary field mission without back-up.

The final tale was more of the same. Ellis must have decided that he was going to write a Fuji story, did lots of research about Japan, and then wrote a story about how his characters could spouted all that research that he had done almost verbatim like they were walking Wikipedia entries. Re-watched "Akira" as well, I'll assume. At least the book was attractive to look at again, with the return of Raney.

"Force of Nature" was the first collection of the Ellis material, and the book was still finding its legs. It's passable enough, but don't expect any material to help you win a fight amongst friends over best writers from the U.K.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Como Si No Nos Hubieramos Amado" by Laura Pausini

Written By: Music-Daniel • Lyrics-Pausini, Cheope • Spanish adaptation- León Tristán
Released: 2004
Album: Escucha
Single?: #10 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs/Tracks

Laura Pausini is a singer/songwriter whose global record sales are in the range of 50 million, but remains a virtual unknown in the English speaking world. Not so in Latin countries, as she simultaneously releases her albums in Italian and Spanish.

Yo ayer he entendido que
desde hoy sin ti comienzo otra vez
y tú...aire ausente
casi como si yo fuese transparente
alejándome de todo
escapar de mi tormento.

Pero me quedo aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder despegarme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

Yo sobreviviré
no me preguntes cómo no lo sé
el tiempo cura todo y va a ayudarme
a sentirme diferente...
a que pueda olvidarte
aunque es un poco pronto

Me quedo inmóvil aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder aburrirme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado

...como si nunca te hubiera amado
como si no hubiese estado así...
...y quisiera huir de aquí, quisiera escaparme.

Pero me quedo otra vez, sin decir nada, sin gritarte:
-¨ven, no te vayas¨
no me abandones sola en la nada, amor...

...después, después, después viviré
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

...como si nunca te hubiera amado

English Translation:

I have understood yesterday that
since today without you I start again
and you... absent air
almost as if I was transparent
getting far from everything
to scape from my torment.

But I stay here
without saying anything...without being able to get away from you
and eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us and
be able to live...
as if we have never loved each other.

I will survive
don't ask me how, I don't know
time cures everything and it will help me feel
to be able to forget you
even though it's a little too soon

I stay still (not moving) here
without saying anything... without been able to get bored of you
and to eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us
and to be able to live....
as if we have never loved each other if I have never loved you
as if I have never been this way
...and I would want to get away from here, I would want to scape

but I stay again, without saying anything, without screaming at you:
-"come, don't leave"
don't abandon me in the nothing, alone, darling

....and then, then, then I would live
as if we have never loved each other.

as if I have never loved you

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comic Reader Résumé: February, 1982

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey]
1. a summing up; summary.
2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

February, 1982 was my second month of collecting new comics off the newsstand. I claimed to have bought an entirely new selection for this round, but I have vague recollections of having owned The Brave and the Bold #186, in which Batman teamed-up with Hawkman against the Fadeaway Man. I liked all but one of these characters, so it's possible I bought it new, but the memory is so vague that I can't be sure. I doubt the story by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn left much of an impression, although the lame villain couldn't have helped. The only thing that really sticks with me are flashes of Jim Aparo panels, which likely would have been enough to bring me back for more.

While I vividly remember a great many of these books from DC in-house ads and as purchases years later, my actual, factual, confirmed purchases of this month were fairly slight. I still have my copy of The New Teen Titans #19, which was likely never swiped from me by neighborhood kids because it only just barely rates as a comic book anymore. The pages are so brown they qualify as a separate ethnic group in the U.S. census, and scraps of torn pages lie sideways with the intact portions bound by polybag. This may have been my introduction to a team that has stuck with me much of my reading life, and almost certainly my introduction to Marv Wolfman and George Perez (outside spot cover illustrations from the latter.) It's a fantastic looking book, especially Perez's Hawkman, in part due to the artist clearly providing much tighter pencils to resist the wet blanket that is Romeo Tanghal finishes. The story, involving Hindu gods, weirded me out as a kid, especially their rather graphic destruction in the end.

