Monday, February 25, 2008

Double Articulation Digest #9

Just for kicks:

My Current Top Five DC Comics

Checkmate – I am saddened—nay, crushed—that Greg Rucka is leaving what has to be the best spy story in recent comics history. The characters actually behave and speak like adults, the plots twist and turn vertiginously—I am constantly surprised, delighted, and entertained by this book. Top of the pile every month. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Justice Society of America – Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, and Dale Eaglesham continue to explore the legacy theme with a tenderness and reverence for their subject matter that verges on the religious. Some people will hate that, but I’m grateful that there is a book like this on the stands. The world they've created has the same intricacy, believability, and depth that the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans had back in the day.

Green Lantern – At this point, does anyone need convincing? The Sinestro Corps War was the best sequel to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths that DC has published, and the book shows no signs of slowing down. The “teaser trailer” for Darkest Night gave me the kind of anticipatory tingles I haven’t had since I was a teenager.

Suicide Squad – If DC is going to inflict a Bruce Jones-penned Checkmate on us after Rucka leaves (why?), the least they can do is put Ostrander back on a Suicide Squad ongoing. The current series has everything (love the Windfall/Sister Twister relationship—inspired!). I heard a rumor that DC might forego reprinting the original series in Showcase Presents B&W editions (as originally announced) in favor of full color trades. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Booster Gold – Another Johns book, I know. But what can I say? This is just the most fun you’re going to have for three dollars. Plus, it’s made me rediscover the awesomeness of Dan Jurgens, who, thanks to this, has finally redeemed himself for that hideous reinvention of the Teen Titans in the late nineties.

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Honorable Mentions

Batman and the Outsiders – This is a great, great relaunch. Thank you, Chuck Dixon!! It manages to do what so few relaunches of beloved books ever manage: it stays absolutely true to the premise, tone, and feel of the original, while not seeming at all old-fashioned. (There is a scene in issue 3 where Rex, Brion, Tatsu, and Jeff have a mini-reunion that could have been written by Mike W. Barr. Again, thank you Chuck Dixon!) The “new” Outsiders all work wonderfully and the art by Julian Lopez is stunning.

Wonder Woman – With only one storyline under her belt, Gail Simone has already proven that Diana’s adventures are in the very best of hands. Although I wasn’t as bothered by the group effort on the art as some, I’m looking forward to Aaron Lopresti’s run. Consistency is always a plus.

Nightwing – After a blabbery first issue, Peter Tomasi has begun to get his scripting under control, and I like it. Plus, Rags on art and a storyline that seems to be positioning Nightwing at the center of the Bat-universe? You’re spoiling us!

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Should I be reading…?

The Legion of Superheroes – The answer is yes, isn’t it?

The Brave and the Bold – I probably shouldn’t have dropped this, but I was so annoyed with that stupid Supergirl issue that I had to take a break. Jerry Ordway’s upcoming tenure also tempts me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Memory of Steve Gerber

The comics industry lost a great writer and a great man last Sunday. This is truly sad news; Steve Gerber wrote comics that said something profound about what it means to be a human being, about what is difficult about being in the world, and about what makes the struggle worthwhile and even noble. Below is a link to an essay I wrote some time ago about my favorite Steve Gerber story from Marvel Two-in-One #7. I respectfully dedicate it to Mr. Gerber's memory.

On Existentialism: Why Paper Dolls Do(n’t) Cry, or Steve Gerber’s Myth of Sisyphus

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Double Articulation Digest #8

There was a cornucopia of DC news today, but most exciting was the announcement of its new Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman weekly, Trinity. The format of the new series (12 pages of continuous story each week by Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley, plus backups written by Busiek and Fabian Nicieza and drawn by various artists) and the promise that it can be read relatively independently of the rest of the line at least show that DC has learned from the creative and logistical stumbles of Countdown. A weekly twelve page lead is enough to scratch the serial itch, and a related ten-page back-up by different artists should add a nice touch of surprise to each issue. A bonus, as the interview with Busiek at CBR reminded me, is that this is the same crew who were responsible, at various times, for two of Marvel’s best series from the 1990s: Thunderbolts and New Warriors. This is obviously a perfect gig for Bagley, and even though I’ve never been a “fan” of his art, per se, I love its energy. There’s something bracing about speedy, robust pencils in the current era of “star” artists who produce exquisite pages at a glacial pace. Very excited about this.