My other new comic of the month, out the same week, was The Saga of Swamp Thing #1 by Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates. I can't honestly state what possessed me to do so. It had a swell cover, and Tom Yeates was a really appealing artist, but the story by Martin Pasko and the heavy atmosphere was way over my head. This would not be the last time Swamp Thing would do this to me, because my only sweet spot with the character was reprints of the early '70s Wein/Wrightson stories. I tried Alan Moore too early at first, then too late as an adult, when his innovations had become tropes. There was also a Phantom Stranger back-up by Bruce Jones and Dan Spiegle. I'd already been introduced to the Stranger through a Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold, but this creepy yarn was a whole other matter. While the story of a black minister fleecing his own people stuck with me, I never really warmed to Spiegel's art elsewhere.

One more maybe before I sign off on this month, Super Goof #69. I know I owned at least one issue of this series, and though I thought it had him battling the Beagle Boys, the character featured here strikes me as reasonable facsimile to facilitate confusion. Funny animals were rarely my bag.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Project Superpowers Chapter One (2008)

I was introduced to the Golden Age of Super-Heroes by a magazine article I read as a boy about how much more weird, daring and dark obscure characters like Daredevil, the Flame and their ilk were than the corporate branded types I was familiar with in the tail end of the Bronze Age. I wondered what became of that lot until I began frequenting comics shops in the early '90s, and turned up some of Bill Black's reprints at AC. Then Malibu tried to ride the coattails of their early publishing deal with Image by offering their own line of super-heroes based around a revival of old Centaur characters as The Protectors, which I followed for a time. I was put out by the great Jerry Bingham redesigns floating around in trade publications being interpreted by a rather green Thomas Derenick and lesser lights. Later still, I came to learn all of those characters and many more had lapsed into the public domain, available for use by anybody, although virtually nobody bothered. I thought that was both a shame and an opportunity, because they represented a ready made universe of characters with its own legitimate history that I would love to exploit my own self someday.

Unfortunately, both Nick Barrucci of Dynamic Forces and Erik Larson of Image decided at about the same time to steal my entirely unique idea for themselves! Sarcasm aside, I was very happy with the results. Larson oversaw The Next Issue Project, which added an issue to the numbering of several 1940s anthology titles by modern creators. The results were rather uneven, not only creatively, but in terms of an unreliable publication schedule that saw an issue released only once every few years (after long shipping delays on each.) As for Barrucci, well, we were all bowled over by the prospect of a painted Alex Ross project, especially after seeing his glorious first promotional piece. Then we learned he would once again be joined by co-plotter/scripter Jim Krueger, responsible for the interminable Earth X and painfully stupid Justice. At least JSA artist Stephen Sadowski would be on board, except only for part of a zero issue. Project Superpowers made sure to acquaint the reading public with Barrucci's now standard bait & switch method of operation. With the shamelessness that led to variant covers that simply processed the art on variant covers through basic image inversion filters, the final creative team was Krueger with unpolished unknown artist Carlos Paul. My plot to capitalize on those public domain characters remains safe, although not necessarily sound, with crap like this polluting the brand.

The main creative purpose of the project seems to be to serve as a ham-fisted criticism of the Bush Administration in its last year. The main commercial consideration would be to secure trademarks on a "minimal assembly required" super-hero line. It fails creatively because by 2008 everybody was already sick of Bush, and the conversation soon changed from the ethics of a war on terror to the economy. It fails commercially because beyond its immediately dated politics, the characters have no point of view or individual identities.

From its most basic premise, the use of Pandora's Box as a place where all super-heroes were stored from their Golden Age heyday until the present, the whole line is shot to hell. One modestly powered and clearly deluded super-hero managed to best every other one over the span of a few years. See, Marvel's heroes mostly retired after World War II, with Captain America and the Sub-Mariner mothballed individually by their major enemies in separate instances until their Silver Age revivals. The DC heroes were forced into inactivity by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a real world bunch of bad guys, before being replaced by a whole new generation of more powerful super-heroes. The Dynamite characters however were all too stupid and weak to figure out one known kook amongst their number was taking them out one by one. Further, they sat around in limbo for sixty years before that same kook managed to release them with minimal difficulty. By comparison, the Justice Society of America were trapped in a repeating Ragnarok cycle from the late eighties to early nineties before teaming up with other heroes to secure their release. The Watchmen, a bunch of Charlton retreads, figured out the killer in their midst within days of a single murder, plus tell several complete stories in twelve issues. Right off the bat, all the Dynamite heroes are ineffectual pussies.