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The announcement of two other forthcoming DC events—Rann/Thanagar: Holy War and Reign in Hell—is somewhat intriguing, though I’m not completely sold on either one yet. Countdown to Adventure has been okay, but nothing to write home about, and I’ve passed—perhaps mistakenly—on Countdown to Mystery (I’ve heard that the Doctor Fate story has been good). Will these new forays into DC’s science fiction and magic territories be any better? I really like DC’s space characters, but another Holy War? Ugh. I’m also inclined to agree with the Newsarama poster who said that Starlin and Lim are perhaps too predictable a pair as the creative force behind this type of story. And then there’s the notion of a war in DC’s version of Hell. Again, ugh. I hate Neron—a lot. In fact, I pretty much hate all comic book attempts to turn God and Satan into characters—the effect is invariably shabby and lame. We’ll see.
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I’ve never been a Ghost Rider reader, not even back in the 1970s. But I would occasionally leaf through those old seventies issues at the cigar store in Grant Park mall with curiosity. I mean, what ten year old imagination isn’t compelled by a biker with a flaming skull? I realize now that my flicker of attraction to the comic back then was rooted in the fact that it looked more like a horror book than a superhero title—the same thing that attracted me to Swamp Thing, Night Force, House of Mystery, and even The New Teen Titans (I began reading in earnest during the horror-tinged Brother Blood issues). That’s why this item at CBR gave me a little feeling of nostalgia for a book I never read and a character I know little about. Jason Aaron’s intention to take Ghost Rider back to his horror roots certainly sounds appealing. In fact, his plans for the series recall the picaresque structure of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. Roland Boschi’s art looks suitably moody. Worth a try?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Double Articulation Digest #7

ITEM! Paul Pelletier’s new job as Marvel’s Nova penciller (with inks by Rick Magyar) is enough to make me give the series another try. Although I’ve enjoyed the Annihilation books, Nova’s own series never quite took off for me. Pelletier’s art, however, is huge draw. His work on CrossGen’s Negation was outstanding, his quirkily-imagined alien races a feast for the eyes. I was sorry to hear that he and McDuffie were ending their great run on Fantastic Four to make way for the “blockbuster” team of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. I’ll be buying Nova instead.

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ITEM! My wish is granted, sort of. The good news is that I get my Titans team; the bad news… But, you know, I’ve really been enjoying Winick’s Green Arrow/Black Canary, so I won’t prejudge. Not thrilled about Ian Churchill on pencils, but maybe… Wah!
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ITEM! And speaking of Judd Winick, I read the Outsiders/Checkmate: Checkout trade this weekend, co-scripted by Winick and Greg Rucka. I buy Checkmate regularly (one of DC’s best) but I’d skipped the Outsiders crossover issues because I was sulking about that title, having dropped it earlier in the year. It was my loss, because it turns out to be a great adventure yarn with a cracking good script that provides a nice coda to one aspect of 52 and neatly sets up the relaunch of Batman and the Outsiders (more on that in a future post).
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ITEM! Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction sure know how to give the fanboys what they want, don’t they? Just reread The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story trade. Wow. This is fun comics. Danny Rand is the distillation of fanboy fantasy—a perfect point of view character. A King Fu master, sure. But, beneath all those burning dove chops and drunken wasp stings, white boy is still a bit of a dork. “Sorry. He always acts stupid when he has a head injury,” says Luke Cage, apologizing to Night Nurse for his old partner’s goofball antics. If the character has a refrain, it would have to be, “Danny, don’t be an idiot…”—a phrase that echoes across the first story arc of this superior superhero adventure series that explores Danny’s relationship to the Iron Fist legacy as he battles the Hordes of Hydra and the Champion of the sinister Crane Mother. A word about the art: dazzling. David Aja adds a touch of classic New Mutants-era Bill Sienkiewicz to a style that resembles Michael Lark. I hate to wait until June for the second trade to be released!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