The second major problem, related to the first, is that the entire Superpowers line-up is Captain America. Every single one of them is a patriot who fought in the great war before disappearing for decades to reappear in a time unlike their own. They all have pre-war educations, unimpressive power sets, and silly costumes. Most importantly, they were the models from which scores of other heroes who have since evolved over time were derived. That makes them walking cliches, and all of a singular type. One method to overcome that sameness would be to embrace their retroactive natures to contrast their views on race, gender, nationalism, and so forth. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the story, they're all relatively mild-mannered Roosevelt democrats at odds with an oppressive government whose main crime seems to be some suppression of the media and war profiteering. As Big Brothers go, I'd take them over V For Vendetta's U.K. in a heartbeat.

The third major problem is an extension of the second, a lack of interesting characters in compelling circumstances. The fact is, hardly anyone has read about these characters in detail who isn't collecting social security, and because the creators felt the need to introduce dozens of them at once, there really isn't time to get to know anyone. Previous Ross/Krueger projects relied on familiar characters readers had an established relationship with, so that there was still emotional resonance amidst the painting of epics with broad strokes. The tribulations of Pyroman just don't touch me on an emotional level without some serious legwork. The only characters given real face time are still cyphers in service to a bland, unimaginative plot. Further, their enemies are reminiscent of the much panned "Burly Brawl" from the second Matrix movie. When the Superpowers aren't battling a host of identically dressed androids, they're fighting a literal army of Frankenstein Monsters. I can't get involved when I have no investment in either party after a couple of hundred pages of story that fails to reach any real resolution.

Many of my complaints have revolved around the project being too large and ambitious, but I have to stress the issue of incompetence among the responsible parties. I have yet to read a Jim Krueger script that involved me in his characters, or was not filled with gaping plotholes or circumstances in place of a story. The only arc in this first volume is the Fighting Yank finally realizing he was wrong in his actions, and trying to make amends. That arc is completed in the first preview story, but is constantly referenced and dragged out for the entire mini-series without much additional development. None of the other characters even have the start of an arc. They were in the '40s, now they're in the '00s, many of them have slightly altered abilities, and they're on the run from Big Government. That's all we get. The characters seem to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, suffering from confusion, regressive behavior, and occasional temper tantrums, but still easily directed and kind enough to forget any initiated B- or C-plots until the next volume/spin-off mini-series.

The art by Carlos Paul is serviceable. The storytelling is okay and the layouts are usually clear, but it's all uninspired. I think it's reasonably tight pencils shot and digitally enhanced, but they still look vague and unfinished. Colors by Insight Studio and Debora Carita helps to firm things up, and are somehow evocative of Mark Texeira's painted art, despite the pencils being in no way similar. The art gets progressively looser and rushed, so the colorists have to be credited for the consistency of the volume, such as it is.

The story ends at an awkward point to act as a springboard for a slew of spin-off series, followed by forty-odd pages of preparatory design work. I'm sure Alex Ross had a lot of fun jazzing up these old characters visually, but after Kingdom Come and Earth X, even this area seems mired in tropes. The chest emblem as a light source, the hoods/cloaks, turning costume elements metallic, "borrowing" wholesale from other media-- it gets tiresome. Applying one artist's design aesthetic across an entire universe only emphasizes how insular, unimaginative and unnecessary it happens to be.

Project Superpowers is an exercise and an initiative, not a fully realized narrative. It takes dozens of super-heroes from separate companies and treats them all like team members of a low grade '70s Marvel super-team soaked in manufactured melodrama and "relevance."


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