GoldenEyed: Watching the Bond Films After Casino Royale

One of the downsides to Casino Royale’s dynamite reigniting of the Bond franchise is to have made earlier installments of the series—even some of the very good ones—difficult to enjoy. GoldenEye, for example, fondly regarded by most aficionados as one of the best Bond films, does not fare well by comparison—perhaps because it, too, is a relaunch of the series, but a less thoroughgoing one.

I remember my excitement about finally getting a Brosnan Bond, back when GoldenEye hit the big screen. I had endured the humorless Timothy Dalton years with as much stoicism as I could muster, and now Remington Steele was finally where he belonged; all was right with my fantasy world. And it really was great, wasn’t it? Brosnan was like a hipper, younger, more dashing Roger Moore; Dame Judi made a perfect M(ommy) for the post-Freudian era; Sean Bean was well-cast as Judas 006; and Famke Janssen’s deliciously wicked femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp, stole every scene she vamped through.

And yet, when I watched it this weekend, I was barely able to sustain the attention necessary to see it through to the closing credits. The few truly delightful scenes were the ones at headquarters between Bond and his MI:6 cronies, M and Q. The rest of it all felt…so 1995.

It isn’t that the film is bad on its own terms. And of course it isn’t fair to compare something as of-its-moment as an installment in the Bond franchise with later, “cooler” installments. By virtue of their very hipness, every new Bond film should seem cooler, better than every Bond film that came before (even if it doesn’t always work that way in practice).

Nonetheless, knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for me to enjoy GoldenEye now—not after thrilling to the psychologically gritty, more darkly humorous, bloody-fisted elegance of the new Bond-cool established by Casino Royale. Unfortunately, rather than thinking of GoldenEye as I once did—as a moment of creative reenergizing—I can’t help but see it now as a cheesy relic of the mid-nineties (and earlier) blockbuster aesthetic, an aesthetic that is epitomized by the boring bark of machinegun fire and broad, dissonant comic riffs. In GoldenEye, the latter responsibility falls mainly on the shoulders of Alan Cumming, whose hammy, jittery performance as treacherous Russian computer nerd Boris Grishenko (he of the catchphrase, “I am inveenceeble!”) is particularly grating. The cut to his screaming face as the Goldeneye satellite explodes in space—the film’s climax—is laughably bad by any measure, but so much more excruciating now.

Do all the Bond films suffer by comparison to Casino Royale’s new gold standard? Certainly not, thank goodness. In fact, I suspect that the damage of Craig’s Bond to the rest of the franchise is limited to the Brosnan films, which suffer mainly because they are still so comparatively recent and embody a “cool” that we’re all—most of us, anyway—anxious to repudiate. Fortunately for them (and for those of us who shelled out for the Bond boxed set), Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and the rest all benefit from a different kind of cool—the cool that one attaches to genuine historical artifacts. They have an alibi for their cheesy machismo, for they dwell in the “real” past of pop culture, as opposed to its recent past of the Brosnan films, a shallower past which contains only detritus, yesterday’s news.

In the end, I wonder if the real beneficiary of Craig’s gritty, introspective Bond will be the reputation of Timothy Dalton’s tenure on the series. Not particularly beloved, and rarely anybody’s favorite, Dalton’s Bond was a more serious fellow than the rest, more of a Craig than a Moore. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. Perhaps the time to dust off those Timothy Dalton DVDs for a weekend marathon has finally come